The Great Race: Spring vs. Winter 2022

posted in: Paean, Word Nerd 12


Horses in flowers. I was hoping to find a picture of horses in flowers and I totally found one without spending nine hours on WikiCommons. Amazing. Image: Wikipedia



Gosh, it sure is good to see and read y’all.

I’m doing alright, I promise. That’s especially true this morning because being here again feels like I’ve just come into our favorite coffee shop after a long time away and the klatch — the klatch is you — is like, “Well, bless my soul! The ol’ PG!” I plunk myself down in a captain’s chair at our wide, round table. I take that chair not because I want to be captain; everyone’s in a captain’s chair because it’s just the style of this place. Everyone’s excited to hear what I’ve been up to for Lord’s sake, but I just want to hear about your lives and what you’ve been doing while I’ve been out sailing the high seas. Think of me as a wisened fisherman of few words, all yellow slicker and bucket hat, silently dripping several tablespoons of rainwater onto the floor which I wipe up right away with the napkin that came under my croissant. I might be a wisened fisherman of few words but I have manners. You are all relieved that I do not smell of shellfish or whales. It’s way too early for that. Marianne (friend Marianne, not mom Marianne), being immediately to my right, does detect a slight whiff of algae for the first 30 minutes or so, but she doesn’t say anything because she knows the smell of coffee cake baking in the cafe kitchen will soon overtake it. Plus, I’ve been through a lot.

Before long, everyone talking about the big race.

Spring and Winter are neck and neck. One day, it’s Winter’s race to lose. Freezing slush swirls all around us and everyone spits epithets and yanks their damned stocking caps down around their ears and the ears of their children to protect them from the slush and the epithets. But we’re talking about the race because this race is best race of the year. Spring comes from behind. She pulls ahead by a nose! No one thought it could happen, but suddenly it’s 65 degrees and sunny and it stays that way long enough to get some green buds going in the trees along the street! This is wild! She could actually do this.

Woah, woah, woah, says Marj. Old Man Winter’s no quitter, she says, and eats a piece of my croissant. (She asked.) His age gives him experience and let’s not forget: He’s been working out for months. At that moment, Winter executes a full body slam: actual snow accumulation. The dumb jerk snarls and growls at Spring. He calls her a whippersnapper and blows her down with subzero winds from the north. Winter has always had his fans, but at this point most of the crowd is turning on him on account of him being so mean. Spring gets up, but she’s nervous. It doesn’t look good for her, doesn’t good at all. She’s so young. She’s green! Nothin’ but a colt, really, and going up against that metaphor. We hate to do it, but a few of start to pull on our salt-stained boots and get on home before the snow plows block the damn road. It’s too depressing.

But wait … you guys, you guys.

Spring’s still in this. She just kicked Old Man Winter in the — wow, she’s kicking him but good! Where did that come from?? Spring pulls forward, shaking chartreuse pollen from her mane. It gets in Old Man Winter’s eyes and he starts crying like a little — well, he’s crying, really crying! No one wants to be callous but we’re all secretly praying he’ll start sneezing like crazy and he does, which gives Spring an opening. To our shock, she goes for it, launching one of the riskiest moves in the book, The Triple Easter Bunny. No, we cry out! Spring, it’s too soon! You could die out there! Don’t be a hero! We’ll hold the line! Just a few more weeks — are you crazy?! You’re not ready!

The world stops spinning on its axis. We all hold our breath. She hops once. She hops twice. She hops a third time and … she sticks the landing.

The girl did it. She really did.

We all start whooping and hollering and throwing flower petals in the air. What a race, we cry, and Jim takes a piece of my croissant.

The London Why (Part Two)

posted in: Day In The Life, Paean, Travel 28
A look at Battersea Park from ‘Davies’s New Map of the British Metropolis, The Boundaries of the Boroughs, County Court Districts, Railways, and Modern Improvements’ (1852). Image: Wikipedia


When Mozart was eight years old, he went on tour. That’s how you roll when you’re eight and you’re Mozart.

Accompanied by his awesome dad, Wolfgang hit 17 cities, all the usual suspects on the European drawing room circuit; Paris, Vienna, Rome, etc.

Their last stop was London. If I walk out my door this morning and hang a right, it will take me 13 minutes to get to 180 Ebury Street where Leopold and Wolfgang ended up living for about a year. Mozart wrote his very first symphony at 180 Ebury Street, aptly titled Symphony No. 1. 

Say I decide to extend my hypothetical morning walk. Let’s say I swing by Gail’s Bakery and purchase a warm custard croissant and a hot cappuccino, and I think we can all agree that I should hypothetically do this. If I head south toward the Thames, it will take me 27 minutes to arrive at Cheyne Walk, slightly longer if my body feels weak on account of that demonically good croissant, so … Let’s say it takes me 35 minutes.

Cheyne Walk is just a quarter-mile long the way a lot of streets here are just a quarter-mile long. It runs along the north bank of the Thames between the Albert Bridge and Battersea Bridge, and Cheyne Walk is a lovely, lovely place, indeed. In spring, wisteria grows so high along some of the buildings it seems to pour down from the top; in autumn, well-manicured hedgerows are blanketed with crimson and gold-edged leaves, wide and fat and crispy, that sift down from the oak trees overhead. The apartment buildings would be imposing if they weren’t so charming, but they can’t get away from it. You might see a marmalade cat peeking through one of the tall, leaded-glass windows; all the pediments and pilasters are rounded; all the brick chimneys were clearly built to accommodate Santa Claus. Who wouldn’t want to live, at least for awhile, on Cheyne Walk?

The street has existed for about 300 years, so a lot of people have lived here. They have eaten their breakfasts, played their records, written and received letters, gone to sleep and gotten out of beds in these buildings. And it happens that a few Cheyne Walk residents made quite a name for themselves before, during, or after they lived here. This short street is notable not just for its beauty, but for all the notable people who lived on it. Dig:

George Eliot, author
J.M.W. Turner, painter
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter
Thomas Carlyle, philosopher
Bertrand Russell, philosopher
W. Somerset Maugham, author
J.M. Whistler, painter
Hilaire Belloc, poet and historian
Sylvia Pankhurst, superstar suffragist
Henry James, author
T.S. Eliot, poet

Amazing, right? And that is in no way an exhaustive list of all the remarkable people who had/have addresses on Cheyne Walk — google it and you’ll see. But the names up there mean the most to me because those people produced work that resolves tumblers in the combination locks of my brain. Even better, all that work was completed and all those people were dead way before I was even born.

This is infinitely comforting to me.

George Eliot knew all about heartache way before I ever went through a breakup, and what she wrote about love was waiting for me. Rossetti’s paintings of female flawlessness existed long before I looked in the mirror and admitted, as I did the other day, that I’m not so young. Just as the bloom of youth in La Ghirlandata is eternal, so is the vague despair I feel when I discover that my maiden days are over. Countless 40-something women have looked at La Ghirlandata and felt this; to join their club is both a defeat and a relief. I’m not alone; none of us are. Books and paintings that stand the test of time remind me that as special as I am, I’m not so special. There’s pure encouragement in it, if you’re open to it.

London does the same thing for me. Did you know that London is 2,000 years old? Two thousand.

I didn’t know that until recently, but it’s true: In 43 AD, the Celts who were loafing around were sacked by the Romans, who established the outpost they called “Londinium”. From there followed more sacking, and fires, plagues, wars, revolution, political chaos, etc. And now, 2,000 years later, here we are, strolling down Cheyne Walk with croissant crumbs on our jacket.

London has endured and that endurance makes me feel good, cuts me down to size in the best possible way, just like La Ghirlandata. London is an old place. It’s seen my type before. It didn’t rejoice when I got here and it won’t weep when I leave, because London doesn’t care about me — or you — that much. Not in the same way that New York City doesn’t care about one person. New York City doesn’t care about you because it’s doesn’t have time for you, and this feels hostile, like the way a mean girl treats you in the cafeteria. London doesn’t particularly care about you but London has nothing but time, so it might decided to watch you as you about your day. And, because it’s seen everything, if you screw up — when you screw up — it’s not inclined to laugh at you. There’s nothing new under the sun and besides, London is tired. London doesn’t want to laugh at you; London wants its slippers and its cuppa. Do this or don’t, London says; try this or don’t. Be a person in London for a brief flicker of time, dear, if that’s what you want. Then London gives you a pat and turns her great, heavy head to the next upstart to eventually them the same thing.

Being in an old city like this — being in London — makes me feel like I’m part of the human race, no more, no less. Now that I’ve felt it, finally, I confess that I don’t particularly want to leave. With the exception of Chicago, the other cities I’ve lived in made me feel like I was auditioning for them. In London, I’m just cast.

