Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much, but blogging is trippy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Quick Tuesday night post

Again, this is not going to be a real part of the trip report. This is just a prologue -- a preview -- a sneak peek.

1. I am exhausted. My feet hate me forever. That show is much bigger than it was last year, and I could *swear* there are more people there, too.

2. The coolest thing I saw was cake decorating stuff. Yes, it's in the scrapbooking section, and well it should be, even though no one was paying any attention to the booth. It's smooth like marzipan, or you can squeeze it out of a syringe to make lace. That's cool enough. But if you make sheets of it (like marzipan or... *paper*), you can use your ordinary papercrafting tools on it. I watched the demonstrator push sheets of it through a Fiskars crimper. She cuts it with punches and makes flowers. And it takes an impression, so you can stamp on it.

This stuff was cool, and nobody even contemplated the possibilities. Just consider. You make your child's birthday cake match the invitations which match the scrapbook page. And... it REALLY matches, because you used the same tools that you used to make the paper things.

SugarVeil Confectioners Products -- They were a late addition to the show, I think, because I can't find the booth number in the show guide.

*Very* cool stuff. I can't believe she wasn't getting any interest in her stuff!!!

Now I'm off to the Tropicana with my sister -- tradition!

Post Script: I didn't make it to the Trop. We stopped by Lane Bryant so I could use my gift cards and buy that little camisole that has been calling my name for weeks. There must have been 20 people in there, and it took an hour to get out of the store. By that time, I was too tired to go alllllllll the way to the Strip walk around the Titanic exhibit. We stopped at Pop's Philly Cheesesteaks, got sandwichs, and came home to watch the American Idol auditions.

A Veddy Good Monday

This is not a proper chapter of my trip report. I'm exhausted, and as I suspected, time is at an all-time premium now that the trade show has officially opened. I'm keeping notes and have started writing the report for Monday, but it is in no way ready for posting.

Besides, if you're reading my reports in the hopes that I'll have thorough descriptions of the products offered at CHA this year, you'll be greatly disappointed. I get paid to write about that kind of stuff. And to be honest, it's more interesting to me to tell you about my day, my experiences, the stupid things I did, the idiocies in which I indulged, and the things that made me laugh, cry, or both. I can go on for paragraphs about the blister in the *middle* of the bottom of my foot. I can't summon up more than a few syllables about the products on the shelves at the trade show.

At least not yet. Today was an orientation day for me -- finding the press room, dealing with the mountains of press kits, talking to strangers, and finding the big booths just so I can keep a sort of mental map in my head in order to find the more interesting *little* booths -- that sort of thing.

And today held some really important business -- finding old friends, hugging dear friends, laughing with good friends, and having another fabulous Fat Burger milkshake.

Tomorrow, armed with the knowledge I built up today, perhaps I'll have a volume of product reports. But in the meantime, you should probably simply visit ScrapTalk's Scrap Scoop. Deb always has the best and most thorough photo essay on the new goods at every major trade show.

Now I think I'll go get a full night's sleep -- thank heaven.

P.S. -- Isn't it odd the way the comments stop appearing as soon as all the scrappers descend on Sin City?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Day 4 Las Vegas - Ups & Downs

I didn't break anything Sunday, although at times I wanted to. Today's post will be very brief (I hope), unless I get carried away describing something. However, I'm a smidge depressed this morning, so I sort of think I won't be gushing much.

We slept in -- until at least 9:00 -- and I spent most of the morning trying to get Saturday's report written. Then we all got dressed and went out to celebrate the Chinese new year by dining at Amy and Paul's favorite nearby Chinese buffet. It was yummy, and far less expensive than the buffets at the casinos!

The best part of that excursion was that when Amy pulled into a parking spot in front of the restaurant, a man in a truck whipped around and pulled in near her, yelling, "Miss? MISS! Just a moment, miss!!!!!" Tee hee. He wanted to know about the Solstice. (This is the car that I cannot help but refer to as a whore-red slutmobile. Men *love* that car, and everywhere we go, people stare and point and hit their companions to check out that new Pontiac.) Amy, who understands car enthusiasts, stopped and talked with him and even let him sit in the driver's seat to see if it would "fit" him. He loved it. He asked about disadvantages, and I said, "You can't put a front license plate on it without spoiling the looks of it." That's when we found out he was a cop. Oops!

After lunch, Paul went to see PDQ Bach in concert at UNLV. Dang!!!!! I adore PDQ Bach. I think anyone who spent any time in a college chorus adores the stuff. Peter Schikele played with the UNLV orchestra. Dang again!!!!

Amy and I went shopping for a bit there at the mini mall, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Then we headed for the airport, where I got a rental car (Thrifty!) and was upgraded from an economy to a mid-size. Woo hoo!

After that, we went directly to Passenger Pick-up and went to baggage claim to find Erikia Ghumm. I adore Erikia. I love her art, her talent, her brain, her personality, and she's just darned tiny and gorgeous to boot. Wait a second -- maybe I hate her after all! But she is a doll, just the most warm and gracious and wonderful person, and I was *so* looking forward to seeing her again. I called her cell phone as Amy and I walked into the airport, and she answered and let us know where to find her. Within seconds, we were hugging, chatting, laughing, and snatching her suitcases off the belt.

Back at the cars, Erikia now had her pick of vehicles. Amy decided since it was such a gorgeous day to put the top down on her car, and Erikia got to ride with my sister to the Hilton. I got Erikia's suitcases in my gigantic rental car, and we made our way down to Las Vegas Boulevard (a.k.a., "The Strip") and then over to the Hilton.

This is about the time that things turned unpleasant. I don't really want to dwell on it, so let me zip through it quickly. We dropped off Erikia at the front door with her bags. We parked. Security guard had fits over Amy's car. I couldn't find the magazines that I had just put in my trunk with my binder of clips. (The Top 50 issue with my contributor's photo and the March issue with the Hometown article.) We went into the hotel, hoping to find Erikia or call her. She was still at check-in. When she left the counter, I snagged her to ask if the bellhop had perhaps snagged my mags. She said there was some difficulty with the delivery of her bags. We went to rescue her luggage from bell services because they weren't going to bring them to her room 'til late at night or even perhaps Monday. (!!!!!)

Really great thing in the midst of chaos: Erikia took me over to Melissa Inman, who asked, "Are you Bay?" I met Melissa Inman, editor-in-chief of Scrapbooks Etc.!!!!!!! But wait! There's more -- she had a brand new, fresh copy of the March issue with my essay!!!!!! She let me look at it!!!!!! The women with her said they liked my story!!!!!

We did, in fact, get Erikia's luggage out of hock (snort), and took it up to her room. Then the bad things happened. Forever. For a really long time. It made my stomach and head hurt, and the floor at the convention center made my feet hurt.

Hours later, we rejoined Erikia near bell services, where we stood in an impossibly long line for her to drop off one little item for another hotel guest. The Hilton was a madhouse. Erikia said there was a wad of gum on her bedside lamp. Ew!!!!

Then, in a very good turn of events, we whisked Erikia away to the Peppermill, a lovely, very retro, old-fashioned Las Vegas restaurant and lounge. The meal was great, and the company was even better. We talked nonstop and laughed over many things. We got a picture of the three of us, Erikia and I saved a napkin each, and I got some of the colored sugar crystals by pouring them into a straw wrapper like a Pixie Stix.

We took Erikia back to the Hilton, and came back to the house to get ready for Le Reve. Our show was at 10:30, so we stopped to see the Big Giant Head. Turns out that thing is actually called the Lake of Dreams. Also turns out that you can't hear the music inside the hotel. You have to be seated at the incredibly expensive restaurant on the terrace outside. We waited for twenty minutes to see the Big Giant Head, and dang it if the Big Giant Head didn't show up!!!! Bummer!!!!!

But the water was still very trippy.

We went to the theatre, got our seats, and the pre-show had already started. I cannot describe Le Reve right now -- it's a Cirque du Soleil show in water. The performers are amazing. Amy's husband Paul is an audio engineer, and he was the project manager for this theatre, garnering a write-up in a trade magazine because of the very complex aspects of making the underwater crew and performers able to hear the musical cues even under the water.

It was a beautiful show. I cried off all my makeup during the opening and the angel sequence. It's a very erotic show, though, which I didn't entirely expect. The last Cirque show I saw was Mystere.

Back at Amy's house, I couldn't sleep for worrying about the unpleasant afternoon activities.

See? I said it wasn't a great day. There were great things about it. Amy. Erikia. Paul's really cool audio and video stuff in the Le Reve theatre. Le Reve itself.

But I'm very hopeful that Monday will be better.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Day 3 Las Vegas - Part III

Still SUBTITLED: Blimey! Bay Breaks Big Buggy!

Day 3's stats
Time of Day: 7:00 p.m.
Modes of Transportation Broken So Far: Airplane, elevator, moving walkway.
Modes of Transportation Left To Be Broken: 2
Number of Famous People Encountered: 2
Number of Famous People We Actually Admire: 0
Food: Grand Turkey Club, Lemon Extravaganza
Drunken people encountered: Innumerable
Singing Gondoliers: 1
Weddings seen: 1
Living Statues: 1
Chinese dragon parades: 1
Chinese tourists reveling: Innumerable
Judith Leiber handbags we want but can't afford: 418

Yes, it was a good day in Las Vegas. We're only partly done.

At Harrahs, we made our way through the casino, which is incredibly loud and confusing, and finally found the monorail station. Again, the turnstiles are easy. Put in ticket, take out ticket, walk through turnstile. If you don't take the ticket, the turnstile yells.

I started to the wrong side of the platform, and Amy pulled me over to the Northbound side, chiding me gently for being a crazy person. "We're going *north*," she said, "*Back* to the Sahara." Ohhhhhhh! OK. That side is for South, this side is for North. I can remember that!

A monorail came in seconds, and along with many other people, we got on. The doors closed, and...

The train started going South.

Immediately, every person in the car with us sat up straight. Those of us who had just gotten on started asking, "Wait! Is this a South-bound train?"

"NO," answered the people who were already in the car before us. "It's supposed to go NORTH!!!!"

Everyone became very excited. Amy turned to me and said, "Bay! What did you *do*???? You broke the monorail!!!!" We were all laughing nervously, but we were, in fact, a bit alarmed. The Las Vegas monorails do not have drivers. They drive themselves. On Friday, the monorails were offline for half an hour because of a computer glitch.

