Needing a little Christmas.

20121223-091650.jpg20121223-091724I am happy to report that Gandalf is looking down on me from the top of our tree as I type this, surveying from his uncomfortable perch, a living room that’s so overdecorated, you’d never believe that two grown-ups who aren’t hosting even one holiday party live here.

20121223-091449Yeah. I kind of overdid Christmas this year.

20121223-091251Our house is more decorated than ever, the tree is so big that we had some problems fitting our furniture back into the living room, and carols have been playing more or less nonstop for the past two weeks.

I went nuts decking our halls, because we lost almost all our ornaments in the flood that came with Hurricane Sandy, but I went nuts on a budget, because I hate spending money unless I’m buying shoes.I made it work.

600051_10151136786859249_282079868_nInstead of buying decorations, I crafted like a bunch of preschoolers on go-go juice. I made a wreath and stockings and ornaments and cards and wrapped my husband’s presents using only aluminum foil, just because I could. Every night, there was a different project.

I stopped posting my creations to Instagram after someone commented on my apparent love of Christmas, but that didn’t stop me from making stuff. I needed to make stuff. Making stuff made me feel more sane, like I was rebuilding something, even if it meant that I ingested half a teaspoon of glitter in the process. And now, looking around our insanely festooned living room (it looks like a drag queen exploded in here) I think that my crafting binge may have helped.

I think I just needed the holiday. It’s been a bad couple of months in our area of the country, and so Christmas and a new year seem particularly welcome right about now.

So happy holidays to those who celebrate. Catch as much of the spirit, and the comfort, of the season as you can.card

Phyllis the couch is held for ransom.

So it’s Friday the 13th, and that means the second week of January is drawing to a close and that means that Phyllis the couch is supposed to be sitting in our living room, but she isn’t, and I’m pretty irritated about it.

(If you don’t know who Phyllis the couch is , check out the above link. If you’re still unclear about why she’s called Phyllis, check out the brilliant suggestions in the comments of that post. If you don’t know why she’s supposed to be here by this week, it’s because I haven’t posted about it. Read on. If you don’t care, click here to relive Hamster Dance.)

Phyllis is undressed. (Gotta protect the hub's identity in this scandalous picture.)

So after obtaining our antique couch and hauling it back home in our antique truck, we brought Phyllis into the house and realized (much to my delight) that her mustard velvet upholstery was going to have to go.  It was mildewed black in some parts and the cat loved it a little bit too much. Anything that he’s that enamored of is usually too disgusting for words. So we resolved to use the money we saved by adopting Phyllis to have her reupholstered.

I don’t know how he found them. One day I came downstairs and my husband had located a local upholstery firm that defies all the rules of modern business. It’s closed four days of the week. The proprietors don’t believe in signage. They don’t sell upholstery fabric. They also don’t believe in email. My husband had to drive down to their super-secret location with the photo of Phyllis that I posted on this blog.  But despite all of the things that they don’t do, they’ve been in business since the Cold War. I think they’re probably wizards or gnomes or cobbler elves or leprechauns or something.

But even if they are magical creatures, they are magical creatures who are now on my smack-down list. Because I don’t think that fairy tale law allows mythical little men to break their magical word, and also, I feel like they are holding Phyllis prisoner.

Allow me to explain: In order to keep down the cost of reupholstering Phyllis, my husband did all the woodwork himself. He ripped off the mustard fabric, which unleashed a cloud of mold spores into our living room. To control that, he doused the couch in vinegar. Our house didn’t smell right for months. Then he sanded all the  woodwork down and refinished it.

We bought a lot of fabric from a local shop (the fabric has something resembling fleurs-de-lis in the pattern, which my husband liked because he thought they were some sort of tribal spearheads) and brought the whole mess to the couch gnomes, who allowed us to set foot inside their magical workshop. It was awesome – the walls were piled with chairs and couches, and every few feet there was a stapler gun suspended from the ceiling. If you didn’t watch out you could turn around and BAM! –  eyebrow piercing.

