Category Archives: family

Opening Windows on the Past

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This particular Iowa trip has me thinking hard about mortality and the cold harsh wind that blows toward us from the future.  My cousin’s only son lost his battle with depression, and his family finally came to terms with the loss.  But the sadness is past.   The responsibilities of the living is what remains.

I was born while Eisenhower was President.  I was alive and aware when Kennedy was assassinated and when men first walked on the moon.  I was teaching in a classroom when the first teacher in space was killed on the exploding space shuttle.  And I was also in the classroom when the twin towers fell on 9-11.  It is an important part of the responsibilities I have for being alive to keep that past alive too.

 

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My mother’s knickknack shelf.

The reason we collect and care about little extraneous things like porcelain eggs, angels, fine blue china plates, and the California Raisins singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine is because those little, otherwise unimportant things connect us to memories of important times and places and people.   We keep old photographs around, many of them black and white, for the same reasons.

 

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The fiction I write is not contemporary.  It is mostly historical fiction.  It is set in a recent past where the Beatles and the Eagles provided the sound track to our lives.  It does not cross the border into the 21st Century.  The part of my writing that is not about the past is science fiction set in the far future, entirely in the universe of my imagination.  It is my duty to connect the past to the future.

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And I share that duty with everyone who is alive.  My great grandparents and grandparents are now gone from this world.  But their horse-and-buggy memories about life on the farm before electric lights and cars… with humorous outhouse stories thrown in for comic relief… are in me too.  I am steeped in the past in so many ways…  And I must not fail to pass that finely brewed essence on to my children and anyone young who will listen.  It is a grave responsibility.  And it is possible to reach the grave without having fulfilled that important purpose.

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In times of great sadness and loss we must think about how life goes on.  There has to be a will to carry on and deliver the past to the future.  Every story-teller carries that burden, whether in large or small packages.  And there is no guarantee that tomorrow will even arrive.  So here is my duty for the day.  One more window has been opened.

 

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, blog posting, family, healing, humor, insight, inspiration

The Siege at Castle Evernight

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I believe I gave you fair warning that I would be telling the story of how, in our family D & D game, we conquered a castle that was occupied by the forces of evil.  Well, this is it.  It happened in the castle I described as an adventure setting last week.

The heroes, led by the halfling Gandy Rumspot (number two son’s character) and Mira the Kalashtar (daughter the Princess’s character) were asked by the Kingdom of Breland to investigate what happened to their ally, the Duke of Passage, Dane Evernight, in the Kingdom of Aundair.

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So they loaded up their trusty airship and flew to Passage.  Where they immediately learned of two mysterious boys made completely of stone and, yet, still living.

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They found the two in the city square north of the castle.

Druealia the wizardess; You two boys are golems?  Living statues?

Angel statue;  We weren’t before Dr. Zorgo took us into the lab.  We were castle pages to the Duke of Passage.

Gandy the rogue;  He changed you?  Who is this Dr. Zorgo?

Faun statue; Zorgo was the Duke’s court physician.  When we woke up in the castle, everybody had been turned into some sort of golem.  Stone golems, rag golems, animated statues… even the Duke himself.  None of us remember much about our lives before our minds were put in these new bodies.

Mira the Kalashtar; We have to get inside the castle and put things right!

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So, the question became, “How do we get into the castle without this Doctor Zorgo finding out and turning us into golems too?”

The answer came from a visiting professor from Morgrave University in Sharn.  Professor Hootigan was a sentient giant owl.  Not only could he warn them about the dangers of facing a mindflayer, a psionic monster who can read your thoughts and attack your mind, which Zorgo actually was, but he could fly the two lightest members of the adventuring party up to the summit of the castle, bypassing all the many traps and defenses that Zorgo had most likely laid.  And it didn’t hurt that both Hootigan and Mira were psionically able to protect the group from Zorgo’s mind attacks.

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So up they went.  Hootigan’s flying skill roll was high enough to not only get them inside, but get them in quietly enough not to awaken the sleeping stone gargoyles who guarded the heights.

They were protected from Dr. Zorgo’s routine mind probes of the castle by Mira’s mind-shielding powers.

Once they were past Zorgo’s lab, they soon discovered two different things.  Zorgo hadn’t yet changed the Duke’s daughter, Sien, into a golem yet.  She was still imprisoned in the castle’s dark pit, called an “oubliette”.

They also discovered that fighting golems was extremely difficult.  They discovered this in a fight with three golems they dubbed Moe, Curly, and Larry for some mysterious reason.

