Smoke and Spoons

Among the many fine qualities my kids possess is the ability to remember my random “Gee, that would be cool”s  and translate them into a Christmas present. I was chewing the fat with John much earlier this year and said “Gee, I think woodburning might be cool.” The UPS man delivered a big box a few days before Christmas, and there it was, “With love from Honor and John.” Included was “Pyrography Workbook,” which tells me everything I need to know to get started.  The hundreds of glossy examples of the pyrographer’s art are pretty darn intimidating, showing as they do photographically realistic wolves, owls, elephants and lions. I never knew that nature study was why I wanted a woodburning kit. It isn’t, and that’s not just sour grapes because I know I’ll never achieve those artists’ virtuosity.I’m humbled: woodburning is hard.

It’ll be awhile until my technique is good enough to earn a Cub Scout merit badge, let alone burn a rearing stallion onto a block of walnut, but hey, I like the learning part. The toughest part is finding untreated, unvarnished wood. But as my intention all along had been to play around decorating humble household items, I found a good bulk price in wooden spoons. Not any wooden spoons: wooden spoons with flat handles. Here’s my first attempt, and it’s OK to laugh:






I had fun! I didn’t burn myself or anything other than the spoon. The kitchen smelled like summer camp. I know I should learn something practical, like plumbing or car maintenance — you know, something home – related but actually useful. But what I’m really contemplating is a run to  Ikea to see if they carry untreated wooden hangers.

I promise not to take up lanyard braiding. Well, maybe.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Home, Woodburning

Apron of the Day: Clothespin Edition

Yes, my friends, I’m still turning out aprons as if they represent a way of life, The Path, an income stream, or a sensible way for a Bluestocking to spend her declining years. None of these choices make sense.

I sew aprons mostly because they’re a useful way to display great printed fabric and amusing trim.  I mostly make reversible aprons because they afford me the chance to feature two fabrics, and because I can avoid using my least favorite sewing supply: seam binding. No matter how careful I am when I baste or pin it to the fabric’s edge, I always come to tears.

This model, new to me, features seam binding. Next time I’ll use it only to edge the pocket, not to bind the sides or hem.

Gather around, children. Once upon a time there was no such thing as a clothes dryer. People strung a long cord in the back card, and hung the wet clothes to dry on it using  a small instrument called a clothespin. A big load of wash would require scores of clothespins.

The clothespin apron features a pocket to contain them. A big pocket, almost the size it the front of the apron. This one is big enough to hold a cookbook, glasses, cell phone and a two month old apronaproninfant.






Apologies to Loulander fans: The full-length photograph I took of him is so dark and dismal that I’ll skip it this time round.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Needlework, Sewing

No Shame: I Love Reacher

I’m deeply distrustful of authors whose books appear on the tiny book rack at my local Walgreens . You know them: Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and his “co-writers,” Dean Koontz.

Now I’m scared that I’m an elitist asshole because I’ve discovered  Lee Child, another habitue of cheesy book racks everywhere, to say nothing of Hudson Books in airports. To quote Wikipedia, he started out in the tv biz , lost his job and moved on. His birth name is Grant.

“Grant joined Granada Television, part of the UK‘s ITVNetwork, in Manchester as a presentation director. There he was involved with shows including Brideshead RevisitedThe Jewel in the CrownPrime Suspect, andCracker.” (I still weep thinking about “The Jewel in the Crown.)He moved to New York City and started to write action novels. His series protagonist is Jack (None) Reacher , an ex MP Major. He’s six five, muscular and not big on nuance. He travels the country with no kit except what can fit in his pockets: an expired passport, an ATM card, a roll of bills and a folding toothbrush. He hitch hikes, and buys new clothes every three days because he fears the domestic delights of a house and a washer. I think I may be the first person to call him an existential hero.

Reacher is smart and invincible. There is — and this is the comfort factor in these scary books — the reality that Reacher will, every, every time, mangle, with his bare fists, the Bad Guys. He’s a modern cross between Sir Galahad and a mendicant monk.

Child writes a smart plot. Although he’s made huge progress as a writer, he’s no Elmore Leonard. But he’s learned St. Elmo’s greatest commandment: “Leave out the stuff people don’t read.”

The Tom Cruise Reacher movie is a bomb and I’m glad. The physical miscasting, for a start, is ludicrous. When you’ve been hooked into Reacher’s strange mind, you know it’s not going to be the basis of a Tom Cruise thriller. Totally lame.

So, the Reacher novels have got on to our reserve list at the Warrenville Library, along with Tess Gerritsen and Steve Hamilton. Maybe it time to read Nora Roberts? Nah.




Filed under Books, Library Card

Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day: Sleeping Gloves

My hands are a gnarly dry mess. My thumbs could sand 2X4s, my knuckles are cracked and I’m shedding dry skin like like cats shed hair in June. Don Giovanni would never sing “La ci darem la mano” to me.

Which made me rustle through my lingerie drawers for my sleeping gloves. You know, the ones I bought from The Vermont Country Store in, like, 1979. I didn’t find a single glove and I’m cross.

I know gloves have gone the way of MS DOS, but these gloves were special in a pure Vermonty way. Wrist length, white cotton. You’d slather your hands with the unguent of choice, slip on the gloves, and awake, after three faithful days, to hands worthy to be kissed by an Archduke.

I Googled about and discovered the The Vermont Country Store still carries them, at about three times what I spent back in the day. I’m going to close my eyes, click , and order three more pairs.

