Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Recommended Reading: Thinking about community with Dean Koontz's The City

During the early '90s, in a Blockbuster Video, I first met Dean Koontz's storytelling. Jim and I rented a videocassette of The Servants of Twilight. The movie was a 1991 adaption of Dean Koontz's novel Twilight originally published under his pseudonym Leigh Nichols (I know, a bestselling book named Twilight published in 1984?).

The movie was superb, but it didn't launch me into Koontz readership. Honestly, I have yet to read that specific title.

Decades later, faced with an anxiety-filled drive to a children's hospital with my infant (our first trip), I stood in the library audiobook stacks on the phone with my brother.

"So what will keep me transfixed and awake?' I asked.

And my brother introduced me to Odd Thomas, a golden-hearted, philosopher fry cook with the strange burden of seeing the deceased. While the "seeing the dead" part seemed a little Sixth Sense, my brother assured me the books were top notch.

They were so good that I listened to the remaining discs on my laptop because I didn't want to wait for the ride home. Odd's social commentary is incisive and hilarious. That first book was good company during the long hours of baby holding and bedside nights.

My brother and I shared Odd Thomas news (new book! movie! movie not available in the US! new book! movie finally released here!) and interviews with Koontz as we found them.

While it probably should not be a surprise that a horror writer might have mystical and supernatural beliefs, I found Koontz's social perspective (informed by his religious beliefs and experiences) to be refreshingly generous and positive. In his Odd Thomas series, the hero is nothing without the support and friendship of communities and good citizens.

Koontz's newest release, The City: A Novel strikes me more as suspenseful literary fiction than his typical genres of horror and suspense. A young boy, a third-generation musician with prodigious talent, works to understand and survive a childhood in dangerous urban social upheaval of the 1970s.

As his parents' marriage dissolves, his father's aggression and anger toward his mother make Jonah a highly sought after pawn in his father's schemes to hurt his mother.

As in other Koontz stories, acquaintances and strangers rise to become friends and allies in the struggle against a truly malicious minority. Koontz's characters engage the reader immediately and deeply. At one point while I was reading the book on my tablet, Jim asked me "What's happening? Are you upset?" because I looked stricken (and he thought I was reading something in my email that was deeply bad news).

As young Jonah Kirk comes to age and understanding, he hears, as we do in real life, some incredible observations from mentors and friends on how the world works and how each person can improve things. As in the classics, some of these passages offer such clarity that they are easily adopted into a reader's understanding of the world.

If you're looking for a great summer read that makes the days look a little brighter, check out Dean Koontz's The City.

What fiction brightens your summer?

***Baby Toolkit is the commonplace commentary of  some geek parents navigating Zeitgeist (though only one of us has read this book). We received a free advance reader ebook on loan from Bantam, but nothing more. I only review a fraction of the advance copies I read, so you can trust that I strongly reacted to a book if I took the time to write about it). We are Amazon affiliates, so if you purchase through our Amazon links, we'll get a small percentage of purchases made that we put back into the blog or our board game podcast (greatbigtable.com). Most recently we replaced a six year-old desktop computer with a new tower when the motherboard failed. Thanks!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Halcyon Nights: W. C. Handy Blues Festival

Davina and the Vagabonds bringing down the house. photo credit, WC Handy Blues Festival @HandyBluesCrew
Yesterday evening, when Jim and Ranger got home, I woke up our napping girls and pushed everyone out the door.

The rainy, cloudy day was clearing, turning into a perfect night for sitting in a park on a blanket watching the sun set and the moon rise.

After a short drive to Henderson, Kentucky, we arrived at the W. C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival at the city's waterfront Audubon Mill Park.

Even in the parking lot, my reluctant crew started dancing to the irresistible magic of Davina and The Vagabonds. The potent energy of live (wailing) music and early summer evenings caught us all immediately and held us long past normal bedtimes.

I'm not able to write anything about Davina and the Vagabonds that successfully captures the energy and brilliance of their performance and music. Please listen to her newest album, especially Flow, which I hope my kids will love as much as I do.

