Monkey-Mind Stress & A No-Monkey Business

fuscia1Hey there! It’s been quite a long while since I’ve had the pleasure of posting anything worth a smile. Not that I’ve been unhappy, but wow, what a year of crazy bumps from one direction to the next with a jungle of surprises around every corner!  I’ll spare you the details and just say that the cup of life had been running over. Much like the fuchsia that hangs in my kitchen, with dripping blossoms that too soon fall to the floor and wait for me to sweep up – so pretty, yet I rebel, “how much is enough “pretty”?

So, I’ve been working on resolving a bad case of “monkey-mind“.  Too much on the brain makes one insane.  I don’t know if that’s a cliche’, but it should be. Sometimes the wheel begins to spin a little too fast in my world, and even though there’s nothing to really complain about, being overwhelmed – good or bad – can be stressful. So, I’ve returned to a daily 20 minutes of yoga and meditation.  I think it’s working. Look! I’m blogging. 🙂

In my last post, I was still recuperating with a broken leg. I’m thankful it all healed well, but by the time I was able to put my leg to use, the city began construction, replacing sewer lines in my neighborhood, and hope was lost for even a brief jaunt to the grocery store in daylight. Fortunately, I work from a home office, so getting to work wasn’t the issue, but getting the work done to the tune of jack hammers, chain saws and heavy equipment was more distracting than trying to relax in a tree full of chattering monkeys. No way could I comfortably write a friendly blog post without relating a few unkind words about my sudden unfortunate situation. It was the summer of hell, to say the least.

roadAs seen in these images, each morning (left) the machines rolled in and dug out the street so the work could continue, and then each evening (right) they’d fill it in again. The non-stop thunderous rumbles, beeps and bangs, while the house vibrated with every bucket drop and roller tamper, drove my patience to the brink. I dashed around the house anchoring every piece of porcelain in its place with poster putty, trying to stay calm, even as I heard bathroom tiles fall into the tub and storm windows fly out of the frames. I endured the misery, hanging on to hope that the noisy chaos would put an end to the mopleakage of mucky water I’d been mopping up in the basement every Spring – then the noise and confinement would be well worth it.  Indeed, this Spring’s thaw brought not a drop rolling down the brick foundation! I did a happy dance with the dry mop and sang a heartfelt “halleluiah!”

During the winter months, I had become overly occupied by a slew of little obligations, as well as new writing responsibilities. Most of my work day is now spent at EmbroideryDesigns.com where I’m happy to be a part of a great support team.  The daily exchange of information with both industry folks and hobbyists never fails to solve puzzles and teach me something new. It then becomes fodder for articles at EmbroideryDesigns.com’s Learning Center.  And the projects I create and post about on my work blog, Stitch and Craft are also an enjoyable task, causing the hours to pass much too quickly.

So, you see, I have been writing, but I’ve missed blogging in my “break room” where I can toss my personal two stitches into the world. Writing keeps my stress factor down – almost as well as lavender, yoga and meditation.  So does food.  Well, the right foods anyhow, and in small frequent meals. Unfortunately, during the past year’s distractions, I ignored the rules I’m to live by. I stuffed myself with momentary good-feeling morsels and neglected the necessities that set my digestive system off on an uncontrollable tangent.

Yeah, that’s what happens in the golden years – your body starts making demands and takes control of that “I’ll-eat-whatever-I-please-and-to-hell-with-nutrition” attitude. On the bright side, I no longer stress over dieting, because if I stick to the health rules, I’m not pillsallowed to count calories or skip meals. Now it’s all a matter of counting vitamins, minerals and glasses of water while timing small numerous portions by the hour. I’ve always known the science to healthy eating, but I must give it keen attention in my old-er age, because if I choose to ignore it, there are physical repercussions. So, I do the list of “14 Foods That Fight Inflammation”  and when I fall short, I reach for the appropriate bottle kept handy on my desk – a display that often provokes the question, “Got pills?”  But snarkiness aside, I’d have to eat twice as much food to get what I get in a few pills everyday, and considering I’m not on the skinny side, it’s a good thing.

