Ramblin’ roach

I’ve been back in Illinois a few days now. It’s hard being separated from my husband and son. I even miss the cats. It’s hard not having a place to call my own. It’s hard not knowing what the future holds.

But it isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Charlotte and I are staying with friends who are doing their all to make us welcome. I have people who love us sending messages of support hourly via social media, email and text. People are helping me research. People are lifting me up. And I have resources. The library is going to be my home base the next few weeks. It gives me access to the internet for communication, air conditioning and even a place to take step-by-step pictures.

Charlotte is being upbeat about all this. As long as she has access to the internet and time to draw she’s happy. She might not deal well with change same as me, but things are familiar enough to help her cope. It helps that season five of Voltron hit and so she has a whole world of Tumblr fandom to keep her busy.

I am focusing on pictures for the book. The house I’m staying in is lovely and quirky and perfect for indoor shots. For the outdoor ones there are plenty of parks around. People have given me lots of advice on taking the pictures. Their help is starting to show as the last batch I sent my editor got a big thumbs up.

As difficult as the next few weeks will be, I know that I will survive them thanks to the incredible support structure I have around me.

Packing Up

I’ve been reading blog posts the last couple months about packing up to move: tips on box size, labels, if you are using a moving company, if you aren’t, lists to make, things to do, ways to pickup your life in one place and shift it to another location.

Those posts don’t cover things like how to deal with the unexpected emotional fallout when you realize you have to leave your plants behind.  There’s no advice in how to fend off a feeling of panic when you have to break up the set of glassware you got from your great grandmother, packing the glasses in one box and the bottles in another.  I have yet to find any tips on how to decide what to pack and what to get rid of when you don’t know how long your belongings will be in storage.

The consent judgement will be entered into record on June 12.  That is our vacate date.  I learned it yesterday.  There was, not a sense of relief, but a recognition and determination that filled me when I read the e-mail.  After months of not knowing when I had to leave my house, now I had a date.  Now I can shut down utilities and start packing in earnest.  Now I have one less “I don’t know” hanging over my head.

Now I know when I become officially homeless.

It’s not that we don’t have a plan.  We will be driving out to Laramie, where I have family and my husband has a job offer.  He and our son and our cats will be staying with my cousin and his family until they can move into a house we’ll be leasing from a friend. After they’ve been dropped off, my daughter and I turn around and head back to Illinois.  That’s where it gets complicated.

My petition to relocate hasn’t been approved.  The pre-trial hearing is scheduled for the end of June, with the actual hearing following in mid-July.  And so I have to stay in Illinois with my daughter until I find out if I will be able to take her to Laramie with me.  The plan is for us to crash with friends, stay in hotels and camp.  It sounds all very adventurous, but I will admit to being anxious about the whole thing.

There is still the possibility that my relocation request will be denied.  In that case we have to head back to Wyoming to get my son and husband and cats and bring them back to Illinois and find a place to live.  Seeing how the idea is to move to a place where the cost of living is cheaper and there is a support structure, staying in Illinois sees me stuck in the same situation I have been over the past year.

There is no alternative, however.  I will not live someplace where I can’t have my daughter with me.

So I keep packing boxes, hoping to get everything packed up in time so I can finish the reshoot of pictures for Sew Witchy.  I will continue to run the 50% off sale over at my Etsy store until the 9th of June.  Then I’ll shut it all down.  I will try to stay so busy that my Jerk Brain doesn’t have time to work its way back into existence.

Sew Witchy: Shooting the Book

My new best friend, a baggie of rice
We’re going to Vegas some day.

If anyone had told me in March that my new best friend would be a bag of rice, I wouldn’t have believed them.  But after my marathon photo session for Sew Witchy I’m ready to name that bag Wilson and get matching tattoos.

The thing is, I’m a writer, not a photographer.  That didn’t stop me from saying, “Yes, of course,” when Llewellyn asked if I could supply the step-by-step and finished project photos for the book.  I’d snapped pictures for this blog and Instagram before with my phone.  How hard could it be?

Oh ho!  Let me tell you: I was woefully unprepared for how hard it was.  And while I think the final photos turned out all right, I have no desire to do this again.  (Famous last words, I know.  Although they’re easy to write now as I don’t have any ideas for another craft book.)

I went into my photographical journey thinking that the hardest part would be how much longer it would take to complete each project.  I figured it would take twice as long so that’s what I planned for.  Instead, I quickly realized it was taking more like three to four times as long.  I was photographing each step, even if I didn’t think it needed to be documented because the book was meant to be accessible to new sewists.

As an aside can I just talk about what a trip it is to write a book about sewing book when you are self-taught?  Several times I would stop in mid-stitch and question if my technique was “proper”.  Was this the sort of thing a beginner should start with?  I had to look up terms to make sure they meant what I thought they meant.  At every step I had to stop and make sure that I had adequately explained what to do.  Just writing instructions and then photographing the various stitches used in the book was a process that took days.

