Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hallow's eve

So it begins. First, the boys get ready:

Secondborn has decided to be Squirtle this year:

And since he was a Squirtle, he decided that he definitely needed to have a water gun. I figured, "What could possibly go wrong?" soooo...

Firstborn, on the other hand, had elected to be a Transformer. Here, sans boy, is his costume:
The costume was designed and built by his grandfather, with help and input from Firstborn.

Here, sans costume, is the boy:

Here he is in robot mode, wearing the costume:

And, of course, the tank transforms:

Finally, here they are together:

The Beautiful Wife and I decided to be superheroes this year, so here we are:
(Picture courtesy of Firstborn.)

Happy Hallowe'en, everybody. Hope you all had as much fun as our kids did.


This year - maybe the last two years, if I'm being honest - has/have just worn me out. Usually I'm pretty excited about Hallowe'en. I post music, talk about costumes, write little scare stories...
This year, I'm just not feeling it. It's not that I don't like the holiday, it's just that I don't have any emotional energy left to spend on it.

...And I guess that's not entirely true. I mean, my desktop background and my lock-screen image are both suitably spooky, and I've set out little toy monsters on the top of my desk. Back at the beginning of October, I took a giant tube of tiny little monsters and arranged them all over the office to puzzle and delight passers-by and fellow employees. And we have costumes for the boys, and I bought candy to hand out. So it's not like I haven't done anything to prepare. It's just...

I dunno. I'm tired, I'm still feeling kind of sick, my energy is very off-and-on, and everything I try to do (including work) seems to take twice as long as it should, run afoul of odd delays, or both. And the part where Hallowe'en falls on a Tuesday this year is just... ugh.

Nevertheless, for tonight I'll dig out a Batman costume, put on something spooky, and stand in the doorway and hand out candy. And the boys will go out with their mother and trick or treat, and it'll probably all be fun. I just wish I was more excited about it, y'know?

Music: My Boy

This one is outside my usual range of musical tastes, but it caught my ear so here you go. The artist is Billie Eilish:

Monday, October 30, 2017

Put It Back

I'm going to show my age for a minute here. (I'm also going to give slightly embarrassing evidence of the fact that I've been living in the D/FW Metroplex for waaaaay too long.)

Many, many years ago they started trying to expand US 75 as it passed through north Dallas and its suburbs. And it was, charitable, an unholy mess. Also many years ago, The Bo and Jim show was on a radio station called Q102, which was actually quite popular until it was eaten by something larger. And during this time period, Bo and Jim created a little song for their show about all that horrible construction on US 75. It was called, I believe, "Put it back." (Maybe that was just the refrain, but I'm pretty sure it was the title as well.) And the major theme of the song, or at least the part that sticks in my head, was a plea to just quit trying to work on 75 and put it back, because the people in Fort Worth are laughing at us.

Why am I telling you about this? Well, I just found out this morning that TXDoT is planning to close off a big whopping section of US 75 between November 11 and November 13. That's basically a Saturday morning until early Monday morning, assuming everything stays on schedule. That's less than two weeks out, and they're not just talking about narrowing it down to one or two lanes; they're planning to shut down the whole thing, from Renner Rd in Richardson to 15th Street in Plano. Which... is going to be a nightmare.

So I'm suddenly wondering if Bo and Jim still have that old song, and if it's going to turn out to be as evergreen as I think it might be.

Aging Parents and Planning

Had a conversation with my wife last night about my father and his eyesight. Despite being healthy as a particularly healthy horse in all other ways, he has macular degeneration resulting in extremely poor eyesight.

At the moment, this manageable. It means that he needs help with detail work (including such things as reading the bills so he can pay them) but he's managed to find a renter to live in one side of the house, and she helps him out with that. (I've done some of that myself, also, when we're over on weekends.) He has a sort of bicycle-sized electric tricycle that he can drive to the grocery store, so he can still do his own shopping. He's part of a reasonably active church community, and he has several family friends in the area. About the only thing he can't do is get to the liquor store; the nearest ones are too far away for the tricycle, and he feels awkward about asking the family friends to take him. (Before anybody asks: I took him on Saturday. And he drinks slowly, so he's set for probably the next year.)

But this isn't going to last, and I'm not sure what happens when it starts to fall apart. Of the nearby family friends, the husband in one couple has Alzheimer's, and it seems to be starting to get more acute. Another couple is still in very good shape, but that could always change suddenly; we just don't know. And my dad's eyesight wouldn't have to get too much worse before he wouldn't be able to get his own groceries anymore. Having the renter appears to be going brilliantly, but she might not be able to help him out the way he'll need it if his eyes really go.

