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.”


Heaviest Research Project Ever: The AIDS Quilt

posted in: Art, Quilting, Washington 1
Rally flyer for AIDS activists in California, c. 1985. Image: Wikipedia
Rally flyer for AIDS activists in California, c. 1989. Image: Wikipedia

It’s surprising how infrequently the AIDS Memorial Quilt comes up among quilters. That’s not an admonishment, it’s just my experience. I realized recently the only time I talk about the AIDS Memorial Quilt is when a person outside the quilt world (someone on an airplane, maybe) says something like, “You make quilts? That’s cool. Hey, what about that AIDS quilt? What happened with that? Are people still doing it?” For a long time, I’ve cocked my head and gone, “Yeah, the AIDS Quilt. I need to check up on that, actually.”

No kidding, Ms. Ima Quilter.

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (usually referred to as “The AIDS Quilt”) was launched by The NAMES Project in 1987. If you follow the timeline of the Great American Quilt Revival, the AIDS Quilt was a significant moment in the third phase of it. Quilts were back in the cultural landscape and the quilt industry was booming.

And people were dying of HIV/AIDS. Dying within months of a diagnosis. Dying without any medical care to speak of. Many were dying alone, rejected by society — even by their own families. Entire communities, friend groups, clubs, were wiped out by a disease that no one understood or could control. Look:

1981 –> 159 deaths
1982 –> 618 deaths
1983 –> 2,118 deaths
1984 –> 5,596 deaths
1985 –> 12,529 deaths

The first time President Reagan said the word “AIDS” in public was 1986. Friends, lovers, partners, teachers, doctors, neighbors, artists, businesspeople, servicemen and servicewomen — these were the people dying every day, but nothing but silence came from people in power. This was “the gay cancer.” The sorrow, silence, rage, fear, and helplessness, this drove those whose lives had been touched by the ghostly hand of AIDS to take action. Money was raised, initiatives were launched to increase awareness about the disease and promote safer sex; there were marches in the streets, pleas in Washington from parents who were burying their children.

What else? What else can ever be done to make sense of senseless horror? What would you do if six of your closest friends died in a single month? If you got diagnosed today with a fast-moving disease with a 100% mortality rate? What would you do to show people in charge that you and your people are literally dying for help?

The AIDS Quilt, a handmade tribute to those who had so far died of HIV/AIDS, was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington DC in 1987. On that day, there were thousands of panels in the quilt, which was as large as two city blocks. More than 2,000 names were written, painted, stitched, pressed, glued, poured into the fabric. Many names on the quilt were only first names, as the shame of being gay was too much for the families who still needed to memorialize their beloved son* with a panel in the softest biggest memorial in American history.

It’s hard to research this. It’s more than that: it’s devastating. The pictures from the hospitals. The testimonials. The statistics. I’m lucky, though: I’m not researching the AIDS epidemic, I’m researching the AIDS Quilt. The quilt is doing for me what it was created to do: it takes sadness and reshapes it into hope in the human race in the fight against pestilence and suffering. Over 48,000 panels have been made today; pieces of the largest quilt in the world travel around the globe to raise awareness that HIV/AIDS has no cure and help people understand how not to get the disease. The quilt continues to grow, even as HIV/AIDS treatments are light years ahead of where they were when the first panels were made.

The lecture will be finished this summer. I hope the sorrow that led to the AIDS Quilt doesn’t keep people from to requesting it. The AIDS Quilt is not a gravestone; it’s a celebration of life.

*AIDS did not claim — and does not claim, present tense — only homosexual male lives. Children, as well as women both gay and straight were/are casualties, too. The majority of the victims at the time of the first unfurling of the quilt, however, were gay men.



It’s a Heckuva Town.

Puppies playing in pet shop window. Note photographer reflected in mirror. Photo: Her
Puppies playing in pet shop window. Note photographer reflected in mirror. Photo: Her

The death of Prince sidelined the follow-up to my trip to NYC. I’m happy to report that I had the most wonderful day.

Well, it was wonderful once I was not in the act of waking up at 3:30am. That was uncomfortable. But once I was vertical, the day glided along like it was on rails. Since I was going to New York City and coming home within a matter of hours, I needed no luggage. I took my Jim Shore patchwork shopper (autographed, because he’s a good pal of mine and you betch’yer buttons I’m name-dropping) which easily held my laptop and all my personal effects; I also carried a modest totebag with a quilt, a book, and some Small Wonders swag for the people at the recording studio. Do you know the glory of walking into an airport and going straight to security with no stop at the ticket counter, no luggage check? It’s intoxicating. And I’m TSA Pre-Check, too, so it was me, an electronic boarding pass and a prayer, baby. Que bella.

When I landed at LaGuardia, I had time before I was to meet my sister for lunch, so I took public transportation into Manhattan. Why not? I had time and I had no luggage. Had that not been the case, I’m sure I’d have taken a taxi. But I was footloose! Fancy! Free! The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect: 69-degrees and all sunshine. I was a woman with time on her hands.