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After a very frustrating slap-fight in which they discovered that you can’t kill or wound a rag golem with weapons, they finally won the day when they discovered all they had to do was stop the Larry golem from playing “Pop Goes the Weasel” on his fiddle.  That took away their will to fight.  And they were even helpful as former faithful servants of the Duke.  They revealed that all the golems in the castle were controlled by one golem-control wand wielded by Dr. Zorgo himself.

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First they sneaked down to the oubliette and rescued Duchess Sien.  Then they had to steal back her magical armor and swords.  Many more golem guards and gargoyles were in the way of achieving their goals, but they used a bit of trickery to turn the odds in their favor.

They tricked Major Jak Pumpkinhead into thinking that the castle was being assaulted from the front.  When all the castle defenders rushed to the front towers, Gandy closed the inner gates on them, locking them all inside their very own defensive positions.

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Finally they confronted Dr.  Zorgo himself.  This time Mira’s defensive mind shields were not so successful.  Zorgo incapacitated Sien Evernight and Gandy Rumspot with mind attacks because they did not have their own psionic defenses (and because Mira rolled a 4 when she needed at least a 10 on the 20-sided dice).  Dr. Zorgo set the golden golem that had once been Duke Dane Evernight on a course to killing Mira.  At the last possible moment, Mira threw her magic dagger at Zorgo’s golem wand, rolled an 18, and destroyed it.   The gold golem, realizing he was now free, exacted his revenge.  He grabbed Dr. Zorgo and plunged off the balcony of the castle’s summit with him to a jarring destruction at the bottom of the 300-foot tower and cliff.

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It was a mostly “happy ever after” event.  The player characters now owned a castle, provided that Fate agreed to marry Duchess Sien and become the new Duke of Passage.

The numerous golem servants, having nowhere else to go, and no longer being human, elf, dwarf, or whatever they had been previously, stayed on to be castle servants.  Duke Evernight’s golden head was retrieved from the bottom of the cliff and, still able to talk, was to be the useful adviser of the new Duke.

That is pretty much typical of our D & D adventures.  Full of slapstick humor and mindless destruction, it was a whee of a time that made us laugh and enjoy time spent together playing weird imagination games with various toys, props, and dice.

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How Mickey Battles the Blues

It should be noted that Mickey does not battle the St. Louis Blues.  That is his favorite hockey team.  And while they have never won the Stanley Cup, they do win a lot and are almost always in the playoffs.  So they help fight depression.  Battling them would not only be counter-productive, but might also result in losing all those big square white middle teeth in that goofy smile.

But battling depression is a constant necessity.  Not only am I subject to diabetic depression and Donald Trump overload, but my entire family is prone to deep and deadly bad blue funks.  It helps to be aware that there are a lot of ways to fight that old swamp of sadness. It doesn’t have to keep claiming the Atreyu’s horse of your soul.  (Yes, I know that Neverending Story metaphors seriously date me to the 80’s and signify that I am indeed old… another reason I have to constantly fight depression.)

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I have some surefire methods for battling depression that apparently the science actually backs up.  It turns out that most of things that Mickey does actually stimulate the brain to produce more dopamine.

“Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.”  – Psychology Today

So, I guess I am secretly a dopamine addict.  It is a brain chemical you cannot focus or function effectively without.

  1. Being creative in some way fosters the production of dopamine in the old think-organ.  So writing this blog helps.  Doodling excessively helps.  Writing novels, painting pictures, drawing cartoons, and writing really remarkably bad poetry also help, and I do all of those things every week.
  2. Chicken Dancing helps.  Really.  Flapping your arms and wiggling your butt in such a stupidly silly way is aerobic exercise, and the very act of exercising increases not only dopamine but also serotonin and endorphin get a boost.  These are your “natural high” brain drugs.  Have you ever noticed chicken dancers are never really sad while dancing?  The ones crying excessively are either crying from happiness or extremely embarrassed teenagers forced to chicken dance by their goofy old dad.
  3. For more information about chicken dancing and its possible uses for evil, check out this link The Dancing Poultry Conspiracy Theory.  Because laughing about stuff is also a cure for depression.  It tends to even bypass dopamine and take a left turn through serotonin straight into the pleasure centers of the brain.
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  5. Winning streaks also help immensely.  Of course, I can’t always count on the St. Louis Blues to give me winning streaks.  X-Box EA Sports MVP Baseball 2004 set on the rookie difficulty level for the last decade helps with that.  I have won over 300 consecutive games including two World Series sweeps that way.  And Albert Pujols has hit over 1,000 home runs in his Mickian baseball career.
  6. Check lists also help because they are the same thing as winning streaks.  The sense of accomplishment you get from checking off boxes on your To-Do List also boosts dopamine in the same way.  So what if I am listing routine things like walking the dog, picking up socks, and taking out the trash?  A check mark is still a check mark and a check mark by any other name still smells like marker.
  7. And, of course, there is listening to music.  I am seriously addicted to classical music because every emotion from beautiful and awe-inspiring to butt-ugly brutal can be found somewhere in the works of the great composers. And don’t forget, Paul Simon, Don Henly, and Paul McCartney are in that category too.

