Monthly Archives: May 2010

Guerrilla Needlecraft: The Secret Life of an Antenna Tagger

Late at night, after my neighbor’s lights are out, I troll the streets armed only with a handful of fabric or crocheted yarn looking for a likely vehicle —  one that still has a radio antenna. I (carefully)slip one of my exclusive, hand-wrought, goofy sleeves over the aerial and run home giggling like a loon.

My name is Flowerbomba and I’m a suburban antenna tagger. (All us fabric guerillas use an alias.)

What in Sam Hill has come over me? Why is a respectable law-abiding woman spending time making objects like this and slipping them on unknown cars and SUVs while ‘Villians are drifting off to whatever late night show peeps are watching these days?

Well, it’s cheap. Like most knitters, crocheters and seamstresses, I have a boatload of weird ends of yarn, fabric scraps in acreage sufficient to mop up a major environmental disaster, stray buttons and a dozen fabric origami flowers and yoyos crowding the sewing basket.

It keeps me cheerful, and my hands always itch for a small, brainless, soothing project to keep them busy, like crocheting a few rows with fuzzy white yarn. and then hand sewing them into a tube. Um, and then decorating it with found trims.

I had a design breakthrough today! Check out the shocking pink dealio with little yoyos that’ll flutter in the wind:

Today’s other only decorated sleeve is the pink floral topped by a Japanese fabric flower and a button. I’ll dress up a couple of the others and leave the rest plain — they’ll slip into my purse for daylight wrapping, at the library parking lot perhaps, or the Police Station. I did see one minivan pull out of the grocery store with my calico tag still in place.

(Note: Please don’t call them Car Condoms — grrrrr! — or comment on their phallic shape. If antennas were pyramidal,the covers would be too. )

Then there’s the HeeHee Rush Factor — it’s the same adrenaline high of soaping someone’s windows or slapping a Kick Me sign on a fellow third-grader’s back with none of the malevolence or meanness. For the first time in my life I understand the motives of those middle-class arty teens with spray paint.

I’m a little afraid of what form of self-expression I’ll take up next. I wish I were young enough to find a road work job that would pay huge overtime and root out any of my mental moonbeams from sheer fatigue. Until then, remember my nom do guerre: that’s Flowerbomba, Homies!


Filed under Art, Free, HeeHee, On the Street Where I Live, Yarn

The Cheap Cheerful Grill From Outer Space

How many grills have we owned? Well, there was that notebook-sized hibachi that sat on the floor of the wooden back porch of a Chicago-style six flat; it’s surprising a stray spark didn’t start the Great Chicago Fire of 1977. After moving to the ‘Ville there must have been a couple of journeyman barbecues until the coming of the gas grills in, what, the late eighties? My mother bought us two, which will bring us to the mid nineties. Since then: a cylindrical smoker/grill combo and three Weber knockoffs.  If you don’t cover your grill for a couple of Illinois winters you deserve the rusty gut bucket that emerges from the snowdrifts in late March. This March our grill had lost both feet to, the wheels were creaky and it was time to reequip ourselves for the summer.

The biennial debate began. We don’t smoke (food,) we don’t throw those incredible cookouts for fifty that my friend Dean does, we don’t cook carcasses bigger than a spatchcocked chicken. We don’t cook things long, slow and smoky with much rearrangement of coals. We always think we will, that this year we’ll become Grillmasters, but …

That’s not what happens. We grill a few pizzas a summer, lots of vegetables and little bits of meat and poultry — with the exception of the pizza, pretty much what we cooked on the original hibachi. Our summer entertainments rarely exceed six people. We loathe replacing tanks of propane and never found a gas grill that got hot enough for us. I’m shy about admitting this, but the favorite grill we’ve ever owned was the original hibachi, even though I had to cook on my knees while disco pounded from the neighbor’s radio.

I think this goofy little number might just be my new favorite. I call it The Grill from Outer Space, because with a couple of tinfoil antennas,and my daughter’s Lego spacemen in the garage I think I could video a cheesy sixties Space Opera using it as a prop Sputnik.

It’s fourteen inches in diameter and about twenty inches tall. Cheap: 14.95. Cheerful? I think it’s adorable. It has clips that hold the top to the base, so we can trundle it about to parks and picnics. It uses amusingly little charcoal,gets very hot very fast and stays hot enough to char a rare skirt steak or sizzle up some chicken thighs. It’s big enough to accommodate a pizza, a bunch of burgers a flattened chicken, a few pork tenderloins and variety of vegetables — not at the same time of course.

