Monday, August 31, 2015

Go play in the yard!

On Sunday, we reached a point where the boys had been being still for far too long, and had far too much energy. So I sent them out to the back yard to play. I observed at the time (on Facebook):
have forced the boys to go and play in the back yard. This will probably result in a certain amount of chaos and devastation (especially since it's hot and I have therefore given them permission to turn on the hose), but still... better out there than in our house.
After a while, I went to check on them, and found... this...

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Random Scene That I May Come Back To Later...

Somber knelt beside the body and extended a hand. This one was fresher than the others: last night, maybe just before dawn this morning. The flesh was loose, the muscles were limp, and the blood beneath it was still wet. Somber noted a couple of stab wounds without really looking at them, and sat back with a sigh. The corpse was... clean, for lack of a better word... and that meant he could use it.

He had placed a hand on the body when a voice behind him gasped, "Mother?"

Somber turned his head. The girl in the doorway was still a child, of maybe nine or ten years. Of course, he thought. It shouldn't have surprised him. Everyone who had died must have had friends and family: brothers and sisters, parents and children, spouses and friends, whole constellations of acquaintances... "What's your name?" he asked quietly.

"Saril," she answered, looking at him defiantly.

"This was your mother?"

She nodded once, decisively, still completely focused on his face.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't help her. Your mother is gone -- dead, you understand?"

She nodded, and Somber continued: "I'm going to do something with her body. You may not want to watch." He turned his head slightly, but she was still watching him intently. "You know that people can get sick from being around dead bodies?"

"You're sitting next to a dead body, and you're not sick."

Her answer startled a chuckle out of him; he hadn't expected her to argue. "You're right. It isn't immediate. It takes time for disease to set in." He paused, swallowed, and continued: "I'm going to use an Art on her body. It will keep the body from making people sick. It will also make the body get up and move around, so I can use it to help clean things up and protect people... but it won't be your mother. It will just be a dead body that looks like her."

There was a long, long pause. Then the girl said, "I don't want you to do that." Then, a long moment later, she continued: "...But Mother would. If it would help people, she would want you to do it, even if it meant doing bad things to her body."

Somber closed his eyes. He was tired -- tired of fighting, tired of finding bodies, tired of hiding out when darkness came and people died or disappeared. "Are you going to watch?" he asked. "If you aren't, step outside. If you are... it won't hurt her. She isn't here."

"Because she's dead."


"I'll watch."

Somber extended his awareness into the corpse, speaking the guide words almost by reflex. His breath washed over the dead woman's face, and the newly-formed death-spirit inside her stirred. He sat back and then climbed to his feet as she twitched, and a ripple of movement went through her muscles.

She rose to her feet even more slowly than he had.

Somber glanced back at the girl, but she had turned away. Though she remained in the doorway, she didn't look at him, or at the reanimated corpse that had once been her mother. Somber expelled another breath, this one laden with instructions, and the dead body lurched forward and shuffled out the doorway and away down the corridor.

"Saril," he said quietly. "Do you have somewhere to go? Family? Friends?"

Silently, still turned away and facing the wall, she shook her head. The gesture was fierce.

"Then maybe you should come with me," Somber heard himself say.

For a long moment, Saril didn't move. Then, just as Somber concluded that she wasn't going to answer, she asked: "What will happen to my brother?"

Somber frowned. "How old is you brother?"

"He was born this year. He can't even walk yet."

"...Then we'd better bring him, too."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Real Work Conversations: Scanners

My boss: "...Then we'll need to upgrade the software for the scanners, and..."

Me: "Wait. Did you mean scanners, or scanners? Or scanners?"

My boss: "What?"

Me: "Well, one lets us know that a patron has a valid ticket, one converts paper documents into electronic format, and one... makes your head explode."

My boss: "Oh, right. That would be the first one."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Last Call For Cookies

Me: "Boys... it's now Last Call For Food. However, your mother is baking cookies. So if you want to wait until their done, I'm prepared to offer you a cookie-based extension."

Secondborn: "I want a cookie!"

Firstborn: "What kind of cookies are they?"

Me: "Delicious."

Firstborn: "But what kind are they?"

Me: "Garlic and onion sugar cookies with bacon frosting."

On a related note, Firstborn has a remarkably eloquent and well-practiced face-palm gesture.

Monday, August 24, 2015

And So It Begins...