I thought this second half of the first post about London would lead off with how I ended up here, but Mozart and Cheyne Walk got in the way. The reason isn’t so crazy: The company Eric is with has a London office, and the opportunity arose for him to work on a project here for a few months. We arrived in August; we leave the first week of December.

I love it here. A lot. Like, an alarming amount.

Journal Buddies #13 : Where Would I Go In a Time Machine?

Scene from a busy restaurant in Russia in 1975. Whatever works. Image: Wikipedia.



This is the 13th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.


It’s Saturday night. The weather is perfect and you’re getting ready to go out to dinner.

There have been and will be nights in your life when you’d give anything to stay home and eat leftovers, but tonight is not one of those nights. No way. You’ve been looking forward to tonight all week. Maybe you’re meeting friends you haven’t seen in ages. Maybe your favorite cousin is in town. Maybe you’ve got a hot date — but like, a really hot one. Whoever it is you’ll be with at the restaurant about an hour from now, picturing their face(s) make you smile.

You get to choose who you’re meeting; this is as much your time machine as it is mine.

You feel gorgeous. You just do. When you look in the mirror, you like what you see. “Not bad,” you say to yourself, and you make a mental note to continue to drink more water because man, your skin looks good. You lean over the sink and do your eye makeup. Or maybe eye makeup isn’t your jam and you’re just rubbing out crusties. (Remember, these details are totally up to you.)

In the middle of doing whatever it is you’re doing there at the mirror, you remember the funny video someone sent you today, or that really good — omg so bad!! — joke your friend told you, or maybe you’re just caught up in how good you feel, but you laugh enough that you have to stop poking around your eye area for a moment. You eventually recover. All right, all right, you say; enough. No time for dilly-dallying. As you finish your maquillage, you think how for a second there you were like a kid giggling in class and also the teacher who told that kid to get back to work. This observation amuses you, and because it does, subconsciously your heart feels tender toward yourself, and this is how we ought to feel toward ourselves all the time but rarely do.

Before you leave the bathroom, you pause to appreciate your sink. It is sparkling clean. In fact, the whole house is clean. You’re clean, too, because you took a nice long shower. God, you love your soaps right now. The body wash and the shampoo and the conditioner, finally. One last check in the mirror confirms it: You are having a great hair day. Maybe the best hair day. Your hair looks amazing.

It isn’t until after you slip into your clothes that you realize you have just slipped into your clothes. Who does that, you think, but you do not question what has just occurred.

You walk to the closet to get your shoes. They are  right where they should be. Let me be clear: You do not have to dig for your shoes. You do not yet know that you will have the best filet mignon/lobster bisque/mushroom risotto/crispy duck/endive salad/chocolate soufflé/raspberry panna cotta/warm bowl of tiny cookies of your entire life tonight, so, between getting to lean back in your chair at the restaurant later to clasp your hand to your breast and groan with pleasure at what is happening in your mouth and not having to dig for your shoes, should nothing else go right tonight, the evening would stand as an unqualified success.

Your phone buzzes: Your Uber will be here in five minutes. Perfect.

Ladies, you have a new purse. It has all the right pockets in all the right places. This perfect purse is about to become your favorite purse. You will fully wear out this purse over the next year or two because it is perfect. When it finally dies, you will spend as long you had the purse lamenting that you cannot find a purse as good as the purse you had that one time. “That one time” is now, and you and your purse have only just begun life together. This purse is not scuffed or marred; there is no open tube of lipstick currently bouncing around in the bottom of it. There are no straw wrappers, either. You grab your jacket/wrap/topcoat/shawl and you go out the door. You get into your Uber and your driver is kindly fellow, so when he says that you look nice, it’s not creepy. It’s great.

The kindly driver drops you off at the restaurant and you go inside.

The place is packed. There’s a throng of people in the vestibule; everyone’s chatting and working their way up to the hostess station to check in or ask if there are tables available. No tables right now, the hostess says, and she apologizes that the wait is over an hour. This is no problem because you have a reservation and wasn’t that smart! You are smart. You notice that the people who don’t have a reservation seem strangely okay with this because they are having a great night, too. The mood is convivial; the mood is good. The lights are low and everyone looks great.

Everyone looks healthy.

Behind the bar, the bartenders are barely keeping up but they are keeping up; later, they’ll high five each other and whistle as they count their tips. They raked it in tonight, boy, so they all do a shot and they say it really is a great gig and everyone gets home safe after the manager finally locks up for the night. One waiter and one bartender finally admit they’re falling in love.

In a few minutes, your friends/cousin/hot date will arrive and the hostess will take you to your table. You’ll maneuver through the dining room as waiters whisk past with trays and busboys pour water from green glass bottles. You’ll see a sommelier presenting a wine list and a maitre’d putting a napkin in a lady’s lap. You and your dinner companion(s) are seated. The conversation, the food, the tone, the spark, the learning, the surprise, the pleasantness, the force, the humanity — you’ll all have it all within minutes.

But right now, you’re one in that throng of healthy people waiting for tables. There are dozens of different conversations and you hear bits of this one and that one. People are smiling and laughing. There are pats on the back; in a corner, a couple steals a kiss. Someone comes in from the bar, sees his friend and when they greet each other, they hug. There are light touches on shoulders as people lean in to hear each other better. No one notices this physical symphony; it’s no more and no less than life itself. It’s life on a Saturday night.

Months later, a plague comes and steals these kinds of nights. They are gone for a long time.

As you sit in your home now, there’s no need to find your shoes. There are no reservations. You are not so far from people, but everyone is separated. You can’t touch anyone and you can’t see anyone. You’d give anything to see them. If you could go anywhere in a time machine, you’d go back and get ready, just like you did, to go to that restaurant and be jostled among the dinner crowd, waiting for your table on a Saturday night.

Stay: Ben Hecht, Chicago, Me, and You

posted in: Art, Chicago, Paean, Word Nerd 23
Ben Hecht’s book, opened to the first full-bleed spread, with illos by Herman Rosse. This alone is reason own “1001”, but it gets better from here. Image from the Newberry Library here in town. Don’t be mad, I’m promoting books!


Today, a book interfered with all the work I was supposed to do. I’ll have to get up very early in the morning to catch up, but I don’t care. There was nothing I could do. Today, there could be nothing in the world — thank God — but this book, the delicate snowfall, and the pub where I sat, in the window, reading for two hours. The barstool I selected was inside Miller’s Pub, est. 1935, a Chicago institution, shielded and admired by the el at Wabash and Madison.

The book, A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, started as a column in the Chicago Daily News 1920s. The author, Ben Hecht, is a name some of you might recognize, but if you do, I’ll bet it’s because Hecht achieved screenwriting stardom in Hollywood in the 1940s, writing or doctoring scripts a whole bunch of classic films. But before he decamped for Hollywood, Hecht was a dyed-in-the-wool Chicago newspaperman. He started writing for the dailies here when he was just 15, and he was good at what he did. What he did was write well about stuff that happened in the city he dearly loved.

Some years before the column began, Hecht left the News to work in publicity. He wanted to make more money and get away from the grind of reporting round the clock, so he went for it. He hated the publicity business, though, and was quickly miserable. His editor wanted him back and had an idea of how to get Hecht and keep him interested. He asked Hecht if he’d like to write a different sort of column for the News, one that explored the people of the city, but this time with a decidedly narrative tone. Hecht could interview people as he usually would, but then, rather than file a Q&A or a “This happened and this happened” piece of reportage, he’d have license to make the vignettes almost … poetic.

For years. In the preface to the 1922 book containing dozens of these “afternoon” characters — this is the book I couldn’t put down this afternoon — I learned that Hecht loved writing this new column so much, he’d do it when he was sick, tired, traveling, depressed, etc. He called the column “A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago” (a Scherezade riff, obviously) and he filed a column every day.

The humanity in these pieces is almost agonizing. Page after page of poignant, funny, achingly true portraits await you as the author tells Chicago through its people: prostitutes, auctioneers, homeless people, businessmen, shop girls, tattoo artists — this is all in the early 1920s, remember, but every single word is as true today as it ever was. People lose jobs and lose their families, they hope and dream, they forgive — sometimes they die, too. I was crying at the bar, trying to hide my face from the nice couple sitting to my left who were in Chicago for a nice weekend. I’m glad they didn’t ask me what I was reading; I would’ve rhapsodised and scared them away.

The book is funny and beautiful and I want to share an excerpt with you.

If you know me, you know I love Michigan Avenue. I walk up that grand boulevard and walk it all the way back down as much as I can and much more lately, since some days I just don’t know what to do with myself. On those days or any day besides, Michigan Avenue, from 9th Street to Delaware is my spinal column and it keeps me upright. So, imagine my rapture when I turned the page of Afternoons to find Hecht vignette about my street that was so right, so brilliant, so true, big, fat tears plopped onto the page as I read. There is no comfort like the comfort that comes when you see that you are known by someone who knew you before you were born.

