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March 2019
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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.

Checking in with a quick update


With shipping in full swing and LTUE only a week away, I am living by lists these days. Of late the lists have been on paper since I’m finding it useful to see the lists for each day side by side. Sometimes it also serves as a useful memory trigger to be able to picture where on a page each task resides. I still have an electronic task list that pops up reminders to me, but mostly those reminders serve to prompt me to add it to the page for the week. Last night I even numbered the tasks for today so I’d have direction on what to do first, second, etc. I’ve already departed the numbered instructions since “blog post” is nowhere on the list. Nor is “500 words of fiction” Both of which I’ve already done this morning.

Most of the days this week have felt scattered and less productive than I wanted. There were some emotional impacts because family needed support, there is also the new Eating Healthy project which will theoretically become habitual and simple, but which for now is taking significant time and attention. So I’ll wrap up this post and move onward with my list by announcing two things.

1. I’ll be at LTUE next week. It is a fantastic symposium event where you can come and learn how to be better at creating whether you’re an artist, writer, game designer, film maker, etc. The focus is on speculative fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy. I’ll be most easily found in the dealers’ room at the Schlock Mercenary tables.

2. Since December I’ve been sending out monthly newsletters. They include progress reports on my writing and a long-form letter where I muse about something that is on my mind. I’m hoping to send out my next one later today. If you would like a letter from me, you can sign up here: Letters from Sandra.

On Memories, Objects, and Letting Go

I held the plastic horse in my hands, felt the solid weight of it. The touch of it’s smooth and shiny paint brought memory. The horse came to me as a gift from my Grandpa when I was ten or twelve years old. I don’t know if he knew about the collection of Breyer horses that I’d been spending all my money on for the prior few years. I just know that he saw the horse at some flea market or yard sale and thought of me. The horse had a missing leg and would not stand, so Grandpa solved the problem in his practical use-the-tools-you-have-on-hand way. He squirted silicone gel all over the leg, let it dry and then carved a vaguely-horse-leg-shaped leg out of the rubbery lump. My grandpa loved me enough to spend hours on a gift for me. That meant the world to me at the time he gave me the gift and in all the years since.

Holding the horse, I also remember that even while thanking Grandpa and hugging him, I knew that the horse did not fit in my collection. It was the wrong size. Its paint was shiny, not matte like the other horses. Most important to me, the horse had a static pose rather than the dynamic running, prancing, or rearing poses I found so lovely on the other models. It was not a horse I would have chosen for myself. Nor was the repaired leg how I would have chosen to make it. Even carved, the leg was lumpy, oversized, and pocked with the spaces where air bubbles had been trapped in the gel. It wobbled when I flicked it gently with a finger, sproinging like the doorstops found behind bedroom doors in my childhood home. So I carried this horse in my life that was simultaneously not something I wanted and also a representation of love so important to me that I clung to it.

I once saw the title to a novel that has stuck in my mind ever since: The Hidden Memory of Objects. It is a Mystery novel that I never took time to pick up or read, but the concept contained in the title stayed with me; the idea that objects have memories hidden within them. That is how I feel when I pick up a long untouched item like a book or a plastic horse. It is as if the memory was there inside the object and I access that memory by touching, smelling, or sometimes just looking at the object. “I’d forgotten about this” is a frequent thought when I am sorting through old things. The memory would have remained forgotten had I never seen the object again. The storing of memory in objects is the fundamental drive behind the purchase of souvenirs and the acquisition of memorabilia. When we are in a moment that we want to keep, we sometimes seek out an object to store it inside. Our effort does not always work, of course. Another frequent thought as I sort through old things is “where did I get this thing and why did I spend money on it?” Objects which are deliberately acquired with the intent of them being memorabilia are often poorly matched to the task.

I’ve had hours of opportunity to consider objects and their memories as I’ve been participating in the recent zeitgeist of clearing out clutter and minimizing possessions. It is as if people of my generation (and the one just older than mine) have shaken ourselves awake to look around and think “why on earth am I keeping all this stuff? It is just clutter that complicates my life.” Since I’m a willing participant of this Konmari/clutter reduction/minimalist effort, I obviously feel that the decluttering is a good process, but I also feel wary about taking it too far. I remember my Grandma’s last years and how she depended on familiar surroundings and familiar objects as anchors in her slipping mind. The memories in stored in the objects and photographs were far more stable than the fog and lights in her brain that sometimes showed clearly, but more often obscured, her ability to know who and where she was, or who we all were.

Forty-six year old me can look at a plastic horse and say “I do not need to keep this horse in order to remember that my Grandpa loved me.” and she will be right to say so. But what of eighty year old me? What will she need? Of course holding onto objects because we might need them later is the source of much of the clutter in the first place. It is exactly the behavior that the zeitgeist rails against, the desperate clinging to things in the belief that by holding things we can prevent future pain. Which is, of course, false. We have no way to control the future, not with objects, not with actions. All we can do is try to arrange our possessions and ourselves in a way most aligned with the people we want to be and the future we want to have.

