How Joyce Learned To Sew: A Truly Scandalous Tale

posted in: Day In The Life, Story 14
Classroom, 1943. Photo: Wikipedia, via National Archives and Records Administration.
Classroom, 1943. Photo: Wikipedia, via National Archives and Records Administration.


I heard this totally true tale some years ago. Heaven knows why it came back to me today; sometimes you just remember things and isn’t that lucky?

Out on a gig in Florida, I met a woman I’ll call Joyce. She was in her late fifties, I’d say. We had a few hours in a car together, driving out to Pensacola past the blooming cotton fields, just 30 miles or so in from the coast. We liked each other right away. In these kinds of situations (okay, in most situations) I’d rather learn about someone else’s life than talk about my own, so I unofficially interviewed Joyce as we drove along. Of course, one of the first questions I asked her was how she learned to sew. Joyce was very good at sewing, you see.

She chuckled. “Well, I’ll tell you the real story, Mary, because I like you. I don’t always go into it because it’s really very sad.”

I leaned forward in my car seat. (Not like, a baby car seat. I was in a normal car seat.)

“Neither my mother or grandmother did much sewing, so I sewed my first stitch in high school,” she said. “I took a home economics class* my freshman year. The cooking lessons and so forth, that was okay, I guess, but I just loved the sewing. Took to it right away. Before long, I was making all my clothes and clothes for my friends.”

“The woman who taught all the home economics classes was a nice woman and a good teacher in her way, but — and this is the terrible part — she was… Well, she was a drinker. A terrible alcoholic, you know, and she would come into the classroom in the morning, even in the middle of the day, smelling like liquor. She lived alone, I seem to remember. It was terrible, really sad.”

“Oh, Joyce!” I said.

“So, by the time I got to the end of sophomore year — it might’ve even been earlier than that — I had gotten so good at sewing and making clothes and home things, you know, like curtains and ironing board covers and all that, I was helping the other girls quite a bit. Well, one afternoon, she asked me if I would teach the class for her.”

“She was drunk?” I asked, my eyes big.

“She didn’t come out and say that, of course, but oh, she was in terrible shape. And that was how it started: I ended up teaching all the sewing lessons in the home economics classes my entire junior and senior year…while she slept in the coat closet.”

My mouth hung open.

“Joyce,” I said, “You’re telling me you taught two years of high school economics classes as a high school student while your teacher slept it off in the coat room??”

“That’s right.”

“Didn’t anyone say anything??”

Joyce shook her head. “No one said anything. We were having fun and turning her in just didn’t seem kind, I guess. She was a nice woman.”

“No wonder you’re so good sewing,” I said, trying not to stare.

“Oh, I’ve still got plenty to learn. But it’s true that if I was good at sewing before all that, I got better fast, having to have my lesson plans ready,” Joyce laughed. “Anyway, that’s how I learned to sew.” She paused. “But I usually just say I learned in high school.”

Wherever you are, Joyce, thanks for the story. And wherever you are, Home Economics Teacher, I hope you’re in a better place.


*This field of study is formally called Family and Consumer Science, but Joyce used the term “home economics classes” when she told me the story, so I’m going with that. 

5 Haiku for NYC.

posted in: Art, New York City, Poetry 3
Taken at the 25th Annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 2006. From
Taken at the 25th Annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 2006. From

I made up a haiku the other day to amuse Yuri and boy, did it work. He is an almost frighteningly intelligent fellow, but he looked at me and said,

“How did you do that?”

Here now, a few haiku for New York City. They keep coming to me. I’m not saying they’re any good, but they keep coming to me.

The laundry service
Shrunk everything. So begins
The New York diet.

That man is sleeping
On a bottle of urine.
Hey, it’s a pillow.

The Lower East Side
Is a crowded crackerbox.
See what I did there?

I’m back in yoga.
Sweaty togs hang in shower.
(Yuri still loves me.)

Manhattan lemmings:
You are all completely nuts.
Now I am, too. Balls!


Fashion Is Fun Again! Thanks, New York City.

posted in: Fashion, New York City 0
This was Anna Wintour's first Vogue cover. It is credited with helping to launch the "high-low mix."
This was Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover. It is credited with helping to launch the “high-low mix.”

It was only upon finding it again that I realized I had lost a sense of fun in regard to fashion.

I love clothes. Rather than expound on why fashion is not frivolous or how different clothes make me feel like completely different people (this can be great or a nightmare) I’ll give you three of my favorite quotes on the subject from people who say it all far better than I ever will:

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”
— Bill Cunningham, New York Times fashion photographer since 1978, best known for his “street style” candid photos

“Why are people scandalized by spending money on clothes? I think there is something against fashion in the world. Everybody is so passionate about this, there’s a resistance to fashion, an idea that to love fashion is to be stupid. I think this is for two reasons. One is because clothes are very intimate. When you get dressed, you are making public your idea about yourself, and I think that embarrasses people. And two, I think that fashion is seen as women’s work. My conclusion is that because fashion touches your intimate life, it embarrasses people.”
— Miuccia Prada, from an interview in New York Magazine last year that I cut out and taped inside my closet.

“Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.”
— Jean Cocteau, 1936 and he probably wasn’t talking exactly about fashion but clearly.

In New York City, the very same sentiment that can make a person feel isolated and lonesome (“Nobody cares what I do!”) can also set her free (“Nobody cares what I do!”) That second take on it, when applied to fashion by a fashion lover, creates potential for extreme joy.

In my former downtown Chicago bachelorette life, I got pretty fancy. I knew just where to find fabulous, high-end designer clothes on the cheap. And find them I did. The tailored jacket, the well-turned high-heel, the lined, custom-fit trouser; I rocked that classy-sassy look because I wanted to, I could afford it, and I think in some small-but-probably-huge way, I needed to prove to the world that I was making good, that I had transcended my awkward, pasty Iowa self, that I was cultured and polished and that I gave a damn about art.

But in New York City, unless you live on the Upper East Side or in TriBeCa and have a record deal and/or a plastic surgery practice and/or a driver, etc., being fancy isn’t that big of a deal. It’s actually a bit outre, honestly. Here, and especially where I live in Lower Manhattan, it’s all about the high-low mix, or blending fancy pieces with vintage, super-cheap, or borrowed/begged/stolen items to create a kind of “yeah, whatever,” layered look that is exactly right. I mean, I can’t wear my Celine suit on the subway! Are you nuts?? I could sit in gum! Better to wear a pair of ripped jeans with just the Celine jacket! Ah, yes! And some bangles. And the real diamond earrings I have. And sneakers.

Discovering — remembering, perhaps — that I don’t have to search so hard for head-to-toe designer apparel has made fashion fun again. I’ve come back ’round to the truth that that a shirt from Target with pineapples on it (my new favorite shirt!) is totally acceptable and actually preferable to a discounted-but-still-pricey Alexander Wang tank top. I love pineapples! To eschew the pineapple shirt because Marni had nothing to do with it is madness.

New York, thanks. I’ll wear real Keds and fake pearls for you any day. Why, I’m wearing them now!


Karen, Nicole, Popcorn + Me.

posted in: Day In The Life 4
Adobo and Peanut Roasted Popcorn, from Nicole at's discomfittingly up-to-date blog.
Adobo and Peanut Roasted Popcorn, from Nicole at’s almost discomfittingly up-to-date blog.

I made popcorn on the stovetop tonight. To me, this is the only way to have popcorn at home.

