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. 🙂

Tree Buds, Dust Bunnies & Finding the Right Stitch

It’s been awhile since my last post, so allow me to back up a couple of weeks to the first official day of Spring, something that happened quite early here in the Midwest this year. Business had been unusually busy, and it was interfering with my seasonal habit of venturing out to the garden when the time was right. It was obvious the calendar and Nature had decided that the time was right and I was not yet ready. It set me in somewhat of a panic.  I’d had all orders but one caught up and had run into a brick wall, turning creativity into a ragged discombobulated mess. So, I ventured into the kitchen to take a break from the puzzle by finding something domestic to strike off the To-Do list.

While gazing out of my kitchen window, trying to distract myself from the tub of dirty dishes my hands were trying to make disappear, I thought of how dismal the bare tree branches seemed against Winter’s left-overs of a drab, dry, greenish-golden background. There hadn’t been enough snow all season to appropriately blanket and compliment a leafless tree. Everything looked dead. Oddly depressing, to say the least.

To lift my spirits I set imagination in motion, while picturing the lush beauty of the apple tree filled with delicate, white blossoms. It won’t be long, I consoled myself, but first there must be leaves, and for that we need buds. Little specks of green suddenly poked out from the grey tips as if dancing to the musical notes of a song, many popping up in close unison to greet the sun. I blinked with the assumption that my imagination had gone into overdrive. It was a good call, considering the green of the specks were about the same tone of green that dominated the design I’d been digitizing. But then the little specks turned into larger dots, and eventually, I realized I’d just witnessed my apple tree budding – something one can go a life time without seeing unless it’s in a video. Cool!

It brought to mind motivational speaker, Dr. Wayne Dyer’s thought provoking statement, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Well, perhaps this particular situation was simply nature being nature, but it was cool – and a darn good way to bring attention to Dr. Dyer’s most recent work, Wishes Fulfilled. Earlier, I had seen a few minutes of his public television presentation and heard him say another statement I’d been chanting while tackling the design, “If you want to accomplish something, you have to expect it from yourself.”

Well said, Dr. Dyer!  Perhaps that’s why I have dust bunnies in the corners of the steps that lead to the Man Cave. I expect the clean-up to get done by nagging at my hubby. (Yeah, like that has ever really worked in the history of man and wife.) He doesn’t notice so he obviously doesn’t expect it of himself and I certainly don’t expect it of myself, though occasionally he will claim the little bunnies are made up of thread scraps, putting the fuzzball in my court. I think not, dear sir! So there remains the little clumps of cobwebs and dust, knitted together with cat hairs – little furry critters that nag at me, and then I nag at hubby, and so goes the circle.    But, I digress.

At first examination of the artwork of the design I was working on, it hadn’t hit me as something too exciting, but it appeared quite elementary – a few common elements against a background of a faint gradient blend and colors in close tones ranging from yellow to green. Piece of cake, I thought with a slightly smug confidence. After all I’d digitized this type of logo more times than I could recall. And after 26 years of punching, I expected it of myself.

But what I had originally, so quickly assumed to be an easy job, soon became apparent that the artwork needed something to make it pop. Without it, the design in thread would sit like a flat, drab, boring patch of the same tone that would swallow the inside elements, even if nicely stitched. The embroiderer shared that thought, suggesting a pattern fill background to help separate it from the inside elements. The finished design would be sewn on sturdy fabric, but the size was fairly large, so I wanted to keep the stitch count down. And there began the quandary that led to days of test-sewing different pattern fills till I found one that would please my eye – a wavy pattern that seemed appropriate for the elements set at a long stitch length.

The embroiderer was pleased.   I was not.  There remained something uncomfortable to my eye. I had become so distracted by trying to improve the appearance of the background that I’d failed to foresee how the inside elements had became over-shadowed by the pattern. Changing it to a flat fill background with a shorter stitch length would bring out the inside elements, but it could add a ton of additional stitches, along with the fact it presented the possibility of buckling.  As well, I personally thought it just wouldn’t look so hot. What to do? And then, I literally awoke one night with the idea that a see-through crosshatch pattern seemed perfect for the situation. A light density of stitching offers color and detail, but even though it’s attractive, it doesn’t overpower the inside elements. All it requires is being sewn on a fabric color that works with the colors of the design – perhaps an applique to offer color without becoming the immediate focus, and plus, it’s achieved at a low stitch count.    I thought it was perfect.    The embroiderer thought not.     … sigh

