Category Archives: About a buck

LA Journal: Ozzie Dots

I love Los Angeles. I say that loud and proud, and you’re hearing this from someone who sniffed with disdain at the very mention of LALA land — no good places to walk, no high culture, too hot, superficial, blah blah blah. Of course that was before I’d ever been to LA. When I first walked out the doors at LAX, I fell madly in love, even though the view from the Arrivals sidewalk consists of a parking garage and my daughter wasn’t yet in the frame of that first snapshot . I learned that every single one of my snooty preconceptions was wronger than socks with sandals.
I was reminded of all these things last night when I was dressing to go to a barbecue at my ‘Villian buddies, Gretchen and Darryl. Yeah, well, the shirt’s too big (Mens L) but on a sticky night all that cottony drape seemed like a good idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But you have to see a close up of the print to understand why I bought this, the first “Hawaiian” shirt ever to grace a hanger in my closet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was made for the US Water Polo Team in 1996, when the Olympics were held in Atlanta. The shirt’s stupendous deco print didn’t bring our lads any luck: they finished seventh, and watched Spain, Croatia and Italy on the medal stand.

This good-as-new beauty cost me exactly one dollar. I found it on a “Everything’s a Dollar!” rack on the sidewalk in front of:

 

 

 

 

It’s Ozzie Dots, on Hollywood Blvd., a few blocks away from the kids’ apartment in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Felez Village, their hood until a few weeks ago. I swiped the photo from their website: http://www.ozziedots.com . To get the real feel of the interior, check out the YouTube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFomO5HE_u8

 

Ozzie Dots does costumes, wigs, theatrical makeup (fushia false eyelashes, anyone?) vintage clothing,Levis 501 jeans and “Hawaiiana” — random kitsch and lots and lots of shirts that would look good if you were hauling your long board to the beach. Or the Water Polo pool.

It’s a cramped, crowded wonderland. Lou usually drags me out forcibly after an hour, so we can devote a couple of hours browsing at Soap Plant Wacko http://www.soapplant.com/ next door. (It’s another pilgrimage shopping spot for us, and I’ll devote an entire post to it at a later time.) Does Ozzie Dots sell anything I need? Um, no. I’m not in show business, their goodish-quality costumes are too far away for a quick trip after work on Oct. 3o, and I there’s a 30/70 chance I could find a pair of vintage 501s in the back of Lou’s closet.

I want everything.

But some pix from Honor last year showed me why Ozzie Dots is as necessary as few bags of Tootsie Rolls when Halloween rolls around in LA. I mean, here in the ‘Ville I can’t walk a few blocks and pick up a Bride of Frankenstein wig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean, beyond!  The slinky silver knit dress counts as vintage — my mother wore it in the late 70s, and Honor herself wore it to a high school formal. (Doesn’t her girlfriend make a winsome Frieda Kahlo?)

LA: I’ll be back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under About a buck, Body, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, How Cool is That?, LA Journal

Adventures in Bookbinding: Ten Minute Notebook

I’ve diddled about with bookbinding since my twenties, when a magazine article — who knows where, because there was no Martha Stewart Living back then —  with photos, showed me how to build a real book. Oh frabjous month! I cut pages of blank paper, sewed signatures, cut spines, chose end papers, learned the properties of PVA and starch paste, manufactured book cloth by the yard, and owned more clamps than Norm Abrams.

Turned out that (with a couple of false starts and wonky editions) I could make a book : real hardcover book, covered in whatever fabric I fancied, any dimensions I desired, thicker or thinner, sized like an atlas or an address book. Looking back on a lifetime of making things, that first mad flurry of bookbinding was one of the most satisfying periods ever. I learned that with zero formal instruction,trial and error, cheap materials and (very) little practice I could build a real book. 

Then I had a baby and decided that Xacto knives and pots of adhesives standing on every flat surface of a tiny apartment weren’t going to win us any Safe Parents Awards. I turned to smocking for a few years, and a few of those tiny dresses outlive the books.

I’ve never stopped making books, acquainting myself with brochures, Japanese stab binding, Leporello (or accordion) binding, single signature books and portfolios. In fact, I dropped $23.00 (!) bucks at Paper Source last week for a bookbinding awl that looks like a darning egg with a long nail driven through it, because I’m contemplating experimenting with stab-bound hardcovers.

