Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Master's Piece

It is the last night of the year and today has been a great day, despite the fact that I seem to have finally lost the battle to fight off Bethany and Erin’s cold. The minister at Lennoxville United church had the chance to go away and spend some time with his family and Mom offered to plan the service and put everything together, as long as she didn’t have to do the sermon (that always was Mom’s least favourite part about being a Minister)! As part of her Christmas present, I volunteered to do that part, as long as the local church had no objection to a lay person preaching.

As I sat down to write tonight’s blog entry, I realised that what I spoke about this morning already summed up all my hopes, dreams and outlook for the year ahead... and so I have posted it here for you to read.

If you would prefer not to read anything of a religious nature, please just skip over this entry and catch me in 2007, knowing that I wish you well.

A Master’s Piece by Jennifer Aikman-Smith

There’s something about a blanket of freshly fallen snow...the way it turns everything into puffy, marshmellow-like lumps...the way it brings out that inner child longing to race though the backyard and be the first one to make any tracks.
Yet all to soon, tires and boots turn roads and sidewalks, parking lots and store entrances into brown slushy swamps.

Today is New Year's Eve... the brink of a New Year with all its possibilities, all of its potential - a NEW BEGINNING of sorts.
Surely I'm not the only one who is hoping that 2007 will be different from the year 2006!

Have you been asked yet what your New Year?s Resolutions will be?
When you think about it... it?s no wonder that many people hate making them, because we seem DOOMED to FAIL from the very beginning. Just stand in line at the grocery store and REALLY look at some of the magazine titles!
"Lose Ten Pounds Before Swimsuit Season" one banner cries.... superimposed over a glossy photo of a double decker cheesecake drenched in hot fudge sauce and the headline "Quick and Easy Chocolate Desserts Your Whole Family Will Love!"

A New Year is like a new piece of paper, a new journal, a new sketchbook or a brand new set of coloured pencils.
None of the tips are worn down yet. There are no silly doodles or drawings with mistakes... no words we wish we'd never written or said. Why do MISTAKES, or the making of them, scare us so much?

When I was a student in Fine Arts at Mount Allison University, one of my printmaking professors was the engraver David Silverburg. His studio was filled with over a hundred sketchbooks from his travels to different countries and each book overflowed with the most amazing line drawings I had ever seen. He would capture people and places with just a few beautiful lines. There were no rough pencil marks beneath the ink drawings to guide him. He simply sketched in ink.
I was in Awe!

I tried to do the same, sketching in ink or felt pen so that my first marks were the ones that stayed.
You couldn't go back and erase anything...
you just had to work with it.
But all I could see were my MISTAKES.

You would think that in the 20 years that followed, I would have learned to live with the fact that even famous illustrators such as Norman Rockwell are seldom satisfied with what their own hands produce. This summer, I finally had the chance to illustrate a children's book for a Moncton author and that same fear of making mistakes haunted me for the 10 weeks that it took to create the 30 illustrations for the book.

Most of us tend to find fault even in those things that we do well.
We look for mistakes and point them out before others have a chance to.

My Mom has a board game where you share memories and stories from your past with those around the table playing the game with you. As each player reaches the end, they have to sit and listen to all of the other players say something nice about them. It is amazing how hard and embarrassing it is to sit there and listen to those words of praise... even for me- the ultimate extrovert!

Why do we find it so hard to accept compliments? Is it because we can only see the mistakes, or flaws,
when we look inside ourselves and think "If they really knew me... they wouldn't think I was so wonderful!"

Yes, here we are on the brink of a New Year... with all of its new beginnings and possibilities, but we can also feel as if we are bringing all of our baggage... our mistakes... our "slush" with us into those bright new Tomorrows.

Who we have been is a part of who we are. The things that have shaped each of our lives cannot just be dismissed...
but we can look at them in a different way.

As a cross stitch designer, working with threads instead of paint to create my images has taught me to think of my life as a tapestry. There are the bright golden and silver threads of special times and places or things that I have done well...
There is the incredible variety of colours from my everyday living and
actions that weave and blend to create row after row... and there are the darker threads which add richness and depth to the pattern.

It would not be as rich a design if any of these threads were missing!

I also remind myself, sometimes daily, that I cannot always see the whole pattern of my life's weaving yet... and that there is no thread that I work into my life that a Master Weaver cannot use to make the whole a thing of beauty.

The message is there if we can listen to it through the din of the world around us...
whispered in Psalms, shouted in the Miracle of the Resurrection.....
if only we can even begin to truly believe it.

We are NOT alone. We live in GOD's world.

There is no mistake, mark or blemish on our life's drawing that keeps it from being beautiful when we give it as a gift to our Creator... for when we feel like scrumpling up that picture and throwing it in the trash... it is God who, like a proud parent, smoothes out the wrinkles and puts it up on the fridge for all to see.

In Life, In Death, In Life Beyond Death... God Is With Us!
We Are NOT Alone!

We do not have to be a Masterpiece in the world's eyes....
for we are already a Master's piece.

Thanks Be To God!

Friday, December 29, 2006

When The Going Gets Tough... The Tough Visit Their Moms!

We arrived safely at my Mom’s yesterday afternoon and tonight is Christmas Dinner part 2, complete with gift exchange etc. My two girls are in the midst of Nanny spoilage, cuddles and hugs while Nick and I are rediscovering the joys of just being able to go off by ourselves for a walk, a chat or an errand! We walked for 45 minutes this morning even though it was INCREDIBLY cold and slippery.

Being up at my Mom’s is a wonderful blend of escapism and being a child again. I was starting to feel like one of those perpetually tired and grumpy adults that I remember observing covertly as a child and wondering why they never seemed to have any fun. Here I can rediscover the fun of hunting for the right puzzle piece, singing around the piano or curling up with a good book and not be worried about schedules, deadlines etc. It is better than sitting at home staring at my eMac and having a continual pity party.

Now it is time to recharge my batteries a tiny bit and look ahead to the New Year so that I can set some new goals, challenges etc. I love this time of year and the promise that it holds. Only when we dare to dream really big dreams and reach way beyond ourselves to we break out of our comfort zones. If I dream big and don’t quite make it, at least I got farther than I would have if I only dared to take baby steps.

What would one of your impossible, crazy dreams be??

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Am I the Glitch?
Honestly… despite all the wonderful e-mails and warm fuzzy thoughts from everyone, I continue to slide from the ridiculous to the insane… Nick braved the insane Boxing Week Sale crowds to return the iPod transmitter to the store where he bought it and came home with a new one. We loaded up the van, got the hamster ready to be dropped off at the neighbours, hooked up the iPod and discovered that it had been wiped clean!

Yes, apparently while updating the iPod last night with the eMac, it decided that I didn’t have permission to have the music purchased from the iTunes store on a computer that now thinks it is a new machine (for iTunes, Quark, Photoshop etc.) because of the new logic board. Without an internet connection to authenticate said programs and purchases, it triggers all kinds of error messages. So Nick and the girls ran the hamster up to my friend’s house while I sat there are reloaded all 757 songs from my music library onto the iPod. Then we could set off at last.

The good news is that the motel tonight has free wireless internet and as I much a few baby goldfish crackers, I can blog about my continuing adventures. The new transmitter did work like a charm for the whole trip today. Yay!!!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ok… this is getting just a wee bit ridiculous now! We had an absolutely wonderful Christmas as a family and are getting ready to head to see my Mom tomorrow, but this little technology glitch that seems to have moved into our house is taking things a bit too far.

Nick bought me an FM transmitter for the iPod since our other one got stolen out of the van last summer. This one is really cool and fits in the cup holder of the van, but when we tried to test it out on the way to Nick’s mother’s house last night, we discovered that there is some kind of short in the power cord or the base! It will only turn on for a few seconds and only stay on if I lean over and hold it in position. Somehow, I just don’t think that I can do that all the way to my Mom’s place! So we might stop in at the store where he got it on the way out of the city tomorrow if the Boxing Week sale shoppers aren’t too numerous. Because New Brunswick stores have to be closed today (unless you are a drugstore) the crazy sales are all tomorrow.

If yesterday was all about family, both near and far, today was all about just getting stuff sorted and put away, organized and chilling as a family. Everyone slept in for once and Bethany even tidied her desk to have room to put some new things away! That was a Christmas Miracle in itself. We had some friends over for godson/goddaughter gift exchange stuff and packed, but the rest of the day was just spent at a truly relaxed pace. The weather outside was pretty messy since the snow they called for actually came as snow, sleet and rain, so we were happy just to stay put. Friends of ours had to drive up North where they were calling for a snowstorm but they headed off anyway.

It still feels weird to be blogging on Nick’s laptop, but I am getting used to the feel of the keys. I hope everyone celebrating yesterday had a wonderful time. Now it is time to look forward to the closing of one year and the dawning of another. This is one of my favourite times of the year because I love setting goals and the new beginnings that such a milestone offers. What is on your goal list for the coming year?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

This Is Just Crazy!!

If it weren’t sliding so far into the absurd, I would probably be curled up in a corner having a pity party somewhere!

