Happy Birthday to my mom, also known in our family as “Grommy” — although I’ve forgotten which grand- or great-grandchild named her that. We gathered to celebrate her day along with other fall family birthdays a couple of weeks ago, and I started the thing I’ve been threatening to do for years: Wrap all presents in plain brown paper and then decorate accordingly. I have to admit that my mom’s birthday present was my first effort, and I think worked pretty well. It was fun, anyway. Her present was a wooden plaque making fun of celebrating her preference to have a little coffee with her cream and sugar. I wrapped it up and then my 4 1/2-year-old grandson, Nolan, and I collected fall leaves from the yard — he liked the crackly brown ones best while I went for the pretty red and orange ones. We then carefully and meticulously taped the leaves to the top of the wrapped package and wrote our birthday message directly on the brown paper. Okay, that’s a big fat lie. The “careful and meticulous” part was purely Nolan, who scorned my haphazard design approach and spent several minutes A) planning a template for the leaves (“No, Kacky. The little red one should go HERE.”) and B) unrolling the tape edges that had folded back on themselves so we would have smooth and wrinkle-free strips. Plus, his handwriting on the “happy birthday” was better than mine. Obviously, one of us has artists for parents, and it’s not me. But I have a beautiful, talented, strong, loving, kind and smart mom — who always A) makes detailed plans before attempting a project and B) reuses and repairs things instead of throwing them out. Happy Birthday, Grommy! We love you!
Older Daughter and son-in-law are the most incredibly creative parents I know. I understand where my son-in-law gets that from: His parents are do-it-yourself and use-what-you-have advocates from way back. I’m not sure where Older Daughter gets it from since my idea of creativity is making peanut-butter chip instead of chocolate-chip cookies, but somehow she takes ideas from Martha Stewart and inspiration from Pinterest and, with a few fabric scraps and leftover nails, she’ll end up with something wonderful. The two of them collaborated on this fantastic backyard project that’s the talk of their neighborhood: A music station and a tunnel-maze, both made from found and recycled items. First, they collected their materials. Older Daughter hit yard sales and resale stores for the used kitchen tools that would become the musical instruments, and my son-in-law measured and cut leftover PVC pipes for the maze. They then spent much design time working out the configurations before attaching everything to the two plywood pieces they’d nailed to their fence. The buckets in between hold spatulas, whisks, spoons and other “mallets” for music-making as well as cars and balls for the maze (which also, as almost-4-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable naturally needed only 30 seconds to figure out, works great for small water balloons.) Whenever I visit the Captain’s friends come over, I head they run straight for the backyard. Listen, I can play a mean roasting rack, accented with a really cool saucepan beat.
I read or heard recently a news report that shopping is good for you — it gets you out of the house, gives you exercise and company and a new perspective on things. Of course, in my case that new perspective is “What’s happened to all our money?”, but that’s a minor issue. The point is that you can Learn Things and Gain Experience by shopping. For example: I recently discovered that you can buy duct tape in patterns remarkably similar to some throw pillows I have. And more. Am I the only person around here who didn’t know that duct tape comes in bright neons and animal prints as well as the standard battleship gray? I’m guessing this idea was inspired by more women doing more do-it-yourself jobs around the house. But, honestly, does everything we touch have to be cute and colorful? I realize I’m wandering into dangerous grouchy-old-lady “you-damn-kids-get-outta-my-yard!” territory here, but seems to me that when you need duct tape, having the good ol’ dependable gray workhorse around is best. I’m not sure I’d feel quite confident that zebra stripes are going to do the job. With all due respect to zebras, of course. But we all know that manufacturers and retailers have all sorts of tricks to lure us into buying stuff. Such as this sign my husband and I spotted in a home warehouse-store. It uses all the correct decorating words to grab our attention: “Euro!” “Shaker!” “Espresso!” — a combination of adjectives that only exists in marketing land. I mean, is there such a thing as “Euro Shaker?” I’m doubting it. And Mr. Google agrees with me. Plus, throwing in “espresso” is just silly. Are they talking about Italian roast? French press? A Starbucks doppio? Define your terms, people! But I do like that mirror.
I’ll admit it: I was feeling over-confident. I mean, I’d replaced the dented and yellowing window blinds in the workshop on my own — well, I was successful after three trips to Lowe’s to get the right size of blind and with supportive help (“That’s great! You’re doing great!!!”) from Younger Daughter and of course I had to redo it because the first time I put the blinds in backwards, but still. I’d negotiated with painters to come spruce up our kitchen ceiling and the kitchen-to-garage door. I’d even pulled down all the no-longer-working tiny little outdoor lights we’d strung along the deck … five years ago for an after-prom party. Yes, our plan to declutter and brighten and clean up our house to impress potential buyers was going along great. Except for, as I explained in my weekly newspaper column, one stubborn closet doorknob. But I did not let it defeat me! Competence prevailed. It, naturally, just wasn’t mine.
Oh my cookies! Yup, these are actual pieces of clothing that I wore in the 1980s. And what’s worse is that I actually made them myself. When I was cleaning out closets for a yard sale recently, I found these stashed away … probably in an effort to forget. But it’s not my fault. As stay-at-home moms in the 1980s, my friends and I perfected our uniform of Laura Ashley jumpers, black stretchy stirrup pants and oversized Bedazzled T-shirts gathered on the side with hair scrunchies. Painful but true. And for some reason — I am not creative or crafty or in any way remotely talented artistic-wise — I became addicted to sewing. I made clothes for myself and my two daughters. I made clothes for their dolls. I made pillows and curtains and Halloween costumes. I think I convinced myself I was saving money, although anyone who’s ever wandered into a fabric store and come out minus the grocery-budget for the month recognizes that big fat lie. The collar has little bunnies on it, and I think I work it for Easter over a white blouse. The sweatshirt I have no excuse for. Why I would want to bedeck myself in a huge hot-pink sweatshirt decorated with buttons, bows and spools of thread, I have no idea. Please tell me some of y’all went through this phase, too.
