My Blue Heaven.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
Step into my office. Seriously, this is where I'm sitting right now.
Step into my office. Seriously, this is where I’m sitting right now, on the couch facing the mirror.

Glory, Glory Halleuuuuujah,
Glory, Glory Halleuuuuujah,
Glory, Glory Halleuuuuujah —
The Fons is marching on!

I am blissful. I am over the moon. I am a happy, happy child. Yesterday, in the yucky humidity with movers who were both terrifying and slow — I can’t talk about it — I moved my belongings into my gorgeous apartment in the Kennedy Warren. Regular readers know the timeline, but I cannot resist the recap, lest people think that this third move within one city means I am either a) insane or b) being pursued by the FBI.

1. I moved from New York City to a charming townhouse in Capitol Hill.
2. There were sewer rats in the walls and I had to relocate. Obviously.
3. The apartment to which I relocated is furnished — and expensive.
4. I decided to stay in Washington rather than head back to Chicago.
5. I sought out and found this dreamy place and promptly signed a lease.

You wanna know something fascinating? When awake, the human brain produces enough electricity to power a small light bulb! Okay, that wasn’t the fascinating thing I was going to tell you:

A few months ago, I had a yen to tutor students in writing in my spare time. My work with high school students is so rewarding; I know I could help budding writers (or struggling ones) develop their skills. So I applied to a tutoring company here in town. My interview was flawless. My application was impressive. But do you know that I did not pass the background check? It’s true. Me! A quilter! But it’s because I’ve moved so much in the past year! Isn’t that amazing? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a background check done on me, so it’s extra awful that I didn’t pass it. A simple phone call to the agency could probably clear it up, but apparently they charge you for that and I’m too exhausted by my schpiel to bother. But yes, the Powers That Be probably do think I’m running from the FBI. Maybe I should do something really horrible and make it official.

Anyway, I’m practically skipping through the building, running around and exploring everything. Because I don’t have my Internet service set up yet, I’m writing this from the South Lounge. I feel like I’m in the most beautiful hotel in the world, but I live here. There will be a trip to Chicago to get all my furniture, so I’m sleeping on a makeshift mat on the floor.

I had a fantastic night’s sleep. Well, except for the ruckus made by the criminals I’m harboring and the sound of the SWAT team banging on the door.

Police Plane.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Paean 1
Toy police car. Photo: John Baker.
Toy police car. Photo: John Baker.

My flight from Kansas City to Washington yesterday was remarkable, as in, “I am compelled to remark” on my flight. If only I had a blog! Hey, wait a minute…

Approximately 96% of the people on the KC –> DCA Southwest flight were police officers headed to National Police Week in Washington. I sat next to a chaplain, behind a cop, and to the right of an undercover guy (more on him in a second.) If they hadn’t all been in such a good mood, I would’ve been nervous. There’s nothing like a planeful of cops to make you second-guess your record. That parking ticket in ’99. I didn’t pay it. I didn’t pay!! Don’t take me away, officers! I’m a good citizen, I swear!

It was an unofficial party plane, man. People were calling to each other across the aisle with questions like, “Are you guys staying downtown or in Arlington?” and “Is Rick coming or not? No? What a [bleep]!” Our plane probably sounded a lot like — and I say this with love — a tour bus leaving that very hour from, say, Little Rock with a group of middle school students on their class trip to Washington, DC. It was all excitement, anticipation, and fun. It got more fun when the stewardesses started beverage service, if you know what I mean.

President Kennedy signed into law a remembrance day on May 15th for servicemen and servicewomen who have died in the line of duty. That was in ’62; the first National Police Week began in ’82. There are activities and memorial events held in the city during this time; more than 40k police come to Washington to participate each year. The cops and service-people on my flight were, not surprisingly, mostly Kansas City-based and would represent their state during these events.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more congenial, raucous person than the undercover guy sitting near me. Physically he was a tank. If I took a running leap and body-slammed him (I would never do this nor recommend that anyone do this) I would bounce off with a “ping!” and be dead. He was covered in tattoos and had a goatee. He was using chewing tobacco, too, which I had never seen someone do on a plane. When my purse fell into the aisle, he picked it up for me. When he saw a baby board with her mama, he said, “Here comes trouble!” He talked to everyone in a six-seat radius and everyone was entertained — even the chaplain, who could’ve done without the profane words the guy wove (seamlessly) into his vocabulary.

When we landed, the stewardesses thanked the police for their service over the PA and wished them a good trip. Thunderous applause. We deplaned and I entered the jet bridge and walked up the ramp. When I got to the entrance to the gate, I gasped.

There to greet the plane was a line of policemen and policewomen in full memorial uniform. They lined both sides of the gate, standing silently to honor the officers coming off the plane. The black of the cloth was midnight dark, the gleaming metal of the badges, medals, and stripes polished to a shine. Everyone wore their caps or helmets. I didn’t feel worthy to walk through first (I was sitting at the front of the plane.) I bowed my head and blinked my eyes to stop the stinging.

I realize America’s police are under scrutiny right now. There are problems — big ones — and they must be considered and we must be fearless in our examination of process and ethics in this piece of our government. Regardless, we are in debt to the vast, vast majority of our civil protectors  All around the airport, people were staring at the display, craning their heads to see, thinking there was a dignitary surely on the flight that had just arrived.

They were mostly right. But there were two hundred dignitaries, not just one.

Why I’m Staying In Washington.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Paean 1
It's you and me, Link. Photo: Wikipedia
How can this be wrong? Photo: Wikipedia

This blog is honest. Everything I tell you is real, and it’s true. Okay, it’s my truth — everyone has their version — but I come to the mat every time with the real deal.

But of course I can’t tell the whole truth, all the time. Sometimes this is because it would be inappropriate — someone else’s privacy needs to be respected, my privacy needs to be respected, it ain’t ready for prime-time, it’s too racy, it’s an over-share, etc. — but sometimes it’s because I’m scared.

Telling just how hard it’s been to move through my life in the past few months, this is something I haven’t been as honest about as I could’ve been. There was a moment of it, but I’ve held back the truly wrenching experience that has been choosing my next step. I am a naturally decisive person, so this back-and-forth has been nothing short of excruciating. Deciding where to live in a matter of weeks — Chicago or Washington — has made me realize that to be a woman with no boundaries presents as many challenges as someone who feels stuck in one place. I have no baby who needs to be fed. I have no husband with whom I make major decisions. I don’t even have a desk job. To be so free, I say unto you, is not so easy.

I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about how my heart has ached. For love lost, love found, love lost again. No one wants to read some maudlin, whiny girl mope about her love life — and this maudlin, whiny girl wouldn’t dare write the stuff — but perhaps I have over-pruned. Sharing that I find myself aching, longing, thrilled, excited, devastated, and confused in matters of the heart almost daily might help someone else out there. If you are that someone else, it’s high time I tell you that I understand.

Today, I turned in my lease. I’m staying in Washington, DC for another year and I’d like to tell you how I finally chose this. You might think what ultimately pushed me in this direction is odd, but to me it was perfect, it was right on time, and I was so grateful I cried.

I’m working on memorizing a Longfellow poem called “The Day Is Done.” Please take a moment to read the whole thing sometime. It’s about a person who wants to hear a poem in the evening — but he doesn’t want anything fancy or difficult (e.g., Homer). He says:

“Read from some humbler poet
Whose songs gushed from her heart
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start.

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease
Still heard in her soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.”

That poem is why I’m staying in Washington. Oh, for heaven’s sake it’s more than that — perhaps I’ll detail more tomorrow so you don’t think I’ve lost my mind and am making choices entirely based on dead poets — but those verses were my tipping point.

Long days of labor? I know about labor. Nights devoid of ease? Yes, those. But through it all, I keep hearing these melodies. If I keep up the labor, if I’m not afraid of the night, I feel like the melodies will keep coming to me. And I can’t live without them. I wouldn’t want to.