I was SO ready to yell in joy to the whole world that there was indeed a Santa Claus!! I got a call late yesterday afternoon that the logic board had come in and that my computer was ready to come home! I took a whole plate of Christmas cookies over to the computer shop as a thank you and was absolutely giddy until I got home and plugged the eMac in. Everything turned on perfectly, but it was absolutely unable to connect to the Internet! I called Aliant (our internet provider) for help and they walked me though everything, but had no explanation for why it wasn’t working other than it could be a hardware issue! By this time of night it was too late to do anything else or take the machine back to the store, so I stomped up to bed.

This morning, I decided to see if the problem was with Safari or with all of the web browsers on the machine, so I snuck down to the office as soon as I woke up and turned on both machines. It was then that I discovered that I no longer had ANY internet connection on EITHER machine. No email, no FTP access, no web browsers of any type at ALL!!

Trying not to panic, I called the help line at Aliant and they tried to help me check the modem that they provided to us. It began to look as if the ADSL was not registering at all on the modem, no matter how many times we unplugged it, counted to 20 and plugged everything back in. So, the helpful person on the other end suggested that I try the power supply and phone line parts of the modem in another phone jack elsewhere in the house. As I was cutting the zip ties to release those cords from the bundle of wires at the back of my machine, I accidentally cut through the modem’s power cord!! This sent us out to find a replacement cord from one of the Aliant service centers around the city on one of the busiest shopping mornings of the entire year…

Since the computer store is right near Zellers, we went in to see just what was on sale for the special early bird event… and I thought I would faint! First, let me set the scene properly. Way back in late October, Bethany and I were checking the Littlest Pet Shop website and she discovered that there was a Chinchilla Littlest Pet that had the cutest face she’d ever seen. We’d never seen that one around here so we checked the Hasbro site and discovered that it was unavailable. The hunt began and I was finally able to find the Chinchilla and Ferret as a pair on ebay (listed as VERY RARE) and won the bid for roughly 2.5 times what these little plastic toys sell for in the store… but that was what Bethany had put on her list to Santa, so I felt it was worth the price for a little Santa Magic. After a communication snafu, the items finally arrived at my stepfather’s US mailbox late last week! My Mom mailed them off to me via Priority Courier and they arrived late Wednesday. I was smug that Santa’s reputation was saved for another year for my youngest who still believes with all her heart…

So here we are in Zellers in the toy department where a new shipment of Littlest Pet shop toys have been brought out just in time for last minute Christmas shopping and I find myself looking at over 20 of the little Chinchillas, all smiling at me with their $4.97 price tag. If I could have screamed I would have. Bethany immediately went into acquisition mode and begged for one in case Santa couldn’t find it for her! I was able to calm her down and reassure her that Santa would come through for her and that she needed to wait until Christmas morning to see for herself. AAAAAaaaaaargh!

We brought the new power cord home, hooked everything up and tested the modem out in a new phone jack. No solid ADSL light. Finally, after testing quite a few configurations and possibilities, the nice helper at Aliant decided that we needed to have a technician come to our house and check everything out… but the earliest day said techie can come is the day we leave to visit my Mom!

So, I couldn’t even set up the little surprise that I’d planned for stitchers to tide them over. A friend DID help me get a newsletter update up this afternoon with his FTP and my passwords, but now that I’ve checked the site, I see that two files are still missing… so maybe I can be a total pest and get those files up to him on a CD tomorrow afternoon between the morning and evening church services so that he could send them over.

I can still blog though Nick’s computer and I will be able to do the same from my Mother-in-law’s and my Mom’s, but I will be basically blind and deaf on the Internet until January 5th at the very earliest.

That’s just the way the cookies crumble. As I said at the beginning of this blog entry, it has become such an absurd adventure that I can only try to laugh or groan. At least I’ll be able to spend time with my family guilt-free because there isn’t anything I can do to fix this over the holidays!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lights In The Darkness...

It is amazing how just when things seem darkest, there are lights to remind you that all is not lost. A little stuffed elephant arrived in my mailbox with twinkly stars on the fabric that lines its fuzzy ears (thanks a million Erin!), a stitcher called from Toronto to see if I wanted the phone numbers of the Mac shops there who might have parts kicking around, a friend called out of the blue to say that she’d been sending happy thoughts my way because I’d been on her mind, I got lots of sympathetic and understanding e-mails about the delay in getting the Morning and Evening Dragons on-line... and after I came home from running an enrichment afternoon at Nick’s school there was a message on my machine from the contact person at Apple Canada telling me that my logic board part shipped out today!!!

Of course, with the holidays this weekend, it might not get here quite as quickly or get repaired in time for Christmas Eve, but I think I have an alternate plan in the works so that I can still get a tiny gift ready for stitchers to enjoy from the newsletter thanks to a few helpful elves!!

Upstairs as I write this, 140 cookies are drying after being iced with all kinds of colours. As soon as the Royal Icing is hard enough to package, they will be assembled into baskets, boxes and mugs for teachers, bus drivers, neighbours etc. When the dragon can’t be on her computer... she bakes! Actually, I do it in batches every weekend in advent and feed the freezer then take everything out the night before to ice/decorate. The only bad thing about being stressed and having baking around is the incredible temptation to eat it all!!!

So.... tomorrow is the last day of school for the girls. I am having a craft session at our house Friday morning with my girls and 4 neighbours kids who have chosen not to go to school for the 2 1/2 hours that it is open on Friday morning. It should be a half day, but because of the bus schedule, our kids would arrive at school at 8:15 and leave again at 10:30... which seems really silly to me. We’ll just take in all the teacher presents tomorrow and get them out of the way so that we can relax a bit Friday until their teacher parents come to our house and the real unwinding begins!!

If nothing else, these past few weeks have taught me that you need to be persistent and firm when trying to get an answer to a problem, to laugh when you feel like crying, to remember that there are always lots of other people who would still trade places with you in a heartbeat, that there are still many wonderful moments of light and hope amid the chaos... and that the true magic of this season is that it can work miracles through people all around you!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Someone Wake Me Up From This!!!!!

I guess the best news is that Erin was not barfy because of the flu, but rather a reaction to the increased asthma medicine to get her under control while she has this bad cold. She went off to school today sounding a bit better, even though getting up out of bed produced the same dizzies and gagging... she was fine after breakfast.

The nightmare is really with my eMac and I am reaching the end of what little rope I have left. What happens when the going gets tough? The tough get twisted....

‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the house,
A dragon was moping
And clutching her mouse...

(To the Tune of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”)

All I want for Christmas is my eMac please... my eMac please... MY eMAC PLEASE!!!!

(To the Tune of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”)

Please be FIXED by Christmas
Stitchers are counting on me!
They don’t want snow or mistletoe
Just dragons under their tree (or to stitch!)

After almost a month with a computer acting wonky and a week with NO graphics computer at all, I am getting just a little bit grumpy and panicky. I called the shop today and they told me that they still had no idea when that part would be shipping, so I spent almost 40 minutes on the phone with Apple Canada trying not to beg, plead, whine, cry, yell, use vulgar language or rant in order to get to the bottom of what is going on.

If the part is out there somewhere, find one and tell me WHEN I will have it. If there is a real problem getting said part and my 2 year old computer that is still under warranty (the store sold me THEIR extended warranty plan instead of the Apple one which I will never EVER do again!) then be honest with me and I will somehow find a way to buy a new one. I cannot survive without a Mac as a graphic designer and I have work to do for clients in the New Year as well as my own stuff.

I WANT MY MAC BACK!!!!!!!!! (dragon taking a deep breath so as not to melt the only working computer in her office into yet another heap of useless plastic)

I am REALLY sorry that everyone is having to wait for all the fun goodies stuck in the main computer. I should know in 48 hours whether that part can be found so until then I will just cross my fingers and toes.

At least I’m not looking at the flu sweeping through the house for Christmas!!!

Monday, December 18, 2006


Watching the final episode of Survivor and Reunion Show last night while batching up a Hoffman order, I was struck by several comments that players made about the primal nature of their experience. Becky, a lawyer, commented that when she’d first arrived on the island, she’d spent most of her time asking other players what time they thought it was. Her life was so defined by her watch and schedule that she had a hard time letting go of that structure. Ozzie pointed out what a primal experience just focussing on survival had been. He was right that only a few thousand years ago, even a few hundred years ago, most of us spent a good part of each day just trying to survive.

In our climate controlled, consumer driven North American society, as the mad rush of last shopping days until Christmas whirls around us, it is very hard to remember that there are corners of our planet and even our cities where the struggle to survive still rages on.

I read the girls one of our Christmas books before bed, about Laura and Mary Ingalls in the Little House on the Prairie. It was about the year that Santa couldn’t cross the rain swollen creek but Mr. Edwards still managed to deliver presents on Santa’s behalf. My kids were entranced by the story, but a little baffled at the joy Laura and Mary felt at receiving a tin cup, a stick of candy, a little baked cake and a shiny penny each. When I explained that people didn’t have as many things back then or as much money, Erin got very thoughtful but Bethany was still baffled at the lack of toys. It is amazing how much STUFF our children end up to play with that gets thrown in drawers or cupboards because they get BORED... I wonder if they ever realize how lucky they truly are to have that problem!

We got through the Christmas pageant, Erin’s solo in church, the two Christmas parties this weekend... all of which were joyful and wonderful and totally draining. I came home and just crashed for an hour’s nap after which I felt human again, but Nick and I are still feeling very drained. Everyone is just counting the days until the break...although I think much of my countdown still has to do with when I get my main computer back.

