Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Waterproof Booth

Wow, the dry Summer show season sure went fast! It seems like I just got that canvas booth built, and I guess it's kind of true.

But, that booth did what I needed for this season - it let me earn the money that I didn't have last month to buy a bigger, drier booth.

And one of the shows was a big success, bringing income just in time for me to replace the booth before the rains come.

One thing I've found is that almost all shows allocate 10x10 booth spaces. The 8x8 fits within that, looking more full with less merchandise on display and gives me two feet of space behind the booth for storage. Nowadays, though, I don't need the booth to "look full". There's enough merchandise that it is full.

And then there are the racks... Those were a fantastic bargain. They had been loaned from one shop to another here in town. When that other shop closed down, the owner of the racks didn't want to have to store them again so she sold them to me cheap.

If I thought the van was full before, it is even more full with those three racks in there. Two of them pack down, but the third really doesn't. Those racks take up more space than the whole other booth because that booth breaks into flat pieces. It's good, though. The new booth can house the demo loom completely and display 50% more merchandise without looking cramped.

Between the new canopy and the new racks, it's a whole new booth, just in time for my next three back-to-back shows. We could get rain at any of these shows, so I couldn't have waited another week to get the weatherproof booth. Whew!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Overall Cloth Pattern

For this next batch of cloth, I've decided to expand my comfort zone again. I've gotten into a rhythm with my bookmatched cloth that's dark in the center and light at the edges. That design is beautiful, but I want to try something new.

This next batch of cloth will be dark in the center and at the edges, fading through light and back to dark as it travels toward the edges.

There are a few major challenges with this:

1. I've never wound the edges, which require less tension, before winding the sections next to them. I'm just praying it works out OK.
2. The gradations need to happen twice as fast. I'm going to do my best to keep them from looking too abrupt and "stripey".
3. I need to make sure the bookmatching is correct.

This last part kind of scrambled my brain for a while, until I found a way to describe the direction that each section lies and make sure the sections all lie correctly.

I created a system a couple of beams back that helps make sure my bookmatching is right, that the sewing is easy, and that the bookmatched pattern is eye-catching as a design element. I put one obviously different thread near, but not on one of the edges. In this case, it's the reddish thread.

Going from there, my coding is pretty easy. I draw an arrow pointing at the edge with the red thread. Every other section coming from the center should have the red thread on the right.

I want an even number of sections on each side so that my bookmatched sections appear in pairs. This means that I wound an "extra" set of sections in the center of the beam, leaving 14 sections, 7 pairs, on each side.

I used my coding system to follow the direction that each section should point, ultimately verifying my mental calculation: the outside section should have the red thread pointing toward the selvedge.

With that puzzle behind me, I'm ready to start tomorrow by tackling the next problem: changing threads to give a smooth but rapid gradient.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Great Start On Welsh Conversation

A while back I wrote about how I was inspired to learn Welsh and set a reasonable goal for myself: 10 new words a day.

It's been going well. I do study vocabulary for 30-45 minutes every night before going to bed, using a spaced repetition system to ensure that the words are actually memorized and not just skimming the surface of my brain.

The reason I am learning a new language is to have conversations. Drilling vocabulary doesn't do much to move me toward that goal. Yes, the vocabulary will be fantastic to know when I understand how the language works, but it doesn't actually help me much in learning the stuff that will lead to conversation skills.

So I went searching the web for another way to learn that would help me with hearing and speaking. I found a site called Unbelievably, it's free to download mp3 files of every lesson. I've put them all on my iPod so I can study while I walk.

This course takes a totally different approach than others I've seen. They start out with very little vocabulary, just enough to teach the workings of the language itself. And then, I am required to practice using the language. A lot. Each lesson teaches a new aspect of the language using the very few words that I know. It requires me to speak out loud to practice creating dozens of useful sentences. This ensures that I know how to apply each concept before moving on to the next one.