What I created yesterday doesn’t deserve to belong to a post about bookbinding, because someone else bound the book — cheap.

I scored this, my favorite school notebook (a “scribbler, in Canada) for seventy five cents last week, because it was stacked in a tower next to the bakery department in my closest grocery store. I didn’t need it, but I find it hard to resist that dalmatian front cover and the tables of weights and measures inside the back cover. Where else to answer, instantly, any questions about the drams of Avoirdupois weights? So, I had it sitting on the table, next to my sewing machine, inches from a stack of cotton apron scraps and two feet from my glue stash. I pulled out the Mod Podge, a “bone” folder (plastic,)  grabbed a piece of paper from the printer and cut myself a paper pattern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I grabbed the nearest remnant, cut out two covers, applied glue to the front and back of the book, and smoothed the fabric thereon with the bone folder.

 

 

Five minutes, less than a buck, and I almost wish I were fourteen again, assembling my back to school kit.

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Filed under A yard of fabric, About a buck, Books, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Paper

Scrap Bag Rollup

I cut out a couple of aprons today (Janice, I haven’t forgotten) and pulled out the sewing machine for the first time in almost a quarter! Where does the time go?

You’ll see the Warrenville Zoolander modelling aprons later this week, but I didn’t use the Kenmore today for apron production. I cleaned its tiny parts with its tiny brush , threaded it up, and whipped up a roll for my crochet hooks. When I started “C & C” I had higher, more practical and more philosophical goals — bleach, fireflies, striped Swedish cupcake papers — but I’ve noticed that it’s leaning towards a fabric/paper/crafts blog. Bear with me for awhile: it’s just that folding and hooking and sewing is what I’ve been about while I’m trying to lose this cold.

I have crochet hooks stashed in three different spots (four, counting my father’s house,) and I’ve replicated sizes because I had no motherlode of aluminum in one place.  I’ve been reproached daily by a stack of Log Cabin pieced place mats I’d made in early December, thinking to give them to my father for Christmas. Har. They never got past the pieced tops before we left for Ottawa, but they were the right size and shape to turn into a hook roll.

So, with the important needlework done four months ago, it took about half an hour to produce this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two solid rectangles would of course work just as well, but the vertical “logs” of the piecing were good guides to sewing the slots for the hooks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sewed the ribbon into the seams, nice and tight. This silly thing, my welcome back to my sewing machine, would work as well or better for knitting needles, sketching pencils, watercolor brushes, pencil crayons or chopsticks. You, my cherished apron patrons, may recognize some of the scraps.

 

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Filed under About a buck, Needlework, Yarn

Furoshiki:A New Japanese Good Thing

How odd that I decided I’d write about a classic Japanese folding technique last night, before I woke up to the God awful news about the earthquake today. My extended family and friends in Japan are just fine, thank God, but it’s impossible not to think of the loss of life and the material destruction to so many.

I don’t believe in reincarnation, but if I did I’d guess that I was a Japanese lady in a former life. I love the engineering elegance of the everyday: the gardens, the paintings, the crazy Baby Doll outfits young ladies wear around Tokyo, Hello Kitty, woodblock prints, tempura, washi paper, manga, ikebana, quilting, bonsai and — of course — origami. I know I’d love their whack toilets. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJazvumHNyk&NR=1

Back to Canada and Canadians, a subject I know better than I know Japan and Japanese. Canadians don’t travel or shop without their reuseable fabric shopping bags — I felt dirty admitting to the checkers that I’d need plastic grocery bags. (And pay twenty five cents per bag.) My father is so kind and so Canadian that he’d take only the Metro bags to Metro and the Loblaws bags to Loblaws. When I asked why he was such a dang fool he said:”Well, I don’t want to hurt their feelings.” Oh Daddy, I roll my eyes.

Well I discovered this week that the Japanese have the reuseable tote bag nailed, with a square of fabric. That’s it: a square of fabric — silk, rayon, polyester or cotton. It needs to be thin — so the knots don’t get too knobbly, and strong. The fabric square can be a wall hanging, a picnic tablecloth, gift wrapping, a book cover or —  a shopping bag.

Please click: Don’t you want an apple carrier? http://furoshiki.com/techniques The double wine bottle carrier is soooo cunning.

