Friday, December 21, 2012

Graduation Day

Being a mother of a certain age, some days I  can’t remember to put the lid down on the washing machine or whether I put milk on the grocery list –or where said list is.

However, I can remember with crystal clarity where I was 22 years ago today: giving birth to my first son, Erik. He was born at 5:54 p.m. on a Friday in Flagstaff , Arizona during one of the coldest winters on record.  Snow even blanketed the cacti outside of Phoenix.

Last Friday Erik graduated from college. I sat with my mom waiting for the ceremony to begin while my professor husband was down on the venue floor as part of the processional. To strains of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’  I imagined the words of the host of the reality show  Amazing Race as the winners cross the finish line: “Three continents….”

During his academic career, Erik studied abroad in Europe and Asia. With snowstorm  Draco hitting the prairie earlier this week,  my mom and I were reminiscing yesterday about Storm Daisy that hit Denmark a few years ago – stranding Erik and a friend in his father’s ancestral homeland.

Being a parent is an adventure. Being the parent of an adventurer adds a whole new dimension of worry  and yes, pride.

And don’t forget worry.

My Grandma Rock always poked her head in the car window as we (my mom, my late father and my younger sister and brothers) prepared to leave her house after visiting. “Be careful” she’d say and add “Don’t forget to call when you get there.”

For the most part those half hour trips home were uneventful except for the time a deer ran in front of the car, the animal flipping up over onto the hood, sending glass shattering into the car and a hoof grazing my mother’s cheek  - below her eye.

My brother Steve, sitting in the front seat between my parents (this was the old days), was wearing a little sailor hat with the brim turned down. All weekend my grandmother had advised him to turn the brim up the way the hat was supposed to be worn.

The downward turned brim kept the glass out of his eyes.

We’d been on this trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan to buy a bunk bed for my sister and me. Joan and I must have been maybe in second and third grade. I don’t remember.

I do remember once the bunk bed was assembled,  I rolled over the first night (I wanted to sleep without the safety bar) and landed on the floor. Unhurt. But I did want the protective railing after that.

With one child ‘launched’ and another due to graduate from high school in May, I sometimes long for that safety bar.

But I’m not sure whether I want it more for them – or me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cookie Rerun

Since Sunday, I've baked six pans of cookie bars -- seven if you count the one that ended up in the garbage can. Some will be mailed to my older son's friends in school on the east coast, friendships forged in middle school -- and these boys are now young men. My older son will be 22 this month and graduates from college in less than two weeks. Others will be mailed to our old neighbor girls...who were in 3rd grade with same son. Still more are for current neighbor girls and others will be plated and head to work with my husband.

I should be writing but I'm baking, booted still from recent ankle surgery. The boot prevents me from walking outside in the unseasonably warm December weather. It's sixty degrees on December 4th in Nebraska. To keep my spirits up, I tell myself how necessary this latest round of surgery was, and it means I'll be able to keep walking well into my dottage. Which sometimes feels like now. 

But as long as I can remember how to turn on the oven, I like to do a little holiday baking....and reminiscing.

Here's a holiday baking 'rerun' blog post from November 29, 2009.

It’s not yet December 1, but my holiday baking is done. Granted, the Buckeyes still need to be dipped in melted chocolate (yes, a Michigander-born girl doesn’t let the Ohio-ness of those tasty treats dissuade), but that’s it.
Why the frenzy? The reasons range from wanting to mail a tin of cookies to son Erik in Germany to having a nice variety for a tray for my department chair husband to take in to the last faculty meeting of the semester and…
…wanting to get it over with. There I said it. The days of joyfully dumping out all my Grandma Rock’s old metal cookie cutters and pulling out her sugar cookie recipe are long gone. Sometimes I wonder why?
Frosted cut-outs and golden cookies studded with M&M’s were just two of my maternal grandma’s specialties. Both my grandmothers excelled in the kitchen. My dad’s mom, widowed when my dad was just 12, supported him and her four older daughters by being the head cook at Mercy Hospital in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Even though she was on her feet cooking all day, Grandma Andrews spent all her time in the kitchen when all her children and grandchildren gathered for holidays. From her sister Carrie, my great aunt, I learned how to make shortcake dotted with butter and Sugar Cakes, melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies made fluffy with buttermilk.

