Turning the Page

January buzzed by without one word from me. Considering that it was my blog “anniversary” month, now at three years of babbling, I feel a bit disappointed I’d let it slide, but I won’t be too hard on myself. It was only a temporary blog pause that was necessary to make way for the “new”.

My recent leg injury forced a few changes that have helped me take a good, hard look at where I’m headed. Although I’ve always felt it best to live in the moment, I think I had been a bit too ignorant of particular consequences.   Artists are like that.   If not for keen focus, many contracted works of the masters would not be completed. (The Sistine Chapel might be bare, if not for Michelangelo‘s passionate discipline.) But there comes a time for all of us creative types when the reality hits – when you realize your own creative needs are being neglected while everything that you are accomplishing is for someone else. Yes, getting paid to be “someone else’s pencil” is pretty cool and a great way to make a living, but there has to be balance. Without equalizing the playing field of creating for self as much as for others, one might be led to cut off an ear.

Self Portrait - Vincent Van Gogh(Okay, so I’ve heard that Van Gogh actually may have lost his ear at the hand of his rival Gauguin, but it definitely reveals the time bomb reactions that can churn inside the frustrated mind of a working artist.)

During the last few months, I found it impossible to take on any new custom digitizing orders and I couldn’t even allow myself to give an “I’ll be back” notice. Instead I placed an announcement on my web site stating, “Custom services are no longer available.” And after all the changes that occurred in January, I’ve decided that notice will remain permanently. No, I am not leaving the embroidery industry. I am simply putting custom services at Moonlight Design to rest.

Actually, I’ve been planning my retirement days since I purchased my first digitizing system at the shocking cost of $25,000 (in 1995 that was considered a bargain – one half the cost of the previous decade). At that time I was employed as the in-house puncher for a 50-head embroidery shop, Write-On Embroidery, a great place to work, run by wonderful employers. But I was looking to find a way to work from a home office, believing I’d be more productive in my solitary peace, away from daily business interruptions and roaring machines. I was also hoping to establish my future “retirement job”. (Who in today’s world can completely retire? Besides, I’d shrivel without a job to wake up to, and flipping Mc-Burgers or greeting Wal-Mart customers are not of my forte. I am more capable of creating their logo and need those particular folks to make my lunch and point me in the right direction. Alas, we each have an important purpose in this world.)

The only way to afford such a luxury of having my own digitizing equipment was to take on custom orders, which indeed helped pay for the machine, computers and necessary software programs. When the payments were complete, I found myself obligated to an established client base whose work generated profits on a roller coaster margin as it followed the erratic economy. During the up years, it was necessary to resign my position at the embroidery shop, and then during the down years I had a choice: walk away from digitizing completely and find another line of work; or market, market, market and work a zillion hours to meet a zillion deadlines in order to stay afloat. I chose the latter. I didn’t get much sleep.

So a few years ago, I decided to take a part-time position working from my home office as a customer service rep for EmbroideryDesigns.com, which offered a steady income to count on when custom orders were slow. Every day since I’ve enjoyed conversations with EmbroideryDesign.com’s customers who need help shopping the web site, using their designs, and while sharing my knowledge about everything embroidery. In return, I discover what embroiderers like or don’t like or what they want to see on the design market – inspiration for my own stock design sales. They reveal their hair-pulling woes, offering ideas for my articles in Stitches Magazine or issues I can address in this blog. And at the same time, I am representing the work of some of the highest quality digitizers; many of whom I’m fortunate enough to call a colleague and whose work I respect with the highest regard. I love that job!

Last November when I injured my leg, I was suddenly forced to reduce the hours I sat in front of a computer each day, and even though it was during the time of year that custom orders bring in the highest profit, choosing to work only for EmbroideryDesigns.com was the most logical decision to make. What a wonderful freedom I had found – no burning the midnight oil to meet those “yesterday” deadlines or contacting clients with the disappointing statement of “sorry for the delay”. It even allowed for more time “playing” with the ever-evolving I-Cliqq software, taking my time and having fun with my own creative expressions.

So recently, when I was offered a full-time position at EmbroideryDesigns.com, I accepted without hesitation. I’m not sure how my physical time clock is going to handle 8:30-5:30, Monday thru Friday. My body and brain may very well panic, but it’s time for me to take charge of such things. I have to look at the bright side. For the first time in years I will be working a routine schedule of weekends off and will actually have opportunity for those 4-day weekends that I hear most folks cheer over; not to mention I’ll finally understand the true meaning of TGIF. But I doubt if I’ll be a Monday hater – without a day to begin a new work-week, surely, the alternative would be to sit idle, feeling useless. No, thank you.

Digitized by Machine Embroidery Designs

I admit I have had a bit of an argument with myself with this decision, fearing I might be deserting a few favored clients, but I am wise enough to know I am not the only master digitizer out there who can handle their work. I’ve never been a competitor, but a team player, and I’m most confident my colleagues, as well as the promising new punchers, won’t mind if I leave custom services to them.  After all, I’m not closing the book, but simply sailing on to the next chapter.  

