Mary + Pendennis + Quiltfolk Patterns : My First-Ever Vlog!

posted in: Quiltfolk, Work 35

 

 

I just had to talk to you about this, face-to-sorta-face! Announcing Quiltfolk Patterns is very exciting and I hope you like what we’re making. You will be amazed at the price we’ve set. You will be amazed at who we got as our first Revival Quilt designer. I’m so excited for July 4th I can’t stand it. I fly to New Orleans tomorrow. I hope this video isn’t too long, but it’s my first time vlogging!

It was actually pretty fun and I didn’t have to type!

ūüėČ

Love,
Mary

The Funniest Things I Have Ever Heard. (Don’t Get Too Excited.)

posted in: Day In The Life, Joke 20
It's an outhouse! Image: Wikipedia.
It’s an outhouse! Haha. Image: Wikipedia.

 

On the bus the other day, I was thinking about¬†the funniest things I have ever heard. I wasn’t thinking “What are the funniest stories I’ve ever heard?”¬†and I wasn’t thinking about the funniest jokes¬†I’ve ever heard, either. You might be thinking, “What else is there?” but I can explain.

You see, I remembered something out of nowhere that I hadn’t thought about in years ‚ÄĒ and I recalled that, at the time I came across¬†it, I had never heard anything so hilarious in my entire life. I was eight, so don’t get too excited.

It was a little handwritten sign in a bathroom in Door County. The sign read:

“If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.”¬†

I was helpless with laughter. I had never known anything more genius and silly and funny and gross in all my life. It was a real gem for eight-year-old Mary, let me tell you. Clearly, it stayed with me.

So after thinking about that for awhile and, yes, chuckling a little (mostly about me at eight, giggling until I could hardly breathe, not so much about the pee thing), I wondered about other things like that. What were the other funniest things I have ever heard?

The second thing that came to mind happened when I was in high school, so again: No need to brace yourself for nuanced, sophisticated comedy, here. I was working as a waitress at the local Pizza Hut.

…and that’s it. That’s the funniest thing: Me, in high school,¬†slingin’ pies at the local Pizza Hut.

I’m kidding! Although there is some comedic value to that sentence. It has something to do with the word “Hut.”

But seriously: The Pizza Hut’s¬†manager’s name was Steve. That poor guy.¬†He had a bunch of ne’er-do-well high school kids to corral all day and his “office” was a computer shoved into corner near the walk-in. He could’ve been a jerk ‚ÄĒ but he was so nice! He was understanding and cool but never inappropriately cool. Like, Steve¬†wouldn’t buy us beer or let us take pizzas home for free. Steve was great. He was also a real cornball. That means he told corny jokes and was fond of puns.

One day, I got to work and Steve had clearly gotten a haircut. I said, “Hey, Steve! You got your haircut!”

And Steve snapped his fingers and pointed to me and said, “No, Mary: I got ’em all cut.”

I blinked. I cocked my head. And then I got it. And I loved it. I thought it was genius. Ha! Got ’em all cut! Because you don’t get a hair cut! You get ’em all cut! Oh, man. What a knee-slapper.

The other other thing I came up with was that my friend Nellie told me in college that she and her sisters, when they were kids, used to roll down this hill in the backyard. One day, her sister pooped her pants as she was rolling down the hill and after that, they called it “Poopy Hill.”

Yes, I am aware that two of the three of the funniest things I am claiming to have ever heard have to do with the bathroom. I sincerely hope that if I keep thinking about more wildly hilarious things, this will not be the case.

New Carpet, With Chaos.

posted in: Day In The Life 7
Dame Vera Lynn, "at home in Sussex." Date unknown. Image Wikipedia.
Dame Vera Lynn, “at home in Sussex.” Date unknown. Image Wikipedia.

 

 

I had a plan. A blog plan.

Writing a regular blog like this takes one, you know. I think about you all the time.

And so it was that I came home after such a packed day with my blog plan ‚ÄĒ but there was a surprise waiting for me. Oh, I knew the new carpet would be there. I began payments and scheduled the installation a month ago because man, that carpet was looking pretty sad, indeed, and had looked sad, indeed for a long time. So I come home and find there¬†is new carpet here in my home, but I knew it would be there. And the new carpet, it’s great. I did my research, I shopped around.

But the installers, who seemed very nice when I met them this morning, apparently had a fire to go put out someplace across town very suddenly after the carpet was installed. They seem to have left in a hurry.

There are shoes (mine, thankfully) in the bathroom sink. Tables have been switched around in rooms. The rugs I have, they are all in interesting places, none of them so interesting that I can leave them where they lay. It’s fascinating how they re-arranged my furniture, I thought to myself, surveying total chaos in my house; I could just leave it like this. Couch way over at¬†the “wrong” wall, quilts¬†rolled up like burritos, lamps surviving, barely, pushed against the corner¬†on my big sewing/dining/work¬†table.

Tonight, therefore, rather than write what I was planning to write, I’m heaving my weight against dressers and drawers, making sense out of the chaos of my house.

The carpet is perfect. But at the moment, I don’t recognize the place. Is it weird that I kinda like it?

*P.S. The photo up there? That’s one of the images that came back when I entered “carpet” into Wikipedia Commons, the free image site I use for all my posts (unless I took a picture myself.) Do you not love this woman “at home in Sussex”?¬†

Brawesome!

posted in: Day In The Life 14
Brassiere in a box, c. 1954. Image: Wikipedia.
Brassiere in a box, c. 1954. Image: Wikipedia.

 

This afternoon I did a handful of demos¬†at the Iowa Quilt Museum. The museum is¬†housed¬†in a gorgeous, late 19th century building on the town square of my hometown of Winterset, IA. I’m so proud to be from Winterset, proud that the state quilt museum is about 1.5 blocks from my mom’s house.

The building that houses the IQM used to be a JCPenny department store. I remember going in there as a kid. I remember the sweatpants on racks, the baby clothes hung on the back wall, the menswear department, the housewares ‚ÄĒ all of it. It’s where you went to get clothes and sheets and a lot more if you were a Wintersetian back in the day. Our small-town JCPenny department store looked a lot different from how a big city or suburban department store looks today, it’s true; but our JCPenny was one shop with¬†many sections, so it was a department store to us.

The renovated, retro-fitted mezzanine where I did my demos today was one of the more interesting places I’ve worked. This is because I realized that I got my first training bra on that very mezzanine.

Seriously. I was talking to people about the American quilt, stitching on a Singer Featherweight owned by my grandmother and I remembered that I got my first bra in the same exact spot where I was sewing. Saying “I got my first bra”¬†is to say that when I was beside myself with grief for one, Mom purchased for me a cotton slingshot. That’s what training bras are, of course: cotton slingshots. Question:¬†What were we training for, by the way? Did we have a choice?

Life is weird. I remember I got a pastel yellow bra and a pastel pink bra. The yellow, interestingly, was my favorite of the two. Each bra was literally two triangles and a piece of string. Like I cared how it was made. When I put on the bra (especially the buttercream yellow one) I felt so beautiful, so grown-up. I remember looking in the mirror and feeling like a force of nature. I felt like a woman, finally. I felt like a person.

Today ‚ÄĒ and tonight, doing a lecture on the ground floor of the old JCPenny’s ‚ÄĒ I thought, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

A Writing Prompt for Both of Us.

posted in: Art, Tips, Word Nerd 0
Mary Pickford, 1918. Photo: Wikipedia
Mary Pickford, 1918. Photo: Wikipedia

I’ve been asked, “How do you come up with something to write every day?”

There are two parts to the answer. The first is that I want to be a decent writer and the only way to get decent at something is to practice. It’s true for a violinist. It’s true for a bridge player. I’ll never be a great¬†writer, and I know that. Earnest Hemingway¬†was a great writer. Virginia Woolf¬†was a great writer. Both of those writers committed suicide, though, so maybe I don’t want to be a great writer.

“Now, now, Mary. Plenty of great writers did not commit suicide.” I’ll say yes, that’s true, and why are you speaking to me like a governess? The point is that even though I’ll never be great, I can be better than I was last year, hopefully. That’s the goal.

