Category Archives: Holidays

The Stocking: That’s Christmas Cheap and Cheerful

Opening the stocking in front of the fireplace on Christmas morning is the platonic ideal of Cheap and Cheerful. The fireplace is optional, of course, and my mother never made a Martha-ish ideal of hanging stockings as decorations – in fact they were actual socks, wool – one sized for my father and recycled into his wardrobe after the holidays. As we got older, my booty was stuffed into a pair of black tights and my brother’s into a pair of his own wool socks: two stockings, why not?

I can remember the invariables of every stocking of my childhood. The wide top bit might hold a copy of “Seventeen” and Yardley Glimmrick eyeliner – they were the variables, changing with every year and every interest. For Ian, it might have been hockey cards and licorice, for my little sisters, skipping ropes and headbands. That was the changeable top layer.

Here’s the never-changing bottom layer, from the toe up: a quarter, wrapped in tissue paper. (A quarter was serious currency for a kid in the early sixties. ) A mandarin orange, which was a piece of Christmas exotica back in the day in Quebec. Then there was the awesome orange: the foil-wrapped Droste chocolate orange that fell into segments when you tapped it on a tabletop. As an enormous fan of “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates” that Dutch chocolate orange put a silver stroke into my skating when we tried out our Christmas skates in subzero weather on Boxing Day.

Of course there was a big, I mean a foot-long, http://www.laurasecord.ca/ candy cane hanging over the lip of the Xmas Sox.

When my daughter was a girl the top-of-the-stocking might have included the new Beverley Cleary, a pair of earrings, or a Burt’s Bees lip gloss. The toe of the stocking was frozen in time: a quarter wrapped in tissue paper, a mandarin orange, a Droste orange, available from Walgreens or TJMaxx — the big old candy cane came from Fanny May.

A stocking may not be quite as cheap as it was when Honor was a nymph, let alone when I was a bookworm, but, adjusted for inflation it can be kept Cheap and Cheerful. Resist the sweet impulse to slip a blue Tiffany box under the copy of “Vanity Fair.”  The Christmas stocking top layer should be personal and, well, cheap.

If I still hung up a stocking, here’s what I wish Santa would grok. A cheap fun pencil sharpener. Two soft pencils. The ab fab Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes, worthy of its own blog post. Some fruit jellies in a tiny box.

But never forget the toe: don’t wrap up a dollar coin – a quarter is fine. Many firms make better chocolate than Droste, and you can send me a box for my birthday, but not on Christmas Day. And the fragrance, pressed against the Christmas morning nose, of the mandarin orange and the candy cane, is fifty cents worth of cheerful.

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Filed under Born in Chicago, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, History, Holidays

Apron of the Day: Pumpkins and Reindeer

I’m in production mode.

I was stunned to realize, as I pulled my apron inventory from my warehouse (that would be the linen closet) that I didn’t have one stinkin’ holiday apron  on hand. I blew whatever money that came from my last apron sale on Christmassy fabric (oooooh, I have some cool yardage!”) and pondered the possibilities of the reversible apron.

For The Season, I’m expanding into mother/daughter, grandmother/granddaughter, doll aprons — even wine bottle aprons. But value is important, so I’m thinking: one side can be holiday based but the verso should be a print that can be worn year-round. What do you think?

As it happened, I found a yard of fabric from my stash that handles the two fall holidays that feature pumpkins — plus the print is so terrific that it could handle twelve months a year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The life-sized reveal:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(If you crave some Asian pears, c’mon over and strip the tree.)

This is the witty Christmas side — I love these reindeers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willow put in an appearance, but didn’t climb into the shoot — note the windfall pears. Sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

I love this apron, red rickrack and reindeer:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So let’s crowd source this. If you’re buying a Christmas cookie- baking, gravy- stirring, hors d’ouevres -passing  Christmas apron, would you like the reverse to be a pretty print you could wear year-round?

 

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Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Holidays, Needlework, On the Street Where I Live, Reversible Aprons, Sewing

Charlene’s Exterior Design

There’s nothing cheaper and more cheerful than having a neighbour who imagines charming seasonal decorations, executes them with originality and charm, and pulls all eyes from her neighbor’s house – the one with the overgrown garden and the peeling paint.