Today, I saw a status on my Facebook stream that said something similar to: “I’ve reached that age where my brain went from You probably shouldn’t do that to what the hell, let’s see what happens.” Yeah, that’s where I’m at. The future may hold a bit of mystery, but I’m now quite certain that I won’t be cutting off my ear any time soon – or anyone else’s, for that matter. 🙂

Annoying Technology & Click Ripples

The last time I posted anything other than photos was the end of May and now it’s July. What happened to June?! Well, it certainly was a month to write about – quite eventful for me.  But I have to tuck most of those events and photos away as fodder for a number of future posts. Too many stories and too little room to cover it all in one post.  Besides, I’ve always found moving forward a much better idea.

That’s what I told myself when I realized technology had me by the consumer butt once again. I must move forward with technology. I was digging through the refurbs looking for an inexpensive replacement for my personal laptop and couldn’t find what I wanted;  The laptop I have still works just fine, but it’s mostly dedicated for graphics/photo use now and things are getting a bit cramped for writing.  I was in search of one with a WinXP OS because it’s not complicated and I’m happy with it, but it appears that it has become the new dinosaur in the refurbished choices, with Vista not far behind.

I often buy refurbished/recertified computers because I’ve found that they usually last at least as long as the 3-year expectancy of a new one, as well as the current operating system. It really makes no sense to me to buy new, especially for personal use, when a new one isn’t going to last any longer. When electronics are refurbished, they have simply switched out the bad part(s) and then they are tested and re-certified, bringing them back up to the manufacturer’s standards of new. Sometimes (though rarely) there’s a little cosmetic damage – a scratch here or ding there on the external case – but that’s okay. It saves me the pain that occurs when I make the first scratch myself.

I didn’t want Windows 7 even though it is supposedly faster, because WinXP and Vista are more familiar to me, and I’ve never believed either to be slow when properly maintained (delete the cookies and unnecessary files, and scan for bugs routinely).  I have noticed that Windows 7 loads a little faster, but I never thought WinXP or Vista to be slow.  (Why do people need to move in lightning swift blinks, anyhow?!  A brain should pause now and then.)  But there are very few computers available with anything lower than Windows 7 pre-installed, now that Windows 8 has been on the scene awhile.  Windows 8 appears to have been created with a focus on accommodating touchscreens – something I doubt I’ll ever have a use for on anything larger than my Kindle Fire screen.  But the way technology moves, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll all be forced to use a touch screen eventually, with hand input peripherals antiquated. (Well maybe not.  Artists who are not fond of finger painting would rebel.)

I’ve had Windows 7 on one of my work computers for the last year and I’m just not fond of all the bells and whistles – a bunch of stuff to simply pretty up the view and frustrate the stitches out of me. When I decrease the size of a window and move it up close to the edge, I want it to stay small and out of the way – not blow up to cover the entire desktop. It might be a fast undo with a short slide of the stylus across the top bar, but it’s a stumble that drives me up the wall.  And when I pass the cursor over the top of a minimized window in the task bar, I don’t want to be startled by little windows popping up. Okay, I admit that one is a great feature at times when I need a lot of documents minimized, but that situation happens only for a brief time during my work day and usually never on my personal laptop.  …  So where, oh where, is the option to switch to Classic Windows?  Or is there one?

Well, there’s not much I can do about technology advancement – some is great, some is bad – but the continual change is annoying.  Right after I’ve learned something well enough, they just switch things up again. So, after searching through the refurbs at Tiger Direct, I gave into buying an HP with a Windows 7 OS for $299 (priced new at about $500). At least the price didn’t hurt, considering it included a 2.3 GHz Pentium processor, 320GB hard drive and 3 GB DDR3. It even has a web cam – though I’d only use it for Skype and only to call my son. (I do not want to spend an hour with hair and make up to call clients and I do not want to scare people.)

As well, it has a 64 bit processor. Now, I’ve been looking at that phrase “64 bit” for some time considering what that exactly meant for me. I know the advantages: increased memory support, enhanced security features and increased program performance (albeit only for those programs written for 64 bit). I’d never wanted a 64 bit, because it meant much of the old software I use couldn’t be installed without a lot of tweaking with new drivers and/or other adjustments as noted at Microsoft support:

What to consider when you install a 64-bit version of Windows Vista

64-bit device drivers may not be available for one or more devices in the computer.

Device drivers must be digitally signed.

32-bit device drivers are not supported.

32-bit programs may not be fully compatible with a 64-bit operating system.

It may be difficult to locate programs that are written specifically for a 64-bit operating system.

Not all hardware devices may be compatible with a 64-bit version of Windows Vista.”

But I decided that I shouldn’t find too many conflicts, because I won’t be installing anything except what I need for writing – Firefox for surfing, Thunderbird for email, both free from Mozilla, and the free download of Apache Open Office software. (No offense Microsoft, but I do not like you or your price.)

