2014.

Happy New Year, friends and neighbors!

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The kids got to stay up until midnight last night to jump into the new year. I was worried about them even making it to midnight, but it turns out they were just fine. The adults, on the other hand, were dragging just a little, especially me. I was good and ready for bed at 10:30pm already. THIS IS WHAT OLD AGE FEELS LIKE.

Back to work, I suppose. There are novels and novellas waiting to be started/continued/finished. Let’s see if I can best my own record for Most Things Finished In A Calendar Year. I’m shooting for two novels, a novella, and maybe a short story or three. I also want to be more diligent about updating this here Interblogs page on a regular basis.

May you all have a great 2014!

daddy used nintendo 2ds. it’s super effective!

How do you glue a first-grader to the couch? You give her a Nintendo 2DS for Christmas:

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She hasn’t moved from that spot since yesterday morning.

We had a low-key Christmas here at Castle Frostbite. No house guests, just the four of us and the doggens. We had our traditional Christmas feast of Surf & Turf (lobster and venison steaks), and pretty much fritzed the day away with eating, drinking, playing computer games, and listening to Christmas music. It was perfectly relaxing.

With the kids at home until the new year, I’m taking the week mostly off from work to tackle Mount Unfolded Laundry and tend various overdue projects around the house. We’ll see if I can keep myself from any serious writing productivity until the end of next week.

Speaking of writing, here’s another Buzzfeed list I’m in:

12 Science Fiction books to look forward to in January

I’m pretty excited about LINES OF DEPARTURE, which has turned out extremely well (and which has been rather effusively praised by just about everyone who has read it already.) I can’t wait until you can all get your hands on it—and this time in paperback and audio. MY NOVEL HAS ASSUMED PHYSICAL FORM. <insert sinister, semi-hysterical laughter>

TERMS OF ENLISTMENT will see a new release at that time as well, with a matching new cover and in the same formats. If you’re asking yourself whether to drop the money on the new version: it has a rewritten Chapter 23, new cover art, and numerous smaller edits, corrections, and improvements. Because it’s a 47North book now, I wasn’t able to roll all those changes into the old version that people purchased already, as my publisher considers the new version a Director’s Cut, so to speak. But hey—they paid a lot of people to make a lot of improvements to the book, so I think it’s a justified position. Rest assured that if you choose not to buy the new version of TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, you won’t miss anything essential.

Anyway, enough post-Christmas self-promotion. I’m just really excited about this new “making a living by making up stuff” thing, and I want to keep that racket going for as long as I can. Hope you all had a great Christmas and happy holidays, and stay tuned for all the stuff coming out of the Castle Frostbite Magic Daycare & Novel Factory in 2014.

the considerable awesomeness of rainbows.

Two weeks until school starts again. My weirdo offspring are EXCITED about the start of school. I am planning to have their DNA tested next week.

We went to Canobie Lake last week. It's an amusement park in southern NH–not quite Six Flags, but pretty decent, and manageable in one day unlike, say, the Rat Kingdom in Orlando. I dropped $120 on admission for two adults and two kids. Then I took out another $100 in cash for food and such (“just in case”), and ended up spending every last dime of it. EAT YOUR TEN-DOLLAR NACHOS AND CHEESE FRIES, KIDS.

But hey, it was fun. The kids went on rides with their friends for five hours straight, and at the end of the day they were so amped they practically hummed like overwound springs.

Rainbows are Kind Of A Big Deal when you're six.

 

ham and cheese.

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The goober on the left has her last day of Kindergarten today. The goober on the right has his last day of second grade. Kids in Upper Cryogenica have to make up lots of snow days, which in some years can mean they won’t graduate until late July.

These kids? They’re freaks of nature. They love school, and both are bummed that the school year is ending. I expect that’s going to change by middle school at the latest.

(There’s this girl on their bus who always has the same hopelessly resigned expression on her face, like she’s being shipped off to the gulag every morning. I think I know now why the bus driver really seems to enjoy having my chipper and chatty kids board her bus.)

Next up: five weeks of SUMMER CAMP. Because they have to learn how to swim, the great outdoors never hurt anyone except when they drown or get eaten by bears, and being bug-bitten while baking in the summer sun builds character.

lyra, age 6.

People of Earth!

Your tiny Empress turns six years old today.

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<insert obligatory kvetching about how time flies, something something diapers blah blah before you know it &etc.>

The tiny Empress has really made strides this year socially. She’s been in Kindergarten since July, and she loves it with a fierce, white-hot intensity. That kid right there? She will be the Queen Bee or the Chief Delinquent in high school, and possibly both.

