Monday, October 17, 2011

My 77 Hours on the Left Coast

I just returned from a whirlwind weekend in San Francisco and parts therein. I've made several visits there over the years but, this time, my family came along and I loved introducing them to one of my favorite places.

The purpose of the trip was my nephew's wedding so that, of course, was the real highlight of the weekend. The nuptuals took place at The Tavern at Lark Creek, a charming Victorian inn nestled in a stand of redwood trees. Hard to say which was the more enticing aroma: food or trees! The weather was perfect, the bride and groom all smiles, and by day's end, they were well on their way to happily ever after and the rest of us were on our way to Frisco.

With a full moon shimmering overhead, the Bay was more enchanting than ever. With our limited time, we did what is de rigueur: Golden Gate Bridge, Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf, sea lions, Lombard Street, sourdough bread, and clam chowder. We mourned having to miss Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park, and a bike ride across the bridge itself, but we enjoyed an unanticipated trek (read: we got lost) through Oakland's International Container Terminal (a surprisingly interesting sidetrip!), a quick jaunt through the Larkspur Farmer's Market, and a marvelous stroll around Sausalito which culminated in a display of some wonderfully whimsical creations by Dr. Seuss at Petri's Fine Arts.

After so much romance, so much scenery, and lots of special moments with new friends and old, a last-minute suggestion led to the best denouement we could ever have hoped for. En route to the airport, we found ourselves at sunset at Ocean Beach. Oh, my goodness. California's coast has no shortage of stunning views, but this one is truly breathtaking. After our frenetic pace, it was like a visual elixer. We drank in the serenity, the more adventurous of us explored the morass of caves and baths below, then we joined up at Louis' Restaurant (less pretentious than Cliff House, and with an equally interesting history) to cap off our day.

Didn't leave our hearts in San Francisco but, boy, we sure brought home some good memories.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Things We Don't Forget

I was four years old when Hurricane Donna hit Hardee County, Florida in 1960. Let me save you the trouble of doing the math by telling you that, even though it’s been fifty years, I still vividly remember the experience—and I mean remember as in I can still play back specific moments in my head like a black and white movie. Black and white—or, more accurately, grey—because that’s all there is when a storm of that intensity comes to town: roiling grey skies . . . sheets of incessant grey rain . . . suffocating grey shadows in homes and offices where power failures make time and humidity unbearable . . . nothing but swirling, smothering, sopping, seething grey. It was like Mother Nature swept in and sucked out all the color in the world.

Wauchula in 1960 was right up there with Mayfield and Mayberry—a wonderful small town full of gracious homes, manicured yards, a friendly and flourishing downtown, and a thriving agricultural industry based on cattle and citrus groves. Ours was a close knit community of good citizens, good neighbors, and strong faith. Enter Donna, a storm that raged for nine days--September 2 to September 11—as she churned through the Atlantic, demolished Florida, then ripped on up the U.S. East Coast. To date, Donna is the only storm on record to generate hurricane-force winds from Florida to New England. A Category 3 storm for most of her duration, at one point, Donna actually grew into a Category 5. Because of her devastating impact (nearly $3 billion damage, in today’s dollars) and high mortality cost (364 people died), the National Hurricane Center declared that the name Donna would never again be used for an Atlantic storm.

To maintain my goal of blogging this year about “ten” things, I tried hard to come up with ten memories of Hurricane Donna, but I could only manage the four I’ve hung onto all these years. Perhaps some of you readers can finish off the list.

1. I remember sitting behind the screen of our front door watching the wind lift the right corner of the roof off the house across the street, over and over again. (The Lambert’s house.)
2. I remember watching a palm tree that stood in the corner of the Lambert’s yard blow over and crash into the roof.
3. I remember opening the garage door and walking out to stand in our driveway as the eye of the storm passed over. It was absolutely silent and I was mystified at how there could have been such turmoil and then such stillness.
4. I remember my mother cooking on a campstove.

