The Smell of Paper and Ink

Some of my earliest memories are of being surrounded by paper, ink, and loud noisy printing presses.

I guess you could say that my love of the written word was started very young.

My uncle and my dad owned a print shop for as long as I could remember. It was in a little building on Bozeman’s Main Street when I was no older than my twins, then it moved about a quarter of a block into a bigger building at some point. Still on Main. The front doors looked out onto one of the busiest intersections.

I spent countless evenings in that building, playing among the paper and ink while my mom did Tupperware parties and my dad worked late finishing up printing jobs. That was what my dad did. He ran the presses, the folder, the cutter, and any number of the big dangerous machinery that made up a printing shop in the 80s, 90s and beyond. He let me help push the button on the big giant camera that made the plates for his press. Under very close supervision, I was allowed to help push buttons on the cutter. I stood, mesmerized as the press ran clackity clack, the little suction cups grabbing paper and feeding it through roller after roller until the printed pages came out the other end.

I grew up with an unlimited supply of paper at my fingertips. I knew how to run the copy machines. Paper boxes were turned into all sorts of constructions during those long evenings. When I got older, many weekends were spent with my sisters and cousins, going around and around the big center table in the back, collating booklets for various businesses.

My dad helped me design personalized notepads for my friends for Christmas and printed them out every year. Anytime I needed a manuscript printed out, or copies of pictures, or anything, the ‘shop’ was the place to go.

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A couple weeks ago, my dad and uncle announced that they were retiring and had sold the business. In a blink, a cornerstone of my childhood drifted away to memory. I won’t be dropping in to say “Hi” to my dad with the girls in tow. I won’t be grabbing a handful of free scratch paper from the bin by the door. No more sneaking from Anne’s candy stash behind the counter.

And it hit me this afternoon – one of the things that I loved at the shop was the wall above my dad’s desk in the press room. His wall was covered with photos. It had started with just the school pictures from each year, grades labeled by one of my sisters, plus a few others. Over the years, it grew. Christmas pictures. Ballet pictures. New baby pictures. Old family photos that my dad made fresh copies of for someone else in the family. Every so often, a new picture was added. It spilled over from the wall over the desk to the wall on the left, too.

My daughter brought home the school picture envelope for me to fill out. And I suddenly realized that I won’t be giving one to my dad for his ‘wall at the shop’ this year. He’ll get one for home, but there was something dearly precious to me about that press room wall and I don’t think I realized it until today.

I’m happy for my dad and uncle. But I’m a little sad, too. I’ll miss the shop and the smell of the paper and ink and the memories that were there.

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The Skin I’m In

I think I was about 5 or 6 the first time I got the funny red bumps all over my body. Various friends and family thought I had measles or mumps or something terrible and contagious. I didn’t.

It was my first bout with psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a genetic skin disorder where the skin cells regenerate many times faster than normal, creating red patches and spots. There are multiple different types of psoriasis, though when I was a child, I was diagnosed with guttate psoriasis. Since then I’ve self-diagnosed myself with several others, based on research done via the internet.

Guttate psoriasis is what I’ve struggle with most of my life. If I got sick with strep throat, my skin would break out within a couple weeks. After that, I would make regular trips to my dermatologist, slather multiple ointments on my skin, take many baths in tar-smelling stuff, and eventually have my skin return to normal. I had 3 different bouts that I can remember, at approximately 6, 12, and 16 years old. The psoriasis flare-up I had at 16 was by far the worse and changed how my body reacted to the ointments forever.

I’d been very sick that winter, with two bouts of strep and a couple of the flu. By the turn of the new year, I had huge patches of psoriasis on my body, not just little spots. My lower legs were almost completely covered in red, itchy, dry, scaly patches. Every visit to the dermatologist gave me more ointments and medicines to try and I took multiple different vitamin supplements, all to no avail. We tried tanning booths and UV treatments, until the doctor roasted me in the UV booth, after which I stopped seeing him.

It wasn’t until the days grew longer and the sun was out more that I actually saw some results. For whatever reason, natural sunlight is the closest thing to a cure that has ever worked on me.

Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve found one vitamin supplement that helps, and being pregnant and nursing actually cleared my skin up completely, but other than that, my elbows are always patchy with psoriasis and I always have several large patches, between a quarter to an egg in diameter, on my legs.

Back in October 2016, my whole family got sick with strep. Every single one of us. We all got on penicillin and I went on, thinking that since I’d had psoriasis almost constantly for the last 16 years, that the strep wouldn’t make any difference.

Boy, was I wrong.

I started noticing one day that my face felt really dry. REALLY dry. Painfully so. I went in the bathroom to put on some moisturizer and actually stopped and looked at myself in the mirror. My face was blotchy, scaly, and red. After a moment of close examination, I realized that it looked like psoriasis. Practically overnight, my body completely broke out. The patches on my legs spread to cover almost my entire lower legs. My arms grew similar patches. Hundreds of small spots appeared on my upper legs and torso, many growing bigger than quarter size in a few days. No part of my body was spared. But the worse, by far, was my face, the only part that I couldn’t cover up and hide. My skin was red, swollen, dry and peeling.

Self esteem tanked. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Nearly every time I did go out, someone commented on my face. I hurt. I felt ugly. And I saw no end in sight.

Then I had family come along to help me out. My sister, who recently started a skin care home based business, got one of her skin treatments to me. My in-laws paid for me to see a dermatologist and get some of my old, familiar ointment.

I have to say, my sister’s stuff works better than anything I’ve ever tried before. She had me take a before picture and then I took another one 30 days later and the results were staggering. She posted them on Facebook and now I’ve become a small celebrity among her business partners and their Facebook friends, with multiple people asking permission to share my before-and-after picture. It’s rather funny, but I still flinch every time I see that before picture.

I’m tempted to use the face stuff on the rest of my body, to see if it would heal the other parts, too, because even the doctor-recommended medicine isn’t clearing me up nearly as fast as I’d like. Or I may have to wait until the sun shines a bit more and I don’t risk frostbite by going outside in a t-shirt (seriously, it was -26 degrees here recently).

That’s my story of the skin I’m in.

Holiday Ne’er Do Wells

I think I nearly got robbed this week.

I saw a Facebook post a couple days ago from our local police department. It was warning residents of “holiday ne’er do wells” who were going through mailboxes to steal gifts sent via mail. I took note and went on with my day.

Then I was feeding my three kids lunch, preparing for an afternoon homework and piano lessons. I glanced up and out my big front windows and saw a man coming up my sidewalk. He wasn’t wearing any delivery uniform, so I assumed he was a solicitor of some sort. He came onto the porch and passed out of view behind our front door.

I waited for the knock, ready to open the door.

No knock.

No knock.

So, I just opened the door and said, “Hi.”

My husband’s snowboard, which had been sitting next to the front door, was in the guy’s hands. He swiftly put it down. “Um, hi. What time is it?”

His question caught me off guard and I half started to turn away to check a clock, then decided against it. “About 1:30,” I said, making my best guess.

“Thanks,” he said and hustled off my porch and across the yard. As I watched, a car rounded the corner and pulled in front of my house. The man ran to the car, jumped in, and they sped off.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket with shaky hands and called 911.

Oh, and I moved the snowboard into the house, just in case.

Tears on my Christmas Tree

We put the decorations on our Christmas tree the other day. It’s been sitting in our house for over a week now, but we were all too sick to decorate. Kids were finally better, so we dug out the boxes of decorations.

I love opening the box of Christmas ornaments. It’s a tradition going back 30+ years for me now. Remembering all those Christmases with my parents and sisters, pulling out the box and putting up our ornaments. My parents gave us all an ornament every year, something that reflected our year. I remember when I went through my horse phase, or the year all of us kids were into Rugrats, or the year I got my cat Deja.

Now there others. The pair of wedding bears given to my husband and me on our first Christmas after we got married. The little wooden nativity from my sister, which she picked up in Jerusalem. Three sets of “Baby’s First Christmas.”

It’s a yearly time capsule.

