Monday, June 25, 2007

The Annual Frenzy, and Belly Flops

Being a Stampin' Up! Demo definitely has its advantages - previews of new stuff, getting discounts on our habit, boxes arriving at our doorsteps on a regular basis, supplying our faithful customers, etc. But at this time of year, it is sheer frenzy. What do you think will be in the new catalog? ... Do you have yours yet? ... Who do you think will get theirs first? ... If you get yours before me, will you share the new secrets? ... Should we read the SPOILER threads? ... Should we be surprised? ... Do we really have nothing else to do but TALK ABOUT THIS?!?!?!

Every year I say I will NOT get caught up in the frenzy, and so far, so good. I am actually not reading the SCS Demo Forums. They even set up a separate forum just for New Catalog Chatter, and people are STILL posting new-catalog threads in the regular chatter forum, so I had to look away...there is simply nothing else to read there!

I told myself I'd get my catalog when I get it, and there is nothing I can do to speed that up. Same with the pre-ordered boxes of catalogs - they'll get here when they get here. I actually feel much better about the whole thing, too. Really, I do!

Until today. On my way home, as I was sitting on the expressway (what a misnomer!) trying to figure out why we were STILL not moving, I happened to look over to the Local lanes and saw a Brown Truck. My first thought was, "Oh, NO! He's broken down! Could that be my UPS guy!??!?!? Does he need help!?!?! Should I try to take out some of that excess weight from the back of his truck?!?!" Turns out he was just stopped in traffic, too. Ahem...

Then, as I pulled onto my street, my UPS guy WAS PARKED IN FRONT OF MY DOOR!!!!! WITH BOXES!!!! Oh, sorry...forgot myself there for a sec. Then I realized he was moving too quickly to be carrying boxes of catalogs, and I spotted my much-anticipated box of Belly Flops in his arms.

This is still a good thing. You see, I seem to have single-handedly addicted the people at work to Jelly Belly jelly beans. And we're not talking about 5 or 10 people...more like a LOT of people! And at $16 a bag, shipped direct from, of course, I was starting to feel the pinch. Then one day, I got some SPAM (aka: Marketing email) from telling me they now had their outlet store online. YAY! I checked it out, and they sell Jelly Belly seconds called Belly Flops. Big bags, and at half the price of the regular Jelly Belly's, I jumped all over that baby!

Now I have them all hooked on Belly Flops because you really never know what to expect - weird sizes and shapes...way more fun than those plain ole' boring regular-shaped ones that are just different flavors! Bah to that, we say!

So anyway, the arrival of my latest shipment of Belly Flops will be warmly-received tomorrow by my co-workers, especially since we are down to our last 1/2 bag.

As for those catalogs, they'll get here when they get here. (Did you hear a truck ... 'scuse me...)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Captain Crafter Challenge #16

This card is for Captain Crafter's Challenge #16. I am so glad these are posted online for all of us now!

This week's challenge was to do the specified layout using three colors, and none of those three colors could be the card base. The first thing that came to mind was this piece of BasicGrey paper I have. I layered it on the horizontal piece to tie all the colors together.

The blue in the BasicGrey paper does not match any Stampin' Up! blues, so I tried the retiring Vintage Violet, and it was the closest I've come yet to hitting the color. Good thing I've stocked up! ;-)

Recipe: Big Pieces (SU) and Happy Birthday sentiment (Hero Arts); Sahara Sand, Vintage Violet and So Saffron cardstock (SU); non-SU brown c/s scrap; BasicGrey designer paper; SU Vintage Violet and Choc Chip ink; MM brads; SU Vintage Violet stitched grosgrain ribbon; SU Slit Punch.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Captain-Crafter Challenge #15

This card is for Captain Crafter's Challenge #15. I am so excited he has posted it to his blog so the rest of us can play, too!

I lucked out with this layout, as I had already cut the Blue Bayou card stock along with the strip of Chocolate Chip and layer of Paper Salon paper. I was trying to figure out how to make this into a card when I stumbled upon his challenge. Perfect!

The brown thingy is made up of two parts-is-parts from a Cuttlebug die-cut from a different project. I just layed them over each other and put a brad through them.

