Wednesday, August 15, 2018

And So School Begins Again....

I took the beginning of this week off, because it's the first week of school for the boys and I've been promising myself that I'd take some vacation for that for, I don't know, five years now? Longer? Anyway, that part has gone pretty well: the boys are on a regular schedule, and we're getting into the rhythm of getting everybody ready in the morning and doing the follow-up stuff (homework, notes from the school, etc.) when we get home. Plus the whole Getting To Bed On Time At Night thing, though the cat is still doing his best to make sure I can't get a full night's sleep.

And despite some stress about being away from work right now, I think I really needed this. Like, I'm feeling hugely better: better rested, more alert, better mood, and a lot of my creativity is suddenly back online. I think I've even lost a couple of pounds just from not being exhausted and not eating to try to make up for being exhausted. I feel like myself again, and it's a profound relief. (It's also rather worrying just how much time I seem to spending lately where I don't feel that way, but there's not much to do except watch to make sure I don't fall back into those patterns.)

I finished Martha Well's latest Murderbot book, Rogue Protocol, and I really can't recommend this series highly enough. They're short, they're fun, they're full of action and suspense and snark and a main character who's remarkably sympathetic for a heartless killing machine.

I've now moved on to On The Shoulders Of Titans, which is the sequel to Sufficiently Advanced Magic. So far it's every bit as enjoyable as the original, and features an ace protagonist along with a broad cast of fun, interesting characters - not to mention an interesting, enjoyable magic system and an ominous plot with potentially world-altering consequences. My one complaint with the sequel so far is that the author picks up where the first book left off, without filling in the bits of background explanation that would make it more accessible to anyone who hasn't read the first book. That not entirely bad, since it means we get to skip a lot of exposition, but it also means that I keep having to stop and try to remember which character is which, and how they fit into the first book (which I read a year ago, and I've slept since then).

...And now, I think it's time to get back to some writing of my own.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Into the Black Commentary 001

So, I wrote this on Saturday when I was half-soused and apparently thinking, I know, I'll write a space opera! I should totally be able to do that without any sort of plan!

...And it kind of shows.

I mean, okay, "Jeremy"? Why "Jeremy"? Why isn't he using some sort of call-sign, as the other fighter apparently is? And why is he hauling on a manual control lever for a space ship? Shouldn't he be using some sort of neural interface or something?

And if we're at the level of fighting aliens equipped with plasma cannons, who the hell is coating their ships in ablative armor? And why are the undefended aliens dumb enough to follow him into the atmosphere at speed?

Seriously, what was I thinking?

Oh, well. Back to Take Two on the Heroes Are Assholes story. At least I know how that one's supposed to play out.

Also? Note to self: alcohol isn't necessarily a bad thing when writing, but it sure as hell doesn't make up for lack of sleep.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Into The Black, 001

Jeremy shoved the stick forward, decelerating as rapidly as he could when he touched the edge of the atmosphere. The Antiraian ships were close behind him, but their plasma weapons lost cohesion in even these little fringes of air. G-forces shoved him against his bindings as his fighter shed a weight of ablative armor to protect against the sudden heat.

Tha Antiraian ships, unprotected, blossomed into fireballs and died. Jeremy yanked the stick back, correcting course, and headed back out into open space. He could hear the cries of his fellow pilots through his familiar, some victorious and others screaming before they fell silent. Warbird was headed his way, with a half-dozen Antirians behind her. Unshielded, he loosed missiles and dodged to the side, watching with satisfaction as the cloud of pursuers fell to one. Warbird made a quick spin and came in behind her remaining pursuer, pouring cannons into it until it disintegrated.

Jeremy grinned, then spun aside again. He couldn't afford to be still; if anything hit him now, he was dead. He needed to get back to the Onus, before anything else went wrong.

His console triggered him: there were missiles approaching his ship. He reversed thrust, then shoved himself randomly to the side. Warbird had loosed her own missiles, and the Antirians targeting him abruptly died.

Their weapons, however, hadn't. A bright flare cut off scans for where he'd been a moment before, and scans showed at least two missiles circling back towards his ship. Jeremy activated a combination of thrusters that twisted his ship around, then fired the main thruster. One approaching missile immolated itself in the plasma jet, and the other fell into line as he fled, then exploded when it got too close. The main thruster flickered, but recovered, and he was away, tracing a twisted arc back towards the Onus.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Music: The Masochism Tango

Tom Lehrer, of course, to brighten your Friday morning:

So, the Heroes Are Assholes story has... outgrown itself. It was supposed to be a short story, but... it's not.

