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"If you're anything like us, you probably can't be bothered learning the rules to anything. The minute we get our mitts on a new plaything we just want to start playing. Modern living makes you impatient. And let's face it, rules are boring. Like the saying goes: 'Any fool can make a rule'. This is particularly true of card games. We're usually asleep by the time the explanation is over. Suggest a game that people are unfamiliar with and the normal response is a harrumph, followed by 'but I don't know how to play that one!' Maybe that's why Fluxx has drawn us so quickly and completely into its anarchic clutches. It's fast-paced, fun and totally unpredictable. It's also a game that has to be played to be appreciated - words can't do it justice. The simple, quirky and, above all, random nature of Fluxx make it incredibly playable, and it has that all-important one-more-go-factor in spades." -- review of Fluxx at Firebox.com

Thursday, February 3rd, 2005
by the Writer's Guild of Wunderland

What's New?

What's Going On? Co-Housing, Co-Homeschooling, Escape From America, and Hamilton

We just got back from a wonderful weekend in the chilly north, and it leaves me with a lot to say, on a wide range of topics. These include Co-Housing, Co-Homeschooling, Canadian "Smoke-Easys," Things we liked about the city of Hamilton, and a movie soon being released called "Escape from America."

The trip began with a visit to a Co-Housing community in Ithaca, New York, called the Eco-Village. Since I (stupidly) forgot to take any photos of the EcoVillage itself, here's a picture I took during our visit to Ithaca proper, of the gorgeous gorge at Cornell University.

The EcoVillage is an ecology-oriented Co-Housing community with a current population of about 60 families. "What's Co-Housing?" I hear you asking. (It's OK, I didn't know either.) You might say it's the next generation's approach to the communes of the sixties. At the EcoVillage there are two neighborhoods, each containing 30 households unified by a single vision and living in a tight cluster of houses up on the hilltop. The houses, which are designed to be super efficient and environmentally sound, are all independently-owned private homes, but at the core of the village is a common house with many shared spaces including a large dining room. Here many meetings and other community events are held, including meals for the whole group which are served several nights a week. The community shares much together, but maintains individual households as well. This was a very inspirational visit for us, as we seek to decide where and how to build our future. We've often talked of doing something similar (though on a smaller scale) but never knew the concept had a name until now.

We then proceeded north, into Canada. We (stupidly) forget to bring our passports, and we worried about having trouble at the border; but the guard waved us through, without even asking for ID.

Our first destination was Guelph, where we held a Looney Gaming event at the Cafe Aquarius. We got a nice crowd of about 15 Ontario-area rabbits, and we hung out playing Aquarius (and many of our other games) at this very groovy vegan coffeeshop all afternoon. Among those in attendance was a woman named Jacy and some of her kids, and while talking with her that day we made plans to visit her homeschooler's group back in Hamilton, which is another of Toronto's satellite cities. We made plans to go see her later in our visit, then went out to dinner with our Guelph Rabbits.

The next day was the last day of the Canadian Toy and Hobby Show in Toronto, so we went into the big city itself for that. This event is their equivalent of New York's Toy Fair, and this was our first time attending... as usual for our first trip to a new trade show, we were just there to walk the floor and check things out this time around. Perhaps next year we will get a booth, but this year, it was worthwhile for us just to visit the booths of Canadian distributors we haven't signed up yet, to give them catalogs and samples of our games, and such like. (While there, we also got to see Stephanie Clarkson again; she was working in the FoxMind booth, where they had several very intriguing new games on display...)

While we were in Toronto, we had dinner with some other friends we made during our last visit to Canada, named Shannon and Albert. They're film-makers, and they're working on a new movie currently being called "Escape from America." During our visit to the Hot-Box Cafe last July, they actually interviewed us for the movie, but I haven't mentioned it until now because I wasn't sure if our material might not just end up on the editing room floor and I didn't want to jinx it. Although we didn't get to see the rough cut, Albert described various bits of us which are being included, so it sounds like we really will be in this movie. In fact, I can be seen in the preview! You can download it from this website. (That's me saying excitedly, "We're gonna move to Canada!") The movie debuts in April... we hope to go up to attend the premiere.

On Tuesday, we went into Hamilton to meet Jacy's homeschoolers group. Jacy has banded together with three other area families (in a manner not unlike the Co-Housing movement) to create a multi-family home-schooling group. They were meeting in a church basement when we visited, and we had a great time teaching this modern one-room school how to play several of our games. There were 11 kids total, with a range of ages, and it was useful for us to see how the six year olds did with Fluxx Jr. (They loved it! Watching 6-year olds play it there made us decide we need to get this thing into print!)

