Category Archives: Art

Remembering the Poppy

I don’t remember if the school handed us a poppy to wear sometime in early November, or whether we paid a modest amount to wear that beloved badge.

Our fathers went to work, our mothers shopped and played bridge, the postman dropped by — all sporting a poppy on a lapel. Canadians and Brits still wear them —  the newsreaders on the BBC news haven’t retired theirs as of last night, a few days after November 11. In fact, the British delegation took some heat at the G20 earlier this week for their poppies — some other countries didn’t appreciate that splash of red. I’m happy to report that David Cameron told them, diplomatically, to shove it. Fashion note: The UK version now includes a dashing splash of faux foliage.

The Poppy is certainly cheap for such a crimson splash, but its provenance isn’t cheerful. It was the chosen official emblem of mourning for, and remembrance of, the millions of British Empire dead in the First World War. (As WWI didn’t turn out to be The War to End All Wars, we’ve many more dead to remember.) It features in the first line of the Canadian Army surgeon John McCrea’s immortal war  poem “In Flanders Fields,” and was considered the natural choice for the pin of painful memories.

To this day, it’s one of the two poems I learned in school I can still recite without effort. (The other is “Ozymandias.”)

Only once have I discussed the First World War with someone who’d fought in it — our family friend, Doug Read. He kept it light and short, recalling being so tired, young and hungry that he slept through the carnage at Ypres (or was it Vimy Ridge?) My English grandfather served in the Royal Navy, but he died before I could ask him for war stories.

In the time I’ve lived in the USA I’ve discovered that the Poppy isn’t ubiquitous — in fact I’ve been able to buy one only twice since I moved here, from eldery vets at a stoplight. They were sad plasticky versions of the flowers I remembered, but I was happy to buy them and proud to wear them them. Each year, I was literally the only employee to own one.

I need to find a way to bring back the Poppy. Hmmmm — how about I make some next year and sell them, proceeds going to the VFW? I may be a genius.



Filed under Art, Books, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, History, Holidays, Less than 50 cents, Politics

You Start With A Pumpkin

If there were a profession called “Pumpkin Carver” I’d be planning a whiz of an old age in Lucca, the sere, beautiful,  crabby hometown of my husband’s  Tuscan ancestors. Edinburgh in Italy — the perfect family ethnic blending. But there isn’t, so my husband’s once a year meditation on sculpture  with squash won’t ensure us anything but an old age in my daughter’s basement eating cat food.

He starts with a terrific drawing: Daumier, Goya, Matisse. The he thinks a lot.  Then he looks at the October issue of “Martha Stewart Living” Then he hollows out the pumpkin, sketches his idea  on it, and morphs from a nice guy to an artistic monster, throwing down my lino scraping tools in exasperation, beating his breast, tearing his hair, yelling and cursing.

He works with the lights inside the pumpkin so that he can monitor the subtle shadings of the thick and thin layers. He throws pumpkin scraps all over the floor without apology. He annoys me.

Here’s this year’s version, after a drawing by Correggio. He got to use a drill to punch in the holes around the face, and that cheered him up — so easy. He calmed down a bit when it was completed, and I’d refrained from yelling at his excited , crazy self. Anyway here it is, and it might be the best punkin in the ‘Ville this year.

Trick or treat?


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Art, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Food, History, Holidays, The 'Ville

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

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

Gift from a Stranger

An unexpected package from a friend  marks a red letter day. That padded envelope or box from Amazon, just because your buddy has seen a book he thought you’d like to read, or music she knows you’ll love, or food from his kitchen or her trip to Greece — well! It’s only slightly  less wondrous than  a new baby or a loved one’s  recovery from a grave  illness.

Let’s push up the wonder factor: the gift comes from someone you’ve never met, or spoken to.

That person lives in Japan.

The gift is intricate and beautiful, and she made it by hand. It’s fashioned from scraps of kimono silk. If I’d known that such a lovely thing existed, it would have been at the top of my Christmas list. I marvel every time I look at it, which is daily, and think “That lovely woman spent a long time making this, and she gave it to me!

