Life Shift: Moving Into the Warehouse

The night before the move I lay awake in bed cataloging the things I should have done to get ready, but didn’t. It was Schlock Warehouse moving day and I was not prepared. I know how to ship. I know how to run a shipping event. I know how to manage having inventory in storage units and the work station in my basement. But beyond broad strokes of knowing that I needed a truck and people, I didn’t really know how to proceed with moving. The truck was a source of stress, I’d never driven one before and the thought made me nervous. Once I survived driving the truck,I was going to have to provide instructions to a moving crew when I didn’t know the most efficient ways to work. I worried about these things the night before, or at least part of me did. The larger part was calm, because one thing that many shipping parties has taught me is that the Schlock volunteers are smart, helpful, and innovative. They solve problems when my brain is too tired to figure it out. This move was no exception.

These were the two storage units. They were thirty feet deep and each of those cardboard boxes represents 40lbs. We haven’t done the exact math because there are a lot of boxes and we were all pretty tired by the end, but our ballpark guess is that we schlepped 8-10 tons of things. Those are literal tons, meaning 16,000-20,000 pounds of stuff. On the first load we had to pull some boxes back off of the truck because it was riding too low. I wish we’d gotten a picture of that. Not a good thing when the wheel well is touching the top of the wheel.

This is the space we had to move into.

I measured it. It is larger than the combined space in both our storage units. The office space is larger than my office and shipping room in my basement. Yet at 1am the night before I was convinced that it was not all going to fit. That fear lingered through the day, mostly because all day long I had to make decisions about where things would be put. The decisions felt crucial and irrevocable because we were so tired that I could not picture rearranging things later. I felt like I had to get it right, which I didn’t really. I just had to get all the things into one place so that I could begin to see how it all works. This is one of the reason I’m so very grateful for the helpers we had. They were my auxiliary brains and thus able to tell me everything was just fine.

The first merchandise moved into the warehouse prior to moving day, thus demonstrating that we are able to receive deliveries.

This same truck driver has delivered to our house on more than one occasion. He was pleased to see our new facility and admired our giant roll up door.
I love the great big door. We could back the truck all the way inside.

The other reason I need helpers for these big Schlock events is because they make me laugh. We loaded the truck with the musical theme from Tetris playing on some speakers while making jokes about things fitting. Later there was the Angry Birds theme with matching jokes. My helpers are always glad to come and I always owe them far more than I ever feel able to pay back. They come, and because of them I can do work that I would never be able to accomplish by myself. They make what we do possible and they keep me sane when my brain wants to tell me that I’m ruining everything.

We emptied the storage units. There is left over garbage in them that I need to clean out.

Then I’ll need to sweep and go inform the office that they’re available again. It feels strange to see them empty like that. This morning I saw the matching padlocks sitting on my kitchen counter and I had a moment of panic “Oh no, I forgot to lock up the storage units!” But then realized that I would never lock up those units again. We’re done with that part and moved on to the next.

Even more strange was walking into my downstairs shipping room which is now half empty. We ran out of time with the truck before we completely cleared the shipping room. Which was fine, we were out of energy too. What is left are odds and ends that I can move at my leisure. Except it won’t be at my leisure, because I had a moment of panic standing in that half empty room.

I went to Howard and cried “I broke it. I broke the system I’ve used for shipping for the last seven years and I’m terrified that this will destroy everything.” Of course it won’t. The new set up will, obviously, create new problems especially at first, but it will be better in a hundred ways. The biggest is one that became clear after Howard commented.
“At least now the light will be off in that room. You always left the light on in your shipping room. I never understood that.”

It took a few moments of thought for me to figure out why I did that. On the occasions where I walked out of the room knowing I wouldn’t be back for awhile, I turned off the light. That was rare. Usually I stepped out for a moment, or got called away, or paused what I was doing and intended to come back. The light stayed on because I was always about to ship, in the middle of shipping, or not quite done shipping. That was the problem. I was never done and the shipping/convention prep work spilled all over the living spaces. It won’t be able to do that anymore. I’ll have to decide to go work and decide to lock up to come home. This is good. I am looking forward to it. However, it represents a fundamental shift in my life and a part of me is terrified that I’ve broken everything and we’re all doomed as a result. That part of my brain wanted me to jump in the car and drive to go check on the warehouse at 10pm last night. Just to make sure everything was okay.

