31 October 2010

Welcome to Hyde Park: expect long lines, political satire and serious candy.

Is there a neighborhood in your area that is known for spectacular Christmas lights? You know, the one where neighbors get competitive trying to out-do each other until one day someone ends up with a live alpaca* and a Santa sleigh on the roof?

You know, THAT neighborhood.  Well, imagine THAT neighborhood, but swap Christmas for Halloween, then throw in ten thousand children, 25 metric tons of candy, blaring music, a few fog machines, then shake and stir: welcome to Hyde Park!

Would you like to be known as "the house with the headless mummies"?

If you are ever in Chicago this time of year, you need to get your butt down to Hyde Park. No one does Halloween quite like Hyde Parkers. It's a point of pride. Everyone participants. Everyone. Even those of us who have been over-scheduled slackers who couldn't do more than make some luminaries and buy candy and feel bad because we got hungry and ate half the candy before the first kid rang the bell it lead to bellyaching on the couch for hours.


My friends who live in the suburbs tell me they most often recognize their neighbors by their car. Hyde Park folks most often recognize each other by their Halloween decor.

Real conversation:
"You know the Hirshes? The ones with headless mummies on the porch?"
"Oh yeah, the ones that dress their Labrador like a dragon, right?"
"No, no, that's the Calvin's house. The Calvins have the dragon dog and the Hirshes have the graveyard driveway."
"Oh yeah, of course, the graveyard driveway. Now I know."
One year my friend Josh sat on the steps of his apartment building and handed out candy dressed as a dead bride. Five years later, neighbors see him at the corner store and say  "Hey man, where is your veil?"

Harper Street traffic is shut down to make way for thousands of pedestrians and a 20' scarecrow 

The crossroads to all the Hyde Park Halloween hoopla is 57th and Harper. It's almost like a block party, but hardly anyone at the party lives on the block. See, trick-or-treating isn't exactly safe in every neighborhood in Chicago, so the Harper Street folks put on a show and welcome children from all over the city. It's a wonderful tradition, not to mention, Serious Business. Sometimes I think I would love to live on Harper so I could join in the spectacle, but then I think of all the time and expense that goes into the Halloween season and thank my lucky stars I don't live anywhere near Harper Street. Folks on Harper prepare for months. My friend Jeanna's parents rented a house on Harper a few years ago and reported purchasing 2,000 mini boxes of Milk Duds, only to run out of goodies by 7pm.


Lots of University of Chicago folks live on Harper Street, including the skeleton of a law student who died of boredom reading "Criminal Procedure and the Constitution"....and down the block, the Ghost of Davy Crockett who hands out candy alongside anecdotes of American history.

Election years are the best. Every two years, Halloween is guaranteed to fall within a few days of the election and it makes for great fun. In addition to its most famous **resident, Hyde Park is home to the University of Chicago, and like most college towns folks tend to be pretty politically active/aware. On any given day of the year, it's not unusual to find neighbors engaging in a friendly argument over foreign trade policy or health care legislation or religious convictions, etc.. Hyde Parkers don't shy away from confrontation, even when it comes to infusing political ideologies into their Halloween decorations. For a number of reasons I'm not going to show you pictures of any overtly political Halloween themed decorations this year, sufficient to say, there was and ample supply of zombie tea parties and references to a certain "witch" in Delaware.

Never a dull moment in Hyde Park.

* That alpaca on the roof story is totally true.
** President Obama officially resides in Hyde Park, although I have never tried trick-or-treating the Secret Service. Next year ;)

29 October 2010

Excessive alliteration – it’s a good thing.

Confession: I haven’t thrown out a ribbon out since 1988. 

Y'all, I'm not even kidding. It's nuts. We are talking eleventy hundred random ribbon scraps stuffed in drawers and boxes and hanging from hooks in the wall of my dining room. It’s not like they are especially impressive in quality, I just can’t bare the thought of throwing them out. The hoarding obsession started the first time I saw the ‘evil ribbon peddler' scene from Faerie Tale Theater’s Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, produced and hosted by the fabulously peculiar Shelley Duvall.

What ever happened to Shelley Duvall anyway?

I heart Shelley Duvall.

She's got those crazy eyes.

The eyes of a fellow ribbon hoarder.

I can tell.

