Saturday, December 18, 2010

Poor Little Machine, Part III

While I was slaving away trying to get a project done for one of my customers, deadline deadline deadline, my husband took a part of the day to look at the carving machine to see what was wrong.  He called customer service.  I have no idea what he was doing, but the soldering iron came out, a bucket of parts, and tweezers.  Fixing, fixing, fixing…
Then he was back out in the garage, and I hear frustration in the affect of things being thrown, stomping, and words.  Oh, there were words.
I can’t really blame him.  I would be frustrated, too.  This machine can be incredibly frustrating when it isn’t cooperating, and you’ve done everything that you know to do to fix it.  And, still, it won’t GO.
So, I rub his back, because that always makes it better, right?  (rolls eyes)  And I say, “Why don’t you call the customer service line again?”
He does, and now a $350 part is coming our way, due the middle of the week.
Okay, for my little business, $350 is a lot of money.  I just started this venture 3 months ago!  It’s not like I make thousands every month!  I don’t even have the product to support those sales, yet.
But, if it needs to be fixed, let’s fix it.  So, the order goes through.  At least we get a $100 rebate.  But, still.
Wednesday comes and I’m following the UPS tracking number online.  It never updates past “In Transit – Mesquite”….which means it’s in the shipping facility in Mesquite, but not on a truck.
Now, that’s not 15 minutes from my house.  I flirted with the idea of just calling them and seeing if I can go get it.
See, I was nervous.  Three more custom projects had to get done by Christmas.  What if this part didn’t work?  What if we had to get another part, and that would take another three days?
Deep breath.
In the end, it is what it is.  So, waited, I did.
Sean came home from work on Wednesday, and he asked if the part came in.  Nope, not yet.  UPS usually delivers in the 5 o’clock hour, and our doorbell did not ring.
So, I finish cooking dinner and we’re about to sit down when the door bell rings.  It was almost like a Chirstmastime story, where we both stop what we’re doing, and look at each other in some sort of still moment, excitement in our eyes.  Then, we both raced to the door!
Yes!  The package was here!  The part was here!!!
After dinner, we went out in the garage to replace the part.  And, really, I’ll be honest, I’m just moral support.  I know nothing of replacing a machine’s brains.  Which, is basically what we were doing.
To which I said, “If the brain is different, do we have to re-name the machine?”
To which my husband repled, “I think so…”
Hmmm…  Thinking, thinking, thinking….  ”I can’t think of anything,” I said.
Machine was put upright, and now came the test.  I was nervous.  Sean was nervous. Raven was in the garage again, and she wasn’t nervous at all.  But, she was licking the garage floor, and I’ll say that there is nothing on the garage floor that’s worth eating.
Upon seeing Raven lick the floor, Pete started, too.  After receiving a warning, and the licking continued, they were both sent inside.
Pete turns into a squeeky wheel when he’s on the other side of a door from me.  Whine, whine, whine….  After saying, “Pete, you’re in a time out for licking the floor!” Sean said, “Okay.”
I was momentarily confused.
When I realized Sean had said that, and not Pete, I also realized Sean was ready to turn on the machine and get going.  So, before the power went on, I did the sign of the cross and we prayed.  ”Hey God, I know there is hunger and war and so many more important things in this world to be concerned with, but if You would just help us get this machine going….”
Yep….it worked!  Test run, complete!  Yay!  I put my hands in the air, and did a little dance, and clapped, and was overjoyed.
Sean just laughed at me.  I laughed, too, hugged him, and said, “You’re my hero!!”
We figured it was a good time to get some projects going, so I did.  I was back in business, and catching back up on all the custom orders.
It was a Christmas miracle, and I’m glad it happened a week before Christmas so I could get everything done on time.
The sound of a carving machine that has been quiet for a week is the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.  And, to that my husband said, “Sparky is doing okay.”
I said, admiring the name, “Ooooo, Sparky!”
Sean replied, “I guess he just told me his name.”
And, the best part….
This blog stream is a trilogy!  Yay!!!!  I suppose, if taken day by day, this would be a four part series, but I was busy doing….I’m old and forgetful, so I don’t remember, but I know I was busy….
Busy, busy, busy….

