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Writing and the Day Job

Many years ago I did something that I thought wouldn’t work, but has turned into something kinda great, and I wanted to tell this story so others might be able to use it. I was into writing as a serious hobby and was always thinking about it. One year, at my annual review at work I asked it I could start a staff newsletter. They said sure. Now it was only a couple extra hours a month, but it was regular paid writing and it felt wonderful.

Sometimes I really have a hard time coming up with new, interesting things to write about, and I’ll try to talk to management to see if there are topics they want me to cover, but generally I’m left alone to do what I want with it. I interview new employees to get to know them better. Run little surveys and make games out of the answers people send me. Try to throw in current news of the industry. And in the last couple years I’ve asked for book and TV show recommendations from the staff and include one a month of each.

Since I don’t get much feedback about what’s working and what isn’t, other than everyone telling me it’s great (I work with the sweetest bunch of folks!) I have lately just decided to keep myself entertained, and if I’m getting bored, then it’s time to change things.

So two months ago I decided to add a little fiction into the mix for fun. We have a hospital cat, and since we’ve been closed to the public and only doing curbside appointments she has been allowed to wander and have the run of the front office. I thought a fictionalized story of her imaginary adventure would be fun to write. This has been a huge hit with the rest of the staff. Last month, to encourage feedback, I decided to make it a choose your own adventure story and gave two options about what she would do next. I thought one choice was the obvious, fun choice so I already mentally planned out how that would roll into the next installment for this month and was kinda excited about it. Obviously, you know that means that the survey came back with 100% of responses choosing the other option. That’ll teach me to plan ahead.

The hospital owner enjoying what I’ve done has also led to me doing more writing. I did a press release when we moved into a new location and I’ve done some blog posts for the website and have been asked to do more. My biggest challenge now is myself. I get to do this writing work at home and I’m not as organized with my time as I need to be. I’ve set myself a time schedule and so far so good. I don’t always hit my goals but I’m doing much better than when I didn’t make any goals at all and would stay up into the wee hours to finish a newsletter before the end of the month. That wasn’t healthy for me and it didn’t produce my best work. This is an ever evolving place for me and if I come up with any wonderful productivity or time management tips, I will be sure to share.

I mainly wanted the throw this idea out there to other writers. I’ve learned that most other people hate to write. It’s a weird idea to me, but it’s true. If you love it, and offer to do it, people just might take you up on it.

Now to figure out how to continue that cat story. . .

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Some 2020 Accomplishments

The other day I was thinking about 2020, and instead of dredging up all the awful from the year, I wanted to think about good things that happened, or things I’m proud of. Because even in rough, uncertain, and chaotic times, good things can happen too, and I wanted to remember my personal achievements.

  • I started submitting stories again. Well, ok. . . just one story, and it has only gone out a couple times, but considering I haven’t submitted anything for years, this was a significant step for me. I have a second that will join it soon, and I have plans for more.
  • I had several good writing streaks. There was also time when I didn’t write. When I just wasn’t up for it. But I wrote more than I had in awhile, and when I wrote, I enjoyed it. So I believe the rests were necessary.
  • We started a family D & D game. This is something we’ve wanted to do for awhile, but none of us knew how to play, and were intimated at trying to start on our own. But there was a pandemic, so we couldn’t turn to strangers to learn. So we decided not to care if we were doing it ‘right’. We would just do it. Family fun is being had. I’m pretty sure we’re goofing a lot of rules up, but there is great serenity in not caring.
  • I have cleaned up and reclaimed my garden. This has brought me much more joy than I anticipated it would. Now i want to grow all the things, and somehow I keep finding space, but am bracing myself for when I can’t cram any more in. Not there yet though, so I keep calling the local nursery and checking if they have grapes in yet.

There might be more, but those are things that come to mind, and those are enough to make me happy and proud. I’m going to throw in a homeschooling tip here that I feel is connected. Starting in Kindergarten, I helped my girls make a scrapbook each year of things they had done. Family things, school things, personal things. Field trips, recitals, scout and club gatherings, birthday parties, artwork, etc. There is always a time when we felt we didn’t do enough. That we had used our time poorly, or goofed off too much. Then we would have the scrapbook. Looking through it always made them proud. Look at all they had done this year! Wasn’t it great? Remember that hike? Look how much my handwriting improved since September!