Many years ago, my friend Karen Kowalski showed me how to make stovetop popcorn just right. I had (very) recently moved to Chicago and into the strange-but-cheap building where I paid just $420/month. Karen chose the same building for the same reason, and we met one night because she heard me crying in my apartment all the way from inside own her apartment. In the fuzzy, despair-soaked fury of my tears, I heard a little “knock-knock” on my door. I opened it to find radiant, twenty-something Karen looking at a scrubby, wet, twenty-something me with deep concern and compassion.

“Do you want a beer or a cigarette or something?” she asked. We were pretty much best friends after that and we lived in that building for two years, more or less together, sharing our units like one space.

We were broke. Karen was an AmeriCorps teacher, I was a poet and a waitress. Pride kept us from asking our parents for anything — my mom bailed me out exactly once on rent and Karen never even asked her folks. We did fine, though, and we had good snacks on Friday night to go along with our bourbon + Cokes. Karen showed me one of those Friday nights that the best popcorn is made on the cheap, on a gas stovetop with a pot and some muscle. Here’s how it goes in ten easy steps:

Karen’s Stovetop Popcorn (serve with bourbon + Coke for everyone)

1. Set out a big bowl for your popcorn. Have it nearby your little work station. Then, get a big metal pot with a lid. An actual stockpot is a bit large; go with a large soup pot.
2. Put in some olive oil. Generous tablespoons, roundabout. Heat the oil a minute or so. Get it hot. Keep your flame on high and be careful: you’ve got a flame on high.
3. Put in popcorn kernels. You’ll make a lot of batches before you figure out how much popcorn to put in, but note that the kernels always seem to make more popcorn than you figured. So err on fewer kernels than you feel like eating. It’ll come out about right and if you don’t put in enough, hey, just make more when you’re done with the first batch.
4. Put the lid on the pot. Get some potholders or some oven mitts; grab hold of the lidded pot on either side.
5. Swoosh it all around.
6. Lift the pot up a bit and rotate it side to side and around a bit so that your flame hits the bottommost edges of the pot. You’re going for a pressure cooker, here, and this helps get the pot heated high, heated evenly. It also means the kernels inside the pot are getting coated with the oil.
6. Set it back down on the flame. The do the rotate pick-up again. Just work with it. Feel it.
7. When the popcorn begins to pop, smile. It’s happening!
8. Listen carefully and continue to manipulate your pot. Watch that flame. It’s gonna be going gangbusters. You also need to make sure your lid doesn’t pop right off with all that beautiful white, fluffy, oily corn coming up the sides. Yum! When the popping winds down and you hear just one…one more…pop…p-p-paaaaap, then you quick as a wink, throw the lid into the sink and you DUMP that corn into your big bowl. We do not want singeing corn.
9. While the corn is still hot and the oil hasn’t all seeped in, yet, salt generously.
10. Enjoy hot, with a bourbon + Coke, while Karen tells you about her crazy family. You are so lucky right now.

In my search for an image for this post, I discovered, which is exactly what you might imagine: an association for makers and distributors of popcorn and popcorn-related products. Everyone needs a voice; the popcorn industry’s no different. I had some fun there, especially when I spied the association’s “Encyclopedia Popcornica.” “Popcornica” is a delicious, ridonkulous word that someone has to use somehow on a large scale so we can all go ’round saying it. (Any aspiring sci-fi novelists out there? Popcornica might be a character name or a distant galaxy. It’s yours! Go!)

On the site there are FAQ’s and projects, and there’s a blog that is maintained with sincere dedication by a person named Nicole. Week after week, though there are few comments to encourage her in her task, there are posts about one thing: popcorn. Usually, Nicole posts recipes, and they all sound fantastic, including the pictured Adobo and Peanut Roasted popcorn, the Coconut Ginger Popcorn Truffle, etc.) But there are glimpses into Nichole’s life, too (e.g., she fell off her diet, she watched the Times Square ball drop with friends Susan and Todd, etc.) and then you also get her perplexing/fascinating take on things like winter:

“Could it be that winter is the new summer? Once defined as a time of quiet hibernation, winter has come into its own, in a social sense.”

Hm. I’m open to this idea. I need more. But I’m open, Nicole. You bring popcorn, I bring the beverages. See above.

Booster? You Brought’er.

posted in: Day In The Life 7
The Carlisle 71100 Red Dual Seat Booster Seat. Too much to ask for?
The Carlisle 71100 Red Dual Seat Booster Seat. Too much to ask?

I have a chair-to-table distance problem.

Have I mentioned the NYC apartment is furnished?** It’s tastefully appointed, thank goodness, but there are quirks. For example: the dining room table stands about 2.5 ft. tall. This is Yuri’s calculation, and he used his actual foot as a measuring stick, but it seems about right. The chairs at the table, the seats of them, they come up about 1.5 Yuri feet from the floor. This means that when I sit at the table, I have a Munchkin thing happening. It’s one thing to eat a meal eye-level with your food, but this set up is terrible for typing.

Presently, I am sitting atop a large stack of cushions. The large stack of cushions has replaced the small box of books I had been using all week; the box is breaking open and all squished, which let me tell you does wonders for my self-esteem. A delicate flower I am not.

I require a tuffet!

Or a booster seat.

Seriously, I need a booster seat. Because buying a taller chair is not an option. I live in Manhattan and I am not rich, therefore there is no room for extra chairs lying about. That’s precious square footage, comrade. If I could replace a shortie chair with a taller chair, well, then we’d be in the business, but these chairs do not belong to me. They stay.

As it turns out, there is a market for adult booster seats, though none of them I’ve found are for people who need a good, old-fashioned boost at the dinner table. There are adult booster seats for diminutive folks to put in the driver’s seat of their respective automobiles (good idea) and there are booster seats for the infirm or aged. Some of these boosters come spring-loaded, making it easier to get up out of one’s chair. That sounds like great fun. I’d love to spring! out of my chair whenever I felt like getting up, but these chairs don’t seem to add much height — their “boost” is a boost out, not up.

I worked at Pizza Hut for two years in high school. One of our “sidework” jobs was to “wipe down the boosters.” Oh, the accumulated hours spent sani-wiping sauce- and parmesan cheese-encrusted red plastic seats. I’ll never get that time back. Of course, I was a junior in high school and failing Algebra II, so I don’t think I’d take it back if I could.

Yuri says he’ll buy me a booster seat. It’s turning into a kind of “If I can’t buy my baby a booster chair, what kind of man can I be?” thing, but I actually don’t know if we’ll have luck. The car seat things are ugly and might not work in a wooden chair. The geriatric versions are not exactly right so far. And as much as the man appreciates my, um… As much as Yuri enjoys watching me leave a room, he has to admit that my bum is not going to fit into a child’s booster seat. Which would be weird of us, anyhow, and probably intensely uncomfortable for me.

Should I make something? From scratch? Should I make a tuffet from scratch??

These are the questions.

** It has recently come to my attention that I repeat myself. My sister made it clear last night at dinner, exasperated that I had told her a certain something at least twice before. It has recently come to my attention that I repeat myself. My sister and I were having dinner. 

Shipshewana Quilt Fest 2014: Let’s Do This!

posted in: Day In The Life 2
Look at that lineup! It's Shipshewana 2014, folks!
Shipshewana Quilt Fest 2014 is almost here! Just look at that lineup! Google “Shipshewana Quilt Fest” and you’ll get where you need to go.

