Month: January 2010

Heading home tomorrow

1 trip, 3 birthdays, 260 pictures. I think I’m about ready to go home. I’m going to miss 60 degree weather, green, and the smell of unfrozen ground. I’m leaving behind early spring and returning to mid-winter. Sigh. But I’m glad to be going anyway. I’m looking forward to getting back to work on all my things.

Grandma on her 90th birthday

When I was 12 years old, writing was my primary source of income. My Grandma paid me a penny per word for anything I wrote. In pursuit of this wealth I wrote thousands of words. Then I spent most of the money on Breyer horses. I still have the horses. I still have the essential belief that writing has value. I have my Grandma to thank for both of these things.

Grandma is smaller than she used to be. The years have shortened her stature even as they leached the color out of her hair. What used to be a rich brown is now gray and white. She is still brown haired in her mind though. She declares that she only has a little bit of gray. I touch the whisper soft locks and agree that her hair is still beautiful.

“Are you writing another book?” Grandma says to me with her upper Mississippi accent.
I look up from my laptop at her. “Yes. But this one won’t have pictures.”
“I get to read it when you’re done.”
“Of course you do.”
“I’ll let you get back to your typing.”
“No. That’s okay. Sit down and talk.” I shut my laptop. The writing will wait for me, but this visit with my Grandma is short. I’ll be here only a few days.

I had forgotten, or not known, what a humor-filled person my Grandma is. Every other sentence is a joke or a playful teasing. It is such a contrast to my childhood memories of her when she seemed sharp and strict. “You mind me!” was a frequent order. And I did mind, because I was a little afraid of her. I did the worksheets she put in front of me even though it was summer. I washed the dishes and pulled the weeds all at her command. But I forgave her orders, because of the food she supplied. Southern Fried Chicken, cornbread dressing, deviled eggs, and corn on the cob and that was just dinner.

I look at her now, and I can not imagine myself being afraid of her. She is so soft and cheerful. She is glad to have my kids and me here, I think. Her health complaints have slowed to a trickle and are replaced with stories. I sit quietly and listen when my mother and Grandma start story swapping. I try to catch the stories in my memory so that I will have them. Grandma will not always be here to tell them.

Today is Grandma’s 90th birthday. I think she has mixed feelings about her age. In one sentence she calls herself an old lady, but in the next she declares herself young. Both are true I think. She is old in body, but young at heart. She delights in flowers and small amusements. I watched her playing with the pile of magnetic toys that my dad put out for my kids to find. Grandma was so pleased with herself when she took one apart and put it back together. She is in no hurry, she has no agenda, she is free to enjoy each moment in which she participates.

Grandma counts the flower buds as they form and tracks their progress into blooms. I understood how deeply rooted my love of gardening is when I watched my Grandma with her flowers. My mother has not always had an easy relationship with my Grandma. There is always a careful dance between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. But long ago they decided that they were family no matter what. Now my mother buries flower bulbs in the yard so that Grandma can discover them as they sprout. It is a loving conspiracy to get Grandma outside and walking. Grandma loves flowers enough to go looking, even on the days when her whole body aches.

The other day my mother listened to me on the phone, talking long distance to help my teenage daughter through an emotional crisis. When I hung up, she said
“It’s really nice that it’s your job to manage all that. I can just enjoy them.”
Later, I listened to my mother making a doctor’s appointment for my Grandma. She will have to coax Grandma into attending the appointment. Then she will have to coax Grandma into taking the medication and doing the prescribed therapies. Grandma does not like nor trust doctors much. I watched my mother note the appointment on the calendar and thought how nice it is that I get to just enjoy Grandma. And she gets to just enjoy me and my kids.

I woke late this morning. Once I achieved consciousness I sought out my kids to see if they needed breakfast. “No.” They assured me. “Great-grandma fed us sausage.” My heart warms to think of my Grandma feeding my children as she once fed me.
“They ate four a piece!” Grandma declares when we ask her. She is pleased that they loved her cooking.

Later tonight we will have a party with cake and presents. Grandma will be the star of the show. Tomorrow will be my daughter’s turn to be the birthday girl. Grandma is 90 my daughter turns 9. I am glad they can be together for this weekend.

