Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Doing postcards: the process, Bunny Drop and Kit says 'love never decays'

This week Cheryl, Linda and I did 74 postcards. Postcarding is our Quilting. I realized that I have never really shown the process of ‘doing postcards’ so people might think lots of things from me just writing ‘heya’ on a postcard to me over some Gutenburg style press.

We all get into the study and do the ‘matching’, which is the longest part of the process and takes 4-12 hours. That is where we go through, I usually go through the hundreds of postcards looking for the right one. And if there is a family of six, that means not just six individual postcards picked for each person, but that no stamps or stickers the same can be put on two family members postcard (because who wants to get a postcard EXACTLY like your brother/sister – makes you feel ‘not special’ – and that is the exact opposite of what we try to do). After the matching we do the stamping. That means we clear the two hospital tables, and fill them with stamps and ink, and then bring the stool next to my power chair. The stool is because since I can’t feel my hands, I need a steady flat surface to watch my hands or arms push on. Sometimes, I use my foreheard, or my chin to try and make sure the image comes out clearly. That is because if I have too many ‘white spots’ on the left, it means my left/weak side isn’t pushing with the arm, I am too exhausted, so I used what I have. Or we ask Linda to step on it.

Some people are very pristine with stamps and ink. Since we are doing a stack each and working sometimes though the night, we are not pristine, as you can see here. Also you can see, the unmounted stamps are down on a hospital tray, on acrylic and we call out what we want.

First, as we had 7 or 8 new stamps that week (we have invested in getting new stamps, now our problem is in getting more ink!), we had to try them out with the various types of ink and paper, so on gloss, is the distressed ink too much, does plum make it ‘pop’ or should that be purple? We do five to ten of each stamp to get an idea and then get going on the postcards. For a family, one person does the whole family at the same time, to make sure there are unique stamps on each postcard.

That evening, there were issues as I had low blood pressure and wasn’t responding to heart or other medicine and with heart erratics kept passing out. That just happens. Every weekend is different

People wonder, “How can you get that many postcards done?” and the answer is sort of like, “How do you run a marathon?” I don’t, I run one step and then I run another and another. Yeah, I feel crap, but so does Cheryl sometimes, it is just get on with getting on, whether that is blowing blood out of your nose or just waking up and trying to do another stamp until you start feeling better.

The dialogue is like this

Beth: “What does the Rabbit go best in?”

Cheryl: “Denim Blue”

Beth, “No, it’s a slick card, feel that.”

Cheryl: “Just the royal blue then.”

Linda: “Can you pass me the black and that flower from last time, the one I do green.”
Beth, “Wha? The flower you do green? What does that mean? That makes no sense.”

Cheryl: “Here it is,” (passes a stamp of a flower over), “it was under the dancing skeleton.”

Beth turns on Cheryl, “Flower in green and you KNOW what that means?”

Cheryl shrugs.

Beth “Oh, did you say dancing skeleton? I am doing a goth card, I can use that!”


Cheryl: “Is she pressing that big Lion still”

Linda: “No, I think she’s passed out.”

“Tilt her back”

Linda pushed my head back. After 30 second, “Come on Beth, breathe, you gotta breathe,” 20 more seconds, “come on Beth, breathe.”

I’ve woken up but I can’t get my lungs to expand, my throat is expanding, as I try to open my mouth and gulp air in but I am too tired.

Linda pulls me upright and lifts my torso free, and I gasp air and breath for a minute.

Beth, “So was I doing the windsurfer who lives in Oklahoma?”

Linda: “Why don’t we call it a night?”

Beth: “Why, I only have three…er….six….a couple to go.”

Linda: “And…..they will still be here tomorrow.”

Beth whines, “Nooooooo!”

Linda: “I think you not breathing is a bad sign.”

Beth: “But I’m breathing NOW!?”

