Hotel Beer

posted in: Confessions, Travel | 9
I was never a fan. Then came Tuesday. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Where in the world is Mary Fons?

Louisiana, and all the time.

Well, I’m back in Chicago tonight, but I’ve returned from Louisiana once again. You see, Quiltfolk’s Issue 07 features quilt culture in the exquisitely gorgeous Pelican State — now on newsstands and subscriber mailboxes everywhere! — and because we have successfully launched Quiltfolk Patterns concurrently with that issue I have visited Louisiana not once, not twice, not three, nor four times in the past few months, but five times. Five times! I’m practically looking at apartments.

Louisiana is a fine state full of fabulous people; I’m about to give you an example. But first I need to sit here a minute and dab (daub?) my forehead, which in a parallel universe is still dripping with sweat. In this (gross) parallel universe, I am literally wringing out my shirt. In a parallel universe, I am guzzling water, lemonade, iced coffee, and air conditioning condensation to rehydrate myself because the heat and humidity in Louisiana have taken my very soul and baked it and cooked it and braised it till there is nothing left. Nothing left!

What I’m trying to say is that it’s hot down in Loo’siana in the summertime. I talked to a local on Trip No. 219,920 about it.

“I don’t know, man,” I said. “I really like New Orleans, but this heat is killin’ me. I guess you guys must get used to it.”

The man just looked at me and swiped his forehead with a bandana. “No ma’am, you never get used to it. It’s just no damn good. Everyone pretty much tries to leave in the summer. What brings you to town?”

So on Tuesday, I was down there for a location shoot. I can tell you more about that later; suffice to say now, it was a very challenging day. It rained on and off. We were shooting at two different locations. The humidity was at 100 percent. I was with lovely people, but all of them were first-timers for Quiltfolk, so I was the usual mother hen, directing things and managing things, but I also was the only one on the shoot who had done this particular thing before. So it was a lot. Oh, and because flying into Shreveport costs about as much as flying to Paris, we all flew into Dallas and drove to Louisiana, which was a 4.5 hour drive that started at 6:00 a.m.

When we finally wrapped for the day, I left the girls at the car to begin check-in the 3-star hotel — which will go unnamed for reasons that will be evident — where we were staying that night before rolling out for Dallas in the wee hours (again.) When I came in the automatic doors, the girl behind the front desk did a double-take. I didn’t look disheveled: I looked like I had been swimming with alligators. All day. I tried to be chipper and perky but there was no chip, no perk. I handed over the credit card. I mumbled something about being out in the heat all day.

“Ooh!” she said. “That’s bad!”

“Well, it’s always nice to be in Louisiana,” I said, a last flicker of my humanity coming through. “Me and the crew are gonna go get some dinner and drink a couple beers. That should put us right.”

The girl stopped. “You need a beer.” Then, she called to the guy over in the breakfast nook. “Roger! You got some of those Budweisers in the fridge?”

Roger came over. “Yeah, I do. You want a couple? I got Bud and I got Bud Lite.”

I just looked at them. This was a hotel that rhymed with, you know, Smolliday Inn or Shmampton Schmin or Schmarriot Schmotel. You know? This was highly irregular — and righteously rad. I don’t even like Budweiser!

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I do want that beer. You people are angel people.”

And they sent me on my way with not one but two Buds. Which I gave to the girls. And they drank them.

 

 

‘Squinky-Squinky-Squinky! Squink! Squink!’

posted in: Day In The Life, Travel | 11
Probably not a squeaker, but oh-so-lovely. “Child’s shoe used [in China] by aristocratic families, with wooden sole and embroidered upper, ca. 2013.” Image: Wikipedia.

 

I’m at the airport because I cannot stay put. Also, people are expecting me. Also, I love it.

Also, there is something wonderful happening here.

There is a child in this airport. This child is wearing squeaky shoes.

The child wearing squeaky shoes appears to be around 18 months old and his shoes are very, very squeaky. They’re not just squeaky because they’re made of rubber and he’s running up and down the terminal, wearing himself out, squeaking by association. Rather, both of this child’s shoes were specifically manufactured to contain a squeaking apparatus, one buried deep inside each shoe, a miniature plastic bladder designed — nay, engineered — to produce a remarkably loud, extremely adorable “squink” sound with every single footfall.

And you should know: This child is a born runner. Stand back XXX. Hang it up, XXX. This child with squeaky shoes is smoking you all right now, running for his life, up and down, up and down, up and down Chicago Midway Airport, his beleagured mother, having surrendered long ago, deaf to the squinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinky sounds produced by the fruit of her loins. You cannot believe how loud the squinking is and you cannot believe how much this kid loves the squinking. He is so happy.

As a result, everyone in this airport is happy on account of this child. Here at gate B23, we can hear the child coming all the way from B19, the squinking getting louder and louder as he approaches. We’re all grinning, waiting for him to show. And then we keep smiling and laughing into our hands and when he keeps on trucking past us, headed for B26, the squinking fading away as he goes.

It’s been a rough night, flight-wise. I tried to fly out earlier, couldn’t. My flight now is delayed 30 minutes. But the squink, man. The squink will save us all.

Let Me Tell You About Car Pie

posted in: Confessions, Quiltfolk, Story, Tips, Travel | 21
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.

On The Road

posted in: Quiltfolk, Travel, Work | 14
Uh … My new favorite painting?? The Traveling Companions by Augustus Leopold Egg, ca. 1861.

 

 

It’s a crazy life!

I’m on the road for Quiltfolk’s eighth issue. It’s crazy because Issue 07 : Louisiana is shipping now and is on newsstands now, but I’m working on Issue 08.

The bad news is that I can’t tell you just yet what the next state in the Quiltfolk cycle will be, but the good news is that I will be able to tell you soon. Quiltfolk, in case you didn’t know, is a quarterly magazine that investigates quilt culture in America state by state. The magazine has had the policy of not letting the cat(s) out of the bag(s) about what state or region we’re focusing on next, but that is about to change. We’ve decided to “announce the season” ahead of time, an idea for which I strongly advocate.

But I don’t want to start letting cats out of bags before I huddle with my team, so for now, I can’t tell you where I am at this exact moment. No, all my cats are in bags. Some of these cats are in paper bags; others, shopping bags. One cat is happy inside a potato sack, which isn’t technically a bag, but when you have this many cats in bags, it’s really — okay, this is getting strange. And disturbing?? Who is putting these cats in these bags??

No cats were harmed, physically, spiritually, psychically, or metaphorically, in the making of this post.

I’ll try to check in tonight.

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.

Woman In a Suitcase

posted in: Travel, Work | 12
Young woman with suitcase, Hollywood, 1942. Image: Wikipedia.
Young woman with suitcase, Hollywood, 1942. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Tomorrow morning, pre-dawn, I leave Philly and return to Chicago.

I’m there for three days of class and working in the newspaper office and then it’s to Iowa to tape episodes of Love of Quilting with Mom. After we wrap TV, I go back to Chicago, and then I go to New England on assignment.

School began last week, and I love everything. I’m reading Mann’s Dr. Faustus; I’m polishing up an essay I worked on this summer so that I can fork it over in workshop next week; I’m preparing for a newspaper staff retreat tomorrow and an open meeting for writers on Monday.

It does feel sometimes that I do not know how to do less than this.