Here is an excerpt from the “Michigan Avenue” piece from A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, by Ben Hecht, 1921.

I have squandered an afternoon seduced from labors by this Pied Piper of a street. And not only I but everybody I ever knew or heard of was in this street, strutting up and down as if there were no vital projects demanding their attention, as if life were not a stern and productive routine.

[There] was no sign, no billboard to inspire me with a sense of duty. So we strutted—the long procession of us—a masquerade of leisure and complacency. Here was a street in which a shave and a haircut, a shine and a clean collar exhilarated a man with a feeling of power and virtue. As if there were nothing else to the day than to decorate himself for the amusement of others.

I begin to notice something. An expression in our faces as we drift by the fastidious ballyhoos of the shop windows. We are waiting for something—actors walking up and down in the wings waiting for the their cues to go on. This is intelligible. This magician of a street has created the illusion in our heads that there are adventure and romance around us.

There are two lives that people lead. One is the real life of business, mating, plans, bankruptcies and gas bills. The other is an unreal life—a life of secret grandeurs which compensate for the monotony of the days. Sitting at our desks, hanging on to straps in the street cars, waiting for the dentist, eating in silence in our homes—we give ourselves to these secret grandeurs. Day-dreams in which we figure as heroes and Napoleons and Don Juans, in which we triumph sensationally our the stupidities and arrogances of our enemies—we think them out detail by detail. Sometimes we like to be alone because we have a particularly thrilling incident to tell ourselves, and when our friends say good-by we sigh with relief and wrap ourselves with a shiver of delight in the mantles of imagination. And we live a charming hour through a fascinating fiction in which things are as they should be and we startle the world with our superiorities.

This street, I begin to understand, is consecrated to the unrealities so precious to us. We come here and for a little while allow our dreams to peer timorously at life. In the streets west of here we are what we are—browbeaten, weary-eyed, terribly optimistic units of the boobilariat. Our secret characterizations we hide desperately from the frowns of window and the squeal of “L” trains.

But here in this Circe of streets the sun warms us, the sky and the spaces of shining air lure us and we step furtively out of ourselves. And give us ten minutes. Observe—a street of heroes and heroines …

The high buildings waver like gray and golden ferns in the sun. The sky stretches itself in a holiday awning over our heads. A breeze coming  from the lake brings an odorous spice into our noses. Adventure and romance! Yes—and observe how unnecessary are plots. Here in the Circe of streets are all the plots. All the great triumphs, assassinations, amorous conquests of history unravel themselves within a distance of five blocks. The great moments of the world live themselves over again in a silent make-believe.

The afternoon wanes. Our procession turns toward home. For a few minutes the elation of our make-believe in the Avenue lingers. But the “L” trains crowd up, the street cars crowed up. It is difficult to remain a Caesar or a Don Quixote. So we withdraw and our faces become alike as turtle backs.

Hospital, or: ‘Late But Coming’

posted in: Paean, Sicky 43
Denmark hospital room. (I didn’t have to go that far.) Image via Wikipedia.



I wasn’t kidding. About the Sunday Evening Post.

But on Sunday, I had to go to the hospital. You guys, I’m so sorry. I left in the early evening, right when I had planned to sit down with you for a nice fireside chat. I was so looking forward to it. All day, I was. Proof is in this very moment: I’ve just walked in the door to my home after so many days and what am I doing? Even before taking out the garbage, even before putting in a load of laundry. Even — prepare for astonishment — before making tea … I’m here. Right here.

I’m still here.

The Sunday Evening Post was late, but it was always coming.



Thank You … For the Hairdryers

posted in: Paean 11
Hey, buddy. Image: Wikipedia.



So often, it seems that something which used to be a given — because we live in a civilized world — we are told, “I’m sorry, we no longer offer that. ” Or perhaps it’s, “That is no longer included in the price of this thing. ” Or maybe it’s, “The cost of this arguably simple and sensible thing will now be added to your total bill.”

Luggage is often no longer included in the price of your airplane ticket. You have to pay more for your checking account, but there’s really no reason given as to why. There are “service taxes” for many, many things and, if you’re in Chicago or New York, I happen to know, grocery bags (or department store bags, or any bag) is not a given. It is literally not given. You pay 10 cents a bag, because … Because they say so.

But here at this Hampton Inn, on location for Quiltfolk magazine, I have reason to bring you the good news. We have cause to rejoice. Because there is a holdout in this world of “no longer included.” Oh, but she’s a small, small thing, but she grants great gifts, and in the spirit of gratitude, I praise, praise, praise! the soulless, corporate monolith that is the hotel chain industry for leaving her be. She is the one, the only, the ubiquitous:

Hotel hairdryer.

There she blows.

In every bathroom. In every hotel but the seediest, scariest, no-tell motel in the nation, it seems. Sometimes, she is screwed to the wall and she is ear-splittingly loud and barely effective, but she is there. Sometimes, she is very small, almost a toy. Many times, though, she is wrapped lovingly in a drawstring bag, tucked under the sink or in a nook. She may live in that bag in the closet, but she is there. In extreme circumstances, you may have to ask for one at the front desk, but you shall have one. For now.

Thank you, hairdryer for still being there. I don’t want to pack my hairdryer when I go on a trip. I don’t have room, I don’t have patience, and I just need you to be there, okay? And you are. You are always there.

Powers That Be of the hotel chain industry, please, please do not remove the hairdryers. Let the hairdryers live! I know how you’d remove them: You’d say you were protecting the environment, cutting down on energy waste. That’s what you did with the linens, you know, and you didn’t fool anyone. “Linen changes are done by request only. We’re saving the environment, one sheet at a time!”

Malarky! You’re saving your bottom line. But it’s cool, it’s cool.

Just keep it hot …

With the hairdryers.

Merikay, Magazines, and ‘Magnétisme!’

posted in: Fashion, Paean, Work 5
A slightly earlier ad, and from France. But they’re always ahead, those French people, when it comes to creams, etc. Image: Wikipedia.



I’m in Knoxville with Merikay Waldvogel. There, I said it.

Yes, here to visit the legend herself for a research project I’ve got going. This blog post, in fact, is brought to you by the Wald, as I like to call her: I left my laptop at her house and she brought it to me at my hotel. While we can all appreciate the Wald for her tireless research and quilt scholarship, we can love her eternally because she is a woman willing to hop in her car at 8:30 p.m. and bring this girl her laptop. She is a pathetic creature without it. Thank you, Merikay.

While I was waiting for La Wald to deliver the package, I leafed through an issue of NeedleCraft Magazine. Merikay lent me a few issues to look at tonight before we meet back up tomorrow.

“Hm,” you say, “NeedleCraft. No, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of NeedleCraft. Sounds intriguing. Is it new?”

In fact, the magazine is quite old. The publication was founded almost 100 years ago and closed around the start of WWII. If Merikay was with me right now, she could tell us specifically, but I can tell you that NeedleCraft was (is) beautiful. It’s bigger than your standard tabloid (11” x 17”), for one thing; I don’t have a tape measure, but I think this sucker might be as big as 13” x 20”, which is pretty freakin’ big. The font style on the coated newsprint is delicate, exact. The printing is fine; all the illustrations clear and crisp. The cover is the best part: full-color, lavishly illustrated, on glossy paper. And of course the content is what you’d think it would be: items, articles, patterns, news, etc., all related to various needle arts, e.g., embroidery, crochet, crewel, beading, and quilts, naturally.

There are also ads, and one of them is just too, too great not to share verbatim. I can only share the copy, of course; you’ll have to get the September 1928 issue of NeedleCraft and turn to p. 18 to see the visuals for yourself. Just look for the Art Nouveau illustration of a woman putting face powder on herself in a mirror … that a man is holding, I think? It is very sexy and weird. For now, ladies, I ask you: Do you have … Magnétisme???



Now … she is gay, fascinating!

WOMEN marveled — men were intrigued. Overnight the pale calla-lily had turned flaming peony! Now she was gay, enchanting, magnétique!

She had discovered the allure of a fragrance. Now her talc, her toilet water, her sachet, her face powder, all breathed the parfum of love … of romance … of melting moods — Djer-Kiss the unforgettable fragrance — the parfum that adds to mere prettiness the charm and mystery of magnétisme??


At your favorite beauty counter

Mama Taught Me ‘Write’ : It’s Thank-You Note Time

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Paean, School 9
Well, it’s certainly very creative, sweetie. Image: Wikipedia.



A N N O U N C E M E N T   N O . 1

It has come to the attention of The Management that some folks are having trouble accessing this blog. Unacceptable! I’m sure it’s got something to do with the mischievous internet goblins who know that I’m thinking of deleting my Facebook account. More on that later. Anyway, I’ve got a call out to my brilliant web wizard, Julie Feirer. I’m sure there’s something she can do. She must not fail!


