Monday, December 31, 2007

Fresh and New with No Mistakes

The end of the year brings a certain amount of reflection on things that have happened and things that are yet to come. 2007 was a good year, all in all. Not too much drama happened in our lives...about a two on the drama scale I suppose.

All of the notable events in our lives are recorded on my refrigerator calendar along with most of our nightly dinner menus. I started keeping track of dinner when Hubby complained that I never cooked. Showed him! Pfffttt!

Here is the old fridge calendar with the days X-ed out in green, and the new one with 44 holidays and special days, 29 birthdays, and 7 anniversaries duly noted.
I like having the calendar in this year-long format so I can see where I've been and where I'm going and just how long it is until the next event. With the standard monthly flip calendar, events happening on the first or second of the next month tend to sneak up on me.

Making the new year's calendar is an after-Christmas tradition and lots of fun. I get to be a little creative on the holidays and draw in the appropriate iconic symbol. My Thanksgiving turkey looked pretty good last year but the one for 2008 looks pretty sickly. The party hat on New Year's Eve was sharp for 2007, dull for 2008. Oh well. I'll be in my jammies by 8:30 p.m. both nights so it really doesn't matter.

I ponder for a moment on the new calendar with all the empty spaces and wonder what life will hold to note there in those little boxes. I like all the crisp, clean whiteness because it is "fresh and new with no mistakes."

That's one of my favorite quotes and I use it often. It's from Anne of Green Gables, one of my all-time favorite PBS miniseries with Colleen Dewhurst and Megan Follows. I think both women are amazingly beautiful by the way.

Anne, for all her good intentions, always manages to muck up a situation. Her hope for redemption is tomorrow which is "fresh and new with no mistakes in it." I try to remember that when I've messed something up - those Doh! moments when I realize the things I've said or done weren't taken the way I meant.

I dig myself deeper in a hole when I attempt an apology or explanation and muck things up even more. I've learned to keep my mouth shut and hope folks forget quickly. But I still mentally berate myself for days, thinking, "Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did I say THAT???"

Then I remember Anne and her hope for tomorrow.

So as this blogging year comes to a close, Auld Lang Syne and all that. I hope 2007 didn't suck real bad for you.

A toast: Here's to 2008. May it be fresh and new with no mistakes.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mental Masturbation

The Brain Fart at the PO episode last week bothered me, it really did. Not being able to come up with a common word is the first indicator of a major problem in the head, namely blood clots or stroke. I was wondering if my lifestyle choices were beginning to catch up with me.

So I began to analyze the PO episode. I could find my words before I went to the PO and after I came home. If I was stroking out I shouldn't have be able to do either. Then I figured it out...I was zoning...those times when I retreat inside my head to ponder on things.

One end of the zoning spectrum is "Lost in Thought" and the other "Catatonic Stupor." My level of zoning is somewhere between the two, closer out to the catatonic stupor end.

I zone out because inside my head is always much more entertaining than the outside world. I could sit alone in a darkened room for days and never be bored. My family thinks I'm weird. My sister bought me a T-shirt.

Yes, I have little friends inside my head. They keep me company. (WooEeeOoo Twilight Zone music)

Anyway, back to the post office. When a zoning session gets interrupted it's rather like waking from a deep sleep, and I don't wake up well. I'm groggy and disoriented and that's how I was at the PO that day. The inquisitive lady woke me up, kinda sorta, from some sweet dreams.

When I arrived at the post office I did a quick crowd scan and didn't find a single familiar face. Therefore I was not obligated to engage in the usual pre-holiday chit chat. Good. There were probably a dozen or so people ahead of me in line and basically only one clerk to serve them all. The wait was going to be 15-20 minutes at least. I had nothing else better to do, so I checked out and retreated inside my head to play a while.

I settled in for a little session of mental masturbation right there in the post office in front of God and everybody. In my head I laid out the centerfold from the December issue of Paper Engineering Geeks Quarterly and started manipulating the ol' gray matter based on what I saw.

Ummmm....pop-up version of the Taj Mahal...very intricate...hours and hours to complete....yessss....purrrr....

Cut slits there...crease there, there, and there....valley folds here and here....mountain folds there and there.....glue? yes, a spot here and there....

All the blood drained from the verbal areas on the left side of my brain to fuel the pulsing lobes on the creative right side.

Ah, the curvy top part could have a tab there, and the windows could fold down like that....score the paper like that...fold over..crease. Score, fold, crease thataway, then score, fold, crease the other way...score fold crease, score fold crease, cut cut, score fold crease, cut, score fold crease....

I was building up a blue-veined throbber over there in the right cerebral cortex, whacking off the gray matter for all I was worth. The endomorphins were starting to squirt...

[visualize appropriate rapid hand movements here]
...scorefoldcreasescorefoldcreasescorefoldcrease YOUNG LADY WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE? IS THERE ANYWHERE ELSE TO BUY STAMPS???scorefol....Whaaaaa??? Zirrrrrriiitttttt!!!!

Arrrrggghhhhhh! Whackus Interruptus!

Caught red-handed, as it were, by my mom. Or a stamp-seeking lady who looked a lot like my mom. I woke up from my reverie to find there was no blood whatsoever in the left region of my brain to facilitate an intelligent conversation.

So, brain fart.

In front of God and everybody.

I hate that when it happens.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Morning

The cat woke me up this morning. He was making kitty biscuits on the back of my leg in a dreamy-eyed kitty orgasm rhythm. The other two kitties were big furry lumps piled up on the other side of Hubby.

Hubby was asleep beside me, all snuggled and spooned to my body with an arm draped across the small of my back. He was snoring softly like a big jungle cat purr.

I looked at the clock; 12:00. The sun was shining brightly outside and here we were, all five of us, asleep in a heap at high noon. It was cold outside the quilts, the benefit of living in an old house...good sleeping weather. It was warm under the pile of covers and I was not in a big hurry to move from my spot. I turned over and snuggled closer to Hubby and watched him sleep.

Little gray flecks are starting to appear in his hair that weren't there last year. Likewise there are wild gray hairs in his moustache that quirk around funny and tickle his nose. I knew behind the sleeping eyelids were a pair of crystalline blue eyes that made me fall in love with him all those years ago.

I could smell his skin all warm and male. I marvelled at his maleness, so different than my femaleness, that made my teeth sweat. I watched him breathe oh so softly.

He roused a just a little when I turned over. He is vaguely aware that I am here beside him along with all three of his kitties and is happier at this moment than any man should be allowed. The beginnings of a smile are curling up at the corner of his mouth.

I laid there watching him, all full of love for this warm, snugly human being who thought sharing himself with me and the cats was a Good Thing.

I thought: These are the magic moments in life, the times that make life worth living. Let me remember this moment because there might not be another one.

Life Rule #37: If you wake up on a cold Sunday morning and find a warm, naked man under the covers with you, STAY THERE. The best is yet to come.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Disembodied Yule Hand Card

My first attempt at making pop-up Christmas cards this year was a complete failure. I ended up with an odd looking disembodied yule hand instead of the elegant card I had originally envisioned.

The boo-boo card seemed to strike a chord, so I set about redesigning the thing. Hallmark probably won't be beating a path to my door, but I thought it came out pretty cool.

This is the straight-on view as the recipient opens the card. The inside greeting and signature are, "The Disembodied Yule Hand wishes you a very surreal holiday season. Very oddly yours, Speck"

It's simple, yet odd, but the photo doesn't show the cool disembodiedness of the hand floating in mid-air.

A little different angle with shadows shows how much the hand pops off the surface of the card.

This effect was created using 3/4" risers in the middle and on each end of the hand. As the card is opened the risers will move to become perpendicular to the hand and to the surface of the card.

The critical part of this card is gluing the risers ABSOLUTELY parallel to each other and to the fold of the card. If they are slightly askew the card won't fold flat (either open or closed) or the hand will tear away from the card. This photo shows the little risers and the multiple facets of the snowflake.

Here you can see (using a little time/action forward imagination) how the whole thing will fold completely flat in the card. The risers push the hand up and away from the main fold of the card as it closes.

I was tooooo pleased with the result. I was doing the Pink Bunny Slipper Happy Dance in my computer nest, waving the card around and making little squeally noises. Hubby was giving me the wary bonkers eye, as in "she's really gone bonkers this time."

I get that a lot.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Panties

Preface: My mother passed away just after Christmas 2005. This is an email I sent to my sisters just before Christmas the next year. That was back in the pre-blog days where I had no forum for my ranting stories except emails to my poor, long-suffering sisters.

December 18, 2006

Tonight I am in a holiday funk. For the first time in my life I will not be receiving panties from Santa for, white, Dixie Belle brand granny panties, size extra-huge, available at the local dollar store for about $1.38. The panties have been a yearly tradition for me and my two older sisters, The Christmas Panty Queens. It was a tradition I detested when I was young. After all, who wants underwear for Christmas?