It's a first chapter.

More to come on that front, as I burn wickedly onwards.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Music: Among the Ghosts

Performed by Lucerno:

D'n'D Night

We've moved the D'n'D game from Saturday nights to Wednesday nights. This seems to work better, because A) there's a lot less drinking, and B) there's a clear cutoff time when we have to stop so we can all be functional at work. We're still using the new set of characters, and it seems to be working well - it's a completely different play style from what we were doing before, and so far it seems a lot more effective (even without a mage in the party).

I'm enjoying it because my new character is much more the kind of thing I like to play, and the rogue/ranger combination is working very much the way I hoped it would. Basically, I do almost all of the searching, checking for traps, and opening locks -- and then I sneak up on things and stab them. I don't really have the hit points or the armor class to go toe-to-toe on the front line, but between Dual Wielding, Sneak Attack, and Favored Enemy bonuses I can dish out a pretty respectable amount of damage (especially considering that I'm mainly using daggers). Where I run into trouble is when we're facing opponents who are immune to sneak attack damage (which so far mainly means undead, but this campaign features quite a bit of undead enemies - I need to make them my next favored enemy)... Or when we're up against an opponent who can dish out a lot of damage. My best strategy seems to be to move up front, flank enemies with the fighter or cleric, and then drop back and snipe as soon as I take damage. (Alternatively, I can get a surprising amount done just working as an archer, but I don't expect that to scale up as we grow stronger and start facing tougher opponents.)

I was also recently amused at the contrast between how I think of the character, and how I present the character in the game. Like:

Thinking about the character: This is Vendril Bloodthorne, a member of the garrison at the border fort. His family has lived on the border for three generations, serving as scouts and soldiers to defend the realm from the incursions of the desert nomads and other dangers, and Vendril is proud to continue that tradition. He is aware of the human-vs.-elf conflict and prejudice within the realm, but out here on the border the soldiers treat him well; it's what you can do that counts. So when the patrol turned up an unusual number of unusually strong raiders in the ruins and their squad commander was killed, Vendril took charge of the remaining archers and they willingly followed his lead.

Vendril in the game: This is Vendril. He sneaks up on things and stabs them a lot.

Anyway, tonight we basically just finished clearing out a supposedly-haunted cave that the raiders were probably using to move troops around the border wall and into the realm. In the event, the cave turned out to be wildly, unbelievably haunted, as well as occupied by the nomad leader we were looking for. But we managed to fend off a rather large number of undead and the nomad raiders, mainly by using group tactics (and a surprising amount of Alchemist's Fire). We're considering keeping the place as a backup headquarters, in case the garrison at the fort is overrun, but we probably need to come back after we've gotten a bit stronger (we're still just 3rd level characters, which in D'n'D is just a step above cannon fodder) and clear out the remaining threats. Still, the nomads left a fair amount of supplies for their troops, and the setup is nice: underground, but with a raised structure that's reasonably defensible built inside the cavern.

Next week we should be headed back to the fort with our prizes (mainly, an ancient book that describes what the nomads are likely to be seeking - ancient weapons or magics or both, in one of the ruins that are just on our side of the border). We'll need to get some of the party members healed, too; remember, kids, battling undead is not for the faint of heart or the low of saving-throw.

But once we've checked in and turned over the book (and hopefully had a chance to find out more about what we're up against), we'll probably be off to the next set of ruins, to try to get ahead of the Nomad army and keep the weapons (or whatever) away from them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Whence comes the question?

Guess what? Our words "question", "query", "inquiry", and "quest" all go back to the same root, the Latin word "quaerere" (meaning, unsurprisingly, to ask or to seek).

I mean, you really don't need to know that, but I thought it was cool.

Oh, and also?

"Etymology" goes all the way back through Latin to Greek, and is composed of "étymon" (the essential meaning or origin) + "lógos" (word, reason, or study of). So now you know the etymology of "etymology".

Monday, August 6, 2018

Superhero Bar Stories: Midnight

Hey, kid. Pull up a chair. I'm hearing good things about your work with Titania. You thinking about striking out on your own once your trial's up, or do you plan stay with Titania as a team?

