Month: May 2014

Kiki’s Birthday

I failed at birthdays last year, which is sad because all of my kids hit significant milestones. Gleek turned 12, Patch 10, Link 16, and Kiki 18. All the birthdays hit in the midst of other things and though I wanted to give them full attention, I just didn’t have that. The one I failed worst was Kiki. When I look at all the things going on at that time, the failure is understandable. I had all the end-of-the-school-year stuff. I had meeting after meeting about Gleek to make sure that we had her anxiety under control and things set up properly for the next year. I’d just sent The Body Politic off to print. We were expecting the coins the next week. I had relatives incoming for Kiki’s graduation. There was also the trecherous emotional terrain we were marching through having our first child graduate and be college bound. I wasn’t entirely stable. I careened through that month just trying not to crash. Then two days before the birthday, my hard drive failed and I had data loss. Computer failure is always massively anxiety inducing and I was already maxed out. So, yes, completely understandable that the birthday did not go as we would have hoped, but still painful.

I remember talking with Kiki about having a low key birthday and thinking it would be okay. We were getting her a laptop for her combined birthday/graduation present. It was the largest and most hoped-for present she’d ever gotten in her life. We went on her birthday to pick it out, but it had to be configured, so she did not get to take it home and play with it on her birthday. If I’d thought that through I would have realized that computers are rarely things to walk in and take home. I’m pretty sure that Howard took her out for sushi that birthday afternoon. So it is not that we deliberately ignored her, nor that we forgot. I thought it was all good. But she was sad, because most of the day had been just a normal day. Then at bedtime Patch had a meltdown because he hadn’t given her a present and it was really important to give her a present because she was leaving and her leaving was sad. Patch’s meltdown reminded Link and Gleek that they felt the same way. So I piled the three younger kids into the car and took them to Walmart to buy presents. I guess Kiki was in the shower or something. Somehow we left the house without her knowledge.

Though I would have liked to have done the shopping trip earlier (ahead of time, instead of late) as I walked with my kids through Walmart, I realized this was exactly what they needed. I watched them as they looked at towels, mugs, etc. Looking at these things, they were actually picturing Kiki at college and thinking about her there. They each selected a thing that they thought she would use and appreciate. Then each one knew that their sister would be taking something that they had selected for her. Much love went into the selection of those gifts. Every bit as much as if they’d shopped earlier, though for obvious reasons advance shopping would have resulted in a different birthday experience for everyone. When we arrived home we had a 10:30pm “patch up the feelings” birthday party. There were smiles and hugs. Kiki was touched that we’d disrupted bedtime in order to try to make the birthday more what it should have been. It was definitely not the 18th birthday that Kiki emotionally needed.

There were about two weeks between Kiki’s birthday and her graduation. I gave her a small gift on each of those days. I called it eighteen days of celebrating Kiki. We both knew it didn’t erase the birthday that wasn’t what it ought to have been, but it let me show that the hard day was not for lack of caring. I don’t know if it really helped or if she was humoring me.

This year is different. Kiki really doesn’t need more than a low-key birthday. She went to a movie with Howard. I fixed her lunch and took her shopping. She got plants; a philodendron from me and a little bonsai tree from Gleek. Link gave her the stuffed portal cube that he had. Patch gave her books. Howard gave her an easel. It was still more cobbled together than advance-planned, but the key is that she never felt ignored nor neglected. Not once. Not only that, but I was able to tell her about my (failed) quest for a lucky bamboo plant. It was a story that demonstrated that I’ve been thinking of her and her birthday for over a month in various bits and pieces. (This is usually true. I think a lot, but actually pull things together just in time.) The love is no different between this year and last, but the emotional needs and capabilities vary greatly. Last year Kiki was looking ahead to leaving home and needed evidence that she was loved and would be missed. This year she’s just arrived home and had seen in a dozen ways how glad we all are to have her here. Different year, different emotional needs.

