Category Archives: Scent

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



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

Baths and Bathtubs

I can vouch for only two people who take baths: my sister-in-law Mary and me. Not that I diss the shower — I take one every other day on shampoo morning.  If I have nostrils and sinuses blocked with concrete-like mucous in February, I’ll steam up the bathroom and stand under a hot shower until I can breathe again. Showers are good, but why, in the last fifty years, have they become the ne plus ultra for personal cleanliness? Especially, as was not the case on the farm when my father was a boy, we all have hot running water?

The McArthurs took stand-up baths daily, but Saturday was full-frontal, and dorsal , bath night. The tin bathtub was pulled into the kitchen, water was pumped, then heated on the wood stove. There was a bathing hierarchy: Gammy first, then my aunts Charlotte and Franny, then my father, his father, and last into the cooling suds, the Hired Man. I think this was typical for farming families in the twenties and thirties, and I cheer for my grandmother when they moved to the city and hot running water.

Mary learned about the bliss of the bathtub from my mother-in-law Pat. Every night, about nine o’clock, Pat would retire to the bathtub, her hairdo protected, and have a leisurely soak with a romance novel, soothing away the slings and arrows of an underpaid Catholic school teacher’s life. It was a daily event with a capital E, never skipped on the family calendar, sacrosanct. In fact, Pat considered showers as a guys -only enterprise. The most prim of women, she once told me: “Margaret, a woman can’t be really clean unless she takes a bath.” It’s a tribute to my innocence and her tact that it took me five years to figure out what she meant. (Dear mother-in-law in heaven, a woman can be really clean if she unhooks the shower head and blasts her lady bits, but well, you didn’t know about such things.)

Mary built on her mother’s instruction and raised the level of the bathwater. She’s the only person I know who springs the big bucks for the new Catherine Coulter or Danielle Steele in hardcover, and to her niece’s bemused eyes: wraps them in plastic wrap so they don’t suffer steam or water damage. When she and Ron built the house where she now bathes in Cleopatra-like splendor, Ron got a swell separate tiled shower, and she bought a sybaritic Whirlpool — the jets and the water temperature can be adjusted with a little toe-twiddling. There’s a window at tub level with a view of field and forest, Hollywood lighting over the marble double vanity, the same Saran-wrapped novels. It’s a temple to the bath.

It failed her after six months, but she had a warranty. The Whirlpool dude came out and told her that the motor was blown, an almost impossible failure. Then he asked her about her bathing style and she said something like: “Two and a half hours a day, seven days a week.”  That was pushing the machine beyond its limits, but she got her replacement motor. A couple of years ago she welcomed me into her watery paradise ,and I emerged clean, relaxed and drowsy a half hour later. She exclaimed:”But you just went in there! Only half an hour?!”

I have the cheapest builder fiberglass shower/bathtub combo popular in the early eighties. Come to think of it, with the notoriously rusty ‘Ville water, I should probably leap up and scrub it this minute, but of course I won’t. That tacky tub kept me going over twenty years of child-raising and career stress and failure. I’d lower my (considerably younger) bod into the warm tub, and lie on my back emptying all thoughts of Power Points, gas bills, Tween brattiness, and the curse of that navy Ford Escort. Scrubbing happened. Then I’d flip over onto my tummy and just lie still: if I ever prayed, it was then.

Honor as infant hated her bathtime: her tiny body squirmed in fury as I attempted to  apply the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and caress her clean in the kitchen sink at 1208 W. Lexington. I can’t believe that I figured out the obvious. In that apartment we didn’t have a shower, only the classic claw-footed bathtub.

When Lou came home from work we filled up the tubbie, he sat down in it, and I handed him his three-month old daughter. Magic ensued. I wish I had a picture of that baby, her blonde ringlets emerging, lying against her father’s chest. But what I remember best is Lou’s adoption of her as a bath toy — he’d swirl her around in the warm eddies, making her giggle. He’d dip her up and down, wash her hair, then take her in a long trip around the tub’s perimeters. She cooed, he beamed.

You all know that I’m a DIY person on any project that doesn’t involve sweat or skill. I mix Dead Sea salts with bergamot essential oils. I’ve turned out bars of goat milk soap in Silpat molds in the shape of cartoon flowers. I need to figure out what to do with two pounds of dried rosebuds from Romania. But that’s just fun, although I swear by my eucalyptus soap in a hot shower in a Chicago February.

Wanna see some bathtub porn?

(Photo: DIY

This copper beauty:


I hear the usual dissidents:

  1. “Oh, yuck, you’re sitting in your own filth.” OK, if you’re so Calvinist that you think you’re filthy, do it the Japanese way and take a shower before or after  your spell in the tub.
  2. “I’ll have to clean the bathtub.” Well, yeah. My daughter said that one of the best things about staying in an hotel is that you can take a bath and someone else will clean up. She leaves a nice housekeeper’s tip.
  3. “It takes longer than a shower.” That’s the point: when you have the time, make the time.
  4. “I get cleaner in a shower.” Not. Washing feet is much more efficient in a bath tub.

The Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the Japanese all knew about the power of a tub of warm water. Ignorant as I am, they taught me that the bath ritual doesn’t require chanting, prayer, history or even soap. It only wants an abandonment to pleasure, of the cheapest and cheeriest kind.


Filed under Body, Free, History, Home, Scent

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

Bellissimo Diorissimo

Yesterday was the kind of spring day that belongs to poets. You know, “Come fill the cup and in the fire of spring/the winter garments of repentance fling.”  Or “Oh to be in England now that April’s here.”  Or: ” O! how this spring of love resembleth/The uncertain glory of an April day!” There was nothing uncertain about yesterday’s April day — birds were singing, the sun was shining, bees were buzzing, and euphoria was in the air. If I’d found a fire those winter garments of repentance would be dust. I didn’t , but the drive to the library was as intoxicating as running to keep a tryst with a lover. There’s a medical term for it: Spring Fever.

