Apprenticeship Week 9

A snapshot of some mental health from the last couple weeks as well as some project updates and announcements.

This is late. I should not be writing this on Monday, but here I am.Not a lot happened last week. I don’t know if that’s a skewed look at the week, but I think it is. I’m going to do something I haven’t done in these posts so far. And that’s discuss some of the more mental side of things. I don’t have a lot to say for how I tangibly spent the week, but I do know that I spent it.

Work and Mental Health

I’ve talked about struggling with mental health here and on Over the Invisible Wall (which has sadly died). What I haven’t done is give a glimpse into its affectations in the present. Everything I’ve previously discussed wasn’t so now.

For the first month, I was on an emotional “I’m getting my life together!” high, and it was fantastic. I was sad to leave Panera because of the friends I’d made, but I was also moving forward.The last couple weeks have blurred and have felt the same. I feel disjointed, almost, seeing the positives of the steps forward but also feeling like I’m standing still. I see the work I’m doing at Original One Parts, but then a cloud obscured my motivation. It doesn’t feel like drudgery, exactly, but it appears like a huge, monstrous project to slog through. I see the paradox of what I’m writing. That it isn’t what it is. And maybe that’s me trying to stay optimistic. Because there’s definitely trends to suggest that’s been a struggle of mine.

And these last couple weeks have been new instances of the same old winds.

Personal Projects

This weekend I decided to start my next poetry collection. Coincidentally it is one presenting a lot of the darkness I went through, mostly not super recent. The darkness lately hasn’t been as dark or as long lasting, for which I’m thankful. It’s going to be a sensitive, difficult collection both for me to make and for people to read. I think it will be good, though, to publish it, because it could help shed light on what it’s like to be depressed and even suicidal. It’s not pleasant, like Inside a Writer’s Head, but by being able to see and start to understand the darkness, it could make it easier to help people who are struggling with it.

The second project I only just settled on last night. It was a difficult decision, but I’m putting Mystical Warriors on hold. I’m going to start a new novel. I am not going to share what it’s about yet, though. This one will be a surprise.

The main worry I have in starting a new novel is that I will run into the same problem I’ve always had, which is that I get tired of the idea. I managed to fall in love with Mystical Warriors, become “obsessed” with my own world and story enough to spend time writing. I got over 30k words. But then I didn’t write for a long time, and I feel disconnected from the story. I’m going to combat this by writing every day in Blurt. I’m not going to write the story in order, because that has proved difficult. Rather, I’m going to write short bits and pieces and scenes as I desire to and sort of cut and paste them together later. Almost like a collage. If it works, I plan to take this approach with Mystical Warriors when I return to it, too.

Apprenticeship Week 7!

This was not supposed to come out before the post I’m writing about week 6/FEEcon. But here we are.Last week I only worked two days and the rest of the week was spent at or preparing for FEEcon. This week I worked about 8:40 or 8:45-5 and today I worked 8:40ish to 6.

Projects:

I have some work and “personal” projects happening this week and going forward.

Work:

Before I went to Atlanta I was assigned a project inputting old customer feedback into the Salespad CRM tab. There were probably close to 300 lines in the spreadsheet. Now there are about 10, all instances that I couldn’t find the account it went to. I searched using the name of the body shop first, but some, like Fender Mender, Caliber, Service King, and ABRA have too many shops to find with the main part of their name. Then I tried searching the invoices using the shop name and looking at the invoices from around the time of the feedback. Nothing matched. Everything that did match is up to date and recorded.

Today the main manager, Josh, showed me a new project he needs me to do. It’s massive and will take me quite a while to get through. He connected me to a folder in his inbox containing lists of shops that APS representatives visit in the various city-specific markets we’re targeting. I have to record the number of shops visited in the market on the specific day and update the information we have about each shop in the APS spreadsheet, Salespad, and Hubspot.

I’ve decided to tackle the project in what is hopefully as efficient a manner as possible.