Now, if I could just disable the “pen feedback” to stop the “ripple effect” every time the stylus hits the Wacom Bamboo pad, I’d be ecstatic. Each click causes tiny little ripples that look like rain drops hitting the water surface – very annoying. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened on computers I have my design systems on.  (Thought of horror: digitizing between the ripples.)  I don’t like using a touch pad and I find using a mouse is like holding a potato, so after I had discovered the comfortable freedom when using a stylus for my digitizing, I installed a Wacom pad on every computer I use for any length of time during my day.  (And bye-bye carpal tunnel syndrome!)

In recent years, when click ripples first appeared on the screen of one of my PCs with Vista and then on another with Windows 7, I found a way to disable the pen feedback. I even blogged about how I fixed it, but the same directions I used then now disable the Wacom pad (something is different or else I’m missing something).  I’ve tried all the forum tips found online, but they appear to be outdated and those that are current are unanswered complaints, such as mine. I’ve heard it’s not a Wacom issue, but a conflict with the pad caused by Windows touch screen features, and at this point I’m not sure whose side of the fence the responsibility lies. (If you have the answer, please comment. The ripples are driving me mad!)

I’m wondering if an easy solution to this aggravating ripple feature (that no one seems to like) has been included in Windows 8. Perhaps, I need to consider taking advantage of the $14 upgrade I was offered from Windows to buyers of a computer with Windows 7 pre-installed. (I’d include the link, but apparently it’s only available currently via my purchase.) The offer is good thru January 31, 2013 so there’s plenty of time yet to find peace with Windows 7. Then again, it might be a good idea to keep moving forward – if I can keep frustration at bay.

For now, I think I’ll just send my complaints to My Granny Geek and then go find a happy place – somewhere very far away from dripping ripples.

Pruning for Production … At My Age

A few years ago a crabapple tree popped up outside of the garden edging that keeps the lawn at bay. After the discovery while mowing the lawn, we decided to expand the edging around the little 2-leaf stem for protection while we waited to see what would occur at Nature’s hand. We thought it a nice spot for the tree where it would have a fair chance to grow in the protection of the taller trees, and a convenient way to secure a replacement for one of a few that are beginning to show damage from harsh Minnesota winters.

We have several different varieties of crabapple trees in the yard, and this sprout was growing so close to a white blossom crabapple tree, I worried it might be a root sucker. If so, it should be eliminated to avoid depriving the main tree of nutrients, but I hesitated to remove it, because the leaves appeared to be more of the pink crabapple’s shape. I crossed my fingers and let it be. Then last year the baby crabapple finally produced two small blossoms – just enough to prove it indeed was pink.

Now, mind you, we do not know that much about pruning any sort of tree properly, nor do we do more than trim dead branches and try to keep the trees alive the best we can. But it was obvious from the baby tree’s production of only two small blossoms, the sun was likely being hindered by its neighboring old relatives. So, last Spring when my husband took to the task of clearing away some of the large branches of the older trees that hovered over and near the roof, he made a point of removing enough to let the sunshine through. I admit I was a bit sad to see the larger trees thinned, but this past week, the pruning paid off when our new baby displayed bunches of blossoms on small, but hearty, branches.

The blossoms created smiles that helped me trudge through the rest of my very taxing week. This morning while scanning Facebook over coffee, I saw a Maxine Crabby Road cartoon reminding folks it was tax deadline day and felt relieved my taxes had been electronically filed a couple days ago. Nothing like putting things off close to the last minute, but sometimes the last minute is the only one I find. Nevertheless, even though final calculations didn’t make me jump for joy, it’s a project done and turned in on time. So I win.

I love Maxine. I’ve enjoyed her quips for years and now that I’m starting to look a lot like her, she often gives me advice at the right time by delivering tons of food for thought in a mere sentence or two. Today’s cartoon so graciously stated, “It’s tax day. Of course at my age every day is pretty taxing.” Great chuckle and all, but for me, I gained a little bit more in the phrase “… at my age ….” I am in my last month of my 50’s and have fulfilled the major goals I’d planned in my 20’s – at least all but one: I have not yet managed to retire, which is something I’d planned to happen before I hit 60. Time has a way of changing goals made for the “golden years” and I no longer believe complete retirement is a possibility in my life time, much less the next month.  But I have decided that some parts of my work life must be pruned. There is simply too many other things to do at my age.

So, after considerable thought of the options I’ve been weighing in recent months, I’ve decided to cut away a few things from the schedule. Somehow over the years I managed to give myself too many duties and when one has too many things to accomplish, something is going to be delayed and good service becomes impossible. Moonlight Design has never worked that way and it never will.

