31 December 2010

The tooth fairy owes me

Yesterday's long-overdue visit to the dentist's office resulted in the loss of one troublesome bicuspid, and the welcome addition of a new and ferocious sweet tooth.  For most people, a trip to the dentist inspires a surge in flossing and responsible dental hygiene habits. For me, a trip to the dentist means out-of-control cravings for all things sweet and sugary. Hello Coca-Cola Cake!

It's way too intense for regular consumption, but my friend Noelleen requested it, and, honestly, I feel I am entitled to indulge my cravings. If I am going to wander around the house, toothless and slobbering, talking like a hillbilly beaver, I should enjoy the experience.

Hope you enjoy it too!

Old Fashioned Coca-Cola Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with 1/2 tsp of vinegar)
1 cup Coke
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 13- x 9-inch baking pan (I used a bundt pan here and it came out sloppy. In the future, I'll stick to the flat pans. This sucker is just too moist!)

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.

Heat butter, cocoa and Coca-Cola to boiling and pour over the flour mixture. Mix well. Add eggs, buttermilk, vanilla extract and marshmallows and blend. The batter will be thin with marshmallows floating on top. Bake for 45 minutes.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
4 tablespoons cocoa
6 tablespoons coke
1 box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix/melt first three ingredients in a sauce pan on the stove. Remove from the heat and blend in the sugar and vanilla extract. Spread on warm cake. Expect the cake to absorb some of the frosting.

Stick a fork in it.

Happy New Year Y'all!

PS: Anyone looking for a seriously nifty last minute New Year's craft needs to check out this amazing lantern from Alison over at Backstich Baby! Wish I had thought of this one myself. Seriously considering hanging one in my bathroom all year round :) Thanks for sharing, Alison!

30 December 2010

Candy Coated Anxiety

Who made "GET YOUR BUTT TO THE DENTIST ALREADY.” as one of their 2010 new years resolutions? Me.

Who waited to schedule an appointment until the last day of the year? Me.

Who is terrified and chewing out their anxiety on sweet-n-sour shoe leather candy? Me.

Who would be stupid enough to eat sweet-n-sour shoe leather candy, THE WORST possible breakfast in history of mankind, just before the dentist? Me.

And yes, those are Milk Duds in my purse.

And no, I’m not sharing.

28 December 2010

My friend Noeleen,snarling on her birthday and wearing a photo of herself snarling at a previous birthday.PS: I'll have you know, Noeleen authorized the public distribution of the photo above in exchange for my bringing coca cola cake to her boyfriend's NYE party...!!BARGAIN!!
Oh, how I love me some party hats. I jump at any excuse to make them and wear them...

Birthdays = Party Hats
New Year's Eve = Party Hats
Good haircut = Party Hats
Bad haircut= Party Hats
Visit to the dermatologist = Party Hats
Discovered the cat likes Barry Manilow music = Party Hats

There is never a bad occasion. Never. And I’m not just talking about kid's parties either; adults enjoy part hats just as much, if not more! Well, maybe not all adults. Maybe just the cool ones.

The nice thing about party hats is they lend a sense of occasion to any location. When my friend Noeleen had her birthday party at a restaurant last summer, decorations weren’t really an option. Too much fuss. So, we brought the party to the table and wore the decorations on our heads. So what if the other tables looked at us funny? Fun was had by all!

My family wearing Abigail themed party hat's at Abigail's first birthday. Note every adult on the property that day was wearing one of these hats. The only ones *not* wearing them were Abigail and Old Rusty (Old Rusty the dog, not Old Rusty the Uncle)

Not long ago I was down South celebrating Abigail’s first birthday. Of course, there needed to be custom hats. And of course, everyone wore one except Abigail. Apparently, baby does not like anything touching her head, not even a custom party hat! Oh well, she had plenty of fun looking at all the adults looking like goofy Carmen Miranda types.

As long as we are on the subject of Abigail’s’ birthday, can we all just take a moment to admire my niece? I mean seriously. Just look at that pudding face!

There are lots of ways to make custom party hats, but I find the easiest, sturdiest, and least expensive bases are those latex foam visors you find at craft stores. I try to stock up when they are on sale, buying a bag of ten for $4.00 or so. You can also use disposable paper party tiaras from earlier parties, or anything that will sit securely on the head. I have even used paper cups in the past....just make due with what you have.

Embellishments are unlimited! The secret is to find one or two lightweight elements that take up a lot of space + one or two sparkly/unique elements that will stick out from the pack. The foam rubber is especially nice because you can piece it with pipe cleaners or silk flowers, but glue and duct tape will also get the job done.

Think about incorporating...
  • Photographs
  • Letters and Numbers (Hello 2011! Or what about celebrating Alex’s Birthday by putting one big A on one hat + L on another, etc etc.)
  • Plastic bottles cut into flowers
  • Coloring book pages
  • Feather boas cut to bits
  • Silk flowers
  • Paper doilies
  • Holiday tinsel garland
  • Small toys
  • Tulle netting
  • Monopoly money
  • Playing cards
Just about anything in your waste bin that doesn’t smell or stick to your show can be used to make nifty hats!

Y’all have fun!

PS: Just as I was about to post this, I saw this wonderful article from Tatertots & Jello featuring 20 fabulous party hats. Check it out!