In later years, after we were all married, it was kind of an inside joke to get panties from Santa. Daddy took photos of us, year after year, holding up the panties among the piles of opened gifts. Dixie Belle has kept the same style for the last thirty-five years so every panty looks exactly the same every year. I appreciated the panties. I wore them out knowing there would be a fresh batch under the tree next Christmas.

At some time in my thirties I realized that my Santa mother had purchased the bulk of my lifetime supply of underwear. There's something a little icky about your mother buying your underwear when you're thirty-something but that's how it was. Oh, I have purchased a few sexy Victoria's Secret underthings... "Party Panties"...but for daily wear I always reach for the white granny panties. They must be white; must be granny.

I cringed at the first pair of granny panties I received and refused to wear them for a long time. The inevitable day came, around age 14, when they were the only clean pair in the drawer. They felt funny but at the end of the day I realized I had gone the whole day without a wedgie. After that I was a granny panty devotee.

My middle sister Pris, the prissy, girly sister, wears granny panties also. You would think she would go for the skimpy, lacy numbers. My older sister, Nana, the only real granny among us, prefers bikinis. I guess she finds them sexier than the granny panties.

I've never found granny panties to be a hindrance to my sex life. Men discover that extra-huge granny panties provide lots of room to frisk around in. They want what is in the panties after all and, like a Christmas present, the wrapping is minor in the scheme of things.

Sexy little panties are a not-so-subtle indicator to males that the wearer would like to get laid. Men, being rather dense on their best days, sometimes don't get the hint. I find that saying, "Hey honey, do ya want to git nekkid and screw?" works well in most instances. Only the comatose of the testosterone set don't pick up on the hint. Whatever panties might have been on at the time are quickly forgotten.

So here I am on the eve of the Christmas season in my year-old ratty granny panties feeling rather blue. They are the last of the last-ever Santa panties I will receive. Yes, I will have some new granny panties in January. I will go to the local dollar store and plunk down a buck thirty-eight and buy myself a handful of Dixie Belles out of necessity. But it won't be the same.

There will not be the comforting feeling of the knowing the Christmas panties are under the tree. My sisters and I will not check around the room this year to be sure we are all holding the same size box, indicative of the identical panties within, so we can open them at the same time so as not to spoil the "surprise" for the other sisters.

There will be no hullabaloo exclamations of "Oh LOOK! Panties!" as if they were a novel gift. There will not be the joy of the pile of crisp white panties in the drawer to start the new year. The Christmas season will not be the same. My hiney will not be the same.

I realized tonight I have reached a turning point in my life. I must now be a grown-up and be responsible for the acquisition of my own underwear. Since I sport gray hair and bifocals I guess it was about time anyway. But I don't like it, I don't like it at all. The Christmas Panty Queen will not go quietly into that good night.

There must be a way to have the tradition continue. I wonder if it would help if I wrote a letter to Santa, "Dear Santa, I've been a good girl this year. Please bring me some Dixie Belle granny panties, white, size extra-huge." Do you think he would get it before Christmas????

The End

The Rest of the Story

Under the tree that year was a box tagged TO: Speck, FROM: Santa.

Inside were seven pair of extra-huge white granny panties. I laughed when I opened the box and found Christmas panties. Nana Santa had done well with the surprise. They were indeed size Extra Huge, but we exchanged them the next day for size Merely Generous.

Later when I got home, I opened the box and held them to my cheek, thinking of the legacy of the Christmas panties and how sweet my sister was to try and make this a 'normal' Christmas, and just cried and cried and cried.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Brain Fart at the PO

The line at the post office was backed up into the lobby because of the holiday rush. The mob of waiting customers were shuffling uneasily because there were only two clerks working the window and one was tied up with a lady trying to mail a package to Australia.

The lady in front of me turned around and remarked that the wait was ridiculous and that all she needed was to buy a book of stamps. I made a sympathic 'ummm' sound and frowny look. We stood there a few more minutes. She turned around again and with an annoyed tone asked:

Her: Is there anywhere else to buy stamps?

Well sure, there are lots of other places to buy stamps. I could think of three right off the bat. Unfortunately, my brain picked that exact moment to disconnect my cerebral functioning from my vocal abilities. I could see in my mind the three places, but I COULD NOT find the words to communicate.

Me: Yes, there's.....ummmm.......

Crap! What is the word for that place??? The raised platform office thingy at the front of the grocery store where the assistant manager sits and the cute little blonde girl with the long braid counts the recipts and they sell money orders and stuff at the front of the store a wooden box thingy with half glass around it over there by the little bank branch at the front of the store what is that thingy called??? What is the term??? Two words, starts with 'C'. Damn, why can't I remember???

Me: Ummmm.....

Well now I look like a fool OK brain ditch the name of the cubicle thingy just try to get the name of the grocery store out she can figure out where in the store once she gets there. What IS the name of that store? It's on the corner there by the car dealership and Walgreens and has the gas station out front big beige building red letters on the sign out there at the end of the main drag. What is the name of the store????

Her: Puzzled looks

Me: Brookshires! At Brookshires grocery store, and Wal-Mart at the....ummmm....

Crap! What is the name of that little manager booth thingy...

Me: the customer service desk. Whew! I can't seen to find my words today.

I felt the need to offer some explanation of my stammering reply because, geez, Brookshires and customer service are not big words, they should have been at the tip of my tongue. The lady was beginning to get the look of dawning realization that I was probably "a little slow" as in "that girl ain't right" slow.

Her: Both of those are all the way across town, is there anywhere closer?

Me: Yes, just around the corner is a....uh......

Oh geez, I must be stroking out just like that guy on the episode of House where he had an infection in his jaw that caused a bunch of little blot clots to form and go to his brain and he couldn't remember the word 'dentist' do I have any infections above the neck that would cause a blood clot I don't remember one is that a lump there?

Me: ....if you have

Think brain, think! What is the word for that big gray thing with the plate glass window front and you can see all the little stamp booklets on the big screw thingys like candy bars and you put your money in the slot and push A7 and the stamps screw out and fall down and you get Sacagawea dollar coins for change what is the word what is the word what is the word?

At this point I could feel the blood clots bubbling along in the arteries in my neck heading straight for my brain. I heard one squeak as it lodged firmly into place in my left cerebral cortex.

Dentist! Dentist! Dentist! OK I can remember that maybe I'm not stroking out maybe I'm just stoopid what is the name of that big gray machine thingy that is ten feet away in the lobby around the corner that I could just point to it's just ten feet away it's a machine a machine that's part of the word I'm looking for the other one starts with a 'V' what is the word what is the word??? Vending! Vending machine!

Me: if you have cash, there's a vending machine just around the corner over there.

The lady followed the direction of my pointed finger, said thanks, and eased away from me very carefully. She had that wide-eyed uneasy look of someone who had finally concluded that I was mentally deranged, drugged out, or the biggest dumbass she had ever encountered.

She was correct on two of the three.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hanging the Yule Fish and Other Holiday Stuff

It was a hot, muggy day here in Lower Arkansas. This photo was taken at noon today. The clammy humidity felt more like August than December. It didn't cool off until around 8:00 p.m. We had the air-conditioner running all day.

I went to Wally World looking for silver cord for my Christmas card googahs, and people were doing their holiday shopping in shorts and T-shirts. They were wet and sticky looking and dragging their tails. Thanks to the Internet I am doing all of my holiday shopping at 2:00 a.m. in my jammies and pink bunny slippers. It's the only way to go. I don't mind paying extra for shipping and handling if I don't have to endure the retail madness. That's just crazy.

"The yule fish were hung
on the old map with care,
in hopes U.P.S. man
soon would be there."

Yep, you read that right...we hung the yule fish today. What's a body to do when it's 80° outside besides hang yule fish??? They might be bass, might be trout. I can't really tell for sure. But they're green and they light up and twinkle. We find them exceptionally appropriate for Christmas. This house is tooooo tiny to store wads of Christmas fru-fru so everything has to be dual purpose. The yule fish go camping with us in the summer and they make a dandy place to hang all the Christmas cards. The kitties used to bat the cards off the table. The yule fish and a fistful of clothespins have ruined all the kitties' fun. "Curses!" says Smudge.

We've never had a Christmas tree proper but I'm not grieving. Hubby and I worked holiday intensive jobs and were too exhausted most years to put one up. Plus, we have cats, not kids. Cats just LOVE Christmas trees and all the wiggly, shimmery, eatable (not!) ornaments and tinsel. Any cat worth her whiskers will be in the top of a Christmas tree before the last ornament is hung, batting off and breaking the first one. And we have a string-eating cat now. I am too old and cranky to take the stupid cat (Smudge) to the vet after she has eaten several strands of tinsel.

Several years ago we owned a fake ficus tree. I put little blue lights on it and called it our Christmas tree. Friends and family were appalled. I told 'em we were having a Jimmy Buffett Christmas. Put on yer Hawaiian flowerdy shirt and flip flops and join us. They tsk-tsked and said we were weird. They were correct.

