Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I’m a Lackluster Mom, but I Love a Project

Please understand right from the start, that I’ve never felt I was a particularly good mom.  I have two daughters who are now 24 and 19 (not to mention a step daughter in her 30s) and there are still times when I feel like I should apologize for how I’ve warped them.  Having read my fair share of crime thrillers I know that no matter what, it is always the mom’s fault that a psycho is a psycho.  It’s a rule.  The mullets I had their hair cut into, the insane outfits I let them pick out and wear, and the photographic evidence of these crimes against good taste will come back to haunt me when it comes time for them to pick out my nursing home.  To be fair, my husband has always agreed that the best reason to have kids was to dress them funny, but I am sure that they find that merely an endearing foible of his while I bear the brunt of their simmering resentment. 
That being said, as they’ve gotten older and I spend less time at swim meets and parent teacher conferences, I’ve been looking around for other projects.  Ask my kids about me and I promise you, the first thing they will say is “She really likes a project”.  They will also roll their eyes, especially if I am chatting about whatever the project du jour happens to be.  The latest project is getting a part of the basement finished off before Christmas.  This has the added bonus of getting my husband involved in one of my projects which, I can assure you, he loves.  He and my brother are doing the construction, but I will do the finish work and paint.  Painting a wall adequately isn’t exactly my idea of creativity or fun, but the effort to results ratio is pretty good so I find it pretty satisfying. 
I’ve always taken charge of all interior painting, and ten years ago when we destroyed our old house and had our current house installed, I ended up putting the majority of the paint on the walls.  I look back on that time and wonder how I did it, mostly because I had no iPod or podcasts.  Podcasts have totally changed how I perceive mindless tasks like painting, and I am convinced that with the right podcasts, I could change the world in one hour chunks.  Right now I am obsessed with two podcasts. 
The first is WTF with Marc Maron.  I am sad to say that I had not heard of Marc Maron prior to becoming fixated on his podcast, but he’s been a respected stand up comedian for quite some time.  For whatever reason, I happen to be intrigued by stand up comedy as a profession which is why I am endlessly fascinated with the way he interviews other stand up comedians and comic actors about their craft.  It is often hilarious, sometimes horrifying, but never ever boring.  I learn something every time I listen and am always a little sad when it is over.  I am not sure how many people are as interested in the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be a comedian, and the people who are drawn to it, but if you are, might I suggest you give him a listen.
My other favorite podcast is Smodcast with Kevin Smith and Scott Moiser.  Anyone who is even remotely familiar with Kevin Smith knows that this man can talk, and listening him banter with his long time friend and producer Scott Moiser is magical.  I used to listen to them while I’d walk around the neighborhood for exercise.  I had to stop doing this because I’d find myself doubling over and braying with laughter, so rather than get a reputation as the crazy (possibly dangerous) laughing lady, I’ve opted limit myself to listening in the privacy of my own house where my reputation is already firmly established. 
During my younger daughter’s senior year of high school, I found myself sewing a prom dress for her.  As a rule, I try to avoid sewing, but since my sweet baby has been blessed with a disproportionate figure, and I really wanted her to feel pretty, I reluctantly agreed to take on this task.  I ended up working on it for about two weeks straight and even took a vacation day to finish it off.  While I sewed, I listened to Smodcast.  At some point, my baby came down to keep me company and together we listened as Kevin got his mom high on pot brownies (with her permission) and asked her about her sex life with his dad.  Was it appropriate?  Hell no.  Was it funny?  Oh yes, we laughed our keisters off! 
A few months ago, when it was advertised that Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes were coming to the Detroit area to record a podcast before a live audience, my baby wanted me to go with her.  She is currently in college and working part time, so she has the money to buy her own tickets, and she has friends her own age she could go with.  When I mentioned this she said “Yeah, but no one would be as much fun to go with as you”.  Needless to say, we bought the tickets.              
The Butcher

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Ghost of Jobs Past Part 10

Bookseller at Barnes and Noble

For five years I had the distinct pleasure of working part time as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble.  Hands down, this was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.  It taught me so much:

