The Deer Story.

This vintage die-cut will not ruin your car.

This vintage die-cut will not ruin your car.

One hot August afternoon in the year 2000, I found myself driving a shiny red convertible on a highway in Iowa. I was barely twenty years old, the top was down (convertible top, not my top) and this was a good day because, hey, convertible, and also because it was summer. On top of that, the car had a CD player and I happened to have all my Beastie Boys records with me. Bam!

The car was my mom’s almost-brand-new new toy, but she was allowing me take it to Iowa City for a few days. I was in college then, and that summer I split my time between my hometown and my college town, working as a waitress in both places. I’ve always been a pretty responsible kid and my mother has always been a pretty generous person, so I got the car for a spell. My plan was to rock out, get to Iowa City in one piece, work a few days, and then jam.

That is not what came to pass.

About an hour into the three-hour drive to Iowa City, somewhere between Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, I became intimately acquainted with a wild animal.

Out of nowhere — in the middle of the afternoon! — while speeding along Highway 169, my peripheral vision picked up a huge, brownish mass bounding out of the ditch on my right. I was going about sixty-five miles an hour; the huge, brownish mass was matching my speed.

Before I had time to understand what was about to happen, the mass — a 10-point buck, give or take — chose to cross the road. Right that second. Mother’s convertible was in the way, of course, and I was in the convertible. The deer dashed up onto the shoulder and then charged, hard, directly into the road.

In a hideous flash: impact.

Ever been hit by a deer from the side while you’re driving? Ever hit a deer head on? It’s not good. Deer are huge. Even small deer are huge. They’re at least bigger than a Great Dane and Great Danes are enormous. Think about hitting a Great Dane with your car. Now make the Great Dane at least three times bigger with antlers and hooves. Bambi is a lie. Bambi is a cartoon animal with big eyelashes. Actual deer are big, wild, and painfully stupid. And they do not have rabbits as pets. So I’m like:

“AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGAAAAAAA!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHGGGGGAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! GGAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! GAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!”

…as the deer comes up over the side of the car and into the car with me. I felt its bestial heat. Its deer belly was five inches from my face. There came The Great Kicking, and I remember understanding a tremendous amount of weight very near me now, and I remember thinking how much blood a deer probably has and how I was going to know for sure very soon.

“AAAAGGGHHHHHHH! GAAHHHHHHH!” screamed the deer, as he kicked and scrambled over me.

While this is all happening, understand, I’m still driving the car — sort of. I hear plastic shattering and my feet are stabbing at the clutch pedal and the gas pedal and who knows what else. I’m downshifting, I’m pulling over, somehow, and as I’m doing this, the deer clears the car. He came up onto the road, came into the car, and left out the other side.

This is a true story.

When the car finally stopped, there was glass all over me. The deer had all but shattered the windshield; it sagged toward me, crackled into lace. The passenger’s side mirror was in my lap in 10,000 pellets. The entire console of the car was kicked in, totally gone. The Beastie Boys were silent. There was deer hair everywhere. I was taking Italian in school at the time and as I looked at the rape of the convertible, the first thought I had was in Italian for some reason; this probably has to do with my brain not functioning properly or functioning at some adrenaline-boosted peak level. The hair was three distinct colors: dark brown, medium brown, and white, so:

Tricolore,” I said to myself. “Capelli…deer…e tricolore.”

A woman coming down the road on the other side stopped and helped me. She had seen the whole thing. I wasn’t hurt. I thought my face was bashed in because my chin was wet, but it was just spit that had flown out of my mouth when I was whipping my head around and going:

“AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

I used the lady’s phone to call Mom. When I told her what had happened, she did what any good mother would do: she thanked her lucky stars her daughter was okay and called a mechanic. It was no one’s fault; car insurance was deployed. I went onto Iowa City not long after the whole thing was resolved — you can’t keep me down for long.

But to this day, whenever I drive in Iowa (and I have been driving a lot while I’m here for TV) I end up with a terrible pain in my right shoulder. This is because I drive with it hunched up into my neck, subconsciously trying to brace myself for impact.

Favorable Book Review: Make + Love Quilts

The "&" is in fact a "+" in the final version. This is an outtake!

There’s an error on this version of the cover. The ampersand should be a plus-sign; it should read: “Make + Love Quilts”. That makes this cover feel like an outtake, or a rare Czech/bootleg pressing of a Stones record.