The only problem is, we don't really have anywhere to put him. Our house isn't big enough; we don't have any spare rooms for that. My brother and his wife might have an extra room, but their house is arranged with all the bedrooms upstairs and I'm not sure that would work. But honestly, even if we had the perfect arrangement to move him into, I'm not sure he would want to move in with either of us.

There are some other possibilities, and I know we've talked over at least some of this with him. But I think it's time to discuss all this with him again. The thing is, I've been thinking that the current arrangement could probably last another three or four years... but I'm starting to think it may only really be manageable for another year or two. And that's a little scary.

There's another little coda to these thoughts, but I think I'm going to save that for the post-Hallowe'en post.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Animal Crackers

Animal crackers? There are no animal crackers. What do you mean, why are there no animal crackers? Well, I know perfectly well that neither of you boys would bring animal crackers into the living room, so clearly there has been some sort of perfectly-natural animal-cracker migration. In fact, clearly it turned into a stampede, and in the rush to escape the kitchen a great many animal crackers were crushed. How do I know this? Well, there are animal cracker body parts and stray crumbs all over the the living room floor, two of our blankets, and a small section of the couch. Clearly, there is only one conclusion that we can sensibly draw from the evidence before us, and that is that at some time this afternoon there was some sort of animal cracker migration that culminated in an animal cracker stampede.

Where are the animal crackers now? Why, I've no idea. No doubt some intrepid and determined future archaeologist will someday discover the Lost Graveyard Of The Animal Crackers, but today is not that day. And until that day, we simply have no way to know. I'm sorry to be the one to say it, but the animal crackers are simply... gone. They have burst their cages and escaped into the hinterlands. They will not return.

...Though I might get them out tomorrow night if people can remember not to eat them in the living room.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


So, I did that thing where I got some sleep, felt better, then stayed up writing. (Not real late, a little after midnight, but apparently I'm still not up to that.) So this morning I'm tired and shaky and ready to go right back to sleep for another ten or twelve hours. Emotionally, I feel a lot better because I actually did get some writing done; but physically, apparently I'm just not up to this. Not sure if that's just me getting old, or if I still haven't quite recovered from whatever's had me feeling bad for the last couple of weeks. Maybe both!

Anyway, hope everybody else is feeling far better than I am.

Monday, October 23, 2017

On Brevity

There comes a point in any writing project, no matter its purpose or subject, and regardless of its length or importance, where it seems that, despite all need for brevity and all desire for concision, the twin, driving needs of eloquence and comprehensibility uproot all good intentions and tear down any attempt at pithiness, leaving the author adrift in a sea of his or her own words, helpless on the tides of explanation, until at last they reach the shore of their thought and are cast loose onto a single sand-grain of punctuation; that sand-grain being, of course, the period that marks the end of the sentence.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ideal Life

I'm trying to visualize the kind of life I'd like to be living - or at least retire into - and here's what I'm currently coming up with (in a real-world setting, so now Vast Supernatural Powers for this one):

I want to live in a castle, or at least a big stone house with a tower; the place should be reasonably isolated, with a lot of empty (and interesting!) landscape around it; however, it should also have electricity, indoor plumbing, reliable internet, and a truly excellent school system. With that as a sort of safe haven, I would also like to be able to visit a reasonably cosmopolitan area with lots of interesting restaurants and things to do.

Now, to make that possible, I need to either:
1. Win the lottery.
2. Inherit an unexpected windfall (possibly from a Nigerian prince).
3. Start robbing banks.

(Actually, some modest version of that might actually be possible eventually, even on our current income, but since I'm fantasizing I'd like to have it happen, y'know, now.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It... might be quiet

Beautiful Wife is out of town for the remainder of the week. Fortunately, her parents are picking the boys up from school. That still leaves me handling the bedtime routine, though - right after, right after we got an email from one of Secondborn's teachers that he hasn't been doing his homework, and right after Firstborn's Orchestra teacher informed us that he'd be keeping a practice log that we needed to sign off on. So I added those to the evening schedule.

Last night went perfectly. We caught up most of Secondborn's homework; Firstborn did his music practice. Everybody ate. I ran laundry. I managed to shut off the TV and get them into bed with a minimum of arguing and without anybody going into a meltdown. But, well... that was only the first night.

