Happy New Year


I put up the new wall calendar today. The calendar used to be the scheduling hub of the entire household. On it were all the appointments and events. If something needed to be remembered, it went on the calendar. These days most of the appointments never even get written on the wall calendar. They’re hidden away in my electronic calendar where they are far more useful to me. Yet the wall calendar is still useful. I come and look at it any time I need an over all view of the next weeks, months, or year. The kids reference it all the time when they need to count days or find out when the next school holiday is. So I spent an hour putting down the big events and birthdays for the year. Then I pinned it to the wall, moving it over slightly because the old spot had so many pin holes it was hard to get the pin to stick. Some day we’ll use piles of spackle to repair all those holes, but not today.

For now I’ll listen to the booming of the neighbor’s fireworks and glance at them out of my front room window, past the glow of the Christmas lights on our tree out front. The holiday season will soon be over, I should enjoy this last bit of it.

Letting Go of Who I Was

There are boxes in my office waiting for me to sort them. The presence of boxes awaiting my attention is not that unusual. Things stack up when I get busy, but the contents of these boxes make them unusual. They are things that were dragged out of the back recesses of a storage closet that had to be emptied so that my sons could have it as a closet for their new room. This process of moving them has unearthed many an object which we’d forgotten existed. I’ve found partially finished projects and things I acquired because of something I intended to make. We found toys that had been long outgrown. Load after load has been hauled off to be given to a thrift store. The same fate awaits much of what is in the boxes waiting for me.

I used to sew. I made costumes for kids, Sunday dresses, and other pretty things. I enjoyed sewing and I acquired many fabrics because of their potential. Some of those fabrics became beautiful things. Others sat in boxes waiting. I am not sewing very much right now. When I pulled out those boxes of fabric, I remembered the things I intended to make. It was quite nostalgic, but none of those projects interest me anymore. If I were to make time in my life for sewing, I would pick different projects. So I gave away most of my fabric. I retained the tools and books, but the projects in potentia are all gone. This means that my sewing supplies fit into two boxes. I have more space for the things than interest me right now. At some point in the future I may sew again. If I do, then the sewing supplies will expand. In the meantime, I have more space and that is good.

The sewing things are only one example. This process of clearing out keeps bringing me in contact with who I used to be. I find remnants of old dreams and I remember them being important. Part of me wants to hold on for memory’s sake. Yet if I want to fully become who I am now, I have to let go of who I used to be. This is the process of life at all stages. We don’t stop growing and changing just because we hit adulthood. Realizing this is one of the reasons that I cut eight inches off my hair. For ten years I was a person who truly enjoyed having long hair. I liked the interesting things I could do with it. Lately all that hair started to feel more like a burden than anything else. So I let it go. Now I can discover who I am with shorter hair.

I sorted my closet and got rid of used-to-be-favorite clothes. I culled the bookshelves of books that no one in our family loves. I dug into the electronics bin and got rid of things which have no real purpose for us anymore. We packed beloved family toys for young children into boxes and put them into storage to await grandchildren. I am making space in my house. It is time to clear all of this away because I want space to grow. I want space for my children to discover who they are as teenagers and fledgling adults. I want our surroundings to reflect who we are now. Reminders of who we used to be are fine and good. We keep the the things we still love, but we don’t want to be burdened with caring for and storing the past.

It feels like a good process.

Cleaning House

I knew a freeze was coming, so I rescued some of the blooming flowers from my garden.
Bowl of flowers

They looked lovely there in the bowl, so I took a picture. Then I carefully pressed the flowers in the pages of a phone book so that I’ll have dried pressed flowers to play with in January. Phone books aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be. I’ll be hanging on to this one for a while.

This is the week for me to sort through stuff and clear out the accumulated mess that occurs because of book release and shipping. Kiki and I had the first of many warehouse clean up days. I got part way caught up on laundry. I had enough energy on Saturday to assign out house chores to the kids and to expect them to actually follow through. They did. Our house is cleaner.

My physical spaces are not the only things I’m attempting to tidy. Today I acquired the doctor’s letter which will allow me to do the final rearrangement of Link’s schedule at school. I’ve refilled all the prescriptions. I’ve paid the premium on our new healthcare plan which I hope will do a better job of helping us pay for all those prescriptions. There are a dozen other organizational tasks necessary to make the next month, and next year, run smoothly.