Bubba, Kerry and Abigail celebrate the day in style! Abigail was fascinated by all the adults wearing hats on her birthday, but they only one she would put on her own head that day was the pink monster (a gift from Uncle John). Kerry took the party hats home afterwards --she thinks they will come in handy in the doctor's office. Can't you just imagine your childhood doctor administering shots in a kickbutt hat like this?!

27 December 2010

Christmas with Kermit

Update Dec 28: Sorry Y'all, I accidently deleted this post and need to repost from scratch. Beg your pardon if it gobbled your comment or appeared in your inbox twice :)
The "Kermit Tree" in the central rotunda

One of my favorite holiday traditions is spending Christmas Eve at the Museum of Science and Industry. I know some people will think spending Christmas at a science museum sounds kooky, but honestly, their Christmas Around the World exhibit is amazing. It’s like that Disneyland ride, It’s a Small World, minus the annoying music and the boat that smells like vomit and Captain Crunch. Trust me y’all, this show is not to be missed!

There are over 50 trees scattered throughout the central corridors of the museum, each decorated by volunteers from various ethnic communities. In addition to being drop-dead-gorgeous, each tree's decor is aimed to represent each individual country’s holiday traditions. You hear that: it's got rhinestones AND educational value. Beat that!

Some trees are decked out with traditional folk crafts, while others use local exports, like candy and coffee, while some limit their decorations to the colors of their national flag. It varies widely and no two are alike. Individual plaques below each tree explain some of the more popular traditions. Did you know that the Italian equivalent for Santa Claus is a witch that flies around searching for the baby Jesus? Well, you’ll just have to go see for yourself and read more.

In the center rotunda, there is a 45-foot tree with more than 30,000 lights and 1,000 ornaments. It changes every year, usually to highlight some sort of current event or museum exhibit. This year’s tree is in honor of the Jim Henson Exhibit (more on that later!)...y’all, I wish I could show you this beautiful thing. All of the ornaments were covered in furry bits and googly eyes and curly bursts of color....like a giant bedazzled muppet!  If you are in the area, you have got to see this think for yourself.

Christmas Around the World is open until Jan 9, 2011.

Just a few of the trees from (left to right, top to bottom):Czech Republic, Guatemala, Greece, France, Lithuania, Denmark, Estonia, Puerto Rico, Italy, Native America, Bosnia, Belize, England, Belarus, Thailand, Sweden, Bulgaria, USA, South Korea 
Left to Right / Top to Bottom: Shoes and blue glory from Greece, Lithuanian straw crafts, Japanese origami, French Angels, Bulgarian folk crafts, and a plaque explaining Christmas in Guatemala

All of these trees featured "angels" in their own way. Isn't it funny how angels look so very different to each of us?
My favorite tree! From Poland, all of the ornaments are made from polish candies. Bah! Isn't is gorgeous?!
Look at these chandeliers hanging above lobby! Wish I had seen these before I tried my garland light. Oh well...next time :)

26 December 2010

For a long time, I thought Good King Wenceslas was just the title to a funky Christmas carol...but it turns out, he was a real person. In fact, he was a King and a Saint who was murdered by his younger brother. Geez-o-Pete, scandal much?

If you are like me, you probably never paid much attention to the song...but if you look closer, you might be surprised at what you find.

The song takes place today, St. Stephen’s Day (December 26) and describes King Wenceslas braving a horrible storm in order to help feed a poor neighbor.  Pretty great when you think about it. Click here to listen. Or read blow:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay 'round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel
"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine-logs hither
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's step he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Now, I don’t know what it’s like to be a Bohemian King or what it feels like to starve in the snow, but I do know what it like to be on the receiving end of a random act of kindness just when I needed it most.

Yeah, that Good King Wenceslas was a cool dude.

24 December 2010

Twas the night before Christmas...

Bow hats are coming back!
...and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Mostly because Lola will attack anything that moves.

This is what I get for decorating my tree with nothing but birds and feathers. She thinks the living room is now her own personal Audobon sanctuary. No creature is safe. Not even the pot holders.

At the moment you are reading this,  she is under the tree, standing guard and ready to pounce. While I'll probably be on the couch, wrapping gifts or eating cookies, and wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

Happy Holidays Y'all :)
...save your bows and stick them on a gift bag for next year!

22 December 2010

Lisa is one of my favorite blog friends. She sends me emails and gives me her honest opinion on things, and once in a while, she gives me a family recipe, like her Grandmama's secret recipe for sweet-n-sour peanuts.

Let's pray her sister Dina didn't read that.

Recently, Lisa emailed me and asked me to give her some pointers on improving her Christmas snapshots without upgrading from her regular point-and-shoot camera.  I was really flattered because, honestly, if someone is coming to me for advice it usually involves chocolate covered bacon or seeking revenge on an ex husband. Why people think these are my territories of expertise, I will never know, but I am happy expand my turf to photography for a day.

So, as long as I was typing them out and emailing to her, I thought I would share with you too. If anyone reading this has any other great resources for novice photographers, by all means, please link in the comments!


Five tried and true tips for improving your Christmas photos

1. Ditch the Flash
If you want to capture the essence of holiday warmth, turn off your flash. Period. Nothing alive looks good when photographed with a point-and-shoot flash. Nothing. Zip. Zero. The image may come out crisp but it kills any sense of mood or atmosphere. That’s fine for product shots, but isn’t going to help make memories. In short, the flash kills the Christmas spirit. Avoid it whenever possible. Use natural light, or even overhead lights. If your photos are looking blurry, balance your camera on a tripod or the back of a chair. If you *must* use your flash, try diffusing it with a piece of gauze or white tissue paper. Experiment!