  1. People LOVE good service.  Barnes and Noble train you well in providing excellent customer service and this one of the reasons they are so successful.  Eye contact, a smile, and “can I help you with anything” go a long way.  A bookseller is trained to take customers directly to the book they want and place it in their hand.  If they can’t find something, they are empowered to do whatever they can to help their customer, even if it meant calling a competitor.  Much of what I learned working for this company still helps me on a daily basis.
  2. To be able to look forward to going to work is a blessing.  I’ve worked some good jobs with great people since, but this was the first place that I enjoyed totally and consistently.  The setting, the product, the whole experience just fit my personality.  If it weren’t for the nights, weekends, and holidays that are an inevitable part of retail, I might still be there.
  3. Working with a lot of like-minded people can be good for awhile.  Most of the people I worked with at Barnes and Noble were quite a bit like me.  We came from similar economic backgrounds, had comparable educational histories, and were pretty similar in a lot of our political beliefs.  It was nice and safe and comforting.
  4. Barnes and Noble was and is a good place to work and they treat their employees fairly.  Eleven years after leaving, I still know many of the people working there, and they still remember me.  Of course, the fact that my husband and I end up there at least twice a month, may have something to do with it, but I can’t think of another place that retains so much of their staff.

The fact that I still knew so many of the employees came in especially handy when my baby girl JB needed a part time Christmas job.  They were willing to take a chance on her, just like they were willing to take a chance on her older sister DR several years earlier because of our relationship built up over the years.  While I am happy for my baby earning a steady check, I’m even happier that she will have the chance to learn how to superior customer service from the best.  I know how well those lessons have served me over the years, and I know that they will serve her equally well.      

The Butcher

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cats Part Three

I promise this is the last cat-centric blog for a while

Here is a picture of the cat houses after I primed them.  Yes, I primed two Styrofoam boxes that are going to sit outside for feral cats.  I know that seems excessively detailed, but I believe in a good primer coat.

I used latex drywall primer.  I'm not sure I needed to,
 but I had it and it seemed like a good idea

After a few days I painted both of them with a quart of mistinted latex paint I bought at Lowes for $2.50.  I got one coat all over and a second coat on all sides.  I also realized how soft the Styrofoam was and that I should have put something harder on the floor so the cat claws wouldn’t rip it up. If you are thinking of making one of these, I would suggest you put some old vinyl tiles or flooring down before you put the top on.  Just make sure it is something hard.  Don't use carpet.  I got something in there, but it isn’t pretty.  Of course the instructions warned me about this, but I just hadn't read them closely enough.   

Actually, this doesn't look too bad.
After the paint had dried I sealed all cracks with more silicone.  We filled one with dry straw (only use dry straw – any rugs or fabric will absorb moisture and will actually make the cats colder) and set it by where we feed them.  Since these are so light weight, we used bricks to keep them from blowing away.  It is still pretty warm but we want to get them used to it before it is absolutely freezing.  We’ll put the second one in a more sheltered area, and eventually move this one next to it.

This is Mr. Tom's look of pure hate.
As exciting as the houses are, the biggest excitement came last weekend when we actually caught Mr. Tom, the neighborhood alpha male responsible for a lot of feral kittens.  After setting four traps away from the house but near his favorite territory, he took the tuna bait.  He was big and fierce and angry, but I managed to drive the 10 plus miles to get him neutered even though he spent the whole trip thrashing and fighting and hissing.  His "proceedure" was uneventful, and after the 24 hour waiting period, we released him yesterday. He wasn’t moving as fast as he had, but I’m sure we’ll see him strolling around the neighborhood in no time.

Why is Mia pointing?  Beats me, but Will does it too.

In less than a month, I’d accomplished what I’d wanted.  I’d trapped and had neutered the three cats living in our yard as well as the big tom cat responsible for our feral population boom.  I’d planned pretty well for their safety this winter.  I also have a plan in place to help our neighbor get his colony under control next spring.  Not a bad way to spend a month.
The Butcher

Below is a diagram of how you cut up a 4’ x 8’ 2” Styrofoam to make two cat shelters*.  If you have any questions, please ask and I can direct you to some wonderful resources if I can’t answer.
*cut 6" wide by 5 1/2" tall holes for doors into 2 of the 12" x 20" pieces for entrances.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cats Part Two

Well, the cats have been home all week and we are finally on some kind of feeding schedule.  I'm pretty sure they have forgotten or forgiven me for having their you-know-what's removed.  I suppose regular food and water help ease their troubled minds.  We even settled on names.  Since they are the Feral family, they are Will, Colin, and Mamma Mia.  I can usually resist a pun, but this time I could not.  Our task this week is to begin building them shelters for the winter. 

Armed with plans from the fine folks at All About Animals Rescue, one 4' by 8' by 2" thick mylar coated sheet of styrofoam from Lowes, my husband (who is game for anything that involves power tools) and I set out to build two shelters for our new family.

