Monday, December 29, 2008

Blog Fun Ahoy!

I've been cooped up a lot, surprise surprise, but I'm putting the time to good use by catching up on my favorite blogs.

Holy frijoles, I just found out I won a contest on the Bind-it-All blog! Yeah, I know, you'd think I'd have figured it out before this, but I can be surprisingly ditzy. Sure, I wondered what became of that zombie pic I sent out, but then I figured I'd have heard something in my email box by now if anything exciting came to pass. Apparently it's harder to find my email via this blog than I thought. I'll have to look into some sort of "contact me" dealie for this thing. Don't wait up...I'm still trying to figure out how to add links to my friends' blogs somewhere on the margin of this thing.
Anyway, speaking of links, here I am:
Fully zombified! I just wish I'd been well enough to keep my plans to join the zombie walk invading downtown Raleigh, but I guess that's what next halloween is for.

Tra-la-la...on to the next blog I'm all worked up about. Meet Becky Higgins (if you don't know her already) and Project 365:
Now, a couple of summers ago I got the idea to take a picture every day and scrapbook them. This lasted about one week, producing the following photos:

And then I kind of forgot that I was doing it. So when I saw Becky Higgins' 365 Project it made me go, "Oh yeah! Maybe I'll give it a try again." I'm hoping the kit's unforgiving daily spaces each requiring filling (or they'll sit there like a big toothless grimace at the end of the week) will keep me honest and on task. As silly as it sounds, the pics you see here--boring as they may be to people who aren't, well, me--actually are pretty evident of the time they were taken. Usagi (shown with head inside a stock pot) is wearing a funny little necklace I made for her, Revco, and some of their other canine pals around that time. Those cute little beady eyed furballs were flying squirrels my friend Lisa was rehabilitating at the time. And yes, that's my head in a traction unit which I noticed via other pictures, gives me this really creepy over-facelifted look when it's pulling on the skin around my forehead. How would I have otherwise learned this important information? :) In another, Scott is working out at the gym where we used to go before I got so much worse. And therein lies my one fear in doing this. I'm scared it will make my degeneration even more evident than it already is. And it's been bad lately. On the other hand, maybe I'll find that I'm putting too much focus on the bad times. Or maybe I'm missing something important that can make life better, physically or mentally. Or, I could just end up with a neat photographic project, which is really all I want from it anyway.
And one last blog link. A fellow Fiskateer has asked us to feature a link to her site with pics from the new classes she is teaching:
Yeah, the classes are a leeeeeeeeeeeeeetle far away for those of us in NC to attend, but the card organizer idea struck me as a project that could be cool to mimic using all that left over holiday scrapbooking paper and whatnot in order to make a book to keep all those Xmas cards in. And while you're poking around, check out the store's site. There are more pics on the classes page including the "Love Notes" book (using the Bind-it-All, thus we come full circle) that also offers a neat design that could be repurposed to store those stacks of glittery cards I never have any idea what to do with once we stash our tree away for another year. Maybe if I can ever get caught up on the Raleigh Rodent Rescue emails (I swear people believe that animal rescue workers don't eat, sleep or celebrate holidays. Or at least they believe that we shouldn't), you'll get to see my version here. Maybe. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In Good with the In Laws and Rolling Around Disney

Thanksgiving used to be my least favorite holiday by far. In school it just seemed like an unnecessary interruption in my life. Why not just add a few extra days to xmas break? With my parents divorced and not in a real friendly way, it was a supremely awkward holiday. Who celebrates what when? If I stay too long at one place I risk insulting the other, and leaving too early does the same. And don't forget the mandatory mass. Not that I'm against going to other people's religious services, but it's complicated when your mom's a Catholic who desperately wants to believe you are too, yet your Buddhist principles won't let you disrespect the Church by going to Communion (it's a Catholic thing) so things get all complicated. And that was just the beginning.

As you can imagine, Thanksgiving is the high holy day of awkwardness for vegans. Family members used to either go overboard trying to accommodate my eating choices, resulting in embarassment and apologies all around when I can't eat anything they made because they thought dairy products were vegan (and I can't even cheat a little to be nice, even if I wanted to, because I am also wildly allergic to dairy. Eating it would only make things even more awkward as I projectile vomited all over the little ceramic pilgrim centerpiece.) or they'd be annoyed as hell with me, taking my veganism as a personal affront, and spent the entire dinner saying things like, (Quote) "You know this vegetarian thing you're doing in just stupid, right?" While I smile and nod politely wishing I could just sink to the center to the earth. Either way, I end up spending the the whole time wishing everyone would please please just ignore me. I love it when people cook for me, but it's not mandatory, and skipping a meal never killed anyone. Neither has pushing a banana and a scoop of cranberry sauce around your plate trying to make it look like you're feasting, but not eating feels a lot less weird.

Now that I'm significantly more independent and the tables have turned so thereare more vegans in the family than otherwise, Thanksgiving is a whole lot easier and has become something I actually look forward to. The last couple of years, I even dare to call it "relaxing". I had a great time hanging out with mom and Nicky (my brother) in Tallahassee, exploring the joys of Big Lots together, and kicking back with the inlaws in whatever small town they live in near Tampa, was pretty darn pleasant. My mother in law is also a crafty girl, so I even got some work done on my xmas projects. Can I go back now. Please? I sent out a bajillion thanksgiving cards (a set soon to be available on my Etsy site), made a ribbon/paper tree, finished a few presents which I can't show here because, well, my friends read this.

The highlights of the trip, for me, were getting to bring the dogs along (isn't Revco cute in his wee little stripey shirt?) and going to Disney World for a day. It killed me to have to leave with only half of the Magic Kingdom done, but you can see from the pic that I wasn't too upset about it. Surely we can come up with an excuse to go again. Jen, Alex, I'm looking at you.

So, I duno, I think I can honestly say Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays now. Tell that to the girl feeling guilty for secretly pulling full sticks of butter out of the mashed potatoes when her grandmother had turned around, the girl who got pinkeye from the stepmonster's mistreated Great Dane who was used to being punched in the face by a stepbrother that girl was pretty sure would stalk or shoot her one day, the same girl who showed up for a second Thanksgiving dinner only to hear, "You look so disgusting, I can't even look at you, now get in the car or we'll be late for church."
I don't think she'd believe it. Then again, I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds themselves trying to shake some of the holiday's less desirable traditions, memories, and all those things that look so nice in TV commercials. Go ahead, click that comment box and purge your Thanksgiving nightmares and weirdness. I dare you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My disgusting finger: a scrapbooking injury

A few months ago I was at Jen K's taking a class on cardmaking (which ruled, by the way). I needed to set a brad or something so I got out the pokey stick to, well, poke a hole through the paper. Should be simple, it's the most basic of tools, right? Of course, I was totally not thinking about what I was doing because I rarely ever seem to have the focus to pay attention to one thing at a time, and without thinking, used my index finger to support the back of the paper and jammed the paper piercer well into the end of my finger. It was one of those things you just stare at, unbelieving, it's so far in there. It seemed like I was pulling the thing out forever, like magicians scarves--there can't possibly be *that* much in there.

Okay but that's not the gross part. A few weeks later, it's healed shut, but there's this weird bump that seems to be getting bigger. This doesn't sit well with me. I have ocd and this new development offends my sensibilities for two reasons: anything that doesn't feel "right" must be gouged, and I am terrified of warts, never had one, but that doesn't stop me from being petrified that it might be one.

Sidestory: When I was 7 or 8, I started piano lessons as many children do. I had a really sweet piano teacher, always caring, patient, gave her students gum or sourballs after our lessons. There were two things that filled me with dread, that I desperately tried not to notice, my stare burning holes in the sheet music to avoid acknowledging existed. One was her toenails, longer than Cruella de Ville's talons, carefully filed, impeccably polished. The worst were the pinky toes with their inhuman, unnatural little nails, curled into tiny tubes that nearly touched the floor when she walked (which she did rarely.)

The other thing that freaked me out (which is also more pertinent to the gross finger story) was this gigantuan wart on her right hand pinky. A pink, perfectly round balloon attached by a small spot of skin on the first (from the end) joint of the finger. Was it filled with air? Water? It couldn't be blood, it was too pale. This growth prevented her little finger from getting within 3/4 of an inch of the rest of her hand, something that had to be a great hinderance when playing the piano. Every time she'd slide next to me on the piano bench to play a new song for me, I was frozen in slack-jawed fear that today would be the day the bubble would finally close that tiny gap of skin completely, certain that when she got up to return to her knitting chair, the perfect sphere of flesh would remain on the keyboard, teetering perfectly balanced for a moment before falling onto the front of my uniform skirt.