I made the light blue ribbon by coloring white grosgrain with my blender-pen Soft Sky "marker".

Recipe: Stampin' Up! Blue Bayou, Chocolate Chip and Very Vanilla card stock; Paper Salon designer paper; Cuttlebug die; SU white grosgrain ribbon; SU Soft Sky marker; SU brad from the Vintage package; sentiment from Happy Harmony - SU SAB set.

Spring Cleaning

Spring is in the air. The squirrels have eaten their share of the bird seed, but I foiled them by getting a really (really) squirrel-proof bird feeder. The durn squirrels ate their way through the last squirrel-proof feeder I had. It was the type where the outside sleeve would slide down and cover the feeding holes when a bird or critter that was too heavy attempted to feed. The squirrels simply chewed new holes right through the plastic so they could feed in the 'closed' position. I discovered this when filling the feeder and all the seed kept pouring out. I fixed them, though! The new feeder not only slides over the feeding holes when too-heavy critters land, but it is a metal band that covers the holes--just TRY and chew through THAT. Plus, the feeder is too long for the squirrels to hang from the top and reach the feeding holes. HAHAHA! The larger birds have figured out they can flap their wings to reduce their body weight so they can feed, but it does slow them down. So today my only task was to go to the local Bird stuff supply store and get more seed. Naturally, this meant having to leave the house, so I was looking for a distraction, and I found it - Spring Cleaning.

Please do not misunderstand me. I was not actually cleaning, or anything like that. In fact, I started a load of wash this morning and just now (10 hours later) remembered it needed to go into the dryer. You see, I have been distracted by stamping-related Spring Cleaning. Now THAT's important!!!

This all started when a local stamp store had their First Annual Flea Market the first weekend of June. I took that opportunity to sell all of my old retired Stampin' Up! sets (from prior years, of course!) that my Customers did not want, plus a bunch of other non-Stampin' Up! stamps I never use. I sold over half of it. Yay! This reduced my "old stuff" storage space requirements significantly. So a few weeks ago I started in on the current list of retiring Stampin' Up! sets to see what kind of space I could reclaim.

I am probably one of the few Demos who was actually happy that over 70 of my Stampin' Up! sets were on the Retiring list. At first I'll admit I was not pleased, but as I went through my sets, marking them as Retired, I found I had not used most of them in over a year. Sad, but true. In my new downsizing mode, I decided it was best to just dispose of them and make room for all the NEW stuff.

The next happening that pushed me into cleaning mode was the Elfa Meltdown & Recovery, which forced me to clean off my Craft Room table that until now had been used as storage overflow. This process yielded a stack of cards that had been started but never finished. I finished those up a few weeks ago, and they are selling quite well at the Farmers Market, thank you!

Back to today and Spring Cleaning. First, I went through the list of Retiring Wheels and pulled them from my handy wheel storage boxes and gently placed them in the To Go boxes. I updated my spreadsheet (yes, I have a spreadsheet - leave me alone!) which lists all the sets and wheels that are retiring, their original price, what I sold them for, who bought them, and when. This anal-retentive record-keeping serves many purposes: (1) I have a complete list of everything I am able to sell; (2) I know how much I spent and how much I am selling them for (the totals are really scary); (3) I know who bought them, as many of my Customers ask me what they bought before (some of us are old and we forget, okay?!), so I am prepared; (4) I know what I sold, and what year, and (5) Numbers 2 & 4 help me keep Uncle Sam happy at tax time.

So yes, I updated my spreadsheet(s), and I am ready for my Retired Stuff sale in July. Yay!

Next, I went through my pile o'cards I have accumulated from all my workshops and SCS challenges, and decided I do not need to house them in my Living Room any longer. After all, what good are they in boxes? My Customers do not need them - they have already made their own copies of most of them. So today I created an assembly line and set to documenting (of course) and packaging them for sale. First I scanned all of them into my 'puter (this is the a-r part). The good that came out of this, over and above the record-keeping, is that I had a count. Over 80 cards. Yeesh!

I separated out the front-only cards and set them aside. They will become full-fledged cards in my next phase.

