30 July 2010

As mentioned earlier, these garbage flowers festoon the bars on the front windows of my basement apartment. At the risk of tooting my own horn (toot! toot!) I just love how these flowers came out; they look awful nifty, cost $2 in materials, start conversations with the neighbors, and most important--they make me happy every time I walk through my front door. Beat that!

Minus a $2 bolt of 20gage wire, these were made entirely from materials I had around the house or was planning to discard. If  you are thinking about making garbage flowers, I would challenge you to do the same --I promise you'll be impressed with the results and proud of your resourcefulness!

People making stuff out of nothing is as beautiful as it gets, at least in my book. If you gravitate towards this type of work you have got to check out the Magpie Art Collective in South Africa for some Dang Serious Inspiration.


1. Get yourself a heap of plastic bottles, some spray paint*, 10” pieces of wire or sturdy pipe cleaners, and if you like, put some old chop sticks in the dirt to use as a drying rack later on.
2.  For a two-tone effect, paint the ends of your bottle and band in the middle.
3.  Paint the entire bottle in a second color. This will be the background.
4.  After it dries, cut in half.  Kitchen shears were the best cutting tool for me, but you can also use an Exacto knife or manicure scissors to do some kickass fine detail work like this dude.

*A note on paint: I used spray paint because I like the gradient effect and happened to have some open cans around. However, spray paint is highly toxic and should never be used indoors, around children, or children-with-fur who have extra sensitive noses.  It’s also mighty bad for the environment so try to find the least harmful option available (Krylon’s water base latex for around $4.00 a can isn't too shabby).  Most any acrylic/brush paint will stick to the bottle but you'll need to test durability if your flowers will need to last outside in a rainstorm. These look wonderful and appear to be done with kid's tempra paint.  Y'all will have to decide for yourself.

5. Take the bottom half of the bottle and make a bunch of vertical slices along the bottle walls. Cutting lazy curves and pointy ends gives some nice results.
6. Spread it out flat. Cool, huh? Poke two holes in the center if you plan to wire it to s a stem.
7. The spikey flowers like this may not look the greatest individually, but in mass they are really striking.  We took a few of these and added them to a simple potted plant as a gift for a friend’s gallery opening.  It sure looked neato.

8.  Take the top half of the flower and cut toward the opening, alternating small square strips, with larger rounded ones. Experiment and find your own pattern.
9.  Finish by pulling back the larger petals, while the smaller petals remain standing up. Ends up similar to a daffodil.
10. Aww, aren’t they sweet?

Bag Lady Flowers
Did your Brownie troop make these out of old shopping bags? Mine sure did. These are so easy I feel redundant just typing the instructions.

11. You need lots of plastic strips about 1" wide. Best source for this is cut-up plastic grocery bags. I wanted some extra color so I bought a six-pack of plastic Hawaiian luau leis from the party section at my local dollar store.  Snip the inner string and they will fall apart into strips.
12. Size is up to you, but to make a dense flower the size of my hand I needed about 3 yards of 1” plastic strips.
13. Wind your ribbon around a 3”paddle (just a piece of cardboard is fine. I used the tag from the dollar store).
14. On one side of the paddle, use a 10” piece of wire (or pipe cleaner) and tightly bind together all those strands you just wound up.  Twist. Twist as hard as you can without breaking the wire and you will end up with a wonderfully poofy flower in the end.
15. On the reverse side, snip the ribbons right down the middle and bundle all the loose 'petals' together.
16. About a half inch up, wrap one length of the wire around the bulk of the plastic as though you were making a tassel or a broom.
17. There you have it. Wouldn’t one of these look dandy on top of a box gift wrapped in brown paper or newsprint? Especially if the flowers was made out of dirty brown bags like the ones from my grocery store. I like to keep these tied in random spots around the house because they make me so happy.

18. Double down! Layer the Bag Lady flower right in the middle of a Spikey Flower.
19. Make an easy bouquet by wiring them to the stems of a faux flower bunch from the dollar store. I just pull off the silk flower heads (easy) for other projects, and keep the plastic stems.  They are surprisingly sturdy.
20. Add some glitter. Just before you wind the ribbon around the paddle, add a little bit of discarded X-mas tinsel.
21. You could go crazy painting the bottles before you cut them, but I also found just a few white dots before spray painting was nice too.  Lily like, if you ask me.

See them in action! 

27 July 2010

...Shoo Fly Shoo!

  • How can you bedazzle a gloomy basement apartment with bars on the windows?
  • How can you unleash your inner farmer when you don’t have any land or cute overalls?
  • What do you do if you live in the city, under the shadow of a giant cathedral and NOTHING will grow?
  • How can your home make you happy?
A: Garbage Flowers.

