Strolling through the Stitches

snowI couldn’t decorate this year for Christmas – no tree, no tinsel, no lights, no pretty shiny bulbs with ribbons and glitter – but I sure had a lot of cheer. That’s something folks in the apparel decorating industry rarely get a chance to experience during the holiday season. But I was more or less forced into it during my long and “hoppy” month since my tumble from the step stool. My leg injury has opened my eyes to many wonderful things, but it’s been an up-and-down ride. A couple of weeks after the X-rays determined the damage was no more than a hefty sprain, the clinic called with a different story.

Further investigation of the X-rays had been done as a routine double-check by the Mayo Clinic (the parent clinic to our local Mayo Clinic Health Systems, lucky me). They had determined the X-rays revealed what might be avascular nervosis. Geez, sounded bad. (Even spell check doesn’t recognize it.) Well, all big medical words sound bad to me, considering the biggest word in my vocabulary for the last 27 years has been “digitizing”. But I’m not one to take chances with health issues, so, without hesitation, I agreed to add “MRI” to my schedule.

Now understand, this was my first MRI, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or how long it would take. I had heard horror stories from the claustrophobic, but assured myself, that I’d never had that problem. I envisioned perhaps a half hour inside a tube and convinced myself it would be a dandy opportunity to meditate. (HA!)  I was wheeled outside in the cold to the large heated trailer that is parked in front of the clinic once a week (our rural facility is serviced by a “MRI-mobile”.) The technician explained how the process worked, while dangling a metal washer on a string in front of the white tubular opening. The washer flew up and danced around like a drunk fly until it glued itself to the inside opening of the tube. Eerie.

I then realized why the doctor had asked if I had any metal in my body, to which I had answered, “only if it was left behind the last time you guys were digging around and cutting things out.” She had snickered in a slightly devilish tone and remarked that we’d soon find out. Touche. I watched the tech pull away the metal washer and let it spring back a few times to display just how strong the magnetic current is, and imagined my body slamming up to the top of the cylinder, glued at the abdomen, limbs flailing, helplessly. I was so very relieved to be told only my lower body need be scanned.

I shoved the ear plugs in my ears as instructed, which then muffled the tech’s voice as she pointed to various digital panels on the front of the tube. So I pulled out one plug requesting she repeat the instructions and she replied, “I know, sorry. I’m like the dentist who asks you a question when they are digging in your mouth,” after which she promptly walked away to another room of the trailer to engineer the process.

No wait! Really, what did you say?!! The words got stuck in my throat as she disappeared too quickly behind a wall. I didn’t dare move. She had told me not to. And I recalled the metal in my dental work and didn’t want my head slamming into that thing. I struggled to read a tiny notice on the tube, “Do not stare directly into the light … severe damage ….” What light?! The one right above the notice? Maybe that’s not a light, but it sure looks like one. If that’s not the light, which light and just where am I not to stare? Why did they make such a warning so damn small?!

Then my attention was directed to the digital panels she had pointed to as they lighted and I discovered they were count-down timers that I was able to watch – something to keep the mind busy, I suppose, perhaps an attempt to comfort the patient, but they only reminded me of the digital count-down for a bomb. And then suddenly I found out what the ear plugs were for. As it scanned in 3-5 minute intervals, its swishing rat-a-tat-tat began, a sound similar to a worn out washing machine I once had when it went into the spin cycle – the one we had named “Old Tommy-Gun”. For 15 minutes I pondered, why in this new high-tech world does this sophisticated device have to make such a racket? What the hell goes on inside that thing? Well, I’ll probably never know the answer to that, but I decided that an MRI experience is certainly not the ideal time to meditate!

A few days later, a day after I was limping around the house, catching up cat-chairon domestic chores, the clinic called again. The specialists determined that they didn’t find what they were looking for but indeed, trouble was lurking on the inside where X-rays couldn’t go; a couple of small fractures in the area of the knee cap and one in the ball of the tibia. Long story short, I am now on crutches, wearing a knee brace and still very thankful for that chair on wheels that I had traveled on (to the dismay of one cat who had decided the new chair in the hall was hers.  I actually had to fight her for it.)  “You were lucky,” said the physical therapist, “if you hadn’t used your office chair to get around for the last few weeks, we might be talking about surgery.” … whew!

He instructed to not put any weight on it for two weeks, and afterward, only a bit at a time. And then he gave me an approved application for a handicap parking sticker good till April.  April?! It’s going to be one long winter!  I felt some relief when he said I need not use the brace, if I can remember to not bend or put weight on the leg when trying to get around on the crutches. I have one cat who has claimed that particular leg as her bed for the last 15 years and another cat who found the brace so disgusting she has tried tearing it off with her teeth. After spending a good amount of time trying to pick cat hair off the Velcro straps, I tried the “no brace method”, but quickly found out how easy it is to forget the rules. It was quite frightening to find myself standing in one part of the house, suddenly aware my crutches were no where to be seen.  I had been so preoccupied I couldn’t even recall if I had babied the leg and limped there!  I now keep the furry brace on as a reminder. I do not want surgery.

Fortunately, I’ve found that my work station for EmbroideryDesigns.com is the most comfortable place to sit because it has ample space for my leg to stretch straight out with my foot resting on a pillow. But I hadn’t given much thought to needing such a position when establishing my digitizing station. Punching has been slow-going because it’s very difficult to concentrate and let creativity flow when uncomfortable. I’m planning to set up my I-Cliqq digitizing software soon on my laptop, so I can punch while stretched out on the couch. Perhaps I won’t move through a design as swift as when working in my office, but I intend to take advantage of my forced slow-down. Digitizing is more enjoyable when you can stroll through the stitches, instead of rushing without recall to the end.  And so is life.

