Thursday, June 21, 2018

Snarky McSnarkypants Strikes Again

Me: "I still have a picture of your mother and I sitting on a bridge with you, and you're like this tall."
(I'm holding my hands about eighteen inches apart.)

Beautiful Wife: "And now you're almost as tall as I am. You're still cute, though."

Me: "Well, he was cute. He's starting to be more handsome, now."

Beautiful Wife: "And snarkier. Now he's our snark-monster."

Firstborn: "I'm not a monster. I am a snark-god."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Political Reptiles

Beautiful Wife, reading off a poll on MSN: "It asks, 'Is the government secretly run by reptile-people?'"

Me, sleepy: "Yes. It's called congress."

Firstborn: "I mean, yeah, but those are snakes."

Me: "Snakes are reptiles."

Such are the political conversations we have before coffee.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I slept!

I took some melatonin and went to bed a bit before 10:00 last night, and proceeded to actually... what do they call that... Oh, right: sleep.

That makes this morning the first time in maybe as much as a month that I've woken up and not still felt tired.

As perverse as it seems, I think I actually get more done when I set my sights lower.

I need to do more of this.

And yeah, none of this is new -- I've probably published some version of this same shocking, radical discovery at least four times over the last couple of years on the Blog o' Doom here alone -- but it keeps coming as a surprise, at least on a visceral this-is-how-it-actually-feels level, and I feel like maybe if I write it down again, this time the lesson will finally stick with me.

It never seems to work like that, but I keep trying anyway.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Firstborn Runs His First DnD Game

So, on Wednesday the boys had a couple of friends over, and Firstborn decided that he would try running his first Dungeons and Dragons game. He's using (a very abbreviated version of) 3.5, though it's so abbreviated that it barely makes any difference -- it's almost its own, different edition.

The two boys who were visiting were brothers, so let's call them Olderfriend and Youngerfriend. They're a little younger than my own boys[1], but they're bright and engaging and fun.

So Firstborn called Olderfriend and spent over an hour on the phone, putting together his character. And he was, I think, planning to run just a two-person gaming session... only Secondborn decided that he wanted to play, and then Youngerfriend jumped in as well. So by the time I got home (work day, remember) they were trying to throw characters together ten minutes before they were supposed to start playing.

I helped. Specifically, I fired up my laptop, opened up a character generator that I have installed, and threw together the two other characters that Secondborn and Youngerfriend wanted.

This... wasn't as easy as it could have been.

Secondborn had looked at the available minis and chosen a wolf. He wanted to play a wolf. Standard D'n'D isn't wildly well equipped for that in 3.5, but okay: I managed. The generator has an interface for companion animals, so I made him a wolf with an additional level of ranger.

Youngerfriend had picked out a giant orc with an axe, so that was pretty easy: half-orc barbarian, greataxe, a couple of throwing axes, a chain shirt, and we were good to go.

Youngerfriend, however, is very young. So by the time I got everything printed, he had the orc miniature hopping all over the board, and Firstborn (our would-be Dungeon Master) had his head in the "I have face-palmed so hard I actually hurt myself" position. He can see where this is going. We all can.

But we hand out sheets and dice and get everybody settled long enough for Firstborn to announce that they're all in a tavern, only the barbarian is getting thrown out for bouncing around and breaking things and looking for something to fight. But the other two -- who are, I think, a fighter-mage and a wolf from the pack who raised him[2] -- hear the barbarian stumble into a couple of weary travelers outside, and step outside to make sure nobody gets hurt.

At that point, the village is attacked by Dark Forces. "Because," as Firstborn puts it, "reasons." It turns out a couple of mimics have wandered into town, and are Tearing Things Up. The battle begins!

...I don't have stats for mimics handy, and my laptop's in the back room. I make some up on the fly -- armor class, hit points, attack bonus, damage -- and have Firstborn write them down. There are two mimics, because that's how many miniatures we have. Then I spend the next few minutes walking the boys through the (very abbreviated, mind you) process of resolving combat. It's... brutal.

I really didn't make the mimics strong enough, and while the wolf is the only one in the party with multiple attacks, the barbarian is a freaking combat monster... who promptly rolls maximum on both his to-hit and his damage, and one-shot-kills one of the mimics. The other two characters make successful attacks on the other mimic, and the barbarian steps in on the following round to finish it off. ("Whack!")

He hasn't even raged, because I don't have it in me to explain rules that only work sometimes.

Nevertheless, Our Heroes are victorious! And now the time has come for them to make introductions and forge new bonds of friendship, and...

"Die!" says the barbarian.

So the barbarian and the elf resume combat, only this time with each other. And, unsurprisingly -- I should never have maxed out strength on a barbarian run by a small child -- Youngerfriend's barbarian kills olderfriend's elvish fighter/mage[3]. Olderfriend accepts this philosophically, but decrees that this means that the townspeople arrest the barbarian and execute him. Youngerfriend accepts this philosophically. Firstborn looks completely appalled. Secondborn announces that he's making a run for the woods, flees the town, and vanishes.

And then I announce that well, okay, we're done, and averybody gets up from the table and goes outside to play.

There is a marked lack of tears, angry screaming, or dark recriminations. The adventure has essentially imploded, but nobody is upset and everybody had a good time, so I advise Firstborn to take the win -- which he does. The boys' mothers -- who were off at the far end of the kitchen having a conversation about something that had nothing whatsoever to do with orcs, half-elves, wolves, or mimics -- look up in surprise, and throw out variations of, "Are we done already?" They're only a little more surprised than I am, and they weren't paying attention at all.

So I gave them a quick recap, kissed my wife, and went off to play my Elvish Ranger/Rogue in a completely different campaign, and finally have that drink.

Quest completed.


[1] Who are now twelve and eight, and how in the nine hells did that happen?

[2] Don't ask. I certainly didn't.

[3] I think. I don't know, I'd just come home from work, I hadn't even had a drink, and I was barely keeping up as it was.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Maybe Some Relief

So, I know I've been on about my dad, but he was... better, Sunday. Maybe only in the short term, and only in limited ways, but better.

But Secondborn has an inguinal hernia, possibly congenital, and the damned thing... it's there, but it hides when we try to have doctors look at it. I mean, the pediatrician could identify it. The ER staff couldn't find it at all by the time they finally tried to scan for it (and initially sounded very dubious that the pediatrician could have made the diagnosis without getting an ultrasound, but eventually confirmed that with the symptoms we described it really couldn't be anything else). So yesterday, Beautiful Wife finally managed to get the child into his appointment with the pediatric urologist.

The plan was that she would take him in for the initial appointment, and I would be at work as usual (which, y'know, at some point does need to happen). But after the second phone call of the morning, and maybe two hours of actually being at work, it was completely obvious that Beautiful Wife was completely (and understandably) freaked out, and right on the edge of melting down.

I explained the situation and went home.

So when we went to see the doctor, we all went to see the doctor. And we probably looked like we were on safari, or waiting for the apocalypse. I had The Backpack -- the one in which I keep my laptop, my kindle, all my chargers, a bag of allergy meds, a toothbrush, a first aid kit, a sewing kit... it's kind of my work bag, but it doubles as an overnight bag or a go-bag. Beautiful wife had her pack, which she carried in lieu of a purse because it's easier to transport papers in a day pack. Secondborn had his Kindle Fire to play on, and Firstborn had packed the Nintendo Switch and several games, along with his Kindle. But we honestly didn't know how long this was going to take, or whether they would send us immediately to surgery or not be able to find anything and look at us like that was because we were clearly insane.

And that was the other reason I came along: in my experience, doctors are much less likely to blow things off if they're described by a man. And since we didn't know this doctor...


The appointment went swimmingly, by which I mean exceedingly well. Secondborn wasn't showing any extrusion, but the doctor was able to get him to clench up and show us exactly where he could see the hernia. (Suck it, Emergency Room.) He described how this sort of thing happened -- possibly a congenital weakness in the wall of the abdomen from when the testicles first extruded, possibly related to Secondborn's perennial constipation (which he was able to show us via the ultrasound), or possibly some combination of both. Then he described the minimally intrusive surgery it would require to fix it, and explained that once he'd made the incision he would run a microcamera over to the other side, to make sure there wasn't any potential hernia waiting to happen there as well; if there was, he would fix that, too, as part of the same procedure. (Apparently sometimes there are... indentations in the abdominal wall, that lend themselves to forming hernias.)

I'm having a little trouble describing how much of a HUGE FUCKING RELIEF IT WAS to have finally made our way to a doctor who essentially said, "Yes, I can easily see the problem you're describing, even though it isn't active right now, and yes, I know how to easily fix it and we're going to schedule that now, and in the meantime here's what to watch for and what to do."

Then he addressed the issue with Secondborn being constipated, and gave us an explicit To Do list so that we could clean out the blockage that we'd seen on the ultrasound and maintain a more... even flow of processing... from there. And the first big step of that -- getting the child to drink a full cup of magnesium citrate -- occupied most of the rest of the afternoon, but it's done and hopefully we're at a point where all this will finally just... be done.

Now, if we could just convince my dad to quit having strokes...

