On Friday, December 15, we started off my last three-day weekend by attending a British panto-style performance of Beowulf at a theater in West Sacramento. It did a rather amazing job of completely altering the tone of the original epic (turning the story into a farce) while still somehow remaining mostly faithful to the original plot structure. They did add a love interest for Beowulf (King Hrothgar had a daughter named Hrothmund, who incidentally had neon blue hair) and made up a second, even more unlikely romance between Grendel's mother (a monster in the original epic poem, and the dame of the panto, played by a man in drag with blue lipstick and some monstrous garb) and Beowulf's assistant, Wiglaff (a man in the original epic poem, and the boy of the panto, played by a woman in drag). In the panto version, Grendel's mother revealed that the dragon was Grendel's father. In the panto version, Beowulf was ridiculously bad at talking to women and therefore began his romance with Hrothmund by pelting her with terrible pickup lines until he eventually found some sufficiently inoffensive ones that she was inexplicably won over. And in the panto version, Beowulf only died temporarily, being soon resurrected through the power of Hrothmund's singing. Also, in the panto version, the entire cast sang a version of Prince's song "1999" with the lyrics altered: "One thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time/So tonight we're gonna party like it's 999." Then they enlisted the audience in pelting the dragon with hollow plastic balls until we defeated it. It was a good time, and I was glad I had bought tickets.
Two days before Christmas, Barry and I helped my now-former lodger and her boyfriend move in together (and thus, helped her move out of my house). No more lodger! Barry asked me whether I'm feeling happy to be rid of her or sad to lose the rental income. I'm feeling neutral. The amount of rent I was charging her was the appropriate amount to compensate me for the amount that she inconvenienced me. She didn't inconvenience me very significantly, and the amount of rent she brought in was about equally not very significant to me, so it doesn't make a very significant difference in my life whether she lives there or not. She and I saw remarkably little of each other anyway, because she worked the night shift most of the time, and our weekends were on different days. This was the first time in my life I've ever had a platonic, non-family-member roommate, and it will probably also be the last time, but it was a pretty good experience, and I certainly don't regret having tried it.
Earlier this fall, we applied this fall to add Barry's house to the Gardens Gone Native garden tour this spring. A woman came over in mid-December to photograph the garden. I wasn't there at the time (she came on a day when I was working), but Barry showed her around. She suggested that the garden should have more paths so people will know where to step. Having attended the garden tour last year, I was very much aware already that the garden has far fewer paths than most gardens on the tour and knew that we will need to add at least a little more of a path, so I'd been thinking about what would look good. I think square exposed aggregate pavers will best pick up the pattern of the exposed-aggregate sidewalk along one side of Barry's house. So Barry and I went to Home Depot together and looked at stepping-stones for his yard. Home Depot only had round exposed-aggregate pavers and square other types of pavers, so Barry researched and located a better source for the type of pavers I want. We hope to buy some soon.
While we were at Home Depot, Barry bought some bolts he needed and two more trailing rosemary plants for me to plant in the three big planter boxes he built. I also recently mail-ordered some other non-native food plants and planted them in those planter boxes: twelve lettuce plants, six cilantro plants, two broccoli plants, and two chives plants. Barry's food garden is looking really good, although the actual harvest doesn't always amount to all that much compared to how promising the plants look.
Barry and I were also very busy preparing for Christmas this year. Barry always has a bit of a Christmas rush on his lasersmithing products. This year, he also volunteered to make Christmas dinner for my family, and he practiced making it ahead of time just for the two of us during the three-day weekend of December 15-17. It turned out exquisitely both times. He made sous vide tri-tip (which he cooked in, of all places, an ice chest), as well as corn casserole, mashed potatoes with vegetarian gravy, and glazed carrots; I made garlic bread. We invited his parents to join us at my parents' house, and his parents brought lasagna. For dessert, Barry's parents bought chocolate cake, my mother made brownies, and Barry made Bananas Foster. Both dinner and dessert ended up being a huge amount of food - all of it delicious, so I would have liked to just keep eating and eating, but I was soon stuffed.
The various dietary restrictions for the various parents were a bit complex to navigate. In the future we should remember not to buy pre-seasoned meat for family dinners, because it has too much salt in it for my mother to be allowed to eat very much of it. And the vegetarian gravy, because it used soy sauce in lieu of meat to accommodate Barry's parents' vegetarian diet, also had too much salt for my mother.