Really? Good to hear it. No, you're not interrupting anything. Me and Bob here, we were just swapping stories. Topic? Well, it hadn't started as anything in particular, but Bob just finished talking about how he finally captured Midnight. You want a quick recap while he hits the head? All right: Midnight was a supervillain around five years ago. Darkness-based powers: he could see in the dark, make whole areas dark, and travel more or less anywhere he wanted at any moment within his own darkness, which he could stretch out for as much as half a mile. He wasn't the restrained sort of villain, either. Not like Dr. Diablo, say. He did whatever he felt like: robbery, kidnapping, assault... it got worse from there. And we didn't know who was doing it, because it was always dark -- even for security cameras that were equipped with infrared, even night-vision goggles, everything. Whenever he showed up, anything even vaguely close to visible light just... died.

Even Captain Amazing can't see through his darkness. He hears about a robbery in progress, busts in through an open window... and then has to stop, because he can't see anything and with his strength he can't be blundering around. He'd kill someone by accident. But he remembers The Seer, from out in Sacramento, and he gives him a call.

Yeah, sorry. Bob is The Seer. Bob's a psychic, and one of his powers is that he's aware of everything around him. So the next time an area goes dark, Captain Amazing carries The Seer into it and turns him loose. And Bob locates the guy, and grabs him telekinetically. And Midnight tries to slide out through the shadows, but The Seer has a solid grip on him, and... nobody's quite sure what happened. But a moment later the lights are back on, Captain Amazing comes flying back in, and Bob's lying on the ground next to this skinny guy in all black who's weirdly... stretched out. Like, his left arm and his right leg are six inches longer than his other arm and leg, and his head and chest are weirdly misshapen.

Yeah, yeah it was. I told you when you started that you'd make mistakes, and the thing was to own them when they happened. Bob still feels bad about this one. I think Captain Amazing does too. I mean, The Seer was just trying to capture the guy, keep him from hurting anybody else. He didn't expect to maim him. But sometimes when you have two different kinds of power in direct conflict, weird things happen.

Hey, Bob. Yeah, I was just telling the kid here, because I think he needs to know. He's working with 'Tania, probably will be for a while. Lightlance, when he's in costume; Cyrus when he's out. And now it's your turn -- I'm going to get the next round, so you get to tell the kid uncomfortable stories about me.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Writing Advice: Just Sleep

So, I made myself a little sign to put on the wall in my, um, office. (Read: closet.) It's not the be-all and end-all of writing advice, but I think it's something that needs to be firmly in my head, so putting it where I'll read it over and over seems like a good way to drill it in.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Nope, still no brain.

Between heat, allergies, and the change in schedule (getting the boys onto their summer camp/ready for school schedule has thrown me off), I have not had the brain for any of the topics I wrote down on Wednesday. I did, however, get some more words in on the Heroes Are Assholes story, so I can be pleased about that, at least. It's going to be a long and hopefully tedious day at work, and then tonight I need to do what I've been promising myself I'll do, and just go to sleep as soon as the boys are down.

Or sooner. Sooner would be good.

Ah, well. Onward and forward. Nothing but good times ahead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

I have topics, but no brain...

I have blog topics that I could probably knock off pretty quickly if I had any kind of brain for doing brain-things. Topics would include:

1. We took the kids to a ropes course last Saturday. I have pictures, and even video, and plenty of commentary. What I do not have is the ability to make the words go into the sentences.

2. Firstborn's project from last week's coding camp. This was fairly simple, but also pretty neat, and again I have video but no ability to focus.

3. Firstborn is spending this week in Teen Camp. (He's been twelve for like six weeks now, so he only just barely qualifies.) Apparently they took the Teens by the mall as one of their early activities. Firstborn has comments about touring a mall with a pair of teenage girls and a guy who doesn't care enough to argue against going into clothing stores.

4. We got the basketball net set up beside the driveway, which means I have achieved a personal goal, and it didn't even leave me dribbling. I'm not sure this one merits an actual blog post, but any opportunity for puns is a slam-dunk.

5. Oh! And Secondborn zinged his brother a good one on the way down to the ropes course.

...So I'm just going to leave these here, in the hopes that maybe I'll come back and flesh them out when I have a brain.

Monday, July 23, 2018

BB Gun Villains

So, between long stretches of swimming at Granddaddy's house on Sunday, the boys asked if we could get out the BB gun. (It's an incredibly old one, dating back to my childhood, and we've been using it to introduce the boys to the basics of gun safety.) So we did, but of course we needed targets. Granddaddy suggested that we grab some of the spare cardboard boxes out of the closet.

