One of these wreaths is not like the other — because I made it. These are only some of the wreaths at my art-museum workplace we staffers create to fill in the blank spaces around our annual Christmas trees exhibit. At the beginning of November, we pull out a few fake trees and a bunch of ornaments and ribbons and bags of color-coordinated — well, I’m not sure what the technical term is but it’s basically wreath stuff — and we all stake out our favorite spots and for two days all you hear is “Has anybody seen more of the shiny red ribbon?” or “Hey, who took my sparkly hydrangeas?” But eventually it all comes together. And when you remember that the other staff members are trained and talented artists and I’m … not, then it’s easy to identify my wreathly effort.
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.
Gift-giving is an art. Some people just naturally know how to do it right and always give the exactly right thing at the exactly right time. People such as our two daughters. I’m not sure how or from whom they learned the subtleties of perfect gift-giving — it’s sort of how they inexplicably learned to do hair and make-up so well that our house always was crowded with girls on prom afternoons wanting my daughters’ expertise while my approach to hair and makeup pretty much is a comb and maybe some mascara. But, happily for me, my daughters graduated beyond my meager attempts at gift-giving brilliance and excel on their own. Of course, Older Daughter knows that any gift involving our two grandsons — almost 4-years- and 4-months-old — makes me melt into a puddle of grandmotherly love, so naturally the collection of photo books she’s been giving us on gift-giving occasions is on my Things-To-Take-Out-of-the-Burning-House-After-the-Cats-But-Before-My-Shoes. Younger Daughter, however, doesn’t have adorably precious babies (yet), so she has to rely on her own natural creativity and sweetness when coming up with presents. And for this past Valentine’s Day, she truly outdid herself. My gift bag included coffee beans she knew I’d love, a smooth and silky dark-chocolate bar and two oh-so-cute gifts a couple of her friends made — a jar of chocolate body scrub and a tiny notebook from recycled paper and discarded boxes of tea, tied with a scrap of found ribbon. Love, love, love. Both daughters and gifts.
Think a beautifully set table is beyond your creative reach this Christmas? Cringing at spending $4 for that festively decorated cupcake? Don’t worry — your holiday can be magazine-worthy AND frugal at the same time. First, some background. The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in Florence, Ala., excels at connecting with the community. The folks there have turned the FLPL into a local gathering spot. You don’t go there simply to check out a book or check on the Internet — you go there to meet, eat, drink, sip, learn, watch, view, play, shop, talk, research and more. Example: A series of free monthly programs focusing on do-it-yourself topics that might especially interest young adults. Created by two young women staffers, the series brings in local experts on such subjects as grilling, sewing pillows and pulling together your first Thanksgiving dinner. December’s program was “Christmas Cupcakes and Tablescapes” and it was so much fun. Decorating this season is bold & graphic and casual & eclectic — I was especially pleased to learn that since down-home imperfection is hot and glossily meticulousness is out, I now am apparently completely on trend — so creating decor using what’s within reach is both stylish and smart. Take the tablescapes. I’ve never considered using flat king sheets as table linens, but what a super idea that is. Add brown craft paper for a kid-friendly table runner, place cards for a thoughtful touch and a centerpiece featuring old glass jars with unpopped popcorn anchoring backyard-branches and you’ve got a simple yet eye-catching design. And, here’s breaking news from the cupcake front: The latest thing is to leave a border of unfrosted cake to enhance that imperfect undecorated feel. I think I’ll need to do more research on this and report back. In the meantime, make your own edible snowflakes by drawing patterns on parchment paper, melting candy-making wafers in a plastic squeeze bottle and then piping along your pattern. Adorable! Allmost tempts me to wander into the kitchen and pull out bowls and beaters and get to work. Almost …
Younger Daughter is one of those people who has an eye for color and texture and she puts together the most gorgeous earring creations. Every time I wear her designs, people ask me where I’ve been shopping. She just made
some new ones and I told her I’d be honored to put them up in the blogosphere for worldwide admiration. So here you go. Each pair is $15 including postage — I’ll just wrap them up and mail them to you in a first-class envelope if that’s OK. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you payment info. All earrings are sterling-silver findings and most of the beads are glass. She can do special orders, too. And because I can’t figure out how to do all these pics in one post, be sure to check out Jewelry Part 1. Click on any pic to enlarge it.