First on the cut list, I will soon be closing my online stock design website, MoonlightsDesignShoppe.com. The undecided exact date of closing (except to say, “soon”) will be announced one week prior via various social networks as a courtesy, but without big affair.  The site has been growing cyber-cobwebs the last year for my lack of maintenance and time thereof. Established in 1997, it began somewhat as an online catalog for my regular custom digitizing clients to answer one FAQ, “What do you have in stock?” It was a time saver. It needed no help. Things change. Without the time to maintain the extra web site, and no desire to market hearty to the global masses or hire someone else to do so, the best decision is to drop the unnecessary expense.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m retiring from digitizing!  Be assured, I will continue to offer my new stock designs through a few venues, such as Masterpiece Embroidery each month.  It’s an honor to be a member of such a great group of skilled digitizers!  I also plan to create a few CD collections and make them available through my home base, DesignsByMoonlight.com, which will continue to remain online. Nah, full retirement is not an option – digitizing is something I’ll continue till I can no longer create and click. God knows why. I just can’t seem to stop. But every now and then, one has to prune away those extra branches to let a little sunshine in. 🙂

Lovin’ my Kindle Fire!

Well, I did it. I bought a gadget – something I swore I’d never own because I don’t buy anything unless there’s a real need. But when I found I was spending too much time running into the office and turning on the computer only to check for urgent messages from clients while cooking my Thanksgiving meal, I started rethinking my “gadget need” and hit that Amazon.com “buy button” on the Kindle Fire sales page. I’m now one happy gadget owner!

Granted, I wasn’t so pleased last week when my Kindle Fire arrived. Ten minutes out of the box and I was ready to ship it back to Jeff Bezos with a nasty note! But I soon realized I simply had to wait for the cold Fire to thaw (pardon the oxymoron). The box had been sitting in the garage a few hours where the UPS man is instructed to leave all packages – it’s cold in Minnesota. After a sufficient amount of time plugged into its power adapter (included with the $199 purchase), it fired right up (pardon the pun … this is just too easy). But the touchscreen is warm-hearted, getting stubborn when finger-tips are cold, so it was necessary for me to occasionally warm my finger – or tap it furiously. I’ve since purchased a $6.95 Mini Suit stylus that has completely taken care of the problem.

Ebay email opened in the Fire.

I’m quite computer literate, but not gadget savvy, so any mobile device smaller than a laptop is strange territory for me. Nevertheless, set-up took less than five minutes, and when I got to registration, the Fire told me who I was!  Buying it directly from Amazon.com has its perks.

Initially, I just wanted to make sure that email worked well enough to monitor during my time outside of the office – the main reason for the purchase. AOL Mail, as well as Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, and an “Other” category are pre-installed, making set-up a no-brainer. “Freedom is mine!” I proclaimed, as I walked around the house to test out the WiFi. It dropped a bar in a few spots, but no more than one and not for long. Email arrives instantly and sending emails/texts is easy! (Note, the keyboard expands when the Fire is held to rotate to its side, and typing is a breeze when it’s held either way when using a stylus.)

I bought my Mini Suit stylus and folio case through the Fire using the app for Amazon.com One-Click shopping. My recently viewed items or similar recommendations immediately appeared in the stream, as well as current specials. The Amazon.com search bar is available and the collapsing menu allows access to my Wishlist, Cart and Account Information. Now, instead of driving to a store or even turning on my computer, I can walk around the house taking inventory and shop all at the same time!

Amazon.com Prime members receive free shipping for almost everything sold by Amazon.com, and Prime Kindle members also get access to “Kindle Owners Lending Library” of movies, TV shows and Books. I didn’t expect much more than saving a chunk on yearly shipping costs for my $89-a-year Prime membership, so I was quite surprised at the offerings – there aren’t enough years to watch all of the available movies and TV shows that I’ve wanted to see but have had to sacrifice to keep on schedule.

Although the best sound is achieved with head phones, it’s not unbearable through the small speakers. Movies run seamlessly, and the video/graphics is clear and colorful on the 7″ screen. The Kindle Fire is perfect for viewing movies or shows in bed; it isn’t too heavy, fits comfortably in one hand and if you fall asleep in the middle of a movie, the Fire goes to sleep too, but not before tucking your movie on the Carousel shelf, awaiting for you to “Resume”. (Yeah, that really happened to me!)  “Amazon’s Whispersync technology automatically syncs your library, last page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights across your devices. On Kindle Fire, Whispersync extends to video.”

The Carousel saves the most recently viewed apps, books, movies, etc. on the book shelf with storage on lower shelves. I was already familiar with Kindle Books, having installed Kindle for PC, and was pleasantly surprised to see a few of my books already on the Carousel. As well, my entire established Kindle Cloud library is tucked under the Books tab.  Thanks to Whispersync technology, I can start reading a book on the Kindle, then finish on my laptop without loosing my place.

The Fire will either play Amazon MP3 purchases or any music file uploaded to the Kindle Cloud. As well, it will surf to YouTube on the web, and I think I even saw an app for that. Using apps that connect via the Kindle Cloud instead of using the Web URL location bar is likely a better idea, as URL surfing requires a tight connection in order to load content quickly. There’s plenty of room to download and store tunes with “8GB internal (approximately 6GB available for user content). That’s enough for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books.”