As the monorail went back to the station before Harrah's, the automatic announcement said, "This is the last stop! All passengers must exit the train!"

In the space of a minute, all of us were bonded by the tragedy we were experiencing. We conferred. "Did she just say to get off the train?" "What are we supposed to do?" "Is the monorail broken???" "What's going on????????"

Most of us started getting off the train, because, after all, that is what we were instructed to do.

Then a uniformed monorail guard jumped around on the platform, waving his arms excitedly and telling us, "GET BACK ON THE MONORAIL!!!! GET BACK ON THE MONORAIL!!!!!" Dang, he was jumpy. And very excited. We all turned around and crammed back onto the monorail, practically running. It was a very small mob scene for a few seconds. As we panted and the doors closed again, we all laughed nervously. Which way would the train go now?

Thank goodness, this time the monorail headed North. Whew! That was a close one!

On our way back to the Sahara, Amy and I made a tally of all the things that had broken during my trip -- Airplane. Elevator. Moving Sidewalk. And now.... the Monorail. We even counted up the modes of transportation I hadn't yet broken, and we devised a rough formula for my jinx. I was breaking every other thing I got on. Therefore, before I got in Amy's car, I needed to break one more mode of transportation.

I hoped it wouldn't be the roller coaster. That could be bad.

At the Sahara, we exited safely and went through the casino toward Speed the Ride. As we were walking through, I lit a cigarette, using a match from the Wynn. I casually stuck the extinguished match in an ashtray next to a bank of slot machines, and the guy standing there yelped, "THANK YOU! You did that!!!!" And he pointed to his machine, where three 7's were lined up like soldiers and lights were blinking and flashing merrily. I guess he doesn't believe in random luck? I told him he was welcome.

We went outside and waited to see the rollercoaster before we went in for our ride, and it was an unusually long wait. We opined that maybe I had already broken something else, but just when we were ready to give up, out came the roller coaster. As I watched its trek and listened to the passengers shrieking, I realized, "Oh. Going backwards could be scary. And that vertical part -- that goes REALLY high."

I love rollercoasters. But I'm not so fond of heights. I wondered if I would chicken out of Speed the Ride.

I didn't, though. We paid for our single ride, went upstairs, stashed our stuff (sweater, jacket, purse, camera, life insurance policy, last will & testament, loose change, and a box of Wynn matches) in a locker for 50 cents, and got in line. Within a couple of minutes, the coaster came back, and we piled on. I still briefly considered chickening out. I'm *so glad* I didn't.

Speed the Ride is suh-weet. I mean -- SWEET!!!!!!! What a ride!!!! Going forward is a *great* and very smooth thrill. Going up that vertical part -- well, OK, I closed my eyes and prayed a little bit. You float in the seat and are literally weightless for a second. You can't tell when you stop going forward and start going backward!!!!!! The backward loop is *very* scary, because you can feel that the cars have slowed down, and it feels like there's not enough momentum to make it all the way around the loop. The rest of the ride is fabulous, though, and I was laughing out loud -- heartily -- for most of the trip.

What a *sweet* ride!!!!! If you like rollercoasters, I highly recommend Speed the Ride. (I wouldn't recommend it to my friend Krisi, though, because she doesn't like vertical drops.)

There was so much adrenaline coursing through my veins that I jumped out of my seat and found that I was shaking. My hands shook as I tried to unlock the locker and retrieve our stuff. It was just a *great* ride!!!!!!!

We left the Sahara and crossed two streets so we could pick up a few things at Bonanza. If you're not familiar with Bonanza, it's at the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Blvd., and it's the biggest (and cheeziest and cheapest!) souvenir shop in Las Vegas. I love that place. They have so much stuff there! But we didn't browze; we found exactly what we were looking for and bought it.

As we were walking toward the parking garage behind the Sahara, Amy commented, "I am wearing my most comfortable tennis shoes, and my feet are starting to complain."

"Really?" I replied, "My feet said 'F*ck you' two hours ago!"

Amy thwacked me for cussing. But my feet *really* hurt by that time.

At the parking garage, we hit the button for the elevator. People came out of the casino and started getting in line. We waited. We waited and waited. People started complaining. They started asking if we had hit the right button. There's only one button when you're on the ground, y'all! People got out of line and started climbing stairs. We were parked on the fourth level, and neither of us was particularly eager to climb four flights on our complaining feet.

Besides, we were overjoyed that the elevator was broken. It meant that Amy's car was safe!

Finally, after many minutes of waiting, the elevator rattled to a stop and the tired doors gasped open as if disappointed that we had waited for it. The ride to the fourth level was scary as we listened to things groaning in the tower around us, but we did, in fact, make it out in one piece.

And Amy's whore-red slutmobile made it home in one piece, too.

Maybe my jinx is satisfied? But wait! There's always Sunday!

Day 3 Las Vegas - Part II

SUBTITLE: Blimey! Bay Breaks Big Buggy!

(Tee hee.)

After stuffing ourselves to the point of pain at the Grand Lux, we made our way up to the Grand Canal shops and walked around for a really long time. The first thing we encountered was a wedding in a gondola. Sniffle! People applauded at the end of the vows, and then the gondolier sang something long and enthusiastic in a rich tenor voice, after which we all applauded again. What a cool way to get hitched!

Amy and I walked and window shopped at great length. We didn't go into any shops. That mall surely meanders in all directions -- it would be easy to get lost in there, especially if you were drinking. You go around a curve and all of a sudden you're in a wide, bright piazza. An opera singer was warbling away on an art song. I prefer mezzos to coloraturas, but she was still very good. We were apparently catching the last song of the show, and cast members bowed whom I had not seen perform. It didn't matter -- I applauded for them, anyway.

We resumed window shopping, and honestly, I can't be too thorough about this part of the day because I was overwhelmed. The Grand Canal shops at the Venetian are beautifully themed and just lovely. I was appreciating the ambience. There was an art shop with some very cool pop art paintings by Tod somebody. Amy recognized them. One of them had a picture of a monster gripping a little kitten with a bow on its head, climbing up the side of a building, and it said, "Goodbye Kitty," on the top. I laughed out loud. The very next painting said, "Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them." This was sick, silly humor, and I loved it. I wanted it. I didn't go inside to see how many thousands of dollars it would have cost.

I don't know how long we looked and lingered, but it must have been at least an hour. We were finally making our way toward the exit when we encountered a living statue.

I love living statues. I'm so ADD, I don't know how anyone stands still for that long. People would walk up, put a dollar on his banister, and then pose for a picture. Some people just put a dollar there, and he would just switch one thumb up in the air. It was so subtle and sly, I laughed out loud some more. I finally worked up my courage, put a dollar bill on his banister, and Amy took two pictures. She had to take two, because I tried to stay on the floor, but the statue very skillfully applied pressure to my hand to step up on the stage with him. Very cool!

Finally, finally, we found ourselves at the front doors, and we went outside to catch the last of a very dramatic, striped red-and-purple sunset as the lights came on on the Strip. We stood at the front balustrade and just soaked up the view for several minutes, trying to decide what to do next.

(I confess that at this point, I had completely forgotten about my resolve to ride rollercoasters.)

We decided to make our way to the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace.

This is when I decided to break another form of transportation. Remember the long moving sidewalks over the pedestrian bridge that no one was walking on going toward the Venetian? Well, the ones leading away from the Venetian were not so crowded with people who think moving sidewalks are a ride. Because *those* sidewalks were not moving. At all. Snort! Guess we're ALL gonna walk now, huh?

And walk we did -- on stairs to the right. In just a couple of minutes, we were on the sidewalk again, where I resumed collecting the things that we all started collecting the night before, which I cannot be more specific about, because the beneficiary reads the blog. However, it still makes me giggle.

We crossed the street at the corner to Caesar's, and that's when I discovered the Forum Shops bear absolutely no resemblance to the Forum Shops I last visited NINE years ago.

They're *huge*.

It's a huge *mall*. If it were a mall in a suburb, it would be huge. They weren't a seventh as big as this the last time I was here. I am really glad Amy talked me into going. I am really glad that Nina and Gail recommended them. I really kinda thought, "I already saw that," but no, it's a whole 'nother ballgame now. Wowee.

I walked in and gawked -- more excellent theming in a gigantic place. We really didn't hesitate much and didn't even look at a map -- we just climbed right onto the semi-circular escalator to the second level. I couldn't walk, either, because people were riding the stairs. By this time, Amy and I had developed a habit of raising our arms over our heads in a sarcastic salute to people who think stairs are thrill rides.

And just -- JUST as we stepped off the escalator at the second level, there was Celine Dion.

Yeah, *that* Celine Dion.

She's about the size of an anorectic 12-year-old. Her hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, she wasn't wearing makeup (that I could see), and she wore jeans, high heeled boots, a lavender camisole and a lavender jacket.

Yeah. Celine Dion. In the space of a second, I considered several possible ways to interact with the self-proclaimed diva, and rejected pushing her down, gushing falsely at her, asking for a picture, or just asking, "Hey, could you pound your chest just once?" I'm not actually a fan. Actually. The last time I was in Las Vegas, we saw Kathleen Madigan, and she joked that people pay $200 to see Celine, whereas *she* would pay $200 NOT to see Celine. That's a pretty good way to put it.

I told Amy, "Celine Dion." Amy is amazed at my ability to recognize the semi-famous. I totally forgot about the big ex-football player we saw at the Wynn Friday night. We saw an ex-football player there. I have no idea which one it was. But there he was, and I'm still trying to remember his name.

Amy also considered ways to interact with Celine, but she is not a fan, either. So we just snickered and started windowshopping, following Celine for a few seconds. Celine was flanked by bodyguards, but she wasn't surrounded by a horde of 'em. She could've been approached if any of her fans had actually been there to see her.

The Forum Shops -- wow. OK, the Wynn has Cartier and Dior and Oscar, but the Forum Shops are nothing to sneeze at, either. Amy reads the gossip column in the Las Vegas newspaper, and Paris Hilton is often seen shopping at the Forum Shops. They have shops for things I've read about in the Shopaholic books and the occasional errant issue of Vogue that fell my way despite my best efforts. There's a Kate Spade shop there. I mean -- seriously. I can't even remember half the shops that are at the Forum.