Tomorrow night? When we have to do this all over again? Yeah, that's when the screaming is likely to start.

And you know, despite how unbelievably well the boys handled themselves, by eight o'clock last night I was tired down to my bones. Just exhausted. Enervated, even. Which... {shakes fist at sky} ...isn't how it's supposed to work.

I'd psyched myself up to not try to do anything except keep things running and get the boys down. Everything else could wait. But I would have loved to have squeezed in an extra half an hour of writing before I went to bed myself, even if it was only character sketches or making little vignettes of the world and some of its settings. Instead, I watched a few horror movie previews on Youtube (apparently that's something I do to relax) and then went to bed.

I think I'm going to promise myself that if I can just get through tonight, I get to play half an hour of one of my comfort games (like comfort reading, but a video game). Meanwhile... well, it's going to be a slow day and we're just going to have to muddle through.

Music: Smoke Signals

Phoebe Bridgers:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dear Diary: Still Missing

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Leaffall, Day 17

Dear Diary,

I saw Mrs. Puffblossom last night. She was spying on the house again, just like usual. Except... well, Diary, the thing is... Mrs. Puffblossom has been missing since the ghost possessed her. So it's not really Mrs. Puffblossom watching the house. It's the ghost.

I'm worried, Diary. I mean, bad enough that I called up a ghost strong enough to possess zombies and other people, but... now it's watching me. It wants something, and I don't know what.

I need to get the ghost out of Mrs. Puffblossom and dismiss it properly. It's not just for my own safety... but, I mean, it's not because I much care what happens to Mrs. Puffblossom, either. She's a nasty, gossiping old biddy and it's her own fault for trying to spy on us. But... if I'm going to be a necromancer, a real necromancer, this has to be how things work: the undead do as I command. I can't call them up and then have them running loose, or thinking that they're in charge.

So I'm going to do this. I'm going to figure out a way to track down this ghost, and I'm going to send it back beyond the Veil. Either that, or I'm going to bind it to a tree.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cool Wind In My Hair

So we pulled into this weird hotel - hey, it'd been a long day, we were on a dark desert highway, and we had to stop for the night. If it hadn't been for those voices down the corridor, we probably would have stayed. Instead, we pulled over at a rest stop half a mile further on and slept in the can. I think that was the better choice, but I can't help wondering...

You want to write good fiction? Or tell good stories? Listen to songs. Find the ones that tell stories. Look at the way they pack their stories into just a few important words, how they rarify the essence of the tale and set it to music. It's not the only way, not the only thing, but if you're prone to Writing All The Words and Explaining Everything the way I am, it's surprisingly helpful.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Asking for what, exactly?

Tucker McCrady:
"I get pretty angry when someone suggests that women are 'asking for it' if they dress a certain way. And up until today, my outrage was mostly directed at the notion of “asking,” the notion that dressing a certain way is a request of any sort. People should feel free to dress however they want! But of course, our choice of dress does communicate things, and we all know that; we all have reasons for dressing one way on one day, and another on the next. Pretending otherwise isn’t quite exactly to the point.

"What is to the point, what really is outrageous, is the notion of 'it.' When people say women are 'asking for it' by dressing provocatively (whatever that means), the 'it' they are referring to is sexual harassment. Which, if you think about it, is saying that if you dress in a way so as to stimulate or invite sexual interest (which you are perfectly entitled to do), you are simultaneously asking to be sexually harassed...as though men just can’t be expected to worry their pretty little heads about the difference between sexual interest and sexual harassment.

"Which of course is the whole problem; men all too often don’t know or care what sexual harassment is, or at least not enough to not do it.

"If I ask for a pat on the back and turn so you can give me one, I suppose I am taking the risk that you might instead strike me so hard as to injure or even cripple me. But taking that risk is my business; if you do decide to crack my spine, it is beyond absurd to say that I asked for it. There is only one person to blame for an assault, a harassment, or even a professionally inappropriate expression of sexual interest that might be appropriate in another context. It’s the person who chooses to do it, not the person trying desperately to juggle risks in a screwed-up, misogynist world.

"So the next time someone refers to someone as 'asking for it,' ask them to clarify what 'it' means. My guess is they’ve probably never even thought about it."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Superhero Bar Stories: Most Surprising Power

Made it rain frogs? The guy actually made it rain frogs? Okay, right, that's surprising. And honestly, I don't know if I can beat it. But the most surprising power I've ever run into personally, well...

