Category Archives: Into the Mystic

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

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.


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

Pyrex: Pretty in Pink

Cleaning out my father-in-law’s pantry while we were in the Upper Peninsula this spring was moldy, musty, melancholy work. I can’t remember the oldest expiration date on the cans, though 1987 rings a bell. We drove home with some newish pasta and tinned tomatoes, but mostly it was toss toss toss. In retrospect, I applaud the integrity of the house’s construction: even after a long cold snowy winter we didn’t find any mouse raisins in the corners.

When we opened the pantry door my eyes went to these sweet lovelies as the eyes of a fifteen year old boy’s to the cover of Maxim. In that crowded, gloomy pantry they shone with cheerfulness.

Pink Pyrex!

Of course I own plain ole Pyrex: the pie plates, the loaf pan and a couple of “vintage” casseroles I inherited from my mother-in-law. These two bowls were hers, of course — thanks, dear Pat. I’m guessing they’re 50s vintage, but they’ve hung on to their good looks and good health. The smaller one is quart sized, the other twice as big. I’m sure there was another one, probably smaller. What was its fate, I wonder? Pyrex is hard to break. Did it go home with a long gone family member, filled with Thanksgiving leftovers?

Since I brought them home I’ve used no other other bowl to whip eggs in. I’ve moved the coeur a la creme mold to the back of the open shelf, the better to show off their wholesome rosy prettiness. The larger bowl is the size of the clear Pyrex bowl my mother used when she made Scotch Omelet of Aileen’s Pudding, a cakey pudding bathed in Lyle’s Syrup — hey I have that recipe somewhere! That pud was a dessert highlight of my youth, sweet syrupy and spongy . Talk about cheap and cheerful.

Pat’s pretty pink Pyrex bowl, my mother’s pudding  recipe. I like that. I can unite around the kitchen counter with two magnificent women, and eat dessert too.




Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Born in Chicago, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Food, History, Home, Into the Mystic

When I Hear That Whistle Blowing

Unlike the Man in Black, when I hear that whistle blowing I don’t hang my head and cry. I snuggle deeper into my pillows and give thanks. It means I’m going to sleep.

Nothing, nothing works like the hoot of a train as a soporific. Not a hot bath, not chamomile tea, not warm milk (yuck) not a belt of bourbon. I’ve never been a great sleeper, and the older I get I suspect that’s because of my frantic dream life, which wakes me up exhausted and appalled. (Dr. Freud on 1.)

That whistle, that chugging  — my college friend Llyn said her father called it” TO Chicago FOR  tobacco”  is like intravenous Ambien. The long rumbling roll of the freight cars, that rhythm, the knowledge that life is going on and  and goods are being delivered to somewhere… I listen to it, under my Ikea duvet, and I sleep.

The EJ&E  tracks are about five blocks away, and mark the boundaries between the ‘Ville and Fermilab. The mighty CNR (Canadian National Railroad) bought the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern this year and the flap about it is wild. Because the CNR is running more trains through the EJ&E tracks, the city fathers are making them put up a sound-suppressing wall. The CNR is doing it, but my question to my ‘Villian neighbors is “For God’s sake, why?”

You nitwits, you’ll receive more train poetry and music. ” TO Chicago FOR tobacco. TO Chicago For tobacco. TO Chicago FOR tobacco.”  I want the chuggachugga as my last slip into the dreamland Great Beyond.


Filed under Born in Chicago, Free, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live

Scriabin’s Spectrum — The Cheap Inside Scoop

The World, a terrific NPR show, had a segment tonight about the genius and whack job  Alexander Scriabin. If you’re a pianist, you know his fantastic (literally) passionate piano music, passionate and psychedelic. Almost literally — Scriabin had a rare condition that translated keys into colors. My two favorite pianists, Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould had almost nothing in common except their brilliant technique, mental illness and monk-like devotion to Scriabin. Scriabin wan’t monk-like — the mayors of both New York and Chicago wanted to deport him because he traveled with a lady who wasn’t his wife.

Scriabin thought keys had colors, and he wrote for the big spectrum, tonal and visual. (As The World emphasized, there is an actual condition where people do see keys as colors.) Here’s Alex’s spectrum:

By chromatic scale
Note Colour
C red (intense)
C# violet or purple
D yellow
D# flesh (glint of steel)
E sky blue (moonshine or frost)
F deep red
F# bright blue or violet
G orange
G# violet or lilac
A green
A# rose or steel
B blue or pearly blue

OK, here’s the fun part: I’m married to a pianist, a Scriabin devotee and someone who’s let’s say, artistic. He disagrees with his idol about the colors, almost without exception. He’s sitting next to me on the couch yelling:” C major is rhinestones! Then you go to C sharp and it’s hard, like steel grey. D major: Maybe brown. D flat E minor is  golden. E flat major is a lush green. E major is a steely green, except in Mendelsohn. Then you go to F, which is hard — it’s kind of blue. F sharp major is really hard — neutral and brilliant. G is calm and light yellow, A flat is rose. Alexander was wrong: the A keys are red. B flat major is sunshine. Now we have B — it’s not a color it’s a texture: it’s hard. E minor is black mourning — sad beyond belief. D minor is just explosive.”

