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Sandra Tayler's Journal

responsible woman

A cobble by itself is just a small stone, but when many of them lay together they create a path . My life is made up of many discrete parts. I have to find ways to fit them all into place so that I can continue to journey where I desire to go. This journal records some of the cobbles that create my path.

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May 18th, 2015

Planet Mercenary Funded

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responsible woman

The Kickstarter closed at noon today. I was watching when it happened. How could I not watch those final seconds count down? It tipped over into Funded and there was this pause in my head. For a long few seconds I looked at the number of backers and the number of dollars. Well now I know. It was the first clear thought in the pause. I know what the budget is for all the things we must do. I know how many people to whom I am responsible for spending that money wisely. Hitting funded is a solemn and awestruck moment as much as it is a happy one.

I have so many fears going forward. I know some of the stressful things that are ahead. I know that there will be other stresses that I do not expect. It seems that every project we do has some huge and potentially disastrous problem hidden in it. Thus far we’ve always avoided the disasters, but it felt really close many times. (Some day I really should give a full account of how the Massively Parallel bonus story was rescued from a major misprint at the very last minute.) I’m also very excited for what we get to make.

So this first few days after hitting funded is a time for Howard, Alan (our partner and game designer), and I to breathe. We need to pause and reset our minds for the new tasks ahead. We need to pick up some of the tasks we let drop. I need to give my youngest child some attention as he nears the end of his last year in elementary school.

But while I’m pausing to breathe, I should use some of that breath to say thank you to all the people who backed our project. Thank you to the people who spread the word. Thank you to the people who wished us well. Because of all of you, we get to make Planet Mercenary, and it is going to be amazing.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

May 12th, 2015

Dark and Bright

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Is it the end of the school year yet? No. Two and a half long weeks remain. It feels like an endurance slog. Which is strange since in theory we’ve reached the part of the year where things are becoming complete. Yet Patch has melted into a big pile of stress instead of gaining energy as we near the end. It is the opposite of what I’d hoped for in the month of May. The quantity of things that I am behind on, and the quantity of extra tasks that get dumped on me at a moments notice are enough to crush me. I can hardly believe we’re only on Tuesday. So much has been crammed into the hours since Sunday morning.

Yet things are bright as well. Kiki is home, following me around and taking jobs away from me to do them herself. The weather has been lovely. My front flowerbeds are so beautiful that my neighbors have thanked me for the beauty they enjoy seeing when they come home. (I credit the flowerbeds to the hours Kiki and I put in last year. We will also not mention the beds around the trees which are mostly waist high grass.) The Kickstarter will close in less than a week and it has done very well. We’re going to have the resources we need to make lots of very cool stuff. I’m going to get to go to GenCon with Howard in July and I’m very much looking forward to that trip.

I have to remember the bright things because some of the hard stuff has nearly overwhelmed me in the past weeks. It is hard for me to find a hopeful perspective. At some point I need to write a post about how parenting depression is different from being married to it. I don’t have the energy for that post right now. Not on four hours of sleep and the careful management that will be necessary to land my kids in bed without any further emotional upheavals today.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

May 9th, 2015

Designing books is an art. The presentation of the physical book must be pleasing and enhance the transfer of information from page to reader. For some types of books, such as novels, this is fairly straightforward. Put the words on the page, pick a good font, add a few graphic elements, copy edit, double check for widows, orphans, and rivers. (Note: Straightforward is not the same as easy.) Other books, such as textbooks are a bit more complicated. They include more graphics and a need for extensive indexing. A good RPG book, like Planet Mercenary intends to be, presents a real design challenge as it needs to incorporate elements that are similar to novels and elements that are similar to textbooks.

In facing this challenge I found it helpful to list out my design goals. There are four.

1. It needs to be a useful instruction manual for people learning how to play the game.

2. It needs to be a reference book filled with easy-to-find information for people who are playing the game.

3. It should be fun to read and have a narrative flow from beginning to end so that people who don’t really want to play, but want to know more about the Schlockiverse, can enjoy it.

4. It must be visually attractive on every page.

To show how I’m attempting to meet these design goals, I share with you the following page spread. It is a work in progress and will likely change before we got to print, but it allows me to show what I’m reaching for.
Web Sample

Instruction Manual
This spread is from one of the heavily instructional sections of the book. The pages before it explained how to go about creating characters. These pages are designed to give a player enough information so they can choose which type of sophont they want to be in the game. There is text about the advantages and disadvantages each sophont brings to the table. There are stats so players can do quick comparisons. Design wise, I’ve turned the stat information into easily recognizable blocks. All of the instructional information has to be carefully planned so that we’re answering questions in the order they come up, or we’re indicating that the question will be answered. It is very important that a learning player not feel confused.