I’m not beleaguered. I’m not complaining. I’ve chosen all these activities, all these tasks. I’m the one who can stay put. Only I can say “later”, or say “no”. But I don’t. I never do. Not unless I’m forced to, and whatever tries to force me has to get past me first. I’m not competitive with other people, but I try to best myself every day. Is it a fair fight? Me against me?

Absolutely.

I met so many incredible quilters these past two days in the Philly area. No matter where I go, no matter how tired I might be or how many other things are weighing down on me, quilters bolster me, build me up. It happens every time and it’s real.

Goodnight.

The Power of Wipes.

posted in: Day In The Life, Food, Travel | 13
Fried chicken. Not pictured: Wipes! Image: Wikipedia.
Fried chicken. Not pictured: Wipes! Image: Wikipedia.

My grandma was a stable figure in my life for a long time. She could be counted on for a hug, she never hollered at us kids — even if we deserved it and we so did — and she always, always had a few things in her purse: Trident cinnamon-flavored gum, a couple “fun-size” Snickers bars, a few Brach’s peppermints, an emery board, and fresh Kleenex. Always.

I never had much use for the emery board. The Trident was only interesting if my sisters hogged the Snickers bars/peppermints before I got to them. The Kleenex was handy. But more important than needing these particular items was knowing they would invariably be there. My grandmother’s consistently stocked handbag gave me a sense of security, a belief that there was order to the universe even if there wasn’t. I’m still not sure there is order, but in some universe, in some dimension, I can reach over in church and whisper to Gramma if I can have a peppermint and Gramma will stick her hand down into her purse and there will be one to give me.

Some friends and I were at a fried chicken restaurant not so very long ago. The restaurant was packed. The only seats to be found out on the breezy patio (the best place to eat fried chicken) were those wedged in between people who had gotten there before you did. We looked around to find a place to put our butts and our baskets and then I spied room next to some folks already seated. If we squeezed, the four of us could join the three of them at the wide picnic-style table. We asked, and they said of course and made room for us right away.

It helped that one of their party was a baby. Beautiful Blake, with her shining eyes and her caramel-cream baby cheeks couldn’t have weighed more than 20 pounds. Her young parents, Curtis and Kristina, were friendly and interesting and we all chatted over the course of our respective meals of hot chicken, collard greens, black-eyed pea salad, french fries, and so on.

When we were finishing up, my friend Leah and I were both frowning at our hands, which were covered in grease, and our fingernails, which needed serious attention. We looked at the line to the bathroom and were about to despair and wipe our hands on our bluejeans when Kristina pulled an entire pack of Dove-brand wet wipes out of her generous satchel.

“I’m a mom,” she laughed. “I’ve got what you need right here.”

We whooped with gratitude as Kristina passed the pack around. She made us all so happy! Our hands were wiped clean and cool after our dinner. But there was a deeper feeling of joy in this for me: Baby Blake is one heck of a lucky baby. That kid has a mom with wipes at the ready, you know? And she’s willing to share them with strangers who she made room for in a busy room, in a big city.

Thanks, Kristina.

 

Kelly Bowser Made Me Something I Have Used Every Day For Four Years.

Welcome to my hotel room photo shoot. Yes, I am wearing pink pajamas. Photo: Who else?
Welcome to my hotel room photo shoot. That’s the pouch Kelly made me and yes, I am wearing pink pajamas. Photo: Marty Fans.

 

Greetings from Lincoln, Nebraska, where it feels like Christmas Eve.

This is because the annual two-day board meeting for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) begins tomorrow morning. Since I’m a board member, I get to go. That’s how board meetings work, I have learned and yes I do feel fancy but mostly I just feel geeky and happy. Jonathan Holstein is here. The only person I’d be more excited about meeting and working with would be Barbara Brackman. After that, probably Madonna.

The only drawback to being here is that I couldn’t stay in St. Louis, which is where I was yesterday. I had to leave Common Threads, a very cool, annual BabyLock event, which — of course! — landed the same weekend as my board meeting. Common Threads is an invitational meetup/think tank kind of a thing for quilters and sewists who work with BabyLock out there in the industry. There were around 55 people at the weekend retreat, some of whom I had never met, some of whom I consider good friends, e.g., Jenny Doan, Vanessa Vargas Wilson, Amy Ellis, and many other terrific, talented women.

Like Kelly Bowser.

Before I tell you why Kelly deserves special distinction, know that Kelly did not ask me to write this, nor am I benefitting in any way from singing her praises and talking about how much I love the thing she designed and how I have used it every single day for four years.

So, Kelly and I met at the first-ever Common Threads four years ago. I liked her immediately: She was funny and smart and warm. Kelly’s a talented designer, a so-good-it’s-annoying sewist, quiltmaker, blogger, and pattern writer, and she’s a mom, wife, and she has a law degree. We got to know each other and became industry pals.

That night, when I dug into the swag bag in my hotel room, I discovered the coolest little handmade cloth pouch! It was kinda puffy and had a zipper and everything. The tag said: “Kelby Sews”, which is Kelly’s brand. I learned that Kelly had designed and made everyone in the group that year (40 people??) their very own pouch, which she calls the “30-Minute Pouch”. (I understand you can download the pattern for free on Craftsy, so check that out.)

I just loved my little pouch. I began using it immediately. It is the perfect size for my lipstick, compact, eyedrops, tiny mascara, and aspirin thingy. That pouch has been in my possesion for four years. It has traveled tens of thousands of miles with me. It’s been in fabulous purses, let me tell you. It went to New York. It went to Washington. It came back to Chicago. It went to Berlin. It’s gone on so many dates. It’s been with me on family vacation. It was at my sister’s wedding.

I’m telling you: Kelly’s 30-Minute Pouch is seriously part of my life. In material objects, anyway.

There’s a lot to love about Common Threads. But my favorite part? Finding Kelly Bowser and rummaging around in my purse to get my lil’ pouch so that I can hold it up and go, “Kelly! Kelly, look!” Last night, a bunch of us girls had a great conversation about the power of the handmade object. You never know where the things you make will end up. It’s wonderful. Not everything that comes in a gift bag stays so long, you know?

And it pays to take care of something: Kelly was delighted to see I’m still devoted to my pouch, but she made me write down my address so she could send me a new one. I’ll allow it. But I’m not tossing the original. She made it for me!

Fun Facts: Dallas Edition

posted in: Travel, Work | 7
Postcard from Dallas, 1911. It looks pretty much the same. Image: Wikipedia.
Postcard from Dallas, 1911. It looks pretty much the same. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Greetings from Dallas, where the hair is big and the BBQ is burnt on the ends. As I am a gal who would do anything for Texas-big hair and would climb over my own mother to get to a plate of burnt ends, Texas suits me fine. (Sorry about the burnt end thing, Mom.)

I’m here to teach and speak at the Dallas Quilter’s Guild show this weekend. It’s a big one and, since I need to get up extra early tomorrow to try and get my hair as big as possible before leaving the hotel, I’m going to keep things simple and make tonight’s post a list. Besides, when I thought of doing this, a super-quick check on “fun facts about Dallas” yielded terrific results right away.

And now, I give you: FUN FACTS ABOUT DALLAS!!!

