Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Turned Posts

What do you do with turned wood that no longer functions as a table leg or bedpost? It burns well and the option of using it as firewood is rather a viable one. As a child, my family had a wood burning stove. Originally it was in the living room and on cold winter evenings we would hurry from the bath into the living room so we could dress in the radiant warmth of the fire. The stove was later moved down to the basement and many, many years later, a gas burning stove was put in its place upstairs.

When one has a wood-burning stove, it necessitates wood to burn in it. We had such a stack out behind the house. There were two things I loved about the woodpile. The first was to stack the wood in differing formations (imagine really inexpensive, perhaps slightly dangereous, uneven toy blocks), my favorite being a mouse house. Though I'm sure mice actually skittered through it, I mostly built it and then just stared into it imagining all sorts of stories about the humanistic mice that inhabited the dwelling.

My second favorite thing about the woodpile was a table leg. It was roughly two feet tall and rather weathered, but with the rounded knob at the top, one could almost imagine it was a babydoll. I would wrap it in fabric and build it little nests in the playhouse or the yard. It was a wonderful outdoor plaything. . . until my older brother pounded nails into it, broke the heads off of the nails and made a spiked wooden mace. Prickly baby-dolls aren't much fun and I'm afraid at that point it was many, many years before I again found a place in my heart for abandoned peices of lumber that had been shaped on a wood lathe.


The first piece was a bedpost. I only had the one post of one end, so I cut it in two parts (not half) and drilled holes into them large enough for a 3/8" wood dowel. The one, since it is the base, is flat on the top of the head. That's why the hats are glued on. Then I painted the pieces to resemble snow people and dressed them in stocking hats and scarves made from real stockings. Every snow family needs a baby, so I found a 2x2 and made the square baby to go with the family. Think of it as the artic version of the game of "Life".

I went to a place called The Wood Connection with my sister-in-law. I sorted through the scrap bin and found a bunch of little post top type things. So I mounted it to a 2x2 to become the snow person "T" in winter.

I spotted the head and footboard for this bench on the side of the road and when no one had come for them after several weeks, I stopped and picked them up. The back rest is the headboard while the front is an overturned footboard. The seat is from scrap pieces of decking left over from building our house. All I had to buy were the fasteners and some paint.
Then, in an extremely lucky encounter, I found a set of twin sized headboards and footboards on the way to work. The headboard is the back and the footboard, inverted and with the legs cut off, becomes the front of this front porch bench. The brand on the back belongs to my grandpa and the seat is leftover pieces of composite decking.


Don't worry, I didn't waste the legs of the footboard leftover from the bench. You have to look closely, but they are the feet of this hall tree.

My most recent aquisition to the turned post collection was a set of chunky candlesticks. I've seen them in craft shops for upwards of $12 each. That's a lot, so I checked at second hand stores, thought, envisioned, waited, problem solved, and finally had a vision when my sister's neighbors moved and left a broken table.
Naturally I harvested the legs. One was far more weathered than the others. Then I trimmed them with a miter saw to staggered heights with 1.5 inches separating the height of each.



Obviously  the candles would need a base to sit upon, so using a hole saw, I cut out four circles from a piece of hardwood leftover from another project.


Obviously there was some sanding involved, but then I centered each circle atop each overturned table leg.
Then it was just a matter of spray painting them black to go with the decor of the room.

Later I bought some candles. I originally planned to buy them all the same, but I determined it would be better to bring in more of the colors from the window coverings



Great thinking, right?
I like how they turned out and the decor it provides to the room.

Super-Mom

Sometimes its hard to be the mother of a superhero. How do you  tell your child not to go in the road when his return argument is, "I'll just throw krypton bombs at the cars."

When he wears his super hero underwear, he's potty trained because he doesn't want to soil superman, green lantern, or batman. If it's not a super-hero, it doesn't matter. It's important to keep up on laundry, especially for Superman, who is his favorite. He only has three pairs; laundry every other day or a big tantrum.

Yesterday I found him on the Ping-Pong (table-tennis) table preparing to take flight. He flew of the bed and broke his leg about a month and a half ago. My brother pointed out that he can fly at 9.8 meters per second per second.

He wears three outfits; superhero PJ's, his superman shirt, and while his superman shirt is going through the laundry, his batman shirt. Sundays are hard when we have to convince him that a shirt and tie are necessary.

He has two blue capes, one red, and one red with superman printed on it. He switches them in and out, takes them off, puts them on, covers them with breakfast, leaves them in various locations. The other day he had misplaced them all, so he came in wearing his superman t-shirt, his superman muscle shirt, and a pink fairy wings. Super-heroes have to fly. He's a problem solver!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Americana Twin Daisy Quilt

I cut this out a year or two ago, but only had need to finish it recently. There isn't a lot to say about it except that the squares are 12x12 (finished) and it's machine quilted. (Not my link, but why reinvent the wheel. I used a sewing machine.)
 
Okay, I could say a bit more about it. The daisy petals are each six inches from the point to the inner edge (before being stitched) and 3.5 inches wide.
 
I used a lid to make the centers of the flowers and then did a decorative scallop stitch around the edge (wrong sides together) and trimmed it rather than stitching it and turning it right side out.
 
The blue stripes were 4.5 inches wide (I couldn't do the math for 5/8" seams so I figured for 1/2") and then cut to 13 inches wide after they were pieced together.
 
The edges, which you can hardly see, were cut in 5" strips and then sewn to make 4" visible on the red plaid. The blue and red stripes are a bit wider (5" finished) so I may go back and top stitch along the seams.
 
I finished the edges by making my own binding out of the bandana print red and stitching it on the edge. It took longer than just piecing the top together, but when I was done, I was done and it was finished.
 
Generally I figure out my quilts on graph paper before I start sewing. I scanned it, but it doesn't really help. If you took time to look at it though, you would notice that my resulting quilt is not proportionate to my original plan. Also I went with red, white and blue rather then purple and green. It's good to draw it out first, but the end result isn't always what I plan.
 
The pillow case didn't really have a formula to it, but I made it to open in the center back (held shut with Velcro). I measured the pillow, sewed together leftover pieces and cut a top and bottom piece (with the Velcro closure centered) slightly smaller than the pillow. I used the leftover binding fabric and made a ruffle to put between the two layers and then stitched it all together.
 
Additionally, I made a small version for her doll bed because who wants to open a blanket for her birthday???

Mario Birthday Cake

My baby told me he wanted a Mario cake for his birthday. I thought about trying to make Mario, but red frosting is hard to make and I didn't want to buy a Mario character pan. I suppose I could have attempted to cut and sculpt it into a face, but that would be messy and realistically, could I?
So instead, I decided to make a cake representing that level of the Mario game where he uses his motorcycle to jump from back to back over the crocodiles. What?? You don't remember that level? Maybe you didn't get that far in the game. Sorry.
The cake is a yellow cake mix; two layer. One of my friends happened to have a crocodile candy mold. The swamp grass or cat tails or whatever they green vegetation is is made from sour apple pull and peel pieces. By pulling them apart rather than cutting them it tapers the ends. I rolled the sides in crumbled cookies to give it a dirt appearance and then microwaved chocolate frosting for about 30 seconds and poured it on the top to make the swamp mud. The rocks are shelled pistachios.

Oh and Mario. . . he's from a box and now my kid has a new plaything. He thought it was perfect.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Real Super Hero

Sometimes when your dad and grandma pass away within a year of one another it is overwhelming. Granted she was 94 and had paid her dues to longevity, but when you know someone for 36 years it becomes quite difficult to say goodbye.

My grandmother passed away last Wednesday, August 28, 2013. It's difficult to fit a lifetime of memories into a single post, so consider this the abridgment. When I was quite young Grandma thought we all should dance. I remember very little except a grass skirt and bikini top she brought back from Hawaii and that an attempt to teach us to hula dance to a song about the hooki lou. Probably I spelled that wrong. I also remember her repeating, "Shuffle step, shuffle step, shuffle step," as she patiently tried to teach us tap dancing. Poor woman; it never took.

Grandma's house was a magical place. In her back yard there was an irrigation ditch that was perfect for sailing sticks and leaves on irrigation day and made a great boundary between her yard and the back yard where we had the rabbit's club. Like most clubs, it was for members only and highly exclusive so that only the most elite of society could belong. We had parades and made up chants and our very indulging grandmother even afforded us the materials to make a flag. Her most priceless contribution, however, was a small, glass, purple-topped jar that had once been filled with moisturizer or something. I think it fit all $0.57 we cleared as a profit from our bake sale. (This might not be considered much, but as we sold the leftovers to the adults after dinner, I think it is quite a remarkable amount.)

