Monthly Archives: March 2010

Joke of the Day — an Occasional C&C Feature

It’s a cheerful day out there: clear, sunny with the temp in the high 60s — they’re  predicting 80 for Easter Sunday!  Added to all that high on a feeling stuff I noticed that the first of my (hundreds of) daffodils have bloomed. Even Eeyore would need to get a speeding ticket to be a big grump on a day like this.

But lots of days aren’t like this. I hit my spiritual nadir at the end of February, and for reasons personal and financial it was a nasty winter. At times like that, when the Black Dog is lying on your chest you might have to pony up  for some cheer — and it’s worth every cent.

I keep meaning to build a library of DVDs guaranteed to crack me up: the truly tasteless juvenile  flix like Zoolander. On a down day it’s easier to pluck out and play from a pile than to update a Netflix Queue.

I do own a couple of joke books, and I consider them as necessary to a family bookcase as a King James Bible, “The Joy of Cooking” and the complete works of Carl Hiassen. An Ole and Lena joke from the Prairie Home Companion”Pretty Good Joke Book” never fails. Lou spends many hours a week in bookstores and this winter he devoted much of his browsing to joke books. He’d come home with a crib sheet written on the backs of the perfume smellies he’d picked up at Macy’s and regale me with the jokes of the day.

Here’s one he told us during those sad evenings in Marquette. Yes it’s a leetle bit naughty and profane, but my sister-in-law Patty, who’s three things I ain’t — wholesome, Catholic and near-teetotal —  laughed, yes, out loud. I suspect it’s so old that some version was told by those pilgrims to Canterbury.

George was driving to the airport on his way home from business trip to Nevada. He spotted   a roadside sign out of the corner of his eye that whipped his neck backwards. It read: Sisters of Mercy Bordello, one Mile ahead. A good Catholic boy, George thought “That can’t be right!”

But a minute later he saw another sign: “Sisters of Mercy Bordello, a half mile ahead.” He mused about that cute Irish nun who was his teacher in sixth grade.

A few seconds later, there it was: “Sisters of Mercy Bordello, a quarter mile ahead. We leave Nothing to your Imagination.”  Then “Sister of Mercy Bordello, turn right here. One block.” George was hot and bothered. Sister Mary Frances! He turned right there.

It looked like a stone fortress. He rang the bell and was admitted by a middle-aged hatchet-faced sister. She said “Walk down the hall and knock on the door'” It was a long gloomy hall, but he rapped on the door. A pretty novice opened it and said: “That’s fifty dollars, and I’ll meet you down the hall. I’ll be ready — just go though the door at the end of the corridor.” George handed her fifty dollars and headed down the dark hall , through the massive oak door.

He stepped out and was almost blinded by the sunshine. The door slammed behind him. It was locked.He was looking out into the convent garden and a last  sign told him: “Thank you and God bless you. You’ve just been screwed by the Sisters of Mercy.”


Filed under Free, HeeHee, Joke of the Day

Site of the day: Chicago Poetry Tour

I was gonna slack off tonight, Sunday night and all, with a big pot of Ragu Bolognese simmering away. Then the moon and the internet steered me back to the blog.

I was having a preprandial glass of wine and looked out the window at the full moon, disappearing and reappearing behind a slim bank of clouds. I thought: “The moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon stormy seas” and then googled Noyses’s “The Highwayman,” one of the scant few poems I’d loved in my teens. I hang my head and admit that I was fifty before poetry was made plain and open to me.

Anyway, googling “The Highwayman” led to the ineveitable clicking on other poetry sites, and I discovered this amazing place:

It’s everything I love. I guess it’s meant to be downloaded into your device as you stroll the sights of Chicago, but for armchair travelers just go clickety. It’s history, geography, architecture and poetry. It’s about a tremendous city — and I lived in and still adore Montreal, have visited and nurse the usual passions for London, Paris, Rome and Lucca. But when you hear Sandburg read his “Windy City” you’ll hear about a Chicago vanished, but still here. And when you hear Vachel Lindsay read “Why I Voted the Socialist Ticket” you might squeeze out a tear, as I did,


Filed under Art, Born in Chicago, Free, Into the Mystic, Library Card, Site of the Day

Newspaper Mashup

In the face of my unseemly passion for all things made from wood-pulp (or cotton, or silk) pushed through a screen, I’m incredulous that I’ve never dribbled in papier mache. Making it even more improbable is that I grew up in a newsprint family — my father spent his career in the  biz. The first thing Daddy did when he opened the daily paper was to hold a single sheet up to the light and rub it between his fingers to test its quality. If the newspaper was a customer of the mill he managed, he could tell us which of the paper machines the newsprint rolled off– heck, he could probably tell you what which  shift it was made on  and who the sixth-hand was. He’s long retired, but I’ve seen him do his quality check in the past year.