The second part of the answer is that I’m a naturally observant person and things that I see frequently make me intensely sad, excited, or confused. Frequently I see comedy, or at least what I perceive as comedic. I find those things worth examining more closely, even if they are otherwise insignificant things and they usually are. Writing stuff down is¬†my preferred method of more closely examining things. I’m a terrible oil painter.

I suppose there’s a third reason: I like writing PaperGirl so much that if I miss a day, I’m grumpy. There was a spell this past holiday season when I was really lax¬†and it was uncomfortable, like having a poke-y tag on my¬†shirt. So sometimes I just plain make myself write about something because I don’t sleep as well if I don’t.

This morning was strange. I drew a blank.¬†My aborted or curtailed travel plans were off the table. I didn’t want to write about my body. I couldn’t think of something funny that happened to me. I did see a shooting star the other night¬†but I didn’t feel like being woo-woo. So I did something I’ve never done, which was to google, “non-fiction writing prompts.” It turned out to be a very good idea, because none of the prompts inspired me, but the act of looking up writing prompts was a writing prompt in itself. It also prompted me to create my own prompts. You have my permission to use them.

What is your personal credo?
Closely examine your feelings on olive loaf.
What stops you in your tracks?
How do you feel about adults who take tango lessons? Explain.
What the heck is wrong with you and what are you going to do about it?

 

 

Deer In the City.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you're close.
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you’re close.

If power animals exist, my power animal is a deer. I’m not sure about the existence of power animals but what do I know? I do¬†know that over and over again in my life, I have close encounters with cervidae of various kinds.

Today, back home in Washington, I set out to fetch groceries. There was¬†not much in my fridge beyond a hunk of Parmesan cheese (good) and watermelon I should’ve thrown out before I left town (bad.) There’s a fabulous little organic grocery store in my new neighborhood, but “fabulous” and “organic,” when applied to “grocery” and “store” means yams are $5.00/ea. Close to that, anyway. I consulted the oracle and found a Giant supermarket close to my building.

Apparently, I had my Google Maps set to¬†Hermes; what I thought would be a twenty-two-minute trip was at least double that. The Giant really can’t be the closest supermarket to me but these are the misadventures you have when you live in a new place. You have to go to the wrong places to find the right ones.

I’m walking along (and along) the sidewalk in a pretty neighborhood. I’m sweating from the humidity and sun. And coming from the other side of the street —¬†casual as anything —¬†steps a deer. Large deer. Deer with antlers.¬†This deer walked into the street and was therefore about ten or twelve feet away from me. Seeing each other, we stopped in our tracks. The deer looked at me and I looked at the deer and for a moment I wondered, “Do deer charge humans?” and I felt fear. We looked at each other for a good 2.5 seconds; I’ve replayed the¬†encounter many times and believe that’s correct.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I thought. It was right there. Wildlife in the city and we were crossing paths. The deer — surely feeling fear, wondering if humans charge deer — took a running leap over a high fence into someone’s yard where I presume he began munching begonias.

There was a FedEx truck way down the hill who might’ve seen the deer up ahead. I tried to make eye contact with him as he passed. I opened my eyes wide to communicate, “What the —-?!” but I didn’t get an appropriate response, so I don’t think he saw it. This was a me-deer thing.

I’m not so sure power animals are real, but that was mighty powerful.

Bad Day! No!

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting 0
I know, little dude. Photo: Wikipedia, 2007.
I know, little dude. Photo: Wikipedia, 2007.

Yesterday was not a good day. It finished well, but it got off to a terrible start.

The terrible day began the night before, which¬†seems unfair. I can share the following detail because a) I cannot remember the last time¬†I did¬†what I did and b) it’s pertinent to my tale of woe:

I was extremely¬†hungover when I woke up.¬†Why was I hungover? Because I was on a painfully lousy date the night before and it was so very, very lousy,¬†I had two Sidecars¬†and then¬†basically¬†chugged a snifter of armagnac. I also attribute my wild behavior to needing some kind of release after taping 40 shows in nine days:¬†27 Quilty, 13 Love of Quilting. Whatever the reasons, that is far, far too much liquor for me and probably anyone except Frank Sinatra. And in case you’re not aware, armagnac — which for our purposes here it’s essentially cognac —¬†is not to be swilled. It’s a beautiful thing, a strong¬†treat after dinner that is best¬†shared (slowly)¬†with another person over dessert. Part of the pleasantness of cognac or armagnac is that it’s served in a snifter, a¬†footed glass with a wide bowl so that your hands warm the liquor as you take small sips. Did I warm my armagnac? No. Did I share it? No. This was foolish, but sometimes a girl just is and that’s that.

When I woke up, I woke up at four in the morning. I drink rarely because I can’t sleep for poop when I do. It’s not worth it. But my eyes blinked open and I felt wide awake and super grody. When was the last time I was hungover? For the life of me, I can’t remember.

Then, I looked at my bank balance. Not so great. Then I made blueberry paleo bread and it tasted amazing but was so raw in the middle, it was soup. Then I realized I forgot to pay rent this month because I have not been home in two weeks. Then I felt disturbed and scared about a pain that has developed in my abdomen around my ostomy scars. Then I did something that will make all the quilters in the audience gasp and possibly cry. I know I did both.

I washed my favorite quilt, “Whisper,” which is all-white. I neglected to take the hanging sleeve off the back. The hanging sleeve was attached by someone at a show where the quilt was on display and it¬†was made with a multi-colored marbled fabric. The sleeve was not at all colorfast. And my beautiful quilt is now pink.

I know.

Not all of it. The top fourth. I wept. I crossed my arms, dropped my head, and cried. Pardon my French, but goddamnit. I travel this country and advise quilters about how to properly wash quilts. As the former editor of a quilt magazine and the host of several how-to quilting shows, I know, should know, how to properly wash a quilt, and I do. But I overlooked the sleeve. And now “Whisper” is kinda sorta ruined. The good news is that it’s immortalized in my book and will still keep a person warm. Maybe I’ll offer it for sale, on sale.*

We all make mistakes. We all have depressing dinners. We all take too much punch from time to time. And we take punches. I am well aware that my bad day could’ve been far, far worse (e.g., receiving a shattering diagnosis, receiving a life-altering phone call, etc.) but when I saw those pink patches and my head was throbbing, I didn’t feel wise. I felt like the dog’s breakfast.

Today is better.

*The price of Hey, Blue is $1100.

Let’s All Hit Each Other In the Face More (PaperGirl Archive)

posted in: Day In The Life, Rant, Story 4
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little girl.

This post is from April, 2014. I had reason to think of it the other day and thought I’d repost. I’d tell you to enjoy but you can’t, really.

I’m in Iowa filming TV. Tonight, the editorial team and several of our guests went out to dinner.

Halfway through the day, I began to feel poorly due to my excavated intestines. I therefore didn’t eat much and had the opportunity to visit the ladies’ room at the restaurant several times over the course of our dinner. On one of those visits, something awful happened.

I was in the furthest stall from the entrance when I heard the door open. Laid out in a kind of “L” shape, I’m sure the bathroom appeared empty. Ambient noise from the restaurant slipped in and then faded as the door gently closed. The moment that it had, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone being slapped across the face.

Hard.

A brief pause. Then an intake of air, and a child’s wail came high, high off the mountain and down into a deep, anguished sob. Confusion and shock and pain came crashing down in a tidal wave in a bathroom in Des Moines, IA.

“What is wrong with you?!” a woman’s voice hissed. And there was a tussle, a shake.

My rage came up fast from my legs to the very bottom of my throat. It stopped at my throat because I was speechless with horror and disgust for the slapper and an almost frantic need to console the child and take her into my arms.

I burst out of the stall the moment the two were going into the first. Their door shut. As I passed them, slowly, I could see the child now sitting on the toilet with the mother standing over her. Her scuffed up sneakers were dangling off the side of the toilet. Even now, I can see their little velcro straps.

My jaw was clenched so tight I might’ve shattered all my teeth.

“Where did you learn to make faces like that at Mommy?” the woman asked, now with a sticky, simpering tone in her voice. She screwed up, see. She thought the bathroom was empty. Now that she knew someone was there and had heard her hit her kid in the face, she was a little nicer.

The child wept. Plaintive, pathetic weeping. She was trapped. I stood at the sink and looked through my reflection in the mirror. I had to do something. I had to.