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons, Season 2

So I mentioned a week or so back that we might be the wrong party for our current DnD quests. Well, the Dungeon Master made a suggestion and everybody seems pretty happy with it: we roll up a whole new set of characters in a different area, and experience the current chain of events from another perspective. (If we get far enough along, we'll probably reintroduce the original party and see how that goes. )

So, last game we wrapped things up with the current party, and then created a whole new batch of second-level characters for Season 2. This party is off helping to defend a border fort from raiding desert nomads in a corner of the land that our last party never visited. So, the new party looks like this:

A half-giant Cleric (first level, because of the level cost for half-giant) worshipping a nature deity and armed with a scythe.

A human fighter, also armed with a scythe. He's probably going to do most of the Beating Things Down that the party requires.

A gnomish bard, who's focusing mainly on offering buffs to the rest of the party and handling the charisma-based skills.

An elvish rogue/ranger (me) who's heavily dex-based and focusing mainly on stealth, scouting, and not being caught by surprise, but is planning to eventually combine dual-wielding and backstabbing for some damage-dealing capability. (Currently, I'm relying on Weapon Finesse and a rapier.)

We're a little weak on arcane spell-casting, but unlike the previous group we're at least all good-aligned, and I think we've got a pretty effective party here. Our first game opened with the desert raiders attacking our fort, and our commander immediately dying, so we're currently in the midst of trying to retake the courtyard so we can drive them out. Our fighter took command of the remaining foot, while the ranger/rogue took command of the archers. The cleric went with the foot, and the bard went with the archers, singing Rush songs to boost our morale.

So far, so good.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Never rains but it pours

So we spent about three hours in the emergency room on Friday afternoon/evening. Secondborn appears to have an inguinal hernia right at his crotch (that may be redundant), and apparently when he was using the bathroom he strained hard enough to make something extrude through the hernia, resulting in extreme pain. However, we weren't able to push it back in and lying on the couch apparently wasn't relaxing him enough for it retract on its own. So... off we went to the emergency room... with fairly predictable results.

First, we wound up in the waiting room for about twenty-five minutes before they got us into a room. Second, about ten minutes into that stretch of waiting, while Secondborn was lying across a pair of seats, whatever tissue was protruding through the hernia finally receded. So, by the time they finally called us back, he was walking normally and no longer in pain. Then we spent three hours in the emergency room, mostly waiting for nurses and doctors and PAs. We went through the whole description for the nurse, and later for the doctor. The doctor felt around but couldn't find the opening, so we got a sonogram but apparently that couldn't see the hernia either.

So, three hours and $850 later, we have a CD with the sonogram results and instructions to hurry back to the nearest ER if it happens again. About the only upside of this is that the ER doctor confirmed that given the symptoms we described, it pretty much has to be a hernia -- we're not going to have to go through the What Is The Real Issue Here process, at least.

We're in the process of setting up for a surgery -- and apparently the urologist who'll be doing it is really good, since he was recommended by our doctor and the ER doctor recognized his name and said complimentary things about him. Hernia surgery is both commonplace and about as safe as it gets, so again all this could be a lot worse. However, after the Friday ER visit, it seems possible that we'll only be able to set up the hernia surgery at a time when tissue is actively protruding. Otherwise, they may not be able to find the opening so they can fix it.

On a completely unrelated note, it seems I'll be postponing yet again my plan to replace my rather elderly laptop. Probably until at least Christmas. Eh, what the hell. I didn't want to move to Windows 10 yet anyway.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dad news, not bad news

Sorry, it seems to be a theme this week, but it's what's on my mind and this blog has always been whatever happened to be on my mind. (Admittedly, skimming back through it, it does seem like I used to have more humorous/whimsical stuff on my mind than I have in recent years.) And I don't know what's changed, exactly, though the dark gods know there's no shortage of possibilities, but... Well, author Seanan McGuire posted on Twitter this morning:

...So maybe I'll just leave off thinking about reasons why I might be a lot more discouraged now than I was, say, a couple of years ago, and I'll promise to do some serious self-care this weekend. (Like, get All The Sleep, exercise, eat good food, read good books... Yeah, that sounds like a plan. 'Cause seriously, I feel like I've been pretty useless this week and honestly I just wish I'd taken the week off. I did put in for some vacation time soon, though, and that should help too.)

Anyway, Beautiful Wife went and collected my father yesterday, and brought him back to our house for the afternoon. Firstborn sat with him and worked on one of those Science Kits you can order -- Tinker Crates, I think they're actually called -- and my dad helped him out and explained concepts like "fathoms" and I don't even know what all else, but when I got home from work my father was looking better and more content than he'd seemed the last couple of times I saw him. Even the slur in his voice had gone down, though he was still having a little trouble putting words together. I'm sure some of that was just that he was making an effort, but I also think that being relaxed improves his condition and being stressed makes it worse. And my father is one of those people who really craves human contact -- interacting with people recharges him, where it just exhausts me.

My wife is brilliant, y'all.

Anyway, I'm still not sure where all this is going, and I'm still pretty worried, but there's good stuff happening too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Still worried...

I realized last night that I'm actually completely stressed out about my dad having his second stroke in six months. I mean, it's a couple of other things, too -- the boys making the adjustment to their summer vacation and how we're handling that this year, a dental issue that's pretty mild but is still One More Thing I Have To Deal With, and the usual house cleanup and maintenance. But mainly, it's this thing with Dad.

And I've been doing that thing where I'm completely freaked out but pretending even to myself that everything's okay, or at least that it isn't that bad and we can just keep going through it, and... yeah, that's not so much what's happening. And, of course, I've been telling myself that we really just need to wait and see how this plays out, because there isn't really all that much we can do about it -- which is true, but apparently does nothing to settle the underlying sense of panic. Which means that I'm weirdly unfocused and not making the best choices, when I really need to be working on the things that I can work on.

I think I need some time off, but I need to get some stuff back under control at work, first. (Oh, yeah - there's yet another reason why I'd be, um, unaccountably stressed...) I think I'll see if I can put in for a couple of days around the July 4th holiday - that would combine for a nice extended weekend. And while I'm at it, I should put in now for the first couple of days of school in the fall. I've been meaning to take those off for a couple of years, now.

No new tale to tell, really. Just feeling unproductive, out of control, and really ready to just take a moment for myself.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I'm worried about my dad

We lost my mom just over two years ago. (Well, not technically "lost". She died. We know exactly where her ashes are. So now that my deep-seated pedantic streak is hopefully satisfied, I will point out that emotionally that means that we lost her. She's gone. She is lost to us. Yeah. Suck it, nit-picky brain voices.)

I remember observing, a year or so before that, that we were entering the season of losing that generation: a couple of my dad's close relatives had died, and it was starting to look less like chance and more like a pattern. I can't find the post that I wrote for that, but it's here on the blog somewhere.

Then, in February, my dad had a stroke -- and I started worrying that, while it had looked like he would be okay in his own home for the next several years, maybe that wasn't the case. And even before that, we'd been discussing my father and his eyesight, and how that might complicate or disrupt the life he's set up after mom's death.

But over Memorial Day weekend, he had... I'm not sure it's a second stroke, exactly. It's more of a repeat stroke, as it seems to have happened in the same area of the brain and affected the same general areas of functionality. And while it seems to have come to fruition on that Saturday, when he was out in the heat at the local renfest, I've spoken with his renter and she tells me that she was seeing signs that something was wrong a couple of days before that -- being unable to focus, to find common words, to pronounce them.

So we went to visit him on Sunday (and found the renter at home there -- she's rented out one side of the house, and helps him work through his bills). The visit itself went well, and I think he was glad of the company and the interaction and the chance to get some things done. But I'm looking at him, and I think this second stroke is worse than the last one. We're not talking about it, but the slur in his voice seems worse, the effect on his manual dexterity seems worse, and the stumbliness of his walk -- stumbliness is a word, now -- is worse. The first time, it was barely noticeable, and mainly only if you knew him pretty well. This time, it's... obvious.

He's met with his neurologist, and I think his cardiologist as well. Apparently his blood pressure spiked with this more recent stroke (and apparently that's fairly common) so they've got him on a medication to hold it down, but something about either the blood pressure or the medication or both is making his eyesight even worse -- which he insists is only going to be temporary, but I swear by all the dark and forgotten gods that I can't tell if that's actually the case, or if he's just holding that out as an article of faith. It had better be temporary... but what if it isn't?

And, of course, as a result of that his mental state is quite a bit worse than it was last time. How much of that is psychological and how much is physiological -- if you can even separate the two in a meaningful way -- is impossible to tell. But he's... much more depressed. Much more impatient. Much more irritable. Much more scared. Frankly, so am I. And it's really shaken his sense of purpose -- between the eyesight and the coordination, so many of the things he enjoyed, so many of the things he was good at, have been taken from him. He's a gentle man, but he's proud, too, and so much of his self-image is tied up in being physically well: he's the one who doesn't get sick, who doesn't get tired, who doesn't have to watch what he eats... (I think that makes him sound kind of elitist and snobby-superior, but he's not; he's never been obnoxious about it, he's just quietly proud of the way he quietly keeps going -- and suddenly being frail has shaken a big part of his sense of self.)