I want to carry the memory of Grandpa’s love forward with me, but not a plastic horse that I never loved for itself. So I look around me for other objects which could hold that memory. Grandpa loved me my whole life until the day he died and probably after. That horse is far from the only thing he gave me. In fact, on the shelf next to the not-beloved horse, stands a beloved horse that was also repaired by my Grandpa at my request. The only difference is that one was a spontaneous gift of time and love vs the other being a requested gift of time and love. The beloved, repaired horse is as suitable a receptacle for the memory as the not-beloved one.

So much thought and so many words spent on a simple plastic horse. Most of the things I have let go did not require this much consideration. Not even close. I can feel the impatient observer in my brain huffing and saying “This is ridiculous, just take a picture of it and give it away.” I put the horse in the donation box with a pile of other less-than-beloved horses which are also destined to leave my life. They took up space in my life for thirty years because of the memory of me treasuring them. Now I am ready to honor the treasure of my twelve year old self by keeping only a few extra-special horses rather than keeping them all. With only nine horses, each horse carries a larger portion of memory than when there were thirty of them. I kept the nine whose names I remember.

The other twenty-one were so important to me once, and letting them go would feel easier if I could be certain that they would be treasured again by someone new. But that is me not wanting to fully relinquish. I have a lingering desire to control the fate of these objects. It is a trap. If I seek to control their disposition, then I am continuing to carry responsibility attached to them. If I give them to someone I know, I’ve retained the ability to ask after them, to fret over them. These are the strings that must be cut in order to do the emotional uncluttering work which is even more vital that the simple act of giving away stuff. I’m also ironically aware that in writing more than 1500 words about letting go of plastic horses, I am, in a way, keeping them. I transfer their memory from physical objects into digital words, far easier to store. Also easier to lose track of if I don’t take effort to curate and manage the storage of those words. If, on the other hand, I’m willing to treat words written as a live music performance which is expressed without expectation that it will be retained, then even in writing words, I am letting go.

I’m learning that I don’t have to keep all the things for fear of future need, and I don’t have to keep all the memories either. At forty-six years old I have over 24,177,600 minutes of memory. It would drive one mad to try to retain each of those minutes as a separate, always-accessible memory unit. Instead we have to consolidate, categorize, and blend. Brains are wired from birth to do exactly this. I lose memories all the time. It is a necessary conservation of mental resources, not a tragedy. When I pick up an object and am filled with memory, that same memory could likely be accessed in a different way with a different object, location, or smell. Even if that one plastic horse had vanished from my life years ago, I would not have forgotten that Grandpa loves me. In fact I am certain that I have forgotten hundreds of other events that were evidence of the same fact.

Objects come and go, memories come and go also, whether or not they are attached to objects. For right now I’m in a period of time where what I need is to clear away the accumulated detritus of who I used to be so that I have space enough to grow into who I want to become. This means bidding farewell to less-than-beloved objects and their associated memory clutter.

Edited 2/8/2019 to add: So after spending more than 1500 words talking about how it is okay, important even, to let things go, I kept the horse my Grandpa repaired for me. It stands in a solo space not with the rest of the collection, which feels better as it never really fit the collection. The deciding factor was my daughter poking through the box full of horses and asking to see the one Grandpa repaired. Then she mentioned that she’s always liked seeing the herd of horses on my shelves, a reminder that childhood is a thing to be proud of rather than shuffled away and forgotten. So now I have another series of thoughts on how objects can mean different things to different people and why, in a shared household, it is important to communicate about which things are important to us and why. Two boxes of horses got donated. I have my shelf of named horses. I have the one that Grandpa fixed. And I have about five more in an undecided box. They may be donated, they may go back on the shelves. I’m still thinking.

Being Done with High School

I don’t know what the paper will look like when I sign it. It might be mostly bare with a large line waiting for my scrawl. It might be dense with fine print, all of which I should read first, but the content of which I already know. I sign the paper and my third child is done with high school. She’ll still attend one class on campus, but only because she wants to, not because it is needed for her diploma. The paper changes her from needing 28 credits to graduate from her high school to needing 24 credits and graduating from the school district. It is an option that is not advertised, it is rolled out and explained only in answer to need. I was prepared to ask for it when I went to the school to explain the state of my child, but it was offered before I wound the conversation to where I could ask.

I sign one paper and one stage of life is over, the next one begins. I’ve spent eighteen years tracking, supporting, cajoling, helping so that she could have a high school diploma. Now that diploma is guaranteed. She already has more than the required 24 credits. She could walk away from all of her classes if she chose. Instead she chose to keep one. That this shift nearly coincides with her eighteenth birthday only underlines the change. We’ll probably forgo all the trappings of graduation, skipping the cap-and-gown ceremony for something quieter and smaller. She doesn’t want them. I see no reason to insist.

From here, my responsibility in relation to her is far different. She gets to make the choices, try, fail, pick herself up to try again. I step back to a support role. Advisory status with attached financial support. And as soon as she figures out how not to need that financial support, she won’t have to listen to me at all. She will listen, because she is smart, kind, and empathetic, but she won’t have to.

Strange how triumph can arrive so quietly without looking like triumph at all.