Picture the scene: Midtown Bank, down on Fifth and Ocean - you know it? Good. Okay, so, this is about two years back. Made the news and everything; you can look it up in the morning.

It was a bank robbery, is what it was. About eight guys, most with pistols or shotguns, plus one idiot with a grenade launcher. Yes, to rob a bank. Classic M79 - no idea where he got it. Anyway, they stroll in wearing their ski masks, wave their guns around and start yelling for everybody to get down on the floor. Which is basically what happens, except that one of the tellers manages to kick the silent alarm. So by the time they've got the money and are starting for the door, the first police units are pulling up outside.

So the robbers change plans. They close the doors and decide that everybody who was in there is now a hostage. A couple of them go around to cover the sides and the back, make sure nobody's getting out or coming in. If I'd gotten there just two minutes earlier I could have walked right in unnoticed, but by the time I arrived the place was closed up tight. And it's a bank, so it's not like anybody's going to leave a window open on the second floor or anything.

Well, the police settle in for a hostage drama, and I settle in with them. Captain Amazing shows up too, but he doesn't want to bust through the wall or even the windows. Too much chance of hostages getting killed. So we wait, while the negotiators do their thing.

And we wait.

And we wait.

And finally the bank robbers start getting impatient, and grab one of the tellers, march her right up to the front door, and threaten to shoot her if the police won't meet their demands.

That's when he moved.

You know The Viper? Yeah, well... apparently he banks at Midtown, when he's not on the streets. He'd come in just before close of business, just before all this went down, and he'd been waiting with the rest of the hostages. But I'm looking in the windows from a nearby rooftop, and while everybody's attention is on the robber and the hostage at the door, I see this one guy at the back just kind of... shift... into the biggest freaking snake I have ever seen in my life. And he slips around the robber next to him and starts squeezing. And he's fast enough to do it before the guy can say anything, and after that it's too late: the guys being squeezed too tight to breathe, much less yell.

Maybe half a minute later he slides away. I can sort of see the other hostages reacting, but... well... giant freakin' anaconda. Most of them just freeze, or maybe scoot quietly away. Maybe some of them were wimpering, but it wasn't loud enough to give him away. So he comes up behind the next robber, and it's the same thing again: a lightning-fast strike, and then he's coiled around the guy. And that's it for that guy.

He's almost to the next one when the guy happens to look around. Maybe he heard something; I don't know. But he looks back, and the snake rears up and strikes. I don't think it even bit him, just slammed its head into him and punched him straight back into the wall.

At this point, there's only two of them left in the main room. The other three are watching the back and sides. Well, these two open fire, and...

Nothing. The giant snake is either bulletproof, or close enough to it. And it's fast. It flows across the floor like a river of evil scales, slaps one guy down with its tail, and coils around the other guy. The hostage? The teller they were threatening to kill? She finally starts screaming. Fortunately, she starts screaming and runs out the door. Which means the rest of us can get in. Which means the robbery is effectively over, because the remaining three perps are all in different areas, and all well away from the hostages.

I talked to the guy afterwards, once he was a guy again. Nice kid, just... sometimes he's a giant, super-powered snake. And that was the most surprising superpower I ever ran into.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Cold War-est Book Ever To War Coldly

So, my dad is sorting out old books (many of them from my childhood), which mainly means putting them in boxes and letting us go through them. Some of them are classics; some of them are odd. I mean, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is a respectable title for any childhood library. I discovered (and found that I had fond memories of) Danny Dunn on a Desert Island, and passed it along to Firstborn, who also enjoyed it. On the other hand, some of them are just... kind of creepy. I'm still baffled by The Lemming Condition, for example. And only marginally less creepy is today's selection:

The Rescue
A Novel by Elizabeth Faucher
Based on the Motion Picture Written by Jim Thomas & John Thomas

"Now A Major Motion Picture from Touchstone Pictures," the cover proclaims proudly, disdaining any sensible rules for capitalization. (I have no memory of such a Motion Picture ever existing, but I'm sure it did.) But the real wonder of this thing is the summary on the back. The book was apparently published in 1988, which puts it firmly in the same era as Iron Eagle, and... well... just read it:
Their fathers are locked up in a prison camp behind the Bamboo Curtain. Their government has decided that it's too risky to attempt a rescue mission - it could lead to war. So now it's up to the SEAL kids - J.J., Shawn, Adrian, Max, and Bobby - to rescue their fathers and bring them back to freedom and safety.
That's right, kids: it's your responsibility to Save America by doing Something Insanely Stupid That Might Actually Cause A War Heroic. Yeah.