Anyway, it was a good Christmas. Barry brought a bunch of board games to play with our families, but we ended up not having any time to play any of them. We used up all the available time cooking and exchanging gifts. Barry gave me a bunch of different-colored elastic cinch belts that I'd asked for (in lavender, teal, white, and navy blue), a hori-hori knife, some non-tying alternative shoelaces for my running shoes (in neon yellow and royal purple), some cocoa and a "hug mug" for drinking hot chocolate from, some chocolate candy, some lasercut wooden dividers I'd asked him to make for my silverware drawer, and a cardboard starship Enterprise (original NCC-1701 model) from the board game Star Trek: Panic. He also gave Boston some sweet potato-wrapped dog biscuits and Stardust some cat treats. I gave him a bunch of exotic candy types I found at Grocery Outlet, some flannel-lined and fleece-lined pants for our upcoming Yosemite trip, and three dress shirts: one that's mostly white with blue floral patterns like old china on the sleeves, pocket, and other trim; one bowling shirt in sky blue and white, and one solid reddish-purple shirt.
Other presents I received included the following:
- royal blue running socks (from my parents)
- royal blue garden clogs (from my parents)
- green, blue, and purple gardening gloves (from my parents)
- dish towels with stripes and pictures of striped cats</i> (from my Aunt Kitty)
- a scented candle and scented face lotion (from Barry's parents)
- the novel Blow Your House Down by Pat Barker (from my parents)
- the novel The Joke by Milan Kundera (from my brother)
- the novel Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (from my parents)
- the novel The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (from my parents)
- the novel The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu, translated by Cyril Birch (from my parents)
- the memoir Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi (from my parents)
And then we spent five days and four nights at a New Year's party in Santa Rosa. Barry's friend Corey bought a house in Santa Rosa this summer, for several million dollars - a house of more than 7,000 square feet, on six acres, adjacent to a lake in one direction and with a view of the city skyline in another direction, located behind not just one but two separate gates to keep out riffraff. All the doors in the house are about twelve feet high. The master bathroom looks like a palace, and the master bedroom's walk-in closet is an entire room and has a built-in island in the middle of it. The two shiny Porsches take up only a small portion of the six-car garage. The main kitchen contains two dishwashers, two sinks, two refrigerators, and so on, but there's a second kitchen upstairs and a third kitchen in the back yard. There's also a fireplace in the front yard and a firepit in the back yard. The back yard also features a swimming pool, a hot tub, a bocce ball court, and an outdoor TV mounted on the wall. One of the seven and a half baths in the house is located next to the pool and has an exterior door.
And it all could have burned down very shortly after Corey bought it, when so much of the rest of Santa Rosa burned down. But this house narrowly escaped the fires, and so Corey had a party. There were 27 of us at the party, so some people did end up in sleeping bags on the floor, but Barry and I got a bedroom of our own - the largest one, I think, other than of course the master bedroom suite. Barry was a sort of co-host of the party, because Barry suggested the idea and helped organize it and got to invite his entire social circle, including many people who had never met Corey before. In fact, rather more of the people at the party were from Barry's social circle and not Corey's than were from Corey's social circle and not Barry's. But a large number were in the overlapping social circles, having already met both Barry and Corey.
Anyway, it was a five-day board-gaming party, so we pretended it was a small gaming convention, and someone even created plastic photo ID cards on little lanyards for everyone. Barry created, at Corey's suggestion, a "vendor hall" to sell his lasersmithing merchandise, including some convention-related swag (engraved with the fictional convention name and the year 2018).
There was a ton of food, and much of it was interestingly unusual. Corey made a turducken dinner one night but otherwise declared the event a pot luck and asked everyone to bring food. Everyone did bring food, a whole lot of it. One of Barry's friends from grad school brought an immersion circulator and made sous vide steak several times, much like Barry had made on Christmas. Barry was planning to make Bananas Foster again, but he got caught up in playing board games and never quite got around to it. Meanwhile, one of the few guests who arrived as early as we did is a professional cake decorator and spent a long time making a huge and very fancy cake designed to look like the game board and game pieces of the board game Takenoko. I'm not familiar with the game, but the cake was very impressive, and it was interesting to watch her make it. It was made of a bunch of different hexagons of different cake flavors (white, chocolate, and strawberry) with sheets of different-colored chocolate folded over it as frosting - she said she used chocolate because it was easier to work with than fondant, but it didn't look like chocolate: it came in colors such as green, yellow, and pink. There were pictures pressed into the top surface somehow or other, and then tall stacks of edible game pieces placed on top of that.
Corey also had a fridge stocked with bizarre sodas. Over the course of the five days, I had a Peanut Butter and Jelly soda, a Bubble Gum soda, and a Sweet Corn soda. Barry had a Praline Cream soda, a Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda, a Prickly Pear soda, and a Celery soda. He tasted all of mine, and I tasted all of his except the Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda. We agreed that the Praline Cream soda tasted best. Barry said the Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda tasted worst. Someone else tried a Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda and decided that although it tasted awful by itself and didn't taste much like Teriyaki Beef Jerky, it did pair well with actual Teriyaki Beef Jerky.