Once again I find myself, a single woman with no children, opining about parenting. I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about raisin’ up a chile; most ideals and proclamations about how I’ll do it someday are so much talking. But the argument that I know zero about childrearing because I presently have no children goes only so far. I am a human, and children are humans, so I’m qualified to take a position. You can’t be angry when you punish a kid, goddamnit. You calm yourself down, you get a hold of yourself, and then you figure out the negative consequences for that kid’s bad behavior. Never, ever punish out of anger. Is this not true? Is this not a stance I can take now, as a woman who has yet to hold her own baby?

So I’m standing at the sink in the bathroom, mentally eviscerating this kid-hitting woman four feet from me, and I remember a story my friend Lisa told about a similar situation she found herself in. She was on the subway in New York and this guy was roughing up his girlfriend. Really talking menacingly to her and smacking her around. Lisa was enraged. She was panicking. She needed to stop it, to say something to the guy. But she didn’t. Ultimately, she didn’t because, as she had to so horribly reason out, it might’ve made it worse for the woman later.¬†The monster on the subway was maybe at 60%; at home, after an altercation on the train, would he hit 79%? 90% monster? What will monsters do at full capacity? Lisa burned and was quiet and told the story to me later, as upset at the time of telling me as she was that day on the train.

No, I wouldn’t speak. I wouldn’t make it worse for that little girl when she got to the comfort — the comfort — of her own home. But then I did do something. Something else that took me as much by surprise as I hope it took the monster.

Alone with them there in the bathroom, I smacked my right hand against my left. Loud. I made perfect contact with the one hand on the other: a loud crack sounded in the bathroom, bouncing off the tile and the linoleum. The talking in the first stall stopped. The sniffling ceased. I could almost see the confusion on the woman’s face and the “Wha?” on the kid’s.

I waited for total silence and then I did it again: crack! A crisp, violent sound.

In that moment, I might as well have been a professional sound effects person, paid thousands to come into a recording studio to capture the exact sound of someone being smacked across the face. Luck was on my side; if I tried to make that sound just so, right now, I might not be able to do it. But tonight, it was exactly what I needed it to be.

The slap hung in the air like a gun had been shot. I could tell no one in that first stall was breathing. The mother was surely, totally weirded out. The daughter, I don’t know, but at least for that moment her nasty mother wasn’t in charge. Of anything. I sent a silent, psychic message of love and hope to the little girl and then left the bathroom.

I had to run this story past my mom. Until I did, I wasn’t sure if my slap sounds were completely insane or if they were effective in breaking the evil spell that had entered the ladies’ room. Mom, who cried with me when I told her about hearing that little girl get hit, said she thought it was a great move. So there you go. We have an actual parent weighing in on how to do these things.

Don’t hit your kid in the face. That’s just a suggestion. But here’s another one: if you choose to hit your kid in the face in a public place, you are in my world. And my world might be kinda weird, but your kid is safer with me than she is with you.

 

Relocation Options: Option Three, “Variety Pack”

posted in: Day In The Life, Travel 0
I wanted a picture that communicated "variety pack" and all I got was this terrifying picture of donuts emerging from cups of flavored coffee.
I wanted a picture that communicated “variety pack” and all I got was this terrifying picture of donuts emerging like Swamp Things from cups of flavored coffee. Also, nothing in this picture is anything you should accept into¬†your mouth.

After eliminating Iowa and Wisconsin from my list of relocation options, and knowing without question that I cannot stay in New York or return to Chicago before mid-June, I face a selection of further possibilities. For a woman with boundless curiosity, no children, and work she can do wherever there is an Internet connection, this list of options might be overwhelming. But I am not overwhelmed because I have very real limitations to consider:

1. I don’t have a car and really don’t want to get one. This rules out a number of extremely cool places, I realize. I’m sure there are folks who live in these places with no car, but for me, looking at this six-month chunk of time before me, I am desirous of a decent public transportation system. Without a metro pass in my wallet, I feel kinda naked.

2. I am a gimp. Several people have — wildly, imaginatively, fabulously — suggested Paris! Dublin! Rome! and these would be fantastic places to go for six months, but I can’t play fast and loose (or foreign) with my health situation. Trying to explain to a Parisian ER doctor that I don’t have a colon and that I might be dying would be difficult, as I do not speak French.¬†It would also be frowned upon, I think, if I asked to Skype into my¬†upcoming teaching gigs and lectures here in the States. Why aren’t people into that?

3. I do like a city. One offer came through for a cabin in Kansas that was so darling and serene-looking¬†that I nearly¬†wavered¬†from my plan. (You do know that I have known for some time what I’m going to do and that I’m¬†unspooling it day by day to torture you, right? Excellent.) But not only do conditions No. 1 & 2 prevent anything too remote, I need the action of a city, the hum of it. I am a person who writes things and likes the opportunity to occasionally read those things onstage. I like a selection of libraries and natural food stores. I like cracked pavement and a skyline. Yes,¬†I could go full Annie Dillard or Thoreau and¬†tap into the hum of nature (probably louder than any city, I realize) but I need to save Walden for my fifties.

So what do these restrictions cancel out? Places icluding, but not limited to:

Anywhere not in the continental U.S.
Most of California*
Walden Pond
Asheville
Nashville
Butte

Let’s recap. For the next six months, I need a U.S. city with a great public transportation system, good hospitals, a vibrant lit scene (including, for example: live lit events, book things, readings, lectures, libraries, etc.) cool architecture, interesting people to observe, and more space than New York City so that I do not bite anyone.

Can you guess where I’m going next month?

*San Francisco fits the criteria but its¬†cost of living is equal to NYC. It pains me to eliminate it,¬†but that’s out.

My Life As Alabaster.

John Hoppner, "Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita." Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.
John Hoppner, “Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita.” Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.

I do not tan.

Oh, how I’ve tried. In my twenties, like so many undergraduates, I donned¬†those weird winkie¬†things¬†and lay¬†back in tanning beds — not enough, I¬†hope,¬†to wreak significant¬†UV damage. (I knew better and it never worked for long, anyhow.)¬†But I didn’t stop chasing a tan, no way.¬†I’ve bronzed. I’ve lotioned. I’ve spray-tanned a few¬†times. But the fact of the matter is, my half-Viking, half-Scots-Irish self ain’t gettin’ nut brown for long. I am a pale thing.

When I’m in yoga,¬†my near-albino-ness is¬†more evident¬†than usual. There’s more of my skin to see in the yoga room; in Bikram, you’re one sweaty strap away from¬†nude. Even in winter, when most yogis¬†are not actively tan, I stand out in the room as though there were a beam of moonlight shining on me. This¬†observation is not clouded (milky?) by the fact that I’m commenting on my own body¬†and it’s hard to be objective about oneself. No, it’s¬†really true that I’m vampiric compared with everyone else in the room.

All through school and into my adult life, my palest pale skin was a source of shame¬†for me. I was enraged that I couldn’t manage to¬†turn¬†more than barely-toasted marshmallow for more than a couple days.¬†All these honey-colored girls¬†seemed¬†to prance about¬†without a care in the world from May to September, their bare, sun-kissed shoulders tossed insouciantly at recess. Then the girls became women and were effortlessly¬†tan at parties, at bars, at charity events.

But growing up is highly recommended. As years go by, you (hopefully) start to care slightly less about such surface things, or maybe you start to love yourself more. Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting more people — because the more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet people who are totally into what you’ve got going on. That’s the best discovery¬†of all. Being told that my pale skin is pretty, even beautiful,¬†is a great way to get over it. Someone told me my near-translucent skin was “gorgeous” once and that very day I stopped feeling like a cocktail shrimp.

Whatever physical difference you’re annoyed about, don’t forget for a second that¬†there’s someone out there who thinks you are seriously hot precisely because of the thing you’re freaking out about. There’s someone out there who will howl at the moon¬†for you and try very hard to take you out/kiss you/marry you/etc. because you’re so unique. Trust me on this. I don’t know a lot but I know this is true.

And so today, in beautiful New York City, as all the Soho fillies passed me by in¬†their short shorts, enjoying their Coppertone souls, I donned a cute, lacy white dress I got at Neiman Marcus that perfectly matched my pale skin. I turned a few heads, too.¬†Probably because the sun actually glinted off me.¬†That’s what sunglasses are for, people.