Everything is fine.
All the merchandise fits.
I didn’t crash the truck.
The helpers were amazing.
And I’m not nearly as sore as I expected to be today.

That last part is good because I’ve really only begun working. There is still stuff to move out of my house and there is lots to organize over at the warehouse. Some of the organization need to happen pretty quickly because there are packages to mail.

Stress is not Logical

I woke up this morning stressed. I was stressed yesterday, but not at a drive-all-my-thoughts-and-actions level. Somehow the fact that it is Friday and I have almost run out of week tipped me over. There are all these things I need to do with various due dates.
Contact the GenCon hotel and arrange for pre-payment
Count invoices and boxes to make sure we won’t run out of anything on Tuesday

Before Monday
Design flyers
Prepare house and yard for clan home evening (guests in the house)
Do all the laundry
Pack Howard for GenCon

By Tuesday
Set up the new 4G iPad, hopefully it’ll arrive in time to make the trip to GenCon. (Except I may need it here to set up Worldcon Point of sale system. Make a decision.)
Transfer my old iPhone to the Kidphone number (Maybe? think about it. It could be a credit card terminal at GenCon.)
Restock from the storage unit
Fill some wholesale orders of books
Ship the wholesale orders
Prepare the paperwork for GenCon (informational papers for on site folks)

Before WorldCon (Aug 27)
Sign up for the point of sale system
Buy peripherals for point of sale system (in time for them to be delivered and tested)
Set up point of sale system
Test point of sale system

Very important, Do as soon as possible so you don’t forget, no specific deadline looming
Weekly accounting
Finish setting up my phone (I need those contacts back)
Email people regarding the Jay Wake Book
Work layout for the Jay Wake Book
Call Adobe and shake a license number out of their customer support personnel because there is a snafu with Kiki’s product registration

In writing this post I am able to sort and categorize, but this morning all of those things were pounding in the front of my brain and jockeying for position. It seemed like I should start with the Must Be Done Today things, but my brain wouldn’t settle. So instead of trying to figure out what should come first, I asked myself which of these things was causing me the most stress. The answer was Accounting. We’ve spent a lot of money in the past few weeks between convention prep, a new HVAC system for the house, various medical expenses, and the college tuition/housing payment. My rough math told me we were covered, but my brain would not let it go. So I sat down and did the accounting. This is when I discovered that yes we are fine, BUT I really needed to make some payments to the credit cards today because while we have funds to cover things, both cards were nearing their limits and nothing would be likely to cause more stress in the next couple of weeks than the temporary inability to use a credit card. Logically accounting could wait until later, except for that one piece. Bills are paid, all is clear. And now I’m able to look at tasks by due date and proceed.

Interestingly Howard was feeling similar levels of stress this morning. It was also because a lower priority item was the one causing him the most stress. Brains are weird.

Clearing Clutter and A Day in the Life

Almost the first thing that I did when I got home on Saturday was to pick up the garbage off of the kitchen counter. The kids had been living on packaged foods and they tended to drop those packages wherever. They are much more focused on the food than on proper disposal. Without intending to clean up the kitchen, I did, because in the spaces between fixing myself a snack my hands moved dishes to the sink and trash to the garbage can. That was only the beginning. For the past two days I have moved through my house clearing away clutter. I finally have the time to notice it and space in my brain to realize that this item actually belongs over there. Then I put it where it goes. In some ways it is like geological research, the study of how long life has been too busy by examining the collections. I hope I can continue this calm approach to clearing away the clutter for at least a week. That will do much to improve life around here.

This morning I got up early and set to work. I knew I needed to keep myself on track, so I decided to record my work day. Perhaps in some future year this will be an interesting record, a snapshot of my work life now.

