Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Vanity Postage from Stamps.com

 I tried vanity postage from Stamps.com and it is extremely cool and also a headache. I love it so much that I was in denial about what a mess the process is until I found myself trying to explain to my housemate and fellow mail artist, Dawn, how she could use my credit to get a page of vanity stamps of whatever she wanted:
       "If, in the next week-- before my trial period ends I have to cancel my subscription or it is $16 a month-- you want to order stamps, you can definitely use my credit to order the photo stamp blanks (the stickers), but the credit doesn't apply to postage so you can either use my remaining balance, which is a couple of dollars, or if you want more you can buy it in whole dollar increments of at least $10."
And those are just the hoops remaining after I signed up for and installed all these things and navigated the stamps.com labyrinth and the one in the mandatory desktop version. I have worked for the post office, have the First Class Mail rates memorized by mailpiece and by ounce, read postal regulations as a pastime and found this process inscrutable I honestly don't know who would find the ordering process and billing manageable.

I found a gift card at the Goodwill for half off of $2.99 and thought it was worth checking out, and it was redeemable for $21 in postal supplies but no postage. But, signing up for stamps.com comes with a welcome kit (designed for small businesses) with a $5 postage credit. The welcome kit coupons are really clever, they are postcards redeemable for $10 in postage if you send them in using stamps.com postage after your trial is up. I have already put the cancellation date in my planner, even though I love my vanity stamps, because the subscription is just way too expensive for private use.

This page of stamps is a drawing I made of a triceratops skull at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
This is a photo of my dad. The printing is over saturated. He's in a gorilla suit warming up to peddle his pontoon paddle boat in a river parade. 

I feel weird cancelling a service that is so neat, but it is really not priced for personal use. I send more mail than anyone I know and I use under 200 stamps per year. Just subscribing to stamps.com costs twice as much as those 200 stamps, and anyway there are always new fantastic commemorative USPS stamps that I want- vanity stamps can't replace them.

 For example, one year a panoramic stamp came out depicting the cherry trees around the Washington Monument to celebrate the centennial of friendship between the United States and Japan. I had an application for teaching abroad due, and since I was living in the capital I delivered it to the Japanese embassy by hand. They asked for a self addressed, stamped envelope for replies. I used the cherry blossom stamp and they sent it back saying no thank you. So that worked out well for everyone.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mike Kistler

My grandfather was proudly riding the early, avoidable death train the entire time I knew him, with the exception of the year he was 74 and got treated for cancer (I think it was because he was a newlywed). When I was little and was taught, sans nuance, that smoking kills, I would lecture him all the time and he would laugh it off. He continued smoking even after the mother of his children died of a heart attack brought on by getting by on just the one lung for years. Probably the sweetest death train story is that he wore a seat belt until it was legally mandated, and then he never wore one again. He also ate what he liked in the face of diabetes and didn't care to exercise. He retired at 55 and spent decades going on cruises around the world with his second wife. When they split up, he got together with his high school sweetheart. I am sorry we didn't get in some long, meaningful coffee dates before he passed, but we did get to say goodbye, at least, while he was lucid.

The checks he sent me every birthday and Christmas used to be wonderful when I was a kid- I would plan how to get to the bank, when to cash them, what to put the money towards, and then when thanking them I could specify what books I'd bought. Since then, though, I have used the checks toward groceries or paying bills and I appreciate it of course but it's not the same as that thrilling glimpse at adulthood. I am so grateful that this last Christmas present was something tangible, a flashy set of cocktail jewelry. I wore it to his deathbed. He said it was sold as jade but was probably just glass, and that I didn't have to wear it at all if I didn't like it. We have always just talked about me. I don't know who I thought was going to tell me how he became an engineer or where he met his French wife or what his family did for fun when he was a little boy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Soapstone Seal

Seal Impression in Wax
Soapstone tiles

A friend picked up some soapstone tiles for me for Christmas, and I had a couple days off this week to work on projects so I rounded one off and carved my initials with a pin and a paper clip. Then I found an old pool cue in our pile of sticks and pipes and sawed off a 3 1/2 inch piece to use as a handle. The pool cue was much, much harder to sand than the soapstone, so I left it squared off. I drew from this tutorial: http://myceliae.deviantart.com/art/Tutorial-Personal-Wax-Seal-169771200

