Friday, September 6, 2019

State of the Schafer: How is it September already?

Man, it's been an awful winter for viruses down here in NZ. My son's been sick 4 times, and I'm currently fighting off my own 2nd round of a cold. Plus, this week I had to get a booster MMR vaccine, as there's a pretty nasty measles outbreak going on in Auckland with almost 900 cases. Auckland is on the North Island, pretty far from our home in Hawea, but I'll be flying through the Auckland airport on my way to visit US family and friends in a few weeks. I don't have my childhood medical records, which means I can't prove I've had 2 doses of the MMR. Better safe than sorry, in my view (and the doctor's).

So anyway, what with all the sore throats and high fevers and headaches (not to mention some chipped teeth, bruised heels, and injured ligaments), feels like we've been living at the local medical centre. Thank goodness medical care for kids under 14 is completely free in NZ. All the doctor visits haven't exactly made for terrific productivity, though, on the writing front or anywhere else. Well, okay, if I'm honest, part of that lack is because on the rare occasions when everybody's healthy, we've prioritized hitting the ski slopes before the snow vanishes again. Gotta take care of our mental health too, right?

Writing Progress:

I'm reeeeeeeally trying to get a complete draft of The White Serpent done before my big US trip in a few weeks. Will I make it? Only time will tell. I'm currently fighting through a particularly tricky setup to the climax scene, with a few more to go after that.

Skating Update:

I'm still playing it safe with my back, which means no sit spins or double jumps. Mostly I'm working on that darn step sequence for my program, which involves a lot of turns known as counters. My precious, we hatesssss them...but arrrrgh, with enough practice, surely I can get my footwork to look decent. I hope. I am just not a naturally graceful skater, so it's hard. On the up side, my back is doing well enough I can safely practice layback spins. I've got a long way to go to regain full back flexibility, but hey. Baby steps:



I'm thinking if the sit spin continues to be dangerous for my back, then I may switch my main combo spin in my program from camel/sit/back sit to camel/layback/back camel. (A "back" spin means you change feet and spin on your non-dominant foot.) The trick to get a good transition from layback to back camel, which is something I haven't ever worked on before. That makes it interesting, and keeps me from feeling too sad about not doing sit spins. (The sit was always my favorite and best spin.)

New Zealand Life:

During the winter term, the local schools run a program where for six Fridays, the kids all go up the mountain for ski lessons. Parents get discount tickets for the day, and are supposed to be on hand to supervise children during their lunch break. Best school program ever, far as I'm concerned. I've certainly made the most of the ski time.

Happy after hauling my skis up to Treble Cone's summit ridge

Mmmm, fresh powder

Walking the ridge

More fresh lines in the Motatapu Chutes

One of my favorite chutes to ski

The long walk out of the Motatapu back to the lift 
I also did a little volunteering for this year's NZ Winter Games, since a friend of mine runs the cross-country events and asked me to help out. I'd never been to the local dedicated cross country area before, so it was neat to check that out and watch all the elite international athletes power through their races. Snow Farm is apparently the one groomed cross country ski area in all of NZ, although of course people do tons of backcountry hut trips and other off-piste x-c skiing all throughout NZ's mountains. I still want to get more into backcountry, but I think I'll leave the x-c racing to those fitter and more masochistic than I am. It sure looked tiring.

Snow Farm's meticulously groomed cross country ski trails

Upon finishing their race, elite skiers collapse exhausted in the snow

Reading Corner:

I just finished Tad Williams's The Witchwood Crown and Empire of Grass, the first two installments in his Last King of Osten Ard series. This is the follow-on to his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, which in my view is one of the great classics of epic fantasy. I first read the MS&T trilogy as a teenager and adored every word of it. Some might complain of slow pacing and over-description, but to me, the leisurely build-up, deep introspection, and detailed settings helped make both world and characters feel rich and real in a way few other fantasy series have matched.

Despite having a good experience with the interval novella Williams released in 2017 (The Heart of What Was Lost), I still worried the new books, returning to beloved characters like Simon and Miriamele and Binabik after so many years, might not match the magic of the originals. It's true that as a more experienced reader I spot more flaws and frustrations. (My goodness, but Williams does love for characters to spend tons of pages wandering lost through forests and caves. And while he does his usual terrific job of writing realistic women of a variety of ages and roles, in the new series he goes frustratingly old-school in choices of plotline for some of them...which is to say, slavery, abuse, and sexual assault.)

Yet as a reader I don't care, because the magic remains, at least for me. As soon as I started, I sank right into Osten Ard and never wanted the story to stop. This is why I didn't read the new books right away, although I've been snapping them up upon release. I was trying to hold out until the third one comes out next year. But in the end I just couldn't. And now I have to wait. Arrrrgh.