Would I ever be able to unplug completely? Like Ozzie, I think I carry a lot of skills that would certainly enable me to survive if thrown into a challenge like that (for real not for the cameras). I can cook well, swim well, sew, make things, invent stories, build good fires, weave, lash things together thanks to many summers of guide camp or fort building and I know quite a bit about First Aid. Would I choose to live like that instead of in comfort? I guess that depends on the day. While I can’t see anyone on this planet truly choosing cold and hardship over a comfy bed, regular meals, indoor plumbing and chocolate, there is that little voice inside most of us that longs for something simpler than the mad race to collect stuff, earn money, get to appointments, stay thin, be successful etc. These past few weeks with a wonky computer have taught me to go with the flow more instead of trying to control everything and plan it out. It has made me look more closely at the vulnerability of what I have chosen to do as a career and considering a back-up plan, especially as Bethany starts Grade 3 next year and has a longer school day.

This morning, things have been turned on their head yet again. Nick took the van in early to fix the damage from a little mishap in the parking lot of the video store two weeks ago and Bethany went up to the bus stop with a neighbour because Erin woke up and started being violently sick to her stomach. The flu / Norwalk virus has been going through schools in the area and has hit quite a few families that we know. I don’t know if this is what she has yet (because she’s been fighting more of a cold and cough) but it was instant quarantine to her room and LOTS of hand washing for me. I don’t handle barfies well and am very prone to rapid dehydration myself... so I am going to be VERY, VERY careful.

As I look about this week and think of all the ways in which I am NOT fighting for survival on a daily basis, I will remember to be thankful.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Morning Dragon Stuck In The Shop On My Sick Computer!

I’m ready to climb the walls!!! My computer is back in the shop until the logic board arrives because they needed to recheck the serial number for the part (they’d ordered the wrong one and were told there over a MONTH wait or longer....) and I am NOT playing lug the computer back and forth any more!

Luckily, I found out about the mix up when I called Apple Canada to find out why the part would take so long... but my model is the one that uses the logic board that Apple DOES have in stock and by next Friday, all should be well... (dare I even cross my fingers?)

The new .pdf for the Morning Dragon chart is still stuck in the eMac at the shop, however, so tomorrow all these stitchers who read my newsletter are going to come wandering over to find a chart that isn’t there!! I can’t even put up a temporary page to let them know!

Sigh! As a graphic designer, having a working computer is as essential to me as breathing and eating chocolate.. a daily necessity! My stomach dropped to my toes when the computer tech said that it could be over a month to get the logic board (wrong model) he’d ordered. The only place in New Brunswick that rents Macs is over 2 hours away!!

Sometimes I miss living in a city like Montreal or Toronto where I can get around by bus or get my claws on some things in a pinch because there is a much bigger market, but I know that if we lived in a city that size, I would have gone back to being a full-time employee for someone else a long time ago! The lifestyle choices that we’ve made wouldn’t be possible in a bigger city where things are more expensive.

At least I got all my Christmas baking done!! When the going gets tough, the tough bake cookies!

Monday, December 11, 2006

At Least I Know What's Wrong Now...

A new week has begun and I am learning to cope with a tempermental computer. The new logic board is on order and will hopefully be here this week or early next. Funny how one thing can make such an impact throughout the computer, but that IS the part that controls so much of how things run. I was trying to explain it to Bethany... who can see that the computer is acting funny but doesn't understand its insides (I'm not sure that I understand it much better!). I told her that part of the computer's brain isn't working properly but that the place that keeps all the information will be OK. It turns out that the drive should be fine once the new logic board is in, but I am still trying to transfer as much info to my external hard drive just in case...

It is a bit frustrating to have the thing here and not be able to use it reliably... but at least I can get on now and then to try stuff. We have a meeting at church tonight and the poor machine has crashed twice when I try to print stuff out, so I am going to blog this and then turn it off again for a rest...

All I want for Christmas, Santa, is a working computer!!! (well... and maybe some chocolate or art supplies!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Being Grown Up AND Being Childlike...

Well, the poor computer is still in the shop. It looks as if they will have to replace the whole hard drive, but at least it is still under warranty! In the meantime, I try not to mope too much when I sit in my office and stare at that empty space where the eMac should be...

Today was FREEZING, but by tomorrow, it is supposed to get warm enough to rain! Once the kids got on the bus, I ventured into the woods with my digital camera to record some of the Christmas Card scenery I saw all around me with each tree and branch coated in fluffy wet snow that froze to almost crystal perfection when the temperatures dropped last night. As snow crunched beneath my boots and I kept my camera tucked inside my coat between shots, I was reminded once again of just how much I love looking through the lens of a camera and capturing the world around me. I used to go for long walks like this in University where I majored in both photography and printmaking... looking for the right lighting and composition to make an interesting shot.

Keeping that childlike wonder about our lives, even in the face of minor (or major) challenges isn’t always easy, but it is important. Crunching through the snow slowed me down and really made me look at how beautiful our world can be when we aren’t rushing past the scenery to get somewhere.

Of course it is also important to know when you have to be grown up too. Getting things done, even tasks that you would rather avoid than tackle, is an important part about being a mature individual. Without a computer, I have no reason not to sort out the little piles and bags of receipts from shows or trip or other things that have piled up on my office floor. I think that I’d rather floss a cat than sort and tidy, but there is a slight satisfaction as some piles get smaller and pieces of paper are either sorted or tossed. Dare I hope to have a tidy office by Christmas??

Wanhhhhh! I want my computer back!!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Two Steps Forward... One Step Back!

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so happy on Thursday about getting the computer back, getting the website updated and finally being able to blog again! By Friday at noon the computer was worse than ever and wouldn’t even run the diagnostic disk I’d purchased... so as soon as Nick got home, in it went for another check up. The technician did admit that he’d done nothing more than defragg the drive and then check the programs with the most basic diagnostic tools he had. This time, I asked him to crawl through there and find out what is WRONG!! My poor computer!!!

The weekend was a flurry of sleep overs, swim lessons, planning for the Advent Gathering at church, baking a new recipe for Christmas cookies etc. Last night’s turnout wasn’t as good as we’d hoped for, but those who came certainly enjoyed themselves. The girls and I will finish colouring the window ourselves this week.

So, instead of working on one graphics project, this morning is all about getting to one particularly stubborn pile of clutter on my office floor and making sure that all the tiny pieces of paper, receipts, fabric bits etc. get filed or put back in their proper places. I just can’t procrastinate about it any more!!!

Sniff.... I want my computer back and working properly!!!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Plugged Back In...

It’s funny how cut off from the world I have felt this past week as my computer acted up, shut down and went in for repairs. I have it back, but for the first 3 days, it was still locking or freezing at the oddest times, especially whenever I would try to switch sites online.

Isn’t it amazing how fast we have come to take the Internet, e-mail and the speed of our computers for granted? When they are suddenly absent or not working properly, it throws us for a loop.

Of course there were still things that I could do, digests I could read and some e-mail I could access through my older machine, but I certainly felt as if I was stuck on a virtual desert island, trying to figure out how to stuff a message in a bottle!!!

I can’t believe that December is here already. Smudgy is growing fast and has been good company this week, but I’m still not certain where this fall has gone? I certainly didn’t get all of the artwork I wanted to get done for my next project, a book I wrote this summer while I was illustrating the one for Nanny Kay... but sometimes, you have to serve the gift and where it calls you.

I had an interesting chat a week ago with a friend about how the talents we are given can sometimes demand things of us that we didn’t expect. I was feeling frustrated about my computer being down and suddenly, along came 3 projects that needed my talents. They weren’t for pay, but serving your gift isn’t always about money... especially when the projects help others.

The first was creating a square snowman for the school float in the Santa Claus Parade. He was used to cleverly hide a pole that kept one part of the float from looking like a giant snow globe.

Bethany’s teacher asked me if I could make up some signs for around the classroom with vocabulary words on them, so I printed out the words on photo paper and then drew and coloured the illustrations with markers. I did up 34 words and the whole class was thrilled. Madame said she would laminate them to keep for a long time!

Finally, I drew out the rough for the 77” x 30 “ window that we are going to decorate at church. Tomorrow and Saturday, I will ink the final version on a piece of semi-opaque Mylar drafting film with a Sharpie marker (several probably) so that families in our church can help colour it on Sunday night at our Advent Celebration. Once it is coloured, the Mylar “window” can be taped into one of the 3 large glass windows near the office door of our church to shine out for the neighbourhood to see during this holiday season.

It is good to be plugged back in and have my website updates done... but I did find plenty to do while I was unplugged!

Monday, November 20, 2006

No Computer... sort of

Well, my poor computer seems to have a bad case of the hiccups, flu or something. I did manage to run a full virus check and found some suspicious files, deleting them, but the poor thing is still prone to freezing or locking and I lost work twice today. The NBed site was compromised this month and maybe when Nick goes to check his mail on my machine, something is able to get in... so he’s off limits for mail on my machine. After all, teachers in NB were able to get those new laptops, so he can use that!

