“Aren’t You Hot??”

posted in: Tips 1
Now that's a hot sweater! Image: Wikipedia.
Now that’s a hot sweater! Image: Wikipedia.

I have a question about etiquette. Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE?

It is appropriate to ask someone, after appraising their clothes,
“Oh my god, aren’t you hot in that?”

Personally, I think it’s false; that is, I feel it is not appropriate to ask someone, even if they are wearing a snowsuit in June, if they are “hot in that.” I think it would be similarly strange if I was wearing a floral-printed dress and someone said, “Why did you get a dress with flowers on it?” Not only is the question a touch on the pointless side, it’s hostile. I mean, back off, man: I like floral, cable-knit, floor-length dresses. What’s it to you?

Also, if there are lots of people around and the question is said loudly, it means everyone in earshot is guaranteed to whip around and look to see what heavy, thick, sweat-inducing garment the freak’s got on, which then forces that person to explain herself not just to the person who has asked the rather insensitive question, but everyone else in the room. Everyone else in the room is sure to be wearing a sundress or a sleeveless shirt or a slingshot or whatever.

This is all personal, of course. Whatever you take umbridge with, you’ve got baggage about that thing, guaranteed. And I’ve got baggage around the “Aren’t you hot in that??” question.

I’ve never been comfortable in shorts or sleeveless tops. It’s stupid, it’s silly, I know, I know: but I’m insecure about my freakishly pale skin and my inability to achieve Madonna-like limbs. Yoga, pushups, squats, light weight-training; my DNA is not and will never be programmed for “ripped.” I can’t get past “pancake” unless I flex in this very specific way and you can’t go around flexed like that all the time or even longer than a few seconds. So I accentuate the positive (my neckline! my waist!) and minimize the negatives by wearing pants, not miniskirts, and tops with sleeves. I might drape a jacket or sweater over my shoulders.

Which, yes, sometimes means I’m a tad warmer than you. But when you ask – and of course, dear, I know you don’t mean any harm – it’s so awkward for me. If I say no, I’d probably be lying, and that’s never good. If I say yes, then I’ll be forced to take off my sweater and we now know I don’t want to. If I tell you the truth, that “Yes, I’m hot but I have a terrible body image and this sweater is allowing me to feel more confident as I move through the world today,” you’re gonna think I’m weirder than you do already and it’s Monday, man. I can’t start that far behind the starting line so early in the week.

It’s not that this happened recently. It hasn’t. But I wore a blazer over my shoulders yesterday because my top was sleeveless. The sun was shining and my shoulders were pretty warm back there. But I promise: I’m an adult. If I’m hot, I’ll figure it out. You don’t have to manage my body temperature. I love you!



Consider The Lolla.

posted in: Chicago, Tips 1
I smell funny cigarettes. Photo: Phil G. via Wikipedia.
I smell funny cigarettes. Photo: Phil G. via Wikipedia.

As I walked through the Lollapalooza throngs today – remember, there are tens of thousands of extra people in town for this – I wanted to swing my totebag around and yell, “I live here! I’m not like you!”

These people aren’t bad or wrong for wanting to spend hundreds of dollars to drink tepid beer outside in a crowd of sweaty people as loud music makes it impossible to talk and the only bathrooms are foul port-o-johns. It’s just that it’s my turf, you see, and I’m not used to gaggles of undergraduate girls wearing fringe vests and diadems being in my way when I’m headed to the bank. (It’s amazing: the Navajo Jezebel look is still all the rage! Kate Moss wore a poncho to Coachella in 2003 and it’s been floppy hats and hemp purses ever since.)

Crowded and crazy as is it, the people-watching is primo. As I muscled my way up Michigan Avenue, I considered…

…the parents of a just-graduated son who has been planning for months to come to Lollapalooza with his blokes. (There’s something about packs of young dudes, headed to a concert, in shorts, concealing cans of Foster beer that makes them “blokes.”) The parents’ fingernail count as of Sunday night: zero.

…the here-today-gone-tomorrow economy of this thing, e.g., people selling bottles of water on the corner, pedi-cab drivers, face-painters, etc.

…the VIP rooms for the bands and how tonight, someone who won a contest, maybe, will meet their hero.

…the Grateful Dead-style painted booze-cruise bus that made a hard left off Washington. That’s someone’s business model – and they’re probably doing pretty well.

…the panhandler guys in my neighborhood. Do they hate Lollapalooza or look forward to it?

…the girl from Lombard, IL who spent two hours making her hair look effortlessly tousled. It began pouring rain around 5:00 p.m. today; I pictured her furious about this, lashing out at her friend, “Becky, I am seriously not interested in your drama with Trevor right now. Everything sucks!”

…the weeks of planning the cops have to do to deal with all this.

…the ER doctors on call. They’ve been briefed it’s Lollapalooza weekend for sure.

That last thought lingers. I’ve heard so many sirens today. Oh, you guys. Please drink the water you bought from the guy on the corner. Please watch your stuff. I hope this weekend is the best weekend of your life thus far – and it can’t be that way if you have to head up to Northwestern.

And eat something for heaven’s sake!


Keeping My Ears Cool.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
Hey, that's my neighborhood! Photo: John  Picken, 2010, via Wikipedia.
Hey, that’s my neighborhood! Photo: John Picken, 2010, via Wikipedia.

Because I’m from a small town in Iowa and I was never super popular in school, I have done many a foolish thing in my life to appear cooler than I am. Certain items of clothing, jokes told in bad taste, middle school disloyalty – they all lay upon the bonepile of attempts at cool.

Walking under the el tracks this morning as a train blasted overhead, I covered my ears. It took me years before I was willing to do this. It’s Chicago, man. It’s the el, man. Don’t be a wimp. Only old folks and little kids plug their ears when the train blasts by. The el is Chicago’s chi: energy traveling through the body. You’re either one with it or you’re not.

I believed this, in so many words, and would endure physical pain when walking in an alleyway if the el came through. (The buildings on either side of an alley trap sound; a train crashing past is loud as a jet landing.)

I’m not sure when it happened, but I finally got over myself and now I put my paws over my ears when I hear a train coming in those situations. The freedom I feel to do this is heady. Isn’t that funny? Isn’t it strange? What we put ourselves through to be acceptable. I used to grit my teeth and bear it when an ambulance passed at close range, too. I had never seen anyone in New York City plug their ears when an ambulance or fire truck would roar past; it must be really uncool to do so. So I didn’t, and would grimace and hurt when that would happen.

You know what’s cool? Since I’ve begun covering my ears for a train or an ambulance, I’ve seen more people doing it. I’ll detect a fire truck down State St., for example, and as it comes closer and goes by, I’ll have my ears protected. I’ll look around and often see a couple other people follow suit. Maybe I just never noticed them before, but I don’t think so. I think sometimes one person has to say, “I’m not cool and I don’t care” and then other people say, “Okay, me too.”


Taxi Driver Wisdom No. 3927101

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Tips, Travel 0
Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.
Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.