Speaking of dinner, Grandma was good at home cooking. Her meals were well balanced and she always had the table set complete with a container of napkins. Goulash was a specialty. When we had large family dinners she put tables in every room in her house. Now as I watch my own children with their grandmother (my mom), I don't know how she withstood the invasions. We loved it and I feel very close to my cousins because she was willing to lend her house, but man. . . there were a lot of us and except when we were standing in line (not very orderly like) to be served ice cream, her patience rarely wore thin.

My grandparents watched us frequently when my parents traveled for my dad's work. I loved being at her house; it was just so homey. Each day began with a prayer wherein my grandpa or grandma blessed everything they could think of, or so it seemed to a hungry little girl. On one such occasion, I was sixteen and the boy I very much liked came to drop me off at their house. We stood in the driveway talking for awhile when suddenly the front porch light went on, then off, then on, then off. It wasn't a signal my parents ever used, but there was no doubt about the meaning; it was time to come in.

I had two favorite things about my grandma's appearance. One was her skin. I'm not product pushing, but she used oil of olay for many years and her skin was always so soft and smooth with a healthy luster. Even as she grew older I loved to hold her hands because her skin was so soft. The second thing was her red coat. She wore it often on the farm, especially when she and my grandpa went to feed. She once confided that it was because if she wore something else, the cows might not recognize her.

The treasure of having a grandma from the time you are born until you are well into adulthood is that the relationship you share changes over time. When I was little, she was like a second mom. I remember her picking me up from school on occasion when my mom was out of town and I needed to fake being sick. She took care of me, fed me, bathed me, and read to me. As I got older, the relationship changed and my friends became one of the most important aspects of my life. She was always kind to them and treated them courteously when they joined me for family parties. The relationship changed again when one year, at her birthday party, I realized I was an adult and probably should have thought to bring her a present. Acting quickly, I made her a coupon for dinner at my house once a week. I can only count it as inspiration because our relationship changed again after that and she became one of my best friends. I loved that she had time for me, to listen to my frustrations as I took on motherhood. She would sit and read with my children and talk with them while I finished dinner. Then over the spread of whatever I had managed to throw together, she would share stories and ask about what was going on in our lives. That tradition continued right up until she broke her hip and had to be moved to a care facility.

I'm grateful that she's home now, maybe even a little jealous. It seems the older I get, the more and more people I love are ending up on the other side. She's there with them now and not as the old woman she had become, but as the woman she is inside. It is a marvel to me that our Heavenly Father thought of everything. I have been uniquely blessed by the family to which I have been born and by the family that have joined my husband and me as our children. It is my hope as I journey through this life that I have the same ability that my grandma had to help others on their way, to provide a means to make the world a better place just because I was in it. She knew what was right and though she had multiple opportunities to wallow in her own misery and could have allowed life to beat her down, she didn't. She worked through what came her way and kept moving forward.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Scraps

I'm hesitant to post this because I worry that I may present as a hoarder, which I'm not. Okay, maybe a little. I'm really stingy with my peaches, fresh and bottled, I have a fascination with boxes that I often have to work through, and fabric scraps and wood scraps are just hard to chuck. All of those items are neatly stowed away and I don't think my house will soon become condemned because of them, but I keep those things because I use them.

The peaches; there could be an entire separate post on those. If you've never had the opportunity to pick a peach fresh from the tree, bite into it, and savor it as the juice dribbles down your chin, add it to your bucket list. There are few things greater in life.

The boxes; I already discussed that issue.

The fabric; anyone who sews knows that a scrap can be added to other scraps for a quilt, wall-hanging, or as pictured below, additional clothing. I had a boy first. He got hand-me-downs from his boy cousins, which resulted in a rather masculine pair of overalls with holes in the knees. I could have discarded them, but with a little ingenuity and a gathering foot they became a play dress. Girly for my girl, but with shorts beneath for when she's not a lady. Perfect.

Another way to use up scraps is in an apron. My sister-in-law and I once worked together to make certain my dad had a tie to correspond to each of the classes he taught. Because ties are cut on the bias, I had a fair amount of scrap fabric left over. It was perfect for bias tape, pockets, and a ruffle for a child's apron Christmas gift. Okay, so maybe a kid wouldn't be excited about an apron, but the idea was to include a simple recipe and the ingredients so that cooking could commence and the association with the apron would be positive. I never followed up to find out if that was the case.

The wood. . .I think that comes from my dad. Woodworking wasn't his profession, but probably it could have been. We would have had to move to a warmer climate as we would have all been naked and needed to grow food year round because I don't know that he would have been able to support a large family with that profession, but his resulting products were truly works of art. He often saved scraps of lumber for some future use, especially cuts of maple, oak, and fine-grade pine.

I made this wall hanging for one of my friends. I spent $ 0.55 on it. Some may think, yep, it looks like it, but I like the way it turned out. The 2x8 is scrap lumber leftover from building our house (still). The handle at the top came on a china cabinet that used to be speckle-stained oak that I repainted black to coordinate with my dining room. Now what once was an outdated brass handle functions as a tab from which the hanging can be hung. The origin of the green ribbon is from a package of goodies last Christmas and has been sitting in my back of ribbon scraps.

The molding at the top was a small portion of trim left from building the mantle around the fireplace in the living room. I should probably mention that some of the pieces used in the mantle were portions my dad had set aside for some special use. I would say it went to good use. I spent $0.50 on the paint at home depot. It was a small sample color jar that was on clearance. It cost about $0.05 to print the saying on  the block and I already had the mod-podge used to affix the cardstock print to the wood block.

And the butterfly goes back to my original hoard of fabric that was leftover from making skirts for my daughter and a couple of nieces. The fabric is a light-weight cotton from JoAnn. To make it hold its shape, I ironed the butterfly image onto wonder under (a fusible webbing with heat activated glue on either side) and ironed the butterfly backed in wonder under onto aluminum foil. That not only gives the back a metallic luster, it makes it slightly stiffer and allows the wings to hold their shape in a more three-dimensional position.


 Probably one would wonder why all my clothing photos are taken against carpeted backgrounds. Those of you readers who are kindhearted, probably think it is because it allows the article of  clothing to be spread out and photographed with a neutral colored backing. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. In reality, we are hoarders, and none of the clothes end up in the closet. Their natural environment is strewn about and used as a second layer of flooring. Alas, it is much easier to take the picture where the clothing lies than it would be to hang it neatly on coordinated hangers in the closets just a few feet away.

 Also, if you wonder why both clothing items happen to be horizontal rather than vertical, well. . .I hate to give out personal information, but I will say I live on the North American continent and if one were to look at any globe, one would see that the position of the continent puts it's inhabitants in a somewhat sideways position. It would be worse if we lived in Ecuador, but not nearly as terrible as if we inhabited Antarctica. I think the only truly upright individual is Santa Clause an some aren't even sure of his existence.





Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Paradise

I believe this is the first post I've submitted that is actually requesting input. Once upon a time, I started writing a novel. (Who hasn't) That was about 20 years ago. It has evolved considerably over the course of time and with the passage of years until I finally feel like the first book in the series is ready for production. The issue I have is that the title that I have been calling it (Paradise) has been used by Toni Morrison, who is slightly more well known. Therefore I have to generate a new working title.

To give you a very brief synopsis, it is the story of a girl, living in contemporary times, who through no fault of her own, travels back through time to when the territory of Utah was first being settled. Many adaptations have to occur as she adjusts to the time period. One of the individuals who helps her make those adjustments is a rancher settled in the area that later becomes known as Paradise, UT. Based on those premises, listed are a few title options. Please comment back with the title you would be most likely to pick up in a bookstore or download electronically. Or if you have another recommendation not listed, I'm open to suggestions

Before Paradise
Paradise on the Horizon
13.8 Miles and 150 Years from Paradise
From the Island to Paradise
A Man. . . his Past. . . my Future
Paradise in the Foothills
Paradise in the Territories
Finding Paradise
1858
Near Paradise

Feel free to comment even if you don't know me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bringing Home the Bacon

I'm not attempting to write the next Charlotte's Web or anything like that, but I was surprised about how much our Wilbur affected me. My child was old enough to enter 4-H this year and after watching his cousin raise a pig, he decided it was something he wanted to do.

