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, 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.


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?



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.


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, , 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.


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.


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 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.





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.




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