This Day In History: 10/18

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Now that Florida has a reputation as the place to come to be bitten by a shark and to contract anthrax, tourism has dropped and there are budget cuts all across the board. All the graduate assistants received notices this morning limiting photocopying (they made copies for all of us), and most spending is frozen (my professor is still without the lab he moved here to start). It'd be a disappointment if Dr. Wingate decided to go elsewhere as a result of this latest disappearing money case, but I can't say I'd blame him if he did.

It might be an interesting proposition to contract incurable anthrax. I work much better on a deadline.

"When you go to the store to buy marmalade and there's a whole row of jellies and marmalades, what do you do?"
"Taste them?"
"Taste them? No wonder we've got an anthrax problem." - professor & student, analogies that don't quite connect

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Friday, October 18, 2002

I have nothing earth-shattering to say today.

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Monday, October 18, 2004

We went and saw Team America: World Police this weekend. It was a fairly on-target satire/parody with a few pretty insightful comments. The funniest part of the movie has to do with the fact that the closing credits theme song has a chorus shouting "F*ck yeah!" over and over, and the movie was playing right next to the entrance, so all the kids there for Shark Tale indubitably got an earful as we filed out.

The true hidden evil of gay union: incest
Smelly kitty litter blamed for arson
How exactly do you have phone sex against your will?

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

List Day: Top Five Pet Peeves of the Moment

  1. Bikers in the Road:
    Whether it's the mid-life-crisis Lance-wannabe guy squeezing two hundred pounds of mass into a one hundred pound spandex bag, or the ecologically-aware yuppy biking to work with the smarmy "I'm Saving Gas Money" sign (crayoned by a five-year-old) on the back of his seat, none of these clowns should be allowed on roads where the speed limit is higher than 25. You are not a car, you do not belong in the car lane, and you most certainly are not allowed to hog a lane of traffic up to a red light, then morph into a sidewalk-user to bike through the crosswalk. Also, the fact that the W&OD trail crosses a four lane highway in Sterling does not mean you get to dart across it without stopping unless you want a date with BUS BUMPR. All bikes belong on the bike path or the sidewalk.

  2. Books with Recaps:
    It's okay to drop a quick reminder to a reader if you're writing a series and something hasn't been mentioned in a while. It's not okay to spend the first eight chapters of your book filling everyone in about the plot of the previous book. Everyone who's reading the middle of a series probably read the beginning, and if people want to jump into the middle, it's their own fault if they don't know what's going on. If you are going to put recaps in your books, use a literature-approved pattern for identifying the recap, in case the reader wants to skip over it safely. One common pattern is the "massive paragraph full of old information that makes your eyes glaze over by line two". Using this pattern, discerning readers can quickly jump down to the new stuff without worries. The kids' series, The Great Brain was both the best and worst at this. Every single book described the town, the entire family, how J.D. looked like his ma but not his pa, and how T.D. had traits of both, and how little Frankie lost his parents in a landslide and didn't talk for months, ad nauseum. However, this was always Chapter One, and you could be assured that nothing new or important ever happened in Chapter One.

  3. Homestar Runner:
    I think Homestar Runner tries too hard and is 100% not funny. I could be biased, having gone to school with an entire area of study who lived and breathed it and quoted it constantly (another reason why it was hard being a CS Major). How is it funny in the least bit? And how did it get so mainstream these past few years? I guess if you read it religiously and are invested in the characters it takes on an "inside joke" cult status, but it's not my thing.

  4. Comedians Who Laugh at Themselves:
    A comedian's job is to make US laugh, and a joke just isn't as funny when you have a hard time getting through it yourself without laughing. It's even worse when you're laughing at yourself and you're not that funny to begin with. I was listening to a comic on XM with the most irritating laugh which sounded very much like an off-balanced washing machine on helium. He kept tittering to himself after every sentence, and the audience was completely flat. Then he started talking about "trail mix" people (you know, those people that walk around everywhere eating trail mix...) and that's when I made the executive decision to change the station.