  1. I sorted the emails by sender so I’m only dealing with a certain set of markets at a time. I check if it’s a days list or a weeks list of visits. I count the number of shops and divide by the days if necessary. I put the number(s) in the correct box(es) on the APS visit count sheet.
  2. Then I go to the sheet with the market’s shop list, find each of the shops from that email and check them against Salespad for information. I’m not creating the missing accounts yet.
  3. I categorize the email in Outlook with the green “Complete” I created as well as the market label. If/when someone else becomes the owner of this project in the future, it will be easier for them to see what was put in the sheet and which market the information belongs to. The Complete label also prevents me from forgetting which emails I’ve already processed the information for.
  4. When I finish the emails about APS visits and possibly the other emails that I need to ask about Monday, this will be the next or last step: Go through each of the market shop lists and make sure there are matching, up to date Hubspot and Salespad accounts for them.

Personal:

I realized the other week when the creator of Blurt, Corey Gwin, was the guest speaker for the Praxis Wednesday call that I needed to get back to writing regularly.

Then at FEEcon, I lamented the fact that I had not been working toward my writing goals while taking notes in the Creative Track breakout sessions I attended. (More on that to come in my post specifically about FEEcon.) I also got an idea for a new blog. I haven’t talked about my idea for that blog with anyone yet, so while I definitely plan on starting it, I want to get some feedback first.

I’ve also decided to take a different approach to writing my novel — I want to try writing a bunch of short stories that take place at various points of the story and then stitch them together. With this I could either publish it as a sort-of-disjointed-but-connected set of short stories or use this to circumvent the problems I’m having with what comes next. I have some idea what needs to happen, but I’m struggling with the immediate next steps for the characters. This would allow me to skip to wherever I want to write and come back.Basically, I will be getting back into writing.I’m probably going to do some design work for a media business my dad and cousin are trying to start. They have a flier my cousin paid someone on Fiver to make, and I told my dad about Easil. Once I get a hold of making writing a habit and becoming more productive, I want to practice design again by making my own blog post images.

Other Updates:

I found out on Friday that my car totaled so I’ve been taking the MetroLink to get from IL into St. Louis almost right next to where I work. I learned today that it’s more dangerous than I realized. I knew there were some questionable stops, but at the station nearest my work, someone was shot recently. So I will definitely not be taking the Metro any longer than I need to. Because I was rear ended a couple weeks ago, I’ve had to learn a lot. I interacted with insurance, an ABRA from a customer side, applied for a loan, looked for a car, and tomorrow I’m going to look at some cars I found.

Conclusion:

It’s been a really crazy week, but it’s been good. A lot is happening, and while it can be a mixed bag sometimes, I’m enjoying the ride and looking forward to the adventures that await.

New Years Resolutions Faltering Already?

I started out the year strong, eager to jump into my goals. I felt a bit worn from constant work and pushing myself a lot these last few months, but I was excited to start the new year. It wasn’t going to be a “new year, new me” type of deal, but more “I’m going to get to work finishing what I started.” I want to do a lot this year.

Already I’ve slipped off. I started forming a habit, writing in my novel every day and reading every day in addition to blogging every day, but I slipped. I have an excuse, my mom’s friend was visiting and took over my room and I didn’t sleep well on the couch. But it’s still an excuse. I could have hoarded my time a bit more and written or read. Could have but didn’t.

I have the rest of today and all of tomorrow to get back on it. If I write and read extra the next few days I’ll catch back up to where I wanted to be. Heck, it’s my day off so I should get ahead. I only have one other thing I have to do tomorrow, so I’ll have time. No excuses!

The Mingling of Inspiration and Goals

This whole blog has a lot of unplanned content written when I sat down to write. I’ll readily acknowledge that this is one of them. But I had some great ideas while driving home, and that inspiration led to the idea for this post.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how I experience inspiration. This idea is similar but is specifically on the intersection of inspiration and goals.

On the drive home I suddenly realized I wanted to write a sequel to The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan. I recognized despite my excitement, though, that if I want to finish my novel, I need to focus on that first. This idea is thrilling and has more appeal because it’s shiny and brand spanking new. But I committed to myself that I would finish my novel.