It was wonderful visiting Canada again, despite the coldness... we chose to go on this trip in January specifically to find out what the place was like in the middle of winter, and it really wasn't bad. It must be said, however, that we apparently happened to visit during a warm spell... people were saying we'd brought some warm weather with us. But even if it is generally colder up there, and more snowy, and with longer winters, I think we can handle it. (Besides, as global warming heats up the planet, it may behoove us to have moved up north.)

Until the Supremes hand down a ruling on Raich v. Ashcroft, there's always the chance that they'll do the right thing and strike a fatal blow at marijuana prohibition. (And that would leave us feeling like we could move to a variety of other places... Ithaca, for example.) But even on my most optimistic of days I find this unlikely, so I predict we're Canada-bound. Plus, I really like the idea. I love it in Canada. It was a joy to visit, even in winter. I feel inspired now to learn about Canadian history. (Maybe someday we'll do a Canadian version of Chrononauts! Or a Canadian Edition of Stoner Fluxx! But I can't think about things like that right now...we've got plenty of other stuff on the stove right now.)

I'm even inspired to learn some basic French! (Everywhere you go up there you see little lessons in French, in the form of the omni-present translations, so why not make a point of trying to actually learn the language?)

So I'm still pretty psyched about choosing Canada as the site of the new Looney Labs World Headquarters, but my top choice for the city we go to has changed as a result of this trip. Last summer, I was saying our first choice was Guelph, but while we really enjoyed visiting there again, we realized during this visit that there's even more to like about Hamilton. (Sorry Penn & Heather and Scott -- but I'm sure we'll visit Guelph often, and you can come see us in Hamilton!)

Here's a list of Things We Liked About Hamilton:

  • There's This Cliff: I'm fascinated by a geologic feature this city is literally divided by, known as the Escarpment. It's a huge cliff running through the middle of the town, which was carved out by glaciers during the last great Ice Age. A few miles to the south, a river flows over another part of this giant cliff, forming a little thing known as Niagara Falls. Although it tripped us up when we first arrived, I find the Escarpment fascinating, and I think it gives the whole town great character.
  • They Have a Smoke-Easy: Last summer we went to Ontario's first "smoke-easy," this being a place called the Hot Box Cafe, where people are permitted to smoke their own pot openly (but cannot buy it or sell it or mooch it or even ask where to get it). I was eager to see how this decrim experiment was playing out and how it compared to the Dutch model I've long been studying. We went to the Hot Box again on this trip, and it was good to see that they are still thriving, and still haven't been shut down by the cops. (I was happy to see that they've been selling Stoner Fluxx, and it's doing well for them, too!) Anyway, since our last visit, another Smoke-Easy has opened in Ontario, this one in (yes you guessed it) Hamilton! So of course, we had to check it out too, and it's great! It's called Up In Smoke Cafe, and even more than the Hot Box Cafe, this is a center for political activism as well as a place to openly toke. Those who smoke there are asked to join a political action party called the Hamilton Compassion Society, and must sign a release when they do. It's an excellent and well-written document, based on acceptance of "the possibility of arrest as the possible price of pot activism," but also argues that "it is better to get busted out in the open with all your friends watching and the cameras rolling and the media there, than late at night, all alone, with no one watching." The scene was hopping while we were there... the activists in the area have a place to gather, and the movement there is growing.
  • It's Within a Half-Day's Drive Away: I am more than ready to experience life in another part of the world, having lived in the DC area for the past 41 years... but there will always be a special place in my heart for my hometown, so I'm sure we will be traveling back here frequently. Therefore, I'd like for our new hometown to be within a single day's travel time of our old hometown. That puts the limit, for my driving abilities, at about 12 hours, and Hamilton is within that range. But most Canadian cities are beyond this threshold. In fact, Hamilton is just about the closest Canadian city there is to Washington DC. If you get in the car and drive straight towards Canada, the first major city you'll get to after passing Niagara Falls is Hamilton. It's 577 miles away from our house, and the drive home took just over 11 hours, which included a leisurely dinner break and various other little stops (although with no traffic jams, and surprisingly few tolls.) We were told, over and over again on this visit as before, that the place we really ought to go is Vancouver... but the west coast is just too far away for our tastes. If the airlines go out of business, it'll take a week instead of a day to get home. Obviously that's a worst case scenario, but even in a situation like another 9-11, we might find that the airlines are shut down for days on end at a time when I'd really like to get home, and that the only way to get back quickly will be by driving.
  • The Size is Just Right: We're urbanites, so we definitely like the Toronto area, but we find Toronto itself a little intimidatingly large. We also have to admit that Guelph is a tad smaller than we'd prefer. Hamilton, on the other hand, feels just right. It's 5 times as big as Guelph and even though it lives even more in Toronto's shadow, it's a true city unto itself, with plenty going on to keep our various interests satisfied. (And what we can't find in Hamilton can certainly be found in the nearby big city.) Like Goldilocks sampling beds and choosing the one with that's not too big and not too small, my feeling right now is that Hamilton is the town whose size is just right.
  • Location, Location, Location: As noted, Hamilton is about as close to our hometown as you can get and be in Canada. It's also about as far south as one can go and be in Canada, which is good for minimizing the downsides of winter. Hamilton is on the edge of a huge lake which is cool in and of itself and also may promote a nicer climate than in some places, due to the mysterious "lake effect" I've been hearing about for years. Hamilton has excellent interstate access and their own international airport. It's closer to Toronto than Guelph (just far enough away to be it's own place but close enough for the nearby city to be handy) and it's on the near side of the bigger city instead of being out and beyond, as is Guelph. Plus, there's a wonderful landmark to visit nearby for out-of-towners to see while they're visiting us, namely, the glorious Niagara Falls, a destination worthy of any traveler's lifetime "must-visit" checklist. Hamilton is, quite frankly, in a perfect location for our manifold needs and goals.
  • Hamilton is in an Economic Slump and has an Identity Crisis: While at first these might not seem like advantages, for us, they are. Here are some headlines and highlighted quotes from an article in an issue of the Hamilton Spectator which we bought while we were there: "We're a city with an identity crisis," "Lots of houses, not many jobs," and "Hamilton's becoming a doughnut city as suburbs push the urban boundary and many new arrivals ignore the old city." This is all good stuff for us, because our goal is move into an urban center where the rent is relatively cheap, since we need space in which to build all our dreams. Therefore, we like the idea of a town with a low cost of living, where the Chamber of Commerce might be willing to provide extra help/incentives to a growing business looking to move into a city in the midst of revitalization. (Such was apparently the case for Chris Goodwin, proprietor of Up In Smoke, which has a wonderful heart-of-town location.) It's all very similar, it seems to me, to the way things happened in Amsterdam. In the late 1970's, the city's population was shrinking and at the lowest level in decades, but along with the rise of the coffeeshop came a gradual reversal of that trend, to the point where Amsterdam is now a densely populated high-rent city again. Might the same thing happen in Hamilton? If so, that's exactly where I want to be.

