April!

Sun 5/3/2020

April was the height of the Coronavirus Pandemic out here in Santa Fe (and throughout much of the USA, and the world), which made it a very stressful month in a variety of ways.

One of the first stressful things to happen was our chicken Penny went up into the coop and stayed there for about two days. This was similar to what Camilla did last month, right before she died, so I was very worried that we would lose Penny too. I also just began to despair that I was doing something very wrong in the way that I was caring for my chickens.

It turns out that Penny had simply gone "broody" which is when a chicken's hormones kick in, telling her to hatch a clutch of eggs. This behavior has been bred out of many types of chickens, but I guess it is still quite common in Black Australorps. Since we don't have a rooster (you're welcome, neighbors!) her eggs will never hatch, so every day we took them away and pushed her out of the coop. She would walk around the run for a few minutes, puffed up like crazy (trying to look intimidating, to protect her imaginary chicks), repeating this unusual cluck. Then she'd eat a bit, drink a little water and then go straight back up to sit in the coop.

It was like a tiny chicken-version of what we've all been going through -- cooped up in the house going crazy.

Anyway, this behavior lasted three weeks, during which Penny did not lay any eggs (she sat on Henny's eggs whenever there was a new one). Finally her hormones chilled out, she starting laying again and is now back to normal. Claire suggested we get a chicken book, which we did, to avoid any future stress of not knowing what's going on. The good news from all this is that someday if Penny goes broody again we could get some fertilized eggs and Penny could hatch them for us, without the need of any incubators or anything!

The next stressful thing that happened in April, was that CCS made the hard decision to bring all of its summer workshops entirely online (including my Introduction to Hand-Drawn Animation workshop). Given the uncertainty about how the pandemic restrictions will eventually be lifted, this was the only way to ensure the workshops would definitely happen.

We (the CCS administration, staff and faculty) were already swamped trying to get through the last few weeks of the spring semester (also online), so having to come up with a new plan for online summer workshops and roll it out very quickly was incredibly overwhelming. In my 15 years working for CCS in various capacities, this was easily the most stressful month I've ever experienced. Our team is working so hard to keep this tiny school going, no matter what the circumstances. It's an honor to play my small part in that effort.

At one point, I gave a lecture to the CCS seniors and during Q&A one of the students asked me what I was doing to help myself get through the pandemic. I gave a lame "keep my head down; draw comics every day" answer, but afterwards I thought, "What could I do to help myself get through this situation?" The answer I came up with is animation!

This month I started animating every Friday night after the girls go to sleep (2-4 hours, depending on how late I'm willing to stay up). It's been great, because animating is so complicated that while I'm doing it, I'm unable to focus on anything else. It's also super fun for me, and it's a great excuse to try out new techniques from the various animation books I have been reading, or to experiment with various kinds of animation software and hardware.

This lead me to create a new instagram account ( @AlecAnimation ) where I am posting some of my old animations, recommended resources (books, podcasts, etc), and my weekly progress on current projects. It has been a fun distraction, leaning into this hobby which I enjoy so much. It's also helping me prepare for my workshop in July!

Claire was very busy in April too, working on toy concepts for Meow Wolf, and providing extra childcare watching our girls while I've been sitting in a thousand different meetings. In her very limited spare time she has been cooking lots of different soups from scratch, as well as the pizza you see here! She's also been digging in the backyard, planting vegetables in her new raised bed and flowers all over our property. We've already had a few hot days, so some of the flowers have already bloomed and then wilted away, but here are some photos of them at their best:

For the most part, our girls have been great, grinding out the days playing in the backyard, reading books, drawing, painting, watching old VHS tapes, video chatting with friends and family, building with legos and blocks, playing dress up, etc. etc. etc.

Wendy seems blissfully unaware of the current situation - we are all home with her as we usually are, so she seems the most unaffected. As April wore on however, Suzanne began having a harder and harder time being cooped up at home. She doesn't really engage with the Zoom sessions her preschool is hosting so we've mostly stopped doing that. There is just a general feeling of her going stir-crazy, climbing the walls. She's been getting upset more frequently and more intensely over small things. Who can blame her? She should be at school running around with other kids her age, not trying to play make believe with her parents (we do our best, but never quite measure up) or fighting with her little sister over some random toy. Without a clear plan of when/how the current measures will be lifted, it's hard to know when things will mellow back out for her.

There was other stress on top of all this (being far away from my parents, whom I am worried about) but I'm certain if you added up all my stress from every day in April it was probably still less than millions of people experienced in one of those days. I'm very much looking forward to this all being over. I wish we had better leadership at the top.

Well that's all I've got for this month. Hang in there, everyone! Stay safe.

March!

Tue 4/7/2020

Man... a lot happened last month! The morning after I wrote my February blog post I found Camilla dead in her coop. Like our other chickens, there was no sign of violence or any distress. She just went up to roost for the night and never woke up. It was very upsetting to me; Camilla was always my favorite chicken. Suzanne and I decided to paint the chickens' names on the side of the coop.

