Machine Embroidery for Mom

Today is the birthday of Caroline Forseth, who is one of my favorite people on the planet and also happens to be my mother, among many other things to other people, including auntie, cousin, daughter, wife, and (maybe her favorite), Grandma.

This summer, after learning that my “new” sewing machine also did embroidery, she brought me a favorite purple striped long-sleeved shirt.  It had embroidered appliques on it, which were holding on for dear life with a little glue and a few hand stitches.  She asked if I could replace them with something that had a little more “zing.”  (I’m paraphrasing.)

Mom shirt-before

So, I jumped on the Internet and searched high and low for the perfect floral design that would look pretty in purple.  (After all, what doesn’t?)  I found this great embroidery pack from S-embroidery.com that fit the bill perfectly.

Mom shirt right zoom

Mom shirt left zoom

 

 

There are 15 coordinating designs in the collection, in a range of sizes and general shapes, all sold together for under $20 and emailed to you within 24 hours.  Each design is only 3 thread colors, limiting the (sometimes) onerous task of hovering over your machine, waiting for the next thread change.

My mom sent me a text this weekend to let me know she had received the shirt, loved the designs, and was glad to have it in time for the fall chill.  I’m thrilled that the design was just right.  Happy birthday, Mom!

My 2014 Montana State Fair Quilts

This year, I bought a new (used) sewing machine fancier than anything I’ve ever run fabric through.  It embroiders, it does a bunch of fancy stitches, and it has an extended arm to help with quilting.  It’s been on the dining room table ever since, always with some sort of project hanging from it.  I’ve done more sewing this year than probably in the whole rest of my life combined, though it’s a hobby I started before I even turned 10.

So, I thought I’d show you a few pictures of projects I’ve completed this year.  These are all quilts that I entered in the Montana State Fair in Great Falls, July 2014.  There is nothing ground-breaking or unusual here, just a few things I managed to accomplish in the months prior.  And I am proud of the work I did, especially for not having quilted much in the past ten years or so.  The first is a baby quilt for a little boy who is expected in November.

IMG_4242

Despite having an embroidery machine for months, I haven’t spent a lot of time perfecting my machine embroidery skills.  This is actually my first completed machine embroidery project.  The Viking patterns are available on Blastostich.com, and come in various sizes.  The striped fabric is available at both Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s (though it is $5.00 cheaper by the yard at Hobby Lobby), and the other fabrics were from my stash.  The quilt design is my own.

 

Dresden Quilt at Fair

 

This quilt is 90″x 90″ and is, as of yet, untitled, but was my longest-running project of the year, by far. From start to finish, it took me about five weeks. In fact, toward the end I got antsy to finish it, knowing I was running out of time to finish other projects for the fair. This was inspired by a couple of fat eighth bundles I bought at Wooden Spools in Englewood, Colorado, which I later supplemented with Thimbleberries fabrics from The Quilted Corner in Cheyenne, Wyoming and some Kona Cotton solid from the local Hobby Lobby.

In making this quilt, I fell in love with Dresden plates, and their versatility.  This is also the first project I quilted using a quilting template.  The feather design comes from an Electric Quilt design pack, and could be resized to any dimensions desired.  I printed the templates on wide-format printer paper (using a wide-format Epson WF-7620 Inkjet Printer), and pinned them onto the quilt.  I used my domestic machine to free-motion quilt through the paper, and tore them off when I was done.  I typically print quilting patterns on 13″ x 19″ newsprint for ease in tearing.  The design and setting are my own, though there is no particular complexity to the layout.

Wallhanging at fair

This was displayed with the large Dresden quilt, and is a wall-hanging made from the one block I had left over. The border was originally made for the large quilt, but when I laid it out, I thought it was too overwhelming to the original design. It was more pleasing to the eye surrounding the single block, so I used parts of it there and incorporated a few new prints. This went together pretty quickly, and was my first attempt at binding around an octagon instead of a square. Both quilts won second place in their respective divisions at the fair.

Jess Quilt at Fair
It’s a bit hard to tell, but this quilt has directional fabric in the diamond centers and was hung sideways at the fair, by someone who obviously didn’t notice. :-) It’s a novelty print from JoAnn’s, with long-haired cats getting into mischief in a sewing room. Playing in the yarn, hanging from the curtains, perched on top of a dress form….

When I saw the fabric, I knew immediately it had to go into a special quilt for my friend Jess. After the fair, I delivered it to her at work, and she was thrilled. I don’t know the name of the pattern, but I saw it originally on Pinterest, set square (instead of on-point), and drew it up quickly in my Electric Quilt software to calculate yardage.

 

Untitled

This quilt was made especially for my friend Erin. I had to make a trip to Great Falls back in March, as I’d been working from home, and they had hired a replacement for me in Ohio. I traveled back to the main office to train him, and was there for an admittedly sad week. The night before I left to come back to Cheyenne, Erin came over to my hotel room, and we talked about quilts she liked. It stuck in my mind that she wanted a “fluffy” quilt (which meant using polyester batting), she loved 30s prints, and among the designs she liked was a triangle pattern, again seen on Pinterest.

A couple weeks later, I was at a quilt shop in Craig, Colorado, called Quilter’s Quest.  What a find!  This was a great little quilt shop, with lots and lots of eye candy!  They had a couple of fat quarter bundles of these fun 30s prints….which I realized much later were better suited to children (DOH!!!), and I was drawn in.  With my FQs and a little extra yardage, I made her this fluffy triangle quilt.  And once again, The Quilter’s Corner came to my rescue when it was time to find backing, which unfortunately isn’t shown in this picture.  I’ll admit, the polyester batting shifted a lot on me, and is better used in hand quilting.  Given my impatience with handwork, the next time I decide to make a fluffy quilt, I think I’ll just layer up the cotton batting.  Lesson learned.  :-)

 

Jed quilt for blog

 

This quilt, I call “Cowboy Logic” after a Michael Martin Murphy song from the 80s. It was inspired by a snowball quilt I saw on Pinterest using sashed snowball blocks with small squares in each corner. The fabrics I chose shared a cowboy theme, except the blue tie print, which came from JoAnn’s.  The red cowboy hat print was from Hobby Lobby, and the Tan boot and hat print was from JoAnn’s.  The blue bandana and red barn wall prints were from Hobby Lobby, and the tan bandana print was found at Wooden Spools.  This quilt won first place in its division, and was one of six first-place winners that scored their creators a free queen-sized quilt batting.  It was made for my former supervisor at my last job in Great Falls, in appreciation for all the years of good employment I enjoyed there.