I decided to stop by the ladies' room, but first we passed the audio-animatronic statue show. It was kinda crowded, so we were skirting the edge behind the crowd, and we both read a poster that said, "Pete Rose -- Here today! 1-6!" I asked Amy what time it was -- it was 6:05. I laughed cruelly. I am also *not* a Pete Rose fan. We proceeded to the ladies' room, where I went inside and Amy stayed out in the hall.

When I rejoined Amy a few minutes later, her eyebrows were skating around her hairline and she exclaimed, "I just saw Pete Rose coming out of the men's room! I almost didn't recognize him! He doesn't have that awful haircut any more!"

Whereupon we started joking. Remember the acerbic stand-up comic who used to do the Chinese barber shop bit? "OK, waddaya want? We got... Mo... Moe.... Uh, MOE? No? You killin me! OK, OK, OK, uh, Pete Llllose!"

I saw Pete Rose's back as he disappeared down the mall toward the casino.

So, OK, two certifiable well-known "celebrities" in the space of about fifteen minutes on the same level of one mall: Celine Dion. And Pete Rose. And I could get more excited if Paula Dean from the Food Network were standing on the other side of the Strip yelling, "Y'all wanna grill some pork chops or what?"

My luck was definitely not *on* on Saturday. But at least Amy and I were able to make lots and lots of jokes about the two that we *did* see.

As we made our way carefully through the second level of the Forum Shops, my feet started complaining at me. By the time we made it to the big fish tank outside of the Cheesecake Factory, I wanted to sit down. I did sit down. Children climbed over me to see the fish. Dagnabbit. We finally turned around and went the other way.

On the way back, we stopped at the Judith Leiber shop and drooled over the Austrian-crystal-encrusted handbags. I adore those things. To be brutally honest, I want to make those things. But I would also like to buy a few. I finally went *inside* a shop, and it was Judith Leiber. We looked at tiny miniature bags -- totally impractical, you could fit two Tic-tacs and a quarter inside one of them. But they had a little turtle that was soooooooo cute!!!!!! It was $470. Amy picked out a miniature bird handbag that was $475, so we declared her the one with the best taste.

I should note that I didn't actually touch the tiny thing. The salesclerk was awfully nice just to talk to us. I think it was incredibly apparent that neither of us were really gonna pull out $500 and buy a tiny, genuine Judith Leiber handbag.

We made our way back to the foyer with the grand, sweeping, semi-circular escalators and went upstairs so Amy could visit the Peter Max gallery. He's a pop artist who worked with Andy Warhol and is nothing to sneeze at, himself. Yabba. His stuff is great. But my feet were really sorta kinda hurting, and I told her I was going to find a bench on which to sit. I found one overlooking the foyer and people-watched.

Amy came out, and we both sat there, watching people, checking email, calling our husbands (mine didn't answer the phone), and resting. It was pushing 7:00, and what were we going to do next?

We decided to go back to Harrah's, catch the monorail to the Sahara, and ride "Speed the Ride." Speed the Ride is not an exploding bus. It's a roller coaster that rockets out of the Sahara, does a few corkscrews, one big loop, and then up a 90-degree, vertical track. At the top, it simply slides backwards and you do the whole track *backwards*. I love roller coasters. This sounded like just my kind of thing.

And we headed out.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

January hummingbird


At Gwyn's request, this is a photo of the first hummingbird that came back to Las Vegas after a very short winter away. It was first spotted on January 21st, and has now been joined by at least one other hummingbird.

Amy's feeder is perhaps the only game in town (because who expects hummingbirds in January??), and these little jewels are draining it as fast as they can.

Early today (Saturday), I saw two hummingbirds hovering around the feeder, and less than half an hour later, both birds were sitting on opposite sides, eying each other suspiciously but still dining on today's fresh nectar -- the third batch of 2006.

Day 3 Las Vegas - Part I

SUBTITLE: Blimey! Bay Breaks Big Buggy!

(I'm starting this part of the trip report on Saturday night while Amy fixes risotto and my feet curse me. These trip reports are taking about three hours, including revisions, and I know that I will have far less time on Sunday to write at my leisure. Hopefully this early start will mean I can finish a very full, very complex, very action-packed, heartstopping day of adventure.)

I'm jinxed. Or -- I am a jinx. I'm not sure. But if you count the plane's rough landing on Thursday, I have now broken no fewer than five methods of transportation. Yes, we are all very concerned for Amy's beautiful new car. I have to go break a roller skate before she'll let me into the car again tomorrow. And I don't blame her one bit.

It all started innocently enough. We hung out at the house for a few hours this morning. I woke up around 8:00 -- amazing, huh? Six hours of sleep, and then I was as awake as I could be. I made coffee without breaking Amy's big honkin' coffee maker, and I started writing the Friday report. Amy got up, and she checked her email and took care of stuff, made birdie bread for the parrots, and we just generally relaxed. We thought we would leave the house around 1:30, but I think it was closer to 2:30 before we actually left for a day of touring casinos, window shopping, and riding roller coasters.

Today was cooler than Thursday or Friday, and I actually wore one of my turtlenecks and wasn't too hot unless I was in a stuffy place. Paired with my favorite jeans, the shirt was perfect clothing for walking outside.

First we drove through the historic Alta Drive neighborhood, where traditional, old-fashioned, classic Las Vegas casino owners lived for decades. The houses are extremely retro and surprisingly modest. Most are typical 1960's ranch houses. Did you ever see the movie "Casino"? Remember DeNiro's character's house? That's what those houses look like. People have been murdered in some of those homes, y'know. Coooooooooool.

Then we drove to the Sahara and parked in their garage. This was when I first broke something, and I picked the elevator. It took forever to get to us, and really rattled sort of alarmingly as Amy and I and a Japanese couple climbed in. The ride to the casino level took quite a while.

We passed through the casino and went on to the monorail station. I tried to break my digital camera while taking pictures of the Stratosphere. I wanted to take a picture of a monorail train that was covered with ads. The camera wouldn't focus for some reason. Amy worried about that for a while, but we turned the camera off and turned it back on again, and voila! It worked. By that time, the cool monorail had moved along.

I think the camera isn't really broken only because it isn't some form of conveyance or transportation. If it were a little red wagon, it would have been toast.

Amy purchased a 10-ride share-able monorail ticket, and we both breezed through the turnstiles. It's very easy, although no one in front of us could figure it out. Put the ticket in the bottom, it spits out the top, you take it out of the top and walk through the turnstiles. People kept trying to walk through without taking their ticket back, and the turnstiles fussed at them over that.

Within just a very few minutes, we were on the monorail, headed South. The monorail starts and stops at the Sahara. I'm not sure what's at the other end, because I don't think I'll ever ride it that far. Monorails are cool. I'm glad Las Vegas has one, but I wish it were on the Strip instead of behind the hotels on the Strip. The view is sometimes a little, well, unattractive. We passed the Hilton, the Convention Center (which already has a huge "Welcome to CHA" sign on it), and we got off at the Harrah's station.

Now, at the landing for the Harrah's station, I thought I saw one of the guys from the Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters." Woodrow loves that show. So do I. Then Amy said that the Mythbusters were in town for the Skeptics convention, which Paul was attending!!! So maybe it was him! But... maybe it wasn't. We're still not sure, and I'm leaning toward, "NO, that wasn't him. It was some guy who wants to be him."

We headed down escalators and through the twisting, winding, turning, confusing casino. As we passed Toby Keith's bar, a couple stumbled out. The man carried a beer and walked on his toes, leaning forward precariously. Hey, man, it's 3:00 in the afternoon, and you're already plastered? Slow down!!!!

At the Strip side of Harrah's, we exited the hotel and turned right, going toward the Venetian. My friends Gail and Nina have met here for lunch many times, and I think the Grand Lux is Gail's favorite LV cafe. So we had a mission: Go to the Grand Lux and have the lunch that Gail has recommended soooooo highly. We traveled up and over the a road (not sure which one) via moving sidewalks.

Now. I am old and grumpy. I have absolutely no patience whatsoever with people who don't walk on sidewalks and stairs. In other words, moving sidewalks and escalators Are Not Thrill Rides. One should walk on those conveyances. Always. Unless you are really old. They're not that much fun, for heaven's sake, just WALK. And if you absolutely refuse to walk, get the heck over to the right so that those of us who know the difference between a flight of stairs and a roller coaster can *get somewhere*!!!!

The moving sidewalk to the Venetian was jammed with people who absolutely refused to walk and furthermore wouldn't move to the right so that I could barrel past them. Hmph.

The only thing that kept me from having a total meltdown was that the guy in front of us held a Brooks Brothers bag, and I was curious, so I asked him, "Excuse me -- what did you buy?" He turned out to be a really nice guy, and said he bought cufflinks. We said, "Oooooo," and he explained, no, nothing that exciting, he just forgot his cufflinks and he searched everywhere for a pair that cost less than $600. At which we laughed understandingly. If I had had any sense whatsoever, I would've asked him if he were getting married.

We were finally spit off of moving sidewalks, and most of the crowd went to Madame Trussaud's... er, Trousseau's... um, TootsieRoll's... Eh, the wax museum. The next moving sidewalk was free and easy to navigate. Finally!

Now, the Venetian is beautiful and ornate and quite detailed and impressive. I have never been to Venice, but I bet the Venetian is probably a lot like a condensed version of it ... only cleaner. It was *really* pretty. I gawked at oodles of things and really kind of wanted to wander around for a bit, but my tummy was complaining about a lack of nourishment. We asked at the info desk for the location of the Grand Lux, and were directed to go downstairs to the casino and toward the back right wall.

As we traveled down the escalator -- walking this time, thank heaven -- I spied the Grand Lux sign. We headed toward it and found the restaurant with ease. We did have to wait about three minutes before we were seated, but we got a marvelous table where we could see the casino.

The place was just lovely. Instead of actual tile and marble like at the Wynn, the Venetian has wonderful trompe l'oieil paintings everywhere. It looks very soft, very old, and very authentic.

Our waitress was a marvelous girl -- just wonderful, really! -- who was friendly and helpful. We looked at our menus, but I really didn't need them. I knew from Gail's descriptions that I wanted the Grand Club Sandwich and the Lemon Extravaganza for dessert, and I thought she had said we should split anything we got there. I asked our waitress if this was true, and she heartily concurred.