Kiki and I talked about last birthday and this birthday. I don’t believe any hard feelings linger. But I did have a moment of being appalled when I remembered the scrambled 10pm shopping trip. I’d actually forgotten that part until Kiki mentioned it. It is one more evidence of how insane last year was. I’m so glad to be in this year now. I’m also glad that I don’t have to figure out any more birthdays for a while. They’re hard to get right.

Schedules and Sleep Deprivation

My standard weekday schedule shorts me an hour or two of sleep per night. I sleep later on the weekends to restore balance, but the sleep deprivation still accumulates and about every other week I have a day where I send the kids off to school and go back to sleep for three to four hours. It seems like a waste to spend work hours on sleeping, but I can’t deny that I need it. I always feel better afterward. Today was an extra sleep day.

The effects of sleep deprivation on me are subtle. I’m more easily distracted, I write less, and I’m more prone to anxiety. Last night and this morning I felt that I was failing at everything. I was obviously in a downward spiral of failing-ness that would make everything in my life crash and burn. After the long nap my life feels possible again, although I do cringe when I think of opening my task list, because I know it will be full of the things I meant to accomplish today.

The good news is that in two weeks I will no longer have school-schedule-induced sleep deprivation. The bad news is that I won’t have a school schedule to encourage me to get up at a reasonable hour in the mornings. Sleeping til 10am is lovely for lazy vacation days and very counter productive for work days, because no matter when I start my work day, my brain quits around 5pm. So once again I find myself in late May, staring at the summer ahead and thinking “How does this work again?” This year has the additional wrinkle that I’ll be out of town for half of June, which will seriously impact my ability to establish routines.

As always, I’m thinking ahead more than I need to. It will all work out when I get there.

In Which an 11 Year Old Boy Discovers that a “Girl Book” Can Be Really Good

Me: “Hey Patch, for your reading assignment you need to read a Newbery award book. I think you should read this one.”

Patch: “What’s it called?” he asked turning it over. Then he saw the title, The Princess Academy and paused.

Me: “I know has princess in the title, but I really think you’ll like it.”

Patch: “Okay” sounding doubtful.

Later that evening.

Patch: “I think this should be a read at home book, because I don’t want it to get lost at school.”

Me: “Are you a little embarrassed to take a princess book to school?”

Patch: Long explanation of why he needs to leave the book at home, uses supporting evidence, even though he intends to take a different book to school.

Me: “Also, you’re a little embarrassed to take a princess book to school.”

Patch: Sheepish half-smile. “Yeah.”

Me: “I understand. I don’t really think there are girl books and boy books, just stories. But some people do think that way and I understand if you are worried about getting teased.”

Patch: Nods and begins reading.

The first day, he stuck to his plan. The other book went to school. On the second day, Patch went to his back pack and pulled out the other book.

Patch: Holding up The Princess Academy, “I’m taking this one. It’s really good.”

When I picked him up from school that day he walked slowly to the car because he was reading as he walked. In the car he spun theories about what would happen next and how the mountain folk really should be rich because of all the Linder.

Thus do I begin to teach my son that good stories reside in all sorts of covers. I also begin to teach him that he can identify with a female protagonist and be just as enthralled by her story as by stories which feature boys. And if my son can identify with fictional girls then he can empathize with real life ones. Book by book the world can become a better place.

Pondering the weeks to come

I run my fingers across the calendar squares, counting the days. Twelve more mornings when I have to shepherd the kids off to school. Seventeen days until I reach that final school morning. I try not to count. I want to dwell in the days I have rather than living in expectation of something else, but it is hard. I know that change is coming. I know what I need to do for it, but I can’t know exactly how it will all work until it arrives. So I wait.

I’m not idle while I wait. Each day is filled with a full slate of things to do. Some of them I spend focused on a single large project. More often the day is fractured and pieces spread out over multiple projects. Sometimes it is my task list that reminds me to jump from one thing to another. Other times one task flows logically into the next, as when my work on the challenge coin pdf reminded me that I intended to design a “minion coin” to give out to those people who have helped me with shipping events. Learning the traditions as made me want to participate in them more.

This morning I had the following conversation with Howard over twitter.