We left the blue lights on the ficus for the rest of the year but didn't turn them on. The next Christmas, the Magic Christmas Tree Decorating Fairy visited our house in the middle of the night, plugged in the lights, and voila! all my Christmas decor was in place. Ain't life mysterious???

The year after the ficus tree I think we had the funeral plant Christmas tree. Somebody had foisted a plant on me after a funeral and he was sitting there in the living room all innocent-like minding his own business, not pulling his weight with the household chores. We had a meeting which the plant chose not to attend, so he got elected to be the Christmas tree that year. We clustered the wrapped gifts around him and he couldn't do a thing about it, not having opposable thumbs and all. That's what you get when you miss meetings.

Last year we had a live Christmas pine twig in a 5" pot. I bought him at the grocery store a week before Christmas for a dollar. He managed to hang in through Christmas but croaked right on schedule on New Years Day. We found him all slumped over that morning. We thought at first it was just a bad hangover, but realized he hadn't had anything to drink the night before, or the night before, or the night before that. Oh crap! Water! What a concept! I really felt bad about his demise, really I did. I don't do well with live houseplants.

My sister-in-law is BIG on Christmas trees. Her humongous main tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving. She just about wets her pants with anticipation Thanksgiving week thinking about the big tree trimming festivities on Black Friday. She has little bitty Christmas trees staged all over her house too. Sheesh. She thought we were PIT-E-FULL for not having a tree so that little green thing in the photo is one of her tabletop castoffs. Maybe I won't kill this one and hopefully the cats won't eat it.

I got all the Christmas googahs finished today and in the cards. That completes the A-listers. Tomorrow I will work on the B-listers. B-listers get nice cards but no googahs. C-listers get the cheap-o cards. Folks on the C-list are Hubby's bowling buddies, old band mates, and high school chums; people I've never met in my life and who do not send us a Christmas card.

I dropped all the C-listers off the list this year and Hubby had a fit. He is all about sending stacks of Christmas cards when I'm doing all the work. I told him if he wanted them to get a Christmas card so badly he could jolly well do the cards himself. I've got three big boxes of crappy cards just waiting on him. (evil sneer) We shall see if any actually make it into the mailstream.

So Ho! Ho! Ho! That was my Saturday. Yours?

Friday, December 7, 2007

How To Design a Christmas Card in 4000 Easy Steps, Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

OK, there is a part of me that likes the Disembodied Yule Hand card...the same part of me that appreciates The Far Side. I have a few truly disturbed friends who would get the humor and appreciate the card, but Great Aunt Mildred, not so much.

So at this point the Yule Hand card is in the scrap pile. And the scrap pile is beginning to resemble a huge snowdrift bordering on avalanche. The desk has piles of trials and errors, the floor is littered with paper scraps and little snowflakes, and the trashcan is overflowing. And I've got nothing to show for it. Nuthin'.

Is there any way I can salvage any of this? Well, I could revert back to the paper ornament in a nice card. I like the little snowflake punch thingy. I'll make the ornament out of those. It would be on the small side, but with a little bit of string maybe it will work.

Up to this point I've been making the 3D snowflakes using the slice and jam method. There's probably a proper term for this but I don't know it. Slice halfway through the middle of two flakes, flip one, then slide them together. That was enough for the card, but the ornament would need to be meatier. To add two more sides I would have to glue three flakes together. This would entail scoring these little teensy flakes.

Sidenote: In paper engineering, folds must be scored to make them sharp and precise. If the paper is bent in half then mashed down, the fold gets all higgledy-piggledy. You have to use a tool that is thin and sturdy enough to indent the paper fibers without cutting into them. I use an old letter opener. Scoring is especially critical when using cardstock since it is thick and stiff; it doesn't fold well at all.

I managed to get the flakes scored and glued together. Then I spent ten minutes picking out the little fronds with a needle to make it pretty. It was tedious because they kept getting tangled. Here is the result:

Two problems with this. One, it is teensy, only 1/2". It might fall out of the card flattened and the recipient might never see it. Two, NOBODY is going to spend the time to pick it apart and fluff it up. They would just toss it.

Sigh. I got nuthin'

I like the idea of a snowflake ornament, but I don't want to hand-cut a bazillion them then glue 'em together. There is a small school/teacher supply store here that I've never visited. I know by word-of-mouth they don't carry traditional scrapbooking crap, but it was worth a try. I haul myself downtown.

The school supply place has no punches whatsoever. The closest thing to die-cuts they carry are bulletin board making kits. The choices were a package of (24) 6" metallic sparkle snowflakes that were pretty gaudy, or a winter scene bulletin board kit that included some small snowflakes. I ended up buying both. Now I have to find somewhere to ditch a 3-foot polar bear and a penguin on ice skates.

Back home I start with the metallic snowflake die-cuts. Using three, I score them down the middle, then glue them back to back to back making a three-pronged ornament.

Three problems with this guy. One, it is too large to go in the card. I should have checked that first thing. Two, it is...well...gaudy. It would be great on a Grade 3 bulletin board, but not here. I tried punching holes in it with a paper punch thinking it would make it lacier looking or something, but it turned out neither lacy nor something. Third, the die-cut is not symmetrical. When the flakes were glued together, the white edges peeped out all over. I tried cutting them off and ran into another problem. Where I twisted the scissors around a curve, it pulled off the metallic stuff and left a big chunk of the supporting white cardstock base showing. This option was not working for me at all. Auf! says Heidi.

On to the polar bear snowflakes. There are two sizes, 2.5" and 3.5". I score and fold three big ones to make a mock-up. I don't glue them because I might need to use them again later. There aren't very many of the big ones. Result:

I can tell right away I'll have the same problem with these as I did with the metallic ones. The die-cut is not symmetrical. You can see the white backing peeking out on the lower left edge.

Not a problem. I can scan these, print, rough cut, score, fold, crease, glue, then cut around them so everything is even. (Yes, there is a reason I repeat all the steps every time.)

I like the big ones so I put six on the copy machine. Crap, managed to cut one of 'em off. That's OK, there are three I can use for a prototype. Cut, score, fold, crease, and glue together.

Problem: The graphic is not symmetrical. One arm is a little higher or lower than the opposing arm. If I cut perfectly around the graphic on one side, the graphic on the other side has parts lopped off and looks tacky.

I ponder on this awhile and decide to search the Internet for a nice, clean GIF. I found only one I liked. Pulled it into Paint and fidgeted around with it a while, added some color, printed it and decided I didn't like it. I'm now stuck again. I really liked the polar bear snowflakes, but how to make them work? They were a freehand looking design; it would be tough to work with.

I had a flash of inspiration. I would scan in one flake, erase one side, then duplicate the remaining side, flip it, then marry the two back together using Paint. The flake wouldn't be symmetrical for all six arms, but it would be symmetrical right and left. As long as I paid attention to the "top" and "bottom" of the flake I could make it work.

I scanned in the little flake this time. I think the larger one is too big. Tried my idea and it worked like a charm. I pulled the image into Word, sized it and duplicated it six times on a page. Printed, rough cut, scored, folded, creased, glued. Then I had to cut around all three sections to get the edges perfect. It looked great! Success!

But there's a problem. It's just laying there like a dead fish on its side. Even though these paper googahs are ornaments, nobody ever puts them on the tree. They are usually lined up on the mantle with the past years' models out there too. It won't look pretty laying up there like chum. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

Since my snowflake was pointy on the bottom, I was perplexed for a while as to what to do. Hummm...if I rotated it a quarter turn, the pointy ends would be facing east and west and two arms would be down as legs. That would work. I thought more sides would look better too, so I tried that as well. Print flakes, rough cut, score, fold, crease, glue. Cut around the four sides. The result:

Well, first off the four sides idea is "Auf". That looks horrible. It needs to be six-sided if anything, and I am NOT going to do all the work that requires. The second yuck is my once charming and delicate snowflake now looks short, squatty and ugly. Big sigh. Back to the original pointy ones. Will have to ponder on that some more.

So I print, rough cut, score, fold, crease, glue and cut out the first two flakes. I need to write "Merry Christmas", "from Speck", and "2007" on the three sides. It needs to be written in blue since the flake is blue. And the pen needs to be superfine point to write in the little circular middle.

Problem: The only thing I own that fine in blue is a Sharpie. Sharpies bleed over time and will ruin a project. (Know your materials!) Since folks tend to drag these googahs out year after year, they need to look nice for a few years anyway. The only other alternative I can think of is a blue ink pen. I hate blue ink pens and so does Hubby. He does end up coming home with one every now and again and they get thrown in the pen drawer. I dig through the pen drawer and find one, and it happens to be ultra fine. Excellent! Problem: I write my little words on the first two flakes and the pen ink somehow cheapens them. They don't look as nice as I had imagined.