So I’ll honor the melodies by laboring longer. I’ll give them new sights to see, here in the almost-South. I can’t wait to tell you all about the apartment I found on the 10th floor of a beautiful historic building. It looks over a valley so lush and green right now, you can’t imagine how beautiful it is. I’ll stay and watch the leaves in that valley turn to bronze and gold, then fall, then grow again.

Then we’ll see what the melodies want me to do next.



Reverse The Narrative.

posted in: Chicago, D.C., Tips 0
I can see my house from here! Photo: Wikipedia, 2006.
I can see my house from here! Photo: Wikipedia, 2006.

When I’m facing a challenge that seems impossible, or when I’m standing at a path in the woods that is diverging before my eyes, there’s a tool in my toolbelt I find handy. It doesn’t solve the problem for me, but it helps…with the drywall? Hm. Okay, the tool metaphor does not extend terribly well. I’ll just tell you what I mean. It’s not a complex concept — maybe it’s something people do it all the time — but if it’s new to you, perhaps it will help you with a challenge, also:

I pretend it’s the future and I’m telling someone what happened in the situation I’m currently facing. For example:

“Well, what can I say? It was a tough time in my life. I was heartsick. I left New York. I was in Washington in a kind of limbo, trying to decide if I’d stay or leave. But I trusted myself, I made what I believed was the braver choice and now look at me! I’ve never been happier.”

See what I mean? It sort of calms me down. Because it illustrates what we know will happen: we’ll talk later — casually, even off-handedly — about something that seems impossible to us now. Let’s try another one, perhaps more relevant to you than the above example:

“I never thought I’d buy an entire island. Who does that? But then I thought, ‘I am a billionaire. Why not enjoy it?’ So I shopped around and it was so extremely difficult to choose between the two I fell in love with and the legal stuff was an absolute nightmare — the French Polynesians are a real pain in the neck, trust me — but you know what? It was worth it. All the pain. All the flying back and forth. I almost gave up a dozen times. But I stuck with it. And now look at me! I’ve never been happier.”

You see what I mean.

In the next few days, I will announce the decision I’ve made regarding staying in DC or going back to Chicago. Curious? Me, too. It’s time to start telling the story.

Spring Fever.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story, Travel 0
Springtime in Flemming, apparently. Those horses are FREAKING OUT.
Springtime in Flemming, apparently. Those horses are FREAKING OUT.

I was in a taxi the other day and my driver was cursing under his breath in a foreign language. I could definitely tell what words he was using. He was cursing at cars who were cutting him off, cursing at pedestrians who were taking daredevil crosses from one side of the street to the other. He was justified in his cursing, I’m telling you.

“People are crazy!” he said to me, throwing up his hands. “They don’t look! They don’t care if they die!”

I shook my head and said, “It’s true, man” though I think most people do not want to die; I’m very sure most people don’t want to die by Uber.

But then I remembered what time it was: early May. People are insane. They are. It’s because they are emerging or have emerged from the icy chrysalis they’ve been in since October. Spring fever is a real thing. People are giddy for the smallest reasons: no coat needed to go outside, a green thing in a tree, a pretty girl walking by in a skirt and sandals.

“You know what?” I said to the driver. “I actually think it’s the spring. Like, springtime. People are wild and crazy because they’re happy. It’s really dangerous, but they’re just happy, I think.”

The driver thought about this for a moment and he actually scratched his chin. “I think that you are right,” he said. “Crazy.”

The Year Of Terrible Couches Shall Soon Come To An End.

posted in: Chicago, D.C., Paean, Rant, Story, Tips 1
This doesn't look too bad. But you should probably try out that couch before you sign the lease. Photo: Wikipedia
This doesn’t look too bad. But you should probably try out that couch before you sign the lease. Photo: Wikipedia

What can be said about the sofas in our lives?

Not much. A sofa makes the news in your head or your household when you buy a new one. A sofa is exciting when you’re shopping for a new one. It’s exciting when you remove the old one and put in the new one. After a few weeks, though, the sofa recedes into the landscape of your home and that’s good because you have better things to think about. Hopefully.

But for me, for almost a year now, the object that is the couch* has stubbornly refused to leave my portfolio of active thoughts. This is because since leaving Chicago almost a year ago, regardless of the agony and the ecstasy of the entire adventure, it has been The Year of Terrible Couches. It’s like the Chinese “Year of The Goat” thing except no one is ever, ever born in The Year of Terrible Couches and we should all be thankful for that. Let’s celebrate by eating a fortune cookie. Done? Excellent. Let’s examine what I’m talking about.

When I was first in New York with Yuri, we had a furnished place for just a couple months on 10th Street and 2nd Ave. I filmed my book promo video while we were in that place. Then, when we officially moved to New York in June, we got a furnished place on St. Mark’s. Then, when everything became hard and sad, I moved into a furnished apartment in D.C. with rats in the walls. Then, the management company relocated me to the place where I’m sitting currently. That’s not one, not two, not three (I’m weeping, now), but four furnished apartments in a single year.

You do realize this is not my normal life, right? I am not a fan of chaos. Chaos, it appears, is extremely fond of me, at least this year. Thanks, chaos.

Here’s the thing about furnished apartments: they are lousy. If you have no furniture, maybe they are great. Any couch is better than no couch, right? Fine. But I have a couch. I have arguably the best couch ever. It’s in Chicago right now, being used by my adorable med school tenants. Why? Because moving to NYC was always going to be a yearlong experiment and what are you, nuts?! You can’t move a couch into Manhattan! You have to go there with your hobo stick and just figure it out from there, find someone who can take you to the IKEA in Jersey! Please! Anyway, my gorgeous couch in Chicago is wide. It’s leather. It’s sky blue leather with chrome legs. (I bought it at a sample sale at Design Within Reach.) It’s sleek and sexy, but it’s functional. You can take a nap on it. You can sit cross-legged and eat your lunch on it. You can watch a movie on it. And you can… Well, you can do a lot of things on that couch. Trust me.

The four couches that I have been subjected to over the past year… I can hardly talk about it. Do you realize how awful a couch can be? If it’s shallow, your back hurts when you try to sit back. If it’s a sectional that doesn’t have those grippy things on the bottom and your floor is slick, the parts separate and slide all around! Good grief! That’s a Beckett play! If the couch is so old it’s buckling (see: St. Mark’s) you are asking for early-onset arthritis. A bad couch is sad, indeed, and I realize this is as luxury a problem as luxury problems get. But what can I do? It’s been The Year of Terrible Couches and as the hourglass runs out of sand, as I am forced to make a decision to stay in D.C. or go back to Chicago, this much is true: The Year of Terrible Couches is about to end. If I go home, I get my couch. If I stay here, I’m going back for all my stuff, kids. If I stay in D.C., I am staying in D.C. with my couch. 

Sofa. Whatever.

*I’m from Iowa; it’s a couch

“You In Trouble Now, Son!”

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 1
Roses for sale. In Germany. Same thing. Photo: Wikipedia
Roses for sale. In Germany. Same thing. Photo: Wikipedia

Out running errands today, I stopped on the corner of U St. and 16th when the light turned red. I had a heavy bag of groceries and was bummed I missed getting across the street, but then I was glad that I hadn’t.

On the other side of the street, a man in business attire was holding a huge arrangement of red roses. Two dozen, I’d wager. It’s incredible how the eyes just zap! right to a bouquet of red roses. Everyone on all the four corners of that intersection caught sight of the flowers and of the guy.

So he’s waiting for the light, too — he needs to come across the street from the other side. And while we’re all waiting, he’s being totally accosted by the men who were standing on his corner hanging out.

“Oooooh!” one of the men laughed, “You in trouble now, son! What’d you do? C’mon! What’d you do? Somethin’ bad, man — that’s a lotta flowers.”

That man’s friend shook his head in mock anguish. “She’s mad, man. What is that, two dozen roses? Damn, dude — I hope it works, I honestly do. Good luck! Good luck, son.”