Farming Scene by Concord Collections – EmbroideryDesigns.com

I also have been busy this last year, reducing one of the biggest stress inducers I’ve ever experienced – business. First, to clarify any misunderstanding caused by previous statements made here and on other social media, I did not retire from work or stop digitizing, but I did retire my custom digitizing services. I’ve found that “un-marketing” is a feat to be extremely difficult after an online presence of over two decades. Okay, so I have only been one tiny pea in the embroidery pea field, but as the only pea in my pod, I’ve been one helluva busy pea.

No matter how small the business, and no matter how many newfangled things they come up with to help operate one, I’ve come to this conclusion: running a business totally solo without delegating anything is certainly possible, but it’s borderline insane. During buzy-ness you have many responsibilities. During slow-downs, you have the same responsibilites, as well as those you didn’t get done during the buzy-ness. It’s tough to fit in personal time if you don’t choose to hire help. You at least need a monkey – you know, someone who will listen while you plan your week’s agenda or bring you a banana when you need one.

So, to aid in un-marketing, I’ve temporarily closed my web site while I review and revamp, and currently my business domain names are parked at my personal “name domain”.  I will continue to digitize the occasional stock design and deliver private orders while decisions are being made about a new site for Moonlight Design, but until then, in reference to my no-monkey business, I can only say, “to be continued”.

stitches-coverstoryQuoting industry veteran and master digitizer, Steve Freeman of Qdigitizing, who noted in “Back from the Brink”, June’s cover story, pg. 40, in Stitches Magazine, “Sometimes you have to recognize when enough is enough in order to reinvent yourself.”

I suppose that’s what has come about as I’ve tried to un-market, shrink back and just be.  I’m reinventing myself while being content that I remain a part of the embroidery industry.  I will also continue to pop in now and then at Stitches with a bit of “Punching Sense” or whatever else I can offer. Right now, I’m gearing up to participate again as a digitizing judge for this year’s competition and the excitement is building! Do not hesitate to participate in this one, kids – first price is a Melco single-head!

On a closing stitch, to those who are curious, I hope to not let another year go by without posting. I’ve come to the conclusion that venting my two stitches reduces stress – and I’m going with the assumption that working at stress reduction is a lot less chaotic than living with a monkey. Alas, God bless Jane Goodall.

monkey

Baby Chimp by Ace Points – EmbroideryDesigns.com

 

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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

Calculating Percentage & One Smart Pig

I was called “pigheaded” more than once when I was a kid.  I was quite stubborn.  I didn’t care what workable methods were otherwise proven to me, I wouldn’t give up till I tried my way.  If the ideas failed I might concede to listening to other methods, but then tried to omit steps, which usually led to more steps than it would’ve taken had I not challenged the basic rules.  Then, of course, the project would require tweaking one thing or another to achieve the initial intention, while burning precious hours. Some 50 plus years later, I can see how being pigheaded wasted a lot of my time.

Most dictionaries define “pigheaded” as being “stupidly obstinate” or “stupidly stubborn”.  But, sorry, I just can’t put a pig in a “stupid” category.  Back when I was a country gal, we had a pig who would wait for the husband’s truck to drive away (never my car) and then proceed to open the corral gate by lifting the latch with his snout, letting the horses run free.   While I rounded up horses, luring them out of the neighbor’s cornfield with a bucket of grain, he’d mosey on over to my garden and rut up a few snacks.   I wouldn’t call that stupid – more like obnoxiously smart.   There I was, six months pregnant, barefoot and chasing a pig with a hoe around the carrot patch I’d just watered – mud was flying!  I was screaming with anger, crying from frustration, and laughing at the same time, knowing how hysterical the scene must have looked.  This very clever 800 lb. boar was quite obstinate, refusing to leave the veggie patch even after I broke a brand new $25 hoe over his back – twice in one week.  That would be my stupid stubbornness.