There is something known to city dwellers — really anyone who has taken more than a dozen or so cabs — as “taxi driver wisdom.”

Taxi driver wisdom is anything profound or thought-provoking your cab driver says during the ride. Other people you encounter during the day may say profound things, but since a taxi trip is relatively short and maybe because you’re hurtling through space together, even slightly reflective or soulful things seem extra zen, extra woah. Taxi drivers are also contemporary romantic figures: they roll along all day, forearm on the window sill, meditating on humanity, meeting all manner of folks and talking with them, just as they’re talking with you now, under the intimate roof of a car. They must know something by now, right?

Of course, not all taxi drivers are wise; if they were, there would be less honking. If they were all wise, they would not try to get my phone number, which has happened five times. But if you have a chatty cab driver and you go deeper than the weather, you may find yourself having a real groovy conversation because taxi drivers are typically educated, interesting people who have come to this country from someplace else and who have plenty to consider and think about as they drive around the city. When they get someone interested in hearing about it and they’re not too grumpy, they often chat.

I got major taxi driver wisdom today. I learned all about the time this man spent living in Dusseldorf, then Monaco, then London. Israel, San Francisco. This was all in the 1980s, he told me, nearly forty years ago.

“I went on a trip to New Zealand once,” he said. “It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I went on a two-week expedition. Hiking. Camping. Nature. The expeditions left from an inn, and the other groups coming back would come back to that inn, as well. Well, one of the groups came back right as my group was leaving. A question came to my mind. I ran to catch one of the men in that group so that I could ask him.”

“I asked him, ‘What can you tell me about your experience that will change the experience for me?’ The man thought for a moment and then he said, ‘From time to time, stop and turn around. Look behind you. The journey is all forward, forward, forward, and that’s good. But stop walking. Turn around. Look where you came from.'”

“Woah,” I said. “That’s good. That’s really good.”

“Yes. It did change everything for me. I turned around a lot on that expedition. That man gave me a great gift. He told me not to forget where I came from. And I didn’t.”

$12.75 + tip.


For the Good Advice File: Washing Your Face.

posted in: Tips 0
Woman Washing Her Face by Hashiguchi Goyō, 1920. Image: Wikipedia.
Woman Washing Her Face by Hashiguchi Goyō, 1920. Image: Wikipedia.

Some of the best advice I ever got was this: If you are feeling sad or lost or stuck in your day, go to the bathroom sink and wash your face. You don’t have to use soap, though doing a full wash is the best case scenario. If you don’t have soap or don’t have time for a full wash, turn on the faucet and splash your face with cool water for a minute or so.

If you’ve been crying, it’s a wonderful technique; it cools hot tear tracks and flushed cheeks. If you’re a woman who wears mascara, the water will also remove any dubiously sexy raccoon eye you’ve got going on after breaking down in whatever small or large way you just broke down.

But you don’t have to be weeping to use the cool-water-on-face fix. In fact, this feel-better method is almost more effective when you aren’t crying; feelings of despondency or anxiety can come and get the best of us, rob our days of better feelings. Splashing water on your face — cup your hands, make it count, you’re not flicking water, you’re doing this — washes away at least a thin layer of all that. Maybe it’s one of those ancient gestures and it just feels natural to do it, thereby returning us to a place and time with no alarming subject lines, no transaction fees, no social media blunders.

When you turn the faucet off and stand back up from being over the sink, the water runs off your chin; you figure it’ll do that. Gravity still matters. Gravity is not alarming. Gravity charges no transaction fee. Grab a towel and bring it to your face. Press. Now remove the towel. Daub your chin. Wipe at your hairline, away from the face. Take a breath. Look at yourself in the mirror.

You’ll be okay.

The AMC “Dine-In” Movie Theater: Goodbye, Cruel World.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Tips 1
The "scene" of the crime! Get it? Scene? Like a scene in a movie? Hahahhhahaha! I kill me! Photo: Me
The “scene” of the crime! Get it? Scene? Like a scene in a movie? Hahahhhahaha! I kill me! Photo: Me.


I’m going to tell a story about Claus but I’m not being nostalgic.

Last weekend, I wanted to check out the fancy new theater up on State Street. The theater is new within the year, I think, though sometimes I’m the last to know about these things. It looks new: everything is shiny and the carpet is fresh-smelling. But that’s not all that’s going on at the AMC on State Street, oh, no.

This AMC features “Cinema-Suites.” What’s a Cinema-Suite, you ask? A Cinema-Suites is a place where you go to die happy. The official description is different; AMC decided to not include “die” in their messaging for some reason. Officially, “Cinema-Suites [offer] a grown-up atmosphere featuring in-theater dining, a full bar, and extra-comfy recliners. Enjoy handcrafted burgers, bowls, desserts, and more while you enjoy the show.” Oh, but, AMC! You’re being modest!

Here’s how it works: You get your ticket. You go into your theater. You are shown to your specific seat by an usher. You sink into the comfiest recliner into which you ever sank your tush. A table tray swings in from your right hand side. There’s a cup holder. There’s no bib, but you feel like there could be and that would be fine. There’s a button on the left side of the chair and when you push it, the chair begins molesting you in a friendly way, raising your feet up on the foot rest as it’s reclining you back. It’s not a massage, exactly, but it’s not not a massage. Then, just when you’re laughing with a tall German that this is so much fun and way, way too easy to love, a waiter — a real waiter! — comes and gives you menus.

There are delicious foods on this menu. Your waiter comes and takes your order and he will bring you what you ordered while you watch the movie. Hot food. Like a burger. Or a hot fudge sundae! Or — wait for this, you can’t believe this — popcorn! You can’t get popcorn at a concession stand because they bring you your popcorn on a tray. Is anyone else freaking out about this? Because I am not being sarcastic: this is amazing. I didn’t even want popcorn. I’m not supposed to eat popcorn. But I ordered some anyway because it was Claus and my last date and because they were going to bring it on a tray. A big bucket of popcorn on a tray, brought to me while I’m essentially lying in a bed, watching a Hollywood movie that cost more to make than the GDP of most of the world’s developing countries.

I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it’s a heckuva town.



posted in: Day In The Life, Tips, Work 0
"A Sunday Afternoon Meeting of the Rubber Workers Union," 1942 Wikipedia
“Sunday Afternoon Meeting of the Rubber Workers Union.” Photo by Marjory Collins, 1943. Image courtesy Wikipedia via the Library of Congress.

I am flying to Buffalo, NY tomorrow afternoon so that I can scoot over to Williamsville, NY Saturday and Sunday morning to hang out with the savvy and able-bodied gals at Aurora Sewing for the weekend. They had to add an extra day for my lectures and trunk shows because clearly, when it comes to itinerant quilt teachers, the quilters of the greater Buffalo area have excellent taste.

I’m clicking around to learn a little about Buffalo because I have an occasion to do so, and that’s good; Buffalo is a city you hear about in the news from time to time but probably don’t know much about if you’re not from around there or close to around there. I suspect most of us read several paragraphs about Buffalo in an American History textbook at some point. Industry, is it? Wealthy escape for New York Cityfolk? Surely there aren’t buffalo there. Surely.

