Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

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    • Coda
      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
    • December 31, 2011
      Father Time is riding out his last few minutes of being the temporal keeper for 2011; he sits in an easy chair with a calendar showing “Dec 31” behind him and a grandfather clock pointing to the time of 11:53. … Continue reading →
    • December 30, 2011
      A happy young lady shares a table at a tony restaurant with her cat; they both wear festive, cone-shaped party hats. The woman gaily says to the tuxedoed server, “One martini and one glass of milk.” The cat does not … Continue reading →

The Bug Count Also Rises–by John Browne

Posted by joeabbott on July 24, 2018

I’ve been working at Microsoft for a while now, over 20 years, and in that time I’ve seen a LOT of changes, most for the good. However, one thing I have missed was an old paper\hardcopy version of a company newsletter called the MicroNews. It was sent to buildings or to your mail slot and contained any number of articles, cartoons, ads, or distractions. One event was a call for Ernest Hemingway-style writings. As a lover of literature … but never more fully developed than you might find in the average high school … this appealed to me. The appeal wasn’t enough to enter, but enough to not only be entertained but to have kept a snippet of the winning article from 1996.

I just found it recently in a box of old stuff from an office-move.

I sadly didn’t keep the author’s name but doing a pretty simple web search, I found him: John Browne. And the very same words you’ll find below can be found in a number of other locations throughout the internet. I also found Mr. Browne on LinkedIn and, while we share common friends, he and I are not connected … and, unfortunately, I can’t send mail to someone I’m not directly connected to. And so I can’t thank him (directly) for the amusement his writing has given me the many times I’ve read this.

It’s time for me to let go of the paper version of his story, but I’ll save a copy here so I can enjoy it in years to come … and so you can now.

In the fall of that year the rains fell as usual and washed the leaves of the dust and dripped from the leaves onto the ground. The shuttles drove through the rainy streets and took the people to meetings, then later brought them back, their tires spraying the mist into the air. Many days he stood for a long time and watched the rain and the shuttles and drank his double-tall mochas. With the mochas he was strong.

Hernando who worked down the hall and who was large with microbrews came to him and told him that the ship day was upon them but the bugs were not yet out. The bugs which were always there even when you were in Café 25 late at night sipping a Redhook or a double-tall mocha and you thought you were safe but they were there and although Enrico kept the floor swept clean and the mochas were hot the bugs were there and they ate at you.

When Hernando told him this he asked how many bugs.

“The RAID is huge with bugs,” Hernando said. “The bugs are infinite.”

“Why do you ask me? You know I cannot do this thing anymore with the bugs.”

“Once you were great with the bugs,” Hernando said. “No one was greater,” he said again. “Even Prado.”

“Prado? What of Prado? Let Prado fix the bugs.”

Hernando shrugged. “Prado is finished. He was gored by three Sev 2’s in Chicago. All he does now is drink herb tea and play with his screensavers.”

“Herb tea?”

“It is true, my friend.” Hernando shrugged again.

Later he went to his office and sat in the dark for a long time. Then he sent e-mail to Michaels.

Michaels came to him while he was sipping a mocha. They sat silently for awhile, then he asked Michaels, “I need you to triage for me.”

Michaels looked down. “I don’t do that anymore,” he said.

“This is different. The bugs are enormous. There are an infinity of bugs.”

“I’m finished with that,” Michaels said again. “I just want to live quietly.”

“Have you heard Prado is finished? He was badly gored. Now he can only drink herb tea.”

“Herb tea?” Michaels said.

“It is true,” he said sorrowfully.

Michaels stood up. “Then I will do it, my friend,” he said formally. “I will do it for Prado, who was once great with the bugs. I will do it for the time we filled Prado’s office with bouncy balls, and for the time Prado wore his nerf weapons in the marketing hall and slew all of them with no fear and only a great joy at the combat. I will do it for all the pizza we ate and the bottles of Coke we drank.”

Together they walked slowly back, knowing it would be good. As they walked the rain dripped softly from the leaves, and the shuttles carried the bodies back from the meetings.

I claim no authorship or benefit from this writing, only sharing something I have enjoyed and hope you will enjoy it, too. Perhaps you need to know what RAID is, or the product with the code name Chicago, or enjoy the culture that was part of software development in the mid-90s, or maybe some writing, like Hemingway’s, is timeless.

WIN_20180724_13_00_14_ProAnd, although completely unnecessary, I’ve included a pic of the article as it appeared in the MicroNews, way back in 1996.

Thanks for dropping by.

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SPOT and GPS interference?

Posted by joeabbott on July 22, 2018

I carry both a SPOT and GPS device when I hike; I’ve never needed the SPOT but it’s good insurance, the GPS has proved invaluable on a number of hikes.

On my last outing, in an effort to find a good place to strap my SPOT, I hung it just above my GPS on my shoulder strap. The SPOT performed as expected for a tree-covered approach … like this:

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You can see where the trees are. Again, not great but not bad, either … a dozen tracks over 2.5 hours, making it about a track every 15 minutes.  I’d like better but I’ll take that.

My GPS, however … what the heck happened here?!?

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I have never seen anything like this … it’s just crazy. The prior week I had my GPS but the batteries crapped out after an hour or so on the trail, but it still gave me this path:

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Same area, same GPS … the only difference I can think of are the new batteries and hanging directly below my SPOT device. I will play with it a bit more to make sure I understand what’s going on, but it clearly looks like the GPS was reacting to something.

If you rely on multiple radio devices, be aware they may experience some interference if you position them too closely together! Be safe out there!

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A return to the scene–a trip up Snoqualmie Mountain

Posted by joeabbott on July 22, 2018

Weekends come and go around here with both Suzy and I looking forward to a chance to do stuff together; this weekend was an exception. Not in that we weren’t looking forward to some togetherness, but activities would take Suzy to a 5k Run on Saturday and an outing with her Master Gardener friends on Sunday; leaving me to my own devices. But wait … are our weekends ever really that simple? Nope!

