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Christmas Letter 2008

Dear Friends and Family...

One of these years, we'll have a nice quiet year at Chaos Central: sitting around, relaxing and not doing much of anything. Needless to say that wasn't this year and it wasn't last year either, which is why you didn't get a Christmas Newsletter for 2007. No, we didn't forget you: how could we forget you? I hope you remember us. So my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to find a way to cram two years worth of chaos into two pages of newsletter. I've had easier missions, trust me. It's hard to come to the realisation that it's Christmas already, but hey, it's 2008? Wow, that means we must be in the 21st century! Great Scott! Where's my flying car?

Hal & Dee

One of the most important events of the last two years at Chaos Central turned out to be an accidental introduction to Andrea the Midnite Movie Mamacita in late 2007. We were attending a film festival when her friends heard Hal talk and assumed he was a Kiwi like her, thus prompting the introduction. Since then we have become movie junkies: regulars at the independent Chandler Cinemas. We have each seen more films on the big screen in the last 14 months than during the entire rest of our lives: retro classics, grindhouse double bills, Arizona premieres, special events, film festivals, advance screenings, you name it, even viewing and rating boxes of submissions for a festival.

Through Andrea and Chandler Cinemas, we've also got to meet and chat with many film related luminaries, not least Crispin Glover, Kitten Natividad and Ric Meyers, who were all fascinating in very different ways. Highlights are too many to mention, but have to include Dee telling R A Mihailoff (Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) that he was a cuddly teddy bear and he smelled nice; and Hal finally meeting Jim McLennan, the editor of the Trash City zine which he had bought regularly from issue zero twenty years ago. We'd recommend that everyone see Jerome Bixby's The Man from Earth whenever they can: it's the best science fiction film of the last quarter of a century and precisely nobody has heard of it because it's entirely free of spaceships, laser guns and explosions.

We had lots of plans to travel in the last couple of years, especially around Arizona, but haven't managed much at all. We did get to the Gathering of the Gunfighters at the Yuma Territorial Prison which proved to be the first time Hal has ever been cold in Arizona. We're now regulars at the various free cultural festivals hosted in Phoenix, especially the Matsuri. It just doesn't get much better than two days of steam buns and taiko! Even Shawn is hooked. We also made it to Las Vegas on a free trip from a timeshare company, which was highly enjoyable once we got the tickets but we didn't get them until two hours after the plane had flown. We can confirm once and for all, however, that gambling is more lucrative in airports than in casinos and Teller of Penn & Teller does speak in real life.

Most fun was a five day trip to Orlando and Disneyworld, all expenses paid, courtesy of Wells Fargo as part of a staff recognition scheme, not just because it was all expenses paid and not just because they had ice cream in large quantities. The whole event really makes you feel valued as an employee, not only through obviously cool things like renting Universal Studios for the entire evening after it's closed to the public but through the execs of the company cheering us off the buses, serving us drinks and looking after us on a personal level. It was an experience not to be forgotten, even though Hal had to temporarily replace his trademark hat with a Duff Beer baseball cap after the Mummy stole it on the Revenge of the Mummy ride. I know he's supposed to be evil, but c'mon... there are limits!

Hopefully 2009 will see us able to travel within Arizona at least a little to see all the historic sites the state has to offer, like the Grand Canyon and the Circle K used in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. We have so many historic sites that we had to import London Bridge to make three. We're also hoping to finally make a trip back to England in late May for three reasons: so that we can have our honeymoon at the same time as our fifth wedding anniversary, so Dee can actually meet her in-laws, and so that she won't freeze to death in April.

Heather, Greg and Ivy

Greg and Heather, now a store manager at Radio Shack, are renting their own house, which is a good thing because there are now four of them. Eidolon Cole Chapman was born on 11 Mar 2008 and is male, in case you were wondering. It's also pronounced something akin to Ade Lin, because this family is strange. Naturally Ivy still rules the world, refusing to acknowledge defeat to a mere ten month old, and she'll no doubt prove this to a wider audience in 2009 when she begins school. She has progressed from the terrible twos to the fearsome fours, which are truly fearsome, trust me: she thinks she knows karate. One day she may realise that the world doesn't exist purely to serve her interests but then Michael hasn't learned that yet and he's 21.


Hal is still working at Wells Fargo, with far more job security than you might expect if you've been watching the news. Yes, the US economy is dying on its feet and banks are collapsing left and right, because this is the land of opportunity and everyone thinks about everything from the viewpoint of immediate gain and so long term sustainability be hanged. Except Wells Fargo, that is, which is in excellent shape because the guys at the top knew what they were doing and didn't get greedy. We're in such good shape that we're in the process of buying Wachovia, another huge American bank, which in itself will bring Hal plenty of work, I'm sure.

The last two years has brought him one promotion, twice yearly wage increases and that all expenses paid trip to Disneyworld; but it's also brought 60 hour plus work weeks, a massive increase in responsibility and a concept of scale that still stuns whenever he thinks about it. He's happily dealing with more IDs on an average day than are even employed by most companies he's previously worked for, juggling projects that affect tens or even hundreds of thousands of users.

He has found a little free time to continue writing his travelogue through the history of cinema: this book is now 170,000 words in or about 60% complete. However far more has been written on his movie review blog, Apocalypse Later, which began at the beginning of 2007 and is now 920 reviews in and counting. Interestingly, he's very possibly had more comments from directors and actors than from the regular public, and they're generally fascinating. More blogs are planned for 2009 on diverse subjects.


