This coming week has me heading over to Atlanta to teach and speak at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo. This is one of my favorite gigs to do because I get to see Marlene. Marlene is the brains behind the Atlanta operation among other, similar operations and has been a friend and mentor to me for years. She was most publicly my friend when I went down in flames in Atlanta a number of years ago; without her help, I might still be casting about in the halls of a hospital in Georgia, filling out endless forms in triplicate and not getting the good kind of pain medicine.
Whenever I go to Atlanta, I am reminded of the first time I went to Atlanta. I was traveling with Bari; like Marlene, Bari is the sort of person you want around when the zombie apocalypse comes. It was awhile ago, but I remember Bari needed to drive to St. Louis to deliver something to her grandmother. That sounds like a cover for something, but I think it was legit. Bari grew up in the Atlanta area and her parents still lived there; for some reason, it made sense for her to drive to Atlanta and then go on to grandma’s house. Bari and I were living together that summer and she asked me if I wanted to go. I had no plans and I loved Bari. We got in her SUV and got on the road.
Bari’s family home was the finest house I had ever been in up to that point. The architecture, the interior, the grounds — these people had impeccable taste in every area in which impeccable taste matters (e.g., food, art, dogs, etc.) And they were all so nice! Within an hour of being welcomed inside, I got used to the fact that there was a grand staircase in the front of the house and a back staircase in the back of the house. I wanted to live in the kitchen and could have, perhaps with ten or eleven other people.
Bari showed me to my own guestroom where I had my own bathroom and my own balcony, I think. There were silk sheets on the bed and I had packed silk pajamas. When I got into bed that night, I really slid around.
All the comfort of that home was thrown into sharp relief the week after: I went to visit my boyfriend Dan in New York City and we heard a dog get shot. Dan lived in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a decade before Bushwick began to be remotely cool or safe. I didn’t like being there, but I really liked Dan. One night, we were going nuts listening to this dog bark and bark and bark and bark and bark and then we heard a gunshot and the dog didn’t bark anymore.
In life, as in patchwork, contrast is what makes things interesting.
Last night, until about 1:30am and this morning beginning at 6:30am, I was sewing. I was sewing two baby quilts for The Big Secret Project that will be announced soon. Last night at 12:30am, I felt the announcement bearing down on me like a train. A train covered in a patchwork quilt, with a conductor who is running the thing on a sewing machine engine. If you’re not a quilter, you don’t know that some of these puppies (?) are so powerful, they could probably power a locomotive. Especially those BabyLocks. They’re engines that can. I have four.
Paper-piecing is my favorite way to make patchwork. Paper-piecing means to sew fabric to a paper foundation and then tear the paper off the back when the block is complete. You don’t have to do patchwork this way; there is “traditional piecing” as well, but I’ll not go on about all this too much for those of you who don’t care about patchwork, though you should.
I used to be afraid of the paper-piecing technique — used in quiltmaking for at least 150 years — because the process involves some brain training. Once I got the hang of it, however, I began to look at every quilt block and think, “Okay, yeah, yeah: but how can I paper-piece it?” It’s like starving guy on a desert island who looks at everything he sees as a steak.
The drawback to paper-piecing is that your floor looks like the picture above. All those bits of paper must come off before you join all the blocks together and the more blocks you have, the more you become a badger, scrabbling at the backs of your blocks with little claws, paper going everywhere, including in your hair. At the end of the process, if the quilt is large, you have a nest. You do sit in it because it’s comfortable there on the floor.
Such is the glamorous life of a quilter who makes quilts for shows or magazines, etc. Quilting under a deadline is not fun at all. It sucks all joy from the process, though the finished product is still rewarding, but mostly because you can breathe again and pry your shoulders from your neck.
I haven’t told anyone this story from the road trip yet because there is shame involved. It’s a tad longer, but stay with me because it’s got a great payoff.
One night in Utah, I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This was not unusual, so before lights out, I had done my preparations. That night was a sleep-in-the-car night, which meant that once the seats in the SUV were released and the make-shift bed was made, I put my flip-flops, Handi-Wipes, and fluffy roll of TP into the cubby in the passenger-side door. On the hook above the window, I hung my hoodie and the car keys.
When you are inside a locked car and then try to leave it, unless you first unlock it, the car alarm will sound when you open the door. You must then stab your fob’s “Alarm Off” function, sixty times to get it to stop. When we camped in the car, of course my friend and I locked up once we were inside. This meant that in the middle of the night, when I would get up and go to the bathroom (read: bush), I would have to locate the keys in the dark, make sure I unlocked the car, then exit. Exiting, by the way, was a Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus clown car routine: I squeezed out the door and essentially did a sommersault onto the grass.