The stuff that’s not as fun

Early last week we got a document from the county in which we plan to build our house stating they’d stopped the permitting process due to some irregularities. It was drawn out and a bit emotive but the upshot was that paperwork we’d submitted in January was lost. <sigh> There was some hurry-up discussions with our builder and folks were heading out to our lot on Friday to see about getting the needed tests done quickly; it had to do with our drain field and septic plan. I stayed home from work to jet up there in case I got a call … I got no call.

So, we agreed to jump in the car after Suzy got back from her 5K on Saturday and drive to lot, inspect the work that had been done, and see if anything required our input or assistance. I’ll jump ahead here and say that we did go up, in addition to the two perk pits that had been dug, they appear to have rummaged around those and then dug three additional pits. Suzy and I are perplexed … but had a very nice meal at Playa Bonita before heading back home.

Next steps … not clear. In spite of the delay and aggravation, it does feel like we’ve taken a step forward.

DSCF2242The fun stuff

So, with Suzy getting out with her friends, I was left to my own devices … and what better device than some sweat and a little discomfort in exchange for wonderful views? That’s right, last weekend I headed past Snoqualmie Mountain but didn’t summit the mountain proper. As it’s only 1.9 miles one-way, I decided I’d knock that off. Oh, in spite of being less than 2 miles in distance, you gain 3100’ of elevation; put your mountaineering boots on, folks, this trail’s not for Tevas!

I got to the lot around 6:45AM and it was already filling. The trailhead mainly serves Snow Lake trail, and while Snoqualmie Mountain may see a dozen or two travelers on a weekend, Snow Lake sees hundreds. Literally. And so I parked such that I could easily leave the lot, knowing it’d be a zoo; then I suited up, turned on various GPS and SPOT devices, and headed up.

The trail makes no qualms about ascent from the get go, and while the way is smooth in an un-kept trail sorta way for the first hundred yards, it quickly devolves into a rocky, rooty hand-over fist scramble up. I carry trekking poles so I don’t often need to grab the surroundings, but I did reach for a “green belay” or two on my way up.

While I tried to push myself reasonably hard, I also realized I wasn’t in a race and had nothing to prove … except for the fact that this was only a 2-mile long trail! I could tell time was getting on but my pace was what it was; it seems I’ve lost a little oomph since my Rainier outing. But, I was alone and had some of the nicest scenery and zero bugs!! This was a big improvement over last week; although it was probably because (‘d left a little earlier in the day.

I got in a couple peekaboo pics of the surrounding area before I topped out; nothing fantastic but for just 60 miles out of the city, it’s not bad at all.

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After breaking out of the treeline I spotted a number of colored shirts above me that pulled me on as if I were a scent hound. There’s something deeply competitive in me that I’m not sure I understand. I don’t think it’s a normal part of my character, but get me on a trail and I like to be out front; put someone ahead of me, and I’d like to pass; someone on my tail? Goose it a bit. I find it odd but I’m also finding my days of passing and goosing are not as many as they had been, so I am trying to find pleasure in “being” and “topping out”.

When the trail ends at the top, I was greeted by chill winds that had scoured the remaining snowfields coming off the north slopes. What looks like a small animal track leads off to the left proved to be a trail to another summit that, if higher, was only higher by a foot or so. It was here I found the other “colored shirts”, being six folks wearing climbing helmets and speaking in what sounded like Russian.

They exited the way I came and I was left to snap the below pic. You can see Snow Lake, the destination of many other hikers, just to the right of center. The peak dead center on the right is Kaleetan Peak; the one to its immediate left is Chair Peak; further to the left (although not as prominent) is Bryant Peak.

DSCF2256 Stitch

As I headed back I saw the destination of the Russian speakers: a prominence just off the top of Snoqualmie; it appears a scramble but not a desirable destination. You can see a few of the scramblers in the talus on the way up.

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For me, however, it was time to get back. It had taken me nearly 2 hours to go my 3100’ and I wanted to be sure I could get home before Suzy and prepare for our trip to the property. I grabbed one more snap and then made my ankle-breaking way back down the rocky trail, getting to my truck about and hour later.DSCF2262 Stitch

Coda

The parking lot was the expected zoo; where I’d parked to get a quick exit had been blocked by another row of creative parkers. I flagged a carload of folks and pointed them to my spot but let them know I’d need a minute to change out of something a bit less salt-soaked from my exertion. Another half dozen cars cruised by while I was changing but, quickly enough I was pulling out and replaced by the mid-morning hikers. It still took me some effort to extract my truck from the lot and I was surprised at how a few people had parked, leaving only inches on either side of my mid-sized truck as I pulled out.

With the madness behind me I sipped some juices I’d popped into a cooler and headed back home to enjoy the remainder of the weekend. It tickles me to have the confidence to whip up a plan like this: a goodly effort, a non-maintained trail, a solo outing … I may not be the hiker I used to be, but the education I picked up on the trails in my youth continues to serve me well.

Here’s hoping your adventures prove as sustaining; now stop reading and get out there!

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The other Green River stuff

Posted by joeabbott on July 20, 2018

I made mention of a few things we saw besides bridges on our most recent biking trip down the Green River Trail … here they are, in no particular order.

BMX Track

A biking company in a business park adjacent to Briscoe Park installed a BMX biking track. I only have a mountain bike so I gave the trails a trial and just about killed myself. I wasn’t going fast but the severe and numerous rises\falls had me feeling out of control.

While having this sort of facility is great, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than an enjoyable alternate use for the park, the initial appearance is one of neglect and the dumping of refuse: weeds festoon the perimeter, the track has no shoulder or separation from the land around it, and lack of supporting facilities (bike rack, bench, or shelter) all make this an odd “enhancement” to the Briscoe Park.