I grew up in a rural location and while I'd like to believe I grew up on a farm, I never got to ride the horses for herding cattle and only drove the tractor twice; once when everyone else was laying pipe for the new main water line and one other time that I will remain vague about. I helped change the waterlines and I bottle fed a few calves, but mostly livestock terrified me and no one wants a screaming girl around when there is work to be done. (I've gotten better).

This year, however, was my first year with swine. In the spring we drove to a neighboring town where my son selected a fine pink pig. It squealed like. . .like. . . like a stuck pig as it was being loaded into a borrowed dog kennel to be hauled to its new home with the other three piglets; a barn that formerly housed steers and a horse, but that was several years ago.

Wilbur, for so the pig was christened, grew rapidly. In the course of a summer he went from a 30 (I think) pound piglet to a 253 lb. hog. We split the responsibility of care with my brother, though I think he got the fuzzy end of the lollipop on that deal because I had no experience and had to told almost everything. Every other day we went to the pen, checked on the water level, and restocked the feeders. A couple times a week was also spent walking the pig. Herding pigs is much like herding children. They even make some of the same noises.

As summer grew warmer, hosing them down also became a necessary task. In all honesty that was one of my favorite parts of the pigs. They learned to drink from the hose and sort of danced in the mist from the spray. When water got in their eyes, they would shake their heads from side to side, flipping huge drops of water from their enormous, flapping ears.

One of the other things I loved is they learned to recognize the feed bucket and our vehicles. When they heard us approach, out they came, running across the pen, giant ears flapping against their heads. Don't get me wrong, I realize it was all about the food, but I swear I could almost see a smile on their faces.

This past weekend was the stock show. You haven't lived a full life until you've shaved a pig. They were bathed daily to make them clean and presentable, which lasted all of 10 minutes if that. They all did well, three earning blue ribbons and one earning red. Then it came time for the auction. Auctions are full of action and it's tense; wondering if the animal will sell, hoping to at least break even with the cost, hearing your name called and praying that a summers worth of work will be compensated.

And then the moment comes and suddenly the pig is sold and lead out of the arena and toward the trailer to be hauled to the slaughterhouse. We watched as Wilbur wandered down the trail between the corral panels. When he reached the trailer, he turned back and saw my son. He made a break for it and made it almost back to the arena before the wranglers were able to turn him back around and drive him toward the truck. Turning so as not to distract him further, we walked away.

I knew from the beginning he was bacon. Even so, I cried as we made our way back to the bleachers. I'm not on the verge of going vegetarian or anything and I never meant to bond with the pig, but in order to be in a pen with it and have it cooperate, one has to work with the animal and it is impossible not to form an attachment of some sort. He trusted us, was looking to us, and we walked away. Even as I write this, I realize how sappy and illogical it sounds, but for the past three nights I've been up late thinking about how we abandoned our pig.

Next year, when my son again asks to raise a pig, I'll nod my head and agree because I know that the hard work required is the type of thing that will help him build a strong work ethic. The time he spends with his cousins as they raise the pigs together will create lasting bonds and memories. The hours he spends learning from my brother will help him as he develops into a man, learning skills that will help him to set and meet goals and learn to be an asset to society, but inside, my heart will break just a little, recalling the empty pen where four pigs used to gallop over to see us and dance in the hose water and then knowing it couldn't end any other way.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Upcycled Vintage Table Cloth Skirt

Technically speaking, this post would have been better if I had taken pictures along the way, but sometimes I get so excited about what I'm attempting that I have no time for things such as photographs. In order to explain what I mean, I used a paper. I know it makes it less believable, but you'll just have to trust me on this. 

If you've ever cleaned out the house of someone who lived during the era when people actually had company over for dinner because they weren't afraid of being robbed blind the next day by the dinner guests who were scoping out the house, a time when dinner was a family affair and not just a way of joining together to make sure no one had died during the day, a time when one needed a linen closet or cabinet because linens were actually used, you probably have come across some small square tablecloths. Many of them are edged in lace or embroidered or a combination of the two. 

I happened to inherit two such pieces from a coworker. Without the sentimental attachment I would have had if it had belonged to my grandmother, for example, I felt at liberty to cut them up, especially since both were stained. Imagine the orange square of paper is one of the tablecloths.
 
 The first step is to find the center of the piece. This can be done by folding the corners together in either direction and marking the center with a pin.
 Once the center is established, measure out and make marks at an equal distance from the point so that you make a quarter of a circle. The size of the circle depends on two things: 1.) how much of the design you want to preserve 2.) your size. You can't expect to cut a circle with a circumference of 17" unless your hips are 17" or less. It can be larger than your hip circumference, just not smaller if you have any hope for regular movement. Too small and you'll walk like you're in need of a bathroom. I am certain there is a mathematical equation for determining the size of the radius of your circle. I struggled in Geometry. To give you an idea though, if the radius (from the center point to edge of the circle, or in this picture, from the point to where the circle is drawn) is 7", the hole has a diameter of approximately 44", which I can neither confirm nor deny as my hip size.
 When you cut out the center, you are left with a square with a circle in the middle. This is the hem portion of your skirt. To construct the upper portion of the skirt, you'll need a rectangle. The size, once again, depends on the size of your opening. The minimum should be the measurement of your hips at the widest part plus 1 1/4" and the maximum should be no larger than the circumference of your circle opening.
 Essentially what you are doing is making the rectangle into a cylinder that fits inside the tablecloth square. If you are confident with your measuring and cutting skills, make the cylinder first and then stitch one edge to the circle. I'm not, so I left it a rectangle and pinned the longer edge to the circle where I stitched it. As I got close to closing the circle and the adjacent edges of the rectangle, I then made the single seam that closed the rectangle into the tube needed.
 The last thing to do is to measure for length. Keep in mind that the points will hang down further than the sides. Also determine if you want it at your waist or lower. When you've decided, mark the waistline and cut off the top leaving enough excess for a casing for elastic. If you are more sophisticated and less lazy, you could also do darts and a waistband with a zipper or make a sundress top, or even have someone mark it for you so that it is tailored to your figure and your hem hangs an exact distance from the ground at all four points around your body. I have approximately 2 hours a day after my kids go to bed or before they get up. Luxuries such as well tailored clothing have all but disappeared. Besides, I think it's fine without all the extra work.

Sew in a casing, thread through the elastic that is the size of your waist, stitch it together, and close off your seam. You're done. Of course there are a couple of variations I can mention.
 The skirt pictured above had embroidered cutouts in the corners and the center was solid.The fabric for the upper portion of the skirt wasn't an exact match, so I put a piece of coordinating ribbon along the seam to (hopefully) mask that fact. Also, it makes the seam look more intentional. Do you see how it used to be a tablecloth? Spread this way, it makes its tablecloth origin slightly more obvious.

This skirt, however, had lace on the edges and also in the middle. Instead of cutting a circle, I cut along the edges of the lace and then top stitched it over the rectangle. After, I went back in and trimmed the excess fabric away so that the edge between the skirt and tablecloth mimics the pattern of the table cloth.
 This is what it would look like if I undressed in the kitchen; which I don't.




Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Ashley Saga - Part II

Last year, at church girls camp a story began of Ashley, who is a second-hand mannequin head. In my three years of camp, the head has been a baby belonging to Pansy, a butterfly, and this year a crocodile hunter. Last year her story began and this is the continuation based on events surrounding girls camp this year.


 
Book II

Chapter 1

“Did we take a wrong turn?”

Silence answered Ashley.

The light went out suddenly and darkness swept over the chamber, a darkness blacker than the pupil of a panther, buried in a bog, in the deepest realm of the jungle on a moonless cloudy midnight.

            “Phillip?” Ashley struck a match and saw nothing but the disappearing of a scaled, green tail. “Phillip!!!!” she shrieked, all the while knowing it was too late; Phillip was a croc-burger. She had lost him once and she had survived. She could do it again; she would do it again. If Ashley were anything, she was a survivor, resilient to the worst hand fate could deal to her.

There was no need to wander along the dark and meandering passageway. With no gnome to hold her back, Ashley spread her wings, flew upward, and with her five legs began scaling the walls. The journey was equally laborious, but Ashley had been through far more difficult circumstances.