While caught up in the grind of life it’s so easy to forget how much you really do. The good things. I think it’s worth taking the time to remember them.

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Christmas Amigurumi 2020 #1

I decided to go back to the traditional route for my Christmas amigurumi this year. The first several years I made these, they were always Pokemon. For Mother’s Day, my sister got me several eeveelution patterns from Shea crochet. Maybe it was the Mother’s Day before last. Honestly, time has become meaningless, hasn’t it?

Anyway, I had been wanting to make them, and now was the perfect opportunity. They all turned out more time consuming and more complex than I had anticipated, or really had time for, but once I get an idea, I have trouble letting it go. So I plowed forward.

For my niece, I made Vaporeon. It was the easiest just because I didn’t have to hide it from my kids, and could work on it openly. It took me a little while to get the eyes and mouth to look the way I wanted. The face is so important to the finial doll. I also feel the side fins on her head are not as tilted up as they should be. It isn’t perfect, but I’m happy with the end result and she got a big hug when she was unwrapped (that I got to watch over Zoom. Thanks pandemic.)

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Relaxing with Romance

My roommate my freshman year of college was a huge fan of romance novels. I was (and am) a Sci-Fi and fantasy fan and had never ready any romance before. She was thrilled to have someone to introduce to the genre, and she gave me book after book. College, being what it was, I didn’t have much time for ‘fun’ reading, so I would save these books for after finials. I learned that romance novels were the perfect relaxation read after the stress of final exams. The stakes are generally low, and genre convention requires a happy ending, so the stress of reading was practically zero for me.

Since she only gave me books she was done with, and had enjoyed, my introduction to romance reading was a lot of really good books. She got me hooked on Outlander, for example, back when there were only two books in the series. Only years later, when I had to find my own romance novels did I stumble into the sorts of books that have given the genre a less positive reputation. Because even after I had long moved on to other housing situations, I kept my new habit of reading romance after finals to unwind, and destress. (Thanks Heather!) But I had to start paying attention to authors and publication lines because a story about a captive that fell in love with her rapist was defiantly not remotely relaxing. It was enraging. Yet those books were mixed in there, so I had to learn to be selective on my own.

After college, I returned to my science fiction because I had more time and mental and emotional energy for different stories again. I wish I could remember what I’d learned in that process of selecting romance novels now though. Because since Covid and shelter-in-place times, I have rediscovered the value or romance. I was having major sleeping problems. Anyone who has had sleeping problems knows that bad sleep just leads on to other life problems. One night I decided to read a romance that I’d picked up for free and had sitting on my kindle. I think it was The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan. It shut my brain up and let me drift off to sleep much more peacefully. I’ve since bough the rest of the series, and gradually worked through them at bedtime. There is enough plot to be interesting but not so much that I’m confused if I fall asleep in the middle of a chapter and have to figure out the next night what was happening when I drifted off. It’s perfect. But I guess I’m afraid for my new sleep routine when I run out of Courtney Milan books. Luckily we now have the internet to point me toward novels that will fill the role I need of them. My daytime books can be as intense as I want, but my bedtime books over the past few months have become something I guard, and am careful and very selective of.

Still, if you have a favorite romance book or author, please share it with me. I’ve moved on to fantasy comedy (Diskworld) for my bedtime reading, but I am having a little more trouble following the plot while sleepy. I plan to return to a romance read next again. More importantly though, one can never have too many stress reducing book recommendations to work through.

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Thoughts on home learning from a 12 year veteran homeschool parent

I’m grateful for the position my family is in regarding our kid’s education this fall. We homeschool, and always have. We use a charter, so we follow state education standards. We do the yearly state testing (except last sprig when they canceled it). But we have a lot of friends in the local homeschooling community and I know a lot of families who do things very differently. So I know there are so, so many options on how to educate a child.