Reference Book
Note that the outside edges of the page are clearly labeled with the section of the book. There is also color on the edge graphic. Each section of the book will have a different color and texture. This means that players can look at the edge of the pages and quickly find a section they are searching for. Chapters will be clearly labeled on the upper corners of the pages. The page numbers are on the bottom corner to make finding a specific page is easier. The primary point of the narrow outside column on the page is to be useful reference. There will be page numbers for additional information, definitions of terms, and other reference type material. The book will also have an extensive index, which will be a giant task all by itself.

Fun to Read
This is a tricky piece to fit into a book whose primary purpose is instructional and reference. Fortunately the source material has humor built into it. Also working in our favor is the concept that this book was created by a company inside the Schlockiverse as a way to trick low level military personnel into learning important information. This is the origin of the CEO comments that also show up in the reference column. Those CEO comments will form a story of sorts, starting with the belief that the comments would be removed before the book went to print. (They weren’t, which is why we get to read them.) Much of the world information will be told with the same humor as can be found in the footnotes under Schlock Mercenary comics.

Attractive
Most of the attractiveness of this book will come from the art that is contracted to fill its pages. My design job will be to make sure that the pages are organized in ways that display the art to advantage. I need to pick fonts and elements that work well together. Since the art for each page will be different, I will have to arrange the words and images on each page individually. Sometimes we’ll have to re-write text so that everything fits and no information is skipped. This is a long and tedious process which requires a rough layout so we know what art to commission and then everything has to be adjusted for the art we receive.

The animated gif below gives you an idea of how things shift around during the design process. Images change, text gets nudged. The shift at the end shows when we decided to swap the pages because the Fobott’r art looked better on the left. There are probably three times as many iterations between where the page is now and where it will be when the book goes to print. I can already see half a dozen things I want to nudge and make better.

Page-Spread-gif

This is such a big project. I’m really excited to be working on it.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

May 5th, 2015

Medication is Complicated

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It was a routine trip to the pharmacy. I had seven prescriptions to pick up. That right there says something. Somehow a seven prescription pharmacy trip has become “routine.” Three of them had been called in over the phone. Four required me to hand signed pieces of paper to the pharmacy staff. I understand the reasoning behind requiring paper with signatures, yet the need for it adds layers of complication to my life. Any time the prescription needs a refill, I have to call the doctor’s office and either physically go get a piece of paper or plan ahead to allow time for them to mail the paper to me. Add in the fact that the insurance companies keep track of when they last filled the prescription and they won’t fill early, so there is a window of only a few days during which I’m allowed to refill a prescription before we run out. I always try to hit the early end of this window because sometimes the pharmacy doesn’t have the pills on hand and they have to be ordered in. Tracking all of this has become routine. I’d done the math, calculated the windows of time, and taken myself down to the pharmacy to pick things up.

Then the pharmacy register rang up at $500 instead of the $35 I was expecting.

When I picked a healthcare plan last November, I paid close attention to the prescription copays. I picked a plan with $5 copays for their Tier 1 medicines. Tier 2 costs $35 and Tier 3 is $175. It is a system designed to encourage people to switch to the Tier 1 medicines. I don’t really know all the reasons that medicines get assigned to various Tiers. We had some stress in January because my kids had to be switched to a different form of their medicine because capsules were Tier 3, but caplets were Tier 1. Then we had to get special permission for Howard to be on the same medicine because anyone over the age of 18 needs a doctor’s approval, but under that age the insurance company doesn’t require preauthorization. So we jumped through hoops, and settled everyone onto their medicines. And all was well for a couple of months. I was relieved each time I picked up a prescription and it cost only $5. We’d paid much more than that in years past and it had been a financial burden on our family.

“That price can’t be right.” I said.
“You can call your insurance company” the pharmacist said. So I stepped over to a bench and called the customer support number on the back of my insurance card. It was a long phone call with multiple waits on hold while I watched my frozen groceries in my cart slowly thawing.

The systems around health insurance are arcane and complicated. I have to make far too many phone calls because automated systems aren’t as automated as they should be. Yet any time I’ve talked to an actual person on the phone, both for my insurance company and for the government healthcare marketplace, they have been very kind and helpful. The pharmacists are helpful. I end up with this sense that we’re all tangled up together in some weird bureaucracy where the key focus is not on best treatment, but on appeasing the computer system so that treatment can be extracted.