I returned to using the pattern fill and stayed in tune with the wishes of the embroiderer, whom I believe has a better artistic judgement when dealing with thread. Embroiderers have more hands on experience with thread color, whereas, digitizers spend more hours gazing at monitor colors – it’s just the way it is. Put that together with the fact that this particular embroiderer has produced some pretty nice work, and her judgement was not in my mind to question.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling there had to be more. So while discussing the possibilities with her I studied the image of her sewn sample and noted that I really liked the fabric she’d chosen to test the design on – it really was a shame to cover it up. And then it was as if the light bulb went on in both our heads at the same time as our vision of the finished design came together, by heading in an entirely different direction. We simply needed to eliminate the majority of the background stitches all together and let the fabric work for the design.

Sometimes – perhaps, most times – as the good doctor suggests, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Happy Spring!

Blog Data, One Rock Jock & Chicken Embroidery

Yay! It’s post number 30! I think that’s supposed to mean something, but I’m not sure what. I’m not a blog specialist. I just ramble here. Nine months into posting and I’m actually surprised that I’ve managed to get this far. That first post started as a lark, and, back then, I honesty didn’t think that I could obligate time to another task. Isn’t it amazing how all it takes to get something done is to start?

For me the best part of posting has been all of the little perks discovered; both interesting and fun – things that would have otherwise lain to the side under some indifferent rock. Take, for example, the “Summary of Searches” in my WordPress.com blog Dashboard.   I just found it.   (I did mention this blog started as a lark.  Seeking the blog’s marketing and research value had never been a priority, but it’s now being reconsidered.)

I’ve been aware of some of the stats like the traffic graph that shows how many folks read the post, and the database lists the links in my posts that are clicked (currently, EmbroideryDesigns.com shows the most hits, with Stitches Magazine coming in a close second.)  As well, it shows where readers click from, like Facebook or Twitter, and a great deal are stumbling upon my blog when searching for a wide variety of phrases.

The WP Summary of Searches in my blog database reveals what or whom readers are searching for when they end up here. If the keywords and phrases are noted in my blog even once, that post inevitably makes the list of someone’s search results.

Not surprising, the number one search is for my friend, Mindy Collins, who rocks the Florida airwaves via 96.7/101.7 Pirate Radio WKYZ. (We miss Mindy in the Twin Cities! I’m waiting patiently for Pirate Radio to stream.) Besides being one of my favorite fun people and a great friend, she’s always been “there” to make the world seem brighter – it was Mindy’s voice that kept me going through hair-pulling moments of frustration, while learning how to punch a decent embroidery design.  And of course, there’s her great choice of fantastic tunes.  Ah yes, the power of rock!

Second in line of top searches, and the most helpful in respect to digitizing, has been those for particular embroidery designs:

embroidery design for leap year

embroidery designs for newborns

embroidery design pirate

elephant busting through brick wall embroidery design

wagon fill stitch embroidery design

design stitches for sneakers

the very hungry caterpillar machine embroidery design

No matter how odd some ideas seem, knowing what people are searching for is key when trying to create that next design.  If it’s not in demand, it’s not going to sell. (This search thing could definitely pay for the time I spend posting!)

I’m also beginning to find a lot of the search phrases very curious like “droopy petunias” (a phrase found in the title of an earlier post). Makes me wonder – do we have an epidemic of wilting petunias?  Perhaps there’s just a lot of folks new to petunias who don’t realize it’s natural for this annual to droop when they get wet in rain or high humidity and it’s also part of their cycle to bloom, wilt and dry to a crusty brown. [A tip for those petunia growing newbies: if you want to see blooms for the 4th of July, pluck the early blooms in mid-June, even if they’re not yet droopy, and offer them shelter in a hard rain.]

