Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, December 23, 2006

That Time Of Year Again...

The lines are a little longer, the traffic's a little thicker, and the radio tries to sneak "Christmas In The Northwest" and other insipid holiday songs into my ears whenever possible. (Never heard of "Christmas In The Northwest"? Keep it that way... your teeth will thank you...)

I'm not saying that all holiday music is bad. A fair chunk of it's rather good. What would Christmas be without O Holy Night, Ring Those Christmas Bells, and other standards... or not-so-standards, like Bob Rivers' Twisted Christmas offerings, or Mom's Christmas CDs of the Clancy Brothers and the Irish Rovers, or the local favorite Stop The Cavalry? It's just those songs, or more often those versions of songs, that send ten-inch fingernails raking across the blackboard of my brain. You know the ones I'm talking about. The rot-your-teeth-out-before-the-opening-bar's-done songs. The rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-on-it-for-the-holiday-of-peace-and-joy songs. The haven't-you-found-that-frellin'-note-yet? songs. The it-wasn't-broke-so-let's-rebuild-it-from-the-ground-up songs. I heard a number of all of those songs this year, moreso than I had since I worked in grocery stores stocking shelves (holiday tape loops in grocery stores is a whole 'nother rant...), listening to the local all-Christmas station. Why? Inspiration, of course, for the annual ornament blitz.

This year was a remarkably prolific year for ornaments, because I owed them to so many people after last year. I was hoping to do double ornaments for some, but it didn't work out that way. Still, I bested my old records before the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers were done, and just today I finished gluing the hangers for the last round of them. Now I'm at a loose end. I don't know what to do with the rest of today and tomorrow without ornaments to fiddle with. Usually, I'm up past midnight on Xmas Eve, holding an ornament or two over the nearest vent and hoping the furnace kicks in long enough to speed the paint drying process. This year, I managed to get all done - including two spares, completely unprecedented in my decade or so of ornament production - by today, two days before Xmas. So what am I to do, really, but post pictures and waste blog space talking about them? (Hey, if I had a life worth writing about, I wouldn't be here so often to write about it, would I?)

To prevent potential gift "spoilers," I'll be posting links to the Photobucket pictures rather than having them in-line. I'll also be editing this post to go in stages, starting with the ones that have already been received up through (probably) Xmas Eve with the last of them. Ready? Tough, here goes...

I made this one for my mother's boss. I owed her this much at least for software help over the past year or so. I'd heard she liked gargoyles, so I took a swipe at an Xmas gargoyle. I heard she liked it.

Well, he's a gargoyle. What else would he be singing? Yes, I hand-lettered it. With a paintbrush. And no guidelines. I also did the book separately and glued it on later. If I did things the easy way, I wouldn't be me. Whether or not that's a bad thing, I'm in no position to judge...

I only managed one salvageable photo of these three. I was just pleased to hear that they'd survived cross-country shipping. Yes, those are glass bevelled beads - they all have one, though you can't really tell from this angle. You can't really tell much from this angle, to be perfectly honest. I said they were cruddy photos... I do a lot better when I can shoot outdoors, but the weather didn't cooperate and the lighting at my workbench really isn't conducive to great photography. That's my excuse, anyway.

The spares. Unprecedented, as I said, but I managed to squeeze in two spares. I haven't actually made an ornament for me since I started making holiday projects, and, dang it, I wanted to make myself something! So, since I had a couple spare armatures lying around, I went for it. The green one's a dragon, and the other one's supposed to be a griffin, if it's not obvious. The markings on the stockings were done with Elmer's acrylic paint pens. I discovered them this year, after my sister found out how well they worked for her carving projects. I love them. What other metallic acrylic paint will cover in one coat - even over dark colors? Granted, they have some issues with glaze now and again, especially if they've been drawn over metallics, but I still love them. Beats the heck out of getting an even line out of a tired paintbrush... wish I'd had them when I did the lettering in that frellin' book for the gargoyle, but I digress.