And finally…..

IMG_4241

This is the quilt I finished most recently, after learning so much on the first Dresden plate project. The background is made up of several black and white prints (purchased in 2010 from Equilter), that were left over from another project.
IMG_4247 header image Dresden Flower 1

When I started this project, I had no plan. Once all the strips were together, I knew it needed more color, and I knew I wanted to use applique. I also knew I had really enjoyed sewing Dresden plates, and that I had a lot of batik fat quarters lying around….and the Dresden flower idea was born. I had seen similar things on Pinterest, but not just prior to the project. Many of those were more involved than this, involving green centers and stems, suns, clouds…in comparison, this one was simple. I made several Dresden plates in several sizes, without much planning ahead. I stacked and layered them by trial and error until I got a layout I liked, then machine-appliqued them down with a blanket stitch.

I used a variegated jewel-tone quilting thread by Signature, purchased at The Quilted Corner, (I buy most of my quilting thread there, as Brenda keeps a great selection in stock) and quilted each flower petal uniquely. I then printed several nested twelve-pointed stars on my wide format printer, and used those as quilting templates. I filled in sections of each star with different free-motion fill designs.

In general, as far as my projects were concerned, at least, the judges at the fair saw all the same foibles that I saw and have not yet learned to entirely fix–problems with knotting, places I had forgotten to trim threads, but at the end of the day they were still very generous with their ribbons.

 

 

 

IMG_4240

 

I didn’t make it to see the results of my work until the quilts had been on display at the fair for five days, but there were some nice surprises.  This was the best one, though, as I took home top honors for “Machine Quilting Excellence” in the non-professional category.  While there was lots of room for improvement, boy, did that feel great!

In true quilting-addict fashion, I am in the middle of several new projects, and haven’t actually quilted and finished anything since before the fair.  When there is more, I’ll share again!

And until next time….

“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Joss Whedon

From Fabric “Stash” to “Collection” – Quick Organization for Your Quilting Cottons

IMG_4340Is your fabric stash out of control?  Have you forgotten half of what you have?

If you’re like me, you have more fabric than you will ever be able to use, perhaps more than your grandchildren will be able to use.  How do you tame this beastly hoard without driving yourself to drink?

(Good news—you can totally drink while you do this.  You won’t be driving anywhere for a while.)

Everyone’s situation is going to be different.  But I’m going to address this as if we all have a completely disorganized truckload of fabric tucked into corners of our houses, invisible to the naked eye.  (Like the picture–ha!)

If we were to approach this like a home organization show, we’d be laying three tarps out in the yard and throwing every piece of fabric we find into one of three piles:  KEEP, DONATE, TRASH.  But like you, I don’t want my fabric on my lawn, susceptible to sun exposure and available to be swiped by the neighbor-lady closet quilter who thinks (probably correctly) that I’ll never miss it.

So, I’ll just tell you what I did.

 

IMG_4310What we all so endearingly refer to as a “stash,” (something you hide from others in shame) is really more of a “collection,” isn’t it?   For many of us, it is begun, cultivated, grown, and curated over years, partly out of love, partly out of unhealthy obsession.  How many hundreds of quilt shop trips, and hours spent online searching for the perfect yardage of the perfect print, in the perfect color, how many impulse buys, wonder-whys, and “I-love-it-too-much-to-cut-into-its” are lurking in the corners of your sewing room?  We hide them away, to be discovered once again in a later year–by us, if we’re lucky!  Why should we deprive ourselves of the joy we felt the first time we brought that remnant home from the fabric store?  The visual and tactile pleasures given us by our fabric are renewable–if we were to only partake of the fabric we already have.

This inner monologue led me to realize that I need to see my fabric….and preferably not in a giant heap.

I saw a picture shared on the Sewing Center of Cheyenne’s Facebook page of a bookshelf full of large and small fabric bolts.  It was well-organized, color-coordinated, and as much fun to look at as all the fabric lined up in a fabric store.  (That’s how they get you, you know!)  This requires each piece of fabric to be folded or stored in a somewhat uniform presentation, which differs a lot from having a big bin full of…some rolled remnants, some fat quarters, some huge folded yardages that I just couldn’t pass up….

By the way, fat quarters are a whole other story.  So let’s start with taming those yardages.

I kind of consider anything that is WOF x 1/3 yd or larger to be “yardage.”  Even if the dimensions are a little weird, as long as they’re not a “fat” anything, this system will work.

After seeing that fabric could look just as lovely arranged on a shelf in my home as it does at that sneaky fabric store, I started to research fabric bolts.  I found that fabric stores are happy to give you the empties, free of charge, because they are just going to throw them away anyway.  But there were some problems with this.

  1. Most of my fabric was in smaller cuts than would fit on a bolt
  2. Bolts are big and bulky and take up a lot of room
  3. Fabric bolts are not acid-free and can eventually cause your fabric to discolor.  They’re meant for short-term storage.
  4. I would need, like, 45 million bolts if I wanted to display each fabric separately.  And I still have decades of quilting and accumulation ahead of me.   Sooooo……..

