Holiday Form Letter

Dearest Loved Ones (that’s you, my loyal readers),

It is time yet again when I sit down and write the annual Christmas letter. You are possibly wondering why, in the era of Facebook, why I would resort to such a quaint and antiquated tradition as sending you a holiday card with a long info-dump of my fabulous year, copied onto a sheet of common copy paper. Afterall, nobody saves the amazing milestones and accomplishments of their storybook lives for a year-end round-up any more. They just post them in real-time.

Me, I prefer the only slightly less impersonal approach of a physical form letter (we’re pretending that you got this in an actual letter, instead of via e-mail. Work with me here.)  mailed in a festive card which arrived in your mail, to the status update that will probably get buried in your newsfeed, because, let’s face it, Facebook thinks we don’t really like each other all that much and has decided you don’t really want to see my updates.

A feature of the form letter is an overly exhaustive review of all the things the letter writer and their family has accomplished since the last letter. You force yourself to read it even though you are thinking to yourself that the writer is a complete narcissist, and you wish you were done reading it already so you can throw it in the trash. There aren’t even any cute baby pictures in here to make it more palatable.

One of the highlights of my year came in March, where my sister and her family came in from out of state to visit. We did some of the usual touristy things, and you’ve probably already tuned this part out because you don’t know them and I have, yet again, failed to give you cute pictures.

After this was Denver Comic Con, at which I was again a volunteer, and I had the usual adventures in customer service, got involved in a pitched light saber battle with my sister, and had random encounters with celebrities who will not remember them. You might’ve seen the pictures on Facebook.

Then there was the big drama of the year, which was the infamous car accident, which set-off the fight with the insurance company, and the adventure of the rental car. The conclusion of that adventure was that my car was fixed, and is doing great.

(Of course, since we are pretending this came to you in print, you’re probably scratching your head about the randomly underlined bits of text, which are making you wonder if I’ve abandoned my good sense of typography and taken up bad habits from some creator of fanatical propaganda pamphlets. Instead, this is looking like an awkward highlights reel clipshow.)

This is the part where I tell you about my exciting new projects for 2017. I am mostly hoping you ignore this part of the letter.

The good news is that I’m coming to the end of a standard sheet of letter copy paper, and have no wish to spend the money to make these letters double-sided, so, I’ll let you off the hook early, and let you get to the “put the letter in the trash” part of this exercise.

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season, filled with light and love, and joy and laughter. Thanks for reading through to the end.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Thursday, and I had many things I had prepared for this, and all of those became moot in the presence of the holiday.  Or, if not “moot” exactly, rather they are things that can be said at anytime except today, where the holiday is the elephant in the room, and everyone would be very confused and puzzled about it going without mention.

And, frankly, while I am grateful about many things, I would rather ignore the fact that is a holiday.  The best thing about it being a holiday is that I didn’t have to go to work. The rest of it, well, it doesn’t feel much like the holidays I remember fondly from years ago. It’s so different, that it really hurts less to just think of the day as just another Thursday, and a day that I happen to have off.

Right now, having addressed the elephant, I would much prefer to change the subject, and put a happy face on things, and talk about the Super Secret project that will be launching on Jan 6.  It’s starting to come together, and I really hope it’s something you all will enjoy.  There is tons of work still to be done, and I am worried that I’ll be overwhelmed by the increase in production demands. That’s between you and me, right? Right.

Naturally, I’m also worried that it’ll fall flat, and not go anywhere, and I’ll have sunk another bunch of effort into something that is as ambiguously successful as all the other things I’ve worked on in the last few years. What all that means, I don’t know.  I do know that this speculation is wandering back into less cheery thoughts, and I’m not entirely prepared to go down that road right now.

Instead, I will focus on the work in front of me, and be grateful for a long weekend in which to complete more of the pieces that must be done between now and the January.

Why Weird is Relative

Grandpa carving the turkey on ThanksgivingEvery family has its own Thanksgiving traditions. For some it’s a weird gelatin with hot dogs and cabbage in it. These are the dishes that are made exactly once a year, the ones that half the family hates, but, no one can imagine having Thanksgiving without it sitting on the table.

Ours is butterball and noodle soup, which is not at all weird.

Ok, maybe it is. But it’s our weird. We all prefer our own flavors of weird.