Parents are being put in a bad place right now. I’m hearing a lot of politicians confidently say that schools will be open as normal in the fall. I see schools saying they are unsure if they can open safely, and they are working on systems and plans. More and more top universities are saying they will be offering only online classes for the fall. I’m grateful I don’t have to wonder who to trust, and what will be safe for my children. A luxury most parents don’t have. I want to share some thought to those parents who are considering keeping their kids home, but are daunted by the idea. Who think they aren’t qualifies or prepared to teach their child.

I hear a lot from non-homeschooling parents that they could never do what I do. I think people think I have the skills of a classroom teacher. I do not. Classroom teachers have to teach a group of 30+ children all at once despite them all working at their own levels. They have to juggle so much, and deal with parents and school board expectations on top. I have to help two students that I have known from birth, and understand very, very well. I can move the daily schedule, and even the calendar around to best suit our needs. If I don’t like a book or curriculum isn’t working for us, I can drop it right then, and do something else. Homeschooling is a picnic compared to teaching in a classroom.

Parents who were trying to quickly adapt to a distance learning situation last spring while also dealing with shelter in place orders and either working from home or doing essential work with all kinds of new rules (I was in this group) were not homeschooling. They were emergency pandemic schooling from home. High five to everyone who made it through that.

My oldest will be a senior in high school, and my youngest will be in 8th grade. So I will also have to luxury of not needing daycare for them on the days I work outside the home. We have been homeschooling forever, and they know how to learn on their own: they have spent their lifetime learning how. Anyone starting out won’t be able to jump in where we are and have it work. But if you don’t want to send your kids into a classroom this fall, you can find a way for them to learn at home. It really isn’t hard. It’s just something you aren’t used to because our society assumes you send your kids away to school, that’s just expected.

I know people who work full time and still make homeschooling work. They do school in the evenings and weekends – or at least the parts that need parental involvement. The younger your kids the more involvement they will need. And the littles will still need an adult with them during the day, and this is where it gets rough if the parents jobs are moving them back out of the house. I don’t know all the solutions to all the logistic problems you might have, but someone is doing what you want to do. I recommend finding local homeschool groups, and asking questions. You can ask me your questions too, and I’ll do my best. Google or Facebook groups are a good starting point to find them. The only reason I haven’t completely dropped Facebook is to stay connected to my local homeschool group. I’ll give this advice: unless you want to have a Christian influence include the word ‘secular’ in every search you do – for support groups, for books or curriculum, for everything. Even then some Christian slanted stuff will creep in, so check, but it helps.

On the plus side, homeschooling takes way less time than a traditional school day. There are no lines to form and wait in. No waiting for other students to finish something before moving on. No busy work. Young kids need 2 to 4 hours maybe, and my big kids finish a day’s work in 4 to 6-ish hours (the high end is for the high schooler and includes local community college classes she has taken since the 9th grade). Then they’re done. No ‘homework’ later. And in case you think they can’t be getting a good education, they always test well above standard on the state tests and the high schooler is acing her college work. Going to school does not equal getting educated. But I digress.

Every state will have its own rules for regulating homeschooling so that’s another reason to find local groups to guide you if you are considering this. For Californians, I can point you here for the basics. The California Homescool Network is another spot for info. And ask me questions! I can’t promise I’ll have all the answers, but I’ll do my best.

cats · crafty things · crochet · Uncategorized

Tiny Granny Square Afghan for the Cat Couch

Meeko on the Cat couch with the new afghan

I think it maybe could have stood one more row to make it a little longer, but it’s still cute. I never made a granny square before, so it was a fun thing to learn without getting embroiled in a big, time consuming project. The colors don’t show all that great, but you get the idea. I used a D hook ,and the smallest bay yarn I could find in my stash.

Cat Couch with tiny granny square afghan
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Trunking the Novel

I’ve been ‘revising’ my novel for an embarrassingly long time. In reality, I was ignoring it.

Oh, I’d think about it. Ponder what changes I needed to make, but I rarely to never sat down with it and really worked on it. I even bought a book on revisions and worked through the steps. I was a little excited back then, that I would really do this thing and make a decent book out of it. But I still didn’t like it. And I stopped work.

