Monthly Archives: September 2010

Carjacked by Carl Hiassen

I have more lists going on than Santa gets at Christmas. Preparing for our trip to my Nation’s Capital is never easy, involving as it does: organizing the bucks, renewing prescriptions, mailing off aprons, quality time in the laundry room and at the ironing board, laying in bulk cat food, planning road trip picnics and trying to make the house presentable for our beloved cat sitter, Charlene Simpson. (Hey, Char, Lou painted some kitchen cabinets for you!)

I swung by the library yesterday, to avoid late charges, clutching eight books to my bosom. I dropped three on the floor as I walked to the circulation counter, and my kindly librarian said: “Lady, you need a bag!” She handed me , for free, a cloth Warrenville totebag, which I’ll forget I own next time I go to the libe.  I won’t need it next time I swing by with my returns, because I’ll be toting just  one volume.

The Tom Jones classic “Mama Told Me Not to Go” has been rattling around my brain since I  watched( online) Bristol Palin’s tacky turn on DWTS. I had promised NOT to check out New Releases, because I have enough on my multiple lists that I should avoid any reading except a turn through The New Yorker or Martha Stewart Living.

FAIL! I strolled up to the New Releases and glommed onto the H authors. My God, there it was, as irresistible to me as a pile of horse poop to a Pomeranian.

The new Carl Hiaasen.

I checked it out in a hurry and buried it in my purse so Lou wouldn’t snatch it from my hands as I walked through the door. Carl is addictive as the white powder most of his characters in South Florida inhale as often as Jane Austen’s ladies drink tea. Hiassen is an award-winning journalist for the Miami Herald, a passionate Floridian who mourns the cooption and corruption of his state by real estate sleazeballs, drug dealing, and corruption. A collection of his journalism on Florida is called (one of my fave ever titles) Paradise Screwed.

His over-the-top “crime” novels are what’s got me as hooked as a starlet on Vicodin. They are environmentalist agitprop for south Florida, and the greed and excess it attracts. They always include a cynical good guy, an intelligent woman, a crazed outta control enforcer , and Skink, a mentally ill Viet Nam vet, ex-governor of Florida, with great teeth,and  one eye: an environmental enforcer and road kill gourmet.

Carjacking in Miami is an everyday thing in Hiassen’s novels, and he carjacked my to-do list today. Not entirely: I heard the dryer tumbling as I willingly gave up a day of my life to one of his profane, outta control , hilarious romps. Chemo, the crazer with a weed whacker attached to his stump of an arm, is back. There’s a feisty heroine (Carl likes smart women, always) an obese South Beach paparazzo, a real estate scam, a Brittney/Lindsay clone, press agents, plotting, and lots of roadkill.

Yeah, he kinda made me his literary bitch today, and I loved every minute. I’ll get up earlier tomorrow and tackle that list.


Filed under Books, Free, HeeHee, Library Card

Going to Bed

It’s hard to not recall Rose Macauley’s immaculate essay “Going to Bed” from her book, “Particular Pleasures” while I’m writing this. I especially adore her sister essay “Not Getting Out of Bed,” but I’m not the stylist Rose is, nor am I erudite enough to sprinkle all those words I’ve literally never heard in my life in my low rent blog, as Rose does in her essays. But the granddaughter of Thomas Babbington Macauley and I have one sisterly theme in common: the bliss of the bed.

I’m not discounting the carnal pleasures of going to bed, or that snug spaniel lying over your toes in February, or a tousled toddler creeping in to lie between his parents. They’re all good, but I’m just talking about that miraculous piece of furniture designed to soothe and pleasure us into rest. Or, in my insomniac case, a soft scented platform on which I can read thrillers and sip water from the carafe on the nightstand, and disobey that childhood television warning: “Don’t smoke in bed.” Once a night, I do.

I don’t iron my sheets –geez – but I do iron my pillowcases, and that crisp cotton beneath my sagging cheeks is delicious. Sleep, as WS said, does “Ravel up the ragged sleeve of care,” but not so much for me. I wake up every two hours, have dreams that are a cross between Fellini and Chucky, heavy on family guilt and endless wandering and searching. I literally can’t remember a good dream, but when I’m shocked awake I say: “Just another shitty scary dream. Let me take a sip of water and pound my pillows and slip down again into this bonny bed.”

And I sink, once again, into my good mattress and good enough count thread sheets. My legs go limp, and I think about all the kids in Haiti and Darfur who sleep on the ground with no blankets. I send them my love.

