This is my full report on the Tahoe Mountain Bead Retreat, sans pictures because I don't feel like tearing my suitcase apart to find the USB cord for my camera. I'm going to break it down into The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, as stated above, and I'm going to be perfectly honest, which may not win me some friends, but I think that the bad is just as important as the good, because people should be informed of what to expect if they're in the market to go to a retreat.
-All of our teachers and classes were great. I already knew that Beki Haley was a good teacher, as I'd taken a class from her at the Vegas Retreat and used several of her on-line tutorials. I also expected to enjoy Sherry Serafini's class, because she's one of my bead idols and the book that she co-authored with Heidi Kumli really helped me become proficient with bead embroidery. I was less familiar with Marcia deCoster, but I found that she was a great, fun teacher as well. I made decent progress on all three of my projects and am looking forward to finishing them.
-Sherry gets extra props because she gave everyone a Halloween goodie bag with mini candy bars, silly rubber toys (I got a spider ring!), crystals and cabs. We teased the other teachers about it all week. "Well, SHERRI gave us chocolate!" I don't think they appreciated that much ;)
-The free classes on Thursday were fun, although far less challenging. I enjoyed the opportunity to play with some new techniques and materials, and everyone who was teaching or helping did a good job.
-Laura Timmons was just plain awesome. Fun, friendly, generous, and quick with a compliment.
-The hospitality suite was well-stocked with tea, soda, cookies, fresh fruit, and other refreshments that I'm less familiar with because I didn't partake of them.
-The other hospitality suite was a full-service Out on a Whim bead booth, stocked with all sorts of wonderful goodies for sale throughout the retreat. You could either purchase things right away, or have a tray that you threw things into until you were ready to check out.
-When lunch ran crazy-late one day, the Bead Unique staff delivered our afternoon fresh-baked cookies directly to our class rooms, so we didn't have to stop beading to run downstairs to the hospitality suite.
-Bead Unique editor Pamela Hawkins sat with various members of my group several times to discuss what we did and didn't like about the retreat and what we might like to see at future retreats.
-Food in the Village was mostly delcious, service was friendly at all restaurants, and the little shops were cute and also well-staffed by smiling, helpful people.
-The swag bags and raffles were full of great stuff.
-Beki made sure that all of us wild and crazy gals from my home bead forum were together in the same class, and that everyone else in our class could handle us when we got raunchy. It was so great to spend 3-4 days with old and new friends.
-Rooming with my friend Maia, who I've known for almost 10 years but only met in person twice before now, was perfect. We both had the same low tolerance for cold, love tea, and were happy to spend our evenings talking with each other or calling/IMing home.
-The room was pretty good, other than the over-zealous heating. We had a full-sized kitchen, a super-deep tub and high pressure shower, a fireplace, and my couch bed was very comfy. The view from the balcony was great, though I didn't spend more than a few minutes on it due to the temperature.
-Dancing for friends and strangers, in a mostly spur-of-the-moment way, in a costume cobbled out of things I'd brought, with a borrowed stereo, and not losing my lunch due to stage fright.
-Generous beaders gave me rides to and from the airport, so I didn't have to pay for an expensive shuttle.
-Sherry and I were on the same flight out of Reno, and my new friend Jamie was leaving at the same time on a different carrier, so we all shared a fun farewell lunch at the airport. It was so much nicer than eating by myself!
-After being asked repeatedly what we needed to bring, Bead Unique told us that we didn't need to bring anything, everything we needed would be provided in our kits, we just needed scissors for Thursday's class. While everything we needed was in fact provided for the free Thursday classes, we arrived at Sherri's class Friday to be told that of course she didn't provide needles and thread, because everyone had their own preference. Marcia told us the same thing on Saturday. Beki was the only one who included needles and thread. I was lucky to be in a class full of beadweavers wiser than me, who had packed their own needles and thread and generously shared with me. I hope the other classes were equally lucky!
-Though the restaurants did their best to handle over 60 hungry beaders in a timely fashion, our lunch hours usually ended up running late. This was especially true when we had Saturday's lunch at Twenty-Two Bistro, which had opened especially for us (they were closed for the off-season). While it seems like a nice idea in concept, in reality, the kitchen staff seemed pretty overwhelmed and it took forever to get our food. One person at my table had been served, finished eating, and left the restaurant long before my lunch arrived.
-Snow. Ok, yes, it was pretty. Yes, everyone was right, the cold temperatures feel warmer at a high altitude than they do in Tucson. But it was still cold, I still wasn't quite appropriately dressed, and I still slipped down icy stairs, banged my knee, and sent my luggage flying everywhere.
-Thursday's Meet the Teachers Dessert Social. Yes, you could in fact briefly meet your teachers as you purchased your kits for the week's classes, but if you wanted to say more than five words to them, you'd be holding up the line of the other 50 beaders behind you who also wanted to buy kits. Then by the time you got out of line, your seat had been stolen.