My approach to this dilemma is two-fold. On one hand, I won’t be giving up my goal of finishing my novel in 2019. On the other, I may allow myself to start the new stories after I finish the short story I started and in addition to any daily work on my novel I’m doing. Because I have a big goal and I’m sticking to it, I have to be strict with myself. I want to do both, but I have prioritized one over the other.

Inspiration has at least initially fueled all my story ideas, but it doesn’t decide what I do when. I wrote down the ideas I had, so I will more easily recall inspiration when I’m ready.

My Plans and Goals for 2019

I’ve done a lot in 2018, and there’s still a few days to do more.

I created and published a poetry collection. I started two blogs, Insanity’s Hiding Place (this blog) and Over the Invisible Wall. I took my novel-in-progress over 30k words. I finished my novella The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan.

Next year I want to do as much as I can.

I’ve made a habit of daily blogging and that will be continuing. Writing every day is important to me, so I will not quit.

In April I’ll be moving to apprentice with one of the business partners with Praxis. That’ll be at least six months, maybe longer. I’m going to do great work, push myself, and grow a lot personally and professionally through this experience.

January is the philosophy module at Praxis, which has a lot of reading, but it will be an adventure. That’ll kick off the new year with some hardcore thinking.

inish my novel-in-progress, Mystical Warriors. I don’t know how long it will be, I don’t know how much work it will take. But it’s taken long enough so far. I need to finish it. I’m not sure when I want my target to be for the first draft’s completion, but I want to push myself to finish it.

Make the manuscript for my next poetry collection. I don’t want to release another poetry collection for a while, but I have the start of another poetry collection. I’m going to scrap what I have and start over, though. Now that I know the basics of making a collection, this one should be a breeze. It will be much longer, though, so that might present its own troubles.

Develop Gràďlutut to a point where it’s possible to have conversations. I’d like to make short video lessons about/for the language, but there’s not enough to it yet for that to even be possible.

Develope N’Zembe, write more stories, develop more species, write more history. I have so little knowledge of the system, I’d like to change that. The worldbuilding is still so lacking, and that’s the whole point of the project. I’m creating a whole star system to host stories, and the process is fascinating to me. I already know I will never stop working on this, and I made it vast purposefully. There’s 10 inhabited planets out of 18, and a ton of moons, which may or may not be habitable or inhabited. The base language is the same, but the derivations and evolution of that on different planets will be drastically different.

These are my main writing and career goals for 2019.

Maintaining Dedication

I’ve been working on and off on my novel-in-progress for three years. Even for such a long time and spread out work, I haven’t quit.

I decided that I would finish this novel. Even if I decide it is terrible and I hate it, I will finish it. I will take it from an empty page to a published novel.

I committed to finishing it.

Not for my friends or my family or anyone else. For myself.

I’ve had a lot of trouble finishing large projects.

Four years ago I started crocheting a baby blanket for my cousin’s daughter. I never finished it.

Between the ages of twelve and fifteen I started countless stories that were intended to be novels. I have finished none of them.

I realized I had a problem. I start projects but don’t finish them.

So I went through all my novel projects and ranked them from highest to lowest current priority. I decided I would focus my efforts on the first project on the list, then the second, and on.

That was two and a half years ago, and I’ve made great progress. Mystical Warriors, my novel-in-progress, is over 30,000 words. That’s the longest of any writing project I’ve ever had.

What made the difference was a commitment to myself.

I decided that I had to do this, that it was going to happen. I am not willing to give up no matter the obstacles. I will finish this novel. Even with it on the backburner, I know I will be coming back to it.

I prioritized my projects such that I have no excuse for working on a new novel that would prevent me from finishing this one.

For a long time, I had a daily writing habit that included my novel. I wrote at least one sentence in my novel every day. That has fallen off, but I will be reviving that practice. I keep making excuses for why I haven’t done that yet, and I need to stop.

I stayed dedicated to this project over the last three years because I committed to it for myself. I maintained my commitment by focusing my time and energy on the project. I remind myself of my obligation to myself by writing blog posts about it and talking about it. I also take my novel with me on vacation to write in the car or during down time.