8. And please, don’t forget food.  Depressed eating can easily make you fat, but there are certain magical chemicals in certain foods that give you certain dopamine-building effects that can turn blue skies to bright sunshine.  The primary chemical is called Tyrosine, and it can be found in a variety of foods like;

– Almonds

– Avocados

– Bananas

– Beef

– Chicken

– Chocolate

– Coffee

– Eggs

– Green Tea

– Milk

– Watermelon

– Yogurt

9.  And finally, thinking skills are critical.  While thinking too much and obsessing can get you into the tiger trap pits of depression, meditation, decompressive mantras and positive thinking can all dig you out and keep you out.

You are probably wondering what kind of nitwit authority I can actually bring to this topic, but I have spent a lot of money on therapy, not all of it for me, and I not only listen to psychiatrists and psychologists, but I remember what they explained to me.  And I have tried enough things to know what works.

So while you are busy chicken dancing to Beethoven while eating a banana, rest assured, Mickey is probably doing something just as embarrassingly ridiculous at the very same time.

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NPC’s (Non-Player Characters)

In Dungeons and Dragons games you are trying to bring characters to imaginary life by getting into their deformed, powerful, or magic-filled heads and walking around in a very dangerous imaginary world.  You have to be them.  You have to think like them and talk like them.  You have to love what they love, decide what they do, and live and die for them.  They become real people to you.  Well… as real as imaginary people can ever become.

But there are actually two distinct types of characters.

These, remember, are the Player Characters.  My two sons and my daughter provide them with their persona, personality, and personhood.   They are the primary actors in the stage play in the theater of the mind which is D & D.

But there are other characters too.  In fact, a whole complex magical world full of other characters.  And as the Dungeon Master, I am the one who steps into their weird and wacky imaginary skins to walk around and be them at least until the Player Characters decide to fireball them, abandon them to hungry trolls, or bonk them on the top of their little horned heads.  I get to inhabit an entire zoo of strange and wonderful creatures and people.

Besides the fact that these Non-Player Characters can easily lead you to develop multiple personality disorder, they are useful in telling the story in many different ways.  Some are friendly characters that may even become trusted travel companions for the Player Characters.

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D & D has a battle system based on controlling the outcomes of the roll of the dice with complex math and gained experience.  In simpler terms, there is a lot of bloody whacking with swords and axes that has to take place.  You need characters like that both to help you whack your enemies and to be the enemies you get to whack.  There is a certain joy to solving your problems with mindless whacking with a sword.  And yet, the story is helped when the sword-whackers begin to develop personalities.

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Crazy Mervin, for example, began life as a whackable monster that could easily have been murdered by the Player Characters in passing while they were battling the evil shape-changing Emerald Claw leader, Brother Garrow.

But Gandy befriended him and turned him from the evil side by feeding him and sparing him when it really counted.  He became a massively powerful ax-whacker for good because Gandy got on his good side.  And stupid creatures like Mervin possess simple loyalties.  He helped the players escape the Dark Continent of Xendrick with their lives and is now relied upon heavily to help with combat.  He was one of the leaders of the charge on the gate when the Players conquered the enthralled Castle Evernight.

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Not every NPC is a whackable monster, however.  In the early stages of the campaign the Players needed a magic-user who could read magic writing, use detection spells and shielding spells and magic missiles, and eventually lob fireballs on the bigger problems… like dragons.

Druaelia was the wizard I chose to give the group of heroes to fulfill these magical tasks.  Every D & D campaign requires wizarding somewhere along the way.  And Dru was a complex character from the start.  Her fire spells often went awry.  When Fate used a magic flaming crossbow bolt to sink a ship he was defending, killing the good guys right along with the bad guys, it was with a magic crossbow bolt crafted by Druaelia.  Her fire spells went nuclear-bad more than once.  She had to learn along the way that her magical abilities tended more towards ice and snow than fire.  She learned to become a powerful wielder of cold powers.  And while she was comfortable in a bikini-like dress that drove the boys wild because she grew to love the cold, she didn’t particularly like the attentions of men and male creatures that went along with that.  More than one random bandit or bad guy learned the hard way not leer at Dru.  There are just certain parts of the anatomy you really don’t want frozen.