Here are the things I am learning about Buffalo as I click back and forth from here to my other browser pages. This is a play-by-play account of Buffalo you’re looking at. Let’s do this:

1. Named after Buffalo Creek.

2. Terminus point for the Underground Railroad! Woah!

3. Right there on Lake Erie, not too far from Niagara Falls/Canada; this explains #2.

4. President McKinley was shot there! Woah! He died eight days later! And it was Teddy Roosevelt who was sworn in when he died! Zounds! That’s kind of a big deal, Buffalo.

5. I was right about industry: cars, shipping, freight, grain elevators, stuff like that. Hard times came in the Depression, etc.; a rust belt city.

6. Now it’s coming together for me: I’m picturing some sad newscaster out in snow up to her stocking cap, reporting from a highway in Buffalo about the latest blizzard. Buffalo gets seriously dumped on in winter and for some reason, we hear about that a lot.

7. OH MY LORD: BUFFALO WINGS. Buffalo wings were first served in a bar in Buffalo, NY! That juicy little fact was worth the price of admission. I do not understand the appeal of buffalo wings, but at least I now know the truth of their origin.

I can’t top that last one, so I’ll quit while I’m hot. I do want to point out the picture above is of a meeting of the Rubber Workers Union in Buffalo in 1943. Those women are so fabulous! They are wearing hats and furs. It looks like they’re about to do a Broadway finale.

I’m not a fan of wistful, misty gazes into the early 20th century; stuff was as weird back then as it is now and people had plenty of problems we do not want now. But man. Those clothes. That pride! The pride of going to meetin’! The photo says it’s a Sunday, so they probably came from church. But still. That’s some Sunday best, ladies.

I shall take my best purse on my journey to your great city.



My Printer, My Battleaxe.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips, Work 1
The Cannon Pixma MX420: workhorse, monolith. Image: Internet
The Canon Pixma MX420: workhorse, monolith. Image: Internet.

I have had the same Canon Pixma MX420 printer/scanner since October 1, 2011. I know the exact date because I bought it on Amazon and I’ve just learned that when you buy stuff on Amazon, Amazon keeps the date of your order. This means that if you go through a breadmaking phase or an “I’m-going-to-read-George-Bernard-Shaw’s-entire-body-of-work” phase and years later you have a reason to figure out when all that went down, you can look back at your Amazon purchases and find out.

My Canon Pixma MX420 printer will not die. It has moved with me — wait for it — seven times since I bought it. That’s a lot to ask of a plastic box with glass, microchips, and a laser inside of it. All those boxes, those trucks, the accidental bang here, the on-purpose bang there — the girl is as good as new. She prints. She scans. Her LCD display is bright as ever. Her USB ports are unsullied. She has her pride, her morals.

I still don’t like her, though. That’s the problem: I’ve never liked this printer. Oh, I like that she works. I give thanks for every single page she spits out because at this point, every page strikes me as miraculous. What I don’t like is her attitude. My printer has an attitude problem and believe me: we’re close. I know her better than anyone. We’ve lived in the same (seven) house(s) for five years.

If you hit the wall switch and the power goes off on her without you turning her off at her console first, when you go to turn her on again, there pops up a message that says, “The printer did not shut down correctly. Next time, press OFF before disconnecting power to the printer.” I’m sorry, did you say, “Next time”? What am I, your office drone? And you can’t do anything until you hit the “OK” button to “ACCEPT.” So this printer is like, “I’m not doing anything for you until you acknowledge what you did. Until you admit you made a mistake. OK? Until you ACCEPT IT.”

“I accept all kinds of things!” I used to yell. “You don’t even have a spinal cord!” But I stopped that years ago. She’s a printer. She can’t hear me.

And once I knew better, I did better: I dutifully turned her off before I flipped any wall switches. I learned you have to lightly touch the “Off” button to wake her up before she’ll let you actually turn her off. So you have to do a light tap, then a convicted press. If that second contact isn’t deliberate enough, it won’t work, so your instinct is to just tap again, but that does nothing. So you go to press hard again, but by then she’s been tapped and is feigning confusion. It took me several years to figure out how to avoid this mess; done sloppily, she’ll just turn off and on again at least twice. Don’t get me started about the fuss she makes if she runs out of paper.

Today, my icy heart melted a little. I looked over at her, printing out two contracts, a cover letter, and a 24-page chapter of Claus’s latest book (in German!) and thought, “That blinkin’ thing still works.” I thought how weird her life must be. She’s either dealing with the shock of being woken up and turned off out of nowhere or she’s idling, waiting for a command from a computer she can’t refuse if she doesn’t like — or approve of — the content. Being a printer does not sound like a good time.

I have just realized that not so long ago, I wrote about the issues I have with my stove. Wow, okay. I am going to back away slowly. I’m going to put on some makeup. Get dressed. Go outside. Meet some people. Talk with words.

I travel to upstate NY on Thursday for a 3-day work trip. Sometimes it’s hard to head off to a gig; sometimes it’s clearly good for me.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Canon, I know how corporations work. I know you’re watching your SEO. I know that if I say that I love the Canon Pixma MX420, someone — even if it’s a robot first — will see it. And surely you reward those people who are devoted to you and your product. Perhaps you will reward me with complimentary ink, perhaps, or an upgrade, maybe, should say that I love my Canon Pixma MX420 best printer for all best printer Canon Pixma printer scanner combination best Pixma MX420 ink ink cartridge Pixma Canon best home printer top ten printer scanner combination Canon printer MX420 ink refill top ten printers for home office Canon best printers for home use or business use highest rated Canon printer? Thank you for your consideration.]



The Sweetpea Star Block.

posted in: Tips, Work 5
I'm calling it "The Sweetpea Star" block. Photo: Me
I’m calling it “The Sweetpea Star” block. Photo: Me

I was invited to teach a class at the 2017 QuiltCon and the one that they want is my (new!) class on partial seaming. The block above — which is old as the hills — uses partial seaming and will be the basis of the class. I’m calling it the “Sweetpea Star” but it surely has ten names already. “Partial” and “seaming” are two words that when used together make many quilters flinch. Isn’t that something garment makers do? Surely there’s a shortcut. A special ruler, perhaps?

Yes, garment makers use partial seams, but patchwork makers can, too: including you, if cutting up big pieces of fabric into small pieces of fabric and then sewing them back together again is your cup of tea. Are there shortcuts? Special tools? For most partially seamed blocks, yeah, but if you see a killer block that uses partial seaming and then you try to find a way around doing that part, you won’t get the same thing. The shapes will be a little narrower, maybe, or a little wider. It’ll look close, but not as good.

It’s like a designer handbag: you can totally buy the knock-off version, and okay, sure, it looks pretty good. You might even get compliments on it. But there are those who will know, who will ask you where you got your bag and, because you are honest, you will say, nervously, “Oh, well, haha, you know, a store — hey, are you hungry? Let’s get a panini.”