2. Less Posing, More Candid Photos

There are two kinds of photos: Lookers and Story Tellers.

Looker photos are about looking good; school portraits, bridesmaid line-ups, real estate promo shots. Your hair should be combed and the lawn should be trimmed. They’re all about making the subject look good. Example: Imagine Little Jimmy in his plaid pajamas, smiling wide, holding Grandma's Christmas gift next to his face. Grandma will want to see this!

Story Tellers are about telling stories. Anyone should be able to look at the photo, without explanation and instantly understand what is going on. Example: Little Jimmy in his beloved Spiderman T-shirt and dirty hair, tearing open a package with fistfuls of wrapping paper and ribbon. Little Jimmy will want to see this when he is a grown up. Oh how he misses that Spiderman T-shirt.

3. Find a New Angle
When I flip through photos on Facebook, including my own, 99% of the photos are taken at the same height as the photographer’s head. This isn't a bad thing, but gosh, the whole world looks a lot more interesting when photographed from a new perspective! Try photographing the tree while laying on the floor, or while sitting on the kitchen counter.

How many times have you seen a family photographed standing on the stairs? Many.

How many times have you seen a family photographed from above, while the family looks upward toward the photographer on the stairs? Never.

Bonus: You know who will always look good when photographed from above, chin raised and eyes coyly gazing at the camera? You! Everyone looks great from that angle.

4. Capitalize on Twinkle Lights
Nothing screams "holiday!" like the razzle dazzle of twinkling lights. Problem is most people try to photograph them when it is way too dark. The best time to photograph twinkle lights is the 30 minute window following sundown, when there is still some light in the sky. If the lights are indoors, turn off all overhead lights and turn on any other task lights around the room. Try having some fun by photographing the lights from a few feet away, or while swinging your camera around; the results will be blurry and gorgeous!

5. Move Off-Center
Move away from taking photos in tired and conventional ways. Center-weighted photos can be boring. Try looking at your camera in thirds, lining up your subject in the mid-margins of your camera field, not the dead center. The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the fundamental lessons in photography (learn more). You can also get creative with your cropping later on down the road.

And finally, remember to have some fun! Christmas photos, at their best, are more than snapshots of people smiling in reindeer sweaters--they are about capturing memories. Don't worry if you have spinach dip in your teeth or the wreath is crooked, that's part of the fun!!

21 December 2010

Ten years ago I lived upstairs from The Old Tomato. Her real name was something like Veronica Pommerossi or Verachi Pomodesa or Villanova Panchinelli...whatever it was, it sounded like vecchio pomodoro, which roughly translates from Italian into old tomato. It was an acuarte description too --she was wrinkled and acidic, small and round, squishy and strangely sweet like a roma tomato that had been left out in the sun.

Her tan was impressive. All summer long she could be found in front of the building, sitting in a folding lawn chair and listening to Frank Sinatra on her portable radio. She didn't speak much English but managed to express disgust and/or worldly advice at nearly every passing person. Teenage boys would walk by wearing baggy jeans and she would yell Why you don't put pants on your ass? You try to catch you the raccoon? Put pants on your ass and you catch TWO raccoons!


One time there was a string of robberies in the building next door and she took to sitting on the stoop waving a giant metal spoon at every suspicious person who past the building. I sort of wondered what she would do with the giant spoon, but alas, the opportunity never arose, as the robberies stopped. We took to calling her The Old Tomato: Crime Fighter at Large.

Sadly, the summer passed and so did she. Shortly after Halloween The Old Tomato suffered a massive stroke and died a few days later. Her family came and cleared out a few prized possessions then hired a flock of teenage boys to clear out the rest of her belongings and set them by the dumpster. It was a sad sight: her whole life in boxes laid out in an alley, discarded by raccoon chasing boys in baggy pants.

One of them saw me walking up the stairs and said Hey lady, want some Christmas stuff? I don't feel right putting Jesus in the garbage, and handed me a box the size of a stove, filled with ornaments and wax evergreens.

It was her Christmas box. How could I say no?

Now, it's not like I needed a bunch of funky Seventies Christmas stuff, even back then. In fact, I didn't even keep a Christmas tree in those days. It just broke my heart to think of throwing it away. The box sat in a closet with the water heater for years.

One day the water heater broke and the repair man came in and moved the box, tipping it over and the contents fell out. Instead of apologizing, you know what he did?  He made fun of me. He said I was hoarding someone else's memories. He said I should get rid of the box.

Perhaps he had a point. Perhaps he should have kept his mouth shut. I 'm not sure, but I got so crazy defensive that I became determined to take every single one of those ornaments out of the box and put them on display. Good bad, ugly, broken down, I was going to take them out and let them shine.  I still didn't have a tree at that time so I settled on clustering them together and tying them onto a wreath. It's like a whole Christmas tree clustered together in a single circle.

I love it.

There are glass balls and satin bells and needle point poinsettias...gold bows and green icicles....even a one-eyed angel. Why, the only thing missing is a raccoon.

