Archive for May, 2024


I developed a weird new addiction while I’ve been unpacking, a YouTube channel that seems to have a lot to do with reviewing theme parks. I saw people I follow online talking about a review this person posted about the now-defunct Star Wars hotel at Disneyland and was curious enough that when it popped up on my “recommended” list, I started watching it. It’s something like 4 hours long, and it made the perfect background noise for unpacking, as it wasn’t something I had to pay much attention to and the visuals beyond the person talking to the camera were only occasional, so I didn’t have to look at the screen often. Then after that one, her review of the now-defunct fantasy theme park in Utah (I’d read an article about it) came up, so I watched that one, too.

The funny thing is, I’m not really a theme park person. I’ve never been to any of the Disney parks and have no particularly strong urge to go. I don’t like crowds or lines. I’ve been to Universal Studios in both Orlando and LA, but for special events (parties — a publisher party during a conference in Orlando, the Serenity premiere party in LA), so I only saw the places where the events were held and didn’t see anything beyond that. The only big amusement park I’ve visited is Six Flags Over Texas, and I haven’t been there in about 30 years. I mostly went there during the time when they were actually going with the Six Flags theme, so there were sections of the park built around each of the entities whose flags have flown over Texas. Now I think they’ve scrapped that idea and are focused more on cartoon and comic book characters. I think this would be considered more an amusement park than a theme park, as there’s now no real attempt at immersion or creating a themed environment (they did sort of do this in the old days, but not to the degree of something like Disney).

I’ve got to say that even as a huge Star Wars fan, that hotel sounds like my worst nightmare. It was an immersive game, so you pretty much stayed in the hotel and did planned activities, aside from a controlled excursion to the Star Wars part of the theme park. I’m claustrophobic enough that no windows other than fake “portals” with space views and not being able to leave the hotel would freak me out. I also don’t like being overly scheduled. I do thrive on routine when I have the opportunity to set the routine and have flexibility not to follow it, but I chafe at tight schedules created by someone else, and it sounds like they had guests tightly scheduled from morning to bedtime, without any free time to just hang around. I’m also not a fan of forced activities. When I was nine and utterly obsessed with Star Wars, I might have enjoyed the chance to play Star Wars like that, but nothing much about it appeals to me right now. It might be fun to stay in a Star Wars-themed hotel for a visit to the theme park and to be able to hang out in a lobby that’s made to look like a star cruiser lounge, but it doesn’t sound like the “game” stuff was very interesting to participate in. We did a better job of playing Star Wars when we rode our bikes around the neighborhood, pretending they were X-Wings and TIE fighters. Considering what they charged for this experience, I’m not surprised it didn’t survive, but I am surprised they folded so quickly without any effort to retool it or reboot it into something that might work.

On the other hand, that fantasy park in Utah kind of intrigues me. I enjoy things like Renaissance festivals, and this seemed along those lines, though with less emphasis on shopping, more emphasis on the characters, and with the inclusion of magic/fantasy elements. Unfortunately, it sounds like this park was rather half-baked, a big idea that wasn’t really executed. They poured a lot of money into elements that made little difference in the experience while not finishing elements they started. When this reviewer went there, they didn’t even manage to open a gift shop (she wanted to buy a t-shirt and couldn’t ever find a way to do so), but they’d decorated the churchyard with authentic antique tombstones. If someone could build something like that and do it right (and if it were in a place I could get to and would want to go), it’s something I could consider going to, especially with the right group of people. It’s like a big game of let’s pretend that grown-ups can enjoy. I don’t really care about participating in an actual game or anything where my choices change the story I experience. I just enjoy the ambience and seeing the world play out around me.

I suppose the park I went to last weekend kind of counts as that sort of experience, only the focus there is on real history. I don’t know if they have the costumed guides and interpreters there all the time or if it’s just for special events or weekends (the way they have it phrased on the website, they’re not there in the winter, so maybe they are there the rest of the year). However, I doubt they’re keen on visitors dressing up in costumes and participating too intently, especially since the emphasis is on history, and you wouldn’t want guests to be confused between who the actual guides are and who are the random people just hanging out.