1 - It is easiest to use a table saw with this material.  There are plenty of other plans online for other styles of shelters if you don't have the tools or skills or someone who can take care of this for you.  Luckily my husband has found out that as long as I benefit from the use of his tools, I won't complain when he buys more.
2 - Mia is intrigued*. 
3 - Caulking gun?  Check.  Tubes of silicone?  Check.
4 - Run a wiggly line of silicone along two sides.  Do the same along the back and up the sides of the walls you've already put up.  Make sure they have maximum contact.
5 - Measure 2" in on the front (the side without a styrofoam wall yet) and run another wiggly line of silicone down each wall and across the bottom.
6 - One more line of silicone around the top and then place the roof. 
7 - Fasten the "feet" on the bottom, weight the structure with something that is not too heavy (I used an inverted card table with some books) and let it set up over night.
8 - Almost ready for painting.
*FYI the printed film on the sides should have been removed before I started gluing.  Also, I should have sealed the inside joints with silicone.  I tried after the fact, but it took way longer than had I done it before the roof was added.

Next post: Cats Part Three - Actual plans for your very own cat shelter, our finished product, and the hunt for the elusive daddy cat.

The Butcher

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Post for the Cat Lovers

I need your help

Mom and the boys (as we found out later)
For the record I really don’t like cats, but I don’t want to see them suffer either, which brings me to my kind but misguided neighbor who feeds the feral cats in our neighborhood and is now responsible for a growing population of mating, pooping, stinky, noisy cats.  When one exhausted momma cat took up residence in our yard with her second or third litter, my husband and I knew we had to do something.  After a little research we came upon this article on Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) programs and decided that this was the route we needed to take.  Let me say right now that my husband has been the best sport about all of this.  He’s been a victim or more than one of my goofy schemes, but he usually just rolls his eyes and puts up with them.  This adventure was no different.

Pre ear clip and with his you-know-whats intact
I started out by trying to gather what information I could about local programs.  I was soon put in touch with All About Animals Rescue, and they could not have been any more helpful.  If you take one of their monthly classes on trapping feral cats, they will loan you all the equipment you’ll need and provide low cost spaying and neutering.  As luck would have it, they were having a big “Feline Fixing Frenzy” (that really is what they called it) the next Sunday.  In my own frenzy, I borrowed four traps - I wanted to start with the momma and her two babies that were living in our yard – and headed home.   It was mid October, and I didn’t see the Michigan weather getting any better, so I picked up some tuna and cat food and prepared to do a battle of wits with our cat family.

I’d been worried about putting out food and getting vermin.  Thankfully, the class taught us to put out food for one hour and then take it in.  We did this for a few days prior to setting the traps.  Cats are smart enough to learn when to come for dinner, and it worked like a charm.  Thursday, the day before we set out the traps, we didn’t feed them, per the instructions of the animal rescue staff.  On Friday, by the time we put out the traps, it took all of 15 minutes to trap the three of them.  Once we got those three fed and watered in their cages all covered and cozy, we decided to put out the fourth cage in hopes of catching the tom cat that has been amazingly prolific.
"I'm so embarrassed"

Saturday morning we woke up horrified to find to a huge raccoon in the trap.  I am guessing he weighed in at about 30 lbs.  My poor husband, who had been my semi-willing partner in this escapade, was worried.  He’d seen trapped raccoons and knew how vicious they could be.  We couldn’t leave it in the cage and he didn’t want to release it at the risk that it would attack us.  Luckily the county animal shelter would take care of it (note, it was tested for rabies and released) if we got it to them.  With no other choice, we prepared to struggle with a ferocious raccoon.  To our surprise, it was really docile.  It actually looked a little sheepish and it occurred to me that it was probably filling up on the cat food our neighbor put out.  Heck, it probably thought it was a cat too.
Not what any of us wanted to be doing early Sunday morning

Sunday, we were up at 6:30 to get the cats to the shelter by our 7:30 appointment.   According to the staff they had over 211 cats scheduled for neutering.  For $10 each they examined the cats, gave them a rabies shot, spayed or neutered them, and clipped their left ear which is the universal sign of a neutered feral cat.  One of our kittens had a hernia and they repaired that as well.  The next morning my husband was back down there at 7:00 am (why do cat people do things so early?) to bring them home.  We will be feeding them from now on (our choice), and hope that they will continue to keep the mice out of our house and the squirrels out of the garden.  I’m not an animal person, but this is a partnership I can live with.