The bus took me to a train; after that train there was to be another to get to my sister’s office. But I bailed on the train transfer and got out at 63rd and Lexington in order to walk the remaining thirty blocks to Hannah. Thirty?! Yeah, sure. City blocks in Manhattan are short and pure entertainment.

I saw puppies playing in the window of a pet shop (see above.) I saw a tiny cemetery, restful and serene, stuck between two buildings; I saw a two different girls wearing tiny hats, so that must be the new thing; there was a man in a suit that I know cost more than most people make in a month or more; bodegas, murals, homeless, worker bees, dogs, babies. Muppets. Ballerinas. Unicorns.

The time I spent with my sister was like, soul good. We needed a good cup of coffee and that’s precisely what we had. If that was the only thing I was in New York to do, that would have been worth every penny. And the guest spot on the Good Life Project podcast went great, I think. I got choked up at the end, so it was certainly something. (The episode I’ll be on won’t air for several months; I’ll let you know when it goes up.) After the show, I headed back to the train and bus combo; I got to the airport with no issue. Walked onto the plane. Back in time for dinner.

New York, you’re all right. Your spring flowers up against all that graffiti looked so good to me yesterday, I came quite close to missing you. Chicago says hi.


Day Tripping + The Good Life Project

NYC, 1932. View from the Empire State Building Observatory. Photo: Wikipedia
NYC, 1932. View from the Empire State Building Observatory. Photo: Wikipedia

A few months ago, an alarmingly attractive and discerning young lady named Lindsay contacted me and asked me if I would like to fly to New York City and be a guest on something called The Good Life Podcast. I immediately said yes and then asked her what that was.

The Good Life Project is comprised of a number of ambitious (and successful) initiatives created by Jonathan Fields, a writer and entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to living a good one. It appears that Jonathan has discovered that living a good life means helping other people live a good one, too. So, Fields has spent his life traveling around the world, launching big projects aimed at inspiring, connecting, pushing, enlightening, and generally helping people figure out how to feel and do better in a world that seems to punish us in all sorts of new and exciting ways on a regular basis.

Lindsay — who I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet but who is clearly a winsome and nimble and possessing of good genes — is a PaperGirl reader and that’s how all this came about. Actually, she also used to watch me in the Neo ensemble here in Chicago; she said her dad saw my one-woman show and still talks about it. If Lindsay had asked me just to come over and hang out with her and her dad, I would’ve done that, too. Going to NYC tomorrow is pretty fancy, though, so that’s nice.

Some businesspeople in this world do in-and-out trips all the time: they fly into Atlanta from Cleveland for a lunch meeting then fly back in time for dinner. I’ve done a same-day trip maybe once before in my life; tomorrow will make it two. It worked out this way because there is an appointment on Thursday here at home that I can’t move, but the truth is that I am not interested in staying longer in New York City.

It’s too much, still. Because Yuri, who was a big part of my life and always will be. Because it saw most of my 34th year of life. And the air when I left, the rain that day — I’ll never forget it and that’s too bad.

There are 350k subscribers to The Good Life Project podcast, so I admit I’m a little nervous about doing the show. That’s 700k ears. Jonathan wants to ask me about quilting and writing and writing about quilting and if I get to have some tea in the studio with me, it should all be just fine. I’ll be sure to let you know when my episode is posted. I’ll also let you know how it felt to feel the pavement in shoes that haven’t walked on it, yet.

See you in the morning, Manhattan.

Thank You, Gabriel Dawe.

posted in: Art, D.C. 0
Plexus A1 by Gabriel Dawe at the Renwick Gallery, DC. Photo: Marianne Fons
Plexus A1 by Gabriel Dawe at the Renwick Gallery, DC. Photo: Marianne Fons

My mom and Mark were in D.C. and got to go to the recently reopened Renwick Gallery. The Renwick is part of the Smithsonian galaxy of museums and it was closed the whole time I was in DC. Also closed the whole time I was in D.C.: the frozen yogurt place across from the zoo!

The above sculpture is made from thread. That’s right. All that color is cotton thread strung and twisted with laser precision from the floor to the ceiling in a room in Washington, D.C. The rainbow is there right now, even as I lay back in my bed in a small town in Iowa with a little bit of a headache that I hope isn’t a sign of something worse. Being an adult means continually thinking, consciously or subconsciously, of worst-case scenarios.

It’s dark in the Renwick right now; the museum has been closed for hours. Maybe there’s some light coming through the windows; headlights and streetlights are probably giving light off. In a city, it never gets completely dark. The office buildings above the gallery surely have a few people still in them, working and eating Thai takeout and turning lights on. And that means that some of the threads that make up Plexus A1 are illuminated, however dimly, in that room, right now.

When Mom was telling me about the D.C. trip, my chest felt tight.