Time Travel Weekend

I’ve started trying to explore my new area. This weekend, I walked downtown to go to the farmers market and an art fair, but my big expedition was to the Frontier Culture Museum. This is a big, open-air exhibit on the edge of town that showcases the history of this region, from back when it was the American frontier. They’ve relocated actual historic structures and set up small farms for different historical areas. There’s a Native American farm, a cabin from the 1700s, an 1820s farmhouse, an 1850s farmhouse, a frontier schoolhouse, and an African-American church from around the end of the Civil War. It’s basically an opportunity to travel in time.

But the museum also gets into the cultures of the people who settled here, so there’s an Old World section with an Irish tenant farm from the early 1700s, a German farm, an English farm from the 1600s, and a West African farm. Part of these exhibits is not only the culture of the people who came from these places, but the reasons people left those places. For instance, the English farmhouse is a place a yeoman farmer would have lived, and that sort of person wouldn’t have had a reason to leave, but it was the kind of thing tenant farmers and laborers without land might have aspired to, so they’d have taken the opportunity to become indentured workers in the Virginia colony so that after their indenture time was up, they’d have their own land and would be yeoman farmers (and when the big landowners realized that they were going to run out of land if they kept having to give it to their workers, they turned to slavery for labor).

They grow flax there, so they can demonstrate the process of what it takes to process it into linen, and they raise sheep that they shear and then demonstrate wool processing. I also saw some cattle, pigs, chickens, and goats (and a barn cat).

They were doing a special Memorial Day event, so they had some historical reenactors and special experts on hand doing presentations. I went to the session a member of the Shawnee tribe did about Native American life in this area. They also had a smith working in the 18th century Irish forge, a demonstration of muskets by Revolutionary War reieactors, and a reenactment of the Enclosure Riots in England in the early 1600s.

A half-timbered English farm building from the 16th century, with reenactors wearing costumes from the early 1600s standing in front.
The English farm at the Frontier Culture Museum., just before they reenacted the Enclosure Riots.

There were some other activities, but I spent a lot of time in the forge, since one of the main characters in the next Rydding Village book is a smith, and I had to pet the dog the Shawnee man had because he looked so much like a dog I used to have (even acted exactly like my dog used to act when someone petted him) and I chatted with him for a while. I didn’t take a weapon and join in on breaking down the enclosures (I figured I’d let the kids have that fun), but I did watch and join in on the songs and cheers they taught us.

Actually, the Old World farmhouses were a lot like what I imagine for some of the houses in Rydding (though I picture more of the Cotswolds honey-colored stone), so the whole thing was very useful for giving me mental images and sensory details. I guess the excursion counted as work.

I ended up getting an annual pass because this is the kind of place you can’t really see all of in one visit, and they have a lot of really interesting sounding special events throughout the year. It’s also just a pleasant place to go walking, with some footpaths through wooded areas, and it’s near the Aldi, so I could pop by for a walk when I go grocery shopping. The history is one of the reasons I wanted to move to this area, so I’m going to have to explore all the historic sites. Later in the year, once I’m more settled, I’ll have to head to the coast and check out Williamsburg. I also need to plan a visit to DC and to see Mount Vernon, plus they’re getting pandas back at the National Zoo.


A Big Fat Fantasy

I’ve mentioned before about how long books can languish on my To-Be-Read pile. My move actually gave me a chance to do some catching up. I tried to mostly read books from that pile before I moved so I could get rid of them. But there was one book I’d been saving for the right occasion to read. I got a copy of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson years ago at a WorldCon. I’d met Brandon a couple of years before that when we were on some convention panels together. I’ve read a couple of his shorter pandemic projects, but this book was so huge that it was daunting. It’s something like 1300 pages in mass-market paperback. I tried starting it a few times but always had to put it aside because I just didn’t have the time to dive into it.

But I figured that if I was going to have to spent a week or so without my furniture and without TV or Internet, that would be the perfect time to read a Big, Fat Fantasy, so I brought it with me when I moved. It turned out to be the perfect thing for the occasion when I had days without anything to do. I set up my lounge chair on the back porch and read for hours on nice days. When it was a rainy day, I set up the lounge chair in the living room and read for hours. On the day my furniture was supposed to arrive, with a delivery window between 8 and 10 later changed to between 1 and 4, and then it showed up at almost 5, I had nothing really to do but sit and read. I think I actually finished the book in a week.