The customer support lady looked up the pharmacy order and found that I’d been billed at a Tier 3 rate. She looked up the medicines and they were all listed as Tier 1. Then she looked at another place and they were listed at Tier 3. Ultimately she had to put in a support ticket to…somebody… to figure out which Tier is accurate. There might have been a change in the formulary listing for these medicines or maybe it was just a mistake. She says she’ll call me back once she hears back. I have her name and number, because I fully expect that in a day or two I’ll have to call her because she hasn’t yet called me.

In the meantime my kids are taking medicine once per day and we’re running out of pills. It may be that the insurance company has changed these meds to Tier 3, which would mean that I have to research and figure out which medicines are comparable and are Tier 1. Then I have to call their doctor and discuss a med change with him, discussing the options and what possible consequences there might be from switching medicines. Then I would either have to drive to Salt Lake City (2 hours round trip) or wait two days for the prescriptions to be mailed to me. After which I then have to make another trip to the pharmacy (40 minutes round trip).

Just today my “routine” trip to the pharmacy cost me 2 hours and significant emotional distress. And I still don’t know how much more time it is going to cost.

So when people accuse parents of putting kids on meds for the parents’ convenience, excuse me if I laugh out loud in derision. There is nothing convenient about this. I would dearly love to be able to skip it all. I wish that willpower, diet, and exercise had worked for us. That would have been lovely. I track and manage all of this medical mess only because I can see that the medicines make a positive difference in the lives of my family. As an ancillary effect, my life is better too, for which I’m grateful. But better is not the same as easy and it definitely isn’t the same as convenient. The minute my family members don’t need medicine anymore I will ditch the stress and expense. I think that some of them will reach that. I suspect that others will need medicine for most of their lives. For this week, I’ll be tracking remaining medicine, waiting for phone calls, and making phone calls. Again.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

May 4th, 2015

The End of the Day

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I’m at the end of a day where I can look around my house and see that it is more organized than it was when the day began. The same is true for my email and my task list. I like being at the end of that sort of day. I particularly like it when we also took the entire family out to go see Avengers: Age of Ultron. We frequently have trouble finding an activity that appeals to everyone, but this movie fit the bill. Everyone had a good time and we all came home happy. All that remains is to remind the kids that we still have school in the morning. None of us wants to remember that. We’re all very ready to have summer. This feeling is amplified by having Kiki home from college. Four weeks left. We should be able to make it through.

For now, I need to go to bed so that tomorrow can be another day where things are more organized at the end of it.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

April Photo a Day Part 5

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responsible woman

I had fun doing the photo a day list during April. I only missed one day. I won’t be continuing to post photos to twitter every day, but I will be posting them sometimes when there is a thing in the world that I think is pretty or interesting.

A Favorite Place (reading with a kitty)
A Favorite Place

Flower
Flower

Landscape
Landscape

And these last two are from May.
Moon
Moon

Yellow Ladybug
Yellow ladybug
I walked past this ladybug a little bit later and realized that I’d caught it just after it emerged from metamorphosis. It was sitting there letting it’s wings dry. When I cam by again it was more orange and spots had begun to develop. So I guess new ladybugs are like Polaroid pictures. It takes a while for the colors to settle into what they’re actually going to be.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

May 2nd, 2015

Ten Miles is a Long Walk

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I was anxious before the hike began. The entire church group planned to walk ten miles in preparation for the Pioneer Trek we’ll be taking in July. The trail was a fairly flat bike path, but ten miles is still a long way to walk for people who aren’t used to walking very much. I worried that one or more of my children would, at some point, sit down on the trail and declare they couldn’t go any further. I worried that there would be blisters and pain. I worried that if one of the kids had to be rescued part way by a vehicle, then that kid would refuse to go on Trek at all. But we needed to know what ten miles of walking would do to us, because if we did need to be rescued, perhaps the trek was inadvisable.

We were all good until mile eight. That was when Howard’s legs began aching in new and interesting ways. It was also when Link slowed down and began to limp. By the end he was hobbling along and wincing, but he continued. He did not stop. He did not give up. And we made it to the end.