The man holding the flowers was as red as the roses themselves. He was smiling, embarrassed but shaking his head like, “Yeah. That’s pretty much what’s going on.” I put my hand over my mouth to hide my giggling. The flower guy knew the entire world was watching him get razzed, but I didn’t want to make it worse. The light changed and everyone crossed paths. As I passed the guys who were joking around, I gave them a big smile.

“He’s gonna get it,” I said, “Even with those flowers.”

“She knows what’s up!” one man laughed to the other. “Get it, girl!”

(Gentlemen, I plan to.)

I Am Not Moving To Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Court House. Photo: Wikipedia
Philadelphia Court House. Photo: Wikipedia

I’m in Philadelphia. Just one night to see a good friend.

Sometimes, when I have to make a big decision, I am comforted by going through options that are not on the table. In short order, I must make the decision, once and for all, whether I’m going back to Chicago or staying in Washington. Before I list a few options I can cross out, let’s review why I am in Washington at all. (It’s so interesting: when I tell people I live in D.C., they almost always go, “D.C.?? How in the world did you end up there?” I like to tell them that I’m planning to run for president, but then I say that I’m kidding and I go through the story.)

1. I lived in beautiful Chicago, in my home in the South Loop.
2. I met Yuri, a Russian bitcoin speculator with a heart of gold who can play classical piano. We began to love each other very much.
3. Yuri got a job at an exciting startup in New York City.
4. Working, as I do, for myself, I have the ability to work from anywhere. Having, as I did, fond feelings for New York, Yuri and I said, “Let’s go together! Just for a year, see how we like it.”
5. I rented out my condo for a year, put things in storage, and moved to the East Village with 1/3 of my worldly possessions.
6. I detested living in New York City. It felt like I was at a crowded outdoor music festival all the time. I really, really hate outdoor music festivals. I became depressed.
7. Yuri and I, though we loved each other very much, broke up for reasons that people always break up: irreconcilable differences. We became depressed.
8. Having no love for New York and no workable love in New York, and essentially being in exile from Chicago until my tenants vacated in June, I was in a sticky position.
9. A dear friend said to me, “Why don’t you have an adventure? You can live wherever you want for the next eight months. Where have you always wanted to live?” I answered without hesitation, “Washington, D.C.” I performed with the Neo-Futurists for a whole month at the Woolly Mammoth theater several years ago and loved the city on contact. I wanted to return someday.
10. I packed the 1/3 of my worldly possessions into a U-Haul van and drove to D.C., not knowing anyone but excited. And I have a terrible, beautiful love for the city and don’t want to leave, yet, but Chicago is my best friend.

If you missed the cliffhanger decision-making process when I decided to leave New York, start here.

When I verbally go through the steps, I make it quick, but I can’t skip a single one of them. If I don’t say my condo was rented out, a person understandably says, “Well, why not just go back to Chicago?” If I say I moved to Washington without explaining that I had lived there, however briefly, once before, they don’t understand.

But my lease is up in D.C. on June 15th. My tenants are leaving. The clock ticks. The clock stares at me. The time is now. And a new cliffhanger begins. (Insert wink here.) And now, if you’re still with me, a few options that I can rule out, at least, as I work out what the Sam Hill I’m going to do now that it’s flipping May:

1. I am not moving to Philadelphia, nice as it is.
2. I am not moving to Kathmandu.
3. I am not taking a job with streets and sanitation.
4. I am not planning to eat an entire German chocolate cake in a single sitting.
5. I am not planning to throw myself into the Nile.

See? This is easy.

Quiet Windows.

posted in: D.C., Story, Washington 0
Cutchogue, NY, 2005. Photo: Wikipedia,
Cutchogue, NY, 2005. Photo: Wikipedia, 2015.

On Saturday morning, I had my first experience delivering groceries to seniors with We Are Family D.C.*

There were about thirty-five people at the meeting place when I got there; the man in charge said our numbers were lighter than usual, so we’d have to pull together to get it all done. Lucky for us, Girl Scout Troop 714 was there that morning, so really, we had the strength of the Light Brigade!

There were undergrads there, too, as well as folks working in conjunction with other charity organizations, and there were a handful of people like me who just came on their own. (About 1/3 of the entire group was helping for the first time.) Our first job was to take over 100 bags and dozens of boxes of non-perishable groceries from the back of a huge van and stage them in the parking lot. Then we all pow-wowed in a big meeting room so we could get the plan for the day and meet each other. After that, we were split up into groups.

I was teamed up with James, a twenty-something who helped start “Sonos Familias,” the Spanish arm of the organization, and Pete, a seventy-something who has been delivering groceries and paying visits to D.C. area seniors for twelve years. We loaded up Pete’s car with our share of bags and boxes; James got our list of names and addresses. Pete drove, I sat in back.

“Okay, the first house we’re going to,” Pete said, turning the wheel, “is Esther’s. Now, Esther is one of my favorites.” (Pete said this about every person we visited.) He told us all about Esther, how he makes sure she’s taking her insulin and how some weekends he’ll take her a bag of vegetables on his own dime. “Toward the end of the month, she needs it,” Pete said. Then he honked at a driver and made a creative left turn. “What a jerk!” Pete said, and then went back to telling me and James about Esther.

I listened to all Pete’s stories and looked out the car windows. We drove through parts of D.C. that I hadn’t been in, yet. Without doing something like this, how will I ever see the whole city?

Pete would wait in the car while James and I took bags and boxes to the doors. Some folks weren’t home or weren’t answering, but most people came to the door. Some wanted to visit a little, some didn’t. Everyone was grateful, everyone smiled to see us. The man in charge told us when we were in our huddle that a lot of these older folks had been in their houses for forty years, fifty years.

“They were in their neighborhoods when the civil rights riots were happening, through the crack epidemic in the ’80s. Now the neighborhoods are changing and it’s… I mean, if anyone earned the right to be there, to stay there, it’s them.”

James and I were buzzed into one house that was all shuttered up. From the outside, it looked empty. We stepped into an entryway that was dark but tidy. The whole place had a strange smell to it: a combination of face powder, dust, and canned green beans.

“Coming down,” a weak voice called from upstairs. James and I stood by the beautiful, dusty oak bannister and watched an elderly woman ride a chair lift slowly, slowly down the stairs. James and I were patient and talked to her while she made the trip. Pearl had big sunglasses on, compression socks, a housedress, and orthopedic shoes. Her dark skin was ashy and she didn’t have many teeth, but — and I’m not just saying this — she looked great. She was getting around. She was sharp. When James asked her how long she had lived here, she said, with great pride, “Forty-nine years, honey, right here.”

“We love this bannister,” James said. “It’s beautiful.”

“It was painted, you know, but that wouldn’t do, so I did it.”

I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly. “I’m sorry, Pearl, did you say that you stripped the bannister and stained it?”

“Yes, I did.”

James and I took the box of groceries to the kitchen, visited a while longer, and then went back out to the car to go to the next spot. The group meets several times a month. I plan to join them again, and probably a lot.


*The organization is remarkable not just for the service it provides but for its efficiency, history, and reach. If you’re in the D.C. area and think you might like to do some community service, I can’t recommend WAF enough. 

Finally! Answers! I’m Pteridophobic!!!

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 2
I do not know or care what kind of fern this is. I couldn't even put it into the post until I was ready to hit "Publish."
I do not know or care what kind of fern this is. I couldn’t even put it into the post until I was ready to hit “Publish.”

I took a pleasant walk with my friend Elle, her baby Miles, and her husband Brian at the National Arboretum on Saturday. This was after my first experience delivering groceries to seniors with We Are Family, which you can read about here; a full report on that tomorrow.

The weather was chilly — I have a knack for going to gorgeous gardens under steely gray skies — but the stroll was perfect. Brian stayed in the car while Miles napped and urged Elle and I to start off ahead. We went to the Bonsai garden and I learned a lot about Bonsai trees, namely that they do not grow like that on their own. It takes me awhile, but I get there.

We were remarking on life and plants and I thought I’d share something rather personal and embarrassing with Elle, something I don’t tell many people because it is just so totally weird. But in the circumstances… Well, I went for it.