We, as humans, are supposed to have common sense, according to Thomas Paine who literally wrote the book on it.  Common Sense “equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have….”  But when something appears too difficult or time-consuming, there’s always that challenge of the assumption, “there’s just gotta be an easier, cheaper, and/or faster way!”  Sometimes it’s a good thing if it leads to discoveries; sometimes not, when it results in wasted time.

Recently, a colleague asked a digitizing question, “Have you ever found a fast way to duplicate and increase an irregular shaped element like an outline of a Fleur-de-lis so it can be used for the outline of the first outline?  Is that even possible?”   My immediate thought was “no it can’t be done” but I could not remember why I had come to that conclusion.  I did recall the many times I’d tried and failed, but that didn’t stop me from wondering if I’d overlooked a possibility.

My “stupid stubbornness” kicked in.  I gave it a shot on two different design systems, scaling the X-axis and the Y-axis separately, as well as both globally; the second outline would not match up properly to the first outline no matter the method.  I concluded the only way to accomplish this task is to digitize the first element in numerous objects, then increase the size of each object one at a time, modify the points to correct unavoidable distortion that occurred when resizing, and connect them accurately to the adjacent objects of the outline.  Obviously, it’s faster to simply digitize the second outline than to waste hours editing.

Sometimes things that seem so logical can be so impossible without spending precious time.  And unfortunately, some things that are impossible are commonly thought possible by the masses, revealing that “common sense” is not always the way to go.  Take for instance, changing the global scale of a design with unequal sides; it’s very common for the end-customer to ask that a design be decreased or increased by 1″ high and 1″ wide, something that would distort the shape of the design.  Only one axis of the artwork can be increased at 1″, with the other axis following to scale of the same percentage.

Ah yes, calculating by percentage – a bit of a nightmare for young math students born before the 70s (such as myself) who were not equipped with any sort of gadget other than an abacus.  I hated math.  Its lengthy complexity was boring!  So, just as I did with other things that made little sense to me at the time, I buried it deep in that “I’ll never use it” pile.   Life had other ideas.   Eventually, when it became necessary, calculating the percentage to resize to a particular measurement was a pigheaded, trial-and-error, horror show at the copy machine, using an architect’s scale and my best guess. Then another employee, a high school student, reminded me of the simple equation I’d learned in elementary school: multiply the existing size by the percentage.

Example: The existing (100%) size is 6.25″ wide and needs to be resized 20%;

  • To increase – 6.25 x 120% = 7.50
  • To decrease – 6.25 x 80% = 5.00

Or it can also be approached from another direction by multiplying the size 6.25″ by 20% and then subtract the sum (1.25) from the existing size to decrease or add the sum to increase.  If you’re a hair-puller in the face of numbers, the best option is to purchase a proportion wheel available at office supply and college stores, and you’ll also find many free tools online, such as found at Plaino.com

There’s absolutely no flexibility when it comes to accurate measurement – it is what it is or it’s not.  Being too stubborn to do the math usually comes at a price of wasted time. Now, on the other hand, a little pigheadedness while observing the rules led me to discover what I know about digitizing.  Calvin Coolidge is quoted as saying, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

I agree.  I think it’s okay to be a little stubborn if you’re not stupidly stubborn – and as long as you don’t grow a snout.
Photo © Tristan Savatier – Used by Permission

Sometimes Change Ain’t So Bad

Ping, pong, the game is on! Within a week after Facebook launches Smart Lists, Google+ opens the public gate. I find the strategy of these two social network giants fascinating. It reminds me of the product wars that have kept us entertained throughout the years like Coke verses Pepsi – neither side will ever win at pleasing everyone all of the time, but their battle achieves pleasing most of the people some of the time. Each challenges the other by making improvements that require changes, keeping users on their toes. As I’ve said many times, I hate changes. They interrupt my work and slow me down. Just when I learn how to do something well, the rules change. But that’s life on the Internet for you. There’s just no sense in arguing – it’s easier to just hang on for the ride.