  1. The frozen margarita machine was invented in Dallas in 1971. (What goes better with burnt ends, amirite??)
  2. The entire Statue of Liberty could fit into Cowboys Stadium — with the roof closed. 
  3. The Dallas Public Library permanently displays one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence. How about that. (They’ve got a First Folio of William Shakespeare’s “Comedies, Histories & Tragedies”, too. Neat.)
  4. My dad is an ordained Methodist minister who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) sometime in the 1990s, I believe.
  5. The Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport spans 27 square miles — larger than the island of freakin’ Manhattan.
  6. Barney & Friends was born here. In other words, Barney was born here. Also born in Dallas: Laser Tag, Liquid Paper (a.k.a. white-out), the ATM, microchips, and lots of other stuff. Oh, and the frozen margarita machine. See No. 1.
  7. The Holiday Inn Dallas-Richardson is very nice. My room is clean and the bathroom is spacious.
  8. The Dallas Arts District is the largest urban arts district in the United States. I think that’s cool.
  9. I saw the chick who shot J.R. in the parking lot.

*CORRECTION: In the initial publication of this post, Pendennis referred to “the guy who shot J.R.” when in fact it was a female who shot J.R., which, now that we think about it, makes sense. We regret the error. 

Airport Appreciation Day.

posted in: Day In The Life, Rant, Travel | 11
The view from the window. (I'm not even on the plane, yet, though.) Image: Wikipedia.
The view from the window. (I’m not even on the plane, yet, though.) Image: Wikipedia.

 

I had a pretty funny post going. It was an open letter to my flight from New York to Chicago. I do love the open letter form, as many of you know. But that was two hours ago.

That post has been deleted because your ol’ pal Mar doesn’t feel so funny anymore. Well, not funny ha-ha. I feel more sorta funny hysterical. Not funny hysterical as in “That’s hysterically funny!” but more like”Please, please make this day end.”

At press time, I’ve been at the Westchester County Airport since 3:30 p.m. It is now 9: 10 p.m. My plane will not board for another two hours.

But before you clutch your pearls, you must know that this is actually miraculous news. For just two hours ago — let’s call it the Planestine Era — I did not possess a boarding pass for a flight to Chicago tonight. Oh, no, no, my little marzipans. I had something else — two something elses, actually. I had in my sad, manicured paw a boarding pass for a flight tomorrow with a layover in Washington D.C. which would put me at O’Hare at nearly noon. And this scrap of paper was stapled to another scrap of paper which was a hotel voucher for a night’s sleep at the nearby La Quinta Inn. (I use the phrase “night’s sleep at the La Quinta Inn” loosely.)

It has been, as my dear mother would say, “Airport Appreciation Day.”

First of all, let me tell you that I understand the following:

  • No one is hurt, no one has died.
  • No one ought to be getting on a broken plane.

This is what I have been telling myself for the past seven hours. Perspective is crucial at times like these. Perspective is a tool that, as an adult, you simply must employ on Airport Appreciation Day. Otherwise, you are in danger of acting like a child and I assure you: A child is precisely what you want to act like when you’re in my situation. I get it.

Remember the days when you were at a slumber party or a circus and you pitched a fit because you just wanted to go home?? Remember how no amount of candy or toys or hugs and kisses from Mommy or Daddy or Gramma or Grampa would console you because you were tired and angry and fed up and grouchy and probably there was something going on with your poop (sorry, but you know I speak the truth) and you just freaked out because everything was lousier than it had ever, ever been, ever and NO NO NO.

Yeah, I know. But difference between children and adults is that we know better than to do that past a certain age. Oh, we have exquisite reasons to freak out. The feelings are totally legit. But when we’re grown, we have to try harder. We must breathe. We must recognize the humanity in the people who are working ticket counters and serving sodas on airplanes. After all, they are just like us. They are trying to earn a living. They do not wake up in the morning, stretch, and think to themselves, “How can I have the worst day of my life? How can I cause suffering in my fellow man? Oh, I know!”

No. The people who work at the airport wake up everyone else. They wake up like you. With few exceptions, these folks are trying their best to like, avoid hideousness.

I saw some hideousness today. Tonight. People yelling. People disgusted with each other. It was rough. And I wasn’t a cool cucumber the whole time: When they told me I wasn’t going to sleep in my bed tonight after being in three states this week, hot tears started pouring down my cheeks. Some people in the line might’ve thought I was a drama queen, but I assure you, those were real, bitter tears.

But I knew to dry up before long. This is life. This is travel. The man behind me, he lashed out at the ticket people working through the long line of exhausted, bewildered passengers. I’m not saying I’m better than than that guy; I’m saying he couldn’t overcome his inner, tired, sad child. Tonight, at least, I managed to overcome mine.

Writing helps me live my life. That’s why I do it. Writing is how I make sense of things, so as I wait here at the gate for two more — please say just two more — hours, it’s my only comfort. My blood pressure has dropped. I am breathing easier. This is the gift I have in my life. It’s you, it’s my journal, it’s my book. For me, I always have an escape route. Letters and a page.

Wait! I didn’t tell you how it worked out!

Right at the moment when I was leaving the airport to go to my sad, sad hotel room, there was announcement: American Airlines was going to see if they could get a plane over here to Westchester County to fly us to Chicago. I raced back through security. We all waited with bated breath. Then, the good news came: Yes! Yes, there would be a plane! It wouldn’t be here till 10:40 p.m., but it would come!

So I had a glass of wine with a few other folks in limbo and then I came down here to you.

I’m in North Carolina! Let’s Have Some Milk!

posted in: Travel, Work | 9
Did you know milk is the state beverage of North Carolina? Thanks, Wikipedia! Image: Wikipedia.
Did you know milk is the state beverage of North Carolina? Thanks, Wikipedia! Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have come to North Carolina to a quilting retreat. I do not get to retreat, exactly; I’m here to work. I’m at the Carolina Charm Quilt and Craft Retreat Center, a charming, renovated antebellum house and studio run by the delightful Joanna and husband Frank.

My flight put me in Raleigh-Durham. From there, it was a 2.5-hour drive through this attractive state to get to the venue. I pulled up, parked the car, and walked into the studio. I could literally hear laughing and carrying on as I walked up the sidewalk. When I opened the door, I found the studio bursting at the seams with quilters having a grand old time already — just think how much fun we’ll have when the main event happens! (I’m pretty sure the main event is me, but the lasagna Frank made for dinner was pretty spectacular. I’ll check the website.)

A few updates and then I’m turning in; those girls are gonna be a handful tomorrow — in the best possible way, of course. I’m already in love with each of them.

  • My doctor’s appointment is scheduled. Heather’s going with me. I love you, Kin-Kin!
  • So many people love tied quilts, too! I feel like we’ve all been keeping this a secret.
  • Back in November, I posted something I read in The Sun magazine that I needed to read. Well, guess who commented on the post today? The lady who wrote it! Read the post here and check out her amazing reply.

Also, milk is the state beverage of North Carolina.

Goodnight!

My Downtown Savannah Escapade: The Ride.

posted in: Story, Travel, Work | 11
In Savannah. Photo: Me.
In Savannah. Photo: Me.

I’m feeling weird about telling that harrowing tale straight out of the gate vis a vis my report on Savannah. Let me tell you something good.