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The Player Characters will need all sorts of help along the way, through travels and adventures and dangerous situations.  They will meet and need to make use of many different people and creatures.  And as Dungeon Master I try hard to make the stories lean more towards solving the problems of the story with means other than mere whacking with swords.   Sometimes that need for help from others can even lead you into more trouble.

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But as I am now nearing the 800 word mark on a 500 word essay, I  will have to draw it all to a close.  There is a lot more to say about NPC’s from our game.  They are all me and probably are proof of impending insanity.  But maybe I will tell you about that the next time we sit down together at the D & D table.

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Dramatis Personae D&D Style

One of the most fascinating things about Dungeons and Dragons, the story-telling adventure game with sword battles controlled by dice rolls, is the characters.  They are a creation by committee.  You take a blank character sheet, roll six basic numbers by complex rules on dice, and then decide who that character is; paladin, rogue, magician, archer, swordsman, etc… what that character is; human, elf, dwarf, hobbit… I mean halfling, orc, gnome, or Minotaur… and then do the complicated math that those choices entail.  But then you have to do the real work and give that character life in the form of hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, personality quirks, and goals.  They have to become collaborative characters for a play that won’t actually be written until the players perform it.

These, you may recall if you are nutty enough to read Mickian regular features, are my children’s player characters.

Adventure1Ditty Bytcha who prefers to be called Fate is my number one son’s original character.  He is a fighter wearing magic armor who loves to make things as an artificer (one who builds devices with magic).  He eventually wants to cut his own arms off and replace them with mechanical ones.  He is also quick to leap into the fray and is fairly deadly with his chosen weapons.  He once made a crossbow that had explosive power enough to blast apart a ship and kill everyone on board, including the people he was trying to save.  He is also a good leader and is always ready with a joke that can even make the Dungeon Master laugh.

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And number two son’s character, Gandy Rumspot, is a food-loving halfling that also likes making ships.  No kidding, he likes being a shipwright and designing sailing vessels… and flying airships powered by captured air and fire elementals.  He likes riding pteradactyl-back and firing crossbows at the evil enemies from the air.  And he is good at making fun of other characters, even to the point of making some of them angry to the point of tantrums… especially his sister’s character.

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And, of course, my daughter the Princess’s character, Mira Mirkestasia is a telekinetic Kalashtar who floats everywhere instead of walking.  She possesses an intelligent throwing knife that not only comes back to her hand after every throw, but seriously wants to kill Gandy for his sister-jokes.  She protects the whole group from those like the evil Dr. Zorgo who threaten to take over your mind and put your brain inside a stone golem.

And, of course, three people is probably not enough to actually survive in magic-rich and dragon-filled Eberron.  So additional characters are required to go on and actually survive dungeon-crawling adventures.  These are known as NPC’s, Non-Player Characters.  I will tell you more about them in another post, but here are the two most important ones;

Druaelia is a female wizard whose familiar is the owl Temper.  She was there for the very first level-one adventure killing rats and gnolls who were particularly weak and stupid.  She started as a magic user looking to be the fireball expert.  But her fire magic kept going astray (rolling a 2 or a 1 on a 20-sided dice is catastrophic failure and not a good thing to roll when fire is involved).  And she eventually learned she was much better with ice and snow magic.  She is naturally immune to cold and can wear bikinis in winter, a useful thing when more than half of your team is made up of adolescent boys.

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Elytharra, more commonly referred to as El, is the cleric and healer of the group.  She is much more modest and devout, being a worshipper of the blue dragon Aureon, god of wisdom and magical knowledge.  She is the one charged with learning how to heal boo-boos (and re-attach heads and raise the dead) because hunting for treasure in dragon caves is a dangerous business and dice rolls can make really bad things happen.  She was also part of the very first adventure, and the rats almost ate her.

So the main reason we have enjoyed D&D adventures so much is the fact that the characters are so surprisingly real.  We learn to care deeply what happens to them, and want them to prosper in the face of evil, no matter what comes.  And the real secret behind them is… in truth they are really us.

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Saturday Night D&D

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“The party now rushes through the front gate of Castle Evernight.  Gandy swings down from the room where he operated the pulleys that opened the drawbridge and barbican doors to rejoin his fellow fighters.”

Princess Mira the Kalashtar- “Do we see any more golems or other fighters to stop us?”

