Monday, December 31, 2018

Holy Poot

Well... we finished with Christmas, finally. Beautiful Wife's side of the family left town Saturday, after something like a full century of being here. Century? Maybe it was just a week. Whatever. That actually went really well, it was just exhausting. And I don't think any of us ended up with the plague, though it was touch-and-go for a couple of days in there. Then on Sunday, we did Christmas for my side of the family over at my brother's family's new house, so my side of the family was covered as well. And once again: good, but it probably would have been more enjoyable if we were all less completely exhausted.

It's New Year's Eve today, so naturally I'm at work. (I could have taken it off, but I honestly didn't realize we didn't get it as a holiday.) So, y'know, no rest for the wicked. Or the IT department, though I suppose that's much the same thing. I do have tomorrow off, at least, and it sounds like we're going to have the weekly Dungeons & Dragons game even though it's New Year's Day (or National Hangover Day, as I like to think of it). But I keep wanting to be able to take a few days off and just stop - and I kept thinking that would happen sometime during the holidays, but it never did.

Still... if I can make it through this week, I did take the first three days of next week off. That's when the boys go back to school, and this will help me get them back on track (and free up my Beautiful Wife to do some last-minute preparation for her next semester). Maybe I can finally get some emotional-recovery time in there, too.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Missed Connections: Just a Little Thing

You were the cool older boy, already in middle school and very much doing your own thing. I came in with your cousins, but of course you didn't want anything to do with me. You didn't seem to see me at all, in fact. I don't really blame you. I know I'm not the easiest to have around. But I don't think I can live without you.

Your cousins are on antibiotics now. My time is limited. So come back, please. Make contact. Let me nest in your throat and lungs and sinuses, creep into your guts and spread through your bloodstream. I know it won't be comfortable for you, but it's the only way I can keep going.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Yeah, no.

Still nothing. I have to be at work, I have to make sure the workflow is working as intended, but it's quiet and I'm taking advantage of the lack of distractions. If I could get that outside of work, it'd be really helpful.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


I've got nothing. Christmas went well, but it has drained me dry. Family is still in town, but I'm back at work, and I'm going to be behind on... everything... including the bit where we do the other side of the family just before New Year's.

The boys, at least, are happy.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Wait, Christmas is WHEN???

I just looked up and realized that Christmas is this coming Tuesday. How the HELL did that happen? I have watch Die Hard. I have to watch Rare Exports. I have to find presents... okay, got that part covered, actually.

Still... holy hell. Where did the year go? Where did December go? How can the days be sooooo looooooonnnnng and the months so short?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Music: Bad Bad News and also? It's the most ugh time of the year

Leon Bridges:

...I figured I'd put the music up here first.

It's nearly Christmas time. It's also the end of the semester, my wife is both wildly sick and trying to finish grading. (Like, she's so stuffy she can't breathe, she can't breathe so she's not getting enough sleep, she's got an infected finger that actually swelled up to the point of turning purple before she started putting an antibiotic cream on it. Now it's just half again its usual size and very, very red... which is actually a huge improvement.) But today is graduation and they've confirmed her seat like five times already, so she (feels she) has to attend.

...Which means that I'm the one who's going to end up calling the doctor for her, and seeing if her mother can pick up the boys after school (and if not, then doing it myself). It also means that I'm probably missing D'n'D again tonight.

The holiday season had actually been going pretty well this year, up until probably the middle of last week. Now it's... well, it's still not as bad as it's been some years, but it's definitely trying to collapse into the sort of horribleness we usually expect.

I hope the rest of you are all doing vastly better than this.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Weekends Aren't Long Enough

So, Firstborn had a school trip to Six Flags this weekend. Beautiful Wife went along as a volunteer/chaperone. Last year, I purchased tickets separately for myself and Secondborn, but Secondborn is still recovering from a tummy bug that tore through us last week and decided to stay home. I'm still not sure whether or not I'm disappointed about that, but I think it was a wise decision.

I think we've shaken off the tummy bug, but the entire family's still at least partly sick, in a probably-allergies, can't-breathe-through-our-noses sort of way. And getting everybody out of bed, fed, and out the door this morning seems to have used up most of my energy. Still, there's a solid day of work that needs to be done, and I'd better get started.

Weekends, as Secondborn has repeatedly insisted, are not long enough.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Music: Long Way Down

Robert DeLong:

Today's Advice: Don't get sick

Especially, don't get any sort of tummy bug. And if you do, make sure you don't pass it to your younger child. And if you do, make sure you and your beautiful wife don't have a bunch of meetings scheduled that you can't easily cancel.

I will note that this year has been a lot easier on us than any number of previous years in terms of people being horrifyingly sick, though.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Horoscope: Holiday Edition

This holiday season, give your guests what they really want: the flesh of their enemies, lightly seared in a nice soy-based sauce, with mixed vegetables and a spicy aioli dipping sauce.

The kids are about to be off from school. Take your heart and hide it, but be careful. Don't just put it in a jar or an animal. Hide it in layers. It needs to be hidden in a thing inside a thing inside another thing, or they'll find it. I'd specify, but -- they can read, too, you know?

So many relatives. So many humans making a claim on your bloodline. All because your daughter fell in love centuries ago, and bore a child. This isn't going anywhere useful, and if you let them persist then in a few years they're going to band together and take your magic for their own.

It's time.

Family activities are all well and good, but the dance won't come together if you don't feed them the elixir first. Mix it into the queso, the dressing for the salad, and the barbecue sauce. That should get everybody, but just to be sure make sure you dose the chocolate sauce as well.

This is a bad year for family gatherings, or for trying to heal that breach with the estranged branch of your family. Don't send any invitations, and leave town now. Otherwise you won't live past St. Stephen's Day.

The thing in the basement is hungry. It wants to share the season with you. It wants presents. Your entire extended family is coming over, and you know what their politics are like. Won't you make it happy this year?

This is the season for mending bridges and bringing people together. All together, their bodies writhing and twisting into a single colossal abomination ready to spread its tainted madness throughout the world, until it has absorbed every last individual being into one great collective mass. Get started.

Your plans at last come to fruition. Your holiday outlook is a formerly grand estate populated by nothing but the moldering corpses of those who thought they were untouchable.

It's your immediate family, and blood is thicker than water. Rip them apart, sparing only the ones who leap to help you with claws bared. Carnage is the only way to claim command of the pride and so show your worth. The throne awaits.

Those experiments you've been doing are illegal and immoral, but at least they're not *boring*. If your family stumbles on them during the holidays, make them part of your study. You'll thank yourself later.

Forget the visitors. Forget the guests. Focus only on the strange song that calls to you from the dark places between the stars. Let those strange verses fill your mind and guide your eyes... and your hands. Burn it all down afterwards to cover your tracks, as you seek the next revelation.

This year, why not consider an island getaway? Bring your friends and family down to the shore. Let them treat with us, and trade their seed for our strange treasures. Let the bloodlines mingle, and the town become isolated and strange. It's easiest this way.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Status Update plus Music: She Cries Your Name

It's been a busy weekend and I'm weirdly off-schedule and strung out, but that's kind of par for this time of year. The boys are about to be finished with school, Beautiful Wife is eyeballs-deep in finishing her grading for the semester, and I'm wishing I'd put in for some time off. (I am putting in for some time off in January when the boys go back to school, though.)

We went to go see the trains down at Northpark Mall on Saturday, and that was fun -- at least, the trains themselves were fun. I love all the little details in the landscapes, all the funny little Easter eggs that get put in the models. (I'd have some pictures to share, but I gave Secondborn my phone to play with on the ride down, and he left it in the car, so... no pictures.) Traffic was insane, parking was even crazier, and we timed it poorly enough that we wound up missing Firstborn's music lesson. Oh, and Beautiful Wife decided to come with us, which to my mind kind of defeated the purpose of the exercise (which was to give her some time with the house all to herself, because grading). Still, I think we handled it pretty well, it was just a lot more stressful than it should have been.

I still recommend seeing the trains if you're in the area, just not on a Saturday afternoon.

I'm so not ready to start this week, but here we are so here we go. I hope the rest of you feel more combobulated than I do.

Now, here's Beth Orton with a rather haunting little number:

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The sum of my life's wisdom

The sum of my life's wisdom, compiled:
  1. "I hope to God I'm making the right decision under the circumstances, but who the hell really knows?" is a succinct summary of the entire experience of being an adult.
  2. A big part of being a parent is never having time to just go hide in a hole and freak out.
  3. Parenting always comes back to the poop. It never really *stops* being about the poop, especially with pets. There is no escaping the poop.
  4. Frying pans without fires are few and far between. (I might have stolen that last one.)
This... this is the legacy and the lore that I will share with my children, and my children's children.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pet Health Update

So, the vet looked the cat Astrophe over and declared that as far as she could see, his only real problem was that he was constipated. He's been given some fluids and an enema. (If I have to know that, you do too.) We're basically supposed to keep him hydrated and dose him regularly with a little bit of Miralax.

So I did make the right call, which is a profound relief.

Also? Once again, parenting is all about the poop.

Pet Health Problems

I hate making decisions about elderly animals, and I especially hate that I find myself in a position where I have to weigh money along with love and even morality. (You should take the previous sentence as a trigger warning.)