I then stamped my Web site name and my SU Copyright stamp on the back of each card, included an envelope, and sealed them all into individual clear envelopes. All set for sale at next week's Farmers Market.

Next, I cleaned off my display door. Yes, "door". I have a very small place, so the only space I really have to display anything for my Customers is on the outside of a closet door. I thumb-tacked three long ribbons to the top of the door, then I use paper-clips to secure cards to the ribbons. I purged the display of all cards that used retiring sets. It is pretty empty now. I then followed the above-mentioned procedure and prepared these cards for sale, too.

As I gaze around my craft room, I see promise. I have half-empty Elfa shelving waiting for possible drywall repair; I have an organized stack of stuff on my Craft Table that will eventually go back on the Elfa shelving; I have a neatly-organized collection of the retiring In Color card stock, ink and stitched ribbons (hoarded, yes, because I love it); a new box with the new In Color card stock; my new In Color ink pads and ink refills are in their new home in my Color Caddy; my Elfa drawers that hold my stamp sets are mostly empty, and awaiting new sets. I think life is pretty good right now.

As a side non-stamping distraction, I got to do an unplanned Pantry Purge this afternoon. One of the bennies of being a crafter at a Farmers Market is all the fresh produce. Yum! I stock up every week. This stuff is picked on Friday and sold on Saturday morning...short of living on the farm, it does not get any fresher than that! So this afternoon I set out to cook some of the zucchini and eggplant I bought. Everything I added to the pot was from the Market, but I needed tomatoes, and all the farmers were out of tomatoes yesterday. But never fear - I have a well-stocked pantry. Unfortunately, I used to cook a lot more than I do now, and most canned food has a shelf life, which I apparently exceeded. I soon discovered most of the canned goods in my pantry were well past their Use By dates, which resulted in the afore-mentioned Pantry Purge. The good news is I now have room for all the pantry-overflow goods currently living on my counter and in bags on my kitchen floor. Luckily I found several cans of tomotoes in my overflow area, so the cooking effort was saved. I have much to recycle this week, and my counters and floor have never seen so much light. So I guess I did do a little non-stamp-related cleaning...

Lessons learned: (1) Make a card, and DO something with it. No more tossing them into a pile in the Living Room; (2) No more pantry-stocking without associated cooking activity. The Pantry Purge is so wasteful.

The craziness that is June & July in the Stampin' Up! world has begun, and I look forward to every minute of it! And after my Spring Cleaning episode, I have room, and I am ready. Let the games begin!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Elfa Update, and more rambling thoughts

Well, the Elfa is still hanging on the wall of my closet, so I guess it is okay. I have not reloaded all the shelves with the remaining boxes o'stuff still hogging the newly-cleared space on my craft-room table, though, so I guess I should not be too confident, huh?

As I wait for the final judgement on the Elfa, I looked up the other day and saw a water stain on the kitchen ceiling. I just LOVE this downstairs living gig, can you tell?

So then my mind wandered to drywall repair. Not by ME, no WAY, but by a licensed professional. I need to paint the ceilings this year anyway, so the timing is perfect. I could probably pull off the drywall job in the closet myself, but the ceiling? Not gonna happen.

I remembered my Electrician mentioned he has a "drywall guy", so I thought I'd call him to get the drywall guy's contact info. THEN, I pondered getting the Electrician in here to put in some more ceiling fans (I just MUST have moving air over or around me when I sleep, and I swapped bedrooms last year, so the fan is in the craft room.) That way I could get ceiling fans put in, and THEN get the drywall done, followed by the painting part (by me.)

Naturally, this started to sound like work, so I have not taken any steps in that direction yet. I figure I have a few months before the Elfa will start to pull out of the wall. LOTS of time.

So then I got a MAJOR DISTRACTION - my pre-ordered Stampin' Up! stuff arrived. YAY! Okay, the first pre-order arrived. Once I saw some of the very gorgeous samples on Splitcoast, I was enabled to place a second order last weekend along with my workshop order. The very nice workshop commission will pay for that second pre-order. I love it when the math actually works in my favor.

We have a big wind blowing through town right now, so before my laptop fizzles in the inevitable power outage, I will take my leave and go play with my new stuff, even if I have to do so by candle-light!

