Ponytail Elastics: Free For All

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 7
The elastic is safe … for now. Image: Wikipedia.


Tea. Light and heat. Transport. Cell service. Socks. Aspirin. Butter.

Some things in life have to be purchased over and over and over again. There’s no way out. If you want to stay alive, you’re going to need supplies, and supplies wear out, run out, break, go missing, or you decide you hate yours, or the ones you got don’t work out, or you just want new ones. Not everyone needs the same supplies, but everyone needs some supplies, so you’d better get yourself some money because there’s no such thing as a free pair of socks.

For those out there with long hair, however, I’ve got good news: If you’re in a city, there is one supply that you will never, ever have to buy again, if only you pay attention.

I’m talking about ponytail elastics.

Maybe you call them “hair ties” or “ponytail holders” or “hair elastics”. You may go for the thin kind, where the two ends are joined with a speck of pinched metal. Maybe you prefer the thicker, fuzzy ones that are less likely to result in horrible snarls when you take them out. Whatever your preference, if you’re in a place that has miles of sidewalk, there are free ponytail elastics waiting for you. Some of you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve walked a lot of city sidewalks. A month after I turned 18, I moved to Chicago and I’ve been crossing her pavement ever since. Longtime readers of PaperGirl saw me walk through New York City and cross sidewalks in Washington, D.C. after I left. I didn’t write much while Eric and I lived in London, but you can bet we covered a lot of cement over there. And in each of those cities, without exception, I found many, many ponytail elastics on the ground. When you’re next in a city, look down. You’ll find them too.

And they’re all for the taking, my long-haired friend.

I’ve always assumed they got there by accident. Personally, I’ve never thrown a ponytail holder on the ground in a fit of anger. I can’t remember throwing a ponytail holder on the ground at all. If the one holding my hair back breaks, well, it goes in the trash. No, the sidewalk ponytail holders soaked in rainwater or baking in the sun got there by accident. I’m sure of that. Someone pulled off their scarf from around their neck and the hair elastic came with it, falling to the cement. Or an already loose ponytail holder was dislodged when someone put on their bike helmet. Its innocent, pink body was flinged into the air, alighting for a brief, glorious moment on a smelly, city breeze before dropping to the ground to be stepped on for eternity, or until the enormous spinning brooms of a street cleaner vehicle whooshes them into a gutter. Where they go from there, I cannot say.

Will you save them from this sorrowful fate? Will you, ponytail-having person, pick up the poor ponytail holder — a free supply that in the drugstore cost way more than necessary — and give it a home? The next time you need a ponytail elastic because somehow you’ve succeeded in losing all of the ones you got at the drugstore a frickin’ month ago — will you pick this city fruit and restore its dignity?

Are you insane?? That is like, so gross.

Scone Me: A Return To London

posted in: Day In The Life, London, Tips, Travel 30
Devonshire tea. Image: Wikipedia.


Here we are, and here we go:

We’re back in London.

This time, we’re here with UK government-issued I.D. cards and and this time, it’s serious enough that we’ve rented our very own flat. (That our extended-stay Airbnb days are behind us is one of the many reasons Eric has been in a good mood since we arrived.) How long we’ll stay depends on the pandemic, the documentary, Eric’s work, and whether or not London will have us, I suppose. So far, the city seems cool with it, and the rest of the stuff I mentioned has to be taken day by day, and that would be true no matter where we live.

We’ve been here almost a month, but I’ve been timid about sharing the news. The timing of all this is odd, even shocking. If I heard someone was moving to another country during a global pandemic, I’d have an opinion. They’re moving now?? Couldn’t they just wait until the pandemic’s over??

But there were several reasons why we couldn’t wait, and besides, no one knows when the pandemic will be over or what “over” even looks like. If not now, safely, when? I assure you that Eric and I have been model pandemic-ans from the start: tests, masks, distancing, sacrificing holiday get-togethers, tuning in to various science-y podcasts when want to get good and scared (because the paranoid shall inherit the earth.) I also turned up the dial on my baseline introversion, which honestly — speaking as a true introvert — has been kind of awesome. Making two trips to England in less than a year’s time has been A Very Big Deal to us both psychologically and physically, and we’ve been as concerned about everyone else’s safety as we’ve been about our own. Nobody wants to make any of this worse, so we did all the stuff.

The stuff was no small feat, because you really cannot get into the UK right now without showing some serious paperwork. At O’Hare, we couldn’t even approach the ticket counter before showing the nice lady our documents. We each had to have proof of a negative COVID test (specifically the PCR kind, I think) within the past 48 hours and it had to be signed by a doctor; we each had to fill out a form on the UK government website (I brought a paper copy just in case); there was another form about having tests ordered for when we actually arrived in England; they needed proof of where we were staying; and then we had paperwork regarding the work visa stuff and obviously current passports and all that. We dutifully quarantined for 10 days and answered the phone when NHS called to check in on us — and they did, several times.

By the way, none of this felt invasive. None of it felt spooky or infringe-y. It was a relief. The very idea that we would be responsible for spreading the virus is unbearable. I was glad the authorities made it virtually impossible to do so.

But why did we engage that process? Why have we come here again? There are so many different ways to answer that question and because it feels really good to write again, let’s try on a few different styles. I now present to you a modest buffet of answers to the question: “Why have you moved, however temporarily, to London, Mary Fons?”

Cryptic: “Life unfolds in mysterious ways.”

Shakespearean: “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale / Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man [so … do something exciting, like go to London during a pandemic.]” — King John (1598). Act III, scene 4, line 108.

Snippy: “None of your business.”

Busy: “Could we go over it tomorrow? I’m sorry, I’ve just got so much — yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah. Thank you. I mean, I want to — exactly. Yeah, exactly. Right?? Yeah. Okay. Okay, bye. You too. Bye.”

Fatalist: “Chicago, London. Doesn’t matter. We’re all going to die. You wanna die in London, be my guest.”

Romantic: “London, oh bewitching mistress! How our tender hearts longed to return to her verdant* bosom!”

Simple: The company Eric is with has offices here, we love it here, and we’re both in our early 40s.

If not now, safely, when?

There have been plenty more changes since I last checked in with all of you, the second-biggest being that I’ve made a significant work change that will grant me a good deal more breathing room in which to write (!), read, and scheme. The specifics of the change aren’t public, yet, but they will be soon.

It’s so, so good to see you! Scone me!!


*This does actually make sense because London is technically a forest. That is a fact — I’ll tell you more about it soon.

Let Me Tell You About Car Pie

Thatta girl! Photo: Meg Cox, bless her heart.



At some point I’m going to describe for you what a Quiltfolk magazine location shoot is like. My first experience on a Quiltfolk location trip was as a writer on Issue 04 : Tennessee, so I didn’t have anything to do with the planning or execution of the shoot. I was just a hired gun, getting my stories, and, as a result, I remember that trip being super fun and very chill.

Once I began planning and producing the shoots, however, first as a contributing editor and now as editor in chief, that changed. The trips are still super fun, but they are the opposite of chill. There’s too much to do! There’s too little time! We must make haste and get all the stories we possibly can and have incredible experiences and record them for the people!

As I said, I’ll write up a detailed look into how the shoots work; for now, just know that things are nonstop, wall-to-wall, bananas. Very organized and buttoned-up bananas, but definitely bananas.

And speaking of bananas, I’d like to talk about food. Specifically, my relationship to food and what this has to do with going on Quiltfolk location shoots. I’ll try to do this relatively quickly, since a) I’m sleepy and b) like most people, I’ve got some heavy baggage around food and I could probably write whole books on the topic and never get very far.

The thing is this: When I’m on the road with Quiltfolk, there is no time to think about food. And that’s been my problem for a long time: I think about food more than is probably healthy.