“Elle? I have this weird fear. Like a phobia.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I’m deathly afraid of ferns.”

Elle laughed, not cruelly, but in surprise. “Like, fern-ferns? Ferns.”

I nodded and tried to explain. “It’s the spidery-ness. The uncurling thing. They’re so big. And dark. Prehistoric, you know? They seem really, really old and really, really…intelligent. And they’re vascular. Like, they’re described as vascular plants. That is so…” but I shuddered and couldn’t finish my sentence. Elle granted that the fern characteristics I described had a slight creep-factor, but clearly she did not feel the same way about ferns.

Friends, I do hope you feel that when you read this blog you often come away having learned something of value, and not just about my hilarious family. But if you’ve never learned anything before, you’re about to: there is a name for my fern phobia. It’s pteridophobia. It’s a thing. It is so a thing that not only did spellcheck not freaking underline it — I’m not alone. In fact, there is a very, very famous person who also was pteridophobic. Would you like to know who that person was?

Sigmund Freud.

When I read this, I choked on my juice. Spluttering and coughing, I put my laptop to the side and jumped up so I didn’t get juice on my laptop or the couch, just on my pretty vest.

“What?!” I hollered. “Sigmund Freud was afraid of ferns??”  I picked my laptop back up and wiped my chin. My eyes were big as dinner plates and glued to the screen, now; I clicked this and that tab, trusting but verifying. It’s true: Freud was deathly afraid of ferns.

Do you realize what this means?? Sigmund Freud was not just the father of psychoanalysis, he was also the father of phobic baggage. He made people feel worse about their phobias than they already did! Some nice guy was afraid of banana cream pie and then Freud got a hold of him and you know what happened to that guy. And here I am, a person with the same phobia Freud himself had?? And it’s ferns?? Do I not brood enough? Am I not hyper-analytical (emotionally speaking) enough? I am now bound to Freud in our irrational fear. We are sister and brother in weirdness, bound forever by unbearable terror when we step into a greenhouse full of…

Full of…

I can’t say it. Please don’t make me say it… Siggy! Siggy, I’m afraid… Run, honey! Run!!!

Community Service: It’s About Time

posted in: D.C., Family, Rant 2
Me, in 50-ish years. Photo: Wikipedia.
Me, in 50-ish years. Photo: Wikipedia.

A couple months ago, I was profoundly annoyed with myself. Oh, I’ve been annoyed with myself plenty since then, but this was a big one.

For a long time, I’ve had this stock comment that I share in the course of small talk about extreme weather. Say it’s blisteringly hot or dangerously cold and I’m in a taxicab and the driver and I are lamenting about how very, very bad it is outside. I frequently would share that I worried about the elderly in extreme weather like this.

I was 100% sincere. When it’s in the upper nineties or higher, when it’s negative anything, I am genuinely concerned about the eldest among us because they are vulnerable in temperatures like those. They’re often shut into their homes for long stretches because of weather that bad. Cupboards and fridges go bare; medication runs out. And if the heating or cooling system breaks, old folks can die in their homes from the weather. In America.

But what exactly, Ms. Fons, is the use of making your concern and your feelings known to a cabdriver? This, I realized with a cosmic smack, is worse than pointless. I decided that if I made that comment one more time in my life without doing something about it, I couldn’t live with myself. And I meant it.

I’ve signed up to volunteer with an organization in DC called “We Are Family.” They visit seniors, take groceries to them, check in on them in inclement weather; stuff like that. My first volunteer experience with them will be next Saturday for a grocery delivery; the Saturday after that, I’ll go on some visits. I am profoundly glad I’m going to be home for awhile so I can do this. I’ve been excited to get started but of course haven’t been home.

Old people used to terrify me. While in the process of ruining his life, my father worked at a particularly depressing, shabby nursing home in Winterset and made us visit his “friends” at that terrible place. Going to a nursing home is traumatic for any person I’ve ever met who went to one as a kid. They’re startling, confusing places for children. When Alzheimers patients scream babble to no one — or to the child directly — they’re pure nightmare.

But I’m over it. We’re all temporarily young. And I’ma say it: our culture seems to be awfully good at putting our elderly out to pasture. I’m finding it increasingly untenable that this is the case. How have I only now realized that there is a universe of solid advice and great stories via people who have so been there? I just have to ask. And can you imagine being old and lonesome, just watching TV all day while that advice and those stories get dustier and dustier, utterly unused? Nightmare, indeed.

Yo, Fons! Less blithe, passing commentary; more fix.


posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Family 0
It all looks so civilized. (Photo: Wikipedia.)
It all looks so civilized. (Photo: Wikipedia.)

Iowa, you rascal!

My heart was gripped with fear the other day when I woke up with a scratchy throat and a sniffle. As of tomorrow, I will have been gone from my home for two full weeks — impossible, all the things that I have done since leaving* — and to falter in the homestretch with a cold (or something worse) is not an option.

But then I sneezed nine times in a row and I realized with a rueful look to no one at all: allergies.

I don’t have seasonal allergies anymore, for the most part. I have lived a city since 2001 and in a city, the beauty of nature is stamped out and destroyed by the fumes of cars, the steam that rises from the subway, and the crushed glass of millions of shattered dreams that carpets the cold, hard cement. Pollen doesn’t stand a chance and that’s been fine by me for years.

Because when my sisters and I were kids, good grief did we suffer. Ragweed is Iowa’s kudzu: stand still for a moment and you will be covered in microscopic beads of death. The wretched stuff — which doesn’t even have the class to originate in a lovely flower but in a weed — would snake its way into our mucous membranes and ruin us and this always happened when school started for the year. My nerdy sisters and I would be so excited for school and then we’d remember that we were social pariahs who had to carry a box of Kleenex with us at all times. Really, we all had boxes of Kleenex that we carried with us to all our classes or put in our desks.

Itchy. Runny. Sneezy. You could’ve called us by those names and we would’ve answered you. My sister Rebecca actually wadded up little wicks of Kleenex to stick up her nostrils. She didn’t do that at school but the moment she got home, up the nose they went to staunch the flow. (She still uses that method when she has a runny nose for whatever reason.) We were miserable. And I try to ignore the nagging resentment I have that no one thought to take us girls to a freaking allergist or at least try some weird home remedy that might relieve our pain. I can still remember the raw, stinging feeling when I’d blow my nose for the 10,000th time, tissue on red, raw skin and then, insultingly, a sneeze attack.

Allergies, you can flirt with me. Go ahead. I’m heading home tomorrow and I’ll return to Washington where ragweed ain’t even a thing. I’m not allergic to cherry blossoms, neither. Take that.


*Filmed 27 episodes of Quilty, performed poetry in front of lots of people, filmed 13 episodes of Love of Quilting, saw Yuri. Went on a date. Wrote things. Played rope toy with Mom’s dog, Scrabble.


posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Work 0
Munitions plant worker has a date with her boyfriend. Photo: National Film Board of Canada
Munitions plant worker has a date with her boyfriend. Photo: National Film Board of Canada.

When I visit big groups of quilters to lecture or teach, it’s not uncommon for one or two of the ladies to ask me if I’m single and then, when I reply that yes, I am, they suggest that I date their son.

“Oh, he’s very sweet, very sweet,” they say, and usually something about how handsome he is. I have no doubt all these men are both, but as sincere as they are, it’s probably unlikely I’ll go on a date with one of these sons. I live in D.C., which is a long way from Omaha, say, or Pensacola. Most of the time the proud moms will sigh and say something like, “That is a problem, isn’t it?” Yesterday, this did not deter one mother.

“You are single, aren’t you, Mary? My son’s coming to pick me up after the lecture,” she said, “And you need to meet him.”

“Yes,” I laughed, “I’m single.” To humor her (good-naturedly, of course) I asked, “What’s his name?”

“Brian,” she said. “You’ll love him!”

“Well, I’m sure he’s fantastic,” I said, “but I live in DC. It’s not so convenient to date someone in St. Louis, you know.”