Next week, starting Tuesday evening, the little town of Shipshewana, Indiana is descended upon by quilters from near and far. What do they come for? Well, sit a minute and I’ll tell you.

:: pulling you up onto my lap ::

Is this weird?

:: you nod; I take you off my lap and set you down on the floor instead ::

Yeah, that’s better. What was I talking about?

Ah, yes! The Annual Shipshewana Quilt Festival!

Oh, there is so much to see and do, quilter. The whole town gets involved. Heck, surrounding towns get involved. There’s a big quilt show with lots of prizes — the Best In Show purse is $3,500! There are lectures and classes, “schoolhouse” demos all day, there are “sewlebrities” and autographs to get, if you’re into that kind of thing and you should be, because it’s really fun to have your book signed by the author (:: cough cough ::). There are events in the evening and supplementary daytime events, too, like garden tours and special exhibits and even outdoorsy things if you get tired of quilts, which you will not, but go ahead and get in a kayak for a minute, if you must. We’ll wait for you to come to your senses.

:: waiting for you to come to your senses ::

But perhaps the best part is that there is so much fabric at the Shipshewana Quilt Festival. So much. There’s a “Backroads Shop Hop” that takes you to a slew of quilt shops in the area and there’s the big kahuna, Yoder’s Department Store, in Shipshe proper. I have spent large sums of money in that shop, let me tell you, and I’ve never regretted a fat quarter of it.

So come on down to Indiana next week. I’m one of the featured presenters and I guarantee to put on a good show. You’ll make new friends, you’ll spend some of that money that’s burning a hole in your pocket, and you’ll get out of town for a minute. It’s summer. You’re supposed to do that.

Now, who wants a lolly?

My Life As Alabaster.

John Hoppner, "Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita." Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.
John Hoppner, “Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita.” Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.

I do not tan.

Oh, how I’ve tried. In my twenties, like so many undergraduates, I donned those weird winkie things and lay back in tanning beds — not enough, I hope, to wreak significant UV damage. (I knew better and it never worked for long, anyhow.) But I didn’t stop chasing a tan, no way. I’ve bronzed. I’ve lotioned. I’ve spray-tanned a few times. But the fact of the matter is, my half-Viking, half-Scots-Irish self ain’t gettin’ nut brown for long. I am a pale thing.

When I’m in yoga, my near-albino-ness is more evident than usual. There’s more of my skin to see in the yoga room; in Bikram, you’re one sweaty strap away from nude. Even in winter, when most yogis are not actively tan, I stand out in the room as though there were a beam of moonlight shining on me. This observation is not clouded (milky?) by the fact that I’m commenting on my own body and it’s hard to be objective about oneself. No, it’s really true that I’m vampiric compared with everyone else in the room.

All through school and into my adult life, my palest pale skin was a source of shame for me. I was enraged that I couldn’t manage to turn more than barely-toasted marshmallow for more than a couple days. All these honey-colored girls seemed to prance about without a care in the world from May to September, their bare, sun-kissed shoulders tossed insouciantly at recess. Then the girls became women and were effortlessly tan at parties, at bars, at charity events.

But growing up is highly recommended. As years go by, you (hopefully) start to care slightly less about such surface things, or maybe you start to love yourself more. Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting more people — because the more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet people who are totally into what you’ve got going on. That’s the best discovery of all. Being told that my pale skin is pretty, even beautiful, is a great way to get over it. Someone told me my near-translucent skin was “gorgeous” once and that very day I stopped feeling like a cocktail shrimp.

Whatever physical difference you’re annoyed about, don’t forget for a second that there’s someone out there who thinks you are seriously hot precisely because of the thing you’re freaking out about. There’s someone out there who will howl at the moon for you and try very hard to take you out/kiss you/marry you/etc. because you’re so unique. Trust me on this. I don’t know a lot but I know this is true.

And so today, in beautiful New York City, as all the Soho fillies passed me by in their short shorts, enjoying their Coppertone souls, I donned a cute, lacy white dress I got at Neiman Marcus that perfectly matched my pale skin. I turned a few heads, too. Probably because the sun actually glinted off me. That’s what sunglasses are for, people.

Seeing Shorthand.

posted in: Day In The Life 9
From website, " A Web Site [sic] dedicated to the perpetuation of Gregg’s Light-Line Phonography". Translation below.
From “A Web Site [sic] dedicated to the perpetuation of Gregg’s Light-Line Phonography” at Translation below.
Stop everything.


I’m freaking out.

At a cocktail party-ish gathering last week, I met two extremely accomplished women who shared with me that early in their respective careers they used to take shorthand dictation, also called stenography. I asked lots of questions that I have since had to look up the answers to (#wine) but I did manage to force them to write something for me in shorthand that I could keep. This was not because I didn’t believe they could do it — I suspect both women drive very nice cars — but because I had to see shorthand in action. I had only a vague notion of what the stuff looked like; I mistakenly thought there were English words interspersed with jots and tittles and such. When I saw the strange, magical scribbles on their napkins, my mouth dropped open.

Here are X things you should know about shorthand, most of which I have gleaned from a fascinating essay by one Ms. Leah Price about the history of shorthand in the December 2008 Diary section of The London Times, which you should promptly search for and read after you’re done here:

1) Diarists and court reporters have used versions of shorthand for a really, really long time. Samuel Pepys (b.1633), considered the world’s first diarist/journal-keeper, wrote his thoughts and feelings in a form of shorthand. (I’ve read a lot about Pepys, as when I get back to my MLA, my dissertation is going to explore the diary as literary form.)

2) We all probably know graph = writing, but steno = narrow. How about that?

3) Issac Pitman codified (hey-o) the Pitman shorthand system that was taught for well over 100 years before there was any major competition.

4) In 1922, a guy named Nathan Behrin set the world’s record with the Pitman system, writing 350 words per minute. Three-hundred-fifty words per minute. Per minute!

5) Miss stenography? Blame the typewriter.

Forget my dream to learn French. Forget taking time to learn Russian so I can tell Yuri in his native language to please pick up some milk. I want to learn shorthand bad. Apparently, it takes three years. But I could write in my diary in this cool way! Oh, I rail against you, life, so short and so long.

At the party, I asked both of the women to write, “Dear PaperGirl Reader: This is shorthand. It is a dying language, but it is still beautiful. You’re welcome, [NAME]” I still have both examples and would’ve scanned them in to serve as the image for this post, but my scanner is in a box at the FedEx right now, waiting for me to come pick it up. Instead, the image above is translated for you here; it totals 227 words.

“If agreeable to you I hope you will sign the enclosed agreement for the agricultural lands about which Mr. Teller wrote some time ago.  The land company has been very aggressive, a fact which greatly aggravated Mr. Teller.

We do not anticipate that our antagonists in this controversy will be able to restrain Mr. Hollis in his aggressive views. We decline to take any part in the preparation of the declaration about which Mr. Henderson declaims so forcefully. He was inclined to antagonized rather than to electrify his audience by the out of his oratory.

Owing to the inclement weather I am inclined to agree with you that we shall have to declare
the game off for this week.

The magnitude of the magnificent construction enterprise introduced by Mr. MacIntosh was declared to be extraordinarily interesting.

Electric transportation is paralyzed all over the state, and it will be almost impossible to undertake the shipment of your goods for at least two or three weeks.

The eccentric individual rambled on uninterruptedly for what seemed an interminable time.

