Thursday, November 18, 2021

Control Freak Merit Badge


Another merit badge!

The Awards Jacket, inspired by a memorable, albeit brief, stint in the Girl Scouts, has been an immensely satisfying ongoing project which involves inventing and bestowing upon myself an assortment of accolades. My merit badges are devoted to things like being able to use chopsticks, having a belly that makes me an excellent lazy floater, etc. Three recent badges (two self-awarded, one hand-embroidered by a grandniece) relate to surviving the pandemic.

My latest medal may be my favorite so far. Inspired by a vintage medallion gifted to me by a friend who knows me well, this may be my crowning achievement — an award for being an intrepid control freak. As one old boyfriend noted, "What would all of us do without you ordering us around and telling us what to do? How would the world go on?" I couldn't agree more.

In truth, however, I realize how much easier life would be if I didn't have to carry the burden of knowing so very much more than everyone else about what should be done in every circumstance (even those in which I lack all practical knowledge, which I have never found a deterrent). I wear the medal as much as a reminder to check those impulses as to acknowledge myself unabashedly as the control freak that I am.

Medal front

Medal back

The original medal gifted to me is from a "young birds" pigeon race in Stafford, England in 1936. What better symbol of control than to successfully order a bunch of pigeons about? However, 1936 is a particularly poignant year in the annals of pigeons and human history, with one incident in particular pointing to the perils of trying to control a flock of twitchy birds prone to hysteria. During the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, 25,000 pigeons were released. Unfortunately, a cannon was fired at the same time, causing all of the pigeons to release their bowels in utter panic. One athlete, Louis Zamerini, a distance runner, describes the scene: " could hear the pitter patter on our straw hats, but we felt sorry for the women, for they got it in their hair."

Control gone wrong. It happens far too often. To create my medal I added a bit of chain and used some ribbon stitched over a cardboard base to give it a bit of a military swagger and added a pin backing.

The control freak medal

The final result has now been installed on my awards jacket, which really should have a soundtrack of Beatles-type honky tonk music as I wear it out and about.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Advent Calendar 2021: Life is a Giant Puzzle

The advent mystery bags: Which day is which?

This year's advent calendar for two young Colorado girls layers mystery upon mystery and puzzle upon puzzle. The calendar arrives as 24 sealed and decorated bags, and a long length of recycled lace for use as the advent garland. The bags attach to the garland using the glittery pipe cleaners that seal each bag.

The garland fixings.

But wait a minute!

There are no numbers on the front of the bags indicating the day of the month. What is going on? The puzzle starts at assembly and the first round involves a game for the whole family.


Note the little triangular tab labeled "clues" on the front of each bag. If you pull on the "clues" tab, a long strip of paper emerges with a set of clues that will help you figure out what day of the month to write on the bag. The clues start with difficult to "weirdly difficult," and proceed to get easier and easier as you continue to pull on the tab. Once you have figured out the correct number, you write it on the front of the bag.

The clues revealed!

Maker tip: Note that replicating this idea is far easier than it looks. Decorate 24 bags any way you wish. Cut a horizontal slit about a third of the way down on the front of the bag, the same width as your long question strip. Glue a triangular piece of paper with the word "clues" written on it to the end of the strip that contains the most difficult questions. Feed the other end of the strip into the slit on the bag, and fold the "clues" triangle down so it rests flush against the bag. To save you hours and yours of obsessive-compulsive computer time, I have created a PDF of all of the question strips that you are free to use. The link: Advent 2021 Question Strips.

Sample clue sheet (click to enlarge)

But at this point the fun has just begun. Once the numbers game is over and all of your bags have the correct day of the month and have been attached in order to the lace garland, participants are instructed to turn all of the bags over so the back of the bag is facing outward.

Whoa, a secret message!

A secret message is revealed! In this case the message reads: "When you have figured out these puzzles and think that you are done, you will learn to your amazement: The games have just begun." And yes folks, that is exactly twenty-four words, one word on the back of each bag.

So what is inside? Puzzles! Turns out that buying batches of puzzles online is very affordable. I alternated between 3-d wood puzzles, 3-d metal puzzles, and blank jigsaw puzzles they may embellish with their own artwork.

Inside the bags: more puzzles!

And more puzzles...

...and more puzzles.

And of course, each bag also contains a small piece of candy for each girl each day.

But wait, there's more...

Just to completely wow my little audience of two, I decided to throw in a few rounds of mail art, which will arrive throughout the month of December. Using the book, "Tricks and Puzzles," by Silver Dog Press, 1973, I used their muddy, black and white images of old German picture puzzle postcards from the turn of the century and recreated them at full postcard size by recreating the images using water colors. (Note I have searched far and wide on the internet for examples of these puzzles but so far my only source is this book, which is available used on Amazon). The idea is to randomly send one postcard every few days from an assortment of four different picture puzzles so that the recipients have to guess what the total picture will eventually look like and which postcard fits into which puzzle. I offer just one example below.

Sample puzzle postcard: What could it be?

The answer becomes apparent when you receive all four of the postcards that are part of this picture postcard puzzle.

Full set of four postcards

And that wraps up the 2021 version of the advent calendar.
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