How strange: I lived there. I know where the Renwick is. I want to see the thread. If I could get a flight, I could be there by 2am. I know what train stop to take from the airport. I know how the streets work. I could casually ask my mom before I snuck out what floor the thread sculpture was on and when I got to the gallery, I could climb up and peer into the windows. I’d see what I could see of the rainbow in the dark.

After a long time — I’d be there a long time — I’d climb down and there would be only one thing to do. I’d have to get back to the airport. Because I don’t have a home there, even though I’m pretty sure I used to.



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

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.


Bonjour, Montreal!

posted in: Travel 0
Artist Jean-Marc Plumauzille's rendering of Centre-ville, Montreal, 2010. Image: Wikipedia
Artist Jean-Marc Plumauzille’s rendering of Centre-ville, Montreal, 2010. Image: Wikipedia

Well, the announcement of a Canadian adventure was released and what do you know? The effervescent and shamefully gifted members of Montreal’s Loose Threads Quilt Guild contacted me about coming by to give a lecture when I’m in town. It’s like a pop-up shop for quilters — with a lecture!

And so, my Kute Kanadian Kwilting friends, if you’re in the area, you’re invited. The event will be the evening of March 2nd in the scenic village of St. Luc. The exact time and venue are being worked out, but the girls are on it. There will be an admission fee; again, check with the gals at the guild or watch my Facebook page for more details.

I know I have not given you a ton of information, but this is all I know for now. Mark the date if you’d like to hang out, and sit tight for details. I have an email address for the events coordinator who contacted me and I thought about posting that here, but I haven’t asked for permission and seeing as we don’t have an actual contract yet, I’d better not do that. I might find myself swiftly uninvited to give a lecture in Montreal. Again: if you want to join, just mark the calendar and I will update with info as soon as I can.

March 2nd is Claus’s birthday. He said, “It appears I spend my birthday among quilters.”

I told him he doesn’t know how good he’s got it. When a guild hosts a special evening, cake is de rigeur. Like, there will probably be cake at the event already. Birthday cake is covered, I told Claus. Everyone in America knows that if you go somewhere on your birthday and there is cake there, that counts as birthday cake.

“Cake,” I said to Claus, with a slow nod of my head. “You’ll see.”

Swinging From Metal Vines.

The 11 train, NYC Metro. Image: Wikipedia
The 11 train, NYC Metro. Image: Wikipedia

There was a time not so very long ago when I had moved to Washington, that I figured out a few slick subway train transfers within the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is called “WMATA” for short, which sound’s like something Tony Spaghetti’s big brother says to the pipsqueak who’s lookin’ at him funny:

“Ey, yew! Yeah, yew, kid. You keep lookin’ at me and my brotha like that, I’ma wamata ya right in ya gavone face. Capishe?”

Anyway, there I am in Washington, and I’m stepping out from the Red Line to Shady Grove to the Gallery Place/Chinatown station because I need to transfer to the Green; you can catch the Green Line there, as well as the Yellow Line. As I did that, I recalled how I know the NYC Metro 6 line pretty well and the Q, and that I used to take the 1 train up to the Upper West Side to get to The Yarn Company to sew because there was no room to sew in the tiny, tiny, I-hate-you tiny apartment I was living in with Yuri.

A few weeks after the WMATA moment, thinking deeply about two cities’ subway systems, I was in Chicago for a weekend and, wow, I know the train system here like the back of my hand, which, after at least thirty years (do two-year-olds consider the backs of their hands?) I know pretty well.

All these train maps in my head and the solid knowledge I have of navigating them came together and I felt like a monkey swinging from one big vine. Shoop! The L train in Manhattan that crosses the Lower East Side over to the west side. Shoop! Down from Cleveland Park in DC to get the Orange Line to Eastern Market. And then, that first, peaceful ride on Chicago’s Orange Line to go to Midway to catch a flight, knowing I’d be coming back on the same tracks.

The other day, though, I went down into the lower level of the Chase building because I thought there was a post office down there; I realized when I couldn’t find the post office that I was thinking of a post office in the basement of a building in Penn Quarter in DC. That was weird.

I’m Going To Canada!

posted in: Travel 2
A horse asks two children for directions in Montreal. Photo: Wikipedia
A horse asks two children for directions in Montreal. Photo: Wikipedia

I’d like to start my “I’m going to Canada!” announcement by saying hi to my only-but-who-needs-anyone-else Canadian friend, Cheryl Arkison. Hi, Cheryl Arkison! I’m coming to Canada! Unfortunately, your country is enormous and there’s no way I can drop by for a cup of tea. I’m going toward Ottawa; you live in Calgary. I looked up how far away Ottawa is from Calgary. It’s two-thousand miles! Google Maps tells you to go through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota to get there! Who does that?!

Indeed, I’m going to Canada in a few weeks for six or seven days. It’s high time I visited my neighbors to the cold, cold north, and I’m thinking about moving there. It’ll be easy: I’ll rent my apartment, sign a lease (sight-unseen), ship some boxes. What could go wrong?