It was fun watching my kids put up ornaments on the tree, helping my six-year-old find her small collection, and keeping the twins from breaking anything too precious. We cleared a layer, and went onto the next.

And my eyes brimmed with tears.

There’s a simple little ornament. A sea shell one. It’s a big shell, slathered in sloppy glops of gold glitter, with little shells stuck to it, tied with a blue ribbon. I’ve always kind of liked it. It was so much like the little boy who made it for me, the first year I was his teacher. A crazy mess that didn’t quite seem to fit, yet, drew light and attention. It made me smile when I got it, because it was so him. It’s made me smile every year when it goes on the tree.

This year though, it made me cry.

Because that boy isn’t here for Christmas this year.

There’s a lot of happy memories on my tree. There’s a lot of good times.

There’s tears now, too. In the shape of a golden sea shell.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Halfway Mark (and a Tale of Two Eyes)

Day 11: 2889

Day 12: 1748

Day 13: 1988

Day 14: 1708

Day 15: 678

Yesterday was the halfway mark for NaNo 2016 and proved to be the toughest of writing days for me. It wasn’t even writing that caused the challenges. It was what happened during yesterday.

If any of you had spent a substantial amount of time around my 6-year-old, you may have noticed that her eyes had a tendency to drift outward. Kind of like going wall-eyed, I guess. They had a different name for it, but I can’t remember what. When she was really little, her right eye just lost focus and drifted, but it did it rarely and only when she was tired. As she got older, it happened more often.

She got glasses at 3 years old, which improved the problem slightly. We tried patching and different exercises, with varying degrees of success. We went from our regular optometrist to a specialist in a bigger city 2 hours away. Her left eye began doing the same thing as the right.

Over the summer, I noticed that her right eye drifted any time she looked at something for more than a few seconds. It did it constantly. So at a recent appointment to the specialist, my husband and I informed him of that and he said that it was probably time for the one thing we were hoping to avoid.

Surgery.

We agreed, though reluctantly, but with her eye drifting more and more often, we were running a higher risk of her losing her sight in that eye. So surgery it would be.

Her and I went to the bigger city on Monday, to prep for her surgery on Tuesday morning. We got a hotel for two nights, while my mom stayed home with the twins and my husband kept working a job he couldn’t afford to be away from for 3 days. I brought my husband’s work laptop with the intent of keeping myself busy.

Day 15 was Tuesday and the same day as my daughter’s surgery. I wrote a little in a half distracted fashion before waking her up and taking her to the hospital. Surgery was at 8 a.m. We were back at the hotel by noon.

Yep, that quick.

But the rest of the day was spent with the two of us lounging in the hotel room while the rest of the anesthesia wore off, with me occasionally giving her Tylenol when she started complaining about her eyes hurting. She looks a little cross-eyed now, which the doctor said would be normal and would improve over the next couple weeks, since he detached and reattached muscles in her eyes. The stitches will dissolve on their own and apparently the eye heals faster than any other part of the body. So fast, in fact, that she could go back to school tomorrow.

If she stops seeing double, which is another side effect.

If you didn’t notice the bloodshot corners of her eyes and her tendency to bump into things right now, you’d never know she’d just had surgery yesterday. I can hear her playing with Legos in her room right now. She hasn’t had any pain medicine since first thing this morning, so I’m thinking she’s already on the mend.

Hopefully this surgery corrects her problem from now on and we can go back to the regular optometrist after a couple follow up appointments.

And maybe next time I’ll see if I can put off surgeries until after NaNo.

Floundering

Our family sat around the dinner table the other night. I was telling my husband how worn out I felt after the first full week of school and how frustrated I was with my lack of progress in all things writing. I told him I just felt like I was floundering in everything.

My 6-year-old asked, “What’s floundering mean?”

I said, “It’s kind of like when you’re swimming, but you’re not doing it right. You’re splashing around, bobbing up and down, and not really getting anywhere.”

She gave me the raised eyebrow of a grade-schooler who thinks her mom is strange and says, “But you’re not swimming…”

It’s called an analogy, sweetheart.