I also attended a therapy session. This one wasn’t for one of my kids (though I had one of those today as well) it was for me. Because, frankly, the inside of my head is as much a mess as my physical spaces were. I’ve got two years worth of insufficiently processed emotional baggage that needs sorting. Also, if I’m going to advocate therapy to my friends and loved ones, then I need to be willing to go myself. So I’m going. And I’m hoping that the shiny new healthcare plan will do a better job of helping to pay for that too. I researched and tried to make an informed decision, but I half expect to get some unpleasant surprises when I actually test the new system.

For this evening I’ll look at my bowl full of flowers photo and perhaps I’ll light a candle so that I can watch the wax melt. Small beautiful things are a good addition to any day.

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.

Filling the Waiting Space With Other Work

I have been informed that the shipment of books will not be arriving this week after all. So now we’re back to the original schedule instead of the week early schedule. This leaves me with a space of time where I’m accumulating and processing orders, but not yet beginning to sort invoices for shipping. The busy is coming, but it is not here yet. Not only is it not here, but also I’ll be handing off portions of the work to Kiki. Even at the busiest, it won’t be as crazy as it has sometimes been.

I’m going to use the time to push through the challenge coin PDF. I my second preliminary layout for it today. The first preliminary layout showed me how I did not want to organize the stories. I knew it was wrong, but hadn’t a clue what would be right. So I talked with Howard and he said it should read as if you were sitting at a bar where folk were swapping coin stories. The moment I heard that, I knew it was the right approach. It helped me figure out what stories go where, because one story can be a set up for the next one. It gives a narrative flow to the whole project. Today I started defining the design space. I threw in a top and bottom border element which is vaguely like what we’ll actually use. I put page numbering in place. I defined the styles for basic text, pull quote text, and sidebar text. All of these things need to be refined, but when I took it to Howard he agreed that the shape is right.

One of the hard things about starting to design a new book project is that every decision extinguishes another possibility. I love the bar conversation format. I believe it is the right one for this project. But it means the death of my original concept which was to sort stories by service. Each choice narrows the project into what it will actually be. In the refining stages it is easy to see how each change makes the project better. In the early stages there are so many possibilities and they are all so ephemeral that it is hard to see which will work best. I end up spinning in paralysis of choice. Today’s work means I’m past that stage. (I hope.)

The other work I’m going to try to push forward in the next few days is writing. I’ve just hit the mid-point in my novel. I wanted to have the draft done by the end of June. I’m not sure I can make that, but it is worth reaching for. If nothing else, I want this to be a week where I average 1000 words per day across both fiction and non-fiction writing. That’s a good writing week for me. I’ve even set up a spread sheet to help me track. Now I can look back and see when I was writing and when I was focused on other things instead.

I have plenty of things to keep me usefully busy while I’m waiting for books. Yet somehow part of my brain would really just like to sit and wait. Not that waiting is fun, I don’t like it much at all, it is just that even when I’m trying to get the other things done, part of my brain is focused on waiting instead. This makes the waiting feel much longer. Not my favorite.

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

Re-organizing My Office, Again.

When we remodeled my office a couple of years ago, it was my intention to create a space that was both lovely and functional. It worked, mostly. But then we acquired a warehouse and the room which used to be my storage and shipping room became Kiki’s home-visiting-from-college bedroom. In the shift, a whole category of items became homeless, namely art to be sold and the small stash of inventory which we keep at the house. These things drifted for months, stacked on various flat surfaces in my office. Today I finally gave up and installed a utility shelf in my office. It is not at all lovely, but it returns all of the flat surfaces to being functional. In exchange for one ugly corner, the rest of the space can be lovely again. Perhaps I’ll hang a curtain to hide it.

The truth is that, after seven or eight stable years, the living spaces in our house are going to be fluctuating quite a bit in the years that are to come. Kiki will be home for the summer, but after that none of us is certain. This year there is no money to finish the storage room, but next year may be a different story. Two and a half years from now Link will likely depart the house for college. I’m going to be reconfiguring spaces every six months or so for the next several years. I’m okay with that, particularly if it means I only have to stare at these utility shelves for six months.

