Category Archives: Machines

My New Wheels!

Ain’t she a beauty!

Lou asked me what I wanted my my birthday. You know, that’s getting harder as I get older. When I was fifteen years younger and a little better off, my answer was “Go to the silver room at Tiffany and buy me a bracelet.” He did, and I have a lovely collection. Much older and much poorer, I was stuck, but just for a minute.

“Bring me a bottle of Guerlain’s Jicky, or buy me a bike. A real bike, not like the ones we sold for ten bucks each three years ago. I want something with a seat that doesn’t split my buttocks like some creep in an S&M blog. No gears. No hand breaks.”

I was describing the red CCM I learned to bike on when I was ten. Sure, riding up the steep coteaux in Trois-Rivieres was real work, even for a fit twelve year old. But I wasn’t forcing my weight on aching wrists, staring at the pavement, as I did on my zillion speed racing bike. I could look around me, checking out traffic and the Dairy Queen and Notre Dame des Sept Allegresses. I could signal with my thumb on the handle of a bell, and I could carry my homework home in my bike basket.

You know how you can pull up a supremely happy moment as if it were a (to continue the retro tech thing) slide? Another birthday, long ago, when Honor was, perhaps, three. I was working as the supervisor of the Junior Lingerie department of Carson Pirie Scott on State Street, and because I worked later than he did, Lou would pick me up in the red Ford Fiesta. On that birthday evening, I crossed Wabash to wait for my ride, and looked south. Lou was riding a red bicycle up the sidewalk, with my daughter perched on the handlebars, her blonde curls flying. They were both grinning, she was squealing, the  El  clattering above us. He strapped the bike to the roof of the Fiesta and we drove back to 1208 W. Lexington, where he gave me a martini and his other present, a Mahalia Jackson LP. I stood on the back porch, looking over the unrivalled Chicago skyline, a tiny bit buzzed and feeling the Spirit run up and down my spine while Mahalia sang “Born in Bethlehem.”

I’ve had great birthdays, but that one is my favorite. Young as I was, I knew there was powerful magic happening. And I loved that bike. When we moved to the ‘Ville we were a one car family, so in decent weather I’d ride to work (in a dress and heels) along the Prairie Path. Sometimes I glowed when I arrived at the Unisys Training Center, sometimes I arrived wet from a a shower, sometimes I showed up with a bouquet of wildflowers.  Once I arrived home with the magic pastoral terror of the great outdoor god Pan, because a red fox had fled before my wheels.

The bike got stolen, and I endured twenty years of racing bikes and mountain bikes, eyes downward, wrists aching. ‘Lor love a duck, I’m not an athlete, I just like to pedal about, go to the library, feel the burn in my thighs and see and smell the flowers.

Lou received my rigorous standards for the bicycle of my dreams, and he met and exceeded them. (It was cheaper than a bottle of Jicky.) This bike could have been ridden by Miss Marple or Twiggy.

Daisy detailing, whitewalls with sky blue trim.

Note: No gears, no brakes. I’m going to buy a basket and a bell and I’m going to cruise around, no hands, looking up and looking around.


Filed under Body, Machines, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors, Worth it anyway

Keeping Cool

Chicagoans complain about the cold seven months a year, then they complain about the heat and humidity for three. And yes, you dwellers of the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Arizona can just please hold your tongues, please. You may have your weather challenges, but residents of the Midwest get it all: giant hail, tornadoes, blizzards, days colder than a witches teat and days which remind me what agricultural workers in Florida live through. Our foundations shift, our basements flood, our engines freeze in winter and our car bodies rust. I suppose it builds character. At this point in my life I guess I’m a character.

It was 97 yesterday,  it was 97 today, and it will be 97 tomorrow. I have expensive plants I bought yesterday that need to be planted, and weeds are ecstatic. At about four I girded my loins and dug a nice big hole to plant one of three nicotiana sylvestris. (An expensive, divine smelling annual.) Willow the Wonder Cat is interested in everything we do — pounce on the pencil when we’re doing the crossword, dare the up and down of the sewing machine needle with her paw, and leap from nowhere to tackle the weed in my hand. She loves gardening.

So, sweaty and lightheaded, I walked across the patio to pick out my  plant. I turned, and saw my Under Gardener pee carefully in my hole, then carefully fill the hole up with the dug up dirt circling it. I gave up.

Glory be to God for air conditioning. I just kinda fooled around on the internet, and Facebook Friends posted some clever links. Want to publish your monograph in Llama font? Ici:

Or perhaps you’d like saucy sculptures of ladies made entirely from Chinese  cabbage?

So, I wasted some time on the internet, averted heatstroke and then did something conterintuitive: I got down with flour. Thanks to the divine A/C  I baked bread and made handmade fettucine. Come to think of it, that’s what I do when it’s twenty below outside — if the weather’s keeping me inside it’s time to do some real cooking. I bought the ice cream machine out  and did a strawberry frozen yoghurt.