A N N O U N C E M E N T   N O . 2

I am writing thank-you notes to the folks who donated during the First-Ever PaperGirl Pledge Drive, but I’ve got a problem. You see, if you donated via PayPal, I could simply email you a thank-you, but this is not my style. Your PaperGirl is, perhaps not surprisingly, super into paper. The problem is that I don’t get a person’s mailing address with a PayPal donation, so I am going to have to ask for it. It will be a slight nightmare keeping everything straight, but I can try:

If you donated will you please email me your mailing address? (If you haven’t donated, why, there’s still time!)

I’d like you to use my school email, since it’s separate and it’s funny how after you graduate from a school, you don’t have to really send emails about school anymore. Here’s that address:

m f o n s @ s a i c . e d u

Use no spaces, of course, when you enter that address into your “To” field; I’m just trying to keep the spambots away. (Robots crawl the internet looking for email addresses to spam. You know that, right? If you have a website or a newsletter or anything, don’t put your email address on the screen without funky spacing. I think it’s supposed to help.)

The thank-you notes are being written. I have a huge bag already. It’s going to take time, but it’s important to me that I send you a proper thank-you note. My mama raised me good.

A Comment on Kate Spade

posted in: Fashion, Paean 9
Kate Spade shoes, 2008. Image: Wikipedia.



You know I don’t do a lot of pop culture commentary. I don’t do political commentary, either. I really only do Mary Fons commentary — and I think we can all agree that is plenty.

But this Kate Spade thing. I gotta talk about it.

If you didn’t hear about the recent, tragic end of the mega-successful accessories designer, I am impressed. The story of her untimely end is so all over the news, even I heard about it. (There’s an adage in the world of journalism: “If it bleeds, it ledes”, which means that if a story involves sex; untimely, preferably gruesome death; and/or life-destroying scandal, make it the top story, since what “bleeds” sells newspapers.)

Empire-builder Kate Spade took her own life. That bleeds.

It’s a remarkable story because suicide is violent and ruinous no matter what, no matter who commits it. But when the person who commits suicide was the founder of a worldwide brand built with vibrant color and buttoned-up whimsy; when that person’s exuberance fueled the spirited tone that launched her multi-million-dollar empire; when the person who hung herself in her home was a success by every single measure in our strange society … This should give us all pause. We should all consider what we think we know about other people. And what we think we know about ourselves.

Honestly, I was never a Kate Spade customer. I dress pretty preppy, but her polka dots were always a little too big for me, her green too Kelly; her patent leather a tad too shiny. But I liked that she had a point of view. I liked that she used the card pip for her logo. It all made sense. I’m sorry she felt she only had one option. I’m sorry when a person thinks that and I’m sorry we don’t know, as a society, how to help them better.

Remember when people in this country died of tuberculosis? Today, we say: “We could have helped them. If only we knew then what we know now. We know so much more about germ theory and prevention and medicine. All those people died back then, but no more.” We’ll talk about mental illness and addiction like that one day.

Here’s a quote from an interview the late Mrs. Spade gave in New York last year to an online channel. The host asked her what inspires her. I like how she answered, how she personifies color:

“People inspire me. [People in] the environment. I’d love to say something more intelligent, like ‘art’ or ‘museums’ or ‘writing.’ But I would honestly say people. I look at the street and I’m not sure I reflect the street as much as I interpret it … I find color optimistic and enthusiastic … and I adore it. I don’t know how else to say it.”

The Thank You Play

posted in: Paean 10
I love that little rascal. Photo: Me.




MARY is on the couch in her stocking feet. Her hair is wild. She’s crying and throwing things. Not breakable things, and she’s not throwing them hard; she’s just flinging notebook paper, a neck pillow — whatever she can grab that’s handy. PENDENNIS is typing on a laptop.


MARY: Pendennis! (MARY throws a flip-flop.) Pendennis, are you seeing me?? Pendennis!

(PENDENNIS says nothing.)

MARY: Pendennis! I’m throwing things! I’m throwing things because I’m upset! Pendennis, I’m upset!

(No response.) 

MARY: Pendennis, people are so nice! (MARY bursts into tears.) People are nice and I love them. What do I do, Pendennis?? What do I do with my feelings? How am I supposed to live?? Are you even listening to me?? (MARY throws grapes. PENDENNIS says nothing. MARY throws one grape at PENDENNIS and it bounces off his hat. MARY gasps, horrified. She sits up.) Pendennis! Are you okay?

(PENDENNIS gently tips to the right about an inch.)

MARY: I feel the same way. I feel crushed by the weight of love. It’s so crazy, this life, this blog. I’m going to write a personal note to the people who donated money to the blog. I don’t care how much. Anything. I’m going to write them a hand-written note if they have an address; an email if that’s all I have.

(PENDENNIS slips a little bit.)

MARY: Now that I don’t have grad school to do, I can make time for that, don’t worry. But what do I even say?? (MARY picks up a book and squeezes it. Then she wrestles it. Then she just throws it down.) It’s just … I guess you’ll just need to help me, okay? Just help me. (Beat. MARY looks up at the monkey.) That’s it! You have to write the notes! You’ll help! Yes, you have to help. Because I don’t know what to say.

(PENDENNIS says nothing.) 

MARY: Okay, fine. Sure. No more throwing things, no more yelling. I suppose you want me to comb my hair. (Pause.) I’ll do it. I’ll put on my socks and stop throwing things and I’ll comb my hair and I’ll get the list of people who donated and said nice things. And then we’ll get some nice cards and we’ll write the thank-you notes.

(MARY gets off the couch and picks up the books, the notebook paper, the neck pillow, the grapes. She picks up the flip-flop, then she picks up the monkey. They pad across the carpet, and they get into bed, and they go to sleep.) 

[The End]

What Would You Ask Ken Burns About Quilts?

posted in: Art, Paean, Quiltfolk, Work 14
A few of Ken Burns’s quilts in Lincoln. Photo: Melanie Zacek for Quiltfolk.


Something pretty cool happened last week: I got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection.

If you got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection, what would you ask him? After you asked him, would you hang up the phone and fall over on the floor and replay every second of the conversation in your mind to recall moments when you sounded like a dork or loser? Upon discovering that you probably did sound dorky at least at one point, did you console yourself that at least you interviewed Ken Burns??

That’s how it went for me.

Last weekend, Team Quiltfolk went to the Ken Burns quilt exhibit in Lincoln, Nebraska and we have worked tirelessly for the past 7-8 days (yes, I worked on it while working on my thesis) to bring you this free — FREE! — Quiltfolk Exclusive. It’s a 28-page, online-only PDF that you can by clicking this link and friends, it is very, very good. It’s been making the rounds on social media, but if you don’t use it much (like me), I hope this blog post gets to you.

Ken Burns was so nice. And the quilts are so beautiful. And Quiltfolk is so cool. I want this kind of wonderful experience all the time, this kind of blissful story to cover, but I know better. Some days, you just like, eat toast and you have to work on less-fun stuff.

On those days, remember these.

Popularity Contest

posted in: Paean 10
Artwork for East Texas State Normal College’s 1922 yearbook. Image: Wikipedia.


Most of the time, for most readers, this blog is a pair of slippers. Comfortable. Nice to slip on. Occasionally amusing, if you’re the bunny slipper sort. I figure if you’re the bunny slipper sort, you are still amused by your slippers after all these years. I want to be that for you. I want that relationship. Let me be your bunny slipper.

As such, most of the time our relationship doesn’t experience high-highs or low-lows. But every once in awhile, the ol’ PG is more stiletto, less slipper. More Doc Marten, less flip-flop. Some posts blow up a little.

Yes, over the years, certain posts on the ol’ PG have gone bananas in terms of reader response. The way to track this kind of thing is to be a wizard about website analytics and stats, but plebian moi just goes by Facebook likes and shares and what is, in this plebe’s estimation, the clearest measure of engagement: comments on the blog itself.

Here are a few of the most-engaged-with posts in recent memory. I’d go into the actual data and reach back further, but I’m serious when I say I don’t know how to do that.** The number in parenthesis is the number of comments the post got.

  1. The first time I directly discussed politics. (144)
  2. When I announced my editorial directorship of Quiltfolk. (107)
  3. Yesterday’s post. (89 and counting … )
  4. The time the nurse lady asked me about my colon after I told her I literally do not have one. (86)
  5. My first love letter to Quiltfolk. (55)
  6. The post the day after the London Bridge bombing. Note: comments swelled largely due to a misunderstanding. (45)
  7. A confession of knee pain, though this is tied with “I Want The Coat.” (46)
  8. The one about dryer lint, which makes me love you more than ever. (44)

If you haven’t read some of those posts, it’s safe to say your fellow readers recommend them. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much conversation, right?