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Scroll Saw Better Work

Custom work is some of my favorite stuff to do…  Why, you ask?  Well, it’s often times more challenging than what I come up with in my own little noggin’.  I do enjoy getting paid, but what I like even more than that, is the smile the piece puts on someone’s face. Especially since a lot of custom work ends up as a gift of some sort.
And, no, I will not accept smiles as payment.  I’m not that altruistic.  :)
This custom item was no different-it, too, was to become a gift.  Except, during the making of this piece, I had my trials.
The goal?  A gift from an intern to a fire station, where he was working.  He wanted to present them with something to show his appreciation for what he’s learned.
Sweet, huh?  Yeah, I thought so, too, and I jumped on that little train.
This is the emblem, to begin the design:

Now, there were to be a few changes.  Instead of the yellow, add dark blue.  Instead of the building in the center, add words instead.
No problem.  I worked up a mock-up in the software and sent it to my customer.  He ended up loving the idea.  The whole thing was supposed to be carved – cause, you know, the business name is Rustic “Carvings”….
That didn’t happen.
The back board was made out of MDF, to be easily painted, and the machine carved it like a dream.  Like, butter.  The detail was astonishing!!
However, the dust from the MDF gunked up the machine (aka Carvey), and to this day, it still isn’t working.  MDF dust is extremely fine.  A part for Carvey is being sent this week, but in the meantime, this project was due, uh…  Tuesday.
So, this weekend, when I saw the machine wasn’t going to be fixed, I started thinking up other things I could do to make this project finish on time.  I could cut more MDF, and just paint it.  But, I didn’t think that would look very good.  Kinda flat and….ew.
I started digging through the wood pile, in my mind, one day while I was watching TV. Hm. I have white wood and cedar.  I bet I can cut the middle and center shapes out, and paint the detail.  That may be cool.
I checked my email, and the customer had emailed asking how it’s coming along, since he knew my machine was out of commission.  I explained where I was, and gave options.  We can still carve it, but he wouldn’t have it for Tuesday.  Or, we can do the option as described above, and get it done.
He chose the second option.  Cool.  Can I get it done in one day, he asked?  Sure thing!
“Are you sure you can get it done?”, he emailed back again.
Now, when I say I can do something, I don’t always know “how” I’m going to accomplish the task.  Especially in a compressed time period.  I just know I will find a way.  Sometimes I just make it up as I go along, but I try to exude confidence to the customer as I go.  :)
And, that’s basically what happened.  At 7am the next morning, I was out in the garage – the 27 degree garage – scouting wood to use.  I printed the shapes on the printer, and then cut them with the scroll saw.
Interesting story with the scroll saw – I turned it on and it was going r.e.a.l.l.y. s.l.o.w….and I told it, “Okay, now, I need you to work for me.”  I turned a few knobs.  Coaxed it along, and wha-lah, it was working again.
When I was done with those, I put the pieces on the MDF board that already had one coat of paint on it, and….well, it kinda looked like the board had a nose.  That wasn’t going to work.  A little white-wash fixed that problem right up.
My husband was home sick, and he graciously sat at the kitchen table cutting stencils for me, and taping pieces of wood so I can paint lines easily.  Basically, all the “not fun” stuff.
It took about 9 hours, yesterday, to finish it, but it was totally worth the end result.  I impressed myself.  And, let me tell you, I’m not easily impressed.

Total time to make it?  Oh, about 15 hours or so, including design time.  It ended up pretty big, too, even if I forgot to measure the dimensions.  It was at least 15″ long, give or take an inch.