I need to reprioritize my projects, not just my novels, but my short stories and worldbuilding too. I will be incorporating progress on my novel into my daily habits. I want to say “after I finish x,” but I should start tomorrow. No more excuses, I need to deliver on this commitment.

The Journal: 22 May 2017

This is a new series comprised of past journal entries I wrote followed by some current thoughts about it, if I have any. The reason for sharing a particular entry will vary. Some may be recorded story ideas, interesting events from my past, or some weird or fun thought I had that I wrote down.

There is an extent to which the way you write tells the world a little something about how you read. I, for example, write very much as though the events are happening and I’m recording them as they do — almost like writing a book based on a movie, only better. The words are meant to be very visual, the reader should see in their mind the events as they unfold, watch as the characters move around, listen as they speak. It’s almost as though Mystical Warriors was meant to be a movie script but I wrote it in plain prose.


I think this was inspired at least partially by my friends telling me the opening scene for my novel-in-progress felt very much like a movie scene.

Mystical Warriors: My Novel-in-Progress

Disclaimer: This project is on a temporary haitus as I adjust to my workload with Praxis, running this blog, running Over the Invisible Wall, and working more hours at Walmart. I will be finishing it. I will come back to it.

I mentioned Mystical Warriors in a post last month. I shared how far I was into writing this to-be novel. Since then I have shared two backstory pieces, Thief!, and Befriending Vinny (parts one and two).

What I neglected to do, however, was share a bit about the novel and what the story even is. Today, I am going to fix that.

Mystical Warriors is the working title of the project and is the same name as a video game in the story world. One half of the setting is a fictional version of the real world. The other half is inside the video game.

Mara Williamson, James Richards, Drake Meltzin, and Vinny Kituma are four long time friends who live in the same neighborhood and go to the same school. It was a normal Friday afternoon comprised of homework and video games at Mara’s house after school. Until it wasn’t. Unexpectedly, the four friends find themselves inside the video game, Mystical Warriors. How will they return to the real world and their lives?

When I started this story, I knew it bore basic similarities to the manga and anime Sword Art Online. At the same time, I had the idea that led to this story long before I knew anything about anime.

About ten to twelve years ago, my aunt and uncle went on vacation to France. During that time, my two cousins stayed at my family’s house for the week. I invented a LARP-like game, as is common for children to do, with almost the same premise as Mystical Warriors. My cousins had to beat the video game to return to the real world, but they were brought into the video game to help out the people and various creatures solve some problem. For Mystical Warriors, being in the video game is the problem.

That is the gist of the project. If you have any questions, comment below and I’ll answer as best I can so long as it will not spoil the story to do so.

Befriending Vinny (Short Story P2)

Be sure to read part one!

This is a backstory piece I wrote for Mystical Warriors. The main characters, Mara, James, Vinny, and Drake, are probably about seven. This takes place after “Thief!”

It was almost time for the Kitumas to come over. The Williamsons had finished making their food, and James’ family had come over after preparing theirs, and Drake’s family was on their way over.

“Mara,” Mrs. Williamson called from the kitchen.

“Yes, mom!” Mara said, running downstairs.

“You can go with James to take the Kitumas that the food is almost ready,” Mrs. Williamson said.

“How did you react when Dellie told you you were having a potluck for the new neighbors?” Mr. Richards, James’ dad asked Mr. Williamson.

“I wasn’t surprised, really. Think about what we did when the Meltzins moved in!” Mr. Williamson said. “It could have been way more of a hassle.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Mrs. Richards said laughing. “Lara, why don’t you go with James and Mara.”

“I don’t wanna. I want to wait for Patty to come,” Lara said.

“Okay,” Mrs. Richards said. “She thinks she’s–”

Mara and James ran out the door, oblivious to the adult’s conversation happening as they left.

“Mr. Kituma! Mrs. Kituma! Vinny!” James yelled when they reached the door, and before Mara had rung the bell.

Ding, dong!

“Yes?” Mrs. Kituma asked.

“The food’s almost ready!” Mara said.

“And you can meet my family and Drake’s!” James said.

Mrs. Kituma was shocked. “So it’s a party now?” she asked.

“Kind of. It’s to welcome you to the neighborhood!” Mara said.