My mother didn’t like to bake so she taught me when I was very young. Soon I was adept at family favorites from both sides, including chocolate applesauce cake, date nut bars, tomato soup cake, best two egg cake….and inept at things like fudge and one concoction involving powdered sugar, cocoa, milk and Cocoa Krispies. I think it was supposed to be frosting.

In 7th grade I nearly flunked the sewing part of Home Ec (In middle school, my sons took BASE, which was…home ec with careers added. Sensible addition.). I did much better in the kitchen. I can still remember the day we learned the ‘water displacement’ method to accurately measure peanut butter. It’s slimy, but it works.
So what happened over the years?

Well, writing became a much better (and lower calorie) outlet for my creativity. Then there was my husband’s diabetes diagnosis…and the fact the disease runs on both sides of my family. The oldest of Grandma Andrews’ four daughters was Dorothea, a nurse, who had a foot amputated due to complications from the disease. Also, while both my children enjoy an occasional cookie, and Erik is very partial to the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (recipe listed below), neither seems to have inherited my raging sweet tooth. Finally, the whole working mom balancing act ultimately left no time for laboriously rolling out cookies and decorating with colored sugar, not when there were papers to grade and copyedits due.

Now there are no more papers to grade, not for me. After 15 years at a large university, my husband and I were ready for a lifestyle change. This will be our second holiday season here on the prairie, in the town my husband wanted to live in for nearly 20 years. Long before we had children, we’d drive ‘home’ for the holidays from Flagstaff, Arizona to our folks in Iowa. This Nebraska town on Interstate 80 enchanted him, though at the time I thought he was nuts. And not the kind that go in cookies. Instead we went east. But when a job opened at this university of 6,500 students in his ‘dream town’ at the exact time we were ready for a move, it seemed like fate and faith were aligned.

It’s been a challenging yet wonderful change. Soon I will be realizing my life-long goal of staying home to write fulltime. It’s scary, exhilarating and, apparently, baking inducing.

Maybe next year I will pull out Grandma Rock’s cookie cutters.

What’s your favorite holiday cookie recipe?

Basic Cake Box Cookie/Bar recipe
  • 1 box any flavor cake mix (Pillsbury Classic Yellow particularly good)
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 egg
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients. Add one 12 oz. package chocolate chips or any flavor. Spread in a greased 9 x 13 glass pan. Bake at 350 for ten – twelve minutes til golden brown. Let cool and cut into bars.

You can also use this dough to make cookies. Bake the cookies at 375 degrees.
Roll the yellow cake mix cookie dough into balls and flatten with a sugared glass slightly. 

Bake at 375 7-8 minutes or until golden.

Frost or sprinkle with colored sugar.

You can also use a chocolate cake mix, but it’s drier so use ½ cup oil. Or just make brownies!

Lemon is also a good flavor. Just form into balls and let flatten as they bake. Make a thin glaze out of lemon juice, powdered sugar and a little milk or water.

Or bake in a greased 9 x 13 pan again til done and frost with canned lemon frosting.
Try cherry cake mix, and add cherry chips and almond flavoring and a vanilla frosting glaze or spice and melt caramel and drizzle on top.

Iowa State Fair Cookbook Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup shortening or margarine (I use margarine sticks)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 12 oz. Package semisweet chocolate chips
In a bowl, combine sugars, shortening, and eggs; beat until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, soda, powder and salt. Add to shortening mixture. Add oats. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 375 degree oven 8-10 minutes or until done.

The dough works better after it’s been chilled a bit in the refrigerator. And the best thing about these cookies is you can freeze them as drop cookies or roll up as logs in wax paper. Either way you can bake right from the freezer when you want some.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


When Tevye belts out the following lyrics in Fiddler on the Roof it always seems like an admonishment.

“Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
Tradition, tradition! Tradition!”

Nothing is more important than keeping traditions, he seems to chide. On this most un-traditional of Thanksgivings the concept of ‘traditions’ resonates with me.

Older son is in Chicago visiting a childhood friend who attends a big university there and whose parents now reside on the East Coast.

Earlier today younger son and dad were on the road to Iowa, listening on Sirius Radio to play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi call the West Virginia University basketball game. They had Thanksgiving dinner with one of my brother’s and his family (the other, a cop, has to work). Tomorrow they’ll head to the family alma mater for the WVU vs. Iowa State football game…and root against the alma mater.

Our Iowa State academic roots go deep, but our athletic hearts belong to WVU… where we spent 15 years.

