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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How not to be distracted

Wife sits down after putting the little one to bed and gets out her laptop to work on something important.

I turn off The Office so as not to distract her.

Several minutes pass.  "Dear," wife says, "let's put something on.  We don't have to sit in silence."

"Alright," say I.  I proceed to turn on Netflix's newest sci-fi, Lost in Space.  Wife does not like sci-fis. I figure we are safe.

We are not safe.

Netflix did a good job and wife is watching Lost in Space.

"Dear," wife says, "this is too distracting.  Put something less distracting on."

"Alright," say I.  I turn off Lost in Space and start scrolling through the vast library of things Netflix has to offer.  My list.  Action.  Comedy.  Action.  Action.  Comedy.  Intriguing Documentary.  Action.  Action comedy.  Time to look elsewhere.

"Dear," wife says.  "Why not try a nature documentary?"

"Alright," say I.  Perfect idea.  A dry British man droning on about fish.  Even when you're watching it you're not really watching it.  I go to nature documentaries and pick the first one.  Round Planet.  I figure we are safe.

We are not safe.

"The mother Polar Bear gives her cubs a taste of what nature has to offer by repeatedly biting them on the bum...  You just want to cuddle them don't you?  But you better not, or their mother will tear you open and spread your innards over the snow like water paints..."

What the hell did I turn on?

"Dear," my wife laughs.  She cannot say anything else over the giggles.

Alright," say I and quickly turn to something with David Attenborough.  We are finally safe.

British documentaries.  You never know.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Spencer's Money-Saving Tips for New Parents

So, you are thinking of having a kid.  In THIS economy!?  Then here are some money-saving tips from a stay-at-home dad that can make having kids affordable no matter your income!


1) When you order things, do it in bulk.  But make it count.  Don't just buy 100 diapers.  Buy 10,000!  This saves money and time.  Plus, if you do it online, you'll be left with boxes that can be used later!

2) Kids grow out of clothes very fast.  So hit those thrift stores, consignment sales, and the trash bins behind department stores!  When your kid outgrows a pair, don't give it away or sell it.  Cut up the ones you don't like into strips and sew them onto the legs and arms of the clothing you do like.  Make those clothes last as long as possible!

3) One of the biggest expenses when it comes to children is diapers.  They also are not very environmentally friendly. It doesn't matter if you go cloth or disposable, either.  On the one hand, cloth diapers cost a lot up front and use a lot of water, while on the other hand, disposable diapers are a constant purchase and ends up rotting in a landfill.  So save both money and the environment by using packaging material from your bulk purchases!  Packing paper surrounded by bubble wrap works wonders!  And if that fails, use puppy pads!  They can be placed anywhere and cost a lot less than diapers.

4) Bubble wrap also doubles as helmets, knee pads, and pillows!

5) Not only do kids outgrow their clothing, but they also outgrow their beds.  Remember those bulk boxes?  cut a few holes in the sides and they can be used as cribs and play pens.

6) Car Seats are expensive.  Duct tape is not.

7) Instead of buying baby gates to keep your little ones out of places they're not allowed to be in, simply erect monstrous totems made of broken toys, homework assignments, vegetables, and your abandoned dreams.  Not only will these effigies keep baby from wandering too far, but it will crush baby's spirit for years to come!

8) Babysitters are entirely unnecessary.  Instead, just give your baby a copy of Monopoly and she'll entertain herself for hours!  If you simply must have someone watch your child, burn one of your totems to summon Babeometh, the dark god of watching.

9) Baby food is expensive.  You can simply put your own meal in the blender to make a baby-safe meal for your little one.  And if you want to save more money, go dumpster diving behind the grocery store.  Baby has to build up his immune system somehow!

10) Coupons!

I hope these money-saving tips serve you well, but the most important one is to use your common sense and don't actually follow any of these tips.
I mean, who has time for cutting coupons?


Friday, January 5, 2018

Recurrence

This is a piece I wrote to practice some thoughts on a novel I am writing.  I will be reading it at a local Write Night later this month.  It is based on a true story about my older sister who died of cancer when she was a child.  Warning, it is a sad tale.