I suppose you are wondering why I need your help.  I need you to help me stop the practice of feeding of feral cats without regards to their unchecked breeding.  If you or someone you know is feeding stray cats, and is overwhelmed by their numbers, you need to know that there are places that can help trap and neuter them for less money than you’d think.  Kind hearted people start out with only a few cats, but as the population grows, they find themselves surrounded by more until it becomes totally unmanageable.  Often times the food they leave out attracts vermin (no offense Mr. Raccoon) and the smell and the noise angers the neighbors. 

If you call animal control to catch and euthanize the cats, and food is still available, more animals will come.  If you sterilize the cats, they will keep other animals out and the population will stabilize, much of the fighting and spraying will stop and over time they will die out naturally.  Even if you can get those who are feeding the cats to limit the amount of time they keep food out,  you will be helping.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go over to my neighbor’s house very soon and see if we can’t work something out.  Heck, once he sees the size of that raccoon he’s been growing, and I tell him how much he could be saving on cat food if he wasn’t feeding the raccoons, I expect he will gladly hear me out.

P.S.  I have a lot of info about this that I would love to share.  Please contact me with any questions, and if I can’t help, I will find someone who can.The Butcher

It has been mentioned that I should have released the inadvertantly captured raccoon myself, and I first want to assure everyone that we handled the animal as gently as possible, the county testeded it for rabies and it was ultimately released elsewhere.  If I have any regrets, it is that we didn't plan for this better.  I would recommend that anyone trapping feral cats be aware of the possibility of trapping other animals and have a plan for addressing this. 

UPDATE:  All About Animals Rescue (the organization who helped us with our feral cats) posted this to my facebook page and I wanted to share it with you:

Just a reminder to everyone that when you are trapping ferals it is possible to trap wildlife other than your intended kitty – we advocate releasing the wildlife in the same area as they were trapped. Unfortunately, involving animal control... means euthanasia for the animal. Releasing the animal in the same area is important as it could be a nursing mother with dependent babies. Standing behind the trap and pulling the door straight up will allow the animal to run straight out.

Thank you again for all your help and your ongoing educational efforts.  I've learned so much from you all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past Parts 7, 8, and 9

AKA The Part time job years

Over the next several years I worked a number of part time jobs that were just as educational as their full time counterparts.  Often I worked a couple jobs that overlapped to accommodate my kids, their schedules and my husband’s ability to watch them.  That right there helped me juggle and prioritize my time.

Banquet Hall Busser

I worked at the Gazebo Banquet Center on and off over a span of five years (with a year off in there somewhere to have a second baby), and this job was my first service job as an adult.  There is something about wedding receptions that can either bring out the very worst or the very best in people, and the wait staff had to roll with all of it.  I learned that:   
1.   Just because there is a party going on doesn’t mean that you are there to have fun.  Have too much fun and you will annoy your coworkers, customers, bosses, or all of them. 
2.   There is nothing like working with Vietnamese, Indian, and Korean women – especially those who are newly immigrated - to make many of your problems seem small indeed.
3.   Even a clumsy girl like me can crank out their signature standing fan napkin fold if given enough practice.
4.   If I find myself at a function there and walk up behind Michael the manager, I can still make him jump by telling him they put out the wrong colored napkins.

Digital Photo Retoucher

About this time we got our first computer, which eventually led to my finding my true love – Photoshop.  I learned some retouching skills and started taking in the occasional side job.  The work was fun and engaging, but dealing directly with customers was not my forte.  I learned that:
1.   Customers don’t come to you, and if you don’t want to go to the customers, you don’t work much.
2.   If you are distractible, working from your home might not be in your best interest.  Even housework starts looking good when you are trying to avoid work.

Elementary School Volunteer

When my oldest daughter started elementary school, I started volunteering.  I was a pretty crummy volunteer too – bitter and resentful - until I read “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand.  I am probably the only raging liberal whose sanity was saved by Objectivism.  When I was working on projects that other people found important (bake sales, fundraisers) I HATED it.  Once I got selfish and only took on projects that I wanted to do (mural painting), or got paid for (academic coaching), did I come to enjoy the kids, the teachers, and the work.  Over the approximately ten years I worked in the schools my kids attended, I painted nine or ten murals.  I’m more of a technician than an artist, but how often are you going to get entire walls to work on?  It was especially good for my ego since I’ve never been praised as much.  Of course 5 year olds are easy to impress, but I’ll take kind words where ever I can get them.  I also took teams of kids to state level Science Olympiad and Destination Imagination, and one team made it to DI Global Finals.  All of this because I chose to do only what made me happy.  It worked then, and for the most part it still works for me today. 
The Butcher

