Monthly Archives: July 2010

Fifty Cent Fun

When we were in Marquette Michigan last spring there was a moment at the cashier’s stand at a diner that rocked my day. The bored chick behind the register handed me my change and I was overcome when I saw one of these babies:

They don’t even have the slot for this coin in cash drawers anymore. For real, tell me the last time you’ve been handed one as legal tender. I stood there  surprised and spluttering: “Oh my God, you’ve given me a fifty cent piece!” She snapped her gum under her pierced lip and said “Yeah.”

As you can see from the photo I took today, I’ve held on to that half dollar. (In Canada it was called a fifty cent piece. I’ve learned that Stateside it’s called a half dollar.) Great ballso, I hadn’t held one in my hand for, like, thirty years?

Deep in the dear dead days beyond recall,  a fifty cent piece, bestowed on you by a Granny at Christmas or an uncle on your birthday bought a paperback Rex Stout,  a new garter belt from Woolworth’s or enough candy from the corner store to bring on Type 1 diabetes . It was a studly, masterful coin that invited possibilities. Four bits aren’t a lot of jack anymore, but it’s practical — why have two quarters stuffing your pocket or change purse when you could have a fifty cent piece?

It wasn’t until our second trip to the UP that we figured out why I’d been handed a vintage coin with such nonchalance. First Nation casinos abound in the UP, and if you’re playing blackjack they have to pay 1 1/2 times your bet. With a three dollar minimum you’re paid four and a half dollars. The four dollars are in tokens, the fifty cents in a coin.

So in a few smoky crazy fun hours we now have a stack of fifty cent pieces. I know we’ll spend them sometime, but not soon. I mean, if we go to the grocery store there’s no slot in the drawer for the mighty half dollar.


Filed under Collections, History, How Cool is That?, Les than 99 cents, Less than 50 cents

Apron of the Day: The Holiday Reversible

I’ve played around with the reversible apron.Sometimes I paired a tradition farmhouse calico with a Japanese print. I’ve used the same print in different colorways,  reversing the color for the pockets and yokes. I’ve made absurdist pockets, big pockets, tiny pockets, pockets trimmed with lace or rickrack or fabric yoyos. And any of you who follow my Parade of Aprons know how much fun I’ve been having with my yin/yang aprons, especially finding fabric for The Guy Side.

Last week  I thought about another way to feature the duality of the reversible apron. Although I’ve never before bought any, I can’t help but notice how much Christmas yardage there is in the shops and online. Hmmm. Why not a Holiday apron, one side suitable for  Christmas  and the other for Thanksgiving? In the case of this model it could triple for Hallowe’en.

This is the Christmas side , not too Christmassy from a distance.  The blue background and subtle print could give it a lifetime past Epiphany.

Here’s the Thanksgiving/Hallowe’en side. Please note the jumbo green rickrack on the pockets. Willow’s discovered there’s a photo shoot happening.

Don’t these pumpkins pop?

So what do you think? Is this Holiday idea going anywhere? I’m already considering the New Year’s edition — not practical, not reversible. Polish/Ukrainian “Ball Aprons,” short, flirty and saucy.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Needlework, Ten bucks or fewer

After the Ball

I was noodling around Amazon a few days ago, and my heart stopped. “After the Ball” the collaboration between the American pianist and composer William Bolcum, and his wife the  mezzo soprano Joan Morris is available on CD. It even includes some tracks from their second Nonesuch album “Vaudeville.” I clicked so fast on “Buy Now’ that I got whiplash. 14.99 isn’t chump change in my house, or yours, but go here and buy it. Now. The reason we haven’t ditched our crummy turntable years ago is that I can’t bear to think about being separated from Bolcum and Morris and American music. I think that Nonesuch should be tried for high crimes and misdemeanors for allowing “Wild About Eubie” to slip from their catalogue: Bolcum matches Eubie Blake stride for stride pianistically, and the memory of Morris’s version of ‘Good Night Angeline’ makes the fact that I bought “Wild About Eubie” on cassette tape brands me as FAIL. But, as I said, I’m gonna bug Nonesuch.

