29 November 2010

Remember when I was going to post a flower project every Friday and then I stopped doing it because I kept forgetting it's Friday? Well, today I’m rectifying that, even though technically this is Monday.  Let’s just pretend it’s Friday, okay?  I could go back and alter the date so it looks like I posted this on Friday but that seems dishonest and technologically complicated.

Also, this project is no big whoop because I have pretty much posted it already. Only difference this time is that I’m using a plastic bag to make a bow for a wine bottle, because, let’s face it, there’s a good chance you are giving away some wine bottles in the next few weeks. Okay, Okay, Okay….not everyone drinks and gives away wine. You can slap one of these pom-pom flowers on a tasteful hostess gift like some French soap or a scented candle….but I like using wrapping wine in something that would normally end up getting thrown away. There is something really fun about giving away booze and garbage.

To make these, all you need is a plastic bag, some scissors, a 3# piece of cardboard and a piece of wire or ribbon or twine (pipe cleaners are my personal favorite). If you have ever made pom-poms out of yarn on your fingers, you will know how to do these already. Skip it and start making stuff already, wouldja?

First, cut your bag on one side to create one large flat piece of plastic, then roll your bag into a tube shape. Snip across the tube every inch or so. You will be left with something that resembles a pile of loose spaghetti or plastic ribbons. 

Wrap the individual strands around your 3” piece of cardboard. One at a time, or ten at a time, doesn’t really matter. Once the cardboard is done, slip the pipecleaner under the plastic ribbons you just wound up. Twist the pipecleaner so it holds all the plastic together, then, on the opposite side, exactly reverse from where the pipecleaner is knotted off, snip the bundle of plastic ribbons apart. Ta Da! 

Now you can add colorful plastic bags to the list of things hoarded inside your pantry. I know, I know, you have way too much space in there already. You're welcome. 
Better Homes & Gardens Salad Book, 1958

Y’all have to see this.

A random hunt for an old Thanksgiving cardamom roll recipe sent my skipping down the catacombs of my cookbook collection. You know what I found?  I’ll tell you — I found 128 pages of Straight Up Crazy.

Look at the page on the left. There are so many things wrong with this...

#1 Why is the word meat in quotation marks?

#2  If you were preparing to party down, would really want to whoop it up with meat? Much less meat in quotation marks?

#3 The photo above it on the page features ham and olive jello pâté. Seriously. Jello with ham and olives. I know food trends change, and you would probably be grossed out by some things that I find appealing, but seriously. Ham and olives in jello?
It blows my mind.

Who thinks of these things? And more important, who buys these books?

Oh, crap. I buy these books.

I don’t have a lot of warm and fuzzy memories of Thanksgivings of yore. As an adult, I have usually needed to work that weekend, and as a kid, Thanksgivings at Grandnanna’s house were usually spent locked in the basement with Orange Crush soda and a bucket of fried chicken. Don't get me wrong, neither one is a bad way to spend the day but they are certainly a far cry from Norman Rockwell-esque images of a cozy family gathered around a lace tablecloth strewn with harvest bounty.

Thanksgiving at Grandnanna’s house was always something of a dichotomy; the adults would enjoy elegant food and football upstairs while the kids would play Chucky Cheese style in the basement. Since no adults wanted to spend their holiday supervising the basement chaos, the room had to be thoroughly “kid proofed” with tarps and duct tape. The Franklin Mint collector plates were relocated to higher ground and the gun rack was double bolted. Even the ping pong table was put away for fear someone would misuse the paddles. Little did they know Tiny Alice was always crafty enough to unbolt the table legs and use them as stilts, repeatedly bumping her head on the basement ceiling tiles until that one time when she got a clump of hair caught in an air duct...but that's a story for another time. 

Early on in the day, the games started peacefully…Parcheesi, Yahtzee, Duck-Duck-Goose, Hungry-Hungry Hippos…by the time the food arrived we were on to Cowboys and Indians….eventually the little kids would hit their sugar crash and doze in the laundry room while the big kids would start playing dodge ball with Grandnanna’s bomb shelter supplies. Fun was had by all! Canned ham and old batteries would whiz across the room until someone, inevitably, chipped a tooth on a projectile can of fruit cocktail and the sight of blood would be enough for the door at the top of the stairs to unlock.