What you have to do is name your corners:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then you have to find a big, light strong square of fabric. The lightlbulb went off and I checked out my scarf drawer.My late mother had it covered: a yard square hand- painted silk scarf from Japan. Merci Mummy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I grabbed some random objects and dumped them in the center of the scarf:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I tied corners A and B in a square knot, likewise corners C and D. Mes amis, it made a tote, related to the bundle that the Depression hobos toted on a stick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It totally fits in the hand. It works! If I were picking up a few items from the supermarche or Walgreens all I’d need to do would be to unfold the scarf I’d been wearing, French Lady style, tied around the strap of my purse.

I like this twist on the basic tote: Pull one handle through another and you have something tighter and cooler:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t like trying to remember the intricate fold pattern of an origami model that I’m not quite up to — Furoshiki seems organic and practical.Check out that link and have some fun.

Furoshiki : another gift I’ve received from Japan.

 

 

 

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Filed under A yard of fabric, About a buck, Cool Japanese Stuff, How Cool is That?

Twenty Second Tulip

My cold whomped my week. I remember a couple of trips to Walgreens for OTC meds that did exactly jack, blinding coughing jags and ears that haven’t cleared since I walked onto the tarmac two Thursdays ago. Oh yeah, there was that awesome Cooks Illustrated coffee cake I made a week ago.

What crushed me was my lack of ambition. Blog? Eh, about what — Kleenex? Start that apron I’m so excited about — a commission? Sorry, Janice, much as I’ve longed for my sewing machine, the thought of standing at the table, pinning and cutting seemed as likely as running a 5K. Pitching that book idea? Puhleeze.

I got comfy on the couch with John Le Caree,  Laurie R. King and Margaret Maron. It sounds like more fun than that it was.

I found a lovely thing, only two days ago, when I could lift my eyes to the stack of mail on the hutch : a teeny magic package of origami paper — maybe an inch and a half square. He said:  “Um, I think Priscilla sent it to you.”

Today I felt well enough to eat apple pancakes and sausage. I still can’t hear and cough too much, but I took on The Times Sunday puzzle, and played with those adorable paper squares. This tulip model has many creators, the stem’s from Gay Merrill Gross’s Minigami.

My pix are so bad that that these tulips might take you more than twenty seconds, the first time. I’ve included the stem pattern, but if you don’t want to fuss, pull out your green pencil crayon and draw your stem and your leaves.

 

 

 

 

Fold the square in half horizontally, then turn one side up slightly higher than the original point. Fold the left side up to match.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flip the flower over and fold in the points.

Turn it over, et voila: tulip. Twenty second tulip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the stem: use a bigger square than you used for the tulip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fold the paper in half, then unfold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turn the sides into the fold line, then do it again:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is fun: fold the bottom point up :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then fold the model in half vertically, left to right. This is fun too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then flatten it, and pull the stem out to the right. Stem and leaf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you grab a glue stick and a blank card what do you get? A card with a tulip pasted on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like it. Thank you, Priscilla.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under About a buck, Art, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Cool Japanese Stuff, Origami, Paper

Penalty: Hooking

I’m not spending a two minute minor cooling my skates in the penalty box. It feels like a two game suspension.

For those of you so underprivileged, so culturally bereft as to not know hockey, check out this dead-serious sweetly dull explanation of the hooking penalty, here: http://www.ehow.com/video_2347658_hockey-penalties_-hooking.html

If I had a pair of skates here in Ottawa I’d lace ’em up and hit the Rideau Canal, two long blocks away and hit the World’s Longest Skating Rink, channeling Hans Brinker  and avoiding all the crazed kids playing hockey and hooking like mad. But I’m just fooling around with a pun here, and not a clever one.

This morning I found that doing anything — reaching for The Ottawa Gazette, lifting a coffee mug, brushing my teeth, brought tears to my eyes faster than watching Dumbo. I have a searing, brutal flame running along the top of my right forearm that makes picking up anything heavier than a cocktail coaster freaking agony. I tried to pour myself a glass of wine thirty seconds ago and squealed like a little girl. What the hell?

Friends, I’m off the ice for two games because of a crochet injury. (Hooking, get it? Lame.) I’ve been crocheting like a fallen woman in an eighteenth century convent. (Yes, there’s bilingual pun there: crochet is the French word for hook, and the good sisters made those French hookers crochet lace to earn their keep. ) I’ve been crocheting like a woman trying to save her immortal soul, but not to make lace to trim the trousseaus of Ottawa aristocrats .

