Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mini-Journal: Fan Blade Commission (Pt. 1)

Last summer, I stumbled into some commission work making ceiling fan blades for a company in New York City. It was a pretty nice bit of work to pick up, and it helped us buy our first tankful of heating oil for the cooler weather. Unfortunately, the economy soon turned crappy, and I had to reconcile myself to the fact that no more fan blade work was forthcoming.

CT Wood Group Hardwood Outlet - My Kind of Lumber Shop!
Connecticut Wood Group Hardwood Outlet - my favorite lumber shop!

Come March of this year however, I decided to place a call to the company and see how things were going. As luck would have it, I was told I've got good timing! Woo hoo!! I was asked if I could make up another ten sets of fan blades for them in mahogany. It's a small order, relatively speaking, but everything helps, right?

No sooner than I had my materials for making up the ten sets of blades, and I received a new purchase order for more blades. I thought at first that the purchasing manager there had sent me a duplicate P.O., but when I looked more closely at it, I realized that they were asking me for another 46 sets of blades!!!

Smile Moon Woodworks: Sighting Down the Mahogany
Sighting down a piece of mahogany to make sure it's straight

Well, I'm currently wrapping up the smaller order of ten sets of blades, but I decided to head up to my favorite lumber yard and grab the material for the next order. It helps for wood to acclimate itself to the temperature and humidity in the workshop prior to working with it, to prevent warping and cupping when resawing it to the thinness required by this kind of work.

Smile Moon Woodworks: Driving My Wood Home
Ever seen $1000 worth of lumber? Look behind me!

I now have about $1000 worth of mahogany, quarter-sawn white oak, maple, and lacewood sitting on my shop's floor waiting for me to finish up the current work so I can dive into the next batch. Well, not all of it. The maple and lacewood I picked up for projects I haven't designed yet. I figure the inspiration will jump out at me if I look at the lacewood long enough. It'll probably make some very pretty box tops!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mrs SmileMoon

This past week was an adventure at our house. Most weeks are an adventure at our house, with all these kids tearing the place up, but this past week stands out for me, and it's taken this long for me to wrap my hands around it sufficiently to talk about it.

Our First Apple Blossoms
Our first apple blossoms

Last Tuesday, the school board in town decided to close down all the schools in our hometown of East Haddam, CT, due to a swine flu scare and the fact that two of our local students had been with a family that had just returned from a trip to Mexico and were ill. The students themselves weren't ill, but the school decided that if there was going to be any kind of too-strong reaction, that it was better to err on the side of caution. So, they closed the schools for Wednesday and Thursday.

All day Wednesday, our 16-year-old daughter had a case of the squits, and so was pretty much confined to quarters. At the end of the day, however, she made it known that she wanted to go out with friends. She was told that wasn't a good idea since she hadn't felt well all day and hadn't even eaten anything. As Mrs SmileMoon and I were upstairs putting the little ones to bed, she snuck out of the house. Long story short, she finally sauntered back home at 3:30 the following afternoon, on Mrs SmileMoon's birthday. An hour-long heated discussion that night didn't resolve much, unfortunately.

Then our 11-year old son woke up at 11:30 that same night and got ill all over his bed, the bedroom floor, the hallway, the bathroom floor, and - what was left - in the toilet. Ugh. Happy birthday, Mrs SmileMoon. Poor thing.

Friday was surprisingly non-eventful, relatively speaking.

Saturday we got our new pup for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program we're part of. I'm going to co-raise him with my lovely young bride this time. He's a bit older than the usual ones we've gotten (usually 6 to 8 weeks old) - apparently, he'd had some trouble with his previous raiser (actually we haven't found anything exceedingly horrible with him yet, but I'll write more about him later) so we're taking over his training til he gets to be "of age".

Finally, on Sunday morning, Mrs SmileMoon took me for a little stroll through the grounds of the Smilemoon estate and showed me that one of our apple trees is in bloom. This marks the first time in about 7 years that any of our apple trees have had any blossoms on them. They're late bloomers, apparently - kinda like yours truly!