OK, enough about Shelly and her crazy ribbon hoarder eyes....So, tradition dictates that the Maid of Honor collects ribbons from wedding gifts at the Bridal shower. This was right up my alley. Usually people tie them to a paper plate to be worn as a hat, or a bouquet to be used at the wedding rehearsal. Try as I might, BFF did not go for the hat. Poo on her! That hat would have been Hello Dolly! awesome.

Most of the bouquets I have seen are just pinned/stapled randomly and come out looking great, but I wanted something sturdy. Something that would last. A memento she could add to her children's dress-up cupboard down the road, or to stick in a vase in the hall bathroom. Nothing too precious, just sturdy with the silhouette of a traditional bridal bouquet.

Enter ribbon roses!

These are so easy, I feel stupid posting a tutorial but the results are really satisfying. I have been collecting wire edge Xmas ribbon for years in hopes of one day collecting enough to cover an entire tree with these ribbon roses. It's a lofty goal, but I'll get there one day. These babies are fast!

PS: If you are working with ribbons without a wire edge, make a simple running stitch instead)

1. Throw a Bridal Shower and collect the ribbons. All of them. Even the plastic purple ones. Make cat toys out of the not-so-pretty ones.
2. Pull the wire out (demonstrated on a 21" length of ribbon, but you get the drift.)
3. Keep pulling until it gets all rumpled up.
4. Wrap the wire around the end of the ribbon forming a stub.
5. Swirl the ribbon around like a cinnamon bun.
6. Pull the two stubby ends together and wrap with a pipe cleaner. The pipe cleaner will keep the shape pretty well, but if you are worried about long term use, reinforce with a safety pin or a dab of glue.
7. And there is your rose!
8. Repeat on all the ribbons and pull them together into a dense cluster. Dangle some longer green ribbons on the bottom if you like.
9. Give it to the bride and be prepared to sing She's Getting Married in the Morning allllllll night long!
Not much time for Halloween hoopla this year, a few festive luminaries go a long way!

Luminaries are so good at creating atmosphere, especially now that the days are getting dark and chilly. Candlelight alone is lovely, but candlelight glowing through crumpled wax paper bags is really something to be seen! The effect is almost like an old parchment paper lamp shade, but cheaper, prettier, and slightly spooky.

Tangent: Wax paper bags are amazing. They are great for wrapping gifts and organizing odds and ends like photos, receipts, and paper scraps. I like to use them to pack a snack and seal it with a ninja turtle sticker. And no, I don’t have children. And yes, I keep a giant roll of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stickers around the house. What? Don’t look at me that way. I enjoy a well packaged snack. Everything tastes better with ninja turtles. Also, wax paper bags are far more Earth-friendly than plastic baggies, and significantly cheaper when you buy them in bulk. For smaller quantities, you can find them at the grocery store, usually down on the bottom shelf. Y’all have to try them out!

To draw the spider web, just get yourself a permanent marker and go to town. I’m guessing that if you are reading a blog like this, you are probably comfortable with drawing a spider web, but just incase, I did a demo for you just like Mrs. DuCharm showed me back in the day. Just make a cris-cross and loopty-loo each segment. That’s right, loopty-loo I said. We are keeping it technical today.

And there it is! Make a bazillion of these and cover your house with them on Halloween night –a sure fire way to scare the kiddos!

Trick-or-Treat, smell my feet…for anyone in the mood for two minutes of literary candy, read "Haloween: A Love Story" by Rodes Fishburne. A personal favorite.

28 October 2010

I’m back. 

Spent some time down south with family and friends and food and babies and food and wedding hoopla of all varieties and eating food so good it would make your brains fall out. And oh, did I mention the food?

Makers of the Internet: you make it so easy to share pictures but why won’t you allow me to share stuff like smells and taste? Scratch and sniff screens or something? Taste-o-vision? You need to work on that, k? 

Maid of honor duties prevented me from taking many wedding photos but somehow I found time to capture about 900 photographs of my niece. That’s not sarcasm. Abigail is ten-months of crazy cuteness and is freakishly photogenic. And since I don’t see her nearly as often as I would like, well, the camera never left my side. If ya’ll lived in the neighborhood I would invite you over for gimlets and a 2 hour slide show of nothing but Abigail photos. You never had it so good!

This vacation wasn’t about sightseeing or tourist attractions. Just grocery stores and playgrounds and an occasional craft project. Lots of old, friendly, familiar things. Somehow seeing them through the eye of the camera makes me appreciate them a little bit more.