            “Are you warm enough?” I asked Lilly as the gravel crunched under our feet.  Her soft, panting breath hung in the air like a fog.  It was colder than we were used to in southern California.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said.  I didn’t have a coat to give her to stop her shivering, so I made sure she wore lots of layers, including my old flannel shirt.  It still didn’t stop her shivering. 

“Do you want me to carry you?”

She glanced at me, but that pout she was so good at wasn’t there.  “I’m eight,” was all she said.

I kept walking, but her footsteps stopped.  “Lilly?  What’s wrong?”

She was holding her midsection, her head down.  Although bangs covered her face, I knew she was crying.

“I don’t… want to go in there.”

My blood froze solid where I stood.  I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t think.  “I know it’s hard,” I eventually said.  “We can make an appointment for next week.”

“I DON’T WANT TO GO IN THERE!” she screamed with a strength I haven’t seen from her in years.  The last time she made a noise like that the doctors were pushing a needle into her spine for testing.  Then, as now, I turned white.

“Dear, it’s okay.  I won’t make you,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I knelt down before her.  She was nearly as pale as I was.  “But we need to stay strong.  When we go back to the hospital, I’ll ask if there’s any new procedures or something less-“

“No daddy.”  She leaned into me, sobbing, arms around my neck.  “I’m done.”  I don’t know how long I just held her as she trembled against me.  When her sobbing finally settled down, I wiped away her tears.

“You know what this means?” I whispered.  Any more than a whisper and she would be able to hear my heart breaking.

She nodded to me.  I picked her up and carried her back to the car.  She was lighter than I remembered, but the burden I bore had never been greater.


That was the last time I saw Lilly cry.  To this day I don’t know if those tears were the last remnants of hope flowing out of her or if she had simply come to peace with her fate.  I left that flannel shirt folded up on her grave in case she needed it and because it only reminded me of the day I saw my daughter lose the fight.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Magic and Innocence

Every good Christian knows the story of the Nativity.  It starts with Mary being visited by the archangel Gabriel (a feast we celebrate way back on March 25th called The Annunciation) and ends with the Adoration of the Magi on Epiphany (January 6th).  Just how much do we know about these Magi?  There are numerous traditions, but strictly speaking the Bible only mentions them in one chapter, Matthew 2.  It does not mention where they were from, how many of them there were, or what happened to them after escaping King Herod, though it does support the idea that they arrived when Jesus was 2 years old. Tradition fills in the other details.

The term “magi” comes from the Greek word μάγος which means “magician” but was also the term used for Zoroastrian priests, who were renown for their study of the stars.  Western tradition gives them names: Caspar, an Indian who offered frankincense; Melchior, a Persian and the eldest of the group who brought gold; and Balthazar, the Arab who brought myrrh.  The three gifts also have meaning, with gold representing Christ the King, frankincense representing Christ the Divine, and myrrh representing Christ the Man.  Of course, why stop at only three magi?  The Eastern Orthodox church includes twelve!

These details and others aside, the Feast of Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus as God, as shown at the visitation of the Magi, as well as at the Baptism of Jesus and his first miracle at the wedding of Cana.  But back in Jesus’ time, this was not a time for celebration or reflection.  After the magi left Bethlehem by a different route, an angel told Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt.  When Herod realized the magi would not be returning to tell him where to find the infant king, he slew all the boys in and around Bethlehem that were 2-years-old and under.  It wasn’t until Herod died that the holy family returned.  This part of the Nativity narrative is too often left out, but remains a haunting melody in Coventry Carol, a lullaby to the innocents slain.


Though the wise men could see that Herod’s intentions were evil, I do not think that they suspected just how far he would go to kill a potential rival, even a child.  It is a sobering reminder that even our best plans can have unintended consequences for others.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How to Dress an 18-month Old

Step 1: Undress your child.

      This will usually involve discovering that your child is a contortionist who can tie himself into knots.

Step 2: Pull the pacifier from his hand.

      It will not fit through the sleeve of his shirts.  Warning, he has the grip of a lumberjack.

Step 3: Grab the clothes.

Step 4: Realize that none of his clothes still fit him.

Step 5: Search his closet for more clothes.