A stampede of kids would rush the steps and within a minute, the elegant party was overrun with sticky fingers and questions like Who is Tom Collins and why can’t I have one?

The rooms were lined with card tables displaying tall, gaudy flower arrangements clustered by colorful platters of finger foods. Blue daisies and Hawaiian themed appetizer trays were a particular household favorite, as was anything suspended in gray Jello or nestled in a ring of cheese salad. Mmm….who’s hungry?

Thanksgiving y’all – it drudges up all kinds of strange. The good. The bad. The gelatinous.

28 November 2010

I never claimed to have good taste.

Extensive glitter collection, yes.

Good taste, no.

But listen y'all, it's Chanukah, and if I want to remember the miracle of the Maccabees through a something four-legged, spangled and fabulous, well, I'm dang-well going to do it!

The pink elephant came about a few years ago following a long night of Disney's Dumbo, good gin and too many Velvet Underground albums. It's not unusual for me to messing around with terra cotta clay late at night, and that particular night, when inspiration struck, I saw the elephant on my kitchen counter...and boom! A menorah was born. 

They are easy to make. It's just a toy + clay + paint/glitter/fancy-top-coat-of-your-choice. Honest. That's it. If you are thinking hey, maybe I could make that then that's a good sign you should have made one already. 

So let's get started, shall we?

The base toy can be any plastic animal laying around the toy chest or your local dollar store (I happen to have an affinity for dinosaurs and rhinoceroses, but y'all decide for yourself!) For those who don't keep terra cotta clay on hand at all times, get yourself some play clay or make some salt dough. Doesn't really matter what sort of clay you use, just make sure it's something that will air dry (FYI: the stuff pictured is from Crayola and is called "Model Magic" and cost $3 for enough clay to make three menorahs using this method --my first time using it and I was impressed.) I could write a step-by-step tutorial on this, but I think you can get the gist of it by looking at the pictures. To summarize:
  • Lay some clay on the animal's back.
  • Stick some candles in the clay.
  • Let the candles dry.
  • Paint it up.
  • Snazz it up.
  • Light it up.
Dry time will vary depending on density and humidity levels, but I would allow a good 24 hours at least.

Tip: All clay will expand and contract as it dries, so leave the candles in the clay so you can be sure they will fit later.

Tip: If you find your clay/dough is too elastic to support the candle upright, wrap a small amount of the clay around the base of the candle before inserting into the base clay

Tip: If you have a hard time blending the spots where the clay ends and toy body starts, dribble on some white glue. That'll patch it up.

Tip: Glitter in two coats with two shades of the same color glitter --it will look sparkly and decadant, as well as eliminate any annoying glitter shedding.
Coat 1: Slather your creature with glue and liberally apply glitter. Dry.
Coat 2: Mix together equal parts glue, water, glitter in a shade slightly different than the first coat, and paint the mixture all over. Dry 24 hours.
Tip: Don't leave candles burning unattended. Do really need me to tell you this? If you are reading this, you should know this already. If you don't know this, then skip this project. You should be spending more time on fire safety than craft time.

Tip: Don't freak out about wax drippings. You spent $2 on making this. It's not your grandmother's menorah; it's a glittered circus animal.  If you really want to remove any potential drippings, you can dip the hole thing in hot water for 5 seconds and it will release in a jiffy. Relax, Max.

Tip: Display your finished menorah in front of a mirror. Reflected candlelight is ridonkulously beautiful.

Tip: You still here? What are you waiting for? Get started!

27 November 2010

Return of the Chocolate Turkey

Chocolate Turkey Cake, aka "belly ache on a plate"
Thanksgiving belongs to roast turkey and pumpkin pie, but Black Friday belongs to the Chocolate Turkey. He is rich and decadent and gooey and he's all Neil Diamond's fault.

May have mentioned this before... I grew up listening to a lot of Neil Diamond. A lot. If your Mom was half as crazy about Neil Diamond as my Mom was, you know every word to the Hot August Night album, including the song Porcupine Pie. Look, it's not his musical manifesto, but it includes as reference to chicken ripple ice cream, thereby making it Officially Awesome. 

Inspired by the song, porcupine pies have been a common occurrence throughout my life. So common, in fact, up until 5 minutes ago, I assumed everyone knew what they were. A quick google image search for "porcupine pie" has just revealed otherwise. Apparently, they are a little more unique than I thought.