His unparalleled unselfishness and self-control were revealed in his disinterested discussion of the event. Miss Carew undertook to alter the paragraph about postage, which turned out the be a paramount issue in the controversy. The postmaster at Sarnia displayed great self-control and self-possession in the circumstances.”


How To Get Over Moving Out: Squeegee

Cinemax "after dark" film still? No, the ad campaign for The Cleret squeegee. From the ad: The Cleret squeegee is recognized as one of the finest shower squeegees in the world!"
Cinemax “after dark” film still? No, an ad for a Cleret Squeegee. Apparently, “The Cleret ” squeegee is “recognized as one of the finest shower squeegees in the world!”

A brief move-out update, then a “real” post to get caught up.

In writing a note to my new tenants, levity came in on goofy little angel wings and I found peace about leaving Chicago and my condo behind (for now.)

The note I needed to write was a brief-but-thorough list of “what to know’s” about my apartment, e.g., the maintenance guys will fix that spot in the hallway ceiling this week, the laundry cards are here, help yourself to the contents of the liquor cabinet, etc. One of the last items was my request that they squeegee the shower in the master bathroom.

Squeegee. Squeegee?? That is possibly the best word there is.

From the note:

2. Please squeegee the master shower. Is this finicky? Maybe. But I just put that shower in and I know from my squeegee-loving mother than if you give the glass the once over with the squeegee after you’re done showering, you won’t have those awful, cloudy water stains on your shower glass. Please squeegee. (Also, if you’re feeling burnt out on your studies — or feeling sad about leaving the city you love, ahem — I recommend writing the word “squeegee” several times as I have just done.)

My tenants probably think I’m in insane. But, just like that, writing squeegee that many times, sitting at the gate at Midway, waiting for my flight to LGA, I felt better. Like, totally better.

I also had to get over myself and my melancholy because I had a back brush and a teakettle in my carryon. They wouldn’t fit in the suitcase.

Squeegee, teakettle.

New York.

My Love, My Chicago, What Have I Done?

posted in: Chicago 10
It's like this today. It is exactly like this.
It’s like this today. It is exactly like this.

It’s really here: I’m in my final moments as a resident of Chicago. And I’m losing it.

I have 24 hours to tie up the move-out, then I give keys to “the gang,” a.k.a. the medical students who are soon going to be living in my home.

“Home” is a rich and achingly pretty word because within it, you have the “oh” sound, and oh, oh, oh, I am in pain.

After my divorce, I moved downtown. After all that turmoil and fear, I had to either leave Chicago forever or find a New Chicago. I chose the latter. I remember thinking, “Don’t throw the baby out, Fons. Don’t leave Chicago. You have a life here.” After living on the northside for ten years, the shift downtown was striking and did the trick: coming down here was absolutely like moving to another city but I retained my network and my knowledge of the place. Sure enough, in my New Chicago, I created an entirely new life. I had to.

I found a space that sang. A sunlit, wide-open, gem of a condo in the South Loop. It was love at first sight. When the realtor opened the door to what would become my unit (such a clinical-sounding term for a piece of my heart) I tried not to gape. Gorgeous. Wide. South-facing windows. Two bathrooms with these cool bell-jar-like light fixtures. One exposed brick wall. It was a doorman building with a rooftop deck. There was a garbage chute, too — and I dreamed of a garbage chute! There was an elevator and a mailroom and cleaners on-site. The best part: it was actually below my budget. After the darkness of my failed marriage, the impossible had happened: I was in love again.

One of the first things I did when I moved in was have a professional muralist paint a trompe l’oeil on the west- and south-facing walls. I wanted a faint, French drawing room panel motif over all that cream. The artist exceeded my expectations; the funny thing about art you paint on the walls, however, is that you cannot take it with you. So goodbye, mural.**

When I moved in, I had an ostomy bag. I don’t have one now, so the space saw me heal. It also saw me in grave peril last fall, when I was in the hospital every month for several months. The paramedics came for me just one time, busting in the door; usually I’d take a taxi up Michigan Avenue to Northwestern and check myself in — I even took the bus once — but that time, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t see. My home saw all that. It saw me come home thinner and depressed.

My home saw me foolish, that’s for sure. A collection of late nights, dubious houseguests, wine glasses, etc.; these are in the portfolio.

I wrote my book here. I made Quilty here. I dreamed a thousand things, made good on most of them. I fell in love here, too, and not just with the space. I mean that I fell in love here, with two different human beings. Yuri is one, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

I’m excited for New York City. Without question, saying yes to the love in my life, Yuri, this lion of a person, this force of nature, this is right. But today, as the sun glitters off the lake and the happy people of Chicago go about their merry ways, my heart is breaking. This is too hard.

I’m probably just crispy from the travel this week, emotional because dinner last night was a McDonald’s caramel sundae (long story.)

All my love, Chicago. Just know that you have it all.

* Visit my Instagram page (username: yomaryfons) for images of the mural. I’ll put them up shortly.

A Mary Fons Fabric Line: Conversational Prints + Shirtings For Quilters

posted in: Quilting, Work 8
The little kittehs!
Look at teh little kittehs! I recently purchased a very small amount (all that was available) of this fabric on Etsy.

I have a dream.

This dream involves tiny little kittens drinking milk (see above), ships with wee flags flying, and very small dots and chits and needles and spools printed in blacks, blues, and reds on yards and yards of snow, oyster, and cream-colored cotton fabric. In short: I want to design a line of conversational prints and shirting prints for quilters. Definitions:

Conversational prints: also called “I spy” fabrics; any fabric printed with a small-scale, recognizable picture in it, such as cats, dogs, gondolas, paperclips, etc. — something you might strike up a conversation about, as in “Hey, is that a tiny pegasus on that fabric?”

Shirting prints: cotton printed with small, usually simple figures. Typically grounded in whites (or, with a white or off-white background.)

Brothers and sisters, it’s killin’ me! More than anything in the world, more, even, than one meellion dollars, t’would be my heart’s delight to design a Mary Fons line of conversational and shirting prints for quilters. Because I love them. I use them. I seek to find them.

Conversational prints and shirtings with darling design, they delight and inspire. They feel like a surprise. “Oh! Look at that little kitten drinking milk!” converts to, “I love this quilt!!” There’s a quilt in my book called Whisper that is made of conversational prints and shirtings. So far, I have heard more people say Whisper is their very favorite quilt in the book. I’m not surprised at all.

So I’d love to curate my very own line and share my love with all my fellow quilt geeks. But I can’t. and it’s okay, at the end of the day, because it’s for solid reason: I’m a magazine editor.

I can’t have a line of fabric with a fabulous, incredible, amazing fabric company because then the other fabulous, incredible, amazing fabric companies that advertise in the magazine I edit will rightfully be annoyed. In publishing, “annoyed” quickly leads to “see ya later” vis a vis advertising and sponsor support and this is bad for everyone (me, fabric company, consumer, etc.) So for now, no fabric for me and, painful as it is, I understand and respect the problem. I’m not whining. For me to do fabric, I’ll either have to stop being an editor, or we’ll all have to start living in a world where media and advertising are not interrelated and interdependent. Neither of these options seem terribly likely. And that is okay.

Until something changes, my quilting friends, do this for me:

1) please send me any hot tips on great conversationals to me — I’d love to do some shopping
2) post your favorite conversational prints (and shirtings) on my FB page — that would be so fun!
3) keep quilting, no matter what fabrics make your “favorite” list

“While You Sew”: Coming Soon To a Sewing Room Near You!

