Month: July 2011

Staring at Another Busy Week

My list is full of urgent tasks. I am supposed to be ignoring them because it is Sunday and I don’t work on Sunday. Except that somehow I slid into working today without meaning to. Oh I didn’t ship orders or do accounting, but I did answer a business email. Howard and I have had a dozen conversations about business things relating to merchandise or upcoming conventions. I spent an hour updating Howard’s electronic calendar to reflect all of his GenCon events. And I was supposed to pack his suitcase today. I know these things don’t belong in my Sunday. I do a much better job of keeping my Sundays holy when I’m not scrambling to keep up.

However, I spent three hours at church. During those hours I listened to speakers and lessons. I felt my heart open and some of my pathway in the weeks to come felt a little more clear. I also wrote down even more things which I need to not forget to do. I always emerge from church with a list of To Do. The good news is that at least 50% of that list was about house, family, and spirituality. The bad news is that my ever-expanding list expanded yet again. Top on that list was taking Kiki driving. We’re running out of time on her permit and she needs to take her road test soon. I did that first. Then I sat down with my kids and watched the Sci Fi movie classic The Cat from Outer Space. They loved it. If you add in two family meals, the total is 7 hours where my focus was on family and spirituality. This is good, but it is not the same as having a whole peaceful sabbath day. I was hoping to spend time working on my Hugo dress or on the guest blog entry which I have 90% percolated in my head. Perhaps I’ll get to them later this evening, if I don’t run out of evening.

Want to see my list? …

Cliche and Shopping

Yesterday I took my daughters for a mother daughter shopping trip. We were out for hours, had a marvelous time, and came home with big bags of new things. I say new, but since we spent most of the time at at thrift store, the things were only new to us. This does not diminish the delight of my girls at their new things. Today I realized that my emotional reserves were empty and that I needed some time by myself. I didn’t need to be physically alone, though that would have worked, what I needed was to reside in spaces where I got to direct my steps without negotiation and where no one expected anything of me. I went shopping again, because that long trip with my daughters was all focused on them. I’ve long had wardrobe gaps to fill and worn out clothing to replace.

I remember our truly lean years. During those years we could not afford to buy clothing that cost more than $1 per item and then only if we really needed it. I shopped the thrift stores on dollar days and thought longingly of the days when I could buy $6 clothing on a whim. I thought about that as I wheeled my cart full of $4-$7 items to the check out stand. I am truly fortunate.

The goddess of shopping smiled upon me and my daughters these past two days. We each had a wishlist and each of us found something perfect to match it. This also held true at the clearance shoe section of Target. I can now pack for WorldCon feeling more confident and a little sheepish that part of my confidence is dependent upon clothing. Feeling like I look good makes me stand taller and walk stronger. This is true even though I might wish that all my confidence welled up from within.

Restructuring and Life Balance Progress Report

Back in May I had something of an emotional crisis. I realized that for years I had been structuring our lives in ways that minimized or sidelined my wants and needs. I summarized this in a post called Sinkholes and Structures. Our family made good progress on re-structuring and then school got out. I dissolved into summer and was quite happy until a wake up call showed me that I had swung too far in the other direction. Me doing whatever I wanted all day long didn’t work as a long-term family strategy either.

I’m pleased to report that during the month of July I’ve achieved a sort of balance. Most of each day is focused on the needs of others, but I get to do things that I want too. Most of what I am sacrificing right now is solitary time. I rarely get to be in spaces where other people are not nearby. I know this is temporary, and so I am fine. I also have WorldCon to look forward to. Having something to look forward to is an important happiness component for me. Another important component is project completion. July has had plenty of both. This is good.

I need to stock up on getting things I want because I have a strong feeling that September is going to be all about the kids. My things will be submerged, sidelined, neglected. This is fine, so long as I do not allow that pattern to continue into October and onward. Families have to sacrifice things for each other. I just need to remember that sometimes it means the kids and Howard sacrificing for me.

Embracing the Drift

Long about 1pm I ground to a complete halt. Every attempt to continue getting things done resulted in me staring blankly at my list of things to do without actually reading it, or, alternately, me standing in the middle of a room knowing I’d entered it for a reason but not being able to remember what the reason was. I decided a nap was in order. Unfortunately while my brain was too fractured to work, it was also too revved up to sleep. I lay like a lump while my brain ran in circles through the forest of stress. Sometimes I would snap completely awake with a terrified thought about something I’d forgotten, only to remember that I’d not really forgotten it. I’d just forgotten that I already did it. Fun.