The lovely woman who sent me this gift via my daughter is what my grandmother would call a “connection” — a friend or family member of someone in your own family who isn’t related to you. She’s the mother of my son-in-law’s sister-in law Kei. (Got it?)She’s the daughter of a post-war Japanese Prime Minister.She  took a shine to my daughter when Honor and John were visiting a friend in Japan — they stayed with her in Tokyo and she  introduced them to Kyoto and its high refined cuisine.When they left she gave Honor “a present for your mother.”

I don’t even know what she looks like, but I can show you her daughter and granddaughter Hana.

Kei’s in black and white in the front row  — Hana’s in flower girl attire at her aunt and uncle’s wedding. (Kei had a baby sister for Hana last week, Juna Michael.)

Here’s the bouquet of  silk tulips:

She painstakingly sewed them, stuffed them, wired them to the silk stems and leaves, and sent them to the United States as a gift to a stranger. Here’s some detail:

To send a handmade gift, or one lovingly chosen, to a friend : that’s love. To send one to a stranger: that’s class.


Filed under Art, Cool Japanese Stuff, Home, How Cool is That?, Needlework, Travel

Japanese Washi Tape — the Masking Tape of my Dreams

Not that I’m going to use it to mask around the window panes next time I can bring myself to tackle a big household painting project. Nor can I imagine that a Japanese matron would use it for any such dreary purpose.

I don’t know where I discovered washi tape — and old Martha Stewart Living, perhaps? I quivered with desire. That tape haunted my days and kept me awake at night: I needed some more than I needed a new haircut. (Which I did.)

Washi tape is patterned masking tape. God, the Japanese are brilliant at this kind of thing — the ordinary made cute.

This stack of floral tape set me back about eight bucks. To give you a better idea of the beauty, fun and variety of washi tapes, spend awhile at, Here: Why didn’t I know about washi tape? Why don’t I have an ecommerce web site that will give me a whiz of an old age while I sell washi tape?

This stuff really sticks, but it peels back easily enough so that it can be repositioned or moved. If I were a scrapbooker, which I’m not, , I’m surer than an aisle at Michael’s that it would be fab and fun. I framed a picture with it as an example for this blog, and stuck down samples of the other colors just for fun.

Well, as all of you know, the silly small things make me cheerful.


Filed under Art, Cool Japanese Stuff, How Cool is That?, Paper, Ten bucks or fewer

Robert Mitchum and Robert Downey Jr.: Two Dangerous Men

We watched the 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes last night, a fun bit of fluff set in the days when Sherlock and Dr. Watson were young and studly. What the world needs now is a hot Doctor Watson, and we got that in Jude Law. Rachel McAdams disappointed as Irene Adler, but that might be because I’ve always wanted to play Irene Adler.

Robert Downey Jr. appears to have cleaned up his drug habit after a year in jail, after many previous drug busts. God, I hope he has, because as I’ve said before here, he and Daniel Day-Lewis are the greatest film actors of a generation. I’m not going to say IMHO. I love George Clooney’s intelligence and independence. (And face.)  For me the Leos and Bens and Javiers and Matts of the movie world are excellent, but second tier to my Big Two.

I think it’s those brown eyes. Downey has done more for brown eyes since anyone but Van Morrison.

My mother had a huge lifelong crush on another  naughty Robert, Robert Mitchum. I have no issue with this,ladies and gents.

He rules film noir, and guess what, he got busted for some maryjane in his pocket and spent three months in jail .Mitchum was married to the same lady for like, almost fifty years and he wasn’t in and out of rehab as Downey was. I love his take about acting:I’m paraphrasing here but it was something like “Acting is easy. You show up on time, you know your lines and you hit your marks.”  Robert de Niro (hmmm, another Bob) was swell in Cape Fear but you don’t know real fear until you’ve seen Mitchum in the original.

If this was a film school thesis I’d have to write a cunning and scholarly summing up about the two Roberts. This is a random blog post, soI’m not obligated. Just rent the movies, OK? And I bet my virtuous mother would have had as big a crush on my Robert as she had on her Robert.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Art, History, Media