The remainder of the day was spent sitting on cushy pieces of furniture and wincing any time we had to move. Yet I can tell that all we suffer from is some sore muscles. We’ll be better fairly quickly. There were a few small blisters, but we can attend to those. We all did ten miles with very little advance training. If we do more walking in the two months between now and the trek, we’ll be fine.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

April 29th, 2015

Counting

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We’ve gotten to the time of year where I’m counting down days. Less than one day until I fetch Kiki from college. Two days until we have a family excursion in preparation for Pioneer Trek. Five days until my son is supposed to have a big history fair project ready for presentations. Eighteen days until the Kickstarter closes and we switch into creation mode. Nineteen days until the new carpet is installed. Four weeks until school is over for the year and we switch into summer mode, which will also include school, because Link needs to make up credits. There are other things to count toward, but these are the ones that I keep counting even when I try not to. I don’t really want to count these things. I want to be content in the days as they come to me, but getting closer to these landmarks feels like progress.

The good news is that I’m beginning to be able to put my house back in order. The room shifting is mostly accomplished. Now I just need to sort through the displaced items and find them new homes. Or get rid of them. I like getting rid of things. It means I won’t have to clean them up or store them ever again. Having Kiki at home will help with this.

In the meantime I’ll just keep putting on foot in front of the other. If I keep doing that, then eventually I’ll end up somewhere else. I could do with a “somewhere else” that has more routine and fewer mental health issues to manage. Last week I counted the hours I spent on mental health stuff. Fifteen hours. That’s a part time job that I’d love to be able to ditch because everyone was doing better. The good news is that we’ve finished jumping through hoops and having application meetings. Going forward we’ll just be having the appointments which are actually supposed to help instead of the ones which determine what sorts of help we qualify for. I have lots of thoughts on all of this, but I’ve had trouble sorting them into anything coherent. Hopefully that will come back as I put more things in order around here.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

April 26th, 2015

April Photo a Day Part 4

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Flat
Flat

Animal
Animal

In the dark
In the dark

Brand new
Brand new

Black and White
Black and white

Down the road
Down the road

In the mirror
in the mirror

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

April 25th, 2015

Memories of a Room

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The end goal for the construction we endured a week ago was to create a room large enough for my two boys to share. They’ve been sharing a room for twelve years, ever since Patch was born, and it worked reasonably well when they had a bunk bed. But a few years ago they felt done with bunk beds. The result was a room that had an aisle for walking, two beds and two dressers. There really wasn’t any space for playing or hanging out. It was where they slept and where they stored their stuff. And they kept getting bigger until we had the largest person in our house and the rapidly growing one crammed together in the smallest bedroom. So I wiggled the finances around and we finished the basement room which used to be my shipping room. When we learned that the carpet would not arrive until mid-May, the boys decided to move into the new room and live with a concrete floor for a few weeks. We moved the essentials and boxed the rest in order to minimize the amount of stuff we’ll have to move back out for carpet install. By noon the furniture was in and the boys were already enjoying their new space.

A strange thing happened as the upstairs room began to empty out, I traveled back in time. The last time I saw the room so empty was when it held a crib and a mattress on the floor for my two little boys. I stood among the boxes and read the history writ on the walls. There were the circles Link drew on the wall and ceiling when he had the top bunk and planned out orbits for his glow-in-the-dark solar system. Next to them was the shadow of a Blues Clues wall sticker, beloved for years and then removed when it became embarrassing. The spot where Link decided to keep score in a game by writing it on the wall. A hundred pin holes because the boy’s default mechanism for hanging things was to steal push pins from my corkboard. My flow of memory was only enhanced by the fact that we dug into the very back corners of their closet. It was an archeological dig back to Link’s much younger years. I had him sort things he wanted to keep into boxes and the rest we discarded or gave away.

I kept it together until Link left his jar of eraser buddies for me to get rid of. I held it up and said “what about these.” He shook his head and said “nah.” I held the little jar in my hand. It had been so important to him eight years ago. I wrote a blog post about the games he played with them during homework time. That was half his lifetime ago and he has become someone else. I sat in the room after Link had gone downstairs. I looked around the room where my little boy used to live. I held one of his treasures in my hands and a wave of sadness rolled over me. I grieve sometimes for the children that are gone. They transformed and became new people. I like who they are. I certainly don’t want them to stop. But sometimes, like today, I cry for a while. And I keep the eraser buddies, even though I know that is a little bit silly.

The new room is so much better for the boys. They have space to be teenagers together. They’ve made plans to acquire a small couch and a monitor so that they can play video games with friends in their room. Link walked with me through IKEA and I could see him thinking about an adult living space. He’s getting excited about chairs they way he used to get excited about toys. Time marches onward. We change and we change our spaces to match our new selves. Next week Kiki will come home and move into the room that was vacated by the boys. She will hang things on the walls and turn that room into something it has never been before. In the near future, probably after Kiki has vacated to return to college, the room will get a new coat of paint and a new carpet. The room my little boy grew up in will transform, just as he did.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

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