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.