Month: July 2014

Book Recommendation: Everything’s Fine by Janci Patterson

I’ve spoken about my friend Janci on my blog before. She’s been a support to me many times serving as an auxiliary brain for everything from massive shipping events to reorganizing my office. Janci has written a book and I want to recommend it to you, not just because she is my friend and I want to support her, but also because it is a really excellent read. If you enjoy contemporary stories about teenagers, then you’ll love this book. Janci has this writing superpower where she takes really complicated human emotions and fills her characters with them. These teenagers are like real teenagers because they don’t always have clear goals. They have conflicting internal motivations which pull them in many directions at once. Ultimately they make hard decisions and drive through to a satisfying emotional resolution.

I read Everything’s Fine on my vacation in June. It kept me up late because I wanted to see how the story ended. I wanted to know what happened to Hailey. I found the blend between current circumstances and memories of Hailey to be deftly handled and often poignant. You can pick up Everything’s Fine on Amazon by clicking that link or on the picture above. While you’re there check out Chasing the Skip which is another excellent book by Janci.

Kira thought she knew everything about her best friend, Haylee. But when Haylee commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen, Kira is left with nothing but questions, and a gaping hole in her life where Haylee used to be. Kira is sure that the answers to her questions must be written in Haylee’s journal, but she’s not the only one searching for it. The more Kira learns about Haylee’s past, the more certain she is that other people grieving for Haylee are keeping secrets—especially Bradley, and Haylee’s attractive older cousin Nick. Kira is desperate to get to Haylee’s journal before anyone else finds it—to discover the truth about what happened to Haylee— And to hide the things that Haylee wrote down about her.

Becoming a Patron

After several conversations with smart friends, Howard and I have decided to set up Patreon pages. Patreon is an online service which allows people to give a small amount of money to support an ongoing creative project. It also allows the creators (Howard and I) to provide special perks to our patrons. Howard’s page is to support ongoing work on Schlock Mercenary. My page is to support the creation of my books and blog. I’ve separated out the accounting to make sure that the funds get allocated to the correct projects.

Yes Schlock Mercenary has been paying all our bills for a long time. No it is not in danger of ceasing if people don’t support it. We’re setting up the Patreon because we’ve had people asking us “How do I support your work without buying more stuff?” This is our answer. The same is true of my blog. I’ll keep writing it whether or not I ever get paid. Physical books of my work are more complicated. They cost money to produce and support via Patreon would help me pay for that production.

If you become a Schlock patron, you get access to pre-orders at least two days before they open to the public. You’ll also get sneak peeks at Howard’s creative process. At $2.50 per month or more, you can become one of Howard’s Schlock Troops. That will get you access to early pre-orders, convention exclusive merchandise without attending a convention, coupon codes for our store, and monthly behind-the-scenes peeks at Howard’s creative process. Sign up to become a Patron or a Schlock Troop here.

If you become a patron of Sandra Tayler you’ll get monthly behind-the-scenes peeks at Sandra’s process. There will be coupons for our store. It will be a different coupon than is offered to Schlock supporters. At the $2.50 or more donation level, I’ll also send you a handwritten thank you card once per year. Sign up to become a Sandra Tayler patron here.

Working with Patreon is an experiment for us. All our research tells us it will function as we expect and potentially provide a good experience for everyone. If it turns out to not be a good experience, we have the tools to bring the experiment to an end. Additionally, my creative work has not yet managed to be self-sustaining financially. It needs to find ways to support itself instead of being carried by Schlock. The smartest freelancers have many income streams. I wanted to explore this one.

Past and Present: Conversations with Other Mothers

Changing diapers was part of my daily existence for ten years. I remember being puzzled at the reactions of people for whom it wasn’t. They spoke of diapers as this huge and distasteful chore. As far as I was concerned, diapers were easy. Keeping hold of my highly-active toddler in a public space while eight months pregnant, that was hard.

Today I am babysitting my sister’s kids and I changed a stinky diaper. I noted within myself exactly the sorts of reactions that used to puzzle me when I observed them in others. The influx of small children means that our toy cupboard vomited its contents across the family room in a way that hasn’t happened since the last time this set of children came to visit. I had to watch and respond to a toddler with my mommy radar turned all the way up to ten, in order make sure that he was safe and that he didn’t endanger any of the things which are important to our family. I used to just flow with these things and bend my life around them. Now it all feels like a big intrusion. I willingly agreed to the intrusion. I like my sister’s kids. I’m glad to watch them for the day. Yet at the end of it I will be quite glad to return to a quieter house.

