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March 2019
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Long Slow Remodel: Week 3

This was a week without much photographable progress. And yet, Howard figured out the method and supplies he’ll need to install the in-cabinet lighting. I completely varnished and shined all the cabinets for Howard’s office. Then I sanded and prepped all six cabinets for the front room. The project is underfoot in a dozen different ways, but we’re learning a lot and hopefully by next week we’ll have all the cabinets up in Howard’s office.

Of Nails and Helping

There is a video called It’s Not About the Nail where a man and a woman are having a conversation. She is struggling with some things, he thinks he can solve them by removing a nail, she get’s mad at him for trying to “fix it.” That is a very rough summary and you should really just click the link and watch the video. It is only a minute and a half long and the rest of this post will make more sense if you’ve seen the video.

The thing is, I’ve been on both sides of that conversation. I’ve been the one with a problem who really wants to be heard and sympathized with. Once I have that sympathy, I’m able to step back and decide to pull my own nail. However, until I decide to pull the nail, I resent people suggesting I should. The woman is not being ridiculous or strange. She honestly needs to be heard and understood. That need is every bit as real as the nail.

This week I spent a lot of time on the man’s side of the conversation. It is a very frustrating position to be in, to watch a loved one overlook or dismiss simple solutions which could make their life measurably better, while building a host of coping strategies around keeping the nail in place. So I’m waiting and making sympathetic noises and making sure that my loved one has the tools so that once they decide to pull the nail it can be done quickly. Also, having nail-pulling tools laying around helps plant the seed that maybe the nail is a problem that can be solved.

My heart is tired from this week. And I’m having to remind myself that after a period of calm growth, it makes sense to have some struggle. This week’s struggle doesn’t negate the growth and possibly helps lay groundwork for new growth.

Maryalise and the Singing Flowers

My mother is an inspiration to me. She raised seven children with steadfast optimism and unfaltering support of any creative endeavor that they wanted to undertake. There was an array of art lessons, vocal lessons, music lessons, and rides to debate clubs, sports events, and writing events. She was there making things possible for one kid after the other. Once all the kids were launched, Mom started taking herself to classes. While continuing to be a supporting Grandma and lately great-grandma, She developed considerable art and writing skill for her own creative work. She dove into writing conferences and applied herself to writing a trilogy. The first book in that trilogy is available today.

It is the story of a young girl who is more special than she knows and who goes on a journey of discovery to remember who she is.

I’ve watched my mom work on this book for years. I watched when she hired my daughter Keliana as a cover artist. So much work and love has gone into this book at every step. And the book is available now on amazon.com in both ebook and paperback versions. So congratulations to Rose Owens today on her book launch. And perhaps if you know a young reader who likes fairies, they might want to join Maryalise on her journey.

Long Slow Remodel: Week 2

Progress was slowed down this week by stain colors. After carefully testing and deciding on a color, I discovered that one of the colors we picked wasn’t readily available. We apparently bought the only pint size can available at the store and quarts were going for $40 or more online. (Retail price on quarts for this brand $8). I tried having a paint store mix the color, but it didn’t match at all. So we back tracked and picked a more readily available color.

But now we have three more cabinets stained and partially varnished. Staining happens in our front room.

The varnish/lacquer is really smelly and so it has to happen out in our garage, which I’ve turned into a workshop for the duration of this project. Unfortunately, this means we do quite a bit of waiting for the weather to be warm enough so I can work. The lacquer doesn’t soak into the wood or cure correctly if the temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, not much visible progress this week. But Howard has ordered the pieces for him to install interior lighting into the cabinets. This first batch of cabinets is destined for Howard’s office. The next batch is six cabinets and will go into the front room. I can start on that batch as soon as this batch is completed. prepping the next batch requires sanding and I can’t have tiny wood particles landing in wet stain or lacquer.

Long Slow Remodel: Preliminary & Week 1

We’ve been working on a remodel for years now. Six years ago, I repainted the front room. In 2016 I tore out a front closet and we stared at bare studs for 18 months. Last summer we finally put in the railing we’d been dreaming of. This summer we’ll be putting in work staining unfinished cabinets and installing them. Bit by bit we are going to transform our front room space. The goal is to get rid of that pantry wall in the middle of the room.

It will be replaced with an island counter. But before we can tear down the wall, we have to create new homes for all the food that currently lives in that pantry. We’ll be creating a pantry wall on the other side of the kitchen. But before we’re ready to put in those cabinets, we wanted to test and make sure that we can actually do this cabinet staining and installing ourselves. So we’re beginning with installing a painting table and cabinets in Howard’s office, and also installing cabinets and coat hooks in the entry area.

We ordered cabinets and they arrived a couple of weeks ago. Since then we’ve been test staining to make sure we can match the color of the railing.

Howard and Keliana picked a piece of plywood with beautiful patterns to be the table top for the office painting station. On the floor you can see the outline of where we removed the closet.