And now I need to get the sequel, but there’s a waiting list at the local library and the e-book at my old library (where my card is still good for electronic stuff for another couple of months) is checked out.

Because this is a Big Fat Fantasy that sets up a whole series, it’s hard to explain what the plot really is. I guess it boils down to the fact that a war has been raging for years as one kingdom tries to get revenge against an enemy kingdom for assassinating their king, but the war has gone nowhere because it’s turned into a chance for profit and political maneuvering among the various princes of the kingdom, who are all out to further their own positions and can’t trust the other princes to actually work together with them against the enemy. In this war, there’s one prince who’s begun having visions that are either of the past or the future and that warn him of actions he needs to take, but he can’t get anyone to listen to his advice. Meanwhile, there’s a soldier turned slave who finds himself in the worst position possible in this war, but he might be able to make things better if he can get the rest of his crew to listen to him.

I really like the characters in this book and got caught up in their stories once I got into it because the main characters are good people doing their best in difficult circumstances. I’m a sucker for that kind of person, the one who tries to not only raise himself but bring others along with him. One thing I like about a big epic fantasy with multiple perspectives and storylines is seeing the collision coming, when you know it’s going to be interesting if these people ever run into each other, and you can see them getting closer to that intersection throughout the book.

Sanderson is known for his worldbuilding, and I would have to describe this as a fantasy novel taking place in a science fiction setting. It’s not in the generic medieval-ish Europe that’s so common in fantasy. It’s an alien planet with its own kind of plants, animals, and weather. If people were going around in spaceships and landed here, it would work as science fiction. But instead a fantasy plot is what plays out, with swords, armor, horses, and magic. That made it feel very different from most epic fantasy I’ve read. I have to confess that I love the quasi-medieval European fantasy world, but it’s fun to have a world that’s utterly alien.

If you love the plot complexity, political maneuvering, and multiple points of view in something like A Game of Thrones but could do without the excessive grittiness and want something a bit more uplifting, this might be a good read if you’ve got the time for it. Or if you’re a science fiction reader looking to try fantasy, this might be a good transition.

I’m really late to the game with this, I know, as the rest of the world has already discovered these books, but I’m not sure if all my readers are aware of what they’re all about, so I thought I’d share my perspective.



I’m continuing to settle in to the new place. Oddly, it’s all the little adjustments that are harder to make than the huge one of having moved halfway across the country to a place I’ve only visited once. I feel quite at home already, but there are a lot of little things to get used to.

For one thing, the time zone. Most of the time, I don’t notice the difference. It helped that when I got here, I was utterly exhausted and slept late, so I was instantly on the new time. Where I have to adjust is with TV programming. My routine was always to eat dinner while watching the national news at 5:30, then the local news came on at 6. Here, the local news still comes on at 6, but the national news is at 6:30. I find myself wanting to eat dinner at 5:30, even though that’s 4:30 in the old time. There’s not a lot of radio here, so I’ve been streaming the Dallas classical station, and I have to mentally adjust for the various programs. They play a “march of the day” at 7:35 a.m., Dallas time, and I tried to be making or even eating breakfast by then, but here it comes on at 8:35, so I should be done with breakfast when it comes on. My signal to finish breakfast was the “road rage remedy” at 8:20, but that’s 9:20 here. I don’t watch a lot of prime-time TV, but that would also be an issue with everything on an hour later.

I’m still getting used to parallel parking. It helps that I learned how to do that in a Bronco and practiced in a 1981 Impala. That makes doing it in a Subaru Forester with a backup camera fairly easy, but I still haven’t managed to do it smoothly in one move without a lot of backing, inching forward, and adjusting. I really hope I don’t have to take a driving test to get my Virginia drivers license.