7:30 am on Monday. This is the day when I return things back to normal. I begin by mailing all the packages and answering all the email.

8:45 am, answered all the emails and printed all the invoices. Up next: assemble all the packages. (Already behind my hoped for schedule.)

9:15 Postage printed. Next I assemble packages, but I probably ought to pause for breakfast before it has to be lunch instead.

Breakfast consumed. 22 packages set out for the postman. 10:32 am, time to make the kids get out of bed and do their chores.

11:30 most of family room cleaned up and vacuumed. Still need to sort through the mess on the game table, the mess on the fireplace, the mess on the video cabinet, and at some point in the future I need to completely re-sort the game closets. There are things in there that need to be evicted.

12:00 pause for lunch and noodling.

1:00 back to work. Part of my work process has been clearing and organizing odd corners of the house where things have accumulated. It seems like during coin shipping we were always asking Where is a sharpie? Where is a box cutter? Well I found them all. Now my pencil drawer overfloweth. Sometimes I don’t realize how crazy life has been until I start cleaning up and finding the oddest things accumulated in corners.

1:20 Accounting. Ready set go.

Sorted and found some financial documents hiding in the piles on my desk. Nothing overdue, just things to record. I have reached the bottom of the sedimentary layers and exposed desk surface. On one hand I feel bad that I lost track of some things. On the other hand I feel good that my system did not permanently lose them. They just waited until I had time to attend.

2:20 Still accounting. Moving into personal accounts.

Running laundry in parallel to accounting is theoretically efficient, but sometimes it just gives me points where I lose focus and can get distracted.

2:50 Pause for a snack.

3:30 back to accounting. Still having to do extra work because of the data loss post-hard-drive crash. The one accounting session that was lost happened to be one where I reconciled the checking account, so I had to do that over again.

5:39 pm done with the accounting. It does not usually take this long. I had to pause for kid stuff multiple times and there was extra post-shipping accumulation and accounting clean up. Time to go make dinner for kids. And me. I should get to eat dinner too.

8 pm The next hour is for writing. Kind of amazing that I can spare an hour for it.

8:50 pm I can hear quarreling downstairs. Time to go enforce bedtime.

Doing the Job that Needs to be Done

When Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard first started talking about doing a Writing Excuses retreat, I loved the idea. I wanted to be an integral part of all the planning. I wanted to be useful and essential. But much of the retreat discussion took place during recording sessions when I was not there. Task after task was handled and there was little for me to do other than to listen to the plans and make suggestions about implementation. I was of great help during the crazy days of registration and customer support. I’m good at answering emails and helping people. So I did that.

Then I figured that I would be most useful during the actual week of the retreat. I would arrive early and help with the hundred preparatory tasks both expected and not expected. I would stay late and help evaluate how everything went. Everyone thought this was a fantastic plan. But then responsible parenting required me to choose. It was no longer a matter of just finding someone to care for the kids in my absence, that someone would have to coordinate sending a girl off to camp and then dealing with her coming home. I checked and all the people in my life who I felt would handle that without being too stressed were unavailable. So the plan changed. I would come late to the retreat and I would leave early. This made me sad, because I’d wanted to be useful and essential. Instead they would arrange it without me and I would be a visitor at the retreat instead of integral.

I expected to arrive and be at loose ends. I expected to fill the odd task. Instead I got there and all the staff breathed relief. I spent most of my days working, helping, arranging, facilitating. It was obvious that I was needed. There were a hundred invisible jobs, the kind of thing that I do at home without thinking, but which enable all the other things. I did far more dish washing than writing and I’m okay with that because I was helping create something larger. I was doing the jobs that needed to be done so that the retreat could exist. Thins like retreats are always a group creation and my role was quiet but critical. Then, before I was done, my time was up. My early departure arrived.