Hoop it up! If you think hula hoops are only cheap plastic toys that kids play with in the backyard for a few minutes before going on to something else, then please think again. Older Daughter, an accomplished belly dancer and teacher, has fallen in love with hooping. It’s the latest fitness craze, plus it’s fun and easy to learn. I mean, who can resist picking one up and swaying those hips? You really get a feeling of accomplishment once you keep one in the air for a few minutes. But it’s more than core work. Older Daughter teaches workshops and classes in hooping, and she choreographs whole routines using your arms and legs for a total-body workout. Plus, she and my son-in-law make and sell hoops. It’s fascinating to watch the process. They make the hoops out of flexible plastic piping and then create the designs with sticky colored tape. Amazing! They do custom hoops as well as children and adult sizes and even portable hoops that fold up for easier transport. In true entrepreurial spirit, they’re planning to take their hooping business to the Web and sell at local festivals and shows — if only they could come up with a name. Every possibility on their list is already taken or one or the other of them doesn’t like it. The top contender of “Hip Happy Hoops” turned out to be close to the name of a Web site touting recreational drug use — not really good for the family-friendly image they’re going for. Husband and I think they should go with “Capt. Adorable’s Hoops.” After all, 2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable is a great help with the family business — he jumps up and down on the hoops when they’re laid out on the floor and unravels the rolls of tape when he’s not using them as dog toys. Adorable!!!
Today, for the first time probably in years, I actually did an honest day’s hard labor. This morning when I offered to help out the folks who’d come to do painting/remodeling work in the house (remember the loose-wallpaper incident?), I had no idea they’d actually take me up on it. But the head-man-in-charge was not impressed with my earlier effort at wallpaper removal in the bathrooms and said it would free up another worker to get started on painting if I tackled the wallpaper leftovers and really prepped the walls properly. I had a free morning, I shrugged, so why not? How hard could it be? Seven hours later, these are the things I have learned:
1) Never ever offer to help painting/wallpapering/remodeling people unless you are prepared to actually help. This is the not the time to be meaninglessly polite.
2) Little stripped-off wet wallpaper pieces stick to everything: Shoes, feet, floors, cats …
3) Even if you like Rascal Flatts and think Keith Urban is hot, seven hours of country-music on the industrial-strength radio turned up to an industrial-strength volume is plenty, thank you very much.
4) Patience and relaxation are the keys. “You’ve got to get the wallpaper wet and then let it relax,” Boss Guy said as he, patiently, showed me how to take off wallpaper the Right Way. “Patience, patience, patience. If you’re patient enough, it will slide right off.” He was right. Who knew?
5) And the final thing I learned after a day of pumping a spray bottle and scraping and scrubbing walls to a shiny smoothness? I’m glad I don’t have to do it tomorrow.
My friend Jana is one of the most talented people I know. She can do anything and frequently dazzles us with her creativity and imagination. Luckily for us, she got an embroidery machine for Christmas. (I think the fact that her first grandbaby is on the way had something to do with it!) For her beginning practice projects she made tea towels for several of us and ourdaughters. “They’re easy,” she said as we were oohing and ahhing. “Really. There’s nothing to it.” I am unconvinced. Because that’s the same thing my younger daughter — another one of those awesomely talented people — says about the appliqued and quilted tea towels she makes, inspired by projects in “Alabama Stitch Book” by Alabama native and fashion designer Natalie Chanin. I love all things with black-and-white patterns, and my daughter made me this black-and-white tea towel for Christmas. I am in awe of these talented people who do such incredible work — and am grateful I know them. Otherwise, my house would be pretty bare.
This is a flower arrangement to decorate the table at a typical meeting, right? Nope. Look closer. It’s not made of flowers. It’s made of … vegetables! Yes, these are vegetables and not flowers. The “mums” and greenery are leeks, the “paintbrushes” are green onions, the “roses” are rutabagas and turnips and the splash of organge is from carrots. Emily Kelley, a chef and caterer and educator in Florence, Alabama, has been creating vegetable bouquets like this for years and recently showed fellow American Association of University Women members how to do it. She made it look easy, and really it is simple — with patience and the right equipment. For instance, the roses are slices of rutabagas and turnips shaped and toothpicked together — the slices’ natural curves create the flower, but you need a commercial slicer to get the pieces thin and consistent enough. (Emily recommended making friends with someone who has one.) The mums and paintbrushes are the bottoms of leeks and green onions cut along their natural lines. The carrots were the hardest part — she sliced them horizontally and then cut the slices in a way that each one was still intact but had individual slices in it that curved out when she toothpicked the ends together. (I know that doesn’t make sense — sorry!) Emily does all the blossoms first, then puts them into ice water to stiffen. Then, when she puts the arrangement together, she threads a bamboo skewer through the blossoms (hiding the skewers in green-onion greenery) and arranges them with florist tools such as vases, tape and foam to perpetuate the flower illusion. We were all amazed and astounded, and one young woman declared she now wanted these instead of floral decorations for her wedding!