  5. DVD Menus:
    If I buy a TV show on DVD, I don't want to see movie previews, especially not every single time the DVD starts. If I want to watch a show, there shouldn't be three hundred submenus to navigate through with an unskippable fade-out between each menu. I also feel that my purchase of the DVD entitles me to skip everything else on the DVD besides the features. This is 2005, and user-interface design has passed the point where you're allowed to add useless unskippable fills of camera panning and call it artistic (see also, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). Finally, I know it's a crime to copy DVDs, and I know that when an actor says "I hated this bull-honky show" in the commentary track, it's not necessarily the opinion of Universal Pictures. I would be willing to sign a waiver if it meant that I never had to see these two warningsever again. I wonder if it's against the law to copy the sign that says not to copy tapes.

On an unrelated note (like a flat four in a diatonic key), my car broke 40,000 miles as I rolled into work yesterday morning. My mileage was ridiculously low in Florida when I drove it once a week to Walmart to buy pizzas, but now that I am both a Northern Virginia driver and a social butterfly, I'm abusing it to no end.

Hypno-Robber Strikes Again
The bear fled the scene after the collision.
Blog Therapy

Yesterday's search terms:
scrabble activation code, photos of hickies on your neck, top thrill dragster pics people peeing them self, macgamut cheat

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Letters of Recommendation

In an ephemeral span of nine days in February 2003, I wrote eight letters of recommendation that would ultimately change the course of Man's evolution. You see, Florida State had built an all-inclusive dormitory specifically for music majors, where students could live in high tech suites with computer labs, practice rooms, and classrooms all in the same building. The concept was very similar to that of a mental hospital, but with slightly more sanitary conditions. As an aside, it should also be noted that Virginia Tech tried the same type of idea, and ended up with an abandoned building that used to be a campus hospital, with one classroom and forty-seven used hypodermic needles littering the floors like pointy presents for piccoloists.

Now it wasn't just any old music major that was allowed to stay in this dorm at Florida State -- you had to have impeccable credentials and be able to read alto clef, which meant that most of my "half a semester behind the curve didn't quite pass the entrance exam" students were already at a disadvantage. To remedy this, a few of them came to our hero, their favourite instructor as evidenced by the student evaluation form below.

This was the first time I had ever been able to directly mold the course of innocent students' futures (apart from the time I taught a class that tenor clef was called the K clef because it transposed the standard A to G notes to a new set from K to Q) so I took my responsibility quite seriously. First, I asked them all why they wanted to live in this magical dorm of candy and unicorns. I had to ask, because I was having trouble thinking of good reasons for myself. Why would you want to live with people you have to attend every class with already, people who you're probably staring mental daggers at during rehearsals because you think they suck and you should be first chair? Wouldn't living in a music dorm be giving yourself tunnel vision instead of experiencing the full college experience? Who wants to live over a tuba practice room?

The only reason I could come up with was "sometimes cute girls drag themselves out of bed and stumble into morning classes in their pajamas" which did not seem compelling enough to deserve a change of residence. Then again, I could be biased coming from a computer science background -- living with one computer science major was enough for me and I would have dropped out of college the minute someone suggested a dorm full of nothing but guys with the social skills of that one flatulent dolphin in the pod.

The difficult part of writing letters of recommendation is not making an average student look decent or going overboard with praise. The kicker is trying to make each one a little different than the last. This isn't so noticeable with two or three, but by the time you hit number eight, you're struggling for ideas like John Grisham after taxes. Ultimately all of my letters followed a similar pattern to this one:

This letter is in regards to Leeroy Brown, who is applying for residency in Cawthon Hall next year. This is the second semester that I have been Leeroy's instructor -- he was enrolled in MUT 1001: Music Fundamentals last semester and is currently my student in MUT 1241: Sight Singing and Ear Training I.

Change the name for each letter, and I'm good to go.

Leeroy has an extensive background in theatre and dance, but did not have any formal music theory training before he came to Florida State University. However, this did not deter him from choosing the B.M. Musical Theatre track over the B.F.A. track in Theatre. He chose this more difficult path so he could have a full understanding and appreciation for music theory, and possibly compose his own music at some point in the future.