3D ichthyosaur

Here I intended to rough in an ichthyosaur and then drag the lines around, but I guess I only know how to drag around pen lines. I was petulant because Dad wouldn't explain to me how to get to the drawing tools so I just liquefied the background as well as the sketch. The background is meant to be 3D for pen and paper doodles and I found it while looking for interesting graph paper from printable paper to track my New Years' resolution progress. They have hexagons, percentages, everything cool but so far I have only used the 1/4 inch square grid.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Dressing up Free Business Cards

Vistaprint puts their contact info on the back of their free business cards, which dares everyone to laminate the card with something awesome to avoid the branding. So far I have thought of wood veneer, the pages on which I mix paint when I can't find a yogurt lid, flocking, or sand. I recently bought a bunch of leather samples (since I was paying to ship some royal blue deerskin to recover my planner, it was close to free to add some postcard size samples) of fake exotic leather- embossed on cow leather- that I thought would be super funny for a schoolteacher/truck driver/artist (yes, I'm flailing) who is broke as anything.

embossed cow, embossed cow, pigskin
I noticed when I was shopping for refills for the planner that everyone is into these colorful, childish planners for stay at home moms, and the company also sells expensive business cards for people without job titles, like families. They are called "call me" cards. So that made me feel like it will be okay to have business cards that just have contact info. Then after I ordered them I saw all of these cute designs, like checklists with one or two jobs or skills ticked off, or word searches where you circle your current role, and I am not doing something polished like that.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Lounging outside in a tank top and flip flops in the evening on Christmas Eve makes me feel so lucky and good at picking a climate. I am glad my parents took me to the snow in the mountains every year or two as a kid, but I am reading on blogs and facebook about how lovely storms are, or bundling up, and I can just tell that's not for me. After we moved to Northern California when I was 8, we would go back down south most years to see our extended family (on both sides) so extra temperate weather, palm trees, and the ocean also feel festive to me.

We had a cold snap last week, where it got down to 28 degrees at night and didn't ever warm up all the way during the day, and it was pretty grueling. The yurt is neither insulated nor enclosed, and I was fine and not even cold (thanks, down sleeping bag!) but my elephant palm either died or went into hibernation. And my 5am bike commute was just horrible. And my feet would hurt from the cold floor in the house because I don't have any slippers. I read a headline today about a life threatening power outage in the Northeast, and okay, I want everyone to be comfortable and live but they chose a life on the edge of survival when they moved to a region with that climate.

ETA: I feel like mentioning that it is less that I don't care if people die from freezing temperatures and no heat, but more that I was sad in advance that people try to live in that climate, like I am sad when I find out one of my friends is comfortable driving drunk.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Experiment re:Black Customers

After I read the life hacking/white privilege article (or maybe it was a supporting response piece) I immediately started noticing it at work, that black customers just get shut down a lot (though Latino customers don't, which is different than in the article). I don't think its the yellow car phenomenon; I think it is really happening. This made me feel a little helpless and sick, so today I started actively extending the benefit of the doubt to black customers, they way I do naturally for really young earnest people and also people who are really terrible and aggressive. In the case of very young people, I know that they are navigating something new and I want them to succeed. I mean, any roadblock I can easily remove for a pregnant 19 year old with a handwritten page of things she learned from our call center is gone, and the same goes for an 18 year old who is the only person in his family with a credit card (I know because they all come with him and counsel him). For the aggressive folks, I just appease them as little as possible to avoid making a minor issue/absolute non issue my boss's problem. So as an experiment I am just extending that discretion to more people. Like, today someone returned a Rug Doctor after 49 hours instead of 24. Normally I would charge him for two days instead of the three that I could technically charge, but his contract notes showed that he had been keeping our call center informed about his efforts to turn it in after we closed yesterday and as soon as possible after he got off work today, so I charged him for one day.

To make a long story short, I don't know what to do, ever! But I am trying.