We’ve decided on a two-tone look for the cabinets. This is our test cabinet. For the remaining cabinets the base will also be the lighter color so that the doors look like picture frames. We have some ideas about decorative things to do with those frames.

Up next, pulling doors off of 11 more cabinets so that they can be sanded and stained. I’ve also got a window sill to assemble and stain. Now if only the weather would cooperate and warm up. Wood doesn’t stain well if it is below 60% so right now we’re having to bring things indoors to stain. It’ll be a lot faster when the garage is a good staining temperature and we can assembly line the work.

So that’s where we are with the project this week. My hope is that we can have that pantry wall gone by the end of the summer.

Tiny Launches

At times I have lamented missed milestones that I see my kids peers hit when my kids didn’t. It is hard not to feel the difference at those moments, particularly when social media gives me photographs. I remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy and work to find my own joy. I also must pause to recognize and rejoice in smaller milestones, often so small they aren’t really recognizable as such. Like this morning when my three living-at-home kids were all up for breakfast then they all traipsed out the front door laughing and chattering so my oldest could drop the other two at high school and head for a cafe to work.

My house is empty of children because they’ve all launched into their days happily. My house is almost never empty of children, not since they started melting down six years ago. I’ve always had one or another here at the house, sometimes content, often depressed or suffering. It hurt my heart to see them making themselves small and hiding in my safe place because they were scared or wounded. But today they went out the door happily.

They’ll return home in only a few hours, but the tiny launches and small flights are practice for much larger launches to come. I have to catch and remember these tiny milestones because between now and the larger launches will be more hiding days, more moments when I struggle to not compare. So today I catch a mental image of them going out the door chattering. Today they are happy and that is enough.

Life and Work in Snippets

Yesterday I got an email that managed to punch three anxiety buttons simultaneously. (the trifecta: Money, healthcare, loss of services my child needs.) In the end the email was actually giving me good news on all three of those fronts, but my mind catastrophized so quickly that I wasn’t able to parse the email correctly until after I’d spent several hours stressed and stewing. I ended up having to send a chaser email to append to my first stressed email which basically said “never mind, I re-read and like your plan after all.” Then I spent several hours stewing in the embarassment that I’d once again looked overwrought/ anxious to this particular group of people. I don’t like how a single email can throw me so badly off balance.

***

I just spent an hour looking at industrial shelving options. This search was brought on because earlier today I stood in my warehouse space and did the mental calculations to figure out how many more shipments of books before we run out of floor space. Since the warehouse has thirty foot ceilings, going vertical is the obvious solution. I’m not thrilled at the idea of hefting boxes of books high up onto shelves, but we keep making books and I need to use the space I have more intelligently. I can add “shopping for industrial shelving” to the list of life experiences that I did not expect to have.

***

I am still waiting on ship coins. They are now almost two months overdue. One of those months is on Howard and I. We simply didn’t get them done in time. The second month is because our delay landed the production time for the coins exactly across the Chinese New Year holiday when the factory closes down for ten days, but the US based office keeps taking orders. This results in a huge backlog. I don’t mind that there is a delay. I firmly believe in people getting holidays. The part that has annoyed me is that I’ve been told three different times “your coins should ship tomorrow.” Delay = fine. Inaccurate information about the extent of that delay which causes me to have to shuffle my plans multiple times over two weeks = time for me to escalate my annoyance from emails to phone calls. Result of phone call, “your coins should ship Monday.” But this time a boss-level person in the US talked to a boss-level person over in China, so (maybe, hopefully) the information will be accurate this time.

***

I took my 18 year old on a campus tour this week. It was yet another milestone experience that wasn’t at all shaped how society expects it to be. I may never know what it is like to have a teenager who is chomping at the bit excited to launch into adulthood, thrilled at the experiences which are to come. Mine all face the future like it is a rabid animal ready to bite them. I know that for this particular generation, fear-of-the-future is more normal than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean I know how to navigate my role as parent of adult children who aren’t ready to launch. I’m still making this up as I go.

***

My garage has cupboards in it. We’ve brought one inside to test sand and test stain. Once we’ve figured out exactly what process we want to take for turning these into finished cupboards, then the work will begin in earnest. It would also help if daytime temperatures stay above 50 so that the cupboards are warm enough to stain.

Administrative Week

It has been a very administrative week. My tax accountant noticed something wonky with my inventory tracking, likely caused by last year’s switch to new store and accounting software. She sent me to talk to an expert on inventory tracking, after two focused hours I emerged with a long list of housekeeping chores. It turns out that there are far better ways to track inventory than an annual counting-of-all-the-things. I now have a system in place that tracks from the moment I place an order for inventory until I sell the last one. Having the process makes my organizational brain happy, though learning to implement all the aspects of it will take some practice.