Cardboard boxes alone don't make terribly interesting targets, though, so I grabbed a sharpy and dew a target on the first one:

As you can see, we shot that target a bit, then moved to the next -- only, Secondborn announced that her was going to draw this one:

Well, that dastardly fellow barely stood a chance. Firstborn, however, announced that this was clearly only a henchman, because he didn't have enough mustache to be the evil genius. So, for our last target, Firstborn took the sharpy and gave us... this:

I am pleased to report that the boys were victorious not only against this final boss, but against his styrofoam-cup minions as well.

It's clear to see who got the artistic talent in this family, and I am here to tell you that it ain't me.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Unmanly candles

Texas in July.

A porch with a candelabra.

The most unmanly candles I've ever seen in my life.

A friend of mine forgot to take the candles out of her candelabra for the summer. The month of July has shown her the error of her ways.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Gritty Reboots

I feel like not enough people realize that Twelve Monkeys was basically the darker, grittier reboot of Time Bandits.

That said, if you're looking for the grand high king of darker, grittier movie reboots, I can't think of anything more powerful than the change in artistic vision that carried us from 28 Days to 28 Days Later.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Basketball goals

Well, my wife bought us a basketball goal off Craigslist. So, I've been given a new task: my task is to set the thing up so the boys can shoot baskets when they need to just Go Outside And Do Something.

So that's my goal. My basketball goal, if you will. (If I succeed, it'll increase my net worth to the family.)

Last week I basically just scoped it out with my father, and dug the hole for the thing.

This week, we pounded in some stakes and used them to rope the pole in place -- playing a little bit of Pole Position, as it were, and with an all-new level, yet -- and then mixed the concrete and poured it into the hole around the pole. The boys helped, both with mixing the concrete and pouring it in, and then went off to spray each other with the hose in the back yard. Once the concrete hardens, we'll attach the backplate and the hoop, and at that point we should be done.

Meanwhile, the boys are off to their coding camps this week, and I'm back to work once again.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Movie Night: Pixels

So, on Friday as she was bringing the boys back from an outing to the park, my wife informed me over her cell phone that the boys wanted to make popcorn and watch the movie Pixels. It turns out I had seen a preview for it at some point in the past, but I'd forgotten all about it afterwards. So, not having much idea what to expect from this, I put out a quick poll on Twitter.

Of the four options in the poll, here were the results:

-"You kidding? It's great!" 0%
-"It's not too bad." 20%
-"You're gonna need beer." 20%
-"Whiskey, and lots of it." 60%

So tonight I made popcorn, and Beautiful Wife rented the movie, and off we went. And while I didn't supplement with lots of whiskey, I did at least pour myself a drink before we got started.

First up, the important part: the boys thoroughly enjoyed it. And despite a couple of scenes which were so embarrassing for the characters that it was painful to watch, I think I'm going to have to go with the 20% who said: "It's not too bad." It really wasn't the worst movie I've ever watched. It's not even as bad as some movies I've watched repeatedly, though that's partly because it doesn't take itself too seriously. And the action sequences were pretty actiony, in a few spots genuinely tense -- and in several places funny, as well. I don't think it's a movie that I'd ever actively recommend to people, but if someone was looking to spend an evening on something amusing, light-hearted, and a little weird, I certainly wouldn't try to argue them out of it.

The important part, though, was that we had a family movie night in which the entire family watched the entire movie, and everybody had a good time. So if that's your movie-rating criteria, this one got full marks.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Aftermath, Part I

Random bit of fiction I wanted to get down while it was fresh in my head.

Aya lay on the bed and shivered, listening to the voices outside and feeling thoroughly ill. Her left arm was a pulsing mass of pain, ending in the bizarre silver thornbush that had taken her hand and seemed to be trying to grow down her arm. She wasn't entirely sure where she was, only that she was far from home and hurting almost too badly to think.

"You have to turn her over to us," said a voice, deep and rough.

"I have to do no such thing," said another voice, softer. "And if you push past me, like as not you'll set the weapon off again."

There was a long silence, and Aya fell into a dreamless, not-quite-sleep again.

She came back to consciousness knowing that someone else was in the room, and that she was trying to offer a cup of water. Ava reached for it, remembered her hand was gone, and tried to reach with her other arm. It was slower, weaker, but she grasped the cup and lifted it to her lips.

"There," said the woman in the gray robe. "The soldiers have gone. For the moment, you're safe."

The thing that had taken her hand seemed to think so, too. It had retracted back into a solid block, with only three stray branches and a couple of spikes extended. Useless, even for grasping a cup. Useless for anything Aya might want to use it for.