Let’s All Hit Each Other In The Face More.

posted in: Family, Rant 19
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.

I’m in Iowa filming TV. Tonight, the editorial team and several of our guests went out to dinner.

Halfway through the day, I began to feel poorly due to my excavated intestines. I therefore didn’t eat much and had the opportunity to visit the ladies’ room at the restaurant several times over the course of our dinner. On one of those visits, something awful happened.

I was in the furthest stall from the entrance when I heard the door open. Laid out in a kind of “L” shape, I’m sure the bathroom appeared empty. Ambient noise from the restaurant slipped in and then faded as the door gently closed. The moment that it had, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone being slapped across the face.

Hard.

A brief pause. Then an intake of air, and a child’s wail came high, high off the mountain and down into a deep, anguished sob. Confusion and shock and pain came crashing down in a tidal wave in a bathroom in Des Moines, IA.

“What is wrong with you?!” a woman’s voice hissed. And there was a tussle, a shake.

My rage came up fast from my legs to the very bottom of my throat. It stopped at my throat because I was speechless with horror and disgust for the slapper and an almost frantic need to console the child and take her into my arms.

I burst out of the stall the moment the two were going into the first. Their door shut. As I passed them, slowly, I could see the child now sitting on the toilet with the mother standing over her. Her scuffed up sneakers were dangling off the side of the toilet. Even now, I can see their little velcro straps.

My jaw was clenched so tight I might’ve shattered all my teeth.

“Where did you learn to make faces like that at Mommy?” the woman asked, now with a sticky, simpering tone in her voice. She screwed up, see. She thought the bathroom was empty. Now that she knew someone was there and had heard her hit her kid in the face, she was a little nicer.

The child wept. Plaintive, pathetic weeping. She was trapped. I stood at the sink and looked through my reflection in the mirror. I had to do something. I had to.

Once again I find myself, a single woman with no children, opining about parenting. I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about raisin’ up a chile; most ideals and proclamations about how I’ll do it someday are so much talking. But the argument that I know zero about childrearing because I presently have no children goes only so far. I am a human, and children are humans, so I’m qualified to take a position. You can’t be angry when you punish a kid, goddamnit. You calm yourself down, you get a hold of yourself, and then you figure out the negative consequences for that kid’s bad behavior. Never, ever punish out of anger. Is this not true? Is this not a stance I can take now, as a woman who has yet to hold her own baby?

So I’m standing at the sink in the bathroom, mentally eviscerating this kid-hitting woman four feet from me, and I remember a story my friend Lisa told about a similar situation she found herself in. She was on the subway in New York and this guy was roughing up his girlfriend. Really talking menacingly to her and smacking her around. Lisa was enraged. She was panicking. She needed to stop it, to say something to the guy. But she didn’t. Ultimately, she didn’t because, as she had to so horribly reason out, it might’ve made it worse for the woman later.¬†The monster on the subway was maybe at 60%; at home, after an altercation on the train, would he hit 79%? 90% monster? What will monsters do at full capacity? Lisa burned and was quiet and told the story to me later, as upset at the time of telling me as she was that day on the train.

No, I wouldn’t speak. I wouldn’t make it worse for that little girl when she got to the comfort — the comfort — of her own home. But then I did do something. Something else that took me as much by surprise as I hope it took the monster.

Alone with them there in the bathroom, I smacked my right hand against my left. Loud. I made perfect contact with the one hand on the other: a loud crack sounded in the bathroom, bouncing off the tile and the linoleum. The talking in the first stall stopped. The sniffling ceased. I could almost see the confusion on the woman’s face and the “Wha?” on the kid’s.

I waited for total silence and then I did it again: crack! A crisp, violent sound.

In that moment, I might as well have been a professional sound effects person, paid thousands to come into a recording studio to capture the exact sound of someone being smacked across the face. Luck was on my side; if I tried to make that sound just so, right now, I might not be able to do it. But tonight, it was exactly what I needed it to be.

The slap hung in the air like a gun had been shot. I could tell no one in that first stall was breathing. The mother was surely, totally weirded out. The daughter, I don’t know, but at least for that moment her nasty mother wasn’t in charge. Of anything. I sent a silent, psychic message of love and hope to the little girl and then left the bathroom.

I had to run this story past my mom. Until I did, I wasn’t sure if my slap sounds were completely insane or if they were effective in breaking the evil spell that had entered the ladies’ room. Mom, who cried with me when I told her about hearing that little girl get hit, said she thought it was a great move. So there you go. We have an actual parent weighing in on how to do these things.

Don’t hit your kid in the face. That’s just a suggestion. But here’s another one: if you choose to hit your kid in the face in a public place, you are in my world. And my world might be kinda weird, but your kid is safer with me than she is with you.

 

When Wine Goes Bad.

posted in: Art, Food, Rant 7
Very nice, as beverages go.
Very nice, as beverages go.

We all have fanboy moments, geek-outs, obsessions. I sure do.

We identify ourselves vis a vis our preferences and interests. This strikes me as normal and healthy. It starts early, when as kids we swear allegiance to either chocolate or vanilla, and it goes on from there: consider¬†Trekkies, (who get picked on more than is probably necessary) or model train collectors (who wish they’d get picked on more.) There are cupcake fanatics and Twilight fans and¬†many millions of quilt geeks out there, with whom I proudly stand.¬†Even choosing¬†not to be a fan of¬†anything¬†is an identity choice; the antifan, the independent — this is a (paradoxically) popular option. It’s human to seek our bliss, whatever it is, and as long as no one is doing harm, I support bliss-finding of all kinds.

But let us linger on that “doing harm” part.

While I was sewing the other night, I watched a documentary about sommeliers. Somm, made in 2012 by director Jason Wise, followed four American males over the course of a year as they studied and then sat for the Master Sommelier exam.

The Master Sommelier exam is “an almost impossible to pass” test administered once a year by the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are three parts to the test, all more torturous than the next: there’s the theory part, where the subject must be able to do something outrageous, like correctly predict the temperature on a typical day in May in some ancient Mediterranean terroir; there’s the blind tasting, where the quaking, shaking young man or woman must suck down multiple mystery wines and accurately answer what they are and where they’ve come from, down to the vintner and the year; and then there’s the service portion of the test, where these pour (sorry) souls must execute pitch-perfect wine service to people who aren’t real customers, but the members of “the Court” who are actively trying to make them fail.

The exam is an exercise in absurdity. Only 135 people in 36 years have passed this course.

The four guys followed in the film were open and honest about how studying for the test had all but ruined their respective relationships — and their girlfriends concurred. The test created tension between the friends, took its toll on their bodies (no sleep, lots of wine, mega-anxiety) and though it wasn’t a major focus of the film, I can only imagine the economic impact of the experience on a Masters-bound somm. Most take off work to study full-time, and to try all these fancy wines one must eventually purchase them, I assume? And the Knights of the Court of the Round Table of Master Sommeliers of Camelot’s Men don’t administer the test for free, naturally: it’s $325 to register, and you have to get to the city where it’s held, find someplace to stay, and you’d better be rocking a killer suit when you show up all shaved, haircutted, two-bitted, etc.

I was more than a little grossed out by all this.

Though it cannot be denied that fine winemaking — “vinification” if you’re nasty — requires skill, craftsmanship, innovation, and a hell of a lot of work, at the end of the day, you’re gonna pee this stuff out. I apologize for being crass, but this is the reality of any beverage.¬†Does good wine taste delicious? Oh, yes. Does it make you want to sing and make art? Totally. If you choose the right bottle on a date, are you going to impress the waiter and up your chances of getting lucky? You just might, Johnny. And these are all good things that you can’t get from ordering a Coke.

I also want to give props to people who know wine. Full disclosure: I dated a sommelier last summer. He has risen through the ranks of the Chicago restaurant scene, he’s extremely skilled in his job and he’s passionate. That’s cool; he’s not the problem.

It was the level of obsession and elitism on display in¬†Somm¬†that made me want to order a Mr. Pibb in pure defiance of a world that creates such monsters. I would’ve ordered a damned¬†Diet Rite¬†if I could’ve, and popped the lid with a flourish reserved for a pricey sauterne. When I watched one of the guys say, in a kind of trance, speaking-in-tongues state over a glass of white, “This wine is bright, this wine is clear, this wine is from the Loire Valley; this wine is medium body, this wine has vanilla notes, this wine…this wine is freshly-cut garden hose,” I stopped stitching at my sewing machine, hollered, “Oh for GOD’S SAKE!” and threw my half-square triangle in the general direction of the screen.