Hummm...what to do. Oh! What if I could paste a digital photo in the center instead of the writing? That would be cool. I spent the next 30 minutes going through all my photos and couldn't find one of me that didn't suck. I settled on a so-so one and pulled it into Paint with the snowflake. By the time I reduced it enough to fit in the circle, it had pixelated so badly I was hardly recognizable. That might not have been such a bad thing after all. Anyway, I tried for a while to figure out how to make a circular crop in Paint. I know there is a way, I just haven't been able to find it. I finally abandoned this idea after an hour. Back to the handwriting idea.

Wait a minute! I wrote on the 2005 trees with gels pens. Lemme see if I can find those. Maybe they haven't dried up yet. Woo Hoo! Found them in the bottom of the drawer and there is a blue one with a micro tip. YES! Wrote on the next two with the gel pen and they looked splendiferous.

Problem: (isn't there always???) It was extremely difficult to write on the flake after it had been assembled. Note to self: Write on them before rough cutting. Better yet, write on them before scoring. It's hard to write with a big groove down the center of the surface.

Better yet, score before rough cutting so I can make one big score down the center of the printed page rather than handling six little pieces individually. Hey, I learn as I go along. Process engineering.

I'm humming along making the flakes and my hand starts to cramp from all the outline cutting. (All the rough cuts are done using a paper cutter.) It's not easy to cut through two thickness of cardstock, plus I'm cutting around intricate shapes.

I have an idea! Big round punch! Instead of cutting around the graphic I'll just punch it out in a big circle. There will be lots of white border, but the time savings and hand cramp savings would be phenomenal. I punched out three flakes and glued them together. (Even I am tired of repeating all the steps now. It's exhausting me to type them.) The result:

Two problems with this method. First the punch isn't quite large enough to get all the graphic in the circle. The tips of all six arms got lopped off. I could go back and resize the graphic, but then it would be too small. Second, the plain circle is just plain. The snowflake lost the charm of time-intensive, labor-of-love, handmade craftsmanship. If it loses that, what's the point of doing it? I want my googahs to be special.

Ohhhh. But then I had an ADD moment. I could use the big circle punch and make some neat, but plain, ornaments rather quickly. I drug out the crappy cards again. Since I had purchased three boxes, I had three of every design. I had already designated the Santa ones as photo mailers because they were ugly. But they would be fine for this experiment. Worked like a charm. The result:

The paper clips are just there to make them stand up for the photo. I wanted to show that with precision folding, the ornament would look exactly the same from any viewing angle, even if you were looking straight down one wing. Will remember this technique for future projects.

Back to the snowflakes... I finally figured out a way to get them to stand up. Make a stand. Duh! A little triangular strip of cardstock would work. Problem: It looks like an afterthought and takes away from the finished look of the snowflake. I thought maybe punching a snowflake out on all three sides would work. Nope. To use the snowflake punch I would have to increase the length of the three sides or the punchout would cut the strip in half lengthwise. It would also make the stand too tall and would be out of proportion. I tried using a small punch with a similar shape, but that looked stupid. My stand prototypes:

The problem with all of these is that they are stark white and contrasted too greatly with the soft blue of the snowflake. I'll have to design a strip of some kind that matches the blue of the flake. Off to Paint. I copied five design elements in the flake, cleaned them up a little and set them on a field of soft blue also copied from the flake.

Pulled the image into Word, copy pasted 10-12 times, and printed out a page of strips. Scored the strips, cut them out, folded, creased and glued. Beautiful. Problem: (again???)The little triangles could be easily separated and lost from the snowflake. Easy solution. I'll punch a hole in the top of the flake and run a length of silver cord through it. I'll string the little triangle on the cord and make the cord long enough so that it will reach to the base. Then folks will have the option of hanging it or sitting it on their mantle, and the little stand will never go missing. Great idea!

Problem: If the cord is run through the triangle base, the base will be sitting on the cord making it unstable. Hummm...I think I have this one figured out, but I don't know yet. I haven't gone shopping for the cord. But in the meantime, here is my (semi)finished product.

Yes, I suppose it does look like a schoolchild's holiday project. It looks like it took ten minutes to make, and I guess it actually did. No one will understand when I say it took three days to complete. That's why I included all the detailed steps ad nauseum, in the design process. It might not have been 4,000 steps exactly, but it sure felt close to it.

"Three days????" folks will ask in disbelief. "It took three days to make a paper snowflake???"

"Um, well, first there was this big pink, uh, thing which turned into a Disembodied Yule Hand...then a 3-foot polar bear...and a penguin on ice skates...."


"Uh, nevermind."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

How To Design a Christmas Card in 4000 Easy Steps, Part 1

I got my first Christmas card of the season Tuesday. Oh Crap! I haven't even started on mine! No wonder November dragged by so slowly. I wasn't working on my Christmas card inserts. Usually I'm in a frenzy cutting, gluing, folding, and drawing. I can't stand to send a boring old Christmas card, I have to add something. I try to design and make about a three-inch, three-dimensional paper goo-gah which will fold flat and mail inside a standard Christmas card...basically a paper Christmas ornament.

In 2005 I made 8-sided, origami Christmas trees out of green paper. Each tree had 24 branches and each branch was individually painted with a silver stripe to resemble snow. I enhanced the star on top with a gold foil star sticker front and back. The whole tree was made from a single piece of paper without any glue up. I spent weeks folding the trees, then cutting all the branches, then folding all the branches, then painting all the branches. I made about 40 I think. Sheesh! My eyeballs and fingers were shot by mailing time.

In 2006 I got really ambitious. This creation was a Christmas tree popping out of a box with fireworks. It required all kinds of rubber band engineering to make it pop into three-dimensionality without any effort by the recipient. It folded flat to go in the Christmas card, but popped to life when the card was opened. That bad boy had a gazillion pieces and required all kinds of glue up. I started them way before Thanksgiving, but I only got eight made. All the pieces are still in my Christmas card box.

So, in February last year, the dollar store had tons of crappy Christmas stuff on sale for 90% off. There was a pile of $1.00 a box cards, 32 per box, for just $.10. The outside of the cards had some cute designs, but inside the paper quality was beyond poor and the sayings were atrocious. I could use them for photo mailers, or cut up the fronts for pop-up card elements, or could completely cover the inside with my own cardstock. If nothing else I could use the envelopes to mail my water bill payment. I snatched up three boxes.

Yesterday I dug out the crappy cards. This year, I decided, I will make pop-up cards using the crappy cards instead of doing the paper ornament insert. I think a big hand opening up to reveal a single snowflake would be a quiet, simple, elegant card. Off to work....

First step: Figure out how to make 80 snowflakes without having to cut each one individually. (Two would be required for each card to make it 3D.) A craft punch would work. No craft stores or scrapbooking places in this town, or for 200 miles in any direction. Call Nana. Nana volunteers to shop for said punch, or die cuts, and will mail same to me. Check.

Next: Design pop-up hand

Photocopy hand; cut it out; score, fold, and crease appropriately; glue into card. Make snowflake, glue onto hand. Results:

Hummm...The hand doesn't unfold flat enough. It resembles a large pink erection flopping out of the card. Not really Christmasy, is it? It doesn't unfold far enough to be flat because, in paper engineering terms, the speed is wrong. To change the speed, the angle of the fold at the point of pop-up has to be increased or decreased.

Plus, the snowflake is way too small for the hand size. It looks like a little white gnat in there. I can't change the size of the snowflake, so the hand size has to change.

The next hurdle is to get the hand to unfold properly, but I don't want to keep using color copies of my hand and run the printer out of ink. I hate it when the printer runs out of ink in the middle of a big, time sensitive project. Arrgggh!

So, I make a mock-up

Yeah, that looks like it will work. The hand won't pop as much, but at least it will flatten out to show the snowflake. I try with a life-sized hand:

Well that just looks stupid. The fold will make the hand look all deformed. I trace and cut another hand and try a variety of folds to see what can be done.

Then it dawns on me that I've got the wrong part of the hand popping the wrong way. Instead of the fingers popping down, the wrist part should pop up. Yesss...that's the ticket. But I need a smaller hand, so off to the scanner I go.

Pull the image into MS Paint to edit, crop and size. This involves a lot of erase, erase erase to get rid of the dark background area.

Pull the image from Paint to Word, the only way I've figured out how to get something to print the size I want it.

Print hand; cut it out; score, fold and crease; glue into card. Make snowflake. Snowflake doesn't fit into palm the way I want it. Rip hand out of card, fold in different place. Glue back into card. Glue snowflake into hand.

Allrighty then, that's looking right. Now make it in color.

Print hand in color; cut it out; score, fold and crease; glue into card. Make snowflake, glue snowflake into hand.

Hummm...two major problems. First, the hand is dark and sooty looking from the shadows caused by the scanner. Second, I'm having a hard time gluing the hand exactly into the crease of the card. If it isn't snug in there, it will rip when the card is opened. (You can see the rip in the valley under the snowflake.) Usually in pop-ups, all the parts are glued first, scored as one, then folded. Since this is a crappy quality card, there is a hump in the valley crease which is preventing proper glue-up.