I know this business isn’t saving lives, or anything of the sort, but I treat it as important because gifts make a big difference in people’s lives.  If I need to work harder and longer, to make sure something gets done on time, then that’s what I’ll do.
It’s not the customer’s fault Carvey broke down.
So, people of Addison Fire Department there on C-Shift, thanks for all you did to help this intern learn and experience new things.  I hope this piece put a smile on your faces.  You work hard, I know it.
And, thank you, Lord, for making my husband sick so he can help me.  ;)
The End.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Poor Little Machine, Part II

The husband, who goes by the name of Sean, and I went out in the garage Thursday night, trying to figure out what is wrong with Carvey.  Yep, that’s right, I named the carving machine.  I now, also pet it.  Don’t judge me.  Poor little machine.
The top of the machine was taken off, we used the air compressor to blow a bunch of ga-ga (a.k.a. saw dust) out, and vacuumed.  It was almost like when the dentist is working on your teeth – the assistant holds that sucking tube that tries to suck up everything in your mouth, including your tongue, while the dentist drills away.  So, Sean is blowing all this dust out, and I’m trying to catch it with the shop vac.  Teamwork.
I look down and our little black lab mix, Raven, is just covered in saw dust.  I thought this was funny, but I guess I wasn’t doing my job very well.  I will say, though, that when you use an air compressor to get sawdust out of a machine, it goes e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. Apparently, also on the dog.  It kinda looked like it snowed on her.
When I laughed with her (‘Cause I don’t laugh at her, that’d be mean), she just wagged her tail, all cute like. And, then I thought….”HEY!”, if I were a cartoon a light bulb would have lit above my head, “I have a vacuum in my hand”…
Raven did not appreciate it when I tried to vacuum her back.
She really didn’t appreciate it when Sean used the air compressor to try to blow the saw dust off of her.  She ran behind my legs….”Help me!  Help me!”  ….Completely forgetting that I was the one with the vacuum!
Traumatizing the dog is always fun.
Alas, our efforts were in vain, and Carvey tried really hard to work, but then gave out again.
I emailed some customers, told them of my problems….since some dates are fast approaching.  Turns out I’m the only one remotely freaking out about this.  It’s nice to have understanding customers.
Sean does more research on the computer.  A couple stat readings on the machine.  Some tinkering.
Still not working.  But, he knows the motor works.  So, that’s a good thing.
He has a theory.  I see the wheels turning in his head, and he’s out in the garage this very minute trying to figure the whole thing out for me so I can make my deadlines.
That’s love, folks.  Best husband ever.  And, he’ll be my hero when he fixes it.  That’s right….when.
I just hope “when” is “soon”, because all the best stories are told in a trilogy.  So, it’d be super cool if this little drama could wrap itself up in my next blog posting.  It’ll be the “Poor Little Machine” trilogy.
One day, we’ll make a movie out of it.  (I look away from the laptop screen in a dream like stance.)  Maybe in New Zealand….
Yeah, you’re right, probably not.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Poor Little Machine, Part I

So, it’s pretty important that my tools and everything work for me.  Normally I get really, really cranky when they don’t.
I’ll admit there have been days when I’m yelling.
I’ve tried a new approach.  Talking.  Sometimes, I too, question my own sanity.  BUT, a good friend once told me that if I’m questioning it, then I’m probably all right.
So, the carving machine won’t work.  It gets this error “check cut motor”.  Dude, I don’t know what that is….although, “motor” sounds pretty important.  It sounds like it’s something that makes the whole thing, you know, go…
Ya, pretty much.
What do I do?
“Oh, did you work really hard yesterday?”  I talk to it.  ”I know, I worked you really hard, but if you would please, please work for me, I would really appreciate it.”
“Okay, I’m going to turn you off, and clean you all up, and see if that makes you feel better.”  I turn it off, unplug it, and get all the sawdust out from underneath it, and inside it, and all around it.  It’s cleaner than it has looked in, oh, probably it’s whole life since inception.
Plug it in.  Power on.  I run through all the motions, saying, “I’m sorry I used the MDF yesterday.  I shouldn’t have.  It’s dust is probably too fine to be putting through you.”  I cough, “See, it’s getting in my pipes, too.  I’m so sorry.”
I’m going to give the carving machine credit here, it tried, but, no go.
I come inside, text the hubby, just so he knows what he’s in store for tonight.  ;)  And, then I get on the forums.  I’m going to trouble shoot this.  I’m smart.  I went to college.  I can dothis.
Ya, I don’t understand a word they are saying.  Something about motors and taking it apart (eep!!) and brushes inside (??) and circuits coming loose (!!!)…  But, there was one golden article that said it could just be a fluke, so let the machine rest, and try again in an hour or so.
That, I can do!
So, I walk in the garage, and tell the machine that I’m going to let it rest, and then we’ll see how it goes.
I started scroll sawing some pieces from yesterday.  See, if I can’t do carvings, then I can at least do this part.  Momentum.  That’s good.
After that, I start cleaning up the garage, because….well, sawdust, everywhere.  Messy, messy, messy.  Also, I clean when I start worrying.  I’m trying not to panic about when I’ve promised things, and I convince myself we’ll have it fixed in no time.  And, by “we”, I mean my husband.
Every time I passed the machine, I’d say, “You okay?  Just hang tight.  Relax…”  Cleaning took a good hour, and I also straightened up all the wood piles, too.
Okay, let’s try this again.  I go through all the motions, having a whole conversation with the machine.  Letting it know that I know it works really hard for me.  Sometimes we all need encouragement.  I told it that I’m here trying to help it along.  That if it would just tell me what to do, I’d do it.
Now, it wants me to clean the sensor.  Once I found that, dude, done deal.  Easy peasy.
Then it wanted me to check the rollers.  Nope, you’re fine.  Good to go.  ”I appreciate you pointing things out to me that I can potentially fix,” I tell it, “But, don’t make things up, tell me what your real problem is.”
I look at the display panel, “Check Cut Motor”.
Sigh.  ”Well,” I pat it on its little door, “hopefully, we’ll figure that out tonight.”
Poor little machine.
… be continued