When it came time to decide when Phyllis would come home, the head gnome paused. He said he could have her ready for Christmas, and then gave the sort of heart-rending sigh that is usually a signal that although he could do it, it might kill him.

Part of me was like, “Okay, so do that,” but it was the week of Thanksgiving, and although I was impatient to have Phyllis gussied up and in our home, we didn’t really need her by Christmas, and also, moving her into the room with a Christmas tree in it would be a pain and anyway, why would I want to burden these nice gnomes during the holiday season?

I generously suggested that we pick Phyllis up the first week of January instead.

Second week of January,” said the gnome and then I felt like a sucker who should have insisted that we’d need her by Dec. 24 or Christmas would be ruined.

My husband called this week, on the first day that the shop would be open. The conversation went a little bit like this:

Husband – “Is the couch ready?” (He refuses to call her Phyllis outside of the home.)

Couch Gnome – “I’ll have it to you by the end of January.”

Husband – Silence.

Couch Gnome  – “Something wrong?”

My husband suspects that  – like a little kid who forgot that his book report was due – the gnome hadn’t even started work on Phyllis. So now, we’re waiting until the end of the month, although the gnome said he’d give us a call when and if it’s done earlier.

But I’m afraid that we’ll never see Phyllis again and that the little men aren’t gnomes, but trolls, and that the couches and chairs stacked against the walls of their shops aren’t their creations – instead they’re the corpses of their victims. Oh god, we delivered Phyllis right into their murderous little hands.

So in honor of Phyllis (and because Zazzle made me take down the dwarf one), I made another tee shirt. (I actually have been making a lot of tees lately. I’ve already got quite a little collection on Zazzle. Not because I expect people to buy them, really, but because I’m the sort of gal who loves nothing more than an in-joke on a tee shirt, and Teefury is not meeting all my tee-shirt needs these days.)

Please, people. Appreciate your couches. Love them. Sit on them a little longer than normal today. For Phyllis.

Send me your beards!

Not your real beards. Keep those on your faces. Please.

I want you to send me your “protest beards.”

What am I talking about? Good question. This past weekend, I posted about the horrible injustices faced by dwarf women in Middle-Earth.

That post – which featured faux PSA photos of me in a faux beard – has gotten a lot of views, and by a lot, I mean more than the eight views a day I usually get (normally because someone’s been Google Searching for a photo of the chick from Alien Nation).

Since there’s been a lot of interest, I’d like to invite you all to send me your protest beards. Below are some examples.

Ads for the bearded lady campaign

Photoshopped-in text is optional.

You can send me your protest in three simple steps:

1) Cut a beard out of paper.

2) Scrawl a slogan on it, condemning the oppression of female dwarves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

3) Using your cell phone or your computer’s camera, take a photo of yourself wearing the beard.

Then send it to me at annjoconnell<at>gmail<dot>com, which is technically the fourth step, I guess.

I will be accepting entries until Jan. 20, and then I will post the best ones. And because this is a contest there will be a (completely unrelated) prize. (Yaaaay, free stuff!) The person with the best protest beard will get a copy of my new e-book, Beware the Hawk. (Yaaaay, self-promotion!) I really hope I get some photos of beards, because I’d hate to host a contest and have no one show up. So get out your scissors and your Sharpies, and prepare to beard injustice in its lair.

Why I’m done doing things conventionally.

This is a story about a couch.

Actually, this is a story about a search for a couch, and what it taught me about doing business the conventional way.

This weekend, my husband and I had to find a replacement for Horace, the couch that currently sits in our living room. Horace, unlike most couches, has a name. He’s been named because although he’s beige, he has acquired a lot of character in 30 years. Too much. So much, in fact, that my brother cannot sit on him without wheezing. Horace, bless his beige, cat-scratched heart, has got to go.