It may even be a shorter time than that. It is possible that when I finally spend twenty hours doing organization over at the warehouse, I’ll figure out that it makes more sense for the art and matting supplies to take up residence over there. In which case, the shelves and most of their contents will get moved.

Our family and business continue to evolve. It only makes sense that our spaces should too.

Scheduling for 2014

Howard just posted his appearance schedule for this year. Most notable: he will not be attending either LTUE or Worldcon because both have direct conflicts with other events. My schedule is much less populated than Howard’s. My currently scheduled public appearances are:

January 17-19 at Legendary ConFusion, Troy, Michigan. They’ve given me some fascinating programming and I’ll likely be spending the rest of my time hanging out where ever the writers are congregating. Though we’ll also spend some time in the Vendor’s room where our books will be on sale.

February 13-15 LTUE, Provo, UT. I hope that I’ll be teaching things there, but I’ve yet to see a schedule. I’ll be running a table in the dealer’s room where my books will be available. I’ll have Howard’s books too. Sharing the table with me will be Nancy Fulda, who is fun and writes things worth reading.

April 17-19 Salt Lake City Comic Con FanExperience, SLC, UT. I’ll likely be there, but I’ll be in full booth support mode rather than author/teacher mode. More details as we have them.

July 3-7 Westercon, SLC, UT. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll get to be on programming or if I’ll be playing support staff. But I’ll be there.

Sept 3-6 Salt Lake City Comic Con. More thoughts on this one after we see how the one in April goes.

Putting together an event schedule is only part of the organization that Howard and I have been doing in the past few days. Howard has come up with a system where he separates his work into creative chunks. The goal is for him to get at least two chunks done per week. This is pretty important because right now we have 102 chunks lined up for the year and more than half of them need to be done by June. Hopefully quantifying the insanity of our schedule will help us actually accomplish most of it. It may work because both Howard and I are motivated by lists.

Howard’s chunk system doesn’t quite work for me, at least not in a straight port across. What I’ve done instead is portion out the hours of my days. I’ll spare you all the hourly details. The part which most closely matches Howard’s creative chunks is that I have two blocks of time per day which I’m declaring to be Project Time. That is ten work blocks per week. At first I’m going to devote 3 of them to warehouse/shipping tasks. I’ll assign the others based on what I’ve got going on. This week I’ve got design blocks and editing blocks. I may discover that I don’t need quite so many warehouse blocks, but I’m still sorting out and setting up over there. Spending some extra time now will have benefits for the rest of the year. Some of those project blocks are going to be given to writing or to doing things which fill my brain with writing thoughts.

At the end of January Howard and I will re-evaluate. This is an important part of setting up new systems and goals, there need to be check points where we decide what is working and what needs to change. Right now, on the first full work day of the new year, things feel good. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. I’ve often found that days 2-5 are more difficult than day one.

Noise and Motion

I don’t pause enough. The minute I finish a task, I check in to social media sites, I read blogs. These things represent a break in my day and taking breaks is a good thing. Except I rarely eat without also reading. Somehow there is a piece of me that is convinced that we need some sort of input all the time. I can’t do one thing if the task allows for two things. Again, this is a useful way to accomplish more. The trouble comes when I am constantly inputting things into my brain and never leaving time for them to percolate and process. There need to be times when I am doing one boring thing so that my brain has a chance to quiet.

I haven’t been sleeping well. This is sad and strange because during the holidays is one of the few times when I get enough sleep on a daily basis. My usual schedule has me running at an hour-per-day sleep deficit which I try to catch up on Saturdays. This past week I’ve gotten eight or nine hours per night and still been tired the next day. It is like the anxiety waits for me in my subconscious and disturbs me all night when I’m supposed to be resting. I’m restless, I wake often, as if unremembered things chased me through my dreams all night. This particular pattern is a familiar one and I know the cure. I need more exercise during the day. If I break a sweat during the day then I don’t at night. It is some sort of weird conservation of sweat I guess.