Without skipping a beat, she said, “Oh, he’ll move! He’ll move.”

I didn’t meet Brian. It might’ve been a little awkward, but it’s not that I avoided it; Mom and I were absolutely wiped after our third day in Missouri and we high-tailed it out of there. I should book more gigs in the D.C./Virginia area. There are many moms with many sons and no one has to move.

Transcription: Cherry Blossom Meeting

posted in: D.C. 0
This is actually a shot taken in New Jersey, but I'm appropriating it for D.C. so take that, Jersey. Photo: Wikipedia.
This is actually a shot taken in New Jersey, but I’m appropriating it for D.C. so take that, Jersey. Photo: Wikipedia.

The following is a transcript from a meeting that took place this morning (March 19th, 2015) at the offices of the Blossom Rights and Standards Committee of The National Cherry Blossom Festival, or, BRSCNCBF for short. Note: all speakers are actual cherry blossoms. 


TED: Okay, everyone. Let’s get started. Patty, are you here?

PATTY: Yes, I’m here! I’m in the back! Sorry, I was getting some coffee and the [LOST AUDIO].

TED: Great. All right, I’m going to jump right in, here. We’ve got a couple items on the agenda, but before we do that, uh, Bill… Did you want…

BILL: Yeah, I do. Thanks, Ted. Hi, everyone. I just wanted to start out the meeting with kind of a special announcement. Some of you may have heard that my wife and I are going to be moving and this is gonna be our last festival. It’s been a really hard decision, but we know it’s right for us and —

SALLY: Where are you guys moving?

BILL: We’re going to Tokyo. [Light murmuring, gasps.] Uh… I know that’s a decision that might make some of you, uh, maybe uncomfortable in some ways, ah, but Sandy and I really think it’s right for us and the boys, so… Um… Anyway, thank you all. We’ve loved being in DC all these years. It was a real tough decision. [clears throat.] Thanks.

TED: Okay, thanks, Bill. Thanks. You know we all think the world of you and wish you and Sandy luck and the boys and everything. Allrighty, let’s press on. As I know we’re all aware, the festival starts the day after tomorrow. Did you all know that? [laughter from the group.] You didn’t need a reminder? There are few concerns I’m looking at, but for the most part, we’re probably sitting in a better place than where we were last year. Action items, let’s see —


PATTY: Ted, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I just want to let you know that I didn’t send it to you, but I got confirmation that everyone’s 1077 Do Not Pick Me forms were filed with the State Department. They did go in last month —

TED: Oh, great. That’s great. All of —

PATTY: All of them, yep, so we’re all good. Part of the confusion, if anyone cares, is that the form used to be the 1054 Do Not Pluck Me form? So it was all screwed up because of that. And actually, some blossoms are still filed under that form, but it’s getting phased out. Anyway, that’s it. Sorry.

TED: No, it’s great news. Thanks. Let’s look at these items real quick: Jerry, tell us what happened with the Bee Department.

JERRY: Um… [papers shuffling.] Hang on… Right, here we go. Uh, I spoke with William over there — I think he’s the —

SALLY: He’s the new guy.

JERRY: Right, right, I think he was a queen hire, actually, but anyway, he said that the torch lights are not getting placed on the west side of the far hill to the west of the Lincoln Memorial? No the bees are all good. No smoke problems this year for them over there, so any blossom over there in… I guess it’s District 8 is not going to have any pollen distribution trouble. Which is nice.


BILL: Jerry, is that, are they not doing the torches because of the landscaping projects, or —

JERRY: I think so? But they didn’t go into it. I think so, though, yeah.

TED: That’s great. Thanks. Um, Amanda, tell us about No Blossom Left Behind. Joan, could you grab me that bottle of water on the table? Just throw it. Thanks.

AMANDA: If I make zero sense, just ignore me. I’m sneezing like crazy and I was up all last night with Nick; he’s blooming early, of course, like, now. I’m sleep-deprived. Anyway, donations are still way down, which is the bad news; but the good news is…that…we got the the koi fish grant. [Applause; cheering.] I know. It’s so great. They’re really wonderful, actually. Yeah. They’re all about it. And it’s not just the grant. They’re going to help collect petals from the ponds and everything and uh —

PATTY: Didn’t they say they could get the meeting set up with that pruner, too?

AMANDA: Yes! Thank you. I almost forgot. Henry is the main koi fish over there and he says he can get us that meeting with… I forget that guy’s name, but yeah. That’ll be a priority when the fest is over — thanks, Patty.

TED: Amanda, thank you. We’re getting so much positive press about No Blossom Left Behind; it’s been really impactful, really disrupting everything, so go team. Now I’d like to go around the room and hear from everyone about the goal sheets I passed out last time. I also want you to remind us all where you are, your District. And let me know if you need comp tickets and how many. I absolutely have to have the requests in today or you’re out of luck. Julie, how about you start?


You Are Not Shabby.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Rant 0
This would be money. Photo: Rose garden at Castle Bank, Kirkcudbright; harbor view.
This would be money. Photo: Rose garden at Castle Bank, Kirkcudbright; harbor view.

Far worse than the feeling I had other day was that I allowed myself to indulge it for longer than .05 seconds.

I’ve connected with lots of fantastic people here in D.C. (quilters, I’m looking at you.) Lately, I’ve been spending time with a group of people who I would describe as fancy. These new friends are warm, they’re smart, and they’ve been extremely successful in their work. As a result of this last, their homes are — the two I’ve been in, anyway — exquisitely beautiful and well-appointed. Enormous art that costs more money than many folks take home in a year hangs on the walls; the lights are low. The wine glasses are fishbowl-size. The tiles in all five bathrooms are heated. The stereo system apparently works by way of air molecule; wherever you go in the house, Carla Bruni sings to you at a soft level that is surely scientifically-proven to be best for optimal aural pleasure. There are bidets, guest houses, pools. Stuff like that.

So I’m standing in the living room of one of these houses the other day and I suddenly felt a deep and terrible longing. And I felt like a guttersnipe. I’m just some dumb kid from Iowa. I’m a writer. I make quilts. Who cares? Sure, my shoes were fabulous, but I felt like a real phony-baloney, like okay, I have this great pair of shoes but these people have closets and closets of shoes and they don’t even think twice about them and here I am, excited about my dumb ol’ shoes. Envy, as it turns out, is less a toothy, green-eyed monster and more a sad, black mold over the heart. My life seemed small and I felt so far, far away from the life I saw before me. And I wanted that life. And I felt shabby.

And then I got mad. At myself. Really, really mad.

Unbelievable. How dare I? How dare any of us compare our lives to the lives of others in this way? Look, I’ve earned my place on this earth. To allow myself to feel less-than compared to anyone (even if they have their own table at Daniel) is a grave offense. It’s insulting; it’s also whiny and indulgent. I told myself to knock it off — and if you’re given to this kind of thing or have experienced it lately, you knock it off, too. To smack around or otherwise disrespect your hard-won experience, your unique outlook and perspective, to throw your life’s portfolio in the garbage or hide it behind your back because you want to be someone else, this is the only thing you should be ashamed of. Not your shoes. Not the space you take up. But at turning your back on who you are and what you’ve earned.

I love my quilts. I love my poems; after I left where I was that day and got over my damned self, I found myself loving them more. I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life so far and you should be proud of what you’ve done. It matters. You don’t need an invitation to a gala or a Maserati in the garage to be crucial.

My apartment is only a few square feet bigger than the master bathroom in the house where I was, no fooling. But it’s mine. And when I take a shower, I get just as clean.


Lost In a Sea of Landmarks!

posted in: D.C. 0
See? Teeth! Photo: Wikipedia, 2012
Watergate Building, Washington, DC. (I don’t like those shark teeth things.) Photo: Wikipedia, 2012. 

I had a doctor’s appointment at 600 New Hampshire NW today. I did not realize this meant my doctor’s appointment was deep in the Watergate office complex. When I walked up to the strange, round structure, I was like, “Wow! Watergate!” But my knowledge of the scandal of 1972 is pretty much this:

Nixon –> stuff taken –> lies –> more lies –> reporter Bob Woodward as bloodhound –> lies, lies, lies –> scandal –> Nixon busted –> Gerald Ford –> Chevy Chase making fun of Ford on SNL.