I did use the menu for one thing, though. I held it up and peered over it, and Amy took a picture of me with her camera phone, which we promptly emailed to Gail. I was hoping that she would forward it to some more friends, but it was a very, very dark picture.

We placed our order -- Grand Club Sandwich and a Lemon Extravaganza -- to be split. Then Amy's phone beeped with email, and there was a note from Gail! I'm not sure I was being nice to her by sending her that photo -- she really loves the Grand Lux and was pretty jealous of me to be eating there. I wish she had been with us. Her note included tips on what to order -- and I got it exactly right, including the iced tea!

I may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I know how to take advice. Gail has always raved about the Grand Lux.

When our lunch arrived, I slathered Grey Poupon on my half of the sandwich. Then Amy and I both eyed our sandwiches warily and wondered how to cram it into our mouths. I took off a tomato slice. We both tried to squish the bread down. That thing was HUGE! We finally just dived in and took a bite -- and Mmmmmmmmmmm, it was gooooooooood! The fries were great, too. Gail was right! The Grand Club is a grand thing, indeed!

I asked Amy if she were enjoying her sandwich and she joked, "Can't talk. Eating." Conversation died out completely and we just stuffed ourselves.

Then the dessert came, and I wanted to send another picture to Gail. But they had dimmed the lights in the cafe, and the camera phone really couldn't get it, so we took a regular photo with my camera and used the flash. Darn it, I hate the flash. It's so unforgiving.

But. The dessert. The Lemon Extravaganza. Was. FABULOUS!!!!! It's lemon pound cake, smothered in some kind of lemon sauce, smothered in ice cream and whipped cream and lemon zest, and swimming in a lake of fresh strawberry slices. Talk about incredible -- I am usually a chocolate fanatic, but the Lemon Extravaganza was so good that neither Amy nor I could actually speak. We were just humming as we stuffed spoonful after spoonful of this glorious confection into our mouths, barely chewing the bites before we could get another one in.

Remember how much I loved the chocolate souffle the night before? Well, this lemon thing is just as good -- and much, much bigger!

We ate and ate and ate until a cacaphony of chaos erupted in the middle of the casino floor. We stood up to see what it was, and a Chinese dragon parade came through the casino, complete with drummers, cymbals, bells, and dancers. The dragon chased after a gold ball on a stick, which Amy tells me means the dragon is chasing the sun.

Ah ha, it's Chinese New Year's Eve!!!! I've seen stuff like that on TV, but never in person like that. I tried to get a picture, but they moved too fast and to the right -- all I got was a drummer's butt.

After the excitement, Amy and I did the only logical thing -- we returned to trying to devour that mountainous Lemon Extravaganza. We did ourselves proud, too. There was only a little cake swimming in melted ice cream when we finally threw in the towel, paid the bill, and moved on to exploring the resort.

The bill -- including tip -- was $32. And it was worth every penny, too!

Thanks, Gail. I think I'm going to have to make it a habit to come to the Venetian for lunch when I'm in Las Vegas, myself.

There's so much more to this day, but I'm going to stop here and post so I can split the thing into manageable bites.

Food, Fun, & Fur (Day 2 in Las Vegas)

As I said at the end of yesterday's post, I got up at 6:15 in the morning. Las Vegas time, baby!

I didn't do much during the day while Amy and Paul were at work. I worked on the trip report, watched very little TV. Amy came home for lunch, and we made soup and sandwiches, which was *lovely*. The best thing about this trip is that I have tons and tons of time to talk to Amy. We talk about everything. TV, books, hair, clothes, hummingbirds -- OH! Amy has a *pair* of hummingbirds that have already come back from Mexico!!!! Seriously!!!! I watched them fighting over the nectar while I drank my first cup of coffee yesterday. Very cool!!!

Anyway, this trip means that I'm finally getting to really just spend tons of time with Amy. We talk on the phone every day and email several times a day, but it is so much better to actually see her in person. Also, out here ... well, this is really selfish of me, but when she comes home for a visit, the kids are so glad to see her that they keep interrupting us when we talk. Isn't that awful? I get jealous of my own children.

And while I'm here, the only person who interrupts is... nobody. Cool!!!!

So we had lunch, and then Amy went back to work. I revised my trip report (it took five or six edits to get it juuuuuuuust right, and I bet I still have typos in it), and then I felt really sleepy. I laid down for a nap, set my cell phone to wake me in 40 minutes, and went to sleep.

An hour and thirty-five minutes later, I woke up in a complete panic, sure that Amy was home and that I had overslept. I could *hear* her downstairs!!!! I was already running down the stairs to apologize when I realized -- no, that's not Amy. That's her African grey Noah, who does Amy perfectly. "Helloooooo! Noah's a good boooooyyyyyyyy! Hey, Paul? [Paul's voice: Yeah, hon?] Noah's a good booooooyyyyyy!"

Duh. I felt very stuppid. It was now 3:45, so I spent the last of my afternoon getting ready for our evening out. We discussed many, many places to eat dinner. I finally talked to Wesley at some point, but not long enough. I was so conscious of the minutes I was using up on my cell phone. Bluh.

Amy came home first, and we got ready. Then Paul came home, and he was already ready. We tripped merrily out to the PT Cruiser and headed for fun, fun, fun.

First stop: The drug store! I forgot mascara, hair clips, Sudafed, Advil, and I forget what else. I made myself a list. Amy and I ran around like crazy people in the drug store, grabbing stuff off the shelves, and then ran to a skidding stop at the cash register. The clerk was a very nice girl, really friendly. $30+ bucks for my purchases -- ugh! Note to you: Don't forget your basics!

Back to the PT Cruiser, and we listened to a radio show called Phil Landry something on the XM Radio. It was hilarious. He fakes calls. He plays all the characters. Then callers call in and talk about how crazy/stupid/nutty/unhinged the "guest" is. It amazes me that he can do all that and sound credible enough for anyone to believe that the "guest" is a different person -- but he totally gets away with it.

I was trying to figure out how we were getting to the Strip -- I'm going to have to drive there by myself Monday, after all -- and the next thing I knew, we were there. I am never gonna learn the roads around here. We came in the back way, hoping to park at TI (Treasure Island, but they want to get away from their pirate roots, so they just call it TI and the show out front no longer has swashbuckling pirates, it has Sirens. We call it The Tramps at TI, the T&A of TI, etc. Rife with parody possibilities) but we missed the valet station and had to loop around the Mirage to get back to TI. We had decided to park at TI, eat there, walk to the Mirage to see the volcano, and then walk to the Wynn for our show.

I haven't said much about it, but the Strip's light shows and signs are even more glitzy, glamourous, and impressive than they used to be. Now instead of neon and flashing lightbulbs, the savvy casinos are using video walls. They're stunning. The one at the Wynn is particularly stunning -- a veritable tower of solid video wall with the coolest band of metal that slides silently up and down the length of the video wall. They have programmed amazing effects using that band to erase one picture and replace it with another. When the band is all the way at the bottom, they play commercials for the resort's shows and attractions. A-mazing.

The sign at TI is the gigantic letters with video walls inside. Thursday when we arrived, the letters were just changing colors. Last night, they were showing videos inside the letters. A person could get whiplash trying to see all the things being shown on various video walls.

The line at valet parking for TI was pretty long, so Paul dropped us off and we went in search of the new buffet, a restaurant named Dishes. There was no line, so we stepped back into the casino to wait for Paul. While we were standing there chatting, a dollar bill flew out of Amy's pocket and begged to be thrown away, so I ... plopped it into a slot machine and played out the four coins. I won three "coins" (really just three more spins), and then then dollar was effectively gone. Hey, man, I gambled!!!!!! I lost!!!!!!! It's VEGAS!!!!!!! That dollar lasted all of, oh, I think 48.98201 seconds! Pretty good for your entertainment budget, huh?

Paul joined us and we got in line, paid, and were whisked into the buffet.

OK. Now. Buffets and Las Vegas. You know they're there, right? Well, they still are. However, they're not as cheap as they used to be. I remember the one at the Rio with great fondness. Dishes at TI has been open about a year, and it gets good reviews. And deservedly so. I went back for seconds, thirds, and made two trips to the dessert bar. My first dish was a Chinese chicken salad, made fresh just for me at the salad station. Shredded greens, fresh cooked chicken, almonds, mandarin oranges, fried noodles, and some kind of gingery-soy-saucey dressing. YUMMMMMM.

I seriously thought about going back for more, but I decided to get something else. The next stop was the barbecue station. I had a flank steak that was absolutely delicious -- tender, juicy, very rare in the middle, with a tangy, peppery crust that was just to die for. New roasted potatoes with leeks and a little squash were very good, and some Chinese dumplings that were so good, I really thought I should get more. I also had barbecue ribs, but the sauce was very, very sweet. Yuck. Not my thing at all. I had one bite and stopped fooling with the ribs. I rounded out that plate with a little pile of cold, boiled, deveined shrimp.

Next stop: the pasta station, where things were being dramatic. Amy recommended the tortellini, so that's what I ordered. The chef started with white wine in a pan, added sun-dried tomatoes, and then set the thing on fire. At that point, the guy behind me exclaimed, "What did YOU order??? I want THAT!" Then the chef added pesto, drained a little basket of cheese tortellini, and tossed the whole thing around in the pan.

To accompany this, I got the Caribbean grilled salmon, which Paul recommended.

One word: SUBLIME. Amy and Paul were both right on with their recommendations. The pasta was savory and substantial; the salmon was outrageously flaky, tender, tasty, and perfectly seared. There is no way you could salmon like that on a traditional hot-lamp buffet.

So far, the Dishes buffet at TI was well worth the price. The restaurant was not crowded. (I thought I recognized some of the people associated with Ranger Inks there, but I could be mistaken.) Then I hit the dessert station.

I started with a plate of a macaroon (hard and inedible), a tiny pineapple-upside-down cake (moist and tart-sweet), and a chocolate covered strawberry that tasted just like a real strawberry and dark chocolate. Best chocolate-covered strawberry I've had in *years*. But as I had been getting my first dish of dessert, I spied little chocolate souffles. So when I finished the first round, I sat there and tried to decide if I could eat any more, much less a whole dessert.