So far, I've covered:
- speaking about my actions (I am doing)
- talking about ideas (I like, I want, I can, I try)
- verb combinations (I like trying, I want to try)
- speaking about another's actions (you are doing, you want to like doing)
- asking a question (are you doing?, do you like doing?)
- answering a question, positive and negative (Yes, I am doing, No, I am not doing)
- some helper words and how to use them (how, what, something, nothing, it)
- simple future tense (I will do, you will do)
- simple past tense (I have done, you have done)
- mutations, specific to Welsh, but very important to listening. Some words are pronounced differently after other words.
- just about every combination of these ideas (will you try liking to speak?, I have enjoyed trying to do, etc.)

And I've learned all of this in spare time over about five days. Every time a new concept or vocabulary word is covered, I am drilled on ways to combine it with the ideas I've already learned. It reinforces the old ideas while teaching the new ones, just like using spaced repetition for vocabulary.

There is one big trick to using this course, and it's the pause button. The way it's structured, they describe a new concept and then help you to understand it by asking you to create new sentences in Welsh. They say a phrase in English and give you time to say it in Welsh before you hear it spoken correctly by two different speakers.

I learn very slowly through listening, so when I tried to create and say the phrase in the time they allow, I felt like I was running a marathon. At the end of 15 minutes, my brain hurt and I just wanted to give up. And then I discovered that I could pause the recording and give myself time to think. Now, a 30 minute lesson takes an hour or more while I walk in the woods. I do that same lesson two or three times before moving on to the next. And each time, I use the pause button less and move on when I grasp it "well enough." I know the new ideas will be reinforced during the next lesson.

This course is changing the way I think of Welsh and building my confidence in my ability to learn it at all. It really looks to be the missing key to becoming conversational very quickly and giving me the framework that will make my vocabulary useful.

If you're learning a new language, I highly recommend a system that teaches speaking and concepts first with vocabulary later. It works!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Slowing Down

This past week my community brought me an experience that's beginning to restore my faith in community.

First, some background... When I discovered the spiritual community that I have called mine for the last eighteen years, there was one feature that caused me to recognize it as the one I wanted. It is a primary tenet which states that each person has a unique life experience and a unique perspective as a result. Nobody can speak for another. Instead, we need to communicate directly, listen to the experiences of others and work together to create a situation that works for all. And far from being just an idea, this was the foundation of the community's structure and everything that happened within it.

The application of this tenet has shifted over the years, apparently without the older members of the community noticing. Sure, lip service is still paid to the concept, but it is not being practiced in everyday life any more.

Instead, the group has succumbed to the same processes that rule the ordinary corporate world. Deceit and political alliances hold the majority of the power. Honesty and openness are punished with one-sided scrutiny, crushing those who jeopardize the power structure and threaten to flatten it.

By failing to recognize that the organization had lost its soul, I continued to operate from a place of trust and openness, rapidly becoming the primary focus of the new kids on a quest for power. I still haven't heard most of the horrible things attributed to me in a two-year secret campaign, but the few that I have heard are unfathomable to anyone who knows me. (Not surprisingly, these stories quite closely predict the actions of the storytellers.) The whole situation has caused me deep pain, ultimately resulting in my decision to leave that community and start over with a few trusted friends and create a new community.

But the pain and distrust have crept far into my soul. It's difficult to see a community that had earned so much of my trust and informed so much of my world view transformed into something so completely the opposite of its foundation.

Still, I have held faith that this new community could embrace the "old" ways and apply them to building a healthy, functional organization. This week, my faith began to be restored.

If you read my blog regularly, you will have no doubt noticed that I work HARD. This ethic is backed up by a sense of responsibility to my community. We are starting over from scratch without the event-based income stream of our previous organization. We also live in the poorest town in one of the poorest counties west of the Mississippi. Work is scarce. Winter is coming. My weaving business has seemed like the best option that we have for an income to sustain us this Winter.