I’m on the other side of the fence these days. I used to be the mother of young children who mostly stayed home because I didn’t want to impose my personal invading force on society at large. Now I’m the one who gets intruded upon, at home, in public spaces. Mostly I don’t mind or am even amused or enlivened by the presence of other people’s children. I watch with tolerance and sympathy when a toddler tantrums in a grocery store. And, yes, sometimes I observe with annoyance. I like my friends’ kids quite a lot. They are charming little people and I marvel at seeing the world through their eyes and watching them change from visit to visit. Yet in the world at large, it sometimes feels like I’ve become the enemy. I am the mother of older children who is perceived as judging the mother of young children. I am a font of boring stories about when my kids were little. Being around young children brings all those memories to the forefront of my mind, and in that moment I think I remember how hard it all was. I want to help, or make it easier, so I spill the stories in an effort to form some sort of camaraderie. I’m trying to say that we’re all in this together. That is not the result.

My self awareness of this is thanks to a good friend of mine, a mother of a young child, who cared enough about our friendship to address the issue with me. It is hard to be critiqued on this sort of thing. I’ve done a lot of thinking as a result. I’ve also done quite a bit of observation of myself and of others. I’ve come to the conclusion that my years of experience as a parent don’t make me any sort of expert, because my children are different from those of my friends. I raised them in a different decade, in a different social context, with a different house, and a different husband. There are so many differences as to make my solutions and stories irrelevant. Instead of trying to provide help or advice, it is my job to listen. When my friend’s current concern triggers a memory, I should stay with their experience, not intrude mine. At some point in the conversation my friend may outright ask for advice, that is the appropriate time to share something from my own parenting experiences.

Shortly after my friend’s critique I altered my conversational strategies with a different pair of friends who have young children. It was hard at first. All my instincts told me that the way to be friends with other mothers was to talk over our similar experiences. But their current lives match my past, not my present. A story fell out of my mouth out of habit and I watched the conversation dive into a lull as a result. I did better after that. I had a wonderful and emotionally connecting afternoon. It was the first time in a long time I did not spend large portions of the conversation feeling out of step and old. It seems obvious in hindsight, but I had to match their present experiences with my present experiences. The contrast in those experiences was what made the conversation fun for all of us. They were far more interested in hearing about my current dealings with teenagers than in my past struggles with potty training.

I’m very grateful to be making these realizations now, years before I have grandchildren. I shudder to think what unfortunate miscommunication loops I might have set up while trying to “help” my children parent their own kids. I was well on my way to becoming a person I never want to be, and I would have been driven toward it by an ever-more-intense desire to connect.

I still have thinking and learning to do. I have to fine tune when my accumulated experiences add to conversations and when they do not. After all, I started this blog post by delving into a memory. At one point I paused and considered whether I wanted to re-write it, because it seemed to demonstrate exactly the story-dropping behavior that I’m trying to extinguish. I eventually decided that this is my space and an appropriate venue for me to examine my experiences out loud. My experiences may be irrelevant to the world at large, but they are important to me. It is crucial that I see the difference and converse appropriately. It is also crucial that I don’t squelch all my stories in all contexts.

Balance is hard. I’m sure that I’m getting something else wrong as I try to correct this. All I can do is strive onward.

On the Dreams of Children

When a child expresses an impossible dream, listen to it and help her identify small steps she can take toward it. We often squelch the dreams of children because we don’t want them to be disappointed, so we disappoint them now, trying to save them from an imagined larger disappointment later. Odds are that long before you reach the impossible part of the dream, the child will have moved on to a different dream, but she’ll still carry what she learned trying to reach for the first one. And sometimes, if the right groundwork is laid, the impossible becomes possible.

Deck Demolition the Final Chapter

When we were tearing apart the deck on Saturday, parts of the process made noise. (Hitting a crowbar with a sledge hammer does that.) Several interested neighbors came by to see what the project was. One did even more than that. He asked how we planned to haul away the wreckage. When we confessed that we hadn’t figured that part out, he said “I have a truck you can borrow.” We said we’d probably take him up on it, but the day ended and we hadn’t yet gotten to the point where we were ready to haul.

