Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Watch out for the edges of big slabs of Speedy Carve

Ack.  I did it again.  I forgot to check my block of Speedy Carve for the bad edge that exists on some of the blocks.  Result?  I've carved too close to the edge and the registration sucks.  Grr...

Anyone who actually reads this blog probably knows about this problem, but for those who don't, here is the lowdown: Speedy Carve all seems to have a flaw where one of the edges slightly tapers off within about a half centimetre of one of the sides.  It's really hard to see when you look at a new block, so you need to take something flat and put it on the block to see if you can see daylight out one of the edges.  Simple solution is to just carve the opposite side or keep away from that edge.

Unfortunately, I've been carving so much lately with my new grey linoleum as well as the rest of my NZ Cut, that I completely forgot to check for that when I opened this new slab of Speedy Carve.

Kirbert eloquently talks about this problem in his excellent carving under the materials section of his site, here.

What I now do to solve this problem: write directly on the block where the problem is so I don't get too close.
I always have to remind myself to double check any carving block I use to make sure the material is even and flat... Any type of material can have flaws in it and I don't want to find out after I've done a complicated piece that there's one smack dab in the middle of my carve. Grrr.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Letterboxing: an "intriguing" pastime

Disclaimer: rant ahead.
Intriguing.  Ugh.  I can even remember when I first learned about letterboxing reading that word, "intriguing".  Nearly put me off the hobby all together, actually.
Somewhere, sometime, in letterboxing's history, someone wrote these words: "Letterboxing is an intriguing pastime..." And this has been reproduced.  Everywhere.  And I hate it.  And so, if you are the unfortunate soul who first used this unfortunate word, please turn away and go to some other website.  You should definitely spare yourself the rant that follows.
I should first say that there is nothing wrong with the word "intrigue" or any of its deriviatives. I found my favourite television show to ever be produced, LOST, to be very intriguing. But the producers of LOST never themselves said, LOST is an intriguing show.  And in that context, I have no issue with the word "intriguing".
However, when I first learned about letterboxing, I googled it and first went to the LBNA website and read as follows: "Letterboxing is an intriguing pastime..."  Ugh.  It made my skin crawl.  The very site promoting/supporting/enabling letterboxing called itself intriguing. My, isn't that self-serving.
Isn't something being intriguing in the eye of the beholder, so to speak? Merriam-Webster says the definition of intriguing is: engaging the interest to a marked degree, or fascinating.  Well, aren't I fascinating?  If I wrote in this blog that "I am an intriguing woman", your first thought would probably be, "that's for me to decide!". You'd think that I am in no position to know whether that is true (and also, htat I am narcissistic). I feel the same is true of a institutional-style website, such as LBNA or AtlasQuest who hold themselves out as being the letterboxing community, stating that letterboxing is an intriguing hobby. 
Now, as a matter of fact, I do find letterboxing to be intriguing.  Not all aspects of it anymore - I now find certain clues to be fascinating - but the not the initial intrigue that drew me in in first place (I discussed this here). I have no issue with any individual letterboxing proclaiming loud and clear that they find letterboxing intriguing - they are outside, independant observers who are stating their personal opinion.
So why am I ranting? Because I hate that phrase.  Hate it.  I hate that potential boxers who are searching out this hobby read on various websites that,
  • "Letterboxing is an intriguing pastime combining navigational skills and rubber stamp artistry in a charming "treasure hunt" style outdoor quest." LBNA
  • "Letterboxing is an intriguing pastime combining artistic ability with "treasure-hunts" in parks, forests, and cities around the world."  AtlasQuest
And worse, these are further picked up and quoted all over the web when answering the question, "what is letterboxing?".
I have no doubt people will find letterboxing intriguing.  I hope they do, it's part of what gives magic to this hobby.  But can't we demonstrate the intrigue rather than self-servingly say that it is so?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Other things I obsessively do with my hands

Other than carving stamps, I spend a great deal of time removing and applying nail polish.  I love nail polish. I have a huge box of all kinds of different colours and types, and I probably redo my nails in the neighbourhood of 2-3 times per week.  Just like carving, I do it while catching up on tv shows or movies.