So, anyway, fearing this is my karmic punishment for being unable to think of her without thinking of this fleshy superball, I find an edge and get to gouging. I'm surprised when it gives without a fight and...ugh...a hard, white sphere falls out of the wound, leaving a clean empty crater. Gross! Once I'm done being amazed (and deciding that, no, I won't save the sphere as sideshow style souvenier) I slap a band-aid on it and forget it.

Lo and behold, the bump forms again. I can't help messing with it. I'm completely petrified that it will be somehow contageous and I will end up with bumps everywhere it touches, so for the weeks since it has reappeared, I've had to wash anything it accidentally comes in contact with. You can likely imagine what a pain in the ass this is. So, last night, I'd had it with this thing, and again, it gives with surprising ease, guessed it...another hard marble falls out of it, leaving, again, a clean, bloodless cavern.

What the hell is this thing? Scott suggested that I am gestating spider eggs in there, but I have my doubts. How does one go about figuring out why this is happening without spending $50 at urgent care? I don't think it would be much help to google "Puncture wound healed with hard rubber ball inside. What does it mean?"

It is a mystery.

Just be thankful I decided not to post photos.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No news is not usually good news.

Greetings Earthlings,

I again apologize for my silence. I've been trudging through spinal hell with a komodo dragon on my back taking juicy bites from the back of my neck. Or so it feels. It seems I must be doing something horribly wrong or it's just sucking because my spine sucks in general. To be honest, I haven't been *as* good about my traction, though I am doing it each day, because the more I hurt, the less desire I have to lie on the floor with my head in a vice. Forgive me father, for I have sinned. My penance is loud and clear.

So, cooped up for a week, unable to do much of anything, I decided to go to Scrap Mania at Archivers last night, pain or no pain. I figured I'd at least get an hour or two out of the house, which shines like the holy grail before me. After about 30 minutes, I was having trouble focusing and holding onto the watercolor pencils I'm using on a batch of halloween cards I've been trying to finish all week. (With a little luck, many of you should be receiving one on the mail shortly. I'm pleased with them so far. And to my ATC swapper friends, I haven't forgotten you either. :))

40 minutes, I'm up and down trying to find whether standing, sitting, or walking helps reduce the pain any. They don't, but I get a chance to take a look at the discount bins that I don't have to bend over for. I am tempted by Cloud 9 Christmas paper packs for $6.99 (Heidi Grace too!) and some net-like flowers from Autumn Leaves (I think) reduced to $1.99--they even come in those handy clear bags with the snaps at the top! but thinking about actually having a conversation with another human in order to buy them is just more than I can handle. I go back to my table where I run into my friend Darlene (remind me to do an entry about how much she rocks, sometime) and try very hard to listen to what she's saying and say something sensical in return. I stumble over a word (begins with a b or d, I can't remember) and feel stupid. It's like trying to talk to someone while standing in the middle of three techno bands trying to outdo each other. My focus is bad, despite actively trying to latch my attention onto anything but the pain. I'm losing.

60 minutes. I am trying to compose myself before returning to the table. I have tried to call Scott several times to ask him to pick me up and take me home, but he's not picking up. I try to call again. I have to find a place to sit down so I go back to the crop room.

1 hr, 15 min. I try holding my head in my hands to take the weight off of my neck and I can't help it, I start tearing up. I try to be quiet about it, but next thing I know I have to sniffle or drip on the cutting mat in front of me, and the sound gives me away. I try to call one more time, and when I open my mouth to leave a message, my voice comes out wailing. The others at the table, ask if there's something they can do to help, and I see genuine concern on their faces, but I have to tell them there's nothing anyone can do except Scott and he can't hear his phone or something.
I try to explain why there's no help, and I feel bad for a) making a complete specticle of myself, interrupting their evening that should be relaxing and fun, not awkward because your table-mate bursts into tears on you, and b) sounding like I want pity or something. I just want the pain to shut the hell up and let me focus. Please.

1:30 Scott is coming. The phone had accidentally been turned off. Again I feel like a total jerk for pulling someone else away from what they were doing, though he's always more than gracious. While I wait, I try to stay away from the other croppers in an attempt to call less attention to myself.

1:35 I discover that if I sit on the floor behind the Doodlebug display, I can rest in a less painful position while appearing to be shopping. The muscle relaxers must be working because I have the brain capacity to notice the sparklrific tree card someone at the store made for the display. The main trick to it is using like $20 worth of shiny jewels to embellish the tree, but it's still a cool effect. I think if I could have an endless supply of any thing for scrapping, it would be those things.

I end up moving to the Bazzil Cardstock area when I think someone is catching on that I'm not on the floor to pick something up or check out the bottom display. I decide that I'm really into the "Swimming Pool" colored cardstock, though there's a deep red dotty design that isn't to be ignored either. Of course, buying either of those would mean standing up, so forget it.

By the time Scott arrives I am so ready to leave that I ask a totally non-employee bystander if she can open the handicapped exit door, which makes me feel like a total genius.

So, that's my most recent exciting night out. I'm sorry I couldn't make your crops today, Teresa and Barbie and sorry I had to cancel on you Laura. I hope you aren't too upset with me, but I just couldn't do it. To everyone else, sorry if this entry is a bit mororse. I don't mean to be, but I wanted to let you know where I've been.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Product Playground 2: Super crafty fun for shut-ins. ;)

Okay, so I'm not really a shut-in, I'm certainly not a go-out either. My spine gave me a bit of a break on Saturday and I took the opportunity to go scrap with Teresa, my silly-fun-also-a-francophile-like-me friend and Creative Memories Consultant. (Make her rich. Shop her site.) I finally finished the mini album I was making for my friend Darcy. Yep, the pics were from March and it took me this long to finish them all. Considering I made three albums, that's not so bad. I made a big album for me:

One for Dan and Steve, whose house we visited in Sonoma:
Yep, that's their dog, Piper. I love photographing animals, so my albums have a disproportionate number of animals photos in them. Anyway, I finished the entire set of pics when I completed the last mini album:

Hooray! We just had glitter week in the Product Playground class at Big Picture Scrapbooking, hence this album ended up sparkly sparkly sparkly! If you know me, you know I thrive on glitter, so this week was my favorite. I went nuts. If you skip over to my other blog you can see a set of cards I carefully glittered using a weensie glue pen and superfine glitter. I love how they came out. The cover, above, was glittered using Stickles. I began my relationship with Stickles by being completely opposed to them. I thought they were just a crappy glitter glue that couldn't hold a candle to the real thing. But lo! I had apparently bought a defective bottle, which the lovely ladies at Archivers were nice enough to not only exchange, but to check each new bottle on their shelf in an effort to replace it, discovering that the entire batch of that color was defective. Once that problem was solved, they also showed me that I was using them incorrectly, holding the tip away from the paper and letting it glop on like a thick worm. Touching the tip to the paper (or nearly so) was the key and now I am addicted to these neat little bottles. I get all excited about what color I'm going to get next time I can, choosing the new one long before I finally get it. Last week I obtained the long dreamed of "green". Now I'm obsessed with the new "Holly" one that is green with wee little flecks of red. Oh yeah! It's xmas card time!

I still don't think Stickles will ever replace the real thing when it comes to glitter (see the super sparklerific tree, above, made using Stampin Up glitter and crystal effects and Doodlebug superfine glitter, but they are an easy way to play with the sparkly stuff when you're in a situation where you don't want to make a mess (nod to Jen K. and her studio floor. :)) or if you're in a hurry (though the drying time is much longer than with real glitter.)
Oh! And on the subject of glitter, I had a new "find" this week: Creative Memories Precision glue pens are my new favorite glitter adhesive. I know I've spent a lot of time extoling the virtues of Quickie Glue pens, but they shy in comparison. I've been converted. The CM ones are a bit more generous with the glue, allowing more glitter to stick to your project, and they are just as easy to use as the Quickies. I think they are bit more expensive, though they appear to hold a *lot* more glue, so even if you use more, my hypothesis is that it will still last longer. I'll have to get back to you on that, but in the mean time, give them a try.

Monday, September 22, 2008

CKC, part three!