Tragically, any mercy shown to my hometown in the years since Hurricane Donna came to a too-bizarre-to-seem-real end in the summer of 2004 when three hurricanes ravaged Hardee County back to back in a span of six weeks. Buildings that had stood for generations were destroyed, lives and livelihoods were swept away, there was no power for more than a week. Seven years later, the good people of Hardee County are still trying to recover; I'm not sure they ever will.

Thankful to be spared the wrath of Irene, I know their gratitude is accompanied by prayers for those in her path, because if you've lived through a Donna--or an Andrew, Charley, Hugo,Katrina, or Ike, you never forget.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More Potato Salad, Y'all?

Now that late afternoon temperatures seems more or less fixed above 70 degrees, it's time to start thinking about cook-outs. We've already fired up the grill several times in recent days, which got me thinking about who I'd love to invite over for ribs and chicken or burgers and dogs. I'd even throw a few portobellas on there, having recently expanded my gastronomical horizons with the reading of Michael Pollan's thoroughly engaging The Omnivore's Dilemma.

So who would I like to gather for a casual meal on my deck?

1. Kathy Bates - Kathy strikes me as a woman who cuts right to the chase. No folderol, no foolishness, no facade. Her new series, Harry's Law, showcases her wit and charm as well as her intolerance for shams and stupidity. I think we could have a serious good time talking about everything from the stupidity of six-inch heels to the unfailing madness of crowds.

2. Red Skelton - A funnier man never lived. Well, maybe Robin Williams, but with Red you get all the hilarity without all the profanity. Plus he was a genuinely nice guy. Nice people who make you laugh make great dinner guests.

3. Rhett Butler - Now here's a man who could liven up a barbecue. Not only would he charm the socks off everybody there, he'd undoubtedly have something in his jacket pocket that would add a little kick to the basting sauce. Smart, sexy, unpredictable and unafraid, there would be no dull moments with this man at the table.

4. Carol Burnett - Another woman who is so comfortable in her own skin that she makes everyone else comfortable, too. Funny, smart, a great teller of anecdotes, but happy to share the spotlight so she wouldn't hog the conversation.

5. Leo Buscaglia - I got to hear Leo speak once--even got to meet him and get one of his famous hugs afterwards. What a dear man! (If you've not read any of his books, you must.) One of those people who can always find something positive, who exults over simple pleasures such as a perfectly ripe tomato or the sweetness of a just-picked ear of corn, Leo's presence at a dinner party would guarantee a good time.

6. Jack Hanna - I got to see Jack Hanna once, too--front row seats. (Not necessarily a good thing when he's carrying a 20 ft. python!) Jack strikes me as a likeable fellow--compassionate, attentive to detail, lots of life experience without the ego you might expect. And you never know what he might have tucked away in his knapsack . . .

7. George and Laura Bush - I know you might not want them at your barbecue, but I think George and Laura are good people and would be great guests. I feel pretty sure George knows his way around a grill and I bet Laura would bring a delicious homemade dessert. I wouldn't have invited them while he was president, but now that they're just hanging out at the ranch, I'd love to chat about about raising cows and writing books and how the world reacts to a Southern drawl.

8. Patti Humphreys - I wasn't done with my precious friend Patti when God called her home a year ago, and I'd give anything to have her back in my kitchen helping me put ice in glasses and pouring up my crowd-pleasing sweet tea. Patti enjoyed a party like nobody else; you could hear her wonderful laugh spilling from every corner. At 75, Patti still possessed the wide-eyed curiosity (and enthusiasm) of a teenager; who doesn't want that in their midst?

9. Tugalo Rogers - My granddaddy died nearly 30 years before I was even thought about it, but I would love to put him in a rocking chair on my deck, then just sit back and listen. A lanky Alabama farmer who worked hard and played harder, I'm told his fiddle-playing and joke-telling made him a welcome guest at many a gathering.