You will notice there is no carving material or letterboxing in this image.

On finding geocache letterbox hybrids

The beautiful views on the way to this letterbox/geocache hybrid.

To be clear, I am a letterboxer and not a geocacher.  I see from lurking in the AtlasQuest boards that there are some fairly disgruntled letterboxers who seem to despise some geocachers' lack of respect (understanding?) of our hobby - particularly in the stamp-goes-missing category of misunderstanding. I tend to think that that is only one of a myriad of ways a letterbox can go missing... And I'm inviting my stamps to go missing by the mere fact that I am essentially abandoning them in the woods. So I don't get too bent out of shape about it.

Anyways.  Where was I?  Oh, yes, well, in doing my due diligence for planting letterboxes, it became necessary to become a premium member on geocaching.com in order properly identify locations of geocaches to avoid.  In doing so, I've also been scoping out some of the geocache/letterbox hybrids that I see posted on that site.

Now, in the past, I have found some of these hybrids - mostly by Lone R - as they are also posted on AtlasQuest.  But, I sought those letterboxes out as they are by experience and well-qualified letterboxers who know what they're doing.  On the other hand, I suspect that some of these hybrid geocache letterboxes are likley planted by geocachers who, with all good intentions, aren't understanding the essence of what makes a letterbox.

Nevertheless, as with any regular letterbox, you never know what you're going to get, so you should always go find these boxes anyway!

Along with my premium membership to geocaching came access to some reserved caches, one of which is a nearby clued hybrid letterbox cache with an excellent puzzle clue.  I spent one rainy day solving it and it's been on my list of letterboxes to find.

Finally, last Friday I had the time and opportunity and I set off.  The hike was fantastic, skirting a deep ravine with the Rouge River below, there was an excellent puzzle before and during the find, and if not for the store stamp at the end, it would rival most standard letterboxes.  If you're in my area and have a premium geocaching membership, you'll find this great letterbox by Tequila.

View on the way to the geocache/letterbox hybrid. 
Moral of the story: you'll never know what you're going to get until you open that tupperware - so find 'em all!  I'll have to hunt down other hybrids off that site.  One more place to check for local boxes while I travel ;)

Happy trails!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The 100 Box Roundup: Part 2

Now, where were we?

 This continues from an earlier post...

Off to my first full letterboxing event down in St. Thomas, and planted Annandale House on my way home in Tillsonburg. Had no idea where/how to plant it before getting there, so I brought with me planter’s pouches and different sized Lock N’ Locks to respond to whatever I found. Found a great little spot in the porch, and Bob’s your uncle. This image was designed by yours truly by manipulating a full colour image. I was surprisingly happy with the outcome.

Next, I planted a series I had carved for a Joss Whedon LTC swap – Can’t Stop the Signal.  I loved doing the carvings, but I’m really not cut out to be an LTC person. That was the last LTC ring I did – likely the last I’ll ever do.

The Purloined Letter letterbox was one I put together after putting some research into cryptography. I am terrible at ciphers. And you know what? I also don’t like doing them. Hypocritical since I have some cipher-based boxes that I planted subsequent to this one… But this one doesn’t have even a lick of cipher in it – steganography all the way. Loved putting this image together. It really does tie into Edgar’s story… I’m sad this box hasn’t had more finds.

Next were some bugs to go along with carves by the immeasurably talented Fiddleheads and her Up the Garden path set of series to go in the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Even after some great hides, a couple of hers went missing pretty quickly after planting, which is sad. But I love RBG and will definitely get back out there for some more planting, methinks.