Now, it’s not that I’m thinking about eating all the time, plotting when my next snack or meal will be, though I’ve been there. It’s more that I’m thinking about what I ate. What I should’ve eaten. What I should be eating in general and what I should not be eating in general. I think about times in my life when I ate X and didn’t eat Y; I think about times in my life when I felt attractive or times when I felt unattractive and did my food have anything to do with that? Should I do no-carb again? Is it finally time to cut out dairy? I’ve been trying to eat more plants and doing well and feeling well with that, but even if I’m finally doing the “right” thing … I’m still often thinking about food. And I know that this is a luxury, even while it traps me in my head and really makes me feel awful, sometimes. There’s so much other stuff to do and think about and other people to think about and care for. I really, really get tired of worrying about whether or not I am a “clean eater” or what magical combo of foods is going to cure my gut problems and … so on.

The good news is that it’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older. I am a little more familiar with myself and my body and I’ve accepted a few things about how I look and how I will not ever look, no matter what foods I eat. So that’s an encouragement to all the gym-centric, yo-yo dieting, juice-cleansing twenty-somethings out there: It can, and often does, get better.

But the best solution I have ever found to releasing myself from all that noise in my head about food is to be so busy, so focused, so happy, so “in the zone,” so needed at every moment that thoughts of food are simply not present. Put it this way: How hungry are you when you’re being chased by a bear? My job is way more fun than being chased by a bear, but in terms of stress and how fast I’m moving? Pretty similar. I don’t have time to dwell at all on whether or not I should eat my burger with or without the bun. I’m being chased! By! A bear!

The other cool thing about being chased by a bear is that, provided you are able to escape with your life, you are very hungry once you’re able to catch your breath. When it comes time for lunch, after I’ve been running the crew, styling shots, interviewing folks, looking ahead to our next story, driving the car hundreds of miles, calling this or that person about this or that production detail, I could eat … Well, a bear. But it’s more likely a hamburger. Or two hamburgers. Or a granola bar. And an ice cream cone. And my word, do I drink water. Water and coffee, water and coffee.

The point is that it is on these trips that I am the person that I want to be, vis a vis food: I eat when I’m hungry. I don’t when I’m not. Food is delicious fuel, full stop.

I’m a little scared to post this. Does this even make sense? I’m nervous, I guess, because I know so many of us have baggage around food — or we have loved ones who do — and I’m in no way advocating for a thing or suggesting a thing or saying I’ve got it figured out. I’m just telling you that in that picture up there, I am literally eating a slice of pecan pie from Zingerman’s Deli in [LOCATION REDACTED] while I’m driving and it was totally okay with me. I was ravenous. I love pecan pie. I had worked my tushie off from 5 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and eating that pie in that car with those women I was with was beautiful. I didn’t think for a second if it was “good for me,” and I didn’t consider my thighs.

There wasn’t time to do anything but enjoy it.

Walk It Out

posted in: Tips, Travel 14
This is not really a related image. I just like it. Drawing by Fritz von Dardel, c. 1845. Image: Wikipedia.



T H A N K     Y O U
I would like to thank you all on behalf of Hannah and my entire family for your reception of my sister’s TED Talk. Her presentation was a tough act to follow, but you did it in the comments. Your consideration and thoughtfulness proved it once again: We may not all agree, or understand, or know the answers, but around here, we listen to each other.
Thank you. 


I didn’t mean to go dark for a few days after posting the video, but it happened. There were two reasons for it: For one thing, I wanted the most people to see the video before it got buried under more posts. I was also in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the annual advisory board meeting for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) and y’all, they kept us busy. I was in meetings all day, then at functions that required me to wear certain attire. Then I was in a shuttle back to the hotel! And back! For days! I loved it.

Now I’m on a plane to Portland to make Issue 07 of Quiltfolk. 

And so I’m on this plane. I’m pretty tired. I should answer emails. But I’ve been away from you and I don’t like that. I get hives if I’m away for too long. But I felt a little cashed an hour ago. I didn’t know what to tell you.

I don’t have “writer’s block” because … Well, I just don’t have that. Writing is an extension of my whole self, as automatic as breathing or blinking. If a “block” were to happen, it would be like an air block in my lungs or my blinking motor (?) and we would have bigger problems than missing a few blog posts.

However, I am committed to creating at least marginally meaningful content, so there are times that I scratch my chin and cock my head to the side and go, “hm,” and then I go, “HM!!” and I need to search for what to say that is worth your time, because this blog isn’t about me; it’s about you.

So when that happened just now, and didn’t know where to go with you, I used my trick. And the trick is the tip that perhaps you can use in your life.

A director told me once, “If I don’t know what to do with the play I’m directing, if I’m really in a quandary about how to fix a problem in rehearsal,” I walk to the back of the house.” (The “house” is where the audience sits; the back of the house is the very back seats, the nosebleed seats, if you will.)

“I go to the back of the house,” the director said, “and I say to myself, ‘I am going to walk to the stage, now. And by the time I get there, I will know what to do.’ And every single time, by the time I get there, I know what to do. Even if I walk almost the whole way up, my head just going in all these different directions; even if I panic, it always happens in those last few steps: I always come up with something. Something is all you need.”

What would I write for you tonight?

I didn’t know. So I got up from my seat. I walked to the front of the plane and hung back, waiting for the bathroom. And before I even got there, I knew what to do. I knew I’d write about that director, that I’d share what she told me in hopes it would help you.

Try it, sometime, when you have to solve something. Something small or big. Something awful or trivial or in between.

Set a distance.

Know that you’ll know what to do when you get there.

And marvel at how it works.

Revision: Friend or Foe?

posted in: Tips 96
Dorothy Quincy Hancock, thinking about my revision dilemma. John Singleton, 1772. Image: Wikipedia.


A word.

When I post open-ended questions, when I start surveying the ol’ PG readership about this or that, it’s not because I’m making you do my blogging work for me; it’s because I care about who you are. I know seems just totally unconscionable, but I get tired of myself! I’d rather hear about you!

So, tonight, a question for you: Should I go back and edit old blog posts?

Now — and this is important — should I go back and edit them not because I’m prepping them for publication or because whatever, but should I go back and edit/rewrite because I think they aren’t written as well as I could write them now? Or because they just are weird or there are typos or because the internet is Forever and I want to make myself sound funnier/smarter/wiser forever than I actually was at the time of writing the post?

This is a 21st century problem, y’all.

Because I was going to do a “Pendennis Picks Three” tonight on account of how I’m so tired. I was going to rest on my laurels because I’m on location for Quiltfolk (I can’t tell you where we are for Issue 07 but it’s going to blow your mindand I need to rest. Badly. But when I pulled up some entries from 2015, 2016, etc., to post as a flashback and thereby not have to make new words, I read them over and was like, “Aggghh! No! I wrote such lame sentences in that post!”

And now here I am, more tired, and writing new content.

Should I just leave old blog entries as time-capsules?? Leave them to represent myself at that time of writing? Or should I do whatever I want with my blog and fix them up how I like them? Or like them now, as opposed to then.

I need help. My brain hurts.


A Red Wall?!

posted in: Art, Tips 29
There wasn’t a picture of a red wall, but this red door is roughly the right shade. Photo: Wikipedia.


I said the other day how I need a “new view” and as usual, many of you responded with interesting things to say.

Some of you told me (in the kindest way) to simmer down for the moment and focus on what’s in front of me; others told of their own “gypsy” nature and encouraged me to never stop wanting to view the new.

As usual, you must all know I see every comment, I do read them, and I definitely love them — even when they’re not in agreement with something I’ve written in a post. PaperGirl readers are a truly classy and intelligent bunch and you’re so generous, good grief. So it pains me to mostly not ever comment back but there’s no way. There’s just no way. It’s a big enough job that I could employ a social media person to help me, but that’s been true for years and there’s never been any social media person around here. Not replying to comments is impossible and lame; having someone else replying to you all feels costly and lamer. So here we are.

Wait! This post is supposed to be about a red wall!

My red wall.

I’m going to have a wall painted and the wall is going to be red. Can you stand it?? One red wall. Red is my signature color, of course; my “Heart Plus” logo features my favorite shade, viz. a bright crimson. I actually heard someone say when trying to describe a shade of red, “it’s like, you know, Mary Fons Red” and this pleased me a great deal.