Fortunately, I decided to go back for that chocolate souffle, and I am SO glad I did. OMG. Y'all. It was a molten chocolate souffle. It wasn't just fabulous. It wasn't just rich and chocolatey. It was HEAVEN. The first bite was ecstasy. The second bite was exuberant. The third bite was delightful. By that time, I was so full it hurt. That tiny chocolate souffle was so rich, I almost gave my last bite away. I should have taken a picture of it. I want to remember that souffle forever. It was light and fluffy and soooooo deceitful. I forced myself to take that last, agonizing bite. Thank heaven!!!!! It was worth the pain. What a magnificent dessert!!!!

So the buffet at TI isn't just a good deal. It's a *bargain*. Go. Go. If you have a chance, GO.

Thrilled with our dining experience, laughing and talking, we made our way out of TI and headed over to the Mirage to catch a volcano show. We got there around 8:35, and the sign said the volcano erupts every 60 minutes. There was no one waiting out front to see it, but we hoped that it hadn't just erupted at 8:30 and that we would only have to wait 25 minutes.

We laughed and talked. A couple came over and asked me to take their picture in front of the waterfall, and I complied, then Paul took a picture of me and Amy. We had a great time waiting. Around 8:50, there was a rumble under the water, so we knew that the volcano would, indeed, erupt at 9:00. We turned around and continued talking and laughing. The rumbles grew more intense, and jungle noises became louder -- monkeys and birds hooting and chattering -- and people gathered behind us to watch the volcano.

Paul pointed out technical stuff -- pilot lights and speakers and stuff. Paul is handy that way. I find that sort of thing cool.

The volcano finally erupted at 9:00 on the dot, and it was very impressive with lots of rumbling, water shooting into the air, flames and balls of flame scattering hither and yon. I laughed out loud with delight. It's like fireworks without fireworks. We applauded, and then turned around to discover this HUGE crowd behind us, and everyone turned and started going every which way.

In one step, I was separated from Amy and Paul, and I will confess to a small amount of concern that I would get lost completely. I am 39 years old and no shrinking violet. So I shook off my trepidation and pushed my way through a crowd of drunks to catch up.

Now we started collecting something that I can't mention. I would love to mention it. But the beneficiary of our collecting efforts reads this blog, and it would spoil the surprise. However, it made us giggle like mad as we walked past TI, over two pedestrian bridges, and on to the magnificent Wynn.

By now it was 9:25, and our show was going to start at 10:00. So we needed to get to the theatres in some pretty great haste, which meant bypassing the Big Giant Head entirely.

Furthermore, on Thursday night when I was exhausted and weak from my day of sneezing and my near-brush with death by flaming jet fuel, Amy cruelly and forcefully brainwashed me until I capitulated and agreed to go see "La Reve" on another night. (There's a two-for-one deal for Las Vegas residents that only lasts until Feb. 7th.) We looked at my schedule and picked Sunday or Wednesday night to see that show.

We walked past those magnificent shops again. This time I noticed Manolo Blahnik. No comment. I want, I want. But no. Those shoes are not practical. But they're gorgeous. I just want a pair to mount on the wall. That's how gorgeous they are.

At the box office, I stayed outside and chatted with some older dude while Amy and Paul went to see about tickets to "La Reve." Older Dude had just seen "Avenue Q" -- his sister and brother-in-law were in town, and he was taking them to a different show every night. What a great guy! When you live in Las Vegas, you're always going to get houseguests! I asked him how he liked "Avenue Q," and he allowed that the humor was too youthful for his taste. Hmmmmm.

On our way to the theatre, we passed a woman with one of the character puppets from the show. They take those puppets out into the casino to promote the show. (I'm not sure why, because once we were seated, it looked like a full house. So it's not like you can drop your last $500 at a blackjack table, see a puppet, and buy a ticket right then for the next show. Or then again, maybe you can.)

Amy took my picture with the puppet who turned out to be Kate Monster once I saw the show.

We had excellent, fabulous, incredible, amazing seats about halfway up and in the center of the house.

As I've already said, "Avenue Q" is billed as an adult Sesame Street, and the creators of the show worked with that fine piece on public television for years. Having been in theatre most of my life and knowing how actors and theatre people's brains work, I'm sure that this show was a very normal progression from children's television to "Avenue Q." It's FILTHY. It is not just adult -- it's dirty. Of course, it's the juxtaposition of cuddly, cute puppets against their completely raunchy lyrics that makes it so funny. If you are easily offended, don't go see it. Otherwise, go. And be prepared to laugh until you cry. We guffawed through the whole show.

The great thing about this show is -- it's theatre. It is not typical Las Vegas spectacle -- it's an actual play with actual music. The technical aspects are fabulous. I highly recommend Avenue Q.

Another amazing bit of info is that the theatre emptied in about a minute. Casinos are excellent traffic flow managers -- they want you to get out of the auditorium and back to the gaming tables. Hoo-rah. I've never seen a theatre empty that quickly in my life.

Seconds later, Amy bought the CD original cast recording of the musical numbers, which includes such songs as "It Sucks to be Me" and "The Internet is for Porn." Actually, if you are curious, you can Google some amateur videos on the Internet for that last song. It's hilarious. And shocking and outrageous. And, to finish my "Producers" quote, I loved every minute of it.

(That's not entirely accurate -- there were a couple of scenes that shocked even me. Still, it's a great show.)

We stopped by the gift shop, and then lingered in the hallway to the trams. I noticed that the designer situated a large picture of a poppy that appears to sprout from an actual vase on a table beneath it. You have to be standing in just the right spot to see the full effect, so I pulled Amy and then Paul to stand in just the right spot, and we giggled over the idea that the security guys were probably watching us and saying, "Hey, someone just found the poppy vase."

Details like that are *plentiful* at the Wynn. It's ... Well, I overused the word "gorgeous" in yesterday's post. But... yeah, gotta say it. It's gorgeous. The carpets are custom-made to emulate the decorative tile floors, and the ceilings have plaster re-creations of the same patterns. That's just too perfect for words.

We left the Wynn, a little bit sad to be leaving. The streets and sidewalks were much quieter now, and most of the revelers left outside were drinking as they walked -- or should I say, as they stumbled? In no time at all, we were back at TI. As I passed Tangerine and electronic dance music pulsated, I thought of Krisi for about the 80th time and our trips to PI. Las Vegas is one, big, more expensive PI.

The trip home was fast, and actually, this time the trip made more sense in terms of directions and interstates. Once here, we all plopped on the couch and queued up the Dancing With the Stars results show. I thought it was very interestingly done, with clips about the dancers' backstage rituals, and interviews with the judges. They didn't mention Bruno's foul mouth, and the right person FINALLY got the boot. WHEW!!!!!

And after that, I remember very little. I dashed off a quick note to Wesley, and crashed.

Las Vegas *rocks*.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Viva Las Vegas!!!

[SUBTITLE: How to Overuse the word "Gorgeous" in one day's trip report]

Please forgive my typos. I'm not accustomed to this keyboard. I keep hitting the wrong keys. Ack!!!! Drives me crazy. Where's my speelcheckur? Also, I originally wrote this report for a group of scrapbookers, some of whom will get here Sunday night for a trade show that opens Monday.

Anyway, I'm here!!!!!!!! I made it one piece despite the best efforts of the second plane I rode yesterday!!!!!!

Seriously, they tried to kill me. First they seated me next to a little old lady whose husband was separated from her, and then she complained that she didn't have the window seat. I'm a white-knuckle flyer -- I *need* my window seat. I need to see the earth. And the engines and wings and all that important stuff. (You want the window seat, you make your reservations early like I did.)

That second leg (Atlanta to Las Vegas) took FOREVER. Oh, and to exacerbate matters, I started sneezing in the Atlanta airport. So my nose was running or stopped up or I was sneezing. I actually *bought* the $2 headphones and watched the movie hoping it would distract me. ("Just Like Heaven," I think? Mark Ruffalo, Reese Witherspoon -- very light fare, perfect for distraction, passed the Bay's Romantic Comedy Tests: I laughed *and* cried. That's all I really need in a romantic comedy.)

The movie wasn't long enough, though. And I had no way to tell what time it was. Just when I thought, "We absolutely MUST be almost there," the crew pulled out the carts and headed out for a second round of drinks and snacks. ARGH!!!!

That was the longest flight I've ever endured, especially since Little Old Lady next to me was practically in my lap half the time trying to see out of my window. "No, that's not the Grand Canyon. You'll know when it's the Grand Canyon. Yes, THAT is the Grand Canyon. No, that's Lake Meade. No, you can't see the Hoover Dam from here. No, that's not Las Vegas. Yes, THAT is Las Vegas. No, those hotels are not as close as they appear." Sheesh.

When we finally got to Las Vegas, the landing almost scared me to death. I mean. OK, I don't want to scare anyone any more than necessary, but I have flown so many times to so many places, and that was the worst landing ever. Up, down, up, down, hover (which planes AREN'T SUPPOSED TO DO), up, down, HOVER, up, UP, down, and finally amid screeching breaks and wobbling wings, we landed. And then -- and THEN -- The pilot got on the speaker and said, "We experienced an anomoly in our engines during that landing, so I'm going to back up the plane and rev them so we can see that anomoly again."

WHAT????????

Let me say it again, for emphasis, "We experienced A HUGE PROBLEM in OUR ENGINES during that TERRIFYING LANDING, so I'm going to TEST OUR COLLECTIVE MORTALITY." OK, I'm paraphrasing. Still. That's what he said. In essence.

I was not the only person in the plane whose eyebrows were lost somewhere in their hairline while the obviously suicidal pilot did exactly what he said he was going to do.

Fortunately, it was not so severe an anomoly that I got killed in a fiery ball of exploding jet fuel. Because, after all, I had better things to do.

Got off the plane, called Wesley, told him I was safely on the ground. He asked if I was in Las Vegas. I said since I was looking at slot machines, it was either Vegas or Atlantic City, and really, I wouldn't know until I got outside. Then I giggled at my own witty repartee.

Then I called Amy, went to baggage claim, found my suitcase, went outside to wait for both Amy and Paul, talking to Amy nearly non-stop on the cell phone. Paul took my suitcase; Amy took me; we squealed all the way to her new whore-red slutmobile (Pontiac Solstice), and headed for the Wynn Las Vegas.