My book has received a positive review from a reputable source!

It could all be downhill from here, so let’s enjoy this.

Though I have made my pledge and try my hardest to maintain its integrity, from time to time, we must jettison our rules and regulations to celebrate unpredictability and joy in life. Today, I link to the outside web because this nifty review is cause for celebration. If you’d like to see what the fancy critic said, you can click right over here. 

And I reckon you could go here, too, and buy yourself a copy. If you like my blog, you’ll like my book, even if you’re not a quilter.

That’s a gar-un-teee. G’night!

From the PaperGirl Archives: “Mary Fons, Freshman,” January 30, 2012

Dutch magazine illustration. I love those dresses so much!

Dutch magazine illustration circa 1880; artist unknown. Lord, I love those dresses!

Yuri is tending to a bit of business while he’s in town. This means I have an hour to spend with you. You look lovely this morning.

Trying to write anything right now that is not a frothy, gooey paean to the strapping young man in my life/house is useless: he’s all I can think about and our reunion has been most happy, but because I refuse to be gross, I’ve rifled through the big red binder and have a little something for you today from the PaperGirl Archive. I promise you’ll be entertained, and there’s no risk of me TMI’ing about Yuri’s perfect, uh, everything.

The entry, titled “Mary Fons, Freshman,” is dated January 30, 2012, and I chose it because it makes this post a post-within-a-post that also digs into the past for old writing. It’s so meta, I’m practically metallic. Bon-apetit!

PaperGirl, January 30, 2012 — “Mary Fons, Freshman”

And now, a report I found amongst my the boxes of things my mother delivered to me in her quest to rid the house in Iowa of questionably saved childhood artifacts.

This essay (?) was written my freshman year of high school, which means I was writing at the tender age of fourteen. I am more than a little scandalized by my flip, bratty attitude — and more than a little proud, friends. As I type this up for you, I remain indignant over the indelicate circumstances that compelled my math teacher to give the assignment. I’ve copied and formatted exactly, word-for-word, from the document itself.

Let’s do this.

“Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t give a damn about the history of mathematics, but since the students in my math class can’t seem to control their gastrol [sic] intestines, I am forced to write this report. Having encyclopedias from 1962, it makes it difficult to find an abundance of information on anything other than Lincoln, so my one and only source will be my math textbook, Transition Mathematics, (Scott, Foresman, 1992, All rights reserved.)

THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM

Do you recognize these numbers? 

0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

You ought to, you’re a math teacher. We use numbers every day. But have you ever wondered how they came about? Well, I haven’t either, but I’ll tell you anyway. 

Long ago, the Greeks and Romans had a number system. It’s wasn’t like ours — they used the letters of their alphabet to represent numbers. The Greeks used more letters than the Romans, which is a totally pointless bit of info but is has to be a page report and I have absolutely no material at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of the only ones in my class who actually completes this assignment! Anyhow, the Romans used L for fifty, C for one-hundred, D for five-hundred, and T for two. Europeans used this system from 100 B.C. to 1400 A.D.

During this time, the Hindus were hard at work on their own number system, which is the system we use today. It was called the DECIMAL SYSTEM! This system is the one that has made my life a living hell ever since preschool. I have never been good at math. If I was, I wouldn’t be having to deal with high schoolers who can’t stop farting. (Excuse the term, it’s so blue-collar.) But I digress.

The Europeans didn’t figure out the decimal system until 1202 A.D. A guy named Leonardo of Pisa, an Italian mathematician also known as Fibonacci, translated the Arabic manuscript into Latin, and that was the only reason the Europeans ever began using this system. Thus ends my report on THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM. Thank you.

Now, because I still have a half a page left, I will express my opinion on this situation. It saddens to me know that my fellow classmates cannot grasp the fact that they are in high school. Maybe farting was funny in second grade, but not anymore; at least not to me, or anyone else with an I.Q. over ten. Frankly, I’m scared. Are these the leaders of tomorrow? If so, for God’s sake, kill me now.”

[end of post]

My teacher put a red X through the words damn and “living hell” and docked me 10 points. It may not surprise you that I was considered fairly nerdy in high school, though socially-speaking, I was a floater: I had nerd friends, chorus friends, partying friends, and my older sister’s supercool friends, so I wasn’t terminally nerdy. But the general consensus was that I was a good at English, nice enough, and in no way serious girlfriend material.