Our one remaining cat is an elderly black-and-white tuxedo-kitty named Astrophe. I originally found him as a half-grown kitten under a bush in east Texas. He's been with us through two apartments, moving to a house, the arrival of Firstborn and then Secondborn, and their entire childhoods. (Firstborn, at the time of this writing, is twelve; Secondborn is eight. They are very attached to the cat.) He is sometimes an annoying kitty, as he's prone to meowing loudly in the middle of the night for reasons the rest of us can only occasionally decipher, but he's also very affectionate.

For about the last year, he's been showing his age: he doesn't move as fast as he used to, his legs don't always support him the way they used to, he sometimes has trouble pooping, and he's taken to a diet of easy-to-digest-for-older-cats kibble balanced with semi-liquid foods (gravy, bisque, and something labelled "wet cat treats"). When you hold him, he's all skin and bones, with only fur for padding.

And as of yesterday morning, he's also leaking. Specifically, he's leaking some kind of fluid from his butt. It looks watery, but with some blood in it. A bit of looking on Google suggests that it's probably an issue with his anal glands, which might be relatively simple to fix or might require anything from antibiotics up to surgery.

If it's surgery, or even expensive antibiotics, we can't afford it. If it's something else, or if he has other health issues as well, then... we very probably can't afford it.

Unfortunately, I need to be at work today and my beautiful wife is teaching classes and trying to wrap up grading for her semester, which means the only way to get the cat looked over immediately is to drop him off. The cat hasn't been out of our house in at least three years; leaving him at the vet is probably going to freak him out. But I don't want to wait until Saturday; waiting could easily turn a simple problem into a major issue -- plus, the vet would have less time to look at him on Saturday, even if we could squeeze an appointment in.

So, despite some serious misgivings, I've dropped the cat at the veterinary clinic and asked the vet to call me once she's had a chance to look him over and has some idea of what we may want to do next. I have no idea if that's the right decision, and I hate that feeling. And I hate the fact that Can we afford to have him treated? is such a big concern, even though the immediate follow-up question is Even if we can, are we sure we should?

It may very well be that we'll end up putting him down. He's a very elderly cat, and it might be kinder to him. But we'll have to see what the vet thinks, and if it does come to that we'll schedule it for a time when we can be there with him. And in the meantime I'll just keep reminding myself that I'm making the best choices I can with the information and resources I have, and that sometimes all you can do is try to find the less-bad outcome.

This would all be a lot easier if I could put Astrophe on my insurance alongside the boys.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Music: MainFrame

I'm going to be tied up with a software upgrade (on a test system, thankfully) all day, so in honor of my pain I'm going to share this song from the "Earworm" mission in the Claptastic Voyage DLC for Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel.

Sorry/Not Sorry.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Dallas World Aquarium

It's the beginning of December. Beautiful Wife is busy grading, and has thereby discovered her mutant power of being surrounded by spikes of spirit energy that stab anybody who gets too close or otherwise attracts her attention. She needs time -- and solitude -- so she can make some progress, but the campus is closed on Sundays and there aren't a lot of other places to go. What to do?

Well, for my part, the answer was "bundle both boys into the car and flee the house!" Only we needed to stay fled for, I don't know, at least five hours. Twelve would be preferable. So... where to go?

Yesterday's solution was the Dallas World Aquarium. The boys have been there before, but it's an amazing place to walk around and there's always something you didn't notice before. (Secondborn: "Look! I found a secret door!" ...Which the staff uses to access the cages, but yeah: pretty cool. Not nearly as funny as having a manta ray swim up behind him in the Great Glass Underwater Tunnel and scare him right off the ledge, but pretty cool.) (Firstborn, meanwhile, wandered around pointing things out to anyone who got in range like some sort of miniature museum guide: "Look! The vampire bats are cuddling while they hang from the ceiling. They're soooo cuuuute! Cuddle-bats! Look! Right up there!")

So, y'know, it went pretty well. And it did keep us out for a good five and a half hours, though some of that was travel time.

Anyway, next Saturday I'm taking them to the Dallas Zoo if the weather holds. I'm going to see if I can gather my father on the way, and if any of you who live nearby want to join us, well... drop me a line, we'll make an outing of it. (The comments here work fine, or if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you can send a message that way.) Being the crowd-averse person I am, I'll be aiming to get there when it opens at 9:00 a.m. so we can get started before it really fills up. (Or maybe, if the dark gods favor me, it won't fill up.)

Onward and upwards! Nothing but good times ahead!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Again? Again.

So I've been doing that thing where I stay up a little too late trying to get things done, don't get them done, and then stay up even later the next night trying to get them done. If this sounds like a vicious cycle leading directly to dangerous levels of exhaustion, then I salute you: you have a keen grasp of the obvious. Unfortunately, at least in my case, seeing it isn't tantamount to controlling it. Though, I don't know, I may be at least getting better at not staying up quite so late or letting myself get quite so tired.

Anyway: tonight we sleep, next week we do more writing. My goal for next year is to get at least one novel finished, cleaned up, and on track to be published. (Yeah, I realize it's a bit early for a New Year's Resolution. What can I say. I'm a rebel? Sure, we'll go with that.)

Anyway, I'm mostly typing this all up as a way of telling to myself, to remind me to actually follow through on it.

How're the rest of you doing?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Medieval Death Map

So... The University of Cambridge's Violence Research Centre has published a map showing homicide deaths in late-medieval London, as collected from the coroner's rolls. It's very, very cool.

My advice? Be careful who you insult, and stay out of Cheapside.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Music: You should see me in a crown

Billie Eilish:
(The video has spiders in it, so if you're phobic maybe switch the screen and just listen to the audio.)

(I grabbed this one because I like the song, but man... that video looks like she ought to be some sort of Game of Thrones character...)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Boys and DnD: The Ruins At The Back Of The Forest

"Two days later your arrive at the camp. It's a logging camp, so you've spent most of the last two days following a packed dirt road up into the hills. The hills have gotten steeper and the road has gotten more winding as you progress. It's late in the day and the woodcutters are just trooping back into the camp when you arrive.

The camp occupies a good-sized clearing and has obviously been here for some time; the buildings are wood, with solid walls and angled roofs which have been coated with some kind of bright-colored lacquer to make them weatherproof. The wood walls are less colorful, but they share a uniform golden shine that suggests some kind of care and treatment. All in all, it doesn't look like a bad place to work.

The troopmaster hurries over as the wagons pull up and stop. He's an older human male, with a large belly but solid, muscular shoulders. His head is bald, but a thick red beard falls to the middle of his chest. He recognizes lord Ardivil immediately, and offers respectful greetings."

The Camp:
"The buildings of the camp are even more comfortable than they seem from the outside. The woodcutters have clearly been allowed to decorate, and various scenes have been painted with various levels of skill on the inside walls. The woodcutters share a pair of large barracks-like buildings at one end of the camp, while the four overseers share a smaller building nearby. The troopmaster has a building of his own, an office with living quarters in the back. Cut trees are stored in a large, open-sided pavilion on the far side of the camp until they can be loaded onto wagons and sent back to the main warehouse in Stalmont. There is another large building that holds supplies and equipment, and in the center of the camp is the dining hall: a building every bit as large as the supplyhouse, with a wide covered porch along one side.

The woodcutters are mostly human, but you see a couple of elves, three gnomes, a single dwarf, and a giant half-orc who slouches along so as not to overtower his companions. Two of the overseers are human, while one is an elf and the last seems to be half-and-half. It's not immediately obvious how many are men and how many are women; everyone out here has their hair cut short, and their faces are dark and rough from sun and weather.

Lord Ardivil's arrival is greeted with excitement, especially since he's brought barrels of dried fruits and vegetables, wheels of cheese, and other niceties of civilization that aren't always available out here. A few of the woodcutters complain that they won't get to eat any of that until tomorrow, since dinner was already prepared, but even the complaints seem fairly good-natured.

Lord Ardivil and Expedition Leader Victoria will have the extra rooms in the overseers' building, while you and the drivers will be sleeping in the barracks with the woodcutters.

The troopmaster, whose name turns out to be Durrel, explains all this while he leads you into the dining hall and over to the food line, where you fill your trays and follow him to a table. Dinner is some sort of meat in a mild cream sauce, along with spearplant and dark bread. It's plain, but filling. As you eat, he explains how they discovered the ruins.

The dirt road that leads to the camp actually continues on the other side further up into the hills. Everybody assumed that was just for logging further back in, but a few weeks ago one of the gnomes got curious and on rest-day she and her friends decided to follow it as far as they could. Turns out the road goes all the way back to the edge of the mountains, and right there at the first big cliff there's another clearing with a bunch of big stone buildings. And there are rooms cut back into the side of the mountain. So they explored a little bit, wondering if maybe we should move the camp up there or use the ruins as a second camp. Well, word got around pretty fast when they got back, so I figured I should send a team up to really look around. And what they found was that the rooms cut into the mountain also have doors in back, doors that open into a kind of connecting hall. And that connecting hall leads back into a giant cavern further inside the mountain... and there's a whole city back there.