My mom and I were invited next door (tho stayed home) and another neighbor brought us over the most magnificent cake to thank us “for being such good neighbors.”  Both here on the prairie and in Morgantown, WV we have been blessed with wonderful neighbors.

A lifetime ago my husband and I made a decision not to travel on the holidays. Incidents like  backing down an interstate on-ramp in a blinding snowstorm and spending the night in a Red Cross shelter contributed to this decision.

Last year we finally broke our vow and spent Thanksgiving with all my in-laws so we could celebrate a beloved aunt’s 95th birthday the day after.

We also like to be home - our home - for the holidays.

I know each family out there has its own traditions: some spend the holidays the same place their entire childhood and adult life. To each their own. That’s the real beauty of traditions.

When my three siblings and I were growing up we adhered to a strict Christmas ‘schedule.’ Church on Christmas Eve (except the year we ALL had stomach flu; God Bless my mother!), open one present on Christmas Eve, and stockings and the rest of the presents on Christmas morning. If we were at Grandma and Grandpa Rock’s shrimp cocktail was de rigeur.

Then I married a man with pure Danish roots. This Scandinavian family opened all their presents on Christmas Eve.


Needless to say, our son or sons (depending on if the older one is in the country…but that’s another story) adhere to ‘my’ family’s traditions.

Another tradition that’s biting the dust this year is putting up the tree the night of Thanksgiving or the day after. For years a dear friend in M’town would join us for dinner and good naturedly help with the decorating…which commenced the minute the last bite of pumpkin pie was eaten.

Today I’m in a boot, having had ankle surgery a couple weeks ago. My mom (who has lived with us for nearly a decade-and-a-half) stayed home to keep me company instead of going off to my brother’s. Decorating for Christmas will have to wait till the men are home and can haul things up from the storage room.

Recently I just finished reading Anna Quindlen’s eloquent memoir “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.” She writes beautifully in her chapter on faith about her family tradition of reading aloud Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with her three children and husband every Christmas Eve.

No doubt when/if my children have children of their own way down the road - and those children of my sons come to visit - one present will be opened on Christmas Eve and the rest saved for after-stockings on Christmas morning.

The rest is fluid. And embracing the fluidity of life is the best tradition of all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Christina's Juggling Act: AKA Two Releases in November

Read how my friend Christina Freeburn balances family and a busy writing schedule! - Pam

November is a busy month for me with two books being released. This started at the end of April when I attended the Malice Domestic convention. I saw some cute postcards from a new publishing company, Henery Press. The covers grabbed my attention, and I couldn't help snapping them up. And then checked out the press. I was excited to learn the books they published had a similar tone and feel to the scrapbooking mystery I completed, and, even better, they were taking submissions.

I was already happily writing my New Beginning Series for Desert Breeze Publishing. The first book, Lost Then Found, had come out November 1, 2011 and the second one, Led Astray, was coming out May 1. I was finishing up the third book, Safe and Sound (which came out November 1), when I decided to send off my mystery. I didn't expect to hear back for a few months, and if accepted I figured it would come out sometime in 2013 as I was wrapping up the New Beginning Series.

A few days later, I received an email from the editor saying she loved it and wanted the book. Not only that, but it would come out this year--November. I took a deep breath and agreed. I'm fortunate that I don't have to work outside the home, so I could concentrate on writing. And that was what I had to do--concentrate. Stay focused.

I hunkered down, took time management seriously, planned my days on my calendar and, when really crazy, created a "To Do" notebook where I kept a weekly schedule for family, volunteer, and writing. Once 'on the page,' the task was able to leave my mind so I could concentrate on the actual project rather than thinking about everything that needed to be done.
Going from one book to the other wasn't as hard as I feared as the two series have different voices (first person with a humorous tone, third person with a serious tone) so I didn't get the projects confused. My teens helped around the house, and my husband jumped in whenever the computer and I weren't getting along (this happened a lot). The main culprit was the printer that decided it wanted to quit numerous times when I needed to print out the manuscripts. I like to do the first main edits on paper.

It also came in handy to have incredible author friends who've shown me...and encouraged me...that not only can it be done...but I can do it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Empty Nest

My to-do list for yesterday consisted of the following:

  1. Figure out the day of the week
  2. Reschedule dental apt
  3. Be brilliant writerly-wise
Guess which didn’t get done?