"I'm called Shimmer," said the woman. "I'm told that you are Aya. And this," she gestured towards the silver extrusion at the end of Aya's arm, "is one of the Great Weapons."

"I don't see what's so great about it," said Aya. "It can't even hold a cup."

Shimmer nodded. "In that," she said, "You're right. It's only powerful, merely lethal. But you found it, and it chose you, and as far as I know there is no getting rid of it."

"...And no getting my hand back." The pain was still there, but it was slowly receding. As it did, Aya found that she could think more clearly. "You're that ascetic," she said. "The one who comes through twice a year, talking to people and checking their health."

"Just so," said Shimmer. "I belong to a nameless monastic order, and you strike me as someone who might find it useful to be nameless for awhile."

Aya looked away. "I want to go back to my family," she said.

Shimmer nodded. "I won't try to stop you." She gestured towards the weapon. "As I said, you're safe here, for now. But would you be safe there? Would your family?"

Aya didn't answer, but she squeezed her eyes shut. The Great Weapons were legendary. Their presence had turned battles, driven back horrors from beyond the passages, changed the destinies of nations and peoples. But she'd grown up on a farm; she couldn't do any of that. She needed her hand to help with the planting and the harvesting, with gathering eggs and milking cows, with stroking the dogs and bathing her siblings. Only...

She pictured old man Sowre, standing in the market and watching to see how each interaction, each bit of gossip, could be turned to benefit his shop and his family. She remembered Bisko, during her brief time at the school, talking about Jarib Niss, whose parents had come here to escape the Empire, and how he and his family didn't belong in their town. She remembered her own father, grumbling about how that lazy old thief master Wyrdlees always charged twice as much for the tools in his shop as it cost the blacksmith to make them, but agitated against the business of anyone who went to another town to buy their tools cheaper. Her father would never ask her to threaten the shopkeeper, of course, but he wouldn't mind mentioning his daughter's Great Weapon and making the man sweat over a discount, either. And that wouldn't be good for her, and that wouldn't be good for her father.

Those aren't the sort of people we're supposed to be, Aya thought. "...And if I go with you?" she asked reluctantly.

"There is a place," said Shimmer. "It's merest chance I know about it, for all that it's run by my order. You'll be safe there, beyond the reach of anyone who wants to use you, and in the company of some others who might understand your struggles, at least it part."

"What would you want to use me for?" asked Aya, still half-angry from the pain, and desperately suspicious as well. "Or your order?"

But Shimmer shook her head calmly. "It isn't a prison, or a recruiting center," she said. "It's a school. And its purpose isn't to exploit people with the sort of power you now carry; it's to rein them in, to teach them consideration and control. My... the ones in charge of this, they are trying to make a world where if someone like you uses something like your Great Weapon, they do so with as much understanding of the consequences, and as much concern for the common good, as we can give them." Shimmer looked away. "Too many disasters have grown from people with too little responsibility being given too much power."

Aya didn't want that to be her. Still... "Alsom Trent used to throw dirt clods at me between classes," she said. "Are you sure I can't put a fist-sized burn on his rear?"

Shimmer tilted her head, regarded Aya with wary amusement for a long a moment. "You can," she said. "As I said, I cannot stop you and I won't try. But I am absolutely sure that you shouldn't."

Aya sighed, handed the cup back, and settled back on the bed. "Fine. I'll visit your school. I can't promise I'll stay, but I'll look at it."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Ideas vs. Execution

A few weeks back, another author challenged me to actually write a story idea I've been kicking around for years - something related to a Twitter observation that she'd made. I figured, with my schedule, that would take maybe three weeks, depending on how long the story decided to be. That was, I don't know, at least six weeks ago.

I actually got (what I think is) a really good opening, then got bogged down on the next section, and then the world fell on my head with work, family issues, and general exhaustion. I have tried to keep going on it; I have tried cleaning up the troublesome section; I have tried setting aside the troublesome section and rewriting from the end of What I Think Is A Really Good Opening. But I think I'm back to the same problem that I have with pretty much all my writing projects:

I let myself get too tired.

I let myself get too tired, and then I try to keep pushing, and then I'm even more tired, and eventually I hit a point where at the end of the day I'm completely useless but I can't seem to let go and just Get Some Rest like a sensible person who realizes that they're tired. Like, I know it's a problem, I know exactly how to solve it, but I just can't seem to get myself to do it.

Changing habits is hard, y'all.

But I guess the solution there is, do it anyway.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Music: Hurt

...As it might have been performed by Kermit The Frog, in his Emo phase:

Monday, July 9, 2018

Sunlight is not my friend...