Brunch with Mrs SmileMoon
Mrs SmileMoon enjoying a breather between courses at this weekend's brunch

Afterward, I took Mrs SmileMoon out for a breakfast brunch at Waters Edge Resort in Westbrook, CT for a make-up birthday brunch. The spread was incredible, and well worth what we paid for the privilege of enjoying the scenery along Long Island Sound on a fog-enshrouded Sunday. It was beautiful spread; delicious food; impeccably prepared; and delightfully presented. Who could ask for more? Needless to say, by the time we were done, we just about had to be rolled out, and neither of us was hungry for anything the whole rest of the day. Now THAT was something to make up for the rest of the week.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yoyos and a Case of the Nerves

Aye, such a weekend! I'm writing this right now from the Z Games Yo-Yo competition in Northampton, Massachusetts, where my two oldest boys are competing against some the best in the southern New England area. They've both attended similar competitions two times before, and I'd have to say they're fairly well seasoned at this by now.

At this point in the proceedings, the younger of my two boys has already competed at the junior level and scored a 46 out of 50 points - his best effort yet in this event. I think he'll be encouraged to attempt something a little more challenging at the next one. I hope so! He's nearly ready!

My older son had some trouble being convinced to compete at all, and I'm sad to report that I had to pull rank on him to get him to agree to it today. Not that he wasn't interested in being here - on the contrary, his intent was to be here, but simply as an observer. I had to pull him aside the other day and explain why it wasn't fair to expect that I'd take 3-1/2 hours of drive time plus how ever many hours it was going to be at the event out of my weekend for him to socialize with all the yoyoing folks he communicates with on the regular basis through Facebook and his yoyo forums.

I think he remained somewhat unconvinced about working through his nerves, though, until I pointed out to him that I had a perfectly valid frame of reference from my youth, in that I used to be stricken with a paralyzing fear prior to performances of any sort, and at far worse levels than anything I'd ever seen him go through. To be fair, the performances that used to bother my nerves were as a member of the school band getting up in front of moms and dads who were forced to sit in the hot and stuffy gymnatorium listening to us tune up for an hour and a half, whereas he was anticipating having to get up in front of a gathering of his peers to compete at a level that he himself may not feel completely and adequately prepared for - especially when one counts among his competitors several regional champions,a national champion, and a couple of his yoyoing idols. Yikes! While his method for dealing with the stress has been to attempt competing at a lower level than his ability (or as in this weekend's case, to attempt not competing at all), my method was barfing all over the place a couple times before showtime.

Hmm, perhaps I reacted a bit too strongly to a lesser threat than he does. Should I maybe consider giving him a break? Nah... If I had, we wouldn't be here today.

Update: It turns out my oldest boy had a decent run of it today. Not a championship performance, but a good time. In the end, he told me he felt a lot less nervous about being up there on stage performing and being judged. That's only going to help him...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The $50 Sock

It all started when I noticed that the washing machine was sitting idle last Sunday evening with a tub that was filled with a king size set of sheets, a whole bunch of laundry besides, AND a pillow. The sitting idle wouldn't have been so very awful if it weren't for the fact that they were completely submerged in lukewarm rinse-water, as well. I knew my weekend was not going to end on a high note.

I figured that the washing machine may have shut itself down due to an imbalanced load (not to mention a load that looked far to heavy for our basic residential unit), so I removed the pillow and attempted to restart it. Nothing but a loud hum coming from some indeterminate location. Crap.

I bailed a few gallons of water from the tub and again attempted to restart the machine. Again with the same loud hum from some mysterious location in the depths of the machine. I didn't like where this was going, but I knew what had to be done - I pulled out my least favorite (but most useful) book, the one about fixing your own appliances.

That book has helped me out of many a jam involving the self-same washing machine, its errant mate the dryer, and my gas stove, as well. I haven't had to deal with the refrigerators or the freezer chest yet (knock wood), but I'm sure that book'll help me figure them out.