A few days later Wendy turned two! Her godmother Liz flew out from Maine for the celebration (and to visit her family out here), just before all non-essential travel was shut down and things really started getting intense out here in New Mexico with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Wendy's big present was a new tricycle that my parents sent her! Even with the seat adjusted all the way up, it's a little bit too big for her currently, but she still has a lot of fun putting her feet down and scooting it along. Suzanne has also been having fun on the tricycle, even though it is too small for her (even with the seat pushed all the way back). Wendy will grow into it soon and will get many years of pleasure out of zipping down our street on it. Suzanne seems ready for her first real bike!

In the middle of March, it was decided to switch The Center for Cartoon Studies to an entirely online teaching model for the rest of the school year. I taught Professional Practices for CCS remotely for four years and did a couple years of online teaching at the California College of the Arts, so I was asked to help with the rollout. It has been an incredibly intense couple of weeks getting everything in place, but so far our system is working pretty well! I feel very lucky to still be a part of that amazing comics community and will do everything in my power to keep it going through all this madness.

I also feel very lucky to be so busy with work while millions of people around the country are out of work. Claire and I both work from home, so our routines are fairly unaffected by the pandemic stay-at-home orders. (Apparently we've been social distancing for years now?). Suzanne was only going to preschool three mornings a week, so she's home a bit more than usual, but it feels very routine to us. Her school meets each morning in a Zoom session, which she sometimes attends, when she feels up for it.

It seemed like Suzanne wasn't totally aware of what was going on in the world, but then the other day she was playing and I heard her talking about her imaginary ladybug friend, Zingy. She said, "Zingy caught the pandemic, but she's young, so she won't die from it," so obviously she's been soaking up a lot of the news on the radio and from our parental conversations. :(

We're mostly trying to stick to our routines, though maybe watching a few more movies than we would regularly. Pre-pandemic, Claire's mom would take Suzanne (or both the girls) twice a week for long stretches. Without that childcare help, our margins are very tight for getting all our work done, plus there is just the background stress of this entire situation (especially my parents and sisters being up in Seattle, one of the big hotspots of the outbreak). Anyway, out here in Santa Fe, we're doing fine! When I get stressed out I try to remind myself that so many people have it so much worse off than us right now. I'm trying to just keep my head down, work hard, and get through this.

We spend a lot of time in our backyard each day, and it has been heartening to see the leaves popping on plants and the first flowers coming up out of the ground. Spring is on its way out here in the high desert. Hopefully by the time it's in full swing the worst of this situation will be behind us.

Hang in there, everyone!

February!

Sat 2/29/2020

At the end of last year when we were all really sick, our pediatrician told us that while Suzanne is in preschool we should expect her to get 10-12 colds a year (i.e. once a month). I've been reminding myself of this over and over, and so, when she got a cold in the first week of February, I was not surprised or upset, I just took care of her and helped her get better. Wendy got it too, but Claire and I managed to escape that round!

Wendy and Suzanne are playing together more and more, which is very heartwarming, if not sometimes a little stressful (fighting over the same toy, only wanting something because the other one has it, lots of yelling, etc). The good times far outweigh the bad, but I'm also reading some parenting books right now to try and figure out more techniques for dealing with meltdowns. It seems like a lot of it is just communication, and making sure everyone feels heard.

Wendy is growing so fast. Every day she learns a new word or two, and she is constantly in motion, running around the house, dancing (spinning in a circle), doing laps around the house. I'm trying to soak up these last few baby days before she's off to the races with her big sister.

We're not fully out of winter yet here in Santa Fe, but we have been getting a few nice days (sunny, in the 50s) in between bursts of snow. Claire and I ripped up some of the extra pallets from the delivery of Isle of Elsi and have been using the wood for various projects around the house. The first was building a new outdoor table for the girls. Their old one (built out of an old hollow-core door) was destroyed in the Santa Fe sun. Hopefully this new one, built out of solid wood with a coat of paint on it, will last a lot longer!

I also built a little outside step stool, which makes it possible for Suzanne to help with the chicken chores: dumping in table scraps and checking for eggs! Claire built a planter box so we can grow some veggies in the backyard when things warm up, and then I nailed together a bunch of leftover pallet wood to build a new shade covering for the chicken run.

On the self-publishing front, I finally finished up all my Kickstarter paintings and order fulfillment this month. With that done, it was time to set up the Isle of Elsi Store page. If you missed the Kickstarter campaign you can now order copies of the hardback book, the eBook and the Activity Book.

I also found out I got into MoCCA 2020! So I'll be in New York City on April 4th and 5th selling copies of Isle of Elsi. If you are in the New York area please come check it out! According to my records (aka this blog), I've been attending this show since 2005 and I always have a great time, so I'm really looking forward to this trip!

Wendy rode her sister's balance bike for the first time a few days ago and had a blast (wait 'till she sees what she's getting for her birthday in a few days! ;)

Our oldest chicken, Camilla, has been very lethargic and sad-looking over the last few days. Henny and Penny continue to pick on her (both literally and figuratively), but even so she seems off. Her sisters Attila and Natasha have both long since died, so maybe her days are numbered... It makes me sad. She has always been my favorite chicken!

As I write this, both Suzanne and Wendy are sick again (fevers, runny noses, coughing). I guess they wanted to get a jump on next month's cold!

 
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