One of the most popular games at the party was one called Fog of Love that Barry bought recently and started playing with me in the weeks preceding the party. It's a two-player game in which the two players to pretend to be two fictional people who are dating each other. They make up names and personalities (the personalities are based partly on cards selected at the start of the game), introduce themselves to each other under their new names, and tell each other, improv-style, about their personalities. They then have a bunch of dating conversations that are partly guided by scripts on randomly drawn cards. The players can play as any combination of genders. I've played it four times now, always with Barry. The first time, we were a gay male couple: I was a firefighter named Truman, and Barry was a fashion designer named Pat, and we were on a first date. The first date ended up including some excursions that made no sense on a first date, like spending a weekend at a cabin in the woods, but anyway, overall, the date (which seemed more like an entire relationship) went pretty well. The next time around, we played as a lesbian couple: I was a police officer named Serena, and Barry was a baker named Lisa, and we had been high school sweethearts. A card prompted us to discuss whether we had ever broken up: I said we hadn't, but Lisa said we had, although only for five minutes. She seemed, however, to have somehow had some sort of sexual experience with someone else during those five minutes, because another card informed us that I had found a sex tape showing her with someone else, and she said it was from those five minutes. Yet another card prompted me to confess that I was secretly older than I had pretended to be; I managed to avoid playing that card, though, because I would have had to have been a cop posing as a high school student and having a relationship with an actual student, and that seemed a bit much for me. Instead, I introduced Lisa to my gorgeous friend Alex and waited to see what would happen. Lisa proceeded to cheat on me with my gorgeous friend Alex. The game went seriously south for me at that point.
We played both of those Fog of Love games prior to the five-day New Year's party, but we played two more Fog of Love games during the New Year's party. In the first of those two, I was Prince William Robert, the heir to the (alternate-universe) British throne, and Barry was Quarrel (pronounced "Carol[e]"), a woman who worked as a wedding planner. We were giving our relationship a year to see how things went, but before the year was over, I suggested that we open up a joint bank account, and I put all my royal money into the joint account, giving her full access to it. Then my best friend died, and then it turned out she'd been cheating on me with my best friend, and then it turned out she was also cheating on me with a bunch of other people, and then she drained our joint bank account and ran off with all my royal money. This made a great story to tell to the other guests at the New Year's party. I was a bit miffed about being cheated on for two games in a row, though. I demanded a rematch a couple of days later. This time, I was a criminal named Moe (I named myself Moe after Corey's hairless cat) and Barry was a female florist named Bella (he named himself Bella after Corey's dog). Moe and Bella ended up having a great relationship, because Bella converted to a life of crime to be a good partner to Moe (and also because, despite being a criminal, my character was somehow a very honest, kind, and generally good-citizen type, if only because those were the cards I happened to draw). There was no cheating this time around, although Moe had one secret: he was pretending to be older than he really was. I told Barry, after the game was over, that I'd drawn a card that gave me a chance to cheat on him but I hadn't used it, and he said he'd drawn a card that gave him a chance to cheat on me also and he hadn't used it either. We were trying our best to get married in that game - it's fairly easy to propose and get engaged in the game, but considerably more difficult to actually get married. Bella proposed to Moe, and Moe accepted, and then we both tried to draw as many cards as we could from the "serious" deck because that was where the wedding ceremony was. At the end of the game, the wedding ceremony card was left on the very top of the deck; we could have drawn it and gotten married if only we could have agreed on one additional question. The additional question that tripped us up was the question of what should be done with the toilet seat. Bella was a submissive sort and encouraged Moe to do what he wanted, so Moe said the toilet seat should always be left up, but what Bella had meant was that the toilet seat should always be left however we had used it. This was enough of a difference of opinion that it prevented us from getting married.
Many other pairs of people also played this game together at the New Year's party, including at least one pair of ostensibly straight men, who played as a lesbian couple. It was entertaining to watch.
I tried to keep track of all the games I played. I think this is a complete list:
- Star Trek: Panic: Barry and I successfully completed two missions, rescuing a disabled ship and defeating an Orion vessel.
- Paradox: My recently ex-lodger and her boyfriend gave this to Barry as a Christmas present. It involves making rows of matching-colored objects. I played it with Barry, Scott, and John. John won, I was second, Barry was third, and Scott was fourth.
- Sea of Clouds: This is a pirate-themed game. I defeated Barry, 57 to 41.
- The Fox in the Forest: This is a trick-taking card game for two players. Barry defeated me.