Then, of course, there are search phrases that make me scratch my head, laugh or both:

get my trainers embroidered

two grandmas fighting

cat frowning in shower

worn out keds with toe holes

flexibility in the towns+skice

secret service agents never smile

stressful nature of environment in chicken embroidery industry     [WHAT?!!]

apple pies with apples on the side and elmo

dear santa lets just concentrate on that

embroidery digitizing app ipad

My first reaction: Good luck with that digitizing app! I just could not picture punching with a hand held device!  But I had a quick change of attitude while drifting into retrospect.  I started punching without software and saw it speed to where digitizing is today, and nothing really surprises me anymore.

CHICKEN AND THREAD - Copyright Great Notions; found at EmbroideryDesigns.com

A “digi-app” will likely happen, if it hasn’t already. I sure don’t know of what use it would be to me, though, or anyone else who strives for accuracy while calculating measurements for tiny elements.  Perhaps it would make for a great editing app with the ability to remove or add machine commands like color changes and trims.

But, as for digitizing?  I just don’t think it’s for me. Then again, perhaps it’s something that could help the stressful nature of the environment for that chicken in the embroidery industry. 😉

Tenacious Eagle Awesome

Some days I just don’t wanna write. And if the mood isn’t there, it isn’t there. I do have a post started, and it might only take a few hours to complete, but it ain’t gonna happen tonight.  I won’t leave you with nothing, though, and offer the following tid-bit. As well, the half-written intended post should be up early in the next couple weeks. For now, excuse me while I kick back, so to allow the words a little nap and my eyes a little bird-watching.

The tid-bit:

For all of you fellow nature/wildlife lovers, the 2012 family of the Dacorah Eagles are currently beginning a new family!  The first egg was laid February 17th. If you haven’t experienced watching the nesting, mating, egg laying, hatching, growing, parenting and all else that brings their offspring to the point of leaving the nest, as well as offering tracking information of where they travel when they do fly from home with photos and videos, now is a good time to begin peeking in.

Take a few moments to watch the video of the second egg being laid. Second egg arrived at 9:06 PM CST Monday, Feb 20th!

The observance of these marvelous, spiritual, nothing-less-than awesome creatures can offer so much to increase one’s own inspiration and insight, as well as bring to light that perhaps life really isn’t so bad, even if it seems so.

Personally, it brings me peace … except when they have to battle the weather. That is truly depressing.Check out the Raptor Resource Project blog by Amy Ries that explains things like why it’s okay for the egg to be alone awhile and how the eagle is able to survive through nature’s wrath: RRP Blog.  Each day brings a new change and a new struggle. Today the snow of last eve was replaced by cold high winds.

I just have to say, what an inspiring example of hope, strength and beauty!  Oh, to have the patience, tenacity and endurance of the eagle!

Precious Treasures Come Home

Twenty years ago I had to say “good-bye” to special things dear to my heart – precious treasures that had been handed down to my grandmother from her grandmothers. These items disappeared after her death, and it was somewhat of a heart-wrenching experience to have to accept I would never see or hold these beautiful heirlooms again. It’s certainly not because I wanted more stuff, and I would have been completely content had another family member acquired them. But because no one in the family knew where they had gone, I was sad for my grandmother who had taken care of these things with diligent tender-loving-care, just so to leave them to her family to enjoy, as her mother and grandmother had done.

I had been told all of the stories. I knew the value of each piece (more sentimental than monetary) and after years of trying to find them, I had finally conceded they’d never be found again. Instead, I turned my attention to compiling her stories, keeping the promise I had made to her before she died, as I reported in my post, “Mission Accomplished ….”  Little did I know then the mission wasn’t over yet.

The evening I had completed the stories and gathered photos and information to include on CDs to send cousins, I took a break by doing a little Ebay gazing. I was in search of “spaghetti poodle” figurines to add to another that had once belonged to my aunt (daughter of said grandmother). Before my aunt passed, she had broken one of the pair and she mentioned sadly that she would have liked to acquire a few more and pass them down to any granddaughter who might appreciate their value. I recently became aware of two darling little girls who are her great-grandchildren and felt that’s where I would eventually send my aunt’s lone survivor at the right time, along with others I might collect – but first I had to find a few.

I typed “spaghetti poodle figurines” into the Ebay search box and started to sift through the list when I was surprised to see two cat figurines – very familiar cuddling cats that made my heart leap. I had purchased a pair exactly like them when I was 8-years-old for a Christmas gift to my grandmother. It actually was my first work experience. After seeing them for sale at the corner drug store, I begged my father to buy them so I could give them to her, and he in turn gave me the option to work for them at $.10 a chore. When I reached the $3.00 mark he then advanced the remaining $4.00 to be sure that they weren’t sold before I could earn enough (and yes, I indeed worked it off.)