The other two smaller wreaths have specific affiliations too; the one on the left is made from candy I picked up on a wonderful vacation, and the one on the right is made from ornaments on a tree that used to be on display at a previous job. There are more scattered around the house. My goal is to make one wreath a year, affiliated with one person or place or event.  They are accumulating quickly.

I'm still deciding what this year's wreath will be. I'll have to clean my cupboards out after Christmas and see what comes out to play. It's a good post-Christmas pre-New years activity.

I'll keep you posted ;)

20 December 2010

I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. What, you too?  Then check out my guest post over at Mod Cloth!

And while you are over there, check out some of the nifty Mod Cloth merch, including A Certain Furry Fanilow's Christmas present (unfortunately, Lola took a pass on the hippo. Oh well, there is always next year.)

16 December 2010

 Y’all, meet Ahmed. My favorite Christmas decoration.  He may not look Christmasy, but believe it or not, he reminds me of the baby Jesus in the most wonderful way you can imagine. Ahmed, in all his glitter and glory, is a Tool of Worship.

As someone whose system of beliefs runs "deep and polka dotted" the holidays make me keenly aware of our diversity in faith. Christmas time can drudge up a lot of confusion for people who fall outside to picket fences of organized religion.

Do you say Merry Xmas or Happy Holidays?

Do you get offended if I just typed Xmas instead of Christmas?

Do you get offended by people who erect a Christmas tree in their home but never bother to celebrate the birth of Christ?

Do you get offended by people who hang dreidels on the Christmas trees?

Do you sometimes wonder, “Why the hell am I up at the butt crack of dawn roasting this damn turkey for four kids who will be too full of chocolate Santas to appreciate this hard work?”

Don't answer that.

I have a confession: I’m not Aunt Peaches.  My real name is Second-Cousin Peaches. See, I don’t have any siblings, or, not in the typical sense at least. So being an Aunt is pretty much impossible.

Disappointed in me? I’m not. My niece Abigail’s Dad, Bubba, and his two siblings, Katie and John, are as close to brothers and sisters as I have ever known. We are close in age, and played and fought and sang and screamed and burped in each other’s faces the same as siblings. We even went to school together. I saw two of them just last weekend.

Abigail is named after my Mother who passed away when I was young, and who loved my cousins same as she loved me. They were, and are, my family. So when I was twelve, and they up and moved to Saudi Arabia, I was heartbroken. Years later I realized that their move was best thing that ever happened to me but that’s a story for another time.

How much do you know about Saudi Arabia? You probably know they aren't exactly friendly toward Westerners like you and me. They keep a strict interpretation of Islamic law and are perceived to isolate themselves from outsiders in general. Its home to Mecca, which is as sacred as it gets in the Islamic system of beliefs. 
Tangent: If you are not familiar with the basic tenets of Islam, but you think that everyone on the planet should know about your religion, I want you to stop reading this and click right here right now. Yes, now. Read it. Don't worry, I'll wait. 
Look, I’m not trying to evangelize any point of view here; I just don’t think anyone has any business running their mouth before they open their ears.
My family lived on a compound that functioned in the same way you hear people describe army bases in other countries--like a small town with walls and its own school, grocery store, post office etc. Thing is, even if everyone on this private compound was American or Canadian, they still lived under Saudi Arabian law. Breaking these laws could lead deportation or imprisonment, or better yet, corporal punishment, including the public amputation of your hand or foot, or maybe just a good ol' fashioned flogging. Getting stoned to death in the town square was a not uncommon. Fun stuff, huh?

*Folks, I’m no international legal scholar, but let me give you a few of the more memorable highlights:
  • No drugs or alcohol of any kind. You couldn’t buy Wild Turkey in the whole dang country!
  • Human rights were not a priority. Women were treated sort of the same way our society would treat a small child –no voting, no driving, no walking around alone in strange places. Technically, I believe they could own property but no bank would accept their signature without her husband's written authority. Women would shroud themselves head to toe in a type of dark body veil called an abiyah. Now, I know plenty of ladies who will tell you the abiyah is a liberating experience, but you sure could have fooled me. I could chit-chat about this for ages, but this story is already making me ramble, so if you want to hear more about human rights in Saudi Arabia, or women’s right’s in particular, I suggest you read Princess. It was real popular a few years back and might be outdated by now, but I tell you, it is a fascinating read.
  • Freedom of speech did not exist. Openly criticizing the government was forbidden.
  • Western influence is shunned at every opportunity. People would tell stories about buying a magazine in London for the plane ride into Saudi, where promptly upon arrival, a little man at the customs counter would flip through your magazine with a giant black marker and ink out any unsuitable images of girls in swimsuits, pictures of booze, etc..Click here to see images of Mariah Carey albums as they are sold inside Saudi Arabia vs. Everywhere Else. Fascinating stuff.
  • Freedom of religion does not exist. This was a big one. The Government strictly prohibited the public practice of any religion besides Islam. There were no churches. Non-Islamic/foreign/temporary workers were allowed to enter and live in the Kingdom, but they could only worship in secret inside the privacy of their homes. Items like Bibles and crucifixes were as illegal as drugs or violent weapons. Oh wait, violent weapons weren’t illegal at all. Just the same, sometimes people would sneak them in by hiding them in their luggage in a box of tampons or wrapped in dirty underwear, but it was risky. Any item deemed a “Tool of Worship” would be confiscated on the spot, and the person carrying the item could be deemed a zealot missionary and sent back to where they came from. This could also mean that you, or your family’s breadwinner, would loose their visa and thier job and be deported on the spot. Sometimes Westerners were given some slack, but generally speaking, the rules were firm and unfavorable.
* Please note my crass summary of these laws is mostly written in the past tense. I have read the Saudi Arabian legal system has come a long way in the last twenty years but I am inclined to think some things never change. I hope you’ll do your own research before forming an opinion. If someone reading this has first hand experience and would like to pipe up, well go ahead and chime in. I'm all ears.
So, given what I just said, how do you think people celebrated Christmas in a place like that? Not like you can find a contraband Christmas tree in the desert. There are no chestnuts roasting on the fire. No jingle bells to jangle. What would you do to mark the season?

