John Flanagan, author of Rangers Apprentice, visits Exeter, NH

Since the Spring of this year, I have met more authors that I knew in Exeter, NH then I have in all the rest of my life combined.  These have been arranged by the Water Street Book store.  The latest one was to meet John Flanagan the author of the Ranger’s Apprentice series.


I think it was about 6 years ago that I read The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1) to my son Christopher.  It was a fun, quick read.  Christopher and I were both captivated by the story of Will who is a 15 year boy trying to find his place in the world.  Small for his age, orphan, with dreams of becoming a knight, he is disappointed when he is not selected for battle school, but his adventure really begins when he is selected as a Ranger’s Apprentice.  The Rangers are mysterious people that are the protectors of the kingdom.  No one really knows what they do, but they are feared and respected.

John Flanagan said that one of his inspirations for the Rangers were the tales of Texas Rangers.  Considering I had lived in Texas all my life up until earlier this year, and that my father loves (did I say LOVES) Texas history, it really made us feel good to hear.

John told the story of a sheriff in a town that was having riots back in the Texas republic days.  He sends off for help and is relieved to learn that the needed help will arrive at the 9AM train the next morning.  He shows up at a train, the car opens up, and a Texas ranger with his horse trots out.  The sheriff looks into the box car expecting to see a group of police/soldiers but he only finds it empty.  He says to the Texas Ranger, “Did you bring anybody else?”  The Ranger replies, “How many riots do you have?”  (One riot, one Ranger).

There were a lot of questions about various characters and hypothetical story lines.  Questions about the possibility of a Ranger movie (very, very likely… has been in the works for a long time, but nothing definite yet… the producers are trying to get the right amount of funding, but could be in the theaters as early as next Christmas or the one afterwards).

I asked a question about his process.  He carries around a notebook in which he writes the ideas pop into his head about characters, plots, dialog, scenes.  After a while story starts to materialize.  He then works on creating a 4 page summary.  One page with the introduction, two pages for the middle and one page for the end.  Once he has this done, then he c2014-12-01 18.35.51-1reate a chapter by chapter outline (usually about 40 chapters).  At this point production really gets into gear and he writes one chapter a day.  In about 6-8 weeks he has the first draft of his book.  He then sends this off to the editor and even after publishing millions of copies of books, he anxiously awaits the feedback.  Then he gets it back with comments.  Reworks a bit of it.  And sends it back.  “The keys,” he says, ” is to plan.”


After the Q&A was a book signing.  We were there with the most books.  I think we have all of the books except for two.  I’ve read all the Ranger Apprentice books.  Christopher has read these, the Lost Stories, and is now working through the Brother Band series.


John was really gracious and generous and signed all of our books.  I told him the story of us recently moving from Texas and Christopher insisting that we bring these books along.  2014-12-01 18.45.22And now we are even more glad we did.


First Two Weeks of Summer

“Can’t talk now… I’m on a schedule.”  “No, I have no time to meet this week.”  “Really focused, can’t think about that right now.”  If you have talked to me in the past two weeks, you have probably heard something like that.  Also, you may have noticed that I have been a little slow on emails, not attending events that I normally go to (like the cypress coffee club networking meeting and the CyFair Chamber meetings or the Friday night chess meets, toastmasters, etc.)  You may have noticed that the daily learn Hindi show on has been a little less than daily.  And you might be tempted to ask “Are you OK?”  or perhaps you think I am working on some super secret project.  Well, it is time that I set the record straight.

These past two weeks I have been engaged in something that is best described as “continuous contact parenting”.  In past summers we have sent the kinds off to various camps.  But this summer I am at home and available to spend with them 24/7.  I want to make the most of this time.   Because I know that in less than a decade both of them will out of the house, and I will probably have time for them at that point, but they will probably be too busy with their lives for me.

But how to make the most of the summer?  Should I just sit around and do whatever comes to mind.  Should we just play board game after board game.  Read books.  Watch movies.  What should we do?

I had some very specific ideas on what an ideal summer day might look like.  It should have exercise.  Time for eating.  Piano practice.  Math worksheets.  Piano writing.  But there is one area that I thought we could focus on and have a lot of fun:  Electronics and robotics.  After putting all that together, we came up with a daily schedule that we would try for two weeks:


The electronics time was spent learning about voltage, current, resistance, using the multi-meter, understanding the relationship between voltage, current, resistance, soldering, striping wires, reading circuit diagrams, making connections between components on a breadboard, using a Parallax Basic stamp.

Here are some pictures to give you some idea:


We also put together some kits:


In fact, we have a “wall of completed projects” where we put a postcard or something to indicate the projects that we have finished:


We have also programmed Parallax’s scribbler robot. 



During our free time we did end up playing a board game, Settlers of Catan.  My friend, Daniel Parker, in Austin introduced it to us a couple of weeks ago.  Since then we have played dozens of games.


This is just a small glimpse of the things we have been up to. 

Yagi-san – Day 22 – Thursday

I took Thursday morning off of work to take Yagi-san to the airport.  A friend of mine is a member of the Continental President’s club so we actually could go past security with him and hang out there.

