Month: April 2011

My List of Things

This is my list of things to do between now and Wednesday. The results of these things will generate an entirely new list of things for the second half of the week. Well, new except for those things which I did not complete before Wednesday and which did not go away on their own. In theory I will be updating as I go, in practice I’ll stop when I get distracted and forget:

Accounting I cheated and got a head start here. Finished on Saturday.
Update four websites
EPD layout -place margin art and bonus story
EPD Reprint margin art pages for Howard Done. Monday afternoon
EPD create pipe boxes for footnotes Done Mon 12:50 pm. I learned to work smart. Yay!
EPD enter copy edits Done Thurs noon
EPD cover comic and quotes Partially done Thurs
Contact Unspecified cool person about a future book intro Done Thurs morn
Contact another unspecified cool person about a different book intro. Done Thurs morn
Complete my book revision not going to happen this week. Again. Sigh.
Email triage Done Mon Morning
Visit new elementary school with kids Done Monday afternoon. They are pleased with the look of the new playground.
Go to Meeting with Gleek about gifted program Done Tues evening
Decide for certain whether to accept placement in gifted program Done Wed morning
Decide whether I’m going to also move my youngest child to the new school or if I’m going to put up with 4 kids being in 4 different schools. Done. youngest is moving too. (I hope. I’ve applied anyway.)
Preliminary layout for four more schlock books
Make dessert for an event I can’t attend because I’m double booked Oops. Skipped this one.
Do reading for Writer’s Group Done Wed morning
Attend Writer’s Group Done Wed evening
Added Monday Morning:
Buy 10 ISBN Numbers I can’t believe we ran out. 10 books in print right now. On to the next 10.
Watch Dancing With The Stars. Done I feel quite guilty about accomplishing this with so many important things pending. I was hiding from all the stressful important things.
Added Thursday:
Mailing Done Thurs Morning
Email triage Done
Work on book revision
EPD image edits Done Thurs afternoon

On My Neighbor’s Steps

I sat on the front steps of my neighbor’s house. The sun had set, but the concrete was still warm against my bare feet. I wriggled my toes, reveling in the fact that it was warm enough for me to venture outdoors without the protection of shoes. My neighbor sat next to me and we watched as a mixed crowd of children flocked past us at a dead run. Some of them were hers, some mine, some from other houses nearby. She laughed at the spectacle. I looked at her and thought how much I’m going to miss her when her house sells.

My neighbor’s steps are the perfect height for sitting while watching young children play. We’ve sat there often and watched the dramas of childhood unfold while we discuss the dramas of parenting. We’ve negotiated truces between her determined son and my headstrong daughter. We’ve planned birthday parties and then followed through on them. Those steps have been witness to both laughter and tears.

“I really should start gathering kids for bed.” She said.
“Me too.” I replied. Neither of us moved. On this last day of Spring Break with the weather mild, what we really longed for was a pause button. Stop right there, before the inevitable crankiness of getting kids up for school in the morning, before the last six week dash toward the end of school, before the hectic work schedule of next week, before she moves away. We did not get to pause. Time marched onward and the sky grew dark. We sorted our children into the correct houses and closed the doors. Hopefully later this week will deal out another lovely evening where I can sit and visit with my friend.

Looking toward the week ahead

I counted the number of essays I have left to revise before I can call the revision done. Six. I am so close. I could do that in a day if I pushed myself hard. The trouble is that if I wear myself out finishing the revision, I will be no good for the other bazillion tasks which are depending upon me. So I continue to work steadily in the snatches of time between everything else.

I’ve always been one to save the best bites for last. I carefully nibble away the crusts before I savor the middle. I push to get things done early so I will be able to enjoy relaxation later. Over all I think it is a good habit to have, however when the supply of crust is constantly replenishing, I have to remember to pause and take bites of the stuff I really want to eat.

Next week is full. I’m going to have to be highly focused to get it all done, particularly the tasks which I don’t much enjoy. I hope I can do it all. I want to end next week with layout near done, my revision done, and preliminary layouts done for the next four Schlock books. That last is important because Howard intends to spend the month of May hammering on bonus story outlines. Monday morning it is time to hustle. Between now and then, I have Sunday.

Farewell Vacation, Hello Deadlines

“I need a deadline. Tell me the absolute last date on which we can send files to the printer and have books in time for GenCon.” Howard said.

I turned away from him and stared out the van window. The red rocks of Arches had vanished behind us. The rocks I could see were just redish-brown, though the cliff formations were every bit as stunning. Vacation was over and it was time to assess the work ahead. The problem was that I don’t like to impose deadlines on my husband. The business manager in me loves them. She wants to schedule every minute detail so that it is all predictable. The family planner loves the idea of working at a steady pace and letting the projects find their own natural completion date.

