Month: July 2011

My Car Thinks I Live in Canada

We’re planning to drive to Reno for WorldCon. This means 9 hours, in my car, across a desert. A pre-road trip check up was definitely on the schedule. It became urgently on the schedule when the air conditioner stopped blowing cold and started blowing warm. Since I was taking my car in anyway, I decided to make a list off all the issues it has to see whether they could be fixed and how much it would cost. My list looked like this:

Air Conditioner!
oil change
tire rotation
tune up
windshield wipers too small
windshield wipers range of motion
sliding door jammed shut (for over a year now.)
back hatch handle broke off
Odometer showing kilometers instead of miles.

In the actual event, I forgot to mention the back hatch handle, so that isn’t fixed. Everything else has been addressed. The wiper range of motion was addressed twice when I returned to make clear that having a five-inch-wide swath of unwiped windshield on the edges was exactly the problem I wanted fixed. I don’t need extra blind spots. The sliding door now opens for the first time in over a year. This will make carpooling and loading much easier. I hope it stays fixed this time.

The most amusing fix was the odometer. At some point, (a year ago? two years ago?) it started showing kilometers instead of miles. I’m really not sure anymore when it happened or what pre-dated the change. It may have been the same disastrous cracked windshield replacement which caused the problems with the wipers and during which the glass company put in the wrong window, then put in the right window but didn’t seal it, then finally got the window right but broke the wipers. Yes, I think I’ll blame them.

Having the odometer proclaim kilometers is a mild annoyance. It means that I can’t use the odometer to count miles during road trips without also doing math. It means that any time I take the car in to be serviced it appears to have traveled twice as far as it really has. The mechanics at the dealership looked at it and told me that there must be a short in the control block which is setting the defaults to Canadian. I think this is tech speak for “I have no clue, but if we replace this really expensive part I bet the problem will go away.” Then they showed me a magic method for inducing the car to show mileage when the engine is turned off. I say magic because the mechanic demonstrated and it looked simple, but I’ve been completely unable to reproduce the feat at home.

So my car thinks we’re in Canada, but I don’t mind because it blows cold, has a squeaky-clean windshield, and the side door now opens.

The Final Essays

I had four essays left to revise. These were the ones I skipped over when I was doing my beginning-to-end revision of the whole book. I skipped them because they were hard and my brain just couldn’t figure out the right way to wrap the words around what I meant. In one case I wasn’t even sure what I meant, which made the word wrapping particularly hard. I finished the big revision push at the end of June, then these essays sat. They sat on my desk printed on paper where I could see them. Out of sight truly is out of mind with as busy as I have been. I needed the occasional stab of guilt when I cleared away whatever was on top of them and found them again. I was feeling the guilt about every third day, but not finding the time to solve the problem.

I have writing projects waiting for me. I’m going to dive into plotting for two books. I have references to read and post it notes ready. I also have a text to read about sentence level construction. Then there are one or two mood books which are in the same genre or have the same feel. I want to read them to feed my writer brain. All of these things are on hold pending the completion of the four essays. If I move on before finishing up, then I’ll lose track of the essay thoughts. I’ll have essays scattered over my work space both physically and in my brain. But if I put them away incomplete, I will never finish them.

Today I sat down for a writer’s hangout on google+. There were four of us writing for 45 minutes and then visiting for 15. Having other people there was more helpful and less distracting than I expected. I stayed in my chair because it felt rude to wander away and not come back. Since I was stuck in my chair anyway, I forced my brain to stop avoiding the essays. I got two done. The two harder ones remain, but I’ve looked them over and am hopeful that my back brain will stew on them and present me with a lovely solution.

For the past week or more, I’ve not spent much time actively being a writer. My focus has been on family and house things with a side order of business tasks. It is interesting to note that rather than feeling like I was suppressing my writing self, I’ve been feeling freed from it. There is a lot of stress associated with seeking publication, and excusing myself from that has been very good. Besides, I have a garden to tend and a dress to sew. The garden will wait, but the dress needs to be complete before August 15 when I leave for WorldCon. Today’s stint with writing also showed me that some of the “freed from” feeling is associated with simple avoidance of effort. I was procrastinating. Having expended the effort and untangled the knots, I feel happy. And my desk guilt has been halved. Tomorrow I’ll do the other half.