 

As alternatives to space-hogging, fabric-rotting bolts (which are a perfectly acceptable solution if they work for you, by the way,) I found these options.  They are both rigid plastic “bolts” of uniform size.

www.thefabricorganizer.com

Bulk prices:  10” x  14” =  $1.75/ea, 5” x  14” =   $1.12/ea,  7” x 10 ½” = $1.30/ea

www.polarnotions.com

11 ¾” x 7 ½” $1.36/ea, 6 3/8” x 4” $0.98/ea

These types of bolts are nice for a few reasons. They are stiff, like a regular fabric bolt, and hold their shape on the shelf. Because they are molded plastic, they often also have built-in clips of some kind to hold the ends of your fabric, so no pins are needed to secure. They do look lovely when stacked on end on a bookshelf.

These, however, were not a good solution for me, due to budgetary constraints. So as I was pondering this, a third, much less expensive option was presented to me.  Acid free comic book boards.  They are made for archiving and protecting comic books, and are meant to be used with plastic bags for that purpose.  They come in several very specific sizes.   They are the weight of heavy tagboard, and are admittedly flimsier than the solid plastic options offered above.    They come in packages of 100 for an average of $20.  (Smaller sizes are cheaper.)

Available sizes:

  • Regular – 6 7/8”  x  10 ½”
  • Current –  6.8” x 10.5”
  • Silver – 7” x 10 ½”
  • Golden Age – 7 ½” x 10 ½”
  • Magazine – 8.5” x 11”
  • Life Magazine – 10 7/8” x 14 7/8”

Depending on which bolt option you choose, you will roll your fabric differently.  I use the Current comic book boards for anything 2 yds down to 1/3 yard, and the Life Magazine size for greater yardages.

To do this, I use a cleared-off end of my dining room table and do a few at a time as I have time during the day.  It goes pretty fast.  Before I started this, my fabric was stored in piles, bins and boxes, where I couldn’t see it or remember what I had.  But fair warning—now that I can see it, so can my husband.  But that’s probably a good thing.  (It’s much easier to explain a purple deficiency in my stash when it’s all out in the open and blatantly obvious.)  (Like that would ever happen….)

These instructions assume that your fabric is already folded lengthwise in half, like it came off the bolt at the fabric store.

For 1/3-3/4 yard cuts:

Fold fabric crosswise twice (with the selvage edge toward you, fold from the right and left)  into a strip about 8” wide.  Roll from selvage edge onto small comic book board.  Secure with paper clips.

1-3 yd folding

 

For 3/4-2 yard cuts:

Fold the lengthwise into thirds.  Roll onto the smaller comic book board, tucking the end under to create a folded end.  Secure with paper clips.

1-2 yd folding

For 2-yard cuts and greater:

Fold fabric lengthwise in half.  Roll onto Life Magazine board and secure with paper clips.

2 yd+ folding

 

Comic Boards are nice because you can also write on them.  Suggested information to keep track of:

  • Yardage on the bolt
  • Fabric manufacturer
  • Year purchased (if you start doing this as you buy fabric)
  • Fabric collection name
  • Fabric number

Some online sellers will ship your fabric with a label attached containing some of this information.  In those cases, you can just transfer the label right to the board.  Talk about easy!

Another favorite method, if you don’t want to store the fabrics on-end, like they are on bolts, is to flat-fold them around a 6” quilting ruler.  If you already have the ruler, this idea has the bonus of being free!  This system would work well if you have wire shelving, as you can stack the flat folds, rather than turning them on edge like you can on the bolts. When your fabrics are stacked, you can insert a long quilting ruler above the piece you’d like to retreive, then lift the fabrics above it away, so you can pull it out without messing up your nicely folded fabrics.

If you choose to roll your fabric using one of these methods, you can decide as you go what to do with the pieces you come across.  You can make the “Toss” and “Donate” piles now, and roll only the fabrics you like and want to keep.

If you’re so ambitious as to roll your entire stash as a first step, it makes weeding things out later easier as well.  Once you can see it all, you get some idea which fabrics you really love, and which you’re willing to part with.  You can then:

  1. Organize a fabric swap among friends
  2. Sell your less-desirable pieces on eBay
  3. Set up a craft supply garage sale, and the merchandising is a breeze.

Also, it’s totally ok to throw out thin, worn or ugly fabric.  If it’s low-quality and you can’t bring yourself to put your time into it, maybe no one else should either.  These fabrics can also be used by animal shelters to stuff dog beds, if you just can’t bear the thought of throwing it away.

 

Managing fat quarters and quarter-yards:

If you like the “fabric bolt” approach, you can flat-fold your fat quarters with similar results.

I fold them in sixteenths—always folding the short edges to meet in the center. When you’re done, you have a rectangle that is about 4 ½” x 5 ½”, with one long, solid, folded edge.  Many quilt shops already fold fat quarters this way, which was part of the reason I chose this method.

FQ folding

IMG_4300

 

If you have the budget for it, fat quarters display nicely in a media tower meant for CDs and DVDs, though the tower may not come with as many shelves as you could use for this purpose.  If this happens, the bottom of the tower is a great place to store full-line fat quarter bundles.

For fabric of other dimensions, like regular quarter-yards, you can fold them into similar-sized rectangles that will display right next to your fat quarters.  They can also be stored on separate shelves if you prefer to know that the cuts are different without unfolding them.

 

Managing scraps:

On completion of a project, I evaluate my remaining fabric and do the following:

  1. Store yardage of 1/3 yd or greater on a “bolt”
  2. Put remaining scraps in a pile or bag and give them to a scrap quilter, OR
  3. Cut scraps into manageable sizes—choose a size palette that “plays well together” and works for you.  I use the following, but some people like to be consistent with available store-bought precuts of 5” and 10” squares, and 2 ½” strips
    1. 2 ½” strips
    2. Other-width strips, depending on the scrap (3”, 2”, or 1 ½”, usually)
    3. 10 ½” squares (alternative to keeping narrow yardage)
    4. 8 ½” squares, 6 ½” squares, 4 ½” squares, 2 ½” squares
  4. You can then either make a variety of scrap quilts, or sell groups of strips or squares on eBay or Etsy.
  5. And, believe it or not, it’s not illegal to just toss them.  Don’t hang onto them if you’re not going to use them.  Some fabrics from the 70s should have stayed there…because they’re just not coming back.