As she made her way, she wept bitterly, not bothering to hold back the racking sobs that resonated off the arched walls. There was no one to hear her; no reason to subdue her emotions.

Time has a strange way of passing; at times rushing through so that one can’t believe how quickly it passed and other times dragging on, seemingly filling hours in the minutes that pass. Though the journey was not long, Ashley’s heart was irreparably broken and eons seemed to pass as gradually her emotion drained. By the time she emerged from the twisted and crypt-like tunnels, she felt herself a changed woman.

The circus had moved on, traveling from town to town, but in their haste, one of the funhouse mirrors had not been packed. It was in this mirror Ashley first caught her reflection.

Gone were the pink locks, the color having drained with the tears Ashley shed. The wings that had carried her through so many adventures had been absorbed into a body she no longer recognized. Her remaining five limbs had morphed into just four, complete with opposable thumbs. “I’m human,” she gasped. Baby-blue eyes gaped back at her. Again she spoke, her voice barely above that of a whisper, “I’m beautiful.”

This knowledge revived her ambition. She was alone. The love of her life, her soul mate had been slain, eaten by a vicious crocodile. What of it? She was unstoppable.

Chapter 2

Looking around, her pale blue eyes adjusted to the brightness of the light. In the distance, just beyond the lair of the Beast, she noticed a museum boasting of dinosaurs. In her first days as a human, it seemed the right place to go. After all, weren’t humans always digging up the dirt on dinosaurs?

What Ashley had not expected as she entered the enormous building was to see that the building didn’t merely house reconstructed fossil skeletons, but actual living, breathing dinosaurs.

“Duke,” called a lovely lady-saur. “We have company!” Then looking back to Ashley she extended an enormous limb. “Dinorella,” she introduced herself.

“Ashley.”

Moments later, a tall, dark and handsome male dinosaur entered the room. “Sorry, I was just cooking some breakfast,” he said, wiping his hands on his apron. “You will join us for breakfast, won’t you?”

For breakfast, or as breakfast, Ashley wondered.

“It’s so seldom that we have visitors as we are thought to be flesh-eating. Dina and I, however are vegetarian; herbivores to be specifically scientific.”

Ashley studied them both for a moment, and then, deciding they weren’t a threat, she liked them both immediately. “Yes,” she answered, “I would love to join you.”

In no time at all, Ashley was sitting down to eggs, sausage, cheese, hash browns, tortillas, bacon, watermelon and an enormous stack of steaming-hot Jazz cakes.

“Wait!” Ashley said, throwing her hands up. “Wait, wait, wait wait, WAIT! I thought you said you are vegetarian? What’s with the bacon, eggs and sausage?”

Duke gave his wife a look of adoration. “It’s already dead when we buy it, dear,” said Dinorella. “Our kind is naturally carnivorous, but we figure if we buy the meat rather than hunt it and supplement our diet with fruits and vegetables, we aren’t like those of our kind, those savages. We call ourselves vegetarians.” She smiled at her own joke, tossing an adoring look at her husband. Ashley suddenly felt s though she had been taken to the Twilight Zone.

“So Ashley, tell us about yourself,” prompted Duke.

Ashley pushed around the food on her plate, hating to think of her past and conjuring up the images that had been such a source of pain and despair. Finally, she answered. “I began life as a caterpillar. Soon I transformed into a butterfly and met my one true-love, Phillip, the gnome. He was taken from me, so I trained as a ninja so I could defend him and protect him.”

She looked down again, speaking in a voice that was barely audible. “Last week he was taken from me again and made holey as a crocodile consumed him.” Quickly she put on her sunglasses, hoping to hide the tears forming in her eyes.

“Don’t despair, dear,” said Dinorella, “Women like us can’t afford to desire daintiness. After the duration of our breakfast delight, we shall dress you for defeating those dreadful, dastardly, dragon-related crocodiles. It will take a grand design, but I am a bit of a defender myself.”

Though it hardly seemed words enough, Ashley responded, “Thank you, dear dinosaurs.”

Chapter 3


It took most of the morning, but by the time Ashley departed the den of the dinosaurs, she had been more defined. A jaunty cap had been placed upon her head to cover her golden locks. The wide brim protected her fair skin from the sun and other elements. Thick green overalls with many pockets for holding essential items covered her from neck to angle. Her sunglasses had been masked with jaws and teeth, camouflaging her from being easily recognized and therefore an easy target. The most painful part of the process had been the fitting for her shoes.

“We’re marketing these to finance our spending habits. They’re washable, durable, the holes make them breathable, and in a pinch, they double as clown shoes, promoted Dinorella.

“Please don’t mention anything that has to do with a circus,” Ashley pleaded.

“I’m sorry.” Dinorella looked at the shoes she held and then down to Ashley’s feet. Meeting her eyes once more, she spoke. “Unfortunately, it looks as though as you went through the morphing process, evolutionarily speaking, your feet didn’t form correctly and we will have to reshape them to get the shoes on.”

“Reshape them?”

Dinorella nodded, “Mmm-hmm. We’ll have to grate them.”

“GRATE MY FEET?”

“Hush child; it’s the only way.”

Ashley looked at the shoes Dinorella still held. “And what do you call these shoes that are so necessary to my transformation?”

“Crocs.”

“You are sick!” Ashley said.
 

Chapter 4

“I can’t thank you enough,” Ashley thanked Duke and Dinorella. “A delicious meal and new clothing. You’ve been most kind.” Ashley attempted to stand, but having grated feet was most uncomfortable. “MEDIC!!!” she shouted.

Within seconds her feet had been wrapped and bandaged. Though still quite painful, she managed to stand and carefully wend her way out the door.

Scarcely had she taken more than 3.33 steps than darkness swept over her. Though she thrashed and kicked violently using her best ninja skills, she was unable to escape the canvas bag.

“You’re wasting your time,” a surly voice said.

“Who are you?”

“We cannot identify ourselves to you.”

“What if I guess?”

There was a murmur of discussion. “Agreed,” answered the voice.

Ashley sniffed the bag. “You smell swampy, like you are from the wetlands ward.”

“You are correct.”

“Are you newts?”

“No.”

“Snakes?”

“Unfortunately, no.”

Ashley closed her eyes to focus. They were from the swamps, were snarky, and . . . smelled of Phillips cologne. “You are that notorious band of crocodiles!”

“With pleasure. What may we do for you?”

“You may die, cut into a thousand pieces.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Hardly complimentary, but why ensue venom on me?”

“You killed my love.”

“It’s possible; we kill a lot of people. Who was this love of yours? Another human; rich, arrogant, scabby?”

“No, he was a gnome; small and perfect with eyes like the olives straight from the can. In a dark cavern your congregation attacked. Everyone knows that your notorious band leaves no survivors."

"We can't afford to make exceptions. Once word leaks out that a croc's gone soft it's nothing but work, work,  work!"

 "You mock my pain!”

“Life is pain, Ashley. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

“Like Crocs?”

“Excuse me?”

“I saw this whole infomercial on these holey croc shoes.”

There was a pause before the crock responded. “Never heard of them; are they made of actual crocodiles?”

“I don’t know.”

“C’mon boys, let’s haul her away for questioning.”

“You’re inviting trouble,” Ashley lied. “My loved ones will follow me to your lair.”

“You’re right,” agreed the leader. “We’d best leave a ransomed note.”

Ashley listened as pen scratched against paper. “Hey boss,” said a new voice. “I know we’re leaving a note and all, but what if the wind picks up, blows our note into the fire and it is consumed before anyone reads it?”

“Put a rock on it.”

“But what if the rock soils the paper and our message is no longer legible?”

“Pick a clean rock.”

“But what if it rains and the paper gets wet, then the wind picks up and tears away part of the note.”

Sighing heavily, the Croc who seemed to be in charge responded, “Put it under the covering. C’mon Jaws, you’re wasting valuable time.”

Harshly, Ashley was piled into something recognizable only by the way it bounced unsteadily and jostled over the uneven terrain. Suddenly a semi-webbed, clawed appendage reached inside the sack, covering Ashley’s face with a rank smelling cloth. Despite her intuition, which told her to do otherwise, she drew a deep breath, saw a moment of blurred reality, and then knew no more.

Chapter 5

When Ashley awoke she could scarcely move. Looking to her left and right, she noted that her limbs and torso were covered in thick, oozy mud. “What is this place?” she whispered.

Struggling to right herself, she pulled her body to a sitting position. At present, there was only a crocodile guarding her. If she could only work her left arm free. . .

