Droopy Petunias, Thread Breaks & Steam

I am so sad for my wilting petunias!  When the temps hit 100°F last week it wasn’t so unusual for Minnesota in mid-July, but when the humidity factor hit a sticky 86% I cowered inside my protective energy-insulated walls that imprison the AC.  All it took was the foggy condensation dribbling on the office window next to the woods and I canceled outdoor plans.  It’s been a jungle out there!

Fortunately, working from a home office, I only need to worry about the air conditioner dying, and of course, avoiding brownouts and keeping the electric bill down.  So, I immediately went into “energy mode” and shut off unnecessary lights and closed vents and doors to various rooms where air need not be conditioned.  Then I headed out to the attached garage to retrieve supper from the freezer where I was smacked in the face with a wet towel of heavy air that stole my breath.  Steam formed on my glasses as I made my way blindly to the chest freezer, so I removed them for fear that the lenses would break when I opened the freezer door.  The big white box was chugging out a tired, whirring sound, while generating even more heat, turning the garage into an oven.  “Hang in there, girl,” I said with an affectionate pat on its top, and then opened the garage door, attempting to disperse the heat.  I actually pondered the idea of setting a pot of uncooked rice and vegetables out there to be steamed for supper!

For the next couple of days, I especially felt terribly sorry for outdoor workers, like my roofer husband, who has no choice other than to brave the elements and accomplish whatever possible before the snow, rain or scalding sun brings him home.  Even if he could stay hydrated while trying to work on a roof top, the humidity causes equipment trouble, besides the difficulty of handling melting shingles and hot tools.  He’s just relieved he makes it home okay, considering all of the stalled vehicles littered along the roadsides. High heat is definitely a machine killer!

By mid-week, I continued working as I would if it were 10 below in December — I  hate the cold so I hibernate.  I didn’t give much thought about the weeds shooting up in the garden.  I knew the watermelon was probably flourishing, so why chance battling the skeeters that were surely hatching in all the hidden rain puddles.  My drained, tired husband came home around noon and I began testing a custom design that had to be finished before I could continue judging design entries for the Stitches Golden Needle Awards ™ (great stuff this year, folks!).  All seemed to be going well until suddenly, thread began breaking and the water soluble stabilizer became somewhat sticky.  When the machine started stalling and beeping mysterious error messages, I noticed the trickle of sweat that was running down the side of my face.  A quick check of the thermostat revealed someone had turned the setting up from 76°F to 85°F and it certainly wasn’t me!  My machine had to run its best for the judging!

There are so many things that can go wrong in the embroidery room when you ignore the condition of air. I’ve even seen things like thread looping and birdnesting, as well as a machine that refused to power up.  Mr. Logo USA briefs it up nicely online at How to Succeed with Your Own Home-Based Embroidery Business, “…. you may be wondering about the issue of temperature and humidity. Embroidery thread typically sews more efficiently when the humidity is in a normal range. When the humidity levels are too high, the thread takes on moisture and changes consistency, and tends not to travel through the eye of the needle and along the thread path smoothly. This can result in thread breaks and frays on every head and every needle of the machine. When are the humidity levels too high? If you are sweating and the machine is breaking thread, turn on the air conditioner or dehumidifier and you will quickly feel and see the difference.”

So, I stomped down to the basement to chat with the man in his cave where it was a peachy 70°F and where the extra space humidifier was rattling, straining to carry the load alone. “What have you done?!” I demanded. His apologetic expression was accompanied by a mumbled excuse of being a little chilled. “Put on a sweater! You do not change the setting on the thermostat at this time of day when Moonlight Design is in operation!”

My tone may have seemed a little harsh, but his nod revealed he understood all too well how important it is to keep the temp and humidity under control.  During a previous heat wave, he came home from work early and decided to help me out with the laundry, which led to a power-surge while I was working at my computer and he was at his computer holding a Royal Flush during a game of online poker.  Our screams in unison when the monitors went black were so frightening that our three cats scattered and hid for hours.  Shortly after, a rule was created: energy and climate control to maintain machinery is priority!

This steamy weather doesn’t look like it will come to an end any time soon, so I’m planning to get a lot of work done inside by starting each day with a prayer of thanks for the hum of the air conditioner.  And while I’m at it, I’ll be tossing in a little prayer for keeping everything else happy in this heat like those things forced to fry in the sun or drown in the humidity.  It must be tough some days to be a petunia.  I’ve been avoiding the view out my kitchen window of my potted friends, fearing their once perky little heads will be hanging low.  I had moved them under the deck bench for a little more shelter without relinquishing the sun necessary to dry up their muddy pots, and today a few buds stood tall along side newly opened blossoms.  Small treasures, big lessons.  Keep reaching for that sun, folks — but stand in the shade!

