Dear Dad, November 15, 2012
I think the last time I wrote we’d just gotten our power back after Hurricane Sandy. We were lucky, our blackout only lasted from Monday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon. I understand that there are still people without power. It delayed some of the computer work on the con, which is, after all, where most of the prep takes place. And, it did rain, which finished filling up the cistern, so we are back on normal water use, which feels great.
The cold front that came in afterwards made it feel like early winter. I noticed that the way the house smells takes me back to winters in my childhood, almost like Christmas, although I would assume it’s just the oil heat. We have ornamental kale by the front door, which we raid when having ramen soup, stealing a few leaves per bowl. The morning glories kept blooming right up to the hard frost- and were the same fuchsia as the center of the kale. But it’s been down to 22 degrees occasionally, (also up in the high seventies), and the flowers are long gone.
Mouse has come in a few times. I think he’s checking to see if Smokey is still here, which he is. Zoloft, and Smokey are actually getting along better since we brought Peripegelium in. Are they trying to create a united front against the new cat, or is putting up with a rambunctious kitten making them more generally tolerant? I don’t know. It is fun watching Peri bounce around though. (Except while making dinner at which point she tends to get underfoot. Most recently, I almost fell into tonights stew. We are also having to train her that while sitting on the backs of the kitchen chairs is OK, the table is off limits. It’s a hard lesson since we can’t enforce it when we aren’t there, but the other cats learned.
I like to chat with our postmaster, and he was thoroughly sick of the advertising for the election. There were masses of it- mostly glossy which bothered me. I can’t even burn that stuff! I saw two non-glossy ads- on local NH races. Oh yes, there were letters from one candidate disguised to look like real letters from his wife and daughter talking about how wonderful he was and how great his ideas were. I was so annoyed at the duplicity I didn’t read far, but they were better than the glossy garbage that they spent so much to send to us. I’m sure the recycling people don’t like it either.
There was some good news when John and I went to the dump- they’ve re-opened the “yard sale” area. We have a lot of usable stuff we didn’t know what to do with to take next time!
We got a pile of the priority envelopes to send Mark’s mail down to PA for him. (He opted to have us do that rather than mess with turning the forwarding on and off, and we check his apartment to make sure it’s OK too.) The first week Willow took the accumulation from his mailbox, put it in the stamped, addressed priority envelope, and popped it right into the mailbox there. Sadly, Mark didn’t get it. When we went back this week, it was in the package spot with a note. While the same $5.15 postage covers however much you can stuff into a Priority envelope, the postal carrier is not allowed to pick up anything that (he judges) weighs more than 13 ounces. Feh. So we have to bring the mail back to our post office (any post office will do, but ours is small and can use the traffic), to send it along. Not quite as easy as we’d hoped, lazy bones that we are.
So let me try to keep this brief because the details aren’t really that interesting. I spent all last week working on the program booklet. I was sure there was a template that created a folded pamphlet somewhere in the computer. I’d used it for the first con, after all. But I couldn’t find it.
I was able to remember how to use the table chart to fill in the schedule. Once again I worked out the schedule on a couple of foam-core poster boards using 2×2 stickies-different colors for different subjects to avoid having similar themed workshops against each other. This year I remembered to put the speakers NAME on the sticky, so I didn’t have to remember who was teaching which class. I also came up with an easy way to look for conflicts. I put the board flat on the table and lay a ruler across the hour where each of that speakers classes and panels were. If they were speaking somewhere once, I couldn’t put them in any room during that block. It worked beautifully!
Sadly, when we got to the conference we did have o problem because I’d been treating the panels separately, and had them one hour on, one hour off in the panel room. But since the teachers were allowed to make their classes as long as they chose, the classes ran from anywhere to one to three hours. I distributed the classes so that they’d all start at the same time, and simply leave different amount of down-time between. But that meant that the panels sometimes ran over or started before a class, so next year while I’ll probably keep the panels in one room, I’ll probably put them on the same rhythm as the classes.