- DropMix: This game is played with a smartphone plugged into an electronic device that senses DropMix music cards. Each card plays the vocal track or certain instruments from a given song, and the cards can be combined to make an odd combination of various songs. There are competitive and cooperative versions of the game. Barry and I played this game competitively several times (we each won at least once), and we also played a cooperative version once.
- Terraforming Mars: I had played this once before, with Barry, without using the option to play as specific corporations (you can choose whether or not to draw cards of corporations and play with the special abilities of a particular corporation) and finished in a virtual tie with him - I think he defeated me by only one point. At the New Year's party, we played it with Dave and Gabe and used the option to play as specific corporations. Barry won, followed by Dave, then me, then Gabe.
- Crokinole: This is basically a sports game for non-athletes. It's two-player fingersports: you use your fingers to try to aim disks at other disks across a circular board. I started playing it with Tim, who was also new to the game, and we both played from a farther-forward line than is usually allowed, because the instructions suggested that newbies should do this to avoid being hopelessly frustrated. I was in the lead against Tim after three rounds, but we got interrupted before finishing the game. Later I played a full game with Barry, in which Barry played from the farther-back line while I played from the farther-forward line. It started out as a fair fight in the early rounds, but I ended up winning fairly decisively. We decided that in the next game, we should both play from the farther-back line, but Barry should play by tournament rules and I shouldn't. This should give me a somewhat smaller advantage over him. We didn't play a second game at the New Year's party, but Barry informed me that he owns his own specially crafted, one-of-a-kind, designer Crokinole board. His Crokinole board is purple and is named Violetta.
- Web of Gold: This was one of Barry's favorite games during his childhood. Every player plays as two characters at once: a gold miner and a venomous spider. Your gold miner must find gold and bring the gold back home; your venomous spider can spin webs to trap, bite, and kill the other gold miners. Unfortunately, finding gold involves a lot of random rolls of the dice, so it's easy to get a string of terrible luck. I played it with Barry, John, Charlene, Charlene's husband Carlos, and Barry's grad-school friend Cheryl. Charlene and Carlos took early and commanding leads over the rest of us, and Charlene won.
- Shakespeare: This is a game about competing theater companies that are each trying to put on the best Shakespeare play. Disappointingly, putting on the best Shakespeare play seems to be measured simply by investing money wisely in expensive props and actors. Confusingly, the actors don't even have to all be playing characters from the same play. I asked Barry to play this game with me, but I ended up not liking the game that much. Barry defeated me.
- Twilight Imperium: This is Barry's favorite game. It is usually played with about six players and usually takes an entire day to finish. I started playing a scaled-down, three-player version of it with Barry and Rebecka, but we stopped after three hours and didn't finish the game. You each play as one of various alien species that all have different special abilities. I was playing the Emirates of Hacan, Barry was playing the Federation of Sol, and Rebecka was playing the Xxcha Kingdom. We each took over various planets, but the main prize to be taken was the planet of Mecatol Rex. I took Mecatol Rex first. Barry battled me for it and won but took a lot more damage in the fight than he had expected. Barry and I were about evenly matched and both had a large lead over Rebecka. I was preparing to re-invade Mecatol Rex and battle for it again when we stopped playing.
Barry played many more games than I did. He played so many that he hardly got any sleep: one night he came to bed at 5:45 a.m. and set an alarm to wake himself up at 10:00 a.m. so he wouldn't miss either the evening board games or the morning board games. This was only a little more extreme than what he did on all the other nights we were there.
We had a white elephant gift exchange in which all the gifts were board games. I didn't have any board games suitable for giving away, but Barry had three of them, so he supplied Rebecka and me with gifts to give away. When it was his turn to choose a gift for himself, he chose to steal the game Ladies and Gentlemen. When it was my turn, I stole Ladies and Gentlemen from Barry because that made it twice-stolen and therefore no longer stealable. Barry then tried for various other games and had them stolen from him before he eventually ended up with a game called Circus Flohcati.
On New Year's Eve, we all went outside and watched the ball drop on the TV mounted to an exterior wall. Some people made s'mores over the firepit. Barry and I had already made s'mores a couple of days earlier and didn't feel a need to do it again. Someone handed out tiny, celebratory "poppers" on which you pull a string to make a popping noise. Various people expressed concern that Richard was drunk. Jordan expressed an intention to go get drunk with Richard. Barry poured sips of champagne into plastic cups for various non-drunk people and himself. I poured apple cider into a plastic cup for myself. We kissed and toasted and walked around the side of the house to watch fireworks along the skyline.
Also, pinball! (In the garage.)
Also, arcade games! (This machine is Windows-based. Watching it boot up entertained me.)
Also, Moe the hairless cat!
Me with Moe the hairless cat.