The time has come. The boys are in school. Firstborn is entering fourth grade (and, I ask again, how is that even possible?) whilst Secondborn is beginning Kindergarten (ditto). The sequence with Firstborn has, so far, been progressively less stressful for the beginning of each school year. This year, even with the addition of Secondborn, we made it through fairly efficiently: we got out the door on time, and the only thing we forgot was Secondborn's water bottle.

There was, of course, the obligatory Nobody Wants To Wake Up response:

Then there was breakfast:

Then we got everybody ready and out the door. We dropped Firstborn off first, but unfortunately those pictures are on the Beautiful Woman's camera. I'll try to add them later, once I get copies.

Then we went to Secondborn's school. We'd hoped to have both boys in the same school, but it didn't quite work out; and it may be better this way, as Secondborn will not be in his brother's shadow.

Big boy, bigger hallway.
That's a stuffed hammerhead shark that he's holding.

Sitting in the Kindergarten line:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cultural Referents from my Children

So... a couple of weeks back, the boys and I attended a swim party for a small boy. (Beautiful Wife was too busy to attend.) So we went, swam, ate pizza and snacks, and generally had a good time.

The pool was large but not deep; I don't think it ever got deeper than four feet. It was also out in the open and completely free of shade. In Texas. In August. And while we had brought sunscreen, I'd forgotten to grab the Ugly Green Hat that protects my head from catching fire in direct sunlight.

So, after a few minutes of swimming, I got out and draped one of the towels over my head to create an impromptu cowl.

Firstborn was the first to notice. He swam over to the edge and said: "Assassin's daddy!" Then he reconsidered: "No, Daddy's Creed."

Secondborn came by a few minutes later. "You wook wike Guardians of the Galaxy."

I said, "What?"

"The bad guy from Guardians of the Galaxy. What is he called?"

"Ronan," I said. "His name is Ronan."

"You wook wike Ronan."

So, there you go: Daddy in his impromptu sunburn protection, as interpreted by his two boys.

A letter to my nasal cavities...

Dear sinuses,

You do realize that if you actually manage to kill me, I'm taking you down with me? I mean, you know this, right? My death will not free you rule over the rest of humankind. It will only result in your own inevitable demise. You don't want that, do you? Of course not. So why don't you do us both a huge favor...


Thursday, August 20, 2015

We know them all so well, we just use numbers...

A man goes into a bar, and while he's sipping his beer he hears someone yell out, "44!"

Half the patrons burst into laughter.

After a while he hears someone else yell out, "72!" This time there's even more laughter.

So he waves the bartender over and asks, "What's going on with the numbers?"

"Well," says the bartender, "this place has been around for a long time, and most of the people here are regulars. They love to tell jokes, but after this many years we know them all by heart. So we gave each joke a number, to save time. Now, instead of telling the whole joke, you just call out a number and everybody knows what joke you're making."

"Oh," says the man, "can I try?"

"Sure, go ahead."

So, he yells out "102!" and the place is dead quiet save for a few groans. Confused, he looks at the bartender, who's just shaking his head. "Okay," he asks, "Now what happened?"

"Well," says the bartender, "some people just can't tell a joke."
That came to mind in the buildup to this conversation, while we were all waiting to find out what Steve from the UK was going to come out with. If you're an evangelist or a would-be evangelist, this is precisely the problem with trying to talk to former Christians: former Christians already know, and former Christians disagree.

It really shouldn't be a surprise. I mean, as former Christians, we all had plenty of opportunity to hear those arguments; we may even have used them ourselves. And, of course, if we still found them convincing... well, we'd still be Christians, wouldn't we?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Illness Dreams

So, yeah: I was sick last night. Maybe still today, too -- at least, it feels a bit like I got run over by a truck, and I am not tracking well at all. Apparently it's that time of year again.

Interesting dreams, though. I was in a place, a ruin -- maybe a derelict and partly-collapse shopping mall, since there were ledges or balconies around the outside and a shallow pool in the center that might once have been an ice rink. And I was trying to venture down into it, in search of something: answers, I think. About what had happened to me, maybe. Because there were some horrible things guarding the lower ledges. They were big, misshapen, and terribly strong... but I had some sort of shadow-whip-tentacle thing, and when I dropped from the crumbled edge of one ledge to the next balcony down, I cut right through two of them with it. I remember it being easy to call up, easy to use, and... hard to put away. But I managed, and I went past the corpse-chunks, and further down and around until I was able to sneak up to a door. Neither of the guards had time to sound an alarm.