Now, for those of you who don't live in Las Vegas or hang out with Lindsay Lohan, apparently the Wynn is a popular hotel with the rich folks on all those VH1 "Lifestyles" shows. Paul worked on the sound systems there. I don't hear about the Wynn at all in Tennessee. It's just not marketed to Tennesseans, I guess. It is *gorgeous*. Not so impressive on the outside, looks kinda ordinary, not like the stereotypical, glitzy, themed Las Vegas resort. It's not themey on the outside. But it *gorgeous* on the inside. OMG. That's where they spent their money -- on the *inside*.

And it was full of rich people and semi-celebrities. INXS is playing here Sunday night, and I could swear I saw two of the band members there. (Just saw 'em on Rock Star last summer, after all!) But you can tell which guests are rich. They look pampered. I don't know how else to explain it. Also, some of them have body guards.

Amy and I picked up our tickets to Avenue Q (an adult version of Sesame Street), and Amy tried to talk me into going to see La Reve. We were walking around just looking at everything. That place is just gorgeous. There is a big thingie outside one restaurant that is referred to by locals as The Big Giant Head. And --

I cannot describe it, especially given the constraints of this little blog. But it's a water, light, special effects, music and talking show thingamabob, and is best described by that name the locals gave to it. Big Giant Head. The water is trippy. If you go look at that area in the daylight, there are nude statues facing toward a tall, tall beige tiled wall with water cascading down that wall. Late afternoon, they cover the windows and flood that grotto. In the evening, the water half covers one statue. And ... the water ... *changes*. It's just trippy. I've never taken acid, but that water is an acid trip. And then, of course, there's the Big Giant Head effects.... See? Can't describe it. Go see it if you have half a chance.

OH-- almost forgot -- all the casinos and resorts are decorated for the Chinese new year -- GORGEOUS.

We decided to get a drink, so we went to the first bar we found and asked if there was a dress code. I was wearing tired jeans, a tired t-shirt, and I had tied my tired button-down shirt around my waist because I was dying of heatstroke after all day on the planes. And no make-up. And tired, tired hair.

The hostess was a sweetheart and said no, no dress code, and she gave us the most marvelous table at the front corner so we could people-watch and drink. Yamy got a glass of pinot grigiot, and I got a "classic champagne cocktail." Glass of champagne with a raspberry-liqueur-soaked sugar cube in it. YUMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our waitress was a doll. Older than her appearance, impossible burgundy locks cascading all around, too much Las Vegas make-up. Probably a former showgirl. We watched her -- she was exceedingly down-to-earth and friendly to us, but very subservient to the really disgustingly rich or semi-famous people. (The performer who was the original Phantom in LV's production of Phantom of the Opera was in the bar with us with three bored-looking rich guys. I totally forget his name; I would have to ask Amy.) When she brought us munchies, she gave no warning -- the peanuts mix was spiced and very yummy. We heard her warn other customers, "These are hot." She was really good at reading her customers.

Don't know how long we sat there, talking, watching people, drinking, got one picture of us. Then we walked around the shops. Cartier. Dior. Chanel. There are the most *darling* dresses in Oscar de la Renta -- Carrie on "Sex & the City" would wear *those* clothes. A chocolate place. Beautiful restaurants that smelled sublime. The Wynn is just magnificent. I went to the restroom and wanted to take a picture IN THERE!!!!!!

We decided to walk over to Fashion Show Mall (FSM for abbreviation's sake). I managed to walk past all sorts of stores in the Wynn and at FSM until I went around a corner and found a shop with hand-beaded dresses and purses. OMG. Went inside. OMG, OMG. They have *the most gorgeous* hand-beaded heirloom silk scarves I have ever seen. I desperately, desperately want one (or six) of those things. Some of them are $129. No idea what the name of that store is, but if you go to FSM, go upstairs. You can't miss that shop. It jumps out and bites you.

Finally, I was starting to sniffle, so we walked back to the Wynn. On the walkway between the two places (goes over the Strip), we passed a group of three young men. The one in the middle was Teddy Somebody, the young singer who just signed with Sony Records and plays Wayne on "Love Monkey" on NBC Wednesday nights. I almost dropped my teeth.

Las Vegas, y'all, is *very* hot right now. I mean, in terms of places to be. I felt like I was in... I don't know. Hollywood. Everywhere I looked, there was someone who looked like I should know who they are or someone who looked too rich to be mingling with the hoi polloi.

And the Wynn is just too gorgeous to be believed. I never hear anyone ranting about it, but they should. It's beautiful and beautifully appointed.

Got the car out of valet, came to Amy's neighborhood, stopped at the grocery store. By this time, I felt like total crap. Sneezing. Actively runny nose. Watery eyes, the whole nine yards. I got the tissues with the lotion inside. Thank heaven. We came home. Paul immediately said it was just about dinner time. I wasn't hungry (champagne cocktail and spicy peanut mix). Also, I just really wanted to take some cold meds that were in my suitcase, which had been with Paul. I was *miserable*. I took my drugs and scanned my email, but couldn't summon the strength to wrestle with the laptop's keyboard.

We finally asked Paul to go get us food from Fat Burger. I still wasn't hungry when he left, but five minutes after he was gone, blam, my stomach started growling. ROFL!!!!!

He came home with burgers, fries, and those magnificent, marvelous milk shakes. Y'all. I know I rant about them. I know I do. But MAN, that milk shake was even better than I remembered!!!!! The burger and fries were great, too. The fries are steak fries, crunchy on the outside and fluffy-soft on the inside -- just *perfect*. We ate and watched "Dancing With the Stars." It is *such* a fabulous treat to watch it *with* Amy instead of watching it and waiting an agonizing three hours to dish about the scores and the judges' quips!

[Aside: Did anyone else think Bruno used the B-word last night? We ran it back and watched it several times to see if he said what we thought he said -- and laughed 'til it hurt, too.]

I was, by the end of the show, totally ragged out. The drugs had started working, so at least I wasn't actively sneezing and snotting all over Amy's beautiful living room (her folk art, in such heaps, looks wonderful!!!), but my poor widdle nose was raw from a whole day of sneezing into cheap airport tissues. I stayed up and watched "The Simpsons" and a couple of episodes of Penn & Teller's Showtime show, "Bullsh*t" with Paul, and then I went to bed.

I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow, and I slept like the *dead*.

This morning I got up at 6:15 Las Vegas time. I am sooooooooo suited to Las Vegas hours! ;)

Today, I'll hang out at the house, figure out what all I forgot. I need to buy cooler shirts. I'm going to burn up if I wear my turtlenecks all week. Tonight we're going back to the Wynn to see Avenue Q and more of the Big Giant Head. If I have a chance, I'll go find out the name of that shop in FSM with the beaded stuff. We might go to the Peppermill for dinner, or I might try to talk Amy into taking me to one of the 8 billion fabulous restaurants in that part of town. Still no volcano! Still no fountains! In terms of my casual sightseeing itinerary, I'm running behind in some ways, but ahead in others -- I didn't think I would get to FSM until Saturday!

[Note added many hours later: We're going to the Mirage for dinner. Can't decide between California Pizza Kitchen and the new buffet. We'll see the volcano then, too!]

In general, so far, Las Vegas is as fabulous as ever, and it is marvelous, magnificent, amazing to be in the same state as Yamy. Tee hee!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Needed: One nanny

I need a personal assistant. No, I can't afford one. But I need one of those people who does all the normal living stuff for me so I can go pack for Las Vegas.

What not to forget:
- Badge thingie (to hold credentials)
- Battery re-charger (for camera batteries)
- Battery re-charger (for cell phone)
- Clips (to prove I'm a real writer)
- Doodad I've been meaning to send to Erikia Ghumm (for the last five months)
- Totally fabulous new blouse
- Totally fabulous shoes
- Totally comfortable shoes (for when the fabulous ones get soaked by a dropped drink)
- Notebook & pencils (for taking notes)
- Mini tape recorder (for getting quotes)
- Swimsuit (for frolicking in fountains)

I am in way over my head, ain't I?

Monday, January 23, 2006

How I Scrap

[Copied and then edited from a post on Scraptalk, originally dated January 20th, 2006.]

I start with the paper. Yes, I know, bass-ackwards, but I start with the paper. When the current Club Scrap kit arrives, I fondle the paper first, and then I start choosing photos that fit with the feel and colors of the papers.

Then I find photos that go with the Club Scrap kit in hand. Sometimes, at this point, I have to go find a different piece of paper from a different kit because I'll have undertones or complementary colors that emerge from the photo which I must address.

Then I mat the photos. I'm a photo matter. I have a real problem *not* matting photos.

Then I start composing the photos on the page. Put the focal point photo one third from one edge. One third from the other side's edge. One third from the top. One third from the bottom. Repeat ad nauseum. Go to Walmart and reprint the focal point photo in four different sizes, mat *those*, and start all over again, finally settling on the 5x7" version of the photo and putting it in a sweet spot where it's one third from *two* edges.

Start trying to arrange the secondary photo so it doesn't wreck the composition of the first one. Cuss. Throw bottles of reinker. Flounce away from the scrap space in a snit and channel surf for two hours.

Return to scrap space and start looking for embellishments. Over the course of the next five days, try 40-50 different fiber-ribbon combinations and make an elaborate hoo-hah in the Melting Pot, only to find that it doesn't work AT ALL. Cry. Flip hair, stomp away from scrap space and spend four days reading torrid novels from the library.

Return to scrap space and use the embellishments that came in the Club Scrap kit. Arrange those.

Then I start working on the title. Don't ... even ... GO THERE!

After about three weeks, do the journaling. It's too long. It's too big. The font is too elaborate. The next font is too bland. Burn up many, many pieces of printer paper trying to make it fit into the space left on the page. Drop the Tonic Studios big honkin' guillotine trimmer on foot. Go to ER and get foot X-rayed. Return to scrap space to discover cat is lying on top of the layout and has pushed off all the little beads and minibrads onto the floor, scattering them to the four winds FOREVER.

Cry.

Return to "start arranging embellishments that came with kit, and... Repeat.

It's amazing I ever get anything done, isn't it? ;)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

So much to say...

I'm either definitely moving from clinically depressed and waltzing right on over into totally insane, or -- it's the weather. Every few days, it's just so horribly dark and grey here. Drives me crazy. I loathe winter. I despise it.