Assuming they are new to you, I'll explain, in a nutshell, a porcupine pie is any sort of dessert with spikes. Sometimes a simple cookie crust filled with ice cream and shards of chocolate inserted all over the surface....sometimes a buttermilk cake that looks like a Thanksgiving turkey...sometimes a cheesecake rimmed with a mountain-like skyline of dark chocolate peaks...

Fun to make. Fun to look at. Fun to eat.

For a long time, we made porcupine pies for all kinds of special occasions...birthdays, report cards, first day of school, big business meetings...any time Mom wanted to make someone feel appreciated and celebrated. She didn't cook a lot, but she would fancy up ice cream at the drop of a hat. One time a guy came to read the gas meter and they got to talking...turned out his wife had just miscarried a baby...ten minutes later they were at our kitchen table having a heart-to-heart, both of them with a glass of chardonnay and him with a soup bowl of rocky road ice cream topped with a flourish of whipped cream, three projectile oreos, and, as always, a maraschino cherry speared on a plastic cocktail sword.

To this day, I am positive maraschino cherries served on plastic swords will cure just about anything. Served on ice cream or in a good stiff drink, their magical healing powers know no bounds.

Back to the turkey....these days I reserve ice cream as a comfort food and stick to making cake. A post-Thanksgiving turkey cake is one of my favorite things. It goes great with leftovers.

One year I tried to make this on Thanksgiving day, to serve as dessert and a centerpiece. Big mistake; #1 the heat from the candles and other food wafted up and melted the chocolate spears, and #2 no one wants to each chocolate after a big heavy Thanksgiving meal. Except me. I can eat chocolate any time. No time like the present!

To make chocolate turkey cake, you will need:
  • 1 bag of chocolate chips
  • wax paper
  • 1-2 flat aluminum pans
  • freezer space to store a flat aluminum pan (hot commodity in my house!)
  • a cake 
  • template* optional...(I used a turkey head template but you could skip that and draw it free form, or use any animal; what about about a dinosaur cake or a hippopotamus pie? Just about any creature with a strong silhouette and a lump shape in the middle would work!)
******** Pardon the photo quality here folks. My camera does not cotton to kitchen lighting :)

Use your microwave or a double boiler to melt one bag of chocolate chips in a glass bowl. Semi-sweet, milk, dark, white chocolate...doesn't matter, whatever you prefer, just get it good an melted.

Layer your template between wax paper and an aluminum pan. Follow the outline with a piping bag of melted chocolate (you can also skip the bag and use a spoon). Fill in the gaps,and freeze for 30 minutes. The end result will look like a hardened, lumpy turkey head. Just what you always wanted!

Spread the remainder of the chocolate over another aluminum pan lined with wax paper. After 30 minutes in the freezer, it should be hard and you can use a knife to draw vertical stripes down the length of the chocolate. Expect it to shatter. It's ok. The little bits are the tastiest.

Any cake or pie base will work, just make sure it is cool. NOT WARM. You will find that the chocolate shards slip in the cake easy, unless your cake is warm, in which case, it will all fall apart. It will still taste real good, but it will look all droopy like you left your cake out in the rain.

Slice, eat, enjoy.

Gobbly Gobble ya'll!

24 November 2010

High winds and a recent cold snap have ruffled up the bark on my neighborhood birch trees. It's gorgeous. I can't get enough of it.

The bark is every bit as beautiful as the foliage, and best of all, it peels off like paper! Honestly, you can grab yourself a hunk of birch bark and write your grocery list on it. Try it! The clerk at the check out line will look at you like you are crazy, but let's face it, the holidays are here and you probably are kinda crazy. So let's have fun with it :)

In addition to grocery lists, birch bark can be a great material for making art projects or dressing up your table. Here, I just hot glued to an empty ice cream bucket and Ta Da it's a rustic vase for a Thanksgiving centerpiece! Or glue on to cardboard paper towel tubes and you have some nifty new napkin rings. What about pictures frames? Or candle sticks? Or Christmas ornaments? The possibilities are endless!

Remember: Only grab the loose bark off the birch trees. Don't damage the tree by leaving big bald patches all over the trunk. That's not nice!