10. Walter and Betsy Cronkite - For starters, Walter always made me think of Captain Kangaroo, whom I adored, plus he seemed like another of those genuinely decent folk who makes you feel good to be around. And any long-time married couple make great company because that shared history lets them finish each other's sentences and benefit from a tag-team approach to conversation. Betsy was a print journalist at one point and, like me, a mother of three, so we'd have plenty to talk about.

None of these people will ever grace my table or eat my husband's delicious grilled specialties, unfortunately, but it's fun to think about, nevertheless. So ponder and then tell me: whom would you like to have over for a cook-out?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ten Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and you are celebrating that, aren't you? Here are some terrific ways to make the most of the occasion:

  1. If you think you don't like poetry, or if you usually avoid it, use the month of April to expose yourself to poetry for 30 days. Lots of poetry sites offer up daily doses during Poetry Month; I shamelessly suggest MY site, of course: Click the "Subscribe" button on the left-hand side of the page and sign up for the "April Poetry Parade." Give me 30 days, and you don't have to read another poem till next April. But don't be surprised if you come back begging for more!

  2. Write a fan letter to your favorite poet. If he/she is alive, try a Google search or Facebook to find contact information. If your favorite poet is deceased, write an open letter that you share on FB or your blog. Even if the poet can't read it firsthand, the rest of us will enjoy knowing what makes his/her words special to you.

  3. Check out a book of poetry from your school or public library. Read it all the way through then choose at least one poem to share with a friend or family member. If you have children in your life, you OWE it to them to share poetry with them at least this one month out of the year. Children love poetry; your librarian should be able to recommend sure-to-please titles. You can never go wrong with Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Eve Merriam, Jack Prelutsky, Jane Yolen, or Frank Asch. I adore How Now, Brown Cow, by Alice Schertle.

  4. If you can afford it, buy a book of poetry. At your local independent bookstore is always best, or directly from a poet (at a reading, for example), but even a thrift store purchase helps the cause. Tons of people write poetry; not so many buy it. Set an example and be proud!

  5. Visit a poetic place. They're everywhere! Here where I live, near the Blue Ridge mountains, there's Carl Sandburg's home in Flat Rock, NC. Concord, MA, is teeming with poets' homes, as is Boston and New York. James Whitcomb Riley has two homes in and near Indianapolis . . . you'll find a listing of all sorts of poetic places here.

  6. Ask a favorite restaurant or business if they'll post a poem (or several!) during the month of April. Maybe the owner is a fan of Robert Frost or his daughter likes Jewel. If they don't have a preference, offer up a favorite of your own to post by the cash register or even on the bathroom mirror. The worst that can happen is that they'll say no, but if they agree, think how many people will read that poem in the course of a month. You might change somebody's life!

  7. Watch a movie in which poetry plays a role. "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Barfly," "Sophie's Choice," "Million Dollar Baby". . . you'd be astonished how many there are. Or go all out and watch a movie about a poet: "Bright Star," about John Keats; "Sylvia," about Sylvia Plath, and "Shakespeare in Love" come most immediately to mind. You'll find a gazillion other possibilities if you search online for 'poetry in movies.'

  8. Read a poet's biography. From the sheltered routine of Emily Dickinson to the bawdy brawls of Charles Bukowski, poets come from as diverse backgrounds as you can imagine. Treat yourself to some insider information and you might find a whole new layer of meaning beneath poems you only thought you understood.

  9. Host a poetry reading for your friends or family. We twenty-first centurions are missing out on a great tradition of the past: salons. Embrace your inner host/hostess, rearrange the furniture, borrow your Aunt Vinnie's antique punch bowl set and let the good times roll! If there's a poet in your circle of friends, invite him or her to be the guest of honor and read a few poems. Then let others read poems they've brought along--either something they've written themselves, or a favorite by somebody else. Add exotic wines or teas, an array of treats and finger foods, an impromptu ukelele or piano solo, and voila! Instant salon! Or keep it simple and invite every member of the family to select a poem to read and share at the supper table every Sunday night in April. Either way, you'll up your poetic (and cultural) horizon at least a notch.