Someone had come out of the door -- a woman in a cowl, not obviously like the others, but pale and vaguely unhealthy looking -- which was why it was open. She didn't see me slip inside and join the small group of huddled figures, and I kept the shadow-whip-tentacle-thing, um, restrained? potential? unmanifest? as not to draw attention. I remember that requiring some concentration.

I think the next step would have been to go deeper in -- we were in kind of a small anteroom or access way, with the far end blocked by a door. But, perhaps unfortunately, I woke up at that point. Back in the real world, it was just a little after midnight.

It was kind of a cool dream, both on its own merits and because it ties in directly with my current writing project. I'm not making any progress on that writing project, mind you, but apparently some part of my brain is at least thinking about it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Marked, Part II: The Price Of Buying

Andrus remained still and didn't resist as the rough-calloused hand gripped his wrist. Another hand drew back the sleeve of his robe, revealing the mark on his hand. Old Melissa had already extended her arm, showing the same mark -- the glyph that showed they were loyal citizens and worshipers of the Great Beast that had come from the sea. The guards bore their marks on their foreheads, but then the guards were expected to display a devotion well beyond that of humble citizens.

"Citizen," said the trade inspector, standing behind the guard and looking down at the marks.

"Trade inspector," acknowledged Andrus. "Everything is in order, I hope."

"It seems so," said the trade inspector. He wore a blank leather mask that showed only his eyes, as all the inspectors did, but his voice was young and male, and his build was tall and sturdy beneath his robes. "You might give some thought to shortening your sleeves."

"I'll speak with my wife about it, honored." Andrus kept his face blank and his voice level. As the guard released his arm, he extended it and dropped the silver coin into old Melissa's palm.

She poured the sage and saffron into a small cloth bag, then tied it closed and handed it back to Andrus. "A pleasure selling to you," she said.

"A pleasure buying from you," he returned automatically.

The trade inspector had moved on, his guards moving in a miniature swarm with him at the center. Andrus stood, looked after them for a moment, and then offered old Melissa a smile. "Until the coming," he said quietly.

"Let it be soon," she answered, and returned to tucking her meager wares back into a woven basket. "Be safe."

"And you as well." Andrus glanced at Avilius, but the boy's expression had gone blank with the arrival of the trade inspector. He touched the boy's shoulder, tugging it in the direction of old Melissa, and Avilius managed a smile. "It was good to see you."

"Come and see me again," she answered him. "Such handsome company is its own reward, even if you need no trade."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Becoming A Parent Is The End Of The World

I've been seeing articles about this study floating around on Facebook recently: It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner.

I LOVE being a parent, but I still agree with this. Becoming a parent wasn't an existential crisis of sad, and it was scary only in places, but it was draining ways that I find somewhat difficult to describe. Like, not just tired-all-the-time draining, though there was a fair amount of that; it's also your-time-is-never-your-own draining, and your-schedule-is-completely-at-the-mercy-of-someone-too-young-to-negotiate-with draining.

And there are all sorts of secondary effects that you either don't expect, or expect intellectually and then are surprised by how hard they hit you when they actually happen. We couldn't really afford daycare, so even with help from nearby family members my wife wound up dropping back to part time so that she could do most of the taking-care-of-the-kids -- and that added some stress, both in terms of "we have less income" and in terms of "How do I get back to full-time employment and is that even possible anymore?" (She did, but it was a gorram miracle -- a ton of effort that only panned out because of a startling stroke of luck -- and she only managed it this time last year.) Firstborn is now nine, and secondborn is five; and I haven't completed a writing project longer than maybe ten pages in over a decade, and I haven't attended martial arts classes (which I used to do regularly) in about six years.

If you need to have your surroundings clear of clutter for your piece of mind, it's going to be a constant struggle (at least, it has been for us). A lot of projects that would have been no big deal before having children become nearly impossible with kids around. (We had a renovation project in our kitchen that, I kid you not, has been in progress for two years now. We've given up; it's going to have to get fixed some other way. Only, "some other way" means "in a way that costs money", and we're only just now starting to have that again.) We're starting to get to the point where we can semi-reliably keep up with laundry and sorting toys and making sure things are put away again, but it's taken us over five years -- basically until the point where Secondborn is old enough to be ready for Kindergarten -- to get there.