Facebook runs a bit quirky, with only the status text loading okay, but without some profile images, and posted images won’t load at all. (I suspect there is in issue with the Fire loading Flash content.) According to a very helpful Kindle Fire CSR (thank you Valerie), images refuse to load because my WiFi is weak; and per the Frontier folks, my WiFi connection has a conflict with my neighbor’s connection. Well, I wasn’t about to ask my neighbor to shut off his modem so I could verify the possibility, and I refused to try the “maybe-this-will- work” solutions that Frontier suggested, which required changing passwords in all my WiFi connected computers. I am quite satisfied with the way everything else works right now, so I’ll not be checking Facebook often or any other web sites that contain a lot of content and take too long to load. I have computers for that anyhow.

Facebook folks will also want to know: Facebook Security Settings must be set to Disable “secure connection only” for a mobile device to connect. It took me three days of trying to log into Facebook before I recalled that mobile devices can’t connect if that Facebook security feature is enabled – a rule I’d seen float by in the News Stream a year or so ago. (I had ignored it thinking I’d never need to know that – ha!) I usually go the secure route, so I had chosen to enable the “secure connection only” setting. After trying in vain to hack into my own account I can confirm, Facebook’s secure connection works quite well! I disabled the setting for a temporary test of the Fire and then logged in successfully, but I’m not sure how long I’ll leave it that way. Note that this would be an issue for any mobile device trying to connect to a Facebook account and should not be a consideration when purchasing a Kindle Fire.

Kindle Fire comes preloaded with 10-15 apps. I fail to recall the exact number and I’ve since added a few to the shelves like Adobe Reader that will retrieve any PDF file I email to my very own @Kindle.com addy in the Kindle Cloud. I have suddenly become app happy, digging through Amazon.com’s Android App Store available via the Fire, and that led to searching for a way to delete unwanted apps that were piling up on the shelves: hold finger on top of the app and wait for a menu to appear that asks if you’d like to “add to favorites” or “delete the app.

I love the preloaded PULSE app that gives me news and feature stories of various interests. The first article I read was about the Kindle Fire from TechCrunch. I thought it appropriate. Well, actually, I worried it might be one of those “beware, don’t buy” warnings but was relieved by its report, “New estimates from IHS iSuppli have Amazon shipping 3.9 million Kindle Fires this quarter, which would make it the No. 2 tablet after the iPad 2 (with an estimated 18.6 million shipments). The Kindle Fire will become the No. 1 Android tablet by a wide margin (the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the next biggest, with an estimated 1.4 million shipments).”

Personally I agree, even if I can’t rightfully compare the Fire to anything else. There’s a lot of us non-gadget folks out there who don’t need the features of a Smartphone and don’t like the size or the price of an iPad — the Fire fits my budget and it fills my needs. Combined with Amazon’s excellent service and brilliant way of bringing it all together the Kindle Fire is smokin’ hot! (Seriously, no better choice of words!)

Market Wisely – A Lesson from the Deer Mouse

As I commuted down the hallway to my home office, I caught sight of one of my cats in the bathroom perched on the edge of the tub.  Tator was in stalk position, mesmerized by a likely spider in the vine of satin grape leaves that I had wrapped around the shower curtain rod. (Don’t ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Living next to a woods in the Upper Midwest, the Fall begins a mini-battle with Nature’s critters seeking winter shelter, and evidently spiders like that homey leaf feeling.  With spiders come sticky webs that turn into flying dust bunnies, so it’s best to stop construction before it starts. Well, I didn’t want to kill anything. I was in a creative mood and didn’t want to lose it to a splatter. So, I grabbed a goldfish net, planning to catch and return it to the outdoors where its purpose is more worthy, like chowing on small insects before they get into the house, or perhaps, feed a chickadee. (Let Nature do her own killing!)

A closer look revealed what appeared to be thick web silk poking out from a shaking leaf. And then, as my eyes adjusted to the shadow under the leaf, the wiry strands morphed into long white whiskers, twitching from the end of a pink nose. One big round eye was visible, but closed tightly, either from fear or exhaustion, or both.  A mouse. Not a common grey house mouse, but a brown and white Deer Mouse – the cute cuddly-type that you see on holiday cards wearing Santa hats – the mouse that prefers to winter in burrows and logs, and rarely near people where they also might have to compete with the grey mouse for shelter (if our three cats didn’t do their jobs).  Most likely, it had been attracted to the abundance of crab apples falling near the garage – an easy profit of sweet sustenance – and then strayed through a tiny hole in the door frame where Tator keeps watch.

[Great Notions “Christmas Ball” stock design available at: EmbroideryDesigns.com ]

Earlier, my husband had mentioned that Tator might have brought something furry in from the garage, but after not seeing any evidence he assumed he was mistaken or that the victim had been devoured. Tator is assigned to garage mouse patrol in the evenings and I always know when one has tried to set up house. She doesn’t eat mice. She just torments them.  And after she tires of the flip-and-rip hockey game, she drops the puck of a bloody carcass at the kitchen door – a fair trade for a can of Fancy Feast®, she figures. 

