A List of Small Updates

The last few weeks have been a period of calm accomplishment. I’m trying not to measure the value of my life in “things done,” but when living a life where most days are similar to each other and weekly patterns repeat themselves, sometimes I can lose a sense of progress. At those times it is useful to look back at the state of things six months or a year ago and see how all the small efforts and changes added up over time. So, as I enter a spring and summer that will probably look a great deal like the ones I had last year, now seems like a good time to record some status reports.


I bought Scrivener today. I’ve felt daunted by the thought of learning how to use it, but I was also daunted by the process of organizing thoughts into a novel. My first draft was one giant word document and I longed for the ability to separate out chapters or scenes to view them separately. Then I found my way into a process for brainstorming my novel’s plot that involved 4×6 cards and a file box. This made the organizational portion of my brain very happy. It is tacitlely satisfying to write notes on a card and then drop it into place. However I could already see that the method is not particularly portable and impossible to back up. So when I learned that Scrivener allows me to create scene cards and shuffle them around in the same ways that I would with physical cards, I decided to give it a try.

All of this shuffling of card and learning of digital tools is because I’m taking another run at finishing my middle grade novel. I’m scavenging my first draft for parts as I pull a sub-plot into being the main plot, let go of some of the ideas that don’t fit anymore, and adding additional threads of lore. This discovery phase is being fun. I hope to have the novel re-drafted by July because a friend of mine with experience writing and publishing middle grade has offered to do a critical read of the book and I’m using that offer as a motivational deadline. It feels good to have a specific creative focus and to prioritize writing.


Teaching classes is on hold until July. (Yes this fits nicely with focusing on fiction writing during that same period.) But even though I’m not focused on teaching, I’m still collecting bits and pieces that will go into my next classes. I have some I’m very excited about. I’ve also pitched some of the classes to a writing conference in the fall. Hopefully they’ll pick them up and I’ll get to teach several classes there. I’m also working with a graphic designer to create some logos for myself and for the creative community that I’m trying to foster. I hope to have images to share soon. And, as I posted the other day, I’ve been dressing up my Zoom corner. So “on hold” doesn’t mean “nothing happening.” It just means that I’m letting that portion of my brain simmer while I’m sending most of my energy into other things.


The next big home improvement task is moving the door into the garage. This is a multi-step project that starts by moving food storage shelves out of the way. I’m breaking it down into bite sized pieces and doing a little bit at a time rather than letting the size of the whole thing make me stop. I’m also waiting (and waiting, and waiting, and waiting) for our tax return to come in so I can afford to buy a new door. I’m now on week six of waiting. I don’t like waiting.


Outside the house I managed to accomplish the critical early spring tasks. I cut back our pear tree so it can (hopefully) recover from blight, and I cut back our grape vines so I could build a new structure for them. More structure needs to be built, but at least they are set up for a good growing season. Later this week I hope to tear grass out of an old flower bed and scatter a bag full of Utah-native wildflower seeds. I want to re-wild portions of our yard and make it more wildlife friendly. Mostly that means birds and bugs. My neighborhood doesn’t get wild mammals larger than mice. However if I could convince a family of quail to take up residence, that would make me very happy.


The kids are all in fairly stable configurations. Growth is slow and sometimes in odd directions, but bit by bit they’re beginning to claim adulthood. For the most part my job is to stay out of their way and not make their lives too easy. They need to practice doing some of the small life maintenance things which are so second nature to me now that I’ll often do the things for my kids without thinking about it. So my job is to think, and to leave the small mess, or the small task, for my kid to (eventually) notice and do for themselves.


Howard is still working on creating process for his next comics projects. He keeps running into mental roadblocks, and he keeps being frustrated by his own lack of productivity. Again, my job is to stay out of the way.


In pandemic news, Utah is on a low-level plateau. The removal of the statewide mask mandate didn’t cause even a blip in the plateau. Possibly because I didn’t notice much behavioral change. Most retail stores and schools are still requiring masks. However church gatherings and activities are coming back up to pre-pandemic levels in the next couple of weeks. By “pre-pandemic levels” I mean that there will be as many hours, but masks are still expected and social distancing is the norm. We’ll have to see how that affects the numbers. I think it is a reasonable next experiment as we all try to figure out how much the vaccination effort is helping and what life patterns we can reclaim from the before times. In another ten days everyone in my house will be fully vaccinated. So venturing to church in person is something that we’ll be trying, and possibly retreating from if we discover it to be panic inducing. Slowly life is taking on a new shape yet again. However I’m still not planning on traveling this year and not going to any big conventions.