“April 30th.” I said.
Howard’s face shifts as if he has been gut-punched. It only lasts a second, but I see the expression. I knew I’d see it. I never want to be a source of stress in Howard’s life, but we work together. It is my job to hand him tasks, even when they may be stressful.
“We have to get all the art and proofing done in two weeks?” Howard’s voice has an edge to it.
“Oh no.” I wave my hands a little, as if that could wipe away some of his stress. “That’s the end of your work. The proofing can come after.”
“Give me the final deadline.”
I look down at my shoe, calculating days in my head. Somewhere during this conversation, I’d pulled my legs up onto the seat with me, half cross legged. I was aware that it was an effort to feel safer, less stressed. It didn’t really work. I still had to give out a deadline. I knew the deadline, spoken aloud, would catapult us into several weeks of work-very-fast. I knew that ease would vanish in our scramble to get the book done. I wished that, just once, we could reach the final stages of book preparation with time to spare. We meant to do that this time, but Howard had the winter of unending sickness.
“May 12.”
The words were spoken. I could not take them back. Truthfully, my speaking them aloud changed nothing about the realities of printing production and convention dates. The deadline was already there. I’d been watching it the whole time. All that changed was that Howard could see it too.

The scenery kept rolling by outside the window. Howard and I hammered out a plan to get the work done. Then we talked through the months beyond the deadline, hoping to be able to arrange things better for the months to come. I am not looking forward to the stress of the next two weeks. On the other side, there are good things. Far off in October we’ve even penciled in another family trip. There is just a lot to do between now and then.

The Price of Family Vacation

There is an unsettled feel to the beginning of a vacation. We walked in the door of the condo and two kids went pelting up the stairs to shout exclamations about the bedrooms. The other two paced around the downstairs as if measuring the bounds of the kitchen and sitting area. I didn’t sit still either. I followed the exclamations, traveling up stairs and down, finding places for our suitcases, assessing risks, and making up new rules on the spot.
“No climbing the railing of the balcony.”
“Don’t jump from bed to bed.”
“Bar stools are not for spinning in circles.”
“This space is only borrowed, we need to not damage it.”

The kids settled more quickly than I did. They contented themselves with running across the wide lawn beyond our back patio, dabbling in the little stream, and swinging vigorously on the chair swing which hung from a high branch on a very large tree. I stood at the back door to watch them. We found this location and reserved it, trusting pictures and reviews on the internet to be true. It was as advertised and the first stressful question of the trip was answered. So many more remained. Where would we eat dinner? Would everyone behave at the restaurant? Would this vacation provide moments of laughter and family bonding, or would we be embroiled in a two day festival of squabble? A cry of dismay and pain from the swing seemed to indicate the latter.

I dashed down the gentle hill to help Patch wipe his knee, just tears no lasting injury. Kiki declared that she missed our cat and wanted to be home. Link announced his boredom. Howard was grouchy and hungry. Then the restaurant was further away than we expected and packed to the seams. I carried the tension of it all in my jaw and back, frequently forcing myself to relax both.

In a turnabout, the service at the diner was incredibly good. Patch declared that it was the best meal he’d ever eaten. Kiki and Howard threw jokes back and forth. Then Patch made us all all laugh by choosing to eat fresh cut lemons instead of ice cream for dessert. He’d taste, shiver, grin, and then do it again. A walk around the condo grounds led us to a park with hammocks, a stream, and a pond. The pond had several large frogs. Good things had begun to emerge from among the unsettled questions.

This is the way of vacations on the first day. I could not know yet whether I had pulled us all out of our lives to build bonds or damage them. Either is possible. I knew when I put the trip on the calendar that parts of it would be hard. I knew that there would be tears and frustrations. These are the price which must be paid in order to earn the memories. The tears and homesickness, the moments of despair over work sitting idle at home, the hours of laying awake late at night to count the various costs of the trip. These are the price.

Then morning dawns with the smell of husband-cooked bacon. The sky is a brilliant blue over red rock formations. Kiki follows her siblings with a camera as they hunt for frogs at the edge of the pond. Patch eats lemons. All of my kids look in awe at the wonders of weathered stone stretching in arches across the blue sky above. Patch declares that he wants to come back every spring break and all the kids murmur assent. My camera is filled with pictures of my children being unconsciously beautiful or deliberately silly. I stare up at the towering rocks with the wind chill in my face, knowing life is good. We discover upon returning to the condo that it is familiar instead of strange. These are the prizes and they are wonderous.