I spoke to my brother before we went over there, and again when we got back to our house. He wanted me to ask if our dad had any contingency plans, or thoughts on how he wanted things to go -- the possibility of a group home, or moving in with one of us, or...

So I brought it up, while the boys were busy swimming in the pool and my Beautiful Wife was busy talking with the renter about the situation.

It wasn't an easy thing to ask, especially of someone who was slurring his words as a result of the stroke, and whose slur got worse as a direct result of being asked upsetting questions. And the answer was almost exactly what I'd expected: he didn't have any contingency plans, and didn't want to talk about them. He wanted to live independently, in his own home, and that was all there was to it. He hated the idea of living in a group home. Much like my mother (and if we're being completely honest, myself) he'd rather expire with some dignity on his own. I don't think he's had any suicidal ideations -- though may the dark gods help me, I didn't ask and I wouldn't blame him if he did -- but I think his ideal outcome is to either recover some functionality and purpose, or to expire quietly and on his own terms.

I don't know what to do with that.

Beautiful Wife is trying to recruit him to do some sort of Intro To Computer Mechanics class for our boys, who are out of school for the summer and need to be kept busy anyway. If that helps him feel like he's contributing (and honestly, it could be really, really useful -- far too many people know how to use a computer but don't understand how they really work) then maybe it's at least a partial solution. But if it just wears him out, or frustrates him... I don't know. Trying to get him to move in with either our family or my brother's is equally problematic: so much of his support network is based in his suburb that trying to move him up to ours seems likely to cause more trouble than it resolves. But his current arrangement may not be tenable, even though his renter seems disinclined to panic and look for somewhere else to live (and we've assured her that even if we had to move Dad out, she's not going to be suddenly displaced).

Basically, everything sucks and I can't tell if this is temporary or if we're going to have to work out something for the long term.

And I've known for as long as I can remember that life frequently sucks, and sometimes there are no good choices. But the last couple of years seem absolutely determined to drive that lesson home.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Marital Arguments Made Simple

Saturday afternoon, in the car on the way to breakfast (finally):

Beautiful Wife: “Are you mad at me?”

Me: “No, I’m starving. We could have a big fight if you want, though.”

Beautiful Wife, sounding tired: “Let’s not.”

Me “We could not and say we did.”

Beautiful Wife: “Let’s do that.”

Me: “Boys, your mother and I just had a huge fight. There was lots of screaming.”

Firstborn, darkly: “I heard.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

Music: Get Out Alive

The band is Three Days Grace; the animations are taken from the Dead Space video games:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Speculative Story Opening


Somber, engrossed in the story he was reading, ignored the voice.

"Would you talk to me?"

He stopped, rolled the book up, and returned it to its case. He was seated on a bench in the garden, well back along a little-used path. The girl standing in front of him was small, but after a moment he decided that she was older than his height suggested -- close to his own age, in fact. She stood easily, graceful in the plain gray robes that everybody wore here, and she was studying him intently. "You can speak, can't you?" she asked cautiously.

He nodded, realized he still hadn't spoken, and added: "I can." She drew breath to speak again, but he spoke first: "I don't, much."

"Why not?"

Somber considered that. Because I don't need to. Because sometimes the words stick in my throat. Because sometimes I can't find the right words. "I just don't."

"All right."

He twisted so that he was sitting properly, taking his feet off the far end of the bench and placing them on the ground below instead. The girl -- woman, really -- took that as her cue to sit on the other side of the bench. Since there was still room for a third person between them, Somber didn't mind.

"I'm--" she began, and then shook her head. "They're calling me Frost, now."

He could see why. Her hair and skin were as light as his were dark: hair like a snowfall, skin like snow-covered fields. Her eyes were gray as the winter sky, too. "They've always called me Somber."

He waited while she thought about that. "What sort of place is this?" she asked at last.

Somber shrugged. "I like it."

"You do?" Then, sounding a little less surprised, she asked: "But you grew up here?"

Somber nodded. "My parents were members of the order. They left a few months ago." He was still upset about that, but then he hadn't really wanted to leave, either. Still, it was good that the words came out calm, sounded matter-of-fact.

"And they left you here?" She sounded curious, now. Interested.

Somber shrugged, a slight twitch of his left shoulder. "They said I was old enough to remain here on my own."

"My parents delivered me this morning," said Frost. "They said I'd be hidden here, safe, but they wouldn't say why." She looked away, then looked back at him.

Somber kept his eyes on the gnarled shape of the tree that covered this clearing, tracing patterns in the bark: faces sometimes, or animals, or just the random play of light and darkness. He didn't know what to say. What he wanted was to get up and walk away, but he was pretty sure that would hurt her feelings. "It should be safe here," he offered cautiously, "whatever it is."

"I'm sorry," said Frost. "I know I'm bothering you. It's just you're the only person I've seen so far who's my age, and I kind of need of a friend."

Somber considered that for a long moment. "All right."

"All right?" She was too restrained to sound relieved, or anything more than cautiously hopeful, and Somber found that he appreciated that. He stood, and Frost stood up as well.

"Come on," said Somber. "I'll show you around. The gardens are a good place when you want some time alone, but they aren't where everything happens."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Music: Where's Your Mama?

I recently picked up the latest album by Trout Fishing In America, and it includes this gem about one difficulty in dating when you're older. (I wouldn't know, as I'm not dating and hope that I'll never have to again. It's just that I've hit a point in my life where I meet the sorts of young women that I once would have been desperately attracted to, and I'm inescapably aware that they're much too young for me. I don't know, I feel like I'm not explaining that very well, but that's what I've got.)

Trout Fishing In America has been around since... I honestly don't know. I first saw them in concert when I was back in college, which was an embarrassingly long time ago. But they're still making music, and this album came out last year. And they still have the same musical skill, the same performance energy, and the same gentle humor that endeared them to me in the first place. If you're not already acquainted with their work, check it out.

Monday, May 21, 2018

We might be the wrong party for this quest

So, I'm playing Dungeons and Dragons again. As a player, rather than a DM, which is a nice change -- though to be honest, it's nice to be playing at all at this point in my life. And we've been tracking down this really interesting bit of history involving the great war that left the humans in control of this particular nation and the elves distrusted outcasts mostly clustered in a sort of forest reservation in the northeast. In particular, we've been discovering things about the two great elvish heroes: it turns out they were married, they had a kid, and according to the accords that were drawn up before everything fell apart, that kid should have become king. And by passing these documents along to the elves instead of the humans (don't ask) we appear to have accidentally become the great heroes of the elvish revolution. Which is all great fun, except we're almost exactly the wrong party for this.

Let's recap, shall we:

We have a dwarvish monk who's Lawful Good but perpetually drunk to avoid thinking about what the rest of the party is doing.

We have a human sorcerer who got himself turned into a vampire (so he's now Chaotic Evil) and is carrying around a staff that holds an imprisoned Pit Fiend that keeps urging him to do horrible things to anyone in range, and also to let it out. It seems likely to escape on its own at pretty much any minute.

The paladin is Lawful Evil, but remains absolutely convinced that he's Lawful Good. He's also a raging Human Supremacist, and I'm not sure how this is going to play out now that the elves are praising him for a hero.

The paladin's follower is a rogue, probably also Chaotic Neutral; he's the one who sold the papers to the elves, because they were offering more than the humans and doing so allowed him to keep the difference for himself.

The cleric (me) is another dwarf, Chaotic Neutral, who's a pretty decent guy except that he collects undead minions as a hobby. Including at least one former party member.

We are here to get paid and grow more powerful, even if we have to save the world doing it.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Great Platypus Hoax

Based on a story prompt from my friend Ruth Hougey Riggan...

"That can't be," said Dr. Braun, looking away from the video.

"I took the video myself," Tt. Janya Lorin met his eyes, then looked at the video again.

Dr. Braun touched a control and the screen froze, showing the face of his colleague Dr. Nuftin, smiling as she opened the cage and set a breeding pair of platypuses loose in the unpolluted wilderness of the Quaternary period. "Linda would never..."

"Linda?" asked Tt. Lorin. "Dr. Nuftin is well-known for her quirky sense of humor."

Dr. Braun squeezed his eyes shut, then chuckled. "So the platypus really *is* a hoax, as its European discoverers originally thought."

"Well... not a hoax, exactly. The species clearly exists. I've checked the logs on Dr. Nuftin's lab time as well as her timecore access, and I don't think she even engineered them. She appears to be taking members of the existing species, and carrying them back in time to make sure that the species will exist."

"What?" asked Dr. Braun, aghast. "But that's ridiculous! That have to come from somewhere. If they don't evolve on their own, but aren't engineered and taken back either, it could create all sorts of paradoxes. The potential effects on the timeline, on reality itself, are incalculable."

"We're aware of that," said Tt. Lorin. "That's precisely the sort of thing that Timeline Oversight was created to prevent."

"Well," said Dr. Braun, after a moment. "Dr. Nuftin should be in her office now. I suppose you'd like me to take you there?"

"Not necessary," answered Tt. Lorin. "We already have her in custody. Given the potential severity of this matter, we've had her in custody since before she began this project. This is just a courtesy visit, to inform you that we've arrested a senior member of your research staff."

