Monthly Archives: April 2010

Cheap, No. Cheerful, Yes! Sunny and Warm in the ‘Ville.

It was the day I checked things off my to do list, and wrote checks in order to check them off. The taxes got mailed yesterday, and I think we’ll get a pittance back — reason for cheer! But today’s the day of the month when all those pills I take to keep my body and mind from splatting all over the patio needed to be refilled. Ouch. Being jobless and without health insurance, those Maggies’s Little Helpers don’t come cheap. Then there was the payment to our fine mechanic Jim: it was about a third what we figured it would be — thank you Jim! The Cheerful outcome here is that my car’s running for the first time  in six months, and not a moment too soon, because I don’t want my eagerly-awaited house guest to be marooned with me in the “Ville , rather than cruising to the local commuter station and rumbling in to Chicago.

Then there’s the business I waded through to keep that cheery vibe goin’ on: an hour and a half — I swear — on the phone with invariably polite Customer Service people changing the expiration date on my debit card so that those automatic payments will keep the lamps lit, the phone and internet alive and the roof over our heads. Done! Excellent!

I mailed a couple of gifts to a pair of wonderful women and sent a check to Medecins sans Frontieres. Those docs and nurses without borders are heroes of mine, and sending them money when I don’t have a whole lot is kinda karmic insurance for me — I can’t imagine the lives they lead in the most dangerous waste places of the earth.

I mean: here I am with a car that runs, medication, clean water , my street teeming with adorable kids on their three wheelers and a huge bouquet of heavenly fragrant daffodils picked from my own garden.

I’m going to cut up a plump fryer (69 cents a pound!) and let it sit in buttermilk. I’ll start some stock from the carcass. I’ll pour a glass of wine before I fire up the old cast iron skillet and fry that chicken up. Biscuits, maybe? Asparagus, definitely.  Here’s looking at you, Kids! Cheers!



Filed under Drink, Food, Free, Growing things, Into the Mystic, Worth it anyway


Writers know that pesky moment: You have to decide on a title for your novel, short story, article or blog post. Newspaper people are lucky – they file their stories and someone else dreams up a catchy title. My friend and longtime editor Dave Scantland calls himself the Title ‘Ho: he has the knack, and has offered advice to more successful writers than I. (Happy Birthday tomorrow, Dave.)

If you don’t have a title you like, anything you write seems raggedy and unfinished. Sometimes it’s easy: my title of my Tourtiere piece at came like a flash. . Christmas en Croute. But that’s an exception.—I’ve mostly had to tear my hair and rend a couple of garments and sacrifice a couple of goats to come up with something I’m barely satisfied with.

Then I think of the Great Writers, men and women whose hems I’m not worthy to touch, have not necessarily been fab titlists. “Hamlet?” “The Last Chronicle of Barset?” “Pere Goriot?” “Mrs. Dalloway?” “Mansfield Park?” Just saying.

I think writers below the level of sublimity have better titles skills. Mystery, thriller and noir ladies and gents from Conan Doyle, through Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and Nero Wolfe can put up terrific titles. “The Long Goodbye.” “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” “Some Buried Caesar.” The Redheaded League.”

“And Then There Were None.” “The Thirty Nine Steps.” “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

I regret to say that although I loathe Ayn Rand’s beliefs I think “Atlas Shrugged” is brilliant. And then there are “Love in the Time of Cholera” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude”  “The Manticore” and “The Joy Luck Club.” And I love “The Dharma Bums.”

But you know what my all-time favorite title is? It’s from that writer’s writer, John McPhee. I didn’t understand the physics when I first read it in “The New Yorker” eons ago, and I don’t think I’d understand it now, even with McPhee’s crystalline prose guiding me though it. But I think “The Curve of Binding Energy” is the most beautiful title in any language and any era. I don’t know what it means, and I don’t care. I like thinking about it, reading it and letting it flow off my tongue. Pure poetry.

So, what titles resonate with you?