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But that sums up the last few weeks. Despite all my positive pep talks to myself, I’m stuck. Part of the problem is the new routine with school has sucked away all my old writing time. My early morning time is taken up because I’m running the kid to school (with her twin siblings in tow) instead of writing while everything else is still sleeping. Afternoon is filled up with homework and piano practice and screaming twins who have been awake too long and won’t nap. By the time everyone is in bed by 8, I’m exhausted and just want to relax.

Not only that, I just feel tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. People say to me that they don’t know how I do it with twins. I want to just break down crying, because some days I don’t think I’m doing “it” at all. I can’t seem to catch up on anything and I go to bed feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing.

I know it will get better. The dirty socks haven’t revolted yet and everyone goes to bed with full tummies, even if the kitchen looks like the aftermath of a cooking competition. My daughter’s focus on her reading will improve so her pages won’t take so long and the twins will adjust to the new school schedule. I’ve got a friend who will do the kid’s drop off and pick up for me a couple days a week when things on her end of life calm down.

I don’t have all my ducks in a row. I’m sure one or two have wandered off somewhere and taken my Muse as hostage. If I can get them all in the same pond, that’ll be something.

I have flash fiction stories that I’ve decided are going to go in the box for another day. I’ve come up with a couple new flash fiction with which I’m tinkering. Sentinels of Mysera still needs its edits made. And NaNoWriMo is a little over a month away. I’m taking one day at a time, even if it’s just writing half a paragraph of a short story or brainstorming a little for NaNo.

Bear with me. I’ll get there.

Gonna go chase ducks now.

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A Reunion Party

Yesterday was a bit of an odd day for me. It was just the kids and me. My washer and dryer ran constantly, washing blankets and towels. The travel crib, air mattress, tent, and sleeping pads were all put away. I think I retrieved all the half-drunk sodas and water bottles that accidentally got left hither and yon. I still need to vacuum, mop, and give the bathroom a cleaning.

Even with three kids running around, the house feels strangely empty and quiet.

Having 7 people stay with you will do that.

Three of those people were complete strangers a little over a year ago.

Over the last week and a half, the moderator and 5 of the 10 cast members from Mossflower Odyssey 3: The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade were at my house. Though I knew 3 of them personally before the contest, the moderator and 2 members were new friends met during the course of the contest.  Since the contest ended last year, we’ve kept in touch through Skype calling, helping with other writing projects, sharing art, and just chatting over Skype. I’d made general invitations to the crew, telling them to come visit me in Montana and I’d take them through Yellowstone National Park.

I didn’t believe we’d actually end up doing that…

But on August 9th, I picked up 3 guys at the airport who I struggled to call by their real names, since the character names of Robert, Airan, and Tooley rolled off my tongue so much easier. A few days later, the writers for Chak and Scully pulled in my driveway with their kids. The writer for Crue swung by several times for games and dinners.

We went on a hike, played lots of games, had Cooking With Tooley LIVE, traded art (well, Chak, Rob, Airan, and Tooley did), and had our epic journey through Yellowstone.

It was kinda funny, because a year ago, Chak, Scully, Crue, and I (along with one other who’d applied to the contest, but hadn’t made it in) got together. We had a root beer tasting party and hung out, doing a Skype call with others in the cast for fun. And someone mentioned how they wished they could be there with us.

Funny that they actually were, a year later.

I’m feeling nostalgic and a bit lonely for the good times. I spent some of my downtime yesterday reading over our story and the critiques and various conversations that happened on the forums. I never knew last summer, when I threw together an application for MO3, that I would end up making new friends that would travel across the country to all hang out together.

You know, it’s been a hard summer for me. I’ve been working hard on my revision projects and taking care of the kids, while my husband’s barely been home because of his work. All our vacation plans ended up canceled.

I’m a bit of an introvert by nature, but circumstances over the last few months have given me more introversion than even I can handle.

I don’t think I realized just how lonely I’ve been. Having the insanity of all the people in my house, the late nights, and the break in the routine was exactly what I needed.

So to any of the crew of MO3 that read this, thanks for making the effort to come out here. Thanks for the laughs, and the fun, and for letting me drag you around the Rockies. You really made my summer.