Measuring the tea pot
Other things I learned: double sided tape is super helpful when taking pictures.

So, back to the pictures.  I had sent sample photos to the art director months before and was told I needed to use a tripod and provide photos in both horizontal and vertical shots.  My local library had tripods I could check out which addressed the first issue.  The second was a bit trickier.  The tripod couldn’t hold the camera vertical leaving me at a loss of what to do.  I came up with the brilliant idea to shoot step-by-step photos on a white piece of foam board.  I’d take one shot and then rotate the foam board 90° and take another “vertical” shot.

I only got through the first day of that when my friend Randy, who does photo art layout and design for a living, kindly told me that my brilliant idea wasn’t really.  He’s the one who clued me in to the bag of rice trick.  (Actually he suggested a bag of beans but I’m more of a canned beans kind of witch, so I instead filled a sandwich baggie full of rice.)  I would take the horizontal pictures, then balance the camera on its side on top of the rice, which was balanced on the tripod.  This added to the time each picture took, but it meant that there weren’t as many pictures that looked like I had taken them during an earthquake.

As difficult as all the above was, getting shots of the finished wearables was an experience on a whole ‘nother level.  The sample robe was modeled by my son Benjamin.  He is a ball of chaotic energy, rarely able to stay still for even a microsecond.  A good 99% of the photos I took were blurry.  Eventually Ben ran out of patience and refused to pose any longer, leaving me with exactly two pictures I could use.  To all the child photographers out there, you have my utmost respect.

In the end I took over 1000 pictures.  (Not counting the pictures I lost one day when I returned the camera to the library without transferring the day’s photos over to my computer. Fun times.) Of those, about 350 were sent on to the art director.  By the end my everything hurt: back, legs, feet, head and hands.  My house looked like a tornado had hit a craft store and dumped the debris all over it.  Dishes didn’t get washed.  Floors had gone unvacuumed.  Cats had not been pet.  If my husband hadn’t stepped in to take care of things while I toiled the family would have been wandering around hungry and disheveled.

I’ve always been the type of person who learned by diving in the deep end.  This is no exception.  And I did learn.  The pictures I took at the end are world’s better than those I took at the beginning.  I’m in no hurry to put my newfound skills to use, though.  I’m going back to amateur camera phone photos.

UPDATE: After writing this post, I got word from my editor that I need to reshoot all of the finished project shots.  I sort of took their comments on my first sample shots a bit too far and ended up with very sterile shots.  Fortunately, the editorial team sent me a document with notes for each shot.  And, a friend offered me the use of a tripod that can do both horizontal and vertical shots.  So my best friend will be retired and I’ll be able to get the pictures done faster.

Making It Work: You Can Still Lose

My house is being foreclosed on. This comes as no surprise.  I have been fighting to keep my home since I got divorced in 2008.  One of my first battles led me to run a fire sale on custom corsets.  I raised almost $1,500 for my mortgage.  For nine years it has been a struggle.  There have been bad conventions and years of expensive car repairs.  I’ve dealt with financial sabotage on the part of my ex-husband.  And I’ve made mistakes, like with the way I tried to restart my publishing company back in 2012.

On top of that all, I’ve also been dealing with depression and anxiety.  At times I know people have wondered why I worked so hard to keep hold of this house.  What I tell them is that it’s not just the house.  If I lose my home I can’t afford to stay in the area.  And if I move I will have a custody battle on my hands.

This final notice of foreclosure, though, has brought with it an acceptance that this is just how things are going to be.  I’m not going to be in this house much longer.  Which puts me in a holding pattern.  Foreclosures can take years to be resolved.  I could be moving in six months or six years.  That kind of uncertainty makes planning for the future tricky.  I have the chance to vend at C2E2, but can I commit to an event in April when I might be states away?  Should I look at events in the area I plan to move to when I don’t know my move date?  I already anticipate losing money in 2018 because of this.

It’s harder with the house.  Is there a point in planning next year’s garden?  And just what should we fix around the place?  I feel like I can’t even properly mourn the home I will lose because everything is so uncertain now.  Making peace with what is going on is difficult when I don’t know what the future holds.

It’s funny, this happening now.  I haven’t posted a financial update in a while due to being so busy, but that doesn’t mean the news is bad.  This year is on course to being my best one yet.  Every month but one has been in the black and I’ve made my sales goals at the majority of my events.  Even better, I’ve seen an uptick in commissions and Etsy sales.

Professionally, I’m feeling very good about my work.  I have a book contract.  I’m even getting jobs doing e-book layout and design (my latest project was for author Richard C. White on his book Harbinger of Darkness).  It’s work that I really enjoy.