Filed under History, Into the Mystic, Library Card, Media, Paper

The Tower ‘o Tea Towels

I seem to have taken a girly turn here at C&C, what with aprons and perfume. No fear, my male friends, I still love gin, tasteless jokes and The Transporter movie franchise. (When are we getting a new one — I need my Jason Statham fix.) But I’m back to fabric and housekeeping (hilarious, because I suck at housekeeping) because of the denoument this morning of my Mess Hall Apron post. Here:

I walked upstairs to tuck it away with its pile of apron buddies in my bijou linen closet. I opened the door and was almost flattened by an avalanche of tea towels. Unused, virgin tea towels, some of them thirty years old, some three weeks old. I decided it was time to out myself — My name is Margaret and I’m a teatowelholic.

I know what you’re going to say: “Thats, like 27 towels? (Yes.) You don’t have a real problem — you’re just a social collector.” But I repeat: These are the never-used, pristine tea towels. It’s not counting the twenty that are in regular rotation because our dishwasher’s been dead for five years, and the ten stained ratty oldsters who’ve been demoted to household rags. And I know that on my next jaunt to Ikea, Homestyle,Williams-Sonoma  or the dollar store, even if I buy nothing else I’ll add to my collection.

Here are a couple of favorites from the tower, though each is special in its own way. My friend Priscilla in  California sent me this vintage linen beauty. (Note: I should have pulled out an iron, but as I said, I’m a crappy housekeeper.)

Love those California poppies.

This one is part of a set of five  from Elfi Nnicheri, Norwegian-Canadian opera singer married to an Italian-Canadian painter who worked with me at Holt Renfrew in Montreal. The occasion was my bridal shower, back in the days when tea towels and pillowcases, rather than a set of Shun knives were appropriate shower gifts. I have two left and they’re so beautiful I’ll go to my grave before they dry a tea cup. Damask woven in Hungary, and believe me, my (not) crackerjack photo skills don’t do it justice.

Then  there are the tea towels that got away. My standard shower gift for the bride-to- be is James Peterson’s Cooking wrapped in a tea towel and topped with a bow. I’ve doubled down: wrapped an apron in a tea towel for gifting. And because I love embroidery , friends have recieved tea towels embellished with tea cups, cats, and — thank you, Aunt Martha transfers — a chicken playing a guitar.

I feel better, cleaner now that I’ve confessed. And if you’re wondering about a suitable birthday gift…


Filed under Collections, Five bucks or fewer, Home, Needlework

C & C Site of the Day: Old Jews Telling Jokes

Just a short free and very funny site of the day.A small confession: in college, a sweet dimwitted shiksa, aged 16, I dated only Jewish boys from New York, sent to McGill by their parents to be in a safe place should their number come up and they be sent to Viet Nam. I attended a Seder in an open mesh crochet dress three feet long from my shoulders to the hem. That got me the sobriquet Shameless Shiksa.

But Rickles and Mason were the funniest people ever, and it must have cost them a lot to clean up their acts for Ed Sullivan.  This site is distinctly not PG. If you are a more sensitive viewer, it’s not for you. If you’re not, you’ll laff your tuckus off. Really.


Filed under HeeHee, History, Holidays, Joke of the Day, Media, Site of the Day

The Ur Apron

It’s here folks – my first post about one of my deepest, most lasting obsessions. Those who know me well probably are scratching their heads that I’ve taken so long to talk about it – the same folks who know that under the tree it’s another Christmas, another apron from Maggie. (I don’t care if the recipient needs or wants an apron: everyone gets an apron!) I’ve made retro aprons, a riot of rick rack, little gingham beauties sweetened with cross stitch, and chefly items with a narrow chest pocket for an instant read thermometer. I’ve explored the pros and cons of Velcro closings, D rings, and the elegant and comfortable solution of the combination neck band and ties which run through a channel. I love reversible aprons, especially my Bi apron with camo on one side and calico on the reverse. I’m the I.M. Pei of pockets, the Christopher Wren of waistbands, the Wright of rick rack.