The Master Sommelier Exam prides itself on being exclusive, but they’ve landed backward: these folks have shut mere mortals out so completely, they’ve made us the enviable ones: we can still enjoy¬†glasses of wine; they can’t. We can still get excited about a $30 bottle that we won’t describe much better than “really good” and we can move on after it’s poured to talk about other things that interest us, like…not wine. The tower they’ve built is all ivory, no stone. They can’t love the thing they love anymore because when you love something, you set it free.

(I don’t know how that works, either, but it was a perfect way to end that paragraph.)

Anything that can ripen can blight; everything, if conditions are right/wrong, can go septic. Find your bliss. But prune it.

The Canoodling Burrito: A Love Story

No.
No.

I found myself on a Chicago el train tonight, but I wasn’t supposed to be there. If my itinerary had gone as planned, I would be in Iowa.

After my gig in Cleveland, I planned to go straight through Chicago to Des Moines, no pitstop at home. (I’ll be in Des Moines for the next two weeks, filming Love of Quilting for PBS.) But when our flight was delayed (and delayed and delayed) out of Cleveland and most everyone missed their connections, I had an idea. I deplaned, slipping through the crowd of grumpy travelers to seek out a free Southwest ticket agent further down the terminal. I spied a friendly-looking blonde lady at gate A9 and went for it.

ME: (Exceedingly chipper, non-threatening:) Hello! How are you!

SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Hi there. How can I help you?

ME: Well! It’s cra-ray-zay! I was on Flight 313 from Cleveland and, you know, all that rain… Well, I have¬†not¬†missed my connection to Des Moines. I can absolutely make it. But the truth is, ma’am, is that I live in Chicago? And my home is here? And is there any way that I could, you know, go home to my condo tonight? Could I fly to Iowa tomorrow, instead? I don’t know if this is possible, but wow, would it ever be great to, you know… Could… My bed, and my…my bed.

SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Let’s see what we can do. (Clacks on computer. Pauses.)¬†We can do that. No problem. I can put you on a flight tomorrow. Morning or evening?

I nearly hugged her.

My luggage went onto Des Moines, but I didn’t care. It would be safe in the baggage room overnight, and who needs mascara, anyway?* I got a boarding pass for tomorrow and waltzed out of the airport. I was going home! I wasn’t pulling any heavy luggage! The words “footloose and fancy free” came instantly to mind. I did a little two-step on the moving walkway. I had visions of a glass of red wine, a book, and my glorious, glorious bed, which would be waiting for me with fresh sheets because I had thought to change the linen before I left town.

I made my way to the train platform. Orange Line to the Loop. Right before the train left the station, a couple came in and sat in the two seats directly in front of me. They were early thirty-somethings; white, preppy and well-groomed but not so wildly attractive that I thought I was looking at prom king and queen. There was actually a touch of nerdiness about them, but they were both dressed like they worked in PR or at Deloitte and Touche, whatever that is. It was abundantly clear that the guy had just arrived and the young lady had come to the airport to meet him.

Let me tell you that they were excited to be together. Very excited.

The pair were talking rapidly and kissing each other in between sentences, then in between words. When they first started this canoodling, I was filled with happiness: lovers reunited is a beautiful thing to witness. This feeling was followed hot on the heels by a terrible pain, however; Yuri is in New York and I am not and I wanted nothing more in the universe than to kiss my lover between sentences, too. (And everywhere else while I’m at it — hey-o!)

My self-pity didn’t last long, because the canoodling couple started to annoy me. They were talking a little bit too loud about the guy’s trip, for one thing. And these kisses were sort of anemic; his lips were squished into a droopy grape shape that he kept smushing into her cheek. And she’d be halfway through a syllable and stop to pucker up. It was like this:

GUY: Yeah, he’s doing great.

(Kiss.)

GIRL: Did your mom saying anything about the oven mitt?

(Long smooch.)

GUY: She loved it. Oh, Ronnie’s going to be in Chicago next month.

(Kiss.)

GIRL: Oh (Kiss)¬†that’s (Kiss)¬†awesome.

(Kiss.)

I pulled out my magazine and slumped down in my seat; I tried to get into an Atlantic article about helicopter parenting and fight the urge to wield, in this perfect of circumstances for it, one of the finest expressions in the English language: Get a room!! 

But then came the food. And I was too grossed out to do anything but cover my mouth and look out the window.

The kissing and cooing sounds were joined by the sounds of a food wrapper being opened. Cellophane or paper was being pulled down what I perceived to be a burrito. Now, between syllables and kisses, there was…chewing. Mastication. Food. She would take a little nibble of this burrito and then, mouth full, would peck him on the lips. Then he would talk a little more, bend his head over to take a bite, and then talk more, and then smush his grape lips onto her neck. I was horrified. I could not get the vision of refried beans and saliva and bed sheets out of my head. It was a physical reaction; I felt ill. When you’re on a train, the people sitting in front of you are right there. I was almost directly implicated. It was almost that kind of party.

This went on. We were close enough to my stop that I didn’t get up and move. I also realized immediately that this was PaperGirl material, so I hung on. I stole two glances: the first, to try and catch the guy’s eye to give him a cold, hard, “EW” look; that failed. The second time I looked up from my recoiled pose was to confirm that these two people were actually making out while eating a burrito. I’m glad I took that second look because guess what?

It was a Rice Krispie treat!

I brightened considerably. Well! A Rice Krispie treat! That’s sorta cute! I kinda like these two, I thought, and I no longer felt like I could barf. Rice Krispie treats are sorta like kisses themselves: sweet, kinda sticky, well-intentioned. It was amazing to me how different I felt about the situation I was in when the food changed from a stinky, cheesy burrito to an innocuous rice-and-marshmallow snack.

They probably went home and had a lot of sex.

*Me, a lot.

On An Uptown 1 Train.

This be the line.
This be the line.

After making buttermilk pancakes for Yuri this morning (I had some buttermilk leftover from the pie and not everyone likes pie for breakfast, astonishingly) I hopped out the door and into New York. I was headed to the Yarn Co. for a good chunk of sewing time and I felt like I was wearing wings, that’s how excited I was to be sewing-machine bound.

I took the L line to 6th Avenue and then got on the 1 going uptown. On one single train ride I saw three quintessential, only-in-NYC, New York City moments. Let’s revisit.

Moment No. 1
At 34th St., the train pulled in and opened its doors. I saw a drawn, junkie-looking white dude in a stocking cap jump the turnstile right in front of me. He jumped it, gave a fast look around and then bam! he punched the Emergency Exit door to the left of the turnstiles. Through the door came his junkie girlfriend, every bit as strung-out as he was, maybe more. The alarm went off the instant he hit the bar to open the door, but they were gone just as fast. Junkie love in the city.

Moment No. 2
A kid of about eight, I’d guess, was sucking on a pacifier with fake teeth molded into it. It was a joke pacifier, I guess? I didn’t know they made joke pacifiers. If you had told me they existed, I would’ve been hard-pressed to guess at the audience for such things, but now I know. Eight-year-old New York City kids on the subway to school. And she was like, “What?” when I looked at her and in a very good-natured, friendly way, laughed a little. It was funny! Whatever, kid. You got a driver’s license? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Moment No. 3
Almost to my stop, I noticed a woman repeatedly digging into her purse. She was with a friend, clearly frustrated that she couldn’t find something important in her overstuffed, large handbag. There were two MTA employees across from her. Both older gentlemen, they were just getting off work or headed there to start the day. Kinda scruffy, both of them; one Indian, one of indeterminate (to me) ethnicity. The one guy took his flashlight off his tool belt and held it out to the woman with the nicest smile. She was so grateful and took the flashlight, shining it into her purse. It probably totally helped her. I had to exit the train before I found out what happened, but that was awesome.

All on one trip to the Upper West. This be the city.