I’m a lot farther north than I used to live, so the days are longer here at this time of year. The sunset seems to be close to the same time as it was back in Texas, but the sun comes up a lot earlier. I used to say I preferred Standard time over Daylight Saving time, but if it were Standard time now, the sun would be up before 5 a.m. My bedroom window faces west, and I have blinds and lined curtains, and still it’s hard to sleep past 6 a.m. I may just have to give in and go to bed earlier and get up when the sun wakes me.

Then there are all the little things about being in a new house — where are the light switches, and which one turns on which light? Where did I put that thing when I unpacked it? This place is configured so differently from my old home that there was no way to just put things where they used to go. I have to find different places to put everything.

I’ll also have to get used to Target being a 15-minute drive away rather than being in walking distance. The Target is actually in the next town over. It’s closer than the nearest Target used to be before they built the one on the edge of my neighborhood, and it’s a much more pleasant drive, but now it has to be a planned expedition rather than a quick run down the street to grab something. Ditto with Home Depot. On the other hand, there are a ton of great restaurants and several little brewpubs, including a cider brewery, within walking distance here.

I’m gradually learning to find my way around. I got a bit lost while running errands earlier in the week, since the streets twist and turn so much that it’s easy to get turned around. But I managed to get to where I needed to go between the compass in my car, the map on my car’s screen, and the road signs. It turned out I was on the loop around the city. In Texas, any loop around a city is a busy road with lots of businesses on it, and that was what I was expecting. Here, it truly is a bypass that goes way out into the country, so I didn’t have a good sense of where I was.

Doing laundry is kind of an adventure. This apartment has a space-age all-in-one unit. It works as a washer, then you hit a different control and it also dries the clothes. The previous tenant here said she had problems with it. I found the manual on the manufacturer’s website, and I had to have that open on my screen in order to figure out how to work it. It takes more than three hours to do a load, start to finish, and I can only do one load at a time (no throwing something in the washer while the previous load is in the dryer), so I’ll have to plan for laundry days. I’ve figured out some of the tricks already, so I may get used to it — probably at about the time I’m ready to buy and move into a house.

I’ve got my bedroom more or less set up the way I want it, with everything put away. The kitchen is almost there. I’ve managed to do actual cooking. Aside from getting the books properly shelved, the living room part of the living/dining/office room is the way I want it. I have the TV set up with the antenna and the streaming devices, and I have the chaise I use as a sofa with the side tables. I can sit and read or watch TV/movies. I also have my back porch set up. I need more plants, but the table and chairs are there, and I’ve even strung my lights. The office area is going to be the real challenge. I got rid of my big desk and will be using my laptop stand and some tables as a desk replacement, and since it’s not in a separate room that’s supposed to be a bedroom, I don’t have a closet for office stuff, so I’ll have to figure out where to put some things.

I’m trying to get back into my regular working routine. I’ve been working on writing stuff in the morning and unpacking in the afternoon and evening. I still have a lot of admin stuff to deal with around the move. There are so many things I need to update with my new address, and I need to get a local drivers license and register my car, but the DMV website has been down.


New Home

I’m in my new home, surrounded by boxes, but I have furniture and Internet, so I’m more or less back. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. There was the frantic packing, then my furniture was picked up on the 6th. I spent a couple of days clearing out my old house, got to my parents’ house and collapsed for a day, then took off on Friday the 10th and drove two days, arriving here Saturday evening. I had an air mattress and featherbed to sleep on and my patio lounger, camp chair, laptop stand, and a TV tray table for furniture to last me until my stuff arrived on Wednesday. It was supposed to be delivered Wednesday morning, but it didn’t come until almost 5, and it took a long time for the guy to unload it because his local helper never showed up. I got the bed made up and collapsed. I got a lot of unpacking done yesterday but ran out of steam today and have mostly been catching up with online stuff, since the Internet got connected today.

Sunday, I did some grocery shopping to get basics to live on, then spent the rest of the day taking walks around the neighborhood and just relaxing. That evening, the person who used to live in this apartment, with whom I’ve been chatting on Facebook, came by with a plant and some food, and we had a good chat (it turns out we have a ton in common). Monday, I walked downtown (about 20 minutes away) to see about getting my Internet set up, then had a fairly strenuous hike home, since my home is on a big hill. While I was downtown, I stopped by the visitor center to see if there was anything going on in town to do while I waited for my furniture. It turned out that the lady working in the visitor center is a neighbor, and she let me know about my other neighbors. I hit Target in the afternoon to get a bunch of things for setting up my house.