This is almost not funny.

My end-of-February trip to Canada is partly for business, partly for the pleasure of high-fiving Canada. Many years ago I went to visit a college chum who lived in Seattle. We drove up to Vancouver and I remember being freaked out by the large number of heroin addicts on a street downtown, but I also remember cobblestone streets and friendly people walking them. It was rainy, but no more than Seattle, and Seattle doesn’t have Stanley Park, which has something to do with a governor and the Stanley Cup because hockey.

This is a car trip, not an airplane one, so that will be neat, especially if there are bears! Our route will hit Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal; after our final stop on the tour, we’ll turn around and come back to Chicago, which may feel temperate after our journey through a country closer to Antartica.

Cheryl, I wrote an entire paragraph about how I wasn’t going to trot out references to maple syrup, Mounties, the Canadian accent, etc., but then remembered I shouldn’t write checks my you-know-what can’t cash and I can’t cash my checks because you guys have different money.

The Moon Landing Hoax is Real!!!

posted in: Travel 2
Moon landing commemorative postage stamp, 1969. Image: Wikipedia
Moon landing commemorative postage stamp, 1969. Image: Wikipedia

New Year’s Day morning, while I had my tea, I spent time feeling guilty about neglecting PaperGirl over the holidays and some time recovering from a mild headache.

But I didn’t spend much time on either of those things because Claus suggested we go to a museum. Capital idea, old chap. We looked online and found many museums are closed exactly two days a year: Christmas and New Year’s Day: The Art Institute, the Field, etc., etc. But we persevered and discovered that the Adler Planetarium was open for about four more hours. If we shook legs, we could make it with plenty of time to enjoy our afternoon there.

When we arrived, we found that the big exhibit in place was one on the moon landing! Way cool. They had the original spacesuits, the thingy the astronauts rode back home that splashed into Cape Canaveral, pictures of the astronauts’ families as they watched the landing on television (those were particularly incredible), a moon rock, Jim Lovell’s rejection letter from NASA in ’69 telling him he wasn’t picked for the Apollo 11 mission. (Lovell went on a bunch of other missions after that, though, reminding us all to never, ever give up…trying to be an astronaut.)

About three-quarters through the exhibit, Claus reminded me that there is a huge conspiracy theory claiming the moon landing was fake, an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the U.S. government out of fear of falling further behind the Russians in the space race. I had heard of this theory but hadn’t looked into it; conspiracy theories make me uncomfortable and not because they force me to question my beliefs, but because the greasy hair of the conspiracy theorists makes me feel like I need to take a bath.

This afternoon, we watched a documentary on the moon landing conspiracy theory. There are theories about doctored pictures, the way the flag appears to be waving (this would be impossible, as there is no atmosphere on the moon), discrepancies in audio/video records, and on and on. Claus and I, though we are not scientists, picked apart every claim and argument presented. It’s a pretty weak case, but there was one thing that troubled us. Did you know that after the briefing right after the landing, Neil Armstrong never gave one interview? Zero. And when you look at all the footage of him and the other guys during the briefing, he looks like a man going to the guillotine. He looks like a guy who’s been indicted: grave, depressed, hunted. That doesn’t mean the moon landing was a hoax. But Neil Armstrong clearly knows something not many people know — the proof is on his face. The exhibit was way better than the documentary, but of course these two things have different objectives and my objective is to gape at human ingenuity.

On that note, I forgot to link back to the New Year’s post from last year, where we can all reflect on my Gramma’s tips for New Year’s Day, which is over! Whoops!

Miss District of Columbia.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo: Me, July 2015.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo: Me, July 2015.

Six days — six days — from right now, I’ll be back in Chicago. It has been such a long, long, long, long and incredible trip. God, I’ve loved living in Washington, DC. It carried me so far and I loved where we went. My darling, a short list of what I’ll miss the most.

– The scent of my tenth-floor apartment: fresh paint, trees, French perfume, clean air.

– The drive to Ronald Reagan National Airport from my building. The taxi takes me the length of Rock Creek Parkway and it’s like driving through the countryside, right there in the city.

– The macaroons of consequence at Firehook Bakery. Baseball-sized, dipped in dark chocolate. With a cup of black coffee, my favorite breakfast.

– How when you turn a corner or approach a park, another bronze or marble memorial greets you and you appreciate the artists who carved the art, the humans who carved the country, and time that carves the rest.

– Mr. Lumbibi, my favorite of the Kennedy Warren front desk staff. He always asks me where I’m off to when he sees me lugging suitcases. John’s usually on the night shift.

– The view of the Klingle Valley outside my window. Cue tears. That’s one’s gonna hurt.

– The opportunity to get closer to Elle, to Carissa, to Carla, the gorgeous girls I met at the DC Modern Quilt Guild and never spent enough time with while I was here.

– The National Gallery.

– Le Diplomat, the perfect French Bistro: I went on three different dates there and the Lyonnaise salad is the best I’ve ever had, especially with a glass (fine: two) of Charles Hiedsieck Brut Reserve NV.

