Category Archives: Andrew

Oliver 3.5

Oliver is nearly half way through his fourth year. As such, he is changing even more rapidly than his siblings. This post is a summary of things we have observed recently.

  • He talks. A lot. A tsunami of words at all times, often preceded with, “Hey Mama!” or “Hey Daddy!”
  • He likes to tell stories that meander from place to place with very little rhyme or reason.
  • He says “last night” to mean anytime in the past. For example, when referring to a trip we took in December, he might say, “Last night when we were at Grummy and Grandpa’s house.”
  • He prefaces many sentences with “I think so.” For example:
    • “I think so, Mama’s at the store.”
    • “I think so, tomorrow is a school day.”
    • “I think so, we need to buy some more bananas ‘cuz I like bananas.”
    • “I think so, we need to buy a new house because we have a hole in the wall.”
  • He regularly comes up with linguistic gems that we imagine we’ll remember, but then can’t quite reconstruct. I recall one from this morning when I think he was trying to describe something evaporating: “Maybe it just winded away…”
  • He loves it when we set timers. Before bed, he will often ask for a timer so that he can have “five more minutes!” to play. Usually, when the timer goes off he is happy to go upstairs.
  • He has ups and downs with emotional regulation. Sometimes he is easygoing and chill with changes of plan. At other times, he is stubborn and gets wildly upset over minor things: “But I wanted to put my toothbrush away MYSELF!!!!”
  • He loves to help in the kitchen and is getting better at it. He can often pour things into mixing bowls, stir things, count things out, or chop vegetables with his special chopper.
  • He is entirely potty trained except when he isn’t. We have trouble understanding what the key factors are. Sometimes he has no trouble for many days in a row. At other times, he’s on his third pair of pants before lunch. He can’t quite clamber up on the big potty yet, but loves to use his little one.
  • He still naps for 1-2 hours in the afternoon. Naptime and bedtime routines are straightforward: read a few books (or chapters from longer books) and then say goodnight. He often asks me to stay for “a little bit.”

Some additions from Griffin and Maggie:

  • He’s really annoying.
  • Maggie: He hits, kicks, and pinches a lot for no reason. (Griffin adds, “Actually, for a reason, because you do it.”)
  • Maggie: “This morning, Oliver was kicking me on the bed while I was doing HouseParty. I didn’t do anything!”
  • He interrupts a lot, saying, “But I’m talking!”
  • He’s a DUPLO master and is pretty good with regular legos too.
  • The Mandalorian was too scary for him. She-Ra is just right.
  • He often doesn’t finish his food and says that he wants us to “save it for tomorrow” but then never eats it.
  • He always wants to play with you in the least convenient times.
  • He always touches the screen when me and Griffin are playing on our iPads.
Oliver chopping rhubarb for rhubarb-vanilla jam.

RPGs during COVID-19

My hobby, as anyone looking at this blog likely knows, is playing roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons and GURPS. A game, however, usually involves a few hours of face-to-face time around a table with far less than six feet of separation between people.

Our last face-to-face game at the cabin on March 14 (on the cusp of Minnesota’s social distancing order).

After social distancing, most gaming has moved online. Last summer I tried using MapTool with some of my former players in California. It was ok, but required software installation and had some confusing elements. The lack of video chat made us all feel somewhat distant from each other.

After COVID struck, I decided to try Roll20, which is one of the most popular current platforms. A major advantage is that it is browser-based, so nobody has to install software or manage port forwarding. We found the built-in A/V to be buggy, so we switched to Zoom for video chat.

Here’s what it looked like at our most recent game:

Roll20 screenshot from our last session. Managing all of the graphical assets requires quite a bit of prep work, but it can create a fairly immersive visual experience.
We manage A/V through Zoom on a second window (or screen, for some).

We’ve all found it to be acceptable but not nearly as much fun as getting together in person.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to try another type of socially-distanced gaming. Some good friends of ours who live a few blocks away have been wanting to learn how to play a roleplaying game for some time. They asked me if I would be willing to run a family game for them, along with Griffin and Maggie. Just as we were discussing a date to get together, the social lockdown began. We had an initial video chat to discuss how to build characters, but it felt like running an actual game on Roll20 would be difficult. So we improvised. Griffin, Maggie, and I set up on the front porch of our neighbor’s house. Our friends sat in their living room, with more than six feet of separation. It worked, though the guy who mowed his lawn across the street might have the loudest lawnmower I’ve ever heard.

View of our first in-person but socially distanced game on May 16. I was GMing from the porch with Maggie and Griffin.