And so, for the good of the group more than myself, I work long hours to crack the puzzle of earning a consistent income from weaving.

The amount of work that I do and the level of responsibility that I take for the success of our new community has been taking a toll on the group. Others are spending time together and strengthening their relationships while I work and work and work. And when I'm not working, my mind is churning on the next days' work. My todo list always has at least fifty "past due" items that won't be done that day.

And this week, the group reached a breaking point. It has become too much.

So they called a meeting to discuss it. It was difficult to hear how my behavior has been affecting them. It was difficult to accept that I need to shift my priorities and change my behavior. And it was difficult to dig into the depths of my life experience and find out why I react this way to an unstable situation. But we did it, together.

I got to hear exactly what behaviors were causing difficulties for others. I got to hear what the group wanted from me. I got to integrate this new information and tell them what I was willing to give. And we got to craft some agreements together that will help us to resolve the situation and move forward.

This is all I've been asking for. I have a lot of personal growth to do. Everyone does. After a few years of painful experience, this new community has come together to support each other with the openness and honesty that will help us to each become the best person that we can be.

And what is the solution to the difficulties? I need to prioritize my relationships as highly as my work. I have set a goal to work four hours a day and spend more time with my friends. We'll be getting to know each other better by hanging out and sharing our hearts to find the common ground that will become the foundation of our new community.

And, in return, others will spend some time traveling to earn an income to help us make it through our first Winter together. We'll be making concessions together to ensure the success of the group instead of letting anyone take the lion's share of work and income-earning potential.

By working together, we've found a solution that meets the needs of all.
This is exactly the type of honest interaction that I've craved over the last few years. I'm sorry that my behavior has caused difficulties for others, but ecstatic that the trust I place in my community is proving to be a wise investment. I can't wait for easier times when we're less focused on survival and more focused on creativity.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Need To Move A Loom From North Carolina

I have a strange challenge in my life at the moment. There is a 60" AVL production dobby loom waiting for me in North Carolina. I need to move it to Oregon in the cheapest and easiest way possible.

Here's my current plan:
- Take Greyhound to Greensboro (3 days)
- Rent a UHaul, buy packing materials and drive to the small town where the loom is
- Break it down and pack it up, ready to ship (1 day)
- Drop off the packages at Greyhound, return the UHaul
- Pay for Package Express service for 500 lbs of loom parts
- Get onto the same bus as the packages and come with them across the country (another 3 days)

So, that's the best I can come up with - 7 days and $1,000. I'll be leaving the third week of October if I can't come up with a better idea.

I've looked at renting trucks, $3,000 with gas. PODS, $2,500. I've got an ad on Craigslist in Asheville, and a website called Coffee and Power. I contacted a friend who was teaching at Penland at the time. I've put the word out to all of my friends on Facebook, but still have no better idea of how I could move that loom with less time investment, less money, or both, while still maintaining some level of security in its delivery.

Do you have any ideas? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Know of someone with a covered truck or van who's driving out to the northwest anyhow? I'll give them the $1,000 to pay for their time and gas and meet them anywhere between San Francisco and Seattle. Got any other ideas?

Why do I need another loom?

Well, it's a complicated answer. I don't really. I NEED another beam and warping station so that I can reduce the downtime between beams. In the newly forming collective, there are others who can help with weaving once I get the beam ready, the wefts chosen, and the garment order decided. They cannot help with the actual winding or tying on... yet.

Since it takes me 7-9 days for this part of the process, that's a bunch of time that they are looking for something to do. If I could wind and tie on while the previous beam was being woven, it would save a TON of time. The cost of buying a beam and building a warping station was less than this loom, even with the transportation costs included.

With a full second loom, I could even weave garments in the new color. Right now, for instance, there's a time crunch in the studio because we're running low on blue cloth and need to finish the green and prepare the loom for the blue batch before we can have any. The end result is that there will be no blue ruanas for the next 3 shows. If, however, there was a second loom, it would pay for itself by the end of October in the blue cloth alone.