       As you do this, attempt to hold your child.  When that fails, you have exactly 0.325 seconds before he has discovered a stash of 18 pacifiers and other toys, which he will now hold in one hand.

Step 6: Find the only items of clothing that still fit him.

       They will not match.  They will be ugly.  You will have never seen these items of clothing before.  Scientists are still trying to determine where these clothes come from.

Step 7: Find your child

Step 8: Wrestle your naked child to the ground and try to put his shirt on.

       This will fail.

Step 9: Attempt to remove all 18 toys and pacifiers from your child's bear-like grip.

Step 10: Put your child's shirt on.

       At this point he will become a limp noodle with epilepsy.  I recommend growing a second set of arms.

Step 11: Curse whatever dark god decided to put actual buttons on a shirt for an 18-month old.

Step 12: Grab some duct tape.  It will make putting the shirt on much easier.

Step 13: Repeat steps 7 through 10.

Step 14: After duct taping the shirt on, put your hand through the leg hole in your child's pants (starting at the bottom), then hold your child by one leg as he twists like a kite in the wind and pull the pants up his leg.

Step 15: Attempt to do the same thing to the other leg.

Step 16: After he kicks off the first pant leg, repeat steps 14 and 15 ad nauseam.

Step 17: Realize you forgot to grab socks.

Step 18: Thank the stars that your child somehow still fits into the 0-6 month socks.

Step 19: Repeat step 7.

Step 20: By now you are a master of putting on clothing.  Use that magic to make the socks materialize on your child's feet.

Congratulations!  You have successfully put clothes on your 18-month old!  If they're on backwards, no one will notice.

Tip: Change his diaper first.  I hope you read this before attempting to change his clothes.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Eternal waking

My brain is a jerk.

A few nights ago, while my wife was away, I was stuck at home watching the kids.  I had put them both to bed, and stayed up a bit too late watching science videos on youtube.  I went to bed myself, but I felt guilty. I had yelled at my daughter earlier that day... and I am pretty certain my brain decided to punish me for it.

I dreamed that Addy woke me up because she was afraid there were intruders in the house.  I was simply beyond "tired" and had difficulty getting out of bed at all.  I went to check and could see out the window that there was a dog out there... and a bunch of people doing something to it.  Then I woke up, because Addy was calling for me.  I shrugged it off as a strange dream and crawled out of bed - still lethargic from lack of sleep - to see what was wrong.

Then I woke up.  Addy was in my room saying she had a nightmare.

Then I woke up.  Every time it was another excuse.  Monsters, fire, whatever.  It felt like I was Alex in Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic.  I lost track of how many times I "woke up."  Eventually I started to just shake my head when I woke, as if doing so could throw the dream, and its accompanying lethargy, from my head. And every time it felt REAL.  Perhaps I really was shaking my head in reality but never waking?  Or maybe I was waking, but falling back asleep.  Each time I woke, I was in the same position on my side.

When I woke for the last time, I was lying on my side staring at something that looked unnatural in my bathroom - a tall, pulsating, white, shapeless mass. But I could only hear the echoed memories of Addy; she was nowhere to be seen.  I must have stared at that thing in my bathroom for a full 5 minutes before I realized it was a shower curtain, and it was only my mind that made it look like it was moving.  I had really woken up and instantly ran to check on the sleeping kids... and out the window to make sure no one was there.

I have no concept of what time it was, and I forgot to check.  I don't know how long I slept... or if I really slept at all.  All I do know is that I am still ridiculously tired and my brain is still a grade A jerk.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Worst Job I Never Had