John Nemeth & the Bo-Keys, photo: W.C. Handy Blues Festival

We're really lucky to live near one of the best blues gatherings in the nation. The only thing more astounding than the line-up and the gorgeous setting is the festival's deep community commitment. The Handy festival is totally free and open to all.

Davina and the Vagabonds yielded the stage to John Nemeth and the Bo-Keys with Percy Wiggins who carried the evening's allure into enchantment with new roots music like "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It."

Barges on the river slowed their pace to listen longer and periodically raised their horns to greet the crowds. Fireflies and children danced as sunset turned to twilight to moon glow.

Cool breezes from the river carried the music to the splash park fountains.

It was a gorgeous night. A night to remember, and a night to repeat.

What opportunities will you seize this summer?

 *** Baby Toolkit is the sporadic story of a couple geeky Midwesterners and their kids. Though we benefit every year from the miracle that is the WC Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival, we have no fiscal relationship with them that they don't offer freely to everyone else. We're Amazon affiliates, so if you purchase through our Amazon links, a small portion goes to us and pays our domain fees every year (thanks!).

Friday, May 30, 2014

Life-saver: Liquid Benadryl, stock it for emergencies

Eyes & lips as swelling reduced. 30 min. after dose.
It's the first week of summer vacation here, so no one expects anything very exciting to happen. We're all reveling in the lovely slowness of life without deadlines.

The placid nature of post-school living made it even more surprising when my friend's son came to her this morning complaining that his eye hurt. Minutes later, his lips, tongue, eyes, and hands were swelling beyond easy recognition.

Somehow, between his bed and a breakfast of the same cereal he regularly eats, this kid with no known allergies was exposed to something that triggered a huge immune response.

His mom, a medical professional, grabbed their liquid Benadryl and "practically poured" the recommended dose down the back of his throat. Almost immediately the swelling stopped increasing, so she didn't have to call 911 and he didn't end up with an emergency tracheotomy or worse.

Later in the morning and after consulting with his pediatrician, as the swelling reduced, she took these pictures (which she is allowing me to share here). Her son is a handsome, slim 8 year-old.

Lips, fingertips swollen 30 min. AFTER Benadryl.
Then my friend started calling other parents reminding us to keep liquid Benadryl on hand to abate an allergy emergency. [For those with known allergies, this may not be enough. Please consult medical professionals, which I am not, for advice.]

I don't have any on hand at the moment, but will have some in stock by this evening.

For years, I have carried aspirin in my bag because it can help reduce the damage of a heart attack or stroke (chew it in case of an emergency). Liquid Benadryl may not make my bag (though I plan to talk to my pediatrician about other forms), but I will be sure to have some on the ready at home.

What are your emergency medical supplies?

***Baby Toolkit is the chronicles of some geek parents, their kids, and their communities. We ARE NOT medical professionals, so please consult some real ones. We have no fiscal relationship with Benadryl or its makers. We just want everyone to be healthy and happy. We are Amazon affiliates, though there are no links on this page, so we do make a little bit of profit should someone order through our links (thanks!).  Be well and do good.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gen Con meets Indy: No Time Machine Necessary at Conner Prairie

photo: Conner Prairie, all rights reserved
Every Gen Con, Jim and I work on a mental list of Indianapolis opportunities we wish more Gen Con attendees were aware of. Now, we're not so naive to assume that anyone wants to take a gaming break during Gen Con, but if you're coming in early, or staying late, you might want to take a few side trips before you leave the Circle City and the Hoosier State.

It's a mystery to me why no game company (especially Mayfair) has ever capitalized on nearby interactive history park Conner Prairie. I don't know why steampunks aren't booking every Gen Con weekend flight of the 1859 Hot-Air Balloon Voyage for the photo opportunities alone.

Unlike the musty assemblages of ramshackle relics with "a butter churn for the kids," Conner Prairie is a through-the-looking-glass historical experience.