– The Mid-Atlantic weather. I am going back to Chicago at the worst time possible, weather-wise. Great, Fons. Very nice.

– Dropping my mail through the mail chute. It goes all the way to the lobby! I love that!

– Telling people, “I live in Washington, D.C.” It always sounded amazing. And it was.


posted in: Chicago, D.C., Day In The Life 0
Showcard, 1918. Image: Wikipedia
Showcard, 1918. Image: Wikipedia

This is not good. This is very bad. I think I have a flu.

I am achy, sniffy, feverish, though that’s not confirmed because I’ve just realized I don’t have a thermometer. I barfed twice. (Sorry.) I had terrible nightmares when I took a nap this afternoon; the nap felt like it was nine hours long but was really only about 1.5 hours long. When I stand up, I swoon. I’m hot. Then I’m cold. Then I’m hot. Then I’m crying while I’m flat on my back watching MasterChef on Hulu.

Damn, damn, damn! This year, I was going to get a flu shot! I’ve never gotten one but I reflected upon the past few years and realized I have been felled by flu more than once. I should’ve gotten a flu shot. It’s so easy! You can get them everywhere: Walgreen’s, CVS, sporting events, Burger King. Why! Why didn’t I do it?


And the panic doesn’t help. There’s too much to do. I can’t be sick. I have to teach in Williamsburg this weekend. I have to go to North Carolina and Denver next week. Oh, I’ll make the gigs. Unless I’m in the hospital, I’ll be there and I’ll deliver. But when you feel like this, the road seems so long. There’s also the little matter of packing up my apartment and going home to Chicago.

As insurmountable as all this feels at the moment, I must focus on that last thing. When I think of being in my home — my real home — in a few weeks, I feel like I can make it. I realized today that I have been living in the air for a year and a half. I’ve been floating this whole time. My feet need the cement in Chicago, the sidewalk outside the door to my building. Maybe that’s what it is: maybe I’m airsick.

A Halloween Breakthrough!!!

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Paean 1
Me, not me. It's about time!
Me, not me. It’s about time!

Now I understand it!

I get Halloween!

All of my life, I have never understood nor enjoyed Halloween. I just didn’t get it. Why would anyone cover themselves in sticky fake blood and go out in cold weather to do jello shots? What can be accomplished by being a trollopy milk maid in public in late October? I’ve never seen the zombie zeitgeist as some sort of catharsis for a society living in fear and isolation; I see it as creepy and tacky, not to mention disorienting, especially when you see a pack of zombies doing jello shots or doing a 5k run or both.

But I figured out the appeal last night! It’s not that you have to be scary or uncomfortable on Halloween; you don’t have to dwell on the undead or be some bizarre, modern version of an ancient pagan. It’s that on Halloween, you can be someone else. You can take the briefest break from being you, and this is a great gift. Do you know how exasperating it is to be me? Sure, because you know how exhausting it is to be you. We’re all living, breathing (beautiful) disasters. Who wouldn’t want to jump out of your disaster and into another one once a year?

I’ve mentioned my fancy-schmancy home in DC — the Kennedy Warren building on Connecticut Avenue — has a beautiful bar inside the building. It’s all dark wood and chrome with lots of plush velvet chairs and couches, a grand piano. A jazz trio plays in the evening. Politicians hang out there, journalists hang out there. Well, there was a Halloween do last night and I went down to see what was what. Of course I needed to wear a costume, so I put on the pair of funny glasses I happen to have and attached to my necklace a bow-tie I happen to have. I went and put on black trousers, a vest, my best Prada patent leather shoes with the steel heel (haaaaay!) and my black trench coat. Suddenly…I was not me!

I had so much fun last night. I met many cool people and several came up to my place for a nightcap. It was a wonderful Halloween and I have made peace with the holiday as of now. Incredibly, I’m already looking forward to next year. How about that.

*To Hannah, the incredible fan who sent me a carton of candy pumpkins… Hannah, you are a treasure of a human being. Thank you. I ate handfuls of them when they arrived. Pumpkins from heaven.

Child Heard Saying Bad Word: Parent Scandalized

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
He looked kinda like this. Photo: Wikipedia
He looked kinda like this. Photo: Wikipedia

First things first: It’s safe to say that Small Wonders Fabric by Mary Fons (and all the attendant pieces and parts) is a big, fat, juicy hit. I’ll be sharing hot news and directing you to all kinds of goodies online and otherwise in the weeks and months to come. I thought I’d better mention something about what’s happening now that the puppy has been launched** or you might think it fizzled. In fact, it is fizzing.

This morning I decided several important things: I would listen to my voicemail. I would not pack any boxes because I’ll start that this weekend. I would not make tea at home but go get coffee at Firehook, my neighborhood coffee shop and bakehouse. Sometimes I buy one of their chocolate-dipped macaroons for breakfast. They’re snowball-sized. They are macaroons of consequence. They make an excellent breakfast.