I want some Vicodan to combat my injury making tea towel toppers. You know them, a staple of any good Crafts Table at the Church Ladies’ Christmas Bazaar. Take half a tea towel, then crochet a doohicky so that you can hook it (sorry) from the handle of a stove, handy for hand drying during messy kitchen tasks. I love mine, a birthday gift from family friend Betty who’s the boss of the Crafts Table at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian’s Xmas wingding. I blame blameless Betty for dumping me on injured reserve because she said “I wish I could crochet. Those tea towels sell like mad.”

I do crochet, and here in Ottawa I can walk a mere ten minutes to Yarn Forward, a classic yarn store owned by a stereotype: an English lady sporting a salt-and pepper crop, sensible shoes and a hand knit Fair Isle sweater. (Er, jumper.) Bliss!

I cranked out four of these beauties in four days — it was crazed crochet because it was so much fun. I tell you, I cranked!
(I gave the fourth to Betty.) For those, like me, who are Needlework Engineers, the task, the personal improvements to the pattern, the ornament, the sourcing of vintage buttons (thank you, Sassy Bead Company) the snowy strolls to Yarn Forward — well, let’s say, I overextended myself.

So totally worth it.

But would you mind plumping my cushions? My cup of tisane is over there on the sideboard — thanks! Oh, and would you mind calling my tennis coach and tell him I can’t make it tomorrow? You’re the best!

;

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Filed under About a buck, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Needlework

Forbidden Food Pleasures: Lima Bean Edition

One of the themes of “Cheap and Cheerful” is my delight in conversion to a food, a band,or  an author that I once loathed. I adore being proved wrong and getting on board with something that’s given pleasure to millions and which I’d once loudly, vocally scorned. Two musical examples are Country and Gustav Mahler. I would once have averred that I would never like liver, banjos and harpsichords — now I’m looking forward to the aha moment that will change my mind.

About liver: It’s just fine in a pate lashed with cognac. Otherwise I agree with this 1970 song from Second City:

“I hate liver, liver makes me quiver,
liver makes me curl right up and die, makes me cry…
it gives you hives, gives you scurvy, turns my stomach topsy turvy,
liver just simply ain’t my bag, makes me gag, makes me want to throw up…
Now liver is neither solid or liquid, but merely an amorphous, viscous colloid of putrid protein…
It is located between the 7th and the 10th dorsal vertebrae,
JUST south of the diaphragm, “lounging like a whore on a pillow of fat.”
Now did you ever look at the word liver?
Is it any coincidence that there are 5 letters in the word liver?
The same number of letters as in the word death? the word drugs? the word hippy?…

Well, maybe you just haven’t had it cooked right…

Naaah, I’ve had that stuff sauteed, I’ve had it breaded and broiled and broasted and braised,
I’ve had it diced and sliced and riced and sunnyside up over easy fried, and it still comes out, LIVER….
I hate liver, liver makes me quiver, liver makes me curl right up and die, (makes me cry)…
Why, first time I had it, I didn’t like it at all…

Well, what happened?

Well, I was about 9 months..my mammy gave me a hunk of that Gerber’s baby food.
Well, I rolled it around, looked at her eyeballs, spit it out and uttered my first words…

At nine months, what’d you say?

I said… I hate liver, liver makes me quiver,
liver makes me curl right up and die, makes me cry…
it gives you hives, gives you scurvy, turns my stomach topsy turvy,
liver just simply ain’t my bag.”

Come to think of it, I suspect that a banjo provided the musical accompaniment.

My poor mother: she loved liver, bought only the tenderest and priciest calves liver and served it up to Daddy’s acclaim with a mess of fried onions. To my siblings and me, the scent of Mummy’s Friday Night Special might just as well have been Chernobyl-like radiation. Nothing in our young lives was as terrible as liver and onions — yes, we were lucky. My parents back then, came  from the school, of: “You’re going to eat it, and what’s more you’re going to like it!” One Friday night, while my cheerful Daddy poured two glasses of Gamay, we kids cracked. The hopelessness of our plates of calves liver and onions brought us to our knees. I don’t know which of us first burst into tears, but within one minute Ian, Megan, Julie and I were pictures of despair, sobbing into our napkins.