Today, I absolutely think farts are funny and I am one happy girlfriend. Things do change.

 

Lobster? You Brought ‘Er!

Come with me into the kitchen, won't you?

Come with me into the kitchen, won’t you?

I have just made a lobster bisque.

Here’s what’s happening: Yuri and I have been apart since…too long. He’s in New York, I’ve been criss-crossing the Midwest, flinging fabric around, leaving thread and gum wrappers everywhere. Unable to stand being apart a moment longer, we’ve hatched a logistically-challenged plan to spend about 36 hours with each other in Chicago before Monday comes around and spoils everything. I left Iowa this morning before the sunrise and arrived in Chicago just after it; he’ll begin his trek from the east coast within a few hours. I cannot wait till he gets here. I’m slightly freaking out.

“Yuri,” I texted him, “I’d like to make you something marvelous to eat. It’ll be all ready when you get here. What would you like, darling? Pick anything your heart desires — absolutely anything!”

I watched the little talk-bubble ellipsis shimmer on my iPhone. Then the text popped up:

“Can you make lobster bisque?”

Woah!

“Absolutely,” I texted back, because even though I’ve never made lobster bisque before, it’s just soup.

Cooking is fun because it’s the closest I get to doing — and enjoying — high-school-level science experiments. You take a beaker of this, you boil it with that, you mix it with that and blam! stuff changes color, there’s ozone, oxidation, solids, etc., except that you can eat everything and it’s all delicious and people go, “Wow!” and there are no grades.

Here’s what I have (very) recently learned about making lobster bisque:

  • 1. It’s expensive. I purchased four (4) lobster tails at roughly 4oz. each from the fishmonger at Whole Foods, and that came to a little over $35. Then I had to fetch the cream and the stock and so forth. Not cheap, and mind you these little lobster butts don’t yield much. This some fancy soup. 
  • 2. It’s time-consuming. I recommend catching up on emails between steps. You’ll get a lot done. 
  • 3. It’s pretty gross. Have you made lobster bisque? If not, let me tell you a little secret: you puree the shells. The shells are cooked with the soup, y’all, at least in the recipe I used. Lobster bisque is basically a way to drink essence o’ lobster and that means you need to puree, pummel, extract, soak, simmer, reduce, and otherwise distill every morsel of that thing to git all you can git. When I was reading through the process I had to read twice that you use a food processor to puree the dang shells and then return them to the pot. You don’t eat the shells — that orangey muck is pushed through a sieve later — but you’re kind of eating the shells because, well…Cuisinart. 

As I was going about my (brisk) bisque business, I thought about doing theater in Maine, where “lobstahs” are to the Mainers as deep dish pizza is to Chicagoans: plentiful and fiercely protected.

Twice in my life I have stayed a month on Little Cranberry Island with my artistic mentor and friend Sonja. Sonja and her husband Bill founded The Islesford Theater Project up on Islesford, the town on “Little Cran.” When the ITP has a show, people from all over the Cranberry Isles get in their boats and skim across the water to come see it. The theater Sonja makes is magical and wonderful and lives get changed; I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

And when you make art with the Islesford Theater Project, you get to eat Sonja’s cooking most every night, and this changes lives, too. Being on an island in Maine means that Sonja can get fresh lobstahs straight from the lobstahmen working about 500 yards from her back porch. She made lobstah mac n’ cheese once, which was okay I guess. Once, everyone at the table got a fresh lobstah on a plate. Bam, lobstah on a plate. Melted butter dishes for every man, shell-crackin’ implements, and a whole lotta napkins. The flavor was incredible, but if I’m honest, I must confess: lobsters kind of gross me out. The whole “sea bug” thing does not inspire hunger in me.

But hurry, Yuri. Soup is on.

Let’s All Hit Each Other In The Face More.

Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.

Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.

I’m in Iowa filming TV. Tonight, the editorial team and several of our guests went out to dinner.

Halfway through the day, I began to feel poorly due to my excavated intestines. I therefore didn’t eat much and had the opportunity to visit the ladies’ room at the restaurant several times over the course of our dinner. On one of those visits, something awful happened.