The engagement-level examination has all come up because of the fabulous, thoughtful conversation that took place — and is still taking place — over yesterday’s post about breastfeeding in public. I keep this blog for many reasons; discourse like what I’ve seen in the comments section from yesterday is one of those reasons.

Hey, Marianne Fons?

Since you faithfully read my blog every time I post; since you are my biggest fan while still giving me full autonomy and freedom to find my own path in this life; since you personally commented on yesterday’s post, I’d like to take this moment to say thank you. I know you’re reading this.

Thank you for giving me life. My life is not easy, but I’m grateful to have the chance to try it on for size. Thanks for birthing me on August 6th. It was probably hot in Iowa! Yuck! Thanks for breastfeeding me, even if it was annoying/awkward when in public. I’d like to officially apologize if I was ever a nuisance in that regard. Thanks for weaning me off the breast and onto whatever it is I drank after that. Didn’t I do a soy formula for awhile?? Thanks for smashing my peas when I was ready for solid food. Thanks for dealing with everything that came after the peas.

To all the readers of this blog who think and engage with their fellow humans in a thoughtful, curious way: thank you. To all the mothers in the world, public nursing or not: Thank you, too.


** A website overhaul is coming soon, people, so I may actually know how to do that soon!

New Philosopher Magazine Calling, or, ‘Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming’

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Paean, Tips 5
The Summer 2017 issue of my second-favorite magazine. Image: The New Philosopher.


A dream hath come true. Except I didn’t even dream it. I didn’t apply for it, I didn’t suggest it. I didn’t flat out campaign for this dream fulfillment: It just happened.

The New Philosopher asked me to be in their magazine!

Warning: I have to crow about the magazine for a minute before I tell you how I get to be in it. I just have to, and you should know that the magazine is not paying me to say any of this, nor are they paying me to be in the magazine. This is just pure love, right here.

This magazine, The New Philosopher, is my favorite magazine in the entire world  — after this one, of course. It’s quarterly, out of Australia, and it’s invaluable to me as a person who loves to think about and read about philosophy and philosophical questions but definitely can’t just haul out a copy of Heidegger’s “Being and Time” and have at it. Lucky for me/us, The New Philosopher breaks down huge, scary topics (e.g., property, fame, technology, etc.) in visual ways across its thick, glossy pages. Each issue provides the best aphorisms, thought-provoking art, amazing interviews, compelling tidbits, infographics — I could go on. The content manages to be fun while being thought-provoking, it’s beautifully rendered, and issue after issue deftly communicates big philosophical thoughts to non-academics like me. I’m amazed and delighted at the whole operation. Each issue is themed (e.g., Food, Growth, Fake News, etc.) and it’s just Christmas every time it arrives in my mailbox. If this magazine were a person, I would marry it.

I think I have made my point.

Now, in each issue, there’s a two-page spread called “Living Philosophy.” This feature spotlights five people — some fancy philosophy people, some just folks — who answer a short questionnaire. I have often thought how utterly, incredibly cool it would be to be included in that section, to be one of the “Living Philosophy” people. I never in a million, zillion years thought about even thinking it could ever, ever be a thing that would be real.

Well, it’s happening. A few days ago, I got an email from one of the editors: The New Philosopher has invited me to answer the questionnaire and be in the magazine. Me! In the New Philosopher! Answering the questions that I am about to share with you! Can you even stand it??

I swear, I didn’t not hint that I wanted to do this. There is no application process to be in the “Living Philosophy” spread. The New Philosopher just finds you. And the only way they could’ve found me is because a) I ordered a ton of back issues this summer and I sent my order with a pithy/praise-y note, and/or b) they enjoyed my one email to them a couple months ago which contained a copyediting suggestion. But … Then what?? Did they google me? What did the process look like?? Are they reading this blog??

[New Philosopher. Are you reading this blog.]

I need to lay back on a fainting couch or something. Before I do, I thought I’d share with you the incredible questions I get to answer. The questions are certainly no secret: This is a recurring feature in the magazine, remember. How would you answer these questions? Have you ever thought about some of them? Good luck! My answers and my headshot are due on Friday …

  • Top five books (fiction or non-fiction, they don’t have to relate to philosophy)
  • Favourite philosopher
  • Favourite quote
  • Documentary to recommend
  • Favourite artwork
  • Favourite piece of classical music
  • What is philosophy for you?
  • Why is philosophy important?
  • What is the biggest problem we face in contemporary society?
  • What do you hope to achieve from “doing” philosophy?
  • What is the meaning of life?

p.s. How am I going to tell Claus???

Mary’s Holiday Traditions, Part I: ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Merry Christmas’

posted in: Day In The Life, Paean 11
I like that lil’ snowman. Photo: Nevit Dilmen via Wikipedia.


It’s the first day of December, y’all. I’m fairly sure that means it’s the holidays.

The holidays mean different things to different people. Some folks take ’em, some leave ’em. Some of the folks who take ’em take ’em real far; some folks who leave ’em get super grumpy about it and “Humbug!” their way through the entire deal. The grinches aren’t much fun to be around, but they have their reasons. The holidays can be hard. For so many of us, the holiday season is soaked in memories — many of them triggered by seasonal smells and sounds — that feel particularly intense. Those feelings have something to do with childhood; they’ve got something to do with time. I get it.

When I turned the page of calendar at my desk this morning, after I got over the shock of seeing the end of 2017, I decided to very intentionally ask myself how I felt about the holidays at this point in my life. Guess what?

I like ’em!

Yeah, I really like the holidays. There are specific reasons for this and I thought I’d share them in a series of posts here on the ol’ PG. It’ll get me in the holiday spirit and besides: Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living” and Socrates sure looked a lot like Santa. Ever think about that?

Tradition No. 1:
Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays’ to Absolutely Everyone I Encounter

I wonder if anyone has ever studied how many times in a year the average person says “Have a great day,” “Take care,” or any of the dozens of variations on such phrases. I’m sure the number is in the thousands: Consider that if you use one of these sayings even just twice a day, that’s almost 800 times in one year. But if you work with the public — especially in retail, customer service, or food service — you say it way more. Beyond that, most of us are (rightly) programmed to use, even rely upon, standard-issue human decency when someone hands us our change or our bag of groceries. “Have a good one” is just what you say when you interact with someone in the public square, unless they step on your foot. (If you’re me, you might say it then, too.)

Now, I’m a big, fat, word nerd, so maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s huge that there’s something else we can say to each other 1.5 months out of the year!

Getting to say “Happy Holidays!” to my fellow townspeople as I come and go from shops and cafes and such is one of my favorite things in the world. I love to say it. For one thing, “Happy Holidays” is just stylistically a better choice, what with the H-H alliteration. It’s also v. chipper. Structurally, “Happy Holidays” is more economic at two words than “Have a nice day” is at four. It’s better writing, people. 

I love saying “Merry Christmas” every bit as much. It’s yet another economic, evocative alternative to “enjoy your day” or whatever. Besides, saying “Merry Christmas” to my brothers and sisters as we hustle and bustle through the city makes me feel like I’m a character in a Dickens novel, i.e., “A Christmas Carol.” (If only the weather were chillier, I could wear a muff!)

It’s okay if you don’t celebrate Christmas or if you don’t care about the holidays. Like I said, you surely have good reasons for it — and by the way, I have a big problem with the consumer frenzy stuff, believe me. There’s plenty to criticize about the holiday season in our culture, but trilling out a less-used salutation or farewell isn’t hurting anyone.

And it’s free!


Miracle on John Wayne Drive: Happy Holidays to The Iowa Theater!

Viva la Iowa! (None of my pictures from last night are quite right, so I am gratefully using this one taken by the talented Todd Scott, when the Iowa’s marquee neon was first turned on.) Image courtesy the Iowa Theater website.


When my mom and my sister Rebecca Fons embarked on the project of the movie theater renovation in our hometown, I knew a few things for sure.

I knew they would do it “right,” aesthetically-speaking. I knew they would deal fairly in all business matters. I knew they would work hard. And I knew they would complete the project. None of this was ever in question.

And though I anticipated that, due to their approach, this non-profit movie theater/performance space would be financially viable, and though I hoped the whole project would be a success, I couldn’t know for sure if those things would come to pass. Well, the theater has only been open since late May and it’ll take at least a calendar year or two to understand how all this is rolling along, but so far, The Iowa Theater appears to have wind in its sails. The reason for this brings me to the third thing I didn’t anticipate:

The power of a well-run movie house in a small town.

To drive this point home, I need to tell you about Winterset’s annual “Festival of Lights” up on the town square.