Concentrating all of her effort onto her left limb, she was able to move it a fraction of an inch at a time, at last removing it from the mud with a sucking squelching noise. The sound was enough to awaken the sleeping croc, but it was too late. Ashley’s left hook was lethal. In one blow she broke the jaw of the converging crocodile.

He tried to call for help, but with no upper jaw, how could the words be formulated?

“You were warned when you abducted me," Ashley hissed. “You’ve brought this on yourself.”

At that moment, a second crocodile entered the confines of the swampy room. Glancing first at the broken crocodile and then to Ashley, it only took a moment for him to put together what had happened. Ashley prepared to fight, stretching the fingers of her left hand.

“Drop your weapon,” the second croc commanded.

Measuring his stance, Ashley slowly lowered her fist.

“This came today.” He held up an unopened can of Spaghettios. “You’re free to go.”

“Just like that?”

“Food was what Rocky specified in the ransom note. The terms have been met.”

A noise to her right startled Ashley. “You are no longer in charge, Rocky,” the second Croc said.

The only response was a slight whimper. Looking back to Ashley, the second crocodile said, “Where are my manners? I’m Cornelius.”

“Ashley,” she answered hesitantly, still not trusting him.

“Will you take me with you?”

“What?” Ashley might have expected many things, but this was not one of them.

“I owe you,” Cornelius continued. “You took on Rocky. I hated that guy. Not an ounce of brains, but his brawn kept him in control.”

“Is that all?”

Cornelius shook his head and took a step closer. “No,” he answered refusing to meet Ashley’s gaze. “I ate Phillip.”

“What??” gasped Ashley.

“A crocs gotta do what a crocs gotta do. I was famished and he was available.”

“How can I trust you after knowing that?”

“I did not know he was the pet of my future defender.”

“Pet?!” Ashley repeated. “That gnome was my world. I loved him more deeply than a killer such as yourself could ever dream.”

“Don’t,” said Cornelius harshly. “You know not of what you speak.”

Ashley studied his face, which remained impassive. Only his eyes gave him away, revealing the depth of the pain within his soul. “Then perhaps you should tell me.”

Cornelius hesitated.

“It will help me to trust you. We can bond over shared experiences.”

“Are you always so conversational?”

Ashley shook her head. “No, but you did eat the man I loved, after all.”

Cornelius looked down. “Her name is Iris. I’ve loved her since we were children, but never had a chance.”

“Why?”

“What do I have to offer her? Until today I’ve never been the leader of our congregation; always second in command. Avocado and Crocamole are soft and warm while I’m cold and unfeeling. What do I have to offer her?” He asked again, struggling to keep the dejection from his voice as it broke mid-sentence.

Ashley looked over to where death had silenced Rocky.

“I’ll throw him away,” offered Cornelius. “He always wanted to be our dentist, but I’ll be honest. It’s sort of creepy to have such a stubby-legged, short-bodied crocodile with acrylic claws reaching inside your mouth.”

Ashley nodded, pretending to understand. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT. I just have one question.”

Chapter 6

“What is your question?” pondered Cornelius.

“Can I make him into a purse?”

“With my blessing,” Cornelius replied, handing her a knife.

Quickly and agilely, Ashley stripped the skin from the crocodile dentist and fashioned a handbag. “It seems a waste to throw away the rest,” she lamented.

“Yes,” agreed Cornelius, “but we can’t have a camp fire and it might make you ill to eat uncooked meat.”

Grabbing her new purse, Ashley led the way out of the swamps. Around the perimeter, strange footprints marked the ground. “Who made those?”

“Bigfoot. . .if you believe in that kind of thing.”

Suddenly, the ground gave way and Ashley plummeted to the earth, gravel becoming embedded in her soft, smooth skin. It took only a moment for her to right herself. “Jump, Cornelius. I’ll catch you.”

Before he could make the leap, Ashley was once again whisked away, this time by unknown forces. In a most outrageous manner, she was strung up a on a flag pole where the icy night winds tore at her already scraped and pierced tender flesh. Tears wouldn’t save her, Cornelius couldn’t save her, to what end was she destined?

Dawn broke and she found herself stuffed into a trash can, buried in mixed refuse, scarcely able to respire. Only fitting, she thought. After all, hadn’t that been the way she had disposed of the crocodile dentist? Was she any better than he? No, she thought as breakfast leftovers oozed down over her head. That she should drown in this filth, unable to move was only justice. The knowledge of its rightness did not ease the sadness brought by meeting death head on. Perhaps Phillip and I will soon be reunited, she thought. It was the only consolation she could cling to in this moment; the last moments of her life.

Unable to hold her breath any longer, she inhaled, filling her lungs with pancake batter, moistened cereal chunks, and milk. Coughing violently, she retched creating more debris inside the trash bin. Her mind began to swirl, her vision blurred and she imagined a strong hand grasping her by the ankle and pulling her out of mortal peril.

Sputtering and gasping, Ashley again drew a breath. Could it be? Had she, the caterpillar-butterfly-human-ninja actually been rescued. Smoothing her hair away from her face and wiping the curdled milk from her eyes, she blinked. Standing in front of her was a young man, about her own age. His curly hair artfully framed his round cherubic features and kind eyes met her.

“You. . .you saved my life.”

He smiled warmly.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Tiko.”

“Tiko?”

“Yes. My father was a hobbit and my mother a sorceress. Naturally I have no place inside the shire, so I wander. I am as nomadic as they come and am frequently mistaken for Bigfoot. The hair comes from my hobbit father’s side and the size of my feet; well, let’s just say my mother knew a few tricks to get hers down to a size 8. I saw your legs protruding from the trash can and. . . . I couldn’t help but intervene. I’ve never known a woman with such fashionable shoes.”

“They’re Crocs,” Ashley supplied.

Tiko held out his hand to help Ashley to her feet. “And you are?”

“Ashley,” she smiled. “I can’t tell you how nice it is to meet you.”

 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sprint Triathlon

This story begins back in November, maybe before that, depending on your perspective. My dad died in November. Shortly after that, my mom said one of the organizations he belonged to was considering sponsoring a 5K run in his honor. She also suggested that as members of his family, we might consider participating. What she didn’t say, didn’t need to say, is only half of us were born with any type of athleticism. (Sorry for bus-chucking the other half of us)

I hate running. I’m not good at running. In high school, when I was on the swim team, as soon as I was out of my coach’s sight, I walked. Only cheating myself, right? I joined the track team my senior year and threw the javelin, not well mind you, but that was what I was enlisted to do; poor track team. One night we had a run-a-thon. I hate to get too graphic, but it did unnatural and unhealthy things to my body.

What then, would motivate one such as me to run? From the time my dad was diagnosed with cancer to his death, I put on 20 lbs. From his death to January I added another 10. The only thing that distracted me from grieving was that rush of sugar found in a spoonful of chocolate frosting or the comfort of a stack of thick pancakes smothered in butter and syrup.**Spoiler alert** This isn’t one of those stories where I hit rock bottom and made a choice to never look back. The point of despair I reached is one I had been to many times before; I hated my body, hated how I felt, decided to do something about it, was motivated for awhile and eventually gave in and gave up to my natural tendencies. I think there were three variables that made a difference.

The first is my eating issues are not necessary limited to a being a physical issue. Someone close to me struggled with an eating disorder. I watched her as she worked/struggled through it. She had a strong support network, the chief support being her reliance on a higher power. I learned from that and as I knelt each morning and night, I begged for help.

He sent me a friend, a devoted friend, a friend who texted me each morning at 6:30 to remind me to get up and get moving, that the chill of winter and the darkness of that time of day was not an excuse to stay in a warm, comfortable bed, that there would not be a change unless I made changes. It didn’t make it an easier, but the accountability factor turns out to be highly motivating.

The other motivation is my work was initiating a health challenge that began the end of February and ended on Memorial Day in May. In order to earn the premium, participants had to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, sleep 6-8 hours a night, exercise 30 minutes a day or a weekly equivalent of it, and avoid foods with high amounts of sugar; muffins, cookies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc. (So long comfort food! When I’m stressed or sad or anxious or bored, I’ll just find comfort in the arms of some celery; there is no comfort in celery.) The premium was $200, which some might say isn’t worth it, but it was $200 and one more factor in moving forward.