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Sculptures

Somewhere along the way I came across this biking sculpture (picture on the left) … I would have loved to dismount my bike and pose alongside them (it’s the sort of thing I do), but Suzy had put a little distance between us and I was hurrying to catch up!

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Further south, we came across a bench in the shape of a canoe (picture, right). Various photos on the side acknowledge the cultural debt we have in the Pacific Northwest to some of the First Nation tribes, but I wasn’t able to spend much time looking at them: again, I was lagging behind my biking partner! And, yes, it is a typical trend.

Pruning 101

Here’s a tip: if your tree or bush requires a bit of pruning, do not ask someone from a power line company to help you with that! Look at what they did to this poor tree we saw somewhere adjacent to the trail:

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Yup, yup … I’m not sure what choices they had but this beautiful, full tree has a quarter of its top removed, making it look super-odd. I was also surprised to see one of the wires still threading through the canopy, but someone told me this was a phone line … and the power company (who trimmed the upper branches) will not tend phone lines; and I guess the phone company doesn’t share the electrical power company’s concerns!

I’m assuming that cutting the tree down was out of the question, as there’s a memorial plaque at its base and a few picnic tables. I really can’t imagine anyone ever having a picnic here, it’s fairly out of the way, but it might make a nice, shady rest. And from the tables, you might not even notice the hack-job done to the tree.

Fore!

I mentioned Julene Bailie in my last post: she’s an author who has taken to watching a family of eagles living above the Green River near this stretch of the trail. Here she is, on the left, sheltering herself from the sun with a shirt she’s draped over her head. She has a camera with a powerful lens, a set of binoculars, and a few other items to offer her comfort on a long day of bird watching. She and I chatted a bit and I could have spent a lot longer with her: she knew the area, the eagles, and was happy to share what she had learned.

The shadows just behind her are cast by a 16’ fence separating the Trail from a golf course that abuts it. A bit further south you see the sign shown below, right, which warns bikers\hikers to “please use caution, errant golf balls may cross the trail.” I’m not sure how much caution I can muster but I’m sure hoping the golfers exercise some!

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Lovely views

Whether you are looking for river scenery or wildflowers the trail has plenty of both. While some stretches are more wonderful than others, the entirety of the trail seems to have something to offer to everyone.

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I think it’s an educational sculpture

Suzy and I came across this marker along the trail and I’m not 100% certain I know what to make of it.

The various horizontal markers around it denote a footage and and the words “Flood level”, leading us to believe water had, at one point, risen to the various levels … however, the distance between the bands is not consistent with the difference in the noted flood levels.

There are a number of dots on each pole and lines connecting them; some lines are solid, some are dotted. And some have either dates or words (e.g., “Completion of Howard A. Hanson Dam”) on them. I just can’t put together a consistent pattern to understand what logic they’re using.

Finally, there’s a big arrow superimposed over the four posts that requires you to stand back to see properly. Why it’s pointing north is a complete mystery to me.

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Coda

That was our trip. While the overall outing was well over 20 miles, it seemed I couldn’t go more than a mile or two without stopping to snap a picture of something; it’s just wonderfully busy with things to look at.

On our next trip I want to take a dedicated camera, as I imagine it’d be easier to grab and shoot, but I would likely risk wiping out or taking a spill into blackberry brambles … and that would not be welcome. So, if you’re up for a good workout, the trail is long; if you’re more interested in finding diversions, there’s plenty of that, too! Thanks to the cities of Tukwila and Kent for keeping this stretch of the Green River Trail in good condition!

Here’s hoping your trails are smooth and interesting!

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Bridges of the Green River Trail

Posted by joeabbott on July 18, 2018

imageOK, the title may prepare you for a comprehensive review but these are just a few of the bridges spanning the Green River that Suzy and I saw while on a recent biking excursion.

Last Sunday, before the heat of a 95°F day set in, we tossed our bikes into the back of my truck, drove down to a parking spot just off the Green River Trail, and headed south. Our destination was somewhere around “where we turned around last time”, but we’re always game to learn some new things so we went just a bit further.

We were on the east bank of the Green River on the way down, but crossed to the west on a pedestrian\cycling bridge just south of the Green River Natural Resources Area (the brown splotch on the map to the right). From there we continued south on Frager Road until that thoroughfare ended, at Foster Park at the extreme south … probably 15 miles from where we started.

Along the way I was taking pictures of anything that caught my attention: a tree that had been curiously pruned, wildflowers, sculptures, and even a bird watcher (Julene Bailie, an author of a number of books about a local family of eagles … see her photography work here). I also found myself snapping pics of a number of bridges.

Some of the bridges were cool, others attractive, and some just utilitarian; but all caught my eye. Unfortunately, I can’t remember and didn’t write down the names or locations of the bridges, so, for now, you’ll just get snaps of a few bridges, my guess at where it is, and maybe word or two of why they caught my eye.

First Bridge

While we navigate under South 180th St bridge before we get to this walking\biking trestle, I’m considering this one the First Bridge. Mainly because we actually used it to cross to the east side of Green River, but also because it’s attractive.

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Utilitarian Bridge

I think this is the South 200th Street bridge but I only caught a portion of the span … the rest is the same: concrete and straight lines.

Not a “bad” bridge, but nothing to set it apart or recommend it as a destination.

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Copper Dome Rounds Bridge

This bridge always catches my attention. When I first saw the copper-colored sphere decorations on it, I thought they were copper … upon closer inspection it’s just colored concrete, but it’s a neat feature and makes for an eye-catching motif. While it’s mostly just another big, concrete bridge, the exposed aggregate upper portion does lend a break from the otherwise smooth surfaces.

I’m guessing this bridge takes Veteran’s Drive over the Green River, but I am (again) guessing. It seems right but even with a map (both Bing and Google), I can’t tell exactly where this might be.

