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.

Wait, Which Day is This?

Actual thought process this evening:
As soon as I finish packing these orders for pick up, I need to clear the table because tomorrow is Friday and I’ve got volunteers coming at 9:30 to assemble sets. Goodness, it’s 10:30 pm and the kids are still playing computer games, but that is okay because today is Friday and they can sleep late tomorrow.

I’m trying to hold all the events in my head simultaneously. It isn’t quite working, which is why I am constantly checking my calendars and to-do lists to remember where I am in the endless list of things and which things need to come next. Also, I’ve arranged for there to be other people around to double check me. This is good because I make mistakes. Janci shows up to help with shipping and makes it all more organized. She solves problems I haven’t thought of yet. I’m also quite grateful to my past self who was smart enough to know that I would be frazzled and dumb right now. Redundant systems are actually useful when I can’t keep track of which day I’m in.

Thursday. This is Thursday because I dropped Howard and the airport first thing then raced back to the Elementary school for Gleek’s 6th grade graduation. She got to walk in a line and wear a paper hat. The principal shook their hands and the whole leaving Elementary school got a little bit real. Kiki also had a leaving school getting real type of day. She cleaned out her drawer in the art room. It was a little space at the school that has been hers for three years. Next year it will belong to someone else.
In the afternoon there was an orthodontic appointment and Kiki opting out of going to an awards night to go to a play with a friend. Good call on her part. Then I sat down for the first shipping work of the day, managing some special orders and the orders for local pick up. I spent four hours splitting my time between providing food for kids and packing coins.

Tomorrow the assembly work begins. Also: Helping Patch throw together a book report before school. Making sure the mummified chicken goes to school. Delivering art to CONduit in SLC and picking up art from the Covey Center from a show that is complete. And Delivering orders for pick up to Dragon’s Keep. There is probably something else too. I’d better go check my calendar.

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.

Testing Coin Shipping Processes

Yesterday the coins showed up as a big pile of boxes. I also had shipping supplies stacked in various corners of my house. Today Janci and I sorted through all of it and set up the garage to be a warehouse for shipping coins. We assembled the first 100 sets of coins and packaged up the first 100 orders. This test of the process gave us time to figure out a dozen small things, like we need two glue dots per coin instead of one. Which means I had to place an order for six more rolls of glue dots. We also realized that the Maxim 11 key drop does not come with a ring. We ordered those express shipped because it really doesn’t seem fair to sell key chains without rings on them. We’ll draw the line at actually attaching the ring. It only takes a minute to do one, but doing a thousand would seriously crimp the mirth around here. There were half a dozen other problem spots that we identified and resolved. It took us six hours of work to set everything up and test it all. But now we have a process and it works. I’m sitting right next to 100 packages of coins which will go out with tomorrow’s mail. On Friday we start assembly lining this project.

My garage turned coin shipping warehouse, not pictured are a row of four more coin types:

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

Shipping Cups and Hats

This has not been a writing day. It has been a sorting invoices, printing postage, assembling boxes, filling boxes, labeling boxes, packages for the mailman kind of day. I’m most of the way done. By tomorrow at noon I should have all the cup and hat orders shipped. That would be lovely and then I could stare at nothing for awhile to see if my writer thoughts creep out of hiding.

Things I am Stressed About

I have decided that rather than letting all these thoughts swirl around in my head, I will pin them to a list. Once I make them hold still I have a better chance of figuring out which ones actually need my attention.

Gleek goes to camp next week. This will be her first away from home, away from family experience. I’m sure she’ll have a fantastic time and that all will go well, but it hasn’t gone well yet. My brain keeps worrying over Things Which Could Go Wrong much in the way that a dog will worry at a favorite chew toy.

Kiki has not yet finished her big summer commission. She is completely capable of doing it. It is her job. She is handling it responsibly and making steady progress. She is going to get this done on schedule. Yet my brain can’t stop tracking the progress and noting that it is not yet complete.

School is coming. I don’t know how the onset of school is going to unsettle everyone. I’m gathering my mental energy to try to launch us into the new school year, but it is not launch time yet. So that pent up energy keeps getting funneled into “preparing for school” which probably doesn’t need that much focused energy.

Money. The finances are actually fine. Before the end of the month we’ll have sales from two large conventions. However we’ll also have bills attached to those conventions. My brain keeps trying to reach out and do future math to balance estimated sales against probable bills. The truth is that my inner financial squirrel is never happy unless she has enough money stashed away to pay all of the incoming bills for the entire rest of the year.