We started looking for a new couch on Friday. We had a small budget set aside for it. Neither one of us is new to furniture shopping. Both of us, when we were living singly, got a lot of stuff from the Goodwill and Salvation Army. I once furnished an entire apartment for $40, thanks to hand-me-downs, Freecycle, Craigslist and tag sales.

I will admit that we did hit some Goodwills and vintage stores, mostly out of habit. But we didn’t want a secondhand item this time. We wanted a nice couch. A new couch. A couch that no butts – canine, feline or human — had previously rested upon. Our very own brand new comfy couch, scotch-guarded, covered in a color that we had selected, and possibly delivered by burly men who would carry it over our threshold. Why? Because we are homeowners, tax-payers and grown-ups, and that’s how grown-ups buy furniture.

We started by going on down to the discount furniture showroom. The couches were in our budget, but the selection was limited and the sofas seemed cheap. Then we went to a furniture store where the furniture didn’t seem cheap. For good reason; it was twice what we could afford. We skedaddled  before anyone could ask if we were being helped. Then we went home and did a quick Google search. As it turned out, a major department store had a furniture section. Who knew? We headed to the mall and quickly found out why we’d never heard of this particular furniture department: it’s a dimly-lit grotto in the back of the store’s basement, behind the section where they’re keeping the Christmas trees for the next month. It’s staffed by a very strange man, who probably doesn’t see other humans very often, and followed us around as if he was planning to feed on our souls. And the furniture is cheap-looking, which probably why the lights are so dim back there. We departed from that cave in a hurry and we didn’t stop, or look back, until we reached the latte shop in the food court. Lastly, we decided to hit our state’s other discount furniture store, which hooray, had sofas in our price range and also seemed to have items that we liked. We decided on a couch almost instantly, but thought we’d wait a few hours, measure our house to see if we could get it through the door, and then call in our order. We were elated. CouchQuest 2011 was over.

When we got home, I looked up the couch and on a whim, decided to look at the customer reviews, because I loved the couch and I wanted to see how many other people loved it too. I wanted to join the cult of love for my new couch. I wanted to hear all about its snuggly pillows on cold winter nights, and about how I could take naps on it on autumn afternoons.

I clicked. The first reviewer described her couch pillows falling apart within the first year. Maybe her couch was a fluke. I clicked again. The second reviewer said that her couch only looked new for the first month. Click. The third reviewer loved his couch so much he gave it five whole stars. But his review sounded exactly like ad copy. “It’s so easy to clean,” he crowed. Really? In the store, we read a bit of fine print about chenille being dry-clean only.  Click. The fourth reviewer was angry. “In six months it looked like I had a 10 year-old couch.” Click. “Mine arrived damaged.”

I yelled down to my husband not to call the store. He didn’t want to hear it. He was in love with the couch too, but after reading two pages of bad reviews, he agreed with me. There was no way we were blowing our couch fund on a lemon. And there was no way we were going to give business to that store. I had checked online review sites for the business itself. I found scathing comments written by the spouses of  employees who were forced to come in during dangerous storms, comments from customers who felt cheated and comments from people who felt all the furniture was cheap. We felt bad that the salesman, who seemed like a nice guy, was not getting a commission from us but we simply could not do it.

We were bummed. My husband, looking downtrodden, made dinner. That was when my rage kicked in. I went into the other room, slammed my butt down on Horace and opened my laptop.

What the hell had I been doing? Why did I feel the need to buy furniture – probably not even made ethically and definitely not made in this country –  from stores that abuse their employees and cheat their customers? Why? Because this is what people do? That is no reason to do anything. That’s how unethical behavior gets to be the norm. I typed in a search on Craigslist. It was Sunday night. All the tag salers were cutting their losses. Someone in our town was getting rid of a 100-year-old velvet couch, for free. It’s in our living room right now. We’re using the couch fund to reupholster it, and we’re hoping to use a small local business for that.

And if the cost of re-upholstery is too high? We’ll do it ourselves. Not because that’s what we’re supposed to do, but because it makes the most sense for us.

This couch may also need a name. She has sufficient character.