I referred to the section at the top of the clothes washer section's first page: "Washer won't start". I hate starting at that one, because the very first suggestion is "Is the washing machine plugged in?" and I always have to smack my head and exclaim "Now, why the heck did I not think of that?!" Then I start in with the real fun stuff. I went through checking the electrical connections throughout, then tested the resistance on the timer and the timer motor, and checked for bubbles in the water level tube.

Then I fast forwarded to where I had a very bad feeling the problem really lay. I followed the instructions in the book about checking the continuity of circuits between the various leads going into the motor, and discovered that there was one pair of leads that didn't seem quite right. "Aha!" thought I, "they're a great band from Norway who had that cool hit song from 1985 with the really awesomely artsy pencil-drawn video!" Then I remembered that I was supposed to be solving this motor mystery.

I concluded that the motor was likely burned out from the heavy load, so I looked up new motors on line. Hoo boy - the three or four places I found dealing with this kind of motor wanted anywhere from $120 to $145 for a new one. Then I remembered to try eBay, and found a used one for $25 (plus $25 for shipping). I couldn't justify dropping a new motor into a 15-year old machine (let alone a machine that's seen us through two adults' and six kids' worth of laundry day in and day out for all that time), so I bought the eBay motor.

When the new-used motor arrived Thursday, I eagerly got into the job of replacing the old one with this one. Of course, that meant dismantling the washing machine again (but by now I could do it blindfolded), then put everything back together again with the new-used motor. I hit the start button with high hopes, only to be met by that same frustrating hum again. I used a few words I'll not repeat in a family-friendly account of the proceedings, then took to the book again.

Among the many pages in the book dealing with washing machines, I finally found a small little paragraph going through the best steps by which to perform troubleshooting of this nature, and just before checking the motor itself was something about checking the pump. Ohhh, the pump. That part that would normally be able to pull the water out of the tub of the washer when you're otherwise hearing the electric hum of the motor along with it.


So I pulled the plastic pump off the new-used motor (which didn't seem to quite fit right either), and peeked inside. And that's where I discovered The $50 Sock.

It's the attack of The $50 Sock

After wrestling for another 20 minutes trying to pull the stinking sock out of the pump because it was wrapped entirely around the impeller (and you can't take the pump apart because it's a solid body unit), I finally got the sock out, put the pump back on the washing machine (after putting the old motor back on because there probably wasn't anything wrong with it after all - and when confronted with a choice between two evils, one should always go with the evil they're more familiar with anyway), and hit the start button again.

Yay! This time there was success (and much rejoicing)! So now we can do the laundry again, which when I spell it out and look at it like this, isn't really all that exciting. And of course there's the extra spare motor I've got sitting in a box out in the garage. But hey, it was something to do, right...?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hot Date Night and the Arrow of Light!

Long time, no see!

Yeah, it's been crazy busy here at SmileMoon Labs as well as at Chez SmileMoon! Just this past week saw us with our oldest home from school for spring break and me completing a small project for my sons' Cub Scout organization. It was an Arrow of Light display for the crossing over ceremony (Webelos to Boy Scouts) and represents the only badge the scouts are allowed to keep from their Cub Scout days as they progress up the ranks of Boy Scouts.

Arrow of Light Display

The finished piece is made from a glued up plank of walnut (42" by 18") for the face of the display (salvaged from award plaques found in a closed down industrial facility) and poplar (purchased specifically for the project) to make the lightbox (40" by 17" by 9"). There's a fluorescent light fixture inside the lightbox, and tapered holes drilled into the top of it for the ceremonial candles. The carving of the design on the face was done freehand with a router from scaled measurements made from the Arrow of Light badge.

The piece was shown at the Arrow of Light ceremony on March 19th and was well received by the leaders and other parents. Sadly, it's been put in storage until next year's ceremony. On the bright side, I've still got one more son in Cub Scouts and one more who may join in the fall, so I'll still get to see the display pulled out and used a few more times.