And of course, you’ll know. You’ll know you did some dirty patchwork to avoid doing partial seams. And you’ll have to live with that. You’ll have to live with that a long time.

This is a strange way to invite guild programming officers to request my new “No-Fear Partial Seams: Sweetpea Star Block” class when you contact me about coming to a guild near you. It’s also an announcement that I’ll be teaching at QuiltCon in Savannah in February and those planning to attend should register for the class. (I’ll be teaching two blocks of it and will debut a new lecture at the show, as well.)

You can do something hard. Usually, it’s not even hard. You just tried it once (whatever it was) and it yes, it was hard, so you got it in your mind that that thing is hard and you can’t do it, so you say you don’t want to do it. But you kind of do want to do the hard thing, deep down. I don’t know about all those other people, but if you’re a quilter facing a hard situation, I have fabulous news for you:

Fabric is soft.


A Writing Prompt for Both of Us.

posted in: Art, Tips, Word Nerd 0
Mary Pickford, 1918. Photo: Wikipedia
Mary Pickford, 1918. Photo: Wikipedia

I’ve been asked, “How do you come up with something to write every day?”

There are two parts to the answer. The first is that I want to be a decent writer and the only way to get decent at something is to practice. It’s true for a violinist. It’s true for a bridge player. I’ll never be a great writer, and I know that. Earnest Hemingway was a great writer. Virginia Woolf was a great writer. Both of those writers committed suicide, though, so maybe I don’t want to be a great writer.

“Now, now, Mary. Plenty of great writers did not commit suicide.” I’ll say yes, that’s true, and why are you speaking to me like a governess? The point is that even though I’ll never be great, I can be better than I was last year, hopefully. That’s the goal.

The second part of the answer is that I’m a naturally observant person and things that I see frequently make me intensely sad, excited, or confused. Frequently I see comedy, or at least what I perceive as comedic. I find those things worth examining more closely, even if they are otherwise insignificant things and they usually are. Writing stuff down is my preferred method of more closely examining things. I’m a terrible oil painter.

I suppose there’s a third reason: I like writing PaperGirl so much that if I miss a day, I’m grumpy. There was a spell this past holiday season when I was really lax and it was uncomfortable, like having a poke-y tag on my shirt. So sometimes I just plain make myself write about something because I don’t sleep as well if I don’t.

This morning was strange. I drew a blank. My aborted or curtailed travel plans were off the table. I didn’t want to write about my body. I couldn’t think of something funny that happened to me. I did see a shooting star the other night but I didn’t feel like being woo-woo. So I did something I’ve never done, which was to google, “non-fiction writing prompts.” It turned out to be a very good idea, because none of the prompts inspired me, but the act of looking up writing prompts was a writing prompt in itself. It also prompted me to create my own prompts. You have my permission to use them.

What is your personal credo?
Closely examine your feelings on olive loaf.
What stops you in your tracks?
How do you feel about adults who take tango lessons? Explain.
What the heck is wrong with you and what are you going to do about it?



How To Fall Gracefully.

posted in: Tips 1
Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

David Neville, the guy in the foreground up there, is an American sprinter who specializes in the 400-meter dash. He’s a gold and bronze medalist, and in a race in 2004, he clocked 9.8 meters per second. Almost ten meters a second. Basically, he bends time and space and practices a lot. That’s what we know about David.

The picture above was taken at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. It looks like David’s falling, but that’s actually him diving for the finish line. He came in third on this one which, whatever, David. Clearly, you didn’t want it enough. Five-thirty a.m., tomorrow. All-day practice and I’m bringing two stopwatches.

Yesterday at the airport to beautiful Puyallup, WA to headline the big Sewing & Stitchery Expo event tomorrow night (I’m also doing signings and a demo and basically hanging out and having fun, so check the program and come see me), I saw not one but two people trip and almost fall. Neither case was a serious one; these were able-bodied people who would not have sustained serious injuries if they had gone down. One lady was stepping onto the moving walkway and kinda gave her hair a toss as she did. Well, her inner ear didn’t like that too much and she pitched forward and barely caught herself. “Waa!” she cried, and then she was okay.

The other guy, he was wearing shoes with grippy rubber, I guess, because he was just walking and tripped on the airport floor. “Gak!” he cried, and pushed his glasses back up his nose. It goes without saying that both of these people did the embarrassed look-around after they tripped to see if anyone had seen them. Usually, someone does, but it’s really no big deal.

But if they do see, if you biff hard in front of a lot of people and you really do fall, you just say, “Haha, oh, no. I didn’t fall. I was diving for the finish line.” People will look at you like you’re not well in the head and that’s good: they will forget about the falling entirely. Instead of telling their friends later, “Oh, man. It was so hilarious. I saw this woman turf out at the airport today,” they’ll say, “Today at the airport I met the craziest woman I have ever met in my life.”

Treasure Island!

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Tips 0
Relevant cake pops. Photo: Wikipedia
Relevant cake pops. Photo: Wikipedia

I was up in the laundry room this evening and the joint was really hopping. I was continuing my pre-wash odyssey (I’m close) while a couple other people were laundering regular things, like underpants. After a bit, it was down to me and a pretty lady named Catherine who appeared to be in her early fifties or so. We got to chatting about what we do for a living.

Catherine has worked for many years in the children’s department of a bookstore, which means she is my new favorite person. Learning of Catherine’s job, memories of my favorite childhood books came flooding back: The Pokey Little Puppy. The Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. Anything/everything Pooh. Anything/everything Shel Silverstein. Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Phantom Tollbooth. The Secret Garden. Anne of Green Gables. It felt so good to think of those books.

And then Catherine said something that instantly changed my entire winter.

“You know what I’ve been doing recently?” she said, soft-spoken and sweet like she needs to be to fit my children’s-bookstore-lady archetype. “I’ve been listening to audio recordings of children’s classics. It’s really wonderful. Treasure Island. Black Beauty. Little Women.” She smiled at me. “I’d recommend that to anyone, especially you, if you like to listen to books while you make your quilts.”

It would’ve been rude for me to run out of the laundry room at that moment so that I could get back into my living room and load up Treasure Island, Black Beauty, Hatchet, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and other A-listers in the genre. So I didn’t do that. But they’re all cued up — and while I folded three batches of fabric, I began with Treasure Island, which I have never read. I couldn’t wait.

Guess how good Treasure Island is? It was hard to break away to sit down with my computer, to be honest. Catherine and I didn’t exchange info, so unless I see her again she won’t know how much I appreciated our conversation. Maybe I’ll just go into the laundry room around this time next week and just bellow, “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” until she comes and I can tell her she is very inspiring when she washes socks.

Reporting From Inside THE HOLIDAY ZONE.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Tips 0
HOLIDAY ZONE! Photo: Marcus Quigmire; Wikipedia.
HOLIDAY ZONE! Photo: Marcus Quigmire; Wikipedia.

These are the days inside THE HOLIDAY ZONE.