Oh, my gosh, that reminds me of an incident in fourth grade. The boy who sat next to me in math class told the teacher that I hated math. Just because I liked the teacher and didn't want to hurt his feelings, I protested, no, I didn't *hate* math. Whereupon the rotten little twerp said, "Yes, you do! You said, 'I hate math, I deeeeeeee-spiiiiiiiiiise math!'"

Dagnabbit, I might have gotten away with it if I hadn't had a bigger vocabulary than the tattler.

Oo. Thirty years later, I'm still not that keen on numbers. Go figure.

I've been trying to decide what today's post would be about, and I still haven't decided. I posted my personal scrapbooking method on Scraptalk the other day. That was fun. Or painful. Haven't decided which. At least it was entertaining.

While I was ranting and raving about the utterly out-of-control mistreatment of artists earlier this week, I had a bit of mildly disappointing news. A few years ago, it would have been completely devastating, but I've run out of patience with devastation. Now instead of spending four days weeping bitterly over a disappointment, I've decided that people in power are just insane. Or jealous. Not sure which. Maybe both. Anyway, being sure that it isn't entirely my fault makes it awfully easy to tell myself this is OK, this isn't the end of the world, and I'm going to Las Vegas next week.

Las Vegas is a great balm.

I've also run completely out of patience with sporting events. Please don't make me go see any more games. Arenas are stinky, the people there are rude, the noise level is deafening, the food is nearly poisonous, and I don't understand the games. Any of them. Pick one major sport that earns bazillions of dollars. Now ask me what I understand about it. I *don't*. I don't get it, and I don't even want to.

Oh, yes, I had to watch "The West Wing" on a tiny television in the kids' common room tonight. Guess what was on the good TV in the living room. Yep. Some game. Don't ask me who, don't ask me what, don't ask me why -- I do not know. And the older I get, the less patience I have with the whole shebang.

And of course, Las Vegas remains a great balm. Surely I will not encounter anything even remotely sporty in Las Vegas. I will only run into great milk shakes, fun sisters, fast whore-red slutmobiles, fabulous shows, gorgeous fountains, and very darned interesting crafty stuff.

Isn't it time for some Cuban jazz? Yes, I thought so, too! "De Alto Cedro voy para Macané!" Now, that's worth getting feisty, even on a Sunday.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

When's lunch?

I continue to slave over the goals booklet. To say it's not going well is a massive understatement.
In point of fact, I think I'm going to have to add "finish goals thingie" as a goal for 2008. At least I like the frontispiece. It has a window that shows part of page 2, and that's fun, isn't it?
All materials are Club Scrap, Ranger, and Therm O Web. Except the pen. Oh, I forgot the pen. It's a Zig calligraphy pen. I have lost most of my beloved Sharpies. Hmmmmm... maybe I should look in Emily's room?

I love Club Scrap. And I love Ranger. And I'm exceedingly fond of Therm O Web, but dang, I wish they weren't holding a contest for their design teams. That's a bummer. I'm holding out hope that they'll change their behavior next year and forego the contest crap.

Leggy Supermodel is about to get on my bad side. She responded to my query about whether I should wear my new peasant blouse or a boring turtleneck with this quip:
I think you should throw up all your meals from now until CHA and then wear your size 0 strappy, clingy, transparent dress while you frolic in the fountains. But that's just me. LS

Bitch. Oh, wait, that's right, I've already been castigated for name-calling. Leggy, hon, if I threw up from now until CHA, I would still be a size 16 at the very least, and I would be very, very grumpy. *Really* grumpy. Like, downright name-calling grumpy. At least I bet I'll be able to pick you out in the crowd. And you better prepare yourself for a patented hug.

(I give clumsy hugs wearing stiletto heels and carrying a loosely-capped bottle of re-inker. Fear the hug of Bay.)

IgotcherPlutoProberightchere!

My favorite off-the-blog anonymous correspondent Leggy Supermodel writes a number of good points this happy day:
"1. For someone who's so innocent, Anonymous Manufacturer sure spends a lot of time justifying what she does."

Well, when you're in a position of power, Leggy, it's hard to accept the news that you're abusing people when all you're doing is what all the other despots do. Once upon a time, orphan children lived in workhouses where it was perfectly legal to exploit them. Guess who the orphans are in my analogy. Now guess who's Mr. Bumble.

The strange thing for me is that I didn't post my stance on the abuse of Artists because I wanted to open a polite dialogue with manufacturers. I am patently disinterested in chatting with the manufacturers. The vast majority of manufacturers have lost all my respect, and I no longer want to be their best bud. I am more than willing to draw their ire, because really, if they loved me like little kittens, that would mean I support their tyranny. I don't.

I used to be more polite about manufacturers. Now I'm in the happy position from which I can ignore them and their concerns entirely, and I throw all my weight firmly behind the Artists. Treat me as badly as you like. But stop feeding the Artists gruel and calling it a meal.

"2. Have you heard from an Artist yet who said, 'No, I feel I'm being paid fairly for my work'?"

Yes, I have! One posted a comment just today. There are a few manufacturers who are known to treat their Artists nearly equal to their Graphic Designers. The trick is that most of those reputable manufacturers do not have "design teams." Most do not hold contests (a cruel gimmick which I in no way support). They do not curry favor on message boards. They rely on predominantly traditional advertising, marketing, and branding, and they choose their Artists carefully.

(And -- it might be pointed out -- they're not here responding to my lunatic ravings.)

The problem is -- there are dozens of manufacturers out there. There are hundreds of Artists being exploited. *Most* of the responses I've received are best represented by this note from one who wishes to remain totally anonymous, "You're kidding, right? More than one endorsement on a layout? I WISH! I'm losing money on postage alone!"

Just because I and a handful of others are being treated well by good companies doesn't mean that I should sit quietly while others suffer. Change is necessary, and perhaps it is best left to those who *are* treated well to help their oppressed brethren understand why.

"3. Have you heard from a graphic designer who says, 'No, I'd be willing to work for what design team members make'?"

Not one. Pardon me whilst I guffaw at the idea. Perhaps a better question would be, "Have you heard from a graphic designer who will stand up for the oppressed and exploited Artists?" And sadly, no, I haven't heard from a graphic designer who will go so far as to join me in my quest for fair treatment for Artists.

"4. Do you think you've done the Artists a disservice? Do you think the Artists think you've done them a disservice? I keep thinking about ol' amyk and her statement. If the Artists agree with you -- and it appears they do -- then have you done them a disservice by saying for them what they cannot say themselves?"

Well? No, I don't represent all Artists so I can't have done them a disservice. Besides, I'm not as talented as most of them. I'm begging them to join me in an all-out boycott of companies that treat them like crap, and I'm promising that I will not allow my name to be associated with such companies. But I can't pretend that all Artists are falling in line, quickstep, behind me.

The thing is, Leggy, most Artists have not formed a clear opinion of what is happening to them, and I feel I'm doing them a service to call a spade a spade. Having had my epiphany, I cannot possibly "go gentle into that good night." I'm accustomed to irritating those who disagree with me. (Just ask the famous plagiarists how much love they feel for me.)

Ideally, all artists, graphic designers, writers, publishers, and manufacturers would come together and just automatically do what's right. But this industry is still so volatile and unstable that competition runs rampant and taints most people's efforts. Everyone's looking out for #1.

Me? I'm looking out for the Artists. I'm OK with it if I never get another page published. I can make that sacrifice because maybe if I rattle the cage hard enough, something good will shake loose. I don't have to profit from this. I'm looking to make the world a better place. For Artists. Not manufacturers.

Snort -- "loved me like little kitties"! As if!

Now, Leggy Supermodel, I have a question for you: Should I wear my new green, white, and blue peasant blouse to CHA, or should I stick with boring old turtlenecks that might camouflage my extra chin?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Scraplings, Artists, & the Marquis de Sade

In the interest of fairness, I'm ugly but my mother dressed me really well. It is my own fault I can't dress myself now.

Kudos to Anonymous Manufacturer for sticking to her guns, digging in her well-heeled heels, and continuing her protests that she isn't evil, she's just doing business as usual, and it's all the Artists' fault that they aren't treated decently or paid fairly for their efforts on Anonymous Manufacturer's behalf. It takes extremists to define the middle ground. I think we can safely say that I think she's the Marquis de Sade, and she equates herself with Mother Theresa. So she's really probably only as bad as, say, a Republican. And that's not so bad, is it? Why, some of my best friends are Republicans!

That said, I'm interested in hearing from Artists who are on several manufacturers' design teams, and whether they try to cram as many different products onto a layout that's going to be published for the express purpose of receiving remuneration from four or five or six different manufacturers, plus, of course, the freelancer's fee from the magazine.

As many of you know, one of the tasks of my later writing assignments was to type up the supply lists for layouts that accompany my articles. There is a knack to it. You must know which format the publication uses. You must be able to prioritize the supplies in the same vein as all the other supply lists in the publication. Then there are the nitpicky details. Some periodicals prefer the word "paper," even if the base of the layout is actually textured cardstock. Some periodicals won't source adhesive unless you force their hand. Some periodicals don't want to see personal die-cutter fonts listed.

It takes quite a bit of arm-twisting on my part to get an Artist's supply list published in just the manner that she most needs it done in order to facilitate the Artist's financial rewards. I have encouraged artists to let me know if they need a particular company's product listed because the artist would receive a stipend for the credit.

And in all my articles, and of all the supply lists I've typed up, I've never had an Artist tell me, "I must have four or more companies listed in this supply list, because I will get money from each of those companies."

In fact, I've rarely heard an Artist ask for more than one particular company to be listed in the sources. That's (1) company at a time. Just one. And usually that was for an adhesive company. (An adhesive company whose products I adore, and if I were going to try to be on a manufacturer's design team, that's the one I would want, because, *man*, I have expensive taste in adhesive.) A few years ago, the requests to source a particular personal die-cutter's fonts were prominent. Now the trend seems to be for various paper sources -- all one at a time.

But I do clearly recall one Artist who did ask me to list two different companies in her supply list. (One of them was that adhesive company.) And I think another artist actually had three companies to credit for one of her layouts. I am not sure about that one, but I must hedge my bets, because if I incorrectly leave her out, Anonymous Manufacturer will come back and toast my buns for it.