The Festival of Lights is a kind of pop-up holiday fest that takes place the day after Thanksgiving around 7 p.m. A few shops stay open for business; vendors sell kettle corn and cider on the courthouse lawn (though you can be sure some grownups have something stronger in their cups); Christmas music is piped through the speakers; a horse-drawn trailer takes kids around the square; and various businesses, veterans groups, school groups, and cityfolk participate in a parade where candy is tossed to the crowd. The parade culminates in the appearance of … Santa, of course! And then Santa lights the Christmas lights on the square. It’s wonderful.

I was present at last year’s Festival of Lights when my sister and mother were neck-deep in theater renovations and plans, driving hundreds of miles back and forth from Chicago to Winterset and beyond, sourcing popcorn oil and dealing with studio screening contracts. The monetary and time investment was big. The work was intense. It was all happening.

My two sisters and I stood up on the square during the 2016 Festival of Lights last year, cheering for the parade floats as they went by, huddled together in the cold. Last year, The Iowa, which is smack on the square, was dark.

“This time next year,” my sister Rebecca said, shaking her head. “This time next year, we’ll be open. It’s gonna be awesome.” Then, in typical Rebecca fashion, she added, “I really hope there’s not some alien invasion before then or a global flood or something.”

No aliens, sis.

Last night, at the 2017 Festival of Lights, the cider was there, the kettle corn was there. Santa was there. And now, at the party, the Iowa Theater’s marquee blinkled and twinkled* and that beaut’ was there, too, open for business. Well, open for charity: If you brought a canned good or personal item, you got to see the 8 p.m. movie for free. Once Santa lit the lights, the theater was flooded, so many people on the square pouring into the Iowa with their food drive items and holiday spirits high. (I was working the door: I saw it, myself.) We ran out of seats way before we ran out of merry townspeople.

“We’ll do it again next year,” I said to the folks who got there too late. “Promise.”

So yeah, the Iowa is real. The community is responding to what they helped build. The theater couldn’t exist — nor can it continue to thrive — without all the support the community has given and continues to give, whether that’s approving grant proposals, buying pre-show ads, or simply showing up to watch the live performances or the movies.

“Wayback Wednesdays” are super popular; I went to see “Grease” the last time I was home and the place was packed, many attendees dressed up in Pink Ladies jackets and poodle skirts. At the screening of “Gone With the Wind,” a lady in her nineties stood up and said that she used to work at the Iowa as a teenager and when “Gone With the Wind” came out, she’d sneak in and watch it night after night, then go home and sob with love for Rhett Butler.

The “regular” movie nights are popular too, though some movies play better than others. Whatever the movie, with the Iowa Theater open again, Date Night is back in Winterset. Girls Night Out is back, too. Families come out together. Folks who need to get out of the house can get out of the house and come see a movie instead of … whatever else they had to do when the Iowa was dark.

This holiday season, there are a lot of good reasons to visit the Iowa; last night was just the beginning. The ballet group is doing “The Nutcracker.” The community players will present “The Gift of the Magi” later this month. You can see “Miracle on 34th Street” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” And since the theater will be on this year’s Winterset Tour of Homes, Rebecca’s planned to have”A Christmas Story” playing on a continual loop from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — just drop in and out at your leisure, Ralphie.

Seeing my mom and Rebecca — and Steve and Marla and all the board members and the Chamber folks and everyone who has purchased a ticket or will in the years to come — seeing these people build this thing has taught me a lot. Namely, that it really is what you do locally that makes a difference in the world. It really is about our neighbors, about our backyards, about our communities.

Well, all that and lots of butter.



*blinkled and twinkled = a term I have just coined

‘Bluebonnets’ For Texas

posted in: Paean 10
A field of bluebonnets near Marble Falls, Texas. Image: Wikipedia.


The bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. I just learned that.

A few hours ago, I learned there was a shooting in Texas today. Today is Sunday. The shooter opened fire inside a church in Sutherland Springs. Twenty-six people are dead, many more injured. By morning, I’m sure that number will change, which is to say the number will rise. The number will sink into further sadness and then it will be lost to the next news cycle. This is madness.

Like most states, Texas has a state song. But it also has a flower song.

In 1933, Texas adopted “Bluebonnets” by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett as the “official state flower song.” (This was House Concurrent Resolution No. 24 of the 43rd Legislature, in case you’re wondering.) The song’s lyrics are beautiful. I haven’t looked up the tune, yet. If it’s too tender, if the melody sounds less like a celebration and more like a eulogy, I’ll lose it.

For now, I’ll just read the words to Texas’s “official state flower song” and maybe you want to read them, too.

by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett (1933)

When the pastures are green in the springtime
And the birds are singing their sonnets,
You may look to the hills and the valleys
And they’re covered with lovely Bluebonnets.
Blue is the emblem of loyalty,
They’re as blue as the deep, deep sea,
Their smiling faces bring gladness,
For they bloom for you and for me.
Bluebonnets, so gorgeous and stately,
In your mantle of blue and of green,
In the spring when you’re in your full glory,
You’re the loveliest sight ever seen.
You’re beautiful when you sway in the sunshine,
You look like waves of the sea,
Ah, Texas was wise in her choice of a flower,
So we offer our homage to thee.
Bluebonnets, blue lovely Bluebonnets,
More beautiful than all the rest.
Texas chose you for her flower,
And we love you best, Bluebonnets.


Wallpaper, Hang It All

posted in: Art, Paean, Tips 11
Not my bedroom. BUT IT COULD BE. Image: Wikipedia.


I want to hang wallpaper.

Correction: I want a professional wallpaper person to hang wallpaper for me. I love the way wallpaper looks. It’s like fabric, right? Printed cloth for the walls. I’ve shopped and found some I like very much; it’s now a matter of getting it ordered and installed.

My love for wallpaper runs deep. Out on Meadowlark Farm, when I was a small, small person, I ran through room after room of tiny floral prints on all the various wallpapers of our farmhouse. (I do recall one wallpaper featured a big paisley, though; forgive my parents for decorating a house on a budget, in the mid-1970s.)

The kitchen got a buttercream yellow wallpaper; the upstairs bedroom got navy blue wallpaper with tiny pink rosebuds and leaves. There was another, paler blue in the living room, and I remember fiddling with the seams that ran down the wall. Thought I don’t specifically remember getting in trouble for picking the peeling paper, that obviously must’ve happened.

Wallpaper makes me think of my mom.

I believe she and my dad hung the wallpaper together out on the farm, but I wasn’t around yet to see either of them papering any walls. When it comes to Mom and wallpaper, my mental image involves her alone: not with Dad. I see Mom scraping wallpaper off the walls of our new, not-yet-inhabitable house in town after Dad left us for the last time and we left him for good. I’m just sure she scraped wallpaper by herself, standing up on a ladder; I’ll have to ask my mother if she hung new paper after she was done. Sometimes, you can’t remember these things.

I can tell you, however, that if she didn’t hang paper, she painted. And then she went off to make money to feed our family. We had support from our friends and Gramma, but when I think about my mom during the time of the divorce and our move into town from being out in the country, I picture my mother scraping wallpaper on a ladder in a bare room. Then I see the whole house, and how wonderful she made it by the end.


When I started this post, I only wanted to write about how I want wallpaper in my condo, how I have wanted to put some up for a couple years, now. I wanted to ask if anyone in the Chicago area could recommend an honest/speedy paper-hanger.

My intention wasn’t to talk about my childhood, or the pain of my parents’ divorce, or the memory I have of a very lean and scary time when Mom had the weight of the world on her shoulders and my father disappeared in a cloud of confusion and angst. It wasn’t my intention to write about any of that; I just wanted to talk about the wonders of wallpaper.

(Maybe I did.)

‘Flasch Of Genius’ — A Story You Will Like

posted in: Paean, School 8
Joan Flasch, c. 1985. Photo courtesy Merikay Waldvogel.
Joan Flasch, c. 1985. Photo courtesy Merikay Waldvogel.


I don’t know if you noticed, but a few weeks ago, I went slightly dark here on the ol’ PG. I don’t mean that I was making depressing jokes or being generally gloomy; I mean that my posts were spotty and “content-lite,” let’s call it.  There was a very good reason for this, but I didn’t even have the energy to go into it.

What was going on is that I was working as a journalist, I guess, writing a piece for F Newsmagazine that took 95% of my time, focus, and energy, both physical and emotional. The story I wrote is something I am extremely proud of, not because it’s perfect — it isn’t — but because I did something I’ve never done before: I wrote a profile of a special person who passed away too early and to do it properly (which was the only way to do it, obviously) required investigation, interviews, historical documents, and intense focus.

I grew to care for this person who passed away in 1988 and I grew to care about the people who cared about her and who took time for me and this story. It all happened because of quilts, but quilts are only the start of the story.