For us Sunday is a day of rest, so we looked at the mess remaining, but we did no work. At church our neighbor came up and asked again if we needed help hauling. This time he offered not only his truck, but his scout troop to help with the hauling. I’m no idiot. We said “Yes. Thank you.”

I made sure I was outside working before the crew was due to arrive. I wanted to get the last bits off of the house before they arrived because I wanted to be sure that we did as little damage to the siding as possible. While I’m certain that teenage boys would be happy to wield the crowbar, I wasn’t so sure how carefully they’d approach the task. I’d barely stepped outside when I noticed something interesting. The sprinklers had run during the night and our work site now had a wet canal running through it.

More specifically, there had been a slight divot in the ground underneath a major support beam. Overflow from the sprinklers had run into it until there was standing water. You can see the water more clearly after we’d cleared away the debris. That metal bracket in the foreground of the picture is what held the support beam in place.

That water would have showed up three days per week during six months of the year. It soaked a support beam causing it to swell and contract. It made the air under the deck wet and fed all the fungus. I don’t think the canal was there when the deck was built. It was a thing that formed over years as ground shifted and run off patterns changed.

It took three trips to the dump to get everything hauled away. While some boys were helping with hauling, we handed shovels to other boys and had them start digging out the cement footings. Those metal brackets were sunk in cement.

They were big and heavy. But we needed them out before we can use this ground for anything else. One was particularly interesting as they poured the footing right between a concrete pad and a sprinkler pipe. When I first discovered the pipe, I worried that they had poured the concrete around it, but fortunately that was not the case.

There were no further exciting flora or fauna discoveries. I’m fine with that. Though we did manage to unearth the dryer vent.

We’ll need to clean it off and put a vent cover on it so that rain and snow don’t get inside. We also found out that Doritos bags can last a very long time.

The boys of the scout troop were great. They worked hard and didn’t complain, not even when they had to help lift concrete into the back of the truck. I offered to pay money into the troop fund, but my neighbor said that the troop needed the service hours. So we fed the boys donuts and Gatorade. The ground is cleared, ready for whatever comes next. I really didn’t expect the job to go this quickly. I’m feeling very grateful for good neighbors and good young men who are willing to donate their time and effort on short notice.

Howard thinks we should throw down grass seed and just add the space to our lawn. I haven’t quite given up on the idea of a patio. Either way, it is a project for a different week and probably cooler weather.

Deck Update

I am so very tired, but I completed what I hoped to do. We now have a small deck with salvaged railing.

Obviously we still have a lot of clearing away work on the old deck. Not mention the massive pile of rotted wood which now sits in my driveway awaiting a trip to the dump. But we can now safely exit our house and it is sturdy enough to last us a few more years. We checked underneath and the combination of a concrete pad and being out of the line of fire for the dryer vent means what remains is still sound.

It is enough for one day.

Demolishing the Deck

Some time before we bought our house, a previous owner built a redwood deck in the back yard.

I took these pictures of it three years ago when we made a family project out of pressure washing and re-staining it. Look at how lovely it was. Particularly note the even-ness of the deck planks.

Having seen what is underneath, I’m certain the trouble had already begun, but none of it was evident from the surface. It seemed solid. Then last year we started noticing that the planks were uneven. Some of them were pushing up. Others were sinking.

I took the picture after we’d already spray painted a warning line on a particularly bad spot and after I’d removed some railing. Most of the deck was still solid underfoot, but some of it felt…soft. We figured we had a rotten beam. Howard and I discussed options. We don’t have the money to replace the deck. To get at the bad spot, we’d have to pull apart everything. We knew once it was apart, we probably couldn’t get it back together. We decided that demolition was what we had to do, because it was going to be a safety hazard otherwise.

It was hard to decide that staring at the surface. Everything I could see looked nice. I felt bad making a mess of all that beautiful wood. But I got out the drill and pulled off the railings. Then we pulled off the trim.

You’ll note there is still a section of railing close to the back door. We’re hoping to save that portion of the deck as it feels solid and we need some sort of landing for the back door lest we step out and fall two feet to ground level.

It doesn’t look so bad in that picture. There were an abundance of spiders and bugs as we removed boards, but most of the structure seemed okay. Until you looked close.

There were spots of dry rot. And every single trim board was partly rotted away at the bottom. You can see where the ends of the boards had dissolved back into dirt.

With the railing and the trim out of the way, we started pulling up the planks.

That support beam was not one of the soft spots. It was under a spot that felt solid. Note the underside of the plank.