Now, the tricky part is trying to ensure that the magazine will actually publish the list as written, even if the space is limited. I use the "Scream At The Editors" method -- a loathsome practice, but necessary. After each carefully composed supply list, if the Artist needed a particular credit, I hit the Caps Lock button. "PLEASE CREDIT XYZ SCRAPPIN' WIDGETS GLOOEY GLOBS. THE ARTIST WILL NOT RECEIVE COMPENSATION UNLESS THE ADHESIVE IS SOURCED."

Sad to say, sometimes these shouted pleas fell on deaf ears. You can't change a publisher's policy overnight.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago when I was first writing for the magazines, I received an absolutely irate letter from an Artist. She had just received the published issue, and her sponsoring manufacturer was not mentioned in the supply list.

I was secretly thrilled. For one thing, she had never spoken to me before. (I'm just a lowly writer, after all.) And for another, I had *not* typed up the supply lists for that one, nor was I even aware at that time that scrapbook manufacturers might actually pay an Artist for a published source credit. (Those sorts of kickbacks are still rare -- although I wish they were more ordinary. And more lucrative.) So it wasn't my fault she was so mad. Whew!

Happily, the Artist redirected her ire at the publisher, which promptly paid her the amount she would have received from the manufacturer had the supply list correctly credited the source.

Now I look back on that entire episode and I'm grateful. I'm grateful to the Artist for insisting that I become sensitive to her financial needs. I'm grateful to the magazine's publisher for doing the right thing and paying her the stipend she deserved. And I'm grateful to the manufacturer for offering that reward in the first place.

Money talks, Scraplings. That's all I'm sayin'. Money talks.

Please let me know if you're in the process of trying to get multiple "P4P" submissions correctly sourced and commensurately compensated by the supply companies. And no matter who the writer of the article is, make sure you note it in your supply lists if you could be rewarded for proper crediting. A writer cannot go to bat for you if she doesn't know what you need.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Minor bits of business

To the Anonymous Manufacturer who posted at great length in the comments section of my last post:

1. You're ugly, and your mother dresses you funny. (No, not really, not at all, but it's my second favorite bumper sticker ever, and I haven't even seen one like it since 1984, so feel warm and fuzzy in the knowledge that I'm resurrecting really *old* bad insults just for you. Don't you feel loved now? Yes! You should!)

2. We know who you are.

3. The reason your design team members are actively pursuing other opportunities is that they can't afford to be loyal to you. You don't pay them what they are worth. You are too greedy. If you want loyalty, I highly recommend you start behaving in such a way as to earn loyalty. And respect.

4. Please, I'm begging, ask your much-lauded professional graphic designer how much he would demand to start fulfilling the needs that are currently filled by your design team. Don't downplay their cumulative contributions. Tell him you need 20 layouts per month, 60 submissions to magazines per month, 200-500 positive word-of-mouth posts on four different message boards per month -- oh, and he needs to work hard to keep up with industry trends or at the very least set those trends himself. And he needs to have a recognizable name. And he needs to be free to travel for you four or five times a year. And he needs to... get the picture? Now ask him how much *that* will cost you. Do not underestimate the value of your design team's sizable impact on your advertising, your marketing, and your branding.

5. This bears repeating: You're greedy. There's nothing wrong with making a profit and building a business in the most economically efficient manner possible. It's quite another thing to run the scrapbooking industry's equivalent to a South Korean sweatshop. Just because you aren't the only manufacturer so bent on abusing, oppressing, and exploiting scrapbookers doesn't make you right to continue to do so once you've been informed you're infringing on human rights. C'mon, even Kathie Lee found a better production shop for her WalMart clothing line. And she had the good grace to at least act embarrassed.

-----------------------------
To the Artists who are torn, who have filled my mailbox with laments that they see both sides and don't feel comfortable taking a stand on the issue:

I know. I know you do. I felt as you did. I understand why you're so torn. However, the argument "the industry won't change" isn't valid until we have *tried* to change the industry. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

-----------------------------
Leggy Supermodel writes in anonymously:
"... Prostitutes will always be around because there will be someone with low enough self esteem that they need any kind of recognition they get. And some of them may be good at what they do. So any pimp (or manufacturer or publisher) can always find new hos. ... Good luck, Norma Rae, but I don't think this revolution is going to win. I wish it could, but you can't unionize everyone. Those talented scabs will undermine any such efforts."

I respond:
First of all, Leggy, I adore your metaphors. I've never been compared to Sally Fields in her young and skinny incarnation, and I always loved "Norma Rae." She did what she did because it was right. She wasn't the smartest person in the mill, she wasn't the purest soul in the neighborhood, but she recognized it when a Grand Truth smacked her in the forehead, and having once been enlightened, she could not live with herself if she did nothing.

But I refer you to the note to Artists above -- We might fail. We might. Then again, we might succeed in making the entire crafts industry more fair, more moral, and more humane than it has behaved to date. We cannot know if we will fail until we have tried. Just because it isn't easy to stand up to our oppressors doesn't make it any less necessary.

---------------------------
Final Thought of the Day:
I reiterate my pledge not to undermine my fellow artists. I will not accept payment that is one cent beneath a fair wage for my not-inconsiderable gifts, education, experience, expertise, and, hmmmmmm, fame. And this includes my writing assignments. I will no longer accept contracts and offers from people who don't treat artists fairly.

And I continue to urge other artists to make the same pledge, even as I understand why they don't. It's OK. I'm here to stand up for you even if you are not willing to stand up for yourself.

If only I had time to scan in my signature --

Sincerely,
Bay Loftis

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Art Can't Hurt You...

But prostituting art hurts everyone.

I try not to overthink the scrapbooking thing. Overthinking it always makes my head hurt almost as much as my heart. What I really want is for all scrapbook artists and writers and suppliers and manufacturers to come together in perfect harmony, spread the money and the joy around, and introduce the remaining 8 dozen stragglers (who haven't glommed onto the croppin' bandwagon) to the craft.

Did you ever wonder why scrapbooking is the fastest growing craft in the history of the organized crafting industry? It's a no-brainer, y'all. Everyone has snapshots. Everyone loves looking at their snapshots. And everyone -- absolutely everyone on this continent -- has played with paper and scissors and glue at one time or another.

The basic components of scrapbooking are not a vast mystery. Therefore, even the most unartful and least crafty people look at the craft and think, "I can do this. I must do this! Think of the wee bairns!"

But if you get a group of people together, all interested in this one craft, it becomes immediately apparent that some people want to get their artwork published. And some people think that publishing is, in and of itself, prostitution.

I've written about this before. No big surprise.

So to cut through the muck, here's the latest scandal in Happy No-Crappy Scrapbooky Land: Some members of some "design teams" are compensated more generously than other members of the same teams.

Shock! Horror! I can hear the cries of outrage filling up the land!

While some people -- who, like me, love all artists -- are quick to reassure the wounded, under-compensated, less-published scrapbookers, still quite a few justifiably point out that, gosh darn it, those wealthier team members get more goodies because, well, they get more stuff published. And after all, these "design teams" exist merely to advertise the products made by the manufacturers who sponsor those teams.

It just makes solid economic sense to send four times as much cardstock and ink to Publisher's Darling Polly. Little Lonely Loulou only gets one tenth of her layouts picked up. Polly is a guaranteed box-office draw, the scrapbooking equivalent to Julia Roberts, while Loulou is another Kathy Bates. Of course Loulou's work is sublime. But no one is going to pay Loulou/Kathy as much as they will pay Polly/Julia.

By now you've gleaned my position on the matter. I am afraid that as much as I empathize with Loulou, I understand why the money men save the biggest rewards for Polly. Polly's a star, and she brings in the customers. In truckloads.

But -- and this is a big but -- I must offer a third viewpoint.

The fact is that the scrapbooking manufacturers are taking horrible advantage of even Polly. They are not paying her the same amount that they should pay a qualified, educated, experienced, reliable, professional graphic designer.

I did a quick search at PayScale.com, and pretended I was an educated graphic designer seeking employment in the Chicago area. The payscale that this website kicked back to me -- with at least three viable job offers currently on the market -- was from $36K to $56K per year.

Oooo, those are big numbers. For the writers in the group, allow me to write those babies out for you. Thirty-six thousand dollars per year, and up to fifty-six thousand dollars per year. And that's just for doing what we published scrapbookers already do -- we use products to create art that makes readers say, "I must buy that paper!"

Forget Loulou's outrage at her measly reward package of about $500 worth of product per year. (That's retail, folks, not wholesale.) Forget that Polly gets to travel five or six times a year plus, let's just guess, $1300 of yummy new product per year. Neither of them are earning fair wages for the oodles of free advertising that the sponsoring manufacturer enjoys when both of those talented scrapbookers get that XYZ Scrappin' Widgets product sourced and listed in the big trade magazines every other month.

I propose, dear fellow scrapbookers in search of publishing glory and recompense commensurate with our talents, that we are nearly all being ripped off. I can count on one hand the number of "average" scrapbookers who went on to buy their dream home and build the perfect craft room solely in thanks to their ability to create artwork that sells a product to the average scrapbooking consumer.

A few years ago, I told a small group of friends that it was my opinion that the only way to earn a decent living in this industry was to start your own manufacturing business. Or to publish a magazine. Since the trade is already burdened with too many periodicals (as proven by the recent bankruptcy of one fine, established magazine), and the loathed Mega-Conglomerates are gobbling up all the small manufacturers and boutique producers in all directions, I think it's safe to say that the time to actually, individually profit from this craft has passed.

The only course of action which will help the individual artists now is to demand fair pay for our creations, whether they're the artwork that sell the papers, stamps, inks, stickers, rub-ons, and minutiae of the scrapbook craft, or the articles that tell the consumer how to use them.

And to be honest, there is no reason to think that we can begin to compete with the established, trained, educated, and experienced artists and writers who already existed in the world of advertising agencies that have actively worked to hone their product-selling skills. We have only one advantage: We Are Already Here. And they aren't.

Here is my cry, to both Publishers' Darling Polly and Little Lonely Loulou: Stop working for a pittance. If we stand together, we have a chance to actually earn a living doing what we love to do -- a tiny, minute, little, puny chance, but a chance nonetheless.

If we prostitute together, we all fail.