He used to bring home rolls of paper the height of a tabloid and four feet across for us kids to scribble on — rolls considered too inferior to ship. Man, I wish I had a gargantuan roll of virgin newsprint right now, because the Divine Martha has persuaded be that I might want to make papier mache Easter eggs.

Here’s the link.

I caught her on television a few days ago and thought that it looked like so much fun, all that wrapping of paper and glue around a mold formed from a balloon blown into your ovoid size of choice. And it tickled something from depths of memory — I’d seen the technique before, in my mother’s kitchen, She and her friend Betty, big round ballons, a basin filled with torn up newspaper…

I’m the smiley pumpkinhead on the right, my brother Ian’s on the left. I was five, he was three, and we were off to knock on the doors of rue DeFranchville in our snowsuits, cunningly hidden under the sheets.

Newsprint, check. Mod Podge, check.  I’m off to the Mexican dollar store/party store/bodega for a big bag of balloons. Hmm, I can see a Thanksgiving cornucopia  — I’m loving the idea of a monster purple eggplant, and squash and cucumbers and pears.

Catch you later — I’m buying balloons.


Filed under About a buck, History, Holidays, Paper

Out of Africa and Trader Joe’s

Total tab for monthly shopping at TJ’s: 78.95
Of that, a pot of African violets:2.49
Opportunity to atone publicly for  years of botanical snobbery:Priceless

I grew up during the great African Violet (botanically saintpaulia) craze of the late fifties and sixties. Except for the stalwart rubber plant I don’t think I saw another species of houseplant for the first fifteen years of my life. Add to that the fact that my mother a was first generation Canadian whose parents hailed from England, I lived through a perfect storm of saintpaulia.

Nana had long ago lost her Lancashire accent and achieved the plummy strains of Dame Margaret Rutherford. But her friends, my Honorary Aunties, had names like Elsie and Gert and made any room sound like the Snug at the Rover’s Return on “Coronation Street.” Their impenetrable Lancs accents, their sardines on saltines for tea, their incredible age (about sixty, in retrospect) terrified me. So did their sparkling, sadly spartan flats — they were poor, those wonderful women. When Nana took me calling I knew two things were true: they’d pull out a box of Peak Frean’s Digestives (which I loved) and we’d spend half an hour admiring their African Violets — which I loathed.

“Ee, luv, aren’t they smashing?”( That Merseyside accent didn’t become chic until the Beatles made it so. ) They weren’t smashing to me. All that fussing about a plants with nasty hairy leaves and flowers that didn’t even smell? That endless prattling about propagation and cultivation, light requirements , dusting and polishing of leaves? To my shame, I think I connected African Violets with the antimacassars, doilies,  the stink of canned sardines and genteel poverty.

Fifteen years ago someone gave me an African Violet and gee, the snobby scales fell off my eyes. It was pretty! I discovered that the eastern light in the back bedroom, it’s saucer on a doily (I collect doilies now — in fact I’ve made some!) suited it as well as the skies of Tanzania. A little water, some deadheading –what a satisfying posy, always in bloom, asking little and delighting much.

After a few years it died, and I sashayed to florists all over the county to replace it. Quelle horrible surprise! I discovered that I couldn’t afford one: these modest plants were available set out in cutesy ceramic containers, stuck into “plant gardens” with leafy companions that were bad company, sprouting from Wishing Wells, and costing at least 25 bucks. I appreciate kitsch more than the next person, but the price was too high.

So I’m over the moon about my cheap and cheerful acquisition at Trader Joe’s. And I’m apologizing to Auntie Bertha and Auntie Maude and Auntie Gert: you knew more about beauty than I did, pitiful snob that I was.


Filed under Five bucks or fewer, Growing things, History, Home, Ten bucks or fewer

Growing Grass for the Table

It’s true: I’ve been skimping on the major holidays since my  family has scattered and I won’t have the fun of planning an Easter dinner or setting an Easter table. (I really slacked off last Christmas — no tree, no stockings, no turkey. I’m depressed just recalling it.)

I’ve decided to do some preemptive Easter action, before we’re reduced to a ham steak and a bottle of Three Buck Chuck Chardonnay. I am going to have, so help me, a tablescape. This is more Martha Stewart than Sandra Lee; in fact I’m pretty sure I’m swiping the idea from a long-ago issue of MSL.

It helps that it’s pretty near free. I had a half package of Cat Grass tucked away in the freezer (packed for 2007, but I’ve found freezing can extend a seed packet’s life,) some soil mix, and a coeur a la creme mold I haven’t used for its intended purpose since Reagan’s second term. I chose it because it’s perforated for draining (I should really use it to make yoghurt cheese), it’s pretty, and if the whole project flops I’m out only half a pack of three year old oat grass seed. If you’re in the market for Cat Grass Seed, just Google it — wheat and rye varieties are out there too.

My cats love the stuff, by the way. Willow has been known to gorge on the blades, with occasional gastro-intestinal incidents from chowing down on all that chlorophyll.

Mold, seed, and newspaper on the kitchen table.