I told myself I didn’t have the time to work on it. That’s somewhat true, my time is tough to come by on many days, but the longer things dragged on the more I knew I was fooling myself. I could do something if I wanted to. I could make at least a little time. I was choosing not to.

A few days ago I remembered some writing advice I once heard, I’m sorry I don’t remember where exactly. It said that when you’re stuck or ‘blocked’ on a piece it’s usually because of a story problem. Something is wrong in the story that needs to be fixed to let you move forward again. So I shifted my thinking. Instead of trying to make the story I already had there work better, I wondered, what exactly didn’t I like about it. What wasn’t working in the story for me.

It didn’t take long to figure out from that small change in the way I looked at it. The problem is pretty substantial. I’m not sure I can fix it with revisions. Maybe I could start over from scratch and keep the elements I liked and take out the problems, but I would have a fundamentally different story than the one I have now. And that’s the problem. The thing I don’t like about it can’t really be removed.

When I was planning the book, I thought about what other characters I could add that would bring extra conflict for my main characters. I maybe made them too big a conflict. They took over the plot. Because I planned them there from the beginning, I didn’t see that they were derailing things so badly. They were just supposed to add a little extra tension and a subplot, but because their only purpose was to be in the way of the main characters, they were much to good at it. Too much of the story was dealing with them, and even the climax scene was a showdown with these annoying people and the actual thing I wanted the story to be about was a afterthought by the end.

Maybe someday I’ll know how to fix this and come back to it. More likely, I’ll take the pieces I loved about this book and work them into something new. While I’m in mourning of all the time I put into this story that I will never share, I’m trying to also remind myself that this is how I learn. This will make later books better. Right?

Now that I’ve mentally and emotionally processed this decision, I’m ready to start moving on. A fun idea for a short story came to me this afternoon, and I’m ready to start something new at long last.

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Games we are enjoying

Just before the shelter in place order went into effect we had a fun game night with our local homeschool teen group. It was hosted at Galaxy Games. We had never been there before but it’s a great store. We got to try out several new-to-us games, and left that night with ‘Just One’, and later ordered ‘Code Names’ as well.

They have both been a lot of fun for our family (4 of us, 2 adults and a 13 and 16 year old) and I’ve even counted them as language arts a couple days when we needed some stress relief, and a little less book work.

Just One is a cooperative game and I’ve noticed the kids like those games. I don’t think the like feeling like they are competing against each other or us. One person chooses a card and a number and that will give us the word we will use (the chooser can’t see the word). We write down 1 word that we think will guide them toward the clue word and try to make it something the other players won’t have also picked because if 2 of us pick the same word, it gets eliminated. It’s surprisingly difficult but we get a lot of laughs from our mistakes as well as the successes. The goal is to get as many right, as a team, as we can.

Code Names works in teams, so still a little cooperative, and a little competitive. There is a layout of 25 words, some are ‘agents’ of yours, some are for the other team. Some are innocent bystanders, and 1 is an assassin. One player gives one word clues to their teammate to get them to pick the right words from the choices. Because you want your team to find all your agents first, the goal is to give a clue that can apply to multiple of your words, but not to any of theirs, and defiantly not to the assassin. You pick the assassin, and you lose. There is a variation to play with 3 players, and I think even 2 maybe, but we haven’t tried that yet. We’ll probably give that a try this week.

I really like the language work involved in both games. The kids really have to think about the words they want to use and all the different way that word could be understood since they can’t include any context.

Have you been playing any great family games while you’ve been stuck more at home? Any recommendations?

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AmiguruMe Pets Guinea Pig

Tiny Guinea Pig made by Kara from pattern in AmiguruME Pets by Allison Hoffman

I made this cute little fella in almost one evening. The little mouth was stitched on during a car ride and as such came out a little wonky, but we decided it was still cute and gave them a kinda smirky look. I’ve had the book AmiguruME Pets sitting around for a bit now and decided it was high time to make a little something. To celebrate our newest family member – a guinea piggy named Pumba, I made this.