Mary Kate’s Book Report: Fahrenheit 451

posted in: Art, Rant, Word Nerd 2
The best part of Fahrenheit 451 is learning to spell "fahrenheit." Also, the awesome graphic designs for the book over the decades.
The best part of Fahrenheit 451 is learning to spell “fahrenheit”; also, the awesome graphic designs for the book over the decades.

Plenty of folks tell you what’s good and what you should like:

“This restaurant is so good, you’ll love it.”
“Have you seen that show? It is so good.”
“Oh, it’s a classic. It’s so good.”

You are smart enough to realize that a musician, say, can be very good at his or her craft and that this has nothing to do with the fact that you’d rather listen to two cats in heat for two hours than be subjected to that musician’s greatest hits. You are smart enough to realize that there is quality and there is preference, and these things don’t always meet up.¬†Look at the case of my mother and Frank Sinatra: she hates¬†him. She thinks Frank Sinatra was a creep and his ubiquitous music, now on repeat from beyond the grave, is like, ear-porridge for people in shopping mall food courts. I don’t like his music, either, but I argue (with Mom) that Frank Sinatra was a talented entertainer, and that this fact that cannot be disputed. He could sing, dance, act, and probably sleep with nine women in a single night: this was a person with gifts. You don’t care for the tone of his voice, fine, but he’s still remarkable. My mother will begrudgingly allow this position, but she will always, always announce that she hates Frank Sinatra and damn what everyone else says when the strains of “Strangers In the Night,” are within earshot.

I recently had an experience that confounded me vis a vis the quality/preference nexus, though. I tried reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and dammit, that book sucks.

I sincerely do not believe that my dislike for the book is an issue of taste or preference: this not a good book. The prose is weak. Darlings were spared right and left and the dialogue is not-believable.¬†The characters are one-note. And¬†Bradbury’s social commentary is woven through the tale about as elegantly as a rubber hose might get through a placement. “Books” are ideas, Ray, got it.¬†Okay, they’re symbols for people, too, I see what you did there. I tried three times to pick that book up and make it through, but I couldn’t. It’s a short book!

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian tale, set in a world where books are burned by the nasty Powers That Be because books inspire people to think for themselves, something that is bad for the PTB. In this sooty world, “firemen” don’t put fires out; they start them (an admittedly badass conceit.) The novel centers around protagonist Guy Montag’s uncivil disobedience and attempts to save a world that is almost entirely obliterated by the time he decides to do something about it.

But it’s just a cudgel of a story. Bradbury writes Montag as 100% savior material while everyone else is suspicious. There are bad guys and good guys and there’s hardly a whiff of “But whose side is that character on?” which is what I crave in a novel and crucial to a meaty story, in my view. Montag’s zombie of a wife is hardly necessary for the story, she’s so early written-off; her arc is non-existent. There’s an old professor who still loves books (oh, really? an old¬†professor still loves books? you don’t say!), and Montag’s fireman co-workers have names like Stoneman and Black, which is way, way too on-the-nose for me. That’s not a wink-wink from an author: that’s being cute. I don’t want cute. I want a good story, bro. [SPOILER ALERT] The book ends tidily enough, with everyone learning at least a little bit about themselves and the dangers of a Leviathan-style society. Wow! I didn’t see that coming. Except that I did, from the first page.

Perhaps the most damning thing I can tell you about¬†Fahrenheit 451¬†is that Bradbury kills off this young girl early on in the story, but when the film version was made, they changed her fate. Instead of dying, Clarisse goes and lives with the exiles, which is way, way, way better for the story. Bradbury was like, delighted and all-in on that massive change to his book, so much so that when he wrote the stage version of the story, he used that storyline, instead. That’s called a major re-write, dude. That’s supposed to come before your book is required reading in for freshman in high school from Santa Monica to Albany.

And that’s the thing.¬†Fahrenheit 451¬†is “so good.” It’s “a classic.” It’s won all kinds of awards and everyone has heard of it if they haven’t read it themselves. I bought a copy at the bookstore because I was like, “Dang!¬†Fahrenheit 451!¬†I’ve never read it and that is a shame. Time to set things right.” But I don’t like it and I don’t think I’ll finish it.

It is a good thing for a person to take up arms against a sea of hype. If you don’t think the ocean is beautiful, then don’t go to the beach for spring break. My mom hates Frank Sinatra and I think the case can still be made that he was “good,” but I am open to any arguments that he actually did suck. Staying open to revision and re-consideration, and being a proud skeptic: these are “good” things and I’ll argue that till I’m dead.

“It was a pleasure to burn” is not¬†a good opening line to a novel, Mr. Bradbury. It’s cloying and snotty.

 

“Dear New York: Love, Chicago.”

The Wabash St. bridge, going up to make way for a ship.
The Wabash St. bridge, going up to make way for a ship. No big deal.

“Dear New York:

I’m writing because I’m concerned about Mary.

When she left me to come see you she was guarded, uneasy about being away from me for so long. Six weeks is a long time, no doubt about it. She and I have been together well over twelve years, and though Mary travels extensively, even her longest trips are usually no more than two weeks; there loomed over us significant separation anxiety. Plus, who would get the mail?

She was also concerned because — though she had a serious crush on you for most of her life — Mary suffers from a mild case of New York City-induced low-level panic. The scale of you (huge) and your population density (dense) causes her to chew her lip and drink too much coffee when she’s with you for even short periods of time. It’s a mild case, but even so.

But that anxiety has disappeared. Her lip-chewing incident was last week and was an isolated event. Rather than feeling skittish, she’s relaxed. In place of the subtle “outsider” or “impostor” syndrome she has felt with you in years past, there is a wholesomeness to her experience so far and a peculiar calm — this is even with the pools of filthy slush she has to wade through, the constant honking on 1st Ave. and the really, really badly cut finger she has right now due to the cheap-a** drinking glasses in this furnished apartment that continue to break in her hands.

Mary is falling in love with you, New York, and this is not okay with me.

I am Chicago. I am her Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow. I am where Mary wrote poems for microphones. We became Neo-Futurists together. She is my lake beyond the slaughter yards. I reflect her in the windows downtown; I am her osso bucco; we have our own booth at Spiaggia. I’m leather, she’s lace. We read all the books, all the time, we have tea in the morning. We’ve gotten kicked out of bars and invited into libraries. Mary and I are involved, is what I’m saying, New York.

We have also recently renovated the bathroom and the kitchen.

While Mary’s with you and you hear her say things like, “I love it here,” or “I wanna move here,” please let me know. I will make sure to note the time and date of the sentiment and also be able to mobilize forces here to convince her to a) stop saying things like that entirely; or b) adapt the statements to something more like, “I love it here BUT I could never live here forever,” or “I wanna move here…but I’ll never give up my place in Chicago, the city of my dreams and where my heart is forever and ever, amen.”

I’m sure you understand. I simply can’t lose her.

With Regards,
Chicago”

 

The Cashmere Snuggie

"Oh please, please, please let me be a Balenciaga pre-season resort collection sweater one day! Please, god!"
“Oh please, please, please let me be a Balenciaga pre-season resort collection sweater one day! For the love of BAAAA. BAAAA.” ¬†— A Cashmere Goat.

Who among us (other than the vegans among us) can resist cashmere? The cold is punishing; the wool is combed. The chill is evil; the fibers are thick. My white cashmere turtleneck is in heavy rotation this winter and it’s starting to look ever-so-slightly dingy, like fresh urban snow. But as I only have a couple pieces of cashmere in my wardrobe, I have no choice: even dingy cashmere is better than boring old wool and infinitely more fabulous than some kind of sporty, wicking PolarTec. Oh, the humanity!

My pocketbook contains a dash o’ cash, a personal debit card, a business debit card, and only one credit card. That card is for a department store whose name rhymes with Schmacks Smith Flavenue. I have a very low limit on the card to keep me from getting into debt. I hate being in debt and simply won’t accept it as an option if at all possible. Though fashion often feels like an emergency, it usually isn’t and not worth going into debt for. Not for long, anyway.

But as cash flow is a little weird right now with the move to NYC, I thought I’d use my slightly-dusty credit card today for a purchase I actually needed. Charging something has its benefits and today’s errand was a good example. But o, sweet, mysterious Fate: whilst looking for that other item,¬†I found a full-length cashmere robe/nightgown/caftan thing so head-slappingly on sale I bought it faster than you can say “snorgle.” The garment is 100% cashmere. It’s pale-pink. It zips up the front. The only way it could be more adorable is if it had feet and a hood. I would’ve paid double if it had, but I’ve got it on as I type this and it’s working out just fine.