Pioneer Parade

Pioneers are kind of a big deal here in Utah. We have a holiday devoted to them. Since half of the pioneer story is about traveling across the plains, most of the holiday celebrations are about parades. This morning was a children’s pioneer parade and Gleek has been excited about it for a week. Her best friend’s mother made skirts for both the girls and we pulled out our pioneer bonnets. Then we transformed our wagon into a covered wagon. It was the recipe for Saturday morning happiness.

It didn’t hurt any that at the end of the parade, a firetruck provided a huge spray of water so that everyone could get wet. Life is good for my pioneer girl this morning.

Evening on My Porch

Gleek dashes across my field of view in the darkening twilight. She is pulling our plastic wagon which has been transformed into a pioneer covered wagon using branches clipped from our pear tree, a piece of white knit fabric, and duct tape. Historically accurate it is not, but it is enough that Gleek can imagine the rest. She’s ditched the long pioneer skirt and bonnet in favor of clothes which let her do tricks on her bike. The bike is parked in front of a house across the cul de sac and the wagon is the vehicle of the moment.

I am seated in a camp chair on our front porch. It is not the most attractive of porch decor, but I love having a place to sit. The house felt too close, too full of noise and people. I needed to be outside, so I came here with my laptop. I sit typing, and witnessing the evening pass. Most of the neighbor children have been called indoors, Gleek still pelts her way through her games. The house is too small for her most days. I notice that the street light has become the primary illumination. My laptop screen is bright in my face.

“Are you ready to come in?” I call to Gleek.
“Ten more minutes mom! Please?” She does not wait to hear my answer. She dashes on past with the empty wagon clattering along behind her. Go ahead and run for a bit more child. I’m not ready to go in either.

Gardening Over Time

“Lawn is boring,” the gardening book said. “Why fill your garden with boring lawn when there are so many other things you can plant instead?”
It was 1999 when I read those words and believed them. I was in the middle of my year of peace after a tumultuous five years of life upheaval. It was a year when all my creative energies were split between my two young children and the plants in my garden. I dreamed of the day when the little sticks of wisteria would cover the back wall and bloom in the spring. I dug up grass along all fences and created garden beds. I planned to have strawberries and an abundance of flowers. A large section of lawn was dug under to become a new vegetable garden. A section of lawn around the corner of the house became my compost heap, piled high with lawn clippings and other plant detritus. I had a clear vision for what my yard and gardens would become. In my mind I saw blooming flowers, climbing vines, and some lawn in between to provide play space and visual distance. It would be a place of beauty.

Last week I raked out the four-years-overgrown vegetable garden. It was so thick with dead stalks and new growth that multiple passes with the weed whacker were necessary. My metal rake dug out mats of buried weeds and garbage. The pile filled two black trash bags when I was done. Once I was sure that nothing dangerous remained, I ran over the whole thing with our mower. When the weather cools, we’ll throw down some grass seed. That vegetable garden I dug out a decade ago is destined to become lawn again. So are some of the garden beds and the former compost pile. We learned to our chagrin that a compost pile next to the house attracts pests who then want to enter the house. I am now working as hard to put lawn back as I once worked to reduce it. Lawn may be boring, but it is easy to maintain and still attractive. I’ve discovered that a well-kept garden brings me more joy than a disheveled one, no matter what the plants in it may be. I’m trying to bring the required garden maintenance down to match my available time.

Those little wisteria sticks have done a beautiful job of covering the back wall. They grew and twined, cracking the lattice right off of the cinder blocks. In the spring they bloom. In the summer everything is shaded by a canopy of trees which Howard and I planted with our own hands. The scraggly oak remains scraggly and we’re finally admitting it will never thrive, but the others are all marvelous. This summer I am reaping the consequences of yard decisions made a decade ago. On the whole there is more good than bad. A decade from now perhaps I’ll once again be digging up a patch of lawn to plant more garden. Its all good.

Moving Onward after a Quick Turn-Around Rejection

“I’m afraid this isn’t a match for me, but thank you for the look. I appreciate it.” Said the answering email a mere four hours after I’d sent of the query with a quiet prayer to accompany it. I’d sent it off knowing I was unlikely to hear anything back for months. I was glad of the space. During those months I was free of obligation to that project. During those months I could unwind my tendrils of hope to attach them somewhere else. I know many authors view the long waits for query responses with distaste. I’m sort of glad about them.