The nap was not working, so I decided it was time to break out my new swing chair and embrace getting nothing done for the rest of the day. Remember that day last week when I browsed through porch swings and arbors on the internet. I bought neither, but I did happen upon this cotton padded swing chair. My will to resist was defeated by the $15 price tag. I ordered one for me and one to reduce the number of times I’d have to fight to get to sit in my swing chair. The seller sent the chairs promptly, they arrived last Tuesday and had been sitting quietly in the middle of my office floor every since.

I detached the standard swings from our redwood swing set and hung up the chair swings. When I settled my weight into them, they sunk lower than I expected, but it was very like sitting in a hammock. I swung gently and drifted in thought. Gleek came out and claimed the second seat. At first she chattered at me, talking about how she was bored and wanted to have a mother daughter date so that we could go somewhere. Going had fallen out of my repertoire. I answered noncommittally and soon she too was sitting in silence and drifting. After awhile I retrieved a book and read. Sense and Sensibility is a lovely book to read while sitting under dappled sunlight in a hammock seat. The air was a perfect 80 degrees. When the sun peeking through the leaves felt a little too hot, I’d turn the seat so that it hit differently. Sitting. Swinging. Reading. Drifting.

I finally dragged myself out of the seat somewhere between one and two hours later. My arms and legs felt limp and heavy, relaxed. I went downstairs and discovered that one of our marvelous GenCon helpers had proactively solved half a dozen problems. I got reports of Schlock book orders which arrived in perfect condition to balance out the few mistake reports. Our Schlock Mercenary shopping bags arrived and are stashed away for WorldCon. The world felt better and I began to get a few things done again, but when my brain fuzzed out, I would read for awhile. Or just sit. I guess I was overdue for a drifting day.

A Little Bit Exhausted

Being a little bit exhausted is an oxymoron really. Exhaustion is all-encompassing. It takes over the whole body and demands that it be attended to before any more effort is expended. I can feel the exhaustion there. It threatens to break through and take me over, but I’m holding it back and getting things done. This probably means I’m actually nowhere near true exhaustion. But it feels like I am. I’ve been working during most of my waking hours since Monday. My list of to do items is not getting shorter. It keeps expanding in the middle because of last minute scramble-to-get-this-done-in-time-for-GenCon things. It also expands due to not-quite-so-last-minute-but-still-urgent WorldCon things and the must-plan-ahead-for-Dragon*Con things. Then there are the neglected household things and the ramping-up-to-a-new-school-year things. I’m pretty sure that most of the urgency will shake out of the list by the time Howard leaves for GenCon on Tuesday. It’s all a little overwhelming, so I try not to think about it en masse. Instead I focus on today’s list and hope that by the end of the day I have nothing that rolls over into tomorrow.

Warehouse Day

My teenage boy and two boys borrowed from a neighbor were my minions this morning. The four of us moved three and a half pallets of books from my garage to our storage unit. Each pallet held 56 boxes of books. Each box held 22 books. Each book weighed one pound. Doing the math, we come up with approximately 3800 pounds of books moved this morning. I rejoice that my van survived hauling all of that in only four loads. I drove slowly, particularly down the hill. All that mass made it hard to stop quickly. This is one of the final steps to finishing off a Schlock shipping.

This year I decided to take the warehousing even further. We hauled all the empty pallets and pallet tops back from the storage unit where they’ve been taking up space. We also hauled out several large bags of paper and plastic garbage. At the moment we have 6 spare pallets and 24 pallet tops. Hopefully some kind soul from the Provo freecycle community will be delighted to have them and will haul them away for me. Right now they’re “decorating” a corner of our driveway and adding an air of class to the house.

The other warehousing I have to do in the wake of a shipping day is to find places for all the extra shipping supplies to belong. I also have to rearrange my storage room to make space for another book. Then there are the last few orders which required extra help to get out the door. Those are all done now. The storage room is mostly rearranged. I just have to find the energy to carry stacks of boxes and rolls of packing paper down the stairs. I’m hoping for a burst of energy later this evening. At the moment I just want to sit for awhile.