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My World According to Random Buttons by Beanforest on Etsy

I spend a lot of time on Etsy, and while roaming around, I stumbled upon a store that sells only buttons.  Silly, smart, sometimes inappropriate buttons.  I find myself going to see what new little words of wisdom Vincent (the very nice man who is responsible for these) has posted.  So without further ado, I'd like to share with you my favorites:
(click on the images to see larger versions, and the captions are also links to etsy)
1. I'd might as well make the best of it 'cause I can't do much about it anyhow.
2. I don't know what I did before the concept of plausible deniability came into my life.
3. I'd like to pretend the Id isn't in control, but I'd just be lying.
4. I never really did this before, but now I do it WAY more than I should.
5. Poor cheese.  The saddest part of Farmer in the Dell.  
6. At least one is included in each day.  Even the good days.

7. Art nerd alert!
8. I repeat, art nerd alert!
9.  Who would get married on the Ides of March?  I would!  How's that for tempting fate?
10. One kid is an English major AND in med school. She knows her colons!
11. The other kid compares having a kid to having a pet monkey.  Sounds like a good idea, but then you are stuck with a monkey!
12. Look out kids, I am you in 30 years.
13. Dessert wins.  Always

The Butcher

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thank you Jon Stewart, I couldn’t have said it better myself

Reflections on the September 29, 2011 Rolling Stone Interview

“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing”.  Thank you Jon Stewart for summing up in one sentence the exact sentiment that has been bouncing around in my head for awhile now, but hadn’t jelled into such an articulate thought.  I am exhausted from being yelled at constantly.  In this interview, this thought was directed at the 24 hour news cycle, and I agree.   Yet, as a self identified liberal, it doesn’t matter to me if it is Chris Matthews or Glenn Beck, I don’t want to be yelled at.  This also goes for the vast majority of commercials as well.  I am so very weary of everything being EXTREME!
I think I am just old.  Frankly, everything gets on my nerves just a little bit.  I understand this, I suck it up, and I get on with my life.  I don’t expect everything to always go my way.  Had things gone my way I would be a ballerina right now - a big, big ballerina.  Things have not gone my way most of the time, and I would argue that it was usually for the best.  The beauty of my life is that I never imagined how many astonishing things were in store for me.  Had I just picked a path and forced my way down it without regard for anything else that was going on around me and pushing aside everything that didn’t fit in my vision, I’d have missed probably 90% of what makes my life good and would have alienated most everyone along the way.
Here is what I say to the people screaming for my attention.  “I don’t listen to people when they talk to me in that tone of voice.  If you want me to listen, talk to me like an adult”.  This is what I told my kids when they were three and is still applicable.  If I want to be treated with respect, I have to demand it and then refuse to settle for anything less.  I make a conscious effort to avoid all television news (local, national, and cable) and stick with NPR.  They talk in normal voices and sound respectful, much like the people I work with every day, the people I come home to at night, and the people I deal with in public.  Another bonus is that they stay on a topic for more than 45 seconds so I can think about what they say.  Also, I have yet to have them ask me, “Is something you do every day killing your kids?  Join us tonight to find out”. 
Another mom-ism that I would like to share is, “You worry about you”.  I would address this specifically to the One Million Moms and all other bossy people who feel the need to tell everyone else how to live.   Ladies, while I disagree with you on almost every count, I sympathize with wanting to keep your kids innocent for as long as possible.  I too wish the media acted more like a partner than a preditor, but they don’t.  Part of you job is always going to monitoring your kids’ media exposure, using your teachable moments where you find them, turning off things that are not within your values, and having uncomfortable discussions about all sorts of things. 
Chaz Bono is not on "Dancing with the Stars" to glorify transgender lifestyles.  Chaz Bono is on "Dancing with the Stars" because his mom is famous and might show up to draw viewers.  The fact that Chaz Bono is transgender is a bonus to them and really only an issue if you make it one.  Ben and Jerry’s sells “Schweddy Balls” ice cream based on a hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live and you want it banned?  Yes it is crude and childish and kind of gross, but harmful to kids?  I don’t really think so, but if you do, then it is up to you to explain to them why.  Just don’t be too surprised if you someday find out they are talking about balls a lot behind your back, especially if they are little boys.  I have four brothers, so I feel I have some expertise.
But enough about the bossy people, the yelling people, the extreme people and the fear mongers.  I hereby opt to ignore them all and go on with my boring, normal life.  I need to go to work, pay my bills, work in my yard, visit with my friends, and keep this country going just like every other person I know.  I will honor and cherish all the other unexciting, regular people I know and be grateful that almost every one of them adds value to my life no matter their political affiliation or opinion on the day’s events.  I thank them all for appreciating me for who I am and agreeing to disagree on almost everything almost all the time.
The Butcher