We were in a public park that night, so the spot I found was near the public bathroom facilities. I say “near” because the facilities were locked up at sundown, something I found out when I tried to open the door. Okay, no problem. The lights inside the brick structure appeared to be motion-sensored, so I jumped up and down and got the lights to go on, which threw light onto the grass behind the building. It wasn’t a lot of light, but it was enough to “go” by, heh, heh. So I went. Because it was 3am and there was only a dim light by which to see, I covered up my…visit with leaves and sticks and earth matter with every intention — this is important — with every intention to clean everything up in the morning. I respect my National Parks! Bleary eyed, sleepy, with grass in my hair but much relieved, I tumbled back into the car and went to sleep.
In the morning, I looked for the keys to unlock the door before Claus and I got out and made tea. No keys. Not under the sleeping bags. Not on the floor by the seats. Not in the front. Not in the back. We were trapped in the car. If we opened the door, the alarm would scream and, not having keys, there would be no way to turn it off. It was getting really hot inside that car. We finally determined that we could open the car doors because the dashboard screen said, “No fob detected,” which, considering the situation, is the best example of a “mixed blessing” ever.
We took a deep breath and opened the doors. No alarm sounded. The keys were nowhere. They were really, really nowhere. I combed the park, convinced I had sleepwalked the perimeter in my pajamas and dropped the keys. Claus looked under the car twelve times. We looked for an hour and then I began to cry. Those keys, impossibly, were Gone. Do you know how much it costs to get a replacement key for a rental car? Both cell phones were dying. This was a bad, bad situation. Oh, and one other thing: I looked many times around the makeshift bathroom area I had created at 3am. Not only were the keys not there, but my bathroom, such as it was, was not there. I didn’t have to clean anything because there was nothing there. No paper, no leaf cover. Someone had cleaned.
I called the Park District. Had someone been by? Had they found keys at XYZ Public Park near Zion?? I was going to clean up! Please! Don’t judge me! And okay, judge me, but did someone find keys for heaven’s sake?? Nothing here, they said, but you could talk to the police. I was patched to the station and I blubbed the story to the officer there, that I have a condition that makes me have to poop all the time [sorry] and I have to go in the night, and was it at all possible that a Park District person came through, saw that there was an…incident, and cleaned up and maybe found car keys nearby?? Somehow??
There was a silence. Then:
“Well, I’ve got your keys,” the officer said.
I almost fell off the memorial stone slab I was sitting on. “You do??? You DO???” I flapped my hands at Claus. “You have them?? But…but how? Oh, god… Someone found my… Oh, no, oh no…” And I began blubbing again that I’m not a bad person, that I’m a law-abiding citizen (mostly) and, “I’m so, so sorry that –”
“First of all, you can’t be campin’ in the park,” he said. “And yeah, the guy who does the bathrooms over there found the mess. He waddn’t too happy ’bout it, either. Stepped right into it. He found the keys in the grass there and brought ’em over to us. I can get ’em over to you in about an hour when I’ve taken care of this other thing.”
I wept. I told the officer that I would pay any fine he’d slap me with and would enjoy paying it. He said that wasn’t necessary. When he brought the keys I again begged him to let me give him money. He declined and said it was all no big deal and to get along, now. I think he took pity on a girl who had slept in a car and had to poop in the middle of the night.
Later, Claus said that in the early morning, he had heard what he thought were two men arguing. We figure it was the cleaning guy, shouting and hollering when he discovered the situation. I’ll have you know from then on, I did not wait until the morning to clean up any bathroom area I created. Turns out there are these things called flashlights.
You don’t have to be devastated by the beauty a grand, famous, “so-amazing-you-will-freak-out” landscape. Your heart may not burst out of your chest at Observation Point X, you may not burst into song when you see a big wave. You may hate Grand Canyon. You might think it’s sort of monotonous. I’m not looking to defend a person who looks at the sea lions at Ano Nuevo and says, “Whatever. Can we go to Burger King?” I am looking to defend people who respect the Titans but feel guilty when they’re not devastated by the “raw, eternal power” of them.
There were times on the road trip when we’d be driving, leave a mountain pass and bam! some HD vista would open up before us. We’d stop mid-sentence and just gape. The basin before we got to Grand Canyon was like that for me. The rolling hills, the endless blue of the sky, the ghosts of all those buffalo… That swath of earth touched me so much — felt so familiar to me — I couldn’t stop crying. It was weird.