"I... I see," Dr. Braun replied slowly. "Then you don't need anything from me?"

"That's all," confirmed Tt. Lorin. "I'm sorry it happened like this, but there's nothing else we can do. I hope the rest of your afternoon is more pleasant."

"Thank you," he said, and watched as she turned smartly and let herself back out of the cluttered confines of his office.

That was it for today, he decided. He wasn't going to get any work done after this. An evening sitting on the couch, watching murder mysteries while his pet jackalope Snuggles cuddled beside him, sounded like just the relief he needed.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Abolish ICE

So, one of my wife's students has been arrested by ICE, because he's one of the DACA kids. And apparently they have until close of business tomorrow to submit letters attesting to his character. Odds are good that he's going to be deported regardless, and by "deported" I mean arbitrarily exiled to a country that he's never so much as visited before. This is what "justice" looks like in Modern America: somewhere along the line, we've decided that the Gestapo had the right idea.

(And yes, I'm aware that justice in historical America is frequently no better.)

I mean, clearly this is the only way, right? We can't let him get away with, well, being a good student and a leader in student organizations and a contributing participant in American society and civic life. That would just be wrong, wouldn't it?

If this is who we are, then we are absolute shit: morally shit, socially shit, politically shit. And make no mistake about it: this *is* who we are.

I firmly believe we can do better. I firmly believe we can *be* better. And we have to start now.

Abolish ICE. Defund them. Dissolve their charter. Whatever it takes. And then hold its leaders responsible for their human rights violations.

Leviticus 19:34 if you're scripturally inclined.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Boys & DnD Session Nine!

Secondborn was distracted by a video game, and Beautiful Wife was taking a nap, so Firstborn got a solo run this time. His Druid/Barbarian went to scout ahead, and followed the passage to a large, circular room. The walls there were polished smooth (by contrast to the rough stonework behind him, and instead of the usual glowing lichen the place was lit by eight stone bowls set at regular intervals around the walls, each holding a tall fire. The ceiling was a dome, carved in elaborate bas relief, but its subject wasn't immediately obvious and he had other things demanding his attention. The room also served as a sort of crossroads, with his passage continuing on the far side, and another passage connecting in from his left and right.

On the far side of the room were two large, hideous stone statues... and Firstborn (whose Spot check was 30!) found himself deeply suspicious that the one on the right was alive. About two-thirds of the way across the room, a gray-skinned humanoid dressed in rags was bent over the body of a dead goblin, and appeared to be eating it. Firstborn takes a moment to double-check his impressions, then boldly strides into the room. When nothing reacts to him, he walks quietly up behind the ghoul, which only hears him and whirls around at the last possible minute.

Ghoul 19
Gargoyle 19
Firstborn 11

Firstborn moves first (surprise round) and rolls well; the ghoul goes down immediately.

Firstborn considered this, then steps around the fallen ghoul and inches closer to the gargoyle. Finally, when he's close enough and it's incredibly obvious that he's identified it as a threat, it takes a five-foot step forward and attacks. It hits with a claw for 6, bites for 7, and tries to gore him but misses. Firstborn makes his own attack, hits, and does 22 damage. (Ouch.)

The gargoyle attacks again, but only one claw attack gets through, and it only does 3 damage. The gargoyle is obviously a bit woozy from the beating it just took.

Firstborn attacks again, and does 11 damage. The Gargoyle manages to claw and gore, and does 11 more damage.

Firstborn makes a heroic attack, and takes it down. Which is good, because he was getting more than a bit low on health. But the gargoyle is defeated, the ghoul likewise, and Firstborn is heading back to rest with everyone else again.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Peer Pressure

Firstborn was wearing four gold stars -- stickers, one on his forehead, one on his nose, and one on each ear -- when his mother picked him up today.

"Did you wear those all day?" she asked.

"Of course," he replied.

"Have you ever heard of peer pressure?"

Firstborn looked thoughtful. He's eleven years old, in sixth grade, in his first year of Middle School. "I don't think it applies to me," he said.

The important thing about dealing with peer pressure is to understand who your peers really are.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day

I had a hard time with Mother's Day this year.

My mother died about two years ago. I don't remember it being an issue last year, but it seems to have caught up with me this year, and every "Get Mom ___" advert had me yelling expletives at the screen.

But it's over now, and in any case the next two weeks are about to be insanely busy. So: a little writing, a little reading, and then sleep. And the rest of this week is just going to be devoted to keeping everything moving. I've got stuff lined up for later in the week -- Monday, Tuesday, and Friday -- but the week after that is likely to be empty, because my whole work schedule has changed except where it hasn't and I'm still trying to navigate my way through the new (lack of a?) system.

Here's hoping everybody else had a better time of it than I did.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pocket Dimension

Congratulations! You have your own little world. Not just your imagination - this is a physical reality, and you can step into it at will. Maybe it's a pocket dimension, or your own private little corner of the Fay Realms. Whatever it is, it's yours. So...

1. What does your realm look like? Is it indoors? Outdoors? A cottage on a deserted shore? A crumbling castle at the heart of a dark forest? A broad lake with a waterfall at one end and beaches around three sides? Something else entirely?

2. Do you keep it to yourself, give a few friends access to it as well, or open it to anybody?

3. Does your realm have its own inhabitants? What are they like? Do you ever bring them across to our world?

4. Does entering your personal world change you? Do you dress differently, speak differently? Are you someone else when you're there?

5. Is time the same in your realm as it is out here? Is there a steady differential, like three days there pass in only an hour of our time? Or is it stranger than that?

6. How do you get to your world? Do you have to visit a specific place? Speak a certain phrase? Or is it just a matter of will and desire?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Ode to a Head Cold

Beloved art thou, O head cold
Who bring'st thy gifts in measure full
Thy presence fills me with awe
Courageous and unrelenting

Your treasures do not grow old
They continuous fill my skull
At the back of my throat they gnaw
Might trepanning offer some venting?

Study Questions:
Highlight under the questions to see suggested answers.
1. What do you think is the theme of this poem?
We must appease the head cold gods so they will leave us alone.

2. What rhyme scheme is the author using?
Cryambic Whinetameter

3. What literary technique is the author using?
Sarcasm. Also, antihistamines and decongestants.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Once more unto the Renfaire, dear friends...

On Saturday, I mentioned that Scarborough Fair (officially Scarborough Renaissance Festival) was open for the season. About ten minutes later I was calling my father to see if he wanted to come with us on Sunday. About two hours after that, he called us back and the plan was on. This is going to be a gigantic wall of text, so if you want the TL/DR: version, just scroll down.

So this morning I woke up to my alarm -- very much not my usual Sunday morning patter. I got everyone else out of bed, put food in the boys and myself, and loaded us all into the van. (Beautiful wife has a medication that she takes in the morning, and she can't eat for at least an hour after taking it, which absolutely doesn't complicate things at all, ever. The plan for this morning was just to feed her as soon as we arrived at the Faire.) Then we swung by my dad's house, picked him up, and headed on down to Scarborough Fair. (Travel music...)

We got there about ten minutes after the gates opened, bought tickets, and went in. Sunday morning is a great time to show up, because it's cooler -- and yesterday the temperature was perfect -- plus the real crowds won't show up until the afternoon, but everything's going and anything we want to see or do is available.

My father, being my father... Look, I'm not going to explain that. If you know him, or if you've been reading other things that I've written about him, you'll know that he is outgoing to a fault, and kind and generous as well. Plus, he's heavily involved with folk music and instrument repair, two communities which have a decided overlap with the sort of people who perform at renaissance fairs. So going to the renfaire with him, well... he knows people. He's been attending this one, at least once a year, for the last thirty years. (So have I, more or less, but I am... not outgoing.) So our first stop inside the gate was just to buy some of the candied almonds, but our second stop was to swing by the glassblower's shop so he could check in with them, and see how they and their kids were doing. Turned out one of their kids was in town with her partner, so we had a bit of a chat while the glassblower and his wife were engaged with their demonstration. (I think I want to call it a demonstration, since they're actually demonstrating their craft the whole time; but... well, they throw in so much history and background and discussion of the technique, that it feels a lot like a TED talk as well.)

Secondborn wanted to buy a wooden sword. (His, he explained, had broken.) So we went on around and found the shop with the wooden weapons, where he examined a blade based off the plasma swords from the HALO series of video games. Alas, it was too expensive -- each boy had been given twenty dollars to spend as they would, with the understanding that we would take care of group needs such as food, but this particular sword was outside his budget. Instead, he settled on a pair of daggers at six dollars apiece, which left him with a decent chunk of his budget still intact. His older brother decided on a battle axe, and wisely bought a hanger for it as well, so he didn't have to carry it the whole time.

After that we wandered for a bit, while the boys looked for an open space large enough to let the battle. We finally found one, and they... um... battled. Specifically, Firstborn tried to use his axe with a lot more finesse than axes usually merit, while Secondborn wound up running in wide circles around him with the daggers held in dramatic poses. When they wound up ion a standoff on opposite sides of a tree, I called a halt under the theory that I didn't want Firstborn using his enchanted axe to cut down the tree just so he could get to his brother.