Date Night

Mrs SmileMoon and I went out this weekend for a bit of a date night at the local watering hole. Neither of us is a huge party animal, and the venue we selected was unusually quiet for a Saturday night, so this suited us perfectly. While we were relaxing with our first Blue Moons, my lovely young bride took a pen out of her purse, and proceeded to set up a game of hangman on her placemat. "Hee hee," thought I! "This should be no problem!" Well, I went down in flames in the first match and she guessed the phrase I'd set up for her with only two wrong guesses.

Before long, the phrases took on a pattern of thought involving many of our pet phrases and (very) brief descriptions of events in our relationship. Phrases like "mushroom swiss burger" (her meal on our first date - unpretentious and showing me she was not afraid to be sloppy in my presence), "skirt of the month" (a fictitious club thought up to celebrate the limited wardrobe of one of our former neighbors), and "giant bandaid" (this would take too long to explain and probably wouldn't be funny to anyone but us, but she still gets tears in her eyes laughing about it 20 years after the fact) were among many of the choices we had to figure out for each other before our greasy comfort food was served.

This was such a funny way to bring up events that we've laughed at in the past, I felt it would be fun to share it as an idea, especially if, like us, you've got a few years invested in your relationship and have more to laugh about than not.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Listing - Gunstock Wine Bottle Holder

Smile Moon Woodworks - Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder
Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder

While working on trying to complete some pillboxes that seem to be taking for just about ever, a friend of mine asked if he could 'borrow' my bandsaw to cut up some walnut he had on hand so he could replace the gunstock on his old 1908 Ithaca 12-gauge side-by-side shotgun. He showed me the original wood from the gun, and its 100-plus years of wear were abundantly in evidence. Sections of wood were missing, and bolts were being used to hold some of it together - not at all a safe condition for actually wanting to use the gun.

He traced the general shape onto his walnut and proceeded to coax the block into shape. The woodblock itself was almost twice as thick as what he needed to complete his gunstock, and since the remainder was too thin to make another gunstock, I inherited it and set it aside til I could figure out what to do with it.

This weekend, inspiration finally struck me while I was waiting for the glue to dry on one of those pillboxes. Why not a bottle holder? When I laid out where the hole would have to go in a block of wood the general shape and size of a gunstock, it all just fell into place for me.

Smile Moon Woodworks - Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder
Gunstock Bottle Holder Layout

I planed down the wood to a consistent thickness, cut the angled bottom, smoothed out all the rough cuts my friend had made (while being true to the intended shape of the piece), then drilled the angled hole through the wood. Keeping the piece steady while the hole was bored out was a bit more of a challenge due to the fact that it didn't fit in my usual jig for making these bottle holders. Once all the cuts had been made, though, I sanded the piece down to a P-320 grit (very fine), used a charged cheesecloth to suck up the dust stuck in the open pores, and applied 5 or 6 coats of clear lacquer to bring out the grain structure and to protect the wood.

Smile Moon Woodworks - Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder
Closeup of Gunstock Bottle Holder, showing woodgrain

I listed the bottle holder for sale this afternoon in my Etsy shop, then updated my google base data feed to include it so it can be found in the search engines. Hope you like it!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

UPDATES: Finger's healing, Theo's growing, and I listed some new Etsy Items!

The past few days have been busy, for sure. Thanks for checking in - here's what we've got:

New Etsy Items

Smile Moon Woodworks - Red Valentine Heart Tea Light Candle Holder
I've had an idea for making some tea light candle holders similar to the snowflake and holiday star candle holders I'd made in December, but my finger injury last weekend had put me out of commission for a while. I was itching to get out to my workshop on Friday, so I found a couple slabs of wood to experiment with. After finding a valentine graphic on the internet with pleasing proportions, I scaled it up to accommodate a tea light in its middle, then traced it onto my first piece of wood, a small piece of pine. Long story short, I liked the way it turned out well enough to finish it up with some bright red paint, and the result is what you see above.