It was a frustrating day, but just as our ancestors threw a log on the fire in wintertime and played euchre, I survived the heat by taking advantage of being held hostage by it.

It’ll be in the 60s by Thursday, say the local network weather guys. I’ll pull on a cardigan and weed.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, Growing things, Machines, Needlework

The Broke and the Fixed

Cheerful: The 2001 Focus is repaired. Crappy: It cost $969 bucks.

Cheerful: I had two aprons cut out and pinned. All systems were go — I actually had thread that matched and a new supply of Velcro. Plus: I’d received a package from this morning that included witty new “guy’ yardage for my reversible yin/yang aprons. I admired my good taste in the material I’d picked for elegant reversible “Holiday” aprons. I was so high on sewing I considered asking my son-in-law to make me an e-commerce site.

Because a blog needs pix I’ll plug in Lou modelling my aprons. If you’ve seen them before, sorry!

So there I was, a regular Dorcas chomping at the bit. And God said “Hah!:

The three-year-old Kenmore that worked  a week ago was a no-go. Kaput. Useless in the most basic way: the needle doesn’t go up and down, not even with the handwheel. I used all the sewing machine troubleshooting skills I’ve learned the hard way over thirty years. I spent an hour on on-line research and found that, yes, I’d already troubleshot all the suspect symptoms of the damned needle not going up and down.

Forgive me, friends, for abandoning the C&C mission statement today and raving on about the maddening idiosyncrasies of inanimate objects. And how stuff isn’t cheap. And how I’m not cheerful. And how a decent replacement for my f****ing Kenmore is gonna cost about $179 bucks, and how a sewing machine repairman costs $40 bucks an hour.About Woman proposing and She disposing.

And how little this matters in a real world of want and terror and trouble.

I think I’m going to buy a new sewing machine tomorrow. If I weren’t so pissed I’d be cheerful.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Home, Machines, Needlework

Cheap Cheerful Car Trouble

Well, not exactly cheap.

This week both of our cars went on life support. I grieved — we haven’t had a car note to pay for five years and it’s been wonderful. Both vehicles are nine years old, and nine years ago we were kids. Our daughter lived in Chicago, not LA. I had a job and health insurance and better teeth. Lou’s hair was dark brown, not gray. My mother was alive. Dear friends hadn’t scattered to DC or Colorado.

Our mechanic Jim gave us the bad news.

The Focus needs about 1200 bucks of work. New front brakes, new pads and new coils. I have no idea what coils do, but they’re expensive. I remember my honeymoon period with the Focus — it was my first car with air conditioning and a CD player. That first winter I was a trainer at Sprint,working the night shift and I’d drive it home in soft silent snowstorms. It was my warm pod, and I had one of the most beautiful (I won’t call it spiritual)few minutes of my life, waiting at a deserted spotlight as the snow fell and Vladimir Horowitz poured Chopin’s Ballade Number 3 from the radio.

The Tiburon appeared in my driveway. Lou was fed up with the Escort and unbeknownst to me, traded it in and brought the Hyundai home. There’s a great photo somewhere of him posing with it, the beautiful bikini-clad Simpson girl next door and her zaftig scantily-clad bffs  draped over the chassis. Good times.

The Tiburon, (that sleek grey sportscar with the sunroof and everything)had become an exercise machine — the power steering was kaput, the thingy had rusted through, the model isn’t around anymore and neither is the part.

And all those road trips in those cars, years and years and years of heading across Michigan and along the 401 to Ottawa and my family. To my mother’s Christmases (Martha would be humbled) The summer trips to admire my father’s garden. The trip to Collinsville to walk the still freaky  Cahokia Mounds. And all those trips to work.

Thing is, I don’t care about cars. If it has A/C and a CD player I’m down. Before I met him Lou cared about cars in the most misguided way: sixties MGs and Triumphs and Spyders. Poverty and adulthood changed things for him. And me. We just wanted a car we could afford. All those Mitsubishis and Escorts … When the hottest car we’ve ever owned was the Tiburon, you get the idea. Our first marital vehicle was a 79 Ford Fiesta, and we loved that little  red car with absolutely nuthin’. Stick, no radio, no A/C . Nuthin.

So, we have a long drive to the UP in a couple of days and zilch vehicles. I’d done due diligence on Enterprise’s site. But yesterday, in a prairie thunderstorm Lou got us onto (in the Tiburon)the dealer strip on Ogden Avenue in Naperville. And he bought a car. And it wasn’t that expensive. It is, of course the cheapest car Toyota has on offer — yuck, I’d never even heard of the the Yaris.Yaris? What kind of name is that?

It’s cute.

But I love that we’ll have a new car for this trip, the first of many. I hope we’ll be able to hang onto this car for nine years. We traded in the Tiburon and we’re fixing the Focus . I’m someone who passed her first driver’s test at 35 and is a bad driver, but I love the memory of the silence, the snow, and the Chopin. And being nine years younger.