We continued on our circuit, visiting the fellow with the bird-warble flutes. (Yes, my father knows him too.) At the far end of that branch of the festival is what used to be the mud pit stage -- home to performances such as Beowulf! In! The! Mud! and suchlike. It's just an ordinary stage now, and the boys are still a bit too young to sit through a show. But as we came around, they spotted the open area where the cast of the festival sometimes performs Living Chess, and decided to have another battle there. There's a stage nearby that used to hold a carrillon, but unfortunately it wasn't there this year. My father wandered over to find out what had happened, since (you guessed it) he knows the guy who plays it, or at least his performing persona. As I understand it, there was some kind of situation (not necessarily involving drama) where the person who actually owned and/or built the carrillon set-up had found it too expensive to maintain, or perhaps just too expensive to get it to the fair.

By then, people were beginning to admit that they might be hungry, so we got Secondborn some pizza, Firstborn some chicken on a stick, Beautiful Wife a fajita, and various sorts of ciders for all the grown-ups. My father wound up finishing off the second half of Firstborn's chicken, which apparently filled him well enough. We continued on around, and Secondborn asked if we could cross the Troll Bridge. We could; we did.

Unfortunately, the troll was not in residence. (The troll makes magical jewelry for children in exchange for small donations to cover supplies.) So we came up the far side of the bridge next to Stephen Bennett Pottery, where we stopped to pick out mugs. This is something of a tradition; we've been buying these mugs for at least two decades now. Beautiful Wife and I picked out a matching pair, glazed in a medium blue over bands of dark brown. She thinks of them as Monet mugs, but they look like seashore to me.

We stopped to finish feeding ourselves on this side of the creek, where I could get fried cheese and my father could find fried ice cream. We also had more cider. From here I took the boys over to look at swords, and they were extremely well-behaved while holding the blades. (There are rules to examining custom swords or even knives at at renfaire: don't swing it around, keep the blade over the counter, and do not touch the blade with your fingers.) After that, we ventured on... and found a place that sold air plants and self-contained terrariums (terrarria?). Secondborn decided that he really wanted a small succulent in a bottle that he could wear around his neck, so there went the rest of his money.

And, once we reached the end of that aisle -- and found the occarina cart, which my father engaged from his deep love of musical instruments and Firstborn engaged from his deep love of video games -- Secondborn announced that he really wanted to play in the maze. It wasn't that far off, so we started in that direction...

And ran right into the parade. Firstborn peeled a vendor off from the front of the parade and used the last of his money on a giant pretzel. Secondborn looked at any number of stone carvings and plaster castings (because that was the shop where we found ourselves) and then we started trying to work our way back towards the maze.

We did get there eventually, and the boys disappeared inside. My father offered to wait outside, so Beautiful Wife and I could go get anything else we needed. In my case, this included protein, so we crossed down to the food-and-beer circle in the center of that area, and I grabbed a gyro and another cider, while my wife acquired ciders for herself and my father. Upon our return, she handed him his cider and announced, "Those who watch, receive their reward." This prompted the fellow selling tickets to the maze to point out that he'd been watching all day, and where was his reward?

I commandeered a table so I could eat my gyro, but stopped after about half of it; that seemed to be enough. After a bit, Beautiful Wife and my father came over and sat with me, and we waited in the shade while the boys ran around in the maze. The boys emerged a couple of times, seeking water or rest or shade (by now it was well into the afternoon, and getting warmer -- plus, we'd all been out in the sun for some time). At one point, Beautiful Wife and Firstborn ran into some sort of weight-guessing game. They came back reporting that the young man running the game had been considerably younger than she would have guessed -- in his early twenties, in fact. When asked to guess my wife's age, he'd called her at "Attractive!" which we all had to admit was pretty accurate; when asked about my father, his estimate was: "Wise."

So with all this done, and the boys fairly well worn from running through the maze, we decided to head back home. We swung by the glassblowers again, and this time caught them between shows; but after that we headed out and made it back to the van. We swung by granddaddy's house, where Secondborn and I made a token attempt at swimming in the Holy-Hell-It's-Really-Cold pool, and Firstborn paused to paint his new wooden battle axe with his grandfather's help. Then we went home.

I've come to think that five people is pretty close to my ideal group size for these trips. Too many more, and you have too many competing priorities. Too many fewer, and you might as well have just gone alone. (...Though admittedly, going with just my wife would be fine; but that's a very different bit of emotional calculus.) But I think everybody had a good time, and I'm pleased with our new mugs, and once we got home I managed to shower... Plus, just getting out of the metroplex (and in a way, getting out of the modern world) was an oddly-lovely little one-day vacation. It left us all much more relaxed and refreshed and just generally happy.

TL/DR: We took my father down to Scarborough Renaissance Festival. We didn't watch any of the shows, really, and we didn't do too many activities, but we still had a great time and I think everyone enjoyed it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Hero's Lament

"So, mighty hero, I have kept you imprisoned in this floating crystal for a thousand years. You must be utterly mad by now!"

"No, not really."


"It's got a charger, and you have really good WiFi."

"You've been using my WiFi this whole time???"

"...Yeah? I mean, you left it unsecured."

"Get OUT of my crystal, hero!"

"Wait, what? You don't want to put me back in? Torture me for another thousand years?"

"TORTURE you? Torture you, by offering you free WiFi?"

"Yeah! I mean, um, please don't do that. Ever."

"No! Get out of my prison-crystal! I COMMAND IT."

"Okay, fine."

::Hero emerges::
::Hero draws sword::
::Hero slays Dark Lord::
::Hero climbs back into crystal::

"Maybe now I can finally get the high score in Angry Chocobos..."

Monday, April 30, 2018


So today I thought I'd talk about... um...

No, it wasn't that. Was it...?

Not that either.

So listen...


Well, okay, maybe I could put up a piece about politics? Naw, too depressing.

I could tell you about how I took the boys to see my father, and then all four of us went to a park, except the water was off so we went to another park instead and there was much running around. Except, I kind of just told you about it, right there. Anyway it was a lovely day, full of fresh air, bright sun, green plants, and copious allergens. Totally worth the massive sinus headache.

"Massive sinus headache" = "plants are trying to have sex inside my skull".

Oh! I've got it! I could tell you a bit about what I'm writing right now, and why!

...Or I could get back to writing it.

M'kay, maybe later.

::waves cheerfully::


Friday, April 27, 2018

Naked Mammoths

So, one of the authors whom I follow on Twitter was wondering if the gods ever got distracted while they were creating worlds, which prompted me to post the following:
"My lord! My lord! You left the fur off those mammoths!"


"It will never do, Lord. We'll have get rid of them."


"...Will that work?"


Frankly, I think the idea that the gods got distracted while creating the world would explain a great deal.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Melancholy Rumination of the Day

My father didn't change the answering machine message for about a year after my mother died. I don't call all that often, and he usually picks up when I do, but every once in a while... well, it was quite a shock. I mean, I have pictures of her on my desk at work and it's no big deal to see them, but hearing her voice was completely different - unexpected and visceral.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Music: Muppet Show Theme (in Metal)

A convergence of two of my formative interests, brought to you by Leo Moracchioli. I can only imagine how Statler and Waldorf would react.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Music: 5 out of 6

New music from Dessa:

Dessa's music occupies a weird Venn diagram between rap, pop, and beat poetry. It's smart, it's quick, and it has bite. Give it a listen.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Music: No Surrender

Bruce Springsteen, with some nicely-turned lyrics and the music to back them:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Honor... and the Mustache

Come close, my boys, and listen well. I have a small piece of my long life's wisdom to share with you, and it looks like this:

A man's mustache reflects his reputation.

Take mine, for example: it small and unintrusive, well-groomed, and part of other things (specifically a goatee, as I am far, far too lazy to shave my chin).

Now, some men choose to have no mustache, and that's a perfectly acceptable choice. There is no dishonor in obscurity.

But consider, by contrast, John Bolton:

His mustache is overflowing and horrible even to look at, much like his reputation. You see? So, my boys, you must always keep your mustaches -- and your reputations -- clean and neat.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Spider Ninjas

I think spider ninjas are stalking me. I saw this one watching me from the back of a car. You can see how it was trying to blend in, but it was no match for my battle-honed senses. I only hope they're merely watching me to make sure I'm not a threat, and they aren't planning anything... nefarious.

I'm on to you, spider ninjas.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A thought, and an addendum

First, a thought which I've increasingly come to endorse:
Character is destiny.

But I think there's a very important addendum:
Our character is not static.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

It's quiet... too quiet...

Sorry it's been so quiet around here. February and even most of March were a real beating, and I'm still just exhausted. Better, but still a lot more tired than I should be, and not doing enough to fix that.

I really need to just make Getting Enough Sleep a priority, but I think I've discussed before about how missing sleep becomes a sort of vicious cycle, at least for me. Apparently even being intensely aware of the pattern isn't enough to actually break it, though. So there hasn't been a lot of writing going on - not here on the blog, and not on any of my projects, either.

That needs to change. And in order for that to change, I have to get enough sleep. Which, weirdly, means I have to give up the time I try to set aside for writing in the evenings, because right now A) I'm not getting any writing done, and B) it just makes the situation worse because I stay up trying to work and then end up even more tired.