Oh, we’ve been doing shopping. We roughly know what’s happening when: brother and sister-in-law arrive around 2pm Thursday, everyone is meeting at Lou Malnati’s at 6pm on Saturday, the cake needs to be picked up before the store closes on Christmas Eve, etc. But now it’s real. The kin have come. The chicken needs a’trussin’. You forgot the extra bottle of red wine; also you forgot the breadcrumbs. The children are freaking out (not about the breadcrumbs; you don’t know what they’re freaking out about but they are loud.) Your brother is doing that thing. And you still need stocking treats. The HOLIDAY ZONE is hard enough, but what’s really insulting is that now you must admit you are that rather frazzled person hustling up State Street with a furrowed brow. Lame.

People enter THE HOLIDAY ZONE at different times; you may have begun earlier in the week, you may be starting on Christmas Day and going into the days following. Whatever your particular schedule, if you’re not 100% sure you’ve entered THE HOLIDAY ZONE, here are clues:

1. You look at your email and most of it is last-minute sale offers from stores/companies you thought you filtered into your spam folder and there are barely any emails related to work or commitments with clubs/affiliations/personal trainers. This version of your email box is a feeling of relief mixed with a bizarre, vague disappointment. It’s nice to get emails that show you’re relevant.

2. Stomachaches. Frosting-related.

3. You leave a room and sigh. Then someone calls your name. You sigh again and go back to the room you just came from. And what were you going in there for? You cannot remember. It’ll come to you when you try to take the potatoes out of the oven and you realize you were trying to find the oven mitts. (They’re in the bathroom.)

4. You switch to a liquor drink instead of wine and later, you realize why you don’t do that. #spinning

5. You pull that dusty copy of Being and Time off the shelf and decide you will read it in the bathroom for awhile. The potholders are in there, anyway.

There are more signs. But if any of those symptoms resonate, you’re probably in THE HOLIDAY ZONE and you should find shelter. The good thing about THE HOLIDAY ZONE is that we’re all in it. Get along with each other: THE HOLIDAY ZONE is way easier with a pal. And heed some of the best advice I have ever gotten, ever: “Just when you’re going fast, trying to speed up, trying to hurry — that’s when you need to slow down.”

How to Make a Fabric n’ Paint Chip Ornament!

posted in: Small Wonders, Tips 0
I know I'm a little biased, but the Small Wonders icons could not be better for this project. Photo: Me
I know I’m a little biased, but the Small Wonders icons could not be better for this project. Photo: Me

I made stuff! And I’d like to share the idea with you.

Christmas prep is underway; my family will descend upon the (marvelous) city and we’ve got a great cruise director in my younger sister Rebecca. She’s made the dinner reservations, the time we’ll go see Star Wars and various other activities. What’s fantastic about holiday time in my family is that it is chill. It wasn’t always that way; we used to feel pressure to do every activity together, to press all these activities (ice skating, lunch, museum) into a short time and it was stressful. A few years ago we were like, “Hey, if you want to skip the museum and just hang out and eat cookies, great!” There is no guilt about declining an outing. Do your thing. And the result is that more often than not, we actually do All The Things because we don’t want to miss out on being together.

Anywhoodle, I am trimming the tree I got the other day. The nice boy at the Ace Hardware around the corner was brawny and offered to carry it on his shoulder all the way to my elevator! He braved the cold and surely got sap on his shoulder, but I was a damsel in distress. Thanks, guy.

While I was in the Ace Hardware, I had an idea. That huge wall of paint sample cards drew me in a tractor beam. I pulled a whole bunch of Christmas-colored chips (is that word acceptable here?) and I could put pieces of fabric on them and hang them all over the tree. Of course — and I mean this, though I have a particular affinity for this fabric — the Small Wonders icons are perfect for this. You gonna cut a 4” flower and try to stick it on a paint chip? Naw, naw. So here are directions for a darling ornament that is half-free, half-from your stash. Because you have gotten the Small Wonders fabrics. I know a lot of you have because a major fabric store was out of it when the ladies in Florida went to buy it. Thanks, Santa!

How To Make a Paint Chip + Fabric Ornament

Get paint chips from the hardware store
Cut a small piece of background fabric
Cut a smaller piece of fabric with a central image
Glue the background down
Glue the “foreground” small-icon image fabric on that
Stick an ornament hook through the paint chip
Hang on a pine tree (not just any pine tree — go for the one currently in your living room)

Have fun!

Compassion Station: All Aboard

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 2
It's windy in DC, too. Illustration: Geoffery Biggs via Wikipedia.
It’s windy in DC, too. Book illustration: Geoffery Biggs. Wikipedia.

I flew across the entire continental United States yesterday. Portland to Washington, D.C. is no joke: six whole hours in the air, plus layover. I could get from D.C. to Paris in about the same amount of time. I’m not complaining: Portland was great. But, you know. Paris.

Halfway through the first flight, I went to visit the commode in the back of the plane. I had to wait for it to be available and found myself inserted into a conversation between an airline attendant and a man in his late thirties. I picked up that the man was a retired police officer. He had brown hair, a sweet disposition, and was remarkably heavy. I didn’t think much of any of this until the man shared with the attendant that he had been shot four times during a drug bust.

“One of the bullets went straight through my chest, yeah,” the man said. He said it like it was no big deal, like plenty of us get shot in the chest.

“Oh no!” The flight attendant’s hand covered her mouth. I wasn’t exactly part of the conversation, but I gasped, too.

“Yeah. Crazy. I’ve gained eighty pounds since then. That was maybe two years ago, and they’ve got me on all these steroids. It’s really bizarre, you know. I used to be really fit.” He said it matter-of-fact, but there was some shame, I think, in his voice, like he was apologizing.

There are so many things we think we know and we know basically zero things. Maybe I would’ve seen that man and thought, “Wow, he’s really heavy. Maybe he should take the stairs and not the escalator,” or some other judgey, useless thing. I wouldn’t know that he was shot in the chest at work and to keep his heart working or whatever so he can be alive for his son or whatever, he’s on steroids. Steroids cause weight gain in most people who have to take it.

Whenever possible, I try to find a Family or Assisted Care bathroom in public places. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a private bathroom when you are a person missing several organs in the lower half of her body. Trust me. But if you were to see me go in, would you purse your lips? Would you think I’m going in to like, do my hair or just have more space? Would you give me a dirty look if I caught your eye as I went in because here I am a young woman in high heels, clipping along just fine down the airport terminal? I don’t look disabled. I don’t have a baby. But you don’t know my life. You don’t know so many things.

The guy who cuts you off in traffic shouldn’t. But maybe he’s got one last dinner with his kid before the kid goes to live with his mom in Mexico for the rest of the summer. (I know someone in such a situation.) We don’t know what people are up against. The only thing we do know is that life never, ever looks like we thought it would. Even when it’s good, it still doesn’t look like the pictures we paint in our heads.

Grease Fires Are Very Bad: Tips For Avoiding & Stopping One

posted in: Food, Tips 0
Grease fires not this cute in real life.
Actual grease fires not adorable as illustration.

