If you know about the fabric stash + book sale already, you’ll be more interested in this link that will take you to the Mary Fons eBay auction — and this red text is that link! If the auction is live already, it’s because eBay is complicated and strange, at least from the seller side of things. If it’s NOT live, yet, be patient, because it absolutely will be. Everyone will have time to play in the fields of a fabric auction, don’t worry. The auction will be up for five days!
NOTE: Many will notice that there are only 50 boxes for sale instead of 63, which is the count I gave yesterday. Have no fear! There are 63 boxes on offer, but eBay won’t allow me to post more than 50 items a month. (I told you: eBay, man.) I will post the rest of the boxes on April 1st, so look for that if you don’t get a box this time around.
Agh! It’s like throwing a party and hoping people will come, you know? However this goes down, I want to thank you most of all for the well wishes about the new place. It’s a new day. I feel like I’m breaking out of jail, I really do.
Technically, her birthday was yesterday. Don’t worry: I didn’t forget. I sent her a card that arrived on time and she got an absolutely enormous box of notions as a gift. (Even quilt royalty need fresh rotary cutters, you know.)
But when I saw that my sister Rebecca had a copy of this photo of Mom back in the 60’s and posted it to Facebook, I had to pass it along and carry the birthday over a day.
I landed myself in the ER while I was in Lincoln. I didn’t know whether I’d tell the tale, but I will, because it’s dramatic and it gives me another opportunity to thank the folks who took care of me. If you’re icked out by the female anatomy, you can skip this one. The post has to be a bit longer than usual to tell the full story, but it pays off, I promise. If you keep reading, you’ll get to the following sentence: “The president of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum was holding my hair so that I could barf in her kitchen sink.”
When I let the Study Center president know I would be able to attend the opening reception for Blue Echoes, Leslie insisted I be her houseguest that night. It’s a three-hour drive from Lincoln to Winterset; it would be silly to try and drive home so late. I accepted at once and packed a toothbrush. Sleepover with the prez? Awesome.
At the party, I felt a twinge. I know a person for whom English is a second language who calls a woman’s period her “days.” As in, “I’m sorry you’re feeling unwell; are you having your days?” I love that (so German!) and have adopted it. So yes, at the party, I began to have my days. Great.
As the evening progressed, I got progressively more interested in being horizontal and putting something warm on my abdomen. My days aren’t usually too rough; I have mild cramps, some irritability — but I have had some corkers in my day. That night in Leslie’s lovely guest bedroom, my number was up, or so I thought. I slept all of four hours, waking from pain so intense I moaned. It felt like my uterus was being wrung out like a wet beach towel. It felt like a Doc Marten boot was stepping on my reproductive organs and grinding around for effect. It felt like that time I was on an airplane and projectile vomited then passed out because a cyst on my ovaries decided to burst at 35,000 feet.
You don’t have to be at 35,000 feet for a cyst on your ovary to burst. Ask me how I know.
I had planned on leaving for Iowa around 8am that day. After I barfed in the bathroom, I texted Leslie from the bedroom that I was quite ill and would have to stay in bed for just a bit longer, if she didn’t mind. And would she, maybe, quite possibly, please bring the warm Bed Buddy thing she offered last night? She didn’t mind, she brought the Bed Buddy, and I told her how bad it was. I didn’t need to tell her; I looked pretty bad. I also told her that 1) my GI doctor told me last week I need two bags of iron as soon as I can get them and b) I have a not-small ovarian cyst on my right ovary. “If things were to get, you know, worse,” I said, “That’s relevant information.” This did not feel like cramps, even bad ones.
Leslie nodded and told me St. Eve’s Hospital was just down the road if we needed to go there. She brought me the family barf bowl (it’s a really good one), and told me she’d check on me in fifteen minutes. My body was getting weaker and weaker, and I remembered what it was like when my hemogoblins once went down to four out of the standard fourteen. I did not want that to happen again and there was a lot of blood presently checking out of Chez Fons. I texted Leslie that we needed to take our field trip.