Ahem; the highlight reel:
(from left to right, top to bottom)

  • Went up to the mountains in search of acorns and came down with buckets of ash berries.
  • Laid in the grass and watched the clouds go by.
  • Renewed my profound appreciation for Sonic frozen treats (Dr. Pepper + Soft Serve Ice Cream = Oh Hell Yeah).
  • Watched the sun rise.
  • Met a chicken named Barbeque.
  • Took my niece to the playground then realized why my parents thought play dates were exhausting.
  • Went to six different stores in a relentless search for skinny brown ribbon.
  • Made a super cute rehearsal bouquet.
  • Witnessed the light of G-d shine through the clouds in such a way I was pretty sure the makers of biblical bookmarkers were going to pop out of the bushes any second.
  • Downloaded Elizabeth Mitchell’s new album Sunny Day to entertain Abigail, but now it’s a week later and I’m still listening to it.

  • Made Abigail a flamingo costume.
  • Got the chills when I saw Aunt Annie cradle Abigail like it was a living photograph of her cradling me at that same age.
  • Ate drool covered cheerios.
  • Gave my bouquet to a stranger in the hotel hallway. Dang, was that lady happy :)
  • Discovered that some ribbon just looks better off the spool. Thank you.
  • Nearly flashed the Groom’s Great Uncle while dancing the Hora in a strapless dress. Your welcome.
  • Saw my BFF marry a wonderful man.
  • Rented a car and drove for miles on country roads with the windows low and the radio high.
  • Experienced a slice of Double Fudge Coca Cola Cake at the Cracker Barrel. Listen good y’all: this thing is unreal.
  • Stopped to smell the roses. 

  • Picked Cotton.
  • Watched the willow tree I helped plant on the riverbank 25 years ago, finally grow tall and long enough to dip its branches in the water.
  • Made Abigail a Sir Mix-a-Lot costume (“Baby Got Back” is spelled out in rhinestones on her back. Bubba's request.)
  • Welled up with tears seeing Abigail use her Grandads’s walker like jungle gym.
  • Danced in the freezer section.
  • Enjoyed a manicure and pedicure from a delightful man named Choo, who said something in Chinese to his colleague that I’m 99% positive translated to “Dude, where’d you put the hedge clippers?”
  • Picked more cotton and ruined my lovely new manicure. Sorry, Choo.
  • Ran my fingers through the wheat.
  • Helped my BFF get ready for her wedding day.
  • Met cat named Magda who drools when she purrs. Yup, it’s awesome.

  • Watched Abigail flash a “Talk to the hand” gesture. The aviator glasses make it easy to think she really meant it, too.
  • Wondered why I waited so long to make homemade Chex mix. Holy celery salt, I have been missing a good thing!
  • Removed a chicken-nugget size ball of hair and earwax from Ol’Rusty Jr.’s neck. If I ever get as old as Ol’Rusty, I sure hope someone checks my neck for chicken nuggets.
  • Asked a horrified grocery store clerk “Where can I buy penguin?”
  • Lived high on the hog for the night at the Carolina Inn. If you are ever in Chapel Hill, GO THERE. The welcome cookie alone is worth the trip.
  • Ate an igloo shaped groom's cake.
  • Printed, folded, assembled and tied bows for 160 wedding programs. Then untied, unfolded, reassembled, refolded, and retied 160 wedding programs, when I realized I did it wrong the first time.
  • Ate fried chicken.
  • Ate boiled chicken.
  • Ate barbeque chicken (and no, it wasn’t the chicken named Barbeque).

20 October 2010

Land of Cotton

Away for a little while preparing for BFF's wedding this weekend, visiting with family, spoiling my niece, and playing with eldery dogs. More to follow soon!

15 October 2010

Why should little girls have all the fun? Big girls can wear hair flair too!

No pigtails required :)

Last time I went scouring for art supplies at the beauty supply store I unearthed these wonderful plastic flower hair barrettes for a buck a box! Cute huh? Just clip them on an oversize chain necklace and add a few accent beads. For less than $2 and 5 minutes you have a funky new statement necklace!

And the fun goes way beyond flowers. Bring on the bows!

In their usual place, hair bows make everyone's head look happy. But why not extend that happiness beyond a single little green bow on your head? Why not a WHOLE BUNCH of little green bows around your neck?