I was in the furthest stall from the entrance when I heard the door open. Laid out in a kind of “L” shape, I’m sure the bathroom appeared empty. Ambient noise from the restaurant slipped in and then faded as the door gently closed. The moment that it had, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone being slapped across the face.

Hard.

A brief pause. Then an intake of air, and a child’s wail came high, high off the mountain and down into a deep, anguished sob. Confusion and shock and pain came crashing down in a tidal wave in a bathroom in Des Moines, IA.

“What is wrong with you?!” a woman’s voice hissed. And there was a tussle, a shake.

My rage came up fast from my legs to the very bottom of my throat. It stopped at my throat because I was speechless with horror and disgust for the slapper and an almost frantic need to console the child and take her into my arms.

I burst out of the stall the moment the two were going into the first. Their door shut. As I passed them, slowly, I could see the child now sitting on the toilet with the mother standing over her. Her scuffed up sneakers were dangling off the side of the toilet. Even now, I can see their little velcro straps.

My jaw was clenched so tight I might’ve shattered all my teeth.

“Where did you learn to make faces like that at Mommy?” the woman asked, now with a sticky, simpering tone in her voice. She screwed up, see. She thought the bathroom was empty. Now that she knew someone was there and had heard her hit her kid in the face, she was a little nicer.

The child wept. Plaintive, pathetic weeping. She was trapped. I stood at the sink and looked through my reflection in the mirror. I had to do something. I had to.

Once again I find myself, a single woman with no children, opining about parenting. I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about raisin’ up a chile; most ideals and proclamations about how I’ll do it someday are so much talking. But the argument that I know zero about childrearing because I presently have no children goes only so far. I am a human, and children are humans, so I’m qualified to take a position. You can’t be angry when you punish a kid, goddamnit. You calm yourself down, you get a hold of yourself, and then you figure out the negative consequences for that kid’s bad behavior. Never, ever punish out of anger. Is this not true? Is this not a stance I can take now, as a woman who has yet to hold her own baby?

So I’m standing at the sink in the bathroom, mentally eviscerating this kid-hitting woman four feet from me, and I remember a story my friend Lisa told about a similar situation she found herself in. She was on the subway in New York and this guy was roughing up his girlfriend. Really talking menacingly to her and smacking her around. Lisa was enraged. She was panicking. She needed to stop it, to say something to the guy. But she didn’t. Ultimately, she didn’t because, as she had to so horribly reason out, it might’ve made it worse for the woman later. The monster on the subway was maybe at 60%; at home, after an altercation on the train, would he hit 79%? 90% monster? What will monsters do at full capacity? Lisa burned and was quiet and told the story to me later, as upset at the time of telling me as she was that day on the train.

No, I wouldn’t speak. I wouldn’t make it worse for that little girl when she got to the comfort — the comfort — of her own home. But then I did do something. Something else that took me as much by surprise as I hope it took the monster.

Alone with them there in the bathroom, I smacked my right hand against my left. Loud. I made perfect contact with the one hand on the other: a loud crack sounded in the bathroom, bouncing off the tile and the linoleum. The talking in the first stall stopped. The sniffling ceased. I could almost see the confusion on the woman’s face and the “Wha?” on the kid’s.

I waited for total silence and then I did it again: crack! A crisp, violent sound.

In that moment, I might as well have been a professional sound effects person, paid thousands to come into a recording studio to capture the exact sound of someone being smacked across the face. Luck was on my side; if I tried to make that sound just so, right now, I might not be able to do it. But tonight, it was exactly what I needed it to be.

The slap hung in the air like a gun had been shot. I could tell no one in that first stall was breathing. The mother was surely, totally weirded out. The daughter, I don’t know, but at least for that moment her nasty mother wasn’t in charge. Of anything. I sent a silent, psychic message of love and hope to the little girl and then left the bathroom.

I had to run this story past my mom. Until I did, I wasn’t sure if my slap sounds were completely insane or if they were effective in breaking the evil spell that had entered the ladies’ room. Mom, who cried with me when I told her about hearing that little girl get hit, said she thought it was a great move. So there you go. We have an actual parent weighing in on how to do these things.

Don’t hit your kid in the face. That’s just a suggestion. But here’s another one: if you choose to hit your kid in the face in a public place, you are in my world. And my world might be kinda weird, but your kid is safer with me than she is with you.