The last couple of decades getting to know the Internet has been a carnival ride for me. Sometimes it goes up and down, or bumps and slides or spins around, but unlike a bumper car or Merry-Go-Round, its appearance, as well as its functions keep evolving. I’ve learned to bend with it, because without the Internet, my digitizing service might not exist. I actually have to laugh at my resistance in retrospect of the changes I had complained about – those that eventually made my world a much better place to be – and I’m really only irritated by those that didn’t happen soon enough.

Take email – or should I spell it e-mail? Actually, at one time I didn’t like the dash (-), thinking it unnecessary. It was a new communication method at the time; certainly it deserved a new complete word!  But I gave in, and now that the dash has been drilled into my finger’s little brain, they (whoever makes these decisions) have decided: dash or no dash is acceptable if consistent throughout the piece.  That is not always do-able when quoting a published article.  Often I have to remove or add the dash, to be consistent with the quote that I don’t feel the right to change.  It’s little changes like that drives a writer buggy. (Thank goodness my finger’s little brain also knows where the backspace key is.)

Besides the spelling change, functions of email clients continue to upgrade with changes that occasionally boggle the mind. I admit, sometimes it’s for the better as for security reasons and spam control, but other times I suspect it’s just to make you think they are busy creating things you need – trying to ping another email client’s pong. Well, I don’t need all of the glam, tabs and options – just let me read my emails!  But whether or not I’ve liked the changes in email functions, acceptance has been necessary to continue communications for custom digitizing orders. In its beginning, email saved at least a week of discussion-time, because it allowed receiving colored artwork for quotes, eliminating the need to ship artwork via overnight services, and there became no need to interrupt someone’s day with a phone call for discussion about the job. Eventually, changes by email engineers made it possible for binary attachments, allowing instant delivery of the design file in time for the embroiderer to test it and report any errors like a forgotten lock stitch, which then allowed getting a revision back to them within minutes. That was a moment we old dogs proclaimed, “I love email!” (dash or no dash).

Email led the way to global connections via “Email Discussion Lists” where people of the same industry or interests all over the world could communicate and share their ideas. Ah yes, the first “cloud” had arrived. And it worked so very well for years, a go-to place to find answers, share information, meet new people and get in touch with groups of old friends; not to mention emails could be stored in an organized manner on or off line. Some lists were generated through private forums and others were found in groups at sites like Yahoo.com. It seemed a good thing, though it was not without its restrictions, with each list establishing rules for the content of posts – the most effective way to offend no one and keep the peace.

Then back in about 2007 or so, some college guy came along with “The Facebook”. I signed up shortly before they eliminated the “The” but I never really expected to use it much.  At that time, it appeared pretty blah in its simplicity, and I was content with my Email Lists, anyhow. So my Facebook profile sat empty for quite some time until a few clients encouraged the idea and I began using it with a focus on its possible use for business networking. Gradually, the benefits came to light as many industry folks started adding up in my Friends List. I could upload photos of work to share without using another network photo site, or post a question about creating my web site using direct links without getting accused of spamming, or even make a complaint on my own wall without getting branded as a flamer – not that I am, just that I can.  Alas, freedom – that is, until my non-industry friends and family showed up and trying to “cross-communicate” turned into a roller coaster ride.  How could I post a cheerful embroidery post to my industry friends when a non-industry friend had just posted his dog had died?  So, I began posting more cautiously to not appear thoughtless, but that meant trying to keep up with reading all my friends’ posts. Eventually, I took advantage of the Lists feature that allowed reading a Stream of only posts in each list, but then came another problem of sorting through each list to be sure I didn’t miss anything important. I desperately needed organization.

In the last couple of months, I’ve been taking rides on a Tilt-A-Whirl, spinning in the beta, limited-member Google+ Circles while considering the switch from Facebook. I was drawn in by having the ability to send out a status post to only those in one particular Circle, such as my “Industry Circle”.  It certainly would avoid confusing friends and family with comments of embroidery language like, “use a craft blade to slice away the birdnest below the plate.”  Nope, Uncle Charlie just wouldn’t understand.