 

That said, some hideous, dated, strangely-colored fabrics from the toss pile might look great in a scrap quilt!

 

Where Your Road Leads

 

Killer Rabbit Aug 29-2

So, in the vein of being driven, creative, and yourself, I have learned in the last month or so that *some* weeks are just a series of completely unpredictable events. You think you know, for example, sort of what will happen when you inevitably lose the job that’s been threatening to end for about three months. Perhaps you assume you’ll be driven and creative with your blog, and you’ll take your thousands of ideas and actually write about them, and post them, and show the world how productive you’re being, while you wait for another perfect position to open up for you and interview twice a week, and really only be unemployed for a short time. And then, perhaps you will write English-bastardizing run-on sentences about it. As if you have not a care in the world.

And then…you get a chance to join a band.

I’d be lying if I said it was consuming all, or that much, or my time. But I have to say, it feels great to get back on the stage, and to be singing again, with people I’m comfortable around, music I really enjoy performing.  To really enjoy being a singer again, without worrying so much about writing and being an “artist.”

The reason I haven’t already posted more is that my photography is abysmal. I have plenty of content already written. I really didn’t think I was feeling the music. I considered selling my keyboard because I haven’t played it in so long. Sometimes life holds the unexpected.

So tonight, I simply leave you with this, and the knowledge that very soon, I will be belting out Melissa Etheridge and Linda Ronstadt publicly for your listening enjoyment, once again. At least, if you live in Wyoming.

 

Be creative. Be driven. Be you.

As I think about my vision for this blog–what it’s been, and what I would like for it to become–I think the best place to start is to explain the new tagline.

You might recall that it used to say, “Singer. Songwriter. Entertainer.”

To me, that is now too narrow a focus. And this blog isn’t, and shouldn’t have ever been, all that much about me.

I’d rather make it about navigating life as the individuals we are, and finding those things which bring us joy. To this end, I expect to discuss a number of topics in the future here, from interpersonal relations to specific creative projects, helpful hints, and fun stories. I’ll go through and tag posts appropriately so that you can find the content that appeals to you.

For now, there will probably be a lot of posts about quilting. But for the future? The sky’s the limit.

The NEW danajoforseth.com

Well, good afternoon, loyal readers!  (Have I mentioned how grateful I am to have both of you?)
 
I know I haven’t been on here in some time, and the last time I was, I didn’t talk about music at all.  In fact, I haven’t talked about music for *quite* a while.  And there’s a reason for that.  Simply put, talking about my music, of late, is boring.  And if I don’t even feel like writing it, why would I expect anyone to read it?
 
I’ve come to realize a few things over the past several months to a year.
 
I know I set up this website as a musician.  This blog is supposed to be here to promote that–to talk about tour dates, and other indie artists like myself, and to chit chat with them and encourage you to go see live music, wherever you live, and support all of those who are just trying to make their way doing what they love–at least, that was my vision for this website when I put it up in 2011.
 
Well…it’s not anymore.  Am I still writing songs?  Yes.  Always!  At varying rates.  :-)  Am I still planning my next release?  Sort of….but not in the foreseeable future.  Those things all take resources that I don’t have at the moment, the #1 being motivation in that direction.  So, there’s a pin in it.  For now.  This is something that surfaces in my life and recedes.  There, I said it.  Don’t everybody offer me a record deal at once.
 
The fact is, more than a musician, I am a creative person.  Like many other creative people, I have more than one outlet for that.  I once had a close friend who desired nothing with a more fervent passion than to write a novel, when he suddenly found himself singing in a band, regularly.  And loving it.  Another friend of mine plays semiweekly gigs around town with just his guitar, his harmonica and a notebook full of classics (as well as an inclusive smile and a bit of charm, of course).  He is also an inspired and accomplished painter and a graphic designer and marketing expert.  Is this a lack of focus?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s representative of a desire to connect with the outside world in all of the ways that call out to us–whatever they may be.
 
And I believe that to ignore any form of expression which we as artists find calling us, is a disservice certainly to ourselves, but also the world.  (Yes!  The WORLD!  Stay with me, here…) When we hold back from dreaming our dreams and passioning our passions, worried about what other people will “think,” we encourage other artists to do the same–and everything around us gets a little greyer.  If you, too, are guilty of this–STOP IT!  It will be better for us all.
 
So, I’ve had to make a decision.  Do I want to take the website down?  It’s kind of expensive to keep it up.  If I didn’t have a regular job, I probably couldn’t pay for it.  I haven’t spoken on it since last November…and even then it was about shopping, and what does that have to do with anything?
 
But I’ve come to realize that I’m not out of things to say.  While the playing and singing have fallen to the background for now, I think it has more to do with the things I want to express than a lack of love for the medium.  When that is once again the best way to say what I have to say, I’ll be picking my guitar back up.  So, rather than take down a website whose address is printed in the jackets of a thousand compact discs, and thousands more business cards, I am going to expand its focus.  You can expect to see some changes over the next month or two–and welcome to the new danajoforseth.com.

Dana Jo’s Survival Guide for Black Friday 2013

Ah….the end of November.   Melting patches of week-old snow pepper the ground outside, the kitchen fills the house with the smell of various baked goods and hot cool-weather dinners.  The floor takes on the sheen of gravel that hitched a ride in on our shoes…and everyone knows what that means.  Pine-scented potpourri and cleverly-disguised pumpkin-from-a-can will be a part of our daily lives for the next 40 days.  And for the first time in almost a decade, I am far away from “home” (more meaningfully, my family) as holiday season comes to an open.