I don’t mean to brag here or anything, but I pretty much have the most creative and talented daughters ever. Ever.
Older Daughter is a wonderful dancer and can construct the most incredible costume you ever saw out of the most mundane fabric and a random pile of assorted beads. Younger Daughter is equally skilled at making earrings. She is one of those people who has an eye for color and texture and she puts together the most gorgeous creations. Every time I wear her designs, people ask me where I’ve been shopping. She just made some new ones and I told her I’d be honored to put them up in the blogosphere for worldwide admiration. So here you go. Each pair is $15 including postage — I’ll just wrap them up and mail them to you in a first-class envelope if that’s OK. E-mail me at email@example.com and I’ll send you payment info. All earrings are sterling-silver findings and most of the beads are glass. She can do special orders, too. And because I can’t figure out how to do all these pics in one post, be sure to check out Jewelry Part 2. Click on any pic to enlarge it.
The best part about Cajun Country? The incredible friendliness and hospitality. A week or so ago, two other friends and I were lucky enough to get to go to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a real Cajun wedding. Driving from our corner of northwest Alabama, we stopped in Jackson, Mississippi, to pick up another friend and we got our first taste of what Cajun generosity is all about. (And I know that Jackson isn’t really Cajun country but when you’re close enough to drive to New Orleans for lunch, that qualifies in my book!) Our Jackson friend, Jana, is always the one we turn to for decorating and entertaining advice since she excels at both of those — and she outdid herself this time. We’re ashamed to admit that even though she’s lived in Jackson now for almost three years, we’d never gone to visit her. So this was our first peek at her new house, and we all just fell in love with it as soon as we walked in the door. Everything was so warm, inviting and luxurious, with handmade Jana touches everywhere. She designed and made all the window treatments, as well as throw pillows and handpainted floor coverings. I wish just a little bit of her creativity would rub off on me.
And maybe it did, a little bit, because the next day Jana took us to a wonderful consignment shop in Jackson — bargain hunting is another Jana speciality — and I found one of those wonderful 1980s’ embellished skirt like you’d make and wear to a friend’s Casino Night party. Instead of thinking, “Wow, I could probably wear that,” I had a Jana-thought: “Wow, that would make an adorable pillow.” Of course, you need a Jana to make those thoughts come true, and she did. You know you’d pay $60-plus for this pillow in a decorating shop, but I got it for the $8 cost of the skirt and Jana’s sewing time, which she luckily didn’t charge me for. Aren’t friends wonderful?
And the Cajun hospitality at Jana’s house didn’t end with Jana. On our way back from the wedding we of course had to stop in Jackson to drop Jana off. We had driven through nail-bitingly scary heavy rain for hours and were suffering the after-effects of too much fun, but Jana’s husband, Don, met us at the door with restorative glasses of wine and a wonderful Cajun lunch of real authentic New Orleans mufulletas (the secret’s in the Central Grocery olive salad) chips and salsa and a fresh fruit salad that Don showed us how to liven up with chili powder — something I’d never tasted before but I really enjoyed. I know I’m embarrassing Jana and Don here by gushing all over them, but, really, when you have friends who go to so much trouble to make you feel special, then you just have to brag about them. I mean, folks pay good money to be treated like this, and Jana and Don did it just because they love us. Awwww…
So this wraps up my Cajun Week, with reports from my few days exploring Cajun Country. I had a blast and I hope you did, too. Can’t wait to go back. And check out my weekly TimesDaily column on the Cajun wedding, at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090918/ARTICLES/909185004
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.