So we pulled everybody out, and sent word to the owners. It seemed like the smart thing to do. Bulora, the dwarf, tells me the stonework is very old -- but between being simple and solid, and having been out in the weather for centuries, she can't tell who might have built it. Laremin, over there -- the elf overseer -- led the search party, and after looking over the ruins he thinks there's an old stone road somewhere under the dirt road. He says that's why the trees haven't grown over it. And that's really all I can tell you about it."

In the morning the party and lord Ardivil walk the half-mile up the trail, and get their first glimpse of the ruins.

The buildings formed a rough half-circle out from the edge of the cliffs. Not much was left: just stone walls and paving stones, and even the paving stones were beginning to give way to the forest. Stray blades of grass had wedged themselves in between the stones, and here and there a stunted tree had forced its way up as well, shoving the stones aside. There was no sign of whatever furnishings the stone frames of the buildings must once have had: no remains of roofs, no frames for doors or windows in the openings in the walls. The insides had accumulated layers of windblown dirt and leaves along with a fair amount of moss and lichen, enough to allow the occasional patch of grass, single flower, or even a small tree in the corners of the buildings.

The party checked carefully, but found no sign of danger: nothing more than small forest animals around and the slowly-conquering plants. With the outer buildings explored, they checked the cliff-face openings. Most likely those were dwellings: the rooms were small, no more than twenty feet by thirty, but fireplaces and shelves had been carved out of the stone. And on the far side of the room was another doorway, which led to a small area that was probably used for storage, and then on to a cross-tunnel that led to the connecting hall that troopmaster Durrell had described earlier. The hall was strangely undecorated: the stone skillfully carved, but with no statues, no reliefs, no little flourishes in the stonework. Firstborn's paladin, Lithos, speculated that perhaps the walls had been covered in murals and they'd simply been covered by a layer of dust or faded away over time.

The connecting hall was forty feet across, with two rows of columns that marched back along its length. The party followed it to its end, where it emerged onto a broad balcony overlooking the underground city.

The city occupied the bottom half of a roughly spherical cavern, with rows of buildings marching down in steps to the bottom center. There was a larger structure down there, but between the distance and the darkness and the fact that everything here was the same color of stone it was hard to make out. The city wasn't completely without light, though: small, flickering lights drifted through the air of the cavern, shining and disappearing and shining again. From their place on the balcony, nobody could tell whether these were animals, spirits, or some sorcerous sort of lighting. The entire place was eerily silent; the only thing the party could hear was themselves. After a time, lord Ardivil suggested that they head back. The group agreed that it seemed safe enough to bring a wagon up to the outer ruins and establish a camp there, which could serve as a base of operations for exploring the city. They were an hour's walk from the logging camp, so they could always pull back if they discovered some danger.

...And that was where we left it. It wasn't the most exciting episode I've ever run, but all this is background and set up for the things that come next, which... well, our bold adventurers will just have to wait and see.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Parenting Quests

Me: "All right, I guess it's time to make breakfast for the boys. I'll scramble some eggs."

Gnomish old man by the stove: "To cook eggs, you will need a clean pan. Take this pan, find the legendary Sink of Dishwashing, and there you can turn this dirty pan into the clean pan you need."

Me: "Who are you and why are you in my kitchen?"

Gnomish old man by the stove: "Just go with it. Adventure awaits!"

Me: "Okay, fine."

::takes pan to the sink::

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Alas! The Sink of Dishwashing has been corrupted!"
Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Dirty dishes are everywhere and there is no room for cleaning pans!"
Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Can nobody save us from this doom?"

Me: "Who are you and why are you in my kitchen?"

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took an arrow to the flipper."

Me: "Okay, fine, whatever."

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Perhaps if some of these dishes were taken to Cave of Cleaning, there would be room to scrub your pan."
Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Also, the whole place would look a lot nicer."

Me: "Cave of Cleaning? You mean the dishwasher?"

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "I speak of a magical cave, from whence dirty dishes emerge... clean!"

Me: "That's a dishwasher. Okay, fine, whatever."

::opens dishwasher::

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the Cave of Cleaning dishwasher: "Greetings, and welcome to the Cave of Cleaning!"

Me: "Oh, dear ye immortal gods... Who are you, and what are you doing in my dishwasher?"
Me: "Also, how are you alive in there?"

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "I am the Keeper of the Cave of Cleaning."

Me: "Well, good. 'Cause I need to clean some things."

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "Sadly, we cannot help you this day. As you can see, the Cave of Cleaning is already full!"

::looks closer::

Me: "These dishes are clean."

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "Of course! For that is what the Cave of Cleaning is for!"

Me: "So really, all I have to do is put these away."

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "You would undertake such a quest? Truly you are a brave and gallant man."

Me: "Fine, sure, whatever."

::unloads dishwasher::

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "Behold! Our champion returns triumphant!"

Me: "Well, don't get too relaxed. I've got another load incoming."

::loads dishwasher::
::starts dishwasher::
::decides not to worry about what happens to the turtle when we reach the heated drying cycle::

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Joy and praise! We are saved!"

Me: "Yeah, fine, you're welcome."

::cleans pan::
::dries pan::
::sets pan on stove::

Gnomish old man by the stove: "I see you fared well on your quest! Congratulations and well done!"
Gnomish old man by the stove: "To scramble eggs, you must seek the Cave of Cold and retrieve eggs and possibly some grated cheddar."

Me: "Refrigerator. It's a refrigerator."

::opens refrigerator::
::spies anthropomorphic mouse in a little hat inside::
::closes refrigerator::
::sighs deeply::
::opens refrigerator::

Mouse in a little hat: "Welcome to the Cave of Cold!"
Mouse in a little hat: "All manner of wonders lie inside."
Mouse in a little hat: "But there are great dangers as well!"
Mouse in a little hat: "Dare you brave the depths?"

Me: "..."
Me: "..."
Me: "Who are you and what... no, never mind."

::grabs eggs and cheese::

Mouse in a little hat: "Bold and skillful!"
Mouse in a little hat: "At last, an adventurer worthy of the name!"

Me: "Yeah, I can lift a bag of shredded cheese in one hand. It's very impressive."

::closes refrigerator::
::scrambles eggs with cheese mixed in::
::sets food on table::

Me: "Boys! Come and eat!"

Boys: "Thanks! But why did it take so long?"

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Turkey

This is actually a very old picture (circa 2004) but as a bit of Thanksgiving dessert it was quite successful!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Time With Extended Family, a poem

Holidays are almost here

It's time to show your relatives how you've spread your wings

And how you've flared your spines

How you flex your talons

How you stoke the flames in your chest

Until they're ready to spill past your fangs and engulf everything around you

While you stand untouched by the inferno

And laugh

Or you could just stay home

And read a book

Perhaps a cup of tea?

Tea would be nice

After all, you don't owe them anything

There's no reason

To emerge from your lair

Unless you want to

Monday, November 19, 2018

D'n'D resumed! Political developments...

So last Tuesday we finally resumed the Dungeons and Dragons game that I've been playing in (as opposed to the one I've been running for my children, which has also been delayed but not as long). It's been at least six weeks, and apparently I missed the last game before the extended hiatus.

Our characters had located an ancient ruin in the desert, found our way inside, and successfully retrieved the Ancient Magical Siege Weapons - and then promptly had to use them to fend off a horde of attacking undead, because our bard has no sense of self-preservation and Touched The Thing when he shouldn't have. We'd used a portal to get inside, and it took some looking to find a way back out. Finally, though, we found a carved magical gate, which led us into another set of ruins and out into the crypts below a temple.

It was there we met a young sorceress, apparently mute, with a parrot for a familiar. She'd come into the crypts in search of something - treasure, probably, or maybe just mischief - and gotten trapped by undead. Once we established that we weren't undead and didn't seem likely to gnaw on her skull, she helped us find the way back to the surface.

This placed us firmly in a town whose name I've completely forgotten, but which is basically Sidequest City. And boy, have we done some side-quests. In no particular order:
  • We've looked over the local temple, where they worship a chaotic sea god.
  • We've figured out that the wizard who was selling dragon-protection potions was basically just scamming people.
  • The bard and my rogue/ranger helped the bard's most recent girlfriend break into the wizard's house in search of a magical treasure, which she apparently took for herself right before turning the wizard into a statue and leaving town.
  • We've gone in search of a missing sword, which was a wedding a gift for the local lord's also-missing son, found it, and returned it to the lord.
  • We've trapped and destroyed the vampire who murdered the lord's son.
  • We've been spying on another lord from nearby ("Naima" or something similar) as he coordinated with chieftains from the desert barbarians and the local bugbear tribes.

This is probably not the most efficient way to carry out our duties to the fort and its soldiery, but we kind of needed the time to figure out what to do on that front. The issue is that... well... we were assigned to bring the Magical Siege Weapons back to the fort for the Baron's use. The best way to get them out of the ruins would be to carry them through the magical gate. We don't want to do that while we're here, obviously, but the gate could be moved - except it's large, made of stone, hidden in a crypt, and not easy to either remove or to transport, even if nobody objected. So: sidequests, and looking for ways to ingratiate ourselves with the local lord, whose name is Crock or something like it.