 

There Will Be Mud: A True Life Kid Story

Awwww, yeah.

Awwww, yeah.

One day on Meadowlark Farm, my sister Nan and decided to get out into the timber for awhile. It was late enough into spring that stuff was thawing. There was a lot of mud out in the field between our farmhouse and the timber, and this was annoying. We were slightly feral, but we were also girls. Getting dirty was never the aim of our adventures; our adventures were the aim.

We put on our lighter snowsuit-overall-things, at Mom’s request. It was still cold and these would keep us warm, keep some mud off our clothes, and protect our little bodies from the burrs and pokey sticks out in the forest. We grudgingly put them on, followed by our galoshes. And we set out.

I’m sure we had fun, but I don’t remember what we did. I only remember that when we came back through the mud field to go home for lunch or dinner, something terrible happened.

Hannah (Nan) fell into a mud pit.

I’m telling you, that girl sank into a mud pit of Neverending Story proportions. She went down and she went deep, at least to her waist. Since we were small, the mud pit couldn’t have been that deep, but for a ten-year-old, a waist-high mud pit is a helluva mud pit.

“MARY!!!!” she screamed. I was 20 paces or so ahead of her when this happened. “MARY!!! HELP ME!!!”

I whirled around to see half my sister, flailing around in the mud. It’s so interesting to me to think what I must’ve said. I know what I’d say today, but at that age, I didn’t know those sorts of words.

“MARY!!!!” my sister kept screaming. “MARY! GET OVER HERE! HELP ME!!” and assessing the situation, I determined she really did need help. Her boots were totally, completely stuck and was she sinking further into the mud? Yeah, she was. Yikes.

I decided that this was definitely an emergency situation, but that I was definitely not going to help her myself. It wasn’t logical! I was smaller than she was! What was I gonna do? Pull my older sister out of a sucking mud pit with the power of my six-year-old will? I knew that if I gave my sister my hand, sloop! down I’d go into the mud, too, and at the time, I only came up to her waist, so I’d be totally drowned in mud. Hell, no. I wasn’t going down like that. I had cookys to eat.

“I gotta go home,” I said, a little scared at how my decision would land with my big sister.

There was a pause in the flailing. “WHAT??!!!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled, and my eyes got real big as my sister understood that she was totally screwed. The expression on her face, even from 20 paces away, made it clear that if she was able to survive this mud pit problem, I was in serious trouble. As I ran away, I contemplated hiding places.

“MARY!” I heard her screaming, “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled again, and what I meant was, “I gotta go home for help,” but this wasn’t being communicated properly, so Hannah just sent daggers shooting out of her eyes into my back and I ran as fast as my little feet could carry me, out of the mud field, onto the gravel road, into the yard, and up onto the porch of the house.

When I told her what had happened, my mother looked out the kitchen window and saw her eldest child flapping around in a pink coat, far, far out in the muddy field.

“Oh, Mary!” she cried, and we went out and retrieved Hannah. She was fine. A little muddy. Furious at me, of course, but my point was made. A smaller person cannot retrieve a bigger person from a sucking mud pit. Mom could help, I could not.

This is crucial decision-making.

 

 

That Child!!

Me, at seven.

Me, age seven.

On a plane the other night, I read the cover article in the latest Atlantic about the dangers of over-parenting. The concept that parents have been over-protecting, over-scheduling, and over-hanging out with their kids for about a generation and a half has (finally) settled into popular discourse. The idea that you don’t need to — and shouldn’t — watch your kids so closely is not new, but it’s no longer a fringey idea.

The article opened with a report on The Land, a “junk playground” in Wales which is simply a huge expanse of barren acreage where kids can go run around, burn stuff, create fiefdoms, and wage wars with each other if they feel like it. There is no hand-sanitizer, no rubberized asphalt. There are no outlets. There are trees, sticks, non-deadly snakes, and no adults to blow whistles. (The Land is monitored by capable adults, however; the article quotes one of the supervisors describing what she does as “loitering with intent.”) There are water holes, ropes hanging from trees, and there’s a lot of mud when it rains. You can stay out all day, and kids do; they disappear for hours and hours.

I love this.