I’d just love it if you read the piece. It’s a feature-length story, so it’s a longer read. But you’ll be rewarded, I promise. And here is the link. Enjoy!


Girl, Dog, Trees (You)

posted in: Luv, Paean 6
"Girl, Dog, and Trees," by Bahniuk, 2007. Image: Panoramio via Wikipedia.
“Girl, Dog, and Trees,” by Bahniuk, 2012. Image: Panoramio via Wikipedia.



I wanted a picture of Las Vegas for this post.

But none of the photos of the strip were right. The glitter of the casinos and the vibrating neon lights didn’t strike me as “eternal” or “resilient” in the light of the mass murder, which is what I was hoping. I figured the lights would read as beacons of hope, but they didn’t. They frightened me. They made me feel sick.

Focusing was very difficult today because I kept thinking how the people who got down on the ground when they heard shots were doing exactly what we’re all supposed to do when someone is shooting because getting down on the ground is safer. But it wasn’t safer this time because the devil had scopes and cameras. This time, doing the safe thing was the wrong thing. Down was up; up was down. And death swept the ground.

If you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who was wounded or who lost their life at the concert, I love you and I am sorry for this. If you don’t know anyone (or anyone who knows anyone) I love you, too, and I’m sorry for this.

Last night, in under 75 minutes, patchwork quilts generated $5,300.00 in Hurricane Maria relief aid. We did that. Together. And this should give you a deep hope, this act we did together. If we can turn quilts into food and medicine; if we can say “Yes” to the question, “Can you help me?”, we can make it. We can make it in the face of all this.

The picture I found for this post is more perfect than I could have hoped for: It’s Las Vegas. The image is filed in Wikipedia, right along with the pictures of the city, because Las Vegas isn’t just the strip or the casinos, of course: It’s the desert, the sky, the sagebrush, the sun. Las Vegas is a girl, running in pink shorts, giving chase to her dog across the little rocks, running to dinner, or her new baby brother, or to get to the hide-and-seek game.

Las Vegas is a little girl, 16 miles northeast of the city, running purely for the sake of going fast, for the sake of feeling the air on her soft, perfect cheek.

First-Ever PaperGirl Guest Post: A ‘Note From Mark’ (w/Sniffles From Mary)

posted in: Paean 16
Really, the perfect picture for Mark's post is this image of homemade buttermilk ice cream with espresso-chocolate chip cookies. Image: Wikipedia.
Really, the perfect picture for Mark’s post is this image of homemade buttermilk ice cream with espresso-chocolate chip cookies. Image: Wikipedia.


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things have been intense around here lately. Grad school is hard. If I stop for a half-an-hour, I’m behind. I love all of it, but I’m ridin’ the struggle bus. And whattaya know, but last night I woke myself up whimpering (!) because the scratchy throat I felt in the newspaper office yesterday had become agonizing. Even though it was barely 4 a.m., my body ached so bad and my sneezes were so hilariously powerful, I was not gonna fall back asleep. So I got up.

And in my email box, there was this wonderful, incredible piece of writing from one of my very first (and personal favorite) PaperGirl readers, Mark H. (You may remember Mark and Netta from my trip to Florida! And I’m sure I’ve mentioned how they send me fudge and pecans at Christmastime, swoon.) Mark had sent me an email a few days ago, his email subject line the same as it’s been for years: “Note from Mark.” He was checking in on me, you see: Mark’s been reading the ol’ PG long enough to be able to read between the lines and suspected I was kind of freaking out with all my activities and schoolwork. He had an idea for me, because Mark likes to help people.

“Maybe you could have your readers write a post or two,” Mark said, “about why they read your blog and why they keep coming back. I bet they’d like to do it and it would take something off your plate.”

What a friend, right? And the idea sounded neat, except 1) it would necessitate a bit of planning and organization on my part and I can hardly find time to floss; and 2) I was a little worried that if I asked people why they read or love this blog, it might be a little self-congratulatory or hoo-hoo-look-a-me. I told Mark he was amazing and kind, as usual, and that I’d keep thinking about a way to do it and indeed, I did think about it.

But before I had a solution, however — and suffering from my cold enough to really need a break — Mark wrote back and said, essentially: “Well, tough, kiddo. I’ve decided I might as well just give this a shot. You can post it if you want, but you certainly don’t have to. It was fun to write!”

Mark, you’re a true-blue friend. You made me cry with this. I appreciate you so much. Thanks, buddy. I’m so glad you’re here. Don’t leave. I won’t if you won’t, okay? And this is the first-ever guest post on PaperGirl. How cool is that?? 😀

*        *        *

It was actually an errant internet search that brought me to this blog many years ago. My wife and I had to work in different parts of the country, and I was searching for love poems to tell her how much I missed her. When I entered the words “love poems” in the search box I accidentally searched the “video” tab, not the “all” tab. Mary’s video of her famous poem was near the top. So I clicked it. I didn’t know what slam poetry was, but I liked what she was doing. There was a little icon at the bottom that linked to her blog, so I clicked that one too. I wanted to know more about a person who could write poems like this.

The blog gave me great insight into the life of this stranger. I read along for a few months, never commenting, but decided to send a few encouraging words to her one night because she was particularly despondent about losing her hair. I don’t know if she knew how sick she was back then, but my medical background told me that she was in serious trouble. I don’t know if she knew this, or was just downplaying the situation, but I wasn’t sure if she would survive it. I wanted her to know how much I enjoyed her blog, so I sent her a short note about what it meant to me. I didn’t really expect her to reply, but she did. This began a years-long friendship between us, even though we have very little in common.

I use Mary’s blog as part of my unwinding process at night. It’s hard for me to shut off my mind at the end of my stressful days, so I follow an odd mix of bloggers to help me escape the mental replays of my day. When I started following her blog, she wasn’t a quilter. She was a freelance writer and performer. She wrote about her life and her thoughts, and it was fascinating to me. The blog took me to Michigan Avenue, or a cold slab in a hospital, or New York, or Washington, or WintersetIowa, or the Arizona desert, or on an early morning run along Lake Michigan.

While the blog is not meant to be educational, I’ve learned a great deal from it. I’ve been introduced to George Orwell’s six rules of writing (which I now use frequently), haiku poetry, various recipes, international philosophy, decorating tips on a budget, and even silly poems about fruit, which I’ve come to adore.

By far the most endearing quality of this blog comes from Mary’s vulnerability. Mary shares some deeply personal thoughts about her life, that some of my best friends would never share with me about their own. In some ways, I feel that I shouldn’t know this much about a stranger, but her easy writing style always draws me in. I’ve discovered that she’s actually an introvert, but that she does not shy away from relationships. In fact, I’d say she delights in them. Her ability to write about her emotions is at once humanly familiar and heart-wrenching, and for me, it’s the most authentic part of her site.  

I’m curious what other readers draw from PaperGirl. No doubt, many of you are quilters, but I am not. (I might have sewn a button back on my lab coat a few years ago, but that’s it.) I’ve slept under a quilt most of my adult life. When my girls went away college, it was a quilt that went on their dorm room beds. When Hurricane Irma roared through my state last week, I hunkered down under my grandmother’s quilt. I’ve used quilts most of my life, but really just see them as heavy blankets. Some make their way to museums, but for me, the beauty and fascination of them is in the backstory of those who make them. Mary’s blog is just that for me. How ’bout you? What brings you here?

How ’bout you? What brings you here?


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The Fisher Building.

posted in: Chicago, Paean 14
La Fisher... Be still my beating heart. Image: Wikipedia.
La Fisher… Be still my beating heart. Image: Wikipedia.


Remember when I moved 50,281 times in two years?

Fine. I moved five times. It felt like many thousand more times.

And hey, remember back in D.C. when I thought I wanted to try being a writing tutor for high school kids and I aced the interviews and the tests but I didn’t pass the background check because of all that moving around??

Actually, I don’t believe I did tell you, but yeah, that happened. Oh, the poor woman who interviewed me. We were besties by the time I left her office, so I can just imagine how disappointed and weirded out she must’ve been when she read my background check report-thingy. I can see her, shaking her head, saying to her receptionist with a heavy sigh, “I just don’t get it, Cynthia. That nice woman. I wouldn’t ever have guessed she was on the lam. Guess you never can tell.”

Thunk. Recycle bin.

When I finally got back to Chicago — still not sure how I managed that — I swore I’d never leave again and I won’t, not ever. I belong to this city; Chicago belongs to me. So when I say I’ve been fantasizing about moving again, rest assured: I’m talking about moving across town, not across state lines.

‘Cuz there’s this one building.

The Fisher Building at 343 S. Dearborn Street.