Butterball and noodle soup is one of those classic “leftover” meals our ancestors made to use every bit of the resources available on the farm. Dry bread, chicken stock, cream, butter and eggs. At one time, I suspect, (putting on my know-it-all hat to cover the fact that I’ve no actual evidence for these statements) my ancestors had this dish more than once a year, maybe even a couple of times a month!

Now we’re city folk, and the dish that came from things “on hand” is now a shopping trip, where we purchase bread to dry it, and we don’t know the cow(s) that provide the dairy, nor do we stick our hands under a chicken to get eggs. The noodles will also be purchased, not made.

The stock will be provided by the other star of Thanksgiving, the turkey.

All that’s left to do? Try and remember the recipe.

You see, like any good “family recipe” there are hundreds of variations. Most of them have the ingredients listed above. Some mention sweetened condensed milk (avoid those, you’ll thank me). Others, probably in a misguided attempt to “reduce the fat content,” substitute margarine and half and half for the butter and cream. WRONG. This is not just from a flavor standpoint. This is from a “do you want your butterballs to hold together, or do you want to eat watery mush?” perspective.

Getting the right ingredients is only part of the equation. They need to be prepared “just so.” If not, the butterballs will fall apart. And everyone knows (well, everyone who’s our flavor of weird knows) that the true test of any cook is: “Can you make butterballs that don’t fall apart?” The second test, is “Do the butterballs taste like Grandma Kathryn’s?”

Everyone agrees that my great-grandmother made it best. Her butterballs always stayed together and always tasted wonderful.

It has been 20 years since I was given the sacred duty of making the butterballs, a test of cookery and a rite of passage. It hardly mattered that I had never made them, or that I’d never tasted anything my great-grandmother had cooked, my mother was rumored to have the recipe.

Could I live up to my namesake?

My grandfather, who loved this soup but had struggled for decades to reclaim the food memory of eating the soup at grandma’s table, was so hopeful, he offered to make the breadcrumbs. No one remembered him ever doing that.

I was feeling the pressure.

After two days work, butterballs came out of the fridge and slid into the hot soup. When we sat down to eat, the balls were still intact, a hopeful sign. Grandpa took a bite, but held a poker face. Everyone watched him, not even breathing, waiting for his verdict.

“You done good, Katie,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. And everyone set to eating it, and was thankful.

*******
So, before I leave you for a long weekend and time to be thankful, I have a few reminders.

First, a reminder that I’ve started posting a to my website on Thursdays, and to read it, well, you’ll have to click the link, or, hey, you could bookmark the page, and take a peep whenever you like.

Second: a reminder that, starting in January, I will be revealing a THIRD weekly posting, the content of which promises to be a unique surprise. This content will be released every Saturday. If you want to get that content sent to you every week, you can add your name by subscribing here. When you sign up to get that new weekly content, you’ll get a teaser of what lies ahead.

I will get this posted…

Snowy Christmas

Last week, I promised that I would post on Thursdays, and so, I am, having just remembered it was Thursday. This sounds like a convenient sort of memory, but, it has been a challenging week for me, which has included a 7-hour ER visit, with myself as the patient for a novelty. (I’m mostly fine, I will need some dental surgery, which is for next week, and I’ve been on antibiotics since, but have generally felt not so great.)

Today, winter started, and that involved a long commute home in unfortunate conditions and cold, and then I got caught up in doing things for the dentist and being indignant about their intake form, which is not only full of implications that my ability to pay the bill is vastly more important to them than is my need for care, but it took much, much longer than anyone could have anticipated, even accounting for an eight full pages.

This is all to say that I had many plans for this evening, and this is as far as I got. Perhaps there will be a bonus post tomorrow.

A Coward’s Confession

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I did not complete my novel this July. I can tell by the shocked silence this is terribly astonishing to each and everyone of you.

More likely that silence is something very different from surprise.

I could list dozens of well-crafted excuses, all of which sound remarkably convincing.  I’ve been telling them to myself for weeks, and they did a great job reassuring me that they were valid and true. It’s also true that I am a really, really good at telling stories. I’m certain that these astoundingly compelling tales would be more than sufficient for my kind and generous readers to not only wholeheartedly agree with their legitimacy, but that they would gently “let me off the hook.” Except, I am here to assure you, these are all lies. The truth boils down to one thing: I am a lazy coward.