So, 71 pounds overweight, I ran my first 1/8 mile. I was sick the rest of the day. I won’t bore you with all the details and ins and outs, just a few milestones. In May, I finally ran the required distance for a 5K. It was on a treadmill, with no incline and I had to consistently apply cool cloths to my face because I kept overheating, but I ran the distance, possibly for the first time ever. The 5K my mom had heard about never came to fruition, so I instead signed up for a sprint triathlon where the order of events was a 5K run, 10 mile bike, and 400 yard swim, the exact opposite of the traditional order.

Then I tried running 3.1 miles outside. Outside, the terrain isn’t flat, the ground doesn’t move for you, there is nothing to absorb impact, and the temperature is inconsistent. Shin splints became a huge obstacle. Aside from stretching, compression socks leftover from my first bout of blood clots seemed to help. The unfortunate aspect of the stockings is that I used them in a Raggedy Ann Halloween costume for my sister when I decided I’d never have another use for them. The finished pair was white, with spray painted red stripes. Finally, by the beginning of June, I ran the distance - once. The race was June 29.

After two weeks of vacation, I had a week to rein it all back in. I tried to work out while vacationing, but missed several consecutive days of exercise. Terror was the strongest emotion I felt two days before the race; not because of what I had signed up to do, but the logistics. How did I get my bike down to the race zone on time? Who would watch my children? Should I eat breakfast or not? Gatorade or water? What if I had to pee? What if someone stole my bike? When people gawked at my “fashionable” leg wear, would I shut down?

The night before I had a nightmare; there I was, at the start line. My number was pinned on and I was stretching out. Suddenly I realized my bike was back home in my garage and I wasn’t wearing my bathing suit. I began to panic, realizing the race began in 15 minutes. Acting quickly, I entered my former high school to look for my English class. I ran up to the second story, opened the door, and saw a room full of my current students. Running back down the stairs, the shin splints started to kick in, and I was no closer to finding my English class. I awoke with my heart racing, terrified of not getting back to the race on time. When I awoke fully, I realized it was Friday, not Saturday. I had 24 hours to get everything ready.

That night I went to the preregistration, where they showed me the transition area and re-identified the course map. Only then did I realize I had been training on the route going backwards so that all the uphills were now down and all the downhills were now up. On paper, it doesn’t seem a big deal; on a bike . . . a lot bigger deal. Stowing my bike at my cousin’s house, I went home.

Morning came and I woke two hours before the race. I dropped to my knees and prayed to finish. After consuming a small breakfast and washing it down with diluted Gatorade, I got into the shower and dressed; bathing suit, sports bra, t-shirt, striped compression stockings, shorts, sports socks and cross trainer shoes. I filled a backpack with more water, goggles, and my tracking chip. Then, suddenly I was there, the last minute details were spoken by the officials, and I was at the starting line, looking more like the human mutation of an okapi with candy cane legs than a triathlete.

The bell, buzzer, or horn sounded - I don’t recall which it was - and I set off at a steady pace. The temperature was forecast to rise to 100 degrees, so even at 7:00, it was uncomfortably warm. For awhile, there were many people around me, I even passed a few. At a mile and a half, I got my bottle of water, drank half of it and poured the rest over my head in an attempt to stave off the heatstroke. By the second mile, my limbs were not getting adequate oxygen to keep moving and my lungs struggled to inhale. I slowed to a walk. My brother-in-law, who had signed on to encourage my sister, kept me going. I kind of wanted to punch him, but without him, I might have settled for sauntering across the finish line. We set small goals and I finished the race running and with a little less than 9 minutes to spare for what I had set as my personal goal. In the transition area, he encouraged me by saying, “You use different muscles to bike than to run. You can do it.”

I thought, different muscles, same lungs, but didn’t say so because I was still working on breathing. Straddling my bike, I set off. As mentioned, the course was opposite of what I had anticipated and began with an uphill stretch followed by an even more uphill stretch. I forced my legs to pedal, turned the corner, and kept going. As I reached the seemingly insurmountable hill, I shifted to the lowest gear possible; it was all I could do to keep the tires going around; momentum was out of the question.

My consolation lay at the peak of the hill; it was all downhill from there until I began the second lap. Just keep peddling, keep peddling, I urged myself on. Occasionally another biker would pass me and say something like “You’re doing great! Keep it up.” And while he or she could have meant, “You’re doing great! Keep it up. Its people like you that make me look good,” I prefer to believe that each biker saw someone genuinely struggling and knew that his or her encouragement would carry me a few feet further up the hill.

As I reached the starting point to begin my second lap, I was getting tired and worried that the officials and officers controlling traffic might get bored and go home. Even so, I pressed forward. Nearing the hill once more, I rode through someone’s vomit; never a good omen. No one passed me now; they’d all finished or were finishing the second lap. At the base of the hill, I shifted down. Though I was exerting with everything I had in me, I barely had enough speed to keep the bike from tipping. Part way up the hill, I knew it was time to call out the big guns. In my head, I uttered a prayer. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the plea was something like this:

I cannot do any more than I am now doing. For the past six months of my life, I have worked toward this. I have eaten well. I have gotten up early to exercise. I have forced this body of mine to do that which it was not created to do. This is all I have . . . and it is not enough. Please, Heavenly Father. You have got to help me. And then, a gentle cooling breeze and a few more feet forward. A sip of water; a few more inches. Maybe my dad was watching from the other side; another foot. Slowly, I crept up the hill.

As I reached the summit, I was grateful that no one was around because what came out of me was as hideous a sound as can be imagined. I think we’ve all made it, but it’s not something we want witnessed. It’s that sound as you laugh at the same time you sob. A roadside marquis read “slow down, athletes on the road.”

There it was in print; electronic, orange flashing print, but print none-the-less. I WAS AN ATHLETE!!! From the top of the hill to the starting line it was nearly all downhill. Speeding forward I felt the wind rushing past me as I flew down the street. I was going to finish. Divine intervention was going to make up the difference for what I had been unable to do on my own.

Rounding the corner, I took the last stretch and barely noticed the incline. In the transition area, I stripped off my clothing, donned my goggles, and jumped into the pool. Surprisingly, my arms were tired even though I hadn’t really been using them. In nearly half the time I had allowed for myself as my personal goal, I finished my laps, climbed out of the pool, and crossed the finish line.

Looking behind me, I noticed the lane lines were being taken out of the pool and that there were only a handful of individuals finishing the last laps. One was a girl whose bike had broken, another a girl who had stopped to wait for someone who had also entered the race and fallen behind. Perhaps I should have felt discouraged by the fact that I nearly came in dead last. Maybe it’s humiliating to know that almost everyone who entered the race is better than you. But I didn’t feel any of that (okay, maybe a tiny bit). Mostly I felt a sense of accomplishment. Remember six months ago when I couldn’t finish the ¼ mile? Remember 30 lbs. ago when I hated to move?

I’m not saying my entire world has changed and that I’m suddenly a star athlete. I won’t be appearing on the next season of America’s Next Top Model (is that even on anymore?). What I’m saying is I see progress. What I’m saying is something that is seemingly so physical has turned very much spiritual. What I’m saying is this weakness that I have had and will continue to fight my entire life is slowly, with the Lord’s help, becoming stronger.

Will I do it again? I have a year to decide, a year to train, and a year to perhaps persuade the city to redo Main Street so that the grade near 400 South is a little less dramatic.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Ashley and Phillip

I know some of you who follow this blog have read this story, so you may want to skip this particular post. I only put it here for my Young Women because they wanted a copy of last year's story so they could better understand this years story. Make sense? It doesn't have to.




CHAPTER 1

Once upon a time there was a beautiful caterpillar named Ashley.  As she crawled through the garden, munching on leaves and making her way, she came upon a toadstool.  On the toadstool, she saw a garden gnome.   His name was Phillip.  Phillip looked down and saw Ashley and she looked up and saw him.  Immediately, the two fell in love, but unfortunately Ashley, with her short stubby legs, couldn’t climb the toadstool to see Phillip and Phillip, like most garden gnomes, was glued to the mushroom and unable to move. So their love could amount to nothing.  Devastated, Ashley crawled away.

Many days passed and Ashley became increasingly larger and more lethargic until one day she curled up and fell into a deep sleep.  For weeks she remained in a comatose state, not moving, barely breathing.  At last, one spring day her eyes opened. She stretched her legs, bursting from the crust that had formed around her.  Blinking in the bright sunlight, she stood, turned and twisted and realized in her slumber she had sprouted wings.  Elated, she allowed her wings to dry and then flew directly to the side of her beloved Phillip. 