In my personal life things are wonderful.  I’ve got two lovely, smart and creative kids.  Stephan is the best husband and partner I could ever hope for.  I am slowly learning about living with cats.  My depression and anxiety are pretty much under control.  I even have a bit of a social life.

All of this is in stasis, too, now.  I can’t plan longer than a month out.  I can’t commit to long term plans, or make connections in the area I’ll be moving to.  I have to just accept that this is the way things are right now.  I have to be prepared for change, but not spend all my time waiting for it.

It’s a balancing act to be sure.  I try to keep grounded in the present as much as possible.  I tackle my October to do list, clearing the old growth from the yard, paying the bills, checking to see what linens need replacing before winter arrives.  I go into the workshop and concentrate on the handful of commissions I have to finish up.  And I tell myself a dozen times a day that things are going to be okay, it’s a transition and it sucks, but I will survive it.

I am sure that one day, in the future, I will look up from the present and see that I did, indeed, survive.

Puppy Love

This is the look of a dog who has come home!
This is the look of a dog who has come home!

In October 2001, my ex-husband and I brought home Trixie.  She came to us from the West Suburban Humane Society.  A lab terrier mix, the Society put her age at five months when she was found roaming stray.  She’d been in their care for three months, due I am sure to the fact that she had an atrophied front paw that left her limping.  What she may have lacked in four good feet she made up with character.

This dog has been with me for nearly fifteen years.  In fact her birthday is today.  I can’t imagine my life without her.  She has kept me company, made me laugh, comforted me when I was sad, herded me to bed when she thought I was staying up too late.  When we would take her to the dog park, she would find the biggest, baddest dog there and play fight them until she was either defeated or victorious.

Trixie and Enya
Trixie took to having a sister pretty easily.

When we brought Enya, another kind of rescue dog*, she welcomed the big goof to the family.  When Charlotte was born, she kept a cautious, but curious distanced, never knowing what to make of the squalling, squirming thing we had brought home.

During my separation and divorce, Trixie stuck by me.  She slept with me on the futon in my office.  There was never a doubt that she would stay with me.   And when Stephan and I started getting serious, I made sure that he understood the dogs came with the package.

The years show with Trixie now.  She has a hard time getting around much of the time.  White has taken over much of her muzzle and chest, and her fur is patchy and red-rimed in places.  But she eats and cuddles and loves her family just as much as she always has.  She keeps my feet warm at night.  She nudges me when she wants attention and won’t take no for an answer.  She follows us around the house, from room to room, despite the obvious discomfort it causes her at times, just to be near us.  She is my dog.  There are no others like her.  And she is mine.

 


*Her previous owner was a neighbor of ours who couldn’t keep her any longer.

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Last week we headed up to Milwaukee for the Midwinter Gaming Convention.  We had a booth there, and had plans to get some gaming in.  This is Midwinter’s fifteenth year, and our third, and it has grown larger and better every year we’ve been.  This was the first year both Stephan and I had wares to peddle, and the first year I had so many booth helpers.  It all added up to a lot of fun.

What made the biggest difference, I think, is that I had two booth helpers throughout the convention.  Our friends Denis and Chrissy came along, and with them on hand, we had four adults to cover the booth the entire weekend.  That meant Stephan wasn’t stuck on Ben patrol the entire time.  It meant we both got to go to lunch together one day.  It meant I got to spend time with my son outside of the vendor’s hall for the first time ever.  I can’t thank the two of them enough for their help the entire weekend.

SCA costuming at Midwinter.
SCA costuming at Midwinter.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed gaming cons.  Midwinter’s focus is on LARP, but it has programming dedicated to board and video games, as well as a strong reenactment presence thanks to the SCA.  So while there is a costuming contingent, it isn’t a costume heavy convention.  And the convention has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  I found myself joking and laughing, things I hadn’t done in a long time.  I managed to deal with the little anxiety that cropped up throughout the weekend, which means that medication and therapy is working for my mental health issues.

The Milwaukee Hilton is a beautiful hotel, with lots of ornate staircases and decor, as well as hallways and seating areas for hangouts.  I spent most of my time in the vendor hall, which was placed in a baroque fantasy of a ballroom with chandeliers and gold molding on the ceiling.  The hotel staff was super friendly and helpful, a big plus when you are attending a convention where there can be tension between fans and non-fans.

That same weekend there was a girl’s volleyball conference in the hotel.  This led to lots of interactions with non-gaming people.  I witnessed an abundance of stares and whispered comments, but I was never the target of them.  In fact I had several women approach me to ask about what was going on.  I think the pink hair establishes me as part of the “weird people” but that my size and gender makes me non-threatening enough to be approachable.  This isn’t the first time I’ve played ambassador for the geek community.  Back in 2002 at ConJose in San Jose, I fielded questions from people on the street who saw me wearing a badge, but not a costume (no pink hair back in those days).   And the fan side of things gave as good as they got on the passive aggressive front.  I overheard one LARPer bragging about having invented “Trolling: the LARP” where he and his friends paraded past groups of volleyball players and parents in their costumes and played their characters to an exaggerated degree.