But I didn’t know that Watergate was the name of the office building where the theft went down. I think I thought Watergate was some code word for something? So I come up to the Watergate building and can’t find the doctor’s office for the life of me. I’m looking up from my Google maps and back down. I’m peering around Watergate this way and that; I’m telling you, Watergate was really in my way. It was a good thing I left enough time to get lost.

Meanwhile, I was wearing my fedora and my black trench coat; it was not lost on me that I looked mighty suspicious walking back and forth and back and forth on the street. At one point, I hit a dead end by a closed restaurant with all the windows papered up and I encountered a man smoking a cigarette back there. He glanced at me, we nodded to each other, and I felt like I was in a spy movie. All I needed was a briefcase and files of some kind.

Finally, I surrendered and went into a lobby. I asked the front desk lady, “I’m sorry, where is 600 New Hampshire? I’m new in town.”

“Sure, sweetie — it’s just at the end of the block. Go out and take a right.” I did, and discovered my doctor had an office in the Watergate scandal. It was so confusing. As I was disassembling what I thought I knew, I got whacked with another landmark. I took the elevator to the third floor, turned to my left and what do you suppose I saw? The office of flipping Atlantic magazine! The Atlantic! I’m not a subscriber, but I fly a lot and read a wide variety of magazines at 35,000 feet; me and the Atlantic go way back. So how about that! The Atlantic offices! I just shook my head.

But the Atlantic offices were actually the third landmark that smacked me in the face today. The other one? In a cruel, cruel twist of urban planning, directly across the street from Watergate is the Kennedy Center.

Oof. Poor Nixon. That one’s gotta hurt, buddy. Chin up.

Well, That Was Interesting: Making Out With a Doctor

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 4
Ah, dinner. Photo: Chris Phutully, 2013.
Ah, dinner. Photo: Chris Phutully, 2013.

The best way to tend a bruised heart is to go on a date with someone new. That’s what they say.

The breaking up of love, the move, the rats, the second move, the hemogoblins, etc. — all this has meant that for many moons my cocktail dresses have stayed put on their hangers, my evening bags and high heels in dust bags on the shelf. Not too long ago I began to look longingly at it all and I realized I might like to go out for dinner with a good-looking man. I’m absolutely allergic to love right now, but dinner would be nice. Maybe even some smooching would be nice. I’m a grown woman.

Well, I did go on a date and I even smooched but what’s really noteworthy about the whole thing is that mid-smooch I was diagnosed with an ailment I can now add to my list of ailments. I’m 100% serious.

My dinner companion, who I met online, is a doctor. He wore a beautiful suit and his Range Rover, as I would come to find out, had excellent butt warmers. (That is not a euphemism.) I wore a luscious, canary yellow dress with my favorite Dolce & Gabbana heels: black satin with bows on the toes. Dinner was great. I picked the restaurant: a mahogany-paneled, real power-dinner place where I know heads of state have done dirty deeds dirt cheap in the corner booths. There was a live piano player and a standup bass. The conversation flowed, the steaks were rare, the champagne was right on time. All of this factored into my mind as I looked at this very handsome fellow across the table from me and tried to decide if I’d let him smooch me when he dropped me off at home. Yes, I decided. Yes, I would.

We pull up to the door of my building about an hour later and we start smooching and it’s going great; he smelled incredible, all soap and cologne. He said all the right things, e.g., “You’re gorgeous,” and “You’re such a great kisser,” and a few other things that are not appropriate to mention here (hi, Mom.) So then Dr. Smooch gives me a little squeeze, kinda on my hip. I liked that a lot, so he squeezed me again. Then he like, poked me there on my hip a little. Poke, poke.

“You have a lipoma here,” he said.

I shot back like a shrimp and crammed myself against the window of the passenger seat. “What?! What are you saying? What do I have??” I felt just where his hand had been on my dress, there on the left side, right at my pelvic bone. Sure enough, there was a small bump that wiggled around when I massaged it.

He chuckled. “It could just be a muscle,” he said, poking it again. “It’s nothing serious. Just a little fat deposit.” I looked up at him. I had just been diagnosed with a fat deformity mid-makeout session, proving to me once again that if you just get out of bed in the morning, if you just get out of bed and walk out the door, things will happen to you. Things you could never have imagined. Things like this.

Thanks, Doc. I’ll get it looked at. Now, where were we?

Grist For the Mill: Madonna, Me, and TV

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 0
Madonna, Rotterdam, August 26, 1987. Photo: Wikipedia
Madonna, Rotterdam, August 26, 1987. Photo: Wikipedia

I had three entirely new experiences today:

  1. I chose to wear my Nike Dunks, favorite black pants, a crisp white shirt and a fedora this morning when I left the house. A real nice man on the street called to me: “Girl, you lookin’ good to-DAY! That’s a nice outfit!” In kind reply, I said “Why, thank you!” and literally tipped my hat to him. I tipped my hat! It surprised me how naturally it came. When you’re wearing a fedora, apparently you live in the 1956.
  2. On a busy street in Penn Quarter, a homeless man took out his penis and peed on the sidewalk. I saw it all before deciding to walk much, much faster.
  3. I went to the FOX News building and went on camera and now I’m all over the news in Europe!

The first experience explains itself; the second experience isn’t something I want to expound upon, so let’s talk about this third thing because man, was it cool.

Several years ago, a chap named Oli contacted me for an interview. Oli was writing a big paper on slam poetry and he tracked me down. We Skyped a few times because Oli is a Brit and lives in London. Oli must’ve done well in school because he’s got a seemingly impressive job with SkyNews, a kind of AP wire in the UK. We’ve stayed in touch here and there, and Oli reads my blog enough to know that I live in Washington, now. He also knows I’m a huge Madonna fan because I’m sure I said as much in our first interview.

Oli texted me from London this morning to see if I could dash down to the SkyNews bureau — housed within FOX News — and speak on camera about Madonna. She fell last night at the Brit Awards. It was a scary fall; her cape malfunctioned and she went backwards down three stairs. Beyonce, Gaga, and Naomi Campbell have all taken famous tumbles: it happens. When you’re dancing onstage in high-heels three-hundred days out of the year, what do you expect? Because I wrote an essay in a book called Madonna & Me (Soft Skull Press, 2012)* I am an expert on Madonna and clearly have something devastatingly insightful to say on such a breaking news story.

I got to the big FOX News building and security cleared me. I went up to the fifth floor and took lots of selfies in front of lots of monitors. The girl who met me said, “Thank you for coming. Would you like your hair and makeup done?”

All nonchalant, I was like, “Oh, yes, well, maybe I should, you know, with the snow and all.” Getting my hair and makeup done at FOX News was not something I was going to pass up. She asked me if I wanted something to drink, too, and I said I would like some water please and thank you very much.

I went into the makeup room and was met by two of the most stylish, laconic, “we’ve-seen-it-all” makeup artists on the planet. They were just hanging out in this room with special chairs all the bright makeup lights, waiting for the next person to come in. Who were the people who came in? The talking heads you see on TV! Three of them came into the makeup room while the gals were working on me! I saw dudes in the chair next to me getting powdered and then I saw them on live TV like ten minutes later! It was so weird and fun. The lady with bright red hair did my makeup and the other lady did my hair. The hair lady had geometric glasses and really, really long nails that she used to squiggle through my hair to make it go this way and that.

Once I was all done — and I looked good but not at all like myself, which is why getting hair and makeup done isn’t really that great, so don’t feel like you’re missing anything if you’ve never had the experience — I went into the green room. I couldn’t sit down because I was going to be on live TV in like ten minutes! I just paced and made myself not drink the free Keurig coffee they had set up. I didn’t want to get up there and talk too fast.