They’ve done Kern, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin — the whole songbook, but better than anyone. But let me return to “After the Ball”

It’s a four generation favorite. We took the album as a gift to Ottawa in the late 70s, while my parents were in Paris and my grandmothers were babysitting my sisters. When we staggered in the door after ten hours of a miserable drive we beheld two tiny ladies, literally wringing their hands and flinging themselves on our breasts. My sister Megan had been acting up in a bad way, and they were beside themselves. The cure: spinning ‘After the Ball.” Lor lummee, these were the songs of their youth and they sang along to “She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage” and “Waltz Me Around Again Willie” as I might to “Big Yellow Taxi.”

My parents arrived the next day , were entranced by “After the Ball” and bought every single output of Bolcum and Morris.

My daughter was entranced too. Her paternal grandfather was astounded that she Knew the introduction to “Shine on Harvest Moon.”

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see,
For the moon refused to shine.
Couple sitting underneath a willow tree,
For love they did pine.
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness
So she said, “I guess I’ll go.”
Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky,
And told the moon his little tale of woe

So that’s four generations who love this music. Bolcum somehow combines stride piano and Brahms in his accompanying. I wept when I heard “On the Banks of the Wabash” thirty years ago. I wept last night.


Filed under History, Home, Into the Mystic, Music, Twenty bucks

Today’s Mailbox and a Fabulous Woman

“Have you checked the mail?” It’s a question that gets asked at least five times a week, and mostly the answer’s “Yes.”

“Anything good?”

“Nah, some flyers and the gas bill.”

Thank God we can count on The New Yorker.

But then there are the great mail days,when something special’s tucked in with dross and the tire store ads. A card, or maybe a clipping from someone who knows me and wants to share an interest via the mailman rather than a link.  Then there’s the unexpected gift — the shortest way to make me feel as if’ it’s my birthday, no matter what month it arrives. I’m always dazzled and grateful to the generous friend who knows I love surprises, and has made the trek to the post office or UPS, bought the padded envelope, and maybe even filled out a customs sticker.

Today I hit the trifecta: a card, a clipping and a present, all tucked into a tiny padded envelope that bore, yes, a customs sticker. My cousin Kim McKellar turned a meh kind of Tuesday into a once-a-year day. I’ve spoken about her here on my post “The Art of the Carte. ”

Kim’s an award winning writer, a designer, an ordained minister, a singer, an ex-model, a great mother and a loving partner.  Kim’s a glass artist her work astounds me — there’s my little cuz with her own kiln, firing pieces of beauty and originality.She’s closer in age to my daughter than she is to me, and they’re great friends too.

This week her non-artistic project is trapping a bear who broke into her kitchen last week at one am, then made his escape. (She’ll release it of course –she’s a minister, after all!)

Here’s the most recent snap I own, taken in LA at my daughter’s rehearsal dinner:

And here’s today’s loot:
I love the jr. feminist.

The clipping came from the Toronto Globe and Mail , about the resurgence of, what else, The Apron!

Tucked away into a black velvet bag was a piece of her glass jewelry — a pendant so stunning I don’t know when I can bear to take it off.

And Kim, if you’re reading this, you gave me an extra gift today, the art and life of the Canadian painter Prudence Heward, by way of the stamps on the envelope. I spent an hour on line, amazed by Heward’s history and her oeuvre.

Here’s some info about Prudence Heward:

This post is not just a very public mash note/thank you note to Kim. It was a reminder to me that a poky mailbox can be an Aladdin’s Cave on the right day. Tomorrow I’m going to lay in a stash of padded envelopes.

1 Comment

Filed under Art, Free, How Cool is That?, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live

Nectarines by Moonlight

I’m so lucky in my friends.The last sentence of my latest Apron of the Day post ended with an exhortation to chat about nectarines. Within what seemed like minutes I received an email from the Divine Miz Rachel — click the Lawn Tea link on my blogroll to get the fine full flavor of her writing. You don’t mind if I quote from your email, do you Dear?

“Cut/break a couple of nice juicy beauties apart, take out the pit, and lay them face-down for a few minutes on the grill whilst the steaks or burgers or sate cook.

