Month: July 2014

A Movie for Patch

Howard goes to lots of movies, particularly in the summer months. He averages about one per week. This is mostly because Howard loves to see movies, but he also reviews the movies on his blog. When schedules allow, Howard likes to take kids with him to see movies that the thinks they’ll enjoy. Thus it was planned that Howard would take Patch to go see Guardians of the Galaxy, which looked to be a film that Patch would love. They invited Link to go along, but he declined. Kiki and I had a conflict and Gleek is at camp. So it was going to just be Howard and Patch. Then the conflict evaporated, so Kiki and I gleefully bought tickets to join the trip. I was glad to get out of the house and go do a thing.

When Patch found out that we were coming along he was quite sad. He likes us, but suddenly his cool solo trip with Dad had turned into something else entirely. Patch is our youngest. He’s the only one who is still a kid rather than a teen or an adult. Though judging from the way he’s shot up the last few months, that won’t last much longer. He’s headed into sixth grade and I expect this to be kind of a rough year for him emotionally. It’ll be even more rough because he gets his heart set on things and then is honestly hurt if they turn out differently. I could tell that this was one of those times. He tried to be kind and considerate. He understood that Kiki and I hadn’t meant to intrude. He didn’t throw a fit or even get angry, but I could tell that part of what he’d looked forward to was gone from the trip.

We left early for the theater because we had to stop and pick up a prescription. I suggested that Howard drop off Kiki and I to do the pick up. Then he took Patch to McDonalds. We haven’t been eating out much in the past six months, so this was a real treat for Patch. It also gave him a bit of solo time with his Dad. Food and prescription were both picked up, then we headed to the mall where the theater was located. Once again Kiki and I took off, leaving Patch and Howard to eat their food and wander the mall separately. Since we’d bought the tickets in two batches, it was easy to say “See you in the theater.” We actually saw each other before that. We passed in the mall and I caught Patch’s eye for a moment. Then I looked away quickly and used my hand to shield my face, pretending I couldn’t see him at all. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his grin.

So Patch got solo time with his dad. I had some time with Kiki. Then we all had a fun time at the movie and talked about it all the way home. In the end Patch admits that he’s glad Kiki and I came because now he has a sibling with whom he can quote movie lines. I think he’s also glad for that time with his dad, where we all acknowledged that what Patch wanted was important. Also he’ll get to remember all of us pretending not to see each other in the mall. It was a good evening.

One of the Realities of Uneven Year-to-Year Income

We had a financial boom year last year, which means we had a big tax bill this year. It also means that our estimated tax payments for this year are recommended at a rate that would cover us having a boom this year too. In theory this is setting us up for a tax return next year, but I don’t count that money until I see the paperwork that says I get it back. I’m certain that there were financial moves that I should have taken last year to smooth all of this out. Last year I was also dealing with major family transitions and mental health issues for multiple family members. I did not pay attention as I should have. Howard and I have had many conversations about this and we’ve taken steps to readjust the ways that we manage our emotions and anxiety surrounding money. I still feel bad about about it. It was my job and I feel like I didn’t do it right, but I’m doing better now and will continue to do so going forward.

All of this means we’re being careful about spending this year. We’ve built in more accountability, more reports, and less avoidance. I probably won’t feel confident about my financial skills until after next tax season. The new structures have us headed in the right directions, but far more slowly than I would like, because so much money is getting sucked into that quarterly estimated tax payment. It also means that this year, when federal financial aid for Kiki’s college tuition would be very helpful, we’re unlikely to get it. Because they’re looking at the tax records for last year, the boom year. I filled out the FAFSA anyway. Now I’m off to do things which will earn money.

I Don’t Think this is the Tuesday I Ordered

I’m certain that I did not request to be awakened at 5am by a cracking sound in my neck followed by pain. An hour of stretching, laying on rolled towels, and using a ball for pressure point therapy, all failed to fix whatever it was. So I had a morning of pain, smelly lotions to loosen muscles, and slow movements. Fortunately Howard was able to help me reset some of the alignment, which means I remain stiff and sore, but the pain will subside when my muscles decide to unlock.