I can fix both problems. Taking a photo of my hand will eliminate the shadowing. Gluing the hand onto my own cardstock, then gluing the cardstock into the crappy card will eliminate the ripping problem.

I don't want to take a photo of my hand inside because it will either be dark, or washed out by the flash. Out to the sunshine of the driveway I go.

For artistic design reasons, I need a photo of my right hand. I'm right-handed and the camera is set up for right-handed people. So, I'm standing in the driveway with my left arm cranked around my head, with my right hand out in front of me. I can't work the camera with my left hand and end up turning it off about eight times before I realize that's the OFF button stupid, not the shutter button. Sigh. It's a good thing the only neighbor home at this time of the day already knows I'm crazy.

I realize it is so cold that my hands are turning white and that won't be a good photograph to use. I rub and sling my hands around to warm them up. Then I have an ADD moment and take pictures of my garden. For those of you with snow on the ground, it was 80 degrees here this weekend and my geraniums and marigolds are still blooming. Neener, neener, neener.

Where was I??? Oh, the hand. So I take about 15 shots of the hand. Oops, the thumb was crooked funny. The fingers too far apart. They have to be together so I won't have to cut down between them later. You gotta think about those kind of work-saving steps beforehand ya know. Oops, too many wrinkles, straighten out the hand. Too taut looking, relax the hand. Damn, now I have no blood in my hand again. Back inside.

I've had some success taking non-flash pictures in my kitchen because of the fluorescent lighting. In the kitchen for about nine more shots. Accidentally turn the camera off three times.

To the computer to download and review all the photographs. I think only one is worth using.

This isn't it, but if anybody out there in bloggersville can do palm reading, can you tell me my fortune? Doh! Damn that ADD.

The hand image, the hand image...back on track. Pull the hand into Paint to crop, edit and size. Into Word, then copy paste copy paste to get four hands on the page to save paper. Print, cut, set aside. Measure cardstock to completely cover inside of card.

Here I take a turn on the design. I decide to not have the hand pop-up at all. It will still be across the fold of the card, but only the snowflake will pop up.

Glue hand onto cardstock, score, fold, crease, make snowflake, glue snowflake to hand.

It looks weird. Add bizarre saying. That doesn't help much. Add additional 3D snowflake. See if it will look any better once the signature is included. Nope.

In my mind I am hearing Tim Gunn say, "Make it work."

Here is the result:

The greeting: "The disembodied Yule Hand wishes you a very surreal Christmas season."

I'm sorry Tim, but this card is NOT goin' down the runway.

(continued in Part 2)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Long November

This year we had a long November. It seemed to go on and on and on and on. I was beginning to suspect December was just a figment of my imagination.

Time seems to bend around corners, speed up and slow down for me. And no, I am not on heavy drugs. Even though the minutes tick resolutely by on the clock, I don't think they are all the same length.

Maybe Einstein would agree.

August was about 14 days long, September about 10 days, and October went by at normal speed. November however, has ooched along like a glacier of cold molasses. I kept checking my calender thinking I was mistaken, but yep, it was still November. I'm almost certain there were 95 days last month.

They were 95 good days, but 95 days nonetheless. I'm glad we are finally to December.

I was needing some closure.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Half a Message from The Other Side

My mom passed away two years ago this Christmas. Her rather quick, untimely death was a blessing in a way. Otherwise she was facing a slow hell of a death from a cancer that was eating away at her body and brain. Eighteen months after she died she returned to me with a message, but I only got half of it.

It was this summer, at the annual Clan Speck reunion (Hubby's family), in a tiny cabin by a lake.

Early Saturday morning Hubby gets up, bangs around getting dressed, and heads off down the hill for breakfast. I drift off back to sleep in the darkness. Thirty minutes or an hour goes by and the squeak of the front door opening wakes me up. I figure it is Hubby coming back to kiss me goodbye and tell me he is off to the golf course with his brothers. But the door bangs shut and there is only silence. It must have been Hubby leaving, I surmise. He probably came in and kissed me goodbye while I was still asleep and the sound of him leaving woke me up.

I squinch open my eyes and the overhead fluorescent light is on and glaring. "Damn that man," I think to myself, "He didn't turn off the light when he left." Then I realize there is someone in the cabin standing by the door, just beyond my view behind the closet wall. I panic for an instant thinking some psychotic mass murderer has found me in the deep woods of Arkansas.

Then I see her. She walks across the cabin looking at me very intently. It's my mother, back from the dead, 18 months gone now. I know she's dead, I know she's a ghost, but she isn't wispy or ghost-like. She isn't floating across the floor. She is just as solid looking as a live person, has on shoes, and is walking around like normal. I am excited but unafraid. I don't think the dead coming back to our world is an odd occurrence anymore. I am merely surprised that it is my mother because I didn't expect to see her of all people.

She looks wonderful dressed in a brown pant suit with a silk paisley blouse. She never, ever wore brown, I think to myself, but she looks great in that color. Her hair looks nice too, all piled up in a Marge Simpson hairdo.

At that moment I feel a wave of love for my mother like I have never felt before. It is deep and genuine and warm and fills my soul....and surprises me. For the first time in my life I know what it is to really, truly love my mother. Our relationship had always been rather cool and impersonal but that's a whole 'nuther story. Suffice it to say we were not warm-n-fuzzy close.

Mom is looking intently at me to see if I'm still asleep. She has that look on her face like she doesn't want to wake me, but urgently needs to talk to me. She is very quiet as she crosses the floor, all the time keeping an eye on me to see if I'm awake or not.

Yes, Mom, I'm awake. You can see I'm awake because I'm looking at you. You don't have to tiptoe. You can say something already.

She crosses the floor away from me and heads for the back door. She disappears out of view around the corner. Dang! Why didn't she stop or do something or say something? Why did she just walk by? What was that all about? I figure she is gone. Then she rounds the corner and strides right up to my bedside. I am so startled it almost knocks the breath out of me. My heart is thumping ninety miles an hour. Can this really be happening?

Mom makes an exaggerated puckered kissy face and bends down to kiss me. I'm still a little groggy from just being woken up, but I manage to crane my head up to meet her and make the puckered kissy face back. Instead of our lips touching, my face...well...goes through hers. She is ethereal, like a 3-D hologram. She straightens up and we both get a funny look on our faces; that we somehow knew that wasn't going to work, me being living and her being dead and all.

She gets serious, furrows her brow and says, "I've got something very important to tell you."

WOW! My brain snaps to attention. I am fully awake now. Whatever she says next will be the most momentous words ever spoken - wisdom of the ages from The Other Side.

"Xrciosion kos slepoise lwisbjios sljew boawlje llbjlkjxfow lxjgoi aejlsjd."

It's just garble, as though she is speaking Chinese. There is a windy, ripping, zippery sucking sound and the lights go off, Mom disappears, and I am alone again in the darkness, the nightlight glowing softly across the room.

Apparently when my brain went from hazy sleepiness to fully cognizant, it disrupted the connection between this world and the next. Dammit! I really, really wanted to know what she had to say. I was listening with every fiber of my body. I wondered why she choose this time and place to find me. She had never been up here, and this is an odd place for me to be. Where did she get the brown outfit? Why brown? I had a million questions and no answers.

When I later told this story to my sisters, they said I had this experience because of unresolved issues with my mom. I don't think so. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. The simple fact is my dead mother returned from the other side to give me an important message. That's it. That's all there is to it. Nothing more. I just need to learn Chinese so I will understand her during the next visit.

And yes, I realize that by sharing this with the world, I have just given my family all the fodder they will need for my commitment hearing. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Miracles of Life; or Tres Butterbean

The Nephew and his wife are pregnant. Since the day the EPT test turned blue, the family endowed the new baby with the nickname Butterbean.

We have included Butterbean in conversations as if he is already here. The Christmas cards will probably go out with Butterbean's signature even though he is not due until late April 2008.

Butterbean was a miracle baby. He was most definitely unplanned because Butterbean's momma is in the final stretch of a B.A. in Medical Technology and graduates in May 2008. Butterbean's daddy knew he was being called to active duty Oct 1st this year. He's currently training in the States and ships out to Iraq in March 2008. They were doing everything possible to prevent a Butterbean, but ya know, sometimes things don't go according to plans.

So everybody was a bit meshuganah at first but they've calmed down considerably since the EPT test. Butterbean's mom and dad have moved in with Butterbean's grandmother, my sister Nana. BBMom is going to finish school and start working while Nana takes care of Butterbean after he arrives.

So today is the big day...the first sonogram. Today we find out if Butterbean is really a he or actually a she.

BBMom and Nana are in the sonogram room and the first thing the tech says when the sonogram screen lights up is, "Oh, twins! Congratulations! That wasn't on the charts."

BBMom and Nana's jaws both drop to the floor. They had no idea.

The tech starts a long routine of measurements and techie sonogram stuff. It's taking a very long time. Then the tech frowns and says she's confused, that she needs somebody else to come look at the sonogram. A veteran sonogram looker-ater person comes in and fidgets with the equipment for a minute and says, "Yep, there's a third baby. Triplets."