And I’m the GI Jane of this Ur Apron, which I picked up for under a dollar at American Scientific and Surplus down the road in Geneva, Illinois. This store’s a wonder world, for the lab glass alone. Behold the Army Mess Hall Apron, a miracle of efficiency and chic. It’s a wide flat stretch of fabric, selvage to selvage with a couple of twill tape ties. Thassit! No trim, no pockets – it requires zero sewing skills. In fact, In fact I don’t think you need a sewing machine – as a hand sewing project it’s a couple of relaxing hours. Heck, I bet it would work with fabric glue or fusible hem tape.

Here’s what you need: a yard of fabric and two yards of grosgrain ribbon. I’d prefer cotton twill tape, but I can’t source it. In fact, you can use less than a yard of fabric, but I love that this apron is long and wide. Seriously, one size fits most – if you need a tad more wiggle around the waist, just make the ties longer. I’ve made this Ur Apron many times in many versions: reversible, with pockets, trimmed with lace and patchwork, but today I decided to make it in it’s purest form. It took me under thirty minutes. I love pockets but they’re not necessary: you can tuck a side towel under the waistband.

The original:

And here are some grafix before I get all O/C about the instructioms:

A variation:

And, of course, pockets can be added anywhere and any shape you want.


This is all you need. Some fabric, some ribbon, an iron, some pins.

Press under the selvage. Stitch it down.

Tum up a hem, top and bottom. Stitch it down.

Cut two one yard lengths of ribbon. Turn up a narrow hem on one end, and press down a two inch length on the other end.

Sew the pressed over end in the cunning box-like form a couple of inches below the top of the apron.

Convince your personal Zoolander to pose.

This is cheap, cheerful and useful. Have fun.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Five bucks or fewer, Needlework

Bellissimo Diorissimo

Yesterday was the kind of spring day that belongs to poets. You know, “Come fill the cup and in the fire of spring/the winter garments of repentance fling.”  Or “Oh to be in England now that April’s here.”  Or: ” O! how this spring of love resembleth/The uncertain glory of an April day!” There was nothing uncertain about yesterday’s April day — birds were singing, the sun was shining, bees were buzzing, and euphoria was in the air. If I’d found a fire those winter garments of repentance would be dust. I didn’t , but the drive to the library was as intoxicating as running to keep a tryst with a lover. There’s a medical term for it: Spring Fever.

Before I went to bed I reached for my bottle of Dior’s Diorissimo, sprayed a veil of it into the air and walked through it. This 1956 fragrance is the essence of spring, the essence of lily of the valley (mueget des bois, if we want to get all  French about it) and the most perfect single note perfume ever made. (I think there may be some jasmine in there, but it’s a background presence.)

You might have read my thoughts about the smashing “Perfumes: The Guide” by Turin and Sanchez back here:

I hope I sold a few copies. I looked up Diorissimo today, and I’m going to quote from the entry because why even try to evoke a fragrance in words when they do it so much better than I? I’m not going to try.

“…a truly Mozartian fragrance, with a catchy, jaunty presto tune like the overture to The Marriage of Figaro.” The authors think that the modern formulation isn’t a good as the 1956 version, but they’re not damning the new one with faint praise.

“The best way to describe it, it seems to me, is as the voice of a great soprano reaching retirement. The melody, the timbre are there but some of the high notes are a little forced and have lost the effortless soaring, the liquid fluency of old. Up close, this thing shouts a little. But it has tremendous radiance and at a distance still works fine as likely the most distinctive fragrance of all time. LT. ****”

I think the musical analogies are perfect — I’ve always said that the beauties of music and fragrance are similar. They’re abstract, emotional, intellectual and ineffable. Diorissimo’s a spring song sung by tiny white bells.