I’ve just spent almost an hour on the phone waiting or speaking with people from Symantec and apparently, the version of SystemWorks 3.0 that I bought just over a year ago can still check for viruses, but now that I have system as my operating system, I can no longer boot from that CD in an emergency to fix problems with Norton Disk Doctor or de-fragment my drive with Speed Disk. I now have to go out and find a local retailer that is selling the SAME version of the program I have, but the 3.0.1 version that shipped just a few months after I bought this one.

Honestly... I could just about scream!!

Monday, November 13, 2006

A New Addition To The Family!

What a crazy weekend! They say that the best pets kind of find you... and the latest addition to our family was no exception. I’d been moping around the house with no hamster to talk to since Wuffles passed away while I was in Toronto. Though I didn’t miss cleaning the cage, it was strange not to hear little scurry noises outside my office and get up for a stretch break to see how “my fella” was doing. In those last few weeks of his life, Wuffles was actually in my office with me so that I could keep a close eye on him after his first stroke.

We headed out as a family to do groceries on Friday night before all the stores closed for Remembrance Day on the 11th. It was a ZOO!! We stopped into the pet store near Sobeys to have a peek and there was a batch of new grey dwarf hamsters that has just arrived from the breeder that day! I put my hand in to check gender (we’ve had better luck with boys) and they were all still hand tamed! I found one male, a cute little grey fellow with white paws, who seemed friendly enough, but Nick and I try not to make rash decisions. We decided to do groceries first, but that meant that the girls skipped along beside us, up and down each aisle, asking if we were going to get the little grey smudge of a hamster. It didn’t help when Nick said it was all up to me!! That meant their entire energy was focussed on convincing me that we needed to bring this hamster home! I decided that we’d go back for a second look while Nick was loading the groceries into the car... and sure enough, we came home with SMUDGY! The girls thought that when he gets older and chubbier, we can call him pudgy Smudgy! (Groan!)

We left plenty of food and water out when we headed to Prince Edward Island the next day for an overnight stay with friends of ours. It was great fun to see them again and very hard to drag the kids away from playing with their friends for a noon departure, but Erin still had a major project to finish up back at home and I didn’t want the newest family member to feel too abandoned! By mid-afternoon, I started feeling a little under the weather and have taken it easy today. There have been quite a few bugs and flu strains roaming around, so it didn’t hurt to take it a bit easy on the third day of the long weekend. Nick went into work for a few hours, I proofread the last part of Erin’s project and made sure that got done. My darling husband has taken them off to choir to give me a few moments of peace & quiet to get the blog done before another chaotic week begins. Thank goodness for that nap this afternoon and the companionship of a new tiny furry friend!

Friday, November 10, 2006

This Is Just Too Cool!!!

Ok... I’m a bit punchy from getting up every few hours on Wednesday night to check the basement, and I did run the pump most of yesterday, but I am pleased to report that no water got in the office this time. I’ve plugged everything back in and even managed to sort out one pile of junk!

This morning, I checked Amazon to see if the book was up yet and THERE IT WAS!! How cool was it to use my name for the search and have the book pop up on the screen!!! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! By the tenth book I illustrate, some of the novelty may wear off, but for now it is a wonderful way to celebrate the start of a long weekend here in Canada. The girls have no school on Monday and we are heading off for one quick overnight to visit some friends, but now that Nick is back from his meetings with all the principals in the province, we are looking forward to some major family time.

The first batch of books went off to Amazon yesterday, so that’s why it shows the longer shipping time. I am sure that once they get them in stock, it will hopefully show a much shorter shipping time. Having just waited almost 5 weeks for a birthday gift from my sister to arrive, I can understand the frustration of having to wait. Dragons do NOT like to wait for their treasures. Hopefully, this will let some of you, who have been e-mailing me about how to get the book in the USA or overseas, get your claws on a copy! The author is also in the process of revamping her website so that you can buy either book from the site.

I went back to check Amazon for the URL, but it is way to long to quote here and it remembered the book from my last visit, showing a tiny thumbnail in the margin. WAY COOL!!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I Wish It Were Snow Instead!!!

Nick has been away since yesterday afternoon at a gathering of all the Principals in the Province of New Brunswick in St. Andrews. I’m so glad he’s having this chance to network and expand his horizons professionally, even if I miss him like crazy. The only nasty thing is that, just like the last time he went away this summer, we are under a heavy rainfall warning until tomorrow afternoon and I keep wishing it were snow instead of rain. Snow cannot seep into your basement office!!

This time I am prepared. I won’t even bother with the shopvac like the last time he was away... this time the pump will go right into the window well to suck the water that seems to seep into it from below when the backyard hits critical mass. At least the ground isn’t completely frozen, so perhaps it can absorb the rain between bands as they hit. Two of them have been through already tonight and so far, so good.

It’s been so busy while Nick is away that I haven’t really had time to miss him as much as I thought I would. Erin’s volleyball games and practices are certainly reworking our routines, but their team won again this afternoon by a narrow 2 point lead in the fifth game to get the “3 of 5” needed. This makes the second straight win for the team and Erin had a marvelous save in the 2nd game. What a proud mother I was knitting on the stage while Bethany played Go Fish with one of her friends behind me. Had the light been better, I might have stitched... but I knit by feel, so that lets me watch the game at the same time. After all, I have presents for the holidays to finish up just like every crafty person out there!!

So cross your fingers that our basement won’t look like my NOT FORGOTTEN design by morning!!!

Monday, November 06, 2006


The very first snowfall of the year is falling softly outside my window. I don’t have iTunes blasting yet, so the only sound is the hum of the washing machine and dryer as I try to get the laundry done from being away at a cross stitch retreat this weekend and the click of my fingernails on the keyboard.

Retreat was just AWESOME!! Like the CreativFestival in Toronto, it went a long way towards recharging something deep inside and bringing back a joy that had begun to fade.
So here are the lessons I learned at Retreat:

- Food always tastes a million times better when you don’t have to cook it yourself.

- Pack your digital camera FIRST! I forgot it and missed a lot of great shots!

- Listen to your body more and take naps when you really need them.

- A brisk walk not only makes you feel much better, it might just go a teeny tiny way towards offsetting at least one bite of a gooey treat!

- Listening to other’s life stories is important. It teaches you empathy, how to really listen, how healing a hug can be, how cleansing tears are and how much laughter can ease the aches deep inside our souls. It also reminds you to count the blessings in your own life.

- Watch out for flying, howling monkeys! (If I can get the picture that they took of me as the toy monkey came flying at me, I will post it hear. Dragons CAN be startled!!)

- A real fire is comforting on a crisp day.

- Women can be strong and generous. We raised over $500 for Breast Cancer and 5 of our survivors drew the names for the baskets of pink things we put together to raffle off.

- Stitching Over One is hard on my hands and a bit hard to see late at night when your eyes get tired, but the results were spectacular. I wish I’d had my camera to capture my ornament for the exchange... because I doubt I’ll stitch that design again over 1!

- I rediscovered how much FUN it was to stitch something that’s NOT MINE!! When I stitch something that isn’t my own design, I rediscover all the fun of NOT KNOWING how it will turn out, what neat colours another designer will put together and how much better it looks that the photo!! I have decided that I need to stitch at least 15 minutes a day on something that isn’t mine, just to remember how much fun this hobby is!!

- Retreat never lasts long enough... and then you can’t wait for the next one!

Friday, November 03, 2006

I’m Off To Retreat...Wheeeeee!!!!

Where did the week go? So many changes, so much activity, so much chaos... I am SO ready to jump in the car and head to the cross stitch retreat as soon as Nick gets home and my ride gets here!!!

Let’s see.... a job for a client that needed to be wrapped up wiped out most of the time I’d hoped to spend on my new illustration project, but now I get to invoice them and hopefully see a cheque before Christmas.

Bethany got her ears pierced last night and is just thrilled, but she’s also fighting a bug of some kind because she’s had a headache and gone really pale twice today. Maybe she knows I’m going away!

Erin made the volleyball team for school and is the only Grade 6 on the team, but she’s also the tallest one on the team already! Heh! Heh! Just wait until she’s in Grade 8 and is almost 6 feet!!!

I got orders off too this week, but didn’t get to the website. Guess what? I am feeling so burned out right now that I am just going to run away to retreat where I am not teaching, I am not a designer but one of the girls and I am going to spend the weekend stitching stuff that ISN’T my own design! Wheeeeeeeee!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Back to Reality With A Bang!!

Well, I’ve been back from Toronto for a whole week and it doesn’t even feel like 48 hours! I’m not sure where last week went. I arrived home to 6 meetings, volleyball tryouts for Erin, 2 projects, a Brownie Hallowe’en party, 1 temperamental computer and a very messy office once I got the luggage back out to the shed with the promise of sorting it all out when I had time!! Free Time... what is that??

Thursday and Friday were PD days for the school district. Thursday was Parent/Teacher interviews for both girls, a book sale and a supper meeting. Friday morning, I took care of 2 other girls along with my own for a friend who had morning classes at University and didn’t want to pay a second full day of daycare. We planned a “princess day” watching Over the Hedge (thanks Erica!!) and painting nails, but I had forgotten how exponentially giggly and wild a bunch of girls can be when you put them together!! Yeeeeeesh!

Today the car went in for its last service appointment before the warrantee wears out. New snow tires, new front brakes, 50 point inspection etc.... and OUCH!! It can be scary how fast car things add up, but you just can’t play around with safety, especially since we only have the one vehicle.