Smile Moon Woodworks - Valentine Heart Tea Light Candle Holder in MahoganyI found a scrap of mahogany leftover from the snowflake and holiday candle holders, so repeated the process on it, yielding the three candle holders shown above and below:

Smile Moon Woodworks - Valentine Heart Tea Light Candle Holder in MahoganyI'm even more fond of the way these turned out. The woodgrain of the mahogany is so intricate (click on the above photo for a good view of the woodgrain), I figured it'd be a shame to paint them, so I finished these with several applications of danish tung oil, and polished them with a mixture of beeswax, carnauba wax and orange oil. If I do say so myself, I think I'm getting much better at wood finishing, a process which I'm slowly starting to de-mystify for myself.

The really neat thing about the mahogany candle holders in particular is that because I used a non-encapsulating finish on them, you won't have to worry about them getting wet in the long run. Why is that so cool? Because you can float them in the bathtub for some atmosphere during your romantic little rendezvous!

Theo Update

Theo sleeping on IndyIt's starting to look like Theo's not going to grow into a large dog at all. When Mrs SmileMoon had him checked out at the vet's office, she was told he'd be maybe around 40 pounds, which is pretty good because we were looking for a medium sized dog. Of course, that'd be downright minuscule if Theo was a full-blooded lab, but we're starting to think he's mostly terrier with lab added only for coloring and shaping. He'd be a bit large for a terrier too, so I guess he's a happy medium. He and Indy exhaust each other with their puppy shenanigans, and the photo above captured a rare daylight moment of rest.

My Finger's Getting Better

What - no picture?!! Keep dreaming, sicko. It's bad enough I have to look at it when I redress it. Actually, it seems to be healing rather nicely. There's very little opportunity for the wound to be transmitting any pain to my brain, except for when I bump it while driving (for whatever reason, that's the place most likely for that sort of thing to happen). Then I make up a whole bunch of new swear words I wish I could remember afterward. The dressing still looks huge to me, even in comparison to the injury. It just kinda calls attention to itself. [Yes, I know that's not unlike me just writing about it here.] With all the questions I've been getting about it, I've got my story down to about three sentences, and still manage to get that "Ewww!" face from everyone who asks. Hopefully by this time next week, it'll just be in a regular looking Band-Aid or something.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Doctor Says I Can Keep My Finger!

Well, I took a good look at my finger when I was at the good doctor's office yesterday. Both he and the nurse were giving me looks for the sheer stupidity of what I did to cause the injury, but I've been doing that to myself since it happened, anyway.

In short, it was a good clean injury, in that there was no contaminants in there to pull out. I remember bleeding like a stuck pig for many hours when it happened, so I don't see where anything could've stayed in there anyhow.

I was correct about the depth of the injury (a couple millimeters shy of the bone), which was good in that we won't have to worry about infection getting into the bone. Of course the downside is that I'm pretty much assured that I will not get full feeling back to that part of my finger. It won't be as nerve-wrackingly numb as it is now (anybody who's ever lost total feeling in a part of their body knows exactly how unsettling and hard to get used to that is), but there will be a nice little divot at the end of my finger to commemorate my stupidity.

While I'm in the process of healing, I'd like to thank all of you who've left your kind comments lately, and the many more of you who have just been sending me your good healing vibes. It's all been very helpful. As soon as this sawdust-absorbing gauze comes off, I'll be back in the workshop again. These projects aren't exactly completing themselves!!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Oh, boy. I've done it good this time."

Today, I'm put in mind of a classic Jerky Boys skit, in which our protagonist makes a prank call to a hospital emergency room to seek advice. Why? Because his hand is all "numb & sting-y" after the firecracker he was holding went off in his hand. Said firecracker being about the size of the cardboard tube in a roll of toilet paper. Once the emergency room staff has finally convinced our caller to get to the emergency room ASAP, he lets slip with the coup de grace before hanging up with: "honestly, I'm not even seeing any fingers here!"