Go here:




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Filed under Body, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Site of the Day, Twenty bucks

Take Note: Notebooks!

We were in Los Angeles last week to revel in new grandmotherhood, and revel I did. Well, with a grandchild as lovely as mine wouldn’t you throw an impromptu rave too? Here’s Naomi reading “I Can Fly” with her reader/writer Mama.



I’ll stop with the Proud Nana stuff now, because this sweet tiny tyrant isn’t my topic tonight. I want to talk about my flat sweating panic my first day in LA when I reached into my purse for my travelling notebook, which, incidentally  I’d bought at a Papyrus shop in Glendale a few years ago. Son-of-a-bitch shit! No notebook.

You have to understand my pathetic dependence on notebooks. I’ve never been a reliable diarist because I’m too lazy to pour out my heart and soul into a cool journal at bedtime. And I’m not that interesting. And if I’m going to knuckle down and write, I figger I might as well save my efforts for true writing projects. Humble notebooks of every size, shape and price point save the scrambled record of my life, whether they’re used for To-Do lists, shopping lists, recipes copied from the internet (my printer sucks ass,) story ideas, cool website addresses, books I want to read, and doodles. A notebook sits on my coffee table next to my laptop. Another abides in my bag, always, especially when I travel. How else would I remember the name of that Peruvian restaurant, the email address of a cool new acquaintance or  the name of that stunning Malbec? I’d be SOL.

What ticked me off when I found myself notebookless in LA is that I’m a notebook junkie. Check out all these beauties, which I’ve accumulated over the years, mostly from the fab bookstore in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, Kinokuniya Book Store. Here’s a Mondrian-like arrangement of the virgin notebooks that were waiting me at home in the ‘Ville.



So what did I do when I had a spare half hour when I got home? Well, I made some more notebooks. ( Truly, I know I might have a teeny addiction problem.) I don’t remember where I saw this cool idea, but I love it in so many ways: paper, thread, cheap, cheerful, fast. You cut some paper to size and run it through a sewing machine. I recommend you use a sewing machine needle made for sewing leather, but I didn’t have one and punted. Here are the funky yet practical results:



Left to right: I used a two subscription cards as covers and played around with satin stitching. In the middle, just some printer paper folded in half, stitched and stamped. Right, a notebook with a cloth cover. Man, I had fun, and I’m considering cutting up brown paper bags for my next notebook.

Except I don’t need one.



Filed under Uncategorized

The Kitchen Reno: Ottawa Edition

Many of you have come through a rip-it-back to the drywall and start from scratch kitchen renovation and lived on to lead full, productive lives. But man, it’s a major shakeup to body and mind. I can’t count the times I’ve reached down for a roll of plastic wrap to be foiled by the drawer that’s not there anymore.

My father got most of the work done before I arrived, but there was still plenty of cabinet emptying and stuff-reshuffling to handle this weekend. Yesterday was demo day. Here are some pix of the devastation:
The pantry, relocated.












Bye, bye cabinets and tile backsplash. What took the most time was removing the wallpaper. David was hard at  it until 7:00 pm, which shot my plans for cooking dinner. Here are random views of the rest of the house, now a storage locker for kitchen contents.






The mantle and hearth are now shelves for two centuries of Blue Willow and lead crystal.






The dining room is now an appliance bin, prep area and storage.






Upheaval can be a good thing, leading to broadening experiences and improvisation. Case in point: for the first time in his 85 years my father ordered a pizza for dinner. We had a picnic in the parlor off paper plates.




Filed under Home, Worth it anyway

Dinner Sans Souci — Thursday Night Dinner Chez Nous

Sans souci has that certain Gallic je ne sais quoi– “carefree” is the English equivalent, a fine word too.

Please don’t confuse ourThursday night dinner ritual with anything going on at Frederick the Greats’s summer palace in Potsdam with the same name.


The reason dinner is a carefree walk in the park on Thursday night is because we cook for a family of two.Sooner or later, no matter how faithful we are at heating up last dinner’s meal for lunch, buying the tiniest package of meat, or proactively cooking for the freezer, the refrigerator compartment has too much food lounging around. About the freezer: at last check, I have two trays of stuffed shells, two quarts of minestrone, a gallon and a half of chicken stock, twelve individually frozen patties of homemade breakfast sausage and a tub of moussaka. Severe thunderstorms are blasting their way through tonight; pray God the power doesn’t go out!

We try, we really do. But, every single damn week as Thursday rolls around, there’s enough First World guilt lying in the fridge to shame me into Thursday Leftover Night. Here’s tonight’s dinner:


That Italian free-form meatloaf, cooked Italian-style with red peppers and onions was some kind of delicious five days and two lunches ago. By now, it’s mostly meh. I made the guacamole tonight because I found some avocados I’d forgotten about, half a lime , some parsley and a lone Roma tomato. I wasn’t crazy about the chicken legs first time around, but hey — pulled off the bone and stuffed into some revivified (wrap in damp paper towel and zap for ten seconds) pita bread, topped with guac… maybe.

Maybe I’ll heat up the meatloaf, top it with some tzisiki made with that aging tub of Greek yoghurt in the fridge, stuff it in a pita, and hope.

Tomorrow will be even more sans souci, because the rule is: whatever doesn’t get consumed on Thursday gets tossed. Guilt-free.


Filed under Uncategorized