Month: July 2010

Pets of four varieties

“What is that chirping noise?” Howard called from his office.

“That’s Sweetie. We’re babysitting him for the next week.”


“It’s a parakeet honey. We have a bird in our house. He’s trying to get someone to come talk to him.”

“Oh. I thought someone was torturing a computer.”


Yesterday Bob and Joe the grasshoppers were freed from their glass holding tank. They were quite the adventurous creatures, having been born in Idaho and smuggled home to Utah in a small girl’s suitcase. Gleek tended them lovingly for three weeks, adding daily doses of grass and water. But in the end she decided that they would be happier where they could jump and fly. So Gleek, Link, and Patch trooped outside for the momentous occasion. Bob and Joe consented to sit on hands and be examined for awhile before we found them a nice hidden spot where the birds would not see them.


This next week will also be one of Rat care. The rats don’t come to our house, but Gleek visits them daily and plays with them. She has even set up a special box so that the rats can have exploratory adventures.


Our first try with Sea Monkeys was extremely disappointing, leading to a jar that was completely empty. The second attempt reaped exactly one Sea Monkey. Gleek named it “It” and watched lovingly while It grew. So the third attempt included two packets in two different containers. Both succeed in little swarms. Yesterday Gleek decided that all the Sea Monkeys were lonely and wanted to be together, so we combined the colonies. Now we have a bowl full of a mult-generational eco-system. They really are kind of fun to watch as they swarm around the bowl.

Thoughts on ambition in the absense thereof

My ambition appears to be AWOL right now. Not surprisingly in the absence of ambition, I’m finding it hard to feel stressed about this. I would probably be more worried about it, but it has done this before. My ambitious drive is somewhat similar to my childhood dog who would periodically escape our yard to wander for a bit. He always came home, just as I know that my drive to create and put myself forward professionally will come back to me. But in its absence I find myself reveling in the calm security of home things. And I wonder why on earth I wanted to struggle to write and then put myself through an emotional grinder to attempt to publish. I already have so many important and difficult things to do without that as well.

But in the back of my brain a quiet little voice whispers a that once I had a strong feeling that finishing my book is somehow important. The voice is a mere echo, soft and low. I hear it, but I’m not ready to rediscover that sense of importance. I’m not ready to do all the hard and scary things necessary to bring that project to completion. It has been so nice to vanish into my supportive roles, to be wife, mother, business manager, neighbor, sister, daughter, and friend; all roles where I am defined by how I relate to others. I even find scriptural and religious evidence that self-abnegation in the service of others is a good thing. I remember how a decade ago I used to picture myself as a sturdy, deep thread in the tapestry of life; the kind of thread that is almost invisible but makes the beautiful patterns possible. That is who my younger self believed I would be. I remember that then wonder from whence came the drive which has me stepping forward to attempt to weave a shiny pattern of my own? Religion and scripture answer me here as well. Yes, I am to serve others, but the primary point of my existence on earth is to learn, grow, and become. The service I give is to teach me as much as it is to bind me to others and assist them. Because all I will get to take with me when I go are the things in my head and the relationships I have formed.

So I am called to step forward, do hard things, be not afraid. I must follow the call, not for personal ambition or aggrandizement, but because I feel it is the right thing to do. The call is soft right now, like the distant bark of a dog headed home, but I know it is coming. Then it will be time to stop resting and work again. At the moment I don’t look forward to that, but I know when I get there I will find the work rewarding.

Gleek’s possibilities

I was in my room when I heard the piano music. It was a fairly simple piece, but it was played well and it was far more complex than any of my children could produce. I went to see who was playing. Gleek sat on the couch and Bestfriend was at the piano. The scene made me a little sad. The two girls started piano lessons at the same time, but life around here got crazy, I forgot to remind Gleek about lessons, and they became a chore rather than a joy. We let her quit. Now she can hear what she gave up. It makes her a little sad too.

I suppose the lesson is a good one. It is good for people to see the results of diligence if it then inspires them to work hard themselves. Gleek is not afraid of hard work or pain in pursuit of something she wants. But she is prone to giving up without trying if she believes she will fail.

This Fall music will be in our house again. Link has band. I’m thinking it is time for Gleek to try music again as well. We recently acquired a guitar, and I’ve thought of helping her work with that. I’ve also considered finding a new piano teacher. I’ve also thought of re-enrolling her in gymnastics. Just last week she was practicing walking on her hands. Gleek has so much potential in so many things that I could completely fill her days with lessons. But that would not be good for her either. So I keep turning over the ideas in my head, waiting for something to become clear.