-Did I mention the over-zealous heater? The hotel had awesome heating provided by hot-water pipes under the floor. This meant that you could step out of the shower onto toasty warm tiles. But despite the fact that we had the thermostat set to 70, it never shut off on Wednesday. I woke up at 5am and found the bathroom floor was almost too hot to walk on, and I was drenched in sweat, so I turned the heat off completely. When Maia got up at 8, she went to turn it off because it was still swelteringly hot in the room! We had to leave the balcony door open all day to let the heat out. For the rest of our stay, we had the heater off, but even the ambient heat of the building was sometimes too much. Oh yes, and all of my chocolate melted on that first day :(
-There was a huge discrepency in the quality of raffle prizes. Some were crazy-nice (worth $100 or more), some were very nice ($50 range), some were pretty nice ($10-20) and some were meh ($1-5). Some people won multiple very nice prizes and others won no prizes at all. One friend of mine who doesn't string won a small package of crimp tubes. Twice. I think it would have been better if it worked life past raffles I'd been in, where you could pick your prize. Maybe the big-ticket prizes could have been raffled seperately, and then all other winners could have their choice of the smaller prizes. Then no one would get a book they already had, or something they couldn't use, wouldn't consume, whatever. Alternatively, really small prizes could have been bundled together into goodie bags.
-We were told that there would be sparkling cider for the non-drinkers at the farewell champagne toast. Now, I think this is relatively important. There are people like me who don't drink because they don't like the taste. There are people who don't drink for moral/religious reasons. And there are people who can't drink for medical reasons. When I asked if there was sparkling cider, I was given a weird look and eventually handed a glass of apple juice from a can, as were the other non-drinkers. Someone else said that it seemed like there was *supposed* to be cider and someone dropped the ball on getting it... but even if that is the case, the correct response is "Oh, I'm sorry, we don't have any. Would you like apple juice instead?" (in which case I would have asked for water, because goodness do I hate plain apple juice) not a strange look.
-Did I mention the snow?
As I mentioned before, Cthuhlu took voter's choice for the "I Don't Think So" Ugly category in the Ugly Contest. After the contest was over, a couple of people tried to take their items, and were told that they weren't done with them yet. Everyone seemed to assume they would get them back at the end of the retreat.
On Sunday, they went around announcing when the farewell toast would be. They also said that they would be photographing the Uglies and getting them back to us. I took that to mean that they were photographing them that afternoon and we could retrieve them after the toast.
After the toast, I was returning to my room to get my evaluation form so I could turn it in, and I realized that they hadn't given Cthulhu back to me, nor had I seen anyone else getting their projects back. When I got back with my form minutes later, everyone had cleared out of the hospitality suite and the Bead Unique/All American Crafts staff were getting ready to tear things down. I could see the box full of uglies sitting right there.
I asked if I could take mine back, and I was told no, they still needed to photograph them. I said... when? Could I get him tomorrow before I left? I was then told that Pamela was taking them back with her and she was going to sleep for the first two days she was home (not that I can blame her on that count, I did far less work than her and I'm wiped out). I pointed out that I had spent *two months* working on mine, it was a major project, and I was not happy with their cavalier attitude as to when he would be returned to me. No one seemed to care.
My anger built up as I walked over to the Pub where a bunch of my friends were gathering for one last dinner together. I told them what happened, and I got a strong chorus of support and people telling me that I did not have to let them take Cthulhu. One friend confided in me that I had every right to feel uncomfortable about it, as they'd had one piece of hers for one year and another for two. So I said OK, I'm going back to get him! My friend Nikki came to be my moral support -- or maybe to make sure I didn't hit anyone ;)
When I got back, Pam was back, and I said "I'm taking my ugly." She said that they were going to take them home and photograph them and eventually mail them back. I pointed out that once again, this was 2 months of my life, my most major project ever, and furthermore, I had not signed anything giving them any rights to take him. I pulled him out of the box and left. She just stared at me and didn't respond.
The next day, several Bead Unique/All American Crafts staffers were also on the same flight as Sherry and I. They walked up to say Hi to us, and one of them (Russel I think) told me that I could have trusted Pam with my project. I said thank you, that's nice, but I did not want him out of my hands for any length of time, nor did I want to chance him being damaged by the USPS.
But the truth is, I was worried about a lot more than USPS damage. I was worried about not getting my project back for a year or more. Possibly never. And do you know why? Cthulhu was in the bottom of the box, under some neck displays, with no packaging. No label to say who he belonged to. He had been seperated from the bag of books I'd given for him to sit on (some trashy 1970s Lovecraft paperbacks). None of the items were labeled or wrapped up. I didn't see anyone taking any note on who he belonged to when I turned him in.
Honestly, after seeing that, I was supposed to expect that he'd arrive home undamaged and in a timely manner? I'd have been lucky to ever see him again.
Now generally, I try very hard to promote a good image to magazine editors, writers, and other staff, in case I ever wanted to submit a project or article. I like to have a good reputation within the bead industry -- and I think I've built a decent little one, through my work with BFAC and as a gem show vendor helper and that crazy girl dancing at the Swarovski party. But on Sunday night, I didn't give one whit whether Bead Unique and All American Crafts thought that I was a primadonna, a bitch, or any other appelation applied to a difficult woman. The fact of the matter is that they were the ones in the wrong, for never telling anyone that the Ugly Project entries would not be returned to their creators at the end of the show. That should have been spelled out from the very beginning.
And if anyone's made it through this entire post, I applaud your patience.