The conference was much smaller this year. Only 55 people checked in, and last year we had 138. Someone warned me that third years conferences sometimes take a dip, but this was rather disappointing. Jane wasn’t able to recover the money she took from her retirement fund, so we’re going to HAVE to make money next year.
There’s a LOT of organizing that needs doing for a conference. I was doing correspondence from when I got up to two in the morning, then I’d get up again. My eyes started hurting, and Kat and Willow took over the making dinner. Meanwhile new issues kept coming up. We had five speakers cancel that last week, so I’d have to reorganize the schedule. When I posted the schedule to the website, the lines of the chart didn’t show, which made it really hard to read. I kept trying to figure that one out but never did.
Also once I’d worked out the schedule, it all fit into eight rooms, and we’d reserved nine. OK, we can use the extra room to put some videos and a video player in, and people can relax in there. Nope, Connecticon had their movie room shut down because they hadn’t gotten proper permission. Now putting a video player, screen and videos in a room is the same thing that hundreds of mechanics and dentist offices do in their waiting rooms, and no one gives them a hard time, but we didn’t dare. Luckily they were willing to take the room back even after we’d paid them in full, and apply the balance to the con suite which they’d charged us for separately. . Then someone suggested we needed “permission to record forms”, which I printed and we got some of the speakers to sign.
The disk burner arrived, and the recorders, (and the name tag ribbons), and we sent for lapel microphones, (When you shorten that word, they are called mics- with a long a, although I always spelled it mikes. I found this in the catalogues. Poo on modern spelling I say!) They came in time, but almost no one used them. Brian told me we wouldn’t need them, and mostly he was right. He also told me that no one would want individual CDs for $5 if we made the whole con available for $40. Again, he was mostly right (there have been two people so far who want just a specific class or two.)
Another lovely thing was that Josh changed servers our website is on, and the pages loaded ever so much faster, which was really great. I continued to be swamped with correspondence and look for the format because I couldn’t put the collected material together without it. I wanted so much to have it at the printers by Friday, but it didn’t happen.
During whatever breaks I took I did watch a few movies. I found Evita disappointing. It reminded me a lot of Jesus Christ Superstar, lovely if complex music, and both of them had that “greek chorus” thing going. But for the following week I came to the conclusion that Evita is a musical with only one song, and it was stuck in my head. (Yes, i know there were more than that, but I forgot them.) The movie Contagion-was exemplary in its fair treatment of all the people trying to deal with the new virus in the title. I think I probably ordered it for the many good actors in it. Also I like movies about medicine. I loved The Prestige another one with a great cast: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine,and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. Hey, anything about Tesla, but it was one of those movies I’ll want to watch over and over again. There aren’t that many of those these days.
I really tried not to over-work. We had Steve up for an old fashioned pot roast on Sunday, and watched Studio Ghibli’s Tales of Earthsea, which was good as expected. After he left I was back on the computer. I watched a movie called
Thank You for Smoking in which the tobacco lobbyist asks some hollywood money type: “When do you sleep?” and he answered “Sunday”. Boy did I relate to that. One morning (I forget which) I didn’t get to bed until 4. The problem is that I wake up at 8 even then, because it’s light and I have stuff to do. Usually I get 9 hours of sleep a night, to which I attribute my wonderful health. I don’t like not getting enough sleep.
Daylight savings time ended, and I had a stray thought: how do they deal with having two of the same hour in businesses that have night shifts? Skipping an hour I can get, it’s just missing. But do you say “the first 2:13”? or what?
Finally, Monday I found the file with the program booklet for 2010, and using that for a template, managed to plug in this year’s info, and pretty much get it put together in one day. (THAT is a dangerous statement that I shall try to forget. I must never feel that it should be possible to make a program booklet in a day. It was only possible because I’d already prepped all the components, and it was the assembly that only took about 18 hours.) It really should be done more than a week in advance, although with the number of people dropping out, and all the changes in the scheduling, I can’t imagine that doing it a week earlier wouldn’t result in a really inaccurate schedule.