He sat, waiting for her on his toadstool.  In the moments their eyes met again, their hearts beat as one and Ashley knew there was gnome one else for her and Phillip knew that she was for him.  They bonded immediately and lived happily ever after…until winter came and Ashley froze. 

Circle of life, right?

                                     CHAPTER 2

           Unbeknownst to her true love, Ashley, prior to her death, had consumed a portion of Anna’s Incredible Edible Eggs, which gave her life, extended vitality and brought her to a nearly immortal state.  Though all other butterflies met their demise with the onset of winter, Ashley found a hollow in a slab of granite and, as the last of the autumn leaves fell,  forced herself into a deep hibernation.  Days passed, seasons changed, until Ashley, somewhat weakened, emerged again into the open.  Immediately she flew to her beloved Phillip, vowing to renew and rekindle the romance that had been seemingly snuffed out.

            Unfortunately, Phillip was not to be found.  “PHILLIP!” she cried, her heart breaking slowly.  “Phillip, my one, my only true love, where have you gone?”  But Phillip did not answer, because he was gone.  Ashley nestled herself into a hollowed out stump and wept bitterly.  “To what end have I preserved myself only to find the one creature, for whom my heart beat, has been taken from me?”

            Little did Ashley know that Phillip, unable to defend himself and weakened by the devastating blow of Ashley’s presumed death, had been carried away by the evil beings of Friendship Meadows, perhaps the Badditudes.  “I shall never love again,” he vowed.  “Never again will I allow the compassion and caring and concern of another to enter into my soul.  Never again will I open my heart to feeling.  It mattereth not that I am stolen away, for what difference does it make if I am to spend the remainder of my days basking in the mountain meadows or here, caged away like an animal, if Ashley is not by my side?”

            Ashley, rallying the last of her strength, used her wings to wipe away the last of her tears.  “I shall have no peace until I have discovered the source that carried away my Phillip.”

            Immediately Ashley flew to the lair of the pterodactyl ninja.  “I need you to train me,” she announced. 

“To what end?” asked the pterodactyl ninja.

“That I may defend myself against whatever force I encounter that has stolen my love!”

“Very well.  I advise you to get some rest.  We begin at dawn.”

“No!” commanded Ashley, “we begin immediately!”

“Very well,” said the pterodactyl ninja.  “Your first task is agility.”

From out of nowhere, bubbles appeared.  “Each bubble must be popped in turn.  Only when you have met with success can you advance to the next task.”


CHAPTER 3

For days on end, Ashley practiced her skills.  Thrusting her arms forward as quickly as possible, she popped bubbles in turn.  Over and over she practiced, working toward perfection, but without success.  Finally, forcing herself to stay within her mind, she deprived herself of food, and sleep forcing all her energy into the task of not allowing even a single bubble to escape her notice.  The very act that honed her skills also depleted her strength.

As her weakness spread, her mind began to wander and flashed back to her time as a caterpillar. Most difficult of all the memories was the first time she had seen Phillip and did nothing to try to reach him, allowing her stubby legs to hold her back.  “Phillip,” she gasped, “I can’t fail you again.”  Drawing upon the last of her strength, a thought reached her mind.  With much effort, she climbed hand over hand finally reaching the source of the bubbles, the mythical pink duck.  “I shall destroy youuuuu!” she decreed.

            With six of her bare limbs, Ashley wrapped herself around the duck, squeezing and holding it until the duck drew its last breath and the bubbles belched forth no more.  Slowly she relaxed her stiffened appendages only to realize one of her arms had  been torn from its socket in the struggle against the duck. She paused only a moment to lament the loss of her limb and then, lacking extreme nourishment, she quickly consumed the duck, drawing on its energy.  With renewed thoughts of Phillip she found the strength to move forward.

Returning to the main chamber of his lair, the pterodactyl ninja said, “At last you are ready.  The only other aid I can offer you in your quest for Phillip is this weapon.”  Pausing he held out a pink handled mace topped with the acid pink poisoned quills of the venomous porcupine.  “Use it wisely, warrior,” he said.

            Ashley grasped the weapon and stowed it in the sheath she carried on her belt.  She looked around the lair that had, in the past months, become her home.  “I’ll miss you pterodactyl ninja,” she whispered.  “I don’t even know where to begin.”

            “The only advice I can give you child, is follow the pink rabbit.  He will take many detours and try many tricks to get you off his tail, but follow the pink rabbit.”

“But where shall I find him?”

“You must first locate the Barnabas Magic Caravan.  Ask to take a job as one of the carnies.  When you have been accepted, get close to the Bearded Lady and the Third Eye Blind.  They alone can help you in your quest for the pink rabbit, Bishop Cottontail.”

“But what about Phillip?”

The ninja looked down. “Let us hope you can reach him in time!”


CHAPTER 4 

Ashley bid farewell to the pterodactyl ninja, accidentally catching him on the spines of her weapon as she hugged him goodbye.  He dropped dead, almost immediately with the shriek of his call resonating against the stone walls as the last sound to fill her ears.  There was no time for tears; each moment wasted could mean an unimaginable torture to Phillip’s tiny pink body.

            Ashley left the lair and forced a huge boulder in front of the entrance, turning the lair into a mausoleum, the final resting place of her ninja master.  Neither horses nor bicycles were to be had in the region, so Ashley mounted an over-sized flamingo and took to the air.  The flamingo, well trained in the art of travel, flew quickly to the glen beneath the arctic glacier, the known winter home of the Barnabas Magic Caravan.  Just as the graceful flamingo circled the basin in its final descent, the bird killer perched just outside the protected dell, cast a boulder which broke the long neck of the tropical pink bird.

            Grasping and extending the wings of the lifeless bird, Ashley glided steadily toward the rapidly approaching ground. Landing forcefully, she tumbled head over heels scraping all five knees and elbows.

Fall had entered the atmosphere, soon to be followed by winter. Within weeks the tiny troupe would be locked in to the enclosed valley. The delay gave Ashley time to hone her fighting skills and to formulate a plan.

            Within the month, from the shelter she and her new found friend, the cast iron chef, had built on the hillside, Ashley saw the caravan enter the narrow valley.  The mountain range surrounding provided much needed protection from the icy blizzards of the season.  Shortly after the last stake was driven into the solid earth and the final tent had been erected in the winter camp, night covered the valley. Ashley, followed by the chef, stealthily crept down from the mountainside.  The only way to get close to them was to become one of them and the weeks of preparation had primed her well.  Slipping through the pass, she went outside the valley to retrieve her secret weapon.


CHAPTER 5


            Ashley had, like any good predator, studied her prey.  Though her intended target was a snarky creature, Ashley knew several things.  First, the creature always grew weaker in the days just before hibernating in her underground den.  Secondly, she relied heavily on her minions.  And lastly, the BEAST was anything but nocturnal.  For many, the face of the Beast alone was enough to petrify a would-be-attacker, but Ashley had trained with the pterodactyl ninja and was well skilled in the martial arts.  By capturing the Beast’s minions first, Ashley would be able to disable the defenses of the Beast and thereby begin the process of taming her.  Only by attempting the entrapment at night, days before the snowfall would she, with her limited prowess, be able to overpower the Beast. 

Heaving herself into the heavy cast-iron kettle of the cast iron chef, she signaled to him to lower her down to the entrance of the den. It was he who had provided the necessities of life; water, food, and warmth. It was he who had helped to shape her Phillip into a gnome like gnome other, a gnome worth searching for and a gnome worth fighting for.

Slowly, hand over hand the chef lowered the oven. It’s thick, even metal walls would protect Ashley until the Beast drifted into a deep sleep. With an almost undetectable clank, the three short legs settled on the ground outside of the lair.

Ashley adjusted her position and waited.  At last, she heard the slow, even breathing of the Beast, signifying to Ashley that the Beast had at last fallen asleep.  Moving noiselessly through the undergrowth, she first captured and silenced the minions in burlap bags.  Then she crept into the den.  It was with much difficulty that Ashley secured thick chains to the surrounding walls, for the least amount of noise would wake the only animal wild enough that to tame her would earn Ashley a spot as a carnie. 

            Grasping the first of the iron restraints, Ashley crept toward the Beast.  Suddenly there was the ear splitting scream.  “Help me!” screeched the night-talker. “Ahhhhhh!.”