This evening I was at loose ends. My work brain had shut off for the day. There was nothing I particularly wanted to read or watch. I knew that I wasn’t likely to sleep well, particularly since I have a driving day tomorrow and the night before a driving day is almost always an anxious one. I wanted to be distracted, to not have to think about the work I felt I should be doing or the long drive tomorrow. But as I was preparing some food and pondering my current lack of book, I realized how seldom I allow myself to be alone with my thoughts. I thought about this lovely video poem I discovered several years ago on How to Be Alone. Then I sat down and ate with just my thoughts for company. I noticed some things out of place in my house and decided that my next hour would be spent putting them in order. It took two. I made the work more energetic than strictly necessary, so that it counted as light exercise. During the work I did not think of anything in particular. In fact, mostly I thought of nothing. It was a good rest for my brain that thinks of things far too much.

I should practice this more often, focusing on one thing instead of always seeking out more. I don’t know if the work and quiet was sufficient to provide a better night’s sleep, but it certainly provided a better evening than I otherwise would have had.

Boxing Day and Organization

I like boxing day. I don’t know what the actual cultural traditions are around the day. I know it falls on the day after Christmas and is British in origin. I have a vague notion that it was the day when wealthy gentlemen would box up gifts and goods to distribute to their less-well-off tenants. Thus Christmas was full of new things for the gentlemens’ families and boxing day was focused on charity. Or, if you were one of the poor, then boxing day was the day of new things.

For me, boxing day is when I clear away all the boxes and accumulated packaging. Many of those boxes get filled with things we don’t use or need anymore. I took a car load of things over to a thrift shop to donate. By noon tomorrow I’ll have accumulated another car load of things. It is amazing how much stuff just sits in the corners of our house, unnoticed and unneeded, but never cleaned up because it isn’t really in the way. Except it is. Because those corners and storage spaces need to be cleared so we have places to put the things we actually use. It is time to clear away all the accumulated stuff from this past year when I did not have the brain to sort. As an example: the shelf in my laundry room where I shoved outgrown clothes until I had time to give them away. The shelf was over flowing, so I filled a big garbage sack and gave the things away. There are lots of spaces like that. Flat surfaces covered in random things because I needed a place to put them down. This week I am clearing them off.

I am also helping the kids tackle their rooms. Link doesn’t need any help here. In the past year he has sorted through his own things and gotten rid of the things which are no longer relevant to him. Patch has a harder time with this. Sorting is overwhelming to him. So we started with a garbage bag and a donation box. Then we picked one spot in the room and began. Once we got rolling, Patch quite enjoyed the process. He liked being able to see how much space he has. even better, he can find the things that he really wants, instead of them being buried under trash and old stuff.

Gleek’s sorting is going to take a lot longer. She has always been an accumulator of small things. Sorting is not just a matter of things she wants and things she doesn’t. Instead we have to dig deep and find all of the stashed rock collections. There are half a dozen purses, each with a similar collection of useful items such as pens, Carmex, pretty rocks, shiny things. The purses must be emptied, the contents evaluated. Each purse considered. Sorting Gleek’s room gives both her and me decision fatigue. I really long to just tear through it when she’s not there. That is what I would do when she was younger and the result would be multiple garbage bags full of things that Gleek never even missed. At younger ages that was appropriate, but now Gleek needs to learn to organize her own things. This is particularly true because Gleek’s collections are one of the ways that she manages her anxieties. Learning how to keep the collections under control is a critically important life skill for her. More important, facing the collections also brings up the associated memories and she has time to process them again when she is not under so much strain. I can see these memories wearing on her. She gets slower to answer my “what shall we do with this?” then she says she doesn’t want to sort anymore. So I bring us to a stopping place and we stop. I have this space between Christmas and New Years when business things are slow. The internet is slow. I can focus most of my energy on putting my house in order. Gleek and I can afford to do a little bit each day.

Going through my room and my office was a lot more fun. In those spaces I can make rapid fire decisions. This stays, that goes. This newly cleared drawer can be re-purposed for something else. When I am done the clutter is cleared away and the surfaces are ready for dusting. And I have boxes and bags of things ready to be given away. I like donating things. I’ll never have to clean them up again. We have an unusually large amount of stuff to donate this year. I believe it is the result of our year of transition. We all changed this year and so the stuff we want and need is also different. We’re re-shaping our spaces to better reflect who we are now instead of who we were.

By the new year our house will be much more organized. It will finally have joined us, prepared for the next phase of our lives.