You would get creative, that’s what you would do!  And that’s just what these families did. Thousands of them, every year would build Christmas trees out of cardboard and tomato cages or string lights on potted plants. Now that stuff seems trendy and eco-conscious, but back then, for them, it was the only option. Isn’t that wonderful?

My favorite story was about people building nativity scenes out of children’s toys. Sometimes they were nothing more than a manger made of a simple blanket fort with a few teddy bears underneath.  Other times they got real elaborate and theatrical; Barbie and Mr. Potato Head sat in for Mary and Joseph. Gi-Joes offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and murr, as a family of My Little Ponies looked on. Swarms of farm animals could be swapped in for matchbox cars or tiny plastic army soldiers.  Jesus was usually played by a Polly Pocket Doll, or they made him themselves out of clay.

Somewhere along the way I heard about a lady in Riyahd whose young son had outgrown his dinosaur obsession. She took the contents of his rejected toy chest, dipped them in glue and glitter, and went to town. The end result was a glittering nativity scene that took over most of their living room. They said it was wonderful. Some people might think that sounds scandalous, but I think it must have been beautiful. More important, it says something about how each of us can find a way to celebrate our family and our faith, even when we in the most unwelcoming surroundings.

Gosh, that storyline sounds familiar....reminds me of this of this baby that was born in cold dark barn, surrounded by humble creatures while worshiped by angels and kings. I wonder if there is a connection? (That's sarcasm.)

Years passed....my family moved back to the US and we were back to tearing up the holidays with evergreen trees and A Barbra Streisand Christmas Album. (That's not sarcasm.)

The holidays seemed much the same as always until the Christmas Eve after my father died. I was twenty and didn't have anywhere to go. I was still in college and my friends had all gone home for the holidays and my boyfriend was working late in a restaurant. I couldn’t afford to travel to see my extended family down South. Probably just as well I was alone that night because I was really good at feeling sorry for myself. I mean, realllllly sorry. Like, Real Housewives of New Jersey style sorry. So I sat there and cried and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Eventually I got bored and frustrated and started cleaning...one thing lead to another and it was time to take the garbage out.

Just as I got to the alley behind my apartment, I saw him there. Standing on the edge of the dumpster waiting for me, a tuft of snow on his green plastic head. It was dark outside and there was the halo of a street light shining down around.

I have never seen a living nativity but I'm pretty sure the feeling of awe and wonderment I felt in that moment by the dumpster is as close to a spiritual fireworks as I will ever know.

Sure, it was just a just toy on a trash can. Sure, it was probably just some leftover trinket some kid dropped while carrying his other Christmas loot. Sure, that snow had been projected for days. Sure, that light shined down on that dumpster to keep the rats away. Sure, there were a hundred people walking down that alley who could have stumbled in at any moment....but in that moment, in my moment, I was sure that dinosaur was meant for me.

Two minutes later, I was back in my apartment, plastic dinosaur in hand. Ten minutes later he was dipped in glue and glitter. Thirty minutes later he was situated on top of the TV, surrounded by mementos; photos, books, a wallet, a necklace, a piece of ribbon...it must have been an odd sight to see them there, piled up on the TV that night, but what did that matter? It was an inventory of the people and places I love most. Not so much objects of desire, but tools of worship.


Six month update: To my surprise, this post created some controversy.
Click here to read what happened next.

Who needs figgy pudding?

Fried Ice Cream, courtesy of Wholy Frijoles
Seriously, what’s up with figgy pudding?

People are always singing its praises at Xmas time but no one seems to know what it is. Have I ever seen it on a menu? No Ma’am. Have I ever enjoyed a slice in someone’s home? No Sir. Have I ever even seen the stuff in person? No Way Jose!

So, what’s up with that? What is figgy pudding anyway?

From Wikipedia: Figgy pudding is a pudding resembling something like a white Christmas pudding containing figs. The pudding may be baked, steamed in the oven, boiled or fried.

Wow, way to be vague, Wikipedia. Helpful much?

I think figgy pudding must be one of those English traditions that never quite made it to us here in America. You know, like tea time and professional soccer and the ability to wear plaid year round. Anyone in the UK reading this should feel free to enlighten me on the matter. I’m curious--Do y’all really enjoy goose and fig pudding every Christmas, or did Charles Dickens color my imagination?

Well, the fact remains; there is a serious lack of figgy pudding in my community. So, I say, we all go in together and start a new whole new tradition! I suggest we use fried ice cream.
Mmmmm......it's sure to be a Clean Plate Club Christmas!