Gasp! I can't believe it! I finally finished all of the mini kits they gave us at the crops at CKC Charlotte. I used them to make an album for my nephew, Drew. His parents don't scrap, and since I don't have kids (thank god!) it's a fun opportunity for me to do my fair share of kid pictures. It helps alleviate my angst about the fact that scrapbooking books and mags are so obsessed with child layouts, mostly ignoring any other subjects that child-free adults scrap about. Oh sure, they toss in a pet layout sometimes. Or maybe a "when I was a kid" one, but I get soooo tired of layouts titled "Surfer Dude" with a little kid in a Myrtle Beach t-shirt and sunglasses. Actually, there are a few good books that focus on subjects other than children, but that's another post. :)

So, sometimes it's fun to get to flip through the mental rolodex filled with thousands upon thousands of kiddie layouts I've seen in my lifetime. As I've mentioned before, it's kind of neat to get to try all these kits they gave us. The deal was that many of the manufactuers with booths at the convention donated 6x6 page kits to be given out at the nightly crops. They also gave us a lovely black canvas scrapbook to keep them in (though there were more kits than pages, which is actually really cool. It's rare that I need to buy refill pages, and it makes for a really nice gift album I'm excited to send to my sister in law. Many of the kits aren't really my style, but I like that--it forces me to do something different and makes for a cool, varied album. So...da ta da! Here are the final kit layouts.

Let's begin with my favorite. This kit was from Technique Tuesday. I was excited to get it in the first place because I couldn't get into any of their classes despite registering early. Next time I sign up the day they open reservations! Word got out that their classes are amazing and usually come with some nifty toys to take home, so who wouldn't want to sign up. This layout makes me want to go nuts ordering stuff on their website, but I'm doing a 100 layout no-shop challenge so that will have to wait.

This set included a mini stamp set (Time Flies), a mini stamp pad in Caribbean Sea, a bit of twill, and one of their Technique Tiles. The layout is entirely stamped, meaning nothing was pre-printed. How very cool. It was a great way to showcase their products and it totally convinced me of their quality and versatility. Probably the most interesting part was the Technique Tile since I had no idea what they were talking about in their literature when they mentioned these. I assumed it was just chipboard, and in a way it is, but it's also something very different. The surface is a nice clean white (no need to pre-paint), it took ink like a dream, and it's thin, yet sturdy. The price seems comparable to chipboard, too. Overall, I just love the look of this layout. The little extras, like the two step stamped twill ribbon, make this layout, and the "I did it myself" factor rules. I was really impressed with the ease of following their directions, too. Considering how much technique (no pun intended) went into creating this layout, it was incredibly easy to complete. It's hard to see in the photo, but the second page is double mounted. Not a big thing, but a nice touch that makes the layout feel "finished".

The next layout is lazer cut by EZ Lazer Designs. I'm not fond of yellow, but the concept here is pretty cool. The collage page, with windows for an assortment of photos is like an updated version of those collage picture frames from the 80's. :) The one tricky part I absolutely could not figure out was how to ink the edges of the mats as the instructions suggested. Clearly a stamp pad will not fit in all those little nooks, and when I tried a Stampin' Up brush pen, it slipped a lot and made a mess I had to cover with brads (hence all the metal on the first page. I had to add more to make it look less I like was covering mistakes, so there are quite a few. While I didn't feel like this theme was very "me", this page did get a lot of oohs and aahs from those looking at the finished project and I have to say that the stuff they have in their online store looks pretty darn cool. I wish now that I had checked out their booth a little more closely. Some products are more attention grabbing than others when you're in a crowded vendor room, and unfortunately, I did feel magnetized to it. Hooray for online shopping, huh? I think these cut outs just don't show well without being fully scrapped. They need embellishments, photos. The layouts on the front page of their site are beautiful. I may have also run into the unpleasant hunting, gun, and rodeo cuts and backed away. I just don't need to deal with that stuff.

They also gave us a little package of Phrase Plates that I have not had a chance to use yet. I'll be sure to post the layout when I do.

Overall? Cool stuff, neat idea for something really different in your albums. I wouldn't use it on every page, certainly, but sprinkled around, they're pretty fun.

This is another layout I really like, but I always expect to like Rusty Pickle projects. The paper rocks, and with an English degree focused on 17th century lit, I'm in love with the names. The background paper is Montague, and I desperately need more! The instructions were all but cryptic, though, and I kind of winged it on a lot of this layout, giving up on the instructions and finally just looking at the photo and figuring it out as best I could, so I apologize to the designers if this doesn't represent them well. Part of the problem was that it gave instructions identifying the paper pieces by design name, but the name wasn't written on the pieces so you had to guess. I ended up with some extra mystery pieces (hey, no problem, I'm happy to have extra rusty pickle stuff to play with!) and I think one completely different piece was missing. But, what confuses me most is how a company with such incredible product design and amazing project ideas (I wanted to take all of their classes but the fees were a bit too rich for my blood.) can have such a lousy website. I'm not kidding at all. It's ugly, it's difficult to find anything you're looking for, and it's completely disorganized to the point of uselessness. The first thing you see when you click it (and maybe it's somehow my computer's fault and if it is, I apologize) is a nearly blank screen with a Crash Bandicoot ad or something. You have to scroll down through some sloppy text before you even get a glimpse of their beautiful papers that should be the focus of the site. The blog is much nicer, but a pain to get to since it doesn't have its own link--every single page on the site has the same URL. The blog has contests, page maps, all kinds of fun stuff, but how do I put it in my favorite's file? It's time to spring for a web designer, guys. I know I sound bitchy as hell, but it's such a waste for such a cool company to display their product so poorly. Would you buy things if you walked into a scrapbook store and saw the most incredible supplies in the world stuffed wadded up in grimy boxes with creepy grease stains on the sides? It's like having a sales person sitting at the front of your store speaking nonsense while picking their nose. You can have the Hope diamond for $5 in there and you won't make a sale. I adore Rusty Pickle. It's just sad.
Back to the layout. I loved using the rudimentary (Xeroxed) template sheet they provided to cut out my own embellishments. It's good to be reminded that you don't have to have epoxy this, and felt that to make a great layout. I sidestepped the sweet eternal love quote, since it sounded a little creepy when used on a layout about your nephew, but the layout worked well without it. The assortment of buttons was a nice touch. I love that they went with a mixed bag instead of uniform ones. Some looked vintage, some very contemporary. They add a lot of interest to the page.

The final layout was a nice surprise from a company I had never heard of. Embellish It makes a mighty fine kit. Browsing their website I quickly found at least 5 more I want (100 page challenge, Veronica. Control yourself!) and a whole bunch of cool embellishments from companies I haven't even heard of. And believe me, I know a lot of companies with all the time I spend browsing scrapbooking stores online. Cool, eclectic candy store. I'm impressed.
I just like this layout. Because a piece was missing from the kit (arrgh! It's forgivable in this case. They warned us at the crop that many of the kits (not just by Embellish it) were missing pieces due to the massive number of kits put together on a deadline. I can only imagine the chaos and boredom. Anyway, the missing piece was the other half of the filigree strip across the bottom. It's kind of sad since the layout was so cool in its original form, but I did my best to make it work anyway. I did add a little extra sparkle in addition to the gems they sent to try to fill up some of the blank space and I had to find a replacement ribbon for the one wrapped around the photo mat because I totally screwed up the one they gave me, thinking it was supposed to be enough for both the mat and the word block. Oops. Luckily I had some leftover Wild Wasabi double stitched ribbon by Stampin' Up that just happened to match. Cool!
According to the website Embellish It produces two new kits on the third Sunday of the month, one product centric, the other all about the project. I know I plan to watch out for the next one. I wish they had a reminder system to send out emails on that Sunday, and maybe they do, but I didn't have any luck finding it to sign up. Darn.
Speaking of Stampin' Up, brace yourself for a shameless can now order from me online! Cool beenz! All you have to do is go to my site: and click on "Shop Now". It's just like ordering from me in person, but a lot quieter. :) May I recommend my favorite item that is on sale right now? I used Under the Stars to make these ATC's on acetate. I adore how guilty that racoon looks.
Yes, he is roasting a tiny can of beans.
The other product endorsement of the day is the rocking Halloween paper they came out with this year. I'm sure you'll see some projects using it soon. It's got happy skulls, jack-o-lanterns with fangs, black on black just rules. See for yourself! Spooooooooooooooooky.

3 a.m. Mope mope mope.

Sorry to be so off topic, but it's 3 a.m. and I'm feeling rather bitter tonight. I just lost the baby orphaned mouse I was rehabbing (I'm a licensed wildlife rehabilitator), breaking my heart yet again. I tend to think of myself as pretty tough when it comes to dealing with life and death. It happens a lot when you, you know, live on earth, but especially when you work with such short-lived creatures as most rodents. And when you rescue, or in this case, do wildlife rehabilitation, you run into death even more often since many of the animals arrive ill or older. Sure there are lots of healthy young animals too, but as every rescuer knows, those are the ones who adopt out quickly, meaning we (suckers that we are) end up with the hard-luck cases, the broken hearts, and the sleepless nights wishing we could do more.

