Christmas Status Update

One week to go. (The kids make sure I am appraised of the count down daily. As if I might forget.) I ran out today to buy the last Christmas gift. (The remainder are things I must bake.) I have already had my bout with Christmas over-whelmedness. (Yes I made that word up.) I did the fretting over how much we are spending. I worried that we were getting too much for the kids. Then I worried that there might not be enough. Hopefully I can now move on toward the blissful feeling that all will be well. There are still things to do. People continue to order and I must ship the packages. I have an essay that consumed most of my attention for today, and it is still not finished. But this evening I am putting down all my Things to Do and visiting with a friend. There will also be food. It is good.

Holiday Shipping, Business, and Family

Yesterday was the US postal service’s busiest shipping day of the year. We here at Chez Tayler have been doing our part to add to the load. I’ve been shipping out 5-15 packages per day for the last week or so. This is not a surprise to us. In fact we’ve kind of been counting on it this year to help us make the ends meet until we can release the next Schlock book. In another week I’ll be able to do the math and see how much gap is left. I’ll also do the math to see how Christmas spending added to the gap.

I enjoy the Holiday shipping. It has a cheerful urgency to it. I love looking at the invoices and seeing when the billing address is different from the shipping address. Then I know what I’m sending is a gift. It is a gift to us as well. Every package we send is a gift to us from the Schlock readers out there who enjoy the comic enough to spend money. I sometimes wish I could thank them all. I put a Thank You post card into each order, but it hardly seems like enough.

Things do not always go smoothly. People email me with questions. This year I’ve had multiple inquiries about merchandise for which we’ve run out of stock. That makes me sad because I know the other person is disappointed. I am much happier when the problem is one I can solve by sending out a replacement or filling a special request. I know that the time will come when we are too busy to manage special requests, but that day has not yet arrived. The more I interact with customers, the more impressed I am with Schlock readers. They are courteous, patient, and understanding of our human errors. I even had one guy who replied with startlement that I was the one to answer his email personally. This amused me because I realized he did not know how small our operation really is.

Today I had to assemble more boxed sets to fill out the orders. Six year old Patch sat with me as I slid books into boxes. He’d wanted to help slide books into sleeves, but sometimes the books require coaxing to slide into place. Instead I handed him the note cards which are included in each set. As I finished each box, he would slide card into place. Then he lined the sets up very carefully. Eight year old Gleek was the one who helped with the shrink wrapping. She likes to run the heat gun which makes the plastic fit tightly over the sets. Then we cleared all of it off the kitchen table so that dinner and homework could take place.

As I restocked the shipping table in the unfinished storage room, I pondered once again the cottage industry we are running. In some ways what we have is the re-invention of the family farm. We have busy seasons and slow seasons. My kids measure their lives by these business seasons as much as they do by the seasonal weather outside. They remember the times that Mom and Dad are distracted and pushing to send a book off to print. They like book shipping because it provides work they get paid to do. Shipping season is also celebrated for the treat foods we eat because Mom and Dad are too busy to cook. Convention season is frequently hectic and often involves over night stays with friends and relatives. In our lives, business and family are all tied up together. I like it that way even if it is chaotic at times.

I sometimes wonder how my kids will look back on our family life. Will they consider it as an ideal to live up to, or will they take from it things that they do not want to replicate? I hope they’ll do both. For now we have orders to ship.

I feel like the mouse in that picture book

The thought process goes like this:

Hmmm. I think I want some fudge.

I shall make fudge.

*cook stir pour wait*

Yay! I have fudge!

*Nom nom nom*

I have to stop eating this fudge.

Quick! Give away all the fudge.

Whew. Now my pants will continue to fit.

Hmmm. I think I want fudge.

Discussing Christmas Gifts

The actual words were a bit different, but this was the gist of the conversation.

Howard: I’m going to need a list from you of things you want for Christmas.

Me: I’ll put together a list of suggestions for you to work from.

Howard: I don’t want ‘suggestions’ I want ISBN numbers and specific instructions.

Me: But then it feels like I’m just handing you a shopping list, sending you to fetch the things that I have already picked out. I don’t care if things are not perfect. Opening things that are unexpected is part of the fun.