Everyone's had bad jobs, and I've had my fair share of them, too.  Most of them have not ended well for me, sadly.
I quit one on accident when I asked for some extra time during a vacation (wording, it appears, is very important in emails) - but they were already having trouble budgeting me for the next year and my boss (the only person advocating for my job) was fired shortly after I left.  It's hard to write your job into a grant when you won't even find out who was awarded the grant until 5 months after they stop paying you.
For years I worked in a bookstore.  I loved the job because it was easy, we all loved books, I got to read early releases, I got to recommend books, and there was a variety of stuff to do.  But then they stopped scheduling me for 2 months and I didn't see the boss the entire time.  I eventually stopped coming in weekly to see that I wasn't on the schedule.  Months later I discover that they called a "mandatory" meeting (no phone call or anything), then fired me when I didn't show up.  Actually, put me on a "Do Not Rehire" list.  The manager later told me he was sorry he did it, because I was one of his best employees. Got a free copy of "The Pillars of the Earth" out of it so... silver lining?
I had a job that let me go after I mentioned that it was illegal for them to demand I work unpaid overtime. On the weekends.
One restaurant I worked at refused to give me my paycheck.  I had to bug the manager about it, and eventually he paid me but I had to meet him in an alley at night and cash the $50 check within 24 hours... creepy.
One summer, I painted houses for a college-kid-run painting company.  I had to constantly repaint my coworkers' jobs.  We were not given proper safety equipment (a face mask) when dealing with paint put up before the year 1978 (which could very well have been full of lead).  Some people expected me to move all their furniture and all the CRAP they left in their room, dust (something they hadn't done... ever), remove wallpaper, prime and paint the walls, move all the furniture back, and not get any paint on their stuff (moving furniture/belongings and dusting were not in my job description).  I once even fell off a ladder because they didn't provide one of the proper height (and if I leaned the heavy ladder up against their gutter, I'd have crushed it).  Oh, did I mention that this was during the largest brood of the 17-year-cicada?  They were EVERYWHERE and getting into all the paint.  But I did all that without complaining.  The complaint came after my 4th week.  I was paid every 2 weeks, and the first 2 weeks had low pay because the manager needed to "find out how long we took" to do each job, and we were paid out by the job.  She said she was just underestimating how long a job would take, so I gave her a second chance.  My first check was for $50.  The second, $80.  For two weeks of full-time, back-breaking, sweaty, dangerous work.  She paid me $10 a house.  Basically $1/hour.
I quit.
That was the worst job I ever had...  but it was not the worst job I've ever experienced.

The worst job I NEVER had was right after I got married.  The market hadn't crashed just yet, so I had a chance of getting something.  I'd moved into a new state and needed to find money right away.  I figured I would get something to do while I looked for a "career" job in technical writing.  I found this agency hiring young people and was curious, so I checked it out.  The office was in the next town over, a good 45-minute drive.  It was a middle man working for AT&T.  Now, AT&T is sort of like an octopus with many tentacles but they don't always communicate well with each other.  They were using companies like this one to promote their services door to door.  I figured I could sell things well; I'd worked in retail for many years after all.  So they said that I could follow someone around, and if I lasted a week I would get a portion of the sales I helped with and they would hire me on, but if I didn't last a week I got nothing.  A week?  That's EASY.
The first thing, though, was that I had to sign some documents saying we were not allowed to lie to customers, to badger customers, etc.  It was all basic stuff about what we could and could not do.  I signed it.  The other paper they had me sign said that I had seen and read their safety info...  I never saw any safety info so I didn't sign it.  They never noticed.
So I start to follow this girl around, my supervisor.  Most of the houses are THE NEXT town over, an additional half hour drive further from my house.  Things are fine at first.  Go u and down the street.  Ask if they are an AT&T customer, and if so, offer their new products/deals.  Tell them how much it costs compared to what they are paying now.  Then sign them up or move on to the next.  If they aren't AT&T customers, just move on.
I'm given some training and already had a few doubts.  Instead of teaching how to make a good sale (let the product sell itself, be friendly, be informed/informative, be willing to cut your losses and move on), they were teaching how to pressure people into making a sale (give them a time limit, turn your back on them if they seem to hesitate, only tell them what you want them to know, talk about savings but don't give numbers until it has been approved). It was also set up as a sort of pyramid scheme - where if I got so many sales, I was put in charge of others, and then if they got so many I'd become a manager, and eventually could own my own sales business.  I did not like any of that, so I decide to sell things my own way.
The first 3 days are pretty good.  I'm good with people.  I meet some interesting characters.  I have some fun conversations.  I sign up some people.  I learn about the area.  I was enjoying it.
But the 4th day she had me follow someone else around, and things started to get very uncomfortable.  The new girl was pushy - very pushy.  And I had the feeling she was how most of them acted - how they wanted me to act.  If someone said "no" she wouldn't leave - she would badger them.  If it cost them more money, she wouldn't tell them that until after everything had been approved and we'd already wasted a bunch of their time, so that they were much more likely to sign the papers confirming the change in service.  But the one that got me the most was when we went into a family-run business.  The woman who owned it had her kid with her and was juggling phone calls, customers, a child... and us.  She made it very clear that she didn't need more lines, she didn't need an answering service, she didn't need ANY of the stuff we were selling and she couldn't afford to pay more.  I was ready to cut the losses and keep going... but not my "partner."  She badgered her, started taking up her time, and then started lying about how much it would cost.  It would have cost the poor women more money per month for anything we were offering her, and she didn't NEED any of it.  But my partner would have none of it, and kept pushing the sale, pushing a lie about the cost... and I could see that it was wearing the poor woman down.  I hated it.  I said I needed to use the bathroom, got up, and left.  I had to wait outside because m "partner" was also my ride.  I don't know if she was successful.
The next morning, my supervisor tells me that our boss told me not to come in for my 5th day.  I was both relieved and upset.  I wouldn't get paid for all that time, and I needed a job, but I felt like keeping that job was selling my soul to the Devil.  I spent that day looking for work.
The following Monday, I got a call from the boss asking why I didn't show up on the last day.  I told him what my supervisor said, and he claimed it was a lie.  As recompense, he would pay me for the 4 days I worked, but I had to come in and get it.  I already had interviews lined up.  I never did get back over there to pick up what he owed me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Twinfessions Collection #2