Tip: Birch bark carry dust and teensy weensy bugs. Generally nothing to worry about, but if you are going to use it on something used near food service, I suggest you dunk your loose bark pieces in a big bowl of water with a cap full of bleach, then let it dry out before gluing to your surface container. I used this all over a table service a few years ago and never noticed a problem, but you can never be too safe with it comes to tree critters.

Tip: Birch bark will eventually dry out and crack. To enfuse durability, soak your part pieces in a mixture of 3 parts water to 1 part Mod Podge (matt finish) or Acrylic Matt Medium for 1 hour, then use regular white glue to adhere to your your base. It's messy but that sucker will last for years!

Can I show you something?

Would you look what my Lola did while I was out?

She got a hold of a ten pound Target bag, knocked it off the chair, dragged it across the floor, shred the plastic bag, then tore a hole on the paper bag large enough to fetch herself some supper.

Only reason I bought this bag of Purina was because it was on sale and I heard good things. How was I to know she would go at it like a mange plagued raccoon?

Just look at this.

This, coming from a cat who hardly ever touches her fancy/healthy/expensive/vet recommended food. This, from a cat who turns her nose at the gormet Boeuf Bourguignon I prepare special for her birthdays and post-veterinary adventures. This, from the cat who spent her first night home from the shelter on the kitchen counter tearing up a cold rotisserie chicken just for the fun of it (didn’t eat a bite...just loves to hear the bones crunch!)

Purina, you have a new customer. If you carry any other cat food specifically manufactured for cats with a penchant for elaborate hats and Barry Manilow music, send me a coupon.

23 November 2010

Wine bottle + paper towel tube + plastic forks + rag scraps + glue + glitter = Happy Chanuakkah Y'all!
For an old wine bottle and paper towel tube, this menorah is pretty darn snazzy, not to mention ancient.

Out of my many menorahs, this one is by far my favorite. It’s an arts and crafts project from Ms. Finson’s 4th grade classroom. Yes, a classroom. Yes, a menorah in a public school classroom.*
* If that statement is controversial enough to get your girdle in a bunch, you should probably stop reading this before I get to the corn husk angels and Baby Jesus in a walnut shell. GASP!
Even back then it was unusual for a public school teacher to encourage kids to make religious objects, but Ms. Finson wouldn’t hear of it. She was 24, fresh out of the peace corps and didn’t take crap from anyone. She was a devout Christian, raised by Baptist missionaries in Equador and could quote the bible like it was a party game. She wore embroidered vests and let us listen to Marvin Gaye music at lunch time. She was cool.

Regardless of her own faith, she recognized there were a couple Jewish kids in the class who felt a little neglected around the holidays. It’s not like anyone complained, but after all the years of making mangers and angel ornaments, Ms. Finson recognized the need for change. Diversity is a good thing.

Lo, the wine bottle menorah was born!

Parents gave her flack. They didn’t like their kids making other people’s religious symbols or taking empty booze bottles on the school bus. Good arguments, to be sure, but Ms. Finson shut them up right quick by quoting some bible passage about Jesus celebrating Chanuakkah with a menorah and wine and spicy velveta dip or some business like that. I don’t really remember. All I know is that I made two mental notes; 1. Jesus was Jewish, and 2. Adults are far too easily impressed by people who can directly quote fancy words from fancy books. Guess that’s why attorneys get paid so much.

I could make a lawyer joke right now, but in the spirit if the season, I’ll pass.

If you want to make a wine bottle menorah of your own, just make some holes and slits in a paper towel tube and insert it over the neck of a wine bottle. As I recall, we covered the hole thing with scraps from a rag bag dipped in starch (I think this lovely striped piece was a man’s shirt at one point). The forks were originally cafeteria sporks with red tissue paper, but they got lost years ago and are now been replaced with glittered orange forks. The forks can be inserted and removed same as real candles. The shamash in the middle is inserted in a cork. Easy peazy and it stores nicely.

School crafts usually fall apart or get thrown out with January garbage, but this one is a keeper. Its been on display right next to an expensive store-bought menorah that no one ever notices…everyone asks about this menorah. Where did it come from? How did you make it? Can I play with the forks?

Kids and adults enjoy it equally. I enjoy it too. I love it. It’s my favorite.