After I had seen the strange thing, a wave of exhaustion passed over me; I needed to head back to my room. This would mean that I would need to find the ferry boat again and wait around for it with all those no-see-em bugs flying into my eyeballs. This did not seem like something I could physically manage, so looked to see how much it would cost for an Uber to take me from where I stood near Bay Street to my hotel at the convention center. When I found it would be a measly 11 bucks, I punched “Confirm Pickup” on my screen.

I have never had an Uber driver collect me in actual pickup, but within a few minutes, a young man named J.M. waved to me from inside a shiny black Silverado truck across the street.

“Mary Katherine?” he called in the best southern accent you’ve ever heard, making me glad my Uber profile uses my full name. I waved back, delighted to get to ride home in the cab of a pickup. You can take the girl out of Iowa but you can’t take the love of a good pickup truck out of the Iowa girl, trust me.

I was so happy to be off my feet and J.M. was a sweetheart, affably fielding the many questions I was asking him about Savannah. As he drove down Bay Street and we chatted, I looked out the window at the vibrant nightlife, the couples and families and packs of friends walking along the elevated strip. J.M. was so knowledgeable about everything and I loved getting the facts and figures in that accent:

“Yes, ma’am. Savannah’s the fourth lah-gist export city in the You-nahted Staits.”  J.M. was really getting into the good stuff, stories about 19th century trade customs, population numbers, fascinating history. As we approached the street’s terminus, I felt seriously bummed that my Savannah escapade was going to end soon. Then, I had an idea.

What if I paid J.M. to drive me back up Bay Street and cruise the loop just once, just so I could see the whole stretch of it? I had 20 bucks in my wallet — was that enough? Would it be super, super weird to ask him to do that? I didn’t have much time. Up ahead, just one red light away, I could see the entrance to the bridge that would take me over the river and home to my hotel (and out of Savannah for who knows how long?)

A thought popped into my head and forced my decision: Frankly, I want to be the kind of person who offers her Uber driver 20 bucks to drive her around town for a minute. I just want to be that girl, you know? So, apologizing in advance for any weirdness and assuring him I was not a creeper, I asked J.M. if he’d take my money.

“Well, sure,” J.M. said, seemingly not that taken aback. “I’m happy to do that, ma’am. It’s funny you ask; my other job is working a tour boat down on Riverside.”

Yep. I got the nickel tour of Savannah from an actual, off-dutry tour guide in a pickup truck for the low-low price of 20 bucks. Not bad; and all I had to do was ask. (Well, and fork over a twenty.) 

The drive was great. Between my own exploration on foot and hanging out with J.M., I definitely feel like I got a taste of Savannah. J.M., I told you I would blog about our trip when I got the chance and I gave you my card so that you could find PaperGirl and read it. I hope you’re seeing this so that I can say thank you once more.

Your car smelled great, by the way. As a regular Uber user, this is something I do not take for granted, sir.

Dream Girl, Hamburg.

posted in: Luv, Travel | 9
On the world's longest escalator. That's Claus, who is almost pathologically averse to having his picture taken. (He's very handsome, so this makes no sense.) Photo: Me.
At the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. That’s Claus, who is almost pathologically averse to having his picture taken. (He’s very handsome, so this makes no sense.) Photo: Me.

 

Most of the time, if you ask someone, “Hey, what were you up to Sunday afternoon?”, the answer is not going to be, “I was in Hamburg, Germany.” That would be my answer, though, if someone were to ask me. It’s a very specific thing to ask — “What were you up to Sunday afternoon?” — but it could happen.

The entirety of my trip to his country, Claus was a superb tour director; this cannot be denied. He asked me a month ago if I was interested in leaving Berlin for a day to visit Hamburg. The decision was not to be made lightly. With only a week’s worth of time, leaving Berlin explore another city might be best saved for another trip. “Next time,” right? There’s always “next time.”

It’s true that I wanted to focus my energies and get deep impression of Berlin. But when I thought about a train ride through the German countryside and how heaven on Earth is snuggling on a train; when I thought about seeing another city in Germany that would then give me perspective on Berlin; when I thought about adventure, ultimately, my answer could only be yes. “Let’s do Hamburg,” I said to Claus. So we did. Claus bought train tickets and we were out the door early, greeting the cold.

You know how you go to certain places and you’re instantly like, “Wow, get me outta here!” The place could be a party, a neighborhood, a city — even a whole country. But then there are other places that just zap you and you go, “Okay, well, I’m moving here.” That was Hamburg for me.

The aesthetic harmony. The harbor. The jaw-droppingly gorgeous new symphony center that has only been open two weeks, which made it extra exciting to see. Hamburg is called “the Venice of Germany” for its canals and channels, but I think it beats Venice with an oar; the winding streets and bridges were downright seductive.

The food was incredible (e.g., pumpkin soup, fresh fish, chocolate from the chocolate shop, micro-brewed beer.) I didn’t buy anything — hello, spring semester tuition bill — but the window shopping was great; there were many shops that offered German-made goods and if I could’ve spent lots and lots of money and checked nine suitcases, I would have come home with an entirely new wardrobe. Le sigh.

It was a dream day. Start to finish. Am I punishing myself, reliving it? Or is it giving a gift back to the day to describe it all? There’s a fine line between honoring and wallowing, I think, but damned if I know where the line is or where I’m falling on it now.

Being an adult feels lousy, sometimes. This is due in part because all the beauty of a city like Hamburg can be laid before you — even in memory — and all you see is a rain cloud.

Stateside.

posted in: Luv, Travel | 17
From inside the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial. Photo: Me.
From inside the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial. Photo: Me.

 

I have returned after being in another country — and I don’t just mean Germany. My heart’s been in a strange land.

When you have had the kind of week I’ve had — was there ever a “kind” of week as this? — attempting to write it all down in any coherent way feels impossible. How can all the thoughts, emotions, panics, moments of hope, and moments of despair that occurred during my brief (but long), trans-Atlantic (trans-planetary?) trip be corralled into letters and sentences?

James Joyce wrote the strange and beautiful and at often inscrutable Ulysses out of a desire to capture in language what our thought process actually looks like. His assertion was that we don’t think in complete, organized, crafted sentences and paragraphs; it’s thought soup up there. Therefore, in Ulysses, you get sentences that look really strange but also closer, somehow, to how words and thoughts ceaselessly roll and zip and rumble around in our heads. You get sentences like:

“Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins, cling to us yet more, a woman to her lover clinging, the more the more.”

and:

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”

and this, oh, this:

“Love loves to love love.”

Truth: I have a copy of Ulysses I’ve never read. But it has officially come down off the shelf because I feel sad and empty about love and when you feel sad and empty about love, you don’t need medical attention; you need poetry. You need a great novel like Ulysses or anything by George Eliot. Art heals parts of us that doctors cannot apprehend. Grief, regret, a broken heart — ask your doctor about these things the next time you have a physical and you will elicit only a strange look. You will not be handed a cure, nor will you be handed a book of poems, though that would be way cool, don’t you think? If your doctor handed you a book of poetry and told you to call her in the morning? We laugh, but this kind of medical care could help a lot of people. It could help me.