I had a great chat with my sister today and that helped more than she will ever know. It is funny that even though there is an ocean between us physically, I felt as close after the call as if she’d been right here at my dining room table! Once the girls got home, the rest of my day was a blur of making Orange Rice Krispie treats for school, checking costumes for tomorrow at school and tomorrow night, planning my Weight Watcher meetings, cutting out hand-drawn ghost stickers, batching part of a Hoffman order, updating files on the computer, saving e-mail, watching Heroes as a break and then getting my blog entry done at last.

Tomorrow promises to be total chaos, but I do want to write about the wonderful show in Toronto on Wednesday...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tired... But Totally Recharged!

I’m back home and not really unpacked or caught up on laundry yet, but I have a huge grin on my face from the many wonderful memories about this year’s CreativFestival in Toronto! I got to spend time with a fabulous bunch of stitchers, wander through lots of temptation on the show floor, eat some great ethnic food, spend time with one of my best friends and hopefully excite people about the crafts they love while still being very, very real about the challenges that designers face.

I know that I certainly came away feeling more hopeful about the industry than I have in a long time. Not because the markets indicate things are turning around and certainly not because there is any quick solution to the problems that designers in any craft face from piracy. The issue of Macleans magazine that I picked up in Toronto has a huge article about the Internet and how it has actually become a home for pirates, thieves, porn and mediocrity where the purchase of music basically relies on the honour system. That is true for much of the craft industry now as well. I must find the quote that I like and post it here tomorrow. I’d never dream of copying out the whole article!

For all the stitchers who offered feedback, hugs, food, good company and giggles this weekend, especially when the dragon went off on a tangent (DING!) I thank you. You have helped recharge something deep inside me that was feeling empty and you won’t believe some of the crazy ideas I have for NEXT fall.

To Teresa, who reminded me how precious it can be to have a friend who truly understands the insanity we’ve chosen as part of our careers, the search for what else we need to fill our plates and how important it is to be able to laugh at ourselves when we mess up kit counting at 1 am... thank you for being such a great roomie during the show. I hope this can become a more regular tradition!

I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight... so that I am coherent when I lead my Weight Watcher meetings tomorrow! Goodnight!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hellos & Goodbyes

What fun to be here at the CreativFestival! I got into Toronto yesterday morning at 7:20 am after a 4am wake-up and arrived downtown at the hotel only to find that my room wouldn't be ready for a few hours! Luckily a stitcher is never without something to work on, especially a designer with some things to finish off on a class model! I got into the room by about 11:45 and started to unpack then snip floss for kits. By 2 pm, when I still hadn't heard anything from Teresa, I began to worry that she was stranded somewhere and headed downstairs to see if they had any record of her. As I checked with the concierge to see if my package from Zweigart had arrived... the cell phone rang. It was Teresa wondering where I was since she'd been in her room for over an hour with no sign of me! The hotel had checked her into the wrong part of the suite (Lily Chin's part)and I'd been sitting one wall away from her wondering where she was!

Last night we went to see the musical WICKED after a wonderful sushi dinner and it was FABULOUS!! I used myt birthday money from my grandfather this year towards the tickets and am SO glad I did!!

Today, I finally got the emergency delivery of the missing stitchband from Zweigart for my class that day, much to my immense relief. The class was a lot of fun and I had just turned the room over to Teresa for her class when she needed something from our hotel room. Off I went through the human habitrail of tunnels to get the missing plastic bags. When I got to the hotel room, the message light was blinking so I checked it and there was a message from Nick asking me to call home as soon as I could.

All kinds of terrible things go though your head at that point. When I called, both girls were still in tears. Our beloved dwarf hamster, Wuffles, had had a second stroke and they had just returned from the vet. The vet had explained to them how much Wuffles was suffering and so they made the decision to put him to sleep. My faithful "old scraggy fella" won't be there when I get home, but he lived a very full and friendly life. It is hard to love something that rarely lives to be 2 years old, but I would not have traded a moment without him, despite the hurt I feel tonight. I comforted the girls the best that I could long distance and thanked Nick for being brave enough to make that decision while I wasn't there.

Life is full of both Hellos and Goodbyes. Each should be treasured.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Silent Dragon Is Usually A Busy Dragon...

A few e-mails this afternoon asking if I was OK prompted this quick entry. Whenever this blog gets quiet, it usually means that the dragon is tangled up with something. In this case, it has been having a houseful of company for a week while Nick's Dad and his wife came for a visit over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was great fun having them here, but the week before I go to a show is chaos at best. Toss in a project with a crazy deadline and a bunch of illegal pattern sharers getting all riled up about albums being closed on Multiply... and you get more chaos in my day than this dragon can handle!

If you want to check out the adventures of Rick Mercer's jeans and see how they turned out or read my latest rant about the boldface lies that sharers tell each other about designers, just click on the appropriate links.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to heading to Toronto for the show. I can't wait to spend my time with honest, creative stitchers and one of my best friends, Teresa. I need this time to get inspired all over again after dealing with the nastiness of some people who keep trying to justify that they are doing nothing wrong by sharing.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New Projects and a New Blog...

In exactly 2 weeks, I will be in Toronto for the CreativFestival. That means that it is crunch time around the house as supplies for kits come in the mail or need to be tracked. I have things to assemble, things to proofread, things to file and in the midst of all this chaos, what do I do?? I agree to take on another project!!! This one was just too fun to resist, but rather than clog up this blog with all the photos that it will take, I created a NEW BLOG!!!

Just click on the link that says These Jeans Took 22 Hours in my sidebar and you will be whisked away to as crazy an adventure as when I became She-Hulk!!!

I wonder if I should let Rick Mercer know what I am doing in the blog so that he can check out what is happening to his jeans!

Friday, September 29, 2006

The importance of Date Night...

What a hectic week! The book launch was fabulous and being on TV last night was TOO COOL... but I really meant to write about it all this morning, except that a job for a client and some mundane life things totally got in the way.

Friday nights are special in our house. The kids don’t ask to stay up because they know that it is “Date Night”. Even if Nick and I don’ t go anywhere, we put work, stitching and all other distractions away and just spend TIME with each other.

He’d on the phone right now with his dad, who comes for a visit from the Yukon for Thanksgiving, so I have the chance to dash off this entry. Sorry everyone, but reconnecting with my husband after the whirlwind month of September is more important than anything else tonight!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hot Off The Press!

I meant to try to get these photos and blog entry up Friday, but my camera was acting a bit feisty and I didn’t have time to play with it until this morning...

The book is printed!!! YAY! Hurrah!!!

I went in on Wednesday to check final proofs and see things as they came of the press. When you go out back, you have to slip on these little steel toe shoe cozies in case anything big and heavy tries to fall on your toes. The dragon is all for protecting her tootsies, but these are just plain UGLY! They also make a funny click, click sound and dragons are very fond of being able to sneak up on things!

The proof area at the end of the large press has this HUGE full spectrum light. I kept wondering how much it would cost to put one in my studio or stitching corner, but definitely out of reach of this dragon. My pile of gold that doesn’t go for mundane things like groceries, gas and bills just isn’t big enough!

The way they match the colours to the Epson proofs and check ink saturation was really neat, but neater still was holding one of the sheets right after it came off the press. I didn’t even get messy paws from handling the ink!

Friday morning, Kay and I went to pick up the final books, all trimmed, stapled, and packed up in cases. We asked the sales rep to take our picture holding up a copy of the book. Isn’t it strange how everyone ends up looking so short when they stand next to me?? One of the things I love about my family is that we are all in the same scale. One of the girls said to Nick once... “You give Daddy hugs in OUR size!”

I took all of the extra cases down to my self store so that they could make friends with my cross stitch leaflets because the author lives in a fairly small apartment and was wondering where on earth she was going to store the overflow. Having been through the “my business is taking over the family home” dilemma already, I had the perfect place to store the extra books. It was a great workout lugging all those boxes from the printer’s to the van and from the van to the self-store, but the extra burst of adrenaline when a huge spider scuttled out from the back of some boxes to check me out gave me a super burst to finish the job.

I can’t wait for the official Book Launch on Wednesday night. It is just TOO COOL to hold the book in my hands at last!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Being Picky Vs. Quality Control

Almost 3 am and one of the perks/challenges of a home-based business is that the office is only 2 floors away. A hot flash woke me up about half an hour ago, but my husband’s snoring made it impossible to fall back asleep. That is a dangerous place to lurk... in that half sleep world where you begin to make a list of things you need to do. Nothing like scaring yourself with a burst of panic when you realize that the show in Toronto is less than a month away!!

I’ve been SO critical with Santa’s Dragon, ripping out sections and reworking them, that I am beginning to wonder if it will get done in time. I hate being such a slow stitcher!!! This got me thinking about the difference between being PICKY and acting as your own QUALITY CONTROL.

Last Wednesday, after I looked over the proofs with the author, I realized that I needed to make changes to 5 images in the files. They needed to have the brightness/contrast tweaked a bit so that they would better match what I had drawn. I went in Thursday morning with my homework already done (after seeing that my monitor and theirs weren’t that far apart after all) and spent about 1/2 hour tweaking the files with one of the computer techs. When we saw the proofs the following day, I knew that the time had been well spent!!!