My street gets a lot of foot traffic and I’m so tickled when people stop to pay a compliment or ask about them...where'd you get them? how'd you make them? how much water did you have to drink?... It’s very flattering, and more important, I’ve met all sorts of people (a real treat for city living). And, not only have I met the neighbors, the neighbors now think I am one of those eco-chic-and-well-informed people who spell green with a capital G.

I'm still working on it.

Oddly enough, first time I saw a garbage flower it was on a farm, or, to be more precise, a hog shed. Theory was the shiny flowers would attract birds, and birds would eat the bugs that came with the glory of raising livestock (read: maggot laden poop by the truckload). Don’t think the flowers worked on the flies but gosh that was one good looking pig pen.

Fast forward 20 years...walking by Anthropologie and look in the window and BOOM THERE IT WAS: a billion fabulous garbage flowers and not a dirty hog in sight! It was stunning. Could hardly hold back from ripping them down from the display. It was so well so executed though, it didn’t even occur to me that I could do this at my house.

Shame on me.
Two weeks later, we were visiting friends in Oak Park and crossed an elementary school, and there, behold, the most fabulous technicolor extravaganza you could ever hope to see! Those kids had COVERED their schoolyard’s chain link fence in garbage flowers, even brighter and more beautiful than the Anthropologie installation. There were hundreds!  Best part was that every flower was different. The bottles varied from liters of soda pop, to milk jugs and yogurt cups. And the painting was clearly, lovingly, mixed by tiny little hands. Man, was it gorgeous! Hats off to the art teacher at that school. If those kids felt half as inspired as I did, that teacher deserves One Heck of an award.

I walked away from that fence feeling like I ate a rainbow.

I wanted more. Now I just knew I needed to replicate it at my apartment. No chain link fence on my property, but the bars on my windows would do just fine!

One month, 5 cans of spray paint, 80 pipe cleaners and A Heap of recyclables later, I have my very own garbage flower display! They make me happy every time I walk through the door.

Directions on how to make them for yourself. Bars on windows not included.

26 July 2010

One day I’m going to write a post called 100 unusual ways to use Coffee Filters

They are absurdly useful. The fiber quality on these suckers is so amazing it’s hard to believe they are Dirt Cheap. And I just love making flowers because, besides being beautiful, this is one of those projects where messiness only enhances the final result. You don't have to be nimble fingered to be proud of what you made.

If you have little ones at home, I suggest you check out some of the many similar tutorials aimed at kids. This is also a great project for  parties or as baby/bridal shower centerpieces. Years ago, three of us got an assembly line going and knocked out 15 centerpieces in an afternoon for an event that eventually became known as "The Purpleist Bat Mitzvah in East Jersey"
....but I digress.

This project is not new. First time I made coffee filter flowers was with my Grandnanna in the early eighties. They were yellow, to match her all yellow living room, of course. We also made pink ones out of pink toilet tissue to go in her pink kitchen, but that’s a story for another time. All I know is that when we finished those yellow flowers, she put them in her fanciest crystal vase and they went straight up on the mantel. 

That's right: The Mantel.

Right there next to the ash tray and the wax grapes and the painting of a Parisian bridge on black velvet: My Flowers. I never felt so special in my life. 

They stayed there up on that mantel several glorious years, until one winter day in 1987 when Grandnanna discovered “a crazy mustache man with long fingernails and a tambourine!” living in her basement.

Y’all, I’m not even joking. If you have a crawl space, go and check it for crazy shit or people with mustaches right now. You’ll feel better.

Anyway...Mustache Man had been there for months. Totally undetected. Neighbors later reported hearing a tambourine late at night, but by then Grandnanna had taken off her hearing aid and never heard a thing...until one day she ventured down for holiday decorations and found him there in the crawl space, eating pork rinds and reading Kafke (seriously, Kafke?)....so she screamed, he screamed, someone threw an Easter basket, and then Mustache Man went crazier than a blind dog in a meat house, running all over, knocking over furniture, screaming and shaking his tambourine.  He grabbed two things before he reached the front door; Grandnanna’s purse and the crystal vase with my yellow flowers. 

Yeah, in retrospect, I know he grabbed the vase because it looked easy to pawn, but when I heard the story, my ten-year-old ego assumed it was a sign my flowers were in hot demand. Obviously. 

To my logic: People who like mustaches + People who like pork rinds + People who like tambourines + People who like Kafka = People who will buy my flowers. Clearly.

An empire was born. 