I will never be sorry for this vacation, despite the scrambling I did last week to prepare for it and the scrambling I’ll do next week to make up for the missed work time. The prize is worth the price.

Visualizing My Schedule as it Flows

We are now six and a half years into our adventures in creative self-employment. The first eighteen months were all about scrambling to find ways to bring in more money and to spend less. The two years after that were all about growing the business and figuring out how things work. We succeed at business growth until we spent a year and a half so insanely busy that we had to learn how to turn down opportunities. The past 18 months have been one long effort to balance work and life in ways that allow both to prosper.

At each stage I had to re-conceptualize how I managed my life and the lives of our family. Last year I struck upon thinking of our schedule as a fluid river with a few fixed points rather than trying in December to plan the following April, May, June. Things always change in between and if I picture them already set, I have to re-set them. If they flow, then changes in the fixed points alter the flow without me having to panic. Conventions and appearances are fixed business points. Book creation and releases are fluid. Kid concerts and school schedules are fixed. Family outings and housework are fluid.

Most of the big fixed points for this year were placed on the calendar last Fall. One of the most important ones was a family vacation. I put it on Spring Break and I made reservations for a place we could go. I expected to arrive stressed and worried about work. I particularly expected it after the addition of a convention right before it and right after it. I’m not stressed. I can see how things will flow. It is all going to be fine. I’m looking forward to our departure.

Today in Three Scenes

Howard staggered in the door looking gray and exhausted. A massive, slow-moving customs line made him miss his flight home from Canada yesterday. “You really need to be here 3 hours ahead of your flight.” The customs man said. The next morning, after an additional hotel night and an o’dark-thirty cab ride, less irritable customs agents greeted Howard with “Wow, you’re here early.”

That was all in the past. He was home and I hugged him tight. He smelled of airports. I sat in the kitchen while he fixed himself french toast and bacon to go with the Canadian Maple Syrup he bought in the duty free store. He was too tired to tell me stories, so I was the one talking. I picked my words carefully. Nothing could hint of things-for-Howard-to-do, that would merely depress him. I spoke of tasks I’d completed and quiet things which had happened at home while he was gone.

Food consumed, Howard headed up to bed. I swiped my finger in the maple syrup as I watched him go. Amazing flavor, it had aromatics and connotations. I’m pretty sure it was the cheap stuff which gets pawned off on tourists. I wonder what the premium would taste like. Howard slept and I finished my work for the day. Life is better with him in the house.


I was headed down the stairs for a restroom break, when I heard the lawnmower start in the front yard. I about faced and dashed back up. Gleek was out there with the mower, apparently a little too excited for her first lawn mowing job. At 10 and completely untrained in lawn mower safety, I was not ready to leave Gleek and a running mower unsupervised.

The mower sputtered to a stop before I got half way up the stairs. Gleek came dashing into the house.
“I started it!” Her grin took up her whole face.
Scolding withered in the face of her joyful triumph. “Yes, but don’t start the mower until I’m with you.”
“Okay!” she answered and bounced bak out the door.

I mowed the edges for her. I intend to do that all summer. I like the flowers in my beds to grow more than two inches tall. Then it was Gleek’s turn. I walked right behind her for the first time round the lawn. Then I sat on the steps and watched my little girl manage the big mower. She was handling it like a pro before she was done. She did have to give a little jump in order to put enough weight on the handle to turn the thing. Straight. Jump. Turn. Straight. Jump. Turn. It made me smile, particularly as the circles got smaller.

When she was done, Gleek was ready to do the back yard too. That was Link’s job. Before the end of summer, she’ll probably be tired of mowing, but for now she loves it.


“Look on the front, see there’s a button which says stop/eject. Push that.” Kiki said.
Patch peered at the front of the VCR, a video tape held uncertainly in his other hand. He found the button and reacted with delight when a tape emerged from the machine.
“We’ll have to rewind that one later, but for now put in the other tape.”
Patch put down the first tape and looked at the second, turning it left then right.
“Bring it here.” Said Kiki. She reached over the sleeping cat on her lap. The cat was the reason that Patch was being given verbal instructions on this strange technology. I was too amused at the process to interfere. At eight years old, he had only known DVDs. The idea that a movie could be contained in this clunky box called a tape felt strange to him.
“See this arrow? Put that end in first.”
Patch complied and grinned when the VCR pulled the tape from his fingers. Then Kiki talked him through fast forwarding through the interviews at the beginning. They didn’t want to watch George Lucas talk about his movies, they wanted to see the movie.

The tape was as old as Kiki. We bought the set when the movies were advertised in their original format for the last time, before things were digitally tinkered with. Han shoots first, and the Death Star explosion is small. Perhaps someday our VCR would break, or one of the tapes would break. Then we would buy the films again.