So: a break. Perversely, that probably means that there will be more little snippets and stray thoughts on the blog, here, because these things tend to come out when my brain is rested. But, y'know, we'll see.

I hope the rest of you are taking care of yourselves and getting the nutrition/rest/exercise/medications that you need. You're valuable, and you're worth it, so please do what you need to do for yourself.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter!

Also, don't use special effects involving actual fire inside your church, m'kay?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Boys and DnD, Session Eight!

Firstborn has been pushing for us to get back on a weekly DnD schedule, and as a result we managed to play again this weekend. It wasn't a terribly complex session, but it went well. Firstborn has been reading the Dungeon Master's Guide (he's thinking of alternating with me, with me running my game one weekend and him running his own game the next), and reminded me that the DMG suggests that the game can be enhanced by using physical props. I hadn't been doing that, mainly because that requires work and preparation, and I'm mostly making this up as I go along. But it was a good idea: we lit a couple of candle for light and atmosphere, and settled in to play...

Departing the goblin village with the goblin child in tow, our heroes went to check the unexplored areas of this level of the dungeon, and discovered that what they thought was the goblin village was only half of the goblin village. The other side of the dungeon has a corresponding large room full of mushroom-houses and goblin decor. It is, of course, as empty as its near-twin.

The party hasn't explored either half of the village completely, so it's entirely possible that there are other passages leading away from either location. Instead, however, they elected to take the one corridor passage that they hadn't fully explored, and head down it back to the guardroom where they first made their alliance with the goblin tribe.

This turned out to be the right decision, because as they were creeping down the passage they heard voices ahead, and the distinctive slap of paper on wood. (I actually slapped a piece of paper on the table to create the sound, because props enhance the game. What can I say? Firstborn was right.)

Secondborn is the sneaky one in the party -- ranger/rogue dual class -- and he moved silently down the hall to investigate. Well... almost silently. His role was okay, but one of the Bugbears ahead rolled really well on its Listen check, and then on its Spot check, and so the next thing everyone knows there's a bugbear standing in the doorway, pointing at Secondborn's character (Drake) and demanding: "What you doing here?"

I asked Secondborn what he wanted to do, and he decided he wanted to try to make friends with the Bugbear. That's not really specific enough for character action (remember, he's seven years old and I'm already using a more-than-slightly-abbreviated version of the rules) so I asked him what he would say to the bugbear.

"I'm trying to find the goblins from the empty village," he told it.

"Uhn," it replied. "Come in here, I show you where they went."

So Secondborn followed it into the guard room, where a second bugbear and a minotaur were sitting on too-small stools and looking at the cards spread out on a wooden table between them. "Sit here," said the bugbear, and Secondborn slipped onto an empty stool. And that, of course, was when the bugbear picked up a burlap sack and tried to pull it down over Secondborn's head. He didn't quite manage it, but the second bugbear and the minotaur both stood up and the minotaur stepped around the table to get into attack range.

I had everybody roll initiative. Firstborn came out on top - 20 total -- followed by the two bugbears, then Beautiful Wife, then the minotaur, then Secondborn. So...

Firstborn raged (he's a dual-class Druid/Barbarian), drew his greatsword, and charge the bugbear with the sack. He only got to make a single attack, but it was a good one. The bugbear turned and attacked him, doing enough damage to hurt but not enough to turn the fight. The second bugbear attacked Secondborn, but also missed. Beautiful Wife, still standing in the doorway, fired off a Scorching Ray at it and very nearly killed it. (She's our only single-class PC, a Halfling Sorceress, and she's kind of a badass.)

The minotaur then attacked Secondborn (who's basically in the middle of the bad guys) and did some damage. Secondborn yanks his longsword out and attacks, hitting the minotaur but doing only superficial damage to it. This ends the round, so...

On the next round, Firstborn drops his animal companion. (He's a second-level Druid as well as a Barbarian, remember.) His companion is Bloodshot, a poisonous viper, which normally coils around his arm or shoulders. He then attacks the bugbear in front of him again, dispatching it. The viper makes a five-foot slither and attacks the minotaur -- and hits. Mind you, it only does two points of physical damage, but it's... well... venomous. Firstborn rolls, and we find that the minotaur has taken six points of Constitution damage, which seriously weakens it.

The remaining bugbear tried to attack Secondborn, but missed -- possibly because of the extensive burn trauma from last round. Beautiful Wife fired off another Scorching Ray and finished the poor thing. The minotaur tried to attack Secondborn again, but also missed. Secondborn again attacked the minotaur, and again did some damage. It wasn't anything too dramatic, but at this point it's starting to add up.

Then, at the beginning of the next round, Firstborn steps in and attacks again -- raging, with his greatsword. That sets the minotaur back. Beautiful Wife tries to follow up with another Scorching Ray, but misses (poor roll for the ranged touch attack, plus she was trying to fire past Firstborn without hitting him). A bit of the glowing moss on the far wall bursts into flame.

The minotaur then takes a step back, turns, and runs for it.

...But now it's Secondborn's turn. And Secondborn's Rogue/Ranger is a dedicated archer. (Think Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn, because I'm pretty sure that's who he modeled his character on.) So he drops his longsword, whips out his bow, and fires off a shot...

The minotaur is forty feet down the passage on the far side of the room. The arrow connects perfectly and takes him right the heck down. The minotaur hits the ground face first, sliding along for a couple of feet with its horns scraping sparks off the rocks.

The battle is over.

The goblin child has spent this whole time standing behind Beautiful Wife's sorceress, making little "ooooh" noises every time she uses Scorching Ray.

I recommend that the group stop and make camp here in the guard room, so that Firstborn can use his druid spells to heal himself and Secondborn, and everybody can rest and recover their spells. (Yes, I know, the Dungeonmaster is not supposed to make suggestions, but again: new players, still acclimating to the game, plus a little out of practice. I sometimes make suggestions.) They agree, and we stop there. Total play time? About an hour and fifteen minutes. Total fun had? Lots.

We blew out all the candles and got everybody ready for bed.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Still Life with Banana

...No, I have no idea why I felt compelled to take a picture of that. Or why I felt compelled to share it. Why does anybody do anything, really? What does it all mean, compared with the endless void that surrounds our meager, purposeless existence? Can it mean anything at all? Why am I even typing this?

I think... I think I might need coffee.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Shadows and firelight flicker around the edges of the clearing,
Opposites and partners, dancing endlessly.
She sits on the opposite side of the flames from me,
Each of us casting a long shadow behind us.

Her mouth moves, but I can't hear words--
Just the wind in the trees overhead
And the surge of blood through my veins,
The throbbing of my heart.
She makes an angry gesture
And I can only stare.

I see her lips form familiar words: You don't *listen*.
But there is still no sound.
Finally she stands.
Finally she walks away, passing from firelight into darkness
Taking the trail back to the parking lot
Without me.

She is gone:
Inevitable end to this ineluctable pantomime
That we have drawn ourselves through
A dance as automatic, silent, meaningless, and fascinating
As the play of firelight and shadow on the trees.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Boys and DnD Session Seven!

"I kind of like the idea of a bone bow," says Firstborn. "It could shoot marrows."

With the ranger and the sorceress, they tracked the skeletons back to the nearby dungeon. The descended to the goblin fungus-village, and found it apparently empty. The first couple of mushroom huts were empty, and showed signs of a struggle - knocked over stools, scattered blankets. ("Or maybe the goblins all suddenly developed younger brothers," Firstborn observed ominously.) They proceed to the town circle (like a town square, only round) and a very small goblin leaps out and shouts a warning... about half a second before a half-dozen zombies lurch out of the shadows. Two of the zombies are goblin-zombies; two are hobgoblin zombies, and two are human zombies.

Initiative looks like this:
Secondborn 20
Mommy 18
Zombies 10
Firstborn 6

Plus, because he's a split-level ranger/rogue, Secondborn has Undead as a favored enemy and thus a +2 damage against them.

Secondborn steps up to the nearest zombie and attacks it with his longsword. It's a goblin-zombie, and he dispatches it rather neatly. Mommy (Halfling Sorceress) begins casting Disrupt Undead, damaging one of the hobgoblin-zombies. Firstborn (Elvish Druid/Barbarian) crosses to the Very Small Goblin (probably a child) that shouted the incomprehensible warning and engages the nearest zombie. He's armed with a greatsword, so he makes pretty shot work of the thing. At this point the Very Small Goblin sort of attaches itself to his leg, in what looks like a "Save me!" gesture.

The battle continues, but the zombies really aren't up to this. (Also, in a couple of places they just rolled badly - one zombie tried to attack and wound up throwing its club all the way to the far side of the town circle instead.) So at the end of the battle we have six zombies who have gone from Undead to Just Plain Dead, and a goblin child who appears to understand a little common but doesn't speak anything except small-child-goblin, meaning that the party has no way to really talk to it. The goblin child did, however, manage to pantomime hiding in a basket.