To make one of these ribbon chain necklaces, you will want:

  • A bunch of hair barrettes (I used 15, choose your length as you wish)
  • A bunch of 2” ribbon pieces tied into knots

I like pairing the bright shiny plastic with some dull, vintage bias tape, but that's just me. Next batch I think I'll try some juste twine or a strip of plaid flannel. Maybe some mohair yarn. Hmmm....


Good thing these pictures can do the talking. You know, honest-to-gosh, I have been trying to type the instructions on this one for ten minutes and the end result reads: put the doo hickey on the thing and slip over the thing with the hole and snap it up.

Very helpful. I have a new found appreciation for people who write books about crochet and macrame.

The essential concept is this: the ribbon knot goes through the hole of one barrette back piece AND THEN slips over the hole of another barrette back piece. Snap one barrette closed and use the other open barrette to loop on another link in the chain....continue until you get a circle.

Hope that makes sense :) You just have to try it and see how easy it is.

Speaking of easy...here is another version. Just gather some bits of black ribbon, tie them in knots and clipped on the barrettes. It's very Mid-Eighties Madonna, no? Who knew barrettes could be simultaneously opulent AND trashy?

Priced at $1.00 a box, and with so many colors, I see plenty more of these necklaces coming down the pipe very soon!


12 October 2010

There are two types of people in life: Bulletin Board People and Magnet People.

Bulletin Board People tend to be creative, spontaneous, and struggle to keep things organized. They like having everything in tidy rows but rarely have time to maintain such a lofty goal. They surround themselves with diverse, eclectic, exciting environments that stimulate thoughts and feelings. They build nests like muskrats and smell like fresh fruit strudel. 

Magnet People tend to be organized and efficient. They streamline their daily activities in effort to get things done. They thrive on feeling accomplished. They are methodical, conscientious, and constantly remove clutter and waste from their homes and minds. They excel at creative endeavors that do not generate mess, like interpretive dancing, knitting and playing the calliope.

Sometimes magnet people have bulletin boards, or visa-versa, but deep down, we are all one or another. There are no two ways about it. Which one are you?

I am a Bulletin Board Person. There is one in every room of my house, even the bathroom. Sometimes they are just a simple old frame or foam board, but I can’t go without one. I need my slush pot! A visual, vertical junk drawer, if you will. This photo is all nice and neat and empty looking, but give it ten days and this thing will be loaded. Have you ever seen the bottom of an old boat that’s covered in ten years of barnacles and sea weed and hairy sludge and somehow and old shoe got stuck in the crud?

Yeah, that’s what my bulletin boards look like.

With that in mind, knowing that this board will soon fill with visually unappealing items, I thought I would dress it up a bit with some flowers made from egg cartons. Cute, huh?

These flower thumbtacks are made form cardboard egg cartons and were inspired by these flowers by Michele Made Me (if by chance you have never been to her site, you really have to check it out. It’s one of the few blogs that gets my creative juices flowing every single time and I'm pretty sure it will have the same effect on you!)

So, as you can see, Michele’s flowers are far more impressive and complex than these, but I’ll cut myself some slack as a first timer. For ten minutes and zero dollars, these came out mighty cute!  Cutting the egg cartons was not as easy as I thought, although the cardboard took to the paint very nicely.

Egg cartons are the now officially the newest member of my club of waste/rubbish based art materials. I’m confident our first encounter will not be our last.

Does anyone else know of other fun things you can make with old egg cartons? I’m intrigued!

This project is linking to Craft School Sunday at www.creativejewishmom.com 

06 October 2010

Exploding Drinking Straw Lamp: A Tribute to Diet Coke
Full tutorial featured on Design*Sponge!

Did I mention I love me some Diet Coke? No, I don’t like it. I love it. Don’t judge. I know someone out there is reading this while sipping on a frosty glass of wheat grass juice thinking I am stupid for professing my love of a soft drink, but I don’t care. Our love runs deep and pure. They can take their wheat grass and suck it.

No pun intended.

When I tell you I am a “World Class Diet Coke Connoisseur” that is the living truth. I can tell from one sip how long it has been in a can, and in some cases, in what canning facility it was born. I can tell from the sound of a can opening if it’s Coke or Pepsi. And Pepsi, don’t even get me started on Pepsi! Don’t get me started on Diet Coke in plastic bottles either; plastic doesn’t compare to glass and glass hardly compares to can, but the real way to drink Diet Coke is by fountain dispenser. It’s hard not to get riled up just thinking about fountain soda in all its complexity and wonder. Topics like syrup/soda ratio and crushed ice administration methods have been known to spark passionate arguments in my presence. I could talk about this for days, but I’m afraid you all will think me strange.