Well, we're pretty ingratiated now that we've solved the mystery of his son's disappearance, returned the wedding gift, and avenged the son's death. So naturally the local lord invited us to a party at his manor. This required us to find dates - and not with other people in our party, either. About that, well... the less said the better. My skulking would-be Batman (ranger/rogue) wound up going with a sort of emo druid, for whom we also need to perform a sidequest.

Anyway, we arrived at the part, and not only was the local lord there, but among the various other notables was the villainous lord Naima (or however you spell that). During the mingling-before-dinner stage of the event, Naima stopped a couple of our party members and essentially offered them jobs. He was, he said, putting together an invasion, and the lord Crock had assured him that we were the sort of group that could get things done. With the bugbears and the desert tribes behind him, the fort would fall and he would be able to press into Sol Povos. This wasn't entirely new to us, of course. Not only had we been spying on them for the last week or two, but we'd actually invaded the guy's house on the suspicion that he was involved in the attacks on the fort. As soldiers in the border guard of Sol Povos, well... basically, part of the reason we were out here was to deal with the situation he wanted us to help him create.

Our bard mentioned that he'd heard some indications that the invasion was actually going to be a bluff, that lord Naima and his allies were likely to be sacrificed as part of some deeper plot (which is true), but lord Naima wasn't having it. He considered his victory inevitable. "It's too bad the Baron will have to die," he told us. "Still, his bloodline won't go to waste. I'll take his wife for my own, and each of you could have one of his daughters." The bard assured him that we'd think about it, and then everybody sat down for dinner. (Some of us in the main dining hall, some of us outside.)

Dinner was... interesting. Lord Crock had apparently had enough of Lord Naima, and began insulting him. He even asked our fighter, "Which daughter did he promise you, then?"

Our bard managed to defuse the situation before it got too ugly, but the villainous lord Naima stormed out of the room and went down to the wine cellar, where his bugbear ally was already fourteen bottles into his own celebration. This seemed to consist largely of lying on the floor with no pants on, drinking liver-killing amounts of wine, and singing off-key. The bard took that opportunity to step outside and bring my character up to date.

Vendril thought about all this for a couple of minutes, then excused himself from the emo druid and went inside. He stationed himself inside the house, at the top of the steps to the wine cellar. Below, he could hear lord Naima pacing back and forth and muttering things like "kill him... didn't need him" between snatches of drunken bugbear songs. By the time he came back up the stairs, Vendril had decided that Lord Naima was the sort of man who clearly needed a knife in his kidney, so I put one there.

By the time the dust settled, Vendril and the young sorceress had taken down lord Naima and the bugbear (who was fighting with a broken bottle and no pants), while the fighter and the cleric held off and eventually killed the two barbarian war-leaders. Lord Crock even heard enough to step in and get involved in taking out lord Naima. So at the end of the party, a big chunk of the visible leadership for the invaders was dead, our party was remarkably (and luckily) unscathed, and Vendril clapped lord Crock on the shoulder and told him that he threw the best parties.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Today's Horoscope

I was going to write about the last episode of the DnD game (the one I play in, not the one I'm running for the boys) but I was too tired. So, instead, you get today's horoscopes as I posted them on Twitter:

You'll discover an ancient manuscript hidden behind a false wall in the closet. If you decide to translate it, do *not* read any part out loud.

Today will be a day for resolving interpersonal problems. It'll be tricky, but you'll manage. Dishwashing detergent mixed with water will do better than baking soda to get the blood out of the carpet.

Pick your battles today. No, not those battles. That's a bad choice. Pick different battles. You really need to rethink this whole strategy.

Don't let anyone get their claws into you today. Get your claws into them instead. Use fangs if needed. And venom. Just go ahead and use as much venom as you need. You're a fearsome beast, so act like it.

You won't know if you're coming or going today. You *really* need to fix the oscillation modulator on your prototype teleportation pod.

Oh, you really shouldn't have done that. Just go back home now and find a place to hide for a while. It should all blow over in a few days, as long as nobody sees you.

Don't hide your flame under a bushel. Share it with the world. All the world. Watch it burn. Savor the inferno.

All you really need to know about today is that the idiot who cut you off in traffic this morning is going to get into a really bad accident going home. Also, you're welcome.

Great things are coming your way soon. They're bloodthirsty and really fast. You should really start running. Now. Water will throw them off the scent.

Check the wards on your home, and keep some ash and oak nearby. You're going to need them.

Following the left wall won't work. The maze keeps changing. It'll only let you out if you coax it, so just keep talking about how cool the place is while you make your way along.

Today will bring an end to strife, and possibly all life on the planet as well; make sure your shelter is fully stocked, and you don't need to make a last-minute run for whiskey or chocolate.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones: First Period

Kate was almost to her next class when Kisha stepped out of the bathroom, stopped abruptly, and gave her almost the same look that Julian had. She slowed, stopped, and returned the girl's regard. "Yes?"

"Girl..." Kisha drew the word out, then stopped and said, in a clipped, precise, academic accent: "What have you done?"

Kate opened her mouth, closed it again, then made herself take a breath. "Okay," she said. "I know you aren't working with Julian, so what the hell is going on? Why do you guys keep staring at me?"

Kisha stopped, eyes wide and head slightly turned. Then her eyes narrowed, and she grabbed Kate's hand and pulled her into the bathroom. Kate didn't fight it; privacy suddenly seemed like a very good idea.

When the door swung shut behind them, Kisha stepped back and looked her over. "You're... more than you were yesterday. And it wasn't one of those half-assed white-boy rituals that Julian and his friends with Families are so proud of, either."

That was when everything fell into place. "Oh, shit," said Kate, stepping back and leaning against the wall. "There was a shadow in my brother's room. He's afraid of the dark, and it kept coming back, and he was waking up. He was waking us up."

Kisha looked puzzled. "So you...?"

"I got tired of it. I told it to stop bothering us."

Kisha's eyes widened. "You took it into you."

Kate nodded warily.

"That's..." Kisha shook her head. "You've got some balls, girl."

Kate shook her head and looked away. "I was just frustrated and angry."

"...But you must have walked into the dark. You must have spoken with it. It must have understood you."

Kate stopped, frozen by the memory, and felt the shadow raise itself to look out through her eyes again. It curled around her spine, wary and interested, then withdrew. "...Yes," she said, when that moment had passed.

"And Julian noticed too? Dismore?"

Kate nodded uncertainly.

Kisha let out a breath, eyes narrowed. "Maybe we can confuse him. Get to your class, I'll find you after."

Kate nodded, turned towards the door, and then turned back. "Kisha?"

The other girl looked at her. "Yeah?"

"Thank you."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fluidized Sand

It's been a while since the Mad Scientist has checked in, but here's a bit of coolness in case you've been missing it:

This was the genesis of Firstborn's Science Fair project. If you listen carefully, you'll hear the guy in the video say something like, "We went through about twenty-five versions before we got it to work." Annnnnnnnnd, yeah, that sounds about right. Sheesh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Urgle Blarg

Who am I, again? What was I doing? What century is this anyway? Does anybody here remember my name, and if so could you remind me what it is?

This morning was seriously like:

...Except I don't get any cool transformations out of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Send Whiskey, STAT

We're attempting to deal with the underlying intestinal issues that resulted in Secondborn having hernia surgery back at the beginning of the summer. This involves the child drinking a very great deal of some of the foulest-tasting medicines imaginable. And if there's one thing an eight-year-old boy wants to know when he finds himself in such dire straits, it's that someone else is suffering as he suffers. On this day, his mother is the chosen sacrifice. She, too, is Taking The Medicine. She, too, partakes of the suffering.

I, meanwhile, have had to pop into work twice because the automated job I'm running to clean up my database and make it run better is also locking people out of the database and making it (effectively) not run at all, at least until I go in and reset the connection. Which means I've got to find a better way to do this, because there is literally never a time when we have nobody in the system. This, however, is more of a practical annoyance and an existential worry; what's killing me right now is Firstborn's Science Fair Project, which is due Tuesday, and which has been "almost done" for perhaps four weeks now.

"Almost done" (for those of you who aren't parents or are otherwise unfamiliar with the phrase) means "we've got some of it put together but we haven't tested anything, and it's almost certainly not going to work the way we want it to, but we really don't have time to rebuild it from the ground up." In this particular case, it also means that I keep moving the thing outdoor to test it, then back indoors because I can't be sure that it isn't going to rain. This would all be much easier if I had an unlimited budget and a team of engineers and craftsmen under my direction. I'd look like a fucking genius if I had an unlimited budget and a team of engineers and craftsmen under my direction. Instead, I have a recalcitrant twelve-year-old, a lot of pvc, an air pump, some sand, a hot glue gun, and the rapidly receding hope that all this will somehow come together into a working fluidized sand bed.

Don't send hopes and prayers.

Send whiskey.

(I'd hoped to crank out a few more pages of story this weekend, but... no. Just, no. But that's okay, I'm not bitter.)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Human Nature

I'm beginning to think that a surprisingly large number of problems in our society actually boil down to the fact that a large percentage of the population can't tell the difference between Decisive Leadership and Basic Assholery.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Post-Midterm Elections Hot Take

Well, we didn't blow up the Death Star last night. At least, I wouldn't read it that way. But then, that was always a longshot - you know, like trying to hit a thermal exhaust port that's only two meters wide with proton torpedoes while engaged in a dog fight with Imperial Tie Fighters.