Did some work in the back yard yesterday, basically just making a hole in the ground so that next weekend we can cement a basketball goal in place. It wasn't a terribly long or difficult job, I took a break in the middle of it, I drank plenty of water...

It was still hugely enervating. Like, this was mid-afternoon, and by the time we hit dinner I was wiped out. Some of that's the heat, some of that's the direct sunlight, a little of it is the physical effort. But overall? Doesn't matter why, it kicked my ass. Half an hour of manual labor in the direct sunlight kicked my ass. And it was only about 90 degrees out there - nowhere near as hot as Texas sometimes get.

So I did the smart thing. I went to bed early. I'm hoping it helps.

But next weekend, when everything's had a chance to dry out and we brace the pole and pour the concrete? I'm gonna try to do it in the early, early morning.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Annnnd it's gone...

We were talking about something at lunch a few hours ago, and I remember thinking "Hey, that would make a neat little short story, kind of a reversal of the usual layout," and then we finished lunch and now I can't remember what it was.

But no, I'm not ridiculously frustrated with myself at all. Why do you ask?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A grand adventure

I took Secondborn on a walk this morning. We're trying to get him enough exercise that he doesn't feel compelled to jump around the house while he's recovering from his hernia surgery, so it was quite a long walk... in the mid-morning Texas sun. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn were supposed to go on their own walk after us, so we made a little arrow out of sticks to show them which way we went, and... well...

It might have gotten a little out of hand. There might, hypothetically, be a trail of sticks from our front door to Nana's front door. Secondborn might hypothetically have gotten a popsicle before we started for home. We might hypothetically have returned, sweaty and well-exercised, rather later than we'd planned on.

Friday, June 29, 2018


So Secondborn, at the age of eight, has had his hernia surgery. The doctor made an incision, found the opening in the abdominal wall, and sewed it shut; that's what you do with hernias. This is good news.

Even better: before he sewed it closed, the doctor ran a little camera around to the other side, and made sure there wasn't any sort of incipient hernia or congenital weakness over there. There wasn't; the inside of the kid's abdomen looks fine. (On a related note, I now have a high-resolution color portrait of the inside of my son's abdominal wall at age eight. That one's going in the scrap book, believe me.) The hernia was, according to the doctor, "respectably sized" and he apparently had no trouble finding it.

Secondborn handled it well: he wasn't allowed to eat or drink that morning, but he stayed in a good mood and went off with the doctor the way he was supposed to. We'd briefed him on how he'd have a mask on his face for the anesthesia, and apparently he handled that just fine as well.

Here's the thing about getting your children (or apparently your grandchildren, for that matter) through surgery: this stuff is stressful, y'all. I still don't think I'm entirely decompressed from it.

After the surgery, they put Secondborn in a room until he woke up. When he did, the nurse asked him if he wanted a drink of water. "I can't!" he replied. "I have to have surgery!" And, of course, once he was awake they brought us in to sit with him until he was ready to go, which was just about as soon as he was conscious. We had to wait a little longer, both to let the anesthesia wear off and to go over all the rules for after-care. We also had to pick up some pain medications, mainly to get us through the first day -- after that, we should be fine with over-the-counter stuff.

So... it's done.

Now, if we can just keep Secondborn still (or, at least, not moving at full speed) long enough to heal, I think I can finally stop being stressed out about this, and start being relieved. That's not going to be so easy, though. The child only has two speeds: sitting on the couch, and parkour. Still, with any luck we can get him through this and not have to deal with it anymore.



Hm. Two additional thoughts:

1. Thank the gods for modern medicine. (Or, y'know, better yet: thank science. But either way, the sentiment stands.)

2. In the modern United States of America, this is a relatively simple medical procedure, even when performed on a child - and (in the modern United States of America) we're still spectacularly lucky that getting this surgery done hasn't bankrupted us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Music: My Father Makes Recommendations

So, my Dad made a couple of music recommendations while we were at his house on Sunday (right before we took him out to see The Incredibles 2). Apparently he'd been talking about them to his renter.

First up: Chug-a-lug
(Roger Miller)

Second up: Hugging and Chalking
(Hoagy Carmichael)

Not my usual fare, but what the hell. Have at, if you're so inclined.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Callahan's Friday Pun: On The High Seas

Did you hear about the noble freebooter who accidentally dropped a tea bag into his cup of grog? It was the most piratea thing he'd ever done...

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.