Filed under Body, Scent, Worth it anyway

Free is a Great Price, from Chicago to Cape Town

I added a site to my facebook page  weeks ago, and it pops up a few times a day sticking to its mission: Free Things to Do in Chicago.

I’m not sure that I’m going to mark my calendar to get free Cinnabon cupcakes on Tax Day, but the peeps at chicagofree keep it low key and fresh — Lego stores around town were giving away free mini-duckies over the Easter weekend, there were free beer tastings, a free Wilco flick and who knew that Red Roof Inn is offering a night’s stay in April for a penny?

I’ve been an armchair traveler since kiddyhood. In the days before I could go clickety to see the world, I was the girl who clipped out that tiny form from the corner of travel ads in National Geographic, Gourmet or the New Yorker. I’d fill in my name and address, stick  them in their envelope, slap on a five-cent stamp and wait for those thick, fabulous four-color brochures to hit the mailbox. “Spring Theatre Tours in Swinging London!” “Beautiful Bermuda.” “Paris in the Fall.” “Springtime in Seattle.” Carnevale in Rio, Carnival in Quebec City, Mardi Gras in New Orleans! This was heady stuff for a nine year old, so glamorous, so grown-up, so cool. Along the way I picked up some basic geography and a lifelong lust for travel.

When I was twenty I spent three months wandering Europe on yes, Five Dollars a Day. It’s time to go back. But I’m not grumbling — in the last few years I’ve been to Fort Collins, Ottawa, Quebec CityLos Angeles

Collinsville, IL and the eerie Cahokia Mounds:

Toronto, Atlanta, Rochester NY, New Orleans, Galena…

Not shabby, but I want more, and now I’m prepared. I can find cool free stuff everywhere! Thank you, National Geographic Traveler!

I never knew that in my beloved Montreal I can get free tango lessons and attend a free milonga darn near any day of the year. When I get to Sydney I’m not gonna miss the flying foxes:

“Take in the 74-acre Royal Botanical Gardens—the oldest scientific institution in the country—with a free guided tour (reservations recommended). The gardens feature native and exotic plants, with an emphasis on Aboriginal heritage. Don’t forget to look up once in a while to see the gardens’ most curious residents, the 200,000 giant fruit bats that make the grounds their home. Also known as flying foxes because of their size (they can have a three-foot wingspan), the bats are a fascinating example of Sydney’s mix of wild and urban. Wait until sunset to watch them take off over the harbor.”

Prague? OMG, I can visit the grave of a personal hero and cool guy:

With free admission to the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, tourists can pay a visit to astronomer Tycho Brahe (or his grave, rather). Famed for pioneering a scientific approach to astronomy and for losing part of his nose in a sword fight, the Scandinavian moved to Prague in 1599 and became Imperial Mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II.

And when I — at last — get to Vancouver, can you possibly think I’ll pass this up?

Learn about the Pacific Northwest’s most famous finned residents at theCapilano Salmon Hatchery in Capilano River Regional Park. Visitors can take a free 30-minute self-guided tour of the hatchery, which explains the life cycle of salmon.

I’ll hit every free wine tasting in the vineyards outside Cape Town. First Sundays of the month in Paris will require serious shoe leather: it’s free day at the Louvre, the Orsay, the Centre Pompidou and the Musee Rodin. I’ll buy a new pair before I venture to the free fashion show at the Galleries Lafayette. In Buenos Aires a Sunday will find me here, picking up some tango togs:

“On Sundays, be sure to stop by the colonial-era neighborhood of San Telmo for the antique and handicraft fair of Feria de Plaza Dorrego. The fair attracts 10,000 visitors and features 270 vendor stalls selling books, tango paraphernalia, and much more. Enjoy the festival-like atmosphere provided by mimes, buskers, and tango performers.”

These are plans for the future. Right now I’m checking out FreeChicago’s Red Roof Inn night for a penny deal. Heck, maybe I’ll spend a night in Chicago!


Filed under Born in Chicago, Free, Site of the Day, The Great Outdoors, Travel