Although the dust and cat hair are merging into puffy bunnies, my husband is learning to do laundry and at least trying to cook something other than toasted bagels. I am sincerely appreciating the snowflakes drifting by the windows, the serenity and moments of silence.

fluteI even took my Native American flute out of its case, a custom made Christmas gift from my husband that I have only spent time with when creating a design to embroider on buckskin.  I had been thrilled with the gift and had vowed I’d start learning how to play it “as soon as the holiday rush was over.”  I was shocked to realize it had been hanging there for 13 years, waiting to sing. My name is engraved on its underside, followed by the name of its maker, friend, Lakota George Estes, dated 12/6/00. “A flute should be played,” George had told me.  I wanted to.  I just did not.  No time for play, I had to work.  Didn’t I?

After more than a decade, it’s finally being used for its intention other than a wall decoration; a personal quest for my ears and spirit only, but I am now committed to not stop until I learn to play Love Mountain – Wayra the Wind.  So that could mean I’ll be trying till I die.  Alas, a flutes I may never be, but I’m definitely finding a wonderful, inspiring peace within the process.  And that’s what it’s all about.

Yes, it has actually turned out to be the most enjoyable month of December I’ve had in 27 years. Not once did I have to crawl out of bed before 7 a.m. and if I stayed awake past 10 p.m. it was because I wanted to. I have not fretted over lost or delayed orders, and by gosh, it hasn’t hurt at all. So, let me also take a moment in this post to suggest you all learn to gear down a little during the holiday rush; something I know well is so very difficult to do for those who are in an industry of “Santa’s elves.”

If your holidays have been zipping by blindly, now is the time to take stock of how you handled things these last few months – or how things controlled you. Acknowledge where changes can be made for the better, and then resolve to make those changes next Fall! Don’t let the years of precious holiday smiles get smothered during the stress of deadlines and chaos of caps, polos and jackets. Slow the pace a notch, enjoy. Stop the machines now and then and step away from the computer to smell the pine and and taste the peppermint. Don’t wait to break a leg to remember how special the holiday season can be!

Wishing you all a most prosperous and peaceful New Year! 🙂

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

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.

Finding Fun on a Sick Day

I started the day with a bug of some sort – most likely the allergy type, though I’ve considered perhaps it was my own spirit forcing a mini-vacation.  After all, I rarely get a day off, and I’ve had an unusually stressful last week. I’ve had one problem to solve after another without a solution in sight, making me feel like I’ve been held prisoner in a batting cage without a bat!  So, I decided, maybe I do need a good rest, but I get so very annoyed when I’m immobile.  I’ve never been a willing couch-potato without something to occupy my hands like a book, pen, or at the least, a crochet hook.  What to do?

This is your chance!” my self said.  Finally, an opportunity to simply play – not work – online like others do.  Normally, a good portion of my day is spent online for the purpose of marketing, connecting with customers, ordering supplies and research, as well as paying the bills.  So, after dragging my sorry self out of bed around noon, I put on a pot of coffee and pushed the cat off the sofa where she usually spends the day in front of my personal laptop, waiting for the Decorah Eagles to appear.

At about 17-years-old, I suspect Stinky thinks she’s smarter than my other two cats who watch out the windows for yard critters.  If she waits long enough the blank screen in front of her reveals the biggest birds she’s ever known.  She gave me a look of disdain as I refused to let her move to my lap, but of course, that’s my fault, as the two of us have become quite addicted to cuddling while observing the raptors in my off time.  I even keep an eye on the Facebook page, Raptor Research Project, to stay informed of updates that occur while I work.  I recalled a contest they were having ending today requiring the entry of an image profiling an “eagleholic” – so I decided to enter a photo I’d taken of Stinky in her hypnotized mode.  Up went the image and within a few minutes it collected about 20 Likes and a few comments! “Yay! This is fun!” I proclaimed.  I was even starting to feel a bit better, or at least enough to ignore the swollen sinuses.  But too soon the fun fizzled as the moderator commented on my post, noting that pets were not allowed.  “But you don’t understand!” I protested.  “She really is an eagleholic!” Then, poof! … it was gone … sigh.

Well okay, on with the search for a few smiles.  There just had to be something fun to do that I usually can’t fit into the work day.  I surfed on over to Ancestry.com, finding no messages regarding leads I’m waiting for and I had no motivation to dig deeper into the archives to research blinking green leaves.  I read reviews of various SLR cameras, but already know I want a Nikon and it’s just a matter of finding the extra bucks – and that sure ain’t gonna happen on a sick day!  So, off I surfed to get a numerology reading from the Tarot.com reflection pool, hoping to release a little stress.  In a nutshell, the report told me to be as productive as possible and avoid any reason for sluffing … to which I began sneezing uncontrollably.

No sense in fighting it, I decided, while blowing my nose and drying my sneezy tears.  Perhaps I should try to achieve something productive today.  I’d already read the latest Stitches Magazine cover to cover on and off line; nevertheless, it did seem like a good time to read.  So, I surfed on back to Facebook to see if two of my favorite bloggers, Kristine Shreve and Erich Campbell, had announced anything new, because their blogs are always informative to people like my busy self.  Kristine keeps me up to date on what’s up in the industry and Erich never fails to grab my attention while sharing his design observations.  But it wasn’t to be.  A status post of Kristine’s admitted her lack of opportunity to finish a blog today and it was echoed by Erich who claimed interruptions wouldn’t allow starting one.  Well, krimony!

Then it occurred to me … I remembered I had recently established this little corner on the web … and maybe – just maybe – it was my turn to say, “I started and finished a blog today!”  And so I have.  Now, that was fun! (she says with a sneeze.)