He was getting a bit off topic, describing the power, not the color. But the fun of hearing a mortal so passionate about an abstruse topic is big fun. But as I write this, he’s yelling: “Bach did this! Don’t forget the Well-Tempered Clavier, and how he just moved the keys a smidge off-center so they worked. And tell everyone they have to listen to Scriabin’s Preludes!”

I would add that erotic, passionate, poetic “Vers la Flamme.”

Scriabin was a weird modern genius, but he’s not the reason I’m writing this. It’s all about the ravings of another musician and how, for nothing, for zilch,one can be transported by someone else’s passion.


Filed under Free, History, Into the Mystic, Music

Complimentary Advice

This is baseline, bedrock, Cheap and Cheerful. In fact, it’s Free and Cheerful. Complimentary and Cheerful. It’s something with such tremendous force for good in the world, but I  didn’t really understand its power until my early forties, when I saw it in play with the most outgoing person in my life, my mother.

This is a shot of my parents at my daughter’s wedding reception.

Mummy was the Queen of the Compliment because it was strictly targeted, which made it so much more meaningful to the recipient. It wasn’t just “You look great!”  It was: “You’ve always had great hair, but I’m going to worm out the name of the stylist who’s given you the greatest haircut since Peggy Moffit and Vidal Sassoon!” She’d admire, enthusiastically, the ensemble of the lady ahead of her in the checkout line, the berries at Mme. Rochon’s stand at the market, the prowess of a cab driver.

A boost from family, friends, or a great boss (you know who you are, G.) is a cupcake on a cloudy day, but a compliment from a stranger is manna from heaven. I know all of us have a couple we cherish — here are mine. Yeah, a compliment on physical appearance is special to one as shallow as I.

When I was walking to work at Crate and Barrel in my early twenties (when there were only three stores) a couple of smartass young cops called to me from their squad: “Lady, you got a licence for those legs?” Twenty years later, in Marshall Fields, a salesgirl rushed up to me and said “Ma’am, do you know you have a perfect nose?” I remember those folks with gratitude, and well, my nose hasn’t changed much.

A sincere, (non-creepy) compliment to a stranger is one of the cheeriest actions you can take in a grey world. If the checkout girl has a great manicure, tell her. If the guy down the street has the ultimate in privet hedges, tell him. If your librarian’s a hoot, tell him. If the dude at your local gas station is sporting a swell new turban, tell him. My husband admired the new counter at the Speedway and the clerks were chuffed. It didn’t get him a free package of puffs or Ice Tea, but the young clerk beamed. (Lou said it took him fifty years to learn this.)  This isn’t hard lifting mes amis, it’s just opening your heart and your mouth.

I know you all cherish a random compliment from a stranger — do tell.

When you see a great piece of cheese in the cart ahead of you in the checkout line: “Great choice! I love that stuff.” Compliment good behavior from a child in a restaurant. If a kid down the street dunks a great ball, tell him. And in the great, disintegrating web of civilization, make someone’s day. It’s  free.





Filed under Free, How Cool is That?, Into the Mystic

New Supermodels in the Kitchen

Lou Zoolander is my go-to runway model when I’m blogging about my apron industry. Hey, hey’s handsome, he’s local and he’s cheap! But I’m going to show you three new apron models today, all far-flung. In fact I’ve never inhabited a room with two of them, the Shooks. I met Kim at, the ne plus ultra of food sites, and our relationship is a perfect example of how a real friendship can grow from an online community. She has been one of my greatest apron patrons, and she sent me a Christmastime order: two yin/yang — both dudes golf — and one for a hot air balloon enthusiast.

And the other side is a Wizard of Oz balloon print:

One lady likes roosters:

Detail of the fab fabric:

Another lady likes teapots:


One of the golf prints:

Clickety to enlarge, of course. I well up a little thinking out their generosity in sending me their own photo shoot. Look this way, dahlings!

I may have posted these pictures of the lovely Melissa here or on Facebook, but I’m gonna do it again. Unlike the Shooks, Melissa I’ve known since our friends, Jim and Janice, adopted her. The sucky thing is that they moved away years ago and the last time I saw here she was a tiny ballerina and now she’s a college student.

The manga side:

The geisha side:

I could spend some time musing about the improbable wonders of the internet — making new friends and keeping up with old friends. But all I’m going to say is that I love my new models, love that they found the time for their own photo shoots, and love that aprons keep our clothes clean.



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