Wildlife rehab is hard hard work and sadly, when they arrive so small, so starved, they are next to impossible to save. But I try. He made it almost a week. Almost a week of round the clock feedings every 2-3 hours, holding this tiny little creature, more delicate than anything you can imagine. Almost a week of muscle spasms and zanaflex from using damaged back muscles to hold the smallest little rubber nipple you can find to the tiniest gaping muppet mouth, peeping between gulps. My body isn't really made to handle repetitive tense movements like making the smallest softest circles with a q-tip to mimic the mother's touch, helping the body to grow and relieve itself of wastes.

This case began when a family called, desperate for help with three tiny babies they had found. Now, I know mice die all the time in the wild, and that even if I did this every day for the rest of my life, I couldn't save as many as other people intentionally kill every day with spine snapping traps, blood thinners, and glue traps (by far the most inhumane traps available. Think about it.) but when you have a chance to lend a hand (I mean, you don't stop trying to save dogs and cats just because 6 million of them are intentionally killed in American shelters every year)--and mice have a soft place in my heart. I was born loving mice. As a kid, toy mice took over my dollhouse and lived in Victorian luxury. My dad loved to tell how I referred to my stuffed animal mice as "my People". Yeah, that's me. Mouse-mom X. So anyway, the family called, desperate to find a rehabber to help. Mice aren't necessarily a species all rehabbers jump at the chance to care for, and she said her little (human) girls were inconsolable, afraid the mice would die right there. How can I say no to that?

I guess I had too much hope. A few years ago I successfully hand reared a pair of deer mice who were found cooking on the pavement in a parking lot. (Just to show that I have not lost my sense of humor, that last sentence totally made me picture a teensy mouse tailgating party, but you know what I mean.) Over several weeks of care, they grew strong and healthy, though in the end they could not be released back into the wild because they had imprinted so strongly on humans and would leap at any human and try to crawl into your hand (or up your sleeve for warmth) which would not go over well with most people. So I cared for them for the rest of their lives while they taunted the cats through the wire grating covering their cages, and relished the "mouse mush" meals I put together to keep them in good health (I still have the recipe if anyone out there wants it for their own mice.). I've also had others who were able to be released who came and went. Watching them go was wonderful, to send them out to live with their own kind (I released them in a protected spot on our property where I feed the wildlife.) Like an animal version of graduation.

Sadly, the 2 little females who came in this time passed on quickly--only holding on for a couple of days. They were so starved when they showed up, they looked like they had week old heads on newborn bodies, and keep in mind it only takes about 4 weeks for mice to acheive full size. It wasn't easy, but it happened early and I try to stay detached as long as I can stand it while constantly being so close, in such a vital relationship with these creatures. But the little boy grew and grew. He would suck on his little hands and nibble on the soft webbing between my fingers with the tiniest little teeth you've ever seen. They looked more like a pair of hairs than incisors, and they tickled more than nipped. He got strong, defeating all the barriers Scott invented to keep him in the nest box, eventually leading to a zippered vet carrier. He was a champion squirmer. I crumbled in the face of his developing personality and named him Dexter. He was eating so well. Crawling like a champ. In a day or two his little eyes would open. I thought we'd made it through the worst.

But I also had suspicions that there might be trouble lurking. When mice are this young, you can actually see through their skin and watch their stomachs fill with formula. A few times I noticed that he was struggling when stimulated to deficate. I could see a little lump in his intestines, but with a little tummy massage, it would pass. I hoped that as he grew, the organs would develop more fully and the problem would go away. But that's not the way it happened. While I can't be certain since he passed quietly, between feedings, my best guess is that instead of growing more open, it may have grown closed. And when I saw him still and cold, it took my heart and smashed it. I had been experiencing violent muscle spasms and was forced to take more of the muscle relaxing drug than I prefer in order to get them under control, but at that moment I was thankful for the dullness I usually loathe.

So in the middle of the night, I can't help wondering if I can go on doing this. Is wildlife rehab just more than I can handle both physically and mentally? Am I too emotionally close to these animals to be good at this? Should I move on to a different type of volunteer work that doesn't cut so deeply. It's sad and paradoxical, I think, that caring too much can cripple our ability to help alleviate the suffering we so desperately want to heal. But I've seen it a million times in other people, and been there several times myself. There's even a name for it: compassion fatigue.

I started CAAT (Carolina Animal Activists Together) and ultimately had to leave it and the stomach twisting tales of suffering we were constantly facing in an effort to educate and reach out to others who wished to stop the daily harm. It was eating at me. I don't regret the work I did at all. CAAT eventually morphed into Humane Carolina, a fantastic organization that does a lot of great work for animals.

Later, I worked in intake and adoption screening/counseling for Independent Animal Rescue. I devoted my time to helping the other incredible people there take in and find homes for animals otherwise slated for death, or who were being abused, neglected, or otherwise tormented. But eventually I couldn't stand one more desperate call from a shelter worker searching everywhere for any vacant spots in rescue foster homes because they were having to walk animals straight from the front door to the euthanasia room because there was no space. I couldn't take knowing that having to tell her we were full essentially put my hand on that greenish syringe that represents the hopeless knowledge that even with all of the people who devote their entire lives to helping these animals, we just can't save them as quickly as people are breeding and dumping them. I couldn't take one more phone call from someone who wanted to adopt because they had their last puppy put down for being too clingy and wanting to be with them all the time, but it was okay and ultimately a good thing they did because now they know the kind of dog they don't want and do we have any labrador puppies available? Or one more litter of kittens hanged one by one from a vet office's fence because they had to tell the owners that they had no room to take in the litter of siamese cats they bred and no longer wanted. It just hurt too much. I jumped and yelped every time the phone rang, I became so tense. Sometimes that still happens. But would I go back and erase my time doing the work I did there? Of course not. I know it made a difference and that together, we saved many, many lives and gave them the safe, responsible, committed, and above all permanent homes they so desperately needed.

Do I regret moving on? No. I had to. And I worked as a kennel assistant at a vet, bringing love and attention to animals who were recovering from illnesses, or woke up frightened and disoriented from anesthesia, or even just gave boarded cats some music and little cloth catnip toys I made myself to make their stay more comfortable. An extra lap around the yard with the dogs, running and jumping sun or snow was a big deal to a dog who missed his family. Of course, you can likely guess why I can't do that anymore, but ultimately the job led to 3R Rescues. Once word gets out that you're a rodent nut, they seem to find you like lightening finds a golf club. My love of rodents led to becoming a Licensed Wildlife Rehabber, and here I am.

Can I stay here? I don't know. I know there are a million ways to help this world, yet it's hard to let go when you know you're still needed. If I let go of wildlife, where will I go?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Back to CKC--Day 2

Sorry for the long fell-off-the-face-of-the-planet wait for the continuation of the CKC report. In an effort to make you feel slightly less wronged I will be including a deluge of photos!

Okay, did I get carried away my first day at the Vendor Fair? Maybe a little, but it was awfully fun dumping it all out on the bed and rolling around in it. Well, except for the part where the glue dots got stuck in my hair. Still though, getting that early admission really kicked some conventioneer ass. There were some amazing discount booths this year, most notably SEI (and don't we all love SEI? Now don't we love it more when 12x12 albums are five bucks and brads are $1 a pod (or whatever they call those tubey things they come in.)) and Queen and Co. I told myself this would be the only trip I was going to take to the Vendor room, but well, we'll get there as time moves on...

Classes I took:

Good Friends Mini Book

Felt Fusion Mini Album

Fun-Filled Friday Night Crop

Meow 2008

4 Album Enhancing Techniques

Send-Off Saturday Night Crop

First, the crops: Friday night was especially fun. I really liked the specials various vendors offered during the crop. The chaos was invigorating--the crowd just seemed to form like a cloud around anyone unloading merchandise. I was pleased to get a great deal on some Technique Tuesday stamps I'd been eyeballing (50% off! Whoooo! It was missing a stamp I had no use for anyway--all the others were perfect.) and a more portable lap desk to take to crops at friends' houses where I can sometimes grab a seat on a couch instead of trying to fight the pain in a standard chair. To date, I have only found 2 kinds of chairs that really "work" for my spine: a "geri" chair (short for geriatric)--hideous plastic covered reclining chairs you've seen in hospital waiting rooms. If you've ever had a friend or family member skirt (or succumb) to death in ICU, you've likely slept in one of these. The other chair? A nursing chair with accompanying rocking ottoman. Much more attractive, but also much more expensive so I don't really expect others to have them, or at least not for long--most people get rid of them when the kids wean. Anyway, even if they did have them, it's not like you can really push them up to a table to work. Hence, new cool lapdesk? Rules. It's got a cutting mat, plus pouches for all of your nifty goodies. I haven't loaded it up yet, so I'm curious to see how well it closes when it's full, but overall, I am pleased. I wasn't one of the first in line so I missed out on the really great messenger bags, but my roommate, Jen got one. There was one drawback, we found...the bag was rather stinky, reeking, as it was, of some kind of crazy chemicals undoubtably used in the production of said bag. The problem was easily solved by having the open bag enjoy a slumber party in the closet with my weird-scented t-shirt (I seem to have let the laundry mildew last load. Oops.) and by morning all was well again.