I have painted walls bold colors in my day, but it’s been awhile. I’ve gone for airy and light these past few years and I will always need light and air or wall colors that communicate such things. But it’s time to warm up the joint a little. It’s time to see a new view! And since can’t pick up and move next week/month, it’s time to do something drastic. My west-facing wall (which is quite long) will be Mary Fons Red within the next week or two. And guess what?

I’m not painting that wall. 

Oh, it’s tempting. It’s allllways tempting to paint a given wall or room myself. Because painters are expensive. Because I can actually do it, after all, and what’s a little paint can/foam roller elbow grease? The trouble is that my elbows are killing me. I have no grease to spare. No, I’m going to find a reputable painting outfit and hire out the work. My red has been chosen. My decision is made. Bring on the guys with the ladders and the cute overalls.

Any advice on hiring painters or prepping for their visit? And how much is this gonna cost, anyway? I promise to take pictures and post them either on Instagram or on the FB page.


The Benefit of a Theater Degree

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 4
The play’s the thing! Image: Wikipedia.


There are plenty of fun and exciting things going on in the great city of Chicago this weekend. I won’t see any of it, though, which sounds sad but it’s okay.

My weekend will be spent polishing my QuiltCon 2018 lecture slides and rehearsing everything 90,000 times before the big show next week. I assure you: There’s nothing else I want to be doing this weekend. I care deeply about this work: Besides, debut lectures at QuiltCon don’t come along every day. In fact, they only come along once a year, which makes them sort of like Christmas or my birthday, except that I don’t get presents and I spend months and months researching and writing and then dozens of hours making great slides for my slideshow and then I get in front of a huge crowd of people and talk to them and hope I don’t screw up and ruin my reputation and never get asked back to any show, ever. In this way, making and debuting two new lectures is not like Christmas or my birthday. At all.

As I was thinking through everything I need to get right, every detail I must lock down, I realized that there is one thing I am not at all concerned about: I am not concerned with freaking out up there once I’m onstage. Certainly, part of the reason I won’t lose my nerves or have a full-on panic attack is because I have nearly two decades of professional experience doing things onstage. But it’s also because in college, I actually studied how to be in front of people.

Yes, my master’s in writing gets all the attention these days, but I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa (’01) — and that degree is in Theater Arts. During those four, heady years taking Meisner I & II, rehearsing the next show, communicating with directors, and writing short pieces of my own, I learned a lot more than my lines.

I learned how to work closely with people. Like, really closely. Making a play — which typically goes from the table read to opening night in matter of weeks — is an incredibly intense, focused experience. Many of you know this from your own theater-making experience. You do hard work in small spaces, either with a tiny ensemble or a huge one, both of which come with their own challenges. You put in long hours. You must be professional, on time, courteous. There are long periods of tedium punctuated with periods of intense activity; your problem-solving skills are harnessed in all kinds of unexpected ways, I assure you.

And you have to memorize a script. (Some monologues are about as long as this post, for example.) You have to memorize your blocking. Then, once the play opens, you have to hope people come to see what you’ve made! Sometimes they don’t come and this is devastating, so you have to grow into a person who can accept that. Of course, sometimes the people do come and then you’ve really got to bring the juice. Can you? Will you? You’ll find out when the curtain goes up, honey. Break a leg.


So this is just a shout-out to all my theater people out there. Graduation is coming (!) and there are plenty of parents and grandparents out there who have a theater major in the family who is about to get their degree. Y’all might be worried about the kid, right? What she’ll do with a degree in theater for Lord’s sake??

I promise you: She’ll use it.

She’ll use it when she meets a new person and gives them a “Hello!” and a confident handshake. She’ll use it when she’s giving a presentation at work. She’s going to use her theater degree when she’s faced with a problem with her spouse and recalls what she learned about body language and tone of voice and maybe she can respond more thoughtfully to what she was trained to observe in this person she loves so much. She’ll use it when she reads a wonderful quote in a magazine that she wants to remember it forever. She’ll use her memorization skills and then she’ll have it forever.

She’ll probably use it (however subconsciously) when she throws parties, too. I’m serious. Go to the theater people’s parties. We have the party bone, take it from me.



My Cell Phone Phobia, Part One: ‘The Problem’

posted in: Tips 6
Girls on phones — are they as anxious as I am? Image: Wikipedia.


How was Christmas?? Was everything okay? Did you eat cookies? I got a hairdryer! It’s the only thing I asked for, so I’m batting 1000. Now, onto a serious matter:

I have terrible cell phone anxiety.

The first cell phone I ever had I got the summer after college, right before I moved to Chicago. It was a Samsung flip phone, the pre-iPhone era. I remember being excited to have a number with a Chicago area code. I remember thinking the flip thing was cool. But I’m pretty sure that right away, I started to not like answering my phone when it rang. And when texting became a thing, I remember being extremely resistant to responding to texts in a timely fashion, most of the time.

But why?

To answer that question, I’m going to get a little armchair-psychologist on you; just bear with me.

When we don’t do something we’re supposed to do — or when there’s something we shouldn’t do but we keep doing it, anyway — it’s worth asking what deeper reasons might causing the detrimental behavior.

For example, if a kid is told over and over again that he shouldn’t hit his little brother but he keeps doing it, at a certain point it becomes more important (and far more effective) to ask lil’ dude what’s going on with his emotions and his heart. Is he frustrated with something? Is he sad? Maybe he needs attention. Maybe he doesn’t feel like anyone’s listening to him and he hits his brother so someone will look at him for once. The point here is that human beings have exquisite reasons for doing the things we do, even if the things we do are lame/weird/not helpful. Such as hitting your kid brother.

Or being “terrible” at cell phones.

I’m starting to understand something big about my cell phone problem because I’ve been looking at the whole situation with compassion instead of guilt and shame. (Amazing when you turn the tables on yourself with love, eh?)

The truth is, I hate that I have to have a telephone-computer-homing device with me at all times and that I will have said device, in whatever incarnation it takes, from now until I die. I deeply resent the tyranny of this small, plastic and metal box which pings and dings at me incessantly. It startles me. It breaks my concentration. And for the priviledge of all this, I pay an awful lot of money, just like you do.

I know I sound like a real luddite jerk. I’m not! I love GPS and being able to look up definitions of words while I’m waiting for an elevator. I love being able to check my email while I’m on the bus. I love Instagram! I love the Southwest app! And the other apps! Most of them!

In fact, part of the reason I hate cell phones so much is precisely because they allow for these kinds of things. My cell phone sucks me in when there are other things that could suck me in (e.g., the landscape, the beautiful woman sitting near me on the train speaking Swahili to her son, etc.), but other, real-life things are usually no match for flashing, beeping screen pictures, because people are like crows and crows are easily distracted by shiny objects. I am a person. I like shiny objects. I’m a crow, too. I get it.

So my friends and family get hurt because I turn my phone off a lot. I have missed important calls. I’ve played games of phone tag so long it approached being an Olympic sport. If you leave a voicemail for me … Woe, woe unto you. Checking my voicemail is like dental work for me; ergo, I don’t get around to checking it very often. This is bad. This is not good. Something has to change. I have to make peace with the phone thing.

Guess what? Peace is being delivered tomorrow — as in, UPS is bringing peace and will leave it in the receiving room.

I’ll explain everything tomorrow — and this time, I won’t leave you hanging. Hey! That’s kind of a phone joke. “Hanging”? Get it? Like a phone? Hanging up? Like …

Let’s just talk tomorrow.

Marianne Fons Says ‘Eat The Cheesecake’

posted in: Family, Tips 17
Marianne Fons says, “Eat the cheesecake!” Photo: Wikipedia.


A few years ago, a rule in our family changed. First, let me explain what rule I’m talking about.