Howard: (sigh) okay.

I’m so glad that he puts up with me.

Loose thoughts about today

This afternoon was calm. Homework was accomplished without battles, in part because the two kids who have been fighting me both decided to get most of it done while still at school. It makes me hopeful that we’re nearing the end of the swirling emotional chaos that I’ve been swimming in since school started. On the other hand, I’m a bit afraid to get my hopes up for fear that this calm will merely prove to be the eye of the storm.

Because of the calm I got to spend an hour drafting an essay. This one is longer than is usual for me, but it is within the word limit for the contest where I intend to submit it. I just need to figure out the last paragraph and it will be ready for first readers.

Howard and I were discussing our experience with publishing. It has been far from typical. We aren’t even typical for webcomics which publish books. Once again I was reminded what an incredible gift the Schlock readers give to us. We are truly honored by their loyalty and support.

I’m sitting on my bed composing this entry. Next to me sits a stuffed Opus wearing reindeer horns. (From Bloom County by Berke Breathed) The horns used to have ball ornaments hanging from them, but those have gone missing in the decade since I acquired him. Mostly Opus has spent his lifetime being pulled out as part of the Christmas decor. But in the past three years he has a new lease on life. He is our Christmas elf, an emblem of good works. It begins with a good deed. This year Link made my bed. Then he placed Opus on top as a sign that a good deed had been done. It was then my job to do a good deed for someone else. Then that person has to do a good deed and so on. In theory Opus should be hopping around regularly all month long. In reality he’s spent almost a week waiting in my room. It is not that I don’t do things for the kids. I do all the time, but Opus is supposed to go with something extra, something beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately I haven’t had much time for anything extra, so Opus waits. I really need to get my act together though. Patch keeps noticing that Opus hasn’t moved. He really wants the Christmas Opus to show up for him. He wants a turn at good-deed-doing. So tomorrow I need to find something nice to do for Patch.

Also, I need to help Gleek make more paper crafts to give to Kiki. That project fell off the radar over the weekend, but it needs to go back. Gleek needs it.

Only the Herdmans were missing

At our church Christmas party the children were taken in groups to participate in a little nativity play. The casting was very simple. To one side of the room was a bin full of multiple costumes for each part. Kids declared which part they wanted to play and the costumes were distributed. Then the costumed children then stood while a man read out an abbreviated version of the biblical account of the birth of Christ.

When it was my kids’ turn to participate, Joseph stepped forward with three Marys. They shuffled their way over to the single manger and then faced the logistical dilemma of placing three dolls in it. The resulting compromise was to stack the Baby Jesuses like cord wood. Next came a small herd of be-dish-toweled shepherds. Each carried a small stuffed sheep. The stuffed sheep proved to be excellent missiles for knocking the tinsel halos off of the angels. Last to shuffle forward were the two wise men. Apparently turbans and boxes are not as exciting as dish towels and sheep.

All the actors huddled around the manger with their backs to the audience. There was much nudging and shuffling as the story was read. Several angels ran to parents for halo replacement. From the middle of the crowd a sheep made a ballistic arc to land on the floor and then had to be retrieved. I pulled out a notebook and began to take notes. It was either that or give in to a fit of giggles. I pondered whether the whole affair was a tad sacrilegious. I mean Joseph looked like a polygamist standing up there with three Marys.

Then the program reached a point where everyone was invited to sing. By the second measure of Silent Night both the audience and actors had stilled. Suppressed giggles from the audience subsided and even the sheep stopped flying through the air. I watched as the youngest Mary reached out and tenderly touched the head of her Baby Jesus doll. For just a moment it was perfect and beautiful.

Then the song ended and chaos renewed. But the sheep didn’t fly quite as hard or as fast. The audience was still smiling, but less inclined to giggle. Despite the amusement it was a very good pageant indeed. No one was excluded or shoved into a role they didn’t want. Everyone had a chance to huddle close and contemplate the religious center of the Christmas season. I looked again at Joseph, and his three Marys, and the babies stacked in the manger. It was all just as it should be.