If you look carefully in this picture, you can see that I'm finishing off the Queen and Co. Felt Fusion mini album. Really fun class led by the head Queen at the Co. (I'm sure he hates that joke, but who can resist?) At the end of the class he showed of some neat cards made using the felt flower edging coupled with brads. I couldn't resist making my own version. They were just a first try so they are a little off kilter looking, but I do like the black background with the bright felt colors. Nifty!

Did I mention the goodiebags? All of the crops had them! We got magazines of course, plus little surprises from a nice assortment of vendors. The one item that struck us as a little strange was the inclusion of an extremely large number of purse-shaped eyelets. Think ten packages per person! They're nice brads, but who can use 10 whole packages? Don't be surprised, Fiskateers I owe surprises to, if you see some headed your way shortly. Might as well share the wealth, right? The bags also contained some little stamp pads, page kits, coupons, great stuff! It really made the fee worthwhile and made me feel better about the fact that I had to leave early from the crops. I was just too exhausted and the pain was so distracting, I couldn't work. Saturday night, my hands didn't even want to grip the tools. :( Sad, but you know, not really. Both days I managed to walk around carrying so much weight in purchases, my doctor would smack me on the head and call me an idiot. Both days I made it to every one of my classes. All in all, I was incredibly lucky to have two great spine days in a row! Lots of traction and bed time between classes (and, yes, I admit--I had to take the maximum allowable dose of most of my meds) kept me going strong. Sure, by Sunday I was ready to collapse and it took me a full week to recover physically, but dammit, my spine finally gave me a timely break and I'm thrilled. I want to publicly thank all my friends--you know who you are--who were kind enough to leave the crops long enough to walk me back to my room. The direct route between the convention center and the Hilton is a dark desolate alley with a train barrelling through it periodically, so I was really grateful to have an escort. It takes me forever to get from point A to point B, I know--thanks for being so patient. Poor Chris had the longest trip with only one functioning elevator and a card key that malfunctioned. The service at the hotel was uncharacteristically slow that night, too. I must have looked pathetic too because a couple of passers went to the desk to ask for help for me, as well as Chris, plus I made a couple phone calls to the service desk before my key was magically fixed electronically and all was well.

Before I close on the subject of crops, I do have to mention the abundance of prizes given out. While no one I know won any of the drawings (darn.) my friend Barbie actually won a prize for most money spent at the vendor booths. I won't share the actual total here, but I feel much better about my indulgences now.

More class reviews will be forthcoming! I apologize that these posts are coming so slowly, but between all the things I do and the days I lose to the pain, sometimes I feel like time is reeling backwards. Be patient with me, please, and I'll get there.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where have I been? Rats and Recovery.

Yeah, I know I know. I've been missing from Fiskateers and my blogs have been silent for days, despite my promises to report on CKC (it will still happen! I have SO much to share!)

First, I was very busy caring for Glitter, one of my 5 wonderful rats. A couple of weeks ago, she started sniffling and her sisters were isolating her. Poor girl was being bullied into living in the litterbox, so I moved her to sick bay--a small cage I use to keep a sick animal isolated and close to her food and water at all times--and started her on echinacia to hold her until her vet appointment. Sometimes a little tinctiture of echinacia is enough to scare off the sniffles, but she didn't do so well. By the time her appointment came up, she was having porphryn staining on her hands from wiping her nose. For those of you who aren't familiar with rats, their snot (and saliva and tears) is bright red, which often scares first-time rat caretakers to freak out, thinking their rat is hemmoraging horribly. My girls are very enthusiastic groomers, licking the heck out of each other's fur, playing "beauty parlor" with each other (it's a 24/7 slumber party in their cage with all that estrogen) so they are typically a shade pink anyway, but this was clearly out of the ordinary, almost like she was wearing little red wrist gloves. Gross.

Apparently, the stress of being in a new place didn't do her much good, because she declined dramatically during her vet visit, poor baby. Her vet, the caring and knowledgeable Dr. Lori McKinnish at Dixie Trail Animal Hospital, diagnosed her with pnumonia, so I started her (Glitter, not Dr. McKinnish) on antibiotics and began hand feeding her a nutritional "milkshake" (strawberry soy shake--she loved it. It became difficult to get her to let go of the syringe to refill it, she'd bite down on it and hold it so firmly!) and baby food via an open-ended syringe. Every feeding was a complete mess. I'd clean her eyes, nose, and paws to clear off the mucous before feeding her, and minutes later she'd be covered in sticky pink soy shake.

She seemed to improve, getting feistier, even nipping me when I wiped her face with a wet towel. She began pushing the food away when she was done, drinking from her dripper bottle on her own. I was happy. It looked like we were going to win this one.

But she plateaued. She suddenly couldn't use her paws. She was sort of throwing herself around--a weird hopping when she did move, like her limbs didn't work below the wrists and ankles. I had to block her with my body to keep her from throwing herself off the towel she was lying on, and off the edge of the bathroom counter in an effort to "walk". She was rubbing her nose further down her wrists. Her feet were always crossed. I worried she had had a stroke. She could no longer use her "hands" at all. Oddly though, she seemed really happy and not in distress. She bruxed and boggled (think purring to the nth power) with every meal, every cuddle. Sometimes I'd swear she was smiling. I began to wonder if something had happened to her brain from the fever. Was she just responding like some of the dementia patients we used to visit with Revco, when we did therapy dog work? Some just seemed--distant but euphoric. Honestly, if you have to lose cognition, it does seem like the way to do it. On the other hand, she could still protest my sponge baths, so it was hard to tell. The question loomed: how do I decide when treatment is futile? How do I choose for her whether she wants to be let go or if she would rather have hospice care and be allowed to die on her own schedule? Occasionally, I even thought she might make it, though in retrospect, I think I was being over-optimistic in desperation.

There were several nights when I sat with her and cried, telling her goodbye and I'd miss her so much, since I was certain she wouldn't make it to morning. And yet, there she was the next day, ready to eat, grab a bath, etc. She made a painful and pitiful sight, sometimes having fallen out of her blankets, lying on her side on the floor of her cage when I went to check in on her. Those were the moments when I felt like a monster for not rushing her to the vet to have her put down. But then, a few minutes later, she'd be bruxing and lazily watching me as we went through her routine, wiping her eyes clean, filling syringe after syringe with the food she relished so enthusiastically. Should I really take these moments away from her when, for all her limitations, she seemed content to experience the little time she had left?

She wasn't the first animal I have encountered who, as far as I could read from them, wanted to die on her own schedule and take her time saying goodbye to the world. For what it's worth, I do animal communications, and usually I find a clear point where most animals indicate that they are done. They've had it with their body, the discomfort, or pain. They are tired and want the assistance euthanasia offers. Honestly, I find this easier to relate to. I never enjoy that final trip to the vet, I cry and miss them terribly when I carry their remains home to my little pet cemetary, but I normally feel like the right thing was done. They clearly were ready, and the vet and I performed an important final mercy.

For me, it is much harder to feel confident about continuing life when it becomes clear that it's ending. I worry again and again if I am doing the right thing. Am I sure they aren't suffering? Could I be doing more to make them comfortable? Is their quality of life being seriously compromised. As a long-time animal rescue worker and vegan, you'd think killing would be much more difficult than not, yet I am always second-guessing my decision. Are you sure, little rat, that this is what you want? Are you hurting? What if you change your mind and I can't get to a vet quickly because it's 3 a.m. on a Sunday? How can I leave you to take care of myself, to work, to do the things I have to do to keep my life moving while I know you are dying and this may be the last time I see you alive? It's the not knowing in some ways that makes it so hard.