It's too late for this time crunch, but if I can get it here, it will prevent time crunches like this in the future.

In the worst case, I'll do the Greyhound trip with my battery and inverter so I can get caught up on bookkeeping during my 6 days sitting on a bus. And, If I spend my time studying Welsh vocabulary, I should be pretty good by the time I get back!

Friday, September 16, 2011


The success of last weekend's show created a big todo list for me. This is good.

This week, I researched a number of shows and applied to three of them. I'm moving up to the next level of shows that require early applications and higher fees. They also require things like CDs (!?) or printed photographs of my work and process.

One show has a strange footprint (4'x8') so I pulled out some indoor display racks to see how I would use that space and attract customers from across a crowded ballroom.

And I was able to focus on that stuff because there is a team of us to spread the production around. Wispr began teaching Arcana to weave on the production loom last weekend. And this week, Arcana learned to warp and thread the demo loom. He made one simple mistake and left one section taped to the beam.

To fix it, we had to move six sections over to make room for the missing section. It was easy for two of us. I handed threads to Arcana, who rethreaded them 20 heddles over. Then he threaded the missing section while I finished sleying the other edge of the beam. And during this, Harlan and Jaime kept us company and Audrey took pictures. The only one missing was Wispr, who rested at home while waiting for the ibuprofen to take away his muscle aches.

That's teamwork! Thanks, y'all!

Unfortunately, we're so crunched for time that we had to work until 9:00 last night to get that loom sleyed, tied on and the threading checked. But, the work goes faster and easier with friends. This morning we're packing the van and heading off to Sisters, Oregon. The weather calls for light snow on Sunday. Let's hope it doesn't stop the customers from coming out!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great Show, Still Shuffling Pennies

The Bandon Cranberry Festival turned out to be a great show. The organizers, for reasons known only to themselves, gave this first-time vendor the best booth in the show.

I did not complain. My booth was the first thing people saw when they arrived and was available on three sides for customer browsing.

The first day was slow. I thought that this would be another "limping home" show, the third in a row, but that's not what happened. On Sunday I opened the booth early to catch people on their way to church. I made as many sales before the show opened as I had all day Saturday.

Then came the "I'll think about it" folks. I know that my price point keeps my work from being an impulse purchase for most folks. Most people who take a card and want to come back later won't actually be back this year, but some do. On Sunday, I had a number of people from Saturday come back to make their purchases.

And then there were the "after closing" sales. People showed up late to the show, ready to spend money and disappointed that most vendors were torn down already. I had such good luck with sales in the morning that I dragged my heels tearing down. I removed walls and folded up towels and scarves before leisurely packing up the expensive stuff. And it paid off. I had one more cloak sale after the booth was 3/4 packed up.

Altogether, this was a great show. And just in time too.

I arrived home to find that the other members of the collective have found a great place for us to live. It's a large, beautiful house in a secluded area with a huge space that has previously been used as a weaving studio. I'm not excited about the prospect of moving the studio again, but if it helps pay for rent on a home where we can all live, it sounds good to me.

We will need to come up with rent and security deposit on this place. This weekend helped with that.

And then there's the van. The drive home was harrowing, to put it mildly. I never passed 50 MPH except when coasting downhill to cool down the engine. I needed to accelerate slowly to keep from backfiring and choking the engine, and spent a lot of time pulling over so others could pass me on the long and winding highway 42.

Then, on the home stretch, it died. This was at the top of a hill on I-5, about two miles from home. The oil light came on and the engine cut out. I managed to coast to my exit, off the ramp, through town, and come to a stop in front of my studio. The added weight of the booth and inventory gave me the momentum to do this. It's usually not possible.

I put in another quart of oil, let it cool down, and was eventually able to drive the 1/2 mile home.

The next morning, I unpacked the van completely in case I don't have it in time for the show next weekend. I asked my friends in the area for mechanic recommendations, and headed off to Grants Pass, fully expecting that I'd be calling AAA to get me there.