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Green Truss Trestle

We had just turned around and were coming back when we were directed beneath the West Meeker Street Bridge. This fella is a throwback to the past, with little more to see than industrial-green iron beams riveted together. While it’s a bit ugly, the large open areas attempt to make this trestle light and airy; I’ll let you decide if you think it succeeded.

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Bridge Under a Bridge!

This one has got to be my fave … not because it’s beautiful or well-kept (and maybe a bit of the opposite in both cases), but because it surprised me and gave me a smile. This was the Hwy 516 (also known as the South Kent Des Moines Road) Bridge over the Green River, and beneath the solid car overpass, a bridge for pedestrians and bikers is hung! There’s even a little nook with a bench for sitting down and watching the river.

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And you can file this under the “why can’t we ever have anything nice”, the seating area was rife with litter, graffiti, and grime … neither Suzanne nor I wanted to sit there. But, she gave me a nice smile as she posed for a pic mid-span!

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Coda

That’s it … it’s not all the bridges but a lot of them. Some were fun, some were nice to look at, and others just got you to the other side of the river. Thanks for touring along with me!

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Another weekend, another outing

Posted by joeabbott on July 15, 2018

Yesterday I got out on a hike that went a bit awry. We’d intended on taking a seldom-traveled path to a local, small summit but got high on a rock band and didn’t like our options for reconnecting with the trail. So, we made the most of stretching our legs and seeing some of the untrammeled beauty in Washington near Snoqualmie Pass. It was a good day.

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Our intent was to bag Lundin Peak from the west; as you can see in the above map, somewhere around SPOT Track 6, we got off course, heading up a shoulder that we never felt good descending. I’m a little annoyed we didn’t turn around immediately after noting our error, but we thought we could easily reconnect after traversing high. We may have been able to, but we never felt good about the transition from our high route back to the trail.

Now, I really applaud our decision making and staying safe, but it’s disappointing to have missed a summit because we didn’t want to lose 200’ of elevation gain, hard-won though it was. And yet, our rewards for going off-trail were marvelous: pristine blue skies above high alpine forests, Mount Rainier in all her glory to the south, and some beautiful terrain all to ourselves. Now that I think about it, maybe I should do more of that … the rewards for abandoning a goal in favor of enjoying the moments are pretty significant. Here are a few pics from the day‘

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I need to make this quick as I have a bike ride with Suzy scheduled to start in just a few minutes. Later today it’ll get to be over 90°, so we’re getting out early to beat the heat! Hope you’re enjoying summer!

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Game Pass gaming

Posted by joeabbott on July 7, 2018

While all my climbing and plans around the house have been landing, one thing has been consistent: a near-nightly dose of video gaming. I game for a lot of reasons but I’ve covered that sort of thing before; today let’s take a look at what I’ve been playing since looking into the Game Pass collection.

Game Pass is a program launched on the Xbox earlier this (or late last) year and considered “the Netflix of video games”; it includes about 200 games and you can play any of them whenever you want, all for one low monthly price. While it includes a few blockbusters, I was interested in some of the lesser-played games … typically those I can get all the achievements on. Let’s take a look at some of the games I’ve played in the last couple months.

Hue

Hue is a really fun game that uses color as the main game mechanic. You control a little boy looking for his mother; on his adventures he comes across special <insert name of thing I forget or don’t know> allowing him to change the background color of his world. In the below image, the boy is to the left of the orange wall and the background is light blue. By changing the background to orange, the wall between the boy and the black crate will disappear, enabling him to grab the box and pull it to the left hand wall.

However, when he changes the background to purple a lot of things will happen … not all of them good: the niche in the wall to the left will be open, the doorways will disappear, the tall wall will disappear, and the boulders suspended above his head will suddenly come crashing down. Additionally, anything that was light blue will suddenly appear when contrasted with the new background color.

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If the little boy was smart and quick, he would have solved this puzzle like this: change the background color to orange, drag the now-accessible crate to the left (he’d have to change the background yet again to light blue to avoid the now apparent light blue wall), hop on the crate, jump up and while in mid-air change the background color to purple, enter the now-vacant niche … and avoiding the falling boulders. He could then jump onto the boulders, navigate to the niche in the right hand wall and leave the room. On the way to the exit door, he’ll have to change the background color a few times to get past the colored walls, but you quickly get used to swapping colors as you move through this world.

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Hue was a lot of fun and required just the right amount of puzzle solving and platforming to keep me entertained and interested the entire game.

The Swapper

Another clever game similar to Hue in that it uses a gimmicky mechanic to navigate the world. In The Swapper you’ve docked your craft on a deserted space ship in which nearly all the inhabitants are dead. You have to discover what happened and make your way out to safety. In the first minutes of the game you’re introduced to a “gun” which allows you to create up to four clones of yourself at a distance: the clones will identically mimic your movements and you can either transfer to one of them … leaving your original position as one of the clones .. or dispel them. Using this device you need to solve a number of puzzles to navigate the ship.

I rated this slightly below Hue in that it became a bit tedious (there are a LOT of puzzles, all seemingly very similar), the ship you need to navigate is both big and confusing, and you have to find certain hidden rooms in the game that are nearly impossible to find without using some sort of game guide. You get a map but both viewing and identifying where you are and need to be is more difficult than you’d imagine it should be; and it certainly doesn’t show the hidden rooms. That said, it was both clever and entertaining and I was happy the game is included in the Game Pass … I hope more people enjoy this novel game.

imageAbove you can see one of the puzzles you need to solve. The room on the far right contains an “orb” you need (they power generators which open other doors and transportation areas), but it’s blocked by a doorway. The player, the man on the bottom right, is placing one of his clones on an upper shelf containing a platform which, when stood upon, will open the doorway. The player has already placed a couple other clones about the area.

The game includes of the most imaginative endings I’ve seen in a game in a long time, and I’d love to spoil the secret with you … but I won’t. Play the game and find out!

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers is a remarkable bit of storytelling but it’s a lot less Disney and a lot more Old World fable in which there are equal amounts sorrow and victory.