So, after I set the wicked kitty in the hallway and closed the door, I prodded the net at the fur ball, now quivering and sobbing. (I swear, I saw a tear!) I attempted to gently catch it in the net, but it fell into the cleaning bucket I was holding in my other hand and then bounced out into the tub.  That’s when I noticed it was a he – an adventurous young lad out learning a tough lesson.  Obviously, Tator hadn’t done too much damage, I determined, as he sprang back up to the curtain rod with the grace of his namesake.  The 30 minute chase ensued.  Finally, he scurried between the folds of a towel that was drying on the edge of the tub.  “Gotcha!”  I proclaimed, gathering the edges of the towel together like a hobo bag.  Then I carried the bundle back to the woods and released him in the habitat where he can be of purpose – instead of being tortured and annoying me.

About this time of year in the embroidery industry, when business picks up with approaching holiday orders, I see many digitizers venturing to new territories lured by the temptation for fast, easy profits, most especially in the form of unsolicited emails.  Now, I’m not referring to spam from “custom digitizing factories” offering $.50 per K stitches (a subject for another day).  I’m talking about the spam obviously sent by new, independent digitizers who assume it’s the best way to get started.  Sure, I read it – or at least what I don’t assume is from the factories.  I want to know who my new colleagues are!  I have survived in this industry for 25 years by networking and exchanging information with other digitizers, both new and masters alike.  We’ve learned much from each other, including the art of successful marketing.  Spam is not on that list.

Digitizers need to make their services known, but sending volumes of unsolicited emails with unrealistic promises and unprofitable pricing is certainly not the answer.  Proving yourself is.  Word of mouth is the most valuable marketing tool.  Find your clients through trade organizations like NNEP, attend industry events, connect on social networks and run ads where embroiderers will see it, such as Stitches Magazine.  Correspond with an occasional email, yes, but make it a pleasant introduction with basic information.  If you include sample pricing, choose numbers fair to both parties; be aware that too low can mark your service questionable.  Perhaps offer a sample of your work, but never attach a file to the introductory email or you’ll risk immediate deletion.

If you produce quality at a reasonable price and in promised time, and you are willing to make necessary revisions immediately, embroiderers want to know who you are.  Concentrate on skill and ethical business practice and there will be no need to compete – and I won’t have to sift through my spam filter to find you.

So, to all the digitizers out there who are just starting a new business:  your skill and eagerness is most welcomed by the embroidery industry, but take a lesson from the Deer Mouse.  Don’t be tempted by the illusion of fast easy profits found in the mound of crab apples where there’s the probability of a short life. The industry needs you where you are most useful – where your skill can grow and contribute to the continued existence of quality embroidery. Choose to build your business by focusing on one client at a time, one design at a time; learn from each and excel.   Word will travel and the work will follow.

Top Photo Deer Mouse: courtesy of CreativeCommons.org

Tis the Season for Soup & Tea … and Umckaloabo?

Sorry kids, no fun stuff to chat about in the embroidery design break room this week. I’m starting out the fall season with a sinus infection – not that I planned it that way, but I always plan for it. You see, I love where I live, but it doesn’t love me. I don’t know exactly what triggers my allergies this time of year in the Upper Midwest, but when the leaves start to turn, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to stop the watery eyes and runny nose. I try to ignore it, believing that an allergy is not an illness, but then my sinuses rebel and infection wins.  I’ve been staying indoors away from whatever that villain is out there, while snuggled up with Mr. Honey Bear, a box of tissues and a pot of tea, trying to get all the leaks dried up.

No need to fret, I’m definitely on the mend and will be back at work in the morning!  To speed the healing process, I’ve been searching the web for any home remedy I haven’t yet tried, and because the symptoms are similar, Google has suggested a few tips for the common cold. I’m finding a lot of information that contradicts what I had learned at an early age and evidently didn’t have to, like “Put on a jacket or you’ll catch your death!” And there are a few facts about a cold that are a bit bizarre. So, for lack of anything else on my mind at the present moment, and because no matter where one lives, sneezing happens, allow me to share ten odd but interesting facts about the common cold.