Oops. Too late on that one.

I am embarrassed to tell you how much time and money I have spent over the years on fountain soda, but sufficient to say, it’s a lot. Fountain soda is an indulgence I never deny myself.  I don’t smoke or drink or gamble or partake in any other expensive or risky ventures, so besides chocolate and spoiling my cat, Diet Coke is pretty much my only vice. I feel bad just calling it a vice. Really, it’s an affordable luxury.

Because fountain soda is a near-daily indulgence, I know how quickly my delicious treat can be ruined by inferior carbonation. Soda served flat should never be tolerated, but slightly mediocre bubble activity has become an accepted colloquialism in our time. Luckily, my Uncle Rob showed me you can make up for bubbles with a genius technique–use a narrower straw. It has something to do with accelerated sucking speed and maximizing surface area exposure, but Uncle Rob is a major Smarty Pants and that is all above me head. All I know is that slightly flat soda tastes better with a smaller straw. Seriously, try it sometime. Hell, why don’t you try it now and treat yourself to this effervescent pleasure.

Why am I telling you this? Because if you, like me, enjoy fountain soda, you should save your straws. Keep a stash of smaller/narrower straws on hand (you can buy 100 for 85 cents at the grocery store) …and save the straws from the dispenser for your craft stash. I use mine all the time. I have also been known to buy small, colorful straws at Ikea and wash them out when I’m done. Compulsive, yes, but I have so many colors and sizes to choose from, I get excited just thinking about it!

There are lots of uses for straws, but this lamp is one of my favorites. Check out the full tutorial on Design*Sponge!

Look at Yentl jumping after that drinking straw! See, even kitties appreciate good design.

In addition to this lamp’s wire/twist technique, there are lots of fun things you can make.

What about a Garland?  Wouldn’t these look fabulous on a modern Green (Green with a capital G, mind you) Xmas tree? Or what about stringing them on the inside of a window? What about using black straws to look like little spiders and wrapping a few around an existing light fixture for a spooky touch?

Or what about attaching one to pipe cleaner and giving your cat her favorite new toy? (just be sure the pieces aren’t so thin that she chews off a piece).

Does anyone else out there find ways to glorify the remnants of their addictions daily indulgences? I would love to hear what you think!

This project is linking to Craft School Sunday at www.creativejewishmom.com  

05 October 2010

My Uncle Joe is what you call “a man’s man.” One of those cowboy types without the cows. Think Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County. You know, the artistic wandering type in a beat up truck. Hand rolled cigarettes. Leonard Cohen on the tape deck. Yeah, you got the picture.

In addition to being an accomplished artist, Uncle Joe is a brilliant man who always has an answer for everything. Want to know how a helicopter propeller works, or how to make gorilla noises, or why the soviets invaded Finland…just ask Uncle Joe. Get yourself a cup of coffee first because you’re going to be there a while. He has an answer and an anecdote for just about everything.

Back in the day, with no 9-5 desk job to pin him down, Uncle Joe would come and stay at our house for months at a time, usually arriving and leaving without any notice or fanfare. I loved his visits. Uncle Joe represented a whole world of creativity and imagination and thinking for yourself. He treated me like a grown up. Let me play with oil paint and power tools. Used curse terms like "ass" in my presence. My world was white bread suburbia; Uncle Joe brought pumpernickel from the city.

My favorite was when he would fetch me from school at the end of the day. Where I came from, school pickup was a daily parade where women would get gussied up in their finest jewel-toned 80’s track suits, hair teased halfway to Kentucky and pearl earrings shined up like headlights.  Nowadays, I admire a woman who puts herself together, but this wasn’t about making themselves feel good it was about the race. It was about winning. To these women, raising children was a competitive sport and those jewel tone track suits and ratty hair were the uniform. I wouldn’t call them trophy wives, more just, spoiled. Hell, I was spoiled too, and even as a kid I knew something was off when 100 women got together and the only noise was the sound of snapping gum.

It’s just not right.

So there among the line of teal tracksuits and beige cars would be Uncle Joe in his beat up truck, dressed in paint stained rags, chewing tobacco, Bob Dylan on the stereo trying to drown the sound of the howling beagle running circles in the back of the truck bed, better known as my first baby child with fur: Dawg E. Dogg. The final bell would ring and I marched out to that truck pleased as punch. Kids would gawk and the moms would scowl, but I didn’t care, I loved it. It was different and by my standard, that meant it was better.