I have many mixed thoughts about the ways that pandemic have exposed privilege. I can’t help but compare the current crisis in India with the US having piles of open vaccine appointments with no one showing up for them. I have friends in Canada who are locked down and would love to be vaccinated. And I compare that to what I contemplate happening in my life in the next few months. It isn’t fair. I know that life has never been fair, but all the unfairness keeps being in the front and center of my attention. For the most part, I can’t fix it. So I focus on telling stories that help people whether they’re in the form of blog posts, tweets, middle grade novels, picture books, or letters.

Fixing Up My Zoom Corner

One thing that the pandemic made necessary was setting up a space in my house where I could manage Zoom meetings and classes. I claimed a corner of the bedroom and set up this.

It functioned really well for the past six months, but I discovered that having a green screen behind me created a fuzzyness to my video images that I did not like. I wanted a real background. I also wanted a corner that was pleasant to look instead of a corner that looked and felt jumbled. So I pulled everything out, painted that corner (to cover up the gray stripes marking the location of wall studs) and put up some shelves. I like it a lot better now.

I have flat spaces to put lecture notes, shelves to display attractive things, and a place that is generally pleasant to look at. I finally mounted and hung my two original drawings from Strength of Wild Horses. I also invested in a better webcam so that when I teach and record classes, I’ll have a clearer image to work with. The view via Zoom also looks pretty good.

The last piece I need for the space is a footstool because the height of my chair doesn’t let my feet sit flat on the floor. I went shopping and found some functional ones at reasonable prices, but my heart caught on this fellow.

He was more expensive, but Howard pointed out that sometimes it is okay to pay for joy. So I placed the order and he is coming to live with me. His name is Clyde.

So now I’m set up to host more online classes, attend online social events, and visit with friends. This is good, because even with vaccinations, most of my connections with other writers will be online this year.

A Rainy Walk Through Thanksgiving Point Gardens

I almost didn’t go even though I had a ticket. I bought the ticket a month ago to assign myself to leave the house, but on that morning it was raining. Howard had to chivy me out the door. Thus I arrived for my meander along rainy paths, admiring growing things.

The gardens still require masks and everything is outdoors, so I felt safe from risk of pandemic infection, but I still found myself avoiding people where I could. Because of the rain there were far fewer people than usual, but it still felt like too many. I’m not sure why, but I always love displays with parasols or lanterns hanging over the trail. They lift my spirits and make me feel like I’m flying too.

With my own umbrella, I felt an even greater-than-usual kinship with the parasols bobbing in the wind. Though I was definitely a raven to their bright songbirds.

The Koi were completely unbothered by the rain.

The geese were also unfazed.

I got significantly damp.

And I discovered that wearing a face mask while being rained on presents something of a dual challenge for wearers of glasses. Foggy! With Dripping!

I didn’t even notice it until I got home and was editing photos, but while I admired the many blooming flowers, I mostly photographed the statuary, water, and set pieces.

And there were many things I couldn’t photograph, like the feeling of standing in the man-made cave behind the waterfall, hearing the roar of the water and feeling the thrum of the engines that hurl that water over the rocks into the pond below. Or the wide open vistas when my eyes have been used to looking at the contained spaces of my house. Or how hungry I was for green. Green trees on green grass with bushes just starting baby green leaves doesn’t make a great photo even if it makes my heart happy. I did get a picture of this tree trunk that looks like a frog.

I love Thanksgiving Point for how beautifully it is created, and how much care they take to make sure that every part is accessible to people who use wheels to get around. I also hunger for a wandering experience in a place that is a bit more natural, so perhaps my next outing will be a hike up a canyon. There will be fewer flowers, no tulips at all, but full of beauty. Walking in the rain was lovely.

Re-Watching My Fair Lady

I grew up loving Hollywood musicals. I still love the colorful, glorious, joyous, extravagance of them, but I see them with different eyes than I used to. I see the ways that they taught my young girl self to form her identity around life with men at the center. I see and think a lot differently than I did back then, I have more trouble just enjoying musicals, I have to think about them, the messages they reinforce, and the context in which they were made. Today I re-watched My Fair Lady, which could be aptly re titled Misogyny and Gaslighting: The Musical. The nice thing about My Fair Lady is that it is specifically designed to interrogate the power structures between men and women with a small side order of interrogating class structure. The hard part is that it was filmed in 1964, an era when American women couldn’t get bank accounts or credit cards without a man’s permission. So even while the film clearly positions Professor Higgins as an asshole and shows us that Eliza is trapped, even while it gives her a powerful song of declared freedom, all of that is undermined by the closing scene where she returns to him. Higgins doesn’t even turn to look at her, just asks after his slippers while she smiles. The film pulls its punch and reinforces a status quo where men get to be comfortable and women have to put up with it. Women, you can have your independent moment as long as you’re back in the house for slipper delivery.