Not only is this, for most families, the most tradition-steeped time of the year, it’s also wrought with controversy.   From whether or not a nativity scene set up on a courthouse lawn is offensive, to the age-old debate over whether it’s wrong to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving is over….opinions are like fruitcakes.  By the new year, everybody has one.

This week’s controversy is whether it’s “right” for retailers to be open on Thanksgiving, when instead, they could stop being “greedy” and allow their employees to spend time with their families on this, one of the most togetherness-saturated holidays in America.  I’m not going to get into it.  I hate that they’re open on Thanksgiving, because it complicates my life.  (As a SHOPPER!!)   I also understand the corporate pressures to perform, especially in a craphole economy, and the desireability of keeping a good job if you have one.  Or sometimes just *a* job, if you have one.  Not, of course, to defend the “evil CEOs” of the world.  In the end, everyone’s just looking out for #1.  But I wouldn’t personally trust that job to anyone else.

So anyway….

Predictably, our fall family traditions begin with Thanksgiving.  This year, my Thanksgiving dinner will be for two.  My family will be  up in Fairfield, celebrating together in a church hall because, well, as a group, we’re outgrowing the available living rooms.  I look forward to hearing how that goes.

The fun, of course, doesn’t end there.   It’s looking like we may have started a tradition last year in Great Falls by participating in the “Burn the Bird” 5K, which happens on Thanksgiving morning.  Last year, my sister, my nephew and I went when my friend Erin invited us.  This year, my sister-in-law, Karen, will be representing the Forseth clan.  I’m really proud of her.  I give her (and my husband) much of the credit for inspiring me to work out more often than, like, once a decade.  But I digress….

The overconsumption of food is then followed by the examination of Black Friday ads in the Great Falls Tribune, which I have usually gathered about 5 copies of before I head out to Fairfield.  (I have a subscription to the Cheyenne paper this year, but it only comes every other day.  I’m not sure yet what that means.)  We clip coupons, we make lists, and we drink wine.  Everyone figures out what time their alarm clocks will be going off, and we head to our respective homes.

Tradition has been that I get the ball rolling on Friday morning, because I lived in Great Falls, childless, and packed full of enthusiasm for the last several years.   In the past, my day would start at 4 or 5 a.m. at Herbergers (a favorite), followed by some combination of Home Depot, Office Max, Staples, Old Navy, and Joann’s, followed by a trip *back* to the mall to meet up with the Fairfield contingency, who were rolling in around 8 or 9.  I would try to gather up doorbusters from the early-open stores from everyone’s shopping lists (they were merciful), and then we’d “get started.”  While we as a group are serious shoppers, our desires for the day typically aren’t.  Everyone has a small handful of things they would like to “score,” but I don’t think any of us has ever been willing to walk over bodies for a good deal.  For years, we’ve had a method.  A system–a good time, and a lot of jocularity.  We have been ridiculously “productive.”

And THEN.  They screwed.  It.  All.  Up.

By “they,” I mean “the retailers.”  Herberger’s opened last year at midnight on Thanksgiving.  MIDNIGHT!!  (Outlandish at the time, a whole year before we started seeing this 8 p.m. bullcrap.)  Midnight? !?  I tried.  But the place was full of people who would have been up at that hour anyway, and have no concept of the Black Friday ettiquette or indoor/outdoor traffic patterns.  It was insaner than your typical insanity.  I had gathered a few purchases, and I was in what seemed like the world’s longest line, when I started getting dizzy, and sweaty, and decided it wasn’t worth it.  When I went back six hours, sleep and coffee later, the things I really cared about were still there, sans crazy people.  And some of the things I had originally intended to purchase appealed to me less and stayed in the store.  I don’t know what their profits did last year, but I wasn’t happy with Herberger’s.  They were one of many stores who were suddenly inviting amateurs to the party.  Not ok.

Furthermore, when Herberger’s has already been open ALL night, it fails to provide that benchmarking start time I have relied upon for so many years.  If the doors are already open, why should I get up at 4?  Or 5?  There is no rush, there is no deadline.  I can’t work like this!!  Changes must be made.

In any case, with the structure of Black Friday changing, and with it, its honor, glory, etc., etc., I am giving it much thought and going back to the basics.  These changes shall NOT ruin the system, the good time OR the jocularity!  Simply, we will adapt.  And these are my tips for adapting.

 

1)  Know why you’re involved.

My first tip for involvement in Black Friday is to understand WHY you’re participating.  Is it about great deals?  It shouldn’t be.  It’s becoming widely-known that many of these so-called “must-haves” that go on Black Friday sales are just as cheap or even cheaper later in the season.  You can get most of the same and other great deals online, all week and for weeks after.  Don’t make it about that.  Is it so you can get your Christmas shopping done and not worry about it anymore?  Totally valid.  Is it because it’s fun to go shopping in the middle of the night, because you don’t usually get to?  Then, have at it!  But be clear with yourself about why you’re even doing this and what you’re hoping to gain.  Then you’ll be all the more prepared to deal with unexpected emotions or physical fatigue when one or the other inevitably rears its ugly head.  Will you be ok with going home, or can you press on?  Be aware:  quitting earns demerits.

 

2)  Plan your day. 

Duh.  This tip is on everyone’s list, but that’s because it belongs here.

You don’t have to wait for the Thanksgiving paper.  Most ads have already been leaked online….just use your Google.  A favorite planning site for me is www.bfads.net, but there are lots of them out there.  Use them.  You don’t have to spend Thanksgiving Day looking through ads–especially now that stores are opening earlier…you have to be more prepared than ever.  Researching ahead of time may help you to protect some of that precious, ever-shrinking time with your family.