One day Tiffany Groundhog came up to me at lunchtime. We called Tiffany and her three siblings the Groundhogs because their last name started with a G and her mother’s finger nails were strikingly similar to this picture of a groundhog featured in the school’s series of animal alphabet posters. We later found out that the image in question was not a groundhog, but a wombat. To this day the poster still hangs in place and was never rectified or relabeled for fear of messing up the d├ęcor. This is a pretty good indicator of how the school operated in general: appearance before accuracy.

The Groundhogs lived nearby, and even though Tiffany and I were not exactly friends, we were close in age and comfortable enough in each other’s presence to ask for an occasional ride to dance class or Miss Patty’s napkin folding lessons. Yes, I said napkin folding class. No, I’m not joking.

On this day, Tiffany approached me next to the handball court and asked if she could tag along for a ride home. Apparently Mrs. Groundhog was home with the carpet cleaners and could not leave for even a moment, for fear they would steal her stem wear. Of course, I told Tiffany it would be no problem. I would not want her mother to risk being robbed by terrorist carpet cleaners with a penchant for Waterford crystal. I told her to meet me at the flag pole, “My Uncle is picking me up and you won’t recognize his car. We can walk over together.”

Mrs. G, as we called her, was a former model and beauty queen who prided herself on keeping her home and family pristine in appearance. Ironically, her home was a "model home" exclusively decorated in shades of white and cream. The building contractors thought it would encourage prospective buyers to see the home’s potential, while allowing them to project their own style and personality onto the space.  Back in the pre-shabby-chic days, this was considered very avante gaurde, not to mention, totally impractical. Mrs. G loved the model home so much they bought it as is, white furniture and all. Once the Groundhogs moved in, Mrs. G had to employ at least three housekeepers just to keep up with it all.

Lesson: Four anxious children + white velvet couches is never a good idea.  Frivolous as she was, I sort of admired Mrs. G. She appeared to have the perfect life and the perfect home. Everything I was bad at, or felt insecure about, Mrs. G had in spades. Her biggest problem was grass stains. Although I was too proud to admit it, I worshiped her from afar in hopes I could be like that one day.

Thank you Lord for letting me grow up and gain some common sense.

When her children’s pageant coach told her they needed piano lessons to “keep their edge”, Mrs. G went into a flurry. She bypassed the Casio keyboard and built an extension onto the front of their living room to accommodate a baby grand piano. White, of course. Every week at 4pm the piano teacher would come over for an hour of lesson time, 30 minutes of which would be spent clearing the tablescape of silk flowers and photographs from the top of the piano. That meant that all four children split the remaining thirty minute weekly lesson. That meant 7 minutes each kid. That meant Tiffany Groundhog’s rendition of “Moon River” never made it past Little Miss Washington County. That’s a shame, really.  In later years, she moved on to exercise her vocal stylings at the school talent show, singing a rousing rendition of Like a Rhinestone Cowboy in spangled western wear. Tone deaf and waving the American flag, she resembled a patriotic, pre-pubescent, Texan stripper.

That afternoon, Tiffany met me at the flag pole, same as usual. I had been looking forward to seeing the look of horror hit her face when she saw Uncle Joe’s car. Tiffany was used to cream colored Mercedes, I knew she wouldn’t be caught dead in an old pick up truck. But you know what happened? She proved me wrong. She didn’t throw a tantrum and refuse to get in at all. She twirled her hair.


She went all giddy and girly and couldn’t stop talking. When her Mother was around, that child wouldn’t say Boo to a Goose, but in Uncle Joe's truck she wouldn’t shut up. She wasn’t really old enough to know how to flirt, but she tried awful hard.  It was embarrassing to watch. Like a puppy learning to lick his own butt.

“Oh my goodness, this vehicle looks so ferocious! Is it really safe for a girl like me to ride in?”

Shit like that.

I was furious. That ride home was MY time. Uncle Joe was supposed to be asking ME how my day went and what I thought about Ancient Mesopotamia, not Tiffany. So I did what any good adolescent girl does best.

I sulked.

The ride was less than 10 miles but it sure seemed like an hour. Entrapment does that to you. Tiffany kept going on an on asking him questions. “How long you in town?” “What do you think of my shirt?” “Do you think club soda will get rid of this lip gloss smudge?”