Berlin was hard. It was hard because even though Claus and I aren’t together, I think in the back of my mind — truly, I have not been entertaining this thought consciously because I pride myself as having two feet on the ground — I thought we still might be. Or maybe we would be. Could be. But we’re not. Not now. Probably not ever. Sure, sure: Who knows? But after this trip, I feel like I just can’t hang a hope on that. For a lot of reasons. Neither of us are seeing anyone seriously; we talked all about that. It’s not that. We have the most marvelous time together. We love each other dearly. But there are major roadblocks in this relationship — and the Atlantic Ocean ain’t the only one, friends. (It might not even be the biggest one and that’s a very large body of water.)

It’s so sad when reality dumps ice water on a fantasy that kept you warm on bad days. You know?

We visited the Berlin Wall memorial. We toured a Stasi prison in the old GDR. When I say I was in another country, this is partly due to the fact I spent half the week in former communist East Germany and among German WWII memorials. There was a lot of looking at death this past week, a lot of witnessing an entire country’s pain. I didn’t write in my journal. I didn’t write to you. I just had thought soup the whole time; thought soup and heart-sickness.

I’m no James Joyce and even goofing around with his style is something I should probably not even try, that’s how good he was at writing. But the cool thing about writing is that these letters and words and sentences are as much mine to goof around with as they are anyone else’s, so here goes. Maybe these Ulyssean, “thought soup” sentences will do a better job at getting at how I feel today and better describe what Berlin was like than any of the ordered, normal sentences I’ve written so far.

 

Wet keyboard tears plop splash miss you miss you, oh well, oh well, oh no. 

Snow in Berlin swirling round the crashing yes beard scruffy beautiful man this man who is this man who is this man I love.

Hope hopes, hopefully. 

 

 

Hallo From Berlin!

posted in: Travel | 10
The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 2008. Photo: Wikipedia.
The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 2008. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

I got here on Thursday morning and it feels like the last three days have just been one, long day and night. It’s not jet lag, exactly; it’s more a feeling of being drunk with excitement and expectation.

I’ve been going, going, going since arrival and this post is a placeholder. There’s so much to tell but I can hardly keep my eyes open to type the next word and I fear that soon I’ll lay my head down on the keyboard and you’ll get something brilliant like kosssssssspsspppp ihhwwhhoooooooo

… so I’d better sign off till the morning. Also, it’s tough to know where to start as I examine my thoughts on the trip so far because full disclosure: It’s been very emotional to be here. If my relationship with Claus were a meal you cook at home, it would be breakfast. There are many moving parts, it’s hard to get the timing right, everything is delicious but burns easily (I’m looking at you, bacon and pancakes) and the orange juice is pulpy but the muffins are amazing, so get them out on the table! With butter! I need a spatula!

Was that a woiisisiisaaaaaaallllllll,,,mbnn moment or the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written?? 

Gute Nacht, mein Liebling.

Berlin, Here I Come! (Also: Friends.)

posted in: Family, Luv, Paean, Travel | 11
Claus sent me this when he got to Berlin this summer. It's on the fridge.
Claus sent me this when he got to Berlin this summer. It’s on the fridge. Scan: Me.

 

On Wednesday, I am going to fly on a plane and land in Berlin! Just over a month ago, I got a cheap, cheap ticket for a quick, quick trip and now the journey is almost upon us.* It’s been over five years since I left the country so as you can imagine, I am very excited to go.

But if I was just going to Berlin for the heck of it, just to see Berlin or take a trip to a foreign land because the price was right, I’d be excited with the kind of excitement you get when you get a cupcake at a cupcake shop (yes, there are shops that only sell cupcakes and this is why I live in a big city.) You take the cupcake out of the box and peel back the paper and open your mouth to take the first bite and to be sure, this is a great level of excitement. But it’s not as good as it gets.

Because I know this wonderful person in Berlin. And I get to see him after saying goodbye to him seven months ago. So the kind of excitement I feel about going to Berlin is like getting a homemade cupcake from someone who made your favorite kind — yellow cake, vanilla fudge frosting with sprinkles — and not because you asked but because they love you. They love to see you smile. My friend Sophie made me a Funfetti birthday cake this summer, so I know these things do actually happen, these people do exist.

Tonight, I was fortunate to share a glass of wine and some french fries with two of my favorite people: the birthday cake-maker, Sophie, and Brian, a hot chocolate fan. Six months ago, I didn’t know either of them; we connected because of grad school at SAIC. If I get nothing but these friendships out of the experience, grad school will have been worth it. Seriously; come have wine and french fries with us and you’ll see what I mean.

We talked about our respective love lives. I asked Sophie about a possible engagement ring in her future; Brian spoke to the situation he finds himself in lately, introducing his newly-relocated-to-Chicago girlfriend to his friends; I spoke about my ongoing, satisfying dalliance with a certain young man. Of course we talked about my upcoming trip. Suddenly, the conversation went to a very deep place. Discussion of jobs lead to passionate feelings about Big Stuff — life and money, goals and reality, art school, the meaning of happiness, success — and several things were touched off in each of us that, over the course of the conversation, created some tears and frustration. (Full disclosure: I cried a lot.)

People will tell you that folks are most guarded and sensitive when talking about sex, but it’s not true: Jobs and income and money and making a living, owning what you have, wanting what you don’t and even not wanting what you do have — this is far more intimate stuff to talk about. We went there tonight and it wasn’t easy, but it was really important. If you don’t get vulnerable to the point of tears with other people at least sometimes, you forget that you can do that and the world doesn’t disintegrate and they don’t run away. And you don’t run away. And this can be the biggest revelation of all.

The reason I’m telling you about this in the same post about going to Berlin is because it’s all related.

I live by myself. I like living by myself. I like my tea in the morning and a hamper filled with only my underwear. But I am the opposite of alone. The people in my life, they push me to think harder, love better; they correct me, they encourage me. Berlin, Chicago, Australia (hi, Yuri), Iowa, or New York City — in these places, I am never alone. And when I’m in between those places? They’re with me in those places, too.

Ocean, schmocean. You know?

And then there’s you. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what’s been coming in the mail. File my whole life under “Embarrassment Of Riches.”

*You think I’d go without you??

 

Hallo, Berlin und Claus! (I’m Going To Germany.)

posted in: Luv, Travel | 30
Berlin, looking very winter wonderland-y. Photo: Wikipedia.
Berlin, looking very winter wonderland-y. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

I am excited for 2017.

This is partly because 2016 has utterly exhausted everyone, including me — and it ain’t over yet — and also because seven is a fetching number to have in a year, don’t you think?

There was something else… Oh! I’m going to visit Claus!

My dear friend, my favorite philosophy professor: Claus. You know the fellow: movie dates, trips to visit my family’s old farm, the one-man paper supply. When I was notified a very, very, very cheap ticket to Berlin online the other day (seriously, that ticket was so low I’m concerned they’ve got me on a kite or a pigeon or something) I rang the man up. And we made a plan. And we celebrated, because Ze American and Ze German are going to have a week in January together in Berlin. Sure, it’ll be cold, but that’s what wool coats and hot coffee are for, right? I have already practiced the following two German words:

heißer Kaffee (hot coffee)
Wollemantel (wool coat)

The capitalization is the tough part.

But isn’t this just the best? I haven’t been out of the country since 2011, I’ve never been to Germany, and even before I met Claus, Germany was at the top of my wanna-go list. But of course the reason 2017 is going to be good is because Claus is there — at least for a week in January — and I miss that person.