Have you ever had fried ice cream? It’s amazing. They serve it at Mexican restaurants. No, not Taco Bell, silly, I mean like the classy places that hire mariachis in sequin hats to sing LaBamba by table side. You know, authentic Mexican.

Don’t ask me how they make it, but it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Sometimes they serve it on a tortilla that’s been flash fried and sprinkled with cinnamon. You'll take one bite and your senses will be so frazzled and confused you'll let out a giant honking noise that will scare off the mariachis (I can speak from experience on that one).

And, you know what else? Fried ice cream has almost as many syllables as figgy pudding! That means, if we all join together in a group effort, we can reassign lyrics to the song.

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Oh, bring us fried ice cream;
Oh, bring us fried ice cream;
Oh, bring us a fried ice cream and a cup of good cheer!

I’m also pretty sure we can swap out good cheer for Diet Coke.

What? It’s a thought :) 

15 December 2010

Noeleen's Nutella Thumb Buttons and various cookies from D'Amato's Bakery, courtesy of Dan and Yasmin.Thanks Y'all!
Holiday cookies are my favorite tradition. I heart them so. I heart all cookies. I’m pretty sure if I were a muppet, Cookie Monster and I would be getting busy down on Sesame Street. It’s not like I have a thing for furry blue monsters, it’s just a cookie thing. 

Don’t judge.

At least, don't judge me until you tasted these cookies. I'm talking about my Grandnanna's Pecan Sandies. They are nothing short of magnificent. 

The best part about them is that Grandnanna’s recipe (like a lot of her recipes) is done in parts. This means you can adjust it as small or as big as you want. It also means they come out slightly different every time, but somehow, they always turn out AMAZING. The formula is guaranteed. Good for making a quick snack or feeding a whole boy scout jamboree.

 Grandnanna's Pecan Sandies 

  • 1 part butter
  • 1 part powdered sugar
  • 1 part pecans
  • 2 part flour
  • 1 spoon vanilla
  • 1/2 spoon salt
  • ½ dash of cayenne pepper

  • Combine butter, half the powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix with a beater til fluffy like ponds cold cream (that’s a direct quote)
  • Add flour, salt and barely mix until blended.
  • Taste the dough, adjust as needed.
  • Shape into 3 logs and put in fridge for one hour to overnight.
  • Slice the dough into ¼” slices and shape into crescents.
  • Bake cookies at 350 for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Remove cookies from the baking sheet immediately and roll them in the remaining powdered sugar.
  • Eat and enjoy!
*Note: this is a no-fail base dough. You can add jam or dip in chocolate or any number of other amazing things. Have fun. Your welcome.

*Note: Pecan is pronounced PEEcan, rhymes with he can or we can. If you pronounce it  peKAHN you're doing it wrong and the wrath of the nut is inevitable. If your cookies come out poorly, don't look at me. It was your fault and all those years of saying that poor little nut's name wrong.

So, before I begin my cookie baking extravaganza this weekend, I wanted to ask; anyone out there have another good recipe written in parts (as opposed to cups and teaspoons)? 

I know there are folks out there who scoff at the flagrant inaccuracy of recipes written without exact measurements, but then those folks taste these cookies and shut the hell up. These cookies are that good. Some recipes stand the test of time! 

Anyone out there have some pointers to share? I’m all ears  :)

14 December 2010

Easy-Peasy Pom-Pom Scarf

Years ago, someone gave me a battery operated glue gun and the card attached read:
Now you can glue gun on the bus!
It was intended as a gag gift, although you wouldn’t know it by the expressions on the faces of people riding the bus with me that time I needed to hem my pants in a hurry. I burned my ankle something vicious by I got to the party on time!

Since then, I have avoided portable glue guns and gone on the search for friendlier, less dangerous hobbies. Sadly, knitting and needlepoint have never grown on me, but crochet, however, is a happy struggle. See, despite my enthusiasm for crochet, I’m not very good. In fact, I’m just plain awful. I only know two stitches. I can’t follow a pattern. My stitches are uneven. I only attack crochet projects when I am traveling (like this week) and stick to lumpy yarn (it covers a multitude of sins) which usually leaves me with half-way completed lumpy afghans. Until now....

So, not long ago, my cousin John and I were walking down Franklin street in Natchez, Mississippi, when I found the most amazing lumpy tomato colored yarn at Natchez Needlearts. It’s thick and full and I knew it would hide my stitches, however wonky.

Tangent: Have you been to Natchez? It’s the Miss Havisham of the South. You need to go before she is eaten alive by termites. I’m serious, folks. Time is running out. You don’t know what you are missing. When I was a kid, shops like Natchez Needlearts were bountiful, especially on Franklin Street, but now there are only a few. Every time I go back there are less and less. It’s the mark of a dying economy and a lack of tourism in an astonishingly beautiful, historic place. If you have never been to Natchez, you need to go. Don’t ask, just go. Actually do ask, because then I can tell you where to get the best barbecue brisket and special stuff like lady fingers, and antique spoons, and airplanes made out of coke cans for $5.00. And while you are there, pick up some lumpy tomato colored yarn. If you’re lucky as I am, it will keep you busy on the car ride all the way home :)

This was entirely free form, so there is no real pattern, although I did sketch it out in my journal.

In a nutshell, this is just three skinny scarves of varying lengths, whip stitched together with the same lumpy tomato colored yarn. Then I tied pom-poms on all the ends, plus a few more along the way.