Google+: Getting to Know the New Cloud on the Block

Egad! Do I really want to join yet another social network?  When the topic of Google+ began appearing in network streams and feeds, I sighed and then whined like many people. But then after getting over the fact that I’d have to buck up and learn new things and find more time to poke around cyberspace, I decided, hmmm, perhaps.  After all, Google+ does bring a few goodies to the grid that I’ve been wanting to see on other clouds – any other cloud – Ning, Twitter, Linked In, to name a few, but most of all Facebook, the place I’d pretty much settled into these past few years.

I hate change. But I also know that without conceding to change, there’s no way I can move forward, much less survive online. So, I accepted the invitation to connect on Google+ and began the process of learning how to float on this new cloud. It’s slow-going, as every new online venture. I operate on the principles of the turtle who whipped the hare in the infamous fable; its moral: slow but steady wins the race. I poked around, read help links, googled for reviews, and dug up whatever info I could before clicking links or even adding profile info. I’m a careful surfer. I haven’t stumbled on any irrelevant apps for Google+ yet, although there is mobile apps, but I don’t much care for either one.  I don’t do mobile gadgets and I don’t like Farmville (yeah, I know, bah humbug).

So far, I’m not finding something super different than other social networks, but I will say I’m more impressed than I’d anticipated. Some people are reporting that it’s just another Facebook, but that’s debatable. Oh sure, it has features similar to Facebook, but there’s no way to post on someone’s “wall” or profile page (at least, I haven’t found it yet).  Actually, I consider that a huge plus+. I’ve grown weary of those particular folks who think that posting ads for embroidery digitizing on my Facebook wall is cool. I don’t even pin up my own ads except on my business page where they belong. But it would be nice to remember birthdays – or perhaps not.  There are likely many who would prefer no reminders of age, such as myself (my mind refuses to acknowledge age – except, occasionally, it does come in handy when demanding respect or a senior citizen discount).  Besides, indicating a birthday can lead to stolen-identity issues, and the bottom line is that a private e-mail or Hallmark via Postal Mail is more meaningful.

Google+ has Pages. I haven’t made one for Moonlight Design, but I’m waiting as advised at Pixability’s “Don’t Create a Google+ Page for Your Business … Yet”.

Google+ has Hangouts. Same idea as Facebook Chat with a sophisticated face-to-face feature. Not a fan of chat. (The turtle needs time to reply.)  And never have been a fan of web cams or anything else that exposes my face pre-Avon (just not enough primp-time in the day).  Face-to-face or not, chat distracts me from work like an elephant walking by the school’s first grade window – just try getting the kids back in their seats after that!

Google+ has Sparks. This is still a bit foggy in my understanding, but referred to as a “recommendation engine” it appears to be similar to Facebook’s recommendations (and/or ads) based on interests shared with other friends. From what I understand so far, Sparks brings up results closest to your own interests when searching Google+ with keywords.

Google+ has little +1 boxes. Evidently, to +1 is to Like. But there are differences, such as I can’t find a way to +1 a reply made on a comment, which I’ll miss because it’s a nice fast way to tell someone you read and appreciate their reply. Then again, it gives reason to visit that person’s profile, see what’s up in their world and give a +1 back.

Update: Thanks to Erich Campbell, I have learned that the button to +1 a reply appears when hovering over the reply/comment.

Google+ has pictures and videos. I’ve heard that it takes longer to upload photos than on Facebook, probably because uploading more than one at a time isn’t possible (yet). It didn’t take long to upload my profile pic, so I’m wondering if the rumor is caused by something else I heard – that Google+ works best through Chrome and Firefox.  But I’ll give it time.  One has to remember: Google+ is still beta.

Google+ has Circles. I’m in love with this feature! The Official Google Blog states, “we found that people already use real-life circles to express themselves, and to share with precisely the right folks. So we did the only thing that made sense: we brought Circles to software. Just make a circle, add your people, and share what’s new—just like any other day….”  No one sees a comment who isn’t in that Circle, unless you choose to make the comment public, which then everyone sees — even those who aren’t in your Circles.  After a few years of trying to keep my comments to family, friends and business contacts separate through using Facebook Groups and Lists, (which by the way, help only to organize and view particular posts faster) this is the one feature that has sold me on giving Google+ a fair full-fledged trial run.