I was in the elevator heading down to the lobby and the car stopped at the sixth floor. As the elevator slowed to the stop, I could hear kids’ voices. Sure enough, the doors pulled open and two kids bounded into the elevator with their mom. The girl was maybe twelve, the little boy probably six. The little boy was telling a story and I caught the best part:

“And then? They were showing the Halloween cartoons? And this one cartoon? Well, Mom, it scared the shit out of me!”

I clapped my hand over my mouth and turned my head, trying not to show this was the best thing I had ever heard. I didn’t want to encourage him. A six-year-old doesn’t need to be using curse words — and the one he used is a particularly harsh one. But you gotta hand it to the little guy: his usage was perfect. The cartoon scared him! It scared the you-know-what out of him! He said what most of us would say in these situations!

Marcus John!!” his mother hissed. “What did you say??”

Marcus was looking up at me. He saw my eyes. I was busted. I tried to give him a pursed lip and a tsk-tsk, but it was clear that in the world of adults, I could be trusted. I smiled and shook my head at him and he smiled, too. It wasn’t an evil Damian smile he had, just a mischievous one.

And mischief is what Halloween is for.


** “Now that the puppy has been launched,” is my new favorite beginning to any sentence.

The Game Plan, and Adorable Things He Says.

This post is not about Quilt Market, but I gotta post this picture! Brian Wacaster and Terri Thom from Springs Creative with our Best Merchandising Award.
This post is not about Quilt Market, but look: Brian Wacaster and Terri Thom from Springs Creative with our Best Merchandising Award!

There are a number of booth awards handed out at the show each year; this afternoon, the Mary Fons Small Wonders booth won the Best Merchandising Award, which to me is one of the best awards to get, of course. It means your concept was clear, your goods were presented exactly they way they should have been for ultimate easy-viewing and shopping enjoyment, your design was pitch-perfect and, frankly, that you got good taste. Thank you to the Academy — I mean the judges — and thank you to the whole Springs team. We did it!

But enough of all that for a moment. It’s impossible to believe while it’s happening, but there is a world beyond Quilt Market. Indeed, it’s good to remember that. The show is over tomorrow afternoon. Dust will settle. Everyone just calm down. This means me.

In less than a month, I’ll be opening my Chicago door. Claus is going to help me with the move, which is even better than winning the award today — that’s saying a lot. I cannot lift any more boxes by myself. I won’t make it. The last time I moved (the fourth time) I was carrying a too-heavy box and the bottom fell out in the hallway. Everything spilled out. I cursed the best one-word curse you can curse, then I sank to my knees to put things back together.

“I can’t do this alone anymore,” I said out loud. “I need help. I need a partner.” After I said that, well, it was Miss Mary’s Pity Party and I invited all my friends and no one came, boo-hoo, boo-hoo.

I don’t have a partner but I do have Claus*. He’s going to fly to Washington and help me drive a small truck from Point A to B. He grew up on a farm in Germany. He is very tall. He is very efficient (see: Germany). He says adorable things, so if he drops a box on my foot, I can’t be mad at him. Examples of adorable things:

1. When we have an argument: “Are you mad on me?”

2. When figuring out logistics: “If we must be at the airport at 7am, we must stand up at 5am. Oh, god…”
To say stand up is brilliant; wake up doesn’t mean much. Until you stand up, you’re not going anywhere. Isn’t that great??

3. When I whisper something sexy to him when we’re out getting sandwiches: “Mary, please do not say forbidden things.” 

I know. It’s so hot.

Anyway, the move is happening in the middle of the month next month and you may have noticed that it is almost next month. I have a number of jobs before this happens and I’m even hesitant to say so; it appears I can only do things the hard way. But I didn’t plan on moving home next month, so I’ll be going to Williamsburg, Denver, and Charleston before Claus and I get in that truck. It’s a good thing I’m so deliriously happy about going home or I’d have to lie on the couch for a few days just staring at the ceiling, eating packets of instant miso soup mix by licking my finger and sticking it in the pouch.

*It’s complicated.

Dear Colleen: My Dry Cleaner Cleaned the Pope’s Cassock

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 0
Now that's a fresh frock! Photo: Wikipedia
Now that’s a fresh frock! Photo: Wikipedia

Dear Colleen:

You do such a great job sewing step-outs and demo materials for Love of Quilting for PBS and for many videos for Fons & Porter. It’s great that I get to see you twice a year when we tape TV in Iowa. You’re great.

As you are an enthusiastic Catholic, I thought I might tell you a pretty cool story.

Before I left for this four-day trip to Portland, I went to get my trousers tailored at the local dry cleaner in my DC neighborhood. While I was waiting for the lady to issue me the ticket for pickup, I looked around and spied two photographs and a letter professionally framed in a single frame hanging on the wall to my right. The pictures featured my dry cleaner lady and her husband proudly holding a big white papal robe. There was a nun (sister?) in the picture, as well. I walked over to get a closer look.