With a lot of planning, and learning to use software on my computer I never use, I put together the audio clue for Numbers Station and planted the box. I’m sad there’s only two finders on this box, because it’s my personal favourite and I put my heart and soul into the box. I put together the audio clue using Garage Band on my laptop… I found some great audio tracks for static online (who knew?), actually played the tune of Yankee Doodle that you hear using my keyboard, put together the clue and read it myself. Yes, that’s me in the recording. I put on that voice to sound more like real numbers stations to make it real creepy. Mixed the music, the various static tracks, and submitted it to the very friendly Jackbear for the Letterpod.

Next up, I designed a large touristy stamp for Hamilton which I cut up and hid all over the City for a series called The $1 Tour of Hamilton.  Perhaps I’m psychic, because in the course of carving and planting this box, I ended up being offered a job on the other side of the GTA that I couldn’t turn down, making this series one of the last I was able to plant before I moved and hitting some of the places I wanted to get to before I left. I really like this series, but I think the length of the journey to get all of these boxes may be a deterrent from finders going after these ones. Hope not, this is my favourite series and worth the search.

As a treat for myself after this move, I bought myself one of those table-mounted lighted magnifiers to help with the fine carving – and what a difference it made! The better carvings, along with my new-found desire to make nice logbooks, is what I think made A Touch of Voodoo  into a purple diamond box. Thanks everyone for your very generous ranking!

OPAL 2012 encouraged me to do some more library boxes, and for this year I made some new self-enclosed magnetic library letterboxes for a Whodunit series for Holmes, Poirot, Marple, and Drew. I should note that back here on the author’s side of this blog I can see that my post on the making of that logbook has the most views of any of the non-clue posts. I guess folks like how-to posts… I’ll get on that!

After finding Fiddleheads’ most excellent night letterbox, Looking for Night (and being totally creeped out by the sounds a cedar forest makes at night), I decided to try my hand at some urban night boxes. That led to By Moonlight being planted on the main drag of Unionville. Difficult stamps to carve, since they are mostly positive space, and I think harder to stamp with to get a clear image. Something I hope to improve on in the future.

Water trickling down the mountain - Suraksan, Seoul, South Korea

Next, I flew to Seoul, Korea, to have a lovely time with my sister, and couldn’t help but plant a box while there, Love in Suraksan.  It was a beautiful and charming place, and really, a letterboxer’s paradise in terms of urban/forest hides since there are mountains right in the middle of town – but very few letterbox clues that I could find. Still no finds on this one, and quite frankly, I only ever really expect that I will get one attempt on it and then it will be lost in the sands of time. But in the unlikely – but not impossible – chance that I can contribute to a developing letterbox culture there, I’m more than happy to do so :)

So, on the flip side of that visit, I came home with a cute store-bought stamp. I know, I know. But it was cute! And it was a cat! And it pretty much summed up my trip! So, together with some other touristy ephemera, this stamp has been planted in my nearby library as a Korean Souvenier. C’mon. You’ll likely end up at that library for other boxes anyway. Don’t bust my chops.

Finally, at 98, I knew I wanted to do a cute little pair of boxes that would be perfect to round out my first 100. Guarding is a pair of boxes containing Kyoke and Nishibi, guardians of the location(s?). I was happy to again put together another visual clue and am working on a couple others for the future.

So that sums up those first 100 boxes… Hope you enjoy finding them as much as I do planting them!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Goldilocks moment

I'm probably not alone when I say I can probably spend hours searching for the perfect image to use for a carve.  When I have a specific subject in mind, it can take forever to find a good image... Not too simple, not too complicated, not too small, not too big, not too flat, not too shaded... It has to be juuuuuuust right. Rarely do I have this Goldilocks moment; often, I give up and use something that is not right.

As well, because it takes so long to find the perfect image, I would rather browse and randomly find an image of a random subject and be inspired to make a box with it rather than to have something specific in mind.