It seems as if that desire to make the best product you can is sometimes a rare commodity. I had a fascinating discussion during the Labour Day weekend with someone who talked about products being purposely created NOT to last and was “quite freaked” at the whole concept. I find it hard to know that some companies create products with cheaper components or lower grade materials so that the price point is low enough that replacement is a better option than getting something repaired!! Computer printers have almost gotten to that point now and I sometimes imagine a scary pile of dead printers in our landfills because it is cheaper to buy a whole new printer than fix a drum or replace cartridges!!

As a crafter, I understand making things that are and are not intended to last. Some quick crafts are just created for the fun, for the event, for the moment or as a gift that is not intended to last... and other things become heirlooms, precious treasures to be handed down to another generation. The quilt that hangs in Erin’s room is a tangible reminder that beauty can last!!

I’m not sure where to draw the line. Perhaps that is something to wrestle with on each occasion. To find that line between being obsessive and striving for quality. I just wish it didn’t keep moving on me!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Celebrations, Copies and Colour Proofs!!!

Today is Nick’s mother’s birthday, just 3 days after mine. When the girls were lamenting the fact that they didn’t know what to buy for Grammy or have a lot of money to spend on a present a week ago, I suggested that instead of taking her out for dinner tonight, we turn our home into a restaurant just for her. Talk about jumping on the bandwagon! The girls made me call her to find out what her favourite foods were and promised to help me cook the whole meal! We got out the fancy tablecloth, the good cutlery and even candles. Bethany drew the cover of the menu for the Birthday Bistro and Erin printed out the menu for the inside. When Grammy and Papa arrived, the girls were decked out in their nicest dresses with little tea towels over their arms to greet them. It was a fun and hilarious evening that ended with impromptu dancing and a magic show!

I also had a batch of orders to take up to Staples for Hoffman, the trunk show in Saint John this Saturday and two other shop orders that need to be mailed out this week. It reminded me of this time last year. I was up at Staples paying for a huge Hoffman order when I noticed a woman standing at the self-serve copy machine with a gigantic pile of cross stitch charts. I walked over to see how many she was systematically copying and there were easily 120 leaflets in the pile! I introduced myself politely and explained that what she was doing was breaking copyright law. I told her that as a cross stitch designer myself, I knew many of the designers whose work she was copying illegally. When she insisted in broken English that her friend had told her it was OK to copy anything she liked from her collection because patterns were SO expensive, I switched into French and fluently explained the issue in my other language. This did NOT go over well with the lady, but I remained polite and decided to leave instead of throwing a hissy fit in the store. A few days later, the local cross stitch shop told me about a customer stopping by who had been in the store with this lady. Apparently, she decided to buy her own copier so that she could copy patterns at home with out being hassled. After all.... the patterns were so VERY expensive. I wonder how many patterns she could have bought legally for the cost of a copier??

After Staples, I got a few more errands done when the phone rang. The colour proofs of the book were ready for approval!!!! I picked Bethany up from the bus stop and we drove across town to the printers to see the proofs. When she brought them out, the hair on my arms literally stood on end. It was SO COOL to see the colour slicks and the Dylux paper proof of the book flow. Of course I was a bit freaked out when I noticed that one whole galley was missing from the Dylux proof!! Apparently, they’d forgotten to output that center page (both sides) so the story didn’t match up at all... but that was quickly fixed and they stapled up the new sample for Kay and I to approve. Watching her look at the proofs was fun as well. It made all of those late nights seem worth it. In many ways, this is exactly how I felt after the girls were born. At first, you think “I am NEVER going to do this again!!!” but then suddenly, you find yourself thinking about the next one, forgetting about all the sleepless nights, pain etc.

Any creative process is taking the risk to bring something into the world. No wonder so many artists, writers, musicians etc. talk about their creations as being their babies!!!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Escape Weekends, Birthdays and Terrible Head Colds...

What is it about finishing a big deadline or task that invariably has your body crashing afterwards? Nick has been fighting allergies or a cold since going back to school and now I’ve come down with an absolutely horrid head cold... as a birthday present I’d rather NOT have had. Maybe once you get past 40, the warranty begins to run out a bit!

Our family had a glorious weekend of badly needed escape and family time up at Camp Tawasi this past weekend with about 35 other people from our church. It was time to get messy, walk on the beach, sit and chat, play with our kids and just enjoy a recharging weekend in the midst of all the back to school chaos. This is the 4th year that we’ve been and it has become a much-anticipated part of our fall rituals. We even got to try out Bethany’s Dragon Kite... but it spent most of the time diving to earth instead of soaring, which is kind of how this dragon feels right now!

I begin to understand the attraction of doping oneself up on cold medicine... but being hypo-thyroid, I really can’t take most of the drugs out there that would offer relief. Instead, I am honking away into piles of soggy tissue, putting vaseline on my nose so that it won’t feel so chapped, drinking warm liquids, sucking on cough drops and feeling pretty sorry for myself.

But amid all the germs, there were wonderful birthday memories as well. Of 41 cupcakes set on fire up at camp as they sang to me on Sunday morning, calls from family and friends, e-mail greetings from special people, an unexpected bouquet of flowers and some great hugs!! Now if I could just invent a bottomless box of kleenex!!!!!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back To School!!!

All three of my darlings headed out the door to school today!! Nick was a veritable Tigger of excitement this morning and at 6:55, I told him to just head out the door and up to school! There will never be another “First Day as Principal” of your first school... and it was a doozy. Over 30 kids extra showed up for the first day than had registered ahead of time, so there is some serious number juggling to be done. He’s headed up to bed already, happy but tired.

Mum and John have been down for a visit over the Labour Day weekend and drove the rest of us to Queen Elizabeth school this morning to get the girls settled. There is just SO much stuff to bring in the first day that very few kids actually take the bus. Bethany met her new teacher, one that Erin never had, and was thrilled to find a bigger desk just for her. She announced this afternoon that her Madame is the most wonderful teacher she’s had, so I think some of the anxiety from last night has been put to rest.

Erin was thrilled to discover that she was seated next to her best friend in the classroom, along with having one of her favourite teachers ever as her homeroom teacher this year. Best of all, she has a double Art period on Wednesday mornings, so she thinks that her schedule ROCKS! She got to show off her new hairstyle and clothes today with great reviews. Apparently a Grade 8 student stopped her in the hall and asked her where she got the totally cool outfit! Heady stuff to a Grade 6 student. Of course in typical Erin tomboy fashion, she also spent the lunch hour testing out the cool new piece of playground equipment with the gang of boys she plays football or running games with.

Tonight, I loaded all of the files, fonts and images onto a CD and printed out the paper proofs. I am off to the printer’s in the morning to turn in the files and get this book printed! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

Thursday morning, once they are all out the door or on the bus, I think I shall skip merrily down the street and see if I can’t tidy my office and put away all the pencils, pens and markers that have spent the summer cluttering up the floor of our dining room!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Endings, Beginnings, New Crayons and New Chances...

Other than loading everything onto a CD and getting it to the printer’s on Wednesday morning, the book is done! It’s a bit hard to believe that less than 4 months ago, I met the author for the first time at an enrichment day and then showed her some of my artwork a few days later. I still plan to check the final colour balance on the digital images of my drawings on their computers Wednesday morning to avoid any surprises when we get the colour proofs. Some of the images look VERY different from one computer to another here in my office, so it saves time and money if I look them over on their colour calibrated computers... but I am almost giddy at getting the hardest part of this project done.

Endings are rather bittersweet. There is the sense of accomplishment and pride in completing something, and yet a certain sadness that the challenge of that project is done. There is the excitement of looking forward to the next project and yet the freelance pitfall of wondering what it will be. Of course I already have 2 other graphics projects to work on in the next 2 weeks, a web site to update and Toronto to get ready for, so it’s not exactly as if I will be sitting around twiddling my thumbs!

Beginnings are exciting too! Erin and Bethany both spent the day getting everything ready for tomorrow’s first day of school. Erin took a lot of time to pick her outfit and Bethany took all of 30 seconds... but that is the difference between Grade 2 and Grade 6! We labeled all the school supplies, packed backpacks, made lunches etc.

There’s something so wonderful about looking at all the new school supplies. I love the empty notebooks waiting to be filled, the crayons and coloured pencils with their sharp, perfect points. Going back to school held all the potential for a brand new year of learning things, making new friends, getting a new teacher. It is still one of my favourite times of the year and it continues to teach me something even though I no longer step inside a classroom or change grade levels. Fall teaches me to let go of some things and shed them the way the trees shed their leaves in a riotous splendour. Fall reminds me that no matter how old you are, there are always new chances, new pages in our lives and new beginnings. Fall affirms that life cannot always be about the heat of the summer or the frantic energy of spring. There must also be a harvest and a time to slow down or sleep a bit and re-gather our resources until the next adventure.

I will be watching my daughters find their classrooms tomorrow morning before my own meetings. They will look to see where the tallest desk in the classroom is to know where they are sitting, just as I did not that very long ago. I can still remember the wonder, the excitement, the possibilities....

Now I just have to go upstairs and try to get my principal husband to settle down and get some sleep as well!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Creating Beaches Instead of Fuzzy Alien Monkey Babies...