The letter was from an apparently important church (order?) in town. The author of the letter was the nun in the picture. The letter was addressed to the owners of the dry cleaning business, thanking them for cleaning the robes (habits?) over many years and always doing a great job. The letter then thanked them for cleaning the Pope’s robes (cassocks?) while he visited Washington a few weeks ago. 

“Holy crap!” I couldn’t help but exclaim, later recognizing that I’ll never get to use the phrase “holy crap” in a more appropriate situation ever again.

“You cleaned the Pope’s robes??” I asked the lady. She nodded and gave a little smile that said, “We are actually the bomb chronic, yes.”

I never thought about how the Pope needs stuff dry cleaned like everyone else, Colleen! What amazed me is that his entourage would take his (His?) special outfits — outfits no one on the planet but him is able to wear in a non-ironic way — to a neighborhood dry cleaner! If I had ever considered it, I’d figure they had a holy dry cleaner who used that special incense thing (thurible?) to steam clean Mr. Pope’s things. Who knew? Well, the nun knew. But I didn’t know and now we all do!

I thought you might like that story, Colleen. Have a great day today.

With Warmest Wishes,

Quilt Market Is Coming! (Plus: 1 of 2 Announcements.)

This picture was taken at Market a couple years ago in one of the hundreds of gorgeous booths at the show. The pom-poms were edible! Just kidding.
This picture of me was taken at Market a couple years ago in one of the hundreds of gorgeous booths at the show. Those pom-poms were edible! Just kidding.

International Fall Quilt Market is next week!

Fall Quilt Market is the biggest trade show of the year for the 4 billion-dollar-a-year quilt industry I accidentally started working in five-and-a-half years ago. It’s a Quilts, Inc. production and it is intense. Here’s what people do at Quilt Market:

– Wear their Sunday best
– Write business
– Take meetings
– Schmooze
– Booze (Not at the level of a pharmaceutical sales rep convention, but there’s a little drankin’ and aren’t you surprised? Mm? Quilters drink liquor? Scandal?)
– Go to dinner
– Make deals
– Take names
– Chew bubblegum
– Break hearts

So really it’s just another day in the life of a quilter who took her/his hobby to the Next Level. Hey, speaking of Next Level, this Quilt Market is a big one for me. Maybe the biggest one yet. For years — years! — I’ve been circling a dream project and for months — months! — I’ve known that the dream project would launch next week but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. At this point, the pain of withholding the thing is almost physical.

Do you want to know what the big project is? Do you? Are you ready to freak out? Are you ready for totally amazing, fully incredible, head-slappingly gorgeous images to flood your cerebral cortex? It will all happen so soon! I’m the world’s worst secret-keeper; if I wasn’t in fear of mucking up the whole thing for me and the brilliant company I’m working with, I’d just out with it.

But maybe I could tell you something else. Maybe I could let a different cat out of the bag. Maybe I could finally tell you the other secret I’ve got. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Here goes: I’m pregnant. No, no, no. That’s not it. I’m not pregnant. Let’s see, what was it… Oh, right:

I’m moving back to Chicago next month.

Full story tomorrow.

Twenty Questions.

posted in: Chicago, D.C., Day In The Life 0
Publicity photo for early-1960s gameshow, "Queen For a Day."
This photo is public domain, but let’s all hold ABC responsible for the time it held the copyright. 

I am wishing so hard that I could offer all the alternate names I’ve come up with for the gameshow pictured above. Sadly, that sort of content is best saved for PaperGirl: After Dark. So far, that blog does not exist, though it absolutely should. I’ll let you know.

As I mentioned recently, I’ve had a galaxy of question marks spinning ’round my head. With a ginormous project about to launch (just a few more weeks and I can spill the beans) and a Very Big Decision I’ve made (you’re gonna flip when I tell you), I’ve been asking myself many questions. Here are twenty of them.

1. What time is it?
2. Was that my phone or yours?
3. Did I seriously forget to buy yogurt?
4. What day in November should I move back to Chicago?
5. I’m so comfy in bed but I kind of need to pee before I turn out the light. Should I just try to sleep it off or get up and go now so I don’t have to get up at two in the morning?
6. Are PaperGirl readers passing it along to other people because that would be so wonderful?
7. Am I correct in thinking that a forty-year-old woman in good shape is hotter than a twenty-year-old girl in good shape?
8. Did you hear that?
9. Did my tenants in Chicago take good care of my home?
10. Did I come to Washington and stay a year longer than planned because I was running away from something and if so, what was it?
11. If I’m such a hardcore existentialist, how come I hated Crime and Punishment so much?
12. Are you kidding me?
13. Do I still enjoy eggs or do they gross me out?
14. Will the person I went on the road trip with this summer be in my life in a significant way in the future or was that whole thing just a brilliant, brightly shining, but ultimately isolated moment in time? (There were less-shining and isolated moments, like this one.)
15. Do my friends in Chicago miss me?
16. Is it wise to have a box of chocolates in the fridge right now?
17. Is Yuri reading this?
18. Will I ever have enough money to have someone do my hair every day?
19. When’s the next time I’ll be in a hospital bed?
20. Seriously?