She softened. “Well thank you very much. We’ll be right over.”

“okay! See you soon!” Mara and James said.

**Mara and James ran back to Mara’s house.

“They’ll be here soon!” They cried, interrupting the adult’s conversation mercilessly.

“Thanks. Why don’t you play for a few minutes until they and Drake’s family come over?” Mr. Richards asked.

“But!” James said. “They’ll be here in just a minute!” Mara said.

“Okay, okay.” Mr. Richards conceded.

“Mara, it was rude of you to interrupt our conversation,” Mrs. Williamson chided.

“I’m sorry,” Mara hung her head.

“Thank you.” Mrs. Williamson said.

“Anyways–” Mara and James tuned out the conversation and talked about whatever came to mind, from toys, to the new neighbors, to what was taking everyone so long, to being hungry, to school, to the new neighbors, to Vinny specifically, to siblings, back to the neighbors, and did they mention they were hungry?

It was, in reality, only about five minutes before The Meltzins arrived, and two minutes after that for the Kitumas, but Mara and James were excited enough that time passed in milliseconds that they could perceive. Forget minutes, they experience milliseconds.

Lara scoffed. “Why do you care so much?” she asked.

“They’re the new neighbors and they have a girl our age!” Mara exclaimed.

“That means new friends!” James said.

“So what?” Patty, Drake’s older sister asked.

“Why are you so rude?” Drake asked. “We just like to have fun!”

Patty stuck her tongue out at her younger brother.

“Mom! Patty stuck her tongue out at me!” he said.

Patty glared at him. “Did not!” she said before Mrs. Meltzin could respond.

“Patty, don’t stick your tongue out at people, it’s rude,” Mrs. Meltzin said.

“Okay,” she said, sulking.

Ding, dong!

Mara, James, and Drake sprint for the door.

“Hi!” Zmara said. “Come on in!”

“Hello!” James said.

“Hi, we’re so glad you’re here!” Drake said.

Mr. and Mrs. Kituma smile.

“Thanks,” Mr. Kituma said.

“We’re glad to be here,” Mrs. Kituma said.

Vinny hides behind her parents, silently watching the others.

“Vinny, why don’t you say hi,” Mrs. Kituma asked.

“Hi,” Vinny mumbled.

“Hi, Vinny!” Mara said. “Everyone’s in the kitchen,” she continued, gesturing and leading them into that part of the house.

Mrs. Williamson stood up from her seat. “Hello, I’m Dellie,” she said. “You must be the Kitumas.”

Mr. and Mrs. Kituma smiled.

“Yes,” he said. “You can call me Bill. This is my wife, Lou.”

Lou waved.

Everyone introduced themselves.

Mr. and Mrs. Williamson or Dellie and Erik were Mara’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Richards or Lloyd and Margie were James’ parents, and Mr. and Mrs. Meltzin or Gregory and Kalen were Drake’s parents.

Patty and Lara introduced themselves to Vinny, after being asked to do so.

Vinny forced a wave and said, “Hi,” after her parents told her to because she was being rude.

“Can we eat now?” James asked.

“Yeah, I’m hungry!” Drake said.

“We’ve been smelling the food for hours!” Mara said.

The Kitumas laughed, but the other parents chided their children.

“It’s fine, really. You all worked hard to make all this for us, and they were very excited to meet us and invite us here,” Mr. Kituma said.

“Yes, it is all quite a lot, and we really appreciate it,” Lou said.

“I’m hungry too,” Vinny mumbled.

“Okay, then we can start!” Dellie said. She passed out plates to the children, first, and the parents helped them with what they couldn’t reach so they wouldn’t make a mess.