The view of my monitor on set today. Look closely and you'll see a quilt reflected in the glass (and me taking the shot.) Outside of Denver.
The view of my monitor on set today. Look closely and you’ll see a quilt reflected in the glass (and me taking the shot.) Outside of Denver.

Greetings from just outside of Denver, Colorado, the city that boasts 300 sunny days a year! It was raining when I arrived yesterday, but I’ll let go.

I was inside a production studio and very much on camera all day today, filming online courses for Craft University (I’ll share details soon; these will be cool) and I also filmed one of three lectures I’m doing for F+W Media, which will be available online when they’re all done in post-production. The how-to classes are awesome but I have to say: man, am I stoked about these lectures.

I’m calling the series the “While You Sew” lectures. You see, when I’m sewing at my machine, I like some audio/visual company — but I don’t want anything that requires me to pay close attention. I don’t want an actual plot. I tried watching Mad Men once when I was making patchwork. Two things happened: 1) I did not track what was happening on Mad Men; 2) I made lots of mistakes in my patchwork and therefore did not enjoy myself. Because you can’t actually do two things at once; this is what they tell us. Our brains switch back and forth and it’s lousy.

Instead of watching drama shows, I fire up YouTube and find interviews with interesting people (thanks, Charlie Rose!) or I find lectures (TEDTalks work) or I’ll really dig deep and find long CSPAN BookTV clips with intriguing authors. (Documentaries are good, too.) This kind of media is edifying and pleasant but I don’t have to watch as much as listen and if I miss something, I can go back and hear it again or simply not worry much about it because it’s not like someone really important to the storyline just got shot or maimed. I don’t want anyone to get shot whether or not I’m paying attention.

Well, being the quilt geek that I am, nothing would please me more than to sew while listening to interviews with quilters or find a series of lecture from quilt experts. There are a handful of good documentaries (I praise them in the lectures I’m taping) but they’re not online. Really, there’s very little in the way of quilter interviews, documentaries, lectures, talks — any of that. A sea of how-to, but no geek stuff.

What to do? Make some, I reckon.

And so I am. We are. It’s happening. The lectures are around 30-40 minutes each. The visuals are awesome. The lectures are funny, they’re packed with fascinating information about quiltmaking in America, they clip along. They’re casual, but boy, are they researched. Honestly, I have worked so hard on these things, it’s reminding me of writing the book. 

As soon as I know when they’ll be available, you’ll know. I’ll be selling them through my site, here, sort of: you can click a link and be taken to the site where you watch/download them. A lot of the projects I’ve been working on are set up so that if you “click-through” my site to get to the purchase page, I make some money on that. It’s a bit gross to talk about it but I’ve decided I have to mention it because I am trying to earn a living for goodness’ sake. Again, more info coming later and I so hope this sounds like fun to you. It’s nearly killed me, getting them done during the move in order to be ready to record this week, but here on my hotel bed tonight, I am feeling slightly more like a human being and less like a law student the night before the bar.

Did someone say bar?


If I Can Pull This Off.

posted in: Day In The Life 1
Street view showing covered wagon, Elgin, IL, cir. 1885. Credit: J.M. Adams.
Street view showing covered wagon, Elgin, IL, cir. 1885. Credit: J.M. Adams. I’m the wagon.

I have been working 16-hour days for the past two or three weeks. That’s not a boast; it’s a confession. My mental state is nothing to brag about.

Even with the move, even with the St. Louis and Chicago side-trips, 16-hours a day, sometimes more. I’ve had to do this because I’m buried with auxiliary work projects that are all officially on fire. If I can make it to a week from right now, Saturday night, I’ll be okay. But there are miles to go in my lil’ covered wagon and there’s a lot to deliver — and on camera, no less. If I have ever wanted a magic wand or a fade-to-black edit, it’s now. Wake me up when all my sewing is done (and perfect), my shows are taped (without incident) and I’m back home in my new home in New York City.

Did I really do that? Did I really move to New York City?


I found some of my underpants, by the way. They were in Chicago. I’m in Chicago right now, too, with my underpants: I came here to collect materials for the shows I’m taping in Colorado on Monday and to situate my tenants and give them a tour of the building. (Check.) I still have a load of laundry to do, I still have a lecture to finish. There are objects in my condo I have no idea what to do with** and this pains me.

None of this is meant to sound like a whine. In fact:

In St. Louis the other day, I had a mini-revelation — mini because it didn’t necessitate me having to sit down. (Really big revelations will, as all my handsome and self-aware readers know.) My revelation in St. Louis was of the “stop-mid-chew” variety, which isn’t as major, but counts.

It happened when I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed, crispy and anxious about everything that needs done. It came in the middle of a conversation. You see, many of the women at the BabyLock event were having the same dialogue: I’m so busy! It’s nuts! Sometimes it’s like, can I get a vacation or a break?? I’m totally over-extended and dude! I know!

There’s no judgement, here: I was/am one of those women talking. The exchange is de rigueur. We all talk about a) how much we love to make stuff and b) how insanely busy we are. Everything else is details unless someone recently had a child, and then we’re all delighted to talk about the child. (I wish I had one, I really, really do. More on that later.)

My revelation was not pleasant, but I realized: I will be busy and over-extended and at my ever-topping-itself limit as long as I value the concept of building a career.

There is no break in the forseeable future. If I break, I sink. I lose the momentum. Period. I have no choice. It’s Saturday night oil-burning, or it’s over.

If I was fine with the amount of money I make, I would not take on more projects. If I was good with the level of success I’ve achieved so far, I’d pull back and have more time for spare time. If I felt like I could stop, I would. But I’m building a career. This is prime-time. I’m in my early thirties. This is when stuff starts really happening, right? So here I am, breaking to blog for a short time before returning to lecture-writing, here after 10pm on a Saturday night in whatever city I’m in and it would be great if someone would remind me which one that is? Again?

I’m an idiot for broaching this subject right now, like this. I’m not focused enough.

Surely, I’m offending someone. Surely, I am not making it clear that I prize achievement, that I value the entrepreneur as a the quintessential American archetype (second only to the revolutionary), that I love a working girl, that I love to work! and that my work ethic is as integral to my personality as my middle-childness or the fact my name is Mary.

But what’s it for?

I’ve cried a bunch of times in the past week. Yuri is like, “Honey, just hang in there.” I’ve been gross with him. And my tummy hates this. I don’t feel well. I’m doing my body a disservice, working like this. And so it goes beyond the water-cooler talk of, “It’s cray! I’m like, waaaay too busy right now” into the realm of not being funny. I know what it is to push too hard; I’ve felt that terrifying shift when my body plucks each of my mental fingers off the steering wheel and goes, “You are no longer in control of this situation; we are pulling over.”

I cannot wrap this up tidily. I’d like to — and I’d like to not sound like I’m making a statement or taking a position. Truth: I meant to write about the fabric line I want to design. #seriously

Usually, I try to come to a conclusion, even if it’s an open-ended one. But I’m done. I’m tired; if I’m going to wake up at 4am, per usual, I need to hit the hay. It’s up to you to continue the conversation.

Over and out, and already checked in for my flight to Denver tomorrow.

**Travel hairdryer, contents of liquor cabinet, several boxes of gluten-free flour that I tried to bake with once and rejected quickly on account of its epic stomach ache-inducing qualities.