In the game you simultaneously control the titular brothers, each controlled by a different thumbstick. It’s a bit of a trick and takes a little getting used to doing, but you either get used to the controls and manage OK, or surrender and move one brother at a time. I did fairly well until the level where the ogre chases you and then died a lot as panic set in and I found myself confused and running into walls at best or directly to the ogre more than I’d like to admit!

Throughout the game you leverage either boys traits: the smaller, agile younger brother for getting into tight spots or being lifted to higher ledges, or his stronger sibling doing the bulk of the muscular puzzle solving. These qualities are needed as they run through their village while the town bully blocks their way, maneuver a grisly battlefield with the remains of the giant warriors and their weapons, climb into the deteriorated remains of a castle, and navigate a frozen tundra near the sea.image

In the image above, the boys are showing the reason for their journeys: their ailing father is in need of a magical cure only available in a far-distant land. This clip is from the introductory chapter, introducing you to the controls as you use both boys to push their father on a cart, and then have one of them throw the switch that moves the bridge.

Clever controls play backseat to a tremendous, touching story that I’d go into detail on, but this is another game where uncovering that tale is a big part of the enjoyment.

Costume Quest 2

I played this 100% for the achievements but ended up having a really enjoyable time with Costume Quest 2. The story won’t win awards (a brother-sister duo need to save Halloween from an evil dentist who used time travel and control of a monster race to abolish Halloween and costume wearing), the art is close to South Park quality, and the gameplay offers little in the way of novelty, but it pulls all those things together well enough that I had a lot of fun.

In the game you control one of the characters (either the brother or the sister … your choice) and the remaining sibling just tags along. Along your way you uncover different costumes, allowing you the powers associated with it as you do battle with monsters, robots, and ultimately the evil dentist. You chose which costume your characters wear and throughout the game use them to solve small puzzles (bird blocking the path? Don your pteranodon costume and use the wing-swipe power to blow them away) and upon detection by the wandering monster or robot patrols, enter a turn-based combat mode.

The battles are where your costumes really come into play: your clown costume has a horn that stuns enemies and a special power that heals the team, your superhero costume has a power punch, wolfman has slash attacks and so on. You can also find or buy collectible cards which, during combat, can be played to change an aspect of the game: healing can return hit points, attacks can be modified, etc.image

In the above image, your character is in the turn-based battle mode where Reynold, in a superhero costume has the choice of doing a Flying Fist Attack on one of the monsters or play a card. Each of your characters has a chance to strike one of the enemies using their own attack or play a card from your collected deck; after your attacks complete, the enemies get a chance to attack you.

Overall, I enjoyed Costume Quest 2 far more than I thought I would; the simplistic combat, cute art, and those easy achievements all played into me having fun … and that’s what gaming should be about.

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

In this game you play either Sherlock or (very occasionally) his trusty aide, Dr. Watson, as they untangle a set of four crimes. This game had a lot to offer in terms of different styles: some sections had you in first-person mode, dodging bullets and eluding a chase; others had you solving point-and-click puzzles as you searched for clues; and in a new game mechanic, after uncovering all the various things that might have happened during the crime, you use your deductive skills to piece together the order in which they occurred. Oh, there was even a section in which you have to prove out your lawn bowling skills.

While I enjoyed the breadth of activities this game offered, I did find the long load times to be seriously detracting from the enjoyment and the fiddling details to solve some puzzles (to navigate a foundry I had to throw switches or move some 17 different things … I may not have been efficient, but I didn’t seem to have a lot of wasted moves here) wore on my patience. But the balance was one of enjoyment as you negotiate London in this period piece set in the late 1800s.image

The above image shows one of the “what order did things occur” puzzles (the events have already been numbered by the player), and with many variables, was a lot of fun to put together. In this scenario, horse carriage #1 came to an abrupt stop which triggered carriage #2 to collide, etc. etc. It was a contrived scenario with thrown hammers dislodging banners, horses crashing into things, fires starting, and electric lamp posts arcing. As I said, there’s a lot of fun and enjoyment to be had putting all the pieces together.

Late Shift

Late Shift is a game utilizing live actors in QuickTime video clips to tell a story. You’re a late night parking lot attendant, Matt, who gets taken hostage which leads you into a small crime ring involving an art dealer, a Chinese mob, and a potential romance. At each major decision you’re given a choice and, depending on what you choose and how that plays out, the story progresses down one of seven major endings. Does your character take the loot and run? Save the damsel? Squeal to the mafia? Or become a thug and beat your way to the end you want? It’s all up to you.

While the novel game style kept me captivated for a while, I found myself growing tired of Late Shift as I tried to elicit each of the seven different endings from the game. But, the acting was well done, I remained guessing at how my actions might play out, and found myself nodding as I saw how the game wove the parts into an efficient production. Meaning, if I went along with the robbers on the heist, I departed with them. When I decided to bug out and leave the robbers in the lurch, well, they came looking for me and dragged me along with them so I was at the pl4ace I needed to be in the next scene: the car crash.

It made for a fun meta-gaming experience, so, I guess I found understanding how the game designers built the game to be an enjoyable aspect of playing the game.image

In the above frame, Matt, has just decided to run from the hostage taking assailant who has fired a couple warning shots over his shoulder? Does Matt cow and submit? Or keep running? You decide.

Super Lucky’s Tale

I started this game on the advice of a friend who called it a “chill little platformer where you can spend a half hour or two getting through a level”. Unfortunately, I find myself to be less of a “chill” gamer and the game brought me a lot of angst. You see, I’m pretty bad at platformer games … games where your character jumps from platform to platform, dodging various environmental hazards and collecting coins\gems along the way to a puzzle’s end. But, I’m a sucker for Gamerscore so I saw this one through.