  10. Commit Random Acts of Poetry. My friend Wendy Morton did this on an official scale for many years in Canada. Poets on the Loose is doing it in the Northwest. I challenge you to find the most creative ways you can think of to interject poetry into your life and the lives of those around you during the month of April. Volunteer to read poetry at your child's daycare center or your grandmother's nursing home. Ask your church if they'll print a poem in the bulletin every Sunday in April. Pair up with a buddy and hand out copies of your favorite poems to people at the bus station. Stage a 24-hour poetry reading marathon outside a truck stop. Your imagination knows no end and I know you'll astound me with the clever ways you'll come up with to celebrate National Poetry Month. Let me hear from you so your great ideas can inspire someone else!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Ten Things That Are So Good I Want You to Know About Them

Okay, here we go, singing the praises of products and services I absolutely would not want to live without. I’m not shilling; I have no connection to any of these except #9 and #10—and I will provide full disclosure when I get to those.

1. James Foods Caterer’s Select Chicken Pot Pie – Just discovered this fabulous product last week at my local Bi-Lo (the company tells me Ingles, Harris Teeter, and Food Lion carry their products, too). The pie provided four ample servings and costs around $8, so it’s a great value, but more importantly, it tastes like your grandmother made it! Even my son commented on the flaky, tasty crust—and he is not a man to notice things like that. Plenty of chicken, bright, plump peas and carrots, well seasoned, and went from frozen to dinner plates in an hour and a half. Not low-cal or low-fat, but it is a pie, after all! I’m keeping several in my freezer from now on.

2. Diner’s Choice Orange Herbal Tea – Found this little jewel of a bargain in Big Lots back in the fall. Amazingly, they’ve had it in stock ever since, but I live in fear that one day, I won’t be able to find it, so I’m trying to track down the manufacturer. It’s excellent tea—smells heavenly, has the perfect amount of orange flavor, and it is A DOLLAR A BOX. Yep, 18 cups of morning bliss for a buck. Sorry, Twinings; you’ve lost me as a customer for a while.

3. Jolly Time Healthy Pop Crispy White Naturally Flavored Microwave Pop Corn – I like my popcorn pure—no butter, no oil, and no (or minimal) salt. Do you know how hard that is to find? Thank you, Jolly Time, for giving me what I want. 250 calories for the entire bag (3 bags to a box), and if I add thirty seconds to the “Popcorn” setting on my microwave, virtually every kernel pops into a beautiful, white fluffy…um…whatever popcorn becomes when it’s not a kernel anymore. Bonus: Jolly Time is a family owned company and has a great website:

4. Pantene Ice Shine Shampoo – I’ve used Pantene products off and on over the years and found them to be good, if not electrifyingly different. I’ve also been known to ask women with gorgeous hair what kind of hair products they use and, very often, the answer is “Pantene.” Ironically, almost every stylist I’ve ever known condemns it as a horrible brand which will ruin your hair; not sure why unless they view it as a threat to their own ridiculously overpriced products. In any case, I bought my first bottle of Ice Shine about a year ago because the clean, clear packaging was so appealing. It is awesome shampoo—for my hair, at least—which is long and fine. People actually comment on how shiny my hair is! (Lots of other positive experiences with it reported on Epinion.) Besides being shiny, my hair also feels healthier than it ever has, and it’s easier to manage. I have a brilliant and gifted stylist (bless you, Natalie Brown!) who deserves much of that credit, but I think Ice Shine deserves some, too. So imagine my utter horror when I discovered that Pantene has discontinued this product!! Go figure. But that explains why there are bucket loads of it sitting at Big Lots; stock up, people!

5. Glad Press’n Seal Wrap – I’ve lost my religion more than once trying to put plastic wrap on a bowl of leftovers that wasn’t made of glass or CorningWare. And what’s the point of covering it with aluminum foil if you have to replace that with plastic wrap to reheat it? Press ‘n Seal is a miracle product. It saves frustration, time, and money, because it sticks to ANYTHING, instantly and easily. It even has a little stretch to it so you can eke out that extra eighth of an inch you need to seal things up tight. I am amazed how many people I talk to who don’t know about this product. Hie thee to the paper goods aisle! You and your leftovers will thank me. It comes in handy for a thousand other tasks as well; check out some creative ideas here!