“You do not.  Since you took away Dr. Zorgo’s wand of golem control and Zorgo himself died in the plunge from the tower, there no longer seems to be anyone to keep you out of the castle.”

Gandy the hafling rogue- “Then the castle is now ours!”

“Perhaps the Duke’s daughter would dispute that.”

“Sien, I’m sorry.  But the Duke and all his servants are now dead.  We liberated the castle and have a right to claim it.”

“Sien Evernight looks at you sadly.  She says, “I do not dispute your right to the castle.  But my father, remember, had been changed into a gold  golem.  And even though he grabbed Dr. Zorgo and pulled him over the tower’s rail, he may have survived the fall.  Of course, that doesn’t make him actually alive.  But with no one controlling him, we may be able to talk to him once again.  You can have the castle for all I care, but I want to know what my father thinks.” …and I think you need to be reminded by the DM that your leader committed to replacing the Duke and ruling the city. “

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Yes, I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons with my own kids, and the pencil and paper characters we use for the silly story-telling game have become, over time, real people to us.  But the game has slowed way down since number one son left to be a Marine and number two son got a weekend part-time job.

So, the conquest of Castle Evernight might end up being the last adventure actually conducted around the D & D table in the upstairs library.

Mickey the Dungeon Master

So I created a Facebook page for the family game and intend to post stuff on there that may keep the game at least a little bit alive outside my own stupid head.

I intend to post stuff there to update everyone on what is happening in Eberron to the members of the ongoing quest.

Just as a reminder, I will show you the player characters again;

Number one son’s character is retiring to be the new Duke of Evernight, married to Duchess Sien Evernight.

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Number two son’s character is the irrepressible halfling, Gandy Rumspot.

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My daughter, the Princess’s character is Mira the Kalashtar.

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My intention is to use Saturdays, the traditional game night, to post more D&D stuff to this page and the Facebook page.  I need more creative ideas to keep filling this blog daily, and I have done considerable work setting up the game as Dungeon Master.  I don’t want it all to go to waste.  You will be welcome to come anytime and take a look.  But I am just too immature and set in my ways to totally give up D&D.

 

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Triple Down Bummers Now Come in Grape Flavor

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You heard me right.  Grape flavor.  Specifically sour grape flavor.

I put my family on an airplane today to go be with my oldest son while he has surgery.

I get to stay home with the family dog because my back is hurting so fiercely from weather and arthritis that I can’t possibly spend hours on a plane.

So, sour grapes.

You know the Aesop’s Fable about the fox and the grapes?

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The fox, seeing the luscious grapes, tries to leap and get the grapes.  He is hungry for the grapes.  Ravenous for the grapes.  But no matter how hard he tries, he cannot reach the grapes with his snapping jaws.

He buys a trampoline from Acme.  But it sproings him over the tree and into the river on the other side… where there are alligators.  (Yeah, I exaggerate here… but in my life there always seem to be alligators.)  He still can’t get the grapes.

So then he goes to Home Depot and buys a chainsaw to cut down the tree.  But when he tries to rev up the chainsaw he realizes… he’s a fox.  He doesn’t have hands.  He has paws.  He can’t work the chainsaw.  And on top of that, his credit card is denied because he’s a fox and his job only pays in dead mice and rabbits, and chainsaws cost money, not mice.  So Home Depot sent a Sheriff’s Deputy to arrest him for stealing the chainsaw.  And it turns out that in spite of consumer complaints, Home Depot has signed a huge chainsaw deal with Acme, so the chainsaw explodes because he tried to start it with fox paws.  And as he is flying through the air from the explosion towards the river with alligators… he realizes… grapes don’t grow on trees.  There has to be something wrong with those grapes.  They must be sour.

Now, this is exactly the way Aesop told the story.  Believe me.  It really, really sucks to be a fox and not be able to get what you want in life.

This surgery is a big thing.  But it is not life threatening.  My son will be fine.  My family will be able to go places and do stuff while they visit and entertain him.  It is like an extra family vacation.  His grandmother (my mother) and his aunt (my sister) have both had the same surgery for the same reason.  They both came through it and came out cured.  But the problem is most likely genetic.  So, not only do I not get to go and be with my family on this trip, the bummer reason for the trip is genetically probably my fault.     Yep, there are alligators in that danged old river.

I get these benefits only from the sour grapes; I get a lonely week to recover from alligator bites for myself, and I definitely have something to write about for today.

 

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Filed under autobiography, family, feeling sorry for myself, humor, medical issues, metaphor, Paffooney, self pity, vacations