Uncle Joe eventually started getting uncomfortable and shortened his typically loquacious answers. At some point in conversation Tiffany asked him if he was married, to which he answered in a single word:


“Why not? I’ll bet your still looking for a good woman. You’ll find her, just give it time” said Tiffany, talking like she was some kind of tween Phil Donahue.

“I always say, ‘if you ever find a women who can change a tire with her teeth, then you just found my wife.’”

For a moment there, Tiffany looked perplexed, but then she shook it off and started in again with twenty questions.

I continued to perfect my sulking skills.

The Groundhog’s home had a long circular driveway out front with a small fountain in the middle. Tiffany’s three-year-old brother Jaysun (aka: Little Mr. Pink Tomato Festival 1989) was teetering on the edge. Uncle Joe, who never wore a seatbelt, was something of a safety nut when it came to kids. Upon sight of Jaysun teetering on the edge of the empty fountain, he hit the gas petal. Before the keys came out of the ignition, Uncle Joe leaped from car and grabbed Jayson, lifting him away from the fountain’s edge. Very heroic. In between my sulking sighs I squeezed in a moment to be impressed.

Within two seconds Mrs. Groundhog was on the front steps, screaming "HE’S TAKING MY BABY! STOP THAT MEXICAN! HE’S TAKING MY BABY!"

Based on her Jane Fonda suspender style leotard, I could tell Mrs. G had been working out to one of her aerobics tapes.  The sound of a high speed truck and the sight of a tan, bearded man in rags lifting her child off a fountain, somehow, gave Mrs. G the impression that a high end Central America style kidnapping was underway. Tiffany, thoroughly embarrassed of her Mother’s behavior and leotard, quickly explained there was no cause for alarm, all was fine, and she should go back in the house. Without saying one word, Mrs. G grabbed Tiffany by the ponytail and they hightailed it inside. Still sulking in the car, I rolled my eyes when I saw Uncle Joe checking out Mrs. G’s butt as she left. The woman was a humanitarian trainwreck but she had the thighs of a baby giraffe.

Two hours later, all was fine with the world. Dinner was over and Uncle Joe was in the garage helping me build one of those wooden dinosaur models. He explained that the secret to glue adhesion is high volume air surface exposure. I had no idea what that meant, but it seemed good enough for me. I heard the phone ring a few times, but someone always got it after the first ring and didn’t think much of it. It must have rang 20 times before it just plain stopped.

Ten minutes later we heard a car drive up, the door slam, and another one open. Then another door slammed. Then another one opened and slammed. Then there was shouting. It sounded like my mother’s voice was somewhere in the mix, which was highly unusual. My Mom was soft-spoken, not to mention bedridden at the time, which was not unusual. Her health was never good and my Dad was always making sure loud and disturbing noises were kept to a minimum, as not to distress her. Except for a series of internal speakers throughout the house set to play Neil Diamond songs, Mom’s favorite, there were hardly ever any loud noises around our house. This series of slamming doors was new and very scary. I looked at Uncle Joe for reassurance but he didn’t have any to offer. He told me to stay put and rushed off toward the house.

I darted for the tiny garage window to see if anything happened. The earlier discussion about Mexican kidnappings got me thinking and I wanted to keep an eye out. This stuff happened on The A Team all the time!

Not twenty feet outside the garage and Uncle Joe stopped in his tracks. My Mother’s bedroom window flew open, the screen fell out, and a blond head popped out of the hole: it was a Groundhog. The Mother. She was angry and pointed her taloned finger at Uncle Joe and screamed

Uncle Joe started laughing like a little boy who farted in church. He just couldn’t hold it inside. Eventually he calmed down enough explain that he ‘may have mentioned’ something about ‘marrying a woman who could change a tire with her teeth’ but how was he to know Tiffany was going to take it literally. He started laughing all over again.

Even from across the house, I could hear my Mother laughing in her room and clear across the house in the kitchen, my Dad was laughing too. Hard. It was a magnificent sound! There wasn’t a lot of laughing around our house at that time and it felt wonderful to hear it again, even if it was at someone else’s expense.

Mrs. G did not take to being laughed at and stormed off. An hour later she sent her husband over to teach my dad and his brother a lesson, but once they told Mr. G the story, the laughing started all over again. Somewhere along the way, they went out to the patio with a six pack and started talking about sports. What is it with men and sports? This man’s wife was running through our house screaming her head off less than an hour before, and now he was sitting on our porch happy as a clam, talking about NCAA Basketball. Typical.