We didn’t have to eat our liver that night, and my mother never cooked it again. Liver and onions became a forbidden pleasure for her, eaten at restaurants. Pasta alla Carbonara is a dish Lou hates and I love, so I sneak in the bacon, eggs, cheese and pasta when he’s not around. I let him fuss around with chicken livers, but it’s accepted that I won’t be forced to eat them.

Thing is, I’ve never met an expensive food I didn’t fall for, hard, at first taste. Oysters on the half shell? Score! Caviar? I’ll never eat enough in my lifetime. Ancient single malt Scotch that tastes like moss and smoke? Bartender, another, please.  But I have some long-standing issues with true-blue popular food — I have to be very hungry or drunk to eat a hot dog, and I come from the home of the iconic dawg: Chicago. Yes, I have eaten a good hot dog. I plain don’t like them.

Lima beans came from Peru — I never would have believed it if I hadn’t looked it up. Second only to liver, lima beans were  the most despised dish my mother set down at the dinner table. In fact, even Daddy disliked them, so limas were another favorite food my mother had to give up.

(Photo: Santa Rosa Greenhouses.)

In 1974 my parents lived at 166 The Driveway, in Ottawa. My mother and her next door neighbor Gail just clicked, although Gail was Mummy to children in elementary school and my youngest siblings were in their early twenties. Mummy met her Lima Bean lover — Gail, like Mummy was forbidden by her family to serve Lima beans. They both felt deprived. What did they do? Instead of tea time or cocktail hour, they’d meet up for Lima beans. I’ll never forget my mother’s rhapsodic descriptions of sitting on the front steps at four o’clock, sun on her face, eating Lima beans and chatting with her friend.

Lima beans taste like chalk, and the skins snap. Now I love them — apart from liver, my mother was always right. For much of my life the mere sight of a box of frozen Lima beans would activate my gag reflex. Now I can think of nothing more fabulous than sitting on the front stoop in the late afternoon with my Mother, sun on our faces, laughing and digging into a big bowl of Limas — floating on pools of butter and speckled with coarse ground pepper.

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Filed under About a buck, Food, History

Good Seed: Basil

I’ve learned to say zee instead of zed for the last letter of the alphabet. I don’t say leftentant any more, I say lootenant. It took me awhile to call Karkees Kakees. (Khakis.) The one Canadian shibboleth I can’t shake is pronouncing the word for that lovely herb Bayzil. It will always be Bazzle for me, as in Basil Faulty. But all this etymological chat is just me yammering on — let’s talk about the herb.

I can’t remember the first time I tasted basil. It wasn’t as a young woman travelling  in Tuscany in February, for sure. I didn’t miss it — all the trattorias and bars stocked luscious poached pears with chocolate sauce, served warm. It wasn’t in the Quebec of my childhood: the herbal profile was Old French: summer savory, thyme, clove, nutmeg. In some Fellini time warp I found basil at the same year Marcella Hazan’s seminal Italian cookbook was published, which was close to the time  we moved to the “Ville and I planted my first garden. I’ve talked about how I love to spill seed into the ground — flowers, vegetables, and herbs, and I’m still astonished that basil is so darned easy to grow.

My husband’s paternal grandparents, operatic cooks and gardeners, didn’t grow basil — and his Nonna’s family hailed for Porta San Pietro, a suburb of Naples! I remember Nonna having a shake jar of dried basil in the pantry, next to the oregano she preferred, but she and Nonno never grew or bought fresh basilico. I’m going to lose some foodie cred here: although fresh basil is best, dried basil should never be despised.

Gardening here in Chicagoland is tough, especially if you, like me, love the economy and charm of a package of seeds, rather than bankruptcy at the Garden Center. Deep freezes, snow , and root buckling in the winter, a late spring, and a long hot summer that can be either rainy and tropical, like this year, or blistering and dry. Oh, the Augusts I’ve scoured the soles of my feet on the frizzled Astroturf of our lawn during a dry spell.( This year the lawn should be mowed every other day.) But no matter what the weather gods bring, basil grows from seed in these parts.

I always buy one basil plant from the nursery in the drunken besotted state of a Midwestern gardener in May. Among the chives, tarragon and weeds you can see the original Big Basil plant  here, and Willow’s fans can see her paws in the upper right hand corner.