I  entertained visions of people across the nation, sitting down on their elegant sofas, eating pork rinds, gently tapping their tambourines in praise of the flowers up there on their mantels. I was going to start a decorative movement! The plan for this craft-tastic empire was simple: get Hallmark to sell them in their stores and offer a free brownie with every purchase. All I needed to start the movement was time, coffee filters, and a whole lot of brownies. Twenty years later, I’m still working on it.

Hallmark: call me.

Y’all: grab your tambourine and join in the movement!

color your coffee filters 
1.  Gather your coffee filters (5 per flower), mid-tone marker (orange), light-tone paint (pink).
2.  Use the marker to darken the edges of your filters. Sloppiness is fine. Save time by stacking a few filters as you use the marker.
3. In a plastic cup, add 1 teaspoon of paint to 1/4 cup of water.
4. Crinkle up a wad of filters and dunk in the paint. Let it sit there a minute and take a load off. The longer you leave them in there, the more paint they will absorb. I like to stagger my timing so I get variations on the same color (you'll see that come in handy in a sec)
5. Remove from paint, wring thoroughly, hang dry in the sun.

If you prefer a more muted, ombre effect, check out this alternative method.

assemble your flower
6. From here on in, think of your filters in 3 separate groups
* Tier A, one filter, darkest color
* Tier B, two filters, medium color
* Tier C, three filters, lightest color
7. For a jagged edge like a peony, fold your filters and snip away at the edges. No need for perfection here.
8. Keep them in line!
9. Take Tier A (the darkest filter), scrunch and twist. You'll want a good inch of twist at the bottom. Notice that the filters stay in place without glue. Magic.
10. Take Tier B (the two medium filters and snip a pea-size hole in the middle.
11. Insert the pointed twist of Tier A inside the tiny-hole of Tier B, and twist it all together. Again, you will want a good inch of twisted stump at the bottom.
12. Yup, repeat the same process with Tier C.
13. Bind with a pipe cleaner and fluff to your heart's content!

14. Jagged edges.
15. Smooth, ink/marker on edges.
16. Scalloped edges.

make a bouquet
17. Take the heads off a bunch of silk flowers (I found this one at the dollar store)
18. Wrap the base wires around the stem
19. Secure with green floral tape. OK, so I was out of green floral tape and masking tape worked just fine.
20. Bunch them all together in a cool vase or martini shaker. If you made your flowers with little-ones, I suggest you display them in that fancy vase you inherited or got at your wedding that stays in a box in the cupboard. You know the one. These flowers won't get messy or wet, and your child will feel so proud when they see you making a fuss to display their work prominently.

Happy Aunt and Uncle Day!

OK, I didn't know there was a national Aunt and Uncle Day until now, but in my defense, this is my first! My niece isn't even a year old. Just look at that face. This calls for a tinker tape parade!
Why doesn't Hallmark sell cards for this momentous occasion?

12 July 2010


Someday, at 6am, go to the corner of Rush and Division and prepare to see some odd sights;
rejected frat boys strangling out of the bars they walked into eight hours earlier…
ladies wearing six inch heals, tip toeing around the vomit spot in the doorway…
bus boys hosing down the vomit in the doorway, whistling at the ladies in six inch heels…
and Old McDonald.

Saturday Mornings = Urban Farmer’s Markets

The town is crawling with them. They block off major streets just to facilitate the occasion.  It's wonderful, and there are THREE of them within an eight block radius of my apartment alone. THREE! And it’s not just one of those skimpy farm stands where you bag your own apples. No Ma’am, this is serious business. We are talking about eggs laid by CHICKENS WITH NAMES. Not to mention cheeses that smell like feet, soy bean soap, elk meat, chocolate covered coffee beans, rhubarb-strawberry danishes, warm buttery croissants, Casablanca lilies as BIG AS YOUR FACE…and of course, fresh, local, organic produce in every shape and color you can imagine. Plus, (HELLO!) you get to try all the stuff. What more could you ask for?

And you know what --it’s not just about super fresh fruit and veggies, or free samples, or the economic savings (most stuff is 10-30% less than the local grocery store), or even that you are buying your food from the person who grew it; it’s about a mass group of people who are happy to be there. They are crowded, chatting, squealing, dodging strollers and small dogs, but they are happy to be there. Together. A community.


10 July 2010

Welcome Home Bird!

I love cat-sitting. You know I love almost as much as cat sitting? Cake.

My friend Kiki Bird went away for a week and left me in charge of her children-with-fur, Tzeitel and Yentl. Obviously I wasn't going to let their super-model-quality good looks go undocumented and we spent most of the weekend taking pictures and laying in sun spots. A good time was had by all. 