After they went through the potluck choices, the kids were made to sit at the kitchen table, while the adults would sit in the living room for lack of space.

~~~

Time passed, and mara, James, and Drake repeatedly tried to convince Vinny to come out and play with them. Each time, they were soundly rejected.

“Vinny, why won’t you play with them at least once?” Mrs. Kituma asked.

“I don’t wanna,” she said.

“Please, today if they come to the door, go out and play with them,” Mrs. Kituma said.

“Fine,” she mumbled.

“Thank you.”

Sure enough, later that day, the doorbell rang, and it was Mara.

“Hey, is Vinny home?” she asked.

Mrs. Kituma smiled. “Yes. Vinny, Mara’s here to see you!”

Vinny came to the door. “Hi.”

“Do you want to come play at my house?” she asked.

“Um… I guess so,” she said.

“Cool!” Mara said.

Vinny put on her shoes and a jacket and followed Mara over to her house. “Is it just us?” she asked.

“Yeah, James is sick and Drake had a birthday party to go to,” Mara said. “We can play whatever you want. I have dolls.”

“Okay,” Vinny said. She thought about it. She hadn’t played with anyone since she moved in, not even at school. She played by herself or read a book, even outside on the playground. Was she lonely? She would never say so if she was.

“And my mom said we could have a snack if you want,” Mara said.

“Okay,” she said. “What kind of snack?”

“Whatever is fine. We have lots of choices. Fruit snacks, cookies, real fruit,” Mara said, listing a few things off the top of her head.

“Okay.”

They walked into Mara’s house.

“I’m back!” Mara called. “Vinny’s with me, we’ll be in my room!”

Mrs. Williamson peaked out of the kitchen. “Okay. Hello, Vinny, it’s nice to see you.”

**”Thanks,” she said. She followed Mara upstairs to her room.

The walls were a muted pink, and there were a variety of toys, from dolls and action figures to stuffed animals to books to electronics.

“What do you want to do?” Mara asked.

“Um… I don’t know… Dolls?” Vinny said.

“Okay. I have loads to choose from, but I don’t have any houses or anything. We can use this shoebox structure I made, though,” Mara said. She pulled out a bin from a shelf against the wall. It was overflowing with dolls and what would be called action figures, really just “boy dolls,” but they were all the same to Mara.

“Wow, that is a lot,” Vinny said. “What are these?” she asked, pulling out some of the more oddly shaped ones, which were army men or superheroes or other figurines that sold more to boys than girls.

“They’re dolls too,” Mara said. “I think they’re supposed to be boy dolls, but they’re cool.”

“Oh, okay. I want to be this one,” Vinny said, pulling out a doll with braided blond hair.

“Okay. I’ll be this one,” Mara pulled out a doll with short cropped, jagged hair that was a ghastly shade of green.

“What happened to her hair?” Vinny asked, astonished.

“I tried to give her the same haircut as my mom, but it didn’t work out. Then I wanted to dye her hair green with fruit juice mix, which my mom has done to y hair once, but it didn’t work either,” Mara explained.

“Oh.” Vinny looked at the doll kind of sideways. “It doesn’t look too bad,” she said.

“You don’t have to say that, it’s bad,” Mara said, grinning. “I don’t care though, she’s still my favorite.”

They played dolls for a while until Mrs. Williamson knocked on the door.

Mara jumped up to open it. “hey, Mom. We’re playing dolls.”

“That’s wonderful. Would you like to come downstairs for a few minutes and have a snack?” she asked.

Mara looked to Vinny. “Do you want to?” she asked.

“Sure,” Vinny said.

“Okay. Thanks, mom.”

They went downstairs and Mrs. Williamson helped them get their snack.

“Vinny, I’m glad you decided to come over and play with Mara. Are you having fun?” Mrs. Williamson asked.

“Yeah,” Vinny said. She smiled.

Mrs. Williamson smiled. “That’s good. Do you think you’ll play with Mara some other time?”

Vinny nodded.

~~~

It took a long time, but Mara, James, and Drake didn’t give up on befriending Vinny. They kept trying, and eventually, she decided to be friends with them.

Befriending Vinny (Short Story P1)

This is a backstory piece I wrote for Mystical Warriors. The main characters, Mara, James, Vinny, and Drake, are probably about seven. This takes place after “Thief!”

This is rather long for a single blog post, so the second half will be out tomorrow.

It was a bright, sunny day in Connilville when a moving truck pulled into the neighborhood. Mara and James stared.

“Who do you think it is?” Mara asked.

“Do you think they’ll have kids?” James asked excitedly.