Also on the not-entirely-expected list, Link picked an Eagle Scout Project. He’s working with Habitat for Humanity to build a tool shed for a community garden. It is an excellent project, well suited to Link, and obviously needed. Yet suddenly the next few weeks have an array of project related tasks to complete. Many of them have more to do with paperwork than with the actual project. BSA runs on paperwork. I think one of the hardest parts of the project for me will be keeping my hands off. I can picture all of it in my head. I can make it happen. But this is Link’s project, not mine. He is the one who has to make it happen. Not me. That is the point. My role should be limited to asking “Have you thought about this? How do you think you should handle that?”

Related to pain and loss of sleep, extra napping was necessary and stole some work hours.

I knew that today was the day I sent Gleek off to Church Girl’s Camp for five days. I put it on the calendar months ago. I’ve seen it on the calendar many times since. Yet somehow I arrived on Sunday and thought “Oh. That’s this week?” She packed up all her things yesterday and I helped her review them this morning. We went to the church and I lingered for a bit because I need to make sure that a leader was aware of Gleek’s daily medications. I watched Gleek as she joined with the other girls. Last year I spent two months with lots of attention focused on Gleek and camp. I wasn’t certain she could handle it or I wasn’t certain it was fair to the leaders to impose her particular bag of troubles on them. I didn’t know what the stresses of camp would do to Gleek’s anxieties. I had to skip out on half of the writer’s retreat I wanted to attend because I needed to be the one who sent Gleek off to camp. Last year camp was hard and full of anxiety, which is why it surprised me that it sneaked up on me this year. It arrived and I hadn’t been thinking about it. That in itself is a huge measure of progress from last year to this year. Gleek went off to camp happy and I feel confident that whatever difficulties the leaders have with her will be within the range of challenges that are normal with any thirteen year old girl.

After the pain, sending Gleek to camp, the nap, and the eagle project paperwork, I really thought it would be time to sit down and get some focused work done. Unfortunately my brain decided it needed to do 1500 words of writing first. Not writing on my fiction project, nor writing in a blog post. Nope. It was pages of dumping out the contents of my brain just to see what is in there. I have to do that sometimes. It helps me figure out where the anxiety is coming from. Today’s fun anxiety symptom is heart palpitations. Haven’t had those in a while and they seem directly related to the pain, so I know they’ll go away. Yes I’ve had them checked by a doctor. I wore a heart monitor and everything. There is no physiological reason for them. They’re caused by anxiety, and in this case, pain.

I’ve now reached 4:30pm. This day was similar to what I thought it would be, though I’d hoped to get a lot more work done by this hour. Life can not always be executed as planned and I just have to roll with what comes instead.

Walking the Cemetery

I have a friend who often goes for walks in the Salt Lake City cemetery. I’ve seen her posts and it piqued my curiosity about the place, so I asked if I could walk with her one day. She said “Of course.” So we set forth one evening. The weather was a beautiful summer evening with a storm blowing in to cool the air. We had both rumbles of thunder and a rainbow.

I felt a tremendous peace the entire time I was in the cemetery. I could feel that it was sacred ground on which I was a welcome visitor. I loved seeing all the various styles of tombstones and grave markers. Even more, I loved that everything was jumbled around and lumpy. This was a place on the hillside and things moved after they were placed.

Stones were askew and sometimes completely knocked over. Many of them were so old it was hard to read them.

Some stones were damaged. Some had obviously been repaired.

Some were completely gone.

My friend assured me that there is a record of exactly who is buried in what plot whether or not there is a marker. This is good because there were several swathes where the graves were so old they didn’t have markers or where the residents were too poor to afford them.

I loved observing the different materials used and how they weathered over time. Sandstone, though readily available locally, does not make for a very permanent head stone.

Wood is not an ideal choice either, particularly not when there are sprinklers running constantly to keep the grass green. This family solved the problem by shellacking the wood to protect it. The technique seems to have worked since the marker was put up in 1850.

