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.