I’d imagined that perhaps I could give all the wood to someone who could use it. But pretty much every board had some kind of rot or fungus on it. When we got all the planks up, the extent of the rot was apparent.

The entire sub structure of the deck was on its way to becoming dirt.

There were beams we could crumble with our bare hands.

In fact, Kiki did crumble one up, just for fun.

We used a crowbar and a 4′ wrecking bar to get the planks up. Except usually we only had to get one end loose and then we could yank it up with our hands. Either the boards were rotten or the screws were so rusty that they just broke.

We were careful as we proceeded, because bugs, spiders, and weird things. Fungus is weird.

I don’t even know what this thing is, except it is growing out of one of the major support beams.

It’s about the size of my hand and looks like a face hugger alien. But it doesn’t twitch when poked with the end of a crowbar.

As we got closer to the house, we found the jungle of lint.

You see, the people who built this deck did a really good job. The deck was very sturdy. Built to last, and that is why it survived for almost twenty years. Unfortunately they also did something very stupid. The dryer vent blows into the enclosed space underneath the deck. It supplied warm, wet air into the enclosed space for twenty years. No wonder fungus grew and the wood rotted.

Here the narrow two inch slit for air to vent from the dryer.

That was all under the deck planking.

So, whatever we decide to do with the space that no longer has a deck, it will be something that allows the dryer to vent in open air. I bet our clothes will get dry faster too. I admit I’m also excited that the hose faucet will also be in the open. We used to have to reach into a hole in the deck in order to reach the faucet. It was half-jokingly called “The Spider Hole.” It was excellent spider habitat, particularly for widow-type web spinners. As we were demolishing we only spotted one that might have been a black widow. The others were brown, but every bit as creepy.
The square part around the faucet is clear because I removed the spiderwebs in order to detach the hose. It looked pretty much like the adjacent square, with all the webs and egg sacs.

The planks are all removed. Later this evening we’ll tackle removing the rest. All of it is going in a big pile on my driveway. We’re going to have to borrow a truck to take it to the dump, but I think that’s a job for another day. For now I leave you with a picture of our cat who is confused by this project.

Projects in Process

These are the projects I’m working on right now:

Re-doing the layout for Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance to make it work as a pdf. Then I need to put it up for sale in the store. It is an experiment in format and delivery. Schlock books in electronic format are long overdue.

A Schlock-related layout project which may become new merchandise that is launched at GenCon.

Layout for Massively Parallel. I’ve been in a holding pattern here, but Howard has started pounding through the bonus story edits. My instinct tells me the project will kick over into high gear soon. Probably toward the end of next week. I’ll be better off if I start refreshing it in my brain ASAP.

The Challenge Coin PDF. Already overdue.

Learning and setting up Patreon for both Schlock and me.

Reorganization and post convention clean up of both my office and the warehouse.

Assisting Kiki with another art show and with setting up her Etsy shop. She’s ready to step up her business so that it can help pay for college. This means lots of work setting things up. I think most of my part is done, but things pop up randomly. Right now her income has about half of one semester covered. We’re hoping to be able to at least double that. The more that she can come up with, the less I have to wiggle out of the family budget.

Preparations for GenCon are under way. This next week will include us hustling to make sure that we’ve got everything in order. Then there will be a brief lull before we send Howard off to the convention.

Preliminary preparations for Salt Lake Comic Con are underway. I’ve been communicating with programming, Dealer’s hall, ordering electricity, reserving a hotel room, speaking with booth partners, and generally trying to picture how to make it a more positive experience than we’ve had the last two mega shows. I’m feeling optimistic.

Household and Family:

The deck needs to be taken apart. Then I’ve got to arrange for all the wood to go to the dump. I thought more of it would be salvageable, but pretty much every board has had some hidden rot. At least it can go to the organic section and chipped to be turned into mulch.

Diet adjustment, particularly for Howard and myself. We’re taking steps toward healthier. We’re dragging our Hot Pocket and Frozen Pizza eating children along with us. This is for both budget and health reasons.

Along with the diet adjustments, I need to inventory our food storage and be restocking again. We spend a lot less on groceries when I stock up as things go on sale. I need to be doing better at that.

I ought to be doing more to provide enrichment activities for my kids. Mostly they’re quite content to play video games all day. It was a good break for them, but the restlessness is building. They need to have some summer activities.