Thoughts on visiting, roots, San Francisco, and Museums

Livermore California was my home for 18 years. Until I left for college I lived here. I am here again on a visit, but it does not feel like my home town. Not anymore. This is no fault of the town or the inhabitants. I’ve simply lived in Utah longer now. I’ve clocked 19 years in Utah. This fact amuses me because when I did live in California, I was adamantly opposed to the idea of living in Utah permanently. Then I actually lived there for a time and put down roots which would hurt terribly to transplant. Utah is my home now and I come to California as a visitor. I find the occasional pocket of familiarity, but mostly it is the differences that I notice.

I’ve been thinking much about roots on this trip. I’ve been pondering the ways that growing up in California has shaped the person I am. I still miss the birds and plants so abundant in Livermore, which do not survive the Utah winters. It is so green here at my parent’s house. There are flowers in bloom when all back home is winter bare. I remember envying those winter post cards with piles of snow. Now I live them and shovel the walks. I could not transplant the weather or growth with me when I emigrated to the mountains, but some remnants of California culture must linger inside me. I have a hard time identifying them because they are integrated into who I am.

The other night I spent some time looking through family photo albums. I stared at the photos of my Grandma when she was young. She came from a family as large as mine, but I only met a few of her siblings, the ones who made the trek from the South to visit. I love my Grandma’s voice. She speaks with rich tones from Mississippi and Tennnessee. I suspect this is one of the reasons that I have always had a soft spot for southern accents and southern style cooking. My Grandpa was southern too. They both came from large southern families, but brought their only son to California to live. Some day I will go and visit the southern states. I wonder whether I will find pockets of familiarity amongst the cultural differences.

The faces of my southern relatives in the old photos are sober. Photographs were not frivolous endeavors. I study the faces and find an abundance of familiar features. Generational echos when I realize that my daughter has the same jawline as my great-grandmother. I look at the faces and wonder about the stories that I will never know. These young people had lives and dreams and plans before they became the old people that I met briefly. I’m a little sad to not know the stories.

Yesterday we drove into San Francisco. I was surprised to discover it felt the same to me even though my hometown feels so changed. But then San Francisco was always a place that I only visited. The essential character of the city is very much the same with the hilly streets and the little, colorful houses sharing walls along the blocks. I watched those houses and wondered what it would be like to live in one of them, to step out the front door and walk over to the city park for exercise. It would be an interesting adventure, but I have a hard time picturing myself enjoying that existence with my four kids in tow. We’re accustomed to our house and our yard. Perhaps some day I’ll rent an apartment in a city for a month, but now is not the right time for it.

The allure of the city park is strong. I could go there every day for a week and not run out of new things to see, new thoughts to think. We were in the Academy of Sciences for a mere half a day and my brain felt flooded with information. I went there often as a child, but very little remains the same. In fact the only feature I could identify from prior visits was the alligator pit. Everything else has changed around that one stable feature. I was amused to note that Tutankhamen has returned to the De Young museum across from the Academy. I remember when that exhibit first came through 30 years ago. I was a small child, crushed in the crowds as people strove to see the wonders of the Egyptian boy king. It did not look crowded and had I not been leg-tired and brain-stuffed from looking at aquatic animals, I would have been tempted to go see Egypt again.

This afternoon we stayed home. We needed a quiet day at Grandma’s house after the travel and the big outing. There was a nap involved. Next I believe there will be snacking.

Gleek Makes Friends

Gleek climbed up the rail right next to the sign forbidding rail climbing. She stretched out one finger toward the butterfly wafting on the slight breezes blowing through the rain forest exhibit. A bird swooped past us, on some feathered errand. Two stories below swam catfish the size of toddlers. We are inside the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco. It is much grander than I remember from my childhood visits.
“Come on! Lets go!” cried Patch.
He had already run ahead, tailed by my father. Gleek did not move, her whole being focused on the butterflies. She was not ready to leave. Patience was rewarded after about 10 minutes. A butterfly landed on Gleek’s out stretched finger. Only then could we move on.

The snake was huge. It lay submerged, but we could see it underwater through the glass. Gleek and Patch kneeled down on the floor to get a better view. The snake head slid toward them and they watched in facination. Gleek touched her finger to the glass. The snake focused on it, bumping its nose against the glass. Gleek slid her finger to the side and the snake followed it. Back and forth went finger and snake. We asked Gleek to give Patch a chance, but the minute she removed her finger, the spell was broken. The snake was not interested in Patch’s finger. It slid back to rest again.