Monday was also Guy Fawkes Day, and for the first time in years we didn’t set off so much as a cracker or squib. I think we left all ours at the lake at fourth of July and neglected to replace them. Tuesday was Election Day, and the family trooped down to Citizens Hall and voted, then came back and returned to work. After some final fixes, I put the file for the booklet on my flash drive and Willow and I took it to Staples and dropped it off.
Then we went out shopping. In the first two years Honour had helped me at Celebrate Samhain and we took $100 of our take from that to fund the hospitality room. Honour’s crusade was to make it possible for people like herself who couldn’t eat gluten casein or artificial ingredients to be able to eat. Usually con suites have soda, chips and other snacks. We are always thrilled when we can find cheese or fruit or other healthier fare. She is an incredible shopper and knew how to make a little money go a long way and came up with the idea of “build your own soup”: She had broth- chicken, beef and vegetarian, and let people add what they chose- various shredded meats, vegetables and noodles to it, to make a filling, healthy meal. Let’s face it, even without milk or wheat products, you can still eat just about any meat, rice, potatoes and fruits and vegetables. That eliminates only a lot of snacks.
Willow had asked one of her friends Raye, who she said was really organized, if she could help, and Raye jumped right in. We had a fairly extensive correspondence, in which I neglected to tell her that we generally come in on Friday morning, although Jane likes to get there Thursday night. So Raye was there before we were. Our Hospitality room was a hotel suite with a small “kitchenette” consisting of cupboards, a sink, a dorm sized refrigerator and a microwave. Nothing on which or in which to cook anything. Admittedly, catering doesn’t want anyone taking customers from them, but we had permission to serve a few snacks, and to meet the needs of people with special diets who couldn’t eat from their menu. And that’s pretty much what we intended to do. We’d asked our speakers and vendors about any allergies and kept out the bananas and peanuts and other things that could cause serious reactions. We made a few gluten free offerings and brought a rice cooker, and popcorn popper. We spent $25 at the dollar store on bottled water and juice boxes without scary ingredients (although they did have sesame street characters on them). We also got assorted cheese, eggs and a bushel of apples.
Wednesday night I did my show with Cathy Kane as my guest plugging her new book on Manifestation. Actually I can’t even remember it now- I think by that time I was punchy from lack of sleep. Afterwards I printed out the handouts for my RunValdr class until the printer misbehaved (bless it) and I went to bed.
Thursday morning we got up and baked: gluten free shortbread, gluten free/casein free chocolate cupcakes, lemon cake, & red velvet cupcakes (so other people wouldn’t eat the gf ones), and a batch of “all natural” brownies: organic flour and florida crystals and farm eggs. I suddenly realized that I was frustrated because I couldn’t do a lot of baking and show off what a good cook I am. The girls chided me that if I should get my jollies from showing off by creating a con, but it’s not quite the same thing. Watching people eat what I’ve cooked makes me feel good. In the afternoon we broiled a steak and cut it into strips, and roasted some chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, and a turkey, and boiled about 4 dz. eggs.
During the middle of the day, Kat and I went out and gave blood and picked up the program booklets. To my dismay I discovered that the formatting was off, and the font we’d used didn’t come through. I HOPE that this will teach me to always get a printed out copy before leaving the electronic one. Of course it looked good on their computer- same as it did on mine. Next time, get to see a print-out first. Oh, and it was snowy, but John dug us out.
When we got back Willow and John loaded the van. We’d been thinking we had so much stuff that we’d have to take two cars, but she’s a packing wizard and she managed it- even though her back was spasming and she had to take codeine. It kept hurting all weekend, but she just gave up on her heels (to look professional) and carried on. Oh, and just to “ice the cake”, while packing up the food, she found a dead rat in a bag in the keeping room. Fun, fun, fun!