You use the same skills to get through all levels … jumping, double-jumping, spinning (to kick things), and burrowing (to avoid some dangers) … and you play several levels in various “worlds” before you meet the world boss and fight him to progress to the next world. Throughout each level you’re tasked with four objectives: get to the end of the platforms\maze, find the mystery section and beat it, pick up 300 coins in the level, and find all the hidden letters to the name “Lucky” in the level. By doing this, you gain clovers, which can then be exchanged for unlocking doors leading to additional levels.image

In the above image, Lucky (lower level, just about to capture a coin and needing to move fast to avoid being hit by a fireball) has just moved beyond a checkpoint (the fox statue), and is clearing out coins from the lower level … all the while avoiding this level’s environmental damage: fireballs.

On the whole, Super Lucky’s Take is extremely well-done and for those who like this sort of game, I could imagine it being a lot of fun. Me, I’ll give it a “meh” and be happy I completed it.

Coda

That’s about it for games I’ve been playing from the Game Pass library. I’d have a tough time rating these games from one to seven, as I would have a hard time ordering, say, Late Shift above or below Sherlock Holmes … both were fun and I was happy to have had the time and opportunity to play both of them. But, for recommendation’s sake, I’ll say:

  • Absolutely play Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons
  • You should make time for Costume Quest 2 and Hue
  • You can have a lot of fun with The Swapper, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, Late Shift, and Super Lucky’s Tale.

That last grouping isn’t necessarily in any particular order.

I play a bunch of games, I like doing it, and these have been some of the pastimes I’ve enjoyed these past few months. Thanks for dropping in and I hope your diversions are equally pleasurable.

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Stick a pin in the map (local edition)

Posted by joeabbott on July 3, 2018

Suzanne and I plan on moving at some point in the next year or two, but we’ve enjoyed living in the south end of Seattle. While not the most desirous of zip codes, SeaTac has been our home and launching point for many adventures, both local and not so local. As we consider leaving a place that’s become comfortable, we decided to spend an afternoon looking for smaller gems in these parts.

Upon heading to bed the other night, we agreed to head to “a park” and I offered to find one. The next morning I offered her a map and, rather than just visit one park, we headed out to try a bunch!

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Kent Memorial Park

This would have been our first stop, had we stopped, but Suzanne recalled this place as we neared it and it was comprised of a set of three baseball diamonds. Interesting for ballgames, less so for leisurely walks. And so we passed without stopping.

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Kiabara Park

We continued on to Kiabara Park but had a hard time finding it; so hard we were actually at the park before we knew we were there. The Park lies along the west side of a railroad track, roughly a block long and half that in width. It contains a koi pond and some statuary, along with lots of trees, paths, and benches for those looking for a rest. As the Kent area has built up around it, the Park appears to be home to those with a bit more time and a bit less house than they’d probably like.

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We didn’t get out here, but parked alongside it and recollected a time a few years back when we’d walked this area and enjoyed a small, local fair that was going on. Suzanne tried to spot the bakery we’d visited, while I counted the cars on a passing train (65, including 2 engines). When the train passed and the crossing guards lifted, we headed east to our next objective.

Mill Creek Earthworks Park

While neither Suzanne or I had heard of this park before, it’s well-known enough to have its own Wikipedia page! We parked at the west end and started our walking tour, wondering if it was a bad omen that the QR code on one of the informational plaques resulted in a 404 … page not found. But, soon enough, in spite of a background of traffic noises, the spell a well-designed park can have was cast upon us. We walked past a few minor hills created for the sake of visual interest, noted the flood control vault created to weather a 10,000 year flood/storm, past the circular retention pond and through the split-mounds, and onto a pond where a mallard duck shook her tail feathers at us in anticipation of a crust of bread … that never came. She was interested enough, however, to follow us to the far side of the little pond where we rested on a bench and took in the views.

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From there we wandered farther east to the end of the paved trail and looked down the damp earth trail in its tumble of trees and vines. We didn’t have the shoes for a wet trek and the mosquitoes were already letting us know our short sleeved shirts were just what they were looking for. So, we walked back to look over the earthworks from atop a small building housing the restrooms, then over a bridge to inspect a now-defunct set of stairs leading up to the roadway above us, and then we spent a few minutes watching a man playing with a boomerang as he launched his toy into the circular retention pond. I tried to determine if, with my help he could retrieve his boomerang, but it would be a wet endeavor for someone and it didn’t appear that he had an interest in wading in. And so it was back to our car and on to the next park.

Morrill Meadows Park

We arrived at Morrill Meadows Park and were immediately deterred by an orange, plastic fenced blocking us from the park proper. A family had already setup for a picnic at the shelter but there was an unwelcome look to a place under construction. image

And so, we circled the lot, noted nothing on the west side that looked like trails, and continued on to our next venue. On inspection of a map (at higher resolution), there would have been a bit of trail-walking opportunities beyond the orange mesh barrier, but we passed this time.

Gary Grant Park / Arbor Heights Park 360

Noted as Gary Grant Park on our map, it was labeled Arbor Heights Park 360 on the signage at the actual location and Suzanne and I immediately recognized this location from when we drove past earlier in the week: it’s a skateboard park! Nope, we didn’t stop as we didn’t have our boards but we continued on to the nearby next location …

Clark Lake Park

Our final destination was a good one. We pulled in to see an animal control vehicle at the entrance but were relieved to see the driver was just stopping there for a bit of a break. A sign told us the dock at the lake was under reconstruction but we headed in using the “left hand rule”.

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As we didn’t have a map I chose to always take the left hand option or path, reasoning that if we got lost, we could turn around and take only right hand paths to return to our car. Suzy immediately recognized this as the strategy I use for finding my way through a dungeon maze in video games and proceeded to taunt me. It was all in good fun and our paths led us across fields, past disused barns, to the quiet end of the lake where more ducks approached us, and back until we finally found the out-of-commission dock. A young couple must not have read the sign … and didn’t find the barrier a deterrent … and were sitting on the dock; we took in the views from the end and then made our way down the west side paths.