Or I have no idea why he picked that track, except that taking the B.F.A. track would get B.F.A. embossed on his diploma, and that's just going to lead to unfortunate misunderstandings in interviews. Smart choice, Leeroy, smart choice.

Leeroy started Fundamentals with a 100% on his first quiz, but his grades began to drop as the materials became increasingly harder. However, he was one of the few students in the class to take advantage of extra help, and put in extra time to make sure that he understood the material. Other students with declining grades either changed their major or learned just enough to succeed on exams. By the end of the term, Leeroy had bumped his quiz scores up to a competitive level against the class average.

"Competitive level" is a nice way of saying that if his grade and the class average had a fight, his grade would last at least two rounds.

So far, Leeroy has perfect attendance in my sight singing class (which is held in Cawthon). The atmosphere of being surrounded by like-minded musicians has had a positive effect on his studies, and I believe that it would be beneficial for him to live there next year.

Notice my subtle segue into mentioning the dorm -- now you can see where those crazy Friday Fragments skills came from!

The best part is that I don't even know if any of them made it into the dorm the following year, or if they all dropped out of college and danced tables to fund their out of control meth habits.

Dooce in the news
Jill Splonskowski plans to attend a Halloween party as a sexy firefighter
The suspect was missing a large quadrant of hair from the front of her head

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Journal Day

As mentioned in previous posts, I used to keep a private daily journal religiously throughout high school, writing in it every single day. The habit dropped off in college and I only wrote in spurts until around 2004 when I stopped altogether. It got to the point where keeping a private journal and a public blog at the same time was far too much work and one would inevitably suffer (as you can see from posts like these).

Reading through old journal entries last night made me wish that I still kept it up -- it's almost fascinating to see the naive and idealistic viewpoint the old entries were written in, as well as the random events of days that I would otherwise completely forget about. Here are a few samples of events recorded in my journal, using the exact wording I used long ago.

9/26/93: We just got back from visiting some college campuses for my sister. We saw Mary Washington, William and Mary, Christopher Newport, Virginia Commonwealth. In the motel, my sister and I shared a room. The people upstairs had loud music and my sister started banging on the ceiling. Then these two big black guys came down and argued with us through our door.

4/30/94: I just got back from Jenny's house for the bio presentation. Jack and Ben were there too. Jack said that some people on the lightweight boat got arrested last night. After the boat party, they were going to egg someone's house when a cop pulled them over. The cop had gotten a call from a lady with a car phone who had been cut off by some kids but it wasn't them. The cop asked Ed Muellen what he was going to do with the four dozen eggs in his front seat and Ed said he was going to make a very big cake. Two guys got arrested but they weren't charged. Everyone got off.

11/23/99: Saturday morning we woke up early and met Jason and Richard for our trip to Philly. We got to Philly around 11 after an uneventful trip. Liz and I sang musical songs in the front seat once the people in back (Shac, Melody, and Kelley) had fallen asleep. VT beat Temple 62-7 and the game got pretty monotonous after the first three quarters. We decided to meet up at Hooter's afterwards, but the street had changed its name since the last time Jason was there. My car o' people drove around Philly for about an hour and a half in the ghetto before finally finding it. There, we ate dinner, watched the Florida / Florida State game and I napped a bit for the ride back.

Naked Tickler caught
Police: Someone Let Air Out Of Tires
I may have killed her, but I didn't eat her

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Pools of Molokea, where ancient abandoned sugar mill machinery mixes with lava rock pools, was not as cool as the Secret Lava Pools, but this may have been because we left when we were still an 1/8th of a mile from the actual location (because of shoddy directions).

Today is our last full day in Kauai -- we fly out Monday afternoon and return to the east coast on Tuesday morning! Then we'll have to do something with the one hundred bottles of beer that people did not drink at our wedding. Perhaps we'll write a song about them.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Weekend Wrap-up

Overall, this weekend was a fairly quiet one -- no servers exploded at work, and no cats erupted at home. We spent Friday night shopping for Halloween-related paraphernalia, followed up with backyard steaks for dinner. On Saturday morning, the shopping bonanzas continued with updated atlases to replace our 2002 editions which, we noticed on our way to Emerald Isle, omitted most of the roads in North Carolina, or had them marked as "planned".