So world, say hello to Tres Butterbean...
(Yes, I had to include the gratuitous fuzzy, amorphous blob sonogram photo.)

They are fraternal triplets. Two are definitely girls. The third one is probably a girl too, but the jury is still out. They are 19 weeks and everybody seems to be healthy and on track. BBMom and Nana need some tranquilizers, but we will get them peeled off the ceiling eventually. BBDad is ecstatic.

I called Momma Speck (who is no relation to these babies whatsoever) to tell her the good news. She's a big ol' baby lover and doesn't care who they belong to. They are her chirren now and she was squealing with excitement. She couldn't hang up the phone fast enough to go out and buy materials to start sewing baby quilts and receiving blankets.

Hubby snorted Pepsi out his nose when I told him the good news. Wiseacre that he is he said, "Well, now we're gonna have to call them Butterbean, Sweet Pea and Collard Greens."

Life is never going to be the same.

And that's a miracle.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Old Boyfriends, Old Memories

I was in the same room as my old boyfriend Tony on Thanksgiving day, a mere one table over, and missed him completely. The next day a friend clued me in that Tony had been there with his wife. Dang! We live just 20 minutes apart and had both driven over 100 miles to be in that same room Thanksgiving day and failed to find each other. Just two ships passing in the night. Sigh.

Tony was the first boy I was sweet on. I can't say that I was in love with him because I was just five years old at the time. He was in my first grade class and I thought he was cool. He was the only boy I deemed worthy enough to invite to my sixth birthday party. He knew he was going to be the only boy there among seven little girls and he came anyway. That alone tells you what a sweetie he was.

Here we are at the party. Aren't we cute????? My sister boofed my hair for the occasion.

After first grade we went to separate schools but were in the same Junior High and High School until we graduated. But alas, by 7th grade our paths were divergent and would not cross again. Tony was a young JFK, a member of everything and president of most, loved by the teachers, and destined for great things. I hung out with the stoners. Tony went on to become a lawyer and run for Congress. not.

But Tony remained near and dear to my heart all those years, even after I was married. You see he gave me a very special present on my sixth birthday; one I cherished for years and years. It was a white teddybear-looking cat with pink ears. I named him Bear because I already had a real cat. That's Bear in his box at the bottom of the photo.

Bear had a hard plastic nose and whiskers which fell off almost immediately. The poor thing had only a glue smudge for a nose for the rest of its life. I loved all his fuzz off and a good bit of the stuffing fell out of a hole in his arm. Mom sewed up Bear many times trying to keep him alive.

I'm not and never was a big stuffed animal fan. I thought hugging around on stuffed animals was rather silly even when I was a little kid. I had a live cat to hug on so stuffed animals didn't do much for me. But Bear was different. I loved him special just because Tony had given him to me.

When I left for college I packed Bear away in Mom's attic in my box of special treasures. He was one of my few childhood possessions that made the cut. Everything else got trashed because I was now a "grown-up."

I found Bear a decade later cleaning out the attic. He had become hard and crunchy from the heat. I grieved to part with him but he had become a fire hazard and had to go. I silently asked Tony's forgiveness for throwing away his gift when I tossed Bear in the trash bag.


I miss Bear.

Tony not so much.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Another Family Wedding

We had another family wedding yesterday. My cousin's daughter (that would actually be my first-cousin-once-removed) married her long-time boyfriend. It was a quiet, intimate affair with immediate family, close friends, and a few odd, distant cousins (me, my sisters) in the audience. The ceremony was lovely and touching with the requisite sniffles of sentiment.

I was giggling inappropriately through the ceremony of course. I giggle at weddings and cackle out loud at funerals. That's just what I do, I can't help it. A sister is usually poking me in the ribs trying to get me to behave. Funerals are my all-time favorite rituals of society with weddings running second. Where stress and solemnity mix, hilarity ensues.

In this case the little ringbearer was charming the socks off of me AND my sister this time. He was so cute! He was up there in his little tux twirling the pillow around on his finger, yawning, scratching, fidgeting, and rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. He was definitely a scene stealer and the highlight of the day.

Overall the entire event seemed to go off without a hitch. The ceremony went smoothly, the food was delicious, the guests well-behaved. However, the bride's immediate family was stressed out to the nth degree. I didn't really understand why, but hey, it was a wedding and what bride's family isn't stressed out at a wedding?

Because they all looked like deer in the headlights they weren't relaxed enough to sit and visit for a spell. My cousin John commented that we really don't see each other any more except at weddings and funerals. Yes, so true. We really need to have a family reunion other than at a major life-changing event.

That got me and another cousin conspiring. She agreed to have a gathering at her house sometime this spring or summer. Details will have to be worked out after the holidays. Plans will be made, notices mailed, tables gathered, menus hashed. It will be a major ordeal but well worth it.

On the long drive home I mulled over the prospect of a family reunion. I started getting all sniffley-eyed just thinking about it. There are 14 cousins in my generation. Almost all are married. There are about 23 young uns from those couples and a few grandchildren to boot. If everybody came there would be 56 people, and most of them will attend. That's just awesome if you think about it. Fifty-six people who think enough of each other to willingly show up, bring food, and spend six hours together. Just awesome.

How lucky I am to be a part of such a family. We have our quirks to be sure. Eccentricity is genetic after all. But we know our quirks and hold them near and dear to our hearts. It makes us uniquely who we are. We are family.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Recap

All in all this was a splendid Thanksgiving holiday. I put on my chefs hat and spent most of Wednesday afternoon engaged in holiday food prep. My contributions to other people's waistlines were the traditional green bean casserole with fake french fried onion rings; squash casserole (recipe courtesy of sister Nana); a carrot souffle (recipe courtesy of sister Pris); and a pretzel and white chocolate nibbling concoction called White Trash. All were big hits and I didn't get to bring home nary a bit of leftovers, dangit. I would have coveted another helping of the carrot souffle. It was excellent!

On Thursday morning I sent all my goodies with Hubby to his family's farm in one direction and I headed off across the state in the other direction. I volunteered to serve at a Community Thanksgiving dinner in my hometown. It's a cool concept conceived by one of my old friends JA. He feeds everybody in town regardless if you're rich or poor...just come on in and eat. When a bunch of Southern cooks get together and cook a mess of food, they want a mess of people to come and eat it. So, if you didn't want to cook, all you had to do was gather up a crowd and come sit at JA's table. All were welcome. It was quite an event and was like Old Home Week. I saw a bunch of folks I hadn't seen in years. I ate well and visited until I was hoarse.

At 2:30 I was back in the car driving across the state again. Arrived at the farm in time for the between dinner and supper leftover helping. Ate my own goodies at this sitting and Boy-O-Boy were they good. I think assembling them the night before made them better than if I had cooked them that morning. The flavors had melded together to make for some incredible soul food. I was tickled pink with the results because I had never made the squash casserole or the carrot souffle before. I'm still a bit unsure of my cooking abilities especially when I'm responsible for the entirety of the vegetative matter at a major holiday. It all worked out and everyone ate it without wrinkling their nose, so I'm happy.

Four of the Brothers Speck worked in the yard all day bushhogging, raking, and trimming, trying to hold back the wilderness from taking over the house. In the evening we lit a roaring "bondfire" as Momma Speck calls it. There in the darkness all the Speckticles gathered 'round, reconnected with each other, and solved all the problems of the world. It was a glorious time and made for very happy memories. Clan Speck is a crazy lot of folks, all very opinionated, but all very loving. I am blessed indeed to be a part of this nutsy family.

For that I am very, very thankful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vocabulary Ramblings

A long time ago and far, far away, I worked in corporate America writing technical reports. Technical reports may be an exaggeration because we dumbed them down to an eighth grade reading level so Headquarters could understand them. My boss kept telling me to "use little words to explain it to their stupid asses." I did that very well, thankyouverymuch. So well, in fact, that I lost most of my 16-cylinder vocabulary words.

I get frustrated when I want to describe a beautiful something and the only adjective I can come up with is beautiful. Sigh. Some blogs I read have me running for the dictionary on a daily basis. Why don't I know what those words mean? Why, oh why, won't my brain think up those words when I need them? Did I live on the eighth grade reading level for so many years that my vocabulary gray matter died?

Writing for the common man has its pros and cons. If a piece is full of 16-cylinder words, the average Joe won't be able to understand it and thus won't read it. A writer wants to have their work read after all. When writing for a wide audience, simpler is better. The drawback of using simplistic words is the piece tends to be rather flavorless. The English language has beautifully exact words to convey a precise meaning, but if nobody knows what they mean, the whole idea has been lost. My problem is that I am stuck on simplistic. I need to expand and utilize a grown-up vocabulary.