Me: May is always a month of many things.
Howard: Name a month that is not, at least for us, a Month of Many Things. Go ahead. TRY.
Me: I think June of 2005 was pretty empty.

Of course I’m only guessing about June 2005. I just know that it fell after Howard quit Novell and before we printed our first book. I was spending my time making the pennies last by shopping garage sales. So I guess I was still busy, just differently busy.

Looking ahead, the calendar for June, July, and August appear emptier. There are fewer appointments, but just as many things to accomplish.

Cleaning House and Getting Organized

Most days I look around my house and wish that I had time to clean it. Then every once in awhile I have a day where I get started on a small cleaning task, which leads to another small task, which leads to another until I find myself vacuuming in a fully cleaned room. I love those days because the next several days after are so much nicer. Today the impetus to clean was the fact that we had company coming, quite a lot of company, many of whom were small children. I figured I should probably pick up the dice and Lego off the floor lest the toddler eat them. Fortunately my kids also saw the need for cleaning and they pitched in to help. I like my house a lot better this evening than I did this morning.

Kiki has been home for more than a week. She’s fully settled into the basement room. She started work as a Tayler Corporation employee last Monday. I can already see the difference in how much I’m getting done. Having an auxiliary brain with attached hands makes my life so much more pleasant. This will be particularly true as we head into book shipping season. It is coming right up. I got an email today which said that the books might arrive as early as next week. That is a week sooner than anticipated. I’ve learned that sometimes there are hold-ups in the port which delay shipments, so I don’t count the delivery as settled until I get a scheduling call from the local trucking company. But pre-orders open one week from today.

Having Kiki work for me has made other things possible as well. In June I’ll be headed out for a two week family reunion trip to California. During most of the time that I am gone, Kiki will be minding the store. Literally. I’m training her to do all of the shipping work that I do. This means I won’t return to a pile of urgent customer support. I can tell already that I’m going to miss Kiki when she leaves for school again in August. But I’ll be much better positioned to know what I need in an assistant. And everything will be far more organized than it has been in quite a long time

Digging out Weeds

This was my front flower bed at 9am this morning. Grass has always been a challenge in this bed. I’ve fought with it for years, never quite able to eradicate it because I was reluctant to really dig up the bed for fear of hurting hidden spring bulbs. Then I had two or three summers where I did very little gardening. The grass began to win and this year there were no spring blooms. I decided it was time to take a shovel and dig everything up. When I began digging, my hope was to dig it out and buy some flowers to plant to make things pretty. Within a few minutes I could tell that the grass was so pervasive and wide-spread that the only chance I had to really get rid of it is if I employ a bare earth policy. I need to dig up this bed every few weeks all summer long to be able to find all the hidden grass and morning glory roots.

Step one is mostly complete.

You can see that I left the peonies, a couple of day lilies and some flax down at the end near the rock. These are good strong perennials and they are the basis for the flower bed that this will become. For this year they’ll just sit there surrounded by dirt. If I succeed in my war of attrition on the grass, then when cool weather arrives in the fall, I will plant some more perennials. I have all summer to think about which ones I want.

As I was digging, I thought about this bare earth approach in other areas of my life. There is often a stage in creating something beautiful that is downright ugly and a whole lot of work. Last year was a bare earth year for our family as we cleared away lots of mess and reconfigured some relationships. This year the kids are poised to bloom. Right now my novel is in a bare earth phase. I’m just working and it feels like there is no way that it can ever be a thing of beauty. But sometimes it takes a summer of digging weeds before there can be a summer of flowers.

Pieces of Posts

Earlier today I made a joke on Twitter about how pieces of four blog posts were all fighting in my brain. Then I sat down with a pen and paper to discover that it was at least seven posts. None of them have a chance to be full blog posts unless I get them sorted out a bit. So I’m going to throw the pieces here either to live as little fragments, or perhaps to be rescued and turned into full posts later. Either way, they’ll be out of my head. It was getting noisy in there.