What we did do, I think, was more on the order of sabotaging the Imperial shipyards. And if we can halt production there, then that sets us up with more of an advantage for the next big battle.

This election was never going to fix everything. There is no quick fix for this. Where we are now? It's the culmination of years (and in some areas, centuries) of people gimmicking our political system. It's going to take years to try to fix, and if the best we can do right now is put the brakes on some of the worst abuses, well...

It's a start. And it's a start worth celebrating.

So we take what we got. And then we get back to work.

Sometimes the best you can do is rescue your friends and get the hell out of Cloud City. We did a lot better than that.

And... if you don't find me encouraging enough? Read this whole thread. Fewer Star Wars references, but a good look at where we are and why even the losses matter.

Martha Wells also has an excellent take (which I fully agree with) on why she's sick of people blaming Texas for remaining weighted-Republican. Texas actually did pretty well, under the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The thing about victory... that even if we get a victory, we're not done.

You don't get to just blow up the Death Star and go home. That's the kind of thinking that gets you frozen in carbonite. I mean, sure - stop and celebrate. If we pull it off, we'll have put a big damper on the Empire's ability to just go around blowing up planets. But they'll still fall back on fleets and stormtroopers and Imperial bureaucracy. We'll still need to keep working to minimize the damage that they're trying to do.

They're not going to stop. Even if we do blow up the Death Star -- and that's not even remotely guaranteed -- they're just going to try to build another one. So we have to stick with it. We have stay organized and keep up the opposition. (And we can't keep expecting the murder-bears of Endor to save us, either.)

So get out there and vote today, but be ready to keep at it tomorrow (or day after, or the day after that -- it's okay if you need a bit of a rest after all this).

(I mean, we all know perfectly well that Luke and Han and Chewbacca all went down to the cantina and got thoroughly drunk and then slept for like fourteen hours after they got back to the Rebel base, right? There was some serious recuperation time between Blowing Up The Death Star and the Victory Awards Celebration.)

Still hiding...

...Here's hoping we'll turn a corner, and even if it doesn't make everything right again we can at least slow the collapse.

Meanwhile, if you want a reasonable summary of where a lot of people I know seem to be right now, have read through Lilith Saintcrow's Let Me Be Wrong.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones: Back at School

"Oh hey! How are you..." Julian hesitated. "Wait, are you new here?"

Kate stopped, turned, looked at Julian with quiet deliberation. "We've been in school together since third grade. You spent most of fifth and sixth grade trying out charms to trip me, make me stutter, undo my bra, or take my voice. Or, you stole my books. Last year in Geometry we swapped tests for grading, and when I handed yours back you put an acne curse on me because I pointed out that you'd done half the problems wrong. Why are you even talking to me?"

Then she put a hand over her mouth. She couldn't believe that she'd just said that. She'd only barely even articulated it to herself; she certainly hadn't readied any kind of rehearsed speech on the off chance that one of her tormentors suddenly and unwisely decided to treat her like a human being.

"I'm sorry," said Julian, stepping back. "I didn't mean... It's just, you've..."

Kate stared at him, genuinely puzzled.

"You're an initiate," he said. "I thought you belonged to one of the Families."

Julian was a Dismore, part of a sprawling semi-aristocratic family that featured a number of remarkable sorcerers, and a great many lesser talents. The bully's arrogance didn't just come from being born to power; his family also had wealth and connections to ensure that the consequences of his behavior were never too severe. Saint Ann's was supposed to be an egalitarian school, where the brightest students would learn everything they could regardless of their background, but sorceries were still the closely-guarded secrets of the various High Families. They weren't taught in schools, and knowing them still set someone like Julian apart. So this was just some new prank, some odd and juvenile attempt to make her think that somehow things had changed.

"You know that's not true," Kate said evenly. "I'm not a name. I don't belong to a Family. I'm just one of those people you step on, on your way up. Why are you even talking to me? Don't you have better things to do with your time?" The anger felt good, cleansing and righteous, and she stepped past him and walked on to her first class.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

DnD & Boys, New campaign 2: Travel is Murder

Last weekend, the boys started their first adventure in the new campaign. I will note for the record that the boys are twelve and eight years old, so we're good for about an hour before Secondborn's attention span runs out. But, as it turns out, that's a fine length of play for a Sunday morning.

I began by reading them the introduction, then had them explain why their characters had decided to accept Lord Ardivil's offer.

Lithos, Firstborn's human paladin, signed up to gain experience and for the greater glory of his order. He's there to protect people and make sure things get done right.

Legacil, Secondborn's elvish druid, wants to explore this strange new place and see if there are any forgotten people still living there.

Nistril, my half-elf rogue, is looking to escape his life of crime, so the the opportunity to earn pay as a professional explorer intrigued him.

In addition to those three, the initial expedition includes Lord Ardivil himself, the expedition leader Victoria, and three drivers -- one for each wagon. Lord Ardivil is only a minor noble; he's actually better known as a scholar, but he has enough money and backing to put the expedition together. He plans to write fascinating historical monographs on his discoveries, and possibly found a museum. Victoria is trained as a fighter, but her primary job is to keep the caravan organized: make sure the wagons are properly loaded and in good repair, oversee the drivers, keep track of food and supplies, and generally handle the logistics.

The expedition follows the trade road towards the inland city of Dravish for the first two days, then takes a turn-off onto a clay road that heads back into the hills -- a route mostly used by loggers and the occasional hunter or trapper. They are camped for the night when a group of brigands appears and demands the horses and wagons.

The group of bad guys consist of three warriors (stats), plus a human wizard and a halfling sorcerer (both quick-generated here).

As the drivers try to take cover behind the wagons, the paladin stands up and charges forward, putting himself in front of everybody else. That takes care of the surprise round. We roll for initiative, and (not terribly surprising, end up with the following sequence: Nistril, Lithos, Evil Wizard, Legacil and his wolf, brigand warriors, and Evil Halfling Sorcerer. The half-elf rogue goes first, and darts away from the fire to disappear behind one of the wagons. The paladin finishes moving in and attacks, felling one of the warriors with a mighty blow. The Evil Wizard casts Magic Missile, and does some damage to the paladin. The druid promptly drops Entangle on the brigands, rather effectively holding them in place, while his wolf races up and rips out the throat of a second warrior. The remaining warrior tries to free himself from the grasses, vines, and branches wrapping around him, but fails. Finally, the halfling sorcerer decides against trying to cast a spell and throws Alchemist's Fire instead, singing the wolf.

The rogue comes around the side of the wagon, and throws a dart at the halfling sorcerer. It hits, but doesn't kill him. The wizard is too far back for the paladin to get to him, so he steps into the Entangle spell (and makes his save, so he can still move) and cuts down the remaining warrior instead. The wizard finds that he's already used up his best spell, so he casts Frost Ray at the paladin... which hurts a bit, but not enough to make the paladin do anything except look at him like, "Really, dude?" (The wizard, as a free action, responds with, "Uh oh.") The druid moves forward and readies his sling, but doesn't have a chance to attack. The halfling sorcerer decides that they're in real trouble and tries to cast a spell, but he's thoroughly entangled at this point and fails his concentration check.

The rogue throws another dart and finishes off the halfling sorcerer. The druid decides that it's time to dismiss his Entangle, and stops the effect. The wizard promptly throws his arms up and yells, "I surrender!"

"Bring him to me," commands Lord Ardivil.

So the characters promptly marches the wizard over the aristocrat. "This seems an odd place for brigands," he observes. "This isn't a trade route, and there aren't any towns nearby."

The wizard promptly explains that they were hired to stop the caravan, steal the wagons, and leave Lord Ardivil stranded. The rest of the group didn't matter; they could be killed or spared as the brigands preferred.

So who hired them? A tall, lean man, respectably dressed and wearing a mask. He had a particular way of moving his hands when he talked. He hadn't given a name.

Lord Ardivil nodded anyway. "Benthis," he said. "I'd bet money on it. He's a steward for Lord Hallorand. My friends, it seems we have a rival."

...And on that dramatic note we promptly stopped the game and sent everybody off to fidget elsewhere. Because there was definitely fidgeting going on at the DnD table.

Overall, though, I'm really pleased. Secondborn likes his character -- the druid was a really good choice for him -- and I think Firstborn will make a surprisingly good paladin. We have a basic plot and an opening event with the promise of more conflict, and as long as we keep the sessions short I think I can even keep up with running the game. Hooray!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

I was going to post a bit of fiction, but I got a bit carried away and I think I need to do something else with the bit I was writing. I don't know. I also need to get a good night's sleep and read over it again. Tonight, however, there will be costumes and candy along with ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, not to mention a lot of updating things and tweaking other things at work. So we'll be back tomorrow with the riveting tale of the first episode of the boys' new Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and in the meantime I hope everybody enjoys my favorite holiday!