The eyes of the Beast flew open and with no time to react, the Beast pounced on Ashley pinning her to the ground.  Caught in its powerful entrapment, Ashley’s mind was drawn to the only one who had ever defied the Beast; the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter.

“Help me,” thought Ashley.

“I’m sowwy. “I’m twapped in the tent with a tewwible illness.  It is a plague the likes of which this univewse has nevew seen.”

            Ashley could feel the breath of the Beast, hot on her throat.  In one gulp, Ashley could be devoured.  With the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter indisposed, Ashley was on her own.  The nostrils of the beast oozed mucus as they passed over Ashley, the Beast sniffing her prey.  Saliva dropped from an enormous pink tongue.  Jaws opened wide and swept nearer.  Ashley could see the uvula dangling at the back of the Beast’s throat.  “Phillip. Oh my dear sweet Phillip.  I’m so sorry.  I tried.  Please, oh please forgive me!”

Just as the jaws were about to close, the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter appeared.

“Ashley, whewe awe you?”

“Follow the sound of my thoughts,” thought Ashley.

“I took some Pepto-Bismol and I feel bettew.  I’m sowwy I was so dewayed.”

“I’m here.  Hurry, before it’s too late.”

            The Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter closed his eyes.  Concentrating deeply, he loaded his bow with a dart laced with a sleeping agent.  Drawing back the string, he took aim. Just as he was about to release the taught bowstring, a misguided spell from Harry Potter’s biggest fan struck him upside the head and he fell to the earth, overtaken by the cursed hex.

Once again, Ashley was on her own. Closing her eyes, she concentrated deeply. The reedy voice of the pterodactyl ninja came as though from the grave.  “Only you have the power to defeat the beast.”

            Immediately, Ashley knew what she had to do.


CHAPTER 6


            “Hey beast,” Ashley called out, “have you heard?”

“Kakaah,” answered the beast, which Ashley interpreted to mean, “heard what?”

“I thought everyone had heard.”

“Kakaah,” answered the beast again.

“B, B, B, bird, bird, bird is the word.  B, B, B bird, bird, bird is the word.”

The Beast began to sing along, her lilting voice carrying beyond the den and into the world beyond.  In her distracted state, Ashley was able to tether the beast and capture her once and for all. With the success of this feat, she would be able to join the caravan as a carnie; the butterfly who tamed the Beast.

            With creature in tow, Ashley returned, dawn breaking, to the glen, just as the first snows of the season began to fall.  Within moments, the pass became an impasse. 

“I need to speak to Barnabas about a job,” Ashley said.

“No one speaks to Barnabas,” answered Third Eye Blind somewhat snarkily. 

“Then who makes the decisions about the jobs?”

“I do. What do you have?”

“I will tame the Beast.”

“Let me see.”

“I’m not ready,” Ashley replied.

“Very well.  Obviously you cannot cross the pass, so you have a job; cleaning up after the other carnies.  If you can be ready by spring with your act, you may stay on as part of the show.  If not, the Beast will have a fine meal of you; after all, we are an elite group.”

            For the next months, Ashley spent her days working with the Beast and cleaning up after the other members of the troupe.  Evenings were spent getting to know the other carnies.  And at night, eyes closed, she spent her hours with Phillip, dreaming of happier times gone by and yet to come.

            As the temperatures turned warmer and the accumulated snows began to melt, Ashley made a discovery.  One night as she was cleaning up the shaving station of the Bearded Lady, she noticed the rug that sat in the center of the wagon was slightly ajar.  Going to straighten it, she heard a hollow sound beneath.

            Looking around to make certain that she was alone, Ashley lifted the lid to a trap door.  Stepping inside, she lowered herself down the ladder and into a deep pit.  Pausing to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness, she saw a large pink rabbit.

            Startled, he began hopping away.  This was the cottontail the pterodactyl ninja had told her of.  Quickly she gave chase as the rabbit scurried down a tunnel which branched off in multiple directions.  At times she fell scraping herself on the jagged rocks over which she stumbled. Other times sharp formations gouged at her scalp as she rushed past them.  Twice the rabbit nearly escaped, but finally he hopped into an opening where the darkness faded into light.

“Phillip!” she gasped, for there he was, sitting, staring skyward from his toadstool.

“Ashley?”

She smiled, “Of course.”

“I thought you were dead.”

Ashley stepped toward him.  “No, my love.  I ate some of Anna’s Incredible Edible Eggs.”  She took another step.

“Stop it!”

“Phillip?”

“Please don’t come any closer.  I have been inflicted with the plague of the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bowman.  I fear you advancing would jeopardize your life.”

“But Phillip, I’ve come to be with you.”

Phillip cast his eyes downward.  “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

“Not as sorry as I” raged Ashley.  “Have you any idea what I’ve gone through for you?  I trained with a pterodactyl ninja, who met with his demise.  I wrestled a bubble duck and lost a limb.  I was nearly eaten by a Beast and for months I’ve lived with carnies.  Who are you to me that I would suffer so much for so long and be met with only an ‘I’m sorry.’  You are not the gnome I fell in love with.”

            Phillip tore off his head, “No,” he said, “I’m not.”  From within the shell of Phillip emerged the Badditudes.  “Your time has been wasted.  You shall not see Phillip again.”

            Ashley collapsed and sank to the floor, despair overwhelming her.  Her body shook with sobs that seemed would never be exhausted.  “Oh Phillip, I was too late.  If only I had been faster to tame the Beast.  If only I had been quicker to master my agility.  If only…if only.”

            At long last the room fell silent and then the light that had come from overhead, slowly faded and at last vanished. 

“You have failed,” said the first Badditude. 

Ashley drew her knees toward her chest.

“Did it never occur to you that if Phillip had truly loved you he would have sought you out?  That he wouldn’t have believed your death came with the first frost?”

Scalding tears slipped from her eyes, but Ashley cried silently, unwilling to let the Badditudes see her emotion. 

“What a tragedy that it should end this way; him banished and you, the great hero, cowering here in the darkness.”

            A spark ignited within Ashley’s soul.  Banished?  Banished?  Banished was not dead.  Banished meant that despite those that now surrounded and taunted her, Phillip was still alive.  Banished meant that hope had a chance to prevail. 

            Slowly, Ashley drew herself to her feet.  In the darkness she felt for her pink quilled mace.  “How dare you!” Her steady voice filled the dark space.  “How dare you fiends stand in the way of true love. How dare you nourish despair.  How dare you hide my Phillip from me.  Nothing, including you, can stand in the way of destiny, of true love, of a lifetime with my soul mate!”

            The Badditudes had no chance to respond.  In a flash, Ashley swung her mace and dealt the final death blows, one on either side, slaying the Badditudes.  With their casualty, the light slowly began to illuminate the cavernous space.

“Phhhhhhillllllllippppppp!” she bellowed.  “Where are you?”  Her voice echoed in the large space. 

“Ashley?” it was barely above a whisper.

She turned and looked behind her.  There, duct taped to the wall in various shades of white, pink, and gray duct tape was Phillip.  “Oh, Phillip, what have they done to you?”

“My sweet. The life I have lived is now complete for I have at last again seen you with my own eyes.  Even when the snow fell and the frost came and I could see you no more, I never lost hope that I would once again see your short pink tresses and taste of your rose colored lips.”

“Phillip, you musn’t speak this way.  I’ve come for you because there is gnome one else for me.

“I understand my darling, but we will never escape with our lives.  You saw what they did to Bishop Cottontail; they cut his eyes out.  They changed my name to Barnabas in an attempt to hide me from you and they spared my life, but now that we are reunited, they will hunt us relentlessly.”

“No sweetheart.  You musn’t lose hope.  We’ve come this far.  We must face the Bearded Lady and the Third Eye Blind, as well as, numerous wand wielding wizards, but all is not lost.  I have tamed the Beast who listens to me alone and we have each other; we have it all.”

“For your courage I love you all the more, Ashley.  Now help me down from this wall and together, hand in hand we will venture forth.  Should we live or should we die, it matterth not, for we are together.”

“I love you Phillip.”

“My darling, what happened to your arm?”

“We have the rest of our lives for me to explain.  Let’s get out of here so we can get the rest of our lives started.”

            As Ashley helped Phillip from the wall, hope was restored and though the journey would be difficult, they knew that together they were un-defeat-able!


THE END