A story told two ways

I’ve started experimenting with creating zines.

In this post, I’m presenting the same story, about a time I offered a handmade item for a charity auction, two ways:  once as a zine, and once as a blog post.

It’s kind of hard to directly compare them, since in a non-online format, the zine would be presented in a small paper booklet, and the blog is in its native form. Still, which do you like better, and why?





Making art for a charity auction

Some years ago, I started attending a church in an older section of an Iowa town that had a wealth of stained-glass windows.

One Sunday, a particular window – dubbed “the Elmo window” because the bottom part of the glass design resembled the top part of that Sesame Street character’s head – became the subject of the day’s sermon.

The point of the sermon has long since been forgotten, but the window lives on in my memory, and in my photo album.

Soon after the “Elmo window” sermon, a fundraiser auction was announced for the church. Because I’d taken up stained glass as a hobby, I decided to re-create a sized-down model of the window as a suncatcher to donate to the auction.

I climbed the steps partway up to the balcony and took a picture of the Elmo window, then used photo-editing software to highlight the borders of the window’s shapes. I printed the edited image to use as the design template and cut pattern pieces out of cardboard. I chose glass colors similar to those used in the original window and cut the glass – a total of 65 pieces. I carefully ground down the edges of the glass pieces to smooth them out and make sure they fit the pattern exactly. I wrapped each of the 65 glass pieces in strips of copper foil, along with 5 glass gems. I laid out all the pieces on my work board and soldered them together; first the front side, then the back. I cut some pieces of zinc to make a frame, then soldered it together, complete with hanging loops and a chain.

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent working on that “Elmo window” suncatcher, or how much money I spent on supplies. I didn’t track the nitty-gritty details. This was a labor of love, and I was pretty dang proud of my work. I’d managed to create a clearly-recognizable facsimile of the original window, sized down to hang as a piece of tasteful, colorful art in any modern house or office window. It even had a good story to go along with it. Surely, people who heard the sermon and who loved the church’s building would clamor to take home this memento!

On the day of the auction, a small crowd gathered. The auctioneer started in on the business at hand, coaxing bids ever higher on baby quilts and cookie platters, fancy Bibles and business gift certificates. There was a minor frenzy over some quarts of pickled beets made by a grand dame of the church – fifty dollars for a jar of pickled beets!

My Elmo window was up next! The auctioneer read out the little card explaining the significance of the stained glass window hanging. He started out the bidding at $50. Seemed reasonable, given the price for the beets.

Fifty dollars for this unique piece of art. Just fifty dollars, five-oh dollars. Can I get a bidder for the Elmo window at fifty dollars?


Ok how about twenty-five? Get the bidding started on this lovely stained glass piece for a good cause at twenty-five dollars. Let me see someone start the bidding at twenty-five dollars.

No one I knew at the church was at the auction. No one at the auction knew me or knew how much work I’d put into that suncatcher. There was no one to come to the rescue with a pity bid.

Come on, folks, how about twenty dollars? Can I get a bidder at twenty dollars?

A woman with a couple of kids in tow weakly raised her hand.

We have a bidder at twenty dollars! Twenty dollars for the Elmo window. Who wants it for twenty-five. Twenty-five for the Elmo window. At twenty, twenty-five.

Twenty dollars going once.

I froze.

Twenty dollars going twice.

I had brought money with me. Why didn’t I bid on my own donated item? Take it back home and basically make a cash donation to the church?

SOLD for twenty dollars!

The woman walked up to the sale table, handed over a twenty-dollar bill and picked up the Elmo window.

My heart sank into my gut.

All the thought and effort I put into that piece of art – worth $20? The supplies alone cost more than $20. A jar of friggin’ PICKLED BEETS sold for $50, and the stained glass art I worked so hard on sold for a mere twenty bucks?

I walked out of the auction before it ended and slunk back home, trying to fight the bitter feeling in my heart.

Yep, I learned a few lessons that day more valuable than a jar of pickled beets – about pride, charitable giving, church cliques, and the value of art.