Filed under Machines, On the Street Where I Live, Worth it anyway

The Cheap Cheerful Grill From Outer Space

How many grills have we owned? Well, there was that notebook-sized hibachi that sat on the floor of the wooden back porch of a Chicago-style six flat; it’s surprising a stray spark didn’t start the Great Chicago Fire of 1977. After moving to the ‘Ville there must have been a couple of journeyman barbecues until the coming of the gas grills in, what, the late eighties? My mother bought us two, which will bring us to the mid nineties. Since then: a cylindrical smoker/grill combo and three Weber knockoffs.  If you don’t cover your grill for a couple of Illinois winters you deserve the rusty gut bucket that emerges from the snowdrifts in late March. This March our grill had lost both feet to, the wheels were creaky and it was time to reequip ourselves for the summer.

The biennial debate began. We don’t smoke (food,) we don’t throw those incredible cookouts for fifty that my friend Dean does, we don’t cook carcasses bigger than a spatchcocked chicken. We don’t cook things long, slow and smoky with much rearrangement of coals. We always think we will, that this year we’ll become Grillmasters, but …

That’s not what happens. We grill a few pizzas a summer, lots of vegetables and little bits of meat and poultry — with the exception of the pizza, pretty much what we cooked on the original hibachi. Our summer entertainments rarely exceed six people. We loathe replacing tanks of propane and never found a gas grill that got hot enough for us. I’m shy about admitting this, but the favorite grill we’ve ever owned was the original hibachi, even though I had to cook on my knees while disco pounded from the neighbor’s radio.

I think this goofy little number might just be my new favorite. I call it The Grill from Outer Space, because with a couple of tinfoil antennas,and my daughter’s Lego spacemen in the garage I think I could video a cheesy sixties Space Opera using it as a prop Sputnik.

It’s fourteen inches in diameter and about twenty inches tall. Cheap: 14.95. Cheerful? I think it’s adorable. It has clips that hold the top to the base, so we can trundle it about to parks and picnics. It uses amusingly little charcoal,gets very hot very fast and stays hot enough to char a rare skirt steak or sizzle up some chicken thighs. It’s big enough to accommodate a pizza, a bunch of burgers a flattened chicken, a few pork tenderloins and variety of vegetables — not at the same time of course.

It’s so cuddly and user-friendly that we’ve grilled more times this week than we did all last summer. And hey — I can pick it up and overwinter it on a shelf in the garage. Grill has met girl, and he’s her hunka burning love.


Filed under Food, Holidays, Home, Machines, The Great Outdoors, Twenty bucks

Machines that Changed my Life Part I: The Printer

I can’t remember what I paid for my Lexmark  X3350 printer five years ago, but I think that even back then it was less than a hundred bucks. The sheet feeder is starting to fail so I know that pretty soon I’m going to replace it with something even cheaper with more features.

But I’m still amazed at how many tasks this cheapo inkjet can perform right there on my windowsill– tasks that even twenty years ago would been have  unimaginable.

The odd thing is that I rarely use it to print anything from the internet: I think we’ve all become more sophisticated about bookmarking and opening tabs and using search engines. I remember that when my Mother got her first PC she printed out every email I sent her, pulled out her three hole punch and filed them in a binder. If she were alive today I’m sure she’d move them to an email file called Family, as I do.

But, the joy of not having to feed dimes into the machine at the library to make copies of our tax returns! The convenience of being able to scan Lou’s time sheet, save it, and email it to his boss! Most of the banners on this blog are pieces of (cheep and cheerful) origami paper I’ve scanned and downloaded. Just a few minutes ago I copied a ninth grade photo of “Little D’s’ ninth grade picture, stuck it to a card and stamped the background with little “d”s. (I’ve known Dale Simpson Jr. since he was four. He turns 32 tonight.)

It’s also a fax, but we don’t have the telecom hardware to set it up. Hmmm. Are there fax machines that can use a wireless connection?

But here’s the fun fabric/paper geek application that I doubt I invented which gave me a  mini-Martha eureka! moment. If you press a piece of your favourite fabric on the platen, pop down the lid, and press COLOR COPY you get: a piece of paper that looks like your fabric!

I love color, print and design, which is one reason I work  mostly with printed fabric. I mean, I like solid colors and all — I even wear them — but the pretty pictures grab me every time. Liberty prints, Toile de Jouy with all those shepherdesses and French towns, calicoes, Marimekko, Hello Kitty, ikat …

And now I can transfer them to an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of paper!

I can hear some of you whispering “Um. Why?”Well,  let me tell you it’s a cheap source of cool origami paper, especially if you use a smallish print:

And it could be gift wrap for a small knife for a macho cook friend:

If the fabric was kinda wrinkly when it was copied, it could still be the inside of an envelope. (Yes I’m the kind of freak who likes making envelopes.)

Or maybe I could  make the copy, find the three hole punch, and store it in a binder, as a sort of design library/inspiration book and a record of all those pretty prints long since cut, stitched,pressed,worn, tossed or given away.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Art, Free, Home, Machines, Origami, Paper, Scent