This other wooden marker is about the same age. It is sheltered by a tree, which may be why it continues to stand.

The one exception to the haphazardness of the graves was in a military section, which was in appropriate order.

We stumbled on an area labelled “Chinese Plat” whose stones charmed me.

There was even a brick oven nearby, which I believe was used to burn offerings to ancestors. It may still be used. It was in good condition.

Towards the end of the walk I began to be tired and wished for a bench so that we could sit for awhile. We spotted one and walked over to it, but carved onto the seat were two names, one with death information and one without. I knew I could not sit on that bench. It belonged to her, the woman who was still living though her husband had gone.

There was another bench not too far away and it welcomed me, delighted me even. Many of the graves, even the oldest ones, had flowers. This one was obviously the bench of a grandmother. Her grandchildren had brought her the usual assortment of treasures that children often bestow on their loved ones.

We sat for awhile with Grandma Johansen and then the sky began to rumble in earnest, so we left for home. I’m so glad I had those peaceful hours walking among the graves. Cemeteries are so often depicted as frightful places to be avoided, but this one was friendly. It was full of people coming to visit and people just out walking as we were. I hope to go back and visit again someday.

Writing in Church

My observance of my religion is not practiced in grand gestures, lone pilgrimages, or big revelations. It is me sitting on a padded pew with an open journal in my lap. Sometimes I write for pages, not great spiritual insight, just the daily cares that are in my head. I write all the things which I think are too boring for others to want to listen to. I repeat myself because repetition of thought is necessary in a life that is full of repeated tasks. In that journal I am allowed to spill words without concern for audience. Or rather I’m writing to a very specific audience: myself and God. I like writing my thoughts during church, because the location affects the shape of those thoughts as they spool onto the page. I never can be sure afterward whether there are threads of inspiration in those thoughts.

I do listen to the speakers and the teachers. I probably should be better at putting down my pen and giving them full attention. Some weeks I do. This was one of the weeks where my thoughts were noisy and I had to pin them to a page where I could examine them. I’ve learned to trust that when there is something in a talk that I should hear, I will suddenly find myself listening without having made a conscious decision to do so. Words, phrases, stories, jump out at me sometimes. Even if I was lost in my own thoughts the moment before. Sometimes I write down the pieces which came to me, a non sequitur in the middle of other thoughts.

On some Sundays I flip through things I’ve previously written and my own words jump out at me. I meant them one way when I wrote them, but I need them in a different way when they come to me again. I can only flip through a few months of thoughts. Anything older than that is in a different notebook. The physical requirements of the pages force me not to dwell too much on the past, but to keep moving forward.

I write journals at other times and places besides church. I have the stack of notebooks to bear witness to this. I used to segregate my thoughts into different notebooks, one for life journaling, a different for story fragments, a third for random notes of phone numbers and measurements. Now all of these things go into a single book, one that fits into my purse. All of it is there and none of it is explained. Sometimes I picture a future historian puzzling over cryptic fragments of sentences. A couple of times that “historian” has been me.

Writing my thoughts during church is a small observance. It is a way for me to commune with myself and with inspiration from God. I come away with a clearer plan for what needs to come next. Sometimes I’m given specific directions that are not always what I want to hear. Other times I’m reassured that my choices are good. I don’t know if any of that is apparent in the words themselves. They probably read like someone rambling endlessly about the same routine things that she rambled about last week, last month, last year. Yet I know that last week the flow of feeling and inspiration which came with the words was different than this week. Small observances can be powerful, particularly when they are repeated over time. This is how I build my faith and give myself peace each week. It is how I rest and refill so that I can meet the week to come.

Unwinding the Stress

I came out of the theater happy even though I wasn’t certain I’d enjoyed the movie. The summer air was warm even at 1am and the world had that quiet feeling it gets when most of the people in the city have already gone to bed. We weren’t alone at that late night showing, but people dispersed quickly afterward. I felt light and free. The movie (Lucy) wasn’t my favorite, but it had many things to discuss, praise, and rant about, which made it a great movie for Howard and I. We love to dissect movies after we’ve seen them. Howard held my hand as we walked to the car. We’ve been married twenty years. We share four kids, a household, and a business. We slip into business conversations without even thinking about it. Yet sometimes we can shed all of that and just be Howard and Sandra. I wanted to stay out in the summer air and just twirl around in that freedom.