All the tips and info I’m sharing regarding the extinguishing of Hot Fire That Can Ruin Your Life is meant to be food for thought (burning, fiery food) and to inspire you to brush up on your emergency skills.

Yesterday, I had a pan of hamburgers in the oven that were surprisingly greasy and got so incredibly hot, I believe I was minutes away from a grease fire. I can’t be sure and don’t want to be; if I was sure, there would have been a grease fire and grease fires are bad.

The burgers were from Whole Foods. “Steakhouse” it said on the label when I pulled them from the freezer. When I got home yesterday there was no energy to go to the store, so this would be dinner. I put the four thawed burgers onto a cooky pan — one with a lip around all sides — and put it in at 400-degrees then went about my business. Maybe I got busy doing other things and forgot to check on the burgers halfway through. Maybe when it was time to take them out I let them cook 15 minutes longer and only did that because I was not paying attention. Maybe.

Regardless, when I opened the oven door, I gasped. The grease in the pan was a scalding pool that seemed like it was beginning to smoke. (I guess “steakhouse” means “80% fat and frightening to prepare.”) I turned off the oven immediately and got my biggest oven mitts to move the pan carefully, cautiously, I’m-not-breathing-till-this-is-ten-feet-away-from-me, to the counter. I spent several long minutes spooked. Grave. Wincing. That was almost on fire, I thought, and it made me wonder if I know how to put out a grease fire. Do you?

Here’s what you do NOT do:

– Do NOT throw water on a grease fire! This is the worst thing you could do! Do not do it!
– Do NOT try to carry the pot or the pan out of the kitchen! Leave it alone!
– Do NOT put a glass lid on the top of a grease fire in a pan! It will break!

Here’s what you CAN do: 

– Call 911. If it’s really bad — and I think mine would’ve been — there’s very little you can do and it could get dangerous, fast. Grease fires are extremely hot and spread quickly; they’re also fueled by a liquid, so splashing a la napalm is highly possible. Get help.

– Turn off the flame and put the lid on the pot. Obviously, this works if your fire is on a pan or pot on the stovetop. A lid on the pot will stop the fire from getting oxygen and may extinguish it.

– Baking soda can work. But you need a lot of it and most people don’t have a vat of baking soda three inches from their hand when they’re at the stove.

– Apparently there are better-than-ever fire extinguishers on the market that we should probably all have, including me. Get one.

– Even if you think you don’t need to, set a timer for heaven’s sake, and be somewhere within earshot of it. The fire safety info I looked at this evening said basically all kitchen fires happen because people leave the kitchen and forget they’re making things with fire and gas.

This post isn’t as fun as this one and it may not sell books — by the way, thank you for all the orders: I’m gratefully deluged! — but it’s one I hope you’ll share around online or talk about at lunch tomorrow. It’s easy to forget kitchen safety stuff.


posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
California State Flag.
California State Flag. I arrived in Sacramento last night and this is as good an image for this post as any.

Over the past month or so, I have been able to see the possibility that exists all around me. By “possibility” I essentially mean “choices I could make.”

There is always possibility; it is always all around every one of us; it is always perched on the tips of our respective noses. But there also exists The Lull, and The Lull is a veil that gets dropped slowly, silently down over our faces until we can’t see those possibilities. The Lull isn’t a malevolent spirit, it’s just made of stuff that makes a strong piece of gauze: time, habit, inertia and fear. It’s the veil that weighs 6,000lbs.

But every once in awhile the veil lifts. Sometimes it lifts because something good happens (e.g., you win a baking contest and think, “Wait a minute… Do I want to be a professional baker???”) Sometimes it lifts because something terrible happens (e.g., your significant other breaks up with you and though you’re sad, you’re now a free agent and you no longer have to deal with his World of Warcraft obsession or anyone’s, ever, ever again.) Possibilities flood in when The Lull is disrupted. You suddenly see the world beyond the veil and wow, is it ever big and boy, were you ever thinking small.

You don’t have to wait for something to happen to you to lift the veil. That sounds like something a life coach would say, but I know from recent experience that it’s true. I recently asked myself, “Mary Fons, what do you want?” I wasn’t talking about handbags. I wasn’t talking about lunch. I just stopped what I was doing (eating lunch, alone) and faced myself. I run all over the place, I go 90-miles an hour, I’ve got this thing, I’ve got that thing… But what do I want? What is my heart’s delight? If money was no object, if nothing bad would happen, if no puppies would lose their lives, what possibilities that are consistently pushed away would I grab and make my Real Life?

And now, I’m super raw. The veil is up and it’s fun to see all this stuff. It’s also a mite overwhelming: the veil hides a lot of possibilities. I don’t have more possibilities than some because I don’t have a family or a spouse; I just have different ones. I don’t have fewer possibilities because I don’t have buckets of money like some people; I just have different ones.

Watch out for The Lull. Flap your hands over your face and see if you can move that veil out your eyes. I can’t be held responsible for what you see, but I don’t think you’ll regret it. And you can’t un-see things.

Sleeping In Church.

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Tips, Travel 0

Last night, I slept in the sanctuary of a church in rural Iowa.

I just got a bee in my bonnet and felt like I needed to commune, so I got in the car, searched on my phone for “country church, Iowa”, and drove north. I found a humble church, broke open the door, and poked around. When it was time for bed, I had to try various pews throughout the night because for some reason I slept poorly.

Just kidding. But I did sleep in a sanctuary!

The Quilted Steeple is a retreat center in Lone Rock, IA, far and away the coolest retreat center I’ve ever retreated to. Several years ago, this church was shuttered and up for sale. The fabulous Julie Dodds, who had attended church there most of her life (and whose mother played the organ there for decades) came down from Michigan to buy the collection plates for sentimental reasons. She ended up buying the church itself, partly because she was not keen on the idea of a motorcycle gang taking over the place; they had put in an offer and it looked like they might get it. By the name of the retreat center, you have surmised Julie is a quilter, so she followed her vision to make it a haven for quilters to come and sew and relax. Hooray!

It’s amazing how perfect a church is for a retreat; I am teaching here this weekend and I saw it for myself. Classes take place in the in the church basement. There’s a fully tricked-out kitchen down there for big-group meal prep. Lectures and trunk shows happen in the sanctuary, and the (many bedroomed, many bathroomed) parsonage across the gravel sidewalk serves as lodging. Cornfields as far as the eye can see muffle the big world beyond and I can’t even talk about the sunset/sunrise out here.

When I got the tour, we went into the pretty-but-definitely-country sanctuary; there’s no stained glass here just wood lattice work over the peaked windows — this is no mega-church. It’s not chapel-small, but seeing as I have not been in a chapel except in Vegas, I might be wrong about this. At any rate, it is neat. Julie pointed up to the choir loft and said, “That’s a bedroom now.”

I took the Lord’s name in vain and whirled on Julie. “Is it taken?? Can I sleep there??” Julie said that I could.