The gal came in for me. I went into one room and taped a segment for the radio with one British dude. Then I went into another room where all the cameras were, got my earpiece and was given my lapel mic. I stared into the void of the big camera and eventually a lady started asking me questions. The live segment got pushed further and further out because there was a lot of bad news in the UK today — and this bad news does not include Madonna falling at an awards show. In the end, the live segment never took place, which was a bummer, but my taped segment was a smash, and Oli has informed me that the interview is being played on the hour in 118 countries. I don’t totally understand this, but Oli has no reason to lie to me. They were so pleased with me, in fact, I might get to go back and do more segments about other things. I would like that because it was really fun.

Consider how many news segments are taped in the world every single day: thousands upon thousands. I was simply grist for the mill this morning, but it was neat. If I can, I’ll post a clip of the piece on Facebook.

All in a day’s work.


*Available at fine bookstores everywhere.

For the Quilters: A New Way to Stash

posted in: D.C., Quilting, Tips 2
It's like the olden days!
It’s like the olden days, all colorful and random and cozy. In process: “George Washington’s Cabin,” by Mary Fons, 2015.

If you’re not a quilter, you probably don’t have a stash.

Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and make a “Well, my husband has a mustache” joke. But watch it: if there are quilters in your midst, they may be inching toward you, tightening their grip on their sharp rotary cutters. A quilter’s fabric stash is, in the simplest terms, the fabric that she owns that is not in a quilt, yet. A quilter’s stash is her library, her paint palette, her big lake of color and texture from which she brings great ladles of the stuff to put into her patchwork.

As you can imagine, some stashes are bigger than others. Quilters who have been sewing since the early 1980s have… a lot of fabric. Those who are new might have just the seeds of a stash. Some folks hoard and some folks cull (ahem) but if you make quilts in any serious way — and you ought to — you have fabric somewhere. And that is your stash.

Did I mention I moved around a lot in 2014? I moved around a lot in 2014. A good two-thirds of my fabric stash is in storage in Chicago, but I have a whole lot with me, too, and that means I’ve transported all this fabric many times in the past nine months or so. And something cool happened in the shuffle: I changed my stash organization style and this has made all the difference.

I used to organize my stash by color. All the reds, all the greens, etc., all together. Now, this is a fantastic way to do things and as a quilter who typically starts with color inspiration and goes from there, I fully support this mode of stashing. But because all my fabric has been in and out of boxes all year, keeping it all color-coded has been hard. So what’s happened is that my tiny red prints are getting thrown in with my wide, black stripes, my yellow chambray is all up in my calicoes, my browns and pinks are sleeping with each other — it’s mass hysteria. And it’s fabulous.

I’m seeing new combinations. I’m considering new styles. Fabrics I might never have put together before (e.g., pink, burgundy, navy) become, suddenly, very necessary combos.

So there you go. Mix ‘er up. Don’t be too regimented. A tidy stash and studio are essentials and I’ll keep preaching that gospel till I’m dead, but don’t be too strict with your materials. As I say in my book:

“Quilts are like dogs; the best ones are usually mixed breeds.”

Make It Work: How To Spruce Up A Bad Apartment

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Tips 0
My living room. It wasn't finished at this point, but it was getting there.
My living room. It wasn’t finished at this point, but it was getting there.

It’s true that I had a moment of real despair when I moved into my new apartment. When the door shut behind me, I saw, as if for the first time, the unit for which I had just signed a six-month lease.

The flat screen TV was gargantuan. Its tyrannical throne was a clear glass table that was long and rectangular, too short and shallow to use as my sewing table, far too big to stash in a closet. The cords for the TV, the DVD player, the cable box, the router, the other router and several extension cords were in tangled hell on the floor and because the table was glass, the tangle was practically the centerpiece for the room. The cream-colored sectional had at least eight slightly dingy cream-colored pillows and a couple ratty light blue ones; a weak afterthought. There were several fake plants. Ugly, mass-produced “art” adorned the walls and my heart just sank. The drapes were heavy and blue. In every kitchen cupboard I found dozens upon dozens of glasses meant for alcohol: plastic martini glasses, plastic margarita glasses, shot glasses, drinking glasses, juice glasses. There were Dollar Store tzchokes everywhere, and for some inexplicable reason, more tupperware containers in a lower kitchen cupboard than I have ever seen in one place in my life. This apartment was a revolving door. It put the “corporate” and “temporary” in “corporate temporary housing.”

Something had to be done. A lot of somethings. I sat like Rodin’s Thinker and thought and thought. Then I dove in.

Curtains: down and folded and into the utility closet. All but six glasses — for water drinking and juice — were stored in a cupboard with 98% of the tupperware. All tzchokes stowed. All art (except this one really cool framed cloth Guatemalan thing, which I love) replaced with the few pieces I brought on my journey this year. I wrastled with the couch cushion covers until I got them all off and into the washing machine they went. I salvaged exactly three white bowls in the kitchen’s dish cupboard and stowed every other dark blue plate and bowl. Because ew.

I completely dismantled the “entertainment station.” None of it survived. My new home might be on life support, soul-wise, but it didn’t stand a chance with a TV. I unscrewed the cable box, unplugged everything, untangled all the cords, organized everything and into a box in the (pleasingly spacious) bedroom closet they went. The 1,000 plastic hangers I found went into bags and into the utility closet and I unpacked my wooden hangers and lovingly hung my wardrobe. The glass table I swapped for the lean-to desk that was weirdly in the bedroom and the tall, boxy, glass IKEA storage shelves I moved together and set them at an angle for my fabric. Tablecloth on the glass “dining” table which is now my sewing studio. Design wall, up. I ordered dimmer switches for the track lighting in the kitchen and living room. Down came the depressing brown shower curtain and I found a very cool, very bright white one on Amazon and promptly ordered that, too. And a gorgeous, Lucite lamp for my sewing table.

And I was reminded, once again, that if you put enough quilts and enough books in a room, you cannot fail.

Every scrap of linen was washed in practically boiling water and I turned the easy chair at an angle toward the window so that I could look out at the tops of the buildings in the morning as I write and have my tea.

And now? I love it here. My surface remodeling worked and, dare I say, it’s darned cozy in here. I could almost feel the space going, “Where have you been all my life?”

Uh, Iowa, Chicago, New York and many points in between. I pick up a few things.

Plot Twist (With Sewer Rats.)

posted in: D.C. 5

Settle in. This is gonna be awhile.

The townhouse I rented here on Capitol Hill is darling, and I’ve said so. There’s a nice big kitchen, there’s a staircase up to the quaint second floor with the bedroom and white-tiled bathroom. The overstuffed easy chair and loveseat are covered in mahogany leather; the pots and pans are All-Clad. I feel like an upwardly mobile mommy blogger here. It’s ducky. Me and this apartment, unfortunately, are about to fade to black.

When I moved in, there was a funky smell. It was an odd one, kind of pooey, kind of ammonia-y, a strange sort of musty. I had just driven a U-Haul from the heart of Manhattan through the rain, through Capitol Hill, so a) I only shallowly registered this and b) figured the house had been sitting empty for awhile and by getting some circulation going and moving in, within hours any must would go away.

A few days later, it had not. I kept several windows in the house open a crack, but I was beginning to be concerned and it was beginning to be too cold for open windows. Was it sewage gas? Was that it? I let the management company know that my house didn’t smell particularly like the field of flowers it ought to, for the price I was paying. They were slow to respond. When they did, I was out of town, and there’s no way to tell if they actually came by to check anything, but they said they sent someone over and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They said it might be a dead animal in the wall and that the smell should go away. Part of the problem with all of this has been that I was out of town a fair amount in December; business trips and the holidays meant that I was only in my new place half the month. Had I been here every day, I would’ve reached a “Oh hell no” place earlier. Before I left for the holidays, I told the management company that the problem had to be resolved (or at least explained and a resolution planned) by the time I came home from my holiday trip.