6. International Delight French Vanilla Coffee Creamer – I love chai, but I refuse to pay $4+ for a cup of flavored water and a squirt of steamed milk. With this yummy stuff, I don’t have to. One tea bag, a cup of hot water, and a dollop of Delight, and I am a happy girl. They make lots of other mouthwatering flavors, but I keep coming back to this one. Other brands are not as good; accept no substitutes! Next time you’re cold, try this tasty warm-up: a packet of hot chocolate, a cup of boiling water, a splash of Kahlua, and a big dollop of IDFVCC. Happiness, thy name is hot beverage! More recipes (theirs, not mine) at

7. Shout Stain Remover – Other stain removers don’t work. Period. I’ve stopped experimenting. Tough stains sometimes require a second application, but I am constantly amazed at what Shout can do. I got grease spills all over the front of my favorite turquoise turtleneck last weekend (stir fry with no apron; dumb, dumb, dumb) and I was sure it was ruined. Wrong! Just like their advertising promises, I Shouted it out!

8. Blue – My husband once remarked that I spend more time picking out a greeting card than I do picking out a house. Yeah, well, greeting cards are important to me—but they’re not worth what most of them cost these days. Blue Mountain has a huge selection of everything from inspirational to interactive e-cards, with new ones added all the time. And if you don't think you can bring yourself to give up the real thing, you have the option to print out your cards and mail them. $10 a year lets you send unlimited cards plus gives you two additional accounts to share. My favorite features: a reminder service that lets me know when someone’s birthday is coming up, and the ability to schedule a card whenever I have time or happen to think about it, then have it delivered on the appropriate date.

9. Constant Contact – For years, I struggled with sending out my newsletters and publicity materials through e-mail. Outlook was a joke, Yahoo and I almost came to blows, and Google wasn’t much better; mail servers are simply not designed for mass mailings. Then I discovered Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing company that is specifically designed for mass mailings. Literally overnight, my life became infinitely easier. Literally. I was so impressed, I asked if I could become one of their “solution providers,” so I could help people learn how to use this wonderful service. If you send recurring mail to a mailing list of more than a hundred people, Constant Contact will make your life better overnight. It runs about $15/month, depending on the size of your mailing list; you will have SO much fun using their templates and images and features, and you will LOVE being able to track and monitor your marketing materials. If you’re interested, let me know; maybe I can get you a deal.

10. Your Daily Poem – Don’t like poetry? That’s okay; most people don’t. But will you give me sixty seconds a day for one week—that's a measly 7 minutes of your life!—to see if maybe, just maybe, imbibing a bit of poetry might actually turn out to be fun? There’s even an option for a weekly or monthly poem if you don't think you can handle a daily dose—but you’d be shocked by how many poetry-haters have grown to LOVE starting their day with Marge Piercy’s advice on what to do with excess zucchini or Shoshauna Shy’s confession that a foreign accent makes her blood sizzle like butter in a skillet. Hey, it’s free, it’s fun, there’s a comment box so if you hate the poem you get to SAY so, and you can cancel your subscription at any time, with no lip from me. How fair is that?

Thursday, January 13, 2011


1. Velcro – This time-saving, energy-saving, sanity-saving product was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer who returned home after a hunting trip with his dog one day and was intrigued by all the burrs stuck to his pants and the dog’s fur. He put the burrs under a microscope, discovered their configuration of “hooks” that attached themselves to anything with fibers or hairs, and was inspired to create Velcro (from the French words velour and crochet which, in English, mean velvet and hook). George’s eventual invention is considered by many to be one of the greatest of the 20th century. Any mother who has ever tried to put sneakers on a two-year-old will agree.