I take it as a good sign that I slept like a damned baby.* The trundle bed was comfortable; I wrote in my journal after gazing down at the big bowl of prayer below for awhile. This morning, the sun from the front door lit up the whole aisle in toasted, golden light. I am not a church-going woman, but I do recommend sleeping in a choir loft at least once in life. Very peaceful, even for a depraved sinner like myself.

The Quilted Steeple isn’t just for quilt retreats. I have no compunction about endorsing, even shamelessly advertising this place. Weddings, funerals, any kind of educational retreat, family reunions — whenever you need a bunch of people for at least one overnight, book the Quilted Steeple. One lucky person will get the choir loft bedroom and if the cat’s out of the bag that it exists, I recommend early dibs.

Thank you, Julie. And thank you for taking the organ out because I had room for my suitcase and my purse and my computer bag.

*No way, no how could I resist that one. Sorry.  

How To Make The Worst Day Ever Better in 5 Easy Steps.

posted in: Rant, Tips 0
Appropriately bummed out orphans in "Annie" the musical. Photo: Eva Rinaldi via Wikipedia
Appropriately bummed out orphans in “Annie” the musical. Photo: Eva Rinaldi via Wikipedia.

Today was pretty lousy. Like, real lousy. I’ll spare details for now.

It’s a good thing that I have a method of popping myself out of a miserable mood. I’d like to share with you. Note that this technique only works for a matter of minutes, but if you’re really low, it’s all you got. It works the best if you’re crying and alone, a state easy enough to find oneself in when having a truly rotten day.

Step 1: Raise your head from your hands.
Is your face hot and wet with tears? Good. Is watery snot from your nose squishing onto your palms? Fabulous. This is all good but actually unnecessary for Step 2.

Step 2: The first thing you see when you open your eyes, take a deep breath and holler at it, calling it stupid.
Holler, “Stupid chair!” The hollering is extremely important. When you call out the chair and tell it it’s stupid, you must holler it. Don’t say it, don’t scream it, and definitely don’t whisper it unless you want to take a hard nosedive into The Abyss. You must holler. Holler like you’re a kid whose older brother just took his favorite pack of baseball cards. There’s no malice in this. It’s a rather innocent kind of yelling, I guess. It’s the kind of yelling kids did in 1956. That’s hollering.

Step 3: Call everything “stupid.”
Everything you lay your eyes upon, you holler at it and call it stupid. For example: “Stupid chair! Stupid table! Stupid pitcher on the table! Stupid pitcher on the table that doesn’t even have anything in it!”

Step 4: Riff. Get abstract.
Turns out stream-of-consciousness, free-association hollering feels fantastic. Continuing with where we left off with the pitcher: “Stupid pitcher on the table that doesn’t even have anything in it! Stupid stuff with nothing in it! Stupid stuff! Stupid negative space! Stupid modernism! Stupid fancy modernist bullsh*t! Stupid that I still want an Eames chair! Stupid wanting! Stupid hungry-ghost-Buddhist-definition-of-suffering! Stupid Eastern religion! Stupid religion!”

TIP: If you go too far afield, just bring it back to what you can see, e.g., the couch. 

Step 5: Blend in your problems and holler them, as well. “Stupid couch! Stupid sitting down! Stupid people sitting on stupid couches in stupid outfits! Stupid me! Stupid me for sending that stupid email! Stupid email! Stupid me for saying X to Y! Stupid human nature. Stupid human nature. Stupid mistakes. Stupid everyone.”

By the end of a round you’re sure to be a little calmer and this is for a couple reasons. For one, all that hollering is tiring. For two, you’ve put things in (stupid) perspective because you’ve connected with the absurdity of life. Changes are very good you’ve also made yourself laugh at some point. You can’t holler, “Stupid Spanish textbook I bought at Half-Price Books to teach myself Spanish six years ago and never even opened” without .00008 of a smile occurring.

Good luck to you. Tomorrow will be better but you are well within your rights to holler, “Stupid people saying ‘tomorrow will be better’! Stupid Annie! Stupid musicals! Stupid crushed dreams! Stupid dreams! Stupid etc., etc., etc.”

Change The Container, Change Your Life.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
Extremely fancy Penhaligon's orange blossom water...or Listerine? Photo: Wikipedia
Fancy Penhaligon’s orange blossom water from London..or Listerine? Photo: Wikipedia

Perhaps this is a frivolous tip.

But a few weeks ago, I realized my shampoo was terrible. It was also expensive, from a shop that sells fancy French skincare and bath products. They make a lot of products I love — and my mother is such a huge fan she should be making a commission at this point for all the people she’s turned onto the brand — but the shampoo? Poo. At least for me. I kept using it though, because it seemed a shame to throw it out at that price and the bottle was gorgeous. So I kept washing my hair with the poo-shamp. But it finally had to stop. My hair is wimpy.

So to Walgreen’s I went the next day, determined to offset the high price I paid for the poo-shamp by getting some Pert this time around. I figured Pert has been on the market so long (28 years!) there’s gotta be something to it. But when I got to the drugstore and stood in the shampoo section, my soul cried. I hate, hate, hate a big plastic bottle of drugstore shampoo in my shower. Why?

Subliminally, every time I see a big drugstore bottle of shampoo, I envision myself as a freshman in my college dorm, walking to the showers with my ugly plastic bucket of toiletries: pink Bic razor; over-perfumed shower gel from Bath & Body Works; a gummy bar of soap; a toothbrush and near-gone toothpaste tube…and a big bottle of, for example, Garnier Fructis. That bilious green. That ridiculous copy on the back about silk and strength. The enormous bottle itself, enormous because Proctor & Gamble has to get the cost of the bottle up to $6.99 and the stuff only costs $.06 to make, so hey, give ’em a gallon.

But standing there, dreading making my purchase, it hit me: it’s not the product I hate. It’s the container. So… Pour the expensive poo-shamp out of the gorgeous bottle. Fill the gorgeous bottle with Pert. I could consciously fake myself out and be so happy.

And this is just what I did. I went home and did the shampoo shuffle and it totally works. Even though I know the fancy bottle does not contain $20 shampoo, it feels like $20 shampoo because of the bottle. My life has totally changed. Do I need expensive shampoo? No. Do I need to feel happy and fancy in my shower? Yes, because I just do. But I can have both.

Also, Pert is not necessarily a product you need to run out and get.

Here She Comes: 36!

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
Woah, woah! Not quite, guys, let's pull that back a bit. Photo: Wikipedia
Woah, woah! Not quite, guys, let’s pull that one back. Photo: Wikipedia

My birthday is on Thursday. I’ll be thirty-six years old.

Patton Oswalt is a comedian who has my complete devotion. He does a brilliant bit on birthdays and I wish I could advise everyone to go to YouTube and listen to it (it was on one of his records years ago) but I can only send those who are okay with profanity. Using bad words is just the way good comedians roll, I’m afraid, and I’ll argue that the well-placed [beep] is comedy magic when used right. Sometimes the right word is the right word and the word choices made have everything to do with a comedian’s delivery, rhythm, and style.