If you’re curious about this new cloud on the block, check out “Google+: The Complete Guide”.  I will be doing the same and poking around the net for more help, I’m sure.  I have so much more to learn about Google+ stuff, and it will take time for this ol’ turtle to get a grip on it all, but I think I might just have to hang around.  It will be interesting to see just where this cloud is floating!

The Box – It’s Showtime! Stitches Golden Needle Awards™

Well, there it is, taunting me from the coffee table ever since it arrived on Friday. I haven’t opened it. I’m afraid to. Oh, I’m quite aware of the contents and it’s not something that is truly frightening – it’s actually quite exciting – but it scares me, nonetheless.  I’m afraid if I begin investigating, it will suck me in, robbing my attention until the task is completed, and I’ll surely forget all about top priorities on the to-do list.  This task in the box does have a deadline, and although it’s not as immediate as the custom designs that need to be digitized and the column that needs to be written, it’s certainly of great importance and priority. This somewhat magical box that will certainly make a few wishes come true, holds the hearts, hopes and hard work of the digitizers who stepped up to meet the challenge – it contains my share of the entries to judge for the 2011 Stitches Golden Needle Awards .

But I wanna open it!” the little girl inside my head whines, while I walk slowly by, gliding my fingers across the tape that bars me from satisfying curiosity. I had intentionally left the box on the coffee table, far from my office, so as not to be tempted and distracted from my digitizing. Usually, the only work related tasks allowed in my living room are reading Stitches Magazine and writing this blog; a rule necessary to retain sanity for anyone who works where they live – every task has a place and each task is done in its place.

But now that it’s time to relax in “my little piece of heaven” the box is in my sight, beckoning with a siren-like song. Or perhaps, I’m hearing the tinnitus that grows stronger as my blood pressure rises from excitement.  Nevertheless, the box calls.

So off to the office I carry the box, set it on the desk, while deciding I really should open it to see if it’s all there (as if I’d know if something was missing). Yep, looks like it should be everything – a return shipping label atop a neat stack of entries confined within their own white, 8 x 10” sealed envelopes. I counted the entries, of course, simply to calculate an approximate amount of time I’ll need to accomplish the task, lifting each out gingerly, one at a time. Then, before setting them in a stack on the desk, I weighed each envelope in my hand, as if it’s supposed to mean something – like the curious child, shaking a gift found under the Christmas tree.

Oh, the temptation to open just one! “No!” I cry aloud, dragging myself out of the room and closing the door. “This is Sunday! And there’s but a few hours left that I might relax!” Then the parent in my head directed my attention back to the current task at hand. I returned to the couch with a cup of chamomile tea and opened the laptop to write about a completely other subject. But now, all I can think about is the box. I know there’s some fantastic goodies inside those white envelopes and I look forward to examining and watching them run “with my nose to the hoop”. I want to give each entry the time it deserves, which my schedule won’t allow for at least a few days. But I will fight the temptation to peek!  The freedom of time to delve into each entry will be worth the wait.

I suppose my anticipation stems from the confidence this will be an enjoyable task. As a judge in previous years, I have never been disappointed, and instead, have always been impressed with the many differences in techniques, and the outstanding creativity and skill revealed in every entry. So, I’ll keep my patience and proceed as scheduled, while looking forward to judging some mighty fine designs!  As well, now that the curtain is about to go up, I wish all the contestants the best – may you each “break a needle”! 😉

Juggling Tasks Works Great – Sometimes

I don’t use a cell phone. I do own one – candy bar style with a green/grey screen that I’ve invested many dollars into just keeping its minutes alive. I’ve used it maybe five times, tops, since I bought it, sometime around the turn of the century. Its only real purpose is for an emergency “manual On Star-type service” like when a deer suddenly pops into view, standing motionless in the middle of the dark, icy road, glaring into my headlights and I swerve into the snow bank. My husband is the only one who knows the number, and he calls only when I’m running late during a horrific storm to check if he should start searching for an unconscious wife in a roadside ditch. Other than that, considering I rarely leave the house, I have no real need for a cell phone.