There will be many pictures, much rejoicing, and probably strudel.

Cubs Win, Strangers Hug.

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Travel | 9
The Lyric Opera House of Chicago right now; "Fly The W" means fly the "Win" flag! Photo: Wikipedia.
The Lyric Opera House of Chicago right now! “Fly The W” means “fly the ‘Cubs Win’ victory flag!” Photo: Wikipedia.

 

On Sunday evening, down in Houston for Quilt Market, I supped with several people from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, which means that I got to be at a big, round table with some of my favorite people on the planet. I’m a member of the board and was invited to be there, but if I had had to pose as a waiter, I wouldn’t have missed that meal. However, because I also can’t miss office hours or class on Monday… I had to leave before dessert. It’s true: My flight out of Houston was 10 p.m. Sunday night. After risotto and Malbec. Gaaah.

(When people ask me how I get everything done, do you know what I say? I say, “It’s easy: I have no husband, children, pets, or plants. No one cares where I am.” That sounds awful, but it’s really okay.)

When I got to my gate at the airport, the World Series game was on, obviously. And because I was on a flight to Chicago, there were many people waiting to go home, just like me, which meant there were people whooping and hollering and drinking, watching the monitors. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to live in a town that could win — could actually win — the World Series for the first time in 108 years. Telling you what happened on the plane gets at it, maybe.

There was a bald man in his early sixties (it was hard to tell) sitting kitty-corner from my aisle seat. He was wiry, pretty short, and wore a Hawaiian shirt. His voice was so gravelly I think he must’ve been a pack-a-day guy. He had a cell phone that he was having a lot of trouble with as people finished boarding the plane and we waited for the crew to close the doors. Southwest has free on-board TV and the guy was trying to get on to see the score.

While we were at the gate, during the fourth inning, the score had been 2- 3, Cubs. Now, who knew?

“Miss! Miss, can you??” The guy waved at the stewardess several times while he stabbed away at his phone. The screen was so big I could see repeated error messages of various kinds. He wasn’t being rude about asking for help, but he was insistent and didn’t seem to have a single clue about how his phone (or the internet?) worked. I’ll admit it: Those of us around him, after 10 minutes of this, were getting a little exasperated.

“Are you online?” he asked his seat mates. They shook their heads. “How about you, did you get online? Did you get the score?” He was shifting in his seat, frustrated, then would be back at his phone. He started talking about the game to people and I picked up that they weren’t Chicagoans but Houstonians, possibly wary about going into Chicago for business this week.

The truth was, I was freaking out a little, myself. I don’t follow baseball. I’ve never been to a Cubs game, never even been inside Wrigley Field. Part of the reason for this is that Cubs fans can be very loud and there are a lot of them. Remember Lollapalooza? It’s the same problem. But when this World Series thing became real, it ceased to be a Cubs thing. It’s a Chicago thing, now. We all want this.

I pulled out my phone and took it off airplane mode for a second to see if I could get the score for him. I tapped him on the shoulder and showed him. “It’s still 2 – 3. Cubbies,” I said, and gave him a polite smile. “I have to turn this off now, though —”

Too late. He was already launching into this stat and that one, the odds of this, the odds of that. He had excuses ready for the Cubs if they lost that night (something about how no No. 1 team has won Game 5 after losing Game 2, etc.) and factoids about this or that player. I listened and nodded then politely said, “Well, I hope you can get online to see the score…” and smiled as I opened my laptop to communicate, “I am working, now.”

But I felt a pang of love for that guy.

He loves the Cubs. The Cubs are part of his life. They’re something he connects with his family. Or they represent or symbolize stuff. Maybe he used to play ball; maybe he never could. Maybe he actually lives in Wrigleyville. Maybe his parents took him to games, maybe his kids like the Cubs and he couldn’t care less about baseball but he loves his kids and loving the Cubs is a way he can feel close to them. Maybe it’s something else or all of the above. All sports fans have their reasons for loving their teams, but almost all sports fans count “Sometimes they win the big game” as one of their reasons for loyalty. Not Cubs fans. Their main resource is loyalty. You have to give them credit for that.

I secretly couldn’t keep my eyes off the guy’s stupid screen the whole time he was trying. He was at it a good 20 minutes more after we were airborne. In my mind (and under my breath) I was saying, “Come on, Cubbies. Come on, baby,” willing them to win, pleading with them. You can do this. When we get to Chicago, I thought to myself, we’ll learn the Cubs have won Game 5. (Honestly, I feel like if the Cubs win this whole thing, everything is gonna be okay. Like, everything. You know?)

Finally, the man got online. I could tell because the screen said, “You are now online. Enjoy live streaming TV courtesy of Southwest.” I looked away. I couldn’t take it. Please, Cubs.

He whirled around. Every muscle in his body was vibrating as he spoke to me and to everyone in the immediate vicinity. “They did it. The Cubs. They held ’em 3 to 2. They did it!”

I yelped. “They did?! They did!!!” I grabbed the man’s shoulder across the aisle. He leaned toward me with his arm out and we did this weird cross-aisle-male-female-stranger-hug and it was glorious, celebrating the Cubs win at 35,000 ft.

As I write, the boys are in the lead. The game is not over. The Series is not over. But I’m proud of my guys no matter what. Everything is gonna be okay! Fly the W!

 

The Real Spirit of St. Louis: Gooey Butter Cake

posted in: Food, Travel, Work | 8
Gooey butter cake! (This one is actually pumpkin-flavored.) Photo: Wikipedia.
Gooey butter cake! (This one is actually pumpkin-flavored.) Photo: Wikipedia.

 

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I like to learn things about the places I visit and share them with you.

Here’s a post about the Florida panhandle, for example. This dispatch came from from Sioux City, IA; and this one I wrote about Buffalo, NY from Buffalo, NY and in it I discuss the local specialty — sponge candy! — and confess to making myself sick eating a bunch of it.*

Well, greetings from Jefferson City, MO, state capitol — and home of  the gooey butter. Sponge candy, you may have met your match. (I clearly like to learn about places that are known for delicious desserts.)

A gooey butter is a cake, but don’t call it “gooey butter cake” unless you’re from out of town. To locals, it’s just “gooey butter” and it’s legendary in Missouri. As the story goes, a St. Louis baker mixed up the proportion of butter while making up some coffee cake. Rather than throw out what couldn’t be that bad, the cake still being a combination of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, he baked it anyway. The cake was sugary and sticky; he sliced it up and sold out in short order. Gooey butter was born.

I’m teaching two classes here at the big Missouri State Quilter’s Guild 2016 Retreat and then I’m doing the banquet talk tomorrow night, so I can’t get out to hunt down some gooey butter, but my new pal Terri said she might be able to find some. I told her she’d better not go to any trouble; Terri said, “Hey, if it happens, it happens.”

Terri was the gracious lady who picked me up at the airport and drove us two hours over to Jefferson City. We bonded because we shopped for pajamas together at Target.

The Missouri retreat has a theme each year, and this year it’s “Welcome To My Dream World.” Attendees are encouraged to wear pajamas to the banquet tomorrow night; I have also been encouraged to do this. I thought it sounded sort of silly at first but then I decided it sounded completely awesome. The trouble was that when I was packing yesterday, I realized my nightclothes were not gonna work. Either they were too — how to put this — “wispy,” or they were too old and comfy to become a keynote speaker.