After spending the afternoon working on DDMSence and hanging out with Rebecca's cousins, we had a small game of poker which was won by Evil Mike, whose rustiness with poker was exemplified by his proclamation that he would win by going "all-on".

On Sunday morning, Rebecca and gang ran in the RUN FOR NOVA 5K while I slept for an additional three hours to the ripe old time of 8 AM. I'm pretty sure that this slightly prolonged my life and slightly shortened theirs. We spent the rest of the day puttering around the house, and after a dinner of chicken bacon alfredo pizza from Safeway, we played glow-in-the-dark frisbee in that far off town known as Vienna.

This coming week should be a pretty busy one, with a variety of work meetings and Arlington-travel in the first four days, followed by a trip to Blacksburg on Friday. This will be my first trip back since 2007, and with Kelley Corbett finally graduated on the ten-year-plan and in the military now, the number of familiar faces around the music department is rapidly dwindling.

CVS fined for problem in sales of meth ingredient
Sea lion attacks New Zealand rowboat
Hotel eyes record with $671,000 per night plan

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Museday Tuesday

As part of this feature, which I started in 2007, I compose a very brief work (under 30 seconds) inspired by a randomly generated title from an online word generator or suggested by a reader. The composition can be for any instrumentation, and could even be a purely synthesized realization that might not be possible to perform in the real world.

I work on the excerpt continuously for an hour and then post whatever I've managed to complete, even if it could be the hit single from Glenn Gould Plays Tatu.

Slouchy: (adj.) Having a drooping or careless posture

My Composition (0:27 MP3)

I was not very inspired by this random word, and it took a good bit of time dicking around with diminished chords to start writing anything. I started with the recorder and the sitar, and moved on to the bass trombone, which is definitely a fairly slouchy instrument.

Prosecutors decide not to charge Phoenix Jones
Thai city offers bounty for fugitive crocodiles
Cain Proposes Electrified Border Fence

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Seven Languages in Seven Weeks by Bruce Tate:
I picked up this programming language survey book in an attempt to work some software engineering back into my daily routine. It's a decent mix of code samples, directed explorations, and exercises for Ruby, Io, Prolog, Scala, Erlang, Clojure, and Haskell. There's not enough material to become fluent in any particular language, but that's not the point of a survey text. The most useful sections summarize the strengths and weaknesses of each language in the context of the other languages, and the least useful sections anthopomorphizes each language as a character from a famous movie, in a horribly failed attempt to add levity.

Final Grade: B-

I spent five minutes downloading this old game from Steam, twenty minutes troubleshooting the VGA rainbow graphics issue I hadn't encountered since owning a 386, thirty minutes figuring out the best way to allocate the starting stats, and two minutes fighting a rat. Sadly, I think this game has fallen into the "too old to be enjoyed" bucket along with NES games, black and white movies, and Dick Clark.

Final Grade: Ungraded

The Dictator (NR):
The problem with Sacha Baron Cohen movies is that you have to wade through an arbitrary, unnecessary plot structure to get to the one or two hilarious jokes in a sea of unfunny mediocrity. This movie was a little zippier than Borat, but I still would have rather watched the best parts (the ad-libbed conversations with his henchman, Nadal) as short Youtube clips.

Final Grade: C+

Homeland, Season One:
If there were a way to only get Showtime every Sunday and then cancel it on Monday, this show would make it worthwhile. It's a thriller about a POW who returns home after 8 years in captivity, and a CIA analyst who thinks he may have been turned by terrorists. The show relies much less on cheap tricks, explosions, and car chases, and more on pure character development and psychological suspense. Meanwhile in my rewatch of the 24 series, someone in CTU is refusing to follow orders because they don't like their boss and/or coworkers -- guess which season!