You’ve heard me write about the Simpsons. BigDale,Viet Nam marine, career cop and now the dude who cools the ring at Fermilab – Cerne needed him, bad. Little Dale, Warrenville’s own Indiana Jones, is now between Machu Picchu  and Easter Island. The gorgeous Christina, mother and florist. Then there’s Charlene, my confidante of what, Char? Thirty years in August?

Char, Big Dale’s “Bohunk Accountant,” a thrifty smart Bohemian girl. Char, the interior decorator, who’s done so much more with her house than we ever could. She keeps a freaking spotless house. She’s been my catsitter since before Lady Gaga was born. We can be holed up in wintry weather, then meet up at the mailbox and catch up. Big time.

She decorates the outside of her house for every holiday – Flag Day, Valentines Day, Christmas, She caught little girls cutting the plastic eggs off her shrubs this Easter, and they had no defense except “They so pretty.” Charlene tapped her invisible store of seasonal; stuff and handed the little girls a few eggs of their own, They returned the pilfered eggs.

Char is in 4th of July mode. You can’t see the other spread of bunting from this pic, on the north side of the fence, but I adore it. I notice a brand  new flag. And I love the details on the front porch. That’s what I love about her seasonal decorating: even at Christmastime, the real goodies are on the front porch to delight me, other friends and the UPS man.

When I ask where she picks up her props she says something like “Flea Market.” Or “Five for a dollar at TJMaxx.”  It’s weird – I never see her tying all those Easter eggs to her shrubs, or hanging the fresh bunting or running up a new flag – it always happens like magic.

 

Now for a few pix:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This tin basket is reimagined every other week, it seems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This stands to the right of the front door. I mean, where does she find this stuff?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patriotic cushions, patriotic kitty.

Thanks, Charlene for treating your neighbors with your charming, original decorations. I think you should go into business.

Um, here’s our pitiful, overgrown weedy take on the red white and blue:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So thank you, Char: you’re the ‘Ville’s Martha Simpson.

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Filed under Free, History, Holidays, Home, How Cool is That?, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Valentine’s Day: Julia Knows her Cheap and Cheerful

It was a sweet, swell Valentine’s day, here in our sisterly site in the Great White North. Cards were served up at the breakfast table , with pretty little caskets of candy from Daddy and Megan. I didn’t give sweets, I gave meat in the form of a filet mignon/Duchesse Potatoes dinner for my peeps. (Note to anonymous suitors: to make me swoon hold the candy and FexEx me some animal protein from Niman Ranch.)

I received a huge bunch of flowers  from my faraway guy, so sunny on a grey February day:

And the mantle was all family hugs and kisses — the origami hearts had been our dinner place cards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But wouldn’t you know it: My sister Julia,https://cheapcheer.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/the-julia-mcarthur-gastronomic-star-system/ , the Sultana of Sweet, the Contessa of Cheerful, the Keeper of All Holidays (she was asking about Easter on February 15th,)  put the VaVoom into Valentine’s Day. With some pilfered printer paper, paint, crayons and scissors, she’s been beavering away in her bedroom since Jan. 2.

I got three cards from her: (double click to enlarge.)

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s an example of  but one flat surface  she hearted:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every table — at last count seventeen on the first floor — was tiled with hundreds of hearts, some painted, some in crayon, she’d cut and colored over the last month. Abondanzza is a wonderful thing.

I don’t want to hear any twaddle about St. Valentine’s being a greeting card holiday: it was around long before Hallmark, unlike, say, Sweetest Day. (That is a Hallmark holiday.)And Julia proved yet again that  holiday fun is mandatory, cheap and cheerful — all you need is love.