As a text for discussing systemic misogyny, My Fair Lady is incredibly useful. Particularly since both the 1900’s era classism/misogyny and the 1960’s era misogyny are in there to talk about and discuss. Unfortunately it is one of the beloved movies from my childhood that I can’t share with my children and have them love it as I did. It would be a huge sociological discussion rather than a shared delight. (Though, to be fair, an hours-long sociological discussion with my kids is its own kind of delightful.) We’ll find other things to love together. I wonder how other issues-based musicals like South Pacific hold up. The ones like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are hard for me to even enjoy anymore.

Drifting Through a Sunday Afternoon

I’m sitting here in the middle of a drifty Sunday afternoon, feeling like I ought to have something meaningful to write, but not quite being able to connect with my focused thoughts because I’ve been so successful at actually having a weekend instead of a sneak-in-all-the-tasks-between-pretending-I’m-taking-down-time. Weekends are something I’ve been nurturing in the past months, especially since all my days are spent at home and my work spaces are in the same physical location as my relaxation spaces. I drift from work into no-longer-working sometime in the afternoon. Then on Saturday and Sunday I don’t assign myself tasks. I’m free to do them if I bump into them, but I’m not pushing to get anything done. I can’t always have pleasantly drifty weekends, but during the times when I can’t have them, I try to hold the memory of their importance so that I don’t return to living an anxiety-and-task driven mode of being.

My life has had more appointments in it lately. This is a shift from last year when all the days felt long and formless. They’d been stripped of external structure by the pandemic shut downs. Most of that structure still hasn’t come back. I have no kids in school, no homework to monitor or oversee. My weekly church meetings are two half-hour web streams and a family blessing of the sacrament. I still only grocery shop once per week and have consolidated all my other errands. But over the months, I built a new structure to help me connect with people. I now have video visits with various communities and friends at fairly regular intervals. Seeing people is good, but it does mean that I am back to having time segmented into parts: Tuesday before appointment, Tuesday after appointment. But I don’t schedule appointments for Saturday or Sunday. It helps me remember what those long, formless days were like. It helps me to retain the lessons I learned from having all of my days be formless.

I wish I could write down my lessons from formless days into a clear list: Things I Learned From My Pandemic Summer. I can’t though. They’re all amorphous, nebulous. Sensations and feelings more than concrete thoughts. By shutting off all the ways I’d over extended myself, I learned what it felt like to be on balance in my center. While centered, I learned all the things I had waiting for me to grieve them, so I gave space/life/energy over to that grief process. I gave stretches of hours and days to let the feelings fully play out instead of processing emotion in stolen snatches of time between other obligations. I still think about how that felt now that I’m building a new network of time obligations out of the pieces of the old. Interesting that the time spent growing in a centered way has resulted in me being able to extend outward as far or farther than I used to reach in my former overextended mode. That’s a lesson I want to remember.

Perhaps someday I’ll find words for how I feel more whole now than I did a year ago, how I’m less afraid. So far any words I use feel like a thin layer of papier-mâché over a round balloon, describing the outline of the thing while not the fullness of it. For today, I’ll put down the words and drift through the rest of my Sunday afternoon.

Easter Thoughts

I don’t have any personal traditions surrounding Easter. I probably ought to since it is part of my religious tradition, but somehow the ones I used to have were all focused on providing an experience for my children rather than me forming a personal connection with the holy day. So when the kids stopped caring about egg coloring and Easter egg hunts, we also stopped having lessons about Christ’s resurrection. The two probably shouldn’t have been intertwined, but somehow one triggered the other. The other thing that led to an ebb in household Easter traditions was that some of my kids have stepped away from my religious tradition. We’ve found a good family balance now where all the beliefs are given space without imposition, but it means that creating a family experience out of a religious symbolic holiday is not something we do anymore. Christmas still works because we can all engage with the more secular trappings equally, but Easter always had a lighter touch on our lives. (This is a cultural oddity since from a purely religious standpoint the importance and spiritual weight of Easter is far greater than that of Christmas. Christmas is the promise of a Savior to come, Easter is the culmination of the atoning work of a Savior.) All of which is to say that I’m in the middle of a holiday with no particular plans for marking the day.