My grandmother proudly displayed them on a shelf in every home she lived in, and though she moved around quite a bit, the only damage I saw on them the last year she was alive, was a little chip on one paw and the tip of the tail of one figurine and they both had lost a few of their plastic whiskers. During that last visit I also noticed a little dirt on the chest of the other figurine, and when I began to reach up for it with the intention of washing it for Grandma, she called from the other room, requesting a glass of water. They were then forgotten until after she died, and I began inquiring with family members of their whereabouts. Eventually, I realized all of her cherished heirlooms had mysteriously vanished from  family possession.

I wouldn’t allow myself to fancy the idea that these cats were one and the same, but I bought them at $24.95, believing they would bring some solace for the loss of all else, and mostly because no matter their origin, they reminded me of Grandma. When they arrived a week before Christmas, I carefully unwrapped each one and then became giddy as I saw the chips on the tail and paw on one and the dirt spots on the chest of the other. At that moment, I believed it was truly a God-send for having kept my promise of writing her stories, and all I could think of saying with tremendous glee was “Merry Christmas to me! Thank you, Grandma!”

I set them in a place where I can see them as I write and then turned my focus back to finish making and sending the CDs of her stories to my cousins. After the last CD was mailed, I again returned to Ebay on a search for those poodles. But first, there was “feedback” to do for the seller of the cat figurines, and curiosity led me to peak at the seller’s store.  A familiar cup was first on the list – one just like the cup Grandma served me coffee in while she told me one of her most important stories.  And then the matching saucer.  And the dinner plates.  And my grandfather’s wedding cufflinks and tie clip set, the coin bank he had as a child, the gifts sons brought home from WWII and on and on and … oh my, it was all there – everything I had given up hope of ever seeing again in this world!

I contacted a cousin who agreed we had to get these treasures back into the family. I started hitting the buy button and bidding on most important items and those I suspected might be wanted by various cousins. The hardest part was waiting for the items on auction to end at 1 a.m.  While trying to win the apothecary bowl that Grandma used for crushing herbs and nuts, I became a determined, crazed mad-woman – a side of me I’d never met before. I snarled threatening expletives at every counter bid (followed by “sorry, Gram”) until it became mine after nine bids. The last minute of the listing became the longest 60 seconds of my life until I read “Congratulations! You have won this item!”  I screamed.  Then, I cried.  Then, I laughed.  Then, I screamed, cried and laughed until my hubby woke up and asked if I’d lost my mind. “Go back to bed honey, it’s only a dream,” I told him quietly, not wanting to shock him with the approximate $2200 total of the scored treasures. Fortunately, he shuffled back to bed and wasn’t aware of the cost until after the sweet seller dropped about $600 worth of shipping from the invoice.

Am I crazy?   Perhaps.  But my heart is full.  And I know my grandmother is dancing in the clouds right now.  I owe that lovely lady very much.  Had it not been for her, I would have never learned as much of what I know about surviving the struggles in life or the significance of family values, which I gained by listening to her insightful stories. As well, she taught me how to bake an apple pie, sew an apron, crochet a doily and hand embroider my first stitch.  Grandma encouraged me to keep drawing and writing, both of which I make a living at today, and she looked at my first digitized embroidery sample and proclaimed, “God has found a place for you in this world.”  Even now, Grandma has taught me to never give up hope.  As she used to say, “Whatever will be will be, and nothing can stop it if it’s meant to be.”  Once again, Gram, you were right!

I may not be done shopping or I’d mention the terrific Ebay seller who deserves a zillion-star rating for handling this overwhelming order with an understanding heart. But it’s best to remain quiet awhile – I’m just trying to bring these precious treasures home and I don’t want to bid against friends or family.  (Cousins may contact me about any item they’ve been looking for.)