But Yosemite? I don’t know. It was cool. But the camping, camaraderie, and cookstove, well, that was what was great about Yosemite for me. Yosemite is brushy pine trees and a lot of grey-white rock. Not my thing, really. The tour guides (we had three to choose from, all very useful) are full of words like “breathtaking” and “stunning” and “awe-inspiring,” but this is dangerous. One reads these things and hears about places that are “must-sees” and it creates great pressure to feel something when we get to Yosemite, or when we gaze out into Grand Canyon.
But you don’t have to be awe-inspired. You might be more inspired walking through your neighborhood at dusk on your way to the store for milk. The light might be just right, the nice lady who lives on the corner might wave from her porch. This can be more beautiful to you than a big mountain.
I say it because it took me a long time to learn that. I saw the Mona Lisa once and I just didn’t get it. I felt terrible, thought for sure there was something wrong with me. But I like so many paintings so much more, and it’s okay. I liked Zion way better than Grand Canyon. Anyhow, the unsolicited advice tonight is to not let People tell you what’s Beautiful. You decide. No pressure.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The woman in the image above finds the landscape she’s looking at to be very, very beautiful.]
Sometimes, the universe cuts you a break and life’s cheese grater is swapped for a feather pillow. This morning, I flew into NYC to have a procedure that would determine the health of my intestines.
There is no detectable inflammation. My pouch is scarred, it’s too small, and related aspects of all this will cause me discomfort from here on out, but how could I possibly care when the doctor tells me I’m not bleeding internally? My long-lost colon literally ate itself to death, but it appears my j-pouch don’t even want a snack.
When you think you’re on a bullet train to very bad news, it colors everything you do. Having a bad day? It’s worse than it would be, because in the back of your mind, you think, “This day is lousy and also I’m dying.” When you think the clock is ticking toward bad test results, a good day is tinged, too, just a little, because you find yourself fleetingly thinking, “This day is fantastic; I don’t even care that there may be something terribly wrong with me.” O, pernicious subconscious; how ye thwart joy and gladness.
That this burden is lifted from me for the foreseeable future… It’s hard to express my relief. To be absolutely honest, the tiny August Strindberg in me does wonder how long the good news can last, but the Chiquita Banana in me is beating him down with a banana.
There’s a real trick to living, a knack one has to get. I totally get the knack on lock for a minute but then I lose it again. It would be nice for the ground to stop moving under my feet; maybe then, maybe then.
Thank goodness this post is about homemade cinnamon rolls.
If I love you, I cook for you. I’m not a lusty Italian woman with an ample bosom and flour on her apron, caught in a perpetual loop of plucking ripe tomatoes off the vine (for love.) But I recently came across these words from that man about food, Michael Pollan, and he’s got it right:
“For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”
We all know Yuri likes cookys, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned that my skills with cheesecake send him over the moon. But I got it into my head last week that I needed to bake something else special for this special man, something truly “Woah.” Cinnamon rolls seemed to be the “woah” ticket. Gooey, ooey, warm cinnamon rolls that might look right at home on a farmhouse table with a pot of hot coffee nearby. Lordy! Bring me my purse! We got groceries to git!
My rolls were interesting to make and they turned out beautifully. But as I was drowning the hot, cinnamony bombs of yum in thick cream cheese frosting, I knew there was something else going on, something other than the “Let me feed you” thing. There is nothing in a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls that is “legal” for me to eat except the cinnamon — and even that isn’t recommended for a few weeks. The cinnamon rolls, which I have never made in my life until now, were clearly me living vicariously through Yuri.
Which is okay. I mean, there are cinnamon rolls as a result, so it can’t be that awful. It is dangerous, though: I very nearly popped a frosting-coated finger into my mouth as I put the empty bowl into the sink. This is not an option for me today. Why make such a gorgeous city and lock yourself out of the gates?
This was my view around 8pm Tuesday night, except the date read, “Tuesday, August 13, 2013”:
My life is full of wonder and I often feel that I pay directly for it through physical suffering. Dazzled by the lights in the Chicago skyline every single time you look? For this awareness and understanding, you will pay…ah, yes. Keening in pain every so many days. Feel a surge of love for all humankind each time you board a plane and believe in the possibility of every individual, with compassion and without reservation? That’ll cost you…your colon.
Plenty of people have a beautiful life and don’t pay with their health, I realize. This is just my particular situation, my lot. And honestly, it’s okay. I’m okay with the trade. The good is just that good.
I’m home now, but haggard. More soon, and thanks to the well-wishers. The well fishers, well, it’s weird that you’ve been calling, but I’m glad you’ve been catching those fish.