I was impressed with us, we managed to get out Friday morning by 8:30. We got to the hotel around 11, hit the ground running, and didn’t stop until we crashed in our room around midnight. I don’t think we even checked in until after seven. The first thing we did was drop the food off at Hospitality which was already packed. The suite was a bedroom (where Jane was sleeping, with others to split the cost) and a “living room” with the so called “kitchenette” off of it. There were two couches (one of which folded out that Raye could sleep on) and a couple of chairs, and they’d brought in several tables that the food was on. Jane had brought in another girl, Sabina, who was going to watch her tables in the venders room, but who became a full time helper for Raye as soon as Ed and Morwena got there. (They sell used books, and often share vending space with Jane, so they cover both.)
I had a very important learning experience this year. I realized that the right way to delegate is to BUTT OUT. I’d come down to the hospitality room and immediately start trying to figure out what to do that was useful, when I realized that Raye and Sabina had it organized they way they wanted, and if I did anything I was just messing up their organization. I had a vague memory of Willow (who’s run the vendors room since the first con) complaining about Jane changing things when she’d organized them, and realized that’s what I was doing. This will be very useful for me if I can integrate it properly. The only thing to say is “Do you need anything from me?” and maybe “How is this organized?” We should be able to cover everything beforehand. I have to say we were VERY lucky in finding people who we could trust to run these things for us. Raye was incredible.
The first night they had the turkey and we’d baked 5 pounds of potatoes in foil, and all weekend long there was soup and rice, popcorn, cheese, crudites, and dip, coffee and other drinks. (Emerald Kat had brought a huge assortment of canned soda and seltzer, bless her!) Jane had spent the previous week (after her power came back on) canning home made soups, and making lasagna and baked apples and other dishes. She picked up a cool appliance: three small crockpots in one rack, so there was always an assortment of soups available. I think most of the food went to the people like us, and our volunteers like Brian and Raye who had neither the time, nor the money to run downstairs to the various eateries the campus had in the building.
Brian arrived during supper- we had to try to figure out how to use the recorders ourselves before that, luckily we didn’t have too many workshops before dinner. Once he got here we set him up in the second lobby and he worked straight out sending out the recorders, and cleaning up the recordings on his computer, and tracking which one was where. Last year Back Country charged us $2k for that, and I thought that the girl who was with the technician was just his girlfriend, but now we’ve learned that we’ve got to assign a full-time runner to get the 5 recorders out and back so Brian can spend all his time doing the computery stuff. Live and learn.
Willow pretty much took over Registration. Mostly because of her back. Running reg allowed her to sit down. Friday she did have to organize the vending room. Jane had set up her tables Thursday night, but a lot of work needed to be done. Willow had made a chart with room dimensions (provided by the hotel), but told me that as with any military plan, “it would not survive first contact with the enemy”. She was right. When we got there the Vending room full of stacks of chairs and tables, and there was no room for her planned organization. She did finally ask the hotel conference liaison to have them removed and that helped, but I don’t think they took all of them, and we still couldn’t fit all the tables we’d planned in. She dealt with this by reducing the number of tables we were using to 2, and something else when a one day vendor came in. I don’t know because I didn’t see it. I didn’t get down to that room all day Saturday.
Kat liaised with the vendors for Willow, since she was there the whole time. When Brian got there we borrowed a power cord from the essential oils vendor, who’d borrowed it from the Conference Office. We told her we’d return it in the morning when the office opened and we could get another, but it never did. I am not sure what the point is of an office to work with organizers of conferences when they close on the weekends. I wonder if they knew we weren’t coming back next year and didn’t need to do anything for us. It was still annoying. Last year at least they tried to put up the signs in the frames by the doors saying what was going on in each room- they failed, but they at least offered. This year they didn’t bother. The signs they put up were inadequate. They didn’t do room set-up for us. Someone said they are staffed by the students in the hotel management program of the college. Jane and I plan to send them a detailed feedback so at least they can learn from what they didn’t do. I certainly learned from it.
Sadly, another learning experience was chaos in the scheduling. My master chart was accurate- but the charts we handed out with the program weren’t. It turned out that I had had several iterations of the schedule chart in my flash drive. I’d taken the entire CTCW 2012 file and loaded it in (in case I needed it) and aparently they’d grabbed one of the versions before the final one. Chaos! Finally Willow found a correct one (actually, I think she used the chart to make a new correct one) and printed out new copies and started distributing them.