Run from the zombies!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Missed Connections: Riverbed

You were the young man in the inner tube. I was the soft touch against your legs underwater. I tried to meet you, but you kept kicking your feet and shaking me off. You should have let my gentle tendrils wrap around your legs. You should have come down. The bottom of the river is so warm and dark and cozy at this time of year. You should have been part of me. I know you're busy now, but maybe we can meet again next summer?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Music: Raymond Chandler Evening

Music by Robyn Hitchcock:

...I think this one requires maybe a little more explanation than usual. I first encountered the song as lyrics; they were included in The Crow -- not the movie, but the comic. So when I recite it to myself, it's something closer to a forceful poem than it is to a song (as it will be here). But it sticks with me, you know? "...And I'd like to reassure you, but I'm not that kind of guy." Yeah. First time I read that, I felt seen.

Friday, October 26, 2018

DnD Boys, New Campaign 1: The Introduction

I'm starting a new campaign for the boys, because I kind of let the other one die of ennui. Well, that and lack of planning. This one at least has a definite direction. So here's their opening:

The city of Stalmont begins at the foot of the great mountain, and climbs the steep slopes to the Royal Citadel at the peak. Dwarves work their mines and make their homes deep in the mountain itself, while humans and elves, halflings and halfbreeds make their homes in the walled tiers of the outer city. At the foot of the mountain, the city sprawls out in a disorganized slum, cut through with the stone-paved trade roads but otherwise changing constantly. To the south, just outside the city, a cluster of gnomish burrows forms a sort of suburb. The valley floor to the south and east spreads out into the farms and orchards and small villages that supply Stalmont with food and raw materials, which the artisans and crafters convert to finished goods.To the north lie the foothills that hold vineyards and herders, and beyond them the old forest that supplies the city's timbers. A wide tunnel through the base of the mountain connects Stalmont to the docks of Tradeport, which sit on the edge of the Inland Sea.

Recently, the merchant-noble Ardivil has put out a call for adventurers willing to explore strange and possibly dangerous places. His workers, it seems, have uncovered the ruins of an ancient civilization in the caves of a nearby mountain, and he wants explorers to examine the site before he risks a full expedition. Each of you, for reasons of your own, has decided to sign up. The money is good, it's a chance to escape Stalmont, and how dangerous could a deserted city be anyway?

The boys have already created their characters. In a bit of a dramatic shift, Firstborn is playing a Paladin -- he wanted a combination of hitting things and healing. Secondborn, meanwhile, has taken over the position of Druid, mainly so he can play a wolf as well. He was very insistent about his character's origin, though: apparently he found an ancient statue, and it gave him Druid Powers. I'm throwing in a DM's character as well -- something I normally wouldn't do, except that it's hard to cover the bases with just two players. So my character will be a half-elf street rat (rogue) who will pivot to Wizard after third level. (He has a sort of mentor figure who's a mid-level wizard, who's been training him.) Beautiful Wife might join in, but I'm not really expecting that and we haven't made a character for her yet.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Music: I'll Kill You That Way

Ladies and Gentlemen and sundry nonbinaries and anyone else: I give you the Slashstreet Boys:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Missed Connection: Ankles

You were the small child up above. I was the thing in the darkness down below. You had the covers over your head, so of course I couldn't see you.

But then you stirred. I felt the bed move above me. You were getting ready to throw the covers back. You were getting ready to move.

I was waiting. I knew where you'd go: the bathroom. Where else would you go in the middle of the night? And you must have badly needed to get there. I had my arms out, just under the edge of the bed.

But you didn't put your feet on the floor. You jumped to the chair, and then all the way to the bathroom door. And then you turned on the light, and oh how it burned.

And the next night, you were gone. It was just a sleepover at your grandparents' farm. But I want you to come back. You have those lovely, delicate ankles... and I have the these long arms and these long, curling fingers, perfect for wrapping around them. Sleep above my bed again. Put your feet on the floor this time. I am so, so sorry that we didn't get to meet properly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones

Kate stirred on her bed and sat up. Her brother was screaming again, but then he was only twelve and he was still afraid of the dark. She waited for the sound of panicked footsteps, then the creak of her parents' door as Ben threw it open.

Finally, she put her feet on the floor and crossed her room, eased her own door open, and stepped out into the hall. This latest round of night terrors had started three weeks ago, and nobody in the house had managed an uninterrupted night's sleep since it began. At this point, Kate wasn't even scared; she was just fed up. She was sixteen years old, and she liked sleeping.

She could hear voices from her parents room behind her: her brother's terrified description, her mother's soft reassurances, her father's firm encouragement. None of that was worth her time. Instead, she walked down the hall and through her brother's open door.

The boys room was dark, far darker than it should have been. Shadows lay heavy along the walls, spread out from under the bed. They covered the toys on the floor and the posters on the wall. They had even swallowed his Legend of Zelda nightlight, which stood a foot high and was always on. It should have been filling the room with a soft blue glow, but the darkness had taken it. Kate frowned. Did we lose power? No, a soft orange light shone like a banked coal from the top of her brother's desk, where his tablet was plugged in and charging.

"What do you want?" she asked, and took another step into the room.

A shadow stretched across the wall, spread over the ceiling.

"I'm serious," she said. "I'm sick of you waking us up like this. Tell me what you want, or go away."

Something brushed her leg, curled briefly around her ankle. Kate snorted and stepped out of it. "If you could snatch people away, you'd have done it by now. Stop it."

This time the shadow seemed to rear up in front of her, extending to touch her hand and cover her ears. There were no words, but she suddenly had a nightmare sense of cold, darkness, hunger, fear. Lost...

"Are you..." she hesitated. "Are you looking for a home?"

It reached out to her again, wrapped around her hand, and pushed a little way into her wrist. She understood it the way she understood things in dreams, facts accepted without reason or analysis. It wanted to be part of her. It needed an identity, more than a location, to call home.

"All right," said Kate. "You leave my family alone, you let us sleep at night, and you can come be part of me."

There was a momentary hesitation, then the world went dark and cold and silent.

When the moment passed, Kate realized that her father was standing in the doorway behind her. The Legend of Zelda nightlight bathed the room in its soft blue glow again.

"Anything?" her father asked softly.

Kate turned to him. She felt the darkness move inside her, leaning up to look out through her eyes. "Nothing," she said. "You can tell Ben the darkness is gone. He can come back to his bed." She shook her head, lips curling with exasperation. Ben could have done this himself, could have taken the darkness for his own. Boys... "I'm going back to sleep now."

Her father hesitated, then stepped back. "All right." Kate went past him out the door, and back to her room, and the darkness went with her. It stayed inside her, though, content with its place in the depths of her bones, and when she pulled the covers back over herself she felt it relax the same way she did. No, this wasn't so bad. She might even be glad to have it.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Missed connection: Fire

Okay, so, here's the thing: I think I need you to help me prevent the opening of the Great Seal and the end of all life on Earth.

It was last Tuesday, about seven o'clock in the evening. We were in one of those restaurants on the east side, the kind that has a central fireplace behind a metal grate. I was there with my parents, but honestly we probably just looked like a trio of college students. You were at a table by yourself, but every time you looked at the fire the flames bowed and the light dimmed. And every time I looked at it, it roared back up. By the end of the night we were both staring at it, and occasionally sparing glances for each other.

My parents basically dragged me out of there, because Frost and Flame don't mix -- except when they do, and I think maybe we did. So find me. It might be important. It might be more important than anything.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Missed Connections: Magician

We're thirty minutes into this birthday party, nobody's served food yet, and the other parents are starting to look pretty tasty when you show up: the entertainment. This family has hired a stage magician to entertain their third-grader and his friends. So there you are, and there I am. And then you started your performance, and it was excellent. Except...

I saw that card fall out of your sleeve, land on the floor, and then jump back in a moment later. It would have been a grand bit of stagecraft, but nobody saw it except me. Or the bit where you held out a coin and then pretended to pull it out of the birthday boy's ear. Nobody but me saw you hold it out. They all thought your hand was empty. And then the birds that came out of your hat? The ones that nobody had to chase out of the house later? That was the one that really gave it away.

I gave myself away too though, didn't I? I looked at something I shouldn't have been able to see once or twice too often. And then you started looking at me. And then the show was over, and you left before I could catch up with you.

Well... I guess by now you've figured out what I am. I want you to know that it's not what it seems. If you want to know more, look me up. You're a lousy magician, but you're a very impressive sorcerer.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Holy Crap Sunday: A Recap

So Sunday was... fraught. (Interesting word, fraught. It's derived from "freight". Something that's fraught is carrying a lot of freight, usually -- the way we use it now -- in the form of emotional baggage.)

It stopped raining shortly after I got out of bed (a solid seven hours of sleep that I could easily have doubled except that my life hasn't worked that way in decades), so in keeping with our current policy I pried the boys away from their video games and took the whole family on a walk around the block. Well, the whole family except for the cat; kitty don't go on walks. Kitty's a hardcore napper. But I digress.

As soon as we got back from the walk, we all piled into my car and I took us to the donut shop, because boys who have been on walks are eager for donuts.

That left me enough time to scramble some brunch: hamburger, bacon, Colby-Jack cheese, garlic salt, and eggs. Sort of like an omelette, except it was more of a splat -- but again, I digress.