More To Come... stay tuned...

Okay, it's 9 PM Xmas Eve - anyone reading this who has received a gift from me and hasn't opening it, avert your eyes... This goes for you, too, family, if you're reading this before Xmas Day!

Just a quick shot of my workbench. And you wonder why it takes so long for me to get anything done...

Yes, I know it says 2003 in the file title - I screwed up when I was editing them... Anyway, these are from the first batch, along with the gargoyle and the dragons. They're supposed to have a plushie/stuffed animal look. In a not-so-interesting side note, the moose was inspired by a mudflap I saw on a semi a few years back.

Another shot.

The last round, in a cruddy photo. I'll annotate after the holidays... no spoilers in the text, here.
LATER - Okay, clockwise from top: Wooden airplane toy (bought at craft store and painted by me) ornament for Grandpa; Violet and gold hummer for Mom (yes, it's violet - a dark violet, yes, but still violet); Green dragon for me; Holiday-themed Magical Trevor* for my sister; Griffin for me; blurry green alien for sci-fi nut dad.
* - http://www.weebls-stuff.com/toons/magical+trevor/ - My sister loves him... yeah, I screwed up the proportions. What else is new?

I owed several ornaments to people across the country, so I thought I'd save on shipping weight and time and just paint up some paper mache rounds from the craft store. In fact, I thought, I'll save myself a ton of time and just get some graphite paper, print out some generic pictures from Word's Wingdings/Webdings fonts, and paint in the lines. Smugly, I bought and printed... and the little corner of my brain that always gets me in over my head on projects started crying foul. "Cop out! Cop out!" it cried. "You can't just trace someone else's art and be satisfied! Who are you kidding?"
"But," I replied weakly,"I gotta get these done and mailed soon! I don't have time to do anything else!"
"Well, you have to do better than generic dingbats," it said stubbornly,"or I'm not going to give you a moment's peace from now through New Year's."

"How about a compromise?" I offered.
"I'm listening," it said warily.
"One side, generic star dingbat shapes. The other... well, I'll reuse them, but they'll be all my own drawings."
"Kinda like Skyhaven... one template, many colors... Hmm. Okay, you've got yourself a deal. But you'll have to do them all unique. No cheating."
"I promise. Now leave me alone while I procrastinate."
"Don't I always?"
(Two actually ended up being used on Mom's holiday tree at work. All but one of the rest are shipped and claimed... the last one will go out after Xmas, because they didn't get back to me with their address in time.)

Happy Holidays, one and all!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Longest and Shortest Weeks of the Year

Twelve days 'til Xmas... I remember how long it was when I was a young'un. Every day between Thanksgiving and the Big Day was an agonizing eternity, with constant reminders on all fronts that Xmas was on its way. My sister and I just couldn't stand the wait. On Xmas Eve itself, we hardly slept a wink (but of course we must have fallen asleep at some point, because Santa always showed up ;-) ), and even I, programmed since before birth to resent morning hours, was out of bed by 6 AM and chomping at the bit to get to the presents when Mom fiiinnnallly woke up. And, always, even as a kid, it all was over in a flash. Open presents at home, go to Grandpa's for "dinner" (inexplicably at lunchtime) and more presents, then the drive home. And that was that.

Growing up, time seems to have compressed. A month is barely any time at all, especially when you're peppered by nonstop questions for which one has no answer. Okay, it's not really questions, but one question, from multiple sources. The eternal question that plagues all shoppers, torments all givers, and haunts all receivers. "What do you want this year?" Yeah, you get it on your birthday, too, but it's always bigger for Xmas. You can't just ask for something, either - it has to be Something, capitalized, big and boldface in italics if possible. This is Xmas, after all. Winter Solstice. I'm guessing here, but I think most cultures have some Big Bash roughly associated with this time of year - you had to know your seasons, after all, if you wanted to know what to do to your croplands or when to expect game migrations and such. So this isn't just a gift. It's a Gift. You don't just ask for a sketchbook - you ask for a premium spiral-bound sketchbook full of illustration-grade paper and a set of gold-plated professional sketch pens to go with it, or else.