Shipping Day: Emperor Pius Dei

At the beginning of the shipping day we scramble to explain process to an ever-growing group of volunteers. twenty people stand and wait for me and Janci to sort out what we are doing. We have to pull out our dusty memories of what worked last time and make them fit over the physical changes in the store space since the last time we shipped. We have to assess quickly and assign jobs. Everyone is kind and patient. They are glad to be there, but I feel frazzled.

In the middle of the shipping day we have five tables with 4-5 workers at each. They’re working fast and smoothly. The book boxes are beginning to empty. The stacks of packages near the back door grow. Janci and I have time to stand back for a minute and agree that everything is going well. Two of my volunteers brought their toddler sons. These little boys walk with their dads, grabbing stray papers and putting them into the trash. I would not have expected it to work, but it does and they are adorable. Another volunteer has her infant bundled to her chest and reaches around to apply labels. Everyone is working and talking and laughing. I take some pictures and tweet our progress.

Later in the shipping day, we have begun to run out of things. The lists of invoices and labels have gotten shorter. People are asking for new lists much more often. There are more questions. The orders are more complicated. I scramble to help find missing books which have the Elf sketch, resorting to having Howard draw new ones. I stare at the tall stack of Ebbirnoth sketched books and know that the stack is tall because somewhere I made a mistake. I think I just counted wrong, but I look at the packages stacked by the door and wonder if these Ebbirnoths should go in there. But we don’t have a matching scarcity of something else to balance the extra Ebbirnoths, so I must have counted wrong.

At the end of the shipping day, we run out of labels and lists. I tell the volunteers that their job is to sit and wait for the sandwiches to arrive. They must eat the sandwiches because my kids would rather eat pizza than left over sandwiches. The food arrives and so do two new volunteers. There is nothing left for them to do. I tell them this and they look a little disappointed. I point them to the sandwiches and to the table of give away items, saying they earned them by showing up. I hope that is enough to make up for their trouble in coming. Howard sits down and draws a little sketch for each volunteer. He draws in all the books that they bring to him.

After the end of shipping, most of the volunteers are gone. The few that remain help us return the tables to their correct configuration. We pull out a vacuum and clean up the array of potato chip crumbs. My van is full of left over boxes and packing paper. And books. I drive these home and leave them to sit in the hot afternoon. In the cool evening I will get my kids to help me unload. Until then, I sit and try to quiet the fretful thoughts. It all went well. People had a good time. Just over 1000 packages were assembled and shipped in four hours. Once again we broke our own record for fast shipping. I think we can call that a job well done.

Photos and Tweets from the day:
7:45 am: Today is Schlock book shipping day. It is probable that I will tweet as we go. There may be pictures.

7:50 am: Me to @howardtayler : We can start shipping now, I have alerted the medias. (Twitter, Facebook, Google+)

8:30 am: Minions finished loading my van. Babysitters have their instructions. I’m off and running.

10:00 am: The chaos has settled in some. Note to self: next shipping stagger the start times. 30 people waiting for instructions is stressy.

10:30 am: Both the complicated orders tables and the simple orders tables finished Parcel Post simultaneously. Think this means it is going well.

10:30 am: Note to self: Three tables simple orders and two tables complicated is the right balance.

10:40 am: Boxes of postage starting to empty. This is good.

11:00 am: Youngest ever Schlock shipping helper. Three weeks old today. We’ve given her a supervisory position.

11:00 am: This is crazy. We’re going to be done before noon. I credit the record turnout of awesome volunteers.

11:30 am: …and we’re done. New volunteers showed up in time to eat food and visit. Sorry we ran out of work. #sortof

12:30 pm: Mailman brought the small truck. He’s going to have to make a second trip.

1:30 pm: With the work all done, @howardtayler sits around and draws picture for folks.

Arbors, Porch Swings, and My Gardening Summer

I should not be looking at arbors and gazebos online. There are so many more urgent and important purchases for us to make. We’re in the fat part of our income cycle, but another lean time is ahead and our surviving it depends upon me being wise now. Buying an arbor does not count as wise, no matter how lovely it would look underneath my wisteria vines. It doesn’t help that our wireless extends out into the garden so I can browse while surrounded by my green things and the scent of oriental lilies. I book mark the arbors and gazebos, knowing that two years from now I’ll delete the bookmarks without having visited them in between. I can hope that by then I will already have an arbor, purchased locally on sale.

