Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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.

The Good

-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!

The Bad

-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?

The Ugly

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.


  1. I've made it through the entire post - all very interesting, AJ. And I fully agree with you on taking your "ugly" back. What you described didn't sound professional at all and I would not have left such an important project without the appropriate paperwork. If that was what was planned from the very beginning, everybody should have been told and handed a form to sign, there should have been a label to attach to your project. So, I'm with you.

  2. I, too, read through the entire post and must say "I wish I could have been there!" Bummer about the unprofessional attitude of Bead Unique - you did the right thing. Goodness knows when you would've gotten him back. I've heard horror stories from beaders sending projects to major magazines and never seeing them again. Welcome home! Glad you survived the cold/heat/melted chocolate :)

  3. I can't believe I read the whooooollle thing!
    I am so glad that you danced and beaded and played and ate melted chocolate! I glad you go cold, so you could adore being warm and I swear, the next time round - I'll be there!!!
    Cheers, Denise

  4. I can certainly understand the magazine staff wishing to photograph the Uglies under ideal conditions, but in such a case there should have been paperwork, proper packaging, and a definitive date that the items would be returned.

    Personally, I would think they'd have a staff photographer at the retreat for such jobs anyway, and not have to worry about hauling other folks' property around to keep track of.

  5. cringing at the thought of the beads they could have cracked or ripped out by mishandling cthulu- a pox on them.

  6. Hey! I made it through to the end! Do we get chocolate or beads for reading the entire post?

    I don't blame you for reclaiming Cthuhlu before he was whisked away to Never-Never Land. I would have done the same.

    Egads! How very unprofessional of Bead Unique/All American Crafts. Me thinks Russell doth protest too much.

    Did anyone else reclaim their entries?

    Did you say something about it in your evaluation form? If not, hopefully somebody else did.

    But you had fun and that's all that matters!

  7. I would have also got my project back...sounds fishy to me, too bad! But it did sound like fun & I don't blame you on the evil snow, bleck.


  8. AJ, glad you made it home okay. I read the entire post and agree with everything you said. I am sorry to hear that you had a trip down the stairs. I hope that you didn't suffer any damage.

    Thanks for spending some time with me this week. I really enjoyed getting to know you a bit better.


    P.S. I thoroughly enjoyed the double indenture of your post title. :)

  9. Yes, you were right to bring Cthulhu home. I can't imagine a real magazine would think they could take them without a release. I'm glad most of the rest of the retreat went well!


  10. Based on the way he was "packed" for travel, I think you made the absolute right decision. Obviously, they didn't have anyone paying any attention to the projects and organizing them appropriately for shipping. By the time they got them back to the office, they wouldn't have had any idea which project went with which beader. Good for you for standing up for yourself and poor Cthulhu!

  11. I made it through, too! ;)

    But yeah, you were compeltely and utterly right for taking Cthulhu back. There is no way I would have left something I worked that long on behind, even if it had been guaranteed to be returned to me with a pinky swear and a signed form.

    I really hope others did what you did and grabbed their projects from that box!

  12. It appears for the first time in my life I have patience, since I made it the whole way through.

    I'm glad most of the retreat was a good experience, sounds like you had a lot of fun.

    I totally agree with you taking your project back. From what you saw, it was apparent that they wouldn't treat it with the care it deserved. I also have one question running in my head--if they're going to take it to photograph, what are they going to do with the photos without a signed permission to use them? I may be misinformed, but I thought you had to have permission to use a photograph of a piece you didn't make.


  13. Whew! Let's see if I can respond to all 12 comments in one go...

    First, to everyone who actually read all the way through my rambling post, you do deserve chocolate and beads! I thought everyone would just skim it :)

    Doris, if there had been appropriate paperwork, I would have felt a lot better.

    Charlene, I wish you could have been there! And yes, I've heard plenty of horror stories about how hard it is to get back projects that are being published as part of a tutorial... I'd imagine it would be even harder to get an "ugly" item returned.

    Denise, I hope we'll get to meet in person sometime! I'm not sure if I'll do another bead retreat or if I'm going to switch my focus to belly dance retreats.

    Dad, they had someone there taking pictures during the retreat, including pics of me dancing. I don't know if they wanted to have studio lighting, or if they just ran out of time at the retreat.

    Julie, a pox may be a bit much, but I was pretty angry at the time!

    SaraBeth, I don't know if anyone else took theirs back. I don't think they did. Mine was the most involved and time consuming, but there were a couple others with a LOT of work into them. Unfortunately, I had already filled out my evaluation form :(

    Jolene, there's a reason we live in the desert, right? Snow belongs in the mountains and I belong down here :)

    Karen, I so enjoyed meeting you and sharing some meals with you! I hope that you and Beth enjoyed your extra day.

    Marilee, the total lack of a release really seemed unprofessional to me. I'm not sure what sort of legal ground it would have left either party on, but I did NOT like having any sort of timeline on when I would get him back.

    Silver, that's exactly my point. Maybe someplace there was a master list on who submitted which project, but it sure didn't seem that way.

    Merily, that's what I don't get. Every single other creative person I've told this story to, and even the guys in my gaming group, agree that I probably never would have seen him again. How did a magazine, run by beaders, think that it would be OK to take beaders' projects without paperwork and a timeline on when it would be returned?

    Lois, we had to sign a form on the first day saying it was OK to take and publish our pictures -- I'm not sure if it covered pictures of what we made, too, but I think it might have. However, I'm sure it didn't say they could TAKE our items home to photograph them! If it did, Pam would have said so when I said I never signed anything relinquishing control of him.

  14. AJ - You were absolutely correct to take Cthulu back. Anytime I have had things taken for photography, I have filled out a form with name, address, item, size, etc., and I have had a firm date on when the item(s) would be returned to me. That they did not do anything like this or take the time and care that your (and others) projects deserved was less than professional. I'm delighted that Cthulu is back home with you where he belongs.

  15. I read it all, AJ. I'm glad there were a lot of good things for you to comment on, but I also appreciated hearing about the bad and the ugly! I am glad you didn't let your piece go, I let a piece go to be photographed and put into Bead Unique magazine once...it never made it and I got it back broken after 11 months. It got broken the day I gave it to her, and she never told me until I wrote a bunch of emails and demanded it be returned. What a nightmare.