I'll post some of my creations soon. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Elfa Meltdown and Recovery

I love Elfa. For the uninitiated, that is the very clever, very reconfigurable, very pricey modular storage system from the Container Store. A friend of mine who moved a lot had it in all her closets. The first thing she'd do when she moved into a place was take down the cheapo clothes shelf/rod in her closets and install Elfa. When she moved out, she uninstalled her Elfa, put back the cheapo stuff, and repeated the process in her new place. She only had to buy it once, and just reconfigured it for her new place.

She tried, in vain, for years to talk me into the investment, but it took an overflow of craft supplies in a too-small condo to push me to try it.

For my first step, I cleared out one smaller closet and put in stacks o'drawers. I store all my stamps in them, and it is sweet.

Next I did two more closets - one to hold what's left of the clothes and other stuff I had to purge from closets #1 & 2, and the other one was to organize all my cr@p, er craft stuff.

All was well, and I was SOLD. I even talked a co-worker into buying into it, and his wife is soooo happy. He, however, wonders what all the fuss is about, and what he will do with all the empty, extra storage space in HIS closet. He is such a it out to your wife! Yeesh!

I still love Elfa, and I will probably convert every remaining space in my condo to more wisely use said space.

Now to the meltdown. There is something you should all know about drywall. It is great at holding things up, especially if you can hit a stud along the way. Since the Elfa closet system uses a single horizontal bar attached near the ceiling of the closet, with all the vertical supports hanging off of it, it is critical that (1) the horizontal bar is level, and (2) it stays in the wall. Yes, I said "stays in the wall". You see, mine did not. I followed all the rules and instructions - really, I did. Unfortunately for me, one other thing about drywall is when it gets wet, it loses its integrity, meaning it can turn to mush.

Enter me, the naive downstairs condo owner, anxious to install her Elfa. I gutted my closet, spackled the holes, painted (PAINTED!), including the ceiling, then set to the installation process. I managed to hit zero (none, zippo) studs, but never fear, I used the handy-dandy supplied anchors. I measured, drilled, tightened screws, and completed my installation. The levelling and installation of that horizontal bar is really the hardest part of the whole thing.

Fast forward about 4 months. I enter my craft room one evening after work to find my Elfa shelving hanging from the wall - AWAY from the wall ...on a SLANT. This is The Meltdown. Turns out all the anchors pulled completely out of the wall. Well, not ALL of them, as the right-hand side of the shelving was still attached. Just the left side was ripped out of the wall and dangling.

Being an Analyst by trade, I enlisted the sage advice of my local Container Store experts and we eventually determined that the drywall had been wet, then dried, and that is what burned me. I live in a downstairs unit, and the upstairs unit's furnace/air-conditioning unit is above my closet. In the 15 years I have lived here, there have been two water 'incidents' where there was water drip-drip-dripping into my closet. Two incidents in 15 years - I did not give it another thought.

Until now. Apparently I now needed to (1) attach the horizontal bar into studs, (2) try to attach the horizontal bar right next to the ceiling line in hopes of hitting the topper for the closet/wall (not happenin'), or (3) replace the drywall. I opted for #1.

They warned me I might need to invest in a stud-finder and a metal drill bit to drill new holes in the header to align with the studs. I sulked home with this information in my brain, and looked at my closet, sighed, and left the room. I repeated this over the next few weeks, never having the energy to actually start working on it.

You see, I have too much stuff. Yes, don't we all? But I have a small condo, and I really do not want to live in the closet, so I MUST be organized, or stop buying, more organized it is! Thus, the Elfa system. In order to fix the Elfa, I have to unload the closet, deconstruct the Elfa, deal with the reinstallation of the header, then put everything back. With no where to unload the closet TO, I again looked at it and walked away for weeks.

Finally, I said ENOUGH! I took off two days from work this week with the intention of dealing with this whole mess. It is now the end of Day 1, and I am almost done! I first had to clear off enough space on my craft table to relocate my scrap boxes (organized by color, of course) from the shelving to the table. Then I set to work on my scrap PILE, putting all of the scraps into their proper scrap bins, and tossing all the bits not worth keeping.