Before I went to bed I reached for my bottle of Dior’s Diorissimo, sprayed a veil of it into the air and walked through it. This 1956 fragrance is the essence of spring, the essence of lily of the valley (mueget des bois, if we want to get all  French about it) and the most perfect single note perfume ever made. (I think there may be some jasmine in there, but it’s a background presence.)

You might have read my thoughts about the smashing “Perfumes: The Guide” by Turin and Sanchez back here:

I hope I sold a few copies. I looked up Diorissimo today, and I’m going to quote from the entry because why even try to evoke a fragrance in words when they do it so much better than I? I’m not going to try.

“…a truly Mozartian fragrance, with a catchy, jaunty presto tune like the overture to The Marriage of Figaro.” The authors think that the modern formulation isn’t a good as the 1956 version, but they’re not damning the new one with faint praise.

“The best way to describe it, it seems to me, is as the voice of a great soprano reaching retirement. The melody, the timbre are there but some of the high notes are a little forced and have lost the effortless soaring, the liquid fluency of old. Up close, this thing shouts a little. But it has tremendous radiance and at a distance still works fine as likely the most distinctive fragrance of all time. LT. ****”

I think the musical analogies are perfect — I’ve always said that the beauties of music and fragrance are similar. They’re abstract, emotional, intellectual and ineffable. Diorissimo’s a spring song sung by tiny white bells.


Filed under Body, Scent, Worth it anyway

The Free Squirt

I’m pro-parfum.

I still felt that way after sitting through five interminable acts of Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, seated behind an operaphile who was also a Dior Poisonphile. Remember Poison?

I’m quoting the ***** review Luca Turin gives Poison in the must-have “Perfumes:The Guide” he wrote with Tania Sanchez. Honor gave it to me for Mother’s Day a few years ago (knowing my proclivities) and I’ll spend a whole post extolling its greatness at a later date.I’ve spent more time memorizing its contents than I ever did on Bible verses. Just saying.

“Reviewing Poison is a bit like road-testing an Abrams M1 tank in the evening rush hour.People just seem to get out of your way, and if they don’t, you just swivel that turret to remind them you’re not kidding.This is the fragrance everyone loves to hate, the beast that defined the eighties, the perfume that cost me a couple of friendships and one good working relationship…” “Every perfume collector has to have this, but please never, ever wear it to dinner LT.”

Or to the opera. Or within twenty feet of another human being. I think it would be fabulous when skyjumping — brazen and apologetically unnatural. My opera Poison-Mist dispenser hadn’t the sense to tone it down, but hey, I admire her chutzpah, and I’m pro-parfum.

Many disagree with me. My scent-phobic sister-in-law once got on the phone with the billing department at Marshall Field and told them she would cut up her credit card if she ever received another smelly insert with her bill. Sensing she meant it, once a month someone hand-stuffed her bill. But me: go for it. Express yourself flagrantly and fragrantly — I don’t intend to tone it down, even if you haven’t the exquisite taste to appreciate my Apres L’Ondee. (“Guerlain *****”Among pale romantic fragrances, only Apres L’Ondee has the unresolved but effortless feel of the watery piano chords that make Debussy’s pieces[Images is exactly contemporary]so poignant, One of the twenty greatest fragrances of all time. TS”)

I always have a few Guerlain fragrances in rotation — all ***** according to Luca and Tania — and I find them necessary to my happiness in some essential, primal way. Cheap they’re not. But I’m the kind of parfumophile who has no problem with approaching a perfect stranger and asking “What are you wearing?” I don’t know how it is, but they never say “Uh, jeans and a Hawks jersey?,” but “Cool Water.” Not ” Pendleton,” but “Rive Gauche.” They are my brothers and sisters of the atomizer, my educators, and the most personal version of the Free Squirt.

My husband works as a part-time caregiver to a man with serious developmental difficulties named Nelson. The job consists of getting Nelson out of the house — er: into the community. Nelson loves malls and grocery stores. Lou loves malls and grocery stores –it’s all good. All winter Lou’s come home with a pocketful of the paper smellies his sister hates so much, mostly from the Macy’s fragrance counter. During cocktail hour he’ll pull them out, and say “Guess,” or “What do you think?” (I think Angel is overrated.) Free Squirt fun for cabin fever.

But here is the history of the purest form of the Free Squirt.

As a young woman I felt foolishly furtive trying out the testers at Saks. I was afraid of the macquilleed -coiffeed sisterhood behind the counters, afraid that one of them would reach into my wallet with her manicured hand and terrify into buying, say, Poison. My mother, wrapped in black mink and veils of Joy (Patou ***** “Joy does not smell of rose, jasmine, ylang or tuberose. It just smells huge, luscious and absolutely wonderful LT”) loved the Sisterhood of the Spritzers and all those pretty testers on mirrored trays. She knew what she liked and knew she’d receive her “big bucket of Joy” every Christmas from my father. But she too had a curious nose, and would smile at the saleslady who sensed a perfect customer. When asked: “May I help you?” Mummy would say airily “No thanks, I’m just here for my Free Squirt.” She’d leave the store with about twenty of those freebie tiny vials the saleslady pulled unprompted from under the counter. Shopping with my mother, whether for fish or frocks was always a small adventure.

I’m older now, and have real things to fear, not well-groomed saleswomen with swollen feet. Now I smile when approached and say “No, I’m just here for my Free Squirt.” They laugh and chat with me and occasionally hand me one of those tiny plastic-capped vials. Never give up on the chance for a free squirt of joy.


Filed under Body, Free, Into the Mystic, Library Card, Scent