Love ya, kiddo. But no, you can’t have “just pound cake” for dinner. We have to throw in some alibi vitamins somewhere.

travel report, part the second.

When last we checked in with our intrepid correspondent, Team Munchkin Wrangler had returned from their excellent little side trip to Vienna.

Back at my brother’s place, we spent the next few days with Family Stuff™. One thing that really worked out well on this trip was the way in which we were able to spread ourselves around evenly among the family so everyone could spend time with us and nobody felt like they got the short end of the stick. Robin and I went gift-shopping in Muenster and used the opportunity to leave Lyra and Quinn with my mother, who was more than happy to ply them with toys and treats all day long.

(When we came to pick them up, I asked my mom if they’d had nothing but candy all day long. She shook her head and asserted that OF COURSE they’d had real food. At McDonald’s.)

The kids had no problem at all being the center of attention and consuming their own body weights in German candy all day long at Oma’s place, and we got to stroll around Muenster without any complaints about hurting feet or boredom.

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Quinn, Lyra, and their Oma.

Lyra even got to spend a day at a German kindergarten with her cousin Janne, who is also five years old. You’d figure the language barrier would have been a problem, but at that age, it doesn’t seem to hold them back much when they can’t really understand the words coming out of the other’s mouth. When I came to pick her up, she asked to go again the next day. (“It’s a school just for playing!”) In Germany, kindergarten starts at age 3, so they don’t do all that much educational stuff in the mixed classes and mostly let the kids engage in free play.

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The sight that greeted me when I walked into the Kindergarten to pick up Lyra.

I took a little bit of time on this trip to visit some landmarks of my childhood. This time I had a DSLR in tow, thanks to my friend Oleg. For example, I went to see my old kindergarten in the center of Muenster:

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St. Ludgeri kindergarten in Muenster. I went there as a wee lad, back in 1976-77.

I also drove out to a small village called Ladbergen, where we used to live in the late 1970s. I’ve always had fond memories of that quaint little place, unlike some of the places we lived in subsequent years.

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Moeller’s Hof gasthaus in Ladbergen. My father ran the place in the late 1970s/early 1980s. My sister Nadine was born while we lived here.

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The village bookstore, still in the same spot where it stood in 1978/79. I used it as my unofficial library quite a bit.

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Another gasthaus on what is Main Street in town. Also another family landmark: my little brother got hit by a car right in front of the place. (He was fine.)

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My old elementary school. I spent second and third grades here.

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The church and main cemetery, right in the town center. I played there a lot as a kid with my local friends.

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A closer look at the church and that ancient cemetery wall all around the place.

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Detail above the church door. It’s been in that spot for a while. The words are “Come; for all things are now ready”, from Luke 14:15-24, the parable of the Great Supper.

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Memorial in the cemetery, commemorating “our brothers fallen for king and fatherland” of the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian Wars. Before the German Empire’s establishment in 1871, Westphalia was part of the Kingdom of Prussia.

I appreciated that the trip was unhurried enough for me to indulge in a bit of personal history sleuthing, going back to places I hadn’t seen in thirty years or more. If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you’re headed.

(Part Three to follow, in which I will show you around Muenster, my favorite city.)

travel report, part the first.

First off—our trip was pretty stellar. All the flights and trains were on schedule, all our luggage came along with us, and even though our schedule was packed from front to back, it was actually a pretty relaxing vacation as such things go.

We left on February 13th, the day before Quinn’s birthday. Our flights were booked on Icelandair, so we had a stop and plane change in Keflavik, Iceland both on the way to Europe and back from there. I have no complaints about the Viking long-planes or their crews. Food was optional, but reasonably priced, and the kids got lunch & dinner boxes for free (or rather, included in the fare). The Viking long-planes had personal touch-screen entertainment centers in the headrests from which one can stream any of the 50+ movies in the on-board catalog at any time. They also had a ton of kid flicks and TV shows, which did a lot to keep the sprogs occupied for the duration of the flights. (It was 4h 45m from Boston to Keflavik, and another 2h 30m from KEF to Amsterdam, which is the closest big airport to my brother’s place.)

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A Viking long-plane, the scourge of the European skies.

We were hosted by my brother and sister-in-law for the duration of the trip. Having a home base for recharging and keeping our stuff made this trip a lot more relaxing than the last one seven years ago, where we had kind of a wandering circus thing going on. In 2005, we stayed with various relatives and basically had to pack and unpack our stuff pretty much every other day to set up somewhere else. My brother has three kids, we brought our two, and their place isn’t all that big, so it was pretty….lively.

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Five cousins demolishing Quinn’s birthday cake. He turned eight on the day of our arrival.