Most families have a version of this rule. It could be called the “Do Not Touch That Pie Until After Dinner Or You Will Sorely Regret It, Now Get Out Of My Kitchen” rule. Other versions of the rule may include: “If You Eat One Cooky Off That Tray Before We Sit Down To Eat, So Help Me God”; “If You Have Any Sense In That Head Of Yours You’ll Step Away From the Fudge; “You Are About To Meet Your Maker If You So Much As Breathe On Those Scotcharoos”; or the simple-but-effective, “Getcher Mitts Off That Cake” rule.

Right? Right.

Well, a few years back, on either Thanksgiving or Christmas, at some time in the day that was not appropriate pie-eating time (e.g., 9 a.m. or 12:30 p.m.), I was in the kitchen trying to pick off a gooey, sugary, perfectly toasted pecan off the top of Mom’s famous pecan pie without being noticed — and I was failing spectacularly. But that day was remarkable, because there was a time when I would’ve gotten caught sneakin’ pie and gotten slapped with the ol’ “Getcher Mitts Off That Pie” rule. But on this day, the opposite happened.

“You know,” my mom said, “just have a piece of pie if you want it. It’s okay.”

A pecan that was halfway to my mouth fell onto my blouse and stuck there. My mother is not a sarcastic woman, nor does she tease her children or have fun at our expense. If she was saying I should “just have a piece of pie” if I wanted to, she was saying … that I should have a piece of pie. A piece of the pie she baked for a special occasion. The pie we were planning to eat after Thanksgiving dinner in like, six hours.

“Mom, are you serious? You’re joking.”

My mom shook her head and threw up her hands. “I mean, why not? Eat it! That’s what it’s for!”

“Yeah, but — ”

“You know,” Mom said, “I had a friend whose mother-in-law was a wonderful candymaker. She was great at making it. She’d make candies for the holidays every year and put it all out on doilies on these beautiful milk glass plates: caramels, toffees, fudge, brickle. Just gorgeous.

“When you came over to the house, you’d be drawn, as if by magnetic force, toward all the candies. But she’d see you get within 10 feet of it all and she’d say, “Nooooooo! That’s for later! Don’t eat it! Don’t you dare eat it!”

I nodded and eyed a ragged piece of crust on the side of the pie, begging to be broken off and eaten. I liked where this story was going.

“Childed, you would back away from the candy plates,” Mom continued. “And then, of course, everyone would eat dinner. You’d eat the turkey and the dressing and the yams and the cranberry and the rolls and the butter and the ham.”

“And you’d drink the wine,” I said, and popped the crust into my mouth.

“Oh, this lady didn’t serve wine. But you get the idea. All that food, and then pie and ice cream! And then, once you had wiped up your piece of pumpkin pie or pecan pie and you had patted your mouth with your napkin, she’d come around with these heavy candy plates and practically force you to eat the candies. If you said, ‘No, no, I’ve had enough,’ she’d be offended. I ask you: Does this make any sense?”

“No, mother,” I said, “no, it does not.” It looked very possible that I was going to have pecan pie for breakfast in front of God and everybody.

“In my opinion, do it. Look, it’s the holidays. If you’re lucky, there’s all this beautiful food! Why save and save these things for some point in the future when everyone’s too full, anyway? We’re adults! No one cares if there’s a piece taken out of a pie when it’s time to eat it, do they? Do they really? If you’re hungry for it, eat it.”

“Yeah!” I said, already dislodging an entire sticky slice of what is truly my favorite food on the Earth. I had to do this before she changed her mind.

But my mother didn’t change her mind that day, nor any day thereafter. If there are Santa cookies in the kitchen or an apple pie cooling on the counter, this stuff is available for the snacking. Mom will say, “That’s what it’s for!” and we are all willing to oblige.

I obliged today, in fact, when I had cheesecake for lunch. Here’s hoping everyone had a sweet Christmas today or, at the very least, a good Monday. I love Mondays. More on that later.

The Deep Pleasures of Dryer Lint

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 47
It’s even got the peel going on at the lower righthand corner! Unbelieveable. Image: Wikipedia.


You know how I use Wikipedia for 99 percent of all the images used on the ol’ PG?

If you missed it, that’s the deal around here. I use Wiki images because they’re fair use on account of being in the public domain. I also use them because they’re often suuuuper weird, and therefore funny. I also like to be consistent.

The drawback of using a free-for-all like Wikipedia Images, however (and I’ve mentioned before), is that slick stock photos these ain’t. I’ll be looking for an image of something normal, like a bowl of cereal or a windmill or what have you, and all Wikipedia offers me are bizarre pictures of like, German bundt cakes or medical diagrams.

So this morning, I thought about how I wanted to write about dryer lint. And I thought about it all day. And then I sit down at this coffee shop to blog about dryer lint, but I pause. Because I think, “Aw, man! There’s not going to be any picture of dryer lint on Wikipedia.”

[I have never before wanted to use an emoticon in my blog so much as I do right now: I would use the face with the straight, horizonal line as the mouth.]

Because I go and look in Wikipedia and there are no fewer than nine pictures of different dryer lint situations. Like the one above. This is the world we live in! At least, it’s the world I live in. It’s very strange here.

Anywhoo, I keep meaning to write about dryer lint because I am compelled by it. Specifically, I am compelled to engage with dryer lint. When I do laundry in my building’s laundry room and it’s time to open the numerous dryers in the wall and put my clothes inside them, I get to take out the lint screen and pull the lint off — and I enjoy this a great deal. Especially if it’s real thick on there.

Wait, wait: I’m being very reserved. You need to know that I love pulling thick lint off a dryer screen. It’s so felty! And it just peeeeeeels off! In one … pad! And the slice o’ fuzz is so squinky, like you could just squink it between your fingers and it would be a ball. But then, when you let go, it would squanch back out. I like to scoop out the lint on all 10 dryer screens up there, even if I only need to use two or three to dry my clothes.

Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you feel me on this? It’s weird, maybe. But who does it hurt? No one!

If anyone else likes to scrape the lint off the lint screen, I’d like to know. If you don’t, I have one question for you — no, I have two:

  1. Do you realize what you’re missing?
  2. Did you know that, according to the experts, you really should clean your lint screen regularly to prevent … something bad? Does this make you want to try out cleaning your lint screen this very second? Go ahead. We’ll wait.

See?? And all those pictures on Wikipedia … Other people are part of this club. Now you are, too.

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???

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.)

The Day I Bought My Hat.

This isn't my hat, but it's pretty darn close. Montecristi hat, Optimo. Image: Wikipedia.
This isn’t my hat, but it’s pretty darn close. Montecristi hat, Optimo. Image: Wikipedia.


Today, I bought a proper hat.

I’ve been thinking about buying a proper hat for some time, now, and today was the day I put my money where my head is, which is directly above my neck. (In case the location of my head wasn’t obvious, you can now locate my head easily, what with the hat on it.)

You might be wondering what I mean by a “proper hat” because you are smart and curious. Indeed, I should clarify here because not everyone will agree upon what a proper hat might be. I mean, for some people, the only thing a woman should wear on her head is a bonnet. To those folks, a bonnet is a proper hat, even though really it’s a bonnet and isn’t that more headwear? Other people would consider a proper hat to be a straw boater — but those people are usually the three other guys singing in your barbershop quartet in Boston in the 1930s.

For me, a professional woman/grad student in the second half of her thirties living in downtown Chicago, a proper hat is one which:

  • can’t be balled up and stuck in a drawer
  • has been fitted for her by a Person Who Knows About Hats (such people often work in a hat shop)
  • is appropriate for the season
  • is stylish but not trendy (e.g., huge cloth flowers, extreme brims, hardware of any kind, etc.)
  • can be repaired if need be
  • comes in a hatbox
  • serves a functional purpose

This last thing was the clincher. Until recently, I never saw hats as serving a purpose, exactly — not for me, anyway. They always seemed to be a fashion thing, an accessory, and sister, I got enough to worry about without some new wardrobe component to manage. I skipped hats because like, who needs ’em? Like, who actually needs them?

Well, me, when a few months ago, what used to be unequivocally good became slightly menacing.

I’m talking about the sun.