Final Grade: A

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Friday, October 18, 2013

List Day: Top Ten Worst Eating Annoyances

  1. Post-meal scummy teeth

  2. Seeds in your molars where your tongue can't reach

  3. Unchewable fat strings in cheap steaks

  4. Sandy beach picnics

  5. Tasting a fish bone

  6. Biting an unpopped kernel

  7. Popcorn shells in your gums

  8. Doritos in your gums

  9. Biting your lip

  10. Rebiting your lip in the same spot at the same meal

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review Day: Destiny's Conflict by Janny Wurts

There are no spoilers in this review, which is also posted on Amazon.

It has been 22 years since I discovered Curse of the Mistwraith, the first book in the epic Wars of Light and Shadow series that has since become my favourite fantasy series of all time. I discovered Janny Wurts through her collaboration on the Empire trilogy, where I felt that she breathed true emotion, political intrigue, and character development into an otherwise cookie-cutter, two-dimensional universe. Since then, the WoLaS series has invaded my bookshelf like a pleasant plague in triplicate, with hardcovers for armchair reading, paperbacks for loaning, and Kindle copies for rereading the whole series without spraining a muscle.

In my earlier reviews, I used to warn new readers that the prose was challenging -- a unique style full of memorable turns of phrase and Scrabble winners. With 10 books under my belt, I would like to revise my warning in a more positive light: this is a series that is intricately and intentionally designed to reward you for your investment and patience. In the Netflix age where everyone is proud of bingeing content as quickly as possible (only to immediately forget what happened when the next season rolls around), the WoLaS series is one that rewards any reader who can stop and savour the onion-layered prose methodically without speed skimming. As the series progresses, the author continues to paint new context onto seemingly straightforward events from the previous books, deepening and unfolding the world into beautiful complexity, rather than needlessly prolonging the story to infinity with pointless filler plots or deus ex machina devices.

Destiny's Conflict is the second and final part of Arc IV, Sword of the Canon. Each Arc is a self-contained story that may span multiple volumes due to the physical limitation on the size of a bound book. (Because of this separation, reviewers tend to rate the early volumes in an Arc lower when they don't realize that the true climax of the Arc has not yet happened). At a minimum, you should read the first part of Arc IV, Initiate's Trial, before diving in, but of course, the story will be more impactful if you have followed the yarn from the very beginning of Arc I.

I rated Initiate's Trial with 4 stars when I first read it, but with Destiny's Conflict finally available, I would rate the Arc as a whole with 5 well-deserved stars. Destiny's Conflict is a constant stream of climactic events, with the trail of plot dominoes painstakingly set up in Initiate's Trial (and earlier books) satisfyingly toppled in ways that are simultaneously surprising yet clearly choreographed from the beginning. As a vague non-spoilery example, there was a distracting scene in Peril's Gate that I always felt was superfluous to the story which becomes a key facet of Arithon's actions against the Koriathain here.

The plot in Destiny's Conflict constantly moves forward, with critical events happening in every chapter -- the pace will definitely satisfy readers who felt that Arc III moved a little too slowly. The action decelerates a few times for some heavy backstory (in sections I have facetiously branded as "Arithon and Elaira go to the library"), but for fans who have kept up with the story from the beginning, these sections are chock full of the powerful context needed to better appreciate the earlier Arcs.

Please note that my rating and review here are based on my first, fast devouring of the book. As such, I'm absolutely positive that I have not digested every single nuance of the story, especially in the layered conversations that often seem to fill the negative space around the intended point without making it explicit, leaving you room to draw your own interpretations. My subsequent readings will surely highlight the bits I missed the first time around, increasing my appreciation for the book and the series as a whole.

And that, I believe, is the whole point.

For Reference:

  • Arc I: Curse of the Mistwraith (1 binding)
  • Arc II: Ships of Merior (2 books: Ships of Merior / Warhost of Vastmark)
  • Arc III: Alliance of the Light (5 books: Fugitive Prince / Grand Conspiracy / Peril's Gate / Traitor's Knot / Stormed Fortress)
  • Arc IV: Sword of the Canon (2 books: Initiate's Trial / Destiny's Conflict)
  • Arc V: Song of the Mysteries (1 binding, to be written)

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Friday, October 18, 2019

Review Day: The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

There are no major spoilers in this review.