21 November 2010

These are My People

My ten month old niece Abigail dressed as a flamingo (that's all my doing) held by my Uncle Tom dressed as a scary rainbow clown (that's all his doing).  
I could write a lengthy story about this but for once in my life, I'll refrain. I'll let the image do the story telling here.

Hilarious? Yes.
Disturbing? Perhaps.
My 2010 holiday card? Obviously.


19 November 2010

I have been so caught up in holiday hoopla that I was really struggling to come up with something floral to feature as a "Friday Flower" for today...but then, early this morning, Anne in NC made a comment on yesterday's pumpkin seed necklace post; Just yesterday I saw someone with a beautiful brooch made from pumpkin seeds, painted maroon with tiny pearls in the center. It was beautiful. I guess I'll need to get a pumpkin!

Well you just know what crossed my mind: DANG, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT?

An hour, 35 pumpkin seeds, some cardboard, dental floss and two glue gun burns later, guess what I'm wearing to work today!

The back is messy and Lola keeps trying to eat on the dangly bits...so I'll make a few changes next time around, like incorporating some paint and pearls, but all things considered this has been a very productive morning.

Thanks Anne!

18 November 2010

Y'all need to check out these amazing melon seed necklaces from Maya at Little Treasures. Can you believe she made her own beads from leftover seeds and magic markers? Too cool!

What I love about Maya's necklaces is the contrast. She infused these bright, happy, clean colors into the natural, pale seeds. Don't think I ever realized how beautiful seeds are until I saw those necklaces. They have the most interesting shapes and earthy, almost wood like tones. 

I wanted to try making one for ages but haven't seen a decent cantaloupe in this neck of the woods from months. Luckily my jack-o-lantern provided ample seed for just such a project. Pumkin seeds are big, bountiful and free!

Initially I was going to dye my seeds, but then I got on a gold leaf kick and well, you can see what happened. Before this year is out you'll probably see me gold leaf the light switches. That's not sarcasm, folks.

Regardless of any gold leaf or magic marker dye jobs, if you have never tried stringing pumpkin seeds, check out Martha's turtorial first. They are pretty easy to work with, but pumpkin seeds can split if you try to string them when they are 100% dry. I ended up leaving mine soaking in tea with a little vinegar and Mod Podge mixed in for added durability. Once the seeds are ready to go, piercing and stringing couldn't be easier. The process goes fast, especially if you mix in your own beads. I love me some pearls but I could imagine making this necklace with some nifty glass beads or even just some decorative knots.

I love the glitzy golf leaf next to humble seeds. I love the weighty, jagged edges contrasting against the delicate waxen floss. I love the way this pale and pretty piece looks on a dark and wooly grey sweater.

It's all about contrast.

This post will joining the party at these fabulous places. Take a moment to check them out!

16 November 2010

Aren’t these pretty? Cheap and easy too. There is something truly magical about candlelight reflecting off real gold. It illuminates with a different, special sort of radiant warmth. Magic like. If you have ever attended a candlelight mass at an old Gothic cathedral, you have seen the magic in action, all shimmery and golden. It’s stunning.

Switching gears from mass to menorahs....Years ago, I fell in love with a DIY menorah I saw in a magazine,  assembled from candles in mercury glass votives. I rushed out to the store to pick up the votives, but then saw the price tag….

Seriously, who pays $24 for four sparkly shot glasses? 

The overpriced store in question (I won’t be rude and tell you the full name, but it started with Pottery and ended with Barn) also had some lovely golden votives and vases scattered around a harvest table. They interspersed berries and bark and earthenware style ceramics...a really lovely spread, I must say. Decided I liked the gold votives more than the mercury glass and set on home to make them myself.

Two hours later, my golden modern day menorah was born.

You like my pink elephant menorah? More on her next week. I have lots of menorahs to share. Told you I like candlelight :)

People can be very intimidated by working with real gold leaf (that’s’ right, it’s REAL GOLD)…but once you realize how friendly and inexpensive it can be, you might just get addicted. You can use this same technique to gild frames, vases, sculptures, doorknobs, garden gnomes, cat beds...

This is a great first-time project for those who have never tried it before. Messy bits and imperfections only add to the charm.