Creeper
This was Ben’s favorite costume, by far. “Next year I want to be a creeper, too. And then we can creep together!”

I only ran into one instance of bad customer behavior: a woman incredulously demanding to know if “that ruffle thing” truly was $75.  When I confirmed that, yes, I do charge $75 for my bustles, she huffed off.  I know that prior to her asking she had snapped a shot of the bustle (the flash is a dead giveaway) and suspect she’ll show the picture to a sewing friend and ask if said friend will make one for her.  I wish her good luck with that.

I did overhear another customer ask the vendor next to me if they would get a discount on a $20 item if they carried it around the convention and told people where they would get it from.  There seems to be this belief among a certain set of attendees that vendors are starving for marketing and will give away their wares for word of mouth advertising.  I have never once met a vendor who has done such.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one or two who have, I just have never encountered them.

The only other annoyance was the number of times people congregated in front of my booth and blocked access to it.  That is easily dealt with.  I whip out my phone and ask the people if they could move because I want to get a shot of my set up.  Nine times out of ten the people realize they were blocking the way and move on apologetically.  The tenth time, the people move, but with resentment at having been asked to move.  Either way, it’s not skin off my nose, I got them to clear the way.

The final attendance count was just shy of 1100 members.  Not a bad showing.  I made just over 50 cents per attendee (which is about what I plan on making at any convention).  It was less than I had hoped, but I didn’t have any big items with me this time around.  There’s time before the next convention to get plenty of coats made up for off the rack purchases.

roach and the orc
I found an orc!

According to those we talked to, Midwinter has seen an average of 10 percent growth in attendance each year.  It’s clear that they do a lot of work not only in planning great programming, but also in advertising their presence.  They do a lot of social media work, have a strong Facebook page, and got the convention covered by local TV press.  It is a lot of work, but it is paying off for them.

I mention this because over the course of the weekend I was approached by two different conventions about vending.  Both are brand new, both are asking for $200 for booth space.  One mentioned on its website that they expect anywhere between 350 to 2,400 attendees at their first con.  Think about that for a moment.  Presuming that they reach their minimum number, and that I make 50 cents per attendee, I will lose money attending that convention.  The other is one  could see slightly better numbers, but it is still the first year, still untested, and still not worth paying that much for a space.  When conventions charge that much for a space, with such low numbers, it is clear they are looking to cover their costs on the backs of their vendors rather than through ticket sales.

We’ll be back to Midwinter next year for sure.

 

Reynold’s Mess

Be forewarned: this recipe is not for the feint of heart.  It is full of stuff that is horrible for you: fat, beef, cheese, fat, salt, food processed until it no longer resembles food.  It will stick to your ribs, your diaphragm, your colon and your conscience.  All of that aside, it is my most favorite meal in the world and I make it a couple times a year and it is so very good.

With that warning out of the way, I present Reynold’s Mess, named after my father who made it for the family when I was a growing roach.

Reynold’s Mess

Ingredients

1 box of macaroni & cheese

1 brick of cream cheese

1 lb ground beef

1 can cream of mushroom soup

garlic salt

Instructions

  1. Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package.
  2. While the water is boiling, brown the ground beef.  Drain.
  3. After you have prepared the macaroni and cheese, add the cream of mushroom soup.
  4. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and add it to the macaroni/mushroom soup mix.
  5. Add the ground beef to the mix.
  6. Keep stirring and heat over medium heat until all the ingredients are combined.  Add milk as needed for the consistency you desire.
  7. Season with garlic salt to taste.  I use 1/2 t.  Serve immediately.

Nutrition Information

Hahaha … just kidding.  There’s no way I want to know just how bad this meal is for me.

Thanksgiving/Thanksgaming 2014

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Most of my fondness comes from my childhood.  I remember every year heading over to my grandparents’ place, where the rest of our extended family had gathered.  Cousins ran around while my grandma, mother and aunts got the dinner ready.  Everyone brought some dish or dessert (mostly desserts).  Around two o’clock the food would be laid out, buffet style, over kitchen counters and the isle and then took seats at one of the many tables set up throughout the house.  Yes, there was an adults’ table, and several kids’ tables.  After was more running around for the kids, football for the adults and hours devoted to seconds and thirds.  Come the evening, after board games and pinochle, the leftovers would be parceled out.  We’d all head home, stuffed and happy.

Continue reading Thanksgiving/Thanksgaming 2014