For most of my life, the sun on my face felt fabulous, just warm and good. Most people have this experience with the sun. And besides feeling great, the sun looks good on me! My anemic, Norwegian/Scots-Irish, pasty complexion gets an upgrade when I “get a little sun.” In the summer months I usually get some freckles, which lend me an air of vitality and sportiness (as opposed to the “19th century fainting couch” thing I’ve usually got going on.)

But freckles are not what I want anymore. At all. Maybe that whole “woman/grad student in the second half of her thirties” description of myself is the key, here. At 20, you can lay out, go to tanning beds, slather yourself in baby oil and who cares? Sun damage? Whatever! Grab the bucket of Coronas — let’s hit the beach! But when you’re thirty-something, such behavior is definitely no bueno. Sun damage starts to show up on a girl’s mug at my age, especially if she’s extra pale, though it’s hardly just my appearance I’m concerned about: Skin cancer is a very real thing I do not want in my life.

So. A couple years ago I began using a good daily sunscreen. The only time I’m tan is when a person sprays me with tan-colored paint. But sometime in late April, waiting to cross the street on a very hot, very bright day, I had my Hat Epiphany: A hat is practical because it will keep the sun off my face.

And, just like that, I began to make moves. Hat moves. I did research. I consulted sources. And today I got my hat at Optimo, the most glorious store, hat or otherwise, in all of Chicago — seriously. I wore my hat out of the shop and discovered that a proper hat affects your feet: It makes them skip!

My hat totally works, too. I know because the sun was shining.

If It’s Not One Thing, Make It Another

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky, Tips 15
The idea here is that the little kitteh is making a list of things to do. Image: Wikipedia.
The idea here is that the little kitteh is making a list of things to do. Image: Wikipedia.


One of the hard parts about not feeling 100% is that it’s advisable to rest, to stay put. I am terrible at resting and staying put.

On a physical level, it’s just plain difficult for me to settle down in a chair for very long. I’m up, I’m down. I sit down to sew and oop! Gotta get up for some ice. I sit down to write and oop! I’m up because I really should go get the laundry out of the dryer before I get too into things. I sit down to have my breakfast and oop! I’m up because I need salt. That kind of thing.

But that’s just the micro-level stuff. It’s hard for me to stay put on the macro level, as well. After a string of days laying low, I feel so off. I want to be leaping and leapfrogging and feeling fabulous but I feel logie and grouchy and antsy. It’s important to mention, by the way, my desire to leap and frog about does not mean I have a yen to go outside and catch butterflies or hike the Appalachian Trail or swim laps all day and then link arms with my friends and dance till the sun goes down (or comes up? I don’t know, I’m exhausted just thinking about all that.) Leaping and leapfrogging and feeling fabulous to me can be as simple as getting up and feeling good, then being productive at my desk and then maybe going to lunch.

When I can’t do these things, when doing laundry is hard not just because I’m iron-deficient but because I’m mildly depressed over being iron-deficient, it’s hard to get up over the fence.

Today, I did things that helped. It always starts with little things. I made a list that was manageable. Here’s what was on the list:

  • fold laundry (*good job for doing it yesterday!!)
  • go to the library to return your book
  • go to post office
  • answer pressing emails

And guess what? I did all of those things (plus a few more) and I feel better as I write this.

If my blog is ever of use, it’s because I can tell you what’s happening to me and then, if it’s happening to you and you identify, you won’t feel like you’re sitting by yourself. Maybe you’re not anemic, but maybe you’ve been sitting still and feeling weird about that or feeling bad about it. My suggestion is that perhaps you might like to make a short list. It worked for me today.

Just try a short list.

Rate My Ice!

posted in: Sicky, Tips 22
This ice has potential. But only if it melts down. Photo: Achim Schleuning via Wikipedia.
This ice has potential. But only if it melts down. Photo: Achim Schleuning via Wikipedia.


A couple years ago, I wrote about how I don’t freak out if I leave out a pot of soup overnight, how I’ll just shrug and stick it in the fridge and make sure I heat it up extra hot next time. I made sure to mention that there are strict limits to this “eh, whatever” kitchen rule and to never be afraid to come over for dinner, but a lot of you still thought I was weird.

This post is way weirder. But I’m going to write it because walking home from the library, I laughed out loud to myself just thinking about it — which was also weird, of course, but fun for the guys who hang out in the park by the library who saw me laughing to myself.

The precipitous decline in my hemogoblins over the past few months has, as I’ve mentioned, led to a steep increase in my ice consumption. As a number of you have so astutely pointed out,  this ice-eating is a symptom called “pica.” Pica is “a tendency or craving to eat substances other than normal food, such as clay, plaster, or ashes, occurring during childhood or pregnancy or as a symptom of disease.”

There are many things to be grateful for: Not craving a glass of ashes or plaster is at the top of my list right now.

Ah, but frozen water counts as non-normal food and as my picamarades know, when you’ve got anemia and pica is upon you, nothing tastes as good as a big cup of really good ice. And you’d better believe that there’s good ice and less-good ice. There’s bad ice (e.g., cubes too large, over-frozen, etc.) There’s acceptable ice. There’s even ideal ice. As an almost compulsive ice-eater, I have become an ice connoisseur and I would like to now review some of the ice that I have sampled lately.

Though this is silly, I assure you: I devote a good deal of time these days to ice procurement, consumption, and evaluation. It’s unsettling to me how excited I am to write these ice reviews. But here we go.

Note: Ice evaluated on a scale of 1-5 on texture, flavor, melting rate, and ease of obtaining. All locations are in the Loop or South Loop of Chicago. In the case of chain stores, the management cannot guarantee quality/consistency. 

My Condo: 4.5
My ice maker is broken (oh, the irony) but I have four ice trays that are awesome if I only fill them up halfway. If I only fill them halfway, when I pull a tray out, the ice gets melty in the trays and it’s really chewy. Picking ice cubes out of the tray like that feels sort of like eating a box of chocolates.

Hilton Hotel Cafe: 3.7
I sometimes take a shortcut through the Hilton if it’s cold or rainy and the cafe near the lobby has a self-serve soda machine: total score. I’ve taken a big plastic cup over there on several occasions for the semi-crushed, fresh-tasting ice, but I can’t get cocky. The lady behind the counter gave me the stink-eye the other day.

Pret-a-Manger, Michigan and Monroe: 4.7
This big-city chain cafe has the best ice ever. It’s thin. It’s crispy. It’s crunchy. The cups are big. I try to scam two full cups of ice from the folks behind the counter when I buy a can of Diet Coke but sometimes they say they have to charge me for a large beverage if I want one. If I’m feelin’ flush, I’ll do it. (Q: Has anyone ever planned a heist of an ice machine? Call me.)

Starbucks (Any location): 3.1
Starbucks ice is okay in a pinch, but it’s too hard. And you often get big bars of ice that haven’t separated into cubes. Do you know what I mean? I hate that. My hemogoblins hate it when that happens.

That One Falafel Place on Wabash: 4.1
An upset! This is almost as good as the crushed, almost snow cone ice that you get at a Sonic. (Now there’s some great ice — alas, no Sonics in the Loop.) Anyway, I like this place’s ice better than the shwarma.

7-Eleven on my block: 4.0
The guys who work there are very sweet and rarely charge me for a refill. They may be concerned.

Being Open vs. Staying True to a Vision.

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Tips 16
Making artistic choices. It's like buyin' veggies at a farm stand. Photo: Wikipedia.
Making artistic choices. It’s like buyin’ veggies at a farm stand. (Please note the label on the box of shallots reads “Tooty.”) Photo: Wikipedia.


Learning is exciting and fun when you learn something you didn’t know before and you’re instantly excited about it. My experience in grad school so far has consisted mostly of this kind of learning. More often than not, it’s like, “Wow, a new author I love! Wow, a fascinating person I’ve just met! Wow, a school of thought I never conceived of before! Wow, world!”