I was still squatting in the garage when they finished the six pack and Mr. G drove home in the cream colored Mercedes. Things were better now, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to get in trouble for what Tiffany had done. Perhaps that makes no sense, but at the time, I was at that stage in of childhood when I thought everything was my fault. Slipping by undetected seemed like a good idea. Eventually I made my way up to the front door and slipped inside the dark house, down the hall to my room.

In the hallway, next to my door, I found something on the floor. Something sparkly and pink. It was a fingernail! A long, Lee Press-On fingernail just like they advertised on Wheel of Fortune. It must have busted off of Mrs. G’s finger when she was making a ruckus and opening doors trying to hunt down Uncle Joe. A week earlier I would have died for the chance to return such a precious valuable to Mrs. G. But now things were different. I hated that fingernail. I hated her. I hated all her spangled groundhog children, too. I stuck the fingernail in my jewelry box and decided I was going to hold it ransom. I was pretty sure she would be back for it. The bad guys always came back for their valuables. That’s how it worked on The A Team!

To my surprise, Mrs. G never came back for her fingernail. That means, for 20 some years there has been a broken fingernail in my jewelry box. Just nestled in there amongst the charm bracelets. It’s sat there for years, until today, when I dug it up, painted it, glued on a sequin and strung it around my neck like an Olympic medal.  It’s a little gross, I agree, but it makes me feel so empowered and proud. So free of expectations and obligations. Like riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.
...Like a rhinestone cowboy...

Yeah, I know you think it's weird and nasty to wear a 20+ year old acrylic nail that fell off a raging former beauty queen's hand, but you know what? I am weird. And nasty jewelry isn't always a bad thing. It's a reminder of where I have been and where I never ever want to go. And that, in my book, is a beautiful thing.

In addition to materials used to decorate the individual fingernails, I incorporated silver bits from an old earring, a navy blue pearl necklace with a 2" chain extender, and an old rhinestone flower broach/earring set. Of course, I lost one earring a long time ago. Total cost was under $5.00

1. Drill holes in your acrylic nails.
2. Decorate nails as you like. I used peach paint and silver glitter and sequins.
3. Insert jump rings through the holes, alternating with silver spangles (I salvaged off earrings, totally optional).
4. Attach jump rings to the extender chain of a pre-existing necklace. I liked the contrast between the dark/conservative pearls against the sharp/sparkly fingernails, but y'all will have to decide on your own.
5. Cover the top of the tuft with an old rhinestone broach. I just use the pin back on the broach to attach, nothng fancy. It doesn't look too pretty from behind, but it allows me to anchor the broach/tuffet/tassle of nails wherever I want it and keep it there. That's me, I like to keep things functional. Even my fingernail jewelry :)

04 October 2010

This last week has been a beehive of events and activities, severely marred by a flu bug that will not go away.  Shoo flu, shoo!  I have things to do!
Until I get back in the swing of things, wanted to share this little arrangement from a autumnal charity event. There were some beautiful, traditional style centerpiece arrangements on the tables, but we wanted add a special touch to the cocktail and accent tables.

Problem: no budget. Solution: grocery store gourds! These are so simple, easy, cheap, and elegant, fast, FUN, and to think you can get all the materials in the produce section!

No tutorial needed on these. Just drill 3-5 holes in the top of the gourd and insert the blossoms of your choice (drills are faster if you are making a bunch of these, but hammer and nail work fine too). Gourds and veggies like baby pumpkins, squash, apples, pear and eggplants work just great as the base, paired with hardy flowers like status, mums, roses, and dahlias. More delicate flowers like lilies and peonies will also work, but they fade faster. The flowers will extract water from the inside of the fruit/vegetable, slowly but surely, certainly long enough to keep them alive and kicking 12 hours or more. I took an eggplant home and it lasted for 3 days! If you don’t want to bother with flowers, you could grab supplies from the side of the road –what about a few stalks of feathery wheat with some pussywillow twigs, or a magnolia leaf? Or what about adding a guinea fowl feather, or a cluster of acorns? The possibilities are endless!

These were used as cocktail table accents, but can you imagine ten of these lined up down the middle of a long table? Or used at each place setting around a harvest or thanksgiving style spread?

It's the simple things, y'all :)
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