It plays out pretty funny on the old tape I've got, but it sucked when I hurt my hand in the workshop this morning. And it wasn't quite as bad as all that, thank God, but I was pretty upset for how stupid and preventable it was. Suffice it to say that one should never attempt to clear out a suspected clog of shavings from the ejection port of a wood planer when it's under power. It was so similar to injuries you always hear about this time of year with snow blowers, that I kicked myself as soon as I had my wits about me for letting it happen at all. Stupid stupid stupid.

I won't put any photos of the injury here to protect the squeamish (namely, me) and the lovely and venerable Mrs SmileMoon was very kind and wiped down the work area after the event so I wouldn't have to deal with it, not to mention that she's the one who cleaned and dressed the injury for me in the first place. I know, I know, I'm a great big baby. [Our unspoken agreement is that I'll always take care of the barf in the house, and she takes care of all the blood. I would've wiped down my own, but she got to it before I could.]

This probably won't effect the day job very much, except that I may take a couple hours to consult with the good doctor regarding some sort of follow up. The blade definitely got to within a couple millimeters of the bone, so it looks like there'll be permanent nerve damage, but at least it's just the tip. In the long run, I've spent time with woodworkers with much worse to show for their workshop accidents.

Oh, and in case anyone was keeping track at home, it was indeed the same hand with the carpal tunnel syndrome. Aye carumba!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Creative Again!

Whew! It feels good just to get back in the saddle again, you know? I was out in the workshop last night (for the first time in a month) working on a custom project for an Etsy customer - actually it's another pill box like the pair I'd made back in the summer for a couple of other Etsy customers - and it felt so good to be back in my element, among the feel and smell of the wood, the noise of the tools, and the silence between steps in the process that I use to evaluate the piece in hand and determine the best next step to take... It's all very relaxing, yet exciting at the same time, and always makes me ask why I'd been away for so long when I DO get back out there.

Custom Pill Box by Smile Moon Woodworks
Custom Pill Box

Unfortunately, the answer to why I'd been gone for a month was that in my haste to meet demand for toy wooden swords at Christmastime last year, I may have made a new friend in something lovingly referred to in the medical profession as carpal tunnel syndrome. I can't tell if my work methods were the cause of the symptoms or if they simply exacerbated something else that would've shown up sooner or later anyway, but using a heavy power sander to round off small corners on the swords may have been the culprit. My symptoms at this point are tingling in my thumb and first two fingers, especially when using them to grip something like my razor or toothbrush, or a power tool.

The good doctor suggested I try taking 100mg of Vitamin B6 twice a day because that seems to help about half the cases in the research he's read. I can tell it's a little bit better, but it's still not up to 100%, that's for sure. I'm going to have to look into gel-cushioned work gloves to help take some of the vibrations from the sanders out of the process and see if that helps any. In the meantime, I'm resorting to hand-sanding as appropriate and using my other hand to handle the tools that vibrate. We'll see how that goes.

In any case, it's good to be in the workshop again! I've got some ideas for new products for my Etsy shop that I'd like to work on this weekend. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fun!! Pinewood Derby 2009!

This past weekend saw 3 out of 4 of my boys participating in the annual Cub Scout Pinewood Derby in our little town. Our youngest won't be eligible til next year, but he's looking forward to it, and hung out in the Smile Moon Workshop most of the time I was working with the older boys on their cars.

Now please understand that I can't get into the inner workings of building the perfect Pinewood Derby car here for you because A) it's a big secret, and B) I still haven't figured out how to build the perfect Pinewood Derby car - at least not for my own kids (more on that in a bit).

Pinewood Derby CarsFront to Back: "Crazy Car", "Cuttle Fish", "Speeding Block 2", and "De Plane De Plane"

As you can see, we had a variety of ideas to work on this year. Depending on the age of the boy and his ability and willingness to participate in the construction, there were varying degrees of proficiency on display.