But that’s not the only way to respond to learning new things. Responding negatively to new information is important, too. It doesn’t feel fun to not like a book you have to read for class, but really, this kind of learning is every bit as exciting when you take the long view. Finding out what you don’t like, e.g., the kind of work you don’t want to make, the books or authors or ideas you reject, this definitely help shape who you are as a person, a student, a maker, whatever.

And there’s another kind of lesson, I guess, that I’ve been thinking a lot about. It hasn’t been fun to learn it. It’s been uncomfortable and painful. But it’s been very important. Let’s see if I can explain.

If you’re a person who strives to to better, learn more, and do exciting stuff in collaboration other people, which is all of us, you need to be — nay, you want to be! — open to other people’s comments and contributions. Maybe you’re working on a project for work. Maybe you’re making a quilt. Maybe you’re writing a book. Maybe you’re a parent and you’re trying to raise your kids. Getting outside input is important. Listening to someone who has been there before is wise (especially if that person just got a raise doing the job you have, won a blue ribbon on her quilt, got a Pulitzer for her last novel and raised six kids.) The right advice can save you a lot of time. It could even save your life.


There is also a time to listen to yourself. There’s a time to get advice from this guy, that guy, her, her, and him, and then do nothing that they told you to do.

And I was going to say that “it’s so so so hard to know when to trust yourself and when to take advice!” but the thing is, I’ve been dealing with this recently and I think… Sometimes, I think it’s easy. Sometimes, you absolutely do know the right thing to do, and the hard part is admitting that and then going for it.

Here’s my example.

My advisors are amazing. They’re embarrassingly talented. They’re wildly accomplished. They’ve won awards, they’ve published in the fanciest places. They’re successful and brilliant and they are genuine fans of mine who want the best for me. I’m pretty sure that when I’m not in school, we’re all gonna hang out because we like each other.

But over the course of this semester, without meaning to do harm or lead me astray, both my advisors were steering me away from writing the essays I’ve been writing and toward writing a chronological memoir. And what do you suppose I started doing? Yes! Because they are so great and smart and fancy, I slowly started change everything I was doing to fit that vision. I thought, consciously and subconsciously: They know better that I do. They’re older. More successful.

The problem is that I don’t want to write a chronological memoir. I want to write something that doesn’t look like that. And when I lost sight of what I set out to do, when I was changing what I was learning to fit someone else’s vision, all the joy fell out of my project and I didn’t write on my book for a long time. I miss it.

Life and work, it’s all a negotiation. You must listen to others. You must learn. You would be well advised to be well advised. Folks who can’t be told nothin’ are frustrating and lame. (And believe me: Writers who think every word they write is gold and precious are not going to get very far.) We all need editors, we all need help and input from other people.

But you also know things. You do. And you matter as much as anybody else.


Whose History? The Quilt Scout Is IN!

posted in: Art, Quilting, Tips 11
"A little spinner in a Georgia cotton mill." Photo: Lewis Hine, 1874-1940. Image courtesy Library of Congress by way of Wikipedia.
“A little spinner in a Georgia cotton mill.” Photo: Lewis Hine, 1874-1940. Image courtesy Library of Congress by way of Wikipedia.


The latest lecture in my menu debuted at QuiltCon on Saturday morning. It went well.

The talk, titled, “Standing On the Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of the American Quilt,” is my best lecture yet, no question. I spent hours and hours and hours researching and making it just right — the slides themselves are artful and nice to look at because I have learned rudimentary Photoshop techniques at art school and that is exciting — and I’m stoked to take this puppy out on the road in the coming year. Am I coming to your area? Are you going to see this thing? It is very possible. If I’m not coming to an opera house, lecture hall, or quilt guild near you, why not? You should speak to Carmen.

The Quilt Scout this week examines something I had to keep in mind while giving a history lesson. I had to remember to push myself. I had to continually remind myself to ask: Whose history do I tell when I tell about history? It’s easy to see one version. There are lots of versions, though. If you’ve ever had an argument with someone who saw a situation differently than you did, you must concede this point.

Even if you’re not a quilter, I urge you to take a look at Quilt Scout today. It’ll get you mulling about responsibility, perspective, and like, the Industrial Revolution.

On Falling (Less “Falling In Love,” More Just…Falling.)

posted in: Tips 5
A song from 1893. I know the feeling. Image: Wikipedia.
A song from 1893. I know the feeling! Image: Wikipedia.


I was searching through the archives for something (I’ll tell ya later) and discovered that I have written a fair amount about falling. Tonight, because I am bone-weary tired after this first week of school and the events of the week besides and can’t make sparkling prose from scratch*, I give you not one, not two, but four archival posts about falling that are worth another look:

Enjoy, comrades — and watch your step.

Oh, and one other thing: The comments function on my blog didn’t to work at all for a long time. If you’re new around here and click into old posts, it might look like no one read this blog for many years and then suddenly many people began to read it. (The truth is way better: I’ve had loyal, excruciatingly attractive readers for a long time.) Anywho, the comment functionality functions now, but I have heard from folks that the captcha thingy is annoying and lame. I’m working on that, really I am. Thanks for your patience with the technical aspects of the ol’ PG. Not my strong suit.

*This makes me want something from scratch, like my gramma’s rolls. Note to self: Write about Gramma Rolls sometime soon.

Dental Pain.

posted in: Tips 24
Someone getting their teeth dealt with in 1989. Photo: Wikipedia.
Someone getting their teeth dealt with in 1989. Photo: Wikipedia.


I have a dentist appointment in the morning.

Going to the dentist didn’t use to bother me that much. I mean, it’s hard for me to imagine that there are people who truly enjoy the dentist, though there are those blessed with perfectly straight, cavity-resistant teeth who they probably regard a trip to the dentist like they regard an afternoon detailing their car: not fun, exactly, but necessary from time to time and worth it in the end when you run your tongue over your pearly whites — or your squeaky dashboard, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But after I got sick and began my journey into the world of hospitals, procedures, surgeries, and check-ups that involve, you know, scopes and needles and stuff, I began to really freak out at the prospect of laying back in the dentist’s chair. Though few of us like a novocain shot, I really, really hate being approached by a person with a needle. I’ve just got some baggage, is all.

And I’m a pretty good little brusher and even enjoy flossing (though I don’t do it every day) but I come from a stock of people with deep palates and big teeth with, I was informed once, “topography.” The teeth in my head, in other words, have ridges and bumps and all kinds of lovely nooks and crannies that just love to hang onto that which will give me a cavity no matter how gallant I am about keeping the suckers clean. I’ve gotten A+ report cards at the dentist but it’s more often that I get bad news: a small cavity in a molar on my upper right, a small crack in the lower left M4 or however they number these things. And there’s always blood on the floss when I get a cleaning, always the taste of iron in my mouth.

The other trouble is that I am extraordinarily sensitive to pain. (Cough, cough, Claus. Cough.) If Patient A gets numb with one shot of novocain, I need four. Really. My sisters are the same. We all suffered as kids at the dentist in Winterset (a kind, imminently capable man whose daughters remain dear friends of mine) because we didn’t know we could ask for another shot. When I was in the chair, tears would roll down my cheeks and pool into my ears while he and his assistant filled a cavity, the zings and zaps of the drill making me wince and want to pass out until it was over.

Tomorrow is my first visit to a new dentist and this is big. My former dentist took care of my dental needs for over a decade, but for a number of reasons, it’s time to make a change. My sister Rebecca (of movie renovation fame) claims she has the best dentist in the city. Here, now, is an excerpt from the conversation we had on this subject:

ME: Seriously, there’s no pain?

REBECCA: No pain.

ME: Like, none.


ME: Okay, because, seriously.

REBECCA:  Just tell him you’re super sensitive. He knows me, too, and I’m the same. You’re fine.

ME: No pain.

REBECCA. Zero. And his receptionist is the best. Her voice sounds like she smokes fifty cigars a day, all raspy and Chicaaaaago. She’s great. I love it there. Tell them I sent you, maybe they’ll give me a discount.