I’ve been staring at the computer screen for the past 6 hours touching up digital photos of the artwork for the final versions. Removing a wrinkle in the paper here, lightening a background there and even creating a beach in one ocean scene for the author instead of redrawing the whole full-bleed layout by hand. I can copy grass, create new waves, expand a bush... so I know how to alter stuff pixel by pixel. Perhaps that’s why some of the tabloid headlines and photos don’t grab me anymore. I could probably create Fuzzy Alien Monkey Babies that looked a lot more believable. Mine would certainly be cuter!!

So tomorrow morning I will replace all the dingy rough photos with these touched up scans and then get everything ready to go to the printer on Wednesday morning. The colour proofs will be the most telling, but so far, despite the many hours to ensure the proper colour, detail etc. I am pleased to get the digital artwork so that it does the drawings justice. I didn’t spend all summer creating those images to have them go muddy when scanned or look icky because of how they were photographed.

This is where being a type A personality comes in handy. When I wasn’t happy with the results of the photo shoot because the stuff shot under the studio lights looked too yellow, I double checked by going to the printer’s and looking at the images on a calibrated screen... then went outside the next morning and shot all of the pictures again in full sunshine. There really isn’t anything like Mother Nature’s full spectrum light to bring out colours properly.

I did take a break this afternoon to go for a long walk on the trails at the Irishtown Nature Park about 15 minutes from the house by car. We all went and Mum & John were amazed at how many different kind of birds we saw. I am sure they will bring their binoculars next time!! Bethany complained a bit that her legs were going to fall off, but forced exercise is sometimes necessary!

Well, it is off to bed with one last chance to sleep in just a tiny bit before the routine of the 6:15 am alarm starts again for another school year. Updating the website for September will just have to wait a bit longer!!

Happy Labour Day Weekend everyone!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Last Drawing Is DONE!!!

What a wonder to think about heading off to be when it is only just past 11 pm! How marvelous to think about getting more than 5 hours sleep!!

The last drawing is done and they are all pressing beneath a huge weight to get them nice and flat for the photo shoot in the next few days. The friend whom I was going to bribe to help me is hip deep in Provincial Election work and as a fellow freelancer, I know that you can’t say no to work that pays, even if it means going on very little sleep. I called him tonight and offered another solution since our cameras are about the same power. If he can just set up the studio lights, I can run over there and shoot the pictures myself. I want to shoot all of them digitally as a back up because my scanner seems to darken scans to the blue end of the spectrum and that would make a LOT of calibrating before Wednesday’s deadline.

Tomorrow, I will shoot a very rough digital image of each drawing and use that for placement on the pages as I build each file in Quark Express. I can add the type and block out the placement of the images enough for the author to preview on Friday morning, even if I’m not using the final high-resolution photos.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! What an incredibly giddy feeling to have all of the drawings done! How hard it is to look at some of the pages and think “next time, I’d draw it from this angle....” When does that perfectionist streak ever turn off??

I have 2 pencils that now measure less than 1 inch high. I have nursed them along through the book, terrified that they would run out before I finished all of the drawings and that a replacement pencil would be as off as a different dye lot of floss. I may frame the tiniest of the two because drawing with it was such a funny thing to look at. Maybe I can get Mom or John (who just arrived for a week’s visit) to photograph me holding the tiny little pencil tomorrow.

How strange as well to think that this time last year, I was heading off to be She-Hulk at DragonCon in Atlanta. I do have a way of picking huge goals to accomplish and then crossing them off my life’s list. I do know that this will not be the ONLY book I Illustrate. As much work as it has been, it has also been a true joy. Wheeeeeeee! The Drawings are DONE!!! Time to build the final version of the book!!!!!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Knowing When Your Hands Have Had Enough...

I’m SO close!! The second to last illustration, the second most complex of the whole book is almost done, but after almost 4 hours steady of drawing as soon as I got the girls into their jammies, my hands are starting to shake and tremble. It is time to put the pen down for the night.

Knowing when to stop is one of the hardest things for a slightly obsessive personality. So often, when I was younger and more foolish, I would push myself to the absolute limits of my endurance while working on an assignment only to crash and burn once everything was done. I’d get a massive cold or something as my body rebelled against what I had demanded of it.

Perhaps, now that I am entering my 40s (I’ll soon be 41) I am finally getting some of that wisdom that I so admire in a few of my mentors and role models. It is very hard to turn off that Type A personality sometimes, but after the “oops” a few days ago, I am just not willing to take a chance and muck up an illustration.

Since it is well past midnight, that might be another clue that it is time to turn in for the night. I love the silence of working once everyone has gone to bed. It is the only way that I have had my “quiet, alone with my own thoughts time” this summer. I am SO looking forward to the empty house to get my work done in once everyone goes back to school!!!! At least my pens didn’t turn into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Good News Amid Total Panic...

Good news that many of our designs out there have been removed from the sites that were hosting them. Like mushrooms, I am sure that they will pop up again because speaking out against something that is wrong does tend to make one a bit of a target, but I needed that sense of accomplishment amid today’s horrid adventures. IF I believed in biorhythms, mine today would have been flat line. Everything that could slow things down, mess things up etc. seemed to be happening on a day when I was determined to get the 3rd to last illustration finished.

While the girls were out at VBS, the phone rang, the fax machine jammed, the washer got off cycle, and some of the socks fell into the garden instead of staying on the clothesline. The girls came home and I fed them a quick lunch, letting them picnic in the living room since Mommy had once again strewn the dining room table with every box of pencil crayons and felt pens that she owned. The girls were a bit wound from the morning’s activities, so I suggested the slip in a DVD to wind down a little. All went well for a while and I got the colouring and markering done then prepared to start inking the picture.

About halfway through the inking process, with the girls getting a bit rambunctious again, I moved my hand too quickly and smudged a whole section of the pigma marker detail!! I could have screamed!! I could have curled up in the corner and sobbed! I wanted to just rip everything to shreds and whirl around in the confetti bits as if trapped in some kind of giant snow globe!! But I didn’t. I did the logical thing and removed the children from the area, sending them to their rooms to play so that they wouldn’t accidentally be chewed up and spat out as I tried to deal with the panic and the “I’VE KILLED IT!!” reaction. This is where drawing by hand doesn’t come with an “undo” command!!! Poor Nick happened to call about then and when he asked if I wanted him to come home soon, I resisted the urge to yell “About 4 hours ago!!!” and instead just bit his head off... Sigh! Poor, patient husband living with a volatile dragon!!!

I had a sudden idea that coating the area with a thin layer of white gouache paint might give me a base to hide things under and camouflage the massive oops... but at that point I needed another soul who understood what I was going through and how hard I was trying not to cry or barf on my drawing!!! Luckily, Teresa was very understanding and supportive, making the appropriate sympathy noises in all the right places, despite the fact that I was interrupting her sweet corn canning. (Thanks!!!!) She agreed that gouache might do the trick, so at least I could get air into my lungs again by the time I ended the call. Upstairs I ran to put a light coat of gouache on the afflicted area before we headed over to a friend’s house for dinner. Tonight was the “thank you” dinner on their new deck which Nick helped build. It was wonderful not to have to cook or do dishes (they own a dishwasher... I am the dishwasher in our house!) but I admit that I didn’t fully relax or breathe deeply until about an hour ago when I finished the drawing. When I called Nick over to have a look, he couldn’t tell where the oops had been, so I am cautiously optimistic that the author and the digital camera won’t pick it up either. If they do, I will do a bit of touch up in Photoshop once the image is digital.

It takes courage to keep working on something when you think all hope is lost. It takes maturity not to walk away from disaster or make it worse in anger and frustration. My kids will see me deal with defeat and turn it into something beautiful. This is the greatest challenge and reward for any creative soul. Never give up.... even when all you see is the ashes!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Because Words Really DO Matter...

Tonight was SO amazing that I almost don’t know where to begin! I’m down to the last 3 illustrations for the book, including the huge double page spread for the centre of the book (which really should count for 2...) and feeling a bit frantic with the deadline for getting everything to the printers for September 6th.

Nick got free tickets to EVENINGSIDE tonight, in the tradition of Peter Gzowski to help raise funds for literacy before the PGI tournament here in Moncton tomorrow. We got the girls favourite baby sitter to come over early so that Nick and I could sneak out for a quick sushi fix before the show started. It was held at the Capitol Theatre downtown, a beautifully restored old theatre and the variety of the program would have made Peter Gzowski proud. For those of you who aren’t Canadians, Peter was a very famous broadcaster , reporter and writer who hosted the CBC radio show MORNINGSIDE for many years. Mr. Canada was a fixture on the radio every morning for many of us growing up. 20 years ago, he got together with a couple of friends and held a golf tournament to raise money for and awareness about literacy. Moncton has actually raised the most money of any city in Canada with its yearly tournament, far more than cities many times its size such as Toronto or Vancouver. It was truly a night to celebrate our cultural diversity and our community’s generosity.

I am such a voracious reader, and I learned to read so early, that for many years, I truly did not grasp what problems those who cannot read face each and every day of their lives. I simply could not imagine someone not wanting to, or even not being able to, curl up with a good book and escape. Let’s face it... I was a reading snob!