  • Colds are caused by one of multiple viruses: If the allergies don’t get me, something out there will.  According to MedicineNet.com, “More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold, with rhinovirus causing approximately 30%-35% of all adult colds. Other commonly implicated viruses include coronavirus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and parainfluenza virus.”   Most folks just don’t have a chance against this incredible army, so it’s just best to focus on preventative actions and be prepared with a few good remedies.
  • Cold germs can lurk for days:  As reported in the article “The Cold Facts” about 40% of all colds are caught by touching common items like refrigerator door handles up to 48 hours after the rhinovirus lands there. Just imagine all of the creatures that must be lurking on Walmart door handles!  Not that I suffer from germaphobia, but I seriously think it’s time to bring white gloves back in style; perhaps, pop them up to date, making one finger and thumb tipless for easy gadget mobility.
  • Colds require immediate attention: Waiting a cold out thinking that it will go away in seven days might work for some people, but do nothing and neglect rest, you risk reinfection for another seven days or more, which could then bring on nasties like ear infections, bronchitis or sinusitis, per MPR News – Common Cold Fact or Myth.  Yeah, that would be my downfall.  Sometimes being self-employed sucks.
  • Pasta is on the remedy list:  Health.com recommends Immunity Boosters: Chicken Soup and Other Healing Foods.  There really is a lot of help found in foods like good ol’ chicken soup that contains a mucus-thinning amino acid called cysteine, but any soup is helpful because it’s hot and will help break up congestion. Yogurt, bitter greens and pasta are others that make the list; though I suspect the recommended pasta might have something to do with its “comfort food factor”, and likely the real help comes from the mega-amount of garlic this article suggests to include in the pasta sauce. I once ate a tablespoon of minced garlic to fend off a cold. It worked – I think – or else, I was simply distracted by the burning explosion in my stomach.
  • Colds are kissable: This article at LiveScience.com says, “Cold viruses love eyes and noses but rarely leap mouth to mouth…”  Yeah, just try to convince my husband to give me a smooch!  Whenever he sees my puffy eyes and red nose he retreats to the man cave.  He’s a good husband.  He knows I need my space.  And he’s afraid of the witchy woman that appears when the sneezing begins.
  • A cold can make you fat: A study of Obesity in Children revealed the cause may be “an infectious disease transmitted by a common cold virus.”  Great!  I now have another excuse for being a chunky child. It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with all the cookies I devour to make me feel happier, just as I’ve done in the last couple of days, nearly polishing off an entire gift basket of Mrs. Field’s Cookies. It’s okay. Cinnamon has healing properties.
  • Colds like it hot and wet: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says, “Rhinoviruses grow best at temperatures of about 91ºF, the temperature inside the human nose.”   But sticking an ice chip in your nose immediately after intercepting someone’s sneeze likely won’t help because  “Seasonal changes in relative humidity also may affect the occurrence of colds.” 
  • Colds pick on workaholics, especially those who are burnt out: According to WebMD.com “… you are more likely to catch a common cold if you are excessively fatigued (and) have emotional distress ….” – just another good reason to slow that work wheel down or a cold will do it for you. 
  • Colds do not require a weakened immune system: CommonCold.org claims, “Healthy people with normal immune systems are highly susceptible to cold virus infection once the virus enters the nose.”  So, evidently an apple a day isn’t always the answer, but I’ll choose to ignore this fact. Otherwise, what am I to do with all my bottles of Echinacea, Vitamin C and Zinc
  • Colds can make you friendly: This one really cracks me up, though it’s oddly believable. Science reporter Brad Hader is quoted in a health blog as saying, “Cold viruses, for instance, were recently found to make people friendlier, especially during the period before symptoms appear but when the soon-to-be-sick person is highly infectious to others.”  My guess is it’s a strategy of the virus, manipulating its way into another’s nose.  As well, maybe that’s why I’m such a snarly sourpuss when the drips begin – just when I start to feel cheery, it’s gone in a sneeze. 

Alas, there seems to be hope for my allergy-triggered sinus infection, as well as for similar afflictions like colds and flue. While watching Dr. Oz,  (seemed appropriate today) I learned that Echinacea is not as helpful as once thought for colds and flue, and instead he suggested a proven new kid on the American block called Umckaloabo, an African plant that stimulates the immune system, and it even prevents the spread and growth of infection. Guess I’ll be doing a little shopping online later, far away from multiple viruses lurking on shopping baskets and door handles. But first, I think I’ll sit back and enjoy the last of the cookies and a nice, hot cup of honey-laced tea.

New Blog Day & Hungry Critters

New Blog Day – Sundays in Summer and Fall are too fun to be blogging – at least until the snow flies.  Most of us in the Upper Midwest have to get outside when we can! So to accommodate the weather, I’ve decided to move blog posts to Tuesdays.

It seemed a good time to make the switch, considering a minor accident has temporarily put my right hand out of commission and typing with the hunt-and-peck method is not my thing.  So for now, I’ll leave you with a little something I had prepared earlier that was intended for a post elsewhere.  My Two Stitches will return Tuesday, August 16.  Till then, enjoy all that your day offers – beauty can be found in the smallest of things.

Hungry Critters on My Lunch Hour

After trying in vain to get a clear still pic of a hummingbird at the feeder, I turned off the camera that was attached to a tripod on the kitchen table. I then proceeded to eat lunch but one bite of my tuna on whole grain and of course the flitter-critter returned. I didn’t want to move hastily, because it seems they are alert to all motion around them – even through the blur of UV protected glass. One little move from me or one of my cats and they disappear fast!  I was getting tired of playing this focus-camera-and-dart-away-game, so, without taking any time to adjust settings and focus, I just hit the video record button and hoped for the best. Eventually he noticed me – or seemed to – and took a couple more drinks, then moved to the outside of the feeder, popping his head up and down, as if curious about me. He filled his belly and then sped away, but I knew he’d soon be back – a hummingbird needs to sustain the energy required to keep its wings in motion, consuming up to twice its body weight in nectar every day.