It’s so cuddly and user-friendly that we’ve grilled more times this week than we did all last summer. And hey — I can pick it up and overwinter it on a shelf in the garage. Grill has met girl, and he’s her hunka burning love.


Filed under Food, Holidays, Home, Machines, The Great Outdoors, Twenty bucks

Caftans: Time Has Come Again

Today was the late spring day of anyone’s dreams — high seventies, sunny, dry, breezy. I  planted seeds  without breaking a sweat. We had cocktails on the patio checking out the tiny brilliant moth who joins us for drinks every night. Life is good. But I’m not gonna forget a couple of nights ago when the temp and the humidity almost had me lying on the tile floor with the cats, naked, too hot to eat, too hot to think.

I’d had the late night refreshing shower and all, but when I looked about for something to slip into, I was screwed. Terrycloth robe — har!  Jeans , no way. In fact anything — pants,   even an apron worn commando, would have been too tight and hot. I wanted something easy, long, floaty, cotton pull-over-the head-easy.

That would be a caftan. I haven’t thought about caftans since the seventies, when Elizabeth Taylor dressed them up with a couple pounds of emeralds, Michelle Phillips floated about, and Aretha nailed them down politically. But on that sweaty night, as I was standing on the bathmat and reviewing my wardrobe choices I yearned for a caftan.

Well, yeah, I sew, so I decided to get a step up on the sultry days to come, and find a caftan pattern. Off to Joanne Fabrics and a half hour with the pattern books. I felt sad. I made most of my clothes for a coupla decades and as an hereditary seamstress and fashionista  the current books  depressed me. Even Vogue Patterns. Lord, I used to sew jackets from YSL when I was in my thirties. Even Vogue doesn’t  have those rights anymore. God, I’m glad I saved the patterns for that Bill Blass shirtdress and that Ungaro suit.

A caftan pattern in 2010 hard to find. This is what I bought:

This is hardcore caftanhood, but I think I’m going to make the white caftan on the white dude, but not in white. If it’ s as easy sewing  as I  think it will be, I’m making a few for that stifling night step-out-of-the-shower moment. Or the drinks on the patio moment. Please send emeralds.


Filed under Body, How Cool is That?, Needlework

Russian Comfrey: The Plant from Hell, or Belgorod

Let’s talk about my gardening mistakes. Buy a keg and stop  by — when the two of us have emptied it we’ll have arrived at the story of Comrade Comfrey, the monster mafiya thug in my garden.

See him? That big ole hosta is  two and a half feet tell, so you get the scale. He’s lurking in the background with his hairy leaves and droopy violet flowers. We rarely name our plants because 1)My father is a strict Gardening Latin guy and I try not to shame myself when I talk plants with him, and 2)My roses have pretty names of their own — Therese Bugnet, Abraham Darby and Betty Prior for three.  But Comrade Comfrey isn’t just a plant: (Symphytum x uplandicum , Daddy) he’s my garden antagonist, my Professor Moriarty, my own personal KGB Colonel.  Somehow, “That damned Symphytum x uplandicum” doesn’t have the right ring. We curse him by name.

Oh, twenty years ago I went through a misguided and unselective  course of reading about medicinal herbs, and bought a book called “Medicinal Herbs”. The authors were true believers, and described comfrey (folk name Knitbone) as a cross between penicillin and all-natural steroid skin ointment. There is some evidence, real clinical trials and everything, that prove that used topically it can speed up healing of flesh wounds, rashes, bug bites  — even acne. But the authors neglected to provide the small print: “When taken internally in sufficient quantities Symphytum x uplandicum may cause liver failure and some forms of cancer.”

So much for combining it with sorrel for soup. Darina Allen provides a recipe for Comfrey Fritters in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking, but she adds this caveat: “No one should eat too much comfrey as it can cause liver toxicity’but these fritters, made from the young leaves are nutritious and delicious — in small doses of course.” Ta, Love.

Wouldn’t you know, the best purpose for Comrade Comfrey is to him cut him up and let him rot! He’s such a hog for nutrients that  he makes a sensational fertilizer tea or mulch. Check this out, from the interwebs — not only does peeing on him not kill him, it makes him strong. The Commissars trained him well.