This sprawling park works to reincarnate periods of Indiana history from a Lenape Indian Camp to an 1836 Prairietown to the 1823 Conner homestead to1863 Civil War journey. Despite a wealth of great buildings and interactive exercises, Conner Prairie's biggest selling point is, hands-down, the commitment of the interpreters. Unlike most historical site guides, these hard-core reenactors are immersed in the period they are portraying. They deny any reality beyond their character's "present day."

One of my friend's fathers, a history buff, spends his entire visit trying to get the interpreters to discuss things outside of their period. He asks about presidents yet to be elected, inventions not yet popularized, and politics not yet transpired. To his conjoined delight and frustration, it is like getting a Buckingham Palace guard to smile, not impossible, but remarkably difficult.

This commitment to the period's atmosphere breathes life and magic into the expedition.

Conner Prairie is also, like actual history, a dangerous place. The candle maker works, in part, over an open fire, as do the visitors who assist. At the trading post, there is a hatchet throwing competition open to visitors. Safe practices are mandated by staff, but the elements and approaches are refreshingly real.

Conner Prairie shares the story of westward expansion and nation-building. Some of the interpreters (like the blacksmith and the soldiers) are quite conversant in arms-making and munitions. The attention to historical accuracy in costuming will also impress. For the Catan crowd, Conner Prairie includes sheep, wood, wheat (grain), brick, and ore.

Conner Prairie abounds with photo opportunities for cosplay, but the true gem is the 1859 Balloon Voyage. This replica airship offers tethered trips into the skies of the Circle City (reservations required). I cannot imagine a better steampunk portrait location.

This is the first in a series of posts about Indianapolis sites relating to Gen Con.

***Baby Toolkit is the opinionated discourse of some Midwestern geek, gamer parents. We have no fiscal relationship with Conner Prairie. We also podcast about board games at Great Big Table.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gaming for Good at Gen Con 2014!

Jim and I are hosting a panel discussion at Gen Con Indy 2014 on Friday, August 15th!

With other charitable gamers, we'll discuss "Gaming for Good: An Insider's Guide to Charity Gaming."
Turn your gaming hobby into a force for good. Veteran charity gaming event organizers share their secrets for joining, organizing, promoting & hosting successful fundraisers. Panelists will include Dan Patriss, organizer of Gamers for Cures, and Jamey Stegmaier, co-founder of Stonemaier Games, and Jim & Adrienne Jones, organizers of an Extra Life weekend for Riley Children's Hospital
There are only 9 tickets left (out of 50!), so be swift.

If you're going to Gen Con and just want to meet up (let me recommend Sunday lunch at Scotty's Brewhouse for wonderful family meal), send us an email.

As you know, we love "The Best Four Days in Gaming" as gamers and parents. Our kids love Gen Con too!

Thank you for all of your support of our ongoing Extra Life efforts! We're busy planning our Extra Life 2014 weekend for October 24-26 in Evansville, Indiana (save the date and join our team?).

***Baby Toolkit is the collected ramblings of some Gen Xers about their lives as parents, midwesterners, gamers, and geeks. Our opinions are our own (who would want them?), and you can get even more Jones goodness at our board game podcast Great Big Table.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

All In: Cribbage Club and Phone Calls

At a movie yesterday, my friend teased her high-school aged niece that "I will cut you" if she checked her phone throughout the movie.

My movie-buff friend is perpetually amazed that the next generation of her family cannot be separated from their phones for even the duration of a movie.

"But what if one of my friends dies?" her niece joked.

I thought of those calls that, with luck, don't come until much later in life. "Then you definitely want to turn off your phone, and just be here. Bad news travels fast enough."

When I got home from the movie, Ranger met me at the top of the stairs with the phone.

"It's Aunt Gayle." His aunts are mostly family we have chosen. As Jim and I each have one brother, our family tree holds only one aunt for them.

The aunt on the phone has been my friend for nearly 30 years. In her voice, I heard a careful control, and before she speaks I know something has happened.

When I was pregnant with Ranger, Gayle's geography career found itself in a cul-de-sac. She returned to college. A Wednesday afternoon gap in her course schedule somehow transformed into Cribbage Club.