Well, Monday afternoon, Glitter passed on. She was just a young little girl so that made things even more disappointing. Why couldn't we save her? She had been such a playful girl, so open to exploring. None of her sisters had been sick, why did she decline so quickly? Perhaps the greatest heartbreak was that she never got to be reunited with her sisters. They are an incredibly closely bonded mischief (It's what a group of rats is called. Really.) so I hate that they only know that she became sick and disappeared, never to return. I hold hope that perhaps they knew. That they perhaps heard her ultrasonic commiunications across the house where she was living in quarrantine. I know it's a long shot. Ultrasound is easily blocked, but her sisters seem to have forgiven me. In order to avoid spreading illness, I hadn't been taking my healthy girls out, only talking to them across the room, since I was constantly handling Glitter and had become tired of the constant clothing changes. I swear I have laundry hip-deep between sticky towels and rat pee covered t-shirts. Scott took over feeding and caring for Spider, Fuzz, Twinkle, and Kitty (and most of the other animals) while my life centered around the needs of Miss Glitter. So after her death, I wasn't certain how I would be accepted upon my return. Was I a nuturing friend, or brute death, snatching their sister away?

I feel lucky and a bit humbled. The girls greeted me with open arms (because that's how they have to grab the bars of the cage for tummy tickle time!) Strangely, even my shiest girls, Spider and Fuzz, who are usually only interested in each other, ran out to see what the commotion was all about and gave me a big rattie hello, climbing up and down the bars like a little albino monkey. Kitty was "talking" up a storm. She has a distinctly low pitched voice, clearly audible to humans, well below the ultrasonic register that is typical of "rat talk". I was forgiven for my inabiliy to heal Glitter. Or perhaps I was never blamed. Maybe they knew something from the start that I didn't about her illness and my fallibility, my humanity. I can't make miracles happen, but I'm not supposed to either. I did my best. I made her comfortable and helped Glitter make the most of her final days, even when it felt, to me, like slowly picking at a painfully fused band-aid. One tiny tear at a time.

Friday, August 15, 2008

CKC Thursday

It's here! The Creating Keepsakes Convention in Charlotte! It took me longer than expected to get here, because I woke up in horrific pain like I haven't seen in a while. I mean, I'm always in pain, but there's a special kind of pain I get treated to from time to time that pulls my body into a fetal position I can't fight. I can't even uncurl my fink bgers without shivvering. So, I got a late start, moving in slow motion to finish packing, even with Scott doing all the real work, acting like the kindest robot in the world (coin operated boy?), doing whatever I say, from grabbing my schedule off the printer, to finding the elusive olive green shorts (which were in the bottom of the smelly laundry and thusly rejected, but he still brought them to me to prove how smelly they were. Good lord I need to do laundry when I get home. Damp towels shouldn't be allowed to age.)

I made it out the door, got geared up for the car, complete with dashboard powered heating pad and neck brace that makes me look like a fat turtle (have you ever seen an overweight turtle? I have. They can't fit all the way back into their shell without another part blooping out. Not pretty.) Slept most of the way and arrived feeling worse than ever. Sigh. I was really down. There's this feeling I get when the pain is particularly intense that I, the being inside this bossy body, is about 1/2 inch big inside this huge, painful body. I can't control it at all. I don't make any of the decisions, I don't have a say in what happens to me. I'm trapped under a mountain. I changed my fentanyl patch (forgive my spelling), took a pain pill and a zanaflex and finally I was able to move enough to hook up into traction. Even in a very nice hotel like this one, you don't want to have to lie on the floor. Seriously, even on top of my formerly yoga mat (now--you guessed it--my traction mat) the carpet smells like someone rubbed a dead raccoon on it. Even as I began to feel like I had grown to about 6" tall vs. 1/2, I couldn't help but feel bitter. Here I was, on the floor of a hotel with my head in the rack, while I was missing the opening crop next door--something I had looked forward to like Christmas. Plus, just riding up in the car I saw like a million little things I wanted to explore around the hotel, down the street, all over, and I couldn't even walk over to check out the restaurant menu.

Then again, sometimes I win. The meds kicked in. The traction did its thing. I made it to the last hour and a half of the crop. So hooray! I actually have something to report on other than my own suckiness!
The opening crop was actually more of an album class with page kits from many of the vendors as sort of a preview of what's to come. How cool. I'm due to make another album for my sister-in-law Kelye, so I gathered up the five kajillion photos I have of my nephew (not even up to date...I'm about a year behind on getting them printed so I don't have to worry about running out of stuff to scrap.) and got to work. Since I missed most of the crop, I only got to make the last three layouts, which you are seeing here. I like the mishmash of styles from all the different sponsors. The Springtime one was from a company I'd never heard of before called Shoestring Productions (no website). The colors are duly festive and we were told are all cut by one woman who runs the company. I can't imagine how long it must take to die cut that many copies. Especially if they do this at all the CKC's. Her cranking arm must be huge.
I loooove SEI, who made the other springy looking kit. They included info on their kit club and I have to say it's tempting, though I'm kind of leaning toward Club Scrap since I saw Barbie playing with their latest kit at the last Archivers Scrap Mania. I like that Club Scrap makes their own stuff with a cool, handmade, artsy look. But then SEI does rock the house. Loved their layout just as it is and that's saying something since I usually feel the need to alter these things (well, I did add one extra tear in the red paper. Does that count?) Which brings us to the fall pumpkin page you see here by Lickety Split. Honestly, I'm not into their look at all. It just seems sort of fussy and dated to me, but that's just a matter of my taste vs. theirs. So I've taken a before and after shot. I couldn't leave the page alone. With my tendency toward the too-much-is-never-enough style, it just looked so sparse. One of my favorite things I added were the stamps which I was surprised to find in the Archivers $1.99 bin. I love the detail on these things and I'll definitely keep my eyes open for more by Stampology.
Well, it's actually Friday morning and I'm feeling a bit better, so I need to get going to the early entry hour of the vendor faire. Wish me luck finding some rockin' scrappy crap. I'll be sure to report back to you asap.
*Blog Challenge: I've got 2 mini packs of cute Archivers Exclusive stamps for the winner of this one: Leave a comment with your name (and Fiskateer# if you are one) and email me (princess.puppy* --replace the asterisk with an @) a list of the differences between the original Lickety Split pumpkin layout and the completed version I altered. I will draw a name from the correct entries to choose the winner. Do not put the answer in the comment section! Otherwise other people can't play and it's not nice for the people who worked to get the correct answer. Thanks for playing! :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fiskateers and Why I Loooove Online Crops

I put my Fiskateer number on everything. I have a Fiskateer layout hanging up on my scraproom wall. I love to wear my Fiskateer t-shirt, and yes, I even had Fiskateer business cards made. So I'm often asked, "What's a Fiskateer?"

For all the advertizing of my Fiskateerhood, I find it really difficult to communicate what, exactly, it is. Yeah, it's a messageboard. It's a blog. It's a corporate ad. It's an elite scrapbooking union. It's a whole slew of my friends. None of the answers really fit the way I feel about Fiskateers. It's a little dorky (not the list, but the sentimentality I feel toward it), but there are some great perks, not the least of which are the online crops.

So, this leads us to the next question I get. "Online crop? How the hell do you have a crop on the computer. Well, first we shrink ourselves down (depending on your monitor size, this can be easier for some than others), then we go through the process necessary to acheive 2-dimensionality. It's can be pretty painful, but it's totally worth it for the make-n-takes. If you have an older, non-flat screen monitor, it's a good idea to pull it out from the attic and hook it up. Trust me, it's worth the extra effort to have lots of extra space to spread out all your supplies.

There are other online crops, but as far as I know, Fiskateers does them bigger and more frequently than any I've been able to find. All of the best things about crops are there. The chat room is open the whole time to yammer back and forth with the other attendees, plus a thread on the message board to share tips, talk about your day, whatever, often with surprise random RAKs among the people who post.

The one thing I feel is better than a "real" crop (aside from the extensive handicapped accessability for those of us with mobility/constant pain issues) is the gallery section. It's like peeking over every participant's shoulder a bajillion times per crop! Try doing it at a live crop! Even if you were physically able to be behind 100 people's shoulders at once, you would definitely come across as the creepiest person in the room. I know I'd be slinking away from you. Online, everyone posts the projects they have been working on, and I have spent hours upon hours getting lost in this section, just clicking on one photo after the other, seeing how every person interperets the challenge assignments, and what they are working on in general.