Oxeye Sunflower

I got up to fill my empty coffee cup and looked straight into the eyes of a Cottontail Rabbit or Hare (not an expert – it’s a “bunny” to me).  It froze on its hind legs near the sliding glass door, hoping to blend into the old deck, I suppose.  Seeing a few bunnies is common after a lot of rain and the yard is need of mowing.  Notice, I did not say “lawn”.  Our yard has been invaded by the adjacent “forest floor” of the woods – wild flowers, catnip, clover, you name it.  Bunnies tend to get lost in this sweet pasture, grazing their way up from the woods to the deck.  Slowly, I set the coffee cup on the table and grabbed the camera that was still connected to the tripod, the extra weight making it hard to hold the camera still.  I turned it on and awkwardly aimed, but by the time I got the bunny in the view finder she had braved from her instinct to freeze and hopped off to the garden.  Drat!  So I dashed to the garage, and while struggling to focus through the dirty window, I caught the fluffy vandal snooping around the garden, eventually creeping through a hole in the netting that covered the strawberry patch.  It’s okay – no berries till next spring again and she’ll just chow down the tall sweet grass that appeared from the seed “dropped” by the crows that ate the last of the strawberries after getting through the hole of the netting that the squirrel  manage to make.

Baby Watermelon

Baby Watermelon

Never a dull moment around here.

As long as I was out in the garage, I decided to put a few slices of dried bread on the flat feeder.  I opened the garage door and the bunny shot out of the netting and headed for the woods while I emptied a cup of seed onto the flat feeder along with a few slices of the dried bread.  Then, since it was so nice outside at about 80 degrees, but no humidity, I removed the tripod from the camera and made a quick inspection of the yard, calculating work for the damage done from all the wet weather.  The radishes have “gone to seed”, the peas had been devoured (I assume, by the bunny) but the humid-loving watermelon is doing okay, for having been planted late.  A patch of wildflowers were “dropped” along side the garage by one bird or another, grapes have invaded and imprisoned every and anything!  Found a strange teeny-beetle type of bug on an Oxeye Sunflower, a white spider on a Coneflower, and gnats on a huge mushroom growing in the hollow of an old oak tree – all critters looking to find a bit of lunch. A few wasps seemed to be having a party on the grave vine that suddenly appeared on the evergreens, but they wouldn’t sit long enough for the camera and refused to preform much in video mode.  I took that as my cue to get back to my lunch, so I could get back to my office.

I finally poured that cup of coffee and managed a quick sip before seeing one of the neighborhood squirrels zeroing in on the dried bread. Grey Squirrels look so skinny this time of year, having shed most of their fur in the heat – such a difference from their puffy, fuzzy winter-wear.  They actually remind me of wet rats!  But after all, they are a member of the rodent family.  As soon as he saw the bread I heard the loud piercing call of a Blue Jay overhead.  Evidently, they both had the same plan.  So up the tree went the squirrel to fend off the squawking Blue Jay, twitching its tail to file his chow claim. Then the squirrel’s attention was taken by a ground foe to shoo from the scene (I suspect the bunny who may have been hiding beneath the deck) – or else, he just fell from the tree.  No matter the reason, the Blue Jay took advantage and made a grab for the bread, but changed his mind when he caught sight of the squirrel making its way back to the feeder.  (No worries for the Blue Jays, as they returned later for theNapping Squirrel seed and corn, while the squirrel took a nap in the crabapple tree.  After more seed was put out, the squirrel filled up again and then napped in another favorite place, the birdhouse where Catbirds nest in the spring.)

I shut off the camera and turned back to my own lunch just in time to see Tator, the “irri-tator” as my husband calls her, now gingerly pawing at the remaining half of the tuna sandwich, perhaps thinking it had surely been abandoned. “Shoo!” I scolded, having fed her not just five minutes before making my own lunch.  Startled, she jumped in mid-swat, sending the top slice of bread into flight, which landed and slid along the floor, collecting the cat hair like a Swiffer ® Duster. (During the summer shedding season, cat hair is an occasional, unintentional condiment in this house, even when we observe the “no 3-second floor rule”.) She dashed to the bedroom in shame – or more likely thinking like any other critter, “until the next chance I get”. I picked up the hairy bread slice and tossed it into the drying bucket, settling for fewer calories.  Just as well, anyhow; it was time to get back to work. Grabbing an apple from the fridge to take back to my office, I concluded that the camera, perhaps, should be banned during lunch hours – but then again, perhaps not.

If you’re curious, here’s the combined attempts of the lunch hour shoot: Hungry Critters – not the best quality even for an amateur, but safer than looking out the window for 5:24 minutes and leaving your lunch at the mercy of a mischievous cat.  By the way, there are no cats in this video.  And, no critters were harmed during the filming, with the exception of a skeeter who attempted to chow on me.