Lay a piece of foil down in their area, transfer them to that, bellybuttons up, and put a knob of butter and a big glunch of brown sugar into the cavities.   Close the lid and let them have a few moments to themselves, then serve with a scoop of GOOOOOD vanilla ice cream nestled into their warm embrace.”

Grilling stone fruit is a culinary Good Thing; my friend Ivan is a famous fan of white peaches on the ‘Q. But late last night this method was not to be.

I love the dessert course but don’t serve it as often as I should. One of the delights of my mother’s table was that she served a sweet finale every single night, and she was a lady of eternal waistline vigilance. Although I think I’m a fine pastry cook I just don’t bake or make ice cream often enough. Part of it’s laziness, part of it’s girlish figure concerns, part of it’s a preference for carbs and protein, but it’s mostly plain laziness.

But last night it struck — my quarterly craving for something sweet. My usual solution is to moan: “Lou, get to DQ now and grab me a Peanut Buster Parfait!” He points out  that it’s past Dairy Queen closing time, which is always true, because my late onset sugar cravings happen after midnight. We were watching the BBC news on PBS, admiring the full moon, when the Sweeties Vampire bared his fangs and bit me in the neck. He could not be denied.

I scrambled to the kitchen and scoped out the possibilities. They were nonexistent, unless I wanted to commit to baking a cake at 12:30 am CDT. Then I remembered the nectarines.Because I’m committed here to to increase endorphin levels on a budget, I’ll spare you my rant about how I haven’t been able to buy, for love or money, a decent peach in thirty five years here in Chicagoland. These nectarines were not Rachel’s “nice juicy beauties,” they had the voluptuousness of  handballs, but I’d bought them hopefully, knowing that l’ve had occasional luck in home ripening nectarines. I didn’t care that I was slicing fruit that could be struck by an aluminum bat without splitting. I threw them into a saucepan, flung in a couple of handfuls of sugar and a glug  of vanilla. Remembering recent online recipes I stumbled around a pitch black herb garden and snapped off a branch of basil. Minus two leaves it went into the pot.

I didn’t poach those nectarines, I boiled the hell out of them. When they were all syrupy I stuck the whole pot in the freezer and returned to the living room to hear about some cricket test match. (I love the World of Sport segment on the BBC news — most of the stories are about sports I’ve never seen.) Ten minutes later I pulled the pretty martini glasses that my adorable nephew Miles “Danger” McArthur gave us for Christmas and layered in the nectarines, a plop of crema, a drizzle of honey and a basil leaf for garnish.I’m a mostly modest person, but I’m going to sing an aria to my woman-on-the-verge-of a -nervous-breakdown coupe. It sang. That coloratura hint of basil melded with the vanilla, the nectarines were soft and tasted of nectarines, the vanilla was the baritone.

I did remember to snap a shot. It would have been a good idea if I’d turned the dining room  light on while I was taking the pic — this photo belongs in the Food Photography Hall of Shame. If my son-in-law sees it he’ll clasp his chest. But we both ate those nectarines by moonlight, and if I ever collect a guitarist, a bass, and a drummer, “Nectarines by Moonlight is gonna be my band name.



Filed under About a buck, Food, On the Street Where I Live

Apron of the Day

This isn’t one of my yin/yang aprons–the scalloped hem makes it a Lady Apron. An earlier model of this baby is my day in-day out kitchen workhorse, if you’ll pardon the weird vision of a horse frying eggs. I’ve been lusting to use these two lengths of Japanese fabric, which is never truly cheap, but always cheerful.

That crazy floral paisley reminds me of a couple of A line minidresses I wore in myflaming youth.

I’m nuts about this print and wish I’d bought more. Is it some kind of Japanese fabric for baby boys?

Willow got to the shoot five seconds too late.

Later: Let’s talk about nectarines!

1 Comment

Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Needlework, Ten bucks or fewer

Vanitas Vanitas: Aging Sucks if You’re Poor. I’m So Over It.