In preparation for BoxON, I've been searching for the perfect image for Easter Island. I had a hand-drawn image of the moai statues that was okay, but I wasn't happy with it and didn't want to have to carve it, so I had been on this never-ending hunt for an appropriate image.  Nothing was working.  Hours have been spent in the depths of Google Images looking for something right, dispairing that such an image did not exist.  Then today, I had the Goldilocks moment.  I found the perfect image.  I'm so happy, I'll probably have it carved within an hour.  No, you can't see it now - come to BoxON!, it'll be there ;)

I wish you all many Goldilocks moments!  Happy trails!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The 100 Box Roundup: Part 1

So, as of May 5, 2012, I have planted 100 letterboxes – under two years. I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about some of the boxes, my favourites, my not-so-favourites, and the why-the-heck-did-I-plant-thats. But, since there are so many, two posts – the next will come in a couple days.

My very first letterbox, Letterbox Near a Postbox, was planted only two days after I learned about letterboxing. Not too long after I planted it, the Oakville Museum folks commenced some renovation work, and hoisted that post office up on stilts – exposing my little letterbox to the world. Let me tell you, it nearly put me off of letterboxing all together. But, a kind soul let me know and I was able to get the box back from museum staff and replant nearby. Whenever I get find reports on this one, I feel warmth way down in my heart.  It's an old one, but I love it.

The second letterbox I planted was Toronto Skyline,which is a thumb-nail sized stamp in a magnetic key box inside Allen Gardens in Toronto. I put it there while visiting my sister who at the time lived kitty-corner across the street. She’d never been inside before, nor had I, so we spent an afternoon exploring and left this little fella.

The third box I planted after work one day – Albion Falls.  It was the first box I ever had a blue diamond on, though I only had it for a month. It’s not a great carve, done on that horrid Speedy-Cut material, the clue was generic and the logbook was probably not thought through, but the location was stellar. I had never been there before, but was encouraged to go visit by some coworkers. So I carved and prepped a box and off I went.

I had a great time, but again, I was in nice work clothes at the time. As in, I was dressed for court. So, while planting the box, a great big mutt came running up to me from along the creek bed, and throws muddy paws up on my chest, and planted a big wet pouch smooch on me. I have this effect on dogs. Horrified, the pouch’s non-English speaking owners stared at me wide-eyed, likely thinking this crazy lady in a suit would throw a fit now that her suit was covered in mud. I thought it was hilarious. Seriously – what business did I have being in a suit next to a waterfall and creek on the Bruce Trail? I laughed, gave the pooch a hearty snuggle and responded to them in my broken Spanish that it was not a problem, gave their lovely dog a final smooch and off I went. The dry-cleaner was not as impressed.

Hamilton is the City of Waterfalls as it has more waterfalls than any other place on the planet.  I had wanted to plant some more waterfall boxes, but other than a couple, I wasn't that successful. 

Albion Falls, Hamilton Ontario - Gorgeous waterfall and a letterbox, what more could you ask for?

The first letterbox I put together that I really loved was my Redundant Ministry letterbox. The carving, of a silhouette of John Cleese from the classic Ministry of Silly Walks skit, is now likely missing. But I had a terrible time planting this box. I was still relatively green in the box planting department and naively thought that it wouldn’t be hard to find a hidey spot in Queen's Park. Hah!

The first time I really put any sort of effort into my carvings was with my Little Prince and Fox duo. I took images right out of the book to use and finally realized how crappy SpeedyCut is to work with. I still had some of it left, so I used it up for further stamps, but that was about the time I finally put in an order to Stampeaz. That first set of stuff didn’t arrive until December that year, so I continued to use up my stash of SpeedyCut and started using vinyl erasers from Dollarama for some of my following boxes.

Then, that first fall, I went with friends and family down to Salem, Massachusetts, for the October Hallowe’en festivities. I had stayed there before at the Hawthorne Hotel and knew I wanted to plant a letterbox there. So, I set out to carve what was then a seemingly insurmountable task: to carve the Hawthorne capitol. I did it. On SpeedyCut. (shudder). The stamp lived a very short life inside the Hotel on the 3rd floor. I received some awesome responses for that box before the maids made it disappear, and a blue diamond before it retired.