It’s a tad chaotic here on the prairie right now. DH (dear husband) is recovered from his broken/sprained ankle, sustained on Labor Day weekend. However, I am once again booted, due to surgery on my ankle. Between spouse, my mother, and me we function like a well-oiled domestic machine.

Except when we don’t.

Like when one of us is out of commission.

My mother/writing partner folds all the laundry, God bless her a thousand times over. Two autumns ago she had hand surgery. I nearly wept with relief when she could go back to sorting socks.

Husband cooks. 

I however, clean. I take a lot of ribbing from friends, but few things give me more satisfaction (domestically) than scrubbing toilets or dusting. Cutting clutter gives me enormous satisfaction. I find the older I get, the more I need order in my surroundings.

When I can remember where I am and what day it is….

This fall with two graduations looming (older son from college in December; younger son from high school in May) I keep telling myself I’ll miss the mess because it means they’ll be gone.

Technically, though, the big guy is the biggest clutter culprit …. not planning on him going anywhere soon. The absent-minded college professor stereotype exists for a reason.

But he does cook.

And we won’t really have an empty nest because my mom lives with us and has for the last 13 years.

She is an organizational whiz, able to eyeball a room and know exactly how to pick up and arrange things perfectly in intelligent systems

Me, I handle maintenance.

Lately I’ve been trying to envision life without clutter, without children in the house. Since my early days of motherhood when I held my firstborn six-pound son in my arms I knew if I did my job as a mother ‘right’ he would eventually leave me. Same with his little brother. The goal is and always has been to launch those baby birds out of the nest.

So I’m going to enjoy all the twigs and pieces of yarn scattered about while I can.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Leaves

And today  the Nebraska winds have blown  the expansive carpet of leaves in my front yard into a small neat pile and made the rest...disappear.

Monday, October 15, 2012


In a few minutes (CST) October will be halfway over. Been a strange year, and this month is no exception. It’s warm enough to have the windows open and the skittering of the leaves is creepily comforting….

Friends of mine (more than one) regularly admonish me whenever I wish the day, month, year away – and rightly so.

Others tell me to live in the moment, to cherish where I am at that precious point in time.

In turn I tell younger moms to enjoy each moment with their children, and as my friend Elizabeth attested to this summer (and I talked about in this space), she is taking this to heart.

Do I take my own advice?

Recently I posted a status on my Facebook wall akin to being ready to say about this year “Happiness is 2012 in the rearview mirror.”

I was quickly taken to task by dear friends, reminding me not to wish time away.

They are right. Some nights I lie awake, incredulous that in seven years and change I’ll be the age my mom’s father was when he died. Time feels like it’s screeching by – and yet some days I want it to accelerate.

Mostly the moments when the bad seems to overpower the good.

But life encompasses everything, a wise friend said recently.

The minutes have passed, and October is officially halfway over. The leavings start this year and continue into next.

Years ago, I’d assign my beginning reporting students a ‘fun’ assignment (I thought it was fun): interview a partner on what superpower he/she would want.

Invisibility, invincibility, the ability to leap tall buildings in a single…leap.

Would I want to be able to slow down or speed up time if I donned tights and a cape (probably would want to slow down cellulite in that get-up)?

Guess I’d settle for the power to just savor the good moments and survive the bad.

And make the leaves dance into a pile awaiting the rake.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Lately I look in the mirror and see my Grandmother Rock’s face (which isn’t a good thing since she’s been dead for more than 30 years). What’s remarkable about this is I don’t resemble her at all. I have my Grandpa Rock’s round face and temperament, and my Grandma Andrews’ sturdy calves, slender ankles, and shelf-like bosom.

But when I’m tired, the resemblance to my maternal grandmother, Violet Stubbe Rock, stares me in the face. The lilac shadows under my eyes and the hollows around my lips are hers.

Her remarkable fashion sense (she rivaled Imelda Marcos in number of shoes until she, like me, developed bunions) eludes me to this day. She also had a way with the rouge pot and knew exactly how to layer on scents (Tabu and Amber).

Playing dress-up at her house was one of my favorite childhood pastimes. Her flowery housedress discards, tucked into an old hardbound suitcase, were paired with real reptile-skin platform pumps (four-plus pairs: two ruby red, two emerald green, plus one brown pair of peep-toe).

The days I spent at her house (my grandfather died when I was ten) were dictated by routine: I’d get up and watch TV while munching on Pop Tarts or those marvelous 70s snacks: Space Sticks, reputed to have gone up into the stratosphere with the astronauts. Much later, she’d come down and have her usual breakfast: orange juice, coffee, toast, and a cigarette.