I hope so!” Mara said. She ran to her front door and inside the house. “Mom, Mom! We’re getting new neighbors!”

Mrs. Williamson smiled. “Do you want to make them cookies and we can take them over later?”

Mara clapped. “Yes!” She ran outside and told James, “We’re going to make cookies for them! Come on!”

They sprinted back into the house, Mrs. Williamson slightly surprised.

“Hello, James. Are you here to help us make cookies for the new neighbors?” she asked.

“Yeah! Let’s make chocolate chip!” he said.

Mrs. Williamson smiled. “Of course. I should have some in the pantry.”

She helped them gather the ingredients and prepare the cookies. When the cookies were finished baking, they placed them on a paper plate and took them to the house with the moving truck in the driveway.

James ran up to the door and Mara followed more slowly, carrying the cookies for them. James knocked on the door. “We have cookies!” he shouted before the door opened.

A middle-aged Asian man answered the door. “Hello.”

“Hi! We’re your neighbors now! We have cookies for you!” James said.

Mara presented the cookies.

“Thank you,” the man said. He took the plate of cookies, then called into the house. “Vinny, there are some kids here who would like to meet you!”

A young girl, probably a year younger than Mara, came to the door. She wrapped her arms around her father’s leg, peering at them shyly.

“Hi, I’m Mara!”

“And I’m James!”

“We’re your new neighbors!” they said together.

“I’m Mr. Kituma, and this is my daughter, Vinny. They brought us cookies,” the man said. “Wasn’t that nice?”

Vinny nodded. “Thanks for the cookies.”

“Do you want to take a break from unpacking and play with them for a bit?”

Vinny shook her head. “Not right now,” she mumbled.

Mara frowned. “Okay, well it was nice to meet you, Vinny!”

“Bye, see you!” James said, following Mara away from the house.

Vinny watched them go. They had wanted to play with her. They had even brought over cookies. “Can I have a cookie?” she asked her dad.

“Sure.” He lowered the plate and let her take one. “Why don’t you want to go play with them? They seemed nice.”

“What if they’re like Lilly?” she whispered. “What if they’re not nice?”

“If you go play with them, and they do anything that’s not nice, you can come right back home and tell us about it,” he promised.

“Maybe later,” she said.

James and Mara went back to Mara’s house, sitting in the front yard.

“Why do you think she didn’t want to play?” James asked.

Mara shrugged. “I don’t know. We might have to try again later. Do you think Drake can play now?”

“He said three o’clock. Let’s see what time it is.”

They went into Mara’s house.

“How did it go?” Mrs. Williamson asked them.

“We gave them cookies and they have a daughter, but she didn’t want to play,” Mara said.

“Yeah, I really wanted to get to know her,” James said. “There’s only the four of us kids.”

“There’s your older sister, James, and Drake’s older sister too,” Mrs. Williamson pointed out.

“They never want to play with us,” Mara said.

“What time is it?” James asked, changing the subject.

Mrs. Williamson pointed to the clock. “The little hand is almost to the 3, and the big hand is at the 9.”

“So… two forty-five?” Mara asked.

Mrs. Williamson nodded.

“Thanks, Mrs. Williamson!” James said.

Mara and James went back outside.

“Just fifteen minutes til Drake can play!” James said excitedly.

“Maybe he can play now,” Mara said. “Look, he’s outside!”

James looked across the street to Drake’s house. His best friend, a tall black haired boy a year younger than he was, closed his front door and waved.

“Can you play?” James yelled.

“Yeah!” Drake said, looking both ways before barreling across the street to Mara’s front yard.

“We met the new neighbor girl,” Mara said.

“We gave her family cookies, too. You missed out, we made the cookies ourselves! It was so fun,” James said.

“Was she not able to come play?” Drake asked.

“She didn’t want to,” Mara said, shoulders sagging.

“Yeah, I don’t know why, but she seemed nervous,” James said.

Drake thought for a minute. “Maybe she’s shy.”

Mara nodded thoughtfully. “Hey, Mom!” she called suddenly.

“Yes?” Mrs. Williamson asked, pushing aside a curtain from the window.