Wednesday afternoons, Gayle's apartment filled with the alluring scents of home-cooking as we all gathered round the kitchen table for cards.

Fred and Moe both learned cribbage in the military long before Gayle and I were born. Fred, a loud-talking former postmaster and Gayle's brother-in-law, learned to play in the Army. Gayle's Uncle Moe learned to play in the Air Force and sometimes brought his cribbage board made from part of a cockpit dome.

I was equally thrilled to be able to play cribbage regularly. My dad and Jim's family all love the game, and I quickly fell under its spell. Locally, playing cards usually means Euchre (dubbed Indiana's game), Clabber (a regional 4-handed variation on an old German duo game), or even Bridge. Cribbage opportunities rarely come along.

After lunch, working in noisy teams, we raced our pegs along the paths while telling stories and mercilessly teasing each other. When we took breaks, Moe and Fred would retire to the porch for cigars while Gayle and I served up ice cream in the kitchen.

Moe and Gayle visited us in the hospital when Ranger was born even though they could only wave to him through the NICU window. Cribbage Club continued, baby Ranger would usually nap or sit on someone's lap while we played. Months and seasons passed until Ranger was big enough to start grabbing the cards from the table, Aunt Gayle reached the homestretch of her degree and started an internship that quickly became her next career. Summer had arrived, so the boys (men who retired around the time Gayle and I first graduated from college) were eager to return to their gardens and golf courses.

We periodically played in the evenings or at Gayle's family gatherings. The cigars disappeared from the routine when Fred lost half a lung to cancer. He recovered well and was soon back on the golf course and working in the yard. We didn't see his heart attack coming, and it felled him instantly and completely.

At Fred's funeral, I sat with Uncle Moe and we made jokes about how Fred had gotten both Gayle and I to wear skirts while the red rims of Moe's watery blue eyes hinted at the physical pain of grief. Maybe it was because he was the oldest of our group or maybe it was a reminder of his son lost in infancy, Moe's sadness seemed larger and stronger than the broad Ohio River he crossed every time we gathered together. Baby Rogue sat on his lap as we both wiped tears from our eyes and talked about the best times.

Over the phone I heard Gayle say "Uncle Moe died at home yesterday." Thanksgiving Day. We went through the details, and I promised to call her back.

Though we all had cell phones, I do not ever remember one on the table while we played. Any calls during Cribbage Club were ignored, slightly mocked, or actual emergencies. When we played, told stories, and joked around, for Cribbage Club we were, in the parlance of poker, "all in." And as a result, we all won.

In honor of Uncle Moe this holiday season, please remember to ignore your phones and be wherever you are.

***Baby Toolkit started as a baby gear blog in 2006. Despite a notable lack of babies and a directly correlative waning interest in baby gear, Jim and I keep writing about our lives as geeks, parents, and citizens of the world. For what it's worth, we're Amazon affiliates, though any Amazon links in this post remembering a dear friend would be crass and sort of bonkers. Yet upon writing this, I do think Uncle Moe would find it funny (so here's to you, Moe!). Hold your dear ones close and your technology in cabinets.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ranger & Extra-Life

I have been planning this post for weeks. I was going to ask you to donate for me to Extra-Life, a great annual event that raises money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.

On Monday, we took toddler Rogue to Riley Hospital for Children for a check-up. As we left, Ranger, our oldest asked to be a registered player for Extra-Life.

Last year, during our Extra-Life weekend event, Ranger played and taught games. This year he wants to "help sick kids" like our Children's Miracle Network Hospital helped his little sister.

Please help him defeat some monsters this weekend. You'll be making one eight-year old very happy while healing other kids. Even $5 helps.


***Baby Toolkit is a collection of periodic dispatches from some Midwestern geek parents. We believe that miracles happen every day at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, but we don't work for them- and EVERY DOLLAR WE RAISE for EXTRA-LIFE goes directly to Riley Children's Hospital. We're Amazon affiliates, so if you purchase through any of our Amazon links on other pages, a portion of the sale goes toward our coffers. Thanks. We also podcast about board games at www.greatbigtable.com.