I did listen to the General Conference for my church which is a semi-annual broadcast that happens the first weekend in April and October. Sometimes the spring conference coincides with Easter, which it did this year. So I got to hear multiple people speak about the holiday, its personal meaning to them, and its larger significance. I particularly appreciated that the church chose Easter Sunday as a day to lean into the multi-national aspects of my church. The vast majority of the speakers gave pre-recorded talks from their home countries. For most of them English was not their first language. I loved hearing different sounds given to familiar words, and I marveled at the courage necessary to give a speech to a global audience in a secondary language.

For me Easter is deeply connected with the Spring bulbs that are blooming. It is hope for things to grow and thrive even after they’ve died or gone dormant. It is a calmness of spirit that rings like a clear tone inside me when I pause to listen to it. It is knowing that when I reach out to the divine, I connect with a source of strength larger than what I can carry inside me. It is a thread of hope that I can someday hug my grandparents again even though they died years ago. And yes, it is also in specific stories about Jesus Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection. I’ve seen some of those stories scoffed or ridiculed on the internet today. Not in the gentle meme jokes that someone inside the community makes for fellow believers to laugh together (I’ve seen and laughed at some of these too,) but sharp jokes aimed at Christianity as a powerful giant to be speared and taken down. Christianity is indeed a large and clumsy giant with very large footprints. It is sometimes leveraged harmfully. Yet it is also a source of personal strength and guidance to many people, and careless attempts to spear the giant can wound people.

Today I am not wounded. In fact, I feel profoundly healed and whole. The other day I was having a conversation with one of my kids about how the pandemic quieted all the noise in their lives. It removed all the options for schooling, volunteering, expanding outward, and forced them to sit with themselves. In that quiet they gained identity that they had lacked before. In many ways pandemic did the same for me. Today as I sit with the feeling of Easter and try to connect with God, I feel grateful for the lessons of the past year, I feel hope for how far I can fly once I’m fully free of the pandemic cocoon. Easter is a story of suffering, betrayal, pain, death, entombment, transformation, and re-emergence. It feels very relevant and important to me this year.

An Early Spring Garden Walk

Today it is 70 degrees out (21 celsius) which makes it a lovely day to walk in my gardens and see what is growing. The front flowerbeds have begun to put forth new growth. Soon these red peony shoots will turn green and leafy.

Dandelions are cheerfully growing in places where I don’t want to have dandelions.

I have my first tulip blooms.

The spring star flowers and grape hyacinths are out in force.

In fact, the grape hyacinths have started invading the lawn. I love it and put off the first mowing until after they’re done blooming.

Above the invasion of grape hyacinths, you can see the grape row. I need to trim it back and build a better structure for them to grow on. I should do that soon before the vines start to leaf out.

Another trimming project is this pear tree that I’m trying to rescue from blight. Those last tall branches will come off as soon as I figure out how to put the chain back on the pole saw. When it grows out again, we’ll be able to watch for blight and trim it out.

The apricot tree is in full bloom, though some of the blooms got caught by a freeze, so I had to pick a bloom cluster that didn’t have freeze damage.

The first daffodils have made their appearance

I’ve got a birdbath, wind chime, and bee hotel to put up now that the weather is nice. I’ve already got this stacker feeder to draw birds into my patio space. Some day I need to sit outside long enough to catch pictures of the goldfinches which have started coming around. They look so dapper in their spring colors.

The new garden bed next to the patio is getting ready to bloom.

Parts of it are blooming already. This is going to be lovely spot to sit in the warm weeks to come.

Spring always gives me joy. Thanks for coming on this walk with me.

Getting Vaccinated

The place was tucked away behind a gym, marked only by a sign that said “vaccine clinic” with an arrow. We had to park far out in the parking lot because the only available close spots were marked as being for the gym customers with signs atop those road construction barrels. A simple, practical way for the gym and the clinic to temporarily share. Six month from now the gym will still be there and the vaccine clinic will be gone. Mass vaccinations complete. The day was exceptionally windy, and tugged at the papers in my hand. Forms confirming my appointment and that I’m not likely to have an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

I did not expect the man at the clinic door to be wearing the fatigues of a national guardsman. Though as soon as I saw him, I realized that it made perfect sense to use personnel trained in discipline and service. He asked if we were there for our first or second shot, then waved us into the building to a table where a different guardsman looked at our papers. Then we walked down a hallway into the large warehouse space, aisles and lines defined by traffic cones topped with caution tape and tape markings on the floor. We moved from station to station, no chance to go astray. At each step a guardsman directed us to the next station. Nurse to read through the papers again and write some things down on the admin section. Guardsman to scan our IDs and print labels for us to carry forward. Guardsman to show us which table to sit at. Nurse to put a sticker on the form we brought with us and to schedule our second appointment. Guardsman to tell us which table to sit at next. Nurse to afix the second sticker onto vaccine cards which she hands to us and tell us about possible side effects from the Pfizer vaccine. Guardsman to send us to the next room and assign us a table. Two nurses, one for each of us, with alcohol swabs, needles, and bandaids. Then some nurses to send us into a forest of individual chairs, six feet apart, where we are to wait for fifteen minutes.