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past - Part 6

Ten random things I learned as a full time stay at home mom:

  1. There are a lot of things I will do for love that I will not do for money.  Change diapers, wipe snot, and read the same book over and over all fall into this category.  People who make their living serving the very young, or the very old, or the very sick deserve far more money, respect and gratitude than they get.
  2. My mom is an amazing woman.  She was able to raise seven kids on my dad's single paycheck.  What is even more amazing is that we all still like each other.  I am pretty sure there were times she wanted to smother us in our sleep. 
  3. I don’t care how remarkable your kids are, if you don’t talk with adults you will go insane.  Even lame adults are better than nothing.
  4. Childhood is both endless and over before you know it.  I am not sure how this works, but do your best to enjoy it while you can.  This goes for a lot of other things in life.
  5. You need to notice what your kids are doing right and tell them when it is happening so they can maybe do it again sometimes. 
  6. If the topic of jobs comes up in conversation with other adults, and you tell someone you are a stay at home mom, and they ask you if you have a real job, don’t strangle them.  Don’t yell either.  Just walk away.  They are not worth your time, they wouldn't understand either.
  7. You’d think “Dumbo” would be a safe movie to show a kid, but it is not.  In the first ten minutes the baby and the mom are ripped apart and then the baby spends the rest of the movie yearning for mom.  This is hard to explain to a sobbing pre-schooler.  We opted out of “Bambi”.
  8. Opportunities arise at the strangest times.  One of my kids insisted on nursing at the same time every night.  Luckily, old reruns of “Twilight Zone” were on at the same time.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them all, and that is a good thing.
  9. Whatever irritates you the most about yourself will manifest in your kids.
  10. You should always be the house where the kids hang out and play.  Just stock up on macaroni and cheese and juice boxes.  It is easier to spy on them this way. 
The Butcher

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past: Part 5

Obsolete skills

After I stalled as long as I could in Lansing, I finally ran out of money and had to move back home and find a job.  I had managed to get an associates degree in photography, and eventually ended up landing a job at a local commercial lab.  Its name was Kibby lab.  It was a small place that worked exclusively with commercial clients and ad agencies.  They did a lot of large format printing and finishing, but what they really did best was dye transfer printing.  Dye transfer was an extremely exacting and precise process that was popular because it tolerated a lot of manipulation and allowed for retouching.  For more information you can read about it here: Dye Transfer Process.  It could also, with the help of hand cut rubylith masks, be used to create elaborate composites. 
I worked here for almost two years, and while I was there, dye transfer was the only game in town for glossy commercial images.  During the run up to car catalog season, it was not unheard of to work 12 or 14 hours a day for 6 or 7 days a week.  It was tedious, time consuming, and exacting work, but of all the complaints I had about that job, the worst was the smell.  This process used gallon upon gallon of acetic acid (vinegar basically), so every night I’d come home smelling like a pickle.  You would forget how badly you reeked most of the time, but if you stopped anywhere between work and home, you were reminded of it. 
After photo school, working in a production environment really forced me to up my game and taught me a whole skill set I’d have never learned in any school.  Every morning we’d start the machines, clean them, run tests on the exposing lights and processors and then calibrate everything so we were producing our separation negatives as consistently as possible.  We had to clean small chromes meticulously and make sure every surface was dust and fingerprint free.  Everything needed to be in perfect registration.  Even a little deviation in one of these steps meant that someone was going to have to adjust their exposures and times, or someone else would have to touch up your dust spot, or someone would have to try to manipulate the way the mats went down to correct for your registration inconsistencies.  It was important to take the time to prepare well to save time further down the process. 
I also learned a wealth of information about color correction, building composite images, and the art of cutting out one image to drop into another.  What I didn’t realize was that I was participating in the end of an era.  Digital photography, personal computers, and photo editing software were all just around the corner.  I was down in the trenches and didn’t notice that the photographic world was changing.  What I did realize was that I really didn’t want to smell like a pickle for the rest of my life (or work crazy long hours either for that matter).  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I was pretty sure I would need a bachelor’s degree to do it. 
After I’d been working in the lab for about 2 ½ years, I quit and went back to school at Wayne State University.  Unfortunately, the real and practical world of commercial photography had no place in the art world.  Craftsmanship, technique, consistency, and quality were given a back seat to concepts and vision and far less tangible things.  When I asked an advisor about my employment options after graduation, he looked at me like I’d pooped on his desk and informed me that a degree was not for getting a job but to explore and fulfill my artistic impulse.  I knew that I really had no business in art school, but played the game as well as I could and earned my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography in about two years.  
During my first year, I ended up getting married to the guy I’d met way back before I went to school in Lansing, and at the time of my graduation I was five months pregnant with my first daughter.  All the skills I’d learned both in the lab and in college were about to take a back seat to a much more daunting task.  Luckily, they stuck around just waiting for the day that Photoshop and I were destined to meet…
The Butcher