When Bird got home, we had a feeling she was going to need a pick me up.

Enter: Cake.

To be specific, yellow sour cream cake with chocolate frosting.

I know.

You want some.

So what if it was just a doctored up box of cake mix and a can of frosting --it took 10 minutes of prep time and tasted amazing. I can’t explain why rainbow sprinkles make everything better. They just do. It’s a scientific fact.

We made tiny slits in drinking straws to serve as the base, and then cut letters from a colorful slop mat used in the Great Crayon Melting Experiment of 2009, an historic event that resulted in the loss of hair and feeling in one finger.

Just as I finished the sprinkles, Tzeitel stuck her paw up on the counter, cocked her head to the side, and said, you know what, those sprinkles would look totally hot if you put them all over your face. Maybe you should slather yourself with that jar of Vick’s Vapo Rub and see if the sprinkles will stick. Its gonna look super cute  and it won’t make your eyes sting what-so-ever. And I was all, yeah Tzei, that's a great idea. Why don't you kitties give makeup tips more often?

Pretty sure my Crazy Cat Lady ranking just exploded.

Welcome home Bird!

07 July 2010

Skeletons and Ballgowns

Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.
— Mr. Rogers

There is a two week stretch every March where the bare-naked-sad-winter trees stand right next to the fat-fluffy-laughing-blossom spring trees.  What an odd phenomenon.  The laughing tree is in full bloom wearing a ballgown while the sad little barren tree looks on. Now that it’s July and all the trees are covered in green, I wish I could go back to that day in March and tell that skeleton of a tree not to worry, and that the laughing tree will loose all those blossoms in a few days and people will curse at the exceptional amounts of pollen falling out of that nuisance of a ballgown.

The laughing tree is annoying.

04 July 2010

I'm in Love with Liberace

I should probably be outside eating hot dogs and setting off fireworks, but for a number of reasons, including a scary policeman at my door, I'm inside chillin with Liberace.

I’m one of those people who gets the holiday spirit in July. Just when it is hot as a hair shirt outside, I'm inside, getting my jingle bells on. Never lasts long, just enough to trigger a craving for cold weather and the smell of gingerbread. Since neither one of those things is available to me at this time, I’ll settle for my favorite holiday album, Liberace Christmas.

Confession: that Christmas stuff is misleading. Truth is, no matter what time of year, I can't get enough Liberace. So what if I’m not his type. So what if he’s dead. I adore him.

Just look at this man! Do you see an insecure gay polish kid from Milwaukee? Didn’t think so. Why his music doesn’t play from every store and restaurant in the Western Hemisphere, 24/7, is baffling. The man was a genius. A massive, witty, giggling, fruit-filled, rhinestone-studded genius. And it’s not just that the dude could play the piano wearing cocktail rings the size of tangerines (not even kidding), the core of his talent came from his unapologetic happiness.  He didn’t just sing or speak or preach the word; he lived it. He flaunted it. He dismissed (or sued the crap out of) anyone who judged him for it. He was an entertainer in an era when people were heavily discouraged from being themselves. He was ahead of his time.

Yes, he lavished himself with material riches. Yes, he makes Donald Trump look tasteful. Yes, his music was overshadowed by the circus of his lifestyle. No, he never apologized for any of it.

I’m in love with Liberace.

02 July 2010

Like Tyra Banks with Fur

Internet: meet Lola, my child-with-fur.

Don't worry, you will hear plenty about her in the future.

01 July 2010

If it's spangled, feathered or dipped in chocolate—I'll love it.
If it can be made on the cheap—even better.

Hey you! I'm Peaches: new aunt, artist, wannabe photographer, expert city dweller, World Class Diet Coke Connoisseur. My hands are always moving. My toenails are tangerine. I’m really good at procrastinating. Can’t remember the last time my sink wasn’t filled with dirty dishes. Didn’t get my driver’s license until a was twenty-nine. Did I mention it was my third attempt?

I don't own an alarm clock. I wake up to church bells and cat hair. I spend way too much time watching late-night reruns of The Cosby Show. But really I spend most of the time time feeling like a bucktoothed country mouse in a sea of uber-cool city mice. Folks round here make fun of me for using terms like y’all and beauty salon and peckerwood and please and thank you. It's ok because I make fun of them for using sausage as a verb.

People pay me to sit in an office where they give me stuff and say make it pretty. Yup, it’s awesome.  Despite the creative awesomeness of The Job, I need a place to write about cool crap, like my cat’s new party hat and glitter encrusted disco dinosaurs.  Welcome to my blog.
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