You go right ahead with that.

Man, I grew up in a weird era.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dear Diary: Camping

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Leaffall, Day 9

Deary Diary,

Well, I'm back. Dad decided that the whole family needed to go camping. Didn't even give us time to pack, just threw a few things in the cart and drove us out of town. And for NO REASON. The zombies were almost done cleaning up the house by the time Mom got home, and he didn't even stay around long enough to hear about Mrs. Fluffblossom next door.

Okay, so... I tried to summon a ghost back on Friday, and she trashed the house. Stupid ghost. So I called up a few zombies to help me clean up, which would have been fine except apparently the ghost wasn't gone yet. So the ghost kind of possessed one of my zombies and took off with it. In it. Whatever. And, of course, it staggered right past Mrs. Fluffblossom, who was probably trying to get close enough to see what all the noise had been without actually looking like she was spying on us. (She totally was, though.) So Mrs. Puffblossom starts screaming, and then the ghost steps out of the zombie and into her. So now the zombie is just standing out there on the sidewalk, and Possessed Mrs. Puffblossom goes racing off into town.

...And then Mom gets home and finds zombies cleaning her house. "Her" house, like none of the rest of us live there, right? But everything's pretty well put together, so mainly Mom's just yelling at me to get the zombies out of there, and then Gladwin walks in. She just looks around, says, "Huh," and then goes to her room and closes the door. Mom finally sits down at the kitchen table, and the zombies are finishing the last bits of cleanup, and that's when Dad walks in, looks around, and says: "Everybody in the cart. We're going camping."

Which... I can't even. Two days, Diary. Two days, in the woods, with my family. My face is sunburned, the back of my neck is one giant bug bite composed of many smaller bug bites, my ankles are itchy, my feet are sore, and my best black-and-red robe is torn up and stained with dirt and grass. They didn't even let me bring Fluffy, the one person in the family who might have actually enjoyed it. It's a good thing she doesn't need to eat, 'cause they just left her in the back yard. No crystal ball to watch my shows on, no mystic tomes to read. "Family time," Dad kept saying with a kind of manic gleam in his eye. "It'll be good for us. Get in the cart." So we're out there in the forest with nothing more than the clothes on our back, a deck of cards that's missing the Queen of Flames and the Jack of Shadows, and Mom keeps trying to get us to sing.

Necromancers don't sing, Diary.

Necromancers. Do. Not. Sing.

Not even if you tell them that they don't get to have cider with the rest of the family unless they sing. Not even then.

Then dad spends the rest of the time trying to get me to go out hunting with him. "Learn how to survive in the wild, son. There are roots and berries all through these woods, and if we can catch a couple of squirrels we'll have stew!" Yeah, no. I know Dad was a big deal in the outriders in his youth, and I know he wishes I could be more like him, but I'm not. And I've got more important things on my mind. I'd honestly prefer to just sit around the campsite and watch Gladwin play unwinnable games of solitaire.

Anyway, he finally did pack everything back up and take us back home, but... well, my weekend's gone, Diary.

The only upside was that I forgot to excant the zombies, so the house was really clean when we got back.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dear Diary: Poltergeist

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Leaffall, Day 5

Dear Diary,

Well, I'm in trouble again. And this time, I have to admit that it's actually kind of my fault.

I'm still trying to figure out how to summon ghosts. Well, actually... summoning them isn't the hard part. Keeping them around is harder, and binding them to my service is much harder. So the one I summoned last night, pretty much at random? Well, she hung around. Mainly, she hung around smashing stuff.

She trashed the house. Yeah. The whole house. While I was skipping school. And I really need to get it cleaned up before my parents get home. That gives me a few hours, but... I'd better get started. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Potion To See The Fey

Honey and spices; three tears from a writer or singer (one will do, but three is better); equal portions of dawn and dusk; a splash of whiskey poured across a golden spoon; and your favorite childhood memory. Stir it only with your breath, and drink it only by moonlight.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Nobody Wants It

Me: {Reading an email} "Seriously?"

My Boss: "What is it?"

Me: "This other department has sent over a list of items that they're getting rid of, in case anybody wants to claim them before they go to auction."

My Boss: "And?"

Me: {reading from the email} "As a note, none of the electrical items have power cables and the wireless mic/receivers are in an illegal bandwidth for US use."

Boss: "Seriously?"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tweet-length Halloween Poem!