The Red Knight (Book 1 of 5 in the Traitor Son Cycle) is a master class in weaving multiple points of view together into a satisfying convergence of plot, suspense, and character development. This master class isn't for everyone, however, spanning three whole semesters and requiring much more concentration than you might be used to in your fantasy reading. The book tells the tale of a mercenary company that accepts a contract to protect a convent of nuns and finds themselves in the midst of a siege between humans and the creatures of "The Wild", a catch-all stereotype for varied races in the North deemed (by humans) to be primitive and beast-like. The story effectively blends the raw, martial depiction of war with an interesting magic system and a feudal-like social and religious system.

The Red Knight functions equally well as a standalone and a lead-in to the rest of the series (which I have not read yet). Sufficient reveals are included to make the mysteries in this book feel complete without cliffhangers, but enough hints to a broader conflict exist to lead into later books. The most difficult aspect of enjoying this story is the sheer number of characters involved. While the language is very easy to process, characters surface for a few pages at a time before vanishing, sometimes given different names, nicknames, or (in the case of The Wild) species names depending on the current POV.

The old adage that people can only remember 7, plus or minus 2, bits of information at a time holds true here. I originally purchased this on Kindle and the fact that I would regularly forget that I had already been introduced to a character led to tedious bookmarking and searching to refresh my memory (and I read pretty fast!). Ironically, switching to the paperback edition did not help because it was deckle-edged and impossible to flip back in search of where I had heard of a character before. If you are willing to keep a notepad handy and record the pages / locations where characters are first introduced, your overall reading experience will be much friendlier.

The book is not without flaws -- some readers (myself included) will get distracted by the number of minor editing errors, like the use of it's vs. its, or odd run-on sentences that a generous reader might dismiss as attempts to create a unique dialect. Characters will often do an action like "raised his hand" or "sat down", only to do it again just one sentence later. There is constant confusion in the use of east and west, which is particularly noticeable since there is no printed map included in the book. For people that like to build a mental map in their head, this makes the relationship between the location of the convent and other cities in the world more difficult to piece together.

There are also an exorbitant number of details about combat moves and expertise in weapons and armor. I understand that the author has plenty of real-world expertise in these topics, but they felt overproven and sometimes read like a pedantic D&D dungeon master. After finishing, I was very impressed that no scene felt unnecessary, although many scenes could clearly have been tightened by a good editor. This is a 500 page story in a 650 page book.

In spite of these flaws, the implied relationships between characters and Rube Goldberg-esque trickle of events towards a common conclusion are tantalizing and kept me reading. Most characters are fairly two-dimensional with a few memorable traits (like "this one likes to eat a lot"), but they work well within the world to propel the plot forward. By the time the last "main" character had been introduced about halfway through the book, I had no choice but to eagerly see how it all turned out. And by the time I reached the end, I felt as tired as the depicted knights and squires, who fought The Wild in a perpetual state of exhaustion throughout the siege.

Final Grade: B-

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Monday, October 18, 2021

Weekend Wrap-up

On Saturday, we took part in the Loudoun Farm Tour by visiting three different farms: Donkey Meadows, Butterfly Hill Farm Store, and Kathy Ann's Farm. Maia got to ride a donkey, which was fun but $10 for a 1 minute ride seemed a little excessive. She also got her face painted like a bunny.

From there, we went to Butterfly Hill to see the alpacas, and then Kathy Ann's to see various cows, sheep, alpacas, and fowl. The owner shows Maia how to weave at the loom.

The sky opened up and it poured for the rest of the day, so we came home from here. In the evening, we had half of the Smith family over for Blackfinn Ameripub food and board games.

We did our usual Sunday routine, with Rebecca and Maia off to the Farmer's Market while I stayed home with Ian. We spent the afternoon outside, playing badminton, letting Maia bike around the court, and repairing the bird feeder post that a squirrel knocked over.

How was your weekend?

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