Live Performance: July 5th + 6th: QUEER, ILL and OKAY in Chicago

posted in: Chicago, Work 9
Promo image from the upcoming show.
Promo image from the upcoming show. Visit for more info about tickets and such.

I’ll be back in Chicago next month for a one-weekend-only event that is not to be missed. Well, I’d better not miss it, I’m in it. But you shouldn’t miss it, either.

JRV MAJESTY Productions, a powerhouse of a production unit, honestly, has put together a program of solo performers, monologuists, presenters, etc. to deliver an evening of pieces on the topic of being different. Some of the performers will perform pieces on being queer, some will discuss further rarified qualities of being “other,” and some — like me — will perform a brief (15 minutes or so) piece on what it’s like to live with a lousy chronic illness. I feel pretty “other” sometimes, but I’m honored to be a part of this evening of extremely talented, fellow “others,” whatever kind of “otherness” they cop to.

I posed for the portrait above a few weeks ago. My piece involves my journals. I’ve spoken about them before. I brought all my journals from the past three years to the shoot; we spread them out on the floor and then I lay on top of them. My current journal (and a pen) are in my hands. The photographer, Kiam, who was wearing a sari and made me feel instantly comfortable under his lens, got just above me on a footstool and dangled dangerously over me, contorting and cooing as he aimed for the perfect shot. I think we got one, though I keep peering at the words in the journals to see if anything scandalous can be deciphered. I think I’m good.

Chicago friends, hope to see you. And everyone: hug an “other” today.

I Left My Shoulder in St. Louis.

This is a terrifying photograph.
This is a terrifying photograph.

I’m in St. Louis, attending a hosted event for a group of about 40 bloggers, designers, “sewlebrities,” industry folk, etc. to network, make stuff, and eat lots of snacks. In other words: I am surrounded by talented, hardworking, creative women, all of whom need snacks to keep going. It’s not a bad way to spend two-ish days, even with all that’s going on with work and (cough, cough) moving to Manhattan.

Did I really do that? Did I really move to Manhattan?


The event is being hosted by BabyLock, a sewing machine company owned by the attractive, beneficent Tacony family. I like BabyLock a lot because they make really, really great sewing machines, but I also like them because they believed in me. Back in 2010, I had an idea for a show called Quilty and they were the first company to sign up to underwrite. You always remember your first sponsor. (They all real pretty n’ nice, too.)

There are activities and learning stations and all kinds of cool things going on here, but tonight the organizers outdid themselves: 15 minute massages. The two people they hired to come in and administer these complimentary massages were, I have deduced, actually Sent By An Angel Of The Lord. Who knew the best back-and-shoulder massage a gal can get is in a suburb of St. Louis in the back room of a sewing education center? This is why you travel.

My turn came. I heaved my aching body into the room and slumped, weary, weary, into the chair. Once I got my face comfortably smashed into the puffy donut, Dawn began to work me over.

“Oooo, waaaaow,” Dawn said, somewhere down at my lower back. “You are…waaaaaow, you are reeeeeally tight.” I got the impression Dawn doesn’t speak in elongated syllables as a rule, but that the state of my back was just that horrifying.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, muffled. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks.” But I didn’t go into the six work projects due Monday, the move to New York City, or that I’m putting at least two or three Southwest Airlines employees’ kids through college at this point. Because I don’t like to talk during these things. You can’t waste a second.

“Hooo-hoo! Hooo-weeeeee,” Dawn said, and whistled low. “Yap, yap. Yeeeah. That’s tight.” And then she said, “Ya poor thing,” and clucked her tongue.

At that I could’ve cried, partly because she had her thumb jammed into my shoulder blade and partly because whenever someone sincerely says, “poor thing,” I get sad. We’re all poor things, aren’t we. It’s hard work being alive.

The fifteen minutes galloped away and zap! Massage over, next person’s turn.

I have, at various times in my life and for various lengths of time, seen a psychiatrist. Results varied: I’ve been aided, I’ve been nonplussed, I’ve ended up more confused — and I’ve been poorer as a result, for sure. I hate to sound provincial, but I’m starting to think a regular massage is gonna do more for a person than a shrink — this person, anyway. Look: I have never, ever left a massage feeling worse than when I went in; it’s a hey of a lot cheaper, and when Dawn goes, “Hooo-hoo! That’s not good,” you know it’s fixable, whereas a shrink won’t even say that, even if he’s thinking it, and how’s he gonna fix it, anyway?

Thanks, BabyLock. Eurekas abound.

I Can’t Find My Underpants.

posted in: Day In The Life 5
I thought this was a rather clever choice for my visual, considering the subject matter.
I thought this was a rather clever choice for my visual, considering the subject matter.

I cannot find my underpants.

The day before yesterday, I was opening up the boxes I shipped to myself and upon opening a smallish one, I discovered I accidentally shipped a box of old magazines* to myself. These were supposed to go into storage.

In the meantime, I could not — and still cannot — find my underpants. Any of them.

Clearly, a box of magazines got mixed up with a box of underpants. Now all my underpants are in a storage unit in Chicago, while I am in an airport in New York, headed to St. Louis, with a box of magazines back at the apartment across town.

I’m good.

Tales From The Move: Used Books

posted in: Day In The Life 1
Ay, papi. Oof.
Ay, papi. Oof.

Outside: New York City.

Inside: New York City.

Alone, because Yuri isn’t here, yet. I wish he was. Baby? I wish you were.

And I’m pretty sure I’m a cliche, a thirtysomething woman, transplanted, enchanted and terrified by New York City tonight. (I’ll have you know I’ve seen exactly 0.75 episodes of Sex & The City — and that estimate may be generous. I believe the show has something to do with a woman who blogs or writes a column inside Manhattan and has a lot of shoes. I do have a lot of shoes, but they are mostly in storage in Chicago. There is no room in Manhattan for lots of shoes unless you have lots of money and I do not have lots of money. I have a little money, and that is for rent, now. Goodbye, shoes.)

I saw a boa constrictor (anaconda? python?) snake today, curled around a girl’s shoulders; a snake handler was selling pictures with it at The Cube at Astor Place. That beast was so astonishingly thick and long, I gasped out loud when I saw it, nearly fell over a waiting Yellow Cab. I saw a rainshower and a sunbeam, both through the tree that bows over 2nd and St. Mark’s. I saw a girl so pretty my teeth hurt. She was getting coffee, wearing a short skirt with daisies on it. I thought these exact three thoughts in rapid succession: 1) there is nothing more powerful on this earth than a beautiful girl; 2) fashion/perception is everything; 3) New York will fall in a terrorist attack, hurricane, or contagion and this girl and me, we are as good as dead.

So I’m fitting in!

This post was supposed to be a Tale From The Move because I need more time to get my New York thoughts in order. It’s all too raw and green, like an East Village wheatgrass shot. Better to go back to Chicago.

The laundry room in my (former) building has these cute bookshelves that serve as a resident library. Leave a book or magazine, take a book or magazine. Isn’t that charming? I think so. I was a dutiful, silent member of this library from the day I moved into the building, leaving excellent magazines (e.g., Vogue, New York, Harper’swhenever I washed muh’ skivvies. I took stuff, too, but for the most part, I was giving more than I got. Though I scored decent magazines that I would have never gotten on my own (Town & Country, House Beautiful, etc.), the vast majority of the books available were not so much my taste. but I rarely got any good books, except the time I spied an early edition of Bellow’s Dangling Man; I still have that copy and yes, it’s currently in storage.