I think I paid three bucks for it, and it provided that sweet, minty, summery lift I needed when every other herb was either sulking or nonexistent. But when I bought it, I spent a buck on a package of seeds, planted them in pots, and strewed them about in the beds. For you Californians, Georgians or Virginians who are probably scratching your heads about my excitement — you don’t understand. A swell herb that sprouts from every single seed? Impossible, but true.

Three planters:

Yes, there a couple of pears in those pots. Oy, the Asian Pear tree from hell is dropping fruit and attracting wasps earlier than usual — but that’s another story entirely. The branches look pretty:

I’m doing something with slices of eggplant (deep fried) ragu, pattypan squash and cheese for dinner tonight. Strewed inside and out with the cheapest and cheeriest  product of a seed pack I know. Maybe I’ll avoid the irritating pronunciation divide of the great English speaking nations and call it basilico.

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Filed under About a buck, Free

Why We Should All Play Cards

Maybe this would be better titled: Why I should Play Cards, because for all I know you’re a member of a bridge club, a poker game or a devotee of Shanghai Rummy. In fact, I began thinking about cards today because Lloyd told me that he’s a part of a bunch of buddies who have a longstanding game of Shanghai. I’d never heard of it and I’m not sure I’m smart enough to play it. Lloyd’s one of the smartest people I know. Here’s the skinny on Shanghai: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_rum.

I suck at cards. My parents strived to teach us bridge when we were marooned in Ottawa one summer, and the results were not uniformly cheerful. Daddy was always my partner, and I remember him staring at me aghast at one of my random bids. He was too kind to excoriate me, but Lou’s partner wasn’t, and he didn’t blame her. As a child of the fifties and sixties, it seemed to me then that bridge was a huge unisex culture; couples would drag out the card table for an after-dinner couple of rubbers. My mother belonged to a travelling Ladies Club, and when it was her turn as Hostess we’d rush home praying that the three tables had left us a few tea sandwiches.  Just sayin’: people must have been smarter in the days of Mad Men, because everyone played bridge, a game of diabolical difficulty and finesse.

I can’t think of a duller way to while away the time than Solitaire. Why play a game with a 90% failure rate? All the gin and rummy games baffle me, as does Euchre and 98% of the games in this fab book:

This book talks about games old (Piquet, anyone?) and new. It’s clear yet scholarly. It’s so well-written even I can understand it. There’s an index that recommends games for children, for one person, for two  three four or five (or more) players. There’s a section on gambling games, and not just poker and blackjack. Empty your pockets for Faro, Spinado or Punto Banco. I admit that one of the beauties of this book is the names of the games.

To rattle off a few : Klabberjass, Paganini, Miss Milligan, Pope Joan, Shasta Sam, Ranter Go Round, and Rockaway.

I see that I’ve wandered away from my thesis: Why  should we all play cards?

1) A deck of cards is cheap cheer. Here’s a dollar store deck I found in the drawer of the end table:

2) Or, it can be a pricey thing of beauty. Here’s a bridge deck, made in Austria, I bought when I had money to waste on fripperies. The court cards are all English political figures:(Click to  enlarge.)3)

3) Cards are sociable. I’ve given my verdict on Solitaire  — I need at least one opponent. And I love poker because it’s an expandable game. But my dearest memories are of the oldest established permanent floating Hearts game in Trois-Rivieres — (bow to Frank Loesser.) In my Junior and Senior years in High School my bffs played Hearts every day after we were released from Biology, the last class of the day. In retrospect, it amazes me that Three Rivers High School  had a theater set up, like Eakins’s “Gross Clinic” for Biology. But at last released, we’d hustle our miniskirted, Yardley- Glimmericked fifteen year old selves to Joanne Kathan’s  swell finished basement and play Hearts. Week over week, every single night, the Stones, Spencer Davis and the Beach Boys loaded on the turntable., we played Hearts because Hearts was interesting. There wasn’t a lot of gossip , we played the game — a cross between Hearts and Black Maria. The book tells me we played Omnibus Hearts.

4) Then there was the summer we discovered Whist. Edith Ridder’s mother allowed us to move her card table into the garden, and we sat in the shade, sipping Fresca.  Huge fortunes were lost at Whist in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but girls who were saving up their babysitting money for a pair of Woolworth earrings weren’t punting. Whist is the easy ancestor of Bridge — same game except that one’s spared the  intellectual gambling thrill of bidding, and the trump suits rotate in their ever steady orbits. I learned a lot about card play in those summer afternoons.