1. While I was out walking yesterday in Salt Lake City with Mary Robinette Kowal who has professional theater training, we were stopped by a man with a very sad story. Within two sentences I recognized the classic Stranger in Distress scam. He picked up pretty quickly that we weren’t buying it and the moment he did, he dropped the act and walked away. At which Mary said “and I applaud that performance.” Later she critiqued the things he was doing wrong in trying to engage sympathy and explained how it could be done much better. Let me say that I hope that Mary never turns scam artist. She’d walk off with all the money.

2. I was in Salt Lake to attend Mary’s reading and to visit with her. So I wore my casual clothes instead of professional appearance gear. So I was taken by surprise to be recognized and to have to introduce myself as an author after the signing. Note: I should have been more prepared for it in that context. It brought to my attention how I have very different modes of approaching the world when I expect to be invisible and when I expect to be putting myself forward.

3. One of the places that Mary and I went was Decades Vintage Clothing where we looked at all the lovely clothes. I love that store. With current budget and time limitations I couldn’t buy myself any clothes, not even for projects. However I did notice a bin of handkerchiefs. One of them was so lovely (Hand embroidered!) that I realized it needs to be in the book I’m writing. So I bought it using the spare change in my purse and brought it home.

4. We’re in the midst of pre-order preparations. Mostly this means that Howard has to blog to let people know when ordering opens. I took some of the iconic art from the book and put it up on eBay for sale. Howard is also going to do some guest posts and other publicity related things. This marketing is important, but it also means the beginning of the pre-order anxieties. Illogical or not, we’re always afraid that THIS pre-order will be the time when no one shows up to buy the book. We’ll throw a party and no one will show. We try very hard not to play the “What if” game, but until we see how the ordering goes, there is a big question mark in the middle of our financial plans for the next six months. I don’t like staring at big question marks.

5. Kiki has been on the job as a Tayler Corporation employee for a week now. We’re still figuring it out. I’ve learned that I have to do a better job of giving her predictable work hours. I’m also still training her on what needs to be done and how to do it. Yet I can see already how much better my life is going to be with help. Kiki did the matting for the eBay art. She’s going to take over most of the routine shipping. She’s helping me organize and plan ahead in ways that I just haven’t had time to do before. I think I’m going to miss her help very much when she goes back to college in August.

6. I’ve moved my accounting day from Monday to Friday. Surprising how a small change can make everything fit better.

7. There are fourteen school days left in the year. I am so ready to stop tracking school assignments. In fact, I kind of did for about a week there, but now I’m trying to be good again. The switch into all the kids being home all day brings its own challenges, but I’m about ready for it anyway.

8. One of the things I did during my day in Salt Lake City was sit down and write words for House in the Hollow. It was really hard to get started again. The whole thing feels a little stupid, which is a normal stage for the muddle in the middle of a book. So to paraphrase Chuck Wendig; this is my beach storming draft. Get out of the water. Establish a beach head on the sand. Don’t Die. Hopefully I’ll find the flow of it again.

9. Howard and Kiki have conspired to hire her for Tayler Corporation artwork. I’m excited at the project. It is going to be fun.

… and I think that’s it. Surely nine posts is more than enough to make one head feel very crowded indeed.

Walking in the City

I walked in Salt Lake City today. I’ve walked here before, but mostly in the central downtown sections. Really I’d only ever been on foot within a few blocks: convention hotel to Salt Palace, Temple Square to City Creek Center, and Jaunts to the Blue Iguana restaurant or to the Gateway mall. I’ve really seen very little of this city. Today I walked along 200 north for about eight blocks. I was (again) traveling to the Blue Iguana restaurant, but my starting location was a quaint little neighborhood. I passed an art store I wanted to peruse, an antiques store which I really must return to, a recital hall with music painted on the outside, and a violin maker’s school where I could look in the window and see rows of students carefully crafting musical instruments. I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of the students as they worked, but on the return walk class was over.

I find I have a greater interest in the crafting of these instruments since my son has begun playing cello. We even checked a book out of the library called Music in the Wood which showed a step-by-step process of making a cello. I never expected to find such craftsmanship on my walk to lunch.