When we got in the car, I asked Terri if there was a Target on the way. She said there was and that hey, she could get some pajamas, too! (She had the same problem as I did re: appropriate public pajamas.)

What I’m getting at is that tomorrow night I may be eating gooey butter in my pajamas — at work. These students loans ain’t gonna pay themselves, people!

 

*If you go to the right side of the screen and click “Travel” in the list of categories, you’ll see all the PaperGirl posts that have to do with traveling. But note that the “Work” category has a lot of travel writing too, since I’m usually traveling for work. Enjoy!

Culture Spaghetti.

posted in: Chicago, Family, Travel | 18
Filed in WikiCommons under "Confusion." Image: Wikipedia.
Filed in WikiCommons under “Confusion.” Image: Wikipedia.

 

Today was a “Guess what happened to me on the train today” day. Citydwellers know what I’m talking about.

I got on the Red Line train around noon and took it north. I had an errand to run: Daniela, a preternaturally talented esthetician finally cleared up my skin last winter and I had to pick up a bottle of her witches’ brew. (If I found out that stuff is made from the tears of baby seals I’m not entirely sure I would stop using it, that’s how effective it is and how grateful I am to this woman.)*

After transferring to the Brown Line, I got off at Montrose. When I was at the stairs to go down to the street, a man stopped me. He was with his family: wife, toddler, and baby, this last in a ginormous stroller. No one in the group spoke English. Zero. I think “Okay” was the one word he got out and “Okay” is a word that exists in 90% of languages on Earth. They might also have been on the mute side because all of them were clearly spooked and sad. They were lost.

The father offered me, astonishment of astonishments: a printout from Google Maps. I smiled and nodded and took a look. They were nowhere near where they needed to be. They’d have to go back south on the Brown, transfer to the Red, then head back north. The mistake had taken them at least 30 minutes and would cost them another 40, depending on train times. As I looked at the sheet of directions, I shook my head in wonder. The numbers, the stops, the directions, the names of the El train lines — I know them backwards and forwards because I speak English and I’ve lived here, more or less, for fifteen years. But to these people? Gibberish. And they’re trying to get someplace. With kids!

I tried to imagine what I would do if I was lost on the train system in Beijing, for example. The mere thought made me shudder.

We figured it out. I did something just short of an interpretive dance for the father, communicating they had to go down the stairs (I literally did a “I’m going down stairs” pantomime) and over to the other platform (I flapped my arms to say, “OVER THERE, WAY OVER THERE”) and then I said, “Red train. Red.” I pointed to my fingernail polish and said, “Red?” The man understood, nodding vigorously.

The coolest thing ever is that picking up my unicorn serum took less than five minutes. By the time I was back at the Montrose station, the family was there on the platform, waiting to go the same way! I was able to go all the way to the transfer point with them and I made sure they got on the right side, on the right train. It felt great, and I think the woman just about cried she was so glad I was there.

World travelers often say, “Getting lost is half the fun!” I have never understood this. You get lost. I’ll help you. Deal?

*I’m kidding! Almost!

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.

 

The Dog On The Plane.

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Travel | 0
Standard Australian Shepherd. Photo: Wikipedia.
Standard (but clearly perfect) Australian Shepherd. Photo: Wikipedia.

There was a service dog on my flight from Sacramento to Chicago on Tuesday, a miniature Australian Shepherd with brown, white, and black fur. His owner was a man with disabilities I could detect but not define. There were certain limitations in his movements, mannerisms that implied a condition that inhibits his ability to move through the world in the breezy way so many others do and don’t think about, don’t have to think about.

The Shepherd had permission to sit on his owner’s lap and I was sitting across from his owner. This means the travel gods were smiling on me that day because how can you have a bad flight when there’s an I’m-gonna-squeeze-you-you-so-cute puppy across the aisle? On top of that, I had a coupon for a free adult beverage because at this point I’m putting Southwest Airlines employees’ kids through college and they give me drink coupons to say thanks. You’re welcome, guys. Merlot.

I know better than to try and pet a stranger’s dog without asking; I certainly know not to reach for a service dog without permission. But when we were delayed on the runway for another ten minutes and everyone was sitting around bored, I figured it would be okay to ask if I could pet the dog.

“Yes, you can pet him,” the man said, friendly, his speech staccato. “His name is Cody.”

I put my hand out for Cody to sniff it and then, having been accepted, I petted that sweet creature and felt every tense cell in my body melt. I don’t love all dogs — I’m afraid of most big dogs, in fact — but there are magical dogs in this world. Cody was one of them. Mild. Kind. A honey of a animal. Which made it all the more painful to watch him as we took off.

The captain announced we were next up for departure and as the engines began to rev, Cody began to pant. He whipped his head around, scared at the noises: the fans, the announcements, the wheels, the machinery in the belly of the beast. I never realized just how noisy it is when a plane begins to take off; it’s loud in there. Cody’s brow displayed intense fear. He never whined, but he shook and shook, trembling so hard his owner had to hold him tight to his chest to keep him safe.

My heart ached. I don’t know why it was so hard to see it, but when Cody plunged his head into the crook of his owner’s arm to hide, to make it go away, there were tears in my eyes. Life is terrifying. Oh, it’s grand and it’s great but it’s terrifying — and that grand, great stuff can be as terrifying as the rest of it. The man told me later in the flight that Cody was attacked by pit bulls a couple years ago and was still traumatized by the event. He said Cody didn’t use to be so nervous.

Landing was tough, too. But when we deplaned, a little girl of about six was at the gate where we came out and squealed with pure joy when she saw Cody. She ran up to the owner and asked if she could pet the dog. As I passed them to head toward baggage check, I saw the little girl love Cody completely and totally, smiling, welcoming him to terra firma with no idea how happy Cody was to see her.

 

Love, Overboard.

posted in: Art, Family, Luv, Small Wonders, Travel | 2
Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, goofing off. Photo: Goldie Hawn's Instagram Feed.
Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, goofing off. Photo: Goldie Hawn’s Instagram feed.

If you counted all the times I’ve seen the movie Overboard, and then added the number of times each of my sisters have seen it, and then added the number of times we’ve all seen it together, you would no longer be surprised as to how it is we can run the lines from Garry Marshall’s 1987 masterpiece from start to finish. You would understand how it is we can (and do) so frequently reference Overboard when we’re together, calling up scripted gems such as: “I just! Ate a bug!” or “Now Billy, when did we date?” or the perfect-for-every-occasion: “Roy?

The day we learned that Goldie Hawn and co-star Kurt Russell (mercy!) weren’t just “together” in Overboard but “together” in “real life,” we were floored. Really? They’re a couple in real life? It was like Joanna and Dean from the movie were actual people who actually met when Joanna hired Dean to work on her yacht and was mean to him and then she fell off the boat, hit her head and got amnesia, then worked off the money she never paid Dean because Dean pretended she was his wife except things didn’t go according to plan because he was slowly falling in love with Joanna who he pretended was “Annie” but then Annie/Joanna regained her memory and saw she had been tricked and he almost lost everything but then Joanna/Annie realized she loved Dean, too, and she was happier with Dean and the kids than being the old Joanna who was snotty and shallow. And they rode off on a boat together! Into reality!! What?!