2. Disposable diapers – I used cloth diapers with my first two children, convinced that only pure, white cotton cloth was appropriate for my precious babies’ bottoms. By the time Child Number Three came around, I had completely changed my mind, deciding that disposable diapers—while perhaps not the best option for the universe—were definitely the most comfortable, most hygienic, and healthiest option for my little guy. You may disagree, and that’s fine; cloth diapers did well by many centuries worth of babies. But there’s no denying that in certain circumstances—long distance travel, for example—disposable diapers make life infinitely more pleasant for everyone. Even my mother, a purist who continued to make pimiento cheese from scratch long after Kraft offered it up in a jar, sang their praises. She told me how hard it was to be on the road with a baby in the ‘40s and ‘50s. “They had what they called disposable diapers,” she said, “but they were nothing like what you have today. Mothers had a really hard time of travelling with a baby back then. This is a wonderful choice to have.” I agree.

3. Gas pumps that take credit cards – Do you wake up your sleeping child and drag him inside to pay for your gas or do you leave him in his car seat, alone and unattended, but sleeping peacefully? This is the decision I was faced with every time I bought gas in those days after station attendants had stopped coming to the car and pumping gas FOR you but before anyone came up with the brilliant idea to install credit card readers at the pump. Bless whoever that was! Maybe it was a mom.

4. Board books– As a book lover eager to share my passion for reading with my children, I learned the hard way that babies’ enthusiasm can be lethal. I saw more than a few beautiful books destroyed before I figured out that board books was the better choice for the under-5 set. No, you might not find all your favorite tales available in a board book format, but that’s okay; they’ll appreciate a good story later on, even if they haven’t had a chance to gnaw on it first.

5. Baby seats in grocery carts – Why did it take so long for this to be invented? When I think of all the years I hauled pillows and towels and car seats and belts in and out of grocery stores trying to keep my children safe and secured in a grocery cart . . .

6. Playpen – Should you leave your child in a playpen for hours at a time? Of course not. But if you have to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, deal with an emergency, catch your breath, tend to an older child, prevent a disaster, etc., a playpen is a godsend. At least until he is old enough to climb out of it, it’s a place to keep your child safe and in one place long enough for you to deal with the problem at hand.

7. Microwave – Yes, you should nurse your baby if at all possible. But if you can’t, a microwave is a blessing right up there with sliced bread and electricity (and thanks for that, too, Mr. Franklin!) when all that stands between a screaming infant and instant gratification is the temperature of the milk. We moms appreciate microwaves all the way from infancy up through those home-from-college-and-heating-up-leftovers days.

8. Camera – Yes, you were there for the moment, but years after that first birthday, that first day at school, that first dance, that first competition, those photos can transport us. A camera lets you hang on to those memories forever. Digital cameras have made that even better, because they’ve eliminated the expense of printing photos. Click away, mamas! Those moments will never come again.

9. Skype – If you’re not blessed to have your loved ones close at hand, keeping your kids connected to extended family can be a challenge. My brother-in-law was on sea duty when my nephew was born; it was months before he got to see his son. Today, moms and dads in service can tell their children good night every night, read them a bedtime story, and be there for everything from birthday parties to skinned knees thanks to the miracle of Skype. Grandparents don’t have to go months without seeing their grandchildren; they can spend a few minutes together every day. Truly a gift and a miracle when you think about all those pioneer families for whom heading west to a better life meant not seeing their families again for years at a time.

10. Libraries – Books for you, books for your child, as many as you want, and all FREE! Not only that, most libraries offer children’s story hours and special programs such as puppet shows, craft classes, and discussions that will enrich the lives of your whole family. Some of my best memories as a young mother are library outings: watching excerpts from “The Nutcracker,” listening to authors talk about their books, “petting” symphony instruments, looking at art exhibits and, best of all, coming home with armloads of books that translated into hours of quality time together each week . . .now that’s a treasure!