Porch swings are less expensive than arbors or gazebos. I look at those for awhile too. I would not place it on my porch, which is too narrow, but I could hang it from the swing set on those evenings when my kids do not want to swing. It would be lovely to have a place to sit outdoors. I have those plastic stackable chairs, but they never were comfortable and have developed a permanent layer of filth from residing outdoors, year round, for eight years. I bookmark a lovely wrought iron swing with a flower pattern.

It is strange having these gardening dreams. They sprang forth from dormancy like flower bulbs discovering the earth around them is not frozen anymore. I love letting them grow even though I know that it may make the coming winter, both literal and figurative, harder on me. I still have time, three months before outdoors becomes inhospitable and I have to look inside for projects to dream. Or perhaps the opposite will be true. Perhaps hours outdoors now are filling my reservoirs, giving me reserves through the cold and dark. That is a lovely thought. It encourages me to sit and soak up the feel of grass under my feet, to smell the lilies and mimosa, to push back the grape leaves and see how many bunches of baby grapes I can find.

My neighbors are gathered outside. It is not an official event, we all just wandered out into the pleasant evening and discovered each other there. I listen to them talk. Their summers are busy, filled with going places. We’ve been at home this summer instead of running around. Ours has been the busy-ness of at-home routine rather than events and adventures. I think we needed this. It let us grow in calm and quiet ways, like the plants in my garden.

We are now entering that portion of the summer which I thought would be crazy stressful. It is busy and there are definitely elements of stress. Then I step outside and wander or work in my garden. I clear out overgrowth or pull weeds. I feel the living air blow around my face and I feel the dirt with my fingers. Sometimes I get hot and sweaty with this work, that is part of it and I don’t mind. Working with plants, my mind lets go of my lists and stresses. I stop clutching them so tightly and some of them slip away completely, not important after all. The garden is good for me and I seek more reasons to be outside in it, which is why I research arbors and porch swings even though I know I will not buy them today. It gives me hope that perhaps next summer will also be a season with gardening.

Shipping and Convention Prep Status Report

We are in the last run up to Emperor Pius Dei shipping. This is the season of our lives when the kids tend to themselves because I am busy. Fortunately for me, they are old enough to do so. Balancing the shipping work with family care used to be a lot harder. Shipping season has also been made tremendously easier by hiring a shipping assistant. She’s been helping me for four shipping events now.

Today will be bundle assembly. We’ll be putting together Emperor Bundles and shrink wrapping them. This will make our lives worlds easier on the shipping day because the volunteers will be able to grab a single wrapped bundle rather than 7 individual books. Bundle assembly involves hefting around boxes of books, rearranging the contents, and then hefting the boxes again. Next week I need to round up some strapping young men, hopefully with a truck, to help me shift three pallets of books from our garage over to the storage unit. Then Howard will be able to park in the garage again.

After all that is done, and the odds-and-ends of shipping is cleared away, I’ll ship Howard off to GenCon and dig in to the serious preparations for WorldCon. We’re going to be playing tetris with two vehicles, 8 passengers, luggage, and booth supplies. Fun.

Joy and Sadness on a Summer Morning

I stepped out on my front porch in search of my younger two children. I’d come up from a deep work focus with a vague awareness that they’d gone outside to play. It was time for me to ascertain their exact whereabouts. On my next door neighbor’s lawn eight children had formed a band. A CD player provided the music. My son and his same-age friend were dancing about with pvc pipe constructions which yesterday had been swords, but were obviously now transformed into guitars. Two four-year-old boys swung pvc pipe drumsticks to pound on imaginary drums. One ten year old boy was the lead singer and everyone else rocked out as back up dancers. The pavement was cool against my feet as I watched the joyous energy from a distance. Later it would be much too hot for such vigorous energy outdoors, but in the morning sunlight they were beautiful.

My joy at watching them tipped over to sadness. In the background of their frolic was the For Sale sign. Half the children in the band would soon be living somewhere else. The parents of the other two neighbor kids are engaged in a country-wide job search. My mind’s eye subtracted all those other kids, leaving mine alone. A tear trickled down my cheek. These are not my kids’ only friends, they have many, but this game, played in this way, with this group, would soon vanish forever. I will miss it.