I recommend making a VERY short list of your “must-haves” for this day, and structure all other stops around obtaining those items.  There is no shame in shopping online.   The only reason not to (for big-box “deals”, at least) is if you need something in your hands immediately.  Save your local stops for your local stores.  Many big stores also allow you to order online and pick up in-store.  Use these things to your advantage.  Time is a valuable resource.  (See #8.)

 

3)  Sleep?  Yes.  Coffee?  Yes.  Breakfast?  Double yes.

Be as nourished as you can when you start this day.  Carry some small cash with you so that you can stop for snacks throughout the day, and throw at least two granola or protein bars in your purse per person you will be responsible for.  (The fewer of these people, the better. :-))  Nothing is less fun than being out among a huge crowd of shoppers with whom you’d like to share an overarching fog of holiday spirit, than running into someone who is tired, cranky, and mean.  You’re probably not going to get everything you want, some things will sell out.  Deal with it.  Be nice to people.

While you’re at it, a couple packets of Emergen-C aren’t a bad idea, either.  You can drink this at lunch, and those B vitamins will help give you energy.

 

4)  Comfortable shoes:  the tired foot’s biggest must.

If you really “do” this day right, but you’re wearing uncomfortable shoes, you’ll pay way too much for a new pair at 3 PM.  Buy quality, comfortable, supportive shoes THAT FIT, and break them in ahead of time.   While wearing your cheetah-print Crocs may be marginally acceptable today,  do you really want to do that to yourself?  I didn’t think so.

 

5)  Budget your money

You don’t have to do all of your Christmas shopping today.  You really don’t.  In fact, it’s obvious that most of the really “big” deals are for personal purchases anyway.  Let’s be honest–anymore, the only thing “Christmas” about this day is its timing.  Are you really going to buy someone a Sonicare toothbrush as a gift?  (Maybe.  Ok.)  Or a 60-inch TV?  How do I make those friends?  Understand that this is a good day to purchase things you’ll be using throughout the Christmas season, and need to have NOW.  But when it comes to buying gifts for others, don’t forget that some of the best Christmas gifts don’t come from Kmart, they come from your kitchen.  (Or sewing machine, or local “Made in [your favorite state]” store.  You get the idea.)

If you have the financial ability to make all of your seasonal purchases today, that’s great!   I try to make a spreadsheet showing where I want to be, when, what I’m planning to buy there, and how much I expect it to cost.  If you do this and the total at the bottom is a little out of budget, weed out the non-essentials.  Remember, this doesn’t have to be the last time you walk into a store until after New Year’s.

Speaking of the absence of Christmas….

 

6)  Create a holiday-friendly transportation vessel.

Clean your car.  Check your tires, park in the garage the night before you head out so you don’t waste ten valuable minutes scraping the ice off your windshield.  Make sure the trunk is empty and has room for that top-secret enormous item you’d like to keep hidden for the day.  Hang up a peppermint-scented air freshener.  Thanksgiving is over, so even the nay-sayers can’t tell you anymore that it’s too early to play Christmas music, if it’s essential to your joyous shopping experience.   Make sure your windshield wipers are in good shape.  And most importantly, have a good supply of CDs (or your media of choice) in the car, ready to go, ahead of time.  I recommend any Christmas album containing “Sleigh Ride” done by the Boston Pops.  It’s just not Christmas until you’ve heard it.

 

 7)  Allow yourself some room for imperfection

Think you’ll make that regularly 15-minute drive across town in 10?  Don’t plan on it.  You might, but if you schedule your day so tightly that you can’t help but run behind immediately, that will take all the fun out of it.  Also, budget a little money for impulse buys.  You will inevitably see something on this day that wasn’t in the “plan.”  Try not to torture yourself.  If you forgot gloves at home, your fingers are freezing, and there’s a pair you like on sale, don’t beat yourself up if you make that extra purchase.  The same with the coffee.  If there were ever a day to splurge on delicious caffeine, this is the one.  Try to patronize the local coffee kiosks.  Also, because it needs to be said…there is no situation that warrants the purchase of a Snuggie.

 

8)  This is not the day to buy by-the-yard fabric. 

Especially at a large fabric chain store, unless there isn’t a single other thing you want on the planet.  This is, in my opinion, the fastest way to ensure that you will be in line FOREVER.  There is no way to cut fabric quickly and well, especially when fifty people are ahead of you in line, each buying 25 different colors of polar fleece.  (Oye!)  Joann’s, in my experience, has been unsuccessful in meaningfully speeding up the process.  I will share with you something I often hear my sister Nadelle say…(to paraphrase)  “The true cost of something is the total amount of hassle it takes to get it.”  Would you rather wait 2 hours in line for $2/yard fabric, or buy it later for $4/yard, one day when you can run your errand AND bake a pie in the same amount of time?  Time and money are BOTH valuable resources.  Never forget that.

 

9)  Don’t be that guy.

You know the one.  The amateur who goes to the store with his professional-shopper friend, to “keep him/her company” at time-critical, door-busting store opening, then wanders slowly and aimlessly around said store, lacking any general sense of the people around him who have goals of their own.  I don’t advocate being rude or pushy, but I advocate being slow and oblivious to others even less.  (Elderly women and adorable elderly couples are exempt from this rant, and deserve our respect and patience.)  If you’re not into it, go home.  If someone has begged you to participate, and “needs” you there, put up.  Show up, do what you’re supposed to do, and get out of the way.  This isn’t the time to amble through the store like you’re just killing a Saturday.  I mean it.

 

10) Beware of inferior Black Friday merchandise.

If you were unaware of this, a good number of the so-called Black Friday “deals” are really special-production items, made at a lower cost so they can be sold at a lower price.   What might this mean?  Fewer HDMI ports on that new TV you’re buying, for one.  Brand names you’ve never heard of, except at this time of year, for another.   I think this is particularly true in the world of electronics and computer components.  Now, the TV you need might not have to be anything fancy, in which case a Black Friday model might be the perfect solution for you.  But be aware that it may not be exactly the same as the seemingly identical model at the same store for $50 more the day before.  Research model numbers ahead of time if you’re interested in these items, and know what you’re buying.