In February 2008, Dee temporarily retired from being a teaching assistant after over two memorable years at Westwood Elementary School, even though she got recertified the very day she put in her notice. Instead she became a full time grandmother, nanny, babysitter, cleaner, dishwasher and all round gofer. Unfortunately all that cleaning and dishwashing goes on at Heather's house so Hal has to pick up the slack back home. And I can get away with that since she is the family accountant, bill payer and professional spender of all money earned.

She's still a Site Fights fairy but has also become involved with a number of community forums that tie to 3D rendering, tubes, tags, scrap kits and other graphic shenanigans. She's taken many online classes for Daz 3D and Paint Shop Pro and is seriously looking into college classes on graphic design in early 2009 when full time grandmother duty is completed. Are you paying attention, Heather? She's done plenty of work on her site, including adding home made tubes and scrap kits. You owe it to yourself to go there. Soon.


Michael is having a bad couple of years and wonders why nobody believes him about anything. Can he come over and play Guitar Hero with you? Please supply Pepsi. And food.

To be fair, I should add that he did write material for another West Phoenix High School production, which was easily their best yet. Anything else delves so far into soap opera territory that we can't even begin to attempt to fit it all in and you wouldn't believe it anyway. We're still half expecting to find Bobby Ewing in the shower.


Shawn almost graduated from high school this Christmas but got cold feet with a week to go, so now has another three months back at West Phoenix. Graduation will still be early but not as early as it could have been, but we're not complaining because three more months of maths can never be a bad thing and hey, learning experiences rock. So do Motorhead, who Shawn finally got to see live, thus making him officially a rock fan in the eyes of Hal. Sure, there are ways to pretend, even for years, but diving into the mosh pit for a live rendition of Ace of Spades is how you become The Real Thing. Much respect was earned that day.

In fact much respect keeps getting earned. Shawn, who in previous years had to be pried out of his room with extreme prejudice, has learned how great it is to mooch off parents while you're still under 18 and living at home (though in the nicest possible way). He's been to a number of gigs and festivals over the last few years, though unfortunately very few with his dad because of a bizarre talent for buying tickets for over-21 venues. He got to meet Hatebreed, making a guitar pick and signed CD prized possessions. He's a semi regular at Chandler Cinemas, where he has a uncanny habit for falling asleep during the second half of every double bill.

He's also managed to become somewhat internationally aware, which is nigh on impossible in west Phoenix where nobody has heard of a foreign country except Mexico and Iraq. Here, Canada is just a rumour. What's England? Is that on the East Coast? Shawn, on the other hand, has discovered the delights of English cuisine and Japanese culture, which is a peach of a mix. He's hooked on the menu of English delicacies at the George and Dragon pub in downtown Phoenix and he's already saving for a large Japanese sword at next year's Matsuri. Luckily he really sucks at saving, but he's starting to rock at everything else. He has become a pleasure to have around. Did I just say that?

The Menagerie

The 2006 newsletter included a line that said, 'amazingly enough we've acquired more monsters, feline and otherwise.' What were we thinking? In 2006 we were amateurs! We've gained and lost many feline friends during the last two years, and are now a nine cat household, at least indoors. I know that's a lot but it isn't crazy cat lady territory, OK? We often try to muscle some couch space from Catzilla, Pern, Nubian Princess, I-10, TC, Cliff Hanger, Johnny 5, Ying Yang and Foghorn, but it's often an uphill struggle. Meanwhile outside are Baby and three of Baby's babies (Balthazar, Beelzebub and some grey muppet that doesn't have a name yet, but I guess it'll have to begin with B). Given that these babies haven't let us get close enough to even find out what sex they are yet, it wouldn't be surprising to end up with more of them in 2009. We're doing our best to stem the tide, though, honest!

The non-felines are propagating too. Beyond the hermit crabs, which have increased to four (Larry, Moe, Curly and Shemp), we also have a snake, a bearded dragon, a turtle, a mouse and three fish. Naturally for Chaos Central they're all characters. Cold Ethel, our ball python, was Michael's until it bit his hand and wouldn't let go: where was the video camera that day, huh? This is what YouTube is for. Hanselhoff, the bearded dragon, is a very friendly critter. Ghost the mouse is only alive because Ethel couldn't make it through three mice in one feeding, so Shawn adopted him. Dorothy and Wednesday are pretty regular goldfish, but Pugsley their bloated companion spends most of his time floating upside down at the top of the tank, so if he ever does die we're not going to notice for weeks.

Back at 6129, Michael only has the five cats right now (Jigsaw, Fett, Ook, Taun-Taun and Munchkin), but I won't call him an amateur because he'll see it as a challenge. On the canine front, Nicky is still in charge but has to deal with a large and bouncy monster called Bane. At least Stupid Dog is no longer there: you can guess from the name why we're not particularly unhappy.


As always, we look forward to hearing from you in the future and hope that you'll look forward to hearing from us too, hopefully a little quicker than the last couple of years has proved.

Hal - hal@dawtrina.com
Dee - dee@wickedwinks.com
Michael - mike.t.flanders@gmail.com

Hal - http://www.dawtrina.com/
Dee - http://www.wickedwinks.com/
Apocalypse Later - http://dawtrina.blogspot.com/
Dee's MySpace Page - http://www.myspace.com/chaoscentral/

All the very best for 2009 from everyone at Chaos Central!

Home - (Auto)Biography and Family History Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map