Then my body stretches out, Willow rearranges herself on the bed and I count my blessings. Bed.


Filed under Body, Books, Free, History, Home, Into the Mystic

Apron of the Day: For Katie

My niece Katherine is a Babe, a mother of four, lives in Fort Collins , and is a one smart woman. I was touched that she asked her Aunt Margaret to make a Christmas present apron for her mother-in-law,  I admired her fabric suggestions, and I sourced them.. One side: a vintage fabric depicting children, the reverse a sage green/gold print to harmonize with her MIL’s kitchen. She’s received it and given it the thumbs up so I’ll post the picture — it was before Zoolander got a haircut.

The reverse:

While uploading the snaps, I realized that my full frontal shots of Lou modelling the apron were crap beyond the means of Picassa to improve.  But I’m happy that Katie (like me, the eldest of our generational  cousinly federation) liked the apron. She has an eye, she knows what she wants, and I wish she didn’t live so far away.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Needlework

Folding Fun: The Origami 2-Pocket Diamond Envelope

Lou’s become so inured to the arrival of the UPS guy that he didn’t even ask what the handsome dude in khaki shorts was handing me — it must be more apron fabric, right?He didn’t even look up from his thriller when I ran upstairs with my booty and broke a nail opening the box that held my first new origami book in five whole months! That’s a four years record.

Hello gorgeous!

Origami Card Craft by Karen Elaine Thomas. Because I own a shelf  of origami tomes, I was delighted that many of these projects were ones I’ve never seen before — I may not like all of them, but I love many of them, especially this envelope. The envelope is an enormous origami topic, and one that makes me yawn, mostly.

Not this one, and let me count the ways. It’s so easy — I achieved perfection in one go, in one minute, which isn’t often the case. The folding pattern is elegant. The closure is clever. And somehow, the interior is divided into two pockets, which is magic. I used a 12 inch square , which resulted in a 4 1/2 X5 1/2 inch result. C’mom, grab any old paper square and fold along.

Step one: Paper in diamond formation, colored side down.

Step 2: Fold it in half.

Step 3: Align the paper pointy side up, and turn down the top edge until it touches the center fold.

Step 4: Eyeball the bottom edge into thirds, and fold the right point to the two thirds mark. Step 5: Fold the left point to the right edge. It’s starting to look like an envelope.

Step 6: Fold the left point back to meet the left corner.

I’m going to show the next move in two pix — it’s the cool part.

Step 7a: Stick a finger into that point you folded in Step 6 and  open it out. Then:

Step 7B: Flatten it along the center line so it forms a diamond. The card and the art show ticket are in two separate interior pockets.

The reveal! Tuck down the top point into the diamond.

Not being the austere or sensible type, I folded up a few. Here are some of them:

Dear Reader, go find a piece of square paper and give it a whirl. So much pleasure for so little effort, and a standard 8 inch piece of origami paper will make a wee envelope, perfect for carrying a few stamps around in your purse or wallet. Hmmm, stamps … waxed paper maybe? I’m off to the pantry.


Filed under Art, Books, Cool Japanese Stuff, How Cool is That?, Less than 50 cents, Origami, Paper

Apron of the Day: Geishas and Manga

Actually, this was an apron I made last week, but because it was a commission, I waited until I got the heads up today that my patron had received it.  I made it for the daughter of old and dear friends, whom I saw last when she was a tiny budding ballerina. Now she’s an Art History major in college. As Melissa and I aren’t FB friends, I assume her birthday present surprise won’t be blown here.

I started buying this geisha print a couple of years ago — a huge amount for me, like six yards. I have enough left for one more apron.

The manga reverse:

I’m mad for this fabric, and have enough left for one more apron.

I thank my friends and patrons for being such good clients, and for giving me the chance to make this, one of my all-time fave aprons.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Cool Japanese Stuff, Needlework

Cheap Cheerful Object of the Day: The Smiley Japanese Terry Sponge

Honor gave Lou a grab-bag Father’s Day present — the result , I suspect, of a swing through LA’s Little Tokyo. ( Don’t get me started about shopping in Little Tokyo: there’s so much beautiful, weird, arty, functional, cool Japanese design and cheap cheerful junk that I could max out my bank account in two hours.)