Gardening. I thought I’d do a better job of getting outside regularly to keep my few flower beds under control. Instead they’re currently overgrown and weedy. This makes me alternately sad and grouchy.

Organization in various stages of completion. I’m still in process on a lot of organizational tasks. Unfortunately this means that I have boxes or objects stacked in odd corners around my house waiting for me to find the time to send them to their final destinations.

Cleaning. I did lots of cleaning in the past few weeks. Unfortunately the new cleanliness of some areas makes me see the mess in other areas. I keep seeing it and I keep not getting around to getting it done.

Writing. For the most part my writing brain is locked down so tight I can’t even see what is in there. I keep feeling like I ought to be opening it up. I ought to be airing out those thoughts and starting to mentally prepare for the writing retreat at the end of September. But digging into that tight knot feels difficult and scary. I’m afraid that it will be pandoras box, filled with all sorts of emotional stuff that I’ll have to dodge, manage, or internalize.

My brain continues to spin trying to convince me that I chose wrong in deciding to go to the retreat.

Link has turned another developmental corner. He and I spent over an hour last night talking about friends and friendship. Link is beginning to learn that the shape of his childhood friendships is no longer enough. He needs friends he can talk to about grown up things, but he is only just learning how to do that. I’m completely confident that he will work this out and find his people. He may even discover that many of his childhood friends are his people. But the process is going to be difficult and I can’t make it any easier. I just get to watch, throw out advice where he can grab it if he wants, and then wait for him to sort it out himself.

I need to go to the doctor for another thyroid check up. I don’t want to have to deal with it. I just want to find medical stability and hide there for awhile. I want a month where no one has illnesses or pain. I want a month without an excess of psychology to navigate. I want calm, order, and work done.

Food. Why can’t healthy food just materialize in front of me without me having to think it up and perform the work necessary to bring it into being?

Next week I’m expecting four hundred pounds of t shirts. I’m going to have to turn around and ship about half of those out to customers. So next week is a big shipping week. The GenCon shipments are all done, but World Con shipments also need to go out asap. I keep kicking myself for not getting the WorldCon shipping done last Monday when I meant to do it. All week long a piece of my brain has been berating me for not getting it done.

There is probably more, but I’ve got children hovering and asking what I’m going to make for dinner.

Casting the Bones: Shipping Inventory to Summer Conventions

The process for deciding how much inventory to ship to a convention is very involved and always stressful.

Step 1: Look at numbers from last year
We’ve been in this business long enough that we have several years of prior numbers to consult. This is particularly true in the case of GenCon where I can look up how much we sold last year and the year before. Our GenCon team is amazing and keeps wonderful track for us. Yet looking at those inventory numbers shows me all the flaws in my convention inventory management systems. Without fail there is some number I want which is missing. This time it was magnet sales not being itemized out from other things. I know I had them itemized at some point, but I must have made a data entry error in my accounting software. Either that or I was tired and instead of looking up the specific number, rolled it into an additional book sale. This means that last year’s numbers over count on a book or two to account for the magnet money. Little bits of fudging on small ticket categories happens every time. Usually it reveals a flaw in my system rather than any fault of those who are on the ground running the booth. More often all the numbers line up perfectly the week after the convention, but then I fail to record them because I am tired and distracted. Or sometimes I record them and then file the record in an odd place. So the seemingly simple task of looking at numbers from last year gets time consuming.

Step 1b: Look up numbers from comparable conventions
WorldCon changes locations every year. The inventory sold numbers from the previous year are kind of useful, but only as a rough guideline because attendance varies. Also our sales vary depending upon whether the location of WorldCon is in a place with a strong Schlock Mercenary fan base. Reno was nearly home turf, Australia was largely new territory and in a foreign country. How much do I use those numbers as guidelines? Or would I do better to use numbers from another convention and multiply by number of attendees? I rarely know the answers, so I usually look up several sets of numbers to have them on hand.

Step 2: Adjust for new releases, cross promotion, and other factors
GenCon has a host of new factors this year. Our booth mates both have big new releases this year. We have our shiny new board game. Also Brandon and Mary will both be at GenCon doing Writing Excuses things with Howard. All of these factors will, in theory, drive additional traffic to the booth and thus lead to more sales. This leads me to round up on the inventory numbers. Also we have an established team and a place to store excess inventory, both very good things. But perhaps there is some other extremely shiny thing that will drive traffic and dollars in a different direction. It seems like WorldCon Chicago is completely made of factors for which I should adjust the numbers. Mary will be there and the convention is writer heavy, so more WE stuff should go. Except Brandon will be at Dragon Con and Dan will be in Germany. Usually we have them sign at our booth, thus luring in new people. We have a fantastic team, but perhaps most of the WorldCon regulars have already bought their Schlock books. I turn all of these things over (and over and over) in my head before moving on to step 3.