Fact 1: You can never have too many pom-poms!
Fact 2: If you can crochet, you can make this scarf before Xmas and impress the pants off the recipient.

The end result is a warm, lush pom pom scarf that is sure to keep anyone warm all winter!

Holidays taking over your house?

Pshhh, Girl, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Try busting a whole tree top through the roof, then we'll talk about "making accommodations" for the holidays.

Photo courtesy of Moi, taken of the home of Total Strangers in Chicago’s Sauganash neighborhood. They do this every year so it’s pretty much famous. In previous years they also had some taxidermyfied elk on the lawn posing as Santa's reindeer. I can only aspire to be this cool one day. I also aspire to create a word as gnarly as taxidermyfied.

10 December 2010

Today is a great day.

Today is December 10th. Do you know what that means?  My niece was born exactly one year ago today! And since that day, I have been "Aunt Peaches" to the most beautiful, precious honey child on the planet. No, I'm not even kidding. She is that beautiful. Don't believe me? I present to you, 88 seconds of stone cold evidence.

If you survive the explosion of cuteness and live to tell the tale, join me in wishing Abigail a happy first birthday :)


09 December 2010

Ten years ago, if you had told me I would be hanging a giant wreath made of disposable cups in front of my house for all the neighbors to see, I would have asked you what kind of Crazy Juice you were drinking. Ten years ago, stuff like this was not on my radar. Ten years ago, I was busy matching burlap samples to the latest Pottery Barn catalog and worrying, Does this faux cranberry wreath look so realistic that birds will come to our door and peck it to pieces?

Oh my, how times have changed. 

Must give credit where it belongs! Primary inspiration on this project came from two sources, both of whom I have sited on other projects before, because, well, they are straight up fabulous; Michelle Made Me and the Magpie Art Collective. 

Have you checked them out already? 

What are you waiting for? Get to it!

I had been itching to make this wreath for months. Sometime in October, I pledged I would make it and would NOT SPEND A PENNY on materials. That's right, it's made from stuff I was throwing out or kept on hand. 

It's a simple base made by alternating plastic cups (make slits with kitchen scissors) and Diet Coke cans with the bottoms removed (just use a can opener). Some leftover aluminum trim (name anyone?) bound it all together. The rest of the flourishes were tied on with pipe cleaners.

If your reading this far, there is a decent chance you are thinking I wonder how much juice I would have to drink to make a wreath?
Good question. I can't tell you, but I will tell you I have been scavenging at home and at work for months. This wreath is roughy 40" in diameter and contains
  • 8 two liter bottes, painted white
  • 10 soda fountain cups (32oz)
  • 12 small plastic bottles, painted white
  • 15 red plastic cups
  • 18 aluminum cans
  •  25 strophoam cups
  •  35 clear/white plastic cups
For more thorough directions on how to make flowers out of plastic bottles, see here. Keep in mind, just about anything in your trash can made from plastic can be converted to flower. Beauty is everywhere.

Happy Holidays Y'all :)

08 December 2010

Do y'all know Tord Boontje? He's a Dutch designer and just about my favorite living *artist. Have you seen his stuff? If not, you should take a look.

Don't worry, I'll wait for you.

One of Boontje's best known commercial pieces in this beautiful Garland Light. If you have visited a museum gift shop in the last 4 years, you have probably seen one in person. They usually retail for around $100.00, which is surprisingly affordable considering all the awards its won, but still, I knew I could make one for less. Actually, $97 less.

Yup, this light cost exactly $3.00 and all materials can be purchased from the dollar store, or in my case, Ikea.

  • $1.00, string of white twinkle lights (50 bulbs)
  • $2.00, two wire garlands (5 yards each, 30' total)
  • Free, one wire coat hanger (I like the skinny white ones)
  • Free, dental floss or thread to hang

No tutorial here. It came on me like a bolt of thunder and I didn't bother to document along the way. It's just as well because it is SO EASY. This is one project that would be hard to mess up, but just in case, I'll break it down.
  • Disassemble your wire coat hanger and wrap it around an old vase or pot, forming a very loose cylindrical shape.
  • Cut your wire garland into 20" stretches, bending them in half and twisting onto the coat hanger. Repeat.
  • Hang your twinkle lights down the center of the cylinder, occasionally using the garland to twist and shape it to the coat hanger.
  • Curl the ends of the wire around the neck of an old bottle.
  • Tada!
Hope that makes sense. This took about ten minutes, so if it's not clear and anyone needs a full a photo tutorial, let me know. I'm not opposed to making another one down the road :)

You know, I made this as a Xmas decoration, but I like it so much that it might stay up all year round. Or what about using colored metallic garland as a New Years party chandelier? Or what about making a pink one for a little girl's room? Or what about one big magnificent ball of collected garlands hanging in your powder room?...You could add to it as years go by and eventually people would start giving you gifts just so they could wrap the box in wire garland and contribute to the fun!

You see, it's not just a party chandelier, it's the gift that keeps on giving!

The white leaf garland above came from Ikea and retails for 49cents a bolt, year round. If I get my act together and get back to Ikea, I might just make this lamp a twin sister and hang them on either side on the bed. Or what about three of them hanging above a long, rectangular dining table?  Oops, I better get a long rectangular dining room first :)

* sadly, in the realm of "living artists" --the painting cat does not count.