 

11)  Maximize the bang for your buck.

For each of us, this means different things.  While coming home with the most “toys” might be your goal, there is a huge movement right now to spend money locally, at small businesses, and to buy merchandise that was made in the USA.  Even on the surface, this isn’t always more expensive.

Use credit wisely.  Hundreds of credit cards offer cash back and other incentive programs when you use them.  If this is an option for you, the rewards can be significant if you shop within your means and pay your balance before it accrues interest or fees.  If you’re shopping online, look into cash back programs like Ebates.  Starting on the Ebates website and linking to your favorite online stores from there can earn you 2-10%+ cash back on all your purchases, after you sign up for free.  I’ve been doing this for a year, and each quarter I get a check back.  This is on top of any credit card points earned separately on the purchase.  If you refer friends, you get further incentives.

And finally…

 

12)  Make these crazy retail store hours your bitch.  (PTF)

Do you know where I’ll be on Black Friday?  Working.  An office job.  Our company doesn’t get Black Friday off, and this year, I’ve run out of vacation.  So, from 8-5, I will be at my spreadsheets doing tax rate reconciliations, and happily taking home a paycheck.  The good news?  Not a whole lot will be going on in stores from 8-5.  Many of my favorite stores open at 8 pm Thursday night.  Do I intend to go there?  No.  But I do intend to have my laptop open in front of some Christmas movie on the TV, ordering my must-haves before I even go to bed.  Sure, maybe I’ll venture out of the house at 10 pm and make a bit of a late night of it, (to me, the wonky hours are a HUGE part of the fun), or maybe I’ll get up at 4 am when not another soul is expected to be out and about, get everything I want, wait in short lines, stop for breakfast and roll up to my office at 7:55.  Rocking my world this year is that I have OPTIONS.   You don’t have to be there when they open the doors.  You can be there whenever you want.  So, adhere to your principles if it really irritates you that people have to work retail on Thanksgiving (for double time, or time-and-a-half), or go join in on the fun with the clueless, inexperienced Grey-Thursdayers who think they should go since they don’t have to get out of bed at an unreasonable hour…(seriously, have fun with that)…but make it work for YOU.  You don’t have to do what the stores *want* you to–you can make your shopping patterns as confusing for them as possible.  They’re open earlier because they want your money before their competition gets it.  Don’t be swayed by this–put your money where you want it to go.

 

The most important thing about Black Friday is to have a good time.  If it’s not your thing, you don’t have to do it just because it seems like “everybody else” is.  For me and my family, it’s tradition.  Some years, I don’t get much of my shopping done at all, but without fail I fill up an emotional tank full of happy memories.  To me, Black Friday is part of Thanksgiving with my family…not the ugly consumerist cloud that cuts the holiday short.  It’s a great way to get some exercise I don’t notice I’m getting, and it eases me into the holiday spirit with every crack of the orchestral whip coming through my car speakers.  And those are all things you can have, even on this day, without spending a dime.

<3

-DJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Over the Map

It’s been wayyyyyyyyyyyy too long.  I know.  I’m sorry.

Shall we recap the last few months?  We’ll start with where I left off…the karaoke contest.  Women and men had two separate prize pools.  I won first place among the women.  Jimmy Thoma was crowned top dude.  (As has historically happened quite often in my experience.  The Jimmy winning thing, I mean.)  Then, the bar had us do a surprise sing-off to win a trip to Vegas.  I was a little tipsy by then and attempted to bribe the audience with some free merch and allegedly shouted something into the microphone about being a “legit artist.”  (Facepalm.)  (I’m still very, very sorry, y’all.)  Jimmy attempted to bribe the audience by, well, just being awesome at his performance.  Maury, the owner of the Beacon, decided to give us both trips to Vegas, because she is one of the coolest people on the planet.

Life remained relatively uneventful until June, when we crammed a 28′ semi, one Ford Fusion and the back of a Chevy S-10 with everything I owned at the time, and unloaded it into its new home in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

28 foot semibox 2box 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, folks, $h!t got real.

I spent the months that followed forehead-deep in cake tasting and vendor interviewing and money spending and general decision-making of a degree that should only be reserved for CEOs and arbitrators.

And, at long last, I’m MAWWIED!

Through all of this, I’ve had the good fortune of being able to keep my job and work from home, which has been a blessing.

I’m hoping soon to post a blog with some actual content, but until that day comes, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I will be attempting to cook a dinner for two with enough courses for 12.  Time to break out the good China, and be thankful that all of our major life events are over for the year.  *Clink*  Talk to you all again soon!

 

 

 

As Long As Your Song is From the Heart

Bar Stars Karaoke Contest, March 28, 2013

Bar Stars Karaoke Contest, March 28, 2013

When I run into people these days in random places like the grocery store, I am asked some form of one of two questions:

1)  You’re still here?

2)  Are you still singing?

Here’s the scoop on my current continuing location.  First, I was trying to sell my house last summer.  That wasn’t happening, and I got impatient.  I decided to pull it from the market in December, and to rent it out at whatever point I am able to leave.

Since then, I’ve been applying for jobs in Cheyenne and Fort Collins when they present themselves, during the busiest time of year at my existing job in Great Falls.  Our major deadline for the year is on Monday, which, this year, happens to fall right *after* Easter.  That has nothing in particular to do with anything, it just manages to be somewhat inconvenient.

I have a few leads, and now that it’s a better time for my employer to be suddenly without me (well, there’s never a good time for that, but they’ve known for at least a year), I feel less bad about dashing out of the state.  I’m hoping to be out of here, for real, by the end of May.