And then I had to wonder what I used to do with my time because the Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul effect kicked in. I didn’t think I watched that much TV, but I guess I was online a lot because suddenly without Internet I felt like I didn’t have a lot to do. Monday evening I got out the laptop and started editing a book. I have a nice little back porch that overlooks a shady lawn that’s surrounded by trees, and it was lovely sitting out there to work until it got dark enough that I had to go inside. Tuesday was likely to be rainy, so I didn’t want to go anywhere. I sat on the porch and worked for a while, then took a walk but had to rush home when it started raining. I had lunch and took a nap and did some more work and reading.

I think part of the reason the time felt a bit empty was the fact that it’s so quiet. I hadn’t realized how noisy my old house was, but it backed up to a six-lane major road that had constant traffic on it, day and night, plus I was near a major airport, with constant airplane noise. My neighborhood now consists mostly of 100+ year-old houses. It’s a narrow street that winds up and over a hill. There’s maybe one car going by every hour or so. I can sit on the back porch and listen to the leaves rustling in the wind, and I can hear bird songs. I love it, but it definitely changes my perception of the passage of time.

I may need to pretend I don’t have Internet to gain a lot more time to write, read, and do other things. There’s a lot I need to Internet to do, but I think it eats a lot of time. I need to find a good balance.

I think I’m going to like it here, but there are some adjustments to make. For one thing, my home is much smaller than my old house. I purged a lot of stuff before I moved, but I’m still having to work to make room for everything. I’m only going to be living here for about a year until I find a house to buy, so I may just have to get used to tighter quarters. There’s also a different sense of scale in the town. I used to live in the suburbs in Texas, where everything was planned around cars and very spread out. My new town was established before the American Revolution and most of the center part of the city, where I live, was built and developed before cars were common. That means everything is a lot more compact, and there’s not a lot of parking. I’m having to re-learn how to parallel park, as there’s not even a parking lot for my apartment building. It’s all street-side parking. Thank goodness for that back-up camera on the new car! The upside is that just about everything is in walking distance. I’m a block from the big city park, a few blocks from the library, 20 minutes from downtown, where there are a lot of shops and restaurants. There’s also a neighborhood pub not too far away. I mostly just need to drive for major grocery shopping, and the nearest Target is in a neighboring town, a pleasant drive toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. I hope I never get totally used to seeing the mountains as I run errands. That’s the sort of thing you should be in awe of.

Then there’s temperature. I just about came down with heat exhaustion while clearing out my old place. When I got here, I had to turn on the heat. It’s a bit warmer now than it was the first few days, and having the furniture helps. This is essentially a “railroad” flat, so it’s all one long room, and then a bedroom, and that big kitchen/dining room/office/living room got pretty cold, with wood floors and bare walls. It seems a lot warmer now that it’s not so empty, but I still need blankets at night, which I love. I sleep better when I’m burrowed under blankets.

The neighbors are really nice, and I think I’m going to fit in well. Apparently, the lady at the visitor center told the other neighbors about me because they’ve stopped by. One brought over a plant and a pretty notebook. Another brought me the info on the recycling center so I could deal with all the boxes. I knew I’d probably landed in the right place when she said if I needed anything during the unloading of my furniture, she was across the street at the other neighbors’ house, where they were all watching Lord of the Rings.

It may take me a week or so to get totally unpacked. The plan is to spend the mornings working, then doing the unpacking in the afternoons and evenings. I’m going to have to unpack and organize in phases because I need to empty and clear out boxes in order to have room to set up the shelves and other stuff I need to be able to put things away, so first I’m just sticking things on shelves or in closets, and then I’ll have to organize the shelves and closets. I re-read Rydding Village book 2 while I was waiting for my furniture to arrive, during that time without TV or Internet, and now I just have some minor revising to do. I’m trying to get back into the swing of a regular writing habit after all the disruption.