Step 3: Make a guess
This is when I write down how much stuff I need to send. It really feels like stabbing in the dark, though I can be reasonably sure I’m in the right vicinity. If I send too much, I’ll have to pay for shipping both ways. If we run out of something, we’ll disappoint someone who wanted to buy.

Step 4: Ship the stuff and fret
All the time I’m packaging and shipping I will worry that I’m sending too much. I particularly worry this when I look at the shipping bill. Once I’ve sent it, and during the booth set up process, I am always convinced that I didn’t send enough. Sometimes I will oscillate between too much and not enough at a rate of 10 minutes per oscillation.

Step 5: The convention
Things sell. We pay the bills for the show. Usually we end up in the black. We make a huge mental list of what we should do differently next time. Sometimes I remember to write down the list or parts of it. Sometimes I even keep track of the notes and file them where I can find them next year.

Step 6: Post Convention accounting
This is when all of the stuff comes back home to me. In theory I conscientiously count everything and make copious notes. I’m also supposed to write up a post convention report which includes all those mental notes. The notes and reports go into a file neatly labelled for next year. All the convention gear should be neatly put away in places where I can find it again. Perhaps this year most of those things will happen because I’ll be staying home and thus not convention exhausted during this phase. In past years the boxes, reports, and gear get shoved out of the way as I scramble to recover and handle other things. Then a month or so later I finally get around to cleaning it all up, by which time some of the thoughts and pieces have been moved or lost. I do muddle through, I do at least shove the relevant information into file folders so I can find it the next year. I have folders full of GenCon papers for the past four years. I have WorldCon papers for a similar length of time. If I at least shove all the papers into a single location, I have a hope of making sense out of it later when I need to.

It always feels messy. I always feel like I’m doing it wrong. Yet I don’t think I am. I think the guessing and mess are part of the nature of the work. Which is why I write this blog post to let everyone know when I make jokes about casting the bones to guess how much to send to summer conventions, I’m only partially joking. Its how it feels.

Summer Chaos and Brave

I’m the first one awake most mornings. I’m the last one to bed at night. Since it is summer, those bedtimes are later than usual. I rarely get my younger two off to sleep before 10 pm. Later if it happens to be one of the nights when our cul de sac fills up with kids playing night games, which happens every other night. Some days I get a nap in the afternoon. Most days I don’t. Usually the days have long stretches of time when I can focus on work or projects. Yet randomly a quarrel will break out, and I am the one who has to drop everything I’m doing to go create peace again. None of this is so exhausting as it used to be. As they mature, my kids are more able to help themselves and solve their own problems. It is just that everyone is here all the time and we all depend upon me to create the structure of our lives. I do it because it is important, because I crave the order as much as anyone else. This balance we’ve arrived at does seem to be the best solution currently available given the constraints of summer schedule and business requirements.

All of the above is what I took with me when I went to see the movie Brave. I wanted to love the movie, instead I only liked it because it prodded me right in my emotional baggage. You see, I want to be Merida, wild and free. I want to jump on the back of my horse and gallop through the forest shooting arrows and climbing waterfalls. I even want that glorious, untameable red hair. Instead I am Eleanor, the mother, the one who quells the fun and imposes order. I was very frustrated that Eleanor kept imposing princess behavior on Merida which seemed completely unvalued by anyone else in the society. It is one thing for a mother to insist her child learn something because it will definitely benefit the child later. This just seemed pointless. The movie was telling me that it is the job of adult women to impose civilization. “You must be Eleanor.” The movie seemed to say to me. “Be the embodiment of constraint.”

In after thought, I remember that there were portions of the movie where Eleanor also seemed trapped by her own expectations. At the end of the film Eleanor also gets to ride a horse. Lessons are learned all around, I suppose.

Each day I see all the things that are necessary. I see why they are necessary. I see how things must be done in order to achieve long term growth and goals. But the practical application of all of that leaves me being the one to impose order and structure on chaos and requiring others to help me. Part of me loves doing these things. I like order and calmness. I like my hair smooth while I create something of beauty with a needle and thread. Yet I also want to run through the woods with leaves caught in my wild hair. I think I need to see Brave again and view it while considering Merida and Eleanor as two possible aspects rather than feeling I must be one or the other.