The game featured the following motley crew:

  • Alora — Gnome Bard (Isa)
  • HeathStar — Human Scout (Adam)
  • Iris — Elf Druid (Satya)
  • Melia — Faerie Dragon Wizard (Maggie)
  • Meow Meow — Cat-Folk Martial Artist (Megan)
  • Sir Yvor Gryffyn — Human Knight (Griffin)

I’m not sure how things will unfold in the coming months. The porch worked well enough that I think we’ll stick with that idea for the family game. It only makes sense, though, for two households. My main group consists of seven separate households, so I can’t think of a configuration that works in-person. We’ll probably stick with Roll20 until social distance rules are further relaxed.

Distance Teaching

I’m starting my second week of distance teaching today. Not loving it thus far. Admittedly, there are some neat aspects to it. I thought I would dislike having to record all of my class meetings, but it’s actually pretty convenient. If I’m having a one-on-one discussion with a student during our “quiet study” period, I can share the video with them afterward so that they don’t have to worry about taking notes. Similarly, if a student misses a class meeting, the video of the class will be posted within about 15 minutes… so that can be useful.

But, and this is huge, the connections with students are so much weaker. I see all their tiny faces on my meeting grid, but I can’t really tell if they are with me or snoozing or confused. Normally I can walk around the room and read everyone’s body language. If the energy is sleepy, I rev things up or insert a quick oxygen break. If students seem confused, I slow down and go over things more carefully. All of this is much harder when mediated by a video conferencing app. Even doing a “whip share” where everybody shares something feels slower and less dynamic on the computer. I find myself losing focus before we make it around the circle (and when I’m zoning out, I know that most of the class is long gone!).

I’m confident that I’ll get better at this as I gain more experience. I hope to solicit plenty of feedback from my students, too, about what’s working for them. I haven’t been at it long enough to see how the quality of student work changes. I’m curious about that.

Below are two artifacts from my first week. First is the Welcome Back video that I sent to my eighth-grade social studies students before our first class. It took me forever to make and I have a million criticisms, but it’s safe to say that it was the best I could do in the time that I had. The second is a cartoon created by my good friend Nate. He’s a teacher on the east coast and used to draw illustrations of our high school D&D adventures.  In my classes so far, I’ve seen all of his archetypes except the skateboarder.

Virtual Family

Our new way of connecting with family in Oregon, Washington, and Southern Minnesota: Yahtzee on Google Meet/Hangouts and FaceTime. We learned a few things about cameras and scoresheets and the importance of seeing the dice when we’re playing, and it was so nice to connect in a way we’re used to doing in person. I predict many more creative solutions to come ❤️

Widjiwagan 2020

For the first time since 2011, I was able to go to Camp Widjiwagan this year as a chaperone for the week-long seventh grade trip. It was glorious to be back up north in the heart of winter.

The overall experience was similar to my first trip (as described in this post). I still enjoy cross-country skiing, but haven’t improved much in nine years; I still have a hard time managing downhill slopes where I pick up too much speed, panic, and crash. The sauna-dip experience involved much less trepidation, since I remembered it fondly from the first trip. It was just as good this time. For bedtime readings, I warmed my cabin up on Monday evening with one of my favorite creepy stories, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Cats of Ulthar. The next night, the students requested more, so we dove into The Call of Cthulhu for the remaining nights, wrapping up on Thursday with a few brave students managing to stay awake for the ending.

A personal highlight, as mentioned in my previous post, was our Wednesday DFRPG game with Sam doing a masterful job in the GM’s chair. It was the closest my beloved character, Zafir Abrashi, has come to dying, being nearly digested by a giant carnivorous plant!

I didn’t take many pictures, but the selection below provides a sense of things. (All of the following are my photos except for the chaperone group which was taken by Molly McMahon.)

Update: My colleague, Cheryl Wilgren, shared some additional shots from the trip:

Glorious Books

While visiting my parents, I idly mentioned to my dad that I was looking for a good book on Southeast Asian mythology. With a gleam in his eye, he motioned for me to follow him down to the basement library (one of at least two rooms that could be called libraries in this house). Three minutes later I had this stack balanced under my chin:

Should be able to zip through these in the next four days…

Epic Fail

Ever wonder what happens if the handle of your bowl breaks off while you’re pouring the sour cream topping onto your cheesecake?

Cheesecake after an asteroid strike. Note that this picture was taken after I did as much cosmetic reconstruction as possible.

I’m hopeful that it will taste ok, though the bowl blew clean through to the pan, ripping apart the graham cracker crust, so the slices won’t have the classic profile (either visually or texturally).

By comparison, below is a picture of the above cake’s sibling, sans apocalypse:

Pristine cheesecake


Update: The damaged cheesecake was as delicious as the pristine one. There was one bite, maybe, that seemed like it had too much sour cream.