Have I mentioned how much I love scrap challenges? Sketch challenges, theme challenges, ones that call for using certain supplies, ones that don't allow adhestive, I can't think of any yet that I haven't enjoyed. Those of you who know me pretty well may find that out of character since I'm really kind of persnickety about making up my own projects and things for my Stampin' Up classes, eschewing those pre-made class instruction kits that tell you where every little thing goes. It's not that I'm *against* using class resources or copying a project from another demonstrator per se. I have been in some great classes that were planned that way and had a blast. I just get squeamish about using them, myself. Like I'm cheating or something. Like I need to make these projects my own. Challenges, however, make me work double hard. I love the concept of using a guide to force me to think, to make me fit my ideas into a puzzle. It feels like I have to be more creative to work within the boundaries. I love swiping sketches from things I see online. Once you get used to using sketches, you start to see them inside every layout and card you see. Remember that Tootsie Roll commercial with what has to be the lousiest baseball bat of all time (come on--you know the ball is going to bend the thing backwards, the animators took a bit of creative liberty in making the Tootsie Roll hit a home run. Can you imagine how squishy and filthy that thing had to be, being passed from one grubby batter to the next? Not the most appetizing commercial. Seriously, you really don't want everything you see to turn into Tootsie Rolls. Sure, a rolling pin? I can see that. But a tootsie tire? Think of all that gravel crunching in there.) If you don't yet turn every project you see into line drawings, give this site a try: The author has a great book by the same name that I'm totally into, too. I'll be reviewing it on my Scrappyrat blog. Trust me. You want this book!

The pics you see here are all projects I've made via the latest Fiskateers online crop. As soon as I get the date of an upcoming crop on the board, I mark my calendar and do what I need to do to clear that weekend. If you're like me and you want to participate in every event, every chat, every RAK, every scrap challenge, every written challenge, and even post a challenge for your own chosen prize, it can keep you working and up all night for the entire duration. Of course, if you have a life to attend to, you can also just check in from time to time and choose a couple things to do for fun. It's free, it's fun, and you might just win something before it's done. Hey Hey HEEEEEY!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Kits and Classes

First, please let me freak out about my very first Etsy item. I've been wanting to put something out there for a while, just to see if anyone might actually be interested in something I made. Well, I finally mustered up the courage to do it. As long as no one throws rocks at me and calls me a stinkypants loser, I think I'll be okay. I love Etsy. I love the concept, I love the things I've found there, I love that I will never be lost for a birthday present idea again.
If I've been quiet at my usual haunt, the Fiskateers message board, blame Big Picture Scrapbooking and former lead Fiskateer, May. I just completed the six week class, "Crazy About Kits" and decided to review it here. Why? Because online classes are a wonderful resource for sickies like me.
Lately I have been an absolute mess. You see, in order to keep my pain under some semblance of control--My back, neck, and legs still hurt badly, but I can have something that resembles a life thanks to these patches I have to have stuck on me all the time. In order to be able to use these things you have to first be addicted to them. This means that if anything messes with my ability to get my fix (patch-wise), life gets very bad, very quickly. If for some reason the dosage is too small, the pain becomes unthinkable and I start to lose my mind from withdrawal. If, for some reason, the dosage spikes, I get sick from the jolt (nausea, headaches, etc.) So it's all just a blast, let me tell you.

It's very hard to get these patches. Doctors watch you like a hawk and will find any reason to keep them from you that they can think of. Combine this with the fact that they have you completely reliant on these from both a pain perspective and an addiction, and they pretty much have total power over you. Just threaten to mess with them and I am your puppet. If I was not on these, I would be less a person and more "that thing that screams upstairs". I am grateful for these things--despite all the side effects and whatnot, they have allowed me to retain some sort of mobility. The pain I feel even with these can be so intense I cannot think clearly enough to form a sentence. But it is kind of scary to know that your doctor has the power to jerk you around all they like. With meds like these, switching physicians can easily be called "doctor shopping". So can going to the emergency room in distress from the pain. In the effort to keep drugs out of the hands of addicts, we've created a system that is extremely quick to withhold needed medication. Anyone who needs the help of these types of medicines is always under scrutiny, always suspect. It makes me feel like I'm being treated as if I have done something wrong by being sick. I promise, I never asked for this.

Okay, la la la back to the point. I've been sick for the last 4 weeks because the pharmacist gave me the generic instead of the name brand I was supposed to get. Yeah, I know they are supposed to be the same but they aren't. The last few weeks have been really difficult. I'm in too much pain to get out of the house much at all. Not that I got out a lot before, but I at least got the occasional crop or coffee shop outing. I have been stuck in bed, sleeping as much as I can to avoid feeling the pain and depression, at least every other day. I feel like I lost days and days of my life over the last month. I had to cancel all of the classes I was planning to teach for Stampin' Up, and ended up coming late and leaving early every crop I attended. I nearly passed out trying to stand long enough to wait in line at Yankee Candle. Finally I took a trip to the doctor to talk about this problem and she said I'm not alone. I am told that most people find that the generics don't work. The patches also irritate my skin so badly, the skin pulls off with the adhesive or comes right off with the lightest scratch after removing the patch--and the patches itch like mad. But it's not like I can get new ones until the bad ones run out. These things are controlled. So, all I can do is wait out the sickness. I was hoping to have the new ones Monday, but no luck. Soon, I hope. It's frustrating to be sick for want of a product.

Anyway, back to Crazy About Kits. May's was the first class I have taken at Big Picture, and I can't wait to try another! I wasn't sure how an online crafting class would work. How would they keep students engaged? Was it just going to be like reading a book? Watching a video?

It started with a fee and a supply list. $35 is a steal for a six week class, in my opinion. Fees vary, of course, but I really felt I got every penny's worth and more. Each week began with an audio message from May, plus a printable full-color booklet explaining the week's assignments and offering some examples. I don't want to give too much away, since they will hopefully offer the class again, but each week examined a different type of kit and helped us learn, over time, what makes a good kit. The knowledge can then be applied to shopping for kits that fit your needs or making kits from your stash or as you shop for individual items.

Many of you already know I'm an unapologetic heavy packer when it comes to crops. I have one of those giant trash-can looking scrap totes that's about 4' tall, and that doesn't even contain everything I bring. Well, I am proud to say that with the help of this class, I attended a crop last month and only brought my "essentials" bag and one project box. Yes! Really! Me!

Throughout the week the gallery and message board kept me working on my projects and coming back to check what was going on daily. Yes, you do have to be committed to the class and a bit of a self-starter to really get the most out of this class, but I think that's true of almost any class, online or otherwise.

The photos you are seeing here are from projects I completed for the class. All in all, I completed more than three albums (wow!) and slews of cards and other projects. Some of you Fiskateers received the ATC's I made for this class. I really enjoyed how putting together kits helped focus my work and kept me on track. Prior to this class I never really thought of myself as a kit person. I thought kits were too restricting, too uncreative. I've learned that sometimes restricting (or, rather, focusing) your product choices can be liberating and actually can sharpen your creativity, much like the way a page sketch forces you to make something new within the confines of a set of rules. The challenge is delicious!

I am anxious to try another class at Big Picture, to see how different instructors run their classrooms. I was already a fan of May and her scrapping style before I signed up for the class, so it would be interesting to see what it's like to take a class from someone I'm not familiar with. I was tempted by some of the classes beginning at the start of this month, but I didn't feel I had the time to devote to finishing the class I was in while beginning a new one. So, my only real suggestion I would give the folks at Big Picture is to stagger the classes a bit more so the people ending previous classes have a chance to breathe a little before the new one begins.

So Handiscrappers, I highly recommend trying out a class at Big Picture Scrapbooking. It's a fantastic way to learn new techniques when you can't get out to the classes in your area. Even if you can, it's nice to take a class without the stress of fighting the pain to get there and back, and if you feel too ill to be there at a specific time, it's okay, you can check out the materials on your own schedule. Even the chats are available as transcripts. I really enjoyed not having to worry about whether I'd be up to attending a class physically each week, and it was great not having to feel dreadful when I had to miss a class time. Good excuse or not, I always feel like I've disappointed others when this happens and that takes its toll. Of course, it's better than no one caring if you show or not, right? :)

Have you taken a class at Big Picture? What did you think about it? Leave me a message and let me know!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Inlaws and Inventions

Visiting Myrtle Beach for a week with the extended inlaws is a lot less frightening than it sounds. I really like my inlaws as friends and human beings in general. The nephews and neices are not only charming and sweet, they give me tons of pics to scrap into albums and mini books for their parents as well as for my own collection. But I have to confess, I've spent a good amount of time hiding from my nephews. (My neice is really too young to be objectionable since she can't make much noise yet and someone else is always there to wrangle her, so you won't hear much about her for now. As I mentioned before, my nephews are truly great kids. Daniel still has that cute bewildered demeanor kids have in that period before speech sets in, Drew is graceful and quick to pick up on things, and Blake is wonderfully intelligent and well-spoken, not to mention so sweet it could break your heart when he falls asleep sucking his thumb and rubbing a cottonball in his hand to comfort himself when he's tired.