My childhood was extremely dangerous. My sisters and I lived on Meadowlark Farm, which was seven miles outside of town (eight from the nearest hospital.) Though “Meadowlark Farm” sounds benign/chipper, the reality is that that 80-acre land was hazard’s amusement park. There were rattlesnakes. There were undercurrents in Middle River. There was a forest — or “timber,” which is Iowanese for “forest.” There were actively harvested corn fields. There were crumbly shale banks, ginormous bugs, mud holes, gravel roads, large rusty objects frequently sticking out of the ground, bees, lawnmowers, and — wait for it — an abandoned cemetery across the road. I’m serious. And we had several sets of neighbors that were about two years out from being huge Kid Rock fans, if you get what I’m saying.

We were always two steps away from peril. And it made for some strong children.

Being exposed to risk is important for a kid. How else will you know you can do stuff? I’m not suggesting that any child should be in danger at the hands of adults — that’s called abuse or neglect. I’m talking about consensual risk-taking. I’m talking about, “Hey, kid, take your coat and this apple and this bottle of juice if you’re going out hiking all day.”

Which is just how my mom and dad handled things. As a result, my sisters and I, young as we were, were antifragle: we exposed to stressors that resulted in strength. We were good in an emergency (even if that “emergency” was that the crik was too low to cross in our usual spot.) We were physically healthy, which almost goes without saying. Our imaginations were almost freakishly developed and developing. Essentially, the joy of that sort of kid-rearing is that it yields children who are able to become decision-makers without constant guidance from some adult figure. Hovering adults think they know better and are helping. They might know something, but until there’s blood, actual stranger-danger, or engulfing flames…I tend to think kids don’t need that much help. Remember, before the Industrial Revolution, eight-year-olds were drinking beer, visiting brothels, and workin’ jobs. I’m not suggesting we return to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but I do think a big field of rural nothingness on a cold autumn morning is about the best thing that ever happened to me (at least till I went to San Francisco on spring break my junior year in college.)

Please read the next post, “There Will Be Mud.” It is a story that illustrates my point and is hopefully as funny and painful to you as it is to me and my older sister Hannah. 

 

When Wine Goes Bad.

Very nice, as beverages go.

Very nice, as beverages go.

We all have fanboy moments, geek-outs, obsessions. I sure do.

We identify ourselves vis a vis our preferences and interests. This strikes me as normal and healthy. It starts early, when as kids we swear allegiance to either chocolate or vanilla, and it goes on from there: consider Trekkies, (who get picked on more than is probably necessary) or model train collectors (who wish they’d get picked on more.) There are cupcake fanatics and Twilight fans and many millions of quilt geeks out there, with whom I proudly stand. Even choosing not to be a fan of anything is an identity choice; the antifan, the independent — this is a (paradoxically) popular option. It’s human to seek our bliss, whatever it is, and as long as no one is doing harm, I support bliss-finding of all kinds.

But let us linger on that “doing harm” part.

While I was sewing the other night, I watched a documentary about sommeliers. Somm, made in 2012 by director Jason Wise, followed four American males over the course of a year as they studied and then sat for the Master Sommelier exam.

The Master Sommelier exam is “an almost impossible to pass” test administered once a year by the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are three parts to the test, all more torturous than the next: there’s the theory part, where the subject must be able to do something outrageous, like correctly predict the temperature on a typical day in May in some ancient Mediterranean terroir; there’s the blind tasting, where the quaking, shaking young man or woman must suck down multiple mystery wines and accurately answer what they are and where they’ve come from, down to the vintner and the year; and then there’s the service portion of the test, where these pour (sorry) souls must execute pitch-perfect wine service to people who aren’t real customers, but the members of “the Court” who are actively trying to make them fail.

The exam is an exercise in absurdity. Only 135 people in 36 years have passed this course.

The four guys followed in the film were open and honest about how studying for the test had all but ruined their respective relationships — and their girlfriends concurred. The test created tension between the friends, took its toll on their bodies (no sleep, lots of wine, mega-anxiety) and though it wasn’t a major focus of the film, I can only imagine the economic impact of the experience on a Masters-bound somm. Most take off work to study full-time, and to try all these fancy wines one must eventually purchase them, I assume? And the Knights of the Court of the Round Table of Master Sommeliers of Camelot’s Men don’t administer the test for free, naturally: it’s $325 to register, and you have to get to the city where it’s held, find someplace to stay, and you’d better be rocking a killer suit when you show up all shaved, haircutted, two-bitted, etc.