I couldn’t stand upright to get to the car, and on the way, I threw up so hard in Leslie’s kitchen sink for a good two minutes. That hurt. Leslie was holding my hair. The president of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum was holding my hair so that I could barf in her kitchen sink. I told her, in between heaves — and she will confirm this — that this was a funny way of bonding with a new board member. Don’t some presidents take their board members on retreats? She thought that was funny but also suggested that we leave soon.
We did. They were all great. I got good pain meds, an IV, and an ultrasound. There was a whole bunch of fluid behind my ovary and guess what? No cyst. The smoking gun, ladies and gentlemen! I felt markedly better as the day went on, but I stayed at Leslie’s house that night and didn’t leave till the next morning. I am still sore and my days remain. I’ll have to get my iron infusion tomorrow; it can’t wait much longer. I’m basically translucent right now.
Leslie, thank you, and your family, for everything. You can come to my house and barf in my kitchen sink anytime.
Before I tell you more about Saturday, it’s very important that you know about Lilly’s best friend.
Lilly’s best friend is Aubrey. Aubrey has this thing about purple cats. She has a shirt with a purple cat. She talks about purple cats. And in art class, if the teacher tells the class to draw a tree, for example, Aubrey will draw a tree…with a purple cat underneath it. Aside from being cute and almost suspiciously well-mannered, Lilly has excellent taste in friends.
I joined the girls at their hotel room and when I opened the door, I saw what I was dealing with. Miss Lilly had on a sequined St. Patrick’s Day ballcap, a drapey, pink tunic thing over a t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. In other words, she looked amazing. And Gramma Rita was not to be outdone. Her multi-colored dress with a bit of personal tailoring and “Franken-sewing,” as she described it, coordinated with her toenail polish: one toe blue, one yellow, and so on.
We got lattes, not at the Starbucks across the street, but at the nearby Julius Meinl, a killer Viennese coffee joint. This was my first moment of pride yesterday: 9 out of 10 tourists ain’t gonna know about Julius Meinl. Twenty minutes in, and I was already earning my tour guide stripes.
When we got to the Art Institute, I used the Fons family membership card to fly us past the lines for the Van Gogh exhibit. We saw the Chagall window and then found our way down to the miniatures collection. If you take kids to the Art Institute, make a beeline for the miniatures gallery. Lilly loved it, and so she should: think fully-detailed Downton Abbey sets inside boxes smaller than a breadbox. Unreal.
And how do you suppose high tea was? Lilly and Rita and I inhaled a lot of small, caloric food items while sitting in a burgundy leather booth with cloth napkins on our laps. Rita and I had kir royales and before the tall tea trays came, we played a few rounds of Bananagrams, or something that resembled Bananagrams. All I know is that I spelled the word “sitar” and Lilly spelled “fart.” (That didn’t actually happen but don’t you wish it had? Rita, tell Lilly I said that if you think she’ll laugh.)
I think Lilly enjoyed the last activity most: visiting my condo. I remember how cool it was to see how other people lived when I was that age. It was like, “You put cereal in tupperware?” and “You guys have a trampoline???” and “What’s a waterbed?” Lilly looked around my home with great interest. Then Claus came in and everyone met each other. I asked Rita as I walked her out, didn’t she think Claus was handsome? She said that though she has wanted to see a picture since I mentioned him almost a year ago, I’d better not post his picture or someone will try to steal him. He was looking particularly fetching in a black turtleneck yesterday. Perhaps she’s right.
Thank you, Lilly and Rita, for allowing me to share part of the Chicago birthday trip. Many happy returns, ladies. Use lots of hand sanitizer when you get home.
My heart feels like it’s in a jacuzzi. Being back in Chicago is a gift. I turn a corner and look at something so banal as the American Apparel store or the conveniently-placed mailbox on the corner of Polk and Dearborn and I beam. Thankfully, it’s scarf weather, so I can beam into my scarf and not scare anyone.