What inventions have you enjoyed and appreciated most as a mother?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ten Best Objects to Inspire Creativity

Here’s my new year’s commitment: a weekly top ten list on my blog. Hardly an original concept, but good discipline and, hopefully, fun for you as you see the odd and sundry streams my consciousness explores during the course of seven days. Off we go!

Ten Best Objects to Inspire Creativity

Whether for you--to sidestep a deadline, lift you out of a funk, or stimulate your muse--or for your children--when cash is limited, you don’t want to make a trip to the store, or you want to stimulate their muse—here are ten things that offer hours’ worth of entertainment:

1. A box of crayons—best served with a side of paper. My favorite crayon memory: creating a puppet show of Cinderella. I made the characters out of a white shirt box and the theatre out of a brown cardboard box; I worked on that project for days, and enjoyed it for months afterwards.

2. Pipe cleaners—I haven’t seen anyone with a pipe in thirty years, but I presume pipe cleaners still exist—for crafters, if not for pipe-smokers! Great entertainment for road trips (for passengers, not drivers), shopping trips (the kids may not even notice how long it’s taking you to try on those clothes), and those challenging too-old-for-children’s-church-but-too-young-for-the-sermon years!
3. Duct tape—There’s pretty much nothing you can’t create from duct tape. My son has made DT cell phone holders, DT shoes, DT glasses cases, DT wallets…and did you know your teen could win a cash scholarship for creating duct tape prom outfits?

4. Old magazines—Give me a magazine and I can stay busy for days. Paper dolls, collages, “found” poems, writing prompts, paper jewelry, examples of great ads, term paper topics, etc. etc. etc. Needless to say, some titles offer more potential than others. I recently flipped through a copy of Us magazine; oh, my, what a waste of a tree!

5. Fabric remnants—If you like to sew or quilt, the possibilities here are obvious, but even if you don’t, I think scraps of material can set off a maelstrom of ideas. If you have remnants of different textures (like fleece, fur, or satin), that’s even more fun. One of my sons’ pediatricians had a fabric collage of a farm covering one wall of his waiting room, with quilted white batting for clouds, beige burlap for hay, red and white gingham for the barn, etc. Even after all these years, every time I remember that wonderful mural, it makes me want to start piecing together grass and cornstalks!

6. A can of spray paint—This option is probably not good for the under 10 set, but otherwise, a can of spray paint and an ugly, worn out, or cast aside object can make for a busy and productive afternoon. Who knows what “repurposing” possibilities you might have lurking under your sink or in your garden shed?

7. A wicker basket—Any size, any style. Give it a coat of spray paint (see #6!), weave in a length of ribbon or a few silk flowers, add a few cookies, and you have a terrific gift that’s filled with lots of love. Baskets also offer great possibilities as storage containers and wall decorations.

8. Shoeboxes -- Now I tend to fill them with toys and donate them to Operation Christmas Child, but as a child, I turned them into beds for my dolls, decorated them and used them to store “special treasures,” turned them into buildings and made shoebox “villages,” glued same-size ones together to make shelving units, and created custom-decorated homes for critters ranging from frogs to baby chicks.

9. Buttons—Well, you could hunt down the garments they came from and sew them back on, but if the buttons in your button box are like mine, they’ve probably been around so long you have no idea from whence they came. Use them to make jewelry instead, or mix them with construction paper and a few scraps of #5 to create adorable greeting cards. 4-year-olds and up can string them into “button people” with shoelaces or yarn, or arrange them into pictures and glue them onto paper or cardboard.

10. A legal pad—Ah, now this is the best tool of all to get those creative juices flowing! What’s on your mind: a grocery list? Things to do today? An overdue letter to your favorite aunt? A few lines about the chat you had with your son this morning? You’d be surprised how easily the words come when you give them a chance.
My snowman, by the way, which I built Christmas Day on the rail of our deck, was inspired by a tiny little box I found rolling around among some giftwrap. I thought it looked like it had great potential as a hat. When I found a little piece of gingham ribbon a few moments later, and a leftover marker from some long-disposed of game, I knew instantly they had a new purpose in life!