Calvin, who's currently completing his last year as a Cub Scout, designed and built his car from his own idea with very little help from his old man. I walked him through all the procedures we've done side by side in the past and let him do them on his own this year. I give him a lot of credit for thinking on his own about the design of the car he wants every year. He's always won an award for Most Unique Design, and this year was no exception. "Cuttle Fish" took 4th place behind some very good cars and he was happy with the results.

Mason, who's in his second year of Scouting, gets more help from yours truly. However, the design, rough shaping, and finishing of the car are all his. I invited his Den Leader to the Smile Moon Workshop so he could work on his kids' cars, since he doesn't have much for woodworking equipment at home. I let him in on some of the procedures I use, and wouldn't you know it - his son took first place for his Den! Mason's "Crazy Car" got 4th place like his older brother's, but he was happy with it.

Jacob, my oldest boy, was involved in Scouting years ago, and still loves participating in the Pinewood Derby. Unfortunately, his idea of participation is showing up on race day and watching his car speed down the track without regard for the work that goes into making the car. As you can see, very little effort was made to design his car (even less so than last year's "Speeding Block" which, as you can tell by the name of it, also required very little effort), so I had him at least prepare the axles on his own to justify his participation. [He had to do something!!] "Speeding Block 2" took 2nd place in the first heat of the adults & siblings race, but failed to move beyond the second heat due to a wheel that fell off. Tough break, but he was still pretty happy with the early showing.

As for myself, I waited til everybody else's cars were in the box, then started on my own. The idea for a model of a woodworker's plane came to me slowly while working on the other cars. My first attempt was severely overweight, though (the rules limit a car's weight to 5 ounces, or 142 grams), so I had to substitute softwoods where I had hardwoods before and hollow out significant portions of the body of the car. I was well pleased with the way it turned out, even if it only claimed 8th place in the adults and siblings race.

Yes, my son's block of wood with Sharpie decorations on it beat my own way-cool car.

I'm over it. Almost.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When the 'Economic Downturn' Hits Home

The Hudson River, looking south toward the George Washington Bridge, and beyond, Manhattan

Up til this point, I thought the 'economic downturn' (as the optimists put it, and let's face it - at heart, I'm an optimist) would have little to no effect on me. I knew that ye ol' day job, which works in support of the automotive, aerospace, and petroleum exploration sectors, was definitely having some troubles this past year and that 2008 was a banner year as being the worst on record for us. But I was still a bit surprised when they announced that our hours were being scaled back til our sales start moving in the proper direction.

So, now I'm working 4 days a week at ye ol' day job, haven't had a sale out of my Etsy shop since December 30, and am faced with the distinct possibility that I may not be able to sell my best-selling wooden toy swords after February 10. Put that all together, and it pretty well stinks.

Well, this isn't meant to be a pity party. Even if it was, I'm too cheap to send out invitations anyway. However, there's a few things about this that are prodding me in a good direction:

1) I'm sending out job applications. It's the first time in a long time I've done this with any actual intent.

2) I plan to bulk up my Etsy shop on the days I've got off. That was one of the goals I'd set for myself for 2009 a month ago on this blog.

To be fair, we've been told that the hours scale-back is subject to review should we start seeing some sales come in the door, so I may be back to a full paycheck again before too long. Even still, it's high time I started looking at what's out there for alternative employment. I know I'm not the only one in this sinking boat, and I know there're a lot more folks than me in much worse shape (and I've had to collect unemployment benefits before, too), but I'm the only me I've got, so I've got to help myself by doing what I can!

Please wish me luck!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Welcome Home, Theo!

I teased about him last week in some of the Etsy forums, and he finally arrived yesterday on the puppy truck in from Mississippi. Introducing a very happy little black lab mix we've named Theo. His face and ears suggest that one of his parents was at least partially a Russell Terrier, so he may turn out quite a bit smaller than your average black lab.