...And that was about an hour of play, which is about the limits of Secondborn's ability to sit still and concentrate, so we stopped there. But hey, the boys are pleased, I'm pleased, and it's progress!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Nonsense Love Poem

Composed last week while sitting in the shower trying to coax my brain into getting ready for work. Apparently, it preferred to do this:

You and me
are like two cups of tea
in complementary

Me and you
Are nothing that new
but we hold it together
with hugs

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Well, that didn't work...

So I wrote a post designed to go up this morning. And it was all about how I was going to work, and...

Nope. Just nope.

Apparently that was wildly optimistic. I woke up (sort of? mostly?) and called in, and went back to bed and slept until eleven in the morning. This, despite having gone to be just after ten o'clock last night. I'm not sure what's wrong; I'm not particularly achy, or nauseated, or sore, or much of anything really. I'm just terribly, terribly drained. Still discouraged, too, but I think that's because of the lack of energy, rather than the other way around.

Anyway, I spent the day at home (aside from a brief outing for staple groceries), ran laundry, and otherwise didn't move. I think I feel a little better for it? I don't know.

It's a little bit after 9:00 in the evening, and I'm going to write one more e-mail and then go to bed again. I don't know what's going on with my system, but I'm ready for it to stop.


I... made it through yesterday. I had some energy in the morning -- I mean, I was intensely tired, but I did have some energy. Then I ate a sensible lunch, and then... well... I ate a whole bunch of corn chips, and was worn out and useless for most of the afternoon. Dinner at home was an excellent pork and rice dish with sliced carrots on top, but I could cheerfully have come home and collapsed, too.

Now it's time for bed and I am tired and weirdly depressed, and I'm starting to wonder if maybe the corn chips have started doing something to my system. So the plan for today is basically, "No corn chips, and try to stay focused." And hopefully I'll snap out of it and feel better about, well, everything.


I mean, I really do feel useless - sort of existentially, not just in terms of what I actually got done today. I feel like there's a bunch of stuff I need to do and I can't stay focused long enough to catch up on any of it. And I know it'll pass, and I'm pretty sure it's just the lingering tail end of having been really sick (along with everything else that made February such a beating this year). But I want my energy back, and I want to feel like I have something to contribute, and damn it I am just not feeling any of that. If today isn't any better, I may try to take tomorrow off. Probably as a vacation day, since I don't think I'm "sick" in any socially-recognized sense.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mating Rituals: A Family Discussion

The boys are in the living room playing video games; Beautiful Wife is on the couch, reading. I have come in to bring tea to Beautiful Wife.

Secondborn: "I have a poem for you."

Me: "Okay."

Secondborn: "Roses are red, violets are blue. I spend a lot of time thinking about you."

Me: "That was very nice."

Beautiful Woman: "It was."

Secondborn: "Thank you."

Me: "And someday you will repeat that poem to some young lady, and she'll say, 'Awww. I'm keeping this one.' And she'll take you home..."

Secondborn: "Oh?"

Me: "...and wrap you in her webs..."

Secondborn: "What?"

Me: "...And feed you the still-beating heart of her latest kill."

Secondborn: "No!"

Beautiful Wife: "Oh, yes. That's how your dad and I met."

Me: "Absolutely."

Firstborn: "I could have done without that image. Let us never speak of it again."

Secondborn: "For once, I agree with you completely."

Monday, March 12, 2018

Music: Chosen

VNV Nation, from Praise The Fallen:

This is one of the albums I go back to for certain kinds of writing.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Speech: Saladin Ahmed, Shadows of FRANKENSTEIN

Given at Longwood University on February 26, 2018. I was not there, though I wish I could have been:

He's been working in comic books more recently, but if you haven't read Throne of the Crescent Moon (novel) or Engraved on the Eye (short story collection) then you should do yourself a favor and pick them up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Music: God Is A Bullet

Concrete Blonde. It's an old song, but I stumbled over it again last night and it seemed... strangely relevant to the current moment. (Content warning: talking about death by gunfire.)I dunno, maybe it's just me; I'm a Concrete Blonde fan from a long ways back.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dear Diary: Dinner with Grandma

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Leaffall, Day 23

Dear Diary,

I decided I needed to work with some friendlier ghosts while I'm polishing my skills and increasing my power, so I took Grandma Butterblossom out to dinner last night. She was my father's mother, and an accomplished wizard in her own right, and she's only been dead for three years so it was pretty easy to bring her back.

Diary, it was wonderful. I know, I know: I'm mastering the arts of death and bending the darkest forces to my will, so I'm not supposed to feel sentimental about the living, or even the recently-living. I know. But Grandma Butterblossom was always good to me, and it was really nice to see her again. She seemed really happy to see me, and she didn't object to calling me Grimbad Willowisp. She didn't even quirk her mouth when she said it, the way the kids at school do when they bother to use my name at all.

She's a ghost, so she didn't really eat; but it turns out that she could sort of sip from a bowl of soup and a cup of tea, and get the experience of the flavors. I told her about the rest of the family, and school, and my studies, and was just so nice (there's that word again) to have someone to talk to about all this stuff. Besides you, I mean.

Plus, she had some advice for the situation with Mrs. Puffblossom, and some general advice on honing my powers. Necromancy wasn't really her thing -- she was more of a generalist -- but she was still a wizard and her ideas were really helpful.

I have to tell you, Diary, this was the best night I've had in a long time. And when we were done, we went back to the graveyard and she let me put her back down. So everything's fine, at least for the moment. At least as long as my dad never finds out.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Music: Old Blevins

I made a reference to this song on Twitter a couple of weeks back, and it turns out that the person I was tweeting to had never heard of it. So, since I think it deserves as wide an audience as possible, here are the Austin Lounge Lizards with Old Blevins:

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Minecraft As A Fantasy Story

There are any number of enjoyable stories set in the world of Minecraft (Firstborn is particularly fond of the ones by Cube Kid), but Lydia Schoch had made a delightful addition to their ranks, exploring how the experience would seem from the point of view of the main character. I'm trying to work on the Great Unfinished Dark Fantasy Project, so I'm not generating much content for the blog o' doom, here, so this is a lovely morning to go and read her work instead.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Boy Adventure Addendum

In the wake of yesterday's expedition, I would like to note that I was perfectly prepared for the fact that I would have to do laundry when we got home. What I was not prepared for was the sheer amount of wood chips that I would subsequently need to clean out of the washing machine.

Wood chips.

And Secondborn has informed me that he did not have a good time on that adventure, not at all, and that I should not make the mistake of thinking that he might have enjoyed it even a little bit. Also, he's very angry. At water.

I have promised him that in a week or two, once everything has had a chance to dry out, we will go back to the park and play on the nice, dry tank and the nice, dry wood chips and the nice, dry swing sets.

He is only slightly mollified by this.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Sunday In The Park - the very, very wet park

So, on Sunday my father went off with my brother and his wife to see their son perform in a play. (I need a good designation for the child -- I don't want to use his real name online, but Boy Cousin doesn't seem quite specific enough and everything else I can think of is worse. He's basically the same age as Firstborn, and this was a school play. But I digress...)

Anyway, with Grandfather occupied our usual Sunday afternoon visit was off. This wasn't really a problem, though. After something like four straight days of perpetual rain, the sun had finally come out and the day was gorgeous. "How lovely!" I exclaimed to myself. "I shall take the boys to a park!" And I did.

Secondborn had requested the Tank Park, which is so called because it has an honest-to-God World War II tank parked in the middle of it. The sun was warm, the air was cool but not cold, you could not ask for a nicer day, and I clearly had not thought this through because naturally the whole park was flooded:

Secondborn was... displeased. Volubly. At length. Firstborn, meanwhile, stepped out onto an area of wood chips which were clearly solid ground, except that they were floating on top of six inches of water and his foot promptly disappeared under the wood chips. With his foot and his pants already wet, he elected to keep going, and found his way out to the swing set:

Friday, February 23, 2018

Writing Advice: Find Your Own Dark Place In The Woods

My personal writing advice for aspiring authors: "Find your own dark place in the woods. Get lost in it. Bring the sacrifice for every full moon. Writhe, howl, and gibber before the glory of the muse. Then go home and put in the work to get your story in print."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Starting to recover...

So, February started with both my wife and I sick with the Flu (and possibly Strep as well, though our tests always come back negative for that). A day later, Secondborn was diagnosed with Strep but came back negative for Flu. And Firstborn was feeling pretty jazzed about his immune system until the following week, when he came down with the Flu as well. (And yeah, we did all get our vaccinations this year - and I'm pretty sure it helped, even if it's not an absolute guarantee that you won't get sick.)

Still, after two weeks of Tamiflu and antibiotics, I was starting to feel somewhat better. And then we had that whole thing with my dad in the hospital last week, and by the time Friday rolled around I was back to being barely on my feet. So I spent the entire weekend basically trying to be at least slightly useful, while shaking off the last vestiges of flu and a resurgent sinus/inner-ear infection.

I am finally, finally starting to feel like I'm really recovering - with the emphasis firmly on "starting to". I got up yesterday morning feeling quite a bit better, made breakfast for the boys, cleaned up the kitchen, and went to work... and then, three hours later, I felt completely drained all over again. I started in on a few outstanding projects and actually got some things done, but I had be pretty slow and careful about everything I was doing. It was too easy to lose track or make mistakes. It could have been worse, but it could have been a lot better, too.