It's that time again. Another 15 confessions of twindom.
Enjoy.

***




Twinfession #16: The only reason I haven't faked my death and gone on a crime spree blaming my brother is that I'm lazy.


Twinfession #17: The dichotomy of being a twin is that I am unique because I am not unique.


Twinfession #18: If something ever goes wrong with me, I've got a complete set of spare parts!


Twinfession #19: Every magician has a trick that uses a twin. Some can only use that trick once, though.


Twinfession #20: All twins have superpowers, but we don't like to show them off. That would be rude, and we're better than that.


Twinfession #20 b: Except for the Wonder Twins. They suck. You're allowed to hate them.


Twinfession #21: Twin languages are based off the ancient language, Comic Sanskrit.


Twinfession #22: He may be taller, but I'm better-looking.


Twinfession #23: Why yes, we do finish each other's


Twinfession #24: When a twin has twins, it is called "twinception."


Twinfession #25: When twin toddlers use twin language around you, yes, they are talking about you. And no, you don't want to know.


Twinfession #26: You'd think being twins is good on April Fool's. It's not. It's not a prank if no one ever finds out you're not your twin.


Twinfession #27: The StarTrek negaverse is populated by lost twins. If you have a twin in this universe, there is no negative you there.


Twinfession #28: Twins don't really exist. It's all just smoke and mirrors.


Twinfession #29: Twins have different fingerprints, which is why I made gloves that have my brother's prints. You don't want to know how.


Twinfession #30: When twins faceswap, nothing happens... until you look away. #faceportal



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New Website!

Good morning/afternoon/evening/night!

Since I have been focusing on becoming more professional, I took it upon myself to begin setting up a personal website.  I went ahead and got a head shot, asked my brother to work on a few images for me, and started working on the layout.

Although it is still a work in progress, spencerhixon.com is now live!

Don't worry, faithful readers; I have not abandoned my blog.  Granted, I should be posting more often in it, but I will still be posting regularly here.  I have simply linked here from my website.  And I'll likely start putting my new website info in all the right places as I discover them.

However, I have more good news.

On June 1, 2017, I was given my third Daily Deviation award on DeviantArt.com!  It was for my Twinfessions Collection #1!  Amazing!  I now have over 400 followers over on DeviantArt!  So, I will likely start updating there was well as here.

Things are looking up!  But I've still got my fingers crossed that I will get the agent I really want.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Power Overwhelming

Hi.

My name is Spencer.

And I'm an altaholic.

What is an altaholic?  Well, it means I play video games (or at least I used to).  It means I play MMORPGs.  It means that WHEN I play an MMO, I generally make a lot of characters.