Thanks for waiting on this post, folks.  Blog time had to be sacrificed for Ebay time.  Also, I am adjusting the blog schedule for the next post to be made in about two weeks when I hope to have even more smiles to share and possibly a couple of stitches!  🙂

Pardon me while I pause …

I’m posting late and unfortunately have to ask for an extension of your patience, folks! Life is not allowing time for a blog moment. Due to a fantastic family emergency (which I’ll reveal in the next post) I will not be able to post again for a week or so. Be assured I’ll be back as soon as I can! Till then, allow me to say, don’t ever give up on finding what you thought you lost. If you have enough patience, and it was meant to be, those lost things will find their way home! 🙂

Mission Accomplished – Hello 2012!

This week I should be winding myself back up, putting myself in gear, and looking 2012 in the eye with a here-I-come attitude. I should be. And I would be if in recent weeks I had wound myself down, put myself in park, and chilled long enough to say “good-bye” to 2011. But though I managed a few wonderful holiday moments with family, I couldn’t stop to take a real break, because I was making a deadline on a personal quest – a resolution made last year to complete a project of compiling my grandmother’s stories on CDs and sent to cousins by December 31.

When I began the project, I sat down and decided, “This should only take a few days.” My grandmother had passed years before and it was difficult to trigger recollections, so I delved into history books and watched history TV. A few weeks later, I said, “just one more day” and each following day I repeated the proclamation until it reached completion six years later.  One cousin called it, “tenacity”.  I’m leaning towards “obsession”.  And now I’m basking in satisfaction for not breaking last year’s resolution – even if I did miss that goal the previous five years.

But now what? my writer-self asks. What will I do to lose the tension of the day? Where will I go to see things like I never saw before? What will keep me intrigued as does getting to know those ancestors whose lives have grabbed me with surprise, sorrow and delight? How will I experience that sweet ride of the words without having an impelling reason for the quiet tick-tick-tick of the keyboard guiding my creativity and imagination? This sucks.

Then again, perhaps not. I still have many blinking leaves on Ancestry.com and I’m sure I’ll find a new muse from a zillion different stories yet to be recalled and discovered. There’s a lot of darn good tales in that tree left to be written – both truth and fiction. Even seeking information about unrelated historical people can be easily found. I highly recommend Ancestry.com to any writer who needs facts or inspiration, but most of all, researching family history can be an enriching experience for everyone. Simply, it’s great for the soul.

The project even led to the discovery of things I might not have ever known. For example, I made good use of Google Maps when researching Google Earthcensus records to establish a location timeline. And don’t get me started on how fantastic I have found Google Earth to be! A homebody like myself can fly – yes, fly like a bird! – anywhere around the world, into the universe, under the sea, and during different eras! The engineers of this wonderful software app get a high twenty (all fingers and toes) for saving me a lot of leg work, not to mention traveling expenses! And it’s fun!

When it came time to create the CDs, I just couldn’t picture handing Grandma’s special stories to my cousins on a dull, naked disc with the title written in felt pen, and I wanted it to be easily found in a pile of CDs (more for my benefit than others – I lose a lot of discs). Then I recalled the LiteScribe label engraver that had come bundled with my laptop, which I’d never tried, though I had bought a stack of LiteScribe CD blanks, thinking one day I might use them for a Moonlight Design collection. It takes about 15 minutes for engraving each CD, but well worth the time, and I’m sure I’ll be using it more in the future.

I discovered the convenience of using my new Kindle Fire for sharing the CD with my sister who refuses to move into the high-tech world for any reason. She asked if I might print out the stories for her – all 37902 words, along with multiple folders of information and color images. She doesn’t understand the cost of ink. (Who does?) I have a special Kindle mail address where I can send documents that I want to read on the Fire, so now I can call up Grandma’s stories on it and hand it to her (but she will have to tap her own pages. I have to draw the line somewhere!)

And on the “life” side of things … I learned that our history books need more than an update; they require a total upgrade. Better said, let’s revamp – toss them out and start all over! What I was taught in school certainly isn’t what I know now as truth!  Oh sure, the skeleton of facts are there, though inaccuracies are many as stated in “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, but when you start filling in the lives, emotions, beliefs and cultures, a completely different view emerges. After the last six years of merging my grandmother’s stories with American history that covered the last few centuries, seems to me we’ve created a big ol’ tale that has been washed over, manipulated by pride and prejudice and has survived via naivety and ignorance.

Well, that’s just my two stitches.  Now, on with 2012!  🙂