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past - Part 4

Part time college jobs

I am one of the few people I know who moved away to go to community college.  I wanted to study film production, and there were all the expensive schools on either coast, but being the thrifty girl that I am, when I realized that there was a community college in state (Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan) that offered an Associates Degree in Film Production, I decided that I would go there.  Credits were under $13 an hour at the time (not a typo), and rent was pretty cheap, so I saw a way to move out with the savings I had from my accounting job.
This was more than thirty years ago, so we were shooting 16mm stock, having it processed, and editing actual chunks of film.  It seemed impossibly high tech and exciting at the time, but I had not counted on how expensive even rinky-dink little films cost.  Even then I was spending about $100 a minute for a finished film, and that was using friends for actors and borrowing all the school’s camera and sound equipment.  As my seemingly vast savings dwindled quickly, I came to two conclusions.  The first was that if I wanted to make films for a living I would be spending as much of my time begging for money as I would filming, followed by the realization that I needed to get a job fast, or I’d be moving home soon.
Over the three years I went to school at LCC (I eventually ended up getting a degree in still photography because I was not well suited to begging for money) I had a wide range of part time jobs.  I babysat, photographed weddings, sat in pitch darkness and spliced together huge reels of film that became driver’s licenses (no matter how bad my photo is, I have seen much, much worse) and even cut together a training film one of my instructors made (he had done all the editing and I put the A and B rolls together from his work print).  The job that stands out in my mind though was the 6 months that I spent as a phone solicitor for a cemetery.
Monday thru Thursday from 5 pm until 9 pm, myself and four or five girls just like me would sit at folding tables and attempt to set up appointments for the sales staff who would then offer a two plots for the price of one deal.  Needless to say, since we were calling at dinner time to discuss dying, we were not exactly popular.  From this I learned to take rejection.  It has also made me more empathetic to people with crappy jobs since I was always grateful to talk with someone who was able to say “no thank you” pleasantly.
What made this job memorable (besides the fact that the crematorium was in the next room with a temporary body storage room next to that and it got really dark out at night), were the team of women I worked with.  They were all fun and interesting and ready to hang out after work.  We dubbed ourselves “The Cemetery Girls” and that was the absolute best opening line ever.  We would go to the bar or to parties and just own the place.  We used to compare bad opening lines, and wound up with a tie between "Are you a model?" and "You have the lips of a fawn."  It was the first time that I realized that the people you work with can make a crummy job better or even great.  I really enjoyed it then, but had I realized how long it would be before I’d work with such an exceptionally entertaining group again, I’d have savored it so much more.  
The Butcher

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Touching Base

This has been a week of juggling a few things online.  My daughter wanted to sell some textbooks (the ones the bookstore wouldn’t buy back) on Amazon, so I now have an account to do that.  Out of the three she wanted to sell, two have been shipped already, so I am pretty happy about that. Amazon has an amazingly organized system.  You list your books for free, and when something sells, Amazon takes their fee (a fairly complicated system they spell out on their site), plus they collect a shipping fee from the buyer that will go to you once the transaction is complete.  Basically, the two books I sold went for a total of $24.00.  The Amazon fee was $8.28 and they collected $7.98 ($3.99 x 2) for shipping from the customers.  Once I figure in my actual shipping cost (around $2.60 each), I expect to realize $18.50 from the sale of the two books.  I found the fees to be kind of high, but it is hard to beat the audience the site has, and with the text book season being limited, I don’t mind paying it.
I’ve also been in contact with a possible customer for some custom work on Etsy.  When I first offered to do custom work on my site, I really had no idea as to how the mechanics might work.  Luckily, the lady I am working with is patient and is really helping me figure out a viable system.  She is interested in some 20” x 20” knit throw pillows with button closures.  I’ve spent one week knitting a big batch of swatches (she’s been pretty specific on her colors, but to avoid misunderstandings, actual samples seem like the way to go).  Once I got the color samples in the mail, I spent another week on an actual pillow, to make sure the size is right and to have an idea of scale when choosing the big, mismatched vintage buttons she wants.  Speaking of big, mismatched buttons, my stash is a little less varied than I’d like, so I’ve also been working with a lady on Ebay to purchase of a variety of colors and shapes.  I seem to be spending an excessive amount of time on this one sale, but by nailing down all the details now, I will be extra sure of my abilities to come up with a repeatable product.