Later, we might go shopping at Sears Roebuck & Co. for clothes or the dime store for paper dolls. When I was younger she’d take me miniature golfing (my favorite) or to the Elks Club to swim. We also played countless hours of gin rummy or double solitaire for nickels. She loved to gamble. Often we’d ‘dine’ at Howard Johnson’s where I’d gorge on clams or spaghetti and chocolate milkshakes. Grandma Rock would order a ‘double bubble’ martini with her meal.

Evening time my grandma would knit and smoke, and we’d watch Twilight Zone re-runs or old Clark Gable movies. Also part of our ritual was the ‘midnight snack’ which consisted of M&M’s, miniature marshmallows, and sometimes cashews. This long-time tradition ended when my grandmother was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. The summer of the Watergate hearings I spent time watching the proceedings at her house and  following her exchange plan ‘diet.’ I lost 20 pounds and went on to lose a total of 45 my freshman year of high school.

Eventually emphysema and alcoholism took their toll, and she moved into a nursing home in her 60s. She died five months before I got married at age 22.

Her IQ score was off the charts, and in the 1930s Violet headed off to college to study journalism with a fur coat and her own car. She dropped out and married my grandfather, who graduated with a pharmacy degree and later bought his own drugstore.

She loved to drive and, as chronicled here before, would take my mom and her siblings plus great grandpa on car trips all over the country. My grandfather could never leave his business. The only state that ever did her in driving-wise was West Virginia (birthplace of my younger son and ‘home’ for 15 years), pre-interstate highway.

Whenever I’m stressed I crave M&Ms mixed with mini marshmallows in a little paper cup.

And wish all of life’s problems that cause those lilac shadows under my eyes could be solved by a ‘midnight snack.’

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to school

This morning my 16-year-old (for one more week) told me he graduates from high school in nine months.

This ‘revelation’ kind of took both of us aback.

He’s ready for school to start, ready for senior year, ready for what lies ahead…college...and beyond.

Me, I think I’m ready for the nursing home.

Also this morning I had a routine appointment with the surgeon who did my foot surgery last summer.  Earlier this summer I had a blood clot, most likely caused by hormones and a long car trip.  Since then I’ve been having shin pain, and the ‘good’ news is that annoyance isn’t  alarming. It just takes time for all the ‘vascular systems’ to return to normal after a blood clot.

But I also got some ‘not so good’ news. The nerve damage in my other ankle has worsened. Deep down I think I’ve known this as I limped along on my daily hour-long walks. Fortunately, I inherited my mother’s high tolerance for pain.

Unfortunately, high tolerance notwithstanding, this needs to be taken care of surgically so I can continue to be active into my declining years.

Which quite frankly have felt like this summer.

Now a disclaimer…

None of this is life threatening (well, except for the blood clot), it’s just annoying and depressing. Recovery won’t be nearly as extensive since I’m not having toes pinned, etc. as I did last summer. But the bottom line is I’ll still be inactive for a longer period of time than I’d like.

Exercise makes me happy. It keeps the endorphins flowing and prevents me from being pudgier than I am.

My ‘baby’ graduates from high school in nine months, and it took me ten years to lose the worst of the baby weight.

Another disclaimer: My mother says the statute of limitations is up on that area of blame.

Exercise also gifts me with excellent cholesterol numbers, keeps me off high blood pressure medications, and staves off the diabetes which runs rampant on both sides of my family.

So…if I want to be able to keep exercising I have to take time to have surgery and recover.

Time has a way of passing quickly though.

After all, in nine months my baby graduates from high school.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

As I sit and write this in my air-conditioned-resembles-a-room-on-TLC’s-hoarders-office, I’m reflecting on yet another summer come and soon will go.

Good riddance to bad rubbish I say, or rather write.

My six-year-old niece is in the hospital getting hopefully her last EEG to see if she can be weaned off her seizures medication. Serious heart issues as a baby led to surgery as a toddler. Meanwhile, in Dorothy Gale’s home territory, my 44-year-old cousin is recovering from quadruple bypass surgery after a second stint in the hospital due to a blood clot in his leg.

His adorable wife says he was just trying to copy me.

Recently the ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances led to the diagnosis of a blood clot in my right leg, the kind that can cause a pulmonary embolism. Today I got the ‘go ahead’ to resume most normal activities (see aforementioned office in need of shoveling out) and the quest to regulate the drug I’m on continues.