Watching other people play with children sometimes makes me feel like Dian Fossey. "Children in the Mist". Most people don't seem to mind being used as a jungle gym. Most don't seem to notice that kids have one notch on their volume nob, and that notch is "11". Most don't seem put off by the blackened feet of a child sitting next to them, walking up and down their arm or sticky hands that were probably just in a diaper, reaching over and creeping up their face. These behaviors appear to be fully accepted by the human adult, while I, clearly some sort of alien with a stick up my ass, recoils in horror just seeing these things happen to someone else, let alone when they threaten to happen to me. I can make an excuse to leave the room faster than you can blink when I see a flip-flopped foot creeping toward my mouth.
Mostly this fear is pure phobia, but my spine damage adds a new and interesting dimention to this aversion. Just this morning I was trying to explain to a 2.5 year old that touching my sciatic legs will make me very unhappy and clearly un-fun to be around. Hang out? Sure, but please please please for the love of crumbcake do not touch me before noon. How do I explain to someone who doesn't even know *he* has a spine yet, that mine magically makes my legs hurt? How do I get children to understand why it's okay for them to hang off of Uncle Scott's arm like little rhesus monkeys while Aunt Veronica backs away like a character in a Hitchcock movie when you try to rest a hand between her shoulders. I've tried saying that my back is "broken", but that just led to puzzled expressions as they examined my back for a 90 degree angle break. I've tried to get scientific about it and explain what a spine is, but realized about two words into my explanation that my audience had been distracted by the pattern on the sofa cushion. I have thought of telling them my back is "sick", but that's just weird.
So...between hiding and the genuine need to spend time lying in bed with a heating pad to control the pain somewhat, I spend a fair amount of time alone in our room. Luckily I'm an independent soul at heart, so alone time isn't torture but I still need to keep myself entertained. Hence, I have put together *ta da* this ultra handy bed easel--"The Crippled Craftsman Mark-Five". It's a lap easel from the art supply attached to a Basic Grey Magnetic Precision Mat via the easel's clips and a giant rubber band. I've been using it for a few weeks now and it rules. The magnets keep things from falling off of my layout while I decide where I want to paste everything, and the easel keeps the the magnetic mat from getting all "floppity". I would say it's the greatest blend of ingredients since the "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter" if only the peanut butter wasn't weird and powdered, making this invention much, much better. :)
I have lots more to report, namely my reviews of the nearby scrapbook stores (hoooray!) but the takeout is about to arrive and I can't resist drunken noodles with tofu. Order some for yourself. You deserve it!

Monday, May 26, 2008

So Freakin' Cool!

You know what rocks? Meeting one of the lead Fiskateers in person! Holly is a sweetheart and fiercely committed to Fiskateerhood. Get this: She goes to the hospital the week before our planned crop and despite needing part of her insides removed came all the way to Raleigh for my crop. Poor girl was still fluey and in pain and yet managed to be incredibly fun, witty, and as creative and cool as she seems on her blog.

We had a small group due to the holiday weekend and some no-shows, but the timing couldn't have been better as far as I was concerned. I really, really needed some cheering up after my visit to UNC Pain Management. Things didn't go well. I was hoping for some help with the pain, whether in the form of more effective medicine or some sort of procedure that might have longer term effects. I thought maybe they'd take me away from my current doctor who I feel pretty uncomfortable with and given up on.

Instead, they told me there is nothing they can do and that I don't need to come back. We grabbed the wrong MRI pics and so they only saw my lower back which isn't the problem. When I asked them if it would make a difference if I brought in the other ones, they said that cervical and thoracic damage doesn't respond well to epidurals and that pain meds don't help much with the kind of pain I have from the 8+ badly damaged disks and the extreme muscle pain that comes with it. If my extremeties were numb they said they could do something about it, but since they're intensely painful there's nothing that could be done. They said there's a slight possibility that a rhumatologist could help, but that they felt that it was a slim chance. I'll try it of course, but I guess I better not get my hopes up like I did for pain management. When I asked what I am supposed to do he told me to enjoy life now because the pain will get much worse as time goes on. Yeah, thinking of that'll help me enjoy life. When I dared snivel quietly, the doctor told me I needed to "put this into perspective". I lost it. I asked her how I was supposed to put being told I am going to be in unbearable, untreatable searing pain every day for the rest of my life, pain that will only get worse and worse until the day I die into perspective. Yeesh.

Suffice it to say it was not a good week, so it was fantastic to have the crop to cheer me up. Holly brought the cutest little goodiebags and let us play with some Fiskars tools using some beautiful Heidi Grace and some outdoorsy Cloud 9 papers and accessories. I thought we might have to tazer Teresa and Karel--they went a little nuts when they saw the papers. I was sure it was about to turn into biting and hair pulling, but thankfully there was plenty of pretty paper for everyone's layouts. Whew!

Scott, sweet little thing that he is, stopped by with popsicles from Loco Pops, one of the coolest things in Raleigh. They make the most amazing Mexican popsicles. My favorite is lavender elderberry, but as you can see by my black teeth, above, I had the berry madness. They also make mojito ones, rosemary pear, and Scott's favorite, lime with lemongrass. Mmm. If you haven't been to Loco Pops yet, you seriously need to go. Now. Really. I'll wait right here. Back yet? Good. See what I mean? Mmmm.

I've been working on my album from my recent trip to San Francisco to see my best pal, Darcy, and our mid-trip trip to Dan and Steve's weekend place in Sonoma, next to the Martinelli apple juice folk (the little glass apples that are so cute? You know what I'm talking about, right?) Well, you'll get to see more of those layouts later once I get the pages uploaded here. Down the table, Holly was working on a baby album...I believe it was for a gift--forgive me, Holly if I am wrong. I was having really bad back spazms so I took a muscle relaxer--effective, yes, but they do slow my brain waaaaaay down and obliterate my short-term memory.

Down the table, Teresa and Karel were making cards from a class they took (not from me. Hmph. Yes, they cheated on me with another demonstrator. Sure, I used to have two demonstrators before I became one, but hey, I'm making up my own classes, girls, not copying them off the internet like your other woman. Oooh. The jjjjjeeeeaaalllloooouuussssy. [I'm kidding, you two. No need to buy me flowers and candy and come crawling on your knees. ;) Though...if you wanted to...actually the kneeling would be a little much, even then, wouldn't it? Oh forget it. You will show me how to make those cool cards you've got there, right girls?]) Back to the crop. Vanessa spent the evening working on some really neat clipboards for her kid's teachers. She even used the flower decorations on the table to accent the design. Very clever. If any of DeVan's teachers are reading this, you are very lucky. And pretend to be surprised.

Holly had another cool trick up her sleeve...PRIZES! I got the incredibly cool new Ink by Steph papers and embellishments for being the person with the most tattoos (nine), then there was a mad scramble to win the others--fishing for library cards, frantically pulling lipsticks from purses, and...oh yeah, having the second most tattoos. :) Holly did a great job keeping the excitement coming and keeping the fun going. I know she was in pain because she was ready to head for home to recover from the evening's events just before I was and I was in pretty lousy shape after a long day of prepping for the crop--I made a little gift for Holly, spelling out "Fiskateer" in chipboard letters, covering each in orange or green seed beads, microbeads, or ultrafine glitter. It was a wee bit more time consuming than I expected so I didn't have time to make it into a banner as I had hoped. Sorry Holly! While I briefly considered supergluing them to the hood of her car, I decided she'd be far more appreciative if she got to choose where she'd prefer to hang them. I was in such a rush I forgot to take a photo, but I'm sure you can figure out what chipboard with beads and glitter on it looks like. Actually, that sounds pretty awful doesn't it. It was cute, I promise.

It was a fun evening all around. If you have the opportunity to crop with a celebrity like we did, I highly suggest you do it. Now, what are my chances of getting the rest of the lead Fiskateers here? May? Stephanie? Cheryl? C'mon. Please?

So, how about the North Carolina Fiskateers out there? Let's get together and play. How about we put together a Fiskateers Local 506? Thanks also to everyone who posted their tips for the above entry (I'll update the tip list soon!) And the winner, picked at random is...Sandy the Turtlelady! Only problem is that she didn't leave her Fiskateer # or email. Sandy, if you are out there, please contact me with your postal address! You've got a page kit coming.

Everyone else, are you ready for a new challenge? I want to see your layouts about a crop you've attended and/or a famous person you have met. Post them to your Fiskateer profile, blog, or website and post a link to your layout here! The winner will receive a custom page kit I'll put together just for you! You get to choose the theme and I'll include enough goodies to make some fun pages on that topic...pretty neat, huh? The deadline for this RAK is June 15. Get to work!