  • 3 glass mason jars (drinking glasses or a vase would also work just fine)
  • 6 sheets of gold leaf (quality and cost varies…I can pick up a packet of 25 sheets at the art store for $6)
  • Gold leaf adhesive
  • Small paint brush
  • Votive candles
Tip: If this is your first time and you will use it more than once, buy a kit that includes gold leaf, adhesive and varnish. They usually run around $10, depending on leaf quality.
Tip: Gold leaf is very delicate. You will need to do this is a room without any wind/air flow. I would avoid working around small kids, at least the first time you try it. 
Tip: If you find that the gold leaf shreds when you touch it, that’s a sign your hands are too moist. Try picking it up with a paint brush, or put on cotton gloves.
Tip: You still a scaridy cat? See this video for a quick and easy demonstration. Don't be intimidated!

1. Line up your jars or glasses. Make sure they are absolutly clean.
2. Apply gold leaf adhesive to the inside of the jar.
3. Directions vary for every brand, but I like to do a very thin layer of glue all over, then go back to add more, letting it drip and dribble in places. This will help create a scattered/uneven coat. That's right, messiness counts :)

4. Follow adhesive directions, most will require the glue to dry for a while before proceeding further.
5.Tear 6 sheets of gold leaf AND the tissue paper away from the larger packet.
6. Smaller sheets are easier to work with, so I cut my sheets into quarters. You do what works for you.

7. Delicatly lift up one piece of gold leaf and tissue. Chances are it will still to the tissue and you won't have to touch the gold much at all. If your hands are sweaty or there is a lot of moisture in teh air, wear cotton gloves or clap your hands with baby powder.
8.Insert the piece inside the jar, using the tissue to press the gold to the glass. move it around for a minute to make sure the gold sticks.
9. Remove tissue.

10. Repeat the process until you have covered the jar. Or not. You could just do one patch and that would be neato. You could just do the brim of the glass. Or not. Y'all decide.
11. Remove all the scraggler bits by inserting a rag or washcloth inside teh jar and swirling it around. This should wipe away most of the excess gold crumbs. If you decide there is too much gold, you can go in and scratch it away.
12. Gold crumbs can get kinda messy, so you may want to do step 11 outside, but don't sweat it too much. Genuine gold crumbs are as dangerous as cracker crumbs. Except, somehow gold crumbs are a lot more fun to talk about.
13. Ta Da! You is a done one. Feel free to varnish the inside, just make sure, if you are making votives, that the varnish is non flammable. A little diluted Mod Podge would do the trick. You could even tint the Mod Podge a color and make it look like colored glass.

Folks, the fun never ends.

Now let's gild the lily! Tie a piece of simple jute twine around the rim of the jar, and tuck in some garden clippings. Did Y'all see this post of dusty miller on Design*Sponge...wow. I also love using rosemary around votives because the candle warm up the leaves slightly, filling the whole house with the most wonderful fragrance.Lavender is nice too. Just about any sturdy stemmed garden clipping will look good. I love mixing textures like this...the warm metallic gold against the cool velvety leaves...oooooo I could just swoon!

Wouldn't these make great gifts? 

You could gild baby food jars and pair with a few scented candles....or grab some garden trimmings (including these crazy turquoise berries) and a few cream colored roses and you have one stylish little nosegay to sit on top of someone special's desk.

Golden Happiness, one and all!

15 November 2010

Thanks, Rats!

Look what I found...

Took out the garbage this weekend and do you know what I found? The most extraordinary turquoise and purple berries. Aren't they wonderful?

Y’all, I swear to you these images are not photoshoped.  This is the real deal. They are turqoise and purple. Now, when was the last time you saw a turquoise and purple plant? If you can identify another plant that simultaneously blooms/or/blossoms/or/berries turquoise and purple, I'll send you a box of paper flowers (no kidding here folks, I have twelve tons of paper flowers and sincerely want to know if there is more of this stuff out there. Let's trade!)

The vine appears to originate right from the crack between my back fence and the garbage cans in the alley. Can you believe that?  Well you know I hopped on to do some internet research quick and found out they are Porcelian Berries, and are considered to be, get this: a weed.

A weed? Seriously? How could anything so beautiful be considered a weed?

So I called my friend Nancy who knows about these things, who confirmed, yes, they are invasive and undesirable, and no they are not unusual. Nancy also told me that, this time of year, urban alleys like mine are the best places to find exotic berry vines.