We got in on Thursday, did the family thing Thursday and Friday, and then headed down to Vienna, Austria on the first weekend of our stay. Robin had wanted to check the item “Spanish Riding School” off her bucket list, and there was one performance scheduled in the time span of our stay, so off we went. Rather than driving a car for 600 miles in German winter weather, we opted to take the train, and it turned out to be a wise decision. We left Westphalia for Hannover on Saturday morning, got onto the ICE high-speed train to Vienna around lunchtime, and stepped off the train in Vienna’s Westbahnhof at dinnertime. Those things will move.

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A nap at 150MPH.

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Zippy train is zippy.

Vienna was all-around spectacular. Beautiful city, shiny new hotel (with the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever had in any hotel anywhere), agreeable weather, and easy getting around via subway. Alas, we were there mostly on Sunday, which means that we couldn’t do much shopping. We missed out on being able to buy fashionable shoes like these:

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Or these:

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So we limited our spending to Austrian restaurant food and the gift shop at the Spanish Riding School.

Ah, yes, the Spanish Riding School. One of the highlights of our trip. It’s located in a purpose-built baroque building that has housed the school in the center of Vienna for over three hundred years now. And it is flippin’ gorgeous, sitting as it does on Michaelerplatz, surrounded by all that old architecture.

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The Spanish Riding School on the Michaelerplatz (St. Michael’s Square).

If you’re a horse nut, you’ll know why the performances of the Spanish Riding School are so special. They represent the apex of horsemanship, and the venue in which they perform is known as the most beautiful riding hall in the world. Even for someone like me who knows roughly as much about horses as horses do about configuring WiFi network security, it’s a pretty impressive event.

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Before the show. Photography during the show is not allowed because the flashes irritate the horses.

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Lovely wife in the lovely Imperial Box, where we had our seats. Shitty iPhone photo because Genius Husband forgot the DSLR in Germany.

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The Imperial Box from a distance. Taken during the tour we booked afterward, which was well worth the money.

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And this is where the horses dance.

After the Hofreitschule performance, we did the touristy thing and took a Fiaker carriage ride through the Old City.

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After the ride, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Vienna and finding a local restaurant to have dinner. That too went really well except for the lapful of hot chocolate my daughter bestowed upon me, but even that couldn’t make a dent in my day.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel for a glass of wine or two at the excellent hotel bar before we made our way back to the nearby Westbahnhof for the train ride back to Germany.

(Just in case you’re ever in Vienna and in need of affordable high-quality accomodations, I can wholeheartedly recommend Fleming’s at the Westbahnhof. Brand new interior, friendly and helpful staff, a killer breakfast buffet, and a lovely bar with a great wine selection.)

For the ride on the night train back to Germany, we reserved a sleeper car compartment. The kids got the top bunks, we got the bottom ones, and everybody was able to sleep through the eight-hour ride back to Hannover.

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That was the main tourist-y part of the trip. The rest of the week we spent with the family and on various outings in the area around Muenster. I got to squeeze in some research for a YA novel I’m writing, and my mother got to spend a bit of time with her grandkids while we went off to buy gifts to bring back to the U.S.

(Part Two to follow…)

travel update.

Team Munchkin Wrangler is still in Germany, and the trip is going swimmingly so far. If you’ve sent me an email or TwitFace message, I’ll probably won’t get around to replying until the middle of next week. They do have the Internets here in Germany, but we’ve been too busy seeing people and doing stuff to spend much time online.

(Also, our Verizon iPhones don’t work on the European GSM network, which makes it hard to just check mail and dash off a quick update on the run.)

And now we’re off to see some more relatives down in Hessen. Later, imaginary Intertubes pals!

ten years of us.

Robin and I got married on this day ten years ago. The ceremony took place in a ramshackle little Baptist church on Chapman Highway and was performed by a little preacher with a speech impediment. His wife managed to blur every single shot she took with my camera. The day couldn’t have been more perfect.

Happy tenth anniversary, my love. I don’t know how I managed to con you into putting up with me, but I’m glad I got so lucky.

doggy broke. so’s the owner.

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Doggie #2 of 4 has a hematoma on his ear flap. Taping down the ear to prevent him from shaking it didn’t work, and the hematoma has increased in size. So I’m about to take him to the vet again, which will make my third vet visit in four days. He will likely need a surgical drain & staple procedure, which runs about the price of a new iPad these days.

For Christmas, everyone is getting a dozen chicken eggs this year. Maybe there’ll be enough left in the till to buy the kids a copy of “101 Fun Games With Perishable Ovoids”.