So the Google+ Circles feature was looking pretty good and the only problem was trying to get everyone to move on over, but it seemed only a few of those using Facebook for business were interested. Others couldn’t see the benefit, unless there was a way for a fast, total migration of info, photos and notes – not an option Facebook would allow.  Folks became infuriated, claiming it was their stuff, but Facebook had other plans in the works. Then last Friday I logged in to discover Smart Lists and suddenly heard Eric Claption singing, “Come back baby, you’ll find a change in me!

With only brief announcements to the general public that Smart Lists would become a standard feature of Facebook, some folks have been voicing loud complaints since its launch on Friday.  The 3-5% of us who had pre-existing lists under Most Recent found them moved to the left column along with a few additional lists, such as those in the local area or high school pals; and those who didn’t have lists discovered that lists were automatically made for them by smartly comparing information in profiles. Many Facebook folks who never had a reason for using the previous optional list feature were angry about the change, but as for me, I’m standing up in grand applause!

So, I figure, since it’s made me quite happy and others not, I should at least offer some information to help the nay-sayers who now feel like they’re walking through a confusing carnival Spook House. The Facecrooks Blog explains that Smart Lists is “pretty useful when you’re sending invites to a select group of people, as it automatically lists those who are close by.” The blog post also notes a few flaws, such as, “… since the list depends on the data listed on user profiles, it runs the risks of some people getting excluded. For example, if an old classmate did not list his school on his profile, then he might not get counted when the classmates list is developed. In this, Facebook has basically given people another incentive to complete their profiles.” Facecrooks offers a lot more helpful information in the post in how to use this new Smart List feature – or not, up to you.

And that’s the bottom line – Facebook members are not obliged to use Smart Lists. Even though the lists were automatically made for each member during the upgrade, Smart Lists are simply there if you find its function more convenient. You also need not keep particular members in the lists that were automatically created; it’s a completely editable feature. Take a little time to check out the Facebook Smart List FAQ page where you will also find info about posting a status to only one list or another, or to everyone as you have in the past. Also, don’t forget to check out your Privacy Settings for new related options.

No doubt about it – Facebook has definitely made a change that makes me smile! But yeah, since Google+ has ponged Facebook’s ping by opening membership to the public, I’ll still be hangin’ around those Circles now and then to see who shows up. I never could resist a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Additional note: More new functions arrived after this post and likely more changes will continue to occur. To ease some of the confusion, check out a very informative article at AllFacebook.com.

Time for a Fall Thread Break

The fall season begins on September 23rd this year – technically, that is. I depend more on what Mother Nature has to say about it. She seems to know more than the meteorologists, though, granted, she does have more experience. So, when I see leaves and seeds twirling from the Ash trees and the leaves of two particular Maple trees in the neighborhood begin to change color, as far as I’m concerned, fall has arrived – no doubt about it.

Perhaps it’s not time for the The Autumnal Equinox as the Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, “‘The word equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night.” The fall and spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the hours of day and night are equal as the Sun crosses the celestial equator.'”

I’d rather take my cue from the trees. They tell me it’s time to get everything possible done that needs to be done outdoors or put it off until next spring. I’ve missed quite a few fall activities in the past while my nose was stuck to the grindstone, so considering I had most of my week’s work caught up, I decided to close the office door behind me for the weekend and do like the trees. They don’t care what the calendar says – they just do whatever feels right to them.

I didn’t really feel like doing any particular thing, and it’s a little too early for taking pics of full fall colors, but I definitely felt the need to get away from anything embroidery-related. (Don’t get me wrong. I love my work, but some days I simply need a “thread break”.) My husband, Kevin, was working, so it would have to be a solo event no problem, there are many things to cross off the list before it snows I can do alone.  Considering I haven’t had my old – ahem, vintage – ’87 Grand Am out of the garage for some time, perhaps a visit to the car wash was in order. I really should remove the dusty cat paw tracks left on the windshield an embarrassing validation of being the neighborhood’s “eccentric cat lady who lives next to the woods”.