Before getting too far, about where the paths turned south, we turned around and walked back to the cars; the day was getting on and dark clouds announced potential rain. Upon passing the lake on the way out, we heard a tremendous “whoosh” … sounding like an airplane was ditching into the lake! A quick peek noted it was only a large flock of ducks alighting into the water. We both smiled as we’d never heard so big a sound from some ducks.

Coda

And that was our day. While there are plenty more parks to discover and enjoy in the South End, we found a couple we’ll likely visit again when opportunity presents itself. It was a good afternoon of toodling lazily about.

Thanks for following along on our afternoon of strolling!

Posted in General stuff, Hiking, Suzy | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Book Chat: Flora of Middle-earth; Plans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium

Posted by joeabbott on July 2, 2018

imageOK, first off, this isn’t a “review” … just my thoughts on a book I’d read. I realize I’d been calling these sort of posts “reviews” and they’re not proper analyses of books, just me babbling on a bit. I had two choices: change how I was writing about books or set expectations appropriately. So here I am … this is not a review, just me talking about various parts of a book I recently finished. And that book today is Flora of Middle-earth; Plans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium by Walter S. Judd & Graham A. Judd.

A true Tolkien nerd would have recognized my last post having the same title as used to describe Bilbo’s 111th birthday party in The Lord of the Rings (LoTR). Perhaps inspired by my recent reading of Flora of Middle-earth, but it’s my opinion this book should be reserved to be read and kept by only that same sort of person: someone so completely rapt by J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing and worlds that she or he would collect every little thing they might find on it.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is expertly written, is decorated with over 100 woodcut-style illustrations, and contains exceptional and scholarly botanical information … but it’s a pretty dry read containing a wealth of material unassociated with Tolkien’s world. Again, there’s plenty of merit to this work, but rather than carrying me away to Middle-earth, it roots me firmly in the here and now. As it does that well, let’s take a look.

The father-son team split responsibilities on the book with the father, Walter, a Professor Emeritus in the Botany Department at the University of Florida, wrote the text and the son, Graham, an instructor at Augsburg College and the Minneapolis College of Fine Art and Design, providing the illustrations in the style of a woodcut print.

The book itself is broken into 8 chapters, but Chapter 7 is the reason most anyone would crack this book: the description of the flora found in Middle-earth. Chapters 1-6 (~72 pages) cover introductions, overview of plant communities in Middle-earth, a long breakdown of botanical classification and identification, and a handful of pages on two singular trees: the Two Trees of Valinor. After that, Chapter 7 (~270 pages) covers over 120 different plants named in one of Tolkien’s Middle-earth-based works (which includes the Silmarillion, The Adventures of Tom Bombadill and the HoME series written by Christopher Tolkien). Chapter 8 (~4 pages), by Graham, touches on the illustrations and alludes to Tolkien’s own artistic talents.

The first chapters had me chomping at the bit for more, to get into the meat of the book and didn’t do a lot for me. Chapter 2, for instance, Plant Communities of Middle-earth included a diagram showing Middle-earth at the time of the LoTR in silhouette with a line somewhere north of The Shire separating the northern portion from everything in the south. These were the two areas of distinction … accurate (I guess) but hardly telling.

Judd does this a couple other times, pointing out mountainous regions and desert areas but he didn’t really need the dozen or so maps to make this point. Curiously he includes maps and discussion of the Isle of Numenor but doesn’t include Beleriand even though he notes flora from this area, and it’s vastly larger than Numenor. He whets your appetite without really expanding a lot of your knowledge of this chapter.

Chapters 3-5 were really beyond me. For someone who got the book to learn about flora in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, these chapters are a speed bump on the way to learning about that. Judd discusses the importance of green plants (The Diversity of life, with a Focus on the Green Plants), takes you through botanical distinction (Introduction to Plant Morphology: Learning the Language of Plant Descriptions), and then a lengthy identification chapter (Identification of the Plants of Middle-earth). It’d be one thing to learn this before a walk through a field, but when the plants are presented readily identified and named, it’s connected but unnecessary detail.

Chapter 6, Telperion and Laurelin: The Two Trees of Valinor, starts the engine, however, and brings you into a discussion of Middle-earth botany: a treatment of the Two Trees. It’s a brief chapter but nicely done, discussing what Tolkien created, which trees he may have based these imaginary specimens on, touches on their story, and treats the reader to an etymological discussion. It sets the stage for what follows.

And so Chapter 7, The Plants of Middle-earth, then takes you alphabetically (by common name) through the flora of Middle-earth. Each plant is introduced and includes a quote that addressed it from one of Tolkien’s sources; as an example:

OAKS (QUERCUS SPP.)

(The Beech or Oak family [Fagaceae].)

In a great hall with pillars hewn out of the living stone sat the Elvenking [Thanduil] on a chair of carven wood. On his head was a crown of berries and red leaves, for the autumn was come again. In the spring he wore a crown of woodland flowers. In his hand he held a carven staff of oak.

(Hobbit, IX)

These quotes are a lot of fun, as, after reading the plant name introducing the section, I continually found myself thinking back to the stories and wondering if Judd would use the quote from the part of the books I’d remembered. As often as not he didn’t, and I found those times more entertaining as he reminded me of another great part of a great literary work.

Judd then treats us to a discussion on the plant at hand; sometimes noting how often they were mentioned in the books, often mentioning the many other places the subject was found, or the appropriateness of the plant in that place and time. It was marvelous to appreciate just how well Tolkien knew his botany and placement of the plants in his world. It was clear he didn’t just say, “I need a new tree here … maybe I’ll toss in a Linden” … no, he understood the environment a species would like and made sure it was apt for the placement in his world. He also nailed the right seasons and the state of his plants at those times. I grew to respect Tolkien immensely for his diligence in this aspect of his works.