I wanted to stay, so very much. There were needs at home and needs at the retreat. I pondered changing my ticket and figuring out child care via long distance. I weighed my choices. And I didn’t know the right answer. Perhaps there was no right answer, nor wrong one. I conferred with Howard and with the kids at home. Brandon, Dan, and Mary all understood and supported whatever choice I made. I left. I am sad that I had to choose between these things, that there was not some way to rearrange and allow me to be the professional, reliable, helper that I wanted to be. I’m even sadder because it seems like I always have to choose because things land on top of each other. It feels arbitrary and unfair, because everything would fit just fine if only they would land in different weeks.

So my role this past week both was and was not what I had hoped for. The retreat was excellent and exhausting. I was just beginning to feel part of it when I had to leave. Most of it can be summed up by me doing the job that was in front of me because it was the job that needed doing, even if there was a different job I would have preferred.

I’ll be home soon doing more of the same, only different.


It is possible that I caught up on the laundry this weekend. My laundry closet looks astonishingly bare without it’s huge mounds of clothing, but the closets and drawers look kind of nice. I’m a little afraid to believe in this new state of affairs so I’m not looking too closely at the corners of my kids rooms lest I discover even more things to be washed. Of course those bedrooms are themselves a monument to disaster and a reminder that catching up in one small area of my life is not the same as being caught up with everything. But it is a start.

It is also possible that I’m up to date on all the customer support emails, though this is likely an illusion. I know I have emails in need of my attention, but there are fewer now than there were this morning, so that is progress too.

I’m also working my way through the accounting, which I usually do weekly, but haven’t touched in several weeks. Piece by piece I feel like I’m gathering in all the threads of normality. It helps that exactly zero of my brain is taken up by tracking homework deadlines and school events. I have time to breathe. One more day of shipping coins and that project will be complete. Or mostly complete. There are always odds and ends left over after a big project.

Bit by bit, progress is made. Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have enough spare brain to prepare healthy meals again.

Shipping Update Wednesday

Work hours today: 48
Packages shipped: Approx 600

Work hours:175
Packages shipped: Approx 1300

The following backer levels are in the mail:
Low numbered (9-99) Tagon’s Toughs coins
Tagon’s Toughs challenge coin
Two Tagon’s Toughs Challenge coins
Officer’s Club

US NCO club are done. International NCO left to do.

We did great today, but at the end of the day there is still a lot more work to do. Next work day is on Friday.

These Are Pieces of My Coin Shipping Experience

I hold the coins in my hand. They have a solid weight and clink when the motion of my hand pushes them into each other. They are beautiful. Three months ago they were only an idea in Howard’s head, then they were an idea that other people bought into. Now my garage is full of them, imagination made real.


I lay awake in the dark, feeling the weight of all the coins in the garage. Each one represents a promise. I owe it to the owners of those coins to do a good job with shipping. But there was a problem. Test packages did not protect the coins the way I’d pictured. Thankfully nothing was damaged, but I must do better. So I think of the supplies on hand, I ponder what can be purchased quickly, I calculate the extra cost in work hours. Then I look at the clock, knowing that all of it will feel more possible in the morning if only I could sleep long enough to get there.


I look around the room at people laughing and working. They have come because I said help would be appreciated. Some of them emailed me to volunteer even before I asked. It feels strange that so many people would be glad to spend hours just to help us. I am so very grateful. This job would crush me without them. It is not only the work in their hands, they bring gifts of story and laughter. We talk as we work and the time moves, if not fast, then pleasantly.


“What is this coin thing you’re doing?” asks my neighbor. Once again I explain, what challenge coins are, why they are cool for Schlock Mercenary, how many people bought. As usual the look of puzzlement fades only a little, but this time I reach in my purse and pull out one of the coins. I watch my neighbor turn it over and feel the weight of it. “These are cool.” she says. Yes they are. I did not understand challenge coins myself until I had the chance to hold one.


“Are you going again?” asks Gleek. This past week has been one of errands and hours of me running off to places or holing up in my office. Hotpockets and Pizza are the foods of the week. I take a moment to hug my girl and I want nothing more than to just curl up on a couch and keep hugging her for a long time. Just the thought of holding still sounds like a piece of heaven. Instead I release and move to the next urgent task on the list.