To my surprise, the van drove all the way there on its own. The first mechanic was too busy and told me so, but the second one had time to make my van a priority.

I've never had a mechanic like this before. I told him what was wrong and agreed to a tune-up and oil change while he got a better idea what really went wrong. While I enjoyed some relaxing time by the Rogue River, he started the tune-up and tested everything that might be causing my problems. Finally, at the end of the day, he knew what was wrong and what it would cost to fix it. He walked me through it all with a flashlight before I signed off on the quote.

It's nothing major: loose wires, corroded terminals, clogged injectors, sloppy belts, worn out brake pads, etc. He'll have it fixed up good as new today. And it's not even that expensive. I was pretty lucky.

But it's not free. I'm glad that I finally had a good show so I can pay for this kind of stuff instead of biting my fingernails and praying that I make it to the next show.

Things are tight, but they're moving. It looks like we're gonna make it!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Off To Bandon

Well, it's shaping up to be another strange weekend in my chosen career. When the radiator hose blew on the way to Jacksonville, the mechanic said that bursting a radiator and then a hose is often an indicator that something bigger is wrong and causing the engine to overheat and tax the cooling system.

Well, the van ran weird after the hose blew. It limped home without much power, and I thought maybe water got in somewhere and just needed to dry out. Well, a week later it's no better. There was no money or time to fix it this week before coming to Bandon, so I decided to leave super early (while it's still cold outside) and stop often to let the engine cool down. And so I did. I drove carefully and made sure that I got to within 100 miles of Bandon before stopping, since that's how far AAA will tow if I needed them to.

My morning break brought me to the Bear Creek Park on Highway 42.

This park is beautiful! I'm a big fan of old bridges, mostly because of the honesty in their construction. You can see exactly how they're built and what they're made of. The wooden bridge above is quite a bit of engineering to let people walk across a creek that's obviously dangerous in the rainy season.

While at the park, I added a quart of oil, some fuel injector cleaner, and let the van cool for an hour before I continued the rest of the way to Bandon.

I arrived in Bandon at around noon. The first thing I noticed is that it's COLD! This is perfect after last weekend. I threw on a ruana and walked around Old Town looking at the shops and galleries. One of the local gallery owners looked at me and said "Well, you know how to dress for Bandon!" before walking into her shop. I have to say that a thick cotton cloak is exactly the right covering in weather like this.

I also noticed that the culture here is based on the wind. There are wind socks and wind chimes everywhere. Again, this is great if one is trying to sell cloaks and shawls. Tourists, including myself, seem to be a little surprised by the cold and ready for another layer.

I also notice that this festival seems to be a big deal here. There are flyers everywhere, the paper had a special insert dedicated to the festival, and many of the locals are talking it up. They say that thousands of people come into town this weekend just for the festival. "We're just out shopping while our husbands golf," was one quote I heard on the street. Sounds good to me.

Cloak weather, check!
Beautiful location, check!
Well-publicized event, check!
Tourists with spending capacity, check!

All indicators seem to point toward a great show. I've got my fingers crossed that I can fix the van, pay rent, buy more yarn, and still have money left over to start paying for wintertime expenses.

Booth Roof Extension

Last weekend I saw something that was new to me. People had detachable roof overhangs for their booths. When the sun was shining straight into my booth, I got out a yardstick and checked the effect of adding an extension. 4' of roof would stop the sun from shining on 50% of the booth floor, from which the heat rises into the booth.

And so I built one. It's pretty simple, really. I used cable ties to attach 1x2s to the existing roof joists, cut a piece of canvas to fit, and sewed on some grosgrain to tie it up with.

To keep the overlap in place in the wind, I'll use safety pins to hold the two layers together. Good enough for now!

The zip tie attachment method isn't the prettiest, but it's simple, flexible, and stable.

After I took these photos I painted the wood to match.