We played Shogi while we waited:


Then it was time to catch the flight:


Here is the plane that he boarded:


Already we are missing him…  But we look forward to visiting Japan again, maybe having Yagi-san visit us in India or America.  And keeping in touch via email, phone, and regular mail.  I am planning to make it so we can play Shogi via email on

Yagi-san – Day 21 – Wednesday


I had to work this day also.  So, Yagi-san stayed at home, packed, went shopping at Walmart with my in-laws.

That night he took my family out to Dhakshin, an Indian restaurant.


He had a dosa

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My mom said good bye


Sonia gave him an album of his trip:


We had some friends over to visit.


Play Shogi, of course.


Yagi-san – Day 19 – Monday

We went with some friends to Galveston

First we went to the Ocean Star offshore drilling platform museum.


It was a little cold, so Stephen wore my jacket…


Then we visited the Hotel Galvez, which I thought was built before the flood.  But actually it was built several years afterwards:


then we went to the Titantic exhibit at Moody gardens.  They give everyone a different "boarding pass" with information about a passenger.  You do not find out until the end if they died or not.


My guy died…

Then we went to the beach and Yagi-san touched the Gulf of Mexico


Next we rode across on the ferry:


Then we went back home, and played some more Shogi


Yagi-san – Day 18 – Sunday

Headed back to Houston.  Ate breakfast at McDonalds on the way:


We went back to my house and rested for a while.  Then we went to the Woodlands for Easter dinner with my dad and Carole.  Stephen and Amma played Shogi while we waited for a seat at the Cheese Cake Factory:


Afterwards, we went home and worked on our garden:


We had dinner at our house that night:


And I play Yagi-san some more Shogi…Here are some shots of the ending


Yagi-san – Day 17 – Saturday

Breakfast at the Hilton… worked on teaching Christopher Shogi while we were waiting… (Do you know Shogi?  you should.. check out



Then we went Canoeing on Village Creek (feeds into the Neches near the Big Thicket national preserve)

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Then we ate Dinner at Fuddruckers.  And played Shogi (seeing a trend?)


Then we went to Spindletop



Then we dropped Sonia, Stephen, and Christopher at the hotel.. then Yagi-san and I went to Orange.

We went to the Stark Art Museum


We missed the last tour of the Stark house by 15 minutes…  At the Stark house they have a Neopolean death mask…I remember seeing it when I went on a tour in high school…  There are only three in the world… one in Paris, on in Washington DC and one in Orange Texas

We got some pictures of the outside thought


Then we went to Shangra La, but did not see much there:


Then we drove over to Louisiana.  The visitor center was closed, but they left some maps and handouts on the front step.


We went back to the Texas center and they were closed too.   But they didn’t leave handouts.


Then we headed back to the hotel..

Yagi-san – day 16 – Friday


On the way to Beaumont, we stopped at subway


And then we stopped at the Ben J. Rogers Regional Visitors center where we found the most wonderful people to help us.  If you are traveling towards Beaumont on I-10 from Houston, then you should definitely stop by and visit.


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Next we visited Gator Country.  It was actually before the Visitor Center in geography, but we didn’t know about it.  So after getting the information from the visitor center, we turned around and drove the 8 miles are so to see it.



They had lots of alligators and crocodiles.

Also, they had a snake that I got to hold.


stephen got to hold a baby alligator

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This is there motto at Gator Country: "Quick Hands or NO hands"


Even Yagi-san held an alligator

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Then we went to the Hilton in Beaumont and then ate at Johnny Carino’s Country Italian restaurant next door.

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Stephen and Yagi-san played Shogi while we waited for our food…. (This is a good time to mention that we are building a site to teach people to play Shogi and to help them learn about the game.  Check out when you get a chance.. Not much there but a few pointers to other sites… but you might want to at least book mark it.


After eating, we went bowling.

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Then we called it a day and went to bed… very busy day the next day.

Yagi-san (day 15-Thursday)

Thursday, we spent in Houston.  We went to Minute Maid park for a tour.



See!  yagi-san really likes baseball.  We were trying to convince him to stay another week or so to see the opening game.


We also went to the downtown aquarium.

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And then headed off to the Gallaria. We were thinking about going ice skating, but there was only 15 minutes left to the public session.  So we sat and had an ice cream instead.


Yagi-san (day 12 – Monday)

Breakfast at Denny’s


Mexican Market



San Antonio is one of my dad’s favorite places to visit.  We used to come here all the time.  And we were here in 1992 when the Governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, cam to San Antonio to campaign.  We were staying in my dad’s favorite hotel, the Menger.  And Bill Clinton was staying there too (I think..)  I remember there being a big crowd of people outside of the hotel, and barely seeing Bill Clinton. 

Well, Bill Clinton likes to jog.  And there is a painting of him at La Terra with him jogging.  It is one of those things that you remember, that you have to find.  Anyway, find it I did:


Apparently Mr. Clinton was here a few weeks ago for the Texas Primaries.  And he signed the picture:


Apparently John McCain had come at the same time and it was kind of crazy there…

We also got to listen to live music:


We also saw a high school cheerleading squad


La Villita  (Lunch here)


There was this very cute chess set.  The Spanish Conquistadors against the native americans.  I would have gotten it if it wasn’t $50… Maybe next time…


Spanish Governor’s Palace



The children got to play with replicas of toys that were common back when the Spanish Governor’s palace was in use.


Two missions on the mission trail

San Juan mission:

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Mission Espada



Dinner at Luby’s