It’s strange to have a crush on a 20-story building. It’s hard to explain to one’s friends and family, especially one’s mother. But this is love. The Fischer is my heart’s delight. What’s not to love? It was commissioned by Lucius Fisher, the famous paper magnate. (I love paper!) And who built the place, you ask? Why none other than D.H. Burnham & Co., back in 1896. (I love 1896!) If you know anything about architecture in America — especially Chicago — at the turn of the 20th century, you know ol’ Danny Burnham was kind of The Dude. (I love Dudes!)

The Fisher’s spindly, golden, neo-Gothic beauty takes my breath away every time I’m near it and I try to be near it a lot. I squeak with glee every time I see the sun glinting off its broad windows; the whole structure looks like it’s beaming golden light. And oh, the facade. There are extravagant carvings in the terra cotta: aquatic creatures (fish, crabs, etc.), eagles, dragons, and other mythical creatures! Could you die?

I want lots and lots of money. Because there aren’t condos in the Fisher; only apartments. And they’re like $2,500/month for a two-bedroom — and at this point in my life, if I’m paying $2,500/month for a floor and a roof, I’d like to be slowly owning that floor and that roof, you know? So this is all just a fantasy.

Lord, I want to live in the Fisher Building. Because if I lived in the Fisher Building, everything in my life would be perfect. Nothing bad could happen. I’d be The Woman I’ve Always Wanted To Be. I’d be an adult, someone who’d never eat a liiiitle more Red Velvet Cake Ben & Jerry’s ice cream while I’m blogging, even though I put it away 30 minutes ago like a virtuous person.

I do not live in the Fisher Building, though, and I can’t, probably not ever, and I am not virtuous.

But I can gaze.

Charlie, Alison, and the Best Concert I’ve Ever Heard — Part Two.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Paean 16
This (annotated) photo is a remarkably good facsimile of our property and provides a rough idea of the concert situation. Image: Wikipedia, with notes by me.
This (annotated) photo is a remarkably good facsimile of our property and provides a rough idea of the concert situation. Image: Wikipedia, with notes by me.


The picture isn’t big enough. I need an IT person. But nevermind that! There’s no time.

To begin with, if you haven’t read yesterday’s post, you must. You just have to. Go and read this, then come back. Trust me. Would I lead you astray? Are you back? Great.

So there we are, at the lake house. It’s like 2 p.m. on Sunday, smack dab in the middle of the anniversary of my birth. I’m already in a terrific mood because Claus sent me the most enormous bouquet of Door County field flowers and my sister Rebecca asked me before we left Chicago what kind of cake I wanted and I said “funfetti” (duh) so that Mother could make the cake before we arrived on Friday because, as she told us, and I quote:

“Why make a birthday cake on Sunday when you guys have to leave Monday morning? I figured I’d make it so we could have cake all weekend.”

Marianne Fons for president.

Okay, so it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m reading a book upstairs. It’s likely I had just had some cake, but I don’t remember. I do know that I was not planning to leave my comfy recliner until I was done with my book, so when Mom called up to me to “come downstairs for a minute” I was rawther displeased.

“Mom!” I yelled back. “I’m reading! This is vacation! I’m reading!”

La Marianne did not yield.

“Mary, I need you for five minutes. Come downstairs, please.”

In my best six-year-old whine, I replied, “Don’t make me dooooo anything! It’s my birthday!”

Then, from the kitchen, a firm, “Mary. Come downstairs.”After that, a pause — because the woman knows gifts are my love language: “It’s a birthday surprise.”

Greased lightning. Down the stairs.

Suddenly finding myself on the first floor of the house, my eyes darted around. What was happening?? Was someone coming to visit?? Claus’s flowers were there on the bar. A truly ridiculous thought popped into my head. I gasped and grabbed Mom’s shoulder.

“Oh my god. Is Claus here??”

My mother shook her head. “Come outside.”

She led me to the water and we took a seat on the table rock. On our beach, beautiful, wide, big, flat rocks separate the water from the land and you can run and leap across them and you can sit and bask in the sun on them and nature must love that line because she is always changing it, working with it, bestowing beauty on that line. We sat down on that very line and suddenly, I knew what was going to happen:

Charlie was going to play “Happy Birthday” for me.

And so he did. From far, far down the beach, almost too far to hear but not too far to hear at all, came the sounds of a world-class trombonist playing a world-class trombone.

“Happy Birthday toooo youuuu… Happy Birthday toooo youuuuu… Happy Biiiirthday, dear Maaaaary…. Happy Birthday tooooo yoooouuuu…”

Again, again!!

I flapped my hands and jumped up and down and chased my tail and indeed, Chuck played on! The tune came once more. I didn’t know if that was because he wanted to make sure I heard it or what  — I heard, I heard! Do it again, Charlie! Do it again. And now we know: If anyone out there has the ability to play “Happy Birthday” to someone on an island beach from a half mile away, take it from me: Play it twice. The first time you play it, the recipient is freaking out too much to even, like, understand her life. The second round is when it really lands.

When the second solo was over, I jumped up and down like a madwoman, waving like I was stranded on the rocks, hoping Charlie could see my flailing and understand it as ecstatic gratitude. Then, I scrambled up to the house to call the Vernon residence and thank them for making possible one of the most delightful moments of my entire life. I’m deadly serious about that. And if you think it’s odd to pair the words “the most delightful [moment] of my life” and “deadly serious” in the same breath, you have never had a Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician perform “Happy Birthday” to you across Lake Michigan on a perfect August afternoon on your birthday. (By the way, I know a guy.)

Thank you, Alison and Charlie. I love you.

Charlie, Alison, and the Best Concert I’ve Ever Heard — Part One.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Paean 6

I'm 99% sure that's Charlie! Photo by Jordan Fischer, 2005, via Wikipedia. (Annotation mine.)


A few summers back, Mom was up at the lake house with Mark.

One perfect afternoon, Mom went down to the shoreline with Scrabble, who surely wanted to rustle up some seagull jerky. There at the water, from waaaay down the beach, at the bend about a half-mile south of our place, she heard what sounded like someone playing a horn.

Yes, it sounded to Mom like someone playing some kind of brass instrument, though she couldn’t place which kind. It wasn’t a trumpet. Maybe a French horn? This wasn’t the first time Mom had registered the sound, either. As she went to fetch Mark for a second opinion, my mother looked back once more and saw a golden flash of sun glinting off metal. It was a horn! But it wasn’t on shore. Was the player standing in the water?? Playing a horn while wading?

That’s how we met the Vernons.

You see, Mom was right. There was a dude out there practicing music in the water. But it wasn’t just any dude, and it wasn’t just any music, either. Our Island neighbor turned out to be none other than Charlie Vernon, one of the world’s most celebrated trombonists, a man who has graced the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) for over 20 years and counting. Charlie’s wife, the luminous, whip-smart, first-draft-pick-in-the-zombie-apocalypse Alison Vernon, is a musician, too. Her lilting soprano voice would stir even the iciest of hearts, and that’s when she’s singing on an actual stage. I haven’t heard her singing while standing in Lake Michigan, but I want to.

I tell you all this because the Vernons had a huge hand in this terrific recent birthday of mine. This post is in two parts because there are two equally terrific sections to share and I don’t want anyone skimming!


Jack, Rebecca, and I arrived at the Island on Friday. Mom had made reservations for five at the perch fry at Findlay’s restaurant that night. It was pretty much non-negotiable when we decided we were coming “up Island,” as Mark likes to say; the perch fry is not to be trifled with. The longstanding Island dinner only happens Friday nights; you have to have a reservation; you have to tell Mrs. Findlay when you call if you want baked potato or fries; you get cherry pie at the end, and if you’re local (or close enough, like us) you know to ask for your pie a la mode. The Friday night perch fry has been happening in this exact manner since the Pleistocene era because if it is delicious, please do not fix it.

We had just been seated when who should walk into the dining room? Charlie and Alison Vernon!! We immediately scooted so they could sit with us and it was cozy and perfect.

Toward the end of the last platter of fish, Mom asked us kids if we had ever heard the story about how Alison and Charlie had been integral in the campaign to get Maestro Riccardo Muti, the world-class, virtuoso conductor, to come to Chicago and lead the city’s symphony. We sort of knew about that, but no, none of us knew the full tale.

Now, I’d like to think my family has a catalog of great stories, but Friday night we were delighted to be out of our league, big time. The story Alison and Charlie told of how a community of musicians in a major metropolis fell in love with a conductor and wrote him personal letters to get him to Chicago — and how these two dear friends of ours were so committed to helping the whole process because they believed, to their core, Muti was The Man — kept us utterly in thrall. Oh! That story is a tear-jerking, nail-biting, heart-swelling, gloriously triumphant tale and two of the lead actors were our personal storytellers. Heaven.

Anyway, the next day, there were more gifts from the Vernons. And you won’t believe what I have to tell you. You just won’t believe what happened.


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