Towards that goal I found a cool vocabulary game on-line at For every word you get correct, 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program. I don't know about the rice donation business, but the vocab game is fun and challenging. I've made it to Level 45 of 50 and that was really stretching my brain cells. I didn't really know the words I was getting correct. I guessed at the meaning based on the Latin root of the word. I guess my guesses were pretty good.

Here are some words from the game:

Level 41 - candent, bibulous, luculent
Level 42 - stentor, complot, parvenu
Level 43 - trammel, mulct, execration
Level 44 - scaphoid, perspicacious, obloquy
Level 45 - parturient

I only got one shot at the Level 45 word and I missed it. The game dropped me back down to Level 44. Brownie points for anyone who can use scaphoid and parturient in the same sentence.

I was composing an email earlier and I used the term alma mater. For some reason the spelling looked wrong. My brain kept reading it alma MATE-r instead of alma MOT-r. Alma Mater, sister to Tow Mater from the movie Cars. I kept hearing Larry the Cable guy say, "Yeah, he went to my alma MATEr." (Humm...this explanation would work out better if I had an audio clip.)

Well, anyway I went looking for the correct spelling of alma mater and got sidetracked on a tangent through Wikipedia. I always get lost in there reading all kinds of stuff that is only useful when playing Jeopardy. But I digress. What I found on Wiki was a new vocabulary word:

The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is its first few words or opening line. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits. Incipit comes from the Latin for "it begins". In the medieval period, incipits were often written in a different script or color from the rest of the work of which they were a part. Though incipit is Latin, the practice of the incipit predates classical antiquity by several millennia, and can be found in various parts of the world.

Yep, I would only need to know that if I had just selected Arcane Bibliographics for $800. But it was interesting nonetheless. Who knew there was a name for the first line of a text???

I also discovered this:

Many books in the Hebrew Bible are named in Hebrew using incipits. For instance, the first book is called Bereshit ("In the beginning ..."). The incipit has passed into English, "Genesis" being derived from the Greek translation of Bereshit.
Does a Bereshit in the woods? Alma Mater would like to know.

Yeah, I'm still in the eighth grade mindset. There may not be any hope for me.

By the way, this post was intended to be didactic.

And dangit, I couldn't come up with a cool "V" word to go with Vocabulary for the title of this ramble. Sigh.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How to get to Heaven from Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Some lost soul found my blog Googling for an answer to "How to get to Heaven from Pine Bluff, Arkansas." I can feel their pain and despair. Sounds like a great title for a country & western song or a Memphis blues classic.

If I found myself stuck in Pine Bluff with no possible means of escape, I could see that Heaven would seem to be the only way out. I would be praying that The Rapture was imminent to flee the torturous predicament of my existence. Now I'm not hatin' on Pine Bluff particularly...well, yes I am. I've been there once and saw no compelling reason to return. But then I have the same sentiments for almost every little town in Arkansas south of I-30.

I can imagine some poor kid desperate for a life beyond Smalltown, Arkansas pecking away at his computer keyboard in search of an answer. Maybe he was guilt-ridden over some imagined indiscretion; his tormented soul believing there was to be no forgiveness for his sins. Was it possible that a sinner in Pine Bluff, Arkansas could repent and gain access to Heaven???

Well kid, apparently you have remorse for your actions so there's hope for you yet. What did ya do? Kill somebody? He needed killin' is still a valid defense here in Arkansas. Anything other than that is no big sweat. That guilt-trip you're on was probably initiated by a small-minded individual who never left the borders of Jefferson County. Let the immortal words of Pete Townshend be your mantra, "I don't need to be forgiven."

I'll tell ya what to do kid. Get out of Pine Bluff as soon as humanly possible, but not by way of Heaven. Car, train, or bicycle will do. Join the Navy, the French Foreign Legion, or the Peace Corps. All of them will provide transportation for your exodus. Go out and see the world while you're young. Meet strange and interesting people who do not eat cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving. Discover "different" is not "wrong."

If you aren't up for worldwide adventure, at least try to cross a state line. No, no, not that way! That'll take you to Mississippi and ya really don't want to go there. Go west to Texas, maybe further to California. Maybe there's a little bit o' Heaven out thatta way. If ya find it, let me know, I'll come join you.

Whatever route you take may not get you to The Pearly Gates, but at least it will get you the hell out of Pine Bluff. That in itself would be an improvement.

Good Luck kid. Send a postcard.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Math Learning Disability

For years I thought I had some type of math learning disability. This may sound odd coming from somebody who made straight As in advanced algebra II and took up accounting as a profession.

I bang my head to this day trying to add and subtract in my head. I count on my fingers and make little dots on paper when adding numbers. My flippant reply is, "If God had wanted me to add and subtract, I would have been born with a TI calculator in my hand."

My problem is with simple addition and subtraction. Algebra is a breeze until I get down to x = 4/2, then I tank. I can whip through all the complicated algebraic theories and formulas. My brain came hardwired with those. It's the third grade math that trips me up.

A math teacher friend of mine explained that I didn't have a math disability, I had an arithmetic disability. Addition and subtraction is arithmetic, at which I suck. Algebra isn't math, it is logic. I excel at logic, therefore, I excel at algebra.

Here's a simple arithmetic problem:

8 + 6 = ____

The normal brain response would be: 14. Nothing more to it than that, just 14. Probably any third grader could spit out the answer without thinking about it. But oh no, not me.

My brain response would be something like this:

1.) Select smallest of two numbers: 6
2.) Double smallest number: 6 + 6 = 12
3.) Hold result in memory bank: 12, 12, 12, 12.....
4.) Find difference in the two original numbers: 6 + x = 8;
(Note this is step is NOT 8 - 6 = 2, which would be simpler)
5.) Solve for x: x = 2
6.) Hold result in memory bank: 2, 2, 2, 2, 2........
7.) Retrieve original memory hold: 12
8.) Retrieve second memory hold: 2
9.) Add two numbers together: 12 + 2 = 14
10.) Hope nobody noticed it took at least 60 seconds to do this calculation.
11.) Pray the result is correct so that others will not laugh.
12.) Make flippant comment about God and TI calculator.

My brain goes through this each and every time I encounter these simple addition problems. It will not memorize the addition tables. My cerebral synapses just won't fire correctly for some reason.

I have more calculators stashed around my house, office, car, and briefcase than Microsoft has programmers. My arithmetic disability gives me a new perspective on people with reading disabilities. I know the shame and agony they go through. That fear of being called to the board, the public humiliation of realizing everybody else "gets it" and I don't. Arrrggghhhh!

Telling time using a digital clock is just as painful. I'm OK as long as the current time is in the first half of the hour, but anything past XX:30 requires math. So, as this holiday season approaches, please!, don't give me a *&%!! DIGITAL clock or watch! I can't do math! By the way, just glancing at this digital clock graphic makes me cringe.

I discovered recently there is a name for this math learning disability - discalculia. Down in the Wikipedia article is this explanation:

"...there is evidence (especially from brain damaged patients) that arithmetic (e.g. calculation and number fact memory) and mathematical (abstract reasoning with numbers) abilities can be dissociated. That is, an individual might suffer arithmetic difficulties (or dyscalculia), with no impairment of, or even giftedness in, abstract mathematical reasoning abilities."

That describes me to a "T", but omygosh, that is concrete evidence that I am, (gasp), DAIN BRAMAGED! Wikipedia said so! I blame it on the fact that Momma dropped a can of peas on my head when I was two and just learning how to count. This incident may also be the reason I have a horrid aversion to English peas, but I digress.

The Sissies also claim to have problems with math and digital clocks, but Momma never confessed to dropping peas on their heads. Hummm... Maybe this thing IS genetic.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Message from Josh

There are forces in this universe I don't understand. Things happen at a certain time for a certain reason and I don't understand why. I am getting the feeling it is time to tell this story. I'm not sure who needs to read it or why. All I know is that I need to tell it.

These events are real, but the names, dates, and locations have been changed for the privacy of those involved. It's long and involved so get a glass of tea and set a spell....

I'm an obituary collector. I read the obits in a voyeuristic fashion, looking for the interesting tidbits of stranger's lives. I clip and save the obits that are uniquely written with unabashed raw truth about the deceased. I love those. No flowerdy pomposity, just an unvarnished assessment of the person or their life. I hate reading obits that state the deceased was a fine upstanding member of society when in fact the guy was a raging drunk who beat his wife and kids. I'm all for truth in obituaries.

Scanning the paper one morning I find Josh's obit. The photo caught my eye first. He was a young guy, too young to be on the obit page, a good looking kid.

JOSHUA RANDALL BURKS, age 20, died in an automobile accident Sept 20, 2000.

Those who have known Joshua will remember him as a blithe spirit. He marched to the tempo of his own drum. He high-fived his way through life. He lived more life in his 20 years than most people experience in lengthy life spans. Josh had a magnetic personality, a sense of joy that made him a pied piper of all ages. He had a juicy sense of humor that served him well throughout his life. He was fascinated with current events and stayed abreast of the latest political news. He was not easily persuaded. He had a keen insight that enabled him to see through phoniness and hypocrisy. He was fascinated with people and their thoughts and found friends in all walks of life. Josh was born with a liberated mind and was never overcome by the many adversities he encountered. He drank of life’s fullness and took all it could give. Josh was preceded in death by...