Oatmeal, Charcoal, Espresso, and Plum Swatches

Previews of a future photo essay on drying tomatoes

Of all the things I need to do better across all social media, perhaps the most obvious it to add more photos.  The more blogs I read, the more I realize how important a visually appealing page is to keeping interest and adding to the written content.  For someone with a background in photography and graphics, you would think that this would come more easily.  Just the opposite seems to be true.  I think that this might be payback for all the snarky comments I’ve made over the years about poor design in general as well as all the poorly photographed and poorly edited images throughout the years.  Now that I am the one responsible for the content, I have a new found respect for how much time and patience it takes to accomplish even the simplest task well.  Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to comment.  I really appreciate your efforts and insites. 
The Butcher 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is it a Hobby or is it Art?

One of the best unintended consequences of blogging is a link on the Blogger dashboard (where you can go and manage your blogs and keep track of the blogs you are following) called “stats”.  If you click on this link it takes you to a place where you can see how many people have checked out your posts, where in the world your readers are, and even where your traffic comes from.  A lot of my traffic comes from my Facebook fan page or my twitter account, but often there are links to other sites.  Often I’ll follow them to see where traffic is coming from, and last week I found this reference: where they were discussing my zombie sock monkey.  I’d have loved to jump on and thank them for the mention and discussion, but I’ve still not been granted membership.  I mostly want to thank them for making me think about what exactly I am trying to do on Etsy. 
          I started out on Etsy as a fund raiser for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.  I was pretty successful selling vintage items out of my stash and quirky knit things (bacon scarves especially) to willing buyers.  I knit as a hobby.  I find it soothing to have something to do with my hands while I watch trashy TV.  I had been cranking out baby blankets for gifts and the occasional hat or pair of mittens.  A few years ago, I saw a kit for sale for a sock monkey and wardrobe here: Carmen Bananas Pattern and thought it would be a fun project.  It was a little more challenging than I’d been used to, but it showed me that I could knit in three dimensions and actually produce something quirky and cute.  One day I found some white yarn with gray twisted through it and it looked just like the kind of yarn used for more traditional sock monkeys, but just a different color combo. 
          Before I go any further I should probably mention that I have an art degree.  I pursued an art degree because I have the impulse to create.  Unfortunately I don’t have the focus and drive it takes to make a living in art.  For years after I'd graduated from college and raised my family, I’ve tried to squash down this impulse or find other outlets, like painting murals a the kids’ elementary school, or retouching photos for friends, but until I stumbled upon the idea to knit a sock monkey with this white and gray yarn did I feel really energized.  At first I thought I’d make an albino sock monkey, but that seemed neither kind nor particularly noteworthy.  Because I’d been selling a few things on Etsy, I’d had seen that there was a market for the right kind of quirky, and I didn’t think that albino would have enough pizzazz.  Since I’ve jumped on the zombie bandwagon, with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and The Walking Dead, a zombie sock monkey seemed to have the right blend.  I started out thinking that I could crank out a lot of these and sell them for a reasonable price. 
          Quickly I realized that this monkey had turned into a much bigger thing than just a toy to crank out in quantity.  It had become a full-fledged obsession and a much more satisfying creative outlet than I’d had in years.  I knew I was out of control when I was pouring over my daughter’s anatomy books to get the embroidery on the muscles just right.  As I read the banter back and forth between the folks on about my monkey, I’ve been forced to confront the fact that while I plan to put it up for sale on Etsy (closer to the second season of The Walking Dead and Christmas), it will be presented at a far higher price than a toy purchaser would probably want to pay.  I will price it more as a piece of sculpture with the understanding that I might not sell.  I may not have the focus to try to support myself with art, but I at least have the focus to complete something and be satisfied to the point that I am willing to part with it, confident that there are more ideas where that one came from.  Knitting may still be a hobby, but maybe I can use it to create, if not art, then a facsimile.  At least I am satisfied that I am making a step in the right direction.  Who knows?  Real art might not be that far away.
The Butcher