Tree trimming. We’ve got a tree with branches that brush the roof. I have to find out if there is a reasonable and safe option for me to cut them off. Something like a pole saw. If I can’t find an option that feels safe, then we’ll have to pay an arborist who has the proper equipment. Not sure I can afford that this summer.

I need to not neglect the garden clearing work that Kiki and I began this summer. I’ve got to keep the ground clear so that we can plant in the Fall.

I need to finish the 2013 Family photo book and get up to date with the 2014 photo book.

My projects:

Writing The House in the Hollow. I’m at 30,000 words out of an expected 60,000. I just hit the midpoint crisis. I just need to keep laying down words until I reach the end.

The 2013 One Cobble at a Time book. I need it to go with the others on my shelf. I usually have this done by February. I think I’ve been avoiding it a little because re-reading 2013 is going to be hard.

Book of Memories. I’ve decided to take all the old photos I scanned while I was at my parent’s house and put them into a book. In that book I’ll be free to ramble about the old curtains and toyboxes. Creating it will make me happy because I will have told all the stories. Yet no one is obligated to sit through all the stories and be bored as I attempt to make clear why that ratty old chair is important to remember.

Cobble Stones book of holiday themed essays. I’d hoped to have this ready by November. It is low enough on the project list that I’m not sure that will happen. Maybe I’ll find a burst of forward momentum in September…

A long list of blog posts that I’ve been intending to write. There are at least a dozen of them.

Schlumpy Summer

Summer is when I lose track of days and hours. I get to the end of the days feeling all muddled and like I didn’t get enough done. So I finished off my day by taking a crowbar to the deck. all of the decorative trim has been removed and we can now use a flashlight to see underneath. Since most of the trim was in contact with the ground, almost every piece has rot on the end. There were many places where wood had turned back into dirt. Yet because of the construction of the deck all of that was hidden from view. The deck still looked sound. Also there were spiders and bugs everywhere. Not my favorite. But beating things up with a crowbar was kind of fun.

I’ve really got to get a grip on my schedule. I need to put some structure into days that have gone all schlumped. I need to declare work hours and tell the kids not to interrupt during them. I need to prioritize and get some things complete so that I’m not trying to juggle so many things in my brain.

At the End of a Day that Feels like it was Wasted

I wish the list of “things I did today” made me feel better about the list of “things I did not do today, but should have.” It isn’t that I wasted my time. I mean if I spend all day watching cat videos over and over again, then I would be justified in feeling like I should have done better at the end of the day. Instead I have a day where pretty much every moment was spent on something worthwhile, yet it all feels muddled and interrupted. I can very quickly point to the big failure of the day (a missed appointment) and I can’t point to anything that feels like a counter balancing success. The appointment wasn’t even particularly important. Yet the fact that I missed it is evidence of the normal summer muddle that our lives always fall into. Everyone wakes at different times. We eat on different schedules. The kids spend far too much time attached to computer screens, to the point that I feel like a bad parent. Yet to make them do otherwise would take energy which I then would not have available for the work that I need to do.

This was supposed to be the week when I dug in and wrote fiction every day. I was supposed to do that all through the month of June. I didn’t. I was supposed to have the challenge coin PDF completed. There’s a package I said I’d mail two days ago and I haven’t yet. I could keep going. The list is long. Here’s another should: I should focus on the things I did get done and not beat myself up for the things I didn’t. Also I shouldn’t assign myself so many “shoulds” and thus I spin myself into a recursion.

What did I do? Some laundry. Some dishes. I worked on the PDF of Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance, which we hope to put in our store as an ebook if I can get the file size small enough. 160MB seems really big and I’m worried that the store provider will hit us with bandwidth fees. I cooked some food as Howard and I are trying to shift our diets toward being more healthy. I helped Keliana write a contract. Listened to her as she bemoaned the challenges in setting up an etsy shop and having art under contract. She loves the art, but the business side was feeling burdensome today and she needed an ear. I read scripts for Howard. I took a shower. I read for writer’s group. I answered some email. I filled out extensive panelist forms for both Howard and I. There were two conventions and both had a field for “tell us why you’re qualified for this panel.” So I wrote a dozen little sales pitches which I hope will allow Howard and I to participate in programming. I attended writer’s group. I fed a fish.

It really seems like there ought to be more things to account for how I spent my time today. That doesn’t feel like enough things. I look at the list with logic and it has a lot of things, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Whether or not it is enough, the day is mostly gone. I will try again tomorrow.