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Backbone, Boundaries, Acceptance

A friend of mine texts me today, and she is all full of self doubt.  Wondering if she has what it takes to do her job, and get to the place in her career that she wants to be.  (If you know me personally, please don’t text me and ask me who this was.  I won’t tell you.)
I think we have the tendency to look at others, in higher positions, and think they never sweat bullets, or did anything wrong, or doubt themselves.
I wager that they have their bad days.  We tend to be more forgiving of other’s mistakes than we are our own.
I’ve lost a little bit of the fire, myself, lately.  This new direction in life is pretty hard.
Running your own business, pretty much by yourself, is tough work.  You have to have an incredible backbone.  Be able to balance your life, especially if you work at home, so that it doesn’t take up every minute.  Draw the boundaries.  Accept the failures and disappointments along the way.  Find creative ways to market, but keep up with the demand that you already have.
I am not good at many of those things.
Marketing?  I didn’t like marketing when I was an accountant, and I sure don’t like it now. Granted, I’m better at it now.  I don’t mind sticking my head out there and saying, “Hey.” You never know what will drive business.  But, I’m doing it for me, and my family, now, so it’s different, I guess.
I’m still not 100% comfortable with it, and sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable enough, to brag on all this stuff I’ve created over the past several months, in front of someone.
“Look,” I say pointing at something, “How great am I?!”
I do it, anyway, though.  I find if I laugh and have fun, it’s so much easier.
Backbone?  If we’re talking: standing up to someone, yep, I’ve got one.  Hard.  Core.  If we’re talking: someone negatively commenting on something I created….  Ouch.
Balance?  I had this one in the proverbial bag when I was a CPA in an accounting firm.  The line was easy – if I’m in the office, I’m working.  At home, I’m me at home, with very few deviations from that logic.
Now that I work at home – I don’t think I ever stop working.  I’m posting something, reading an article, finding out a new way to do this or that, thinking up a new idea, sending an email, etc.  There is always something to do, and since I don’t have minions to do it…  I keep going…
(I’ll pause here to say that my wonderful husband does help me out, and I wouldn’t be where I am today, without his assistance, and everything he’s taught me.  His support is unwavering.)
Accepting failures and disappointments?  Oh, I suuuuck at this.  Capital S. Capital U. Capital C.  Capital K.  They’ll take me down for a week!  I don’t want to be all egotistic here and say, “I’m not used to failure”, because I’ve had my fair share of it in my lifetime.  But, normally, when I do put in my all, and give it that 150%, I do end up on the success side of the bar.
This weekend I realized, through very wise council, that I needed to stop seeing it as little failures.  I’m learning.  Nothing has failed yet, in fact, for a start up, it’s doing quite well.
Hearing the doubts of a good friend of mine, today, helped me realize that we doubt ourselves no matter what we do.  I think it’s just human nature.  I have doubts now, but they are just different than the ones I had when I was managing.
The advice was the same, though – You aren’t going to get everything right, but you have what it takes to make it better when it goes wrong.  If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, who will?
She has doubts now, but she just needed a friendly reminder, very much like I did, that she has what it takes to make it to wherever she wants to go.
And, she does.
So do the rest of us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Disappointment and Silver Linings