I was more than a little grossed out by all this.

Though it cannot be denied that fine winemaking — “vinification” if you’re nasty — requires skill, craftsmanship, innovation, and a hell of a lot of work, at the end of the day, you’re gonna pee this stuff out. I apologize for being crass, but this is the reality of any beverage. Does good wine taste delicious? Oh, yes. Does it make you want to sing and make art? Totally. If you choose the right bottle on a date, are you going to impress the waiter and up your chances of getting lucky? You just might, Johnny. And these are all good things that you can’t get from ordering a Coke.

I also want to give props to people who know wine. Full disclosure: I dated a sommelier last summer. He has risen through the ranks of the Chicago restaurant scene, he’s extremely skilled in his job and he’s passionate. That’s cool; he’s not the problem.

It was the level of obsession and elitism on display in Somm that made me want to order a Mr. Pibb in pure defiance of a world that creates such monsters. I would’ve ordered a damned Diet Rite if I could’ve, and popped the lid with a flourish reserved for a pricey sauterne. When I watched one of the guys say, in a kind of trance, speaking-in-tongues state over a glass of white, “This wine is bright, this wine is clear, this wine is from the Loire Valley; this wine is medium body, this wine has vanilla notes, this wine…this wine is freshly-cut garden hose,” I stopped stitching at my sewing machine, hollered, “Oh for GOD’S SAKE!” and threw my half-square triangle in the general direction of the screen.

The Master Sommelier Exam prides itself on being exclusive, but they’ve landed backward: these folks have shut mere mortals out so completely, they’ve made us the enviable ones: we can still enjoy glasses of wine; they can’t. We can still get excited about a $30 bottle that we won’t describe much better than “really good” and we can move on after it’s poured to talk about other things that interest us, like…not wine. The tower they’ve built is all ivory, no stone. They can’t love the thing they love anymore because when you love something, you set it free.

(I don’t know how that works, either, but it was a perfect way to end that paragraph.)

Anything that can ripen can blight; everything, if conditions are right/wrong, can go septic. Find your bliss. But prune it.

The Canoodling Burrito: A Love Story

No.

No.

I found myself on a Chicago el train tonight, but I wasn’t supposed to be there. If my itinerary had gone as planned, I would be in Iowa.

After my gig in Cleveland, I planned to go straight through Chicago to Des Moines, no pitstop at home. (I’ll be in Des Moines for the next two weeks, filming Love of Quilting for PBS.) But when our flight was delayed (and delayed and delayed) out of Cleveland and most everyone missed their connections, I had an idea. I deplaned, slipping through the crowd of grumpy travelers to seek out a free Southwest ticket agent further down the terminal. I spied a friendly-looking blonde lady at gate A9 and went for it.

ME: (Exceedingly chipper, non-threatening:) Hello! How are you!

SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Hi there. How can I help you?

ME: Well! It’s cra-ray-zay! I was on Flight 313 from Cleveland and, you know, all that rain… Well, I have not missed my connection to Des Moines. I can absolutely make it. But the truth is, ma’am, is that I live in Chicago? And my home is here? And is there any way that I could, you know, go home to my condo tonight? Could I fly to Iowa tomorrow, instead? I don’t know if this is possible, but wow, would it ever be great to, you know… Could… My bed, and my…my bed.

SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Let’s see what we can do. (Clacks on computer. Pauses.) We can do that. No problem. I can put you on a flight tomorrow. Morning or evening?

I nearly hugged her.

My luggage went onto Des Moines, but I didn’t care. It would be safe in the baggage room overnight, and who needs mascara, anyway?* I got a boarding pass for tomorrow and waltzed out of the airport. I was going home! I wasn’t pulling any heavy luggage! The words “footloose and fancy free” came instantly to mind. I did a little two-step on the moving walkway. I had visions of a glass of red wine, a book, and my glorious, glorious bed, which would be waiting for me with fresh sheets because I had thought to change the linen before I left town.

I made my way to the train platform. Orange Line to the Loop. Right before the train left the station, a couple came in and sat in the two seats directly in front of me. They were early thirty-somethings; white, preppy and well-groomed but not so wildly attractive that I thought I was looking at prom king and queen. There was actually a touch of nerdiness about them, but they were both dressed like they worked in PR or at Deloitte and Touche, whatever that is. It was abundantly clear that the guy had just arrived and the young lady had come to the airport to meet him.