That’s pretty much a typical night except a lot more, ‘Look at this’ when we do a good stamp and trying out difference colours and ‘how did you get that?” and then trying to make the same image. Music plays softly in the background and the postcards go up flat atop the books to dry. And we have a stack of 25 each and if one person is taking more time (LINDA) then we take a couple each from her. Some do better with one stamp than other. It is not a bad way to pass an evening (except for Linda who is saying, "Why do 'I' have to step on all of them?" And we go, "Because you are the only one who can feel her feet!" Or the time she stamped a lion and got a giant white spot in the face....and managed to match it perfectly and not even we could tell where she had laid it down a second time - on a 5 inch by 5 inch stamp!

The next morning, after 3 to 6 hours of sleep, I am in the study with stickers and the black ink government pens which won’t run. And the table has the stickers on it, so I can put stickers on the postcards, some weeks are sticker heavy and we sticker each card first and some I do it all afterward, and then I write them all. I am covered with this fleecy blanket of Kit the Kat, skelanimals, that Linda found for me – you know, because Love never Decays. Then, every so often Linda or Cheryl, who are packaging the Amazon sales, come in to the study where I am writing and stickering and collect the postcards for photos or for putting the names down for how many where sent and who they were sent to. And they are put into bags (one for Canadian Stamps, one for US stamps) and then all are posted on Sunday.

That’s the stamping process, it starts Friday and can take the whole weekend, but I try not to do that, though it does seem to take up part of Saturday evening every week. We have to talk to try and remember what stamps we did for the person before, what postcards we sent, what they liked, if they emailed and what they said. Some stamps we can only do by size, if the postcard is large enough or if there is time. For example this stamp, takes about five minutes more to do. It is really cool but it takes a while.

And after all this banter and back and forth and talking and passing around stamps and debating and saying, “Well this looks good so far…….are you going to risk another stamp?” We end up with this, the finished postcard, ready for writing (and stickers).
So that is the postcard project process, at least the ink to the paper process. Before I go, I would really like to recommend the manga book Bunny Drop. Much like Transparent is a good series to talk about chronic invisible illness’ and the discrimination and caregiver issues around that, Bunny Drop is a good manga which speaks and shows in art caregiving. Because the basic aspect is that no one really knows what they are getting into with caregiving, you just end up making do as best as you can, getting help where you can and as you can. It also gives a viewpoint of someone who is less able to communicate, who has perhaps diminished capacity, or sundowners or dementia. Linda, Cheryl and I among many others recommend it. If you have care or caregive, I really recommend it, particularly those who balance caregiving with a career. It is the sudden onset of caregiving needs which makes this book particularly relevant to having an illness, having a sudden need to caregive, finding out there are all these systems but a) how does anyone know about all of it and get it all organized, and b) who has time while holding down a full time job?

The manga brings up the worry and frustration of trying to think of everything and failing, as we do, being human and all. Even though the people we take care of, from children to seniors are often the most vulnerable. And I learned recently how vulnerable and weak I have become. It is good for me too see both sides, and realize how hard care giving really is. Being ill doesn’t have respite, and I can’t say, “That’s it, I’m crap at this illness, I quit.” But care giving is the gift which only love really gives, as it isn’t easy, and pushes you as a person. I’m glad to see that shown, but also the vulnerability of the one being cared, and the cost to them. As we say, “Elizabeth pays. If Beacon workers forget, if Doctors screw up, if Linda forgets, in the end, Elizabeth pays.” That is the nature of a high care need illness.

Almost time to start preparing for more postcards!


Linda McClung said...

Okay, you do realize that the reason I am slower than you is because I'm the one stamping everyone's card, moving postcards to bookcases to dry and getting the drinks/medical equipment/food?;)

Seriously, it is a lot of fun doing the postcards and there is a lot of thought that goes in to it.

I have a tip for people who let Beth know they received her cards... when you email/write could you describe what was on the postcard front & back? And what you liked best about it? That may help Beth remember the postcard and will influence what goes on the next one.