Now I'm off to try it out at the Bandon Cranberry Festival. If you're in the area, come on out to this beautiful little town on the coast!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Treadled Bobbin Winder

In the last few weeks, I've begun developing some pain in my shoulder, deep inside the joint.

I've found that it's not actually exacerbated by weaving. It's the bobbin winding that's doing it. I'm committed to finding ways to do all of my work without electricity. (Yes, I'm looking for a non-electric version of the Silver Needles cone winder. Got any ideas?)

Yesterday I kludged up a way to wind bobbins without using my shoulder. I just happen to have an Ashford Joy spinning wheel from the days, not that long ago, when I thought I wanted to do it all.

The nice thing about using the Joy for this purpose is that it is able to have its ratio changed easily by using a series of graduated tracks in the wheel and the drive pulley. Perfect! I put the drive band from the wheel in one track and the drive band to the bobbin winder in another...

This works really well, getting my right arm out of the process entirely to let that joint heal from whatever's ailing it.

And finally, if you've never seen how I take seven 24/2 threads and turn them into one fat multicolored weft that doesn't unply in the flyshuttle, here's how it works. The threads wrap around each other on their way to that hook in the ceiling, becoming plied enough to stay together.

...and those papers on the wall let me see the shows that I missed in 2011 and the shows I'm considering for 2012. I'm a visual decision-maker, if that hasn't become clear by now.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Scarf Giveaway!

Web marketing can be a tricky, multi-headed beast. One of my goals with it is to meet new friends and allies in the world. A big part of my mission is to spread the word about what it takes to build craft-based communities and offer assistance and encouragement to others who want to do it themselves. That's why I write a blog and cross-post it to my personal website, Facebook, and Twitter.

After almost three years of blogging, I think that most of my friends and much of the weaving world know what I'm up to. If they're interested, they're following the story.

To spread my story just a little further, I've decided to test a new service called Hooplasoft Giveaway. It's a Facebook app that encourages people to "Like" your fan page by entering them into a sweepstakes to win free stuff from you. It's integrated with Stumbler, a part of the StumbleUpon world that was an important part of my Internet relaxation regimen when I had a tech job. That should help the sweepstakes to find its way in the path of people who are interested in things like handweaving and community. (Based on keywords in the sweepstakes text.)

If you'd like to help promote my Facebook fan page by joining the sweepstakes and sharing the page with your friends, click HERE. And, as a bonus, if someone you refer wins the contest, you'll both receive a scarf!

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What I'm Learning About Shows

Creating a compelling line of merchandise and finding a consistent market for it is way more difficult than I had understood. This last weekend really drove home for me that bigger, more established shows need to be my next destination. Little shows, even ones that have been good in the past, can be volatile. If the organizer decides not to advertise one year, then poof! No customers. (That's the word on the street about what happened last weekend.)

I got some great tips on better shows and spent the day yesterday following up on them. One great tip is to look at the event schedules of vendors who do work of a similar quality. I researched the shows of a jeweler and a potter who I know to make thousands of dollars at every show. They've been doing it for years and weeded out the shows that don't bring income.

It turns out that there are features the good shows have in common that will let me pick them out of the crowd:

1. The application deadline is 4-6 months before the show.
2. They publicize their jury requirements.
3. The fees are triple what I'm paying for little shows.
4. They are further away from here and nearer to cities.
5. They require that I carry liability insurance.

So I'm back to the old adage, "you've got to spend money to make money."

I'm creating a battle plan as we speak. I've got to separate shows into tiers based on my new knowledge and use money from the next shows to pay fees for later shows. I think that I'll be able to get my show schedule up to the next tier by the middle of next year if I play my cards just right.

In the meantime, I've still got to keep the production up so that I have the merchandise to sell when I get to the shows. To the loom!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Another Day Of Low Sales

Vendors who've been coming to this show for years tell me that this year is unusual. There are very few customers.