Instead I’m staring at the simple words and know that it is time for me to do something again. The ball is back in my court. Instead of waiting, I’m back to researching. I’m also having to quell a whisper of sadness. The tendrils of hope were truncated. It is easy to tell myself the agent didn’t even read the query, but I’m pretty sure he did. It just wasn’t what he was looking for. Then I wonder if the query itself is at fault, if he’d just seen the book then the outcome would have been different. The speculation is pointless. At some point this book will catch the eye of an agent, or it won’t. My job is to write the best book I can, the best query I can, and to send them out. The rest is not my job.

I haven’t the energy to begin researching again tonight. The wisps of sadness are too strong. So I clicked through my regular internet rounds and saw that another person has volunteered to help with the shipping party. Sadness dissipates when faced with such good will. I am fortunate. Then Patch appeared at my elbow even though he was supposed to be in bed. “I just wanted to give you a hug mom.” And he did.

Tomorrow will be full of work. I must assemble a shipment of things for GenCon. I need to help construct a covered wagon for the pioneer parade on Saturday. I need to garden. I’m looking forward to all of these things.

Books Arrived, Work Begins

Books arrived. We shifted 1500 lbs of them into the house. Howard and Travis signed them. Kiki and I stamped them. Then we recruited some teenage boys to shift them all back out and down to Dragon’s Keep. Howard can commence with sketching tomorrow.

Lots of lovely people emailed me to volunteer for the book shipping day. I have the volunteers I need. I am too tired to make more words right now, so I give you some pictures of today’s work.

Scattered Thoughts on the day Preceeding Book Arrival

I got to 3:30 pm and realized that I had not yet accomplished a single thing on the list of tasks I assigned to myself today. I got stuff done, but it was all little jobs which didn’t get written down on my task list. Thus I was completely deprived of being able to click the little check box.

I pondered my unfocused morning and remembered that I didn’t get to bed until 1:30 am. Partly this was the fault of a good book, the other part a child who didn’t cooperate with bedtime. I did not compensate for the late bedtime by sleeping later because I’m trying to maintain a good schedule. Sometimes when I’m over tired the whole day feels like a slog. Other times I snap into a high-energy, high-efficiency state and get a million things done. Today felt like the second, but my efforts were scattered instead of focused.

At least I got the library books returned. And I bought a fresh basil plant at the grocery store. It is silly how happy that little green plant makes me. I snipped some leaves off and put them into a sandwich. Yum. Howard will probably not like the smell of it, he often doesn’t like having plant smells in the kitchen, but perhaps since this one is a food plant instead of a floral plant, he won’t mind. For now it is all bright and green on the window sill.

I’ve spent too much time checking social media today. Howard and I have been exploring the usefulness of Google+ and I’m liking it a lot so far. The only part I don’t like is being scattered across so many places. Three short-form social media sites are too many. I’ll probably drop even further out of facebook as time progresses. Twitter is nice and immediate. I’ll keep it. My long-form internet forums are my blog site and the mirror of my blog on Livejournal. Unfortunately I’ve seen a huge increase of spam commentary on Livejournal. I find it annoying to have to go swat these down manually.

Books arrive tomorrow. I’ve reached the state where part of my brain is disbelieving of this. As if I can kill the stress by denying the trucking-company-stated deliver schedule. When I open the boxes tomorrow and can hold a book in my hands the tension in my shoulders will unwind. I will have maybe five minutes of relaxed accomplishment and then all the stress will ratchet back up again as my brain switches gears to the final run up to book shipping. We sent out the call for volunteers today. At the moment I’ve had 4 people respond. I will beat back the lack-of-volunteers stress by pointing out to my brain that at least all the boxes arrived on schedule. A Fed Ex truck delivered them this morning. The driver helped me stack everything in the garage and even let my kids climb into his truck for a minute.

Later tonight we have family activities and I need to get to bed on schedule. For now I need to focus my eyes on that task list and see if I can get some of it done.

Summer Choices

Patch had a mosquito bite on his cheek. I caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye as he sat on the bench next to me at church. A closer examination revealed a second bite near his ear. They weren’t bothering him. He was too busy drawing. I noted their locations so I could slather them with lotion later. The increase in mosquito bites and lotion usage were a natural result of the additional hours we’d been spending out doors. I was outside more often and so were the kids. Since the middle of the days were too hot, we found ourselves out with the mosquitoes. Bites were inevitable, but Patch was particularly plagued. He had more bites per square inch than the rest of us combined.