The penguin dove under the water and bobbed up again. He swam around the tank, but always returned to the corner where Gleek and Patch sat. Penguin and children viewed each other through some water and some glass. The penguin bobbed and the children giggled.
“That one is named Dunker.” said the docent.
“I know why.” Gleek said confidently. “It’s because he is always dunking.”
Dunker dove again and bobbed against the glass. Gleek pressed her hand against the glass.

To Grandmother’s House we go

I don’t like flying very much. I like getting to go places, but the thought of climbing into a metal tube and hurtling through the air miles above anything solid is not particularly soothing. I’m not afraid, but I like to spend my flight time distracted by a good book so I don’t get too thinky about how things could go wrong.

My flight tactic do not work well when I am seated next to two small people for whom this is the Best Ride Ever.
“Hey Mom! When we go up, I feel heavy!”
“Why are they spraying that stuff on the wings?” (De-icer)
“So is that where the air masks come out?”
“Is there a life vest under my seat too?”
“Why is the plane bouncing?”
“What is that noise?”

There were moments during the trip when I looked over at my quietly occupied children and was really glad that I get to bring them on this trip. Their delight and fascination with the whole process helps me remember that modern flight is truly a wonder to behold. There were other times when I had to encourage them (yet again) to keep their voices down and not kick the seats in front of them. This was when I rummaged in my back pack to see if I had anything more interesting than the plane itself. (Not really, no.)

Patch has flown before, but he was a baby so he does not remember. Everything was amazing to him. Gleek was three the last time she flew. She has a few fragmented memories of the experience, but she waved those fragments high as the resident flight travel expert. Except she was as delighted and amazed as Patch was. They both charmed the flight attendants by exclaiming “Oh Wow!” as they entered the plane.

The thing they did not expect was the quantity of waiting which is involved with air travel. They had to wait for time to leave for the airport. Then wait during the drive. Then wait to board the plane. Then wait to land. Then wait on the drive home. Gleek burst into her Grandma’s house with utter relief. She took a deep breath. “Ah yes! This is right. That’s the smell I remember. It’s Grandma’s house. I like that smell.”

I breathed deep and agreed.

Seussian Rhyme

Per my usual birthday tradition, I am posting a short story. This is one I wrote last year, but hasn’t seen the light of day outside a small writing challenge contest. I was really trying to stretch myself in a new direction. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but it was fun to write.

Seussian Rhyme

The upload machine had uploaded my brain
into the computer, but now I’m in pain.
Five year old Suzy just wanted to look
Cause I was too busy to read her a book.
The AI was able to read it just fine
Now I’m trapped in a world made of Seussian rhyme.

The visual data has also gone strange
Full of bright flood fill without the full range
Of shades and tonations to which I’m accustomed.
The eyes I have work, but I hardly dare trust em.

I find I have feet, both a left and a right.
They’re pointed and furry, but even that sight
Gives me some hope I can find my way out.
So I start walking and send forth a shout.
I’ve no way of knowing the sound can be heard
Outside the edge of this virtual world.
How long have I been here? I really can’t tell.
Thinking in rhyme is like living in hell.

The wild wiggled roads lead me straight to a town
With houses and towers that all should fall down
Lopsided and curving, a construction nightmare
And all filled with people who don’t seem to care
their town is insane. So I turn to one chap
“can you direct me to an exit mayhap?”

He walks right on past me and says not a word
Neither will anyone on else. It’s absurd.
This town’s full of people and not one will talk
Hours go by on the rickety clock.
Would that this place had some food I could eat
That wasn’t wrong colors for eggs and for meat
The smells are just fine and they’re always served hot,
But they’re unappetizing cause Sam I am not.

I started to think about the things that define
A virtual world. This one had to rhyme
It also had rhythm laid out by the master
This meant I had power to get me free faster
I knew exactly what I had to do
The course I must follow, the path to pursue

I must find the right Seuss to get me loose

I needed a fox, but where should I look?
Wearing blue socks, he had his own book.
A book with few rhymes, where rhythm was sparse
Perhaps in those rules an exit would parse
As if he were summoned, the fox did appear
I spoke clear and loud to make sure he could hear.