In addition to that, there have been dozens of other small business administration and tracking tasks. I got all the tax paperwork turned in to the accountant. I took my high school senior for a tour of her impending college. …and my brain is blanking on what else I might have done, but I know it was a long list of thing after thing after thing. Being the person who tracks family schedules, tracks quantities of household supplies, tracks groceries, fetches new groceries, does returns to stores, and reminds people of their chores, etc is not a small task. The work of a household administrator is frequently so invisible that people don’t even define it as a job. But it is, and it is a job that is separate from parenting even though it frequently runs in parallel.

The week is likely to continue administrative as I’m expecting a shipment of new inventory (challenge coins.) I’ll need to put my new-learned inventory tracking into practice and then turn around and ship a hundred or more packages. Despite all of that, I’m trying to carve out creative time around the other things. We’ll see what I can do.

Signs of Spring


Despite being the shortest month, this February has felt long. Most years I have blooming crocus by this time. Instead we’ve had an extended run of cold days with small amounts of snow. I’m not complaining, other areas of my state have had lots of snow instead of small amounts. Yet as I look at the calendar and think “It’s still mid-February?” I have to focus on the signs that spring will come. It is already beginning to sprout from among the dried out detritus of last Fall. I just need to be patient and allow things to grow at their own pace. Which is also good self development and parenting advice that I’m consciously taking to heart today.

When the Convention is Done

On the day after the convention my mind is a shadow play of overlapping thoughts in different colors that pass behind and through each other so that by the time I’ve discerned what one thought is, it has dissolved into something else entirely. Many of the thoughts are memory fragments condensed into a momentary flash of expression or a few words. Memories of me saying the right thing mix with moments when I misstepped. The moment when I said something kind that healed the heart of a friend dissolves into the moment when I attempted to reassure a fellow panelist and only later learned that I was “reassuring” the artist guest of honor whose depth of experience with the panel topic was oceans deeper than mine. Both are equally specific in my mind though I must be vague about my friend’s story as it isn’t mine to tell. I am fortunate that for the panel with the guest of honor I was the moderator and my usual moderatorial mode is to let the panelists talk, so I got out of the way and made no more missteps after the first one before the panel began.

That moment dissolves into remembrance of moments when another professional said or did something that showed respect for me and for the things I do. Those moments are contrasted with the times when I was in groups of highly intelligent, wonderful people and I was shut out of the conversation because the topic was not one I could add anything to. Moments of feeling large and valued versus moments of feeling small or invisible. A convention is all of these moments and a hundred more.

Some of the moments are more than a flash. One of my final panels was about literary fiction and genre fiction. It was one of those magical moments when all of the panelists were equally engaged in the topic, willing to passionately discuss and happy to give space so others could speak. We were all so excited by each other’s thoughts that our own opinions were re-evaluated on the fly. Such a joyful experience to debate and argue without antipathy. No anger or defensiveness, jsut the joy of engaging with new ideas. I loved every minute of it and was sad that I had to run off to another panel instead of lingering to thank my fellow panelists.

This year at LTUE I was more focused on being at the booth. I spent more than a week in advance planing and preparing the booth. I only did a few panels and no presentations. One of the booth changes we made was to only have a few featured items rather than trying to display everything equally thus overwhelming shoppers with too much choice. The work paid off. Especially combined with the fact that we had three new Schlock books since last year. It was the most profitable sales year we’ve ever had at LTUE. We don’t measure the value of the show in dollars, but being able to pay bills always allows us to enjoy things more. And the fact that people buy is evidence that they value what we create, which is even more of a boost than the dollars. Today I am wishing I was not so tired, because I want to dive into creating new things to share with all the lovely people who enjoy the work we do.

Keliana ran her own booth this year. On the first day she was low energy and apprehensive. She’s been having trouble believing in the value of her work. Then people came to her table and were excited by what she was doing. by the end of day one she could believe that all was not doomed. By the end of day three she was energetic and bubbling over with plans for the months to come. LTUE rejuvenated her in ways I am incredibly grateful for and I can only hope to repay that by paying forward.

Like my daughter, I also struggle to believe in the value of my creative work. It is easier for me to believe in and promote my collaborative works (Planet Mercenary, Schlock Mercenary, Hold on to Your Horses) than the works where mine is the only name on the cover. I’m consciously and carefully working to change that. I’m trying to reach out and claim worthiness rather than hustling and hoping someone else will bestow it on me. Right now our sales table does not contain any of my solo work. Over the next year or three I want to change that. Slow and steady, bit by bit, I will claim hours to work on my solo efforts in tandem with further collaborative ones. I won’t let the collaborative crowd out the solo. I’ve already begun, I just need to continue.

So much more happened than I’ve written down. Friends from out of town. Friends who helped at the booth. A hundred small conversations. LTUE was amazing. It always is. For today and tomorrow I rest. On Tuesday I pick up again and get back to work.