Raccoon said...

I knew you spent a lot of time doing the postcards, but this is...

This is comparing headaches to migraines, so to speak: "I've had headaches before, so I know what a migraine feels like."

In other words, my thoughts didn't even come close!

cheryl g said...

What a perfect analogy... stamping is our quilting bee! It's creative and communal and fun. You have perfectly captured a typical conversational exchange as well. I do think Linda taks in her own language more than we do but I do seem to understand which stamp she means most of the time.

Bunny Drop is an excellent book with a lot to teach. There's the theme about having ones entire life suddenly change as one becomes a caregiver over night for someone who needs a lot of care. There is the theme about juggling the caregiving with a full time job and other obligations. There is the theme about the learning curve as one tries to get a handle on this new reality by themselves as they learn about the agencies they must deal with and the many aspects of providing care. There is the theme about communicating with someone who is intelligent and sensitive but not always able to communicate their needs.

I am really looking forward to volume 2.

wendryn said...

Have I mentioned that y'all are awesome?

It's really neat to see the process - it helps. Thank you!

Neil said...


The phrase "Sudden onset of caregiving" made me smile; it's not the image one normally has when a disease hits. You've always looked at life differently, Beth, and I think that's partly why I love you so much.

You have described making postcards before, but never in such detail or with such expressive photos.

Linda, thank you for your suggestion. It makes a lot of sense.

Wendryn's right. You are awesome. So are Linda and Cheryl.

Love and zen hugs,

yanub said...

I like this, the pictures of you and Linda and Cheryl at home, being yourselves. Thanks for sharing them.

Dawn Allenbach said...

I love how systematic you all are with the postcards -- and you'd have to be with the numbers you put out in such a short period of time!

Linda -- Thank you for reminding us to comment very specifically about our postcards. I think I've forgotten the last couple of times.

Kate J said...

Thanks for the blow-by-blow account of the postcard project... please don't anyone ever take one of Beth's postcards for granted! The stamping is so amazing, the 'back' of the card is often better than the 'front'. Beautiful.
I have quite a few of your cards, Beth, which are displayed together. I always love to get them, but I'd prefer you don't send me any more - save them for new people or people who really need them.
Hope you're enjoying the spring...
love & peace

Elizabeth McClung said...

Linda: No, the reason is while we do 3-5 stamps a postcard you do like little diarama's of 20+. And yes, you are stepping on the stamps to make sure they imprint well.

Raccoon: Oh I am just Type A/anal....I mean dedicated and committed in details to make things to make each postcard unique and special, but to also do them in a reasonable time period for me and Cheryl, both who have seperate issues, plus, I get to sit next to the air conditioner (turns out a bunch of pressing and all that is good sitting activity and warms a room) - happy life day!

Cheryl: Thanks, your review of Bunny drop is shorter and better than mine!

Yeah, Linda takes risks I wouldn't, but I am always trying to find the 'next' best for a stamp - I mean the Victorian angel took about 50 times before I figured out how to get rid of the flecks. And a couple stamps have taken weeks.

Wendryn: I was hoping since it is something I mention a lot that a few pictures would give some idea of what 3 am Saturday looks like at our place.

Neil: thanks - the difference between a child, which gives you 9 months to panic and prepare and a disease is that we were too exhausted running around getting tested to suddenly realize that we needed help - most of which we had to figure out on our own, or if lucky we had one or two people who directed us to care agencies. But it is a parachute jump into care giving.

Though I still try to do a majority of each postcard in total, and the writing, it really is a group effort, and the greatest is that Linda and Cheryl let me sign my name to a postcard they spent 20 minutes or more making look great. We spent over an hour testing out our new stamps last week.

I am learning that photos help people understand my way of doing things or my reality better. In our visual age, we are used to seeing images on the news and so if we see it, we get it. I try to work with that.