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Filed under History, Holidays, Less than 50 cents, Paper

The Julia McArthur Gastronomic Star System

 

Meet my little sister, Julia Moss McArthur, a jolt of joy in a dreary world. She’s beaming about the traditional chocolate orange she pulled out of her Christmas stocking. She spends most of her day beaming, being helpful, making fun of her elders and giving us positive feedback.  To finish a dreary task and hear Julie declare “Good little worker!” is almost as good as being awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France. If one of us dresses up and looks spiffy, Julie will let out a wolf whistle. She oogles attractive men, like John, my cousin Cort or our friend Michael Histed, simpers, tosses back her hair and calls them “My Sveetie.”

At five o’clock sharp she nukes a bag of popcorn and distributes it in two baskets to accompany drinks.She’s the one who reports if toilet paper or dishwasher detergent is running low, and keeps on the case until it’s replaced. She can take care of Number One: On the kitchen calendar she got away with blacking out every entry that read “Julie, Dentist” for months. You’ve figured out from her pic that she’s Down Syndrome, and she’s not great at reading, writing or figgering, but for years, at my mother’s insistence, she’d do a daily weigh-in, and write the number on the calendar. So faithful was she that’s she’s write “NO BAT” until someone replaced the batteries on the scales.

Julie’s a gourmande — her table manners are neat and sure as she picks her way through a lobster (in Julia language”mobster”)dinner. Oysters on the half shell are one of her gustatory passions; she slurped her way through two dozen before I’d found my lemon wedge. Fish, fowl, game, caviar, Cheetos, brussel sprouts,stinky cheese tendon, cotton candy,pate, tofu — I have no doubt that if Julie were handed a raw sea urchin and a spoon she’d dig right in.

And she’d pronounce it “Wishious!”

“Wishious!” — always proclaimed with kissed fingertips a la Maurice Chevalier, is the Julie equivalent of a Michelin star. She’s enchantingly generous with one star. If you’ve stepped up your game, you’ll get a “Wishious!” followed by her second star — a Namaste.

Then there’s the dinner when you’ve wandered into Julie’s Bocuse/Achatz territory, the third star, the ultimate acclaim. First, an enthusiastic “Wishious!”, the kissed fingertips flung into the air. A few more appreciative bites wins you a beaming bow and a Namaste. If you’ve sourced your ingredients, cooked like a poet, and pushed up your presentation, Julia will tap her lips with her napkin, get to her feet, give you a standing ovation and yell “Bravo!”

It’s not as if other family members are stingy with praise — hey, we’re a family of cooks and eaters. But there is nothing, nothing like the unaffected, innocent and informed standing O from Julia. I’ m considering taking my sister on the road and visiting all my kitchen buddies. I’ll observe her reactions to your fab meals and compile the Julia Guide. As Julie herself would say: “No wowwies!” You’ll bask in that standing O within four meals, and you’ll beam and bow, just as I do.

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Filed under Food, Free, History, Holidays, Home

Fam and Friends and Catchup

Dear buddies, I’ve been a bad bad blogger over the holidays! Sure, I’ll trot out a few (lame) excuses:

  • My son-in-law John was busy launching the new beta version of the the website he and my daughter run, the fab http://gototennis.com. He logged more time at the laptop than most people spend during a work week.
  • Well, it is my father’s computer and we thought it would be fair to let him on for a few minutes a day!
  • My daughter needed to write posts on her blog — hey, she’s had over six million hits and gets first whack — and she has actual advertisers and such to talk to.
  • Shopping, and cooking three meals a day for up to nine people is a time commitment.

I was lazy bumming it.As I ease myself into 2011 — it’s gonna be a life-changing year and I’m tired already — I thought I’d do some holiday catchup — photos and such. I regret that my handsome son-in-law isn’t in the frame because he’s the camera man.

Lou had the brilliant idea to hit Lapointe’s in the Byward Market for a case of a hundred oysters. John was born to shuck oysters — he picked up the skill on the third bivalave. Here’s a pic of my nephew Miles manning up and slurping his first Sunnyside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He wasn’t knocked out by the flave and needed a pull on a Blue, but he did it! We had the full traditional tortiere spread Christmas Eve, and I should have made two pies. No one starved.

Christmas Day arrived with the usual swell haul of prezzies. Honor was the only recipient of a gift in the famous blue box.