I finished eating, and we emptied out the back of the van and ran off to purchase a new treadmill. It turned out to be a bit larger (and nicer) than we expected, but the van has a lot of storage, and we managed to make it work.

(There's a story there. A while back, we changed Secondborn's room into an exercise room. He'd been doing most of his sleeping on the lower bunk in his brother's room, and we needed a way for the boys to exercise inside the house. So, the exercise room acquired a treadmill, a television, a small trampoline, and Firstborn's laptop, which was plugged into the television. The rule was that you could only watch YouTube videos on weeknights if you were active on the treadmill. Unfortunately, on weekends Firstborn liked to play games on his laptop, and he got in the habit of sitting on the front of the treadmill while he was doing so. The eventual result of this was that the front pinched the track while the treadmill was trying to run, and when it couldn't turn it burned out the motor. Around this same time, Secondborn started complaining about not having a room of his own, and asking us to put a bed back in there. So... the arrangement didn't last, but when it was working it worked brilliantly. Anyway, the dead treadmill left, Secondborn got his room back complete with a new bed, and this treadmill represents the second iteration of this cunning plan.)

So: we bought a new treadmill and brought it back to the house. It turned out to be nicer, newer, and bigger than the last one. It also turned out to be bigger than our front door. Or any other doors, for that matter. (Beautiful Wife: "I have made a terrible, terrible mistake.") So I spent the next half an hour disconnecting the very-prominent control panel section so that we could lean it against the tread and maneuver (read: manhandle) the whole thing through the door. In the process we discovered that our Very Elderly Cat had pooped just inside the back door; fortunately, the boys were helping us out and Secondborn cleaned that one up. And then I spent the half-hour after that figuring out how to get the control panel slotted back into place. And immediately after that, I discovered that Very Elderly Cat had also thrown up in our bedroom.


By now it's after 1:00, and I still have some errands I need to do. The first is to check on a maintenance job I left running on a SQL server at work. I started it right before I left work on Friday.

It's still running.

This is, for a variety of reasons, not optimal. Not only is that a long time for a job to run, but it means that two other jobs have kicked off, run simultaneously with this one, and finished -- one on Saturday night, one early Sunday morning. Also, this process locks various tables while it works on them, so while it doesn't take the whole system offline it can cause some really ugly delays. If our departmental politics were less fraught than they are right now, I'd say that this was all part of the troubleshooting process. As it is, well... I'd really hoped to have all this cleaned up by now. And now I have to remote in and check on the benighted thing every so often so I can see when it finishes.

After that, well: groceries. Because people (and cats) still need to eat. Once I had everything I needed, I headed back to the house and put it all away.

And then, finally, I got to take a hot bath and read for a while.

Gentle readers, it was amazing.

There are still things that need to be done. Beautiful Wife is off to a girl's night out, so I'll be the one putting the boys down. That's not as big a deal as it might be, because that's usually my job anyway. I need to get more lines in on the Beauty and the Beast/Heroes Are Assholes story, but it might be better to sleep first and get up extra early to work on that. And there's always more reading lined up and waiting for me. But I think I might actually have adulted my way through this long damned day.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Missed Connection: A Message In Ogham Found Carved On A Stone In Wales

It was a great party, wasn't it? Everybody was there: the king, his knights, all those courtiers... and you, clearly a magician, respected by all despite your half-human bloodline. I tried to catch your eye, but you were focused on that water-sprite instead. And when I tried to look you up afterwards, well... Nowhere to be found. "Trapped in a tree," I was told, or maybe it was a cave, or a stone, or an unseen tower. Talk about missing your chance...

Well, the party's been over for centuries now, and I'm leaving this stele at the spot where that famous table once stood. I think if you ever escape, you'll come here first. It's barely even a ruin anymore, but you'll find this if you look. And you'll know I looked for you. My brother's gone, his kingdom fallen to less than ruins, but you can still find me on the Isle of Apples if you care to look.

I'll be waiting.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Halloween Short Story: Awakening

I should never have opened the book.

My fingers bleed. They color everything I touch. But when I touch things, I can feel all the way through them. I can trace their shapes from the inside.

My eyes are burned away. They were so limited. They only saw colors, shapes, movements, distances. I can see everything now.

My feet... I remember having feet. No longer. I am wherever I desire to be, however I wish to be. Gravity is no longer my master. Distance was a failure of perception.

My body...

My body... becomes...

As does my mind.

I have no fear of this apocalypse. It is not mine, but I am a part of it, at home in it, satisfied by it. It nurtures me, fulfills me, and strengthens me.

These great beasts? They come against me. They come against us, and our world.

I devour them.

When they are gone, when the world in all its madness and tragedy is preserved, well...

What happens then? What will I do?





I do not shape the end of things, the end of myself. It hangs before me, half-seen, calling me, pulling me on.

I do not shape it.

It shapes me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Missed Connection: Statuary

You were at my sister's gallery. You looked at the statues and remarked on their realism. My sister guided you around in her mirrored sunglasses and hijab. I was back at the register, too shy to speak, but you glanced my way several times. My sister started to take her glasses off, but your phone buzzed and you left just after.

I'd like to see you again. Most people who come to the gallery never look at me, not really. And since you gave your name as Percy, I think we might have things to talk about.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Classic Fantasy Tropes: Soul-Devouring Sword

Tired: The hero has claimed the most powerful magic sword in the realm for his own. It eats souls.

Wired: Actually, it ate one soul and felt really guilty about it and now it doesn't want to cut its way through armies, destroy legendary monsters, or change the fate of empires.

Inspired: The sword is now inhabited by the soul of Hap, a forty-year-old career soldier who would rather be playing dice and will happily dispense advice on how to avoid dangerous situations. Hap will also explain to the hero, cheerfully and at length, how best to spend his money, why he should just turn in and get a steady job, how much better things were in Hap's day, why you can't trust merchants, and the vital importance of owning a Shar-Pei.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Missed Connection: Human Scents

Last Thursday, just past midnight, under the moon. You were the handsome kit with the silvery back and the black-tipped tail. You smelled just enough of human things to tell me what you really were. I was the red with the pointy ears. We were interrupted, and you led the hunters away before I could introduce myself. If you survived, I'd love to meet you again with our skins on.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Music: Zombie Love Song

Your Favorite Martian:

Missed Connection: Knocking, Rattling

You were the young woman in apartment 31: black hair, dark skin, and the most beautiful brown eyes.

I was the soft footfall in the hallway, the late-night rattling of cupboards, the persistent chill in the air, and the empty corner your cat kept staring at.

You don't know me, but I'm begging you: move back in. Let me haunt you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Rebuilding / Retuning

I've created a new bedtime schedule for us, partly because Secondborn has been having some issues recently and partly because I have this growing fear that the year is getting away from us. So we started it last night. Which means that for the first time this school year, Firstborn has practiced his bass and Secondborn has practiced his piano. We've also added in a cut-off time for any kind of Looking At Screens, at which point we switch over to about fifteen minutes of general cleaning, then Getting Ready For Bed, then about fifteen minutes of reading in bed before Lights Out.

This actually went pretty well this first time, but I expect more wailing and gnashing of teeth as we continue on with it. Still... so far so good. And if it helps us start feeling like things maybe aren't constantly on the edge of spiraling out of control, so much the better.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Can't Post Today

Sorry, Exit Strategy comes out today. It's the fourth of the Murderbot Diaries. I will not be posting anything until I'm done reading it.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Power of Coincidence

Put in Dragon Age: Origins this morning. (I've never played it. I know, I know, I'm embarrassingly behind.) Anyway, at the end of the Character creation process, I started asking Firstborn if he'd switched the PS3 over to his account while I was away earlier, and...


No, it turns out that I had simply managed to select the combination of traits that offered a character whose default first name was also Firstborn's name.

What are the odds?

Friday, September 28, 2018

In Otter News...

Some days there just doesn't seem to be anything worth saying. I know it's not actually true -- there are plenty of things worth saying, and repeating, and amplifying -- but that's how I'm feeling this morning. I think this is just the aftermath (or continuation) of being sick, and maybe also an effect of this week's news cycle, which has just been horrible all the way around.

So... here's live footage of sea otters. Yes. Have some sea otters.

Ugh, Part 758

Okay, seriously: what the hell is wrong with me? I've gotten everybody in motion, dropped the boys off at school, and made it to work... and I'm exhausted. And I have a headache. And I'm exhausted. (Oh, and I'm thoroughly disgusted by essentially everything to do with Kavanaugh's likely appointment to the Supreme Court and what that says about our society and the future of our justice system.) And did I mention that I'm exhausted?

I got home last night, nibbled a little dinner, and immediately passed out on the couch. Admittedly, it's a bit different when I do it. When Beautiful Wife passes out on the couch like that, I keep everybody quiet, curse the very existence of the phone when it inevitably rings, and try to put the boys to bed without waking her. When I do it, I get woken up to see if I have any cash for the lawn guys, the boys rampage loudly across the house, my wife talks and full-volume Phone Voice in the kitchen, and I still end up putting the boys to bed. I ask you: where's the justice in that?