I soaked the seeds for fifteen minutes before planting.

Pot filled with a couple of inches of dirt.

Planted and watered.

Wrapped in a plastic wrap greenhouse and set on the kitchen windowsill.

The package says the seeds will sprout in three to eight days. If it’s three or even four, I’m good for Easter — I’ll have my heart shaped green ready to be a tiny White House lawn, strewn with flowers and hardboiled quails eggs. If it’s eight, well, Willow will have her fresh vegetables, served on the dining room table, which with no matter how much shooing, she regards as her personal tablescape.


Filed under About a buck, Growing things, Holidays

Big Things. Little Things. And Ron Mueck

When Honor and I raced to ICU to see my mother in Ottawa, at the beginning of her swift decline, I wondered if she’d still be alive. We caught her as she opened her eyes for the first time and registered that we were there. She went to hostess mode and managed to whisper these seven words: “Market. Sauvagine. Gallery. Big things. Little things.”

We returned with a big wedge of her favorite cheese but I remained in the dark about the big and the little for a couple of weeks. My mother’s hospital was a few blocks from the National Gallery of Canada and I decided to drop in one afternoon and check out the travelling exhibit by an Australian sculptor named Ron Mueke. Oh yeah: big things and little things!

That baby’s head is at least fifteen feet tall. That’s what Mueck does — hyper-realistic human  sculptures  with the scale seriously skewed. My jaw hung around my pearls as I walked from room to room , dazzled and bewitched.

Is there a stronger word term than hyper-realistc? Something like super-duper-pooper realistic may be closer, but I don’t want to use such an inelegant term to describe Mueck’s craft — and art. Every wrinkle, every navel and pubic hair and placenta of his subjects is exposed –it’s powerful and never repels, even in the nude 3/4 sized image of his father naked in death. That’s the one time he used the subject’s real hair.

Mueck’s an Australian sculptor who began his career as a puppeteer and prop maker. For the bio check here:

Here’s a video that might make the scale clearer and give you an idea of his range of models. The elderly old dears stand about two feet tall and Mueck’s tenderness moved me.

Unless you’ve communed with Mueck’s tiny old ladies, his gargantuan nude homeless man, his amazon giving birth it might be easy to say: “Great craft, nice gimmick. Not art. ” But craft alone doesn’t make a quiet place in your soul, open your eyes and turn a gallery into a sacred space. Only art can do that.


Filed under Art, Body, Five bucks or fewer, Into the Mystic

A Peek at a Week

Not only do I grind my molars when someone puts the ing on the end of journal and scrapbook, turning two nice nouns into verbs, but I seriously suck at  journal writing or keeping a scrap book. God knows I’ve tried for years, since someone gave me a diary with the tiny lock and key for my tenth birthday.  I remember staring at the blank pages and thinking “Um, what am I supposed to write about? My life is boring.” I still feel that way, but now I know exactly how many words a day I can push out. With writing and blogging I’m not going to sit down waste un mot on something like “Read the Sunday Times, bacon and eggs, two loads of laundry, half of “Hurt Locker” — which pretty much describes yesterday.

I love scrapbooks but I’m sniffy about “scrapping” and all the expensive junk that hangs in the aisles of Hobby Lobby or Michael’s. Geez, people, just glue in those ticket stubs, that take-out menu, some photos  — the real stuff. Why pay 1.59 for a tiny pink bow with a bead on the knot? And all that pricey paper? (Uh, scratch the pricey paper bit, because I’m a paperholic. I too could save some bucks using newspaper for my origami — when pigs fly over a frozen hell.)

But I read of a whiz bang scrapbook idea in this month’s Real Simple, and I’m gonna do it for real. The charm for me is that you do this for only one week a year, no leather-bound journal or cutesie stick-on lettering  necessary. A camera is.

You keep a mildly obsessive/compulsive photographic record of your chosen seven consecutive days — meals, shopping trips, the, the face on your alarm clock when you get up, the newspaper headlines, your feet on the bathroom scales — anything that captures that day. At the end of the week print out the photos, stick them into the plastic sleeves used for baseball cards, date the spine of a ring binder and Bob’s your uncle. Repeat sometime next year.

I’ve always wanted to add a poll to this blog, and here’s my big opportunity


So far today:

This date will go down in history as the birthday of Ian McArthur, a Great Man — ask anyone who knows him — and my father. Happy Birthday, Daddy! XOXO. (He’s not here today — this is the infamous Men in Argyle pic from a couple of Christmases ago. Also sporting the diamonds are John, my nephew Miles, my brother Ian, and Lou.)

The kitchen clock showing the time I decided to do this thing.

Willow napping in a sunshiney spot.

My madly exciting shopping, and lunch — yes, I had a dollar Whopper Junior.

Well, I did tell you I lead a dull life! I’d better go take more pictures — maybe I can find some paint drying somewhere.


Filed under Collections, Five bucks or fewer, Home, Paper, Worth it anyway