So tomorrow I go for a cleaning and an assessment at Rebecca’s dentist. I’m excited to meet the receptionist, obviously, and I’m encouraged by my no-nonsense sister’s promise of a pain-free experience. But if you have any advice for the dentist-afeared, do let me know; there comes a moment when all the worrying and the putting off comes to an end and there you are in the chair and the gal says, from behind her mask, “Okay, open wide for me?” and you gotta say:



Against Calcification.

posted in: Luv, Tips 12
A sweets shop in Hamburg. Yes, I bought chocolate. Photo: Me.
A sweets shop window in Hamburg. Yes, I bought several items. Photo: Me.


Winter break is nearly done; school is officially back in session starting tomorrow, though I don’t have class until Tuesday. I’m so excited to return to school; homework is like my favorite thing.

There’s something I’ve been thinking about since I took my trip to Germany. All right, I’ve been thinking lots of thoughts, but this one keeps poking me in the ribs and I figure if a thought is hefty enough to reach down and poke my ribs (knock it off!!), I’d better examine it. Welcome to the PaperGirl exam room.

My reports on the Berlin trip have concerned the emotional landscape I discovered when I got there; I haven’t adequately expressed how much I loved the city itself, how I biked through the streets with Claus, ate the most phenomenal food — mushroom and salsify raviolis, I’m looking at you — absorbed the rich, albeit somber history of the city and felt very much at home as soon as I touched down. (I did say the other day how much I loved Hamburg, but that post was more about the heart than the vibe of the city and the effect it had on me.)

So, yes, I loved Berlin and Hamburg — a lot — and as I walked across the cobblestones and sat in the pubs and cafes with my friend, as I took the trams and the trains, the thought would flicker through my mind: “I could totally live here.” And that thought terrified me.

As well it should, right? Remember how I left my beloved Chicago? Remember how happy I was when I came home? Remember how I took a chance on love, on life, on a new address (okay, a bunch of addresses) and how hard that was? When I got back to Chicago after being in NYC and DC, and when I walk up Michigan Avenue — every time, even now, well over a year after being home — I ache with happiness to be here. But as beautiful as it is to know where I belong, I feel that I must, I must keep lit the tiny flame of “What if?”

What if I fall in love again? What if I get an opportunity to move to Paris, to Moscow, to Hamburg? What if I find myself quite sad, or empty, or utterly unsatisfied and unhappy in Chicago? Anything can, and often does happen. I’m old enough to know that. Well, what if

If you ask me right now, “Would you consider leaving Chicago again?” I would narrow my eyes at you and say, in a very even tone, like I’m on a cop drama, “That’s not an option we’ll be considering.” I really do believe that my home is here and that I will be a Chicagoan till I croak, hopefully a long, long time from now.

But if I say “No, never” to the idea that I might live somewhere else — if I say, “That’s not an option we’ll be considering” — a piece of myself calcifies. To be unwilling to think of another way, to be absolutely resolute about something so fluid as life itself… It’s so hard, but I have to allow myself to fantasize about living in a European city, even as the thought of moving around the corner makes me just about burst into tears, forget moving to a different continent.

We just don’t know. I don’t know what will be best at different times for my life or maybe in the life of someone I love, someone I haven’t even met, yet. And that’s the other point I want to make on calcification: As painful as love is, and it’s been hard lately, I refuse to be hard-hearted. I’m sentenced, I think, to a life of loving a lot and if I’m lucky, there’s lots of love coming my way. But I have to stay open to it. Otherwise, it’ll find me closed up and go knocking on another door, you know? There are lots of doors, lots and lots of people who need love and who are waiting with their ear to the door, waiting on tiptoes for the knock. If there’s a “Closed” sign on my heart because I let the blues get to me, love might stay away for good.

I liked the architecture in Hamburg. I like the German language very much. I liked picturing myself at some point in my forties, maybe, living and laughing and drinking a beer in Berlin. (Doesn’t that sound fabulous?) I have to allow myself to fantasize about these things, even if they scare me. Otherwise, a hardness sets in.

That ain’t gonna work, man. After all, I’m a quilter. I’m into soft.


If I Tell You, There’s No Turning Back: My Bikram 30-Day Challenge Begins!

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 21
From Wikipedia: "Spc. David Kocian from the PA National Guard's 28th Combat Aviation Brigade teaches a yoga class at Camp Adder, Iraq. The 21-year Army veteran began teaching yoga during the 28th CAB's mobilization when soldiers showed significant interest upon discovering he was an avid student of yoga."
From Wikipedia: “Spc. David Kocian from the PA National Guard’s 28th Combat Aviation Brigade teaches a yoga class at Camp Adder, Iraq. The 21-year Army veteran began teaching yoga during the 28th CAB’s mobilization when soldiers showed significant interest upon discovering he was an avid student of yoga.”


I have committed myself to doing a difficult thing. I didn’t want to say anything here until I had actually begun the thing because I suppose I needed a head start or something. Here goes, for accountability’s sake:

Today was Day 2 of my 30-Day Bikram yoga challenge.

Bikram yoga, for the uninitiated, is a 90-minute yoga class that takes place in a room heated to 105-degrees. There are 26 postures and two breathing exercises; you do everything twice. The room has mirrors at the front and side. Everyone basically wears slingshots and hotpants because within 60 seconds of practicing the yoga, you are positively drenched with sweat. To say something is “hard” is to make a qualitative, subjective statement, I realize. But Bikram yoga? S’hard.

If you’ve been reading this blog from way back, you know I used to be a real Bikram nut. Almost daily, you’d find me in the hot room. I once did 100 classes in 100 days straight just to prove I could do it. I also did it because there is nothing, nothing like the feeling you have when you finish a Bikram yoga class. Even the ones that almost kill you — especially those. And I believe that several of my surgeries went better because I was doing regular yoga. Who knows? It didn’t hurt.

So why did I stop? In the past eight years since I found Bikram yoga, I have ceased my practice twice.

The first time I stopped was because something really awful happened. It’s so awful that it’s hard to say it but I am so buoyed and encouraged by the past couple days’ post comments, I truly feel like I can do anything — and that nothing feels better than telling the truth.

The first time I stopped my practice was because my ostomy bag leaked in class.

Yep, I did hot yoga for a number years while I had my ostomy. (I talked about it a couple times including in this post.) It was a pain. I’d tape it up with athletic tape and the top of my shorts would come up over it and I got so I timed when I ate and when I practiced so that nothing would be, um, active during class.

But accidents happen. I was doing the spine series, which meant we were all on our respective bellies doing locust and cobra poses and things. Well, I had a leak. When I got up to flip around and do the next posture, I had leaked onto my towel and mat. It could have been so much worse. But it happened. I just quietly gathered my towel and held it against myself, grabbed my mat and gave the teacher a, “I’m okay, but I am leaving now” look — I still remember what teacher it was and where I was in the room — and I didn’t come back for a long time. Maybe a year?

It wasn’t just the leak. I was probably burned out, which means I was probably doing the yoga for the wrong reasons or something, I don’t know. But I was so tired of being afraid that my worst fear would come true that when it finally came true, I had an excuse to rest. I think that’s called “giving up” and you know what? Sometimes, we give up.

But not for good! I returned! I was once again sweaty and half-naked in public while I was living in NYC and it was good. But then everything got so sad and tumultuous with Yuri. I tried to practice when I got to D.C. but I just didn’t have it in me. This yoga is the best medicine for anything — heart, mind, head, body, all of it — but it takes commitment and determination. All I could commit or dedicate myself to in D.C. was trying to learn a new world and let go of Chicago. I’m thrilled I gave up on that one.

So why now? Because I miss myself.

I miss hanging out with the me that can stand on one leg in 105-degree heat as sweat pours from the top of her head down into her eyes. I miss seeing that girl in the mirror. I feel like I’ve been making choices lately that aren’t serving me at all: late nights, too much wine, stuff like that, and I feel bad and sad about that a lot lately. It’s gone on too long. Besides, my shoulder still hurts terribly bad and my knees, too. I’m a jalopy right now and Bikram yoga is a body shop. In 30 days, I’ll walk out of there looking and feeling like a Maserati. Trust me. I’ve done it before.