Fortunately, we have excellent medical care. And everyone who’s ever been on blood thinners assures me this is the way it is with, well, blood thinners.

If not for Coumadin, we never would have met one of our oldest (not age wise) and dearest friends, Jean Holter. She was our neighbor years ago, as was her mother, Doris. When Doris, whom we’d never met, had Coumadin-triggered nose bleed, Ralph took her to the ER… it being the neighborly thing to do.

Since that day, even though we may not literally share blood, Jean is family through and through.

This morning I went into the clinic for bloodwork. Sitting across from me in the waiting room sat a man staring pensively at the ground. He had a port in his arm… chemo therapy for cancer? He also had a titanium leg… bone cancer? His posture said he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Another dear old (not age wise) friend and I often ruminate on how feeling sorry for oneself is selfish because there are always others so much worse off. Conversely, we take turns reminding each other we can’t always adopt the attitude ‘There but for the grace of God go I (and mine)’ no matter how noble.

But at the end of the day, we know we are fortunate no matter what trials and tribulations (health or otherwise) life throws the way of us and our loved ones.

This summer has seen some crappy lows and some wonderful highs -- including time spent with those longtime (not old) friends and others. Instead of wishing the season away, I’m just going to enjoy every day – if not every bump in the road.

Recently on a steamy night, another friend, Elizabeth, and I (definitely not old…she was born the year I was a junior in high school) sat on my deck. She has two wonderful children, a pre-schooler and one about to enter kindergarten. It’s always hard to process when your first child is about to head to school. Me, the queen of holding on and letting go, is finding it hard to believe my ‘baby’ is going to be a senior in high school. I’d say it seems like only yesterday he entered kindergarten (God Bless Mrs. VanHorn) but in actuality it seems like an eternity.

Anway…I digress…as usual. My young mom friend told me I was the one who told her to enjoy the moment(s) with her children, and she’s taken that to heart. Her disclosure touched me.

No matter what’s going on in life, we need to enjoy and embrace every moment…and not let the sucky ones get us down.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Web Comics Model - Guest Post

Here is a guest post from my husband, Ralph Hanson -- author of the textbook Mass Communication: Living in a Media World, with a collection of links that look at how web comic artists promote their work, both online and in print.  This is to go with a presentation I'm giving at the West Virginia Writers Conference June 8-10, 2012.

Please note that some of the links here go to comics that are "PG-13ish" and may have offensive language.  This is not my normal milieu!   

Web comic artists sometimes work together as a "co-op" of 5-15 other artists to promote their work and merchandise.  This provides a central place to sell books, merchandise, and t-shirts.  By combining with other artists, they can help build traffic to their site and their store.

West Virginia artist Danielle Corsetto (she lives in Shepherdstown), who draws the web comic Girls With Slingshots, works with Blind Ferret Entertainment for promotion and sales.
Web comic artists often self-publish books, and they travel to conventions many weekends to sell books and merchandise.

Jeph Jacques, who draws the enormously successful comic Questionable Content, gets about 400,000 readers per day, but he's an exceptional example.  He sells his books and merchandise through the online web comics store Topatoco.  He's even had plushy versions of his robot sidekick characters made for sale. (You can read more about the origins of Topatoco here.)

Comics artists often sell an artist edition of their books that is signed with a small drawing at a 50-100 percent premium over the cost of the basic unsigned books.

Even established mainstream comic artists, such as Karl Kerschl, work at selling their web comic material on the side. His "day job" is drawing comics for major publishers, such as the Assassin's Creed books.  His side project is drawing the adorable web comic The Abominable Charles Christopher.

A few web comic artists have become bestselling authors working with conventional publishers. Canadian artist Kate Beaton is an example, with her book of Hark, A Vagrant becoming a New York Times bestseller.  

Some have made use of the crowd-sourcing Kickstarter to raise money to pay the cost of publishing paper versions of their books or to buy enough time off from a day job to get work done on a project.  One person who has been doing this successfully is Gordon McAlpin with his movie-theater themed comic Multiplex.

Keep in mind that people trying to do this need to have an established following to begin with.
Finally, some very talented web comic artists continue to work full time while producing their comics and doing a limited number of convention.  One example of this would be Angela Melick, a Canadian engineer who draws the comic Wasted Talent (often done in watercolors).