I’m not sure it can become clear until after I’ve found a school routine. So much has yet to be determined. I need to figure out the rhythms of the days once I’ve got one kid in high school, on in junior high, and two in elementary. There are pieces I need to set firmly into place before I start adding ancillary activities. And I can not get started on any of it right now. So in idle moments my brain examines the shapes of the possibilities and plays with putting them together. It is actually kind of pleasant. All of it is shiny and new, none of it has become work yet.

Yesterday’s Clothes

2005 was an extremely lean year for us. Howard had quit his corporate job and we had not yet released the first Schlock Mercenary book. I watched every penny, knowing that the longer I could make the money last, the longer Howard could stay a cartoonist. All our resources were tracked and carefully managed. This included outgrown clothing which was carefully boxed to wait for the younger sibling to grow. These boxes of clothing sat in a row in our garage, and I kept careful inventory.

In 2006 we released the first two Schlock books. Our long-term financial prospects shifted dramatically. My purchasing and resource management techniques changed in response. At first I still stashed away all the outgrown clothes, then I began to be more selective, only saving a few items. Later I noticed how the six year gap between my daughters was sufficient time for styles to change, and many of the clothes I’d carefully saved were being discarded in favor of hand-me-downs from more recent sources. So I shifted to giving out-grown clothes to friends and neighbors who could use them right away. I figured it was my turn to be the one giving out bags of clothing instead of receiving them.

All of this is on my mind because today I dug through the last of the boxes of carefully saved clothes. My youngest two are now the same ages that my oldest two were in 2006. It gave me pause to pull out Link’s old clothes and remember what life was like when he wore them. We had a good life then. We have a good life now. They are just different shapes of good. I miss the slower pace, but I love the exciting things I get to do now. I don’t want to go back. I’m happy to continue forward, shaping my present so that it brings me good tomorrows and a wealth of things about which I can be nostalgic in years to come.

Fashion, Haircuts, and Folk Art

When I look in the mirror these days I feel weathered. Not old, I get too many things done and carry far too many boxes of books to feel old. But the mirror was not showing me things I wanted to see. I kept noticing wrinkles, and other signs of aging. I’ve always been one who believed that wrinkles add character and create beauty. I’ve always intended to be a person who doesn’t mind them, and treats them as badges of a life well lived. And I have been that person, except lately, when I feel weathered.

On some level, I knew that my negative observations about my appearance were not because my appearance changed dramatically. I don’t look visibly different than I did three months ago. The difference is psychological, not physical. I feel grubby, boring, unattractive. This is the quite understandable result of being task focused for several months. My primary focus for personal grooming was to ready myself for the job ahead of me. I had no time to spare for more than the minimum of getting dressed and keeping my long hair out of my face. This past week I had time to pay attention again, and this is when I noticed how I was feeling about myself.

For some people fashion is a business or an industry. Some people consider it a social imperative. For me, fashion is a folk art. It is something I do because it gives me pleasure. I knew I needed to make an effort to put it back. What I was not sure of was how to go about that. I decided against going shopping for clothing. I’m feeling very cautious about spending money until after we see how well things sell at our GenCon booth. I seriously considered cutting my hair short. There are things I miss about having short hair. I played with the idea of coloring my hair as well. But a good cut and color are not at all cheap. And I did not want to have to explain over and over again why I had cut my hair. The point of the hair cut would be to infuse me with energy, which gets sapped by having to deal with other peoples reactions to the absence of long hair. (Side note: If you have long hair and cut it short, everyone wants to know why. Then they want to lament for the long hair that is now gone.) Add to that the knowledge that most women make drastic changes to their hair when something else in their life is askew. I knew this was exactly why I was considering a drastic change. I also knew that I was on the way back to being balanced, so I waited to see if the mood to cut would go away.