Several years ago West Nile virus arrived in Utah with many loud warnings from the media. The news was full of information about how to defend against this new-to-Utah, mosquito-carried plague. We were all advised to stay inside during the twilight hours and if we absolutely had to go out, we should dowse ourselves with repellent. This barrage of advice was sometimes tempered by the annual warnings about sun exposure and skin cancer. Parents were advised to keep kids indoors during the hours of strong daylight, and if we absolutely had to go out to slather on sunscreen. I nearly laughed myself sick on the day when one of each of the above types of article aired with a third one which lamented how today’s kids spend too much time indoors attached to screens. Then down in the health section was an article expressing concern about the long-term effects of exposure to the chemicals in sunscreen and insect repellent.

At bedtime Patch came to me for the nightly ritual of bug bit lotion. The bites which did not bother him during the day, were sometimes a source of irritation at bedtime. He helped me find all the spots that were itchy and I daubed them carefully. We placed the occasional bandaid over a particularly itchy spot. Even with all of these bites, Patch did not catch West Nile, or if he had it was too mild to notice. Patch considered the itchy spots a fair trade for the evening hours spend running around with friends carrying toy swords. When Patch was tucked in, I checked on Gleek. Her skin had picked up a dark tan and her hair was bleached gold. At the end of the summer we’d need to trim off the split ends, thus delaying her goal of having hair as long as rapunzel. Yet Gleek didn’t notice or care about these things. She reveled in hours spent on bike and scooter.

I walked past a mirror where I could see my own darkened face and lightened hair. Our summer choices are writ upon our bodies. In years to come my skin will look older than that of someone who spent those same hours indoors. I may have to be watchful of skin cancer lesions. I will also have hands and arms which are strengthened by pulling weeds and a spirit which is calm and peaceful. All choices have consequences attached. No choice is free from risk. This summer we are choosing to be outside more; tans, mosquito bites, sun bleaching, and all.

Treasures in the Garden

I wander out my front door and instead of being depressed by waist high weeds, I see attractive plants and dirt. This is not the normal state of my yard in July. My bare feet step off the warm pavement of my walkway on to the soft lawn. The lawn is neatly mowed. All the bushes are trimmed. The grapes are growing along their wires instead of along the ground and up trees. My front garden is a place of order. Not surprising since I’ve spending an average of an hour per day working on it for the past several weeks. My garden is tame again for the first time since I began working full-time. I wander around the corner of the house to the one spot where weeds still lurk. Many more weeds still lurk around the back of the house. Four years of neglect is not quickly corrected. The weeds have a reprieve for the day. My back and arms are still too tired from the exertions of the previous days.

What changed this year? Why is my garden steadily looking more beautiful? Why do I find myself outside without actually deciding to go? Then once I am there I see a small task and decide to do it. Then one task leads to another and I discover that I’ve amassed yet another black trash bag full of detritus. I stand there with the bag and realize an hour has gone by and my arms are sore again. Some of it is a feedback loop. The yard is nicer, so I want to be out in it more. Because I am out in the garden, I see those small tasks and am drawn in yet again. It is a happy cycle. I enjoy the work and the sense of accomplishment. In the last week I have again found a stable happiness which somehow incorporates focused business thoughts, family chores, some writing, and a significant portion of gardening. All these things are fitting together defying my statements of past years that I simply did not have time to garden. Perhaps this blending is gifted to me now because I need it. It feels strangely as if all the digging unearthed secret deposits of time and energy, buried treasures.

It will not last. I know it will not. I am beating back the weeds with a vengeance now, but soon all of my energies will be absorbed by other things. There will be days and weeks when I step outdoors far too tired to begin even the smallest tasks. The weeds will gain ground on me then. Yet beyond those busy days and weeks there will again be times when I can tackle the weeds. I have finally come to believe that slow and steady is actually a better way to accomplish the things I want. I don’t have to hurry and get it all done before I become distracted. Instead I can do some now and trust that I will do some more later. Perhaps it is trust in myself that I have found. I finally have a long enough baseline as an adult to know which things will always cycle back into my life because I love them and seek them out. Or perhaps I have learned to trust that I will be gifted the peace and time that I need when I need it. Again this is cyclical. I’ll probably need to re-learn this trust, but it comes easier than it used to. For now, I am glad that gardening has come back to me. I missed it far more than I realized.