The Father’s Day prezzies included a scary long poker called an “ear pick,” and a set of molds to transform a hard boiled egg into a fish-shaped hard boiled egg. But here’s my fave:

It’s an oval sponge enrobed in high quality terry cloth. It’s soft, it’s silly, it’s swell  — a white terry cloth enrobed and embroidered sponge with a generic cute animal face. I can’t tell you how much I love it. God help me, I’ve scrutinized its construction, and I know I could make one myself, with an even cuter face. Hmm — how about a piggy sponge from pink terrycloth with ears? Likewise, a sheep version. Or a bee!

Dear Readers, I’ll take the pledge right now, right here: I will not go down this road. You’ll not see me posting snaps of goldfish sponges, breast-like sponges, kitty-cat sponges, Betty Boop sponges. That I can rattle off so many sponge design schemes in five seconds scares me: you just know I want to while away a couple of weeks with some embroidery floss. Nope. No way.

I’ll stick to my aprons. But God love you, all you Japanese peeps with such kawaii brilliance.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Body, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Cool Japanese Stuff, Home, How Cool is That?, On the Street Where I Live

Mrs. Peel, You’re Needed — My Once and Always Heroine

I wish I could say that my lifetime role model was Marie Curie, Mother Teresa or Mahalia Jackson. Jane Goodall, maybe, or Margaret Mead. Wonderful dames, all, but I regret to say that the woman I’ve always yearned to be isn’t a real person, appeared to have no real visible means of support, wore a lot of leather and Pierre Cardin, and drove a Lotus Elan. I mean, what more could a fourteen-year-old wish for? Or indeed a 50 something woman.

If you were to ask “Hey, Maggie, what’s your favorite TV show of all time?” I’d interrupt before you finished the question. The Avengers, a British program that aired between 1961 and 1969, It played into the James Bond/John le Carre Cold War British Intelligence  meme, but it was really a comedy of manners/sci fi/action flick mess of a show. Patrick Macnee played a shadowy bowlered, sword sticked, vintage Bentley driving spy.He always had a female foil — I liked Honor Blackman, Linda Thorsen and Joanna Lumley in their seasons. But any Avengers fan knows that it’s really all about the Emma Peel years.

Diana Rigg  (now Dame Commander Diana Rigg) played Emma Peel for three short seasons and from the first episode, then in black and white, I knew who I wanted to be when I grew up.

The mod newsboy’s cap, the leather jumpsuit, the minis, that perfectly smooth flip I yearned for and never quite attained.

My Senior picture demonstrates that I tried. I rolled the waistband of my uniform skirt a half inch shorter every day until it approached the length of Mrs. Peel’s , and when no one objected I ditched it and became the first girl at my high school to wear a genuine off the peg grey wool miniskirt. (I was not the last.) I traded that dorky blouse  for a ribbed white turtleneck, and the principal, the manic L.V. Fuller, said nothing. Emma Peel pushed the girls’s dress code at Three Rivers High School — my heroine!

At the beginning of each episode Steed would appear in Emma’s flat while she was doing something crazy cool, like sculpting, and announce: “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed.” Why Her Majesty’s Secret Service needed them was unclear, but it was sure fun. Emma Peel is the first female screen character who was a martial arts expert, and she’d kick and karate chop baddies into submission. Submission is the right word. I once heard her say “Well, yes I get a lot of fan mail — from fourteen year old boys and leather fetishists.”

I was too innocent to know about fetishes, but an episode called “A Touch of Brimstone” had an unlikely plot about Mrs. Peel going undercover in some Swinging London version of the Hellfire Club. I’m glad I found a picture, because I knew, I just knewthat this lace up corset, tall boots and spiked necklace wasn’t gonna cut it in second period Algebra. (Hmmm, Maybe Archie Cameron would have upped my grade to an A if I’d worn it to student/teacher conference.) Diana Rigg was the designer.

I loved the change to color:

I discovered that Emma and I had the same hair color, and I could scope out all that rainbow Pierre Cardin costumery. Emma and Steed were witty and mildly flirtatious, but there wasn’t any real sexual charge between them, as there had been with Steed and Honor Blackman’s  leather- girl anthropologist Dr. Cathy Gale. I mean, how could there be — Emma was a married lady, although her husband had disappeared into the Amazonian rainforest years ago. He reappears in the last episode of the Rigg/Macnee partnership, and guess what: he looks exactly like — No, I won’t tell you.

I’m wracking my addled cerebellum to come up with a television character since Emma who was is so effortlessly cool and witty, chic and powerful as Mrs. Peel. Nope, she broke the mold. Mrs. Peel, now and always, you’re needed.