As I walked up State St. the other day — State St. in all its bunting and festooned glory — I thought how remarkable it was that no one around me knew how happy I was just to be there. No way could anyone walking behind me or crossing the street with me know that I was so happy to be back in this city that my heart was singing, even as I dodged a weird/large puddle by the library? But we don’t know about anyone who walks near us, do we? (I wrote up a similar thought in regards to bathrooms and disabilities, but this is different.) We all have stories and circumstances, but we can never know all the people so we can’t know all the stories. Good or bad, when significant things happen to us, we still have to like, walk to the bank. We still have to go to work. We gotta eat something. But where did the person next to you come from? And where are they going?
That man’s mother died last night. That other man, he’s on his way to court to give a deposition — and he’s debating whether or not to lie. That woman on your left is headed to her first job as a dominatrix. The woman on your right just got elected to the board. That guy, he was diagnosed yesterday. The woman up ahead was going to break up with her boyfriend at lunch but couldn’t do it. The man across the street, crossing to your side, lost his wallet twenty minutes ago. The woman nearby him is worrying herself to death over her prodigal son.
I wanted to grab someone and say: “Hi! I was walking next to you but there was no way for you to know how happy I am to be in Chicago and I want to tell you because you should know. You should know that just walking near you, just being under the Chicago sky — it’s wonderful! It’s a wonderful life! Don’t take it for granted, don’t forget: Chicago is the best city in the world. We have a lot of issues. But we can make it. We’re gonna make it. We’re gonna work together and we’re gonna make it. Okay?”
I suspect the person would run away from me as fast as possible. And if they did, no big deal. I’d just grab the next guy or the next guy, until I found someone who was ready to rap with me for the rest of the afternoon about how there is no place like home and there is no home like Chicago. Not for me and not for the person rapping with me. Maybe we would sit on the bench in front of the old school barbershop-and-cigar shop on Dearborn. I love to walk past that place but I’ve never been in. It’s not that cold, yet; we could share my scarf.
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.”
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.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now — if you could zap yourself somewhere this instant — where would you put yourself? The zen answer is: “Why, I’d want to be exactly where I am!” and if this is how you answered the question, congratulations. You are an Enlightened One and may I say, the soft glow emanating from your head gives a lovely light.
For those of us who answered the question differently, I salute both your imagination and your discontent. I can only imagine the wonderful responses:
“I’d be at a racetrack!”
“I’d be at gramma’s house!”
“I’d be scuba diving in shark infested waters!”
Enlightenment sounds lousy, anyhow. What, you just sit around seeing the Nature of Things? Emerging from your nonage? Boooring. Bring a book. Speaking of books, if I could zap myself anyplace in the world, I would choose The Library of Congress.
I’ve never been inside but I have plans to visit soon. The Library of Congress, as many readers know, is located in Washington, D.C., in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It is the largest library in the world.** Contrary to popular belief, the library does not hold every book ever published ever in the universe, but the truth is so jaw-dropping there’s no need to dress up the stats: 158 million items can be found on the shelves of the LOC, shelves that measure a total of 838 miles. The LOC website tells us that the collections hold “more than 36 million books and other print materials, 3.5 million recordings, 13.7 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 6.7 million pieces of sheet music and 69 million manuscripts.” Also, the Gutenberg Bible is there. Also, a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. Also, my book!
It’s all contained in a Beaux-Arts building that looks like the enormous lovechild of a wedding cake, a sultan’s summer home, and The Coliseum.
When I find myself in D.C. next, I’ll take my journal and several books to the Main Reading Room in the Jefferson Building and sit myself down in the glory, glory. I’m sure I’ll have to get some special pass or I.D. sticker and I’m happy to do so. I am still a student, which should help.
So that’s where I’d zap myself. The LOC. There, the lights are low but focused. Like the light of Enlightenment, but available to us all.
Starting on Monday and for the next six weeks, you can enroll in an online course, designed by me, to will teach you how to make beautiful, accurate patchwork. It’s fun. It’s relaxed. It’s Quilty time, is what I’m saying.
Enjoy this nifty video I made the other day about the course. I hope to see you in class.