So, what do I want this year? I know what I want this year. I know what I need this year. It is, in all honesty, a pretty big-ticket item, so it's entirely appropriate for this time of year. And it's nothing anyone can get me... well, not legally or ethically at any rate. It's a job. I'm still waiting to hear back on that library shipping center one. I haven't gotten a kiss-off note, so that's good. I haven't gotten a phone call, either, which isn't so good, though it's not exactly bad. Nothing makes time stretch like waiting for a yea or nay on a job... almost like old times... (Of course, I never say no to sketchbooks, dragons, or gift certificates to bookstores.)

Another reason time is shorter this time of year is that when one grows up one is expected to do more than slap one's name on the gift Dad or Mom told you to give to Grandpa or your sister and calling it good. Getting everyone else to answer the dreaded holiday question is just half the problem - finding what they want and obtaining it is the rest, though of course the internet's a great help in that department. And, of course, there's the ultimate resource of the penniless loser, the homemade gift. Nothing eats the holiday season like making your own gifts.

I can't remember when exactly I started making ornaments, but I remember that it started with a tight budget, acrylic paints, and some cheap wooden nutcrackers at a local craft store. Since then, I've moved on to actual sculpted items (first in polymers, more recently in Paperclay.) I've even designed my own cards on irregular years. This year, I didn't manage the cards, but I did manage a bumper crop of ornaments. See, I didn't get to do them last year (for obvious reasons), so this year I felt insanely obligated to do double ornaments for everyone who "missed out" last year. Since I now have my own workbench now and don't have to wait for my usual corner of the dining room table to be cleared off, I actually got started much earlier than I normally do. I even had some finished before Thanksgiving! Does that mean I'm done? Of course not. I just started covering the last armatures today. See, if I were done, I'd have nothing to fret or nitpick or fuss over until past midnight on Xmas Eve. I'd actually have some free time to sit back and enjoy the lights on the fiber optic trees, and listen to my holiday CDs in peace. In short, time would decompress, and it would take that much longer for Xmas to get here.... and I just can't stand the wait.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today, my personal trip through Hell began. It started with a trip to the walk-in clinic on the fifth, but it really began, in my mind, after the CT results on the 7th... and the phone call that would send me into the hospital system. It ended after an emergency operation to remove a benign ovarian cystadenoma one week later - and after the incision finally healed, having come open when the staples were initially removed. In this trip, which cost me a job and other things, I learned many things.

I learned that a flu isn't always just a flu.

I learned what rationalization and hoping things would go away can lead to.

I learned that uncertainty can be worse than anything.

I learned that a 25-pound monster was trying to kill me from within.

I learned how fast "normal" can disappear.

I learned some new least favorite words ("Suspect metastatic changes") and my new favorite words ("No evidence of malignancy.")

I learned what it means to rely on family and have friends.

I learned what it means to owe your life to total strangers.

I learned that attitude, positive thinking, and other factors can trump modern medical science in a crunch.

I learned that there is more to this world than we tend to acknowledge.

I learned what a joy it was just to be able to sit up without pain.

I learned how much my cats miss me when I can't sleep in the room with them.

I learned the miracle of painkillers, Tegaderm, and saline rinse bottles.

I learned how wonderful it was to be able to swallow without fear, and keep food down.

I learned that Christmas is still Christmas even if you can't do much more than show up at the family gathering.

I learned how much I took for granted, and how easily it can all be lost.

I spent today shopping for gifts, working on holiday ornaments, and starting a load of laundry. I bought groceries. I spent some time working on my computer and petting the cats. I took a walk around the neighborhood. A year ago yesterday, I never thought I'd be thankful for an ordinary day like today, but I learned that, and more. Starting one year ago today.