So, yes. Every day. Thirty days. I promise I will not write about yoga much. But I’m doing this. For me. And now there’s no turning back the cat’s officially outta the hot, sweaty, bag. Gross!

p.s. Is there a Bikram studio near you? Wanna do this with me?? Woah, that would be so cool!!! There could be prizes!

From The Sun Magazine: Rebecca Levenberg’s “First Impressions.”

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Tips 12
Log Cabin quilt block. Block and photo: Me.
Log Cabin quilt block. Block and photo: Me.

One of the magazines I subscribe to is The Sun. It’s primarily non-fiction writing, photography, and fascinating (long, yay) interviews with anthropologists, artists, authors, and other interesting human beings.

And then there’s this feature toward the back called “Readers Write.” The editors give a one- or two-word prompt and readers send in their brief story (100-400 words or so) or anecdote relating to the prompt. (Upcoming prompts include “Losing,” “That Night,” “Mischief,” and “Bad Habits.”)

The contributions are always incredible: real, sad, hilarious, true. The Readers Write prompt for this month’s issue was “First Impressions.” On the plane to Kansas last night, I read one of the best submissions ever.

If I get in trouble with the magazine for posting this, I’ll take it down. But for now, please read this piece by one Ms. Rebecca Levenberg from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was a pleasure to type up your story, Ms. Levenberg; thank you for writing it and congrats for being published.

“Six years ago I was hit by a truck while riding my bicycle to work, and I had to have my leg amputated. At the rehabilitation hospital I was assigned a peer mentor. Rob was the first amputee I’d ever met. When he offered to answer my questions, I had none. I was riddled with pain from a limb that wasn’t there and overwhelmed by the change to my body. Though I felt obligated to listen to Rob, really I just wanted him to leave.

The one thing I remember about that meeting is that Rob had oe by on his way home from the gym, where he went in the evenings after work. Rob went to the gym. Rob went to work. Rob was an amputee. This information gave me hope.

Over the next year I learned to walk with a prosthetic leg. The second year brought more independence, and I went back to work and to the gym.

That summer a man waved me down on a city sidewalk. “Can I ask you a question?” he said, eyes fixed on my prosthesis. Sure, I replied. His voice got quiet. “Were you born that way?” Were you born without your leg?”

I told him no, that I’d had my leg amputated after an accident. I wondered why he was asking: he had all four limbs.

The man pointed to a nearby hospital and explained that his wife had just had a baby boy born without part of his arm. “The doctor said he’ll never know the difference,” he told me. “Do you think that’s true? Do you think he’ll never know?”

What could I say? I had no idea. We talked a bit more, and I asked if the baby was healthy. The man said yes.

“Congratulations,” I said. “What’s his name?”

He told me, and for the first time since we’d begun talking, I saw a proud dad.

After we’d parted, I realized that I was probably the first amputee he’d ever met. Walking away, I stood tall and confident, just in case he was watching.”

“Just Take It Bird By Bird, Buddy.”

posted in: Tips, Work 7
The Arctic Bluebird. From "The Reports of Explorations and Surveys, Volume X" of the U. S. Pacific railroad Explorations and Surveys 38th, 39th, 41st Parallels, 1859. Image: Wikipedia.
The Arctic Bluebird. From “The Reports of Explorations and Surveys, Volume X” of the U. S. Pacific railroad Explorations and Surveys 38th, 39th, 41st Parallels, 1859. Image: Wikipedia.


There are a lot of books out there about how to be a better writer. The best ones are books by writers, for writers.

Most dedicated writers have their favorites. My mom like’s Sol Stein’s On Writing, for example; I actually have your copy on my coffee table right now, Mama.

Lots of writers — myself included— admire Stephen King’s book, also called On Writing, for his warmth and simplicity. My most treasured advice on writing comes from an essay by Orwell (“Politics and the English Language”) and without Strunk & White Elements Of Style, I’m sunk.

And there’s one book I think even the dilettante writer has come across: Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. (I can hear some people cheering from here.)

The book, though written primarily for the fiction writer because fiction is Anne Lamott writes, gets its title from a story in the book. That story contains some of the best advice, writing or otherwise, I have ever come across.

Tonight, I texted Mariano that advice. He’s studying for a huge test on Wednesday that has absolutely nothing to do with writing. But the advice Lamott gives in Bird By Bird is perfect for any occasion.

She tells in the book of a night when she and her younger brother were in grade school and he had a huge project due that week on “The Birds Of North America.” The little guy was beyond stressed. He was frustrated and becoming increasingly panicked about the scope of the assignment. Anne’s dad, a professional writer, came in and patted his son on the shoulder.

“Just take it bird by bird, buddy,” he said. “Just go bird by bird.”

That’s all any of us have to do. Equation by equation. Paragraph by paragraph. One at a time. First this one, then the other.

Bird by bird, buddy.


“If I Wanted To Make Perfect Objects, I Wouldn’t Use Fabric.”

posted in: Quilting, Tips, Work 16
Sampler Friendship Quilt. Maker unknown. Pennsylvania, c. 1860-1880. Image: Wikipedia.
Sampler Friendship Quilt. Maker unknown. Pennsylvania, c. 1860-1880. Image: Wikipedia.

I had a marvelous day in Ashburn, VA today at Sew Magarbo. We learned how to make the Sweetpea Star block, a partial-seam block that is the coolest block in the land. We drank wine. (Just a little; later in the afternoon.) I connected with two ladies that I already knew or knew of: the brilliant Carol, who sent me pencils in the mail last year and the always effervescent Meredith, whom I met in Beaver Dam this spring when I had a revelation about my career.

Though everyone I spent the day with is officially a pal at this point — it’s automatic — special shouting-out must go to Marj and Jim.

The couple came in this morning but only Marj was taking my class; Jim just wanted to pop in and say hi because he’s a PaperGirl fan. I’ve encountered this before; some quilter laughs at my trials with my printer and the day I squeezed the avocados and the spouse finally goes, “Well for crying out loud — what’s so funny?” and suddenly she’s forking over her iPad. For a blogger, there can be no better compliment than two people fighting over a tablet that has your latest post on it. (One lady I met awhile back told me her husband reads two things every day: The Wall Street Journal and the ol’ PG. Fabulous!) Jim was an absolute sweetheart, as evidenced by his love for Marj and his cap.

For her part, Marj helped me perfect a very important “line” I say a lot. I put quotes around “line” because while I don’t work with a script in class or onstage, there are certain things I say over and over again that take on a kind of shape. This is what I said at one point today and what have been saying lately because it’s true:

“I’m not interested in making perfect objects. I make quilts. I make quilts for people to use and love. My quilting is not amazing. My piecing is pretty good at this point, but it’s not perfect. I don’t want to be perfect. If I wanted to make perfect objects, I don’t know… I’d be working at NASA or something.”

The sentiment is right on, but it needs a little editing, a little revision to really get to the point, which was eluding me. So I say all that today and then Marj, in a quiet, non-interrupty, matter-of-fact way:

“If you wanted to make perfect objects, you wouldn’t be using fabric.”

I gaped at her. Then I smacked my forehead. Yes! Marj! That’s it!

If I wanted to make perfect objects, I wouldn’t use fabric. That is exactly right. Because fabric is woogy and mutable and stretches and gets wet and shrinks. Threads are different, dyes are different. Material gets torn. Fabric is not perfect. Neither am I. Neither is Marj, though I’m suspicious.

Marj, thank you. The credit is yours. You helped me craft a line, sure, but you helped me discover a truth about myself as a quilt maker — as a person, even. If I wanted to make perfect objects, I wouldn’t be using fabric. Incredible.

At the end of the day, Jim came back to pick Marj up and we all shot the breeze for awhile. I’m proud to report I completed two partial seam blocks while chatting with four people between sips of red wine. I only had to un-sew one seam twice.


1 2 3 4 5