I had a lunch date today with a dear old friend, my cherished buddy Kat. We got to know each other because our daughters both went to the same pre-school when they were three, so that’s twenty-nine years. We always swear to get together more often, but it’s often a couple of years between lunches. It doesn’t matter: we order a glass of wine and get down.

When I was getting ready for lunch, blow drying my hair whilst looking in the high magnification mirror, my unadorned blown up face appalled me. It seemed as if my wrinkles ran like ravines. Because I feel as optimistic and and scared when I wake up every morning as I did when I was twenty-five it’s always horrible to see that I don’t look that way.

My mother was, barring plastic surgery, a woman who took care of herself. The bucks she spent at the Erno Lazlo and Clarins counters at Holt Renfrew could have annually, fed a family of four. Actually, she wanted plastic surgery. In her early seventies she was frustrated with the hereditary Leyland tummy and plumped for liposuction. She did her research into the best plastic surgeons in Ottawa and made an appointment. The man said something like: “At your age, Mrs. McArthur, this procedure might pose a health risk. I won’t do it.”

She was furious. When she got home she said: “Ian, give me the Yellow Pages. I’m going to find a Quack.” She chose the cheesiest plastic surgeon she could conjure and made an appointment. He said:  “At your age, Mrs. McArthur, this procedure might pose a health risk. I won’t do it.” Her mother and her sister were even more focussed on vanity — thinness, grooming, fashion — they were judgmental. And razor thin.

I’m my mother’s daughter. When I was working I dropped hundred dollar bills like gum wrappers for a genius colorist and cutter, regular facials and manicures. I waxed places I never knew needed to be waxed. I never left the house unless I was in full, flawless makeup.

Today I stroked on some drugstore mascara, some Benetint blush and some lipstick. Done.

After we’d hugged and ordered our wine Kat showed me the dressing on her ankle and said that because of some surgery that took her off her feet for a week  she’d decided to sort through that box of old photos we all own. She pulled this one out and said: “Remember that Halloween party at the Jensik’s and how you guys came over to our place beforehand?” I hadn’t until she slipped me this photo (Click on it for a bigger view.)

That djellaba Lou’d bought in Morocco was barely five years old . It still hangs in the spare room closet emanating scents of the souk and the camels, But what the Sam Hill was I dressed up as with that fur hat and fringed vest? A sherpa, maybe?

But what took a little bit of my heart was how young I looked. No wrinkles. I could still wear contacts back then. I was sincerely surprised at how pretty (for me) I look in this picture.It was some kinda frisson.

And this to the background, as Lou showed up as the lunch wore down, to have Kat call him “Handsome!” twice and the waitress three times. Oh well, he’s ten years older than I, better looking at birth, and wrinkles on a guy don’t count. Icing on cake: I got a message from an old friend saying “Tell Lou he looks great!” Fame through apron modelling.

Well, I color my hair myself now and it costs ten bucks. Drugstore brand creams have been proved at least as proficient as the ones costing twenty times more at the Neiman-Marcus cosmetic counter. My figure hasn’t changed much (while clothed) from that in Kat’s snap. I need to rob a bank for dental work, but I’ll figure that out next week.

But after getting a bit misty seeing the photo of that long-ago me, quashing the vanity and constant upkeep in my blood from my female Leyland ancestors, I’m fine with myself. I was a beauty in my twenties and that isn’t happening again. Bring on the Aveeno, the Garnier, the Olay, the ROC — whatever’s on sale at Walgreens.

It seems like a betrayal of Mummy, Nana and Auntie Frankie, but don’t cry for me Erno Lazlo, spas in Bali and Brazilian plastic surgeons. I’ll be fine.


Filed under Body, History

Apron of the Day and Odds and Ends

Yes, Friends, I went to Sears yesterday and forked out for a new Kenmore sewing machine.I had to: I was feeling as jittery about not having a working machine as I do when I don’t have computer access. It’s nothing fancy — I’ll probably lust as vainly for a Bernina as I do for Rafael Nadal — but, by gum it works! Here’s the result of today’s session at the machine. You’d split a gut if you saw my sewing setup. My dining room table is generous, but not if it’s being shared with 1) The New York Times 2) a man who’s set up for his crossword session, which includes a coffee mug, a coffee carafe,  an ashtray, reading glasses and the remains of a dish of potato salad3)today’s mail 4) a calico cat who likes to help me sew. She entertains herself by trying to slide her paw under the needle when it’s on the up, pulling it out before it nails it to the feed dogs.