Then I emptied all the shelves from the closet onto the now-cleared table. I was then able to deconstruct my modular shelving and deal with the header. It sickeningly pulled right out of the wall. So much for drywall integrity. ;-( Also, so much for my screw-tightening skills. I only have a 30-year-old Craftsman screwdriver I got as a wedding present, and have never invested in anything electric outside of my drill. Apparently I did not tighten the screws enough the first time around or the 'good' side would not have pulled out of the wall. I am bad. Dad, if you are reading this, I am sorry I failed in this. You taught me better!

Then I went hunting for studs. Remember, this is a closet - who's gonna see? So instead of investing in a stud-finder, I used a finishing nail and hammered it into the wall until I hit a stud. I then left it there and measured 24 inches and found the next one. Found 3 all together. And it was free!

Then I pondered the drilling into the metal header piece. But first, I measured the existing holes, and they were 8 inches apart. 8 x 3 = 24! Woo-hoo! If I could line up those holes with the studs, I would not have to drill any new ones, thus eliminating the trip to the hardware store for a new drill bit. I measured several times (measure twice, cut once), and took my tiny hack saw outside to hack off about 3 inches of the header. Back inside, it was a perfect fit.

I dug into my Elfa stash and found the wood screws, drilled their holes (level, of course), and installed the header with the three wood screws in place. They only went in about 1/2 way. Hmmm .... Then I could not get them out. Hmmm .... Then I figured I should have put the anchors and screws in the other holes, so off to the Container Store to buy more of those buggers. Fortunately, in my rummaging I also found more Elfa parts-is-parts that I did not use with the original construction, so returning those paid for my new anchors. I also asked the sage Container Store person about the wood screws, and he said I NEEDED an electric screwdriver - not battery, electric. Apparently my wimpy upper arms clued him in to my lack of upper body strength, though he did say ANYone would need an electric screwdriver to do that. Trying to make me feel better? Ya think?

Naturally, it is mid-day on a Thursday and anyone I know who MIGHT have an electric screwdriver is either at work or out of town. Being that I was in instant-gratification mode, I stopped at the hardware store to check out what kind of investment we were talking about for an electric screwdriver - $30, with 22 different screw parts, and an extender...sold!

Once home again, I uninstalled the three partially-installed screws with my trusty new electric screwdriver, drilled all the holes for the anchors, and I installed ALL the screws. Unfortunately, the wood ones still only went in about 2/3 of the way. Sigh ...

But I continued anyway. I installed the verticals (unscrewing and rescrewing the wood screws to let the verticals pass by those spots, and reinstalled all of the shelving.

Being a bit cautious, still, with the partially-screwed-in wood screws, I only loaded up about half of my stuff...figured I'd let it hang out for a while (no pun intended) to see if the dang thing will stay on the wall. But with my clean table, I have room for everything else, so I can at least walk around in here until the final verdict.

Let us pray.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Blog Thing - Weirdness Meter

I am starting to worry about these things ....

You Are 30% Weird

Not enough to scare other people...
But sometimes you scare yourself.

Monday, June 4, 2007

There is a better way ...

...yes, Virginia, there is ALWAYS a better way to do something. This is something I have struggled with from the beginning of my stamp hobby/craft/art period, and I am actually learning to do things better, albeit slowly, over time.

I started out making cards because I am a crafter at heart, something that goes back to my early childhood. It is in my blood. But anything I do needs a REASON to be done, so as my Living Room filled up with cards, I decided I would make cards to sell at local craft shows and farmers markets. This would, in theory, help me recoup some of my expenses, and keep me in supplies (she said ever-so naively.)

This is an important point to remember - the making-cards-to-sell focus of my craft - as it will explain a lot about me and my purchasing habits. When I create a card I like, I make more than one of them. So when a card takes a lot of time to make, or includes an expensive embellishment, I have to do the math and decide if it would be cost-effective to make en masse before I choose to do so. I have walked away from some g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s embellishments because they would add 50 cents to the cost of a card.