Cities are full of odd corners and little surprises. I never really understood that before. I took this little walk and saw all of these interesting buildings in such a short span of strides. It almost made me want to take up residence in a city where walking and public transit would be my primary modes of travel. Instead I’ll remain where I’m firmly rooted in my suburban neighborhood. Deep roots in a community are not to be pulled up lightly, but it would do me good to go adventuring in other places more often. Salt Lake City is not that far and it obviously has lots to explore.

Despite it all Life is Good

It feels like the kids and Howard are always extra rambunctious or grouchy on the days when I am tired. Those are the days where I drive up to my house and see the scattered pieces of some broken plastic toy across the pavement in front of our house. Then I remember that Gleek and some neighborhood kids had made a game of smashing the thing and they’d wandered off leaving the pieces. Of course they didn’t clean it up. Cleaning up rarely occurs to children and only sometimes to teens. Cleaning up becomes automatic for people who’ve been in charge of cleaning up long enough to know that life is better if the work is done first. The garbage cans were out by the curb too, waiting for me to bring them in. I looked at these small tasks, only a couple of minutes each, and realized that it fell to me, not to do the tasks, but to make someone else do them. The tiring part is that making someone else do them takes longer than doing them. It takes more energy too, but I simply can’t do all the tasks all the time. I have to make sure that others do them enough that they learn the “clean up the messes” impulse that they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

The house is a wreck, of course. I have been busy over the last month. We had vacation, then a major convention, then the Strength of Wild Horses shipping, then fetching Kiki from college. I haven’t had time to do things nor to make others do them. So I haul the kids from their games and require them to carry in the groceries that I fetched from the store. Then they eat the dinner I provided by spending $5 at Sam’s club for a rotisserie chicken. Not exactly home cooked, but more suited to our newly frugal budget than ordering pizza. The budget is new too. I remember how it goes from the years when we first launched into cartooning full time. But the habits are rusty and I’m still figuring out how they fit with the newer configuration of our lives. Back then I had time to bargain hunt for the cheapest whole chicken available and then to roast it myself. I work differently now and my solutions must be different.

Howard is having a rough day. He alerted me to the fact via text while I was still at the store. I look around the chaos of the kitchen, dirty dishes everywhere, kids wandering around and squabbling while they serve themselves food. I try to gently correct the rudest interactions and remind them that they can speak kindly to each other and still get the outcomes that they want. The kids listen. Maybe it will take this time. Probably not, but it is like making them clean. I have to keep modeling and reminding so that they can practice the empathy for others that they’ll need their whole lives. The chaos in the kitchen is perfectly calibrated to punch all of Howards anxiety and stress buttons. I am not surprised when he disappears back to his office, it is good of him, because he chose the kinder and more empathetic disappearance rather than venting his stress out loud. I am sad that he’s having a rough day, not just for him, but for me. When I’m tired and he’s happy, then I’m not so tired. That’s the truth of hard days. It is not that my family saves up chaos and grouchiness for the days when I’m tired, it is because I’m tired that everything feels extra grouchy and chaotic. Even things that would normally be fine.

I load the dishwasher, because that makes the kitchen better. The kids eat and are re-directed toward their evening homework activities. In the wake of all that, there is some quiet and some order. I sit facing the cleared counters, my back to the rest of the house. I’ll deal with the rest tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a full night’s sleep instead of the insomnia I had last night. Tomorrow I will do the laundry and vacuum, or make one of the kids do those things. For now, I will rest as much as I can. And I will remember how very fortunate I am to have all of these things which sometimes make life feel chaotic.

Strength of Wild Horses Available Now

There it is. The Strength of Wild Horses made into a book. I wrote it. Angela illustrated it. Three hundred people backed the Kickstarter project that funded the printing. The books arrived. I sent rewards to Kickstarter backers. And now the book is available. You can buy it in our store by clicking that link or on the picture above. Or on

Don’t the books look pretty together? They match.

It has been a long road getting to this point, but here it is. Excuse me while I go happy dance for a bit.