In my experience, spending time on celebrity Instagram or Twitter feeds is extremely productive if what you’re looking to produce is post-postmodern anxiety and/or lassitude. But I make an exception for Goldie Hawn’s Instagram account. I love to check up on it. She never posts, for one thing, so right there it’s already a winner: I don’t want Goldie Hawn to be a social media addict. It’s not right for her. Nope, there are just fifty or so pictures of her attractive family, some archival shots from her long career in Hollywood, and a number of pictures of her and her husband, Kurt Russell, clearly in love after all these years. (See photo.)

She’s seventy. He’s in his late sixties. They’ve been together for three decades. I cannot impress upon you how much joy and hope this brings to me. We loved Joanna and Dean in my family. We still do. Joanna (really “Annie”) and Dean are together after all this time, having weathered the storms of fame, of scandal, of tabloid trash, plus the regular ups and downs of parents and two people in a marriage, period, and this calms me. Pictures are only pictures, I know. But Goldie and Kurt are plainly crazy about each other. Am I wrong?

Good job, you guys. Please, please let it be true that you run lines from Overboard sometimes, just for fun. Please. The only thing that makes me happier than your enduring love is the thought that at the breakfast nook every once in awhile you just:

Goldie: “What was I doing out in the ocean?”
Kurt: “That’s something you like to do, go fishing for oysters at night.”
Goldie: “Oysters in a cold ocean at night? That doesn’t sound like me.”

 

“Ahm Frum a Town Cahled ‘Ninety-Six.'”

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Story, Travel, Work | 0
Not yet available on iTunes. Image: Wikipedia
Not yet available on iTunes, sadly. Image: Wikipedia

Being in Atlanta reminds me how much I love the southern part of this country. Women from all over this region came to the show; I met Tennessee ladies, girls from Alabama, and a South Carolina lady who stole my heart. You know how you just zap with a person, sometimes? It’s the face, the smile, or the laugh — it could be the accent — and you recognize it, somehow, and maybe you can’t say why, but you’re just happy to be there. I had that feeling with this lady. We’ll call her Sue. Here’s how the conversation went:

“Mary. Ah was so excited to get the chance to meet you. Ah just luve your show. Ah watch it ev’ry week. You and your momma are just so sweet together.”

“Sue, you’re too kind — thank you. Thank you for watching the show. I like working with my mom, so it’s not too bad of a job. Where are you from?”

“Ah’m from Ninety Six, South Carolina.” She gave me a warm smile as I cocked my head, which is what every person who does not live in Ninety Six, South Carolina has ever done to Sue when she tells them where she’s from. “That’s raahht,” she said. “The town ah’m from is called Ninety Six. Now, isn’t that funny?”

Utterly charmed and curious as everyone else, I asked her why her town was named after a number. Sue told me that as legend has it, a young Native American woman had a boyfriend in the British Army. I interrupted and said that did not sound like a good idea.

“Oh, you’ve got thaht raaht,” Sue said. “Mary, it’s just a legund, but ah lahk to think it’s true. Anyway, she rode nahnty-six miles to tell her little boyfriend the British were coming. And that’s how Nahnty-Six got its name.” Sue was quite proud of her town and its peculiar name. I’d be proud, too — especially because my town’s high school football team would wipe the floor with the team from Ninety Five.

We chatted. Sue told me she was a breast cancer survivor. I gave her a high-five and asked if she was staying on top of check-ups and things. Sue patted my arm and said quietly, “Well, ah’m afraid it’s back, honey. It’s in mah lung this tahm.”

My eyes burned. Dammit. She was just so awesome. Dealing with cancer at all, let alone again — the pointless, “Why?” lodged itself into my brain and nearly eclipsed the moment we were having. Sue said she came to the show to enjoy classes and exhibits, to spend time with friends and to meet me, too. “It’s been a wonderful tahm,” she said. “Ah told mah husband, ‘Ah’m going to that quilt show and if mah doctor says I can’t, you tell him ah’m goin’ anyway!”

Sue, it was a pleasure. Now you go wipe the floor with Ninety Five.

I’m Going To Peru.

posted in: Travel | 3
Achoo! Machu Picchu, 2009. Image: Wikipedia
Achoo! Machu Picchu, 2009. Image: Wikipedia

I’m going on a 3-week backpacking trip to Peru. I leave tomorrow.

Just kidding. I can’t leave tomorrow because I’m still at QuiltCon in Los Angeles. I go home to Chicago tomorrow. Next week, I’m the keynote at the big Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Washington state; the week after that I go to Canada; I’m at OSQE in Atlanta the week after that and then I’m going on a 3-week backpacking trip to Peru. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I do not have any children, pets, or plants. I only have shoes.

My world-travel portfolio is slim. It’s been years since I needed my passport and this trip will be unlike any I’ve ever taken; I’ve only been to Europe and the Balkans. I’m going to need some good world-traveler advice and, lucky for me, I have a trusted source.

My sister Rebecca and my brother-in-law Jack are world travelers. For the past five years or so, they’ve celebrated the New Year in a place far from home. One year, they rode Icelandic ponies in Iceland; another year had them eating haggis in Scotland. They hung out with the kids running around the grounds of the Taj Mahal year before last; they drank warn, sugary, mystery drinks from vending machines in Tokyo last year and this year, Jack and Rebecca went to Vietnam. I’m in awe of their sense of adventure and their photographs. Rebecca and I had lunch the other day and I told her I was going to Peru.

“Get a pee-pocket,” Rebecca said, and gave our ticket number to the stir-fry guy.

“A what?”

“A pee-pocket. It’s a little pouch you wear and then when you have to pee and all there is is like, a hole in the ground, you’re fine. It’s like a little funnel.” Our bowls were put up on the counter and Rebecca took the tray. “Pee-pockets are like two bucks apiece on Amazon. I’ll show you. Can you grab chopsticks?” She wears her world-traveler mien well.

“So why are you going to Peru?” Rebecca asked, biting into a sugar snap pea.

I told her that Claus has time in mid-March before he goes back to Germany and was thinking of going on a trip someplace cool. He asked me if I’d like to go with him and I said that I would have to a) check my schedule and b) learn what “cool” means. To my surprise, my calendar was open. When we discussed “cool” places to go, we came back again and again to Peru. After much thought, research, and deliberation, we purchased plane tickets to Lima which, I’ll have you know, were $500 roundtrip. Hotels will be about $30/night total, and the buses and trains are cheap, too. This is not a luxury trip, but it’s amazing how far your money goes in Peru; we’ve confirmed this with people who have been there.

“Peru sounds good,” Rebecca said. “Have you gotten your shots?”

“No, not yet. I have to do that today. Do you have someone?”

She pulled out her phone and gave me her travel doctor’s office number, which was in her list of contacts. “I’ve gotten all the juice I’ll need for awhile,” she said. “Hep A, Hep B. I’m all hepped up. Listen, don’t wait to get your shots; some of the immunizations you have to start up to four weeks before your trip.”

It’s many weeks before the trip and I’ve got my travel doctor appointment set up. I’ll share more about where we’re going, what we’ll see (Machu Picchu, of course), as well as my impressions while I’m there. As Claus told me recently, “Mary, if you can’t take three weeks — three weeks — out of your busy life to go do something wonderful like see Peru, your priorities are out of order.”

He is right.

 

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