Zen Hugs

Yanub: I really like the picture of Cheryl at the table. She is like that, very centered when she works while Linda is like that, very focused, and usually ends up with all the ink pads mysteriously ending up in front of her, and I am well, messy.

Dawn: I am pretty systematic about getting stickers, stamps and postcards too, but the intellectual and property aquisition stage isn't as interesting (nor can be taken photos of). Thanks, I am sure you are the same with your projects: Analyze what can be done by yourself, by the limitations of those who help you and plan the project accordingly.

Kate J: I'm glad you liked the post. You don't want anymore? But I gave my word, postcards as I can, when I can as long as I am alive - and I'm not dead yet. Well, I won't put you down as active but if the 'right' postcard comes that makes me think of you, I will send that, how about that?

Christianne said...

That's MY "Bad Kitty" card at the bottom of the first pic--it arrived today, to my great delight (with a lovely angel stamped on the back, to boot)! Somehow you always manage to pick something that makes me smile (but not too much--ruins the whole goth image, you know)!

fridawrites said...

I loved seeing pictures of your process. The lion stamp *is* awesome (on my son's)--we were all awed! The lion is perfect--so much detail. And my daughter loved her dragon postcard too. How did you guys get the postage stamp with Linda and the cheetah? Beautiful! I am sorry passing out occurs during the process. Thanks for the wonderful work, all three of you.

The care you take with these reminds me of scrapbooking--it's a similar process (stickering, borders, decorations)--I should work on those again now that I can sit up more and spread out some work.

Skelanimals: my kids received some for Easter--only in our house does the Easter bunny deliver Goth goodies.

We will have to read Bunny Drop! Caregiving is difficult--we do suffer when things are forgotten, though it's human nature to forget or not to be able to do everything.

Dawn Allenbach said...

I got my postcard yesterday! I love the whale breaching off the coast of Argentina! I have a friend who is from there (lived in the west near Chile), and she's always saying she wants to take me there for a visit. The stamp of elephant mama and baby in purple is great, and I especially love the tiger face stamp and the little kitty washing her ear. My very favorite part, though, is the postage stamp of Linda petting the leopard. How jealous am I???

Dawn Allenbach said...

Ha! That's my postcard right smack in the middle -- the slash of sky blue and part of a black whale!

Baba Yaga said...

Somehow, I think I still don't grasp the magnitude of the postcard operation: but thank you for the glimpse through the door. I always like the pictures of the cards together: there's something very appealing in that.

Thank you, too, for the review of /Bunny Drop/: I'm phasing out part way through paragraphs (pretty much the same thing as is happening to my attempts to test lace patterns; and my kitchen is filled with three sorts of burning smell at once, which may be a record even for me), but it looks like one I should examine further.

Sorry I haven't made contact lately: I think of you at least daily, not that you have any way to know that if I don't tell you!

Bonnie said...

Squee! There's my card! There's my card! AND my stamp! (I got the card wtih the bound wrists on the front and the fabulous 5 minute flower stamp on it. I think the flower is a columbine.)

I LOVE the Bad Kitty: would you believe I have a coin purse with the Bad Kitty on it? I'm delighted other people like her too! My cat Esme looks like Bad Kitty, too.

Seeing all the postcards together in a group was really fun. Can you do that again? It was like a postcard Where's Waldo game.

Vanessa said...

Thank you for the pictures. I'd been wondering what your process was for awhile. It's nice to see you, Cheryl, and Linda working together on them. I only wished that it didn't take so much out of you to do them.

I got one of the ones with the beautiful blue flower with green leaves like is pictured in your blog this week. Very lovely, thank you! I show them off to everyone when I get them. :D

{{{Hugs from all of us}}}

Lene Andersen said...

Thanks for taking us through what it takes to send out cards. You're right - it does sound like quilting!

Much as I can relate to pushing through, I'm glad Linda's there to suggest that not breathing may be a sign you should stop for the day.