I look around the garage at the stacks of coins and shipping supplies. Time and again I have a momentary panic because of something unexpected, but it turns out to be fine because I planned well a month ago and left room for error. This is really going to work.


I stand on the steps of my garage and stare at the piles of boxes. So much work to do. So many chances to mess things up. I’m sure that it is not possible and I will fail.


Janci and I sit on couches after the helpers have left. We deconstruct how the day’s work went and how the next work session needs to go. Then we just sit for a few minutes, still talking even though the business is already discussed. Sitting still feels really good.


I am losing track of things. Mostly they are small things, a backpack left in the car that the teenager drove to school, an email that I read but failed to answer, a task that lingers on my list because I keep forgetting. There was one task that I stared at for five minutes because the note made no sense to me even though I knew I’d been the one to write it. I drop things more often. I make small mistakes. I’m assigning checking orders to someone else because my brain is beginning to gloss over details and details are what need to be noticed. I need to sleep more. I need to worry less. It will all be fine, but the quantity of things to do is oppressive. I rather suspect that when I depart for the writer’s retreat I will spend all of my days there just staring at nothing, content to be still for the first time in months.

Work count has not changed. Saturday was spent doing house and kid things. Sunday is not a work day. Work resumes tomorrow morning.

Coin Set Assembly Day #1

Schlock Mercenary book release shippings usually have 1200 to 1500 packages. So when the quantity of coin packages racked up beyond those number, I knew this would be the biggest shipping job yet. We topped out at just under 3000 orders, so I thought the job would take about twice as long. I forgot about the force multipliers. Book release packages average three items. The average for coin packages is eleven items. My job isn’t twice as complex it is some other multiple which takes into account the difference between three and eleven. My brain is too tired to math it. On our test day Janci and I timed ourselves assembling sets. We figured the man hours and decided we’d be able to get all the sets assembled in one day. Instead we had six people working for five hours, we got half of them made. So Monday will be yet another set assembly day.

All of those coins are sitting in my garage. Two file boxes of invoices are sitting in my office. I will feel much more at ease when both start flowing out and into the world where they belong. Next week is going to be long.

Total work hours spent so far on shipping coins: 56
Total packages sent to customers: approx 120
By the end of next week I want to improve those ratios.

Shipping Volunteers

If you are local and would like to help with assembling and shipping challenge coin orders, please email If you’ve already emailed and I responded no need to do it again. If you can only come for part of a day, we’ll take whatever we can get. We’d dearly love to be able to get the majority of the coins shipped by the end of May.

EDIT: All current volunteer slots are full. Thank you! once again I’m blown away by how wonderful and willing to help you all are. There are likely to be additional times to volunteer during the first week of June, this is a huge project.

Volunteers acquired Friday May 24 9:30 am – 1:00ish
Volunteers acquired Tuesday May 28 11:30 am – 4:30pm
Volunteers acquired needed Wednesday May 29 9:30 am – 2:00pm
Volunteers acquired Friday May 31 9:30 am – 2:00pm

I’ll update the volunteers needed numbers as slots are filled. You will earn our gratitude, gifts of merchandise, and food is provided.

Challenge Coin Shipping By the Numbers

Invoices printed: 2245
Invoices pending, waiting on info from backers: 331
Coins to be ordered: approx 26,000
estimated cost of those coins: $80,000
Glue dots needed to fix coins to packing boards: approx 20,000
packing boards needed:5000
padded envelopes to order: 1500
priority mail boxes to order: 950
space in my house that will be taken up by boxes of coins: approx 52 cubic feet
space in my house needed for boxes of padded envelopes: 36 cubic feet
space in my house needed for packing boards: 5.5 cubic feet
space in my house needed for priority mail boxes: 19 cubic feet
hours spent this morning printing and counting: 6 (across two people)
toner replacement cartridges needed: 1 (so far)
Shipping is expected to begin the first weeks of May