Babysitting was one thing I succeeded at in high school. I was in demand in my neighborhood because of my little bag. Not to toot my own horn, but I was kind of the freakin’ Mary Poppins of Arlington Heights with this bag. It was my little craft bag and it was full of construction paper and pipe cleaners and googly eyes. Even more important than the stuff and the instructions to make egg carton caterpillars was the fact that I liked it. I think that’s what kept the kids interested; they knew I wasn’t just giving them busy work because I was so excited about doing the projects myself. Yes, I was a Teenage Craft Nerd. I loved making crayon melts and paper mache.
It was stress-relief. It took me away from the AP French class that I was failing and was sure would ruin my future forever. (I would be living in a cardboard box under a freeway because of that F! It would go on my PERMANENT record! I still hyperventilate a little at the memory. The things I worry about now…it almost makes me nostalgic.) But craft time with the kids put my mental energy into something manageable. Like tissue paper flowers. You can bet your sweet ass that now that I have kids of my own we have jars of pompons and googly eyes and glitter glue littering the house. In fact, in my glee, I bought them waaay too soon. All a two-year-old knows how to do with googly eyes is throw them all over the floor. Repeatedly.
The other thing is: I’ve always been stunningly bad at making things. Hilariously bad. I wish I’d saved a sewing project from those high school days. In a fit of ambition I decided to make a dress from old tablecloths. I took apart one of my princess-seamed dresses and used the pieces as a pattern. Pretty crafty eh? Well, it went downhill from there. I lack any kind of skill with a sewing machine. It’s amazing I didn’t sew my fingers to the dress. The neckline ended up looking like someone with palsy and a bad caffeine habit had drawn it and one sleeve was longer than the other. The hemline traveled from knee to shin randomly. I still wore it a couple of times, though, to the immense amusement of all who saw me. Hey! I MADE this dammit!
I can’t help myself. I love to make things. I love to read about projects and I dream big DIY dreams. And I screw it up so so so bad. Lately I’m into this thing called upcycling. You take things that would normally go into the garbage or recycling bin and make them into useful or beautiful things for your home. (In theory at least) I found these instructions for a wine bottle torch and immediately wanted to make it. My husband was skeptical, but kept it to himself, mostly.
The first step was getting to the hardware store. The wine bottles, I have. Oh do I have. I’ve been saving them for awhile for another project that is bound to end in an emergency room visit: the bottle cutter. I plan to cut them into lovely vases and drinking glasses. Meanwhile they sit and collect dust.
So off to get hardware. When I first entered the Home Depot I encountered a young man in the tell-tale orange vest and held out my computer print-out grinning sheepishly, “Does any of this look familiar to you? Do you know where I might find it?” He peered at the picture and pointed me towards the plumbing aisle where I found a lovely older man with a thick old country (not sure which one) accent. He was infinitely amused by me and absolutely delighted to help me find all my copper fittings and caps. After handing me the last piece he said, “Now the wine bottle is something we don’t have,” with a wink at me. I assured him I had the bottles with a blush and a thank you feeling like a stupid girl with a stupid idea. A stupid girl who drinks too much wine.
The biggest obstacle to overcome was the three foot length of threaded metal rod I had to cut down into six inch pieces. I wandered around the Home Depot plaintively asking, “But can’t you cut it for me?” with my sad doe eyes. No dice. I haven’t done any real sawing since shop class in junior high. This would be interesting. After working up a useless sweat and working through my swear-word collection using the wrong kind of hacksaw, my husband found the metal saw. Now we both worked up a sweat and sore shoulders but we actually managed to cut through the rod. (Helpful tip: applying downward pressure with a saw does not help your cause at all. It makes things harder and slower, in fact. My shoulder can tell you that. Move the saw back and forth fast and light. It’s all in the friction, baby. See Mr. P? I did learn something in shop class! Just took me awhile to remember.)
So now I had all the pieces and only had to put the torches together. I blistered my hand screwing the metal plates onto our fence, but I managed them all. I liked the placement. Now I just had to fill the bottles with tiki torch fuel and put the wicks together. It was around the third bottle when the wick slipped that I started to have some fears creep up on me. The wick went less than halfway into the bottle. That meant there was a lot of tiki fuel in these bottles. Like, whoa, a lot.
I thought about the fact that I was putting the wick together. Me. Not a product designer or skilled craftsman or even a factory machine. I was responsible for making this thing work safely. I started to sweat. I looked at the bottles again and realized what I had was essentially a Molotov cocktail. I mean, that’s what they are right? Bottles filled with gasoline and then a rag they light and toss. Oh dear god, I’m attaching a Molotov cocktail to my wooden fence. Visions of party guests impaled with shards of glass shrapnel and my fence and house going up in a tiki-lit fireball flashed through my mind. Ok. Deep breath. Just wrap that damn wick tight. (The instructions re: the wick simply say, “You obviously do not want it to fall in.” Yeah. Do you think?!) Lots and lots of Teflon tape on that sucker. (Helpful hint to avoid glass shrapnel death: I found another site where someone put these things together and to save fuel he filled half the bottle with water. Oil floats on top and voila. Quite a bit less scary and gas-bomb-like.)
So here they are:
My fence-mounted Molotov cocktails. Aren’t they purty?