As I seek to gaze into the crystal ball, to predict the future and thus be best able to take advantage of my predictions, I'm hoping to choose the right hotspot to host my entrepreneurial visions. [Incidentally, I hope someday to return to my dream of writing novels, and when I do I will tell stories set in a future world, which I now spend a lot of time just imagining...] I see a future in which, long after pot is made legal, cities everywhere will have a district in which Amsterdam-style coffeeshops are clustered together, sort of like a stoner version of the vibrant Chinatown area of Toronto, in Kensington Market, where the Hot Box Cafe is located. In time, other establishments may open nearby, and Kensington Market might become the area's Stonertown, or Little Amsterdam. Then again, that might take off more in Hamilton. Either neighborhood might well suit the gaming coffeehouse I dream of building someday, near our new World Headquarters...

Well, anyway, that's the low-down on our most recent trip to Canada. If it sounds like I've made up my mind and chosen Hamilton, well, I guess I have. I'm like that. I'm an INTJ, The J stands for Judging and what it means is I'm all about making a decision and feeling good about that decision even if I later have to change and make a different decision. So today I would say that Hamilton is my top choice, but this decision is hardly final. For me, few decisions are: I always try to reserve the right to change my mind about everything later. So, stay tuned!

Thanks for Reading, and Thanks for Playing Our Games!

PS: If you haven't signed up for your Holiday Gift yet, there's still time! We still haven't sent them out yet! (Hopefully we will next week!)

Thought Residue

While I opposed the war in Iraq, I will readily admit that this week's free elections there were a wonderful thing. In fact, I find myself feeling envious about the manner in which they cast their historic votes. I think our country should adopt the "permanent ink on the fingertip you vote with" method they used, which I see as having several advantages over our country's easily corruptible technological systems:

  1. No way for a hacker to change the votes with a computer
  2. No "hanging chads" in the event of a recount
  3. Easier to prevent multiple visits to the voting booth
  4. You have this lovely purple reminder of being part of a democracy on your hand for the next few days
  5. You can see who the non-voting slackers in the community are, and chide them for not voting.

If you think I'm being paranoid, worrying about things like global warming and bankrupted airlines, then I'd direct you to articles I read in the most recent issues of my newest favorite magazine, The Week, which piled up in the mail during our travels. One article described a "Dire Warning" issued by an international task force in Greenland, who are predicting that "the world will heat up to an irreversible tipping point in less that 10 years" unless greenhouse gas levels are somehow reduced. The other was a grim profile of the ailing airline industry, which answered the question "Do the old airlines have a future?" with "It'll be a struggle."
Having successfully converted from sugary soda to diet (I'm totally used to the funny taste now) I have begun refining my preferences. I'm developing a fondness for Diet Coke with Lime, since it's kind of like drinking a Sprite at the same time as a Coke.



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