Oh, this is fun. I could more. I could do really, really good ones on PaperGirl: After Dark. You’ll be the first to know.

Sleeping In Church.

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

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

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

Just kidding. But I did sleep in a sanctuary!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“IT WAS LIKE A DRAGON” – A Short Play By Mary Fons

17th Century engraving of a Griffin, image courtesy Wikipedia.
17th Century engraving of a Griffin, image courtesy Wikipedia.

Below is a conversation I heard tonight as I waited for the east elevator here at the beautiful Kennedy Warren. In case you are just joining us, my towering, Art Deco, super-historic building borders the Smithsonian National Zoo. My neighbors are animals. From time to time, one can hear the call of the wild when heading out to the store or opening the window for some fresh air. And now:

A short play by Mary Fons

Woman 1: It was like a dragon. 

Woman 2: A what?

Woman 1: A dragon

Woman 2: Maybe it was a wild boar. They’ve got the wild boars out right now.

Woman 1: I don’t know…

Woman 2: Maybe it was just the zebras. You know how they’re always going on. 

Woman 1: Oh, god. The zebras are like — 

Woman 2: It was probably a boar.

Woman 1: Fine, but it sounded like a dragon.


Making Out With a Doctor: Part II

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 0
Are the pills full of something good or just made of sugar? Doctor-themed cupcakes by Clever Cupcakes of Montreal.
They rejected the idea of a beating heart — barely. Doctor-themed cupcakes by Clever Cupcakes of Montreal.

A couple moons ago, I told a story about going on a date with a doctor.  He diagnosed me with a fatty deposit when we were making out. As you can imagine, this cooled things off for me pretty quick. But there’s more to the story and when you learn the rest, you’ll see why I was cooled off before The Smooch Heard Round My Hip.

We’re at dinner. Low light, pretty dress, etc. And the doctor is talking. He’s talking a lot. He eventually asked me: “So tell me more about what you do. Knitting, right?”

I answered in an abbreviated manner because as I explained how I earn my living, he looked away at least four times. I was not yammering on. I was not entertaining myself. I was answering his question and attempting to engage in the “Let’s get to know each other” thing. Crazy to do on a date, I realize. But the doctor was eating bread and glancing around as I spoke and I hate that. I don’t like talking to people who don’t care one cc what I’m saying but also, lucky for him, I like listening to people talk about themselves way more than talking about myself. I figured out pretty quick that the best thing to do was to clam up and ask him questions about himself and get through dinner.

So I asked questions. I let his tape run. Yes, he did have interesting stories to tell and he was intelligent. Successful. A father. A widower, as I’ve just recalled. But when you spend the first forty-five minutes of a date smiling and nodding and going, “Mm, I see,” it’s tiring. It’s a drag. One can also be in danger of drinking too much wine because there’s nothing else to do with one’s mouth.

My date excuses himself to use the men’s room. The head waiter comes over and removes our first course plates.

“Did you enjoy your beet salad, Miss?”

“Oh, it was wonderful, thank you so much. Really good.”

I engaged him in a conversation about how beets are gross unless you get them on a fancy plate. He agreed; we had this instant rapport. Then he gave me a strange look. An earnest look. A conspiratorial look. He looked toward the men’s room and back to me.

“And how is your evening going?” he asked, cocking his head and squeezing his eyes at me. I, too, glanced at the men’s room. I, too, cocked my head and squeezed my eyes.

“Can I be honest?”

“Please do.”

“It’s not good. He is just talking and talking and talking. He hasn’t asked me a single thing about myself! I don’t want to go on and on, but we’re supposed to be on a date. I’m pretty bummed.”

“We give you forty minutes, tops.”


“We’ve been watching you two since you came in because your table is right in the line of the service area. He hasn’t let you get a word in since you got here. We all feel really sorry for you. Can I bring you another Champagne? On the house, Miss.”

I looked over my left shoulder and saw two bartenders, a busboy, and another waiter at various positions near the wood paneled, chrome bar. One of the bartenders saw me looking and gave me a little wave and a cringe. My date appeared from around the corner to the restrooms and came back to the table.

“I would like a glass of Champagne,” I said to the waiter, my new BFF. “Thank you so much.” My new BFF and I shared the most awesome, subtle look. We were in cahoots now; we were allied. He asked my date if he wanted anything from the bar or if he was ready for wine with the entrees on their way. He was ready for wine, and I was ready for dessert. Yes, I know, I sold out for some smooching at the end of the date. What can I say? It had been a long week.

The last thing to say about it is that I didn’t have to fight the doctor off with a stick; neither of us pursued a second date. Maybe he thought I was a dull conversationalist, that I had nothing good to say, nothing interesting to talk about.




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