Apparently rats are the ones spreading all the fun around…they eat the berries and scamper away, only to, ahem, “release” the berries out the other end while foraging for garbage in the alley. She said the vines will sprout and thrive in the alley for years before anyone bothers to try and hack them down. In some cases, they may even grow into free-standing bushes and trees like the beautiful orange and red ones below. Well you know, the second she said that I had to go back out in the alley and take a look for myself.

She was right. There were berries everywhere. Blue ones, red ones, fat ones, tiny ones, and even some orange cherry looking things. I always knew there were plenty of vines crawling up the fences, but never took the time to walk around in the autumn to look for berries. Man, what have I been missing? And to think it’s all on account of the rats.

Thanks, Rats!

Look whats growing up my alley telephone pole! Grapes!!!

12 November 2010

Inspiration strikes in funny places. These gift bags were inspired by three things this week...
  1. Birthdays. Lots of them lately. Apparently I am drawn to Pisces. Who knew?
  2. Dahlias. Specifically THIS story on Design*Sponge on the glory of dahlias, courtesy of Studio Choo. Gahhhh, aren’t they gorgeous?! What would I would give to live in a floral studio like that...
  3. Buttermints. Do you know about buttermints? I think they might be a Southern thing. Or maybe an old lady thing. They aren’t so popular anymore…
Buttermints are those powdery, pastel colored candies that melt in your mouth. You used to see in a big bowl on the hostess table at restaurants, or, if you came over to Grandnana’s house, you would see little piles of them in cupcake liners all over the place…the coffee table, the end tables, the dining table, the breakfast table, the ledge in the hall, by the front door…even on the back of the toilet tank.

Help Me Rhonda, how that woman loved her buttermints.

She thought keeping them in a single candy bowl would breed germs, so she used little disposable cups instead. Not a bad idea, only problem was, Grandnanna was obsessive about everything matching. It would be a cold day in July before a blue cupcake liner made it into her pink kitchen. The woman refused to serve food with ketchup at the kitchen table because it clashed with the décor. I’m not even kidding.

Needless to say, she always kept a variety of cupcake liners on hand. They didn’t make a lot of color/pattern options back then, so if you saw something nifty you just picked them up and saved them until Grandnanna’s birthday. She would get mad if you bought her a real gift, but simple indulgences like cupcake liners and heavy duty aluminum foil were greatly appreciated.

Ramble Ramble Ramble…because I inherited every breed of crazy from Grandnanna, it’s only natural I also inhereted some of her cupcake liners and started a collection on my own. Eventually the collection got so big I had to curb it by setting a $1.00 a packet limit on all new acquisitions. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, the fancy department store down the street, the one with the great kitchenware departments where I’m always buying registry gifts, is always selling cupcake liners on clearance and they are always priced 89cents. Polka dots, checks, and stripes…it’s different every time. I can never pass them up. One time, I passed up on buying some Laura Ashley style pink pansy print cupcake liners, and I swear to you, an hour later I was craving buttermints so bad I had to take two buses to get to a greasy-spoon diner where they keep them at the hostess stand.

It was totally worth it.

Making these is so easy. Just grab a lunch sac, some twine, hot glue, and of course, cupcake liners! I make bag handles just by gluing the twine to the inside of the bag. This is gift wrap y'all, no need for long term quality here.

If you want to be thorough about things, use an existing shopping bag like the white one above. Whatever you do, don't just go out and buy a gift bag! True Craftmeisters never buy bags or ribbon. It's the law, y'all.

Ruffles work wonders! Just pinch a cupcake liner or two and hot glue to end of some rustic old twine. Ta Da!

11 November 2010

Chances are, if you are reading this, you are an artsy type who knows how good it feels to receive feedback on your work. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to read a comment that says That’s cool or I might just try that.

If you have a blog, you know what I mean. It's awesome.