Patton’s bit examines birthdays — as in, a celebratory day marking your birth — and how you really only get twenty. Here’s how he breaks it down:

Age 1-9 – you get a birthday because you’re a little kid
Age 10 – you get a birthday because you’ve hit the double-digits
Age 11-12 – NO birthday. Go to school.
Age 13 – you get a birthday because you’re a teenager
Age 14-15 – NO birthday. Do your homework.
Age 16 – you get a birthday because you can drive and smoke cigarettes
Age 17 – NO birthday.
Age 18 – you get a birthday because you can vote and shoot a gun.
Age 19 – NO birthday. Get a job.
Age 20 – you get a birthday, because you’ve entered a new decade and you get one every time that occurs
Age 21 – the one exception to the above rule because you can legally drink alcohol, which matters

After 21, the decade rule applies. Unless you’re hitting a 30, 40, 50, 60, etc., marker, your birthday is simply not a big deal.

Aside from being funny, I find it extremely helpful. For years I had strange, inexplicable baggage about my birthday. My family can attest to this and would do so with major eye rolls and heavy sighs. Every year I would get sullen and grumpy and weepy on my birthday. It was the Birthday Problem That Had No Name. But I finally figured it out and it was about expectation. I didn’t have Oswalt’s rules, so I expected something sort of cool or neat or happy to happen every year on my birthday and when it didn’t, I was crushed. It was the same exact feeling you get when Christmas morning (or the entire day) kind of fizzles out or is straight up disappointing. We want so much, we feel so much, and then we come back to Earth. Now that I have Oswalt’s rules, I no longer have the subconscious desire to have a Birthday Parade every year.

And so my simple plan for Thursday is to visit my hairstylist (he is actually French and actually named Christophe) and get gentle, subtle, Breck girl highlights. I’m going to workout so I feel physically good. The best thing about Thursday is that my friend Claus is coming to visit me in Washington, but his plane gets into BWI at 10pm or something, so the tail end of my birthday will be spent sleepy in Baltimore.

That’s thirty-six for you: sleepy in Baltimore.

I Painted Stripes!

I painted them!
I painted them!

Just look at ’em! Look at those beauties! See ’em? Those straight, tall, proud, baby blue stripes? I painted ’em! That’s right, me! (MARY stabs thumb into chest, flashes huge smile, begins to eat popsicle.)

For weeks now, I’ve been staring at one of the walls in my living room-dining room-great hall and seeing pale blue awning stripes. Just the one. An “accent” wall, I think is what they call it. I just knew pale blue awning stripes would look awesome, but I’d have to hire a painter and I don’t like hiring painters. But I couldn’t possibly paint the stripes myself. They’d have to be perfectly, perfectly straight and not blubby around the edges, especially if they only kinda worked in the room. The only thing worse than being a total decorating misfire would be a decorating misfire executed badly. I don’t have a great track record with wall-painting as evidenced by every single baseboard in every single apartment I have ever, ever had. For this stripe job, a professional painter would have to be called.

But then my Viking ancestors grabbed my shoulders with their ghostly, Norwegian hands and shook me. “Are you crazy?! Hiring a painter for two-hundred bucks an hour — plus supplies and parking — to paint a single wall in your apartment?! Shame! Fa raeva til jernvarehandel!* You’ll never be a Norse god at this rate.” And they kicked me out the door. The nerve!

You know what I learned today? I learned how to use a level. I learned how to tape up a wall properly  when you want to paint it. (Hint: take your time, don’t rush; it’s like three-quarters of the entire job.) I took great care to actually put down a drop cloth that actually covered everything that could possibly get paint on it. In short, I did the job right. It would be impossible for me to love my stripes more. They’re on the Proudest Accomplishment List right now. I’m now eyeing every wall in my home, daring it to tell me it also wants to be an accent wall of some kind.

I’d love to put up the process photos, but The PaperGirl Pledge means I only put one photo per post. So go to my Facebook page for more pictures. It was really fun and I did it in like four hours!

*Google translate it. Norwegian to English. 

Laundry Symbols: You’re Welcome

posted in: Tips 1
Tape it up in your laundry room and promptly forget you did that. Photo: Reddit
Tape it up in your laundry room and promptly forget you did that. Photo: Internet. Please contact me if this is your image.

I attended a lecture this evening where a couple universal fabric care symbols were shown on a slide. Everyone laughed because though a number of them live on many of the garments in our lives, no one knows what those laundry instruction icons mean.

The ones that should be self-explanatory aren’t. The “Hand Wash” icon looks like it could mean “Hand Burning”, as though the tub of liquid you’re washing your clothes in might be hydrochloric acid. And gym clothes need that, sometimes. The tubs with temperatures on them look like they might be pretty straightforward, but those temperatures are in Celsius. They don’t always say that.

Other icons are unknowable without help. The dots in the washbasins: apples? Bleach is a triangle, okay — but why? As for the last row up there, I just get angry. It’s hula hoops and sticks! What is this, Norman Rockwell’s sketchbook?? The whole thing looks like the language of a people who use a pictorial system to communicate with each other in writing.

You do have to respect that people for their language, though. There are no dirty words!

I kill me!


Sioux City, Distilled.

posted in: Quilting, Tips, Travel 1
"Bing" is for bing cherry, by the way. Photo: Internet
“Bing” is for bing cherry, by the way. Photo: Internet

Greetings from fabulous Sioux City!

When’s the last time you were in Sioux City? Yeah, me neither, but I’m glad I’m here. Sioux City is pretty cool. The downtown makes a good first impression as you roll in with its copper-colored bricks, clocktower, and a few tall buildings. I consulted the oracle* to learn a bit about this town that is almost in South Dakota and almost in Nebraska.

Here are 5 notable things I’ve learned about Sioux City:

1. In 2010, Money magazine named Sioux City one of the best places to live in the world. I can’t find the article but that’s a very nice thing to say, Money, and I’m sure you had your reasons.

2. There is a creek here called Bacon Creek. Not Beacon. Not Macon. Bacon.

3. Try as I might, I cannot stop laughing over the fact that the airport code for Sioux City is SUX. It’s just not fair. Someone, please do something about this. It’s time.

4. The Twin Bing candy your ancestors ate? Made in Sioux City. It even says so on the wrapper. I feel like the Twin Bing is primed for a comeback via the post-hipster set. I can see a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Chicago working a Twin Bing foam into the pork chop dish; I can see an all-natural cosmetics company making a Twin Bing exfoliant.

5. Guess who was born here? Pauline Esther Friedman and her twin sister Esther Pauline Friedman, better known as Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”) and Ann Landers, respectively. Yes! The advice columnists known for the sassy, brassy advice they gave the American people for over two centuries. Did you know those two women were sisters? Twins, even?! And did you know they hated each other and though people said they reconciled their bitter competition at some point, they totally did not? You can’t write this stuff!

And I am falling asleep in this chair, proof that you can write this stuff, but not anymore tonight.

*the Internet

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