So that I don’t go to sleep — wait, wait. No. So I don’t drift to the Land of Nod on pale-pink cashmere gossamer wings thinking I allowed PaperGirl to be only about buying a nightgown, here are three fascinating facts about cashmere you should know. You really should, because check it out:

1. Cashmere comes from the soft undercoat of goats bred to produce the wool. Something like two-and-a-half goats are needed to produce a single sweater! That’s one reason it’s expensive. The other reason it’s expensive is because¬†this undercoat has to be combed by hand, in the spring, by men in newsie caps who smoke pipes and say, “Aye” a lot and drink dark beers at lunch.

2. Everything in No. 1 was true except the very last part about the men.

3. I would like some hot chocolate right now. Do we have any hot chocolate?

 

 

Record, Repeat, Dance, Advil.

Nicholas Kirkwood gold-studded chrome heel pump, pre-fall 2013.
How does this gorgeous pump translate to my fear of death? Read on! (Nicholas Kirkwood gold-studded chrome heel pump, pre-fall 2013.)

Every morning, I rise before the sun, make a pot of Earl Grey tea (milk and honey, please) and I write in my journal. I fill page after page with narrative just like this, except in the journal I gleefully put down every last nefarious, disgusting, turgid, and/or bodice-ripping detail. When I die, these books may be worth something, not because I’ll be Very Important but because there will always an interest in the market for steamy non-fiction, especially if that steamy non-fiction comes from a gal who enjoys making quilts.

These journals — there are thousands of pages by now — keep my brain in order and help me quash a deep fear: when I die, I will be dead and my life will be lost to the sands of time. I’m a realist, come on. Unless you’re a giant, a Mark Twain or a Queen Elisabeth, the average human gets maybe a couple generations of people who actually care that much that you’re not around. After they’re gone, you’re just someone in a photograph who “died a long time ago,” no different than all the zillions of people who existed before you showed up and then also died. Bleak? Oh, heavens yes.

I suggest keeping a journal.

Last night, I went out. Big and bold, dahhling. I wore very high heels with a very short dress and I had very big hair and a very small handbag. (These contradictions, they are fascinating — and smokin’¬†hot!) There was lip gloss, there was a sexy black jacket. There were multiple taxi trips due to epic venue changes throughout the evening. At the house party in Wicker Park, I did a shot. At Studio Paris, I was invited to join a party that had purchased bottle service and when I told one of the fellows inside the velvet ropes that I felt like dancing on the bar, he was enthusiastic about my plan and helped me up right away. At the dance club/bar in Lincoln Park, I just flirted and smooched on my man and that was maybe the best part. Well, that and the second Grey Goose and tonic. Hit the spot!

I tell you all this because this description, this chronicling of a night is proof that it happened. It happened to me. I did that. I may have a little baby someday and when I do, I will not be dancing on bars — not till the kid is eight or nine, anyway. Chronicling is important for nights in, too, and plane trips, and mornings in Chicago. A record of it all is proof of life and I am a person who demands proof, needs proof. Life is slippery; it’s easy to forget not just details but whole swaths of time, whole people, whole versions of oneself.

Though I frequently read through the journal in which I’m currently writing, the time isn’t right to pull out the entire catalog and start reading from, say, Oct 12-Dec 23rd, 2009. No, that will be saved for my old and wizened days, when my knees are shot from wearing high heels every day and my rheumy eyes drip tears onto the pages before I can even really cry about it all. I look forward to that, actually. (Not the rheumy eyes; the journal reading.) Really, I’m just following the advice given by Gwendolyn in Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest:

‚ÄúI never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.‚Ä̬†

Cheers, comrades.

Rejected.

posted in: Art 72

This post is for my quilters. My homies.

I whipped up a baby quilt top for the magazine to show in a Quilty magazine tutorial. “Whipped up” is a kind way to put it. “Threw it together on my way out the door” is a better way to put it. And I made some errors. No, really. Look:

Hm. Well...
Hm. Well…
WOAH!!!
WOAH!!!

I taped it up in a box, mailed it to Iowa. A week or so later, I got this email from the Quilty managing editor, whom I adore:

“Hi Mary —¬†We were getting ready for photography, and we noticed there were several places in the baby quilt top that you sent us that the seams don’t match up. While we are not trying to be the quilt police, we thought it was important to address this. We need to do very detailed shots of the quilt top and¬†we can’t photograph it without showing the places that are not aligning.¬†I can send it back to you if you are going to use it, just let me know.”

Oh yeah.

Here are a few things I think we can all take from this course of events.

1. Quilty (and all Fons & Porter titles) have high standards.
2. Just because you’ve made a passel of quilts, it doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes.
3. Slow down, cowgirl.
4. COWGIRL! I SAID SLOW DOWN!
5. Be kind to yourself.
6. Were you drinking?

I’d like to expand on #5 for a moment. When this happened, I had a mini-meltdown. It wasn’t a crying, kicking, screaming meltdown, I just had a horrified look on my face, silently wept for about 3 minutes, and felt like an utter and complete failure. Too much? Well, considering it was my birthday and considering the fact that I teach quilting on national television, I think I reacted appropriately.

But after that, I couldn’t let it go of how dumb I felt. That seam? That’s like, really off. It wasn’t the only one. And I didn’t even notice. Sure, I had ninety things to do, but so does everyone else, and besides: I had¬†that¬†particular¬†thing to do and I didn’t do it too well, did I? I felt like a sham. I felt like a fraud.

Several days later, when I was still hearing the word “fraud” in my head over and over, I finally did stop myself and say, “Self, this has gone on long enough. ‘Fraud’? No. Hasty? Absolutely. In need of some perspective? Without question.” It wasn’t an immediate turnaround, but over the course of the next few days, the stung subsided, mostly because I vowed to be nice to myself.

This post is not about vindicating my rejected baby quilt top. It absolutely should have been rejected. This post about vindicating yours.

I’m a writer/editor working in the quilt industry: I see a lot of quilts. I see quilts with problems, both in terms of workmanship and design. I see quilts that are technically flawless but utterly lack soul. I see quilts that would never make it onto the pages of a quilt magazine in a thousand years because frankly, they’re quilts only a mother (or a child) could want. These quilts are all made for a reason. Sometimes that reason is for fame and fortune, sometimes it’s for fun, and the majority of the time, it’s for love.

Look, I read the blogs. I watch the tempests swirl about modern vs. traditional, this sewlebrity vs. that one, the fans vs. the naysayers of the latest trend, latest winningest quilt. I most definitely see people going back and forth about technique. You’d think it was their very soul at stake, sometimes, and all anyone said was “squaring off.”

Release yourself.

If you’re going for publication or a job-job in the quilt industry, yes, you need to bring an A-game. But regardless of whether that’s a goal of yours, take the pressure off of yourself to be all things to all people, all the time. Maybe you’re more of a designer, not a blue-ribbon winner. Maybe every fabric combination you choose looks like the dog’s vomit, but MAN are you a crackerjack machine quilter. Can’t turn a binding that doesn’t look like it was chewed by your toddler? Well, fine, but your knack for solving Susie’s (and Joan’s and Polly’s) contrast problems make you the #1 go-to for such things while everyone else is scratching their heads.

Learn the craft. It’s more fun when you know how to do stuff well. Smart quilters say that again and again. I say it. But for heaven’s sake, be nice to yourself. I spent far, far too many hours in the dumps because I made one mistake and of course, I can’t make mistakes. Ever. Lemme tell you, learning to sew on national television was not easy and I thought I could weather any storm after that, but apparently, I can still be felled. And if the editor of a national quilting magazine can be rejected from time to time, you better not feel too bad about it, either, L’il Miss.

By the way, I just finished my latest top. ūüôā

Love,
Mar

photo
That’s more like it.

“I’ll Be Entertaining This Weekend.”

posted in: Plays 0
Woman with hat in Denmark, 1909. Photo: Wikipedia.
Woman with hat in Denmark, 1909. Photo: Wikipedia.

About a month ago, my sink was plugged up.