“help me kind fox. I’m truly perplexed.
I need to find some way to exit this text.”
“close” smiled the fox, “but not quite right.
The perplexing text exit remains out of sight.
The easiest way to be done with our game
Is really quite simple, you must name a name.”

I puzzled again til my puzzler was sore
What tang toungled name could I use for a door?
Ah of course, what else should I use
The name of the man which created the whos.
I spent a long hour putting words into place
Then I spoke clear with a smile on my face.

“A man once wrote of snoozing juice mooses
And also of gooses a-guzzling juices
The juice guzzling gooses also wore shoeses
Which lead to attack from jealous mooses
For lack of moose shoeses some very sad gooses
Had to fight loose of some nasty nooses
Then shod mooses fled for fear of reprisal
Of such wrote the man Theodore Geisel.”

I end triumphant. The fox shook his head
“you’re clever, but you don’t get it” he said
The meaning and matching, the mixed up word play
Only matter when someone can hear what you say.
That someone is small and will hear with delight
The rhythms and words you read her at night.

Like Derwin of Didd I was fearful and shaking.
Stuck in a mess of my very own making
My little girl Suzy and her special book
She’d asked me and asked me to sit down and look.
I was too busy. “I’m working” I said
And so she asked the computer instead.

“Oh Suzy.” I said “I’m sorry as can be.”
With this last rhyme, I find myself free.

Travel Anxiety

Last year I decided that this year had to be different. I decided that some important family events had to go onto the calendar first. So I took my permanent marker and wrote down some family things in red. I followed this up by making airline and hotel reservations which could not easily be canceled. It is a good thing I did. Because I am approaching the first of these red lettered events and the back of my brain keeps flooding the front of my brain with hundreds of small reasons why I should shift or cancel the trip. The front of my brain pats it gently, says “there, there,” and gets on with the business of preparing for the trip.

So I’m leaving for a trip on Wednesday. I’m taking the younger pair of kids while leaving the older pair with Howard. They will get to have adventures in doing daily routine when mom is not there. I will get to step outside my regular routine and do something different.

(“But we like our routine.” moans the back of my brain. “Routine is what makes it work and we’ve just gotten it going after all that holiday and Howard being sick. You’re disrupting every thing and Howard won’t be able to get his work done.”
Pat. Pat. We’re going anyway.)

Gleek and Patch are thrilled about this trip. They’ve been counting down for the last month. They get to fly on an airplane! And go to an aquarium! And play at Grandma’s house! And miss school!

(“It is all going to cost so much, and the next pre-order won’t open until April.”
Pat. Pat. We budgeted for this.)

I will get to go visit with my parents and with my Grandmother who is turning 90 on Saturday. I will have time to do some writing while the kids play with Grandpa’s bag of toys. I will also get to go to the aquarium and be fascinated by the creatures which inhabit the wet portions of our planet. I will relax.

(“At the very least you ought to do a business event. There are people you could contact. You should make the most of this opportunity.”
Pat. Pat. The point of a family trip is to get away from work, not bring it with me.)

Kiki and Link are less thrilled that I am going, but they are reconciled because we intend to take them with us to GenCon in August. I think they will discover new responsibility and possibly a new appreciation for all the invisible tasks I do for them that neither they nor I notice because it is so habitual.

(“You’re abandoning your children. You’re going to miss that scheduling meeting for Kiki. Patch is going to miss his 100 day celebration. You should have scheduled this for a different time.”
Pat. Pat. I can’t move my Grandmother’s birthday. It will be fine.)

I’ll admit I am not looking forward to the air travel itself. Keeping two kids entertained in an airport and during a 2 hour flight is a high energy activity. I need to do some advanced planning. Not only that, but the back brain has an abundance of worst case scenarios involving everything from minor inconvenience to major tragedy.

(No. Just stop. We’re thinking of something else now.)

But come Monday I will be back. I will be glad to be back. I will be glad that I went. I will have a head full of new thoughts. I will have spent time where the weather is warmer and the ground doesn’t have snow. When I come back it will no longer be January. It is going to be a good trip. The back of my brain will shut up once the trip has begun. I just have to make it through until time to go.