Instead I got to dash back to the theater because I’d felt so free that I’d forgotten to pick up my purse when exiting. I got it back without trouble. Even the dash back to the theater felt exhilarating, not worrisome. It was exactly what I needed after a day which had been filled with flashes of random stress and anxiety. We didn’t linger, we went home and to bed like responsible adults who like their jobs and know they get to do them again in the morning. I suppose in my case it helped that my job for the morning was to take the kids to the water park.

Public places like water parks can be highly stressful. For most of my parenting years they were exactly that. Then the kids got older and we became familiar enough with the park that the whole experience was more predictable. I’ve often heard it said that humans seek out novel experiences. Our family does too, but we like the new things to be structured around predictable things. If I have too many variables to track, then I experience stress rather than relaxation. There are times when the stress of new experiences is good. What I wanted and needed was to extend the relaxation which began with the late night movie. So I swam with the kids and felt the sun dry me off. I got just a little bit sunburned in the places that I missed with the sunscreen. We came home ready for a slow afternoon.

I still had things to do, of course. I’d earned a slower day by working frantically earlier in the week, but there were some things that needed to be complete before the weekend. Those things fit into the afternoon between the water park and the church picnic.

Tables were set up in a cul de sac. Some of the men had pulled out their grills and were cooking hamburgers. The members of the congregation had brought their chairs and were mingling around the tables of food and across the lawns. I thought that I probably ought to be reaching out and reconnecting to the many people that I care about who were present. Instead I found myself a quiet spot where I could watch. I wanted to be there, but I had low social energy. I caught up with some friends who came to sit with me. I was glad of that. I also loved watching the multi-generational crowd as they ate and played with the dunk tank set up in front of one of the houses. I’ve lived in this neighborhood long enough to watch some kids grow up and have kids of their own. I loved that I could be part of it, even when I mostly sat and watched.

I walked home in the cooler air of the evening. Our back lawn was soft under my feet. I paused a moment to survey the spot where our deck used to be. I like it better without the deck there. It feels more open. I’ll like it even better when the space is something lovelier than a patch of dirt. Yet it is nice to have a project that can wait until later, when we’re not in high summer. We’ve only a few more weeks of hot summer left.

I’ve been watching the end of July come closer. As soon as we hit August, we’re in the last slide toward the school year. I’ll have to pull out the letters from the school and figure out what they hoped I’d do with the kids over the summer. We’ll have only bare reading logs when the first day of school arrived. The kid read plenty over the summer, but I excused them and myself from tracking or measuring any of it. Today I managed to do the same for myself and it was good.

Anxiety Keeps Me Company Before Conventions

I’ve been running full speed since Monday morning. I’d reached the week when all of my “I’ll do that later” tasks had become “Do all the things right now, hurry or it will be too late” tasks. Then I dropped eleven packages off at the post office so they could travel to GenCon. Also some price quotes from printers came back and showed that my shiny merchandise idea was not feasible to turn around before GenCon. I still had a big task list, but all the frantic “get this done now” energy was gone. Naturally that is when the anxiety struck. I’m great in crisis or crunch time. I pay for it later. Three days of pushing hard means I have to wind down afterward.

Anxiety chased me all night through dreams with hotels, conventions, missing children, natural disasters, and chainsaws on poles. (The imagery for that last one being the result of the pole saw we purchased for trimming trees. Apparently my brain considers chainsaws to be lethal weapons likely to jump out at people and cause harm. I don’t trust them. But we had a job that needed one, so. It is out in the garage. Just sitting there. Waiting. (Yes I know my thoughts here are not entirely rational. I also know that I really shouldn’t nest parenthetical thoughts. Apparently it is a nested-parenthetical kind of day in my brain.) The box it came in had a picture of it on the side. It was across the room from me while I wrote this blog. I had to get up and throw it away because the picture was making me nervous. But this isn’t a post about chainsaws. The chainsaw is parenthetical.)