Filed under History, How Cool is That?, Media

Site of the Day: Hyperbole and a Half

Your bloggiste has a headache, a deadline and a noisy cat who just can’t believe that I refuse to open a fourth can of cat food tonight — that would be two over his dinnertime average. He’s pushing my left elbow with his head as I type, because that usually bends me to his will.  Oh, go eat your Iams kibble!Yeah, him, Ajax.

This is a plea for patience,Dear Reader, a whining roundabout suckup and apology for not writing a proper blog post tonight. But I’ll point you towards a site that’ll entertain you more than I ever could.

You see, when I’m on Facebook, and someone I respect  “likes” something, I’ll check it out. Thank you, John Nguyen, for turning me on to It’s been around for awhile, but I didn’t meet up with Allie and her crazy art, skewed world view, and mad funny writing until yesterday afternoon. Yes, I could have written my column and two blog posts, expanded my apron empire and cleaned the powder room in the time I spent giggling.

It was worth it. Thanks John! Now I’m gonna let the Advil kick in.



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

Baths and Bathtubs

I can vouch for only two people who take baths: my sister-in-law Mary and me. Not that I diss the shower — I take one every other day on shampoo morning.  If I have nostrils and sinuses blocked with concrete-like mucous in February, I’ll steam up the bathroom and stand under a hot shower until I can breathe again. Showers are good, but why, in the last fifty years, have they become the ne plus ultra for personal cleanliness? Especially, as was not the case on the farm when my father was a boy, we all have hot running water?

The McArthurs took stand-up baths daily, but Saturday was full-frontal, and dorsal , bath night. The tin bathtub was pulled into the kitchen, water was pumped, then heated on the wood stove. There was a bathing hierarchy: Gammy first, then my aunts Charlotte and Franny, then my father, his father, and last into the cooling suds, the Hired Man. I think this was typical for farming families in the twenties and thirties, and I cheer for my grandmother when they moved to the city and hot running water.

Mary learned about the bliss of the bathtub from my mother-in-law Pat. Every night, about nine o’clock, Pat would retire to the bathtub, her hairdo protected, and have a leisurely soak with a romance novel, soothing away the slings and arrows of an underpaid Catholic school teacher’s life. It was a daily event with a capital E, never skipped on the family calendar, sacrosanct. In fact, Pat considered showers as a guys -only enterprise. The most prim of women, she once told me: “Margaret, a woman can’t be really clean unless she takes a bath.” It’s a tribute to my innocence and her tact that it took me five years to figure out what she meant. (Dear mother-in-law in heaven, a woman can be really clean if she unhooks the shower head and blasts her lady bits, but well, you didn’t know about such things.)

Mary built on her mother’s instruction and raised the level of the bathwater. She’s the only person I know who springs the big bucks for the new Catherine Coulter or Danielle Steele in hardcover, and to her niece’s bemused eyes: wraps them in plastic wrap so they don’t suffer steam or water damage. When she and Ron built the house where she now bathes in Cleopatra-like splendor, Ron got a swell separate tiled shower, and she bought a sybaritic Whirlpool — the jets and the water temperature can be adjusted with a little toe-twiddling. There’s a window at tub level with a view of field and forest, Hollywood lighting over the marble double vanity, the same Saran-wrapped novels. It’s a temple to the bath.

It failed her after six months, but she had a warranty. The Whirlpool dude came out and told her that the motor was blown, an almost impossible failure. Then he asked her about her bathing style and she said something like: “Two and a half hours a day, seven days a week.”  That was pushing the machine beyond its limits, but she got her replacement motor. A couple of years ago she welcomed me into her watery paradise ,and I emerged clean, relaxed and drowsy a half hour later. She exclaimed:”But you just went in there! Only half an hour?!”

I have the cheapest builder fiberglass shower/bathtub combo popular in the early eighties. Come to think of it, with the notoriously rusty ‘Ville water, I should probably leap up and scrub it this minute, but of course I won’t. That tacky tub kept me going over twenty years of child-raising and career stress and failure. I’d lower my (considerably younger) bod into the warm tub, and lie on my back emptying all thoughts of Power Points, gas bills, Tween brattiness, and the curse of that navy Ford Escort. Scrubbing happened. Then I’d flip over onto my tummy and just lie still: if I ever prayed, it was then.

Honor as infant hated her bathtime: her tiny body squirmed in fury as I attempted to  apply the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and caress her clean in the kitchen sink at 1208 W. Lexington. I can’t believe that I figured out the obvious. In that apartment we didn’t have a shower, only the classic claw-footed bathtub.