First, I checked email (something that must be done daily for design deliveries or custom quotes) and caught a local online news brief – “Jesse James Days in Northfield, MN”.  Ah yes, the annual event that pretty much closes down the historic part of Northfield for a few days of celebration, complete with a craft fair and carnival. On September 7, 1876 the James-Younger Gang were defeated when trying to rob the bank – an accomplishment that would put Northfield on the historical-outlaw-legend map.

Now, I’ve lived 14 miles from there for over 40 years and had yet to attend the fun. Oh, I’ve seen it from the highway when I’ve passed by on my way to the neighboring Walmart – with clenched teeth and a dash of bah-humbug, because I can’t easily get to my favorite shops in historic Northfield. No, I didn’t want to go there today and besides, it just didn’t seem like the thing to do without Kevin – it’s a family sort of thing, right?

I kept pondering that question while watering the now-lanky petunias draped over the sides of their pots – another sign of summer’s end. I heard the reply whispered in my head, “Chicken!” – a snarky accusation of being too afraid to drive through the traffic and push through a maddening crowd alone. “Am not!” I murmmered like a whiney, little girl. Understand, people scatter out of the way of Kevin’s truck, where they tend to just walk over the hood of my pee-wee car. And without 6′ 2″ Kevin to scout the way through the people, I might not find the best place to view the reenactment of the bank raid – my main objective. Why go, if I don’t see the show?  Just then the Chicadees began squawking, tired of waiting for me to leave the deck so they could get at the bird feeders, and I swear, their crabby “chic-chic-chic” started to sound like “chic-ken-chic-ken chic-ken”.  So, who can argue with a little bird?

I parked in a lot at the edge of the historic area, assuming I had plenty of time to walk to where the reenactment would take place. It was then I discovered that my car clock was beginning to lose time (or else Kevin had tried to change the radio station again). I grabbed my purse and camera, then looked up to see a scene straight out of the movies – the “James-Younger Gang” approaching along the river, obviously on their way to rob the bank. I knew I had to move fast. I took a hit off my inhaler to fend off an allergy-triggered asthma attack and made sure my shoe strings were tied and tucked into the bottom cross-lace; lest I cluts out.

The side of the street with the “best view” was packed with people, so I, along with other last-minute-arrivals, opted for the spot near the “wings” of the reeinactment. Not a bad place, really, considering we were actually standing in front of the original bank building, now the Bank Museum. I couldn’t see the action on the other end of the street (that I’ve seen in videos anyhow) but I indeed saw a lot of action, as well as details, including the packing tape that held together the barrel of one of the rifles. (Really, boys, get yourselves some new guns!”)

I began taking pictures, fighting the sun behind me that was casting a nasty shadow in the street. Only a few manual shots of the people in period dress survived, because the auto-focus kept choosing the building on the other side of the street. Silently cursing my lack of digital camera skills, and having an underlying hatrid of auto-anything (evolving from the control it robs when digitizing), I kept battling the stubborn auto-focus when I noticed the T-shirt hanging above the crowd in front of the shop across the street.

And then, there it was … the word I read a zillion times a day, painted on the window, “Embroidery”. Well, look at that!  Champion Sports does screenprint and stitches! I did not know that. I made a mental note to stop in the next day I cruised through town, deciding (after a quick look around for any sarcastic birds) I’m not about to struggle through the crowd of the elderly with canes, the parents with strollers and children with ice cream cones!

After the 20-minute reenactment of the actual 7-minute bank raid, I patted myself on the back for proving the Chickadees wrong. I am not “chicken!” But I am getting … well … let’s call it “vintage“.  My adrenaline had gotten me this far, and with the realization that the car lot was quite a hike away, I was overwhelmed with appreciation for the many times Kevin has fetched the car and saved me the steps. He deserved a gift. So I stopped at one of the vendors’ booths near the Bank Museum where a printed cup caught my eye – the quote of town merchant, J. S. Allen, who on that infamous day had demanded, “Get your guns boys. They’re robbing the bank!”  [I would credit the vendor, but in my haste, I failed to see the name and later found only a price sticker at the bottom. Note to decorators: your name is your most valuable marketing tool – get it out there on your stuff!]