For instance, my favorite game of all time, City of Heroes (may she rest in peace), allowed me to have something like twelve characters per server, and there were some twelve or so servers (rough estimate, I can't really remember the exact numbers).  I had easily eighty characters on that game, and each one had a back story, and I played each one (some more than others). Of course, only two or three of them made it to max level. Can you guess that I'm a writer?

There's just something satisfying about being a hero and saving the day.

I play Gemstone 4, a text-based MUD (Multi-User Dimension) and have quite a few alts on that game, but it is more intense in its player interaction, and the drama at times is too much.

I've been playing Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO), and have tried to break that trend.  I have one character I actually play, a Beorning (think "werebear").  And I like her a lot.  But I do somewhat miss the ability to just jump around from one life to another.

Sadly for all of these games, writing has taken its toll.  City of Heroes/Villains is alas no more, but I never have really replaced it.  I love GS4 and my friends in it, but it seems I have less and less time, and when I don't show up I feel guilty and then stop answering/looking at emails from friends about it.  I haven't played it in months because I've been so focused on finishing my novel.  And though friends from college are trying to get me to play LoTRO with them, the timing is terrible because of the kids.  I feel guilty asking my wife to feed, bathe, and put the kids away once or twice a month on a Saturday so I can play a game online, even though I spend most of my time with the kids and do not often get to spend time of any sort with adults.  And now my second- and third- favorite games (Starcraft and Guitar Hero/Rock Band, because let's face it, they're close enough to the same game) have come back into my life, but I feel guilty again when I try to play them during my free time, because I could/should be spending that time writing.

For me, a formerly-avid gamer, becoming a writer has been a sacrifice.  Combined with being a stay-at-home dad of two, even my hobby of brewing beer has taken a major hit.

But it's not just my hobbies.  I used to be very social, and, as I mentioned before, I now have only a few opportunities to spend time with adults. I've joined the Masons, but can only meet with them about once a month, and I'm much younger than most of them.  I have friends who come over once a week to play board games.  And I go to church with the family once a week.  But I do not have work mates.  I do not have nearly as many friends as I used to.  I do not have any family in the area except for my kids and wife.  You must remember, I'm an identical twin, so having someone with me all the time is part of how I was raised, of how I think.

This week, my wife went out of town and I had the kids.  This isn't the first time this has happened.  But it *is* the first time this has happened while both kids were able to walk/run around, to get into things, to get on each other's nerves (as well as my own).
It is exhausting.
I get up by 6:30 (and being a night owl, I'm unused to this) to get my daughter off to school on time. I spend the next hours playing with my son, who now wants to get into everything and chase the poor kitties. While he naps, I try to get some work done in finding an agent. Usually I have to hold him to get him to sleep, and if I put him down he wakes up cranky.  Lunch happens at some point, and if I need to go out, I have to do it after he wakes up. But I have to be back early to pick my daughter up from the bus. By 3, she's complaining about being hungry (even though I just gave her a snack) as I feed the baby. By 4, I've been arguing with her for an hour about getting her five minutes of homework done. Cleaning has to happen while I watch them. Normally, I get dinner started at 4:30 to 5, but luckily I was able to get a bunch of pre-made tacos this week. Still, I've had other things, like dance and making food for the Masons, that have taken up that time instead. After dinner, there's a brief period for play (and cleaning/feeding the baby more), followed by bath and bed time at 7. She's hopefully actually IN bed by 8, and I'm sitting there with over-tired baby who is fighting sleep until 9:30 (I need to work at getting a sleep schedule down for him). And then I'm dead tired and just go to bed. Of course, he often wakes up a few times at night, which can lead to hours of lost sleep.  I understand now why my wife turns in so early.  Previously, I got up at 7:30 to 8:30, when the baby woke up.  I went to bed somewhere between midnight and 2, usually because I'm writing at night.  It's amazing how much more energy it takes to care for the kids with no relief.

How do single moms do it?
I can only imagine that they have some sort of support system of friends and family that I mostly lack. Either that, or they make enough money to afford a nanny or daycare.  Because it's not like I can just choose to stay up later.  I'm exhausted at night. I'm lucky I haven't fallen asleep before the baby does.
So hats off to single moms and dads.  You are the true heroes.