After a short discussion Judd included sections on Etymology, Distribution and Ecology, Economic Uses, and Description … but, truth be told, I scanned much of this and skipped some altogether.

Etymology was a mixed bag, with some parts dealing with aspects I was interested in, the Quenya or Sindarin treatments, and others less so, as it dealt with the common name and English and Latin etymology.

Distribution and Ecology was similar to Economic Uses in that it abandoned Middle-earth as a whole and addressed real-world details. While I got the book to know where and when plants were noted in Tolkien’s world, I care much less that Horse-Chestnuts, for instance, are a group of 12 species with distribution throughout our Northern Hemisphere; or that the Rowan, again, for instance, are widely used as ornamentals due to their showy white flowers and bright orange or red fruits (often held through winter).

After these sections, a Description follows, that focuses on the details laid out in the distribution and identification sections above. I admit to skipping many of these parts as it was dry for me and felt antiseptic alongside ents, hobbits, and elves. A short portion of the description of Hart’s Tongue:

Description: Herbaceous, evergreen fern, with short, erect, unbranched stem that bears brown scales. Leaves (or fronds), alternate, clustered, simple (and rarely apically divided, cleft) linear to oblong or slightly obovate, with a prominent midvein but the other veins obscure; the apex acuminate to acute , the base cordate, the margins entire and sometimes slightly undulate; the blade with a few scales on the lower surface or nearly glabrous; the petiole elongate, grooved on the upper surface, with scales toward the base.

Yeah … entire pages of this sort of stuff. Again, scholarly and associated, but hardly the stuff of fantasy storytelling.

The illustrations in the book, while distinct aren’t always enjoyable; either the artists style or the woodcut capabilities lead to distorted faces, or squat and hunched over figures. This is a shame because when Graham focused on the flora, the effect was quite nice. Or, when he kept the characters in silhouette (looking at you Sorrel) or when the characters looked normally proportioned (as in Niphredil) the result was rather pleasing.

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While I’m not wholly taken by the result to Flora of Middle-earth, I can’t be anything but avid for the effort behind this work. The approach, to its ultimate detriment, is scholarly, the references and bibliography vast, and the commitment to the topic is nothing short of fantastic. I often imagined the Judd’s poring over the thousands of pages of texts and associated works by Tolkien and other authors, tracking quotes and references. Impressive.

I was genuinely surprised at how many plants were noted throughout the Tolkien legendarium and how well they were appropriately placed in his Middle-earth. It was interesting that, of all the plants noted, only potatoes and tomatoes were inappropriate (due less to being agricultural products than not being available as historical English cultivars … both being native to the New World); well, maybe tobacco, too, although Tolkien referred to it as “pipe-weed”, to avoid direct disassociation.

The book as a whole has a place in my library, as I’m a true Tolkien nerd, and I’m happy I’ve read it and learned a bit. However, I can’t recommend it without being super-clear that this is not a whimsical look at the flora of Middle-earth, but a treatise and scientific approach to plant-life in Tolkien’s universe. And to you, the reader of this blog: apologies for the length here and, as always, thanks for reading.

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A party of special magnificence

Posted by joeabbott on July 1, 2018

Suzanne had a birthday and it celebrated a milestone: 50 years. And it was done right.

We catered food, had simply perfect weather, and opened our home to some close friends and family as well as a few goats. Yup, actual goats; and to be more precise, four 2-week old baby goats. It was great. Suzy’s blog covers the event better than I could, so please check out her So I never had ponies post. My contribution was building the enclosure for the goats!

We had planned on getting a few cattle panels, that are just 4’x8’ heavy duty wire sections that we’d zip-tie together to build an area the goats weren’t able to escape; however, Barbara (the lady who manages the Puget Sound Goat Rescue) didn’t appear to have enough sections so I offered to build a few “simple sections” that we’d attach together to create something suitable. Suzy and I discussed the height requirements, mapped out roughly where they’d go, and then I sat down with my friend SketchUp to mock up an option using standard 2×4 and 4×4 lumber. It came out pretty good.

Here was my stab … five 4×8 sections and two 4×4 sections, with one of the 4×4 portions only attached at one side, allowing it to swing open and act as a gate. As we were planning for this to be on our “plateau”, a graveled area in the backyard, it was going to be on an uneven surface and the section attachments required some flexibility.

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I planned for this to only take a few hours to build, but during the construction we decided we needed to cover the faces with plastic fencing mesh, so it took a lot longer … two four-hour sessions or so. Also, after getting the basic three-slat sections completed, we realized we didn’t need to angled stabilizer, which saved us almost $40 in lumber! Nice!

As always, our garage doubles as my workshop and this time we didn’t even pull out her car! It was a pretty simple construction job.

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After the build, we hauled them to the rough location in the backyard. Suzy moved the fire pit, allowing us to use the seating stones as a place for guests to sit, as well as a fun little something for the goat-lings to climb on. Then we had to determine how to put it together.

I considered metal stitch plates (a construction item that’s simply a thin sheet of metal with a bunch of holes in it … you can drive screws through the plate, into two wooden pieces butted together) and even actual hinges. I discarded both as potentially dangerous (sharp edges on the stitch plates) or costly (hinges!!) and decided to just pull out some 3/4” tubular webbing I had in my climbing gear boxes.

Using the webbing, I’d attach the free end of a piece to one of the posts with a screw, circle the post with the webbing (pulling tight), and then fasten the other end to the other post. I did that a couple times on each connection and it held perfectly tight.

I am including a bonus cat picture as a gift to those who have read this far into my post!

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And here’s an action shot … yes, I simply stole a pic from Suzy’s blog post. I (sadly) never took any pictures on her actual birthday.

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And that was it … a bit of lumber, some creativity and time, and you get a little corral that delighted both goats and guests. And the hosts.

That was a pretty fun afternoon: a party celebrating a person of special magnificence … Suzanne.

Thanks for sharing a bit of our party.

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