Or is that two things?

Telling you I am coward sounds like a punchline. At least it does when it’s outside my head, and appearing in the context of a humor column. Inside my head, it’s a punchline of a different sort. Making things is hard.

Every time I sit at the computer to put some words down, there is dread. It’s dread fueled by fear, and it wants me to stop. It begs me to “just take a nap,” or “check Facebook one last time,” or “just look up one more thing,” and 20 minutes later, I’ve not made any progress.

My cowardly mind tells me, in soothing tones, “It’s too hard. You’ve done enough. It was a busy week. You need to go to bed, you have work tomorrow. Rest is more important than meeting some arbitrary deadline that only really exists in your mind. No one will even notice if you miss it.

More lies. *I* notice.

In a month where I was again attempting to re-establish the discipline of a nightly writing, and meet the challenging goal of 1700 words per day, I actually wrote less than I have in months. Behold the irony.

My own internal propaganda had much more powerful ammunition for this round. It had the gall to supplement its lies with a bit of the truth. It’s a small truth, in which I did manage to progress just about every project I’m working on *except* the novel. Sure, any progress is good.. But, it’s also a convenient, comforting appeasement for my failure.

This isn’t a shamelessly transparent attempt to solicit encouraging feedback reminding me how awesome I am. I totally know that already. I also know when I’m falling short.

By telling you all that I’ve fallen short lately, I’m trying to confront that coward. I’m hoping that a breath of honesty might make it harder for me to fool myself. Stranger things have happened.

We came this far, and all I was able to do was talk about the “coward” part of the equation. I’ve not even touched on the “lazy” part. Which means, this is a good place to stop for now. I’ll get around to dealing with that some other time.

Thursday Surprises!

Empty Easel Photo courtesy of http://crazyideaphotography.com/

Crazy Idea Photography http://crazyideaphotography.com/

Dear Readers,

You are probably surprised (and, I hope, delighted) to see a message from me on a Thursday. I myself am surprised to be finally, actually, posting it.  It means, quite frankly, that I have summoned my courage and taken a giant leap to a brave new world, and instead of feeling brave, I am terrified.

With this missive, I am publicly announcing, and therefore committing to, a second weekly posting. This posting will NOT be mailed to to you, it will be a different sort of communication from what you receive on Sundays.

On Thursdays, I will be posting a status report-type blog on my website. It will be a way for me to alert people about things I am working on, and help me to keep accountable about completing them. What i hope, too, is that you all might help me by occasionally commenting on the site, or by offering your opinion on the projects I’m working on, or even with an occasional “I like this,” or “You forgot to post.”

Basically, I am needing to feel like someone is actually paying a teensy little bit of attention. One of my very special peculiarities is that I am more likely to keep an obligation to “someone else” than I am to keep one for myself. I am asking you all to be my “someone else.”

I realize it’s on the loony side of things, but, you should be used to that from me.

Speaking of loony things…

I am excited to announce that, starting in January, I will be revealing a THIRD weekly posting, the content of which promises to be a unique surprise. This content will be released every Saturday. If you want to get that content sent to you every week, you can add your name by subscribing here. When you sign up to get that new weekly content, you’ll get a teaser of what lies ahead.

Thank you for reading this and all the other assorted things that find their way to your e-mail from this somewhat humble source. I am grateful for each of you.

Please Send Me — Postcard Recipients

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Did you get one of these in your mailbox? Tell us which one of the 50 cards you received!

Please Send Me — Postcard Finders

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Did you find one of these cards in the wild? If so, share where you found it!

If you can remember which one you found, include the number of the card. And, please, send on to someone. No need to share *where* you sent it, let it be a surprise, and give the recipient a chance to log it him/herself.

 

Ireland: Day the Last

I procrastinated quite a bit on this post, as you probably could tell. Part of that was I had this huge black hole of sadness that the adventure was ending, and if I didn’t finish writing it, well, it wasn’t really over, right?

Except, that there are bits of the adventure that happened on this day that I had really wanted to document and share, and told myself I had more important things to do, and that I needed to review my trip journal and gather my thoughts more completely before I set out to write this.

Instead, I have found myself with a limited number of things I *could* work on, and this was one that fit the parameters.