Finally, I got a great shipment of a variety of carving material from Webfoot in the mail, got to work and planted a number of boxes using the various materials I tested: But They’re Starving on my first try with FirmCut, The Lorax with my first bit of SpeedyCarve, Bottoms Up! on a linoleum block, and Sunny Memories on a hunk of MasterCarve (my least favourite carving medium, by the way).

Once I got a feel for the carving materials, it really was the Literary Cats series that I felt I really started to figure out how to carve. I put the images together myself and put quite a bit of time into each of them over a weekend and planted them in the then newly renovated Hamilton library.  My neck hurt like crazy following this, but I still am really happy with those carvings. Today, those would take me no time at all to carve, but at the time it took me forever.

Soon after, I flew to Calgary to meet up with a pair of good friends who lived there. No boxes to be found, but I did manage to leave one in a provincial park there – Fish Creek. The carving matched the location, and I was really proud of that carve, but worried at the time that it would rarely be found. I shouldn’t have worried; despite the relative dearth of letterboxers in that area, there are a lot of travelers who have registered finds on this box. In the time since planting this box, I really have tried to seed empty areas as I travel – you never know who might pick up letterboxing because of your box. And I’m always delighted when someone seeds in my area.hinthint

Down By the Water was the first carving and letterbox I did where I felt that I had really figured out the material. I was really happy with the image I had found and how it translated. But it was at that point that I became unhappy with the actual letterbox itself – beyond the image (clue, location, etc) – and started plotting out new boxes that were more clue-driven.

Although at this point I had come up with some ideas for different clues, the Owl and the Pussycat  was the first puzzle box I tried and I’ve had a number of finders on.

Hic Sunt Dracones... Here Be Dragons

What I had actually been plotting was the clue for Hic Sunt Dracones – and actually, I had been plotting that particular clue all during the carve for the box. I loved the image I had found, it’s a fantastic woodcut from the era of nautical exploration, and wanted a great map clue to match the name and the image. I spent quite a bit of time sketching this map out with various features, then drew over it with different sized Sharpies. Was not entirely happy with how the lines turned out – I wish the map lines were the thinner ones and the words were thicker, but still it was done. Crumpled the whole thing up, soaked it in tea, tore it up a bit, then threw it in the oven to dry. Coloured it up a bit, scanned it, and voila – instant clue. I still have the map in amongst my letterboxing stuff at home, not sure what to do with it. From an aesthetic sense, I don’t love it, so I wouldn’t necessarily put it on the wall, but I don’t want to throw it out either. Maybe I’ll glue it into my logbook…

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Living in a letterbox desert

I live in Markham, Ontario, Canada. The average rainfall is 718 mm, and average snowfall is 142 cm. And yet, I live in a desert. A letterbox desert.

Back when I first took up letterboxing, a search of within 30 km of Markham would have netted you two (2) letterboxes, In the Great Green Room and Roxbury Valentine Hearts. There are a few more just outside town, but you’re pretty much looking at a drive into downtown Toronto or else a drive right out of the GTA in order to find a couple boxes in one go.

To me, until I move, I will always be in a letterbox desert. To my knowledge, there are no other letterboxes here.

But I suspect everyone at some point comes to live an a desert. There may be boxes when you arrive, but over time, you have to travel further and further to get your letterboxing fix. I wonder at different areas of the US where it would appear to me as an outsider that the area is pretty self sustaining. Enough letterboxers – both of the planter type and finder type - that new boxes come up from a variety of planter on a fairly regular basis. Is that the case? Or, are there so many pre-planted boxes available when a new boxer enters the fray that there is never the need to travel. One wonders.

Inevitably though, I think we all end up in a desert once you find everything within a given radius of your home or work.  So nothing to complain about, really.  Nothing to see here, keep moving.