Well, with that in mind, imagine how thrilled I was when I got an email from Leah, who has been living and working in Costa Rica for a little over a year now;

I work in Los Guido, a neighborhood that started as a squatter community of mostly Nicaraguan immigrants. My roommate started a Tutoring Center where kids are welcomed to come and get help on homework, studying, etc etc etc.  And so for the past year I have had the pleasure, for an hour twice a week, of being able to take a break from practicing syllables and making math practices to lead the kids in a craft.  They love it, and so do I.  It is quite challenging to weekly come up with new ideas that can be done on the cheap, or better yet, for free.  I really try not to buy anything, recycled and donated materials only, so finding your "Garbage Flowers" was such a sweet surprise.  We used them to make a tiny mural in our modest yet joyful Center.

Y'all, my heart just melted when I saw these flowers. Just look at those babies! Can you imagine anything more beautiful?

I can't take much credit here, seeing as I did not invent garbage flowers and I didn't have any role in the creation here, but just the same, I am smiling ear to ear thinking that post was one drop in a bucket of beauty. Thank you for sharing Leah, you have made my day many times over.

To learn more about the Tutoring Center, check out Leah's roommate Krysta’s blog, El Trampolín. Reading about her adventures in Costa Rica and the lives they are touching, the lessons to be taken from the community around them…well, it just warms my heart knowing there are good people out there doing great things. 

The Tutoring Center is part of a larger non-profit organization called Students International. If you or someone you know is interested in helping make a positive, sustainable impact in a developing country, join them on facebook, check out their website, or make a donation.

Thanks again, Leah!

10 November 2010

My Cat is a Fanilow

(music, lyrics and vocal arrangement courtesy of internationally renowned superstar, Barry Manilow)
Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl
With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there
She would merengue and do the cha-cha
And while she tried to be a star
Tony always tended bar
Across the crowded floor, they worked from 8 til 4
They were young and they had each other
Who could ask for more?

At the copa Copacabana
The hottest spot north of Havana
At the copa Copacabana
Music and passion were always in fashion
At the copa.... they fell in love…

With a hat-loving cat named Lola, it was only a matter of time...

Her name was Lola... she was a show-cat! ...was Rachel’s comment on September’s feathered creation.
I can see your cat wandering around your place with a giant feather headdress…came from Leslie (aka. PartyMom), earlier this week.

So obviously, this needed to happen. The masses demand it.

OK, so, maybe “the masses” is two people, but I take all y’all’s comments very seriously! And besides, Lola loves her hats almost as much as she loves Barry Manilow.

There, I said it. My cat is a Fanilow. 

06 November 2010

It's that time of year again.

Halloween has barely past. The candy is off the shelves, the tinsel is moving in and White Christmas is now on television.

It's not my personal favorite movie, but if it's on the color TV, you can bet good money I'll be glued to that screen long enough to watch Rosemary Clooney come out and sing Sisters, Sisters. Screw the skinny little blond snippet. Rosemary beats all! 

Please note, if the skinny blond snippet was your favorite sister, you probably just got offended. I deeply apologize. This deep seeded rivalry between Team Rosemary and Team Snippet goes back to ancient times. Let us look past our differences and unite together in this season in peace. 

Just as long as the uniting part goes down while listening to Christmas with Rosemary Clooney.

Also, please note, I'm not going to link to the real scene, because if you don't know the scene in question, you should just stop reading this and go watch the full movie.  

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the Haynes Sisters"
Now, I'll bet I have watched that scene more occasions than I can count, and yet, every time I see it, I once again ask myself the most important and pressing question of our time:


And thanks to the internet, now I know. They can be found hereherehereherehere.

I know plenty of women who have wonderful memories of dancing to Sisters, Sisters with their sister on the living room rug every December. If you are one of them, and you are in the market for an opulent gag gift, well, I think I just ticked one line off your holiday shopping list. Your welcome.

Speaking of holiday shopping, I could really use a new feathered headdress. 

Not the type of thing one can show off at the office Tuesay morning, but gosh, wouldn't it be fun to wear one with your bathrobe while your picking up around the house?  Can you imagine how glamorous vacuming could be if you were wearing one of THESE? Or waving hello to your neighbor, Mr. Katzendanner, while taking the garbage out in THIS

Or, just screw the outfits and go for decor! Necklamann's has a tremendous selection of fabulous feather goodies at reasonable prices. What about sprawling an ostrich fan across the mantle, or getting yourself a Bernadette to display a feathered headress on your dinning room credenza? Or, hey, how about an ostrich headdress on top of the Christmas tree? Now we are talking! 

And now you know where to get it. You know, in case you were wondering...

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