The bright idea wasn’t actually mine.  My grandmother died several years ago, leaving us with a gigantic (no exaggeration there) doll collection.  She purchased these for anywhere between $50-$200ish.  Fair market value today?  $10-$30.  Okay, obviously not a wise investment.  Not sure she bought them for the potential appreciation value, or if it was more about the expressions on their little faces.  The twin dolls that are “oh so cute”.  Or the myriad of different styles – laughing, crying, playing…some with open mouths, some with eye lashes…

So, my mom and I discussed sharing a booth and putting the dolls out there, along with a section for my little business.  Sounded like a really great idea, in theory.
Rustic Carvings didn’t fair too well at the craft fair.  I started doubting myself all over the place.  Are my prices too high?  Is the stuff not good enough?  Maybe I should paint them instead?  What am I doing wrong?
Didn’t help that everyone walked into the space and went, “Dolls!!!”, completely ignoring my items.
Okay, that hurts.  (Maybe I’m too sensitive about the stuff I’ve made, but man, that hurts!)
I had to get out of the space, and it was only around 11am on Saturday.  My feelings were hurt.  Then I walked around and saw that the fair was filled with food, soap, jewelry, and kitschy stuff like bird houses made out of laundry detergent bottles.  That dude said he made $400 on Saturday with them.
People are mean, too.  They say stuff like “I could make that”.  ”Why are you charging that?”  To one that is shaped like a Jerusalem cross, one woman said, “Does that really count as a cross?”  Hi!  (waves hand)  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a person, with feelings. It took everything in me not to say, “Do you really count as a human being?!”
I was grumpy.
Not to mention on Saturday, people were more impressed with the towel “cake” my mom made for display purposes, than with the wooden, personalized, wedding cake stand I crafted.  ”Oooh, you make those? Any color?”  I’d get excited and say, “Yeah, know anyone getting married?”  They’d say, “No, but where do you buy the towels?”
Next one…  ”I just love these, you know you can make them out of anything – diapers, towels, washcloths.  I used to make dogs out of washcloths for baby showers.”  I’d say, “Ma’am, I make the cake stand below the towels.”  ”Oh,” she’d say, and walk away, unimpressed.
Next one….  ”Did you make that?”  ”Yes,” I’d say.  ”I used to make them out of diapers.”
Sigh.  Sigh…. SIGH!!!  I eventually took it down.  It was so disappointing.
I talked to the few booths that had “real art”, or handmade items for sale….they were struggling, too.  It made me feel better that it wasn’t just me.  It made me feel bad for the world as a whole – not appreciating real handcrafted artwork.  There is a reason artists starve.
So, although a disappointment, I’m choosing to look at some silver linings:
1) Craft shows aren’t the place for Rustic Carvings.  It’s not that my items aren’t good, it was the wrong audience.
2) I had some really nice conversations with old men about woodcraft, tools, and how much they appreciate what I do for a living.
3) One of my longtime best friends came up to the show on Saturday, and without her sitting beside me, helping me laugh, I would have been bawling in the booth by myself.  We definitely got in some needed quality time.
4) A couple customers came by to see me, and I was floored by how much they appreciate what I’ve made.
5) Turning your table around to face the aisle can make a big difference on Day 2.
6) I got my business card out there, and talked to a few people interested in custom designs.
7) But, mostly, the really great part of the whole thing is that Mom sold so many of my Grandmother’s dolls!  It was awesome to see them go to people that would really appreciate them again.  Instead of the dolls sitting in a box in the closet.  I’m going to tally up the funds today and see how we did.  Craft shows, like that, may be the best means to get rid of them.  Ahem, I mean find them all “good homes” with “adoptive families”. 
Once I chose to look past my own circumstance, my mother’s smiles, as each “baby” found a new home, made up for my business disappointment.  For sure.  110%.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It’s raining. And cold. And, I’m rambling.