"He marched to the tempo of his own drum..." I immediately felt a connection to this kid. I know the pain of marching out of step with the rest of the world. It isn't an easy thing to do. The different drummer reference is from the conclusion to Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 1854 - perhaps two of the most exquisite lines of prose ever written:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away."

I tore out the page with Josh's obit and stuck in it my "Great Obits" file for future reference. A few days later, I got it out and started an essay titled, "Truth in Obits." I worked on it a while, copying verbatim Josh's obit, and adding my thoughts, but the piece wasn't coming together the way I wanted. I was struggling with what I wanted to say, so I filed it away again to work on later. Sometimes letting a topic rest a few days and approaching it later with fresh eyes helps to get the words to congeal.

Almost a month goes by without any work on the essay. I'm still trying to formulate the outline, but I'm still not having any inspiration. Then one day, a nagging thought forms in the back of my brain...write on the essay, write on the essay. I wasn't ready to write anything. I still didn't know where I wanted to go with the piece. Brain is still nagging...write on the obits piece, write on the obits piece. All through the evening that nagging voice won't go away. Write, write, write...and Josh's picture kept popping in my head.

OK fine! I'll write. Don't know what I'm gonna write but I'll put my damn fingers on the keyboard. So I pulled up the essay on the computer and read it again. I went to the point where my thought process had been interrupted previously. I scrolled all the garbage off the page and stared at the blank screen. Still nothing was coming.

I dug out Josh's obit that was published in the newspaper with his picture. I propped it up next to my computer and stared into Josh's eyes. I said, "OK Josh, what am I supposed to be writing here? Help me out. What is it that you want to say?"

I cleared my mind and just stared at Josh's eyes. His picture became kind of fuzzy but his eyes remained clear. Words started scrolling across my mind like the sign in Times Square. Just phrases really, not whole sentences. I just typed what my mind saw without thinking about what I was typing. I continued to stare at Josh's eyes and not at the computer screen. After typing for a while, there was almost an audible click like a telephone had been hung up and there were no more words.

This popped me out of my reverie and the rest of the room came back into focus. For the first time I looked at my computer screen and this is what was there:

"Marg wants me to say that I have come to the end of my life but that's not true. I am living on in the place of non-existence. We go through life wondering what we need to hear. What we need is the reason to live. Help me to send this message to those that I love. Help me to say what I can't say. I am never going to get the chance to say the things I need to say to those that I love. Just as I have gotten over on to them me to say things that I need to say. There is something I need to send to three people. What is the meaning of the words....can't make up my mind. Who is my savior in that the day of my existence is now at hand. Probably need to say what I mean to you. Help me to say these things to mother and David. Help me say goodbye."

"Tell them I am happy here. Tell them I am safe and happy. Tell them I will see them someday soon. See that they don't worry about me. Ask them to send their love to me on the other side. Ask them to see that I am happy. Work with them to say what I want to say. Tell them I am happy. Tell them I am safe. I am warm, unharmed. I am whole now. Be kind to each other. Peace be with you. Goodbye."

When I read it I cried and wailed and boo-hooed and sobbed. No! No! No! This is not happening to me! This kid is not sending me messages from the other side! This CANNOT be happening!

I didn't know what to do. I was scared out of my mind. I had not written this, it was not from my brain. It is not at all my style of writing nor the words I would have used. Why was Josh talking to me?

I composed myself and read it again. I wondered who David was. I reread the entire obit with the list of family names and didn't find a David there.

I stared at the message and asked "Who is David?"

I got the answer "Rogers, David Rogers."

I went to the AT&T website and searched for a David Rogers in Arkansas. There were about 25 or so. I read through them all looking for one that stood out from the rest. When I got to the end I sighed with despair because I would never be able to figure out which one it was, or if it was one that was listed. I started going backwards through the list and said "There's too many Josh, there's too many. I need a flashing RED sign to show me which one." The next one I clicked on lived on REDwood Drive.

"Oh, thank you Josh."

The reason I was interested in finding "David" was because earlier when I was having the nagging thought of writing on the essay some more, I was thinking about Josh and visualizing his picture in my mind. Between thoughts of Josh I kept getting the thought "Tell David that ham is dangerous." This was kinda scary to me. It sounded like a warning. It might be an inside joke about pork and cholesterol. I don't know. That's just what came into my mind.

This had never happened to me before. It made me sick and worried and I didn't know what to do. I felt I had been given an important message to deliver, but this was all so crazy. How could I ever deliver the message, even if I could, should I? How would I ever explain?

I stayed up all night balling and squalling. At daylight I called my sister and told her what had happened. Turns out she was good friends with Josh's mother Linda, a lady I didn't know. My sister said I should call Linda, right then. She gave me Linda's phone number and I dialed the phone.

By this time I was an emotional wreck. I sobbed and blubbered my way through the phone call to Josh's poor mother. She had just lost her young son in a car wreck and now some crazy woman she doesn't know is calling her with a wild tale. It's a miracle she didn't slam down the phone. She was surprisingly patient and kind. After I finished my long tale she gave me her email address so that I could send her the message to read.

After I hung up the phone, I heaved a big sigh, looked towards the ceiling and said, "Message delivered Josh."

Three days lates, Josh's mother Linda sent me the following response (posted here with her permission):

Dear Speck,

Thank you for contacting me and letting me know about Josh. I must admit at first I struggled with the message. The struggle was not about whether the message was from Josh. That I believe with no doubt! I kept worrying about the part that I didn’t understand. Finally, I heard the message, “Focus on what you know”. I know that Josh was saying, “Mom, I’m okay. I am safe, happy, warm and unharmed. I am whole. Be kind to each other. Send me love.” Yes, that message is so much Joshua.

Joshua was facing yet another DWI charge and was concerned about what he was to face with the judicial system. He came to me not long before he died and said he had thought about just leaving the state. I said, “Well, that is pretty selfish.” He looked surprised. I said, “Josh, do you know what that would do to me not knowing if you were okay or not.” He said, “Oh, mom, I wouldn’t do that. I would let you know I was okay.” True to his word, he did!

Josh and I have always had a bond that is beyond description. Someone wrote to me and described him as my heartbeat. He always was and will be. We had conversations about many things. One of recent before he died was about my conversation with a friend, Greg whom I went to high school with. Greg is divorced from my life long best friend. I am the Godmother of his children. I had not seen Greg to visit in years but we were at the hospital together about six months ago because his daughter was having surgery. We had time to sit and visit and he told me about his channeling and conversations with the dead. He told me that he and the woman he lives with help souls who are stuck go over into the next existence. I came home and told Josh. We sort of laughed and talked. I said, “far be it from me to not believe what Greg was saying.” Josh agreed.

I am certain that Josh knew not to reach me through Greg because there would have been doubts in my mind. I would have been afraid. Instead he came through you, Nana’s sister. I have long trusted and looked to Nana as a spiritual guide not because of her doctrine, but because of something much deeper, her “spiritual connection”. The first message was delivered with Nana’s own hands to me thus removing any caution I would have had to who you were otherwise.

That led the way for me to be completely open and trusting to your phone call. You began with, “I didn’t know whether to contact you or not but Nana said to call you”. Josh knew exactly how to get the message straight to me so I would know I didn’t need to sort the validity or safety of it.

I have been praying to know for certain that Josh was okay. All I ever wanted for him in this life and the one beyond was for him to be happy, safe, whole and at peace. What a powerful gift of love to know that he is.

What a strange position for you to be in and what a gift! You have been the messenger of love. I pray the prayer of St. Francis almost every day that I might be a channel of Thy peace. You have been. Thanks be to God!

I don’t know what the rest of the message means but I figure that when the time is right, if I am supposed to know or do something with it I will. I will stay in prayer about it and about being a channel of peace. What I need to know will be revealed to me when I need to know it, I am certain.

I hope that we can get together some day soon and visit. My dad lived [in My Town] for several years. In fact when Josh was three months old we can home from Germany to be with my Dad who had cancer. We lived there in the apartments on Main with him for about 3 months. Josh loved my dad and his cremated remains were buried in my daddy’s cemetery plot right above his heart. It felt so right to have him tucked in with daddy. I felt Daddy and Josh were together and it felt good knowing Josh was with my daddy whom I loved dearly. Josh was even named after my dad. Maybe the connection of [the town] means something too. Who knows!

Words cannot expression my appreciation for your courage and your connection. Please stay in touch with me and know that I will be anxious to hear anything you get in the future.

With much appreciation and gratitude,

P.S. I am attaching a copy of Josh’s Eulogy. I thought you might enjoy reading just what a delight he was, and I suspect your kindred spirit.

Yes, I believe Josh and I are indeed kindred spirits. Even though we had not met in life, we are somehow connected.