Comfrey is a fast growing plant, producing huge amounts of leaf during the growing season, and hence is very nitrogen hungry. Although it will continue to grow no matter what, it will benefit from the addition of animal manure applied as a mulch, and can also be mulched with other nitrogen rich materials such as lawn mowings, and is one of the few plants that will tolerate the application of fresh urine diluted 50:50 with water, although this should not be regularly added as it may increase salt levels in the soil and have adverse effects on soil life such as worms.

Comrade wasn’t planted near the hosta, he was planted in a bed thirty feet away. When I was slashing the original plant with a machete a piece of one leaf blew across the lawn and found a place it liked. That monster grew from one leaf lying on the ground. It spreads more efficiently than mint. (Mint: My gardening mistake #1.  Bring over the rum and I’ll tell you all about it over mojitos.) I thought Victor and amigos had eradicated the original plant. Hah!

So last night we surrendered. The KGB has won and our garden’s in the hands of the plant Politburo. Long live Comrade Comfrey and Mother Russia.


Filed under Growing things, Home, On the Street Where I Live, The Great Outdoors

I Hate Hot Weather. Hate It.

Today was another hot — over 90 degrees, day here on the prairie, with humidity to match. Oh, I had soooo many plans for today. Hah.

I don’t know how people exist in the southeast of this country — you know, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama: the places where it’s great weather for kudzu, but bad weather for eye makeup. I have beloved friends who live there who make great lives for themselves, whether it be in business, cooking or writing. They’ve managed to keep their brains and energies intact, when today I felt mine slipping away. My mother gave my tiny daughter a science book called “You’re Dumber in the Summer” which explained how the higher the temp, the slower the cerebral cortex.William  Faulkner, Dave Scantland, Brooks Hamacker, Rachel Dulsey and Eudora Welty are swell examples of peeps who haven’t descended to the status of sweaty morons because of the weather, but I’m not. I’m dumber in the summer.

A caveat: It really isn’t the heat, it’s the humidity. In Southern California it can be 95, but with the breeze and the face wrinkling heat, to say nothing of the cool nights and the wind off the Pacific, I can handle it. In fact I love it.But here in the Chicago burbs it was very hot and nasty muggy. I will post pix of my cats attempting to find some cool. You really don’t want to know what I looked like. Sweaty lemming crossed with Medusa.

Ajax making one of his rare daylight appearances, his tummy resting on cool grass. He can hide under the hostas if he’s scared, which is mostly.

At mid day, Willow chose a pragmatic place. (and yes, the State of Illinois did send me that random plate.)

So how did a cheap and cheerful Chicago girl of Canadian heritage get  though this day? Well, I reminded myself of my Northern superiority: in wintertime you can add clothes. In summertime naked is naked, and it doesn’t make you one bit cooler. There’s no other layer to strip.

So I planted this morning and just about passed out. Then I showered with lovely Florentine soap and changed into a  –skirt!  Single, married or divorced ladies  : we don’t have to go bifurcated! Wear bare  legs, and a loose skirt. Catch the breeze.

Then I hung out in the A/C at  Walgreens and bought stuff I mostly needed. The PO was cool, and I bought a sheet of postcard stamps. I checked skirt patterns and my cotton stash: a summer skirt is a true cheap and cheerful thing. So is a shower. But no hair products will ever tame my crazy hair in humid weather.

Greenland is looking pretty good right now. So is a bath with my homemade lavender bath salts. And a long glass of pear cider.


Filed under Uncategorized

It’s Gonna be Different this Year. I Swear.

Ah, May in Chicagoland! Remember, last Monday I was bitching because it was so cold that we turned on the furnace? Today it’s ninety degrees in the shade. The first hot Sunday of the year spurs me to run off the financial cliff like a sweaty lemming.

I drive, trance-like, to a fabulous and pretty darn pricey local nursery called The Planter’s Palette. Surrounded by hundreds of fellow gardening lemmings I walk the immaculate brick-paved rows, lust-crazed for the enormous selection of , well, name it!  annuals, perennials, herbs, old rare roses, vegetables, cool pots and garden furniture, astrolabes and birdbaths. This is no common or garden Garden Center. Hidden fountains burble away, secret gardens are tucked in here and there — if it weren’t for the price tags, this place is my Eden.