They are guessing that it has something to do with the weather. It's HOT! Someone said their booth thermometer read 97 degrees at about 3:00.

Other people say that there must be another, more compelling, event in the area, but there's no guess as to what it might be. Maybe it's the recent stock market turmoil that has (previously) wealthy people hiding under rocks.

Whatever it is, the artists are suffering here in Jacksonville.

I had one sale yesterday that brought us to break-even and reinforced my belief that I know what I'm doing.

Remember how before the show I was working ridiculous hours to have one batch of green cloth for this show? There was no time to weave and sew green ruanas, so I settled for shawls rather than nothing.

Well, someone loved the green so much that they've ordered and prepaid for a green ruana to be shipped out mid-week. Yeah! My stuff is priced high enough that I don't need many sales to make money.

I got some good feeling and useful feedback on my quality and prices, too. A vendor who's been doing the shows for decades came by and was very frank in his critique. As a New Yorker, I find that refreshing. He said, "You're way below your league here. Your booth is beautiful and your stuff is such high quality that you need to be at 'XYZ' shows next year."

Yeah, he's recommending shows in other states, Arizona, New Mexico, etc. But, if that's where the customers for my work are, I'll give them a try.

But I'm not there now. I'm here and I'm gonna do my best to sell what I have to the customers that are here.

People say Sunday is always the best day for this show.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friday Was Dress Rehearsal

What a strange day yesterday was. We got up, checked in and double checked with the show organizer. Yes, the booth should face toward the building. That's where people would be entering our part of the show.

Well, people are funny. The show layout changed and people now prefer to walk a different route. Vendors with popups (everyone but me) can just open the other side. And so they did. Within a couple of hours I was the only one with a booth facing backwards.

I hung garments on the back of the booth and did a "little dance" to get customers trying on garments and coming into the booth. There weren't many customers anyhow, and all the vendors I talked to agreed: nobody was buying on Friday.

In the middle of the afternoon we were able to rotate the booth 90 degrees and make the "front" more visible, but the last 90 degrees would have to wait until the end of the day since it would require removing all of the booth hardware, grids and such.

It was just as well that there were no customers. In the middle of the afternoon my portable broadband internet died. It turns out to have been a service outage, and took until 9:30PM before it was restored. That would have meant no credit card processing for five hours of show. Not good. I think I need to bite the bullet and buy a real card swiper. Grrrr. More startup cost.

The good news on that front is that I do pay for credit card service already so that won't be a new expense.

Other good news is that I had time to go make friends with other vendors and get some tips on other shows to do. Many of these people have been around the block and have narrowed in on the consistently profitable shows. And since I'm not competition to them, they're happy to help me figure out what shows to do next year. As one of them told me yesterday, "there's a lot to learn."

I'm really glad that we got to learn so much yesterday and not worry about missing sales.

Friday, September 2, 2011

In Jacksonville, Ready To Start!

Wow, this is a cute town!

Many of these buildings were built in the 1850's and have been perfectly maintained. There are gaslights on the street corners (many, but not all of them converted to electric) and tons of beautiful details.

There are wooden steeples, picket fences, and lots of pretty signage. Here are a few pics...

And, lest I forget... The trip here was not as pretty. We saved $100 by packing a cooler with homemade food, and spent it replacing a burst radiator hose. It dramatically sprayed water onto the hot engine, billowing steam and forcing me off the highway. Luckily, the service station was right there and fixed it in about an hour. Yeah, I could possibly have fixed it myself, except that nobody in town had the hose. They had to have it brought in from the nearest city. Still, they had it fixed in about an hour. Awesome!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why and How I'm Studying Welsh

First, let me explain that I'm posting a piece like this as the result of pre-show insomnia. I work so hard and make so many decisions to get ready for a show that my brain just won't shut off to let me get any real sleep on the last night before I leave.

Then, let me say that I know this "learning a new language" thing sounds crazy, especially given how ridiculously busy I am right now. But it's really a strange form of vacation for me. I love to learn, and few things are more challenging than a new language.