It's not just me, either. Firstborn seems to be doing okay, but Secondborn hit this morning looking exactly like I feel: tired, cranky, and unready to accomplish anything. Including pulling on a shirt.

I don't think it's allergies. I think we're actually sick. And I think this weekend should be devoted to resting, cleaning, and disinfecting.

I just don't know if that's actually going to happen.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"Ugh," explicated

So, since sometime around Sunday evening, the entire family has been sick. No fevers, so we're still sending the boys off to school, but I took Monday and Tuesday off (and I really need to be at work when this posts, regardless of how I might be feeling). But headaches, stuffiness, touches of nausea, that sort of thing. Lots and lots of that sort of thing.

It might just be allergies. Mold and fungus counts are apparently insanely high right now. But... well... I'm still feeling pretty ooky even after spending all day at home, and my immune system is acting like it's taken a serious hit, so... I don't know.

It's not just that I hate feeling like this. What I really hate is the fact that I can't tell. Am I wildly contagious with something horrible, and morally obligated to avoid human contact until it's gone? Would I be okay with maybe some Motrin and Benadryl and a crapload of caffeine to balance against the drowsiness? Who can tell?

All I can say is that it better not be flu.

I just got the flu shot on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


What does parenting mean to me? A long string of lovely, fulfilling moments broken by the occasional urge to start screaming and never stop.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Heroes are assholes, iteration 3

So I've been looking at the antagonists for my latest story idea, and...

Well, it started out as a matter of making sure that their role in the story made sense. (It does. This is a huge relief.)

And they're not typical villains, which is very much what I wanted. I mean, it's also what I needed for this plot, but... I didn't want a Big Bad who just A Villain, just doing evil for evil's sake. (That might make an appearance in the Ash Knight story, but not here.) But what they're doing, both the taking risks and the acting with restraint, makes sense for their background and motivation. And as a result, well... The story could be told from their side just about as easily, and they would look completely heroic.

It's all in how you tell it. And my current protagonist has made his fair share of dick moves, and the villains are also pulling some dick moves -- but they both have morals, and they both have limits, and they both have reasons.

Heroes are often assholes, if you step back and look at them closely. It comes with the territory.

Friday, September 21, 2018


Vincitor watched the mourners file away from his father's cenotaph, and felt his hands curl into fists. The ceremony had been tasteful and lovely and -- despite the political element of the occasion -- most of the mourning seemed sincere. His father had been well-loved in these lands.

"So," said Valia, standing at his side. "You and I inherit the title, the lands, and all the headaches attending to them." She was Vincitor's twin, and the older of the two, but Court Law in Verigor still held to certain views from the old religion, and so held that twins could inherit as if they were a single person. Unless one of them stepped aside, they would both assume their father's noble rank and rule together as Viscounts.

"It's not official until the Countess performs the confirmation," Vincitor said quietly, "and that will be half a season at least. That's time enough to restore the honor of our blood."

"We can't invade Alisaze, not without the backing of the Crown. And the Crown is rightly convinced that the last expedition proved too costly. We need time to recover our resources, and time to weaken Alisaze in other ways."

Vincitor turned to face her. "No," he said quietly. "But we can slip across the border, find our father's murderer, and kill him. The Alisaze won't thank us, but at this point I think they'd be quietly relieved -- as long as we were done and gone before anyone in authority found out."

Valia nodded. Few of their informants were left in Alisaze, but the ones who were there were thorough, trustworthy, and reliable. She knew that as well as her brother did. Probably better, since she was the one making sure they received their pay. "A single division of the Home Guard?" she asked.

"Proelor's," said Vincitor. "You know how close he was to Father."

Valia looked away and her lips twisted, but after a moment she nodded. "Unquestionable loyalty," she said. "Shared cause. Yes. I'll speak to Mother about managing things while we're away." She paused. "I think she'll approve."

Vincitor smiled. "She'll worry," he said, "but she'll approve."

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Legendary Things That Probably Never Existed

Apparently this is my week for making lists. Eh, whatever... with Hallowe'en fast approaching, I've been thinking about monsters, mythology, and sundry sorts of legends. So, without further ado, here's my current list of Legendary Things That Probably Never Existed In Real Life:
  1. Unicorns
  2. Dragons
  3. Vampires
  4. Winged Horses
  5. Bigfoot
  6. Mothman
  7. Ghosts
  8. Vacations
  9. Retirement
  10. Functional Democracies

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How's your morning?

Co-worker: "How's your morning going?"

Me: "..."
Me: "...So, let's just get down to business, then."

Co-worker: "Ooookay, then."

I'm still just worn out, is the actual answer. Like, I'm not sick, but my sinuses are still weirded out from the airline travel, and I think my ears are trying to decide whether they develop infections or just let it pass. Then, of course, there was last week's conference -- where people from all over the country brought together their knowledge, expertise, and germs.


Plus, Secondborn's still recovering from the flu. So basically, getting everybody up and out the door and getting myself to work has worn me out. Hopefully I can take it easy for the rest of today, though -- and tonight's definitely going to be an early bedtime.

Secondborn Dances On My Last Nerve

I swear, that child has given me a whole new benchmark for the concept of "exasperation". If he were a soda pop, he'd be exasparailla.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Mundane Magic Items

As you probably know if you've been following this blog, I've finally gotten back to playing Dungeons and Dragons. This has naturally gotten me to thinking about magic items. Now, D'n'D has a long (and ever-growing) list of magical items, but it also has a distinct emphasis on adventuring equipment and particularly combat. And honestly, that seems to be the case in a lot of fantasy worlds: it's easy to find a legendary magical sword, or even have one made, but nobody ever seems to be out there getting rich by making the sort of things that people can actually use. You know, in their daily life, when the only Orc they've ever met is the head cook at Mama's Diner, and spends half his time reminding the kobolds to wash the dishes.

So, with that imbalance in mind, I submit to you a list of Mundane Magic Items: minor items, generally useless for combat, but exactly the sort of things that an enterprising Enchanter could get filthy rich selling in bulk to the general public.
-A stone that heats water
-A pot or pan that cooks anything placed within it
-An enchanted broom that sweeps and dusts when a command word is spoken
-A Decanter of Endless Honey (useful for sweetening your water elementals)
-A small sundial brooch that reminds you of appointments
-A small cloth square that will clean *anything* (I would have killed for this after that last battle in the sewer)
-Ring or Amulet of Insect Repulsion
-Umbrella of Feather Fall (also keeps rain off)
-A vial of paint that glows in the dark
-Goblet of Drink Chilling
-Box of Food Preservation
-Wall-Mending Putty which changes its surface to match the texture and paint around it
-A plow that turns any stones it hits into rich, aerated soil
-A small glyph that can be attached to anything, and answers when you call out to it
-Bottomless Chamberpot (dumps your cess into an extra-dimensional void, so it never needs to be emptied or cleaned!)

What other helpful magical gizmos should a magic-rich world have available?

Thursday, September 13, 2018


I just realized I haven't been posting.

This would be because I've been at a conference all week.

I've been thinking about plots and storylines, and all the things I want to write, and it's well past time to take one and really dig into it. Not start on it (I've already done that), not think it through (done that already, too), just set up a regular time every day and write.

I have no idea how to schedule that, but I think setting myself a couple of rules will be a good start:
1. I only get to read if I can't be writing.
2. I only get to play video games when I finish writing.

Here's hoping that simple, dumb systems are the key to success!

Monday, September 10, 2018

One for the 90s kids in the room

I think it's been about a week since she looked at me, cocked her head to the side, and said she was angry. Two days after that she told to come back and see her once I'd gotten it together. Then three days ago I realized it was my fault, but I couldn't tell her. All things considered, I'm surprisingly sure that it'll be another two days before I apologize.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Music: Wish You Were Here

I'm heading off to a conference next week, so I'll leave you with Cody Jinks and this lovely bit of country music:

And hey, have a special bonus song! This one's performed by Luther Wright & The Wrongs:

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Music: Skeleton Key

by Dessa Darling, and if you aren't already familiar with her music you should listen to it -- all of it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Music Commentary: Dodging the Question

I've been told before that one of the big issues with me and music is that I actually listen to the lyrics. Today's example comes from a band called Florida Georgia Line, with a song called "Meant To Be". (It seems to be on YouTube here, except this isn't the version that I keep hearing on the radio - even some of the Who Sings Which Piece Of The Lyrics is off.)

Anyway, there's a point in the song where the girl talks about her previous experiences with dating and expresses her concerns with continuing to date:

I don't mean to be so uptight, but my heart's been hurt a couple times
By a couple guys that didn't treat me right
I ain't gon' lie, ain't gonna lie
'Cause I'm tired of the fake love, show me what you're made of
Boy, make me believe

But the boy in the song just sidesteps the question, and the girl (by joining him for the vocals on the chorus) just seems to go along with it:

But hold up, girl, don't you know you're beautiful?
And it's easy to see
If it's meant to be, it'll be, it'll be

This... bothers me. She says she's worried about getting hurt, and your response is "Don't you know you're beautiful"? Yeah, not helping.

So I propose the following alternative lyrics:

It's okay, girl, we can take it easy now
While you get to know me
If it's meant to be... (etc.)