When I packed up to move out, I had a big box of books that I decided would be my gift to the building. When I took my box up to the 20th floor, however, I had to make room. Some of the titles I decided to uh, liberate, included Danielle Steele’s clearly impossible-to-resist The Klone & I; Robert James Waller’s lesser-known Puerta Vallarta Squeeze; and what looked to be Dan Brown’s entire catalog. Ew. I put those all near recycle bin. They had been there for over two years!

Here are a few titles I left for the good people of [REDACTED]:

Fraud, David Rakoff (Doubleday, 2001)
The Chinese Opium Wars, Jack Beeching (Mariner Books, 1977)
Marriage & Morals, Bertrand Russell (Liveright, 1970)
…and a copy of Madame Bovery and many others I can’t recall, now.

You’re welcome.

(And I slightly miss you.)

Today! The Yarn Company, 4-5pm!

Keffi, The Yarn Company Mascot.
Keffi, The Yarn Company Mascot.

A lil’ reminder for NYC folk:

I’m doing a little meet n’ greet n’ shop talk talk at The Yarn Company, that lovely haven of color and fiber where I was able to sew this spring. From 4-5, I’ll be showing some quilts, talking patchwork, and generally hanging out to meet whomever feels like dropping by. Let’s do it!

I need a break from unpacking, so I will be in an EXCELLENT mood.

The Yarn Company is located at 2274 N. Broadway, upstairs. (That’s the corner of 82nd and Broadway.) Look for the totes adorbs sheep mascot, Keffi, on the sign above the door.


Place, Hold’er

posted in: New York City 4
"You know New York, you need New York,;you know you need unique New York." (Tongue twister from a high school drama camp. )
“You know New York, you need New York, you know you need unique New York.” (Tongue twister from a high school drama camp. )

I’m composing this on my phone. A first.

I’m writing this way because I made it, I’m in the new pad in New York (!!!) but I can’t get the Internet working. I can’t possibly go find a coffee shop to sit in, though: I’m too happy to be here, too blissed out to be half-horizontal on this couch in this glorious space. 

I hadn’t seen the apartment Yuri picked out; only pictures…and it’s more wonderful here than I ever imagined.

It’s more spacious and fabulous than I dared hope for and there’s art all over the stairwell walls and secure mailboxes in the foyer and an umbrella stand in the hall and it’s quiet quiet up hereon thethird floor even though all of New York is right outside. When I walked in, I started smiling and haven’t stopped. It’s been the hours.

Yuri comes on Tuesday; he stayed behind to finish up in Chisago. We have one night here together, then I’m off to St. Louis. But soon, and for a good long while, this be the place; this is where love will grow and work will get done and cookys will be made.

If I weren’t tapping out these words on a touch screen with a stylus (excruciating, really) I’d say more about measuring my life, how I choked back a sob in the taxi to the airport today (we were on Lakeshore Drive and Chicago was impossibly beautiful and I was leaving it, leaving it), how being alone my first night here is actually just right; I might say something about how the spring night air is so sweet, coming in the window right now, it could kill me.

Good thing for the stylus.

William Morris, Nervous Breakdowns.

You still need to pack the Sharpie.
You still need to pack the Sharpie, though. And the tape. See what I mean?

Because I’m renting my condo furnished this summer, I falsely assumed the task of moving would be less arduous and there would be no need to hire professional movers. I was wrong, and thus have spent the last two days in hell.

Fundamental truth: I am ruthless when it comes to disposing of excess stuff. I claim no bric-a-brac. I keep no old shoe. Being a purger (??) is made easier because I live and die by the words of Arts and Crafts giant William Morris, who proclaimed in 1880

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Yes, Willy, Yes!

I am the anti-hoarder. I keep nothing, buy nothing that is not useful/beautiful. If I need a can opener, for example, but can only find lame ones made of plastic, I will wait until I can find a basic metal one and go without canned things. A plastic can opener might be useful but it is not beautiful, so it’s out. A classic, metal can opener is timeless! an objet d’art! I’m 100% serious and I’d like to think my home is harmonious as a result.**

But for heaven’s sake, I’m a person with a home that doubles as an office and a sewing studio. I have so many objects. Harmonious or discordant, this move is gargantuan. Do it all myself? Or even just with Yuri? What planet was I living on? (No! Don’t answer that!)

The Russian and I got boxes, a storage unit, a cargo van. Horrible, all of it. Soul-crushing. I’ve been doing my Midwest-work-ethic best, packing, eliminating, Goodwill-ing, all while still answering emails and attending to work-related tasks! I also remembered to brush my teeth! What race am I running, here?? (No! Shush!!)

As one might imagine, my productivity and emotional fitness ebbed and flowed throughout yesterday and today. This morning, I was actually in a fetal position for a spell, curled up near my desk in a sea of paper, wailing at Yuri, who was in the other room:

“Help me! HELP! ME! I’m doing the work of ten men! TEN MEN, DO YOU HEAR ME! I hate you! I can’t do this! I HATE YOU AND I NEED HELP!”

One of the reasons I love Yuri is because in situations like these he does two things:

1) he lightens the mood by coming into the room with a grin, saying something like, “Aw, who’s on the struggle bus? Who’s lookin’ so fine, ridin’ that struggle bus?” and of course this makes me bust out laughing, still on the floor
2) he helps

But the hard part about moving is never the logistics.

The logistics suck all right. But the core of it, the real trouble in River City is that you’re kicking up deadly serious dust. The longer you live in a place, the deeper and more emotional that dust becomes; if you have a strong emotional connection to a place (like I have to this place) it’s a double whammy. In the past 48 hours, I’ve hit upon a lot of life — more than I really cared to hit right now, honestly. Books, pictures, fabric, dresses, quilts — what we own owns us. And when we move we’re at the mercy of it all, we’re possessed by those possessions, even when we think we don’t hang onto much.

We do.

I do.

I hang onto absolutely everything. I just store it differently.

I store it here.


**All this editing may be due in part to my peripatetic lifestyle. If I’m not harmonious, I’m sunk. I heard once that “every item or object in your home is a thought in your head,” which is to say that belongings take up valuable real estate in one’s brain. A cleaner home equals a clearer head; I need every advantage I can get. 

Why I’m Moving To New York City



My new street, St. Mark's Place. East Village, NYC.
My new street, St. Mark’s Place. East Village, NYC.

Have I said, explicitly, what’s happening? Does anyone know what’s going on? Am I just dashing off posts with no regard for my readers, kind, hard-working people who can’t possibly follow where I am in the world at any given time, why I’m there, or when it all might shore up? Would it be wise to debrief you and, in debriefing, might I find much needed answers for myself? 

Is it ever good to lead off with a list of questions like that?


I am moving to New York City.

I own a home in Chicago that is dear to me. Thus, I do not see this move to New York City as being permanent or even long-term, if you’re using my entire (hopefully long) life as the measure. But as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t slightly have three people that are not you move into your home or kinda move operations halfway across America into an apartment on St. Mark’s that you’re a little bit renting. As I write this, in view are boxes of belongings that will go into storage, go to Goodwill, or come with me to New York. There is no halfway, here, no semi-move, even if I see New York as a kind of interstitial thing. I am faced with a choice and I have chosen to relocate, at least for the next year. And why?