So, no: the results of this study don't surprise me at all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Alert! Alert!

School starts soon! The boys will be going back to school! Morning traffic will descend into chaos and delays! Lunches will need to be made! Crowbars must be readied so that we can pry the children out of their beds! Panic! Horror! Terror! Teachers! Secondborn is STARTING KINDERGARTEN!!!!!!!! Firstborn will be in FOURTH GRADE!!!! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!?! And where did August go? It's like some horrible temporal distortion has taken hold. Can nothing save us?

I am not ready for this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Music: Kill My Boyfriend

Courtesy of Natalia Kills:

Note: This is not actually a recommended method for ending relationships. For one thing, if you're planning to murder your significant other, you probably shouldn't write songs about it. Also, just breaking up with someone has considerably less risk of jail time associated with it... though I suppose it's still possible...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Boys Unplugged

So, in preparation for the beginning of school, we're... unplugging the boys. No YouTube videos, no video games, no devices, and very limited TV/movie times (probably only when we're watching something as a family). Today was our first day of it, and -- lucky me -- I happened to be off work for the occasion.

So far, we have:

1. Gone to visit the Dallas World Aquarium. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It's an absolutely wonderful place to visit, with everything from sharks and anemones to frolicking otters and a jaguar. Going first thing in the morning on a weekday got us there ahead of various schools and camps doing field trips, at a time when the critters were (for the most part) freshly awake and lively. That occupied most of the morning.

2. Eaten lunch.

3. Returned home, where Firstborn picked our unopened copy of Dungeon! off the game shelf and suggested that we try it out. Since I hadn't played the game in thirty years, I ruled out anybody playing a wizard -- so we were limited to only fighters, rogues, and clerics. Then, to keep the thing from going on longer than Secondborn could concentrate and/or stay still, I halved the treasure amounts required for each character to win. Now, Secondborn is only five, and the game is designed for ages eight and up, but with those two tweaks it worked just fine. The boys played together extremely well, and we all had a good time.

4. Gone outside for a watergun fight. Well, the boys did, anyway. That one didn't go so well; they came back in after about five minutes. It's Texas in August, so the temperature is about twenty degrees hotter than the ambient temperature in Hell, but apparently that wasn't the problem; either they couldn't agree on a set of rules for the game, or else somebody got tired of being squirted in the face. I'm not sure which, since they came back by mutual agreement, without any squabbling.

5. Cleaned Legos off the floors of the living room and Secondborn's bedroom. This meant I had to provide them with a couple of prizes (a MineCraft action figure for Firstborn and a small Lego set for Secondborn), but it was worth it: you have no idea what an achievement it is for us to have a floor that we can safely walk across without wearing armored boots.

It's now three o'clock, and Secondborn has just finished building his Lego set. Firstborn has just finished complaining that he has nothing to do (which, given the sheer number of books and toys he owns, is clearly a claim without merit). Daddy, meanwhile, is wondering how they're going to survive tomorrow...

...but then, Daddy will be at work for most of the day, and won't have to worry about it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ghosts vs. Humans

So, my son has been watching gaming videos on YouTube. Specifically, he's been watching something where the people making the video are divided into teams of ghosts and humans, and the ghosts hunt the humans and convert them into ghosts. It's sort of like Hide & Seek, but in a video game with jump scares.

Naturally, this has affected his sleeping patterns.

Naturally, that has affected my sleep patterns.

So I haven't written anything. I just went to sleep.

If I can find what video it was that Firstborn was watching, I'll link to it in the comments.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Marked, Part I: A trip to market

Andrus entered the market at dusk, just as the craftsmen and traders were beginning to put away their wares. To his left, a stolid matron argued prices with an older woman; neither sounded angry, but they both looked tired and strained. Further ahead, a young man was making arrangements with a coppersmith, while the gleaming wares lay spread on the rug between them. This, it seemed, was a larger job, and they must have already settled on a price; they were discussing suitable times for delivery. Looking closer, Andrus identified the young man as Merius, a trader who taken over his father's concerns and seemed to be doing well by them. As traders went, he was said to be honest enough -- and very reliable.

"Eggs, father?" asked Avilius, walking steadily at his side. The boy was big enough to keep up with Andrus' pace without seeming to hurry, but still young enough to consider an outing with his father a special event.

"If there are any left," answered Andrus. "Keep a sharp eye, son."

