Friday, March 20, 2009


I just went to Stamp Camp. For those who may be unfamiliar, Stamp Camp is kind of like a club where a group of women get together and assemble pre-arranged craft projects using the products from a company called "Stampin Up." I don't actually belong to this club but I occasionally get invited to these events and since there's friends and wine and snacks there, I go.

Stacey is the Camp Director. Stampin Up is her home-based business. She provides the tools and materials for the projects at Camp, and also sells them for personal use through a catalog.

For the camp she will have an example of a fabulous project displayed on the table, and then all of the individual pieces and tools laid out. It is the camper's task to reverse-engineer the example and recreate the project for themselves. This is way more difficult than you would think, at least for me. One false assumption and...BAM, you've ruined it. Punch that circle too close to the edge and, curses! you've destroyed the opportunity to punch around it a second time to get that scalloped ring. It's the challenge aspect that brings a sense of adventure to the whole thing. Fortunately for me, Stacey is a person with a kind and helpful spirit and will come along and set me straight before letting the entire project go horribly, irreversibly wrong.

Here are the projects we did last night:

A Birthday Card:

Notice the ribbon, the layering of papers, and the light images of the lemon the the green paper. It was made with a magical substance called versa-mark. It works kind of like invisible ink in reverse. The lacy scallop along the bottom edge was made with a punch (which is what I ordered for my purchase of the night.) Best of all is the yellow lemon. You can't tell from the picture but it is raised above the paper, and if you rub at it a's scented! This miracle of crafting technology was achieved by first double dipping the stamp onto two different pads of ink, and then going over to a station that Stacey had set up where you pour a special powder over the stamped image, shake it off, and then blast it with a heating tool that reminds me of something that might be used to weld together steel I-beams for a building foundation.

Next, we made these nifty gifty water-bottle bibs that hold individual kool-aid flavor packets. (Could this possibly be the origin of the phrase "They drank the kool-aid" that people keep saying these days? I dunno.) Notice the little round circles that are holding the pocket together. They are metal brads that are flattened with yet another industrial looking tool that works in the same way as a hand-powered riveter. According to Stacey, this would make a nice little gift or party favor for a special occasion.

The third project was this popsicle themed object that could be used as a card or a party invitation:

The strawberry was made in a multi-step process where you paint the three colors onto the stamp, and then dab on this fast-hardening plastic to give the chocolate dipped part a realistic 3D effect.

There were probably between fifteen and twenty steps involved in making this remarkable object, depending on how you count them. That's about average. There was another time I went to one of these where we made a thank you card that included as many steps PLUS several more where you had to apply layer after layer of a glaze, blast it with the heat gun, sprinkle sparkles on, put it in the freezer, and repeat as you gently twist the paper, all to get a nice crackly effect. After all of that it would take an awful lot for me to want to part with that card just for someone to glance at for a moment and then throw away. I still have it. I'm waiting for someone to do something incredible enough for me to want to thank them with that card. I can't even imagine what it could be. "Thank you for donating me your kidney." Maybe.

The way that these projects take my usual "get it done efficiently as possible" way of thinking and turn it upside down just blows my mind. In engineering you are always considering how to do something in less steps, faster, cheaper, better. This kind of crafting is the opposite. Contrary to the digital age it is about using your imagination, hands, and tools, to create something that is one-of-kind unique that you can look at, hold, feel, even smell and appreciate the thought and effort that went into making it. It's a kind of an art, and an expression of beauty, that I find awesome to appreciate.

And of course the friends, wine and snacks!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ultraviolent Light

I was at the dentist again. This time to continue complaining about the pain I have near my tooth, and how much it hurts when I drink something cold. They keep on acting mystified about what might be causing it, and having me come back. Dr. Donna told the technician to put some desensitizer on. I looked with amazement as the pulled out a little squeeze bottle of stuff. You mean such a thing has existed all along? I asked if I could get a jug of that to take home. Instead they suggested that I use a "bite splint" while I sleep because the problem might be that I'm chomping and grinding my teeth in the night. A sign of stress. Imagine that.

So when I got home I didn't want to eat anything for fear that it might wear off the magical potion, but I sat down to converse with the boys as they ate their pork chops. I told them about what I had done, and Timmy wanted to know if they put the ultraviolet light on it. I told him that they did, just like when he had his sealants put on.

"Did that hurt?" Jeffrey asked, leaning wide-eyed over his dinner plate.

"No, I mean it might have pinched at my lips a little, but not too much." I replied.

He looked stricken. "Well I just don't get it what about a light could be all violent."

We looked at his worried little face, puzzled by what he meant. Then Timmy grinned with understanding and told his brother: "No dummy, not ultra-VIOLENT, ultra-VIOLET! Like in purple!"

Timmy busted up laughing while Jeff looked relieved yet still somewhat confused.

Poor kid. Now I may never get him to agree to go back to the dentist.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Most Screwed

"You know what the one thing is that pisses me off the most?" Asked the snarling co-worker that darkened the doorway of my cubicle.

"If you put it that way, you only get one." I quickly replied, which set him back long enough for me to finish what I was doing.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of emotions swirling around in the halls of GM these days. Very often the conversation turns into a "one upping" of Who Gets Screwed the Most as we wait for the staffing reductions to occur, which in the past have been handled atrociously.

Is it the guy who is just 4 months away from qualifying for retirement benefits for the rest of his life? Or it the people who have already retired after many years and are having their benefits chipped away? How about the middle managers who might be losing their free cars? Or those who may never get to retire now that their 401K's are worthless? Is it the new hires that never got a chance to get very far, or the hopeful college grads that will have to keep on flipping burgers for a while? How about the CEO who got his million dollar salary knocked down to $1? Or the future generations who will never have it as good as we did, yet will be stuck paying the bills for what is being spent to keep everything going as it is right now?

I can imagine making an argument for or against any of the Scenarios of Screwedness, and believe me it has all been debated from all angles, often beginning with the sentence, "Yeah but at least they got..."

What I think it comes down to is what are a person's expectations, and the practice of trying to quantify what any one party "deserves"...or not. It always depends on your perspective.

So to me the trick is to just be glad for any good things that ever came my way, and to let go of any expectations for any more than that, and deal with whatever happens with the best possible attitude I can muster up at any given moment.

As for who is The Most Screwed of All? They would be the ones who just can't seem to do that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Instinct Messaging

Ever since Tim was on a winning Destination Imagination team for three years when he was in Elementary School, Jeffrey has wanted to do it. This year we finally got a team together, with me as their "manager" and Tim as my assistant.

The Challenge that they chose was called "Instinct Messaging" and required them to create and perform an original story about a creature that communicates by sending a message. They had to create a costume that delivers a message, and three dimensional set pieces that demonstrate scale. They chose guinea pigs, which acutally do communicate, but in subtle ways. This was a lot of work for the kids over the course of months. This video is of them performing their solution at the Regional Tournament. They came in ninth place, not bad at all.