In addition, this was somewhat fresh in my memory, prompted by a presentation I made this week for the Adams County Genealogy Society, on doing Family History Research in Ireland, and so, I was wandering down old research paths, making new discoveries, and revisiting pictures and such as that.

The morning was a bit brisk, and windy, and we had lots of luggage, so we opted for getting a cab to the train station, even though it isn’t a long walk. The cabby took the long way, which irked me a bit, because he clearly did it to pad what was going to already be a small fare, and he didn’t do it to put us on the right side of the street, just parked in a not parking spot, and let us out in the middle of the road to cross through traffic. The total was like £2.70, and I grudgingly gave him three pounds, mostly because I didn’t want to deal with change and his obvious petulance. I’m sure he thought we didn’t know any better, which is also irksome.

We got on the train, and they had brought in a special train because of some unspecified difficulties, which led to a hilarious (well, it’s hilarious looking back, I guess, but, in the moment it was incredibly awkward, and a bit mortifying) comedy routine. My sister and I were exchanging notes, and dad was reading them out loud. Really loud. And repeating things (so that not only was the awkward content said just once, no, multiple times). The reason we were writing them as notes was because we didn’t want to be overheard. Which we noted on the paper, and which he also read OUT LOUD). The notes were about the confusion we were having with some of the signage, and the definite improvement of this train over the previous train, we were concerned that we had stepped into a first class compartment, when our tickets didn’t have any class demarcation. It turned out all was fine, and we needn’t have worried about it, but, we didn’t avoid the loud, ignorant American stereotype. Oh well.

We had an uneventful trip back to Dublin. I worked on putting thoughts in my journal, and wished there were someone as entertaining as the octogenarian sisters on the train into Belfast. Again, an “oh well.”

We carried our luggage across the Liffey along the O’Connell Bridge, and it was sad to be looking at leaving the city. I was flooded with small regrets of things we didn’t do, and now couldn’t do for lack of time. I think the others were feeling it, a bit, too, because there was this strange mad dash to the shops selling tourist stuff, to desperately grab onto a tangible memento of everything. We had largely been frugal in our spending, and had held off buying much of anything. In my case, I was worried that I needed to hold some money back for that really special thing that I never actually found, and faced with leaving the place with little to show for it except memories, things I had rejected were looking much much better now. Still, I knew I didn’t really want tourist junk, I wanted something more meaningful, and thought, maybe I would find it in Limerick, where we would have a bit more time. In the evening.

As we waited for our return bus to Limerick, (right across the street from Trinity, you might recall) a group of students, with African accents, came parading off campus to bring attention to the abduction just a few weeks prior of the 264 school girls by Boko Haram. They were chanting “Bring Back Our Girls,” and I felt like I was seeing the real impact of this story, and it was powerful to see the students, mostly women themselves, making their statement.
The Richard Harris Sculpture
We got the bus, and were quickly headed to another series of endings. Last stop at the Tourist center. Last walk along O’Connell Street. Last time passing the Richard Harris sculpture and get a picture. Last chance to stop at the sweet shop across the street from our hotel. I did stop at the sweet shop. I had the great plan to bring back sweets for my co-workers, and I got several hundred kilos of sweets.

We had dinner at the hotel, but I think it was Papa Johns take-away pizza from down the street. We checked in with our ride for the morning, and found out it was going to be before the hotel would have the breakfast out, and we asked them if there were a way to get a bag of pastries or something for us have for the road or an extra early room service, and they very graciously offered to have something set up for us early.

Up early, we expected maybe a small tray of breads, and maybe some cheese, but, we got hot tea, and pretty much the normal breakfast. It was really lovely. Our ride came a bit earlier than expected, and we bolted the last bits of bread and swallowed our tea, and got our ride to Shannon, for the plane.

Our great adventure had come to an end.

Postcard Advent Calendar

Did you get a card that looks like this?

Postcard Advent Calendar. Scratch-off stickers cover the image. Scratch them off one at a time to reveal the whole picture.

Excellent!

I’d love to hear from you about how the card fared in the mail. Did the spots get scratched in the postal machinery? Did any of the spots fall off (there should be 25)?


Also, I’d love to hear any feedback you have about the card. Is there something that can be done to improve future versions? Would you like to get future postcard experiments? If so, mention that in the comments, too.