When Lou came home from work we filled up the tubbie, he sat down in it, and I handed him his three-month old daughter. Magic ensued. I wish I had a picture of that baby, her blonde ringlets emerging, lying against her father’s chest. But what I remember best is Lou’s adoption of her as a bath toy — he’d swirl her around in the warm eddies, making her giggle. He’d dip her up and down, wash her hair, then take her in a long trip around the tub’s perimeters. She cooed, he beamed.

You all know that I’m a DIY person on any project that doesn’t involve sweat or skill. I mix Dead Sea salts with bergamot essential oils. I’ve turned out bars of goat milk soap in Silpat molds in the shape of cartoon flowers. I need to figure out what to do with two pounds of dried rosebuds from Romania. But that’s just fun, although I swear by my eucalyptus soap in a hot shower in a Chicago February.

Wanna see some bathtub porn?

(Photo: DIY

This copper beauty:


I hear the usual dissidents:

  1. “Oh, yuck, you’re sitting in your own filth.” OK, if you’re so Calvinist that you think you’re filthy, do it the Japanese way and take a shower before or after  your spell in the tub.
  2. “I’ll have to clean the bathtub.” Well, yeah. My daughter said that one of the best things about staying in an hotel is that you can take a bath and someone else will clean up. She leaves a nice housekeeper’s tip.
  3. “It takes longer than a shower.” That’s the point: when you have the time, make the time.
  4. “I get cleaner in a shower.” Not. Washing feet is much more efficient in a bath tub.

The Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the Japanese all knew about the power of a tub of warm water. Ignorant as I am, they taught me that the bath ritual doesn’t require chanting, prayer, history or even soap. It only wants an abandonment to pleasure, of the cheapest and cheeriest kind.


Filed under Body, Free, History, Home, Scent

White Vinegar Redux: No More Mr. Stinky

One of the first posts I wrote here was on the versatility of  that acidic jack of all trades, white vinegar. If you haven;t read it you can check it out here:

But it took some conversation in the UP with my sister-in-law Patty and her husband John, back in Marquette in June, to open my eyes(and nose) to one of the top-five reasons  for always having a cheap gallon of white vinegar in the pantry.


It’s the cheapest, most effective room deodorizer on the plant. Farewell, Febreeze! No longer will I spring for one of those eight buck tubs of crystalline all-Green smell neutralizers.

While we were cleaning out musty closets in my late father-in-law’s house, Patty kept saying, in the face of our “Oh yucks!” , “No problem. We’ll just set out a dish of white vinegar and the smell will be gone in a day.” I thought, “Yeah, right, Odor Pollyanna!”

Over breakfast, or dinner, or hours sorting through family photos, Patty and John made their case  for the virtues of cheap vinegar against the slings and arrows of Xtreme stinkiness. First scenario: her father , Joe, was a connoisseur of a good cigar, a recliner and TV sports. They held a smoke-free house, but she’s such a great daughter that she let her father blow a cloud. She said that her house never smelled like a fifties poker game because she set out a couple of small bowls of white vinegar, and the absorbed the heady scent of the hand-rolled Florida Cubanos.

Then John told tale that clinched it for me — made me a believer. They have homes in Arizona and Colorado. When they opened up the house in Colorado last spring — grab your clothespins — they found a family of dead skunks trapped under the porch. They did not go quietly: we all know that the skunkiness smell takes ages to eradicate. And, well, they were dead, rotting skunks. The mind reels.

John dealt with their mortal remains, but the sheer funky, nasty, rotting flesh stench would not be a selling point for their realtor. No curb appeal. No curb appeal from a hundred yards. He  placed a couple of big dishes  of white vinegar around the crime scene, and poof! In two days your twitchy-nosed great Aunt wouldn’t have noticed a thing.

I confess that when you walk into our house, the nasal thing can be overpowering. Twenty five years of garlic,garum  masala, fried onions and stinky cheese. Oh, and the fried fish. And the cigarette smoke. I’ll give the cats a pass. Since I returned from the UP, I decided I’d trust my in-laws and set a small bowl of white vinegar on the bookshelves in the living room. It works.

I’m not saying the air here in the Little House in the ‘Ville is as pure as that at Green Gables or a Mormon Retreat House. But it’s better, lots and lots better.  Measurably better.

And so cheap.

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Filed under Home, Less than 50 cents, On the Street Where I Live