Friends, I must Must figure out how to post photos here from my father’s computer. This glitch alone is why I haven’t been posting, but give me time. I’ll figure it out. (You reading, John?) I’m still in Ottawa, trying to square my citizenship in two countries and giving my father, who had hip replacement surgery three weeks ago, a hand.

I have a huge year looming, a life-changing, slogging year. I trust it will all be for the good. I have a daunting list I must achieve in Ottawa, then back to the ‘Ville for the really hard work. It’s only Jan. 4 and I’m tired.

And then there’s the Pudding Project –more anon.

To all of you the  best 2011. Mwah.

 

 

 

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Filed under History, Holidays, Home

The Christmas Card Letter

You know what I mean — those letters run through a printer on seasonal stationery and tucked into a Christmas card. They’ve been the butt of many parodies and late-night television jokes.

I love them!

The mean-spirited parodies feature a couple of plot lines. There’s the “All our kids got Fulbrights, we spent Christmas in Chamonix, February in Africa advising Bono, played a few chukkers during  the polo season in Buenos Aires, and just got back from Basel Miami Art Fair.” narrative.

Or the faux and snarky disaster plot  :” The trailer park got took up in the tornado, Maw’s dentures got run over by Gramp’s pickup, and Tiffany lost three fingers in the plucking machine at Tyson’s.”

Yeah, yeah it’s easy and fun, and Zoolander has discussed sending out a Christmas note noir, featuring only the year’s dark moments. Bah. There’s just no place for cynicism. Look: I get cards from fam and friends, no frenemy on the list — all good people I love. Why wouldn’t I want to hear about their year? Why on earth would I laugh my way through them — (OK, I’ve been guilty a couple of times. )

Both my sisters-in-law are artful lettreistes, funny and soulful and good writers. I love the stream of consciousness letter from the husband of a friend — they’re the ones with kids with Fulbrights — he is such a damn great writer. And I cherish the annual correspondence from another Margaret who  I met in First Grade. I haven’t seen her for forty years, but I know her teaching schedule at McGill, I know that she has a cat named Aslan, I know her daughter’s in Nursing School.

So, you ask, “Why don’t you craft a Christmas card letter, hmmmm?” I did, once, the year I bought my first PC — do you remember the bliss, the miracle, the magic of your first PC and your first printer? It was well-received. But it was a one-time wonder.

OK, I’ll trot out excuses. Well, I’ve mostly made my own cards, and that uses up creative time. Also, I often write a note in a Christmas card to put a friend in the way of anything notable of common interest.(Which leads me to a side rant: Why does no one under forty put pen to card stock and sign his/her name? OK, there are a couple of exceptions.) And I’ll huddle under the cloak of Facebook — you’ll see my status daily, right? You’ll read what I made for dinner, my soul state, and what I Like.

And yeah, I blog. If you’re kind enough to keep up with me here why should I burden you with a Christmas letter? It feels egotistical.

But these are my excuses. For everyone else: buy that paper with the poinsettia border, tell me about your black diamond skiing, your promotion, your layoff, your new Newfoundland puppy. Those letters are my Christmas bonus.

 

 

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Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, History, Holidays, Into the Mystic, Paper

All I Want for Christmas is my Left Bicuspid and Other Stuff

Actually, I’m not totally kidding here. My mouth is a dental nightmare and I lost my upper left bicuspid a year or so ago. I could get by in public with a “flipper,” a tooth on a wire and plastic armature, but somehow someone stepped on it and broke it in half (probably me) during the Thanksgiving festivities. It can still fill in the gap when I don’t want to appear in public as a Dust Bowl matron, but the rough edge hurts. All of you with good teeth: know how lucky you are.

But that’s selfish stuff. What I really want for Christmas is my Daddy at home after his therapy for his hip replacement, as vital and optimistic as he was before the Fall. I believe he will be.

It’s funny, the Christmas List devolving. Even ten years ago I could write: “Silver bracelet from Tiffany’s, Vol de Nuit, ____________ novel, silk jammies, new Cuiz. Although I’d still love any of those items, the sheer desire isn’t there. I own the jammies, the bracelets and still have a few spritzes of Vol de Nuit.

