2016 In Review

From publishing three novels and a short story to getting engaged, 2016 has been quite a year. It has been a time filled with laughter among family and friends. There has also been a lot of stress and drama in other areas. But once again, it’s the end of the year and a good time to look back and reflect.

Fantasy Novels. Thanks to Kevin and my friends and family, I was able to release book one of my Red Jade series in October 2015. I then spent my own funds after that to have professional editing and covers created for the other three books in the series. I released book two, The Shattered Shards on February 4. Book 3, The Assembly, hit amazon on May 5, and book 4, The Forgotten Tribe, launched on June 12. What an accomplishment and I’m proud of the story. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to add a review on each of the book pages. It helps increase visibility of the books to other shoppers.

Short Story. I also converted a short story that I use with my classes into an official book. As with my novels, I did hire a professional editor and cover artist. A Shocking Journey went up on amazon on April 27 and I ordered an entire grade-level set for use with my students. These were all out-of-pocket expenses and not paid for by the district, but I believe the analogies help the students to visualize the concepts of electricity, and so, for me, it was a worthwhile expense.

Invisalign. In March, I finally had enough of my lower teeth bending inward so I started Invisalign. Every two weeks, it was odd teeth pain again and again when I received new trays, but it definitely helped. I was happy to finish with that in November. Now it’s just nightly retainers to keep those teeth in place.

PRK Eye Surgery. I also decided that I was done with wearing glasses. I only had them for about two years but I never liked having them. And I can be a little active in the classroom and I repeatedly launched them from my nose when I’d turn too fast. I was approaching a time when I needed a new prescription, so when Kevin made an appointment to see if he was a candidate for LASIK, I went too. We went to Stahl Eyecare Experts and they really did a fantastic job. I had an extended period of double-vision, but it has since cleared up. Everyone recovers differently, of course, and I was glad to have the summer to recuperate.

Computer. Also over the summer, my computer died and it was clear that the motherboard was failing. So I had to get a new system. This time I opted to build one from scratch and I do love the new monster. Still, on top of everything else, it was a huge expense that I wish could have waited another year or two.

Escape Missions. For Kevin’s birthday last year, he wanted to go do an escape the room experience. We had been to Mission Escape Games once before, so we returned to conquer another room… And then a week later went back for a third room! Over the two visits, Kevin and I were accompanied by Lois, Brian, Taylor, Kim, Maribeth, and Margaret. Best crews ever! We had a such great time! I want to go back to do the sci-fi-themed room!

Coding. Needing a break from writing and story-telling, and wanting to get even closer to Kevin so I could understand more about his work, I delved into learning C# this year. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of the concepts down. I don’t always know the best methods (pun intended) for doing things, but I enjoy the challenge it. I would ideally love to create a game for Red Jade, though realistically it’s outside my scope of skills. I would have to take some game design courses in order to do that well and not just have a niche game for myself. Plus there’s the artwork. And music, though I’d ask Jared if I could make use of the music he’s shared with me. Still, though, I’ve had a lot of fun and I’m considering running a special unit in classes to go through some coding concepts. The math teachers this year are doing some of that already with JavaScript, so I may need to look into the nuance differences of that language and develop a curriculum around that. With Kevin’s help, I’m sure we could put something useful together.

Negotiations. I am a union rep in my school and I’m also on the negotiating team for the teacher contract. I won’t get into a whole debate about why unions are important, but it feels like a lot of people don’t realize that’s why we have weekends, vacation and sick days, forty hour work weeks, and the concept of overtime (though overtime doesn’t apply to teachers). Anyway, we’ve been in negotiations with the district for three years trying to settle a reasonable contract. Mid-December, we finally did. We still have the actual contract language to hash out but we came to an agreement that both sides were able to accept. Such a relief.

Mom. My mom has been through so much the past few years, from serious foot issues and surgeries, to breaking her back (literally) in multiple places, to the deterioration of her hip. Complications pushed her hip surgery back to mid-December but she finally had the operation and is now working through physical therapy and trying to rebuild her strength. It has been a horrible journey for her and I’m hoping the worst is behind her.

Friends. I really have the greatest friends. I love them all so much. Every person in my life brings something amazing and special. Those qualities enrich my life every day. I love Lois for her sense of adventure and her ability to motivate me to do more. I love Joseph for his insight into issues that I haven’t considered before. I love Christina for her kindness and her amazing soul. I love Leanne for her passion and creativity. I love Mark for his sense of humor and for caring about those around him. I love Brian for his humor, dedication, drive, and his laid-back, yet thoughtful insight. I love Taylor for her sharp intellect and focus. I love Mike for his cheerful heart and desire to be better each day. I love Chris for his perseverance and ability to laugh. I love Sean for his patience and the push to make things better. I love Larry for his social grace and always checking in on me even when time escapes me. I love Jeremy for his musical memes and his calming influence. I love Jared for his creative soul and our awesome gaming sessions. I love Lorrie for being a friend to Kevin and for her laughter. Thank you all for enriching my life. I hope to see even more of you as we move ahead.

Nuclear Family. I also have a fantastic family. We have been through so much together over the years, it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without them. Kim has always been like a twin to me. Lisa is a wondrous flair of creative energy. Mom is ever-supportive, even when she is going through all of her things. Dad is also there on my side. And though my brother is distant from us, I’ve learned much from him through the years. I love you all and I’m glad we’re family.

Extended Family. There are so many people to name. There’s Kevin’s dad. His aunt and uncle. My cousin has had me rolling with laughter on Facebook. There’s my brother-in-law, my nieces, and my nephew and his girlfriend. And these are just the immediate members that I’ve been in touch with. Family extends so much further than that.