“Why not?” is an acceptable answer, as ever, but there’s more. Look:

1) Why not?
2) Yuri and I fell in love. Four months later, he got his dream job and moved to New York. Not being together is not an option. I’m mobile, he’s not. Look at it this way.
3) The safe choice (try long-distance, stay here, risk nothing) is rarely the most interesting one.
4) New York City, though it’s cool to hate it these days, is still New York $&@#! City and I wanna see.

Yuri came to Chicago day before yesterday to help me and he is helping, though he can’t pack up my fabric stash, exactly. Mostly, it’s moral support I’m getting — moral support and bear hugs so good I’m moving to $&@#! New York City.

We were at the big table yesterday, drinking miso soup from styrofoam cups, eating takeout sushi. There is no time to cook, no sense in making more work with pans or bowls or spoons. There’s so much to do here and so little time before work deadlines crush us both. It’s all happening at the same time. It always does.

“It is insane,” I said. “People will think I’m insane. I can hear it. ‘But she just lived through a renovation! She just did her kitchen and bathroom! That’s crazy!'”

Yuri opened his eyes wide. “Do you really think people will think that?”

I shrugged. “Probably some people will. But I’m not going to say no to love because I like my backsplash.”

And then my eyes opened wider because what had popped out of my mouth was the truth, and the truth gave me the ability to keep packing.


Splendor On the Grass.

Molly Ringwald, smoking grass in John Hughes' The Breakfast Club.
Molly Ringwald, smoking grass in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club.

Everyone is smoking pot!

Correction: Many people, not including me, are smoking pot!

I’ve been running errands all over town and I can’t make it two blocks without walking into, out of, or through a cloud of weed smoke.** It’s not because marijuana has been legalized in Illinois; I’m pretty sure we all would’ve heard if that had happened. No, all these people are out in flagrante because it is achingly beautiful outside: the Chicago winter was truly horrific and no social contract, K-9 unit, or stroke of blue lightening is gonna stop a grass smoker on a gorgeous May day in the city from takin’ it outside.

I couldn’t care less, you understand. I kinda like the smell of pot. That funky, piney, skunky smell, it’s kinda great. And around Chicago, where folks make a living trafficking in such things, you smell some pretty dank weed, too, real hydroponic stuff. To me, weed smells like contraband, like kids, like a party, like the woods. Those things are all right.

As for smoking it, no way. Oh, I’ve tried. But I hate it. Just hate it! Isn’t that something?

When various friends offer me grass or I find myself at a social gathering where people are smoking, I pass every time. This is because marijuana makes me sleepy, desirous of high quantities of food (any food), and swiftly renders any feeble powers of cognition I possess utterly useless. Twenty minutes into the whole thing, and I’m curled up on a chair (any chair), eating Nutella from the jar, going on incessantly (either in my head or aloud, always hard to say) about how I’m embarrassed I am that I can’t remember what I just said, or if I said it, or if how I said it came off right and do you have any almonds? orange juice? marshmallows? leftover broccoli? chips — oooh, chips??

I just get super lame. It’s almost like I have an allergy. Perhaps I’ll try that the next time I’m offered weed:

“Oh, no thanks. I can’t smoke. I’m allergic.”

“Really? Woah. What happens? You get hives or something?”

“No, I get completely lame.”

Smoke away, my smokey friends. Let the Mary Jane muses of spring call out to you, let the long holiday weekend follow a loopy, endless trail of purple haze; let your picnics be filled with really really really good fried chicken and sangria, and let your connection be in town and answering his phone. May you feel soft earth under your bare feet after our hard and punishing winter and may you have a lover to squeeze nearby (and may that lover finally not be wearing five layers and a puffer coat so you can get to more of him/her.)

I beg you all, above all, to be safe: don’t drive cars if you’re stoned or drunk. I like you too much, you and all your dopey, lopsided smiles.

**I like to think Weedsmoke is a little-known, low-rent version of Gunsmoke.

Thomas Hood’s Real Downer: “Song of the Shirt”

posted in: Poetry 1
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.

There was a tugging in my heart today and a longing I couldn’t place.

Oh, it was probably just nostalgia brought on by spring weather. The sweet, chilled spring air came in and I pulled out last year’s jacket. What was in the pocket but a pack of now-soggy gum and a book of matches from a fancy night out last spring. When these sorts of things happen, I need to read poetry. 

After slogging through an afternoon’s worth of paper on my desk, I went to one of my favorite poetry anthologies to find something expansive. I was hoping I might find a poem on moving or relocation: I arrived in Chicago this morning at dawn and I have one week to wrap up all the ends here before trundling off to Manhattan for the summer. (Or longer. Probably longer.) When you crush up your arm, you need surgery. When you realize you’re about to say goodbye to the view from your bedroom, you need poetry.

I did not find a poem about relocation. What I did find was really good, though, especially if any part of what you do for a living involves sewing. And I know you’re out there.

“Song of the Shirt” is a poem by poet, writer, and humorist Thomas Hood, written in the 1820s in England. It’s about the suffering of the factory drudge, told from her perspective. It’s pretty bleak; it also pretty damn relevant. The refrain, “Work–work–work,” is as imbedded in our discourse as ever. I read it and cackled like a crazy person; she’s got that right. The poem was especially interesting/fitting because she speaks of spring.

I hope you enjoy the poem, as much as it can be enjoyed. In its admonishing way, it’s a little like being forced to take a dose of nasty medicine. But I said I needed help from a poem and that is exactly what I got.

Song of the Shirt
by Thomas Hood

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

“Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It’s O! to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!

Till the brain begins to swim;
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
And sew them on in a dream!

“O, men, with sisters dear!
O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you’re wearing out,
But human creatures’ lives!
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

“But why do I talk of death?
That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
And flesh and blood so cheap!

My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there!

From weary chime to chime,
As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
As well as the weary hand.

In the dull December light,
And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—
While underneath the eaves
The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
And twit me with the spring.

“O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
To feel as I used to feel,
Before I knew the woes of want
And the walk that costs a meal!

“O! but for one short hour!
A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
Hinders needle and thread!”

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
She sang this “Song of the Shirt!”

Home Remedies Needed For Stuffy Nose, Stat!

posted in: Family, Sicky 14
Second, get some ice cream.
Second, put your license somewhere we can all see it.

All hands on deck!

Yuri either has terrible allergies, a cold, a sinus infection, or he’s been possessed by a jinn specializing in cruel bouts of sneezing and mucus production. His stuffy nose is the kind that alternates one nostril and the other. It’s a “half-stuff.”

We tried 24-hour Claritin; it made Yuri feel worse. He tried Sudafed; same. He got plenty of rest over the weekend, since I was working the whole time, but he’s still sick or allergy-ing terribly, whichever it is. We did a dollop of VapoRub in a big bowl of boiling water and he steamed his head over that, under a big towel, just like my dad used to do. He neti-potted. He nose-sprayed. He got some of the little bands that stick to the bridge of the nose and open the passages while he sleeps and those help a little, but not a lot.

Yes, there’s always the doctor. It’s the next step.

Until then, educated, intuitive, Dr. Quinn-was-my-homegirl reader, what home remedies might you have for clearing a stuffy nose — or for at all relieving the symptoms I’ve outlined.

Surely none of your suggestions will involve honey suppositories or bathing in tomato juice or anything weird like that.**

**Fine: the weirder the better — but we do want something to work. Go!

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