I’m no lonely little seamstress toiling away in obscurity in a garret. Nor does my setup resemble the atelier at a great maison de couture! Here’s today’s yin/yang apron.

The Guy side. Here’s a closeup of the Guy fabric:

The Girl side, followed by a closeup of the very pink bonbon fabric:

Cheerful, yes?

I listened to “All Things Considered” on NPR as I stitched and pressed and tried to find a clear square foot on the table. I was sad, not cheerful, when I heard that the great journalist Daniel Schorr died today. I swear I heard him two weeks ago being smart about something. Ninety three is a fine quiverful of annual arrows, and he did live quite the life. He was justly proud of being on Nixon’s Enemies List.

Cheer returned within ten minutes. Helen Simonson (whose very modern and very touching Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand I read last week) was speaking on the Guilty Pleasures segment. You heard it here first:

Here’s her take on the Grand Georgette Heyer:

I’m not going to tell you much about  Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand except that it’s about choices, easy and hard, in modern multicultural Britain. Simonson can write.

So hie thee to the library. I’m going to hie me to a martini.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Books, Library Card, Needlework

Site of the Day: Passive Aggressive Notes

I had a dream (nightmare?) last night that included employees from every job I’ve ever had. As far as I can remember, we were putting on a talent show and everyone, from Miss Neel at Holt’s, Les Lingelfelter at Unisys, Steve Ligeza at Ameritech Cellular, Joanne Maxwell at Attention!, Brian Speadling at Sprint PCS and Charolette Guilford at Paychex were all on the same page: I was such a loser I couldn’t appear in the talent show.

I hasten to add that these people, in real life, were nice to me. Some are still friends. Some were important role models. If I had an analyst,I’m sure she’d have something deep to say about this, unemployed as I am. For myself, I have no clue.

I’d forgotten about how much I loved those notes attached to the microwaves and fridges in break room kitchens, the screeds in Comic Sans in the Ladies Room. Yesterday, on Facebook, my eGullet buddy Chris Amirault posted a link to this fabulous site. Be prepared to waste at least an hour and ROFL.


Filed under Free, HeeHee, How Cool is That?, Into the Mystic, Media, Site of the Day

The Broke and the Fixed

Cheerful: The 2001 Focus is repaired. Crappy: It cost $969 bucks.

Cheerful: I had two aprons cut out and pinned. All systems were go — I actually had thread that matched and a new supply of Velcro. Plus: I’d received a package from this morning that included witty new “guy’ yardage for my reversible yin/yang aprons. I admired my good taste in the material I’d picked for elegant reversible “Holiday” aprons. I was so high on sewing I considered asking my son-in-law to make me an e-commerce site.

Because a blog needs pix I’ll plug in Lou modelling my aprons. If you’ve seen them before, sorry!

So there I was, a regular Dorcas chomping at the bit. And God said “Hah!:

The three-year-old Kenmore that worked  a week ago was a no-go. Kaput. Useless in the most basic way: the needle doesn’t go up and down, not even with the handwheel. I used all the sewing machine troubleshooting skills I’ve learned the hard way over thirty years. I spent an hour on on-line research and found that, yes, I’d already troubleshot all the suspect symptoms of the damned needle not going up and down.

Forgive me, friends, for abandoning the C&C mission statement today and raving on about the maddening idiosyncrasies of inanimate objects. And how stuff isn’t cheap. And how I’m not cheerful. And how a decent replacement for my f****ing Kenmore is gonna cost about $179 bucks, and how a sewing machine repairman costs $40 bucks an hour.About Woman proposing and She disposing.

And how little this matters in a real world of want and terror and trouble.

I think I’m going to buy a new sewing machine tomorrow. If I weren’t so pissed I’d be cheerful.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Home, Machines, Needlework