For me the point of long hair is the beautiful styles that can be created with it. If all I am going to do is throw it into a braid to keep it out of my way, I might as well cut it off. Then Last night I googled historical hairstyles on the internet. Once again my head is full of possibilities and many of them do not take much time at all. This morning I took a few extra minutes to put my hair up. I even stuck a flower in it. It is not much. I still don’t like everything I see when I look in the mirror, but I like it better than I did yesterday. I see the improvement in my face as well as in my hair, which makes clear to me that the faults I am seeing are as much inside my head as they are outside it. This is why I try not to listen to the voice which enumerates my physical faults. That voice has motives that I should not trust, no matter how loud the voice may be right now. Easier said than done, but I can get better at anything if I’m willing to practice.

As a side note, I’m extremely grateful to have time for folk art again.

Church and Conventions

Our business includes attendance at conventions which tend to take place over an entire weekend. We attend a church which reveres the Sabbath day and includes a command to keep it holy. I sometimes feel conflicted by the coexistence of these two facts. I do my best to find a middle ground where I do not forget the Sabbath even when I make business decisions which result in me having to work on it.

In a week I’ll be packing up my two oldest kids and taking them to GenCon. This will be their first opportunity to see how we work a major convention. It will also be their first chance to see how we handle Sundays when we are at conventions. It occurred to me that our church has congregations all over the world. The internet tells me that one of them is meeting at 9 am Sunday morning a mere 1.5 miles from the convention center. That is a walkable distance if it is also a safely walkable route. By Sunday it might be a welcome relief for the kids and I to escape the convention and spend an hour or two at church. Howard would not be able to go. He can’t abandon the booth for long enough. But the kids and I could. And it would probably be a good experience for all of us to be able to attend church outside of Utah. My kids have grown up in the religious majority, they would benefit from seeing a different perspective.

Interesting how I expend more effort on something I felt I ought to be doing anyway, merely because my children will benefit as well.

A normal week ahead

“So did you do anything for Pioneer Day?” Asks the grocery store clerk as she passes my selection of boxes and cans over the barcode scanner. The question is automatic, just a thing for her to say since she has to work on this state-wide holiday.

“Absolutely nothing.” I answer. “It was wonderful.”

She looks up at me, attention drawn by my non-standard answer. “That actually does sound nice.” She sighed. Then my groceries were in the cart and I left the store.

Doing nothing is something of a lost art for Howard and I. We’ve had to rediscover the uses of leisure time. Howard and I even had a conversation which included the parameters for his time off. Rule one was “plan nothing in advance.” Rule two was “Figure out what you feel like doing in this moment, then do it.” No guilt attached, no demands to be met. I think Howard finally got the respite he needed. I think I have as well.

Next week has no events on the calendar. Everything there is routine, the same things that happen every week. We all really need that. Even the kids.

Kiki just got home from girls camp and she needs to ground herself at home before we expose her to the stimuli-fest that is GenCon. She talked to me for an hour, processing all the experiences she had at camp. Then she asked when we could go visit her art mentor in Salt Lake. I answered that even though she really enjoys spending time with her mentor, it is draining and she needs to be storing up energy this week, not spending it. She nodded, seeing the logic.

Patch had a non-linear tantrum this morning. Everything was awful, particularly the fact that Howard attempted to help him when he wanted to get the chocolate milk himself. Patch needs a quiet house with regular meals and normal bedtimes. He also needs to be re-centered.

Gleek and Link are more resilient to the scattered schedule we have been running. However I suspect that in my distraction Gleek has been substituting glasses of chocolate milk for meals and Link has gone through an entire stack of frozen pizzas.

We all need the calm of next week. Then after Gencon we will need to settle in again. It is time to find a rhythm which includes schedule and leisure.

The cupboard in my mind

I have many metaphors to explain how my mind works. I swap them out at will, using whichever one most aptly describes my experience at that moment. Today I am picturing my life as a workspace with tables, shelves, cupboards, and filing cabinets. I am finally to a place where I am finishing off projects and clearing tables that have been buried for months. I’ve had time to pull out the contents of the parenting shelves and look at the work that needs to be done there. I’ve also been shuffling things around on the housekeeping shelf. These are good things. I’m glad to have time to give them some of my focused attention, rather than scattered maintenance.

Behind me is a cupboard. The door on the cupboard is closed. In that cupboard are my writer thoughts. I put them away and shut the door once I saw how busy I was. I simply could not afford to trip over them while in the midst of other things. For the first while I added things to the cupboard, supplies for future need. I closed the door firmly each time. But as the busy time prolonged, my brain simply stopped collecting writerly thoughts. I let them go rather than trying to store them. So the thoughts in the cupboard waited. When I open the cupboard I will find everything stacked away neatly. It will take me some time and effort to pull the ideas out, remember where I was, and re-teach my brain to collect those writerly thoughts. I know how it will go because I’ve put away writer thoughts many times over the years. Sometimes I grieved at having to put them away. This time I did not, because I knew they would wait for me.