UPDATE 12/17/10: several people asked me to clarify some points on this project. Apparently it's a little more confusing than I thought. I didn't have time to recreate from scratch, but I took some photos that might help illustrate  the process...

 Start with a base shape of strong wire shaped into a funnel/tornado shape. If you have a hard time making a circular shape, use a pot or vase for help.
 Wired Garland is cheap and plentiful this time of year. Look for non-holiday stuff and you can hang it up all year long. Get at least 30' or (that's about 10 meters, right?) ...the more the better.
 You will need a strand of twinkle lights. Chord or battery operated...you decide, just be sure if you are using paper garland that it doesn't generate a lot of heat.

Note: As I have had this piece for a few weeks, I have seen it in the day often enough to realize it really doesn't "need" lights at all.  It's pretty cool as a simple decorative object all by itself.
 Wrap some of the garland around your wire base. If your base shape is droopy, use the garland to shape/support the base how you want it.
 Once your base is set, cut up the rest of your wire garland into 20" (or so) pieces.
 Use the 20" pieces to twist and attach the Christmas lights to the inside of the funnel/base shape. Just tack it in 3 or 4 spots, no big deal.
 Attach the rest of the 20" pieces by twisting them onto the base wire. They will stick out and look odd --don't worry, that's a good thing.
Now use the neck of a bottle to curl the ends of your wire pieces. Don't make them all crazy tight like you are curling your bangs for the friggin prom. Just round them off a little to give them some shape. By the time you are done with ALL of them, it will look like a mass of swirling snow drifts. Wahoo!

07 December 2010

Clear plastic insulation sheeting makes it easy to double layers snowflakes!

So let it begin.

Winter is here. Snow has fallen. The long underwear is out and frozen doorknobs are in.

Pretty and pristine as it might be, the draft from my over-sized 100 year-old picture window is unreal. Foam insulation tape and fleece lined curtains help but the draft is still noticeable enough to force me to resort to plastic sheeting. You know the stuff, the clear plastic "second window" that stretches and bunches and never seems smooth out no matter how long I blow on it with a hairdryer. I hate it. It's ugly. It's distracting. I can handle bars on the window and city dump trucks, but clear plastic sheeting? No Thank You!

Yet, despite my animosity, plastic sheeting is a small price to pay in exchange for a warm living room. I surrender. But if I am going to have to look out my window through wrinkled plastic, you better believe it's going to look good!

Enter: Snowflakes.

Decided to use the hollow space between the glass and the plastic to my advantage and tape snowflakes directly to the glass AND the plastic sheet, that way the 6" gap in between the two creates a layered, three dimensional effect, almost like stage scenery or a pop-up book.

Now that it's done, let me tell you, this thing is COOL. In fact, I might even be using this clear plastic sheeting business  for a spring window display. I'm smitten!

Can I tell you something? This was one of those projects that was so easy and fun, and when it was done I couldn't help but stand back and say Wow, I am really excited about posting this on the blog!

And then I took the pictures.


What a disappointment. They look much better in person than on camera. There's no dimension in these photos. Hurrumph. It's a shame ya'll can't stop by the house and see them in person.

Next time :)

There's no real tutorial here. If you are reading this blog I am going to make the assumption that you are comfortable making your own snowflakes and following the directions on the back of the box of plastic sheeting. However, I will share a tip or two I learned along the way....
  • Try cutting snowflakes from coffee filters and paper doilies. They will let in more light and sprinkle the inside of your home with dappled sunshine. Gorgeous!
  • Use a hole punch when cutting snow flakes to add major detail without the major scissor time.
  • Get your snowflakes to stay flat by ironing them for 5 seconds over a damp towel.
  • Tape half the snowflakes directly to the window, hang the top plastic insulation sheet, then tape the other half of the snowflakes to the sheet facing the window. Overlap and layer as much as possible!
  • Try using electricians tape to attach your snowflakes. I could have used thread or transparent tape, but decided the red lends a special touch. Plus, now I can keep them up til Valentines, wahoo!

06 December 2010

When did cardboard get so cool?

A few weeks ago, Michele shared the most amazing cardboard playhouse. It's like a non-girly dollhouse, but more whimsical and funner.
Tangent: Is "funner" a real word? Hmmm....I sort of doubt it.

Back to the cardboard! Since I don't have much need for a playhouse at my place (actually, that's highly debatable)... it got me thinking about making something similar for Lola. She needs a new cat bed, and with Holidays upon us, I thought I would cruise around the internet and see if there were any good-n-fancy cardboard cat beds that I could make myself at home.

Whoa. Nelly.

Check out the Canadian Cabin for Fluffy Little Critters from Loyal Luxe. This sort of cabin could really appeal to Lola's inate appreciation for rustic charm. I can just imagine her chewing a hole in the side.

Or, for adventurous cats, what about these options?

I mean honestly, doesn’t your cat need a tank?


Or, skip the bed and get your child-with-fur a furless-child’s toy, like these awesome toy houses. Suppose you could get them for your munchkin too, but I sort of like the idea of kitty peeping her little head out of the castle courtyard, or chewing on the corner of this tree house! This might be the winner. I might just have to order it online directly, it's is just Too Dang Cute. Plus, in her former life, Lola spent many years living at the Treehouse Animal Shelter. So this is pretty much a sign from above that I need to have this Lola deserves this.

So many choices....Geez-O-Pete! When did cardboard get so cool?!
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