Until I pay up. Great gulping gazanias! The cashier always checks for your name on the computer, because if you spend fifty grand (or something) they mail you a twenty-five dollar gift certificate. In fifteen years of giving them money I shouldn’t , I’ve received  fifty dollars back, and like any submissive greedy gardener I’ve been so grateful it verges on lame.

This year Lou the Killjoy decided he’d come along as a kind of designated shopping cart watchdog, and I was glad. We hired Victor the landscaper to weed,prune and mulch before Lloyd came and we made a pact that we’d maintain what’s left this summer and limit new purchases to herbs. The only garden plans we have this summer is to expand the perennial herb garden to the left of the kitchen door.The chives, tarragon and marjoram overwintered well, and I’ll add sage and thyme. Sage is surprisingly tough in this climate, and with some coddling the thyme may come back. The rosemary and basil will be transplanted into pots, so I can squeeze a couple more months from them indoors come fall.

The uncharacteristically tiny haul:

We decided we could get wild and crazy and buy a tomato plant. These are photographed against the background of rosa Henry Hudson  rioting away.

A different view for the followers of Willow. As always, she was right there with me, eager to help.

I bought a couple of packages of Renee’s Garden seeds I’d never consider a summer without: Nasturtiums “Cherries Jubilee” and Cosmos ” Double Pink Bon Bon.” They’ll be planted in containers.

So I’m feeling smug and virtuous. Maybe this will be the only trip I make to Planter’s Palette this year!  Maybe I’ll be able to harden my heart to those pathetic flats of midsummer marked-down annuals. (They just need some TLC.) Maybe this year I’ll keep up with the weeding! Shoe addicted girlfriends can sneak a new pair into the house past a footwear-blind husband  — no prob. It’s harder to get away with “That row of hydrangeas? They’ve always been there, Darling.”


Filed under Growing things, Home, On the Street Where I Live, The Great Outdoors

Didier Boursin’s Origami Wallet

I wish I had something male to name. A son, unless by some Sarah-like miracle, is out A grandson – well I’d be so dazed with joy that they could name the kid Ebenezer and I’d say “How fresh and unusual! And no one in his class will have the same name!” But I suspect I’m going to have to adopt a tomcat if I want a namesake for Dider Boursin, a French origami master whose parents blessed him with the name fit for a swashbuckling French aristocrat who comes from a long line of cheesemakers. Hey – if I ever write a bodice-ripper I’ll know what to name the ripper!

Boursin is an architect by training, and a startlingly original folder. Origami purists tut tut at his oeuvre, because he occasional uses scissors – a serious solecism . But his animals and containers are so original, modern and witty that I can pick them out in a paper line up.

And now I’m going to show you one of his least eye-catching folds — for a wallet. There are as many cool origami wallets and there are origami books on my bookshelf, and I love all of them, mostly because they’re so practical and can be made from any 8 ½ X 11 sheet of paper.  I wouldn’t store my driver’s licence or credit cards in one, but it’s just the thing to keep your purse neat – tuck in the dry cleaner receipt, stamps, ticket stubs, business cards and photos.

These are without doubt the worst step-by-step origami photos I’ve ever taken, so I’ll try to talk you through the process. Like the best of practical origami it’s undemanding, and after a couple of attempts you’ll make it by heart in less than two minutes. I used construction paper, which isn’t the best choice because its soft texture prevents really sharp folds.

1) Fold a 1 ½ in. horizontal fold backwards at the top of the wallet:

2)Fold the short sides forward, again, an inch and a half.

3) Do the same with the bottom horizontal edge.

4) This is where the photography may hurt rather than help! Fold the top of the sheet down toward the bottom, and tuck it into the bottom flap about halfway. Crease sharply. It should resemble an open wallet with two horizontal slots to hold your stuff.5) Fold it left to right,to  about a quarter inch from the right edge. Turn it over and repeat on the reverse. This makes a cute little spine.

6)The finished wallet.

Unless you’re a paper nerd like me. I dug around for  a stamp I carved a few years ago, inked it sloppily, and decorated the cover.

If you can make this wallet from my sorry pictures, let me know! Honest, this is cheap, cheerful and useful.


Filed under Art, Free, Origami, Paper