The first three months of the year, especially March, can get a little overwhelming and emotional. Between unexpected emergencies at work and the dreariness of winter, Jordan being far away and a stagnating living situation, it’s been kind of a tough one.  Where I usually tend to be proactive and driven (ha), this spring has been a little more about survival than living.  It’s silly, because we all know how freakin’ good I’ve got it.  Still, I haven’t been my usual self, and while April tends to bring that back out of me in any given year, I’m looking more forward to it this year than I have in a long time.

But, you didn’t come here to read about all that.  You’re wondering what is going on with the Metallica fedora picture.  (You can’t even see the leopard print skinny jeans…)

So, to answer the second question…yes, I’m still singing.  Mostly karaoke.

I know, I know, there are a few (very talented) music school snobs in town who will tell you karaoke isn’t for real musicians.  I would say, it’s as real as you make it.  My voice is probably at its best when I sing karaoke 2-3 nights a week and practice new songs for it the rest of the time.   I don’t think it matters too much where you sing–if you love it, DO it!  At every opportunity.

I also sing every now and then with The Electric City Mafia, up at Rumors (which everyone still calls the Skyline).  They’ve been very kind to me and are always happy to let me up on stage any time I show up.  Fun guys, and a great band with a huge repertoire.  With a band is really *THE* way to perform–they work their butts off and it shows.  I work my elbows off, when I have time, and I’m not sick, or making excuses.  (That shows, too.)

So anyway, right now I’m putting my performance energy into a contest they’re having at the Beacon.  The last night of finals is coming up on Thursday, April 4.  I haven’t chosen my songs yet, but I’m hoping to by the end of the day.

This last week was rock week.  Each contestant (there are a whopping seven of us) had to sing a rock or pop song, and any other song of their choice.  I sang “Whiskey in the Jar” (the Metallica version) and “Dream On,” by Aerosmith.  Crowd-pleasers, both.  I have to say, I really get a charge out of it when people I don’t know come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed my performance. That’s why I love contests.  If you show up at a regular karaoke night in a fedora with a mic stand, at best no one would care, and at worst, you’d get laughed out of the bar….and/or accosted by a drunk comedian who wants to make your solo a duet.

I know I’ve blogged about these contests before.  For me, they’re a chance to perform, and to hang out with my friends, at least the ones who like to sing.  I’m psyched because my BFF Erin has been doing the contest, too, and she has a real knack for song choice.

So, if you happen to be looking for something fun to do next Thursday–please, come out.  Crowd response is an important factor in this contest–it usually is.  I assume I’ll come up with something awesome that will make strangers give a damn, but Erin and I would still love to see you and have your support.  I’d hate to recycle something I’ve used earlier, but I’m a little nervous at how late in the game it is.  I’m fighting a sore throat and early cold symptoms, so in an effort not to be completely worthless vocally on Thursday, I have to keep quiet in my face for a day or two.  NOT easy.  It means I need to know my limitations in the song choice department without doing too much vocal testing.  So, no “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” for me.  (Sorry, SOM fans….)

In the meantime, writing has been back-burnered, since I had to take down my sweet writing setup for showing the house.  I still have a piano in the basement, but I don’t spend nearly the time hanging out down there as I would expect to, given that it’s the best room in the house for hanging out in.  Something about proximity to the kitchen.

And now,it’s time for breakfast.  I had bacon for dinner on Thursday night, and made a ton of extra. When I came home after midnight, I saw the leftovers, wrinkled my nose in disdain for Lent, and left them in the fridge.  Now it’s Saturday.  And I’m a-gonna bacon it up.

Happy Easter, everyone!  May you make some wonderful spring memories with your family this weekend to start out the summer of 2013.  <3

Deadlines, or Life Lines?

Deadlines are a girl’s best friend.

I find that without them, there isn’t really much sense of urgency to my work. Luckily my actual work provides plenty of a sense of urgency. The work I do for fun, which is the writing and the singing and the blogging, and also sewing, and quilting, and, you know, creative Jello-making….often find themselves in the back seat with accounting–or some other task–at the wheel.

Well, accounting remains at the wheel, (and it gets to because it pays the highest ticket price), but sitting on its lap blocking its view is a little thing known as a wedding. Coming up, we think, in October.

Dana Jo And Jordan-398

I realize that I have failed to announce this on my blog. On September 29, Jordan proposed, gave me a HUGE beautiful ring, and it’s been wedding planning nirvana ever since. I’m happy to say I’ve found my gown–but the date isn’t official, the venue and Church aren’t booked, and there is plenty to do between now and then. Like the new-job-finding and the all-worldly-goods-relocating.

In the meantime, between scouring the internet for the perfect photographer and the most economical cake bakery, I’m working on some crazy fun material that I know you’re going to love. But without a deadline, like next Wednesday’s open mic (which used to work when I was hosting), or a recording start date for the next album, I am taking my sweet time. I’m psyched to see all the great things going on right now in the Great Falls art community, and I wish I had more time to participate. Right now, my creative energy is going into translating color samples from one bridesmaid gown designer to another. And honestly, I don’t mind. I am always writing, somewhere in the back of my mind. I’m not always trying to distinguish “raspberry” from “merlot.” (Or wondering why so many reds are named after delicious consumables.)

Deadlines are merciful. With them ends a period of time, often a stressful one, where much effort is made and focus is given to meeting them. The deadline passes, ending one project and perhaps beginning another, thrusting you forward into something new. I am looking forward to being married again.

AND, it’s my birthday! So I’m also looking forward to the second half of my twenties!

;-) Happy Wednesday, everybody.

Love you all!

-DJ

P.S. If you missed it, I put up a YouTube video of a song I wrote last summer. It’s called “That’s My Montana.” Just a little something that came from a very nostalgic place as I was first making my peace with leaving. I hope you all like it!

 

-