Then along came my daughter, Bethany. Unlike her older sister, Bethany showed little interest in reading and putting letters, sounds or words together. This could have had something to do with the fact that Erin, four years older and eager to prove her superiority, would always jump in and read the word before Bethany was halfway through sounding out the first syllable! Suddenly, I could see that to learn to read was harder for some than others. At one point I despaired that Bethany would never read well in English before she went into Grade 1 Immersion... and then the reading bug bit! While she prefers to read Neopets magazines and the text in the Harvest Moon games, she will also pull out a picture book now and then to curl up with.

What must it be like to not love and revere the written word? What must it be like to be terrified that someone will ask you to read something and your secret will be out?? Tonight’s fundraiser and tomorrow’s tournament are all about helping others to learn to read.

What a night it was!! From the comedy of our local Hubcap Comedy Troop and Laura Earl to incredible readings by New Brunswick’s Lieutenant Governor the Honorable Herménégilde Chiasson and Myriam Cyr to incredible music by Blues master Marc-André Léger, Oumou Soumaré’s African songs and 3 songs by Canadian Idol Top 5 finalist Casey LeBlanc I’m not sure how loudly Erin will squeal when she wakes up tomorrow morning and finds the autographed copy of the new album from Braided . Erin is determined to audition for Canadian Idol as soon as she turns 16. It was fun for Casey to be back at the Capitol Theatre because that was where she auditioned for the show in the first place!

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the readings by Peter Mansbridge and local radio host Rhonda Whittaker. They read some of the letters that Canadians has written in to Peter’s Morningside show over the years and shared stories about how important literacy became to him once a guest shared what a problem illiteracy was more than 20 years ago.

It was fun to meet him after the evening was over. I was wearing my 3” heels and I think he was a bit surprised at having to look up to Nick and I. He’s fairly tall himself, incredible well spoken and generous in carrying on this wonderful tradition in Peter’s memory.

Those of you who read this blog are not the ones who need help, but I am thinking about creating a special dragon with a book to add to the sample page of our website once things calm down a bit. Those who attend my classes at the CSNF in October will probably be the first to get their claws on this as a class treat, but I think it is important to create something to raise awareness, celebrate a love of reading and of course urge people to read to a child or volunteer their time to help someone learn to read.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Moving On Does Not Mean Goodbye!

The outpouring of messages that drifted into my e-mail since my last post, the comments posted here and on my Multiply site have prompted me to blog tonight to clarify what I meant.

Part of the switch for this blog and our website in the last year has been to reflect the greater view of my life as an artist, instead of only a needlework designer. I have always loved to make pictures, create images, play with craft supplies, dream and imagine possibilities that don’t have to be anchored by laws of physics or practicality. To be creative is to always look for the possible impossible. To dream of unicorns and dragons.

For the past 12 years, I have been making most of my publicly recognized images with needle and thread. Ever since I began doing cross stitch, I have imagined pictures made up of little stitches, written poems that begged to have bands of stitches or tiny images enhance the words or added sparkle and shine to imaginary creatures that I could never have done with watercolour or pencil. The fact that some of my ideas literally do not leave me in peace until I put them onto graph paper will not change... I doubt I will ever walk away from needlework completely, because it brings me the most amazing satisfaction to watch something grow stitch by stitch until suddenly... you have a picture!!

What has kept me enthused about stitching this summer, amid all the chaos of the show we traveled to and the book illustrations, is looking forward to the CSNF show in Toronto later this fall. Like the chance to meet store owners in person at a trade show, this incredible multi-craft extravaganza lets me RECHARGE my creative batteries instead of depleting them. Spending time with stitchers is one of the most rewarding experiences I can think of... to get their feedback on a new design that comes out as a class before the rest of the world sees it... to spend time laughing and celebrating what we love about stitching... to fondle new fibres or play with new beads. That is what keeps me going through the grind of reporting illegal sites or firing off letters about infringements I see to other designers.

All creativity involves risk. No one knows that better than creative souls in our modern society. Arts and Music programs are slashed in schools. Songs, movies and patterns are traded electronically by people who truly don’t care that they are breaking the law. Ideas shared could be ideas stolen. But in a world that seems to focus so much on the negative and the horrific, those who create offer places of refuge, peace and enjoyment.

I just laughed and snorted my way through The Second Summoning by Tanya Huff that I found before our trip. Having the story set in Toronto and other parts of Ontario was just the icing on the cake. For the few hours it took me to devour the book (I’ve always been a speed reader in English. I’m about average pace in French) I was totally captivated by her witty style and knack for throwing in the neatest zingers. The book has now been fondly placed among the several hundred books that clog our basement shelves, to be enjoyed again someday.

This morning, after I pretty much averted the flooding of my office due to a freak 2 hours of rainfall (the carpet beneath the window is still a little soggy from the waterfall when I got the pump into the window well) the soothing sounds of Pachabel’s Canon restored my sense of calm as I settled down to complete another illustration. Just 5 more to go!!!

Without the creativity of others, my life would be so much poorer...

I just still don’t understand why or when it became acceptable to steal it?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Back, Unpacked and Angry

Coming home from any trip is a mixed blessing. You are so glad to be back in your own home, your own bed and eating your own food, but reality crashes in with tasks such as laundry, paying bills, buying groceries etc.

We got home much later than we expected after some real adventures getting home. The flight we were supposed to take from Charlotte to Newark on Wednesday with Continental was delayed because of a part that needed to be fixed in the plane, but the airline immediately began rerouting passengers on other flights and even with other airlines rather than have us sit around for 4 to 5 hours. Remembering what Terri and I went through to get to the show in Nashville last February, I think Air Canada could learn a thing or two from how proactive Continental was!!

So we found ourselves waiting around the Charlotte airport for an extra hour before boarding a flight to Philadelphia with US Airways. We reached Philadelphia on time, but had to race to the other end of the airport via a shuttle bus and reached the gate just as the flight to Bangor was boarding. No lunch for any of us, but the stewardess did make sure we each had 5 or 6 packs of pretzels! We arrived in Bangor a mere 40 minutes after the Continental flight would have been in and ALL FIVE of our bags made it!! We went over to both the US Air and Continental desks to compliment them for getting us here etc. and they looked quite surprised to get Positive Feedback!!

We jumped in the car and raced for Skowhegan to get to the New Balance Tent Sale that happens every year during the State Fair. With Nick and I having such odd sized feet (13 E for him and 12 AA for me) when it comes to sneakers, it pays to get our sneakers as seconds instead of paying full price. We then drove back to the hotel and stayed overnight so that we could do a bit of back to school shopping for the girls in the morning before heading back to Canada. Erin and Bethany love having outfits that no one else in the class have!

We arrived home late on Thursday night and dragged everything to the basement to unpack the following day. I downloaded all my e-mail and headed off to bed. As we unpacked, sorted laundry and got caught up on messages, I discovered a horrid copyright violation of my designs on both Multiply and a Russian site. 27 of the 95 designs I’ve created were there for anyone to request by e-mail!!! The Russian site also had a ton of Karen and Teresa’s works as well, so I let them know.

All 3 of us are getting very fed up and discouraged by the core infringers that trade stuff on such a large scale. I blogged about it on my Multiply site and asked them to answer some basic questions that have puzzled me since all this first began more than 6 years ago. So far, no one has been brave enough to answer... I wonder why??

Most stitchers are incredibly honest people who truly support the designers of the patterns they enjoy stitching. What is so sad is that a small percentage of techno-savvy pirates have the ability to do so much damage to the industry. Less stores are spending the money to go to shows. Less designers will go if there are no stores to sell to or take the risk of spending money to create something which can be stolen so easily. It is sad to think that some people truly do not consider this ethically or morally wrong. It is scary to be told that the legal system has much more important things to worry about that friends sharing something for the joy of it around the world. I wish I knew what the answer was... It just makes me glad that I have already begun to move on to other things.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ready To Fly Home...Almost

Today was all about how you need to be adaptive when things don't go as planned. We had a lesson in that last Thursday with all our airport adventures, and usually one lesson is enough! We headed up to Concord today to take a tour of the track and lunch at the Speedway Club, but when we arrived, it turned out that all track tours had been cancelled due to a huge motorhome show that was taking up most of the inner race field.

We went over to Concord Mills to indulge in some retail therapy and Nick actually found a cool sports jacket and a few pairs of pants, so we mall ratted until they were tailored, but decided against going back to the Speedway Club for lunch, especially after they told us that a huge group was coming in for lunch from the Motorhome show.

So now we're mostly packed and ready to get on the plane tomorrow, except for one annoying detail. Bethany is a HUGE neopets fan and I had pre-ordered a set of stuffed neopets from them on e-bay to be delivered while we were here in Charlotte. I'd even checked with them about the shipping time when I placed the order and was assured that Priority Mail would get it to us in time.

Alas, we have to leave the hotel at 7 am tomorrow morning. Bethany has been anxiously checking with the front desk every day since we got here, and has now tearfully given up. I will try to leave them some money to maybe mail us the package in Canada, but it has been an annoying and frustrating experience. Everything worked so well last year for my She-Hulk boots...

I guess, when it boils right down to it, how we react to life's curve balls says a lot about how we face life in general. We saw a lot of people yelling and taking their frustrations out on others last Thursday as everyone struggled to cope with the new travel guidelines. I hope that we can teach our kids not to meet the unexpected with anger and verbal outbursts, but with patience and a sense that eventually all will be well... or at least to be thankful for all that we still have.