“Can we make something else to take to the new neighbors?” she asked.

Mrs. Williamson smiled. “I don’t see why not. What do you want to make?”

“What if we made dinner and invited them over?” Mara asked.

“That’s a lovely idea. James, Drake, would you like to help too?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Drake said.

“Yeah! Can we eat dinner with you, too?” James asked.

Mrs. Williamson nodded. “Of course. Do you want to go invite them over for dinner? They might want a heads up.”

“Okay! Thanks, Mom!” Mara said, turning and running across the lawn toward the Kituma’s house.

“Yeah, we’ll be back soon!” James said, running after her.

“Thanks!” Drake said, following James and Mara.

Once they were all together on the Kituma’s porch, Mara rang the doorbell.

“Coming!” a female voice called. “Hello?” an Asian woman, presumably Mrs. Kituma asked once she’d opened the door.

“Hi! We were wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner since you’re new to the neighborhood!” Mara said.

“Bill, are these the kids that came here earlier?” she yelled into the house.

Mr. Kituma appeared behind the woman. “Yes, they are. James and Mara. And who’s your friend?”

“I’m Drake,” he said, offering his hand.

Mr. Kituma shook his hand. “How can I help you?”

“They invited us to dinner,” Mrs. Kituma said.

“How lovely. What do you say, Lou, shall we accept their invitation?” he asked.

“Sure. Do your parents know about this?” she asked.

Mara nodded. “Yeah, my mom said we could!”

“Which house is yours?” Mr. Kituma asked.

“It’s two down, number 15,” Mara said.

“What time should we be there?” Mrs. Kituma asked.

“Uh… Mrs. Williamson didn’t tell us… she just asked us to invite you,” James said.

“Okay,” Mr. Kituma smiled. “Just let us know when it’s almost ready, then.”

“Okay!” Mara said.

“See you later, Mr. Kituma!” James said.

“Bye!” Drake said.

After the Kitumas closed the door, Vinny spoke from behind them.

“So we’re eating dinner with them?” she asked.

“Yes, sweetheart. It will be a good opportunity to get to know them and their parents,” Lou said.

“Okay,” she said.

Outside, Mara, James, and Drake ran back to Mara’s house.

“They’re coming for dinner!” Mara yelled as she ran into the house.

“Awesome. What do you want to make for them?” Mrs. Williamson asked.

“I don’t know,” James said.

“We should have asked what they liked to eat!” Drake said.

“Yeah, why didn’t we?” Mara asked.

“I’d soy go asked them but you already rang their doorbell twice in about fifteen minutes, so that might not be a good plan,” Mrs. Williamson said.

“Okay… we could make one of our favorite foods!” Mara said.

“What if all our families came over and brought lots of food, like a party!” James said.

“Yeah! Then they can eat whatever they want and we don’t have to worry about it!” Drake said.

Mrs. WIlliamson smiled. “Okay, James, Drake, how about you go invite your parents over for an impromptu potluck dinner with the new neighbors. What were their names?” she asked.

“Mr. and Mrs. Kituma, or Bill and Lou they called each other, and Vinny,” Mara recited.

James and Drake nodded.

“Okay, tell your parents to come over for a welcome dinner for the new neighbors the Kitumas and to bring food!” Mrs. Williamson said.

“Okay!” James and Drake said, running out the door and to their respective houses.

“What do you want to make for dinner?” Mrs. Williamson asked Mara.

“Can we make mac ‘n’ cheese?” she asked excitedly. “It’s my favorite and maybe Vinny will like it too!”

“That’s a great idea,” she said. “do you want to make anything else?”

“Bacon!”

“How about smokies wrapped in bacon?”

“Yeah, that’d be better!” Mara said.

“Anything else?” Mrs. Williamon asked. “Do you know of anything you think they’d like?”

“Um… well they looked Chinese…” Mara said thoughtfully.

“So they’re Asain,” Mrs. Williamson said. “We could make rice.”

“Yeah, we should do that!” Mara said.

“Okay, I think we’ll make that and then see what James and Drake’s families are bringing,” she said.

“Okay!”

~to be continued~