I hope that Iowa woman treasures her Elmo window and to this day tells stories of how she got it for a song at a charity auction.

LEFT: the actual Elmo window, RIGHT: my Elmo window reproduction

Copyright 2020 by Katie Bradshaw

Permission from a fairy godmother

I continue to struggle with this idea of “being a writer,” to the point that I very nearly didn’t sign up for the Story Catcher Summer Writing Workshop.

I’ve attended writing workshops in the past that made me feel like a poser. Rather than energizing me, those workshops left me feeling small and discouraged. (This probably says more about my personal journey then the workshops themselves. Also, I now have a project I’m actively working on, which makes a huge difference.)

Thanks to some encouragement to find a writing community (thank you, Sue Kelsey!), I decided to attend Story Catcher, since the price was right, and it was only 100 miles from my home.

Right out of the gate, writer-in-residence Anna Keesey’s craft lecture delivered some things I really needed to hear.

“Your writing self is fragile,” she said. “It needs attention to further its cause.”

Anna fashioned herself into a fairy godmother of sorts, bearing a “bouquet of permissions.” Among them:

Permission to go inward, to find the times and places where distraction is minimized.

Permission to write imperfectly, to tolerate uncertainty, to wander around feeling lost because that wandering journey may be the only way to understand the destination.

Permission to be irreverent, wrong, rude. “You do not have to toe the party line on anything.”

Permission to waste time.

Permission to use “up time” for writing, or not-writing.

Permission to put your uncertainty ahead of someone else’s certainty, your future ahead of someone else’s now.

Permission to work on small projects – give someone a gift of your words, write a letter to someone who is not yet born, keep a dialogue with yourself.

This all sounded so familiar. These past months I’ve been giving myself stern talks along these same lines, but I’ve struggled to believe me.

Sometimes all we need is a little bit of ordinary magic, like permission from a fairy godmother.


The wonder of living on an alien planet

I just love the sound of rain falling on canopies – leaf or shingle. It puts me in a contemplative mood.

Maybe because I recently watched Interstellar, maybe because I caught a clip of NOVA’s Alien Planets Revealed this week . . .

When I looked out the open window last night around bedtime, out into the darkness scented by the gentle rain that had just begun to fall with a pattering sound on the broad leaves of the plants in the flowerbed, I was suddenly transported with wonder.

Such a strange place, this, where life depends on a liquid that falls from the sky at irregular intervals.

I’m a corporatespeak snob

I really wanted to like this Huff Post Business profile of Catherine Courage at Citrix. Alas, I couldn’t get past this sentence without going all Judgy McJudgerton:

Her determination and passion to grow design as a core differentiator led to the competency becoming a company-wide initiative and to the elevation of her role to senior vice president of customer experience.

What the heck does that even mean? It sounds like it was created with a keyword generator.

(See also: “Their mission is to partner with functions across the company to deliver an outstanding experience for both customers and employees.” Huh?? How does one “partner” with a “function”?)

I loathe whatever forces of evil compel people to compete at bastardizing English into an alien landscape of jargon.

. . . says the person who happily adopts Twitterisms . . .

Ahem. Yeah, well . . .

Maybe my frustration has to do with the fact that I don’t tend to use LOLspeak in a professional context, but corporatespeak is supposed to be the epitome of professionalism.

Or maybe because I read in the use of these self-important-sounding words a neediness on the part of the writer to make themselves sound important. Nobody likes a braggart.

Or perhaps I distrust the coinage of grandiose words that I suspect could be an attempt to veil true meaning.

Or I could just be a style snob who prefers plainer language.

How might I rewrite that stumbling-block sentence above (using context from the article)?

Her determination and passion to make her company stand out through its focus on consumer-oriented design led to company-wide adoption of her strategy and to her promotion to senior vice president of customer experience.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but not all of those ways are equally elegant, and some are downright grotesque.

Such is the challenge of wordsmithing.