It’s 50.7 degrees outside, according to my WeatherBug desktop program.  According to my nose and toes, it’s freezing!  It’s also raining, and I want to curl up on the sofa with a nice cup of hot tea, and read.  Alas, there is work to be done.
Working out in the garage, err workshop, has been a dream the past month or so.  Nice 70-degree weather, breeze through my hair.  Okay, not my hair, because it’s usually tied back so I don’t accidentally chop it off with power tools, but there is a breeze none-the-less.
I made a trip to Home Depot today and discovered that they now make stain with polyurethane combined.  I thought this was cool.  And, then I thought, the things I think are cool sure have changed over the years…  I even said, “cool” aloud, and a couple HD guys ran over asking if they can help me.  No, I’m good.  Thanks.
The guys at Home Depot are always so willing to help me when my husband isn’t with me…  It’s so kind of them.
So….I get home, and I’m working in the garage, polyurethane-ing some items for a craft show I’m attending in the next couple weeks, and since it’s freaking cold, and raining, I have the overhead garage door shut, and the laundry room door open.  So, the dogs are roaming in and out of the house, to the garage, at their leisure.

Pete, yep, he’s pretty much at my side.  I’d say he’s an employee, but he sleeps on the job, and that’s not employee material for Rustic Carvings.  When I thanked him for helping, though, he wagged his tail.  He’s totally cool with taking the credit for napping.
He appears freaked out in the picture, but he really isn’t.
He had a towel draped over him earlier, when he was laying on the other side of the workstation.  Ya, the reason he’s spoiled, is pretty much my fault.
Raven, now, she has had abandonment issues of epic proportion since we’ve returned from the honeymoon.  Which, is surprising, because she’s always been a “love on her terms” type of gal.  Not very needy.  "I’ll come to YOU when I need a pat on the head, thank you very much.”  It’s getting better as the days go by, which we’re thankful for, because it’s super annoying when the 50 pound dog wants to sit in an office chair with you.
I think she’s taken the role of supervisor.  While I was working today, she’d wander in the garage every 10 minutes or so, check on me, on Pete, and then leave again.  I hope she doesn’t expect a big salary and benefits package.
The huskies, are, of course, nowhere to be found.  Probably holding down the sofa and area rug, as expected.
Until there is a crack of thunder, that is…….

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hello World!

So, one day I’m sitting in an office with my cushy job, great pay, great benefits…and then the very next day, I’m at home wondering what the heck I did.  I’m thinking, quit my job, cause I was crying every, single, Monday morning.  I suppose, by your 30′s, you should probably quit AFTER you find a new job, right?
Yeah, I didn’t do that.  In a flight of impulsiveness and trust and faith, I took the leap, hoping that somewhere, a net would appear and keep me from splattering all over the ground.  And, here I am.  Not sure I’m on the ground, safely, yet, but I’m enjoying the ride.
Some things I thought would work out, well, they didn’t.  Other things that I couldn’t have even imagined became a reality.
I’ve updated the “about” page on this website, and have added a storefront where you can buy all my stuff through Etsy.  I’ve had a lot of fun creating things again, and using a part of my brain that has been dormant for so many years now.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with my future husband, while we brainstorm ideas, or he teaches me how to use things like scroll saws.  And, I appreciate all the support of my great and wonderful family and friends. It doesn’t feel like work.  That’s the best part.
The blog?  Oh, well, it’s because I like to write.  And, hey, it’s pretty much free advertising. I think that’s what they call, win-win.
What will I write about?  Oh, who knows?  Everything?  My dogs.  The weather.  Trips. Love.  Life.  And everything else in between.
Life may not always follow the path I wish it would, but I’ve found that letting go, and letting God drive, takes me to better places than I can imagine.
So, yeah, “Hello world”….let’s do this.