Snippets from a Sunday Afternoon

Kiki did not go to her church youth class today. Instead she stayed with me to attend the adult class. Of late she has been feeling a disconnect with the youth group. She has no close friends there, and she is far more emotionally mature than most of her peers. It was nice for her to get to listen to adults talking about spiritual struggles and topics so that she could see how mature people handle these issues, rather than having to deal with the way that immature people avoid these issues. I got to see how much she really does believe in the same things that I do, once they are separated from conflicting emotions about peers. Also she drew a beautiful picture which encapsulated the lesson, a testimony in an image.

I leave for California on Wednesday. I’m not ready yet. But today I finally wrote out a list of things I need to do to get ready. It is not all that long. Now I just need to do them. Then I get to escape my regular round of things-to-do for about 5 days. It will be good to get away. It will also be good to come back.

Kiki is having yearbook dread. She is on the committee and they have reached the point of looming deadlines. She also has some assignments which require her to interview and photograph peers who are not her best friends. These things are outside her comfort zone and she does not want to do them. My job is to listen and sympathize and help her see that the only way out is through. She chose this experience and she is going to learn a lot about how projects work. If she quits now she will only have the hard experiences without having the joy of completion.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a very well written movie. It does an excellent job of fulfilling the promises it makes at the beginning of the film. I laughed out loud many times and I generally don’t laugh out loud at entertainment. I also love how instead of the geeky girl being a pretty girl in disguise it was the other way around.

Life the Universe and Everything Symposium at BYU

The Life the Universe and Everything The Doc Smith Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium is an annual event held on BYU campus in Provo UT. This year it will be held Feb 11-13. It is Free to attend. I highly recommend it to anyone who lives nearby and has an interest in genre fiction. I know most of the people who will be presenting and they are all highly skilled professionals who are happy to share what they’ve learned.

Howard and I will both be there for most of the symposium. Howard is on 9 panels, so there will be plenty of opportunities to hear him speak. You can check the schedule online for details. I wasn’t put on any panels this year, but I’ll still be around talking to people. I can’t stay away from such a large gathering of people with whom I love to hang out. Howard may drag me up to participate in the Making a Living as an Artist panel at 5 PM on Saturday, but that panel is already heavy with qualified people, so time will tell. I should note that most of the panel topics tend to serve as jumping off points for fascinating and nuance conversations about various subjects.

Come by and say hello.

Getting ready to print

Our printer called us this afternoon. They were worried about us because it has been over six months since we printed books with them. The call was to see if they could win back our business. We assured them that we are completely pleased with their services and that we intend to be printing again come the end of February. I shot off a formal request for a bid via email once the call was over. And so the process of printing Resident Mad Scientist begins.

We seem to be chronically behind our intended releases for books. In theory we’re releasing 2-3 books per year. We’ve never yet managed three. Tub of Happiness was solo for it’s year because I had to learn how to do layout to put together the book that followed it. That took time. Teraport Wars shared a release year with Hold on to your Horses, but then Howard had to re-color before he could release Scrapyard. Last year we did put out two books, but one of them was XDM, not a Schlock book.

I feel like finally we have a system down that will work. Finally we have Travis doing the re-coloring so that Howard can focus on bonus materials and cover art. I have high hopes that we can finally maintain that 2-3 Schlock books per year which will allow books in print to catch up with the online archive. This is the brass ring we’ve had our eye on ever since we first printed a book. Every year I do some math and think that we could achieve it in two years if we really work hard. Then we work really hard, but the goal is still about two years away. Life kept throwing us unexpected obstacles and opportunities. Our plans shifted. Looking back, I can see that we’ve walked the right path. We’ve made the right choices. There is nothing to regret. But I still want to grab hold of that brass ring.

I opened up the InDesign file for Resident Mad Scientist which has lain idle for nearly two months. There was no need for me to spend time on it while we were waiting on Travis for the coloring. My attention was needed elsewhere. But the time has come. I need to pour creative energy into this project. I need to find the right margin art. I need to construct footnote boxes. I need to organize and copy edit. It feels good to be picking up these skills again. They are familiar now instead of stressful. I’m looking forward to getting Resident Mad Scientist done.