Aside from “running” the con, I was also teaching RunValdr- four one hour classes. When I was done with the Friday evening one and the vendors room was closed, Kat and Willow went out to Target to pick up a few things we’d forgotten. (They didn’t pick up another power strip because OF COURSE the sales manager or other liaison was going to be there in the morning.)
It occurs to me that this is not so interesting as to be worth telling. I’ll tell you that on both mornings Willow ran a “salon”- a block called Coffee and Philosophy, first thing in the morning where people could wake up gradually and still get some good conversation. I just went on from hour to hour, doing what came to hand, doing classes, chatting with Corbie (an old friend from the SCA many years ago) who is now one of America’s top psychics. She was able to tell me a lot more about the New Age folk we’re trying to get in, and how we’re not attracting them. I was incredibly impressed with all the people who helped. The con was small, but I do think the people who came had a good time, and having the breathing room between workshops seemed to be well received.
By Sunday I was SO ready to go home. Jane, not having a night time driver, stayed over in the hotel to leave Monday, but we headed home around 6. Could have left earlier, but got a tutorial from Brian on using the recording equipment.
I’d kept forgetting to eat, so by the time we hit Fitchburg we were really hungry and stopped. We found a fantastic Japanese restaurant, where we got some marvelous soup, salad and hibachi. We got in around 9 and crashed.
I’d planned since last year that the days following the con I’d get to relax. My theory is that if you don’t, your body will give you a cold and make you take the time off, so if you do it intentionally, you may avoid the cold. Of course my “So called relaxing” consisted of going over the website and re-writing things for next year. But I realized that what makes something “work” and “stressful” is not that it’s externally imposed, it’s not that it’s hard, or disgusting. Another thing I did was to clean off the stove top, and scrub the toilet which I’d been letting go. I would have cleaned the fridge, but I noticed that in my list of weird holidays “Clean out the Refrigerator Day” was coming up (today), and decided to put that off until then. It felt good to do the things I’d been putting off. I decided that what makes it hard is not even deadlines. I rather like deadlines. But it’s impossible deadlines that are stressful. It’s having to do more than you can possibly do before the deadline that makes it horrible.
Another holiday this week was Diwali- the Indian festival of lights. When I posted that on Facebook (as I try to do daily) I got a response from Fernando- another old SCA friend who is over there now, and enjoying the fireworks.
I DID mess up when I realized I hadn’t gotten a guest for this week’s New Normal. I called around a bit, and finally got Willow to do her “bad news readings” with the theme of how to handle bad news, and put in the description on the LiveParanormal stations website that it would be a show with free readings. I also called a few people to get them call in and pretend that they weren’t put up to it. Liz did it, and Lorelei from Maine. We did get one cold caller. Also Seanara, one of the con teachers, bless her, came on for the whole show. She’s not only a talented reader, but a certified social worker and therapist, so her contribution was marvelous. I really do better when I have the guests lined up a couple of weeks in advance.
Tuesday I went to the dentist, and Wednesday I went to the eye doctor. He says I have the earliest indication of cataracts and may need surgery in about twenty years. I had an horrible time loading the con recordings into my computer. We’re guessing it was the labels we put on them not being tight enough. I sent the first CDs out today. Willow also sent out another of her blankets.
Today John and I went out and picked up some groceries, and when we got home we managed to get locked out of the car- as Jane and I did on the way back from Maryland. At least we were at home, and it was cold enough that I wasn’t worried about the food in the car. Thank goodness we have AAA, who came out and opened the door for us. Today the phone repairman came by as well. If anyone has been trying to call us for the last few days and gotten a busy signal- it wasn’t busy, it was broken, but it’s better now. Good thing that didn’t happen before the con!
Well, I hope that wasn’t too boring. It’s what we’ve been up to. No goats in the kitchen or strange theories this week, but I expect I’ll be back to normal now that this year’s conference is over. It actually did go pretty well, and I’m really looking forward to next year.
A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand. – Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)