It is all very efficient, despite all the stops. Except for that last fifteen minutes, we never have to wait for more than a minute for any station. We never bunched up with other people. All of it tuned to get people through and back to their lives. I wonder if all the vaccine sites have developed a similar efficiency. Probably. Efficiency just sort of happens when people have to do the same thing hundreds of times in a day. For the guardsmen and medical personnel, this is their job. They’ll do the same thing tomorrow and the day after. I want to take pictures of it all. Record the extraordinary mundainity of it. All of the mass pushes for childhood vaccination happened before I was born. The only vaccinations I’ve known happen as part of regular doctor’s visits. This is something else. This is community mobilizing, collective effort, expense, and organization to save lives. My only participation being to pass through and get my shot without causing a disruption.

Today’s shots were for me and one of my adult children. Later this week I will return with the other two adult kids. Since I won’t be getting a shot, I’ll wait in the car. The clinic people don’t want or need an extra body in there, and my people will navigate the process just fine without me. They too will pass through and participate in this historical moment.

Six weeks from now, we’ll all be fully vaccinated. We’re already beginning to have conversations about what that means and doesn’t mean for our household. I really thought I would have more emotions about my vaccine day. Maybe I had them already. Maybe they’re out there waiting for me after my brain shifts out of dispassionate-analyse-this-moment mode. For today, the thing is done, and now I move onward to the next thing.

The Edges of Compassion

My friend was struggling with the fact that a person they trusted to tell about their depression told them “quit moping around and get proactive about their situation.” I found some words in response to my friend’s pain that I want to capture here, because I might need these words as a reminder when I am the one struggling:

It always hurts when you run up against the edges of another person’s ability to be compassionate. Leaves you cut and bleeding when you’re already limping around injured. The flaw lies in the other person’s limited capacity for compassion, not in the size of your need. When you are healed and strong again, you will be able to extend understanding for their lack. Right now, be self protective.

I’ve had times in my life when I was overflowing with pain, where I poured that pain into the ears of sympathetic people. Yet I also watched. Because as I was pouring, there would come a point where my listener would sit back and say something like “Wow. You’ve got a lot going on.” That was when I would stop pouring even if I still felt full. My listener was at capacity and if I continued to speak, they would behave in self protective ways that might hurt me.

I’ve also experienced this from the other side. I’ve been the person trying to help someone who is depressed, who can’t/won’t take simple steps to claw themselves toward less depression. That “can’t/won’t” is the hard bit. It isn’t easy to tell which is happening, not even from the inside. Sometimes we think we need sympathy, but the thing that gets us moving is being angry at someone for the lack of it. Other times we’re just sliced by the edges of another person’s capacity and the injury makes getting out of the pit that much harder.

It is all hard. And messy. With no clear map.

Yet, I was a person who had so much pain that it overflowed when I tried to keep it private, and I doled it out in swallowable portions to my friends willing to listen. Now I can have visits with friends instead of therapeutic outpourings of emotion. I can move through entire weeks without crying. Slowly, carefully, self-protectively I have pulled myself out of stress and depression. I am able to re-build relationships that faltered while I was struggling. I am in a place where I am able to work on expanding my capacity for compassion rather than needing to depend on capacity borrowed from others. I wonder if it would have been easier in the hard place if I’d known that there was an “after” that I was struggling and scratching my way toward.

Dreaming of Ocean

Last night I dreamed of open water. We went to the water hoping for solitude only to discover crowds of people everywhere. Relatives, friends, strangers, none of whom I dared approach, all of whom invaded the space I’d hoped to have. Then I found a vast expanse of bright blue devoid of people. The water was at a perfect temperature for me to wade waist deep without feeling cold. I was so pulled by the water that I didn’t even take time to change into a bathing suit and just let my clothes be wet, knowing I could dry them in the sun later. I walked in the water amid twisted, fantastical, beautiful trees. The light caught on these trees in ways that I photographed, and every photo was perfect.

I am awake now and I still feel the pull of that water. I catch my breath at the remembered beauty of those trees. Someday I will travel to an ocean again. Today I must content myself with my 1/3 acre of plants and trees just beginning to wake from winter’s sleep. Chilly gardening instead of sun-drenched water.