I’ve come to an understanding with my anxiety. Sometimes it will show up and yell at me, but I’ve stopped automatically believing everything it says. In fact during the daylight hours I can often stop it before it has any chance to make noise. Which is why it tends to spring on me in those spaces between asleep and awake when my higher brain functions have shut down to rest. I’ll be half asleep and suddenly convinced that the slight twinge in my neck means I have a blood clot in a major artery and it is about to travel to my brain and kill me dead.

I also know why the anxiety is triggering now. I’m trekking through the pre-convention emotional minefield where pockets of old habits and remembered emotion have laid buried since I crossed this same ground in the years before. This time last year was when I came face to face with a major failure. I’d had eight months to set up a point of sale system and I didn’t do it until almost too late. The emotional fallout from that was very memorable and it is why I reacted so strongly to the news that my shiny merchandise idea won’t work. All those failure feelings echoed from last year to this year in an emotional time-vortex. That point-of-sale experience was the beginning of me being able to see how some of my financial and convention management decisions were being driven by anxiety and avoidance rather than considered thought.

This week I felt the pull of old habits. I felt the urge to not bother Howard with information that I thought would stress him. In the past year, I’ve learned that an information vacuum is far more stressful to Howard than a piece of bad news, particularly on financial matters. I’ve been striving to provide regular reports and to not fall into the old patterns. I’ve integrated the new way of thought into regular life, but in preparing for GenCon I’m having to pay attention to my processes instead of just dusting off the habits from last year and using them again.

Sometimes I need to hold information until the right time to share it with Howard. If Howard is in a creative zone, then talking finances will knock him right out of that place. If I time things particularly poorly I can kill an entire day of creative work. If I time things well, the exact same information can be a short business meeting in the middle of a productive day. Judging what I should handle without bothering Howard, what I should ask him about, and when I should ask it; these are the hardest parts of my ongoing job. In relation to GenCon and other large conventions, my parameters for making these decisions have altered since last year.

Knowing why anxiety is giving me grief today does not make it easier to banish. I do have medicine I can take, but taking it impedes my ability to accomplish other things. Perhaps that is what I need, to be excused from accomplishing for a day, but it is very hard to give myself permission to do that. I want to get things done. I want to see projects complete. I want to see that the financial recalibration we’ve done this year is bearing fruit. I want to see the kids do their chores and take them some place fun. I want to trim the trees, weed the flowers, and turn the patch of dirt where our deck used to be into something lovely. I also really want to walk over every inch of this emotional ground and make sure there aren’t any more hidden pockets that might explode.

It is funny how I can have a mostly good day and still be wrestling with small surges of anxiety all the way through it. Life is good. I’m accomplishing things. I’m just more tired than necessary because I’m also expending energy managing these dumb little adrenaline surges. Hopefully a solid night’s sleep will help me reset. I just need to not be running around in my dreams.

Preparing for GenCon

I wish I’d had more day, or more energy for the day that I had, or even just a little bit more smart to apply to the design tasks that I had in front of me. I kept running out of smart and I had to take breaks so that the smart reservoir could refill.

Today was devoted to GenCon. I spoke with our usual partners, who really feel more like family. I had my annual moment of wondering whether the stress and expense are worth it. I hammered out a list of tasks that still have to be done. Tomorrow belongs to GenCon too.

Our booth captain pointed out to me that next year GenCon happens at the end of July instead of the end of August. It means that it is more possible for me to attend than it has been in years past. That would be fun to be present instead of being the at-home crew. But there are still lots of variables in play. I’m already committed to the Cascade Writers Conference earlier in July. I’ll add GenCon to my list of hopeful possibilities for next year.

The good news is that this year’s wrinkles in the pre-GenCon process are mostly ironed out. Every year it gets smoother. The other good news is that it looks like I’ll be able to squeeze in the cool new merchandise that I thought of, though unfortunately it stole some design attention from Howard when he needs that for other things. On the other hand new GenCon banners were going to steal his attention anyway, so perhaps I needn’t feel guilty.

