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!