Patch pushed play and bounced over to the couch to sit next to Kiki. The opening strains of music swelled a deep nostalgia inside me. I stood and watched too. Just for a minute, before going back downstairs to finish my accounting.

Updates when poised upon the edge of Spring Break

Canada has decided to keep Howard for another day. Or rather, the massive line for US customs prevented him from boarding his plane on schedule. The Ad Astra folks were marvelous. They retrieved him from the airport and offered to pay for his extra night’s hotel stay. I’m glad he is in a place where there is a chance he can relax and visit with good people. I’m sad it will take him that much longer to get home.

On the home front we successfully navigated our second Sunday dinner where the kids were required to assist in the cooking. Link was in charge and I had ample opportunities to teach him how to read a recipe. It is not as intuitive as I would have previously assumed. The resulting meal was a big pan of lasagna. We’ve still got 3/4 of it. I’ll have to see if it freezes well. I think the next time we do lasagna, I’d like to find a recipe which is lighter on the meat and includes vegetables. Next week Gleek will be our chef.

The non-chef kids have assignments as well. One is tasked with helping clean up. One sets the table. The last one has to sit down and plan the food for the next week. I’m well aware that this schedule is only the tiniest of baby steps toward teaching my kids self-sufficiency in the kitchen, but at least we’re shuffling in a good direction. I don’t have the energy or focus to require anything more rigorous. Hopefully this plan will prove to be one that settles in rather than disappears.

This week is our Spring break. For the first time in 3 years I am actually looking forward to having my kids home for the week. I managed to clear the business calendar so that I have time to calmly plan fun things to do. Howard’s life is a bit crazy this month, but mine is not. I think that because mine is not, Howard’s will be simply busy instead of crazy-stressful. I’m doing what I can on that front.

I think it is going to be a good week.

Social Media and Me

A couple of years ago my extended family and I all discovered facebook more-or-less simultaneously. For me it was a natural extension of my online existence. I’d already had a blog for years. For most of them it was a somewhat scary adventure into the wilds of the internet. I quickly found ways to be comfortable and was updating my facebook status regularly.

Then I got an email from my sister. “Are you doing okay?” she asked “You seem stressed.” Well, I was stressed. I was also pretty happy with my life. The trouble was that all my complaints were facebook sized and all my happy things were blog sized. My sister didn’t read my blog, so she got a rather narrow slice of what my life was really like and I looked rather unhappy.

I set out to fix the imbalance. I decided that I would deliberately use facebook as a place for small happy things. That worked pretty well, and life felt a little more balanced. Enter twitter, with it’s immediacy and propensity for clever conversations. My family stayed firmly entrenched in facebook. They were comfortable. I linked my twitter feed to my facebook feed so I could post in a single place. My family was confused. The dialect of twitter is different from that of facebook. They didn’t get half of what I was saying. I unlinked the feeds so that I could participate in the communities differently. (Actually a technological glitch unlinked them for me, but I decided it was best to leave them that way.)

Then came the day when I wanted to rant about my broken lawnmower. I was furious, unreasonably so. I wrote a blog entry, which I didn’t post because I knew it made me look unreasonable. I composed a facebook note, which I deleted for the same reason. I did not tweet it either. I was trying to not annoy people with my whining on the internet. The feelings pounded around inside my head until I finally went to a writer’s forum to which I belong and posted in the “venting” thread. The whole point of the thread is to provide a place for people to be grouchy or upset over random life things. Within an hour, two people had posted sympathetic responses. I felt validated, and my angry feelings dissipated almost entirely. I was able to move along in finding rational solutions.

Only later did I think that, maybe, I should have given my family the opportunity to share in my lawnmower frustrations. Keeping facebook cheerful is over all a good thing, but if it is unremittingly cheerful, then it is just as false as when it was the repository of all things whiny. Somehow, I need to find a balance between letting people share in both the downs and ups, without being all-whiny or all-chipper. This social media thing is not so easy as it looks even when one manages to avoid the major faux pas. (so far. fingers crossed. Do not want the internet to fall on my head ever.)

Patch’s Birthday Party in Tweet form

My house is full of sword wielding boys. twas not supposed to rain on party day, else I’d not have put ‘bring a sword’ on the invites.

It turns out that 10 boys with padded swords do not need a party plan. They just need melee room. Will intervene with pizza before tears.

Serving soda to 10 boys is surprisingly similar to bar tending as seen in films. “two orange/root beer blends and a 7up!”

All boys will be disarmed before presents and cake. No exceptions.

Bugs Bunny is always a great way to end a party.

Once again I discover that my favorite part of kid birthday parties is the quiet afterward.