Why Welsh? Well, the family name on my father's side is Pembroke. My grandfather's story is that his relatives were Dutch, and that it's a bastardization of Pijumbroka or something like that. It just doesn't make sense to me, especially given that Pembroke is a well-known Welsh name. It seems more likely that one of my ancestors lived in or passed through the Netherlands and had their English name localized before moving on to the New World. I look almost exactly like my dad, who resembled his dad. And we all look like Welsh men.

In my spiritual studies, I come across Welsh in a lot of liturgy. There are few in the US who can even pronounce the words, much less understand what they mean. I've been wanting to learn it for years.

And, I'll admit that my impetus to learn it right now is somewhat impulsive. I follow a blog called "Get Rich Slowly" and this week they posted a guest article:

How to Learn a Foreign Language Without Spending a Cent

A few things struck me about this. One was the optimism. You mean I could really learn Welsh in my spare time without spending a ton of money? I'll try it!

In a few months I'll have time to try out some of his suggestions for finding people with whom to practice, but for now I'm focused on three major aspects of this language: recognizing and replicating the sounds that make up the language, learning how those sounds are reflected in writing, and learning vocabulary.

I'm not obsessive about making sure that I spend no money whatsoever on this project, but I do want to keep the cost to a minimum. To learn the strange sounds of Welsh, I decided to spring for an iPhone app: Cwrs Mynediad.

It is intended to serve as a companion to classes based on a book by the same name. I decided to buy it because of its features in drilling the sounds on the language. In the sound-based exercises you can record yourself and compare your pronunciation to a recording of the instructor's voice. And, of course, the program covers way more than that.

In order to become comfortable with the sounds and cadence of the language, I've begun listening to a BBC radio station called Radio Cymru. Again, I use an iPhone app called TuneIn Radio. It lets me stream Welsh to my iPod while I work. After a week or so, it doesn't sound like high-speed craziness anymore. I can now understand all of the sounds that I'm hearing, even if the words mean nothing to me yet.

And, in order to learn the vocabulary that I'll need when I get to that point, I'm learning 10 new words a day using a web-based program called Anki. In order to keep it free, there's some funky setup required. First, I needed to download the desktop application for my Mac. Then, I could access the flashcard decks available to download for free. I chose the one with the largest number of words and phrases, over 2,000. Thankfully, this deck was designed for an absolute beginner.

Then, I synced the program with the web-based program and made a bookmark on my iPod for that web page. Voilá! 10 new words a day.

Anki uses a well-known system of spaced repetition to make sure the words you learn today don't drop out of your brain tomorrow. When presented with a card, you think of the answer. If you're wrong, you put the card back on the deck for immediate review. If you're right, you have three options to tell the system how you're learning. You mark a card as hard, moderate, or easy. This puts the card away and tells the system how soon you need to see it again. You'll review hard cards within a day or two to reinforce them in your memory. Moderate and easy cards will be tested at successively longer intervals.

This is the system used by most language programs because it works. And, as you build the pathways in your brain to store the new information, it sticks easier.

I've hit and overcome the first set of hurdles in vocabulary acquisition: false security. I thought I was learning really fast until my second review of the first words I learned. By then, I'd learned many more words and realized that the first ones weren't really learned at all. I had stored them as multiple choice responses because there were few enough options in my mind that I could do that. Soon, that didn't work and I had to really learn the words.

Every day now, I'm learning 10 new words and reviewing 35-60 old words. It takes about half an hour after dinner. Believe it or not, I'll have a vocabulary of over 2,000 words by March.

One thing about spaced repetition, though... You can't cheat. If I skip a day, I'll have many more cards to review the next day. It's based on how the brain actually learns, so "taking a break" doesn't really happen.

I'm excited by the prospect of finding a Welsh-speaking Skype buddy in a little while so I can really get going with conversation in my new language.