Let me tell you that they were excited to be together. Very excited.

The pair were talking rapidly and kissing each other in between sentences, then in between words. When they first started this canoodling, I was filled with happiness: lovers reunited is a beautiful thing to witness. This feeling was followed hot on the heels by a terrible pain, however; Yuri is in New York and I am not and I wanted nothing more in the universe than to kiss my lover between sentences, too. (And everywhere else while I’m at it — hey-o!)

My self-pity didn’t last long, because the canoodling couple started to annoy me. They were talking a little bit too loud about the guy’s trip, for one thing. And these kisses were sort of anemic; his lips were squished into a droopy grape shape that he kept smushing into her cheek. And she’d be halfway through a syllable and stop to pucker up. It was like this:

GUY: Yeah, he’s doing great.

(Kiss.)

GIRL: Did your mom saying anything about the oven mitt?

(Long smooch.)

GUY: She loved it. Oh, Ronnie’s going to be in Chicago next month.

(Kiss.)

GIRL: Oh (Kiss) that’s (Kiss) awesome.

(Kiss.)

I pulled out my magazine and slumped down in my seat; I tried to get into an Atlantic article about helicopter parenting and fight the urge to wield, in this perfect of circumstances for it, one of the finest expressions in the English language: Get a room!! 

But then came the food. And I was too grossed out to do anything but cover my mouth and look out the window.

The kissing and cooing sounds were joined by the sounds of a food wrapper being opened. Cellophane or paper was being pulled down what I perceived to be a burrito. Now, between syllables and kisses, there was…chewing. Mastication. Food. She would take a little nibble of this burrito and then, mouth full, would peck him on the lips. Then he would talk a little more, bend his head over to take a bite, and then talk more, and then smush his grape lips onto her neck. I was horrified. I could not get the vision of refried beans and saliva and bed sheets out of my head. It was a physical reaction; I felt ill. When you’re on a train, the people sitting in front of you are right there. I was almost directly implicated. It was almost that kind of party.

This went on. We were close enough to my stop that I didn’t get up and move. I also realized immediately that this was PaperGirl material, so I hung on. I stole two glances: the first, to try and catch the guy’s eye to give him a cold, hard, “EW” look; that failed. The second time I looked up from my recoiled pose was to confirm that these two people were actually making out while eating a burrito. I’m glad I took that second look because guess what?

It was a Rice Krispie treat!

I brightened considerably. Well! A Rice Krispie treat! That’s sorta cute! I kinda like these two, I thought, and I no longer felt like I could barf. Rice Krispie treats are sorta like kisses themselves: sweet, kinda sticky, well-intentioned. It was amazing to me how different I felt about the situation I was in when the food changed from a stinky, cheesy burrito to an innocuous rice-and-marshmallow snack.

They probably went home and had a lot of sex.

*Me, a lot.

Tips For The Beginner Quilter In All of Us (A Diagram-Chart-Schematic-Graphic)

Everyone likes shapes. That's Grandma Moses, by the way.

Everyone likes shapes. That’s Grandma Moses, by the way.

I’m in Cleveland at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo show. I’ll be teaching today; tomorrow, I’ll teach again and then give a lecture. If you’re in the state of Ohio, you should do the following immediately:

1. Eat a buckeye
The candy, I mean! Not the sports fan, tree, chicken, or passenger train that also use the term “buckeye.” Eating a passenger train… What’s wrong with you??

2. Drive to the OSQE show.
It’s at the I-X Center. I don’t know what I-X is for, but is there any better place for us all to find out than in the actual I-X Center? Clearly, there is not.

3. Come find me!
I’m wearing pants, shoes, and a top. And earrings. And a necklace. And bra and underwear, naturally, and I’m deodorized and flossed. Can’t miss me. Shouldn’t miss me, really. We can rap about the tip sheet up there. It’s full of good information for beginner quilters of all ages and stages.

4. Gimme one of those buckeyes.
I smell peanut butter on you. You’re holding out. C’mon, man, hurry up… No, just do it quick! Just be cool! Aright, aright. Now we’re talkin’… Mmmm…

:: munch munch ::

The End.