I have not opened the cupboard yet. I’m a little afraid to. Usually a hiatus from writing is followed by a period of intense creativity. I’m not ready for that. I still want to rest. I want to finish off the summer conventions. I want to get the kids settled in school. But I’m not sure I’ll wait that long. Because I could keep making excuses for why I should wait. The things I keep in that cupboard bring me joy even though they are a lot of work. I am almost rested enough to want that work again. I did not open the cupboard today, but I did some preparatory work. I finally installed Word onto my laptop, which has been without a word processor since it crashed several months ago. The time is near, but for now I’ll turn away from the cupboard and put the kids to bed.

Appearances and Interviews

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly in various ways, it is time for me to clear out and catch up on all the things that got neglected in the past two months. Among the neglected things are some announcements which may or may not interest you.

Dungeon Crawlers Radio Interview: At ConDuit in May, Revan and Malak approached me to request an interview. When I regretfully mentioned that Howard was at Balticon, they clarified that it was me they wanted to interview. So I got to spend 17 minutes talking about my own projects as well as the stuff that I do for Howard and our micro publishing company. I really enjoyed the interview. You can listen to it on the internet for free: Dungeon Crawlers Interview Sandra Tayler.

Writing Excuses Podcast: I think I mentioned it before, but there was a special episode of Writing Excuses where Dawn Wells, Kenny Pike, and I talk about what it is like to be married to a successful author/artist. Recording the podcast was great fun, hopefully it is also fun to listen to: Writing Excuses: Living With the Artist

Writing Excuses Signing at Dragons and Fairy Tales: On July 31st from 5-8 pm Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler will be gathering together to do a group signing. They will also be recording an episode or two in front of a live audience. You know you want to be part of that audience. (3535 E Ranches Parkway Suite A, Eagle Mountain, UT)

GenCon: So by now some of you may have figured out that we’ll be at GenCon. The XDM/Schlock Mercenary booth will be #1921. This puts us on a main aisle right across from the Wizards of the Coast booth. If you’re at the event, please be sure to stop by. Howard will be at the booth unless he is participating in programming. My booth time has yet to be determined since I will also be shepherding two teenage kids through the wonders of a huge gaming convention. If there is any space left in Tracy Hickman’s Killer Breakfast, you should sign up right now. I heard Howard and Tracy plotting over lunch and it is an event not to be missed.

Aussicon 4: I will not be going to Australia in September, but Howard will be. He’ll be running a booth in the dealer’s room and rumor has it that he’ll also be involved in programming. We’ll fill in details as we have them.

And that’s all I’ve got at the moment, which really is quite enough to be going forward with.

Cleaning a closet

I cleaned out the coat closet today. It was not a critical task, nothing depended upon getting it done. Sure it was annoying to have everything jumbled up on the floor of the closet, but we’d dealt with it for six months and could have dealt with it for many more. But today I had time and I felt like cleaning out a closet. Having time to ponder what I feel like accomplishing is amazing. For at least three months all of my “get stuff done” energy was spent on business or family critical tasks. Any free time was spent crashing. But today I had just enough time and energy for a coat closet.

I decided to be thorough. I got out a stool and scraped everything off of the high shelf. This shelf is above comfortable reach for every member of the family. Mostly we’ve used it as a place to toss things when we didn’t want the kids playing with them, like umbrellas. We have half a dozen umbrellas in varying states of disrepair. Apparently I have never cleaned that shelf since we moved into the house. I found a Baby Einstein CD that apparently came in a package of diapers and the instructions to an infant seat that we replaced before Patch was born. I also found an old flag Howard once made for Halloween and pieces of a plastic jump rope.

Such is the detritus of our lives. None of the stuff I found is currently useful to us. It is clutter which carries a mild nostalgia for a time long past. I’ll not keep clutter for nostalgia’s sake. With the closet now organized I can begin to tackle the front room and finally put away all the pieces of projects which linger there. But not tonight. I’m out of energy tonight. Tomorrow also looks like it may contain spare energy and time. I’ll get started then.