When I walked in my house last week, the smell was not gone at all; it had gotten far worse. It was an almost sweet smell, a true sewage-y smell, now, and I had a headache almost instantly. I said many bad words and contacted the management with an ultimatum: either they get someone over here to fix this and reduce my rent in the meantime, or I start filing complaints in a real official type of way. By two o’clock, I had a representative from the company and an exterminator in the house, both of whom agreed that this place smelled. Bad.

There are sewer rats in the crawlspace.

There are sewer rats in the crawlspace of this house, evidenced by the feces and urine the exterminator found in the crawlspace. There’s a lot of “evidence,” and if the rats are in the crawlspace, you can bet your bippy they’re in the walls and underneath the property, too. Remember in New York when Yuri and I had a mouse? I long for Mickey, now; I also wonder why, until this year, the sum total of my experience with these kind of animals was petting a hamster in Miss Osborne’s second grade classroom. Now I’m apparently the Rodent Whisperer.

My research into the health concerns of being around rat poop and rat pee were not encouraging. Something called Lymphocyctic choriomeningitis and — more common in the U.S. — the hantavirus can occur when you breathe in the bacteria from rat waste. You had me at “meningitis,” my little rat-a-tat-tats. Both diseases can be deadly; 35% of people who get these diseases die from them. The good news (?) is that of the over 300 cases reported in the past ten years in the U.S., the vast majority have occurred in the western states in rural areas. California farmers get the hantavirus way more than writer-designers in Washington do. But all the information I found recommended that being around rat waste is bad (okay, yes) and that if you are around it, it’s not a bad idea to refrain from dusting or vacuuming too much, as not to disturb the already airborne bacteria.

I love vacuuming, you bastards!

There are other problems with the house and the extreme grumpiness that has propelled this lengthy post this morning is due to the fact that I slept all of three hours last night. There’s something wrong with the heat here. The upstairs is stiflingly hot. The fan will not stop blowing and though I have the thermostat set to 66-degrees, it cannot be less than 85 up there. It was annoying when I first moved in; it’s now untenable. I woke up at two o’clock and at four o’clock after having nightmares about being in a crushing crowd of people while wearing super-constricting jeans. (In other words, it was a dream about being hot.) I had a choice: stay upstairs and sweat through bad sleep or come down to the icy cold first floor — the windows are open, remember — and be assaulted by smelliness and visions of the Rodents of Unusual Size skittering around underfoot. The loveseat where I would ultimately choose to make my bed is about five feet across; I am five-foot-eight. I can’t remember the last time I was this grumpy.

The management company is appropriately horrified at all of this. They will relocate me immediately, of course. At about four-thirty this morning, wedged on the damned loveseat, I emailed them that they would also be putting me up in a hotel until that time comes.

This is where my grumpiness turns to hot, despairing tears. I just moved. I just moved here. I changed my address. I set up shop. My design wall is up; there’s a quilt being made. I have my tea tray all ready every morning. I don’t want to look at cardboard boxes. I just want a home. I just want a little peace for crying out loud. For heaven’s sake, man.

This is my tale of woe.


Me And George.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Tips, Travel 0
Portrait of George by Gilbert Stuart Williamstown. Not another town! Gah!
Portrait of George by Gilbert Stuart Williamstown. Not another town! Gah!

Moving to a new city means relinquishing your card to the People Who Know Where They’re Going club. Because you don’t. Know where you’re going. Even with Google Maps, sometimes.

And now, a quick history lesson with creepy details:

Several hundred years ago, America’s forefathers formed a more perfect union. Around the same time, the urban planners of Washington, DC drew a circle around all that hot, democratic action and built a city around it. Washington is organized into four quadrants (NE, NW, SE, SW). To have a city divided like that, you have to have a central locus point. Are you ready to freak out?

The central locus of DC is a crypt.

Did you know that?! Turns out, to properly navigate your way through DC, you gotta pivot on a skeleton. Well, sort of. Here’s the deal: the Capitol Building has a rotunda, which is the inside of the big, beautiful Capitol dome (currently covered in scaffolding because it’s having some work done.) The Capitol crypt is located directly below the rotunda and was made to be the entrance to George Washington’s tomb, two levels down. I know!

George Washington politely declined to be entombed in the Capitol Building, however. Since he was dead when he expressed his wishes, he got whatever he wanted. (Just kidding; his wishes were in his last will.) Washington is actually buried in Mount Vernon, VA, on the family’s estate. But the crypt and tomb are still the smack-dab middle of DC and you can tour the place, which I’m going to do as soon as The Great Holiday Goof-Off officially ends. (I love The Great Holiday Goof-Off but it’s cutting into my DC museum time.)

From the crypt, the streets in DC are numbered going east, from 1st to 2nd, to 3rd, and so on. They are also numbered the same as they go west: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on, but these numbers are claimed by different quadrants. The same system goes for the north and south, but the city planners used letters instead of numbers or names. To go north of the crypt, you hit A, B, C, etc.; heading south, you do the same thing, but — and I know you’re getting this, students — you’re in a different quadrant. To go to 4th and F Street, you need to know which 4th and which F Street you need. Because there are two of those.

This system makes a lot of sense as long as know which way is north. If you get turned around, you’ll end up on the other side of town pretty quickly. (Ask me how I know.) Then there’s the matter of all the state-named diagonals that cut through the grid. Thinking of those right now gives me a headache. I slightly hate Massachusetts Avenue; it has foiled several of my expeditions. It goes down but it heads west! It’s… I can’t talk about it.

One of my favorite writers died of cancer a few years ago. He made the comment that the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a bromide with essentially zero truth behind it. If you’re in a car accident and walk away without a scratch, you might have a little swagger. If you learn from mistakes that were painful, you may become wiser. But chemotherapy, round after round, doesn’t make anyone stronger: it makes you weaker. If you have surgery after surgery on your abdomen (ahem) your abdomen is not stronger, suddenly; it’s fragile. It’s delicate. It’s at risk.

I’ve been wondering if that thinking might apply to having to frequently figure out the layouts of new cities. It’s something that I’ve had to do a lot in the past eight months. Does it help my sense of direction to be constantly thrown into a new place? Or are my navigational skills compromised because, for example, I just figured out which streets in Manhattan have bike lanes and no longer need that information but I must learn quickly whether the Glenmont Red Line train heads to the NE quadrant of town or the NW quadrant. Am I strengthening my brain or scrambling it?

Have map, will use brain cells. Because I need groceries.



posted in: D.C., Luv 0
The monthly average maximum temperature of Los Angeles compared to Washington.
The monthly average maximum temperature of Los Angeles compared to Washington. This graph appears to be a school project. My apologies to any professional meteorologist I have just gravely offended.

For New Year’s Eve, I will be here in Washington and Yuri will be in Los Angeles. We texted and have arranged to talk at midnight tomorrow, which means that now I have plans for the evening. When I woke up this morning, I did not have plans. I don’t know if this suited me or not; New Year’s Eve is always a little problematic on account of all the people wearing paper hats and drinking Rumplemintz.

You know what’s hard? Breaking up.

You know what’s harder? After all that.

I’ve been working my house pride. There were leaves on my stone steps; I swept them away before any snow could fall and lock them into the corners. I’ve been sewing up a storm the past few days; I tidied my sewing table and vacuumed up thread this morning. I did laundry. I baked. Keeping the ship ship-shape is my tendency, but now, anything less than sparkly is non-negotiable. I can be on my own, in a new city, with colder weather bearing down; I can miss my boo and actually ask various people, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” with no hint of irony, but I cannot do any of this with a sinkful of dirty dishes or mud on the living room rug. Only clean countertops will do.

Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: If you are going along after a breakup and feeling relatively fit and optimistic, do not under any circumstances begin to hum the Rosemary Clooney rendition of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” This is dangerous. Circling sharks dangerous. You’ll forget one of the verses and be so crippled by how applicable this gorgeous, sad song is to your very life, you will have to go online and find it and listen to it.

Oxygen masks. Flotation device. Emergency exit. Oh, dear.

What’ll I do
When you are far away
And I’m blue
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do
When I am wondering
Who Is kissing you
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do
With just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do
With just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?

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