Engagement. On May 7, Kevin proposed! He and Lois coordinated a whole day out at the wineries for us and I was happily surprised when Kevin went down on his knee. I stumbled over saying my answer out loud but got there eventually. We then spent the next hour or so calling family and friends and telling them the news. It was so exciting and a whirlwind of emotion!

Wedding Planning. With the big day just less than a hundred days away, there’s a lot to get done! We went venue shopping and decided on a place pretty quickly. We’re working out the cake design and menu now. We have selected our wedding party. We’ve chosen what we’re wearing. We found our officiant. We ordered invitations yesterday. There’s been an odd number of details all along. On the one hand, some of the details don’t have to matter so much. But it’s the one time we’re ever doing this so we want it to be extra special, and that’s where all the other details come into play. For instance, when we created our invitations for the engagement party and the save the dates, we didn’t pick a template from a website, which would have made things a lot easier. No, we hired an artist to create an image that we felt represented the two of us and we made use of that. So, yeah, it’s been a wonderful journey.

2017. Looking ahead…

Teaching. There are many things I’m looking forward this coming year. It will be wonderful to start off without certain stresses at work. I can focus again on what I love to do without as much of the other distractions.

Exercise, I desperately need to get back into some exercise routine. For me, that means I will likely have to hire a personal trainer. As much as I want to improve myself, the motivation just isn’t there unless someone is standing over me nudging me and encouraging me onward. I’m so hard on myself that I defeat everything I do. I need the literal pat on the back telling me I’m doing great, keep going, yes one more. Finding a cost-effective in-home trainer… well, that’s a challenge in itself.

Friends and Family. I want even more laughter this year. I want more times shared with the important people in my life. I want more crazy Cards Against Humanity or Drawful sessions. I want more escape room experiences, kayaking adventures, and so on. Socializing wears me out, to be honest, but these are the important people that I want to spend time with. These are the people I want to share my evenings and weekends with. I want more fun as we roll ahead.

Weddings. We have several weddings to attend this year (and one we unfortunately can’t make it to). I’m so looking forward to celebrating all the unions and all the love and happiness.

Our Wedding. Of course, that also includes our own wedding. I know everyone says to make sure we eat. We’ll try, as all couples try, and I’m sure we’ll only be able to have a few quick nibbles as we visit with all our guests and get in some dancing. I wish it could be an eight hour extravaganza, just to make sure we can do it all.

Peace. I’m really looking forward to a year with more peace. I’m hoping that wild events in my friends’ lives are more on the “cool adventure” side and not on the “this crazy thing happened” side. I’m hopeful that we can all work to take better care of ourselves. Not that we shouldn’t care for others, but it’s like the warnings on an airplane: in the event of a drop in pressure, oxygen masks will drop the ceiling; attach yours first before helping others. The lesson there is an important one… If we don’t take care of ourselves and our own well-being—our own mental and physical health—then we won’t be able to care for the ones who need us.

May the year be bright and gleaming for you. May your hopes and dreams draw ever closer. Focus on the path ahead. Find your light. And shine.

With love,
–Steve

The Master Returns

I’ve mentioned before that my all-time favorite book is Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy. I have the trilogy still sitting on my bookcase, but it’s behind glass unlike my other collected books. I’ve looked for other works of his but eventually gave it up after years of fruitless findings. Clearly, I didn’t learn from Alodar… I gave up my quest too soon. Something unexpected happened recently:

Lyndon Hardy commented on my blog!

At first, I didn’t believe it. “Who’s being a wiseguy?” But really, he’s getting back into writing and he found my original post about his work and he reached out. I’ve never had that feeling before. Star-struck, excited chills, laughing for the sheer awesomeness of it. I was truly taken aback. He has a blog of his own up now at www.alodar.com and I was able to learn a little about him.

So where has he been? Apparently trapped in one of the seven realms teaching physics. Immediately, that made sense to me. What always drew me to his work was the scientific feel and connectedness of his stories. The logic of the five magics, the creative alternate realms, and a secret sixth magic all fit within bounds of reason. I never was a huge fan of magic for magic’s sake. It should be part of the world with limits and rules just like physics has limits and rules. I stray away from stories where the wizard suddenly conjures up a massive dragon to wipe out an army and save the day. Because why didn’t he just do that first?

I wrote back to Lyndon Hardy regarding his comment on my blog and we’ve had a few awesome exchanges. Amusingly, he comments on his blog about a fun plot line and so I obliged by providing him one.

His original trilogy is long out of print so no one can get it anymore unless you’re good at scrounging around — and I still won’t loan you mine. He has done some work on the stories and they have fresh covers now (which, admittedly, I have to get used to after all the years of looking at the originals) and he has made some updates to the stories. When he told me about some of the changes he made, I was beside myself with excitement. More thaumaturgy? Yes please!

I’m over-the-moon to open the new volumes and delve back into Alodar’s journey. It will be like the fey making tweaks to their thought-bubble realms, improving upon the journey within.

If you love fantasy and science, go grab a copy of the updated stories, then write your own reviews on amazon.com and help spread the word through your own contacts and friends on social media. And give Lyndon Hardy a shout-out while you’re at it. You never know… he could have a fourth book idea in mind.

Magic by the Numbers Trilogy:
Master of the Five Magics (2nd edition)
Secret of the Sixth Magic (2nd edition)
Riddle of the Seven Realms (2nd edition)