When I first started out stamping and paper-crafting, I was doing things the way I thought they should be done, which was fine, but not necessarily the EASY way. Case in point. I saw this cool card of a man's shirt and tie:

and I just had to copy it. First, I made the template, which is really no more than the tie parts and the pocket cut out of thin cardboard, like shirt cardboard - the kind you get from the cleaners with folded men's shirts, or with some packing stuff, like in the catalog boxes or in with the Stampin' Up! Designer Series Paper packages. Anyway, the template was easy to make. The template parts are then covered with the patterned paper. After making one, I realized for each card I made I needed a set of cardboard template pieces, and I had to cover each one. This was starting to sound like work.

I was a rookie, so what did I know? I sat down one day and made 10 of these puppies. Cut 10 templates, wrapped all of the parts-is-parts, making sure to have the stripes going in the same direction. Then I stuck in all the brads, and assembled the cards. It took a LOT of time. People loved them, and they sold like crazy, especially around Father's Day.

A good friend of mine who talks me through most of these life-altering activities, pointed out that the labor I put into these cards was not worth what I was selling them for - the same price as all my other cards. He suggested I either needed to have tiered pricing for my more complex cards, or I needed to find a better, less time-consuming way to do them. Good ideas, so I pondered for a while.

Then I saw a folded paper bill made into a man's shirt. Voila! Lightbulb! I did a Web search and found several sites with instructions on how to make an origami shirt. The one that I finally 'got' was instructions for a Kindergarten class. Hey, if it works, go with it! I started cranking out shirts like hotcakes, and it was so EASY, I never went back to the original. This is one of the first ones I did:

Ignoring the poor photography and lack of cropping skills, I thought it turned out pretty well. You can tell how old it is by the Stampin' Up! paper I used. Yeesh! (They were great colors, though, no?)

Not to be one-sided, I also made a bunch for women, with folded-down shoulders so they were more rounded. And I got to use some of the pretty patterned paper from my stash, to boot! I also got to use some of my wire and beads to make necklaces.

Bottom line: lesson learned on how to do this one easier, faster, and more economically.

Moving on to Lesson #2. Back in my Did You Hear That post, I showed this brownstone card I make to sell at a local Farmers Market:

I print the name of the city on the computer (SOMETHING has to be straight!), then stamp the brownstone three times, then stamp the light. I sell them as 5-packs, so I stamp a ton of them, then go back and do the water-coloring. VERY labor-intensive. I sell them for more than my normal 5-packs of Thank You notes since they take so much more time to create. See, I was listening to my pal's suggestion of tiered pricing, and I made these worth my time. Most people get it once I explain how I make them, and no one has balked at the price difference.

The rest of the Did You Hear That post talked about my inability to line up anything any more, ergo I am no longer able to create these cards. ;-( I tried, but after the watercoloring revealed even more sloppiness, I could not bring myself to even sell them as singles. To cut my losses, I quit making them.

Fast forward to my recent shopping spree. No, really, there is a point to this! Remember, when I shop, and the ONLY thing I shop for is stamping stuff (I am allergic to shopping malls, in general), I see things - paper, embelishments, stamps - not only as a would-I-use-it, or do-I-like-it, or I-must-have-it (yes, I am weak), but I also try to think if it would do double-duty as something that would sell. I almost (almost) never buy something ONLY to use it to make cards to sell, because if I will not use it for myself, I certainly cannot justify the 2 square inches of storage space the stamp will take up in my humble condo.

So as I browsed the local stamp store, I discovered this cool stamp by Stampendous that just screamed, "You must buy me, take me home, and use me to make more note packs."

Is it not VERY cute? And there are three bonus points about it. (1) the houses are already lined up, (2) the houses are 'drawn', so they are a little not-perfect to start with, which is PERFECT for me, and (3) when I got it home and introduced it to the raised-edge note cards I'd hoarded from Stampin' Up! when they hit the Retiring Accessories List several years back, they were a PERFECT FIT!

This is the first one I made, and my water-coloring needs a bit of work, but all-in-all, I think it was a good purchase.

I have no plans to reveal all the other purchases from this past weekend, but let's just say that I have more very cool patterned paper, some A Muse must-haves, some VERY cool embellishments (cost-effective for mass production, of course!), and a few online purchases that I will not discuss right now. Maybe another time.