What I’d love is miles. Because we don’t own any credit cards we don’t have any miles, but oh! to revisit Paris and Rome. To discover for the first time Athens and Istanbul, to sunbathe in Antibes or Antigua.

When we were newlyweds and broke, we had season tickets to the Lyric Opera. Monserrat Caballe, Jon Vickers, Joan Sutherland, Placido Domingo — but we were a cheap el ride from the Opera House. In my wildest dreams of avarice I’d take a season subscription and the moolah to spend a night in a boutique hotel, dining with my Chicago buddies and drinking lots of Henriot champagne.

I want to spend most of February in LA with my daughter and son-in-law. I might just swing half of that, unless my neighbors get annoyed at the cat-sitting calendar. (And I wouldn’t blame them.)

You might have noticed that World Peace isn’t on my Christmas list. Well, pierced ears were on my list for ten years and Santa never took my mother’s hand and led her to the Piecing Parlor. It wasn’t gonna happen with earrings and it’s never gonna happen with World Peace, because the world has never been at peace.

My list is shorter every year. But y’know, it’s cheaper and cheerier.

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Filed under Born in Chicago, Collections, History, Holidays, Home, Into the Mystic, Music, Worth it anyway

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.

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

Crafting Christmas — Mostly Martha.

I bow to everyone who looks to Martha Stewart for a new Christmas decor every year, for glam new table settings, for using Martha Stewart brand glitter on everything from Christmas cards to felt Advent calendars. From Her Greatness, I’ve learned to twist rickrack into a creditable-looking candy cane, how to make homemade soap, crochet Christmas ornaments , and shake my head at the brilliance of her staffers who crank out ideas like this:

I mean, some gumdrops, sprinkles and powdered sugar? Brilliant.

Or this felt stocking — so chic, and a kid could make it.

 

As a matter of fact a kid, my daughter whipped up an earlier MSL felt stocking when she was fourteen:

My lousy photography doesn’t do it justice — it’s the fabbest stocking I’ve ever seen.

But all these Martha offerings aren’t helping me this November; I can’t figure out what the heck presents I’m going to make for Christmas. My family and friends are aproned-out.  But I’ll take this opportunity to show you one I find particularly fetching: “Lady in Blue.” It was a commission from my Apron Patron Patty, for a friend who’s decor is wall-to-wall blue. (Note: Blue is a beautiful color — skies, forget-me-nots, Blue Willow, Lake Huron, sapphires, and my daughter’s eyes. But I can’t wear it — it makes my skin look as if I should be sporting a toe tag. And blue rooms make me feel, well, blue.)

The old-timey calico print:

The dark side: blue cornflowers:

Speaking of blue , I have a top drawer stuffed with Tiffany boxes, the remnants of wealthier times. Believe me, I have no quarrel with giving or receiving store-bought prezzies. Sure, I can sew, but if I’m giving a gent a dress shirt I’ll spring the bucks at Brooks Brothers; they do it so much better. I love giving and getting books, and receiving a top-up to my Guerlain perfume stash. But even when I had disposable income I made Christmas presents, just because I like to.

Last Christmas my sister-in-law Hilary baked us a huge tin of delectable cookies and squares. We didn’t open it until we returned home and I remember thinking: “Thanks, Hil! January is so much better because of you!”  Maybe I should be thinking about food gifts? Or maybe whip up a batch of our world-class limoncello? Nah — our Christmases involve crossing borders and carryons.

Here’s what I have in-house: Dead Sea Salts, from the real Dead Sea. Slabs of wax. Dried rosebuds. Fabric. Meltable soap slabs and an assortment of exquisite essential oils. Pipe cleaners. A pantry and a bar. Piles and piles and piles of paper. How to combine them (I ask myself) into different prezzie guises than they appeared at previous Christmases?

Any ideas? What are you making this Christmas?

I’m signing out to head back to http://www.marthastewart.com.

 

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Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Body, Books, Food, Holidays, Home, Paper, Scent, Worth it anyway