He's a rescue dog who was found abandoned roadside at the tender age of about 6 weeks. He's about 19 weeks old now, according to vet estimates.

Last night was his first night sleeping here and he was the very model of a good pup, not whimpering even once in his crate. Mrs SmileMoon has been working on his training since he got in the door, too, so he's already getting a handle on his new name and seems to know how to sit on command already too. Yay!

We're still raising Indy, our Guiding Eye program pup, too. He's about 15 months old now, and being a very good big brother. We'll keep you posted on progress...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year 2009

So, here I am, sitting at the dining room table with a pair of cans on my ears (those'd be the precursor to those buds that come with your iPods), listening to a CD that iTunes doesn't seem to be able to identify the tracks on (since it's a mixed CD), and chuckling to myself because there's a preposition I'm ending this sentence with. Oh yeah - when you set the bar this low, there's no end to the good times.

We got a couple of snowstorms right around Christmas, and another couple inches the other day. Our Muscovie Duck, Ed, decided that instead of outrunning the snow, he'd literally lie low and see what happened. As you can see, the first inch or so sort of rolled off his back like so much (frozen) water.

Christmas celebrations were pretty low-key this year at the Smile Moon household. Mrs Smile Moon and I had agreed to limit our gifts to each other to just about nothing, preferring instead to make sure the kiddies had some fun stuff to open. Unfortunately, the agreement had been made AFTER I'd already bought a few things for her. I can only grin sheepishly in my defense, but she did get a really pretty little bracelet from an Etsy shop, a 'Best Of' collection from Plastic Bertrand (mostly because it was the only place I could find the lost track "Jacques Cousteau," which would otherwise have remained a lost track if it weren't for the fact that she remembered the song so fondly from her high school French labs), a few things to read (because that's the way she rolls), and a few choice stocking stuffers.

[Why do I always substitute Weird Al lyrics whenever I hear Michael Jackson singing "Beat It" ? It can't be helped, I swear! Oh, and I guess you can figure out at least one song on that mix CD, eh?]

Probably the best present we got was a Belgian Waffle maker from my uncle and aunt on Christmas Eve. It's already gotten a lot of usage in the couple weeks since. You can also see my Mighty Mug (featuring one of the famed Viking Kittens of Rathergood fame) in the photo above, another favorite Christmas gift from years past. Mrs Smile Moon might just contest the waffle maker being "the best" present, because she got a really sweet blender from a friend of ours too, which really does look like it'll do everything but sew my fingers back on.

We found ourselves with a much busier social calendar for the holidays this year, too. It was crazy - I think we ended up at no less than four holiday parties and open houses. The lamest by far was the New Year's Eve party we tried hosting at our house. Due to illnesses in our friends' families, it ended up being just us and a whole crapload of our kids' friends staying over. You'd think that'd be crazy enough, but it was tamer than I'd like to think could happen at our place - one group was over here shopping for boots online, another group over there checking out youtube videos, and there's Mrs Smile Moon with a few other kids working on a jigsaw puzzle. I'd show you a photo of the procedings, but you'd only find yourself waking up in an hour with an imprint of your keyboard on your forehead.

On a positive business note, I was good boy today and downloaded all my financial info from Etsy and Paypal for tax preparation purposes. [Yes, I was a good little doobie and registered my business when I started it back in March 2008.] I just need to start sorting through it all and try to make sense of it. I'm no accountant, but I should be able to figure out all my business stuff, but with my oldest one in college this year, that's going to throw a whole bunch of new things our way tax-wise, so I think I'm going to break down and let a professional have a stab at my return this year. Ugh - I'm not looking forward to it!

I AM looking forward to getting back out to the workshop, though. I stayed away for the duration of the Christmas break so we could function like a family unit and play some games (Pentago, Trouble , Laser Battle). I swear, though, there were some mornings last week when I woke up working out solutions to how I'm going to tackle some of my next projects! I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but at least I know I'll be able to hit the ground running when I get back out there!