Tomorrow I box all the things so that they can be shipped.

Playing with Identity

This afternoon I helped Gleek add highlights to her hair. They went on top of the red that we colored her hair several weeks ago. Neither of us was completely happy with the red by itself, but I think the highlights really make the red work in a way it didn’t before. I’d always said that once my kids were twelve, I’d help them color their hair if they wanted. Gleek has been the first child to take me up on it.

Gleek has also been experimenting with clothing. She has decided that ties are awesome and sometimes wears one. One day she donned a white shirt and tie, slicked her hair back and looked very much like a boy, except for the curves. Gleek liked this look. I worried about how the world at large would react to it, but didn’t argue with her. Her identity is hers to define, not mine. I don’t know that she got any overtly negative reactions, but she’s since reverted to clothing that is socially more standard for girls.

Sometime last fall I became aware that Gleek’s friends and teachers were all calling her Leeka. Not literally, but they were calling her a variant of her real name that bears as much resemblance to it as Leeka does to Gleek. I always find it interesting when teens choose their own nicknames. Kiki ended up with hers because she decided it was easier to let people call her by it than to try to explain how to pronounce her full name. Gleek, who already goes by a shortened version of her full name, went out of her way to ask people to call her something different. They did. It’s a cute name and it suits her.

Thirteen is a prime age for playing with identity. Gleek has left behind the child that she was and is trying to figure out who she is now. It is fun to be an observer and assistant while she figures it out.

Sunshine and Cousins

This year the Tayler clan, Howard’s siblings and their children, all bought passes to the local water park. We declared that Friday mornings was the time when we’d try to meet up there on the theory that a water park is more fun when you have more people you know to play with. Not everybody can make every week. In fact this morning was the first time our branch of the clan has been there. We packed up and arrived just when a set of cousins did. I watched as Kiki and Link ran off together. Gleek buddied up with a same age cousin and Patch partnered with me. We went down slides and jumped in the wave pool.

Having a pass to the park makes all the difference for us. Our first time in a new place always feels stressful. I’m on high alert because no locations mean that kids will react or wander off in unpredictable ways. Until I learn which areas draw my kids, where I can expect them to be and whether I can trust them to return rather than being so excited that they are lost in the crowd, I always keep the kids close. When we first went to this park, it felt big, like they could get lost and I’d never find them again. Now we’ve been often enough that it just feels friendly. They do run off in pairs, but they always come back to our home base on the “beach” of the wave pool.

I’d hoped for more visiting time with my sisters-in-law, but the visits came in snatches as the needs of the kids pulled us in different directions. I watched one of them follow her toddler in and out of the shallows of the wave pool, trailing after a tiny being who was exploring her world. Kiki would gladly have taken over trailing duty, but this particular toddler spurns both Kiki and me, clinging to her mom and siblings instead. Kiki did get to play with other young cousins. Link got to ride his favorite slides until the lines got too long. Patch and Gleek played to their heart’s content.

A water park is not a peaceful experience. It is full of noise and motion. There are people everywhere and it only gets more crowded as the day continues, which is one reason why we try to arrive at opening and leave by lunchtime. Yet, despite the crowds and noise, there is a relaxation that I find there. It is a location that demands I be fully present. We pack very minimally when entering the park, because we don’t rent a locker. All our stuff just gets piled on the ground. So I only bring things that are required, passes, car keys, towels, shoes. Everything else is left outside and somehow that includes my business thoughts and my to do list. There are not very many places where that is true. My brain is almost always churning, but on family outings I can quiet the churn and just be.

“I like the real beach better.” Kiki said. I agree. It was less than a month ago that we spent a day on Sunset Beach in California. The ocean was huge and restful. It was not crowded and the wind whipped away all the noise so one could feel alone with the waves. Unfortunately that beach is a bit far for weekly visits. So we’ll spend time at the water park with cousins instead.