But I admit, being that I try to make the best use of anything I have, when I first got my cell phone I gave the mobile life a try.  I had thought it would be somewhat freeing, letting me go out and about, so one day, I set the land line to forward incoming calls to the cell while I was away to gather a few groceries. Then, as I was digging through the produce section for chili fixin’s – the purpose of my mission – my purse began to loudly sing, “My Bonnie lies over the ocean ….” Oh, why hadn’t I put the ring tone on a nice quiet ding?!!  Frantically, I dug through my faux-leather bag that has a “personality” of the Bermuda Triangle and saw my own land line number in the Caller ID. Drat! No such luck that the caller’s number would also forward. But forgetting I could shut it off and wanting to stop the pitchy tunage, so as not to disturb the baby in a nearby cart who was sleeping while its mother dug through the potatoes, my immediate maternal reaction was to answer.

One of my clients wanted a new revision on an old design – a very old design that had been archived for at least three years. Trying to focus, I used my hip to keep pushing my basket out of the path of aggravated fellow shoppers, continuing the conversation with my finger in one ear and phone up to the other, while calculating the cost of changes necessary on a design that I couldn’t see, much less clearly recall. I came home with a bag of groceries that included four mangos (not on my list), no peppers or onions (can’t make chili without them) and absolutely no idea what I had to revise on the design. Fortunately, I had asked the client to e-mail instructions, after struggling to jot notes – something she had planned to do anyhow, had I not answered the phone. While putting away the groceries, I wondered about the complexity of work I’d just agreed to that had to be done by the morning. So, off I dashed to boot up the computers and started digging through the CDs of archives – totally spacing out the gallon of milk in the trunk.

I’m just not good at multitasking – never will be, don’t want to be, and evidently, no one can be even if they tried. A 2001 report of a study by the American Psychological Association states that people aren’t really multitasking; they’re simply turning on one activity and turning off the other. People have learned to do this smoothly, the article explains, by way of “’executive control” [that] involves two distinct, complementary stages: goal shifting (“I want to do this now instead of that“) and rule activation (“I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this“). Both stages help people unconsciously switch between tasks.’”  The report also points out that it actually takes longer for a human to accomplish tasks when trying to do more than one thing at a time. Total agreement here, according to every attempt I’ve ever made!  But very often there are numerous same-day deadlines to meet, so giving it a shot is the only possibility of accomplishing most tasks on time. Because this multitask madness is fairly typical in the life of a digitizer, I’ve found that it is possible to achieve – it’s just a matter of juggling.

The trick is to combine tasks that are compatible, which then allows shifting gears quickly – to toss the apple up so it’s possible to transfer the lemon to the launch hand, to then catch the orange with the other hand, and all the while keeping the process rotating at a smooth rolling rhythm.

My day consists of a variety of tasks required of any business; albeit, on a much smaller scale, I must do everything. And of course there’s the many personal interests and domestic duties that demand time. So, I often juggle, but find it’s only successful when I’m working with compatible tasksFor example, I can test new features of I-Cliqq digitizing software  while digitizing a custom order, test new stabilizers for industry inventor/consultant Fred Lebow while sewing a sample of the finished design, and I can prepare information to help profile that same custom order in my “Punching Sense” column for Stitches Magazine.  But when the phone rings – a task so-o-o not compatible with digitizing – I let it go to voice mail. If I answered the call, the conversation would interrupt my focus and toss the rhythm into a tail spin. And then after the call, trying to remember just where I was in the project would cost time designated for domestic duties like cooking. Of course, occasionally Caller I.D. demands that I take a call I’ve been waiting for, and those are usually the days that I call my husband to bring home deli chicken for supper. (His cell phone is the only one that I ever really need.)

Yesterday, I decided to juggle the tasks of making the potato salad for the holiday weekend along with writing this blog – an unlikely compatible duo – but I’d given this a lot of thought and saw no reason why it couldn’t work. After all, there’s plenty of downtime while the eggs and potatoes are boiling and cooling. Certainly, I could get a first draft sketched out – right?  Well, I did manage to get the post off to a good start and then, after all had cooled, I proceeded to finish the potato salad. As I peeled skins and shells, I began working out the perfect conclusion to this post, and by the time I started chopping the onions, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. Yep, things were juggling along at a nice smooth rhythm. I only needed to sit down at the laptop to let my fingers do the talking.  And then, plop – the apple hit the ground.  I had looked up from the chopping board to see my son’s bright smile walking through the front door – the orange hit the ground and the lemon followed – and my brilliant muse instantly dissolved, tucking back into the recesses of my mind to wait and arise another day.

Sometimes, no matter how many tasks are facing a pressing deadline, mixing up a bowl of potato salad and sharing conversation with a loved one are the only things worth juggling.  Hope you all are having a wonderful July 4th weekend!   🙂