5) Not to get all Luddite here, but I wish for kids today what fun we had in Joanne’s rec room or Edith’s garden after school. Signing in to play a game with someone you don’t know is fun, but it’s not the same.

And last: what a great idea for a party. A few decks of cards, a couple of  games going on, California Dip and chips and Chex Mix. Beer and wine and iced tea. Something more substantial, like pulled pork sandwiches and brownies and ice cream later. All brought to us by Ricky Jay’s 52 Assistants.

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Everyone Needs a Notebook

I don’t know why it took so long for me to appreciate the advantages of owning a notebook. I was fifty before I realized  what I’d been missing by not carrying around a small notebook in my purse. I’ve always been a sucker for those big hardbound blank (or lined) books on the sale tables at every bookstore chain in the world — in fact I have at least eight bought over three decades that are still blank. Let’s forget the twelve others, each with the first twenty pages defaced with my lame attempts at keeping a diary. (I prefer “diary” to “journal” just because I loathe the new verb “journaling. ” Ick.)

Perhaps I was an late adapter because I carried a much smaller, chicer purse when I “went out to busines,” as my Lancashire grandmother would have said. Perhaps I realized that I could no longer remember everything. Maybe I got fed up with losing all those phone numbers and book titles scribbled on the back of ATM receipts every time I cleaned out that modestly sized Coach bag. Perhaps the resurrection  of the venerable Moleskine  (and desirable) brand was the kind of paper porn I love . I could get into a world of trouble at the Moleskine website. http://www.moleskine.com/

Writing myself through the process has enabled me to put my finger on the year I realized I needed a notebook. It was eight years ago on my first trip to Los Angeles to visit my daughter. She and John were promoting their new  hometown, and every day was a dazzling revelation. I realized I couldn’t remember the  calendar of events they’d arranged for me without writing it down in one place. The first day read something like: “Griffith Park, The Getty, Pho Cafe for lunch, Garment District, Campanile for dinner.” I was lightheaded with happiness, blissed out by Southern California, and didn’t want to forget a thing. I bought a Moleskine  at Skylight Books, an independent bookstore that’s a destination in itself and I made note of everywhere we went on my first trip to LA. (Their campaign worked: I love Los Angeles and Southern California.)

I have two working notebooks. One’s in my purse — oh, gosh! My life is so much better now. If I’m listening to NPR in the car and I hear some music I want to buy, BAM!  I write it down. If I’m having lunch with a friend and he recommends a book, BAM! I won’t forget the title. If another friend gives me her new cell number at a barbecue, I’m not writing it down on a Kleenex. I can scribble down the guts of a recipe from a cookbook at the library. I can remember a restaurant recommendation. Here’s my purse notebook, bought, ironically, at a Paperie in Glendale, California the last time we were  in LA, when I realized, in a panic, that I hadn’t moved my notebook when I changed my handbag. I like spiral notebooks because they lie flat, and mistakes or trivia can be deleted with the twitch of a wrist.

The second notebook sits to the left of my laptop, on the coffee table in the living room, side by side with my everyday fountain pen. (Yeah, I’m a serious fountain pen person, which lifts me into another level of geekiness.  That’s another post). What I use this, my all-time favorite notebook for, is everything that my brain wants to retain in the course of a day. Ideas for my blog. Ideas for my food column. Travel plans. Websites to discover. Menu planning. It sits at my left hand  and Lou will say, out of the blue: “Get out  your notebook! How’s this for an idea?” And I do.

Dear Reader, it’s a plastic-covered 3X5 Mead spiral notebook, available at Walgreen’s or the school supply aisle at your grocery store. I think you can score it for 69 cents in the forthcoming back-to-school sales. To say it’s nothing fancy would to overstate the case. It has “Neat Sheet” perforations. It’s thick. It’s cheap. When it’s full, I’ll keep it, unlike those fancy notebooks with my puerile attempts at journal keeping, which I should toss tomorrow. I don’t know if you’ll see any detail in the photo, but this is what the controlled chaos looks like.

I’m sure most of my readers, who are smarter than I, have known about notebooks forever. But if not, fork out a dollar or fifteen and see how your life changes for the better. Without diet, exercise or religion.

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Filed under About a buck, Books, History, Paper