Avilius nodded seriously -- at this age, he did a lot of things seriously -- and set to watching the stalls around them as they walked.

Ahead, Andrus spotted old Melissa, stooping to gather the bowls and packets of herbs she had set out on her selling-blanket. He turned automatically, and Avilius followed. For all her years -- and she must be approaching a full century -- she saw them immediately and sat back as they approached. Her hair was white and thin, and her features ruinously old, but her eyes, like her thoughts, remained dark and sharp.

"Young Andrus," she greeted him, "and Avilius, more handsome by the day, like your father."

Andrus answered with an amused grunt. He was no elder, but nobody else in the city would call him young. His build was still neat and solid, and he still moved easily, but his hair was thoroughly gray and years in the sun had given him a weathered face covered in a roadmap of wrinkles. Avilius, of course, grinned and stepped closer, kissing old Melissa once on each cheek. The grin they received in return was wide and fierce and joyful, brightening the gathering evening. "Is there anything you need?" she asked.

"You have sage? Or Saffron?" Andrus took a seat across from Melissa, and Avilius promptly planted himself at his father's side.

"Both, as it happens." Melissa leaned forward, conspiratorially. "The gods favor us both, I think. You, for you'll have some of the best around, and for myself it's a bit of money and less to carry."

"Watch your tongue," Andrus said, but the words weren't sharp. "There's only one proper worship, and the trade inspectors may not realize that you jest."

Melissa met his eyes for a single, fraught moment. He knew she wasn't jesting, and she knew that he knew. She was old enough that she had little to lose, but she knew he had a family to protect. After a moment, she lowered her eyes. "Too true. They aren't known for their sense of humor. A silver, then?"

Andrus nodded. It seemed high, but he knew Melissa would never cheat him. No, everything was more expensive, and there seemed to be less available every year; they paid more and more for less and less. What misfortune didn't take, the governor's taxes or the merchant's exorbitant prices did. Small markets like this one grew emptier, quieter; he wondered again what sort of world he was leaving for his children, and what he could do to change it.

With a sigh, he reached for his purse. As his hand came back up with the silver piece, another hand fell on it. Andrus went still: this hand wore a heavy leather glove, with copper disks to protect the back, and the arm above it was covered in a copper bracer. Trade inspectors, or their guards. Same things. He sat still, waiting.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Parenting: Wooden Bow

A conversation in our house on Saturday morning.

Secondborn: "Daddy, do you see this wooden bow? I don't have a wooden bow. I need seven wood to make a wooden bow in Terraria. Daddy? Daddy? Daddy? Oh, he is sleeping." ::chuckles:: "Wif a wooden bow I can shoot all the zombies in Terrarria. I will need wooden arrows, too. I need more wood to make wooden arrows..."

This went on in an unbroken stream for another five minutes, at least.

I swear, I was trying to sleep in a house with the three noisiest people -- and the loudest firk ding blast cat -- in the entire world.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Unentombed 2: Reawakened (the real one)

V-C Johann Borasteros woke in his capsule, enclosed in absolute darkness, with the sure and certain knowledge that he'd been activated for combat. He knew because his heart was beating and his flesh felt strong. Med-checks never felt like this.

A screen flickered to life in front of him, scrolling text explaining his orders while a sequence of maps were displayed underneath. He had been placed in a hidden bunker beneath Command Base McAlister on a planet called Veda, along with a dozen other commandos. He had no idea where that was, but it didn't matter; planetary locations were a problem for VoidCom. All he needed was the layout of the building where he'd be fighting, and the maps were filling that in already.

Alien invaders, he thought. Huh. But apparently they were alien invaders who resembled human beings in size and shape, and in their general biology; the words "parallel evolution" were probably floating around SciCom a lot these days. He wondered briefly which days these were, and how long he'd been out; but like the location of the planet, it didn't really matter. Not for the moment.

The screen stopped displaying new information, and Borasteros said: "Acknowledged."

For a moment, everything went dark. Then the lid in front of him swung open, taking the screen with it, and Borasteros stepped smoothly out of his capsule.

His personal weapons were already on him; they had been kept in storage with him. Command, however, had also provided a conventional armory: the far wall of the bunker was covered with racks of guns and crates of ammunition. Borasteros straightened his rig -- essentially just a heavy cloth belt and baldric that buckled over his skin-tight bodysuit -- then went to collect more weapons. If the base was overrun as thoroughly as their orders indicated, they were going to need them.