I walked along the river where the vendor tents lined up from one end of the historic area to the other. I didn’t have the urge to buy anything, but couldn’t resist checking out the beautiful handmade crafts, paintings, jewelry, pottery and much more made by some very talented folks. After crossing the walk bridge, I was drawn to the silhouette of a man in an alley leaning against the wall of his shop, and next to him, what appeared to be a rack of T-shirts. I felt a bit sad for the fact there wasn’t a customer in sight and felt an odd sense of duty to patronize the poor fellow – until I got in front of the opened door and saw customers packed inside where it appeared Larson’s Printing was doing a mighty fine business!

Pleased to see Gildan on the label, I picked out my size and color of a T-shirt printed with a familiar Northfield Bank Raid design – one I’ve seen worn for years – so I just had to ask how long the shop had been in business. After a brief conversation we determined I had once digitized designs for his work contracted through my then-employer, Write On Embroidery back in the 80s and early 90s, until he added embroidery machines to his screenprinting business.  We exchanged business cards (making this spontaneous day a tax deduction) and promised to keep in touch.  Sometimes little thread breaks can lead to unexpected opportunities.

Pictures can be viewed in my Facebook public album: Jesse James Days ~ 9/10/11

Those Who Labored Without Question

“This day off was brought to you by millions of workers who dedicated their lives to the struggle for labor equality, workplace safety, and the few things still fair about our jobs that we take for granted every day.” – B. G. Henson

I read this quote on a friend’s social media status yesterday and was grateful for the reminder.  Many of us plan our schedules around holidays, dates, and seasons to use the time to play catch-up, whether at work or home.  For me it was the laundry.  It then became a busy two days with many backed up domestic chores getting crossed off the list and I’d nearly forgotten the reason for the holiday and those who worked to achieve its national observance.  Sure, I was not “making money” but there certainly isn’t anyone in today’s world who would dare claim housework is not labor.  Labor Day, after all, is a day to stop all labor, if you can – if your job isn’t absolutely necessary to keep the world running.

Jackson Farmstead, Mount Pleasant, MN

Residence of my ancestor John A. Jackson's Farmstead; lithograph published by A.T. Andreas, 1874.

A good enough reason for me, I put down the mop yesterday and turned my attention to my ongoing family history project of compiling my research for CDs promised to cousins. Sure, it’s work, but also done to honor my ancestors whose labor my own could never compare. So I started to sort and compile photos and information, but seems as soon as I begin reviewing the information, I get lost in the Big Woods. No, not the Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, though the location is definitely the same place. Five generations ago, my ancestors settled claims in Minnesota, directly across the Mississippi River (Lake Pepin) from where the Charles Ingalls family lived on the Wisconsin side. I have read Laura’s books, a recommendation by my late grandmother who said Laura’s descriptions are near to exact of the life her own mother had in the Big Woods in the mid-late 1800’s.  No matter how difficult life became, my ancestors pushed on, surviving brittle cold winters in claim shanties, defeating hunger by eating only frozen rutabagas for months and clearing away the timber and stones to prepare the land for pasture or fields in the heat, rain and snow.  Their tireless pioneer spirit to labor forward with determination through excruciating struggles is nothing less than amazing.  They never questioned why – they just did what they had to do.

And that brings to mind the next day we will always remember when many did what they9-11 Memorial had to do without hesitation.  This Sunday is the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and many of you are planning something special to remember the victims and the heroes of that fateful day. If you are seeking a design to embroider for a 9/11 project, Moonlight Design is offering, once again, the 9/11 Tribute design free to download. (The zipped file contains all embroidery machine formats.) This design originally was sewn by many embroiderers who contributed garments to the volunteers at Ground Zero and featured in the December 2001 issue of Stitches Magazine, among many designs created by digitizers who contributed to “the cause”.  Please accept this design to use on any item intended for commemoration of the Firefighters whose heroism will never be forgotten, as well as for those who continue to serve.

And now, because this is a short week when many of us will be playing catch-up at work for the time off we took to celebrate it, I’ll not occupy your time with more of my words. Till next week … wishing you many smiles!