Apparently flu leaves behind in its wake some damage to muscle tissue (which is why people are frequently sore) and to the lungs. Both are mainly because of the immune response, rather than the virus itself, but that doesn't change the results. And it's yet another reason why it takes $%^&*# long to get over the Flu. Personally, I'm midway through Week 4 and still not back to 100%, so it's definitely what they call "a process".

Meanwhile, life continues apace. It's going to be a long week with a lot of early bedtimes.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Traveling Companions

"I was just asking if I could keep you company on the road," said the young man.

"And I just said no," answered my father.

I was seventeen, and we were traveling again. We never much stayed in one place, and I was old enough that I was starting to realize -- and my father had to know already -- that we couldn't keep this up forever. The young man was older, but not too much older. Somewhere in his early twenties, I thought. He wore nice clothes and scholar's sword, and rode a fine horse.

"Perhaps your--" he hesitated, but only slightly, probably because neither my father nor I look as old as we actually are. "--daughter would appreciate having someone new to talk to. And I do know how to use this blade; we'd be safer together."

My father tilted his head, studying the young man for a long moment, then very deliberately turned to look at me.

I looked past him, up at the fine young man on his horse. "It's fine," I told him. "Find a bunk in the waystation if you like, and make a fire for your dinner. But my father is right: we don't need company."

The young man sighed and dismounted. The movement was graceful, and he didn't look back at us as he led his horse away. It took him a while to get settled, to unsaddle his mount and lead her down to the stream to drink, to curry her and tie her to one of the posts in front of the waystation. But once he was finished with all that, he came and sat beside our fire.

My father was small and lean, wiry musculature hidden beneath loose clothes, and he never carried weapons. I was armed, but even together we probably didn't look very threatening. "So you're determined to intrude," he observed.

"Don't you have the least regard for hospitality?" asked the young man. "Travelers should always share their fires. And while I'm not in any great hurry, I've been riding all day. I'm delivering a missive from Lady Auginia of Santimos to the Loklarian garrison at Riftside."

I was half-inclined to indulge him, myself. He seemed nice enough, and he was pretty to look at. And he probably was tired, and maybe somewhat lonely. But he was intruding on our fire, and our company, and he seemed vaguely offended that we didn't want him there.

"Hospitality," my father said slowly, "is something that should be offered -- not taken." He made a small gesture, and murdered the fire. I'd seen it before, but it was still startling. The night was abruptly dark, and much, much colder. Even the coals would be cold, now.

The young man scrambled clumsily to his feet. "What was-- what just happened?"

My father didn't answer him. He just stood up, turned his back, and walked into the waystation.

I decided that was probably a good example to follow, and did the same. Both of us could see in the dark, but unless the young man was particularly gifted I doubted that he could. Behind me, I heard him call: "Hello? Are you still here?"

Neither of us answered. My father was already spreading his blankets on one of the bunks when I unclipped mine from my pack and tossed them onto the bunk above his. The waystation was basically a small, square building -- a shed with a door and a couple of windows at the front, more windows at the back, and two sets of two bunks built out from either wall. It was designed to offer travelers a place to sleep out of weather, but nothing more.

After a few minutes I heard movements and some faint scuffling sounds, followed by a quick murmur that resulted in the warm glow of a lamp outside the door. Then there were more movements, and some whuffing from the horse. The last thing I heard was hooves moving away into the darkness; as far as I know, he never even looked inside the waystation.

To this day, I don't really know if he was actually dangerous, or just young and over-sure of his welcome. Either way, I can't really blame my father for sending him on his way. What I do know for certain is that my father has no patience for people who can't take "No" for an answer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Long Week

I spent most of Monday with my father in the hospital. This wasn't because he was having a medical crisis, exactly; it was mainly to disseminate information and keep everyone else from panicking.

So what happened? Well, sometime around Friday evening, he had a very minor stroke - so minor he didn't even notice it. Over the weekend, he reported that his balance was a little off, and that he was having a bit of numbness inside his right hand: his sense of touch was fine, but the hand kind of felt like he'd slept on it funny. Plus, he was having an odd bit of numbness inside his cheek, just at the base of his tongue. It wasn't until Monday morning that he connected the dots, and realized that the balance issue might have to do with reduced feedback sensitivity from his right leg, and that all three of these (fairly trivial) symptoms were on the right side of his body.

So, after a bit of internal debate, he decided to visit a hospital and get himself checked out. So he called up a family friend (one of my mother's oldest and most steadfast friends) and explained the situation and asked her to drive him to the hospital.

She promptly called me at work and said, "Your Dad had a stroke, meet at the emergency room at the hospital." This, while absolutely true, was perhaps not the most detailed or reassuring way to explain the situation.

But, okay: I drove down, met her in the emergency room, and spent the next eight hours sitting with my dad. Most of that time was spent waiting for the doctors to run tests, or to get back to us with the results of tests they'd already run. Once an hour or so, one of the nurses would come by and ask a lot of questions: Do you know who you are? Do you know where you are? Who's the president? Who was the president before him? What year is this? What's the date? Then they'd make him do things like lift one leg and hold it up, or push and pull with his arms.

Occasionally, when we actually got information, I'd text it to the immediate family and a couple of close friends. But mainly it was just sitting there, chatting and waiting.

The CAT scan revealed something that looked like some bleeding at the back of the skull, but the MRI (which gives a much more detailed picture but consequently takes much longer to read) showed that as a cluster of veins, and not as any sort of intracranial bleeding. The stroke itself was apparently visible - a tiny thing way down on the left side of the brain. They decided that they were definitely going to admit him to the hospital (all this was taking place in the emergency room, rather than the hospital proper) but then took several hours to find him a room. We were kind of expecting that; hospital visits almost always consist of a great deal of extended waiting, broken up by occasional periods of more waiting. And the staff was thoroughly professional and even quite nice.

There was some discussion of having him looked over by physical therapists and occupational therapists, but his symptoms were so minor that I doubt there's much they could do; I don't know if they ever actually came by. Dad was alert, perfectly well oriented, and quite capable of say, walking or feeding himself (when they finally let us order him some food) or drinking his tea (ditto). So, again, definitely a stroke, but just about as harmless as a stroke can ever possibly be.

And they didn't even find much in the way of probable causes or contributing factors. He doesn't smoke; he drinks, but very moderately; his blood pressure is fine. He had a heart bypass years ago, and some stents put in more recently, but they did an echocardiogram (I think? And I've probably mangled the spelling horribly...) and apparently didn't find any significant issues there.

So they released him yesterday, and I drove back down to the hospital and then drove him back to his house. He's due to go on a mission trip in two weeks (a medical mission, so he'll be in the company of doctors and dentists and suchlike, but also in the middle of nowhere) and the hospital-doctors didn't have any real objection to that. (We're still waiting to hear back from the going-on-the-mission-doctors, though.) They've upped his daily aspirin intake and the dosage on one of his anti-cholesterol/blood thinning medications, but that's about it.

You wouldn't think that sitting around for a day or two would be that tiring, but the whole thing has worn me out. I really want to just crawl into my bed and stay there for a day or two, but we're a bit shorthanded at work and I really can't. So I'm off, but I've promised myself that as soon as I get back home I am Going To Bed. And I hope the rest of you are taking good care of yourselves out there, too.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Through the Pillars

Devothin reined up outside the fortress-temple of Hoshamalis, watching riders and wagons bunch up ahead of him. After a moment, he gave up and dismounted. They weren't going to make the crossing any time soon, so he might as well spend some time with Timber.

The wolf was already pushing his forehead against Devothin's knee, so he knelt to greet Timber directly, half-petting and half-tussling with the heavy beast.

"You know we're going to die of disorganization," said Wilt, who had followed Devothin's example and swung down off his horse to reacquaint himself with his own wolf, Red. "If we get into the barrens and something goes wrong - and it will - we're going to end up standing around the wagons like a bunch of idiots while the twisted and the beasts rip us all apart."

Devothin nodded. He'd been thinking along similar lines. "Probably. Though we do have the elite troops of four different kingdoms here, and I imagine they can do some real damage to anybody who attacks. Mainly, though, we're going to be doing our best to make sure the expedition doesn't run into that sort of surprise."

Wilt nodded thoughtfully. "So we're the scouts for this-" He cut himself off, then finished with, "-expedition."

"Hey," said Devothin. "You can stand in the front line with the others if you want. I'm sure the Storm Knights would loan you some armor."

Wilt shuddered. "Have you seen that stuff? Too much metal for my old bones. If it comes to that, I'll stand on a wagon and loose arrows over their heads."

Devothin huffed. "There you go being sensible again." He had his fingers tangled in Timber's fur, and was feeling much the better for it. He didn't like being separated from the wolf -- not for too long, and not by too far -- but Moroleth had thought it better not to bring the hunting beasts into the High City, so Wilt had stayed with the pack in a woodlot half a mile out.

Isha whistled, and Devothin straightened. "They're actually moving," he said, surprised.

"Huh." Wilt looked thoughtful again. "This Captain Veritos is better than I thought."