I emailed my building manager before going a business trip and she replied she had scheduled the fix. I came back several days later, late in the evening, and dropped into bed.

In the morning, getting my tea tray together, I found my sink still clogged. This was extremely gross and I was appropriately annoyed.

“Patricia!” I grumbled to no one and only half-awake. “Grr! This needs to be done immediately. I need my sink! Maybe she’ll send one of the guys up faster if I’ll tell her I’ll be entertaining this weekend.”

And there in my jammies, standing in the kitchen at 5 a.m., I began to laugh. Because the potential of “I’ll be entertaining this weekend” is comedy gold, if you ask me. Consider that “entertaining” is an adverb and a verb and play around with it. You will soon see the logic behind the following little play ‚ÄĒ and hopefully find it as funny as I did, writing it in my head while I made my tea. I threw my head back and laughed that morning, which is a great way to begin any day, especially when your sink is four days clogged.

That’s Entertaining
by Mary Fons (c) 2013

Woman: I’ll be entertaining this weekend.
Man: Oh will you be.
Woman: Yes.
Man: What are you gonna do, wear a lampshade on your head?
Woman: What?
Man: What do you plan on doing?
Woman: Well … I thought I’d make dinner.
Man: That’s it??
Woman:¬†(Confused.) What’s wrong with that?
Man: Little on the dull side of “entertaining”, don’t you think?
Woman: What exactly should I plan? A parade? 
Man: That would be something: a one-woman parade.
Woman: I can’t afford ‚ÄĒ Look, I don’t… A parade??
Man: Maybe you shouldn’t be entertaining, then. Why try?
Woman: You’re awful!
Man: I’m only saying that you gotta go big or go home, that’s all.
Woman: Pru and Barry are coming over. It’s not going to be the party of the century or anything. Just a group of friends.
Man: Don’t they deserve your best?
Woman:¬†(pause.)¬†Well…yes.
Man: Don’t they deserve to be entertained ?
Woman: I suppose they do.
Man: So get a band. A jug band or a fiddle band. Dance. Work up a routine. Really push yourself. Confetti. Do some bear work. To prove you’re entertaining, you gotta¬†entertain.
Woman: Confetti and bears.
Man: Absolutely. Costumes, confetti. You’ve thought of food already, and that’s good, that’s very good, but think: how can you use the food in your act? That reminds me: I’ve got a friend who trains poodles to walk upright. Want me to reach out? No, no. I will. Obviously, you have to sing. Loudly. Loud singing.
Woman: (Fumbling for a pen.)¬†Okay…
Man: Are you gonna tell jokes?
Woman: I hadn’t … I didn’t … I don’t know.
Man: You gotta. You gotta tell at least a few jokes. I know a ton, so I can help you.
Woman: I like jokes.
Man: Make sure you’re waxed and polished. Buffed to a shine.
Woman: I don’t think Pru and Barry care about th‚ÄĒ
Man: Oh-ho! Yes they do! People care about grooming.
Woman: I had no idea entertaining was … I didn’t realize how much it’s changed. Thank you, I’ll take your advice, I mean … God, I’ve got a lot to do.
Man: You’re welcome. I’m glad you said something.

Curtain.

The Joel Oppenheimer Gallery, The Peccary, and Me.

posted in: Art, Uncategorized 4
John Audubon, Collared Peccary - AUD501
Plate 31, Collared Peccary, by John J. Audubon. Image: Internet.

 

I pass by the¬†Joel Oppenheimer Gallery on¬†Michigan Avenue¬†at least a few times a week when I’m¬†home. It’s on the ground floor of the Wrigley Building, and for several years I didn’t go in because it appeared painfully fancy from the outside. The Wrigley Building, referred to as “the jewel of the Mile,” is a two-winged castle, Chicago’s Big Ben, a tribute to human potential and intelligence, it is among our finest hours as a city. A gallery worthy of space on the first floor of a building like this can’t help but be intimidating, but then I reminded myself one afternoon that the whole Wrigley empire was built on chewing gum. That day, I went in.

The Joel Oppenheimer Gallery, which is staffed by a small number of terrifically friendly people (including the handsome Sarah and Mr. Oppenheimer himself, who on the day I met him was wearing a snappy bow-tie I’ll wager is part of his daily¬†ensemble), specializes in John James Audubon prints. Did you have Audubon’s¬†Birds of America¬†in your house as a kid? We did. Kids are nuts about animals and drawings and drawings of animals and I remember poring over the illustrations in that huge book for hours, freaked out by what I considered ugly birds (vultures, and I was right) and delighting in the sweet ones (lo, the tufted titmouse!) All creatures great and small may be wise and wonderful but some are more wonderful than others:

I had my eye on a print in the window for so long and when greeted by the kindly Sarah on the day of a big sale at the gallery, I pulled the trigger. I love my art and I now love the gallery. On their website they say, “Inquiries are received with pleasure.” With pleasure! Note: Sarah’s desk is a bit foreboding when you walk in, all lacquered and finely turned, but her ever-present, generous wine glass of orange juice atop it quells nerves.

There’s one other piece I’m after. Something about life in the last few years has made me more open to a certain strain of ugliness. The jolie-laide¬†is cool with me, surely because I’m more of a realist than I ever was and there is comfort in looking at things the way they are and the way they are is not always soft n’ glossy. While I don’t plan to inquire to Joel or Sarah’s pleasure about any vulture renderings, I have been obsessing slightly about that guy up top. The warthog.

He’s huge. Several feet across and so tall. Where would I put him? The bathroom? Would I get ready faster in the morning? He couldn’t go into my bedroom; I’d scare my guests. Perhaps the hall, but he needs room to breathe. If the price is even within the galaxy of possibility for my budget (doubtful) I’d get him and figure it out later. Maybe he could go in the kitchen. He looks pretty hungry.

I like him because he’s ugly. I like him because he’s so ugly, he magnificent. He didn’t choose not to be a titmouse. He’s just a lil’ peccary, squalling and stomping, feral and powerful enough to go into any building, faster than me.

A Chicken, A Salad, A Chocolate Cake.

posted in: Tips 0
"Essayez les hu√ģtres des Rocheuses."
“Essayez les hu√ģtres des Rocheuses.”

When I moved into my condo, I chose not to get a washer and dryer.

There’s a hookup in my pantry (nearly typed “panty”) for this, but I have my priorities. These piorities include high heels, quality prosecco, and a refusal to allow enormous metal boxes to hold my pantry hostage. Besides, there’s a cheery, spacious laundry room in my building. Let the 21st floor have the metal boxes; my calves get exercise anyhow when I take the stairs with a hamper on my hip.

The best part of the laundry room is that there’s this magazine shelf. Done with your magazine, kindly resident? Put it on the shelf for someone else to enjoy! Give a magazine, take a magazine. This is almost worth my entire monthly assessment. On the shelf with astonishing regularity are¬†Town & Country, Vogue, W for heaven’s sake! I leave New York and Harper’s and Elle and though the magazines are not always current, it doesn’t matter. Is Town & Country¬†any more relevant to me now than it was in April of 2011? You see my point.

There are often, gloriously, issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetite, though these go fast. It was in a hastily grabbed March 2012 issue of Bon Appetite that I learned a simple, fascinating way to discern a good cook from a mediocre one. Ready for this?

Ask the chef to roast a chicken, make a salad, and bake a chocolate cake. That’s all you tell them. Here now, excerpts from the article by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer:

“You can tell a lot about a person’s cooking skills from these tasks. Take a roast chicken. First, there’s choosing the bird itself: Is it organic and locally raised, or one of those hormone-injected, bodybuilder-like things? Do the cooks rub the skin with butter, olive oil, or nothing at all? How are those trussing skills? Do they roast long and slow or high and fast?”

On salad:

“When they make the salad, what is the choice of greens–tender, crunchy, or both? How do they wash, dry, and store the leaves? Is the vinaigrette made with lemon juice or vinegar?”

And the cake?

“Even a simple chocolate cake requires some baking acumen, not to mention imagination. A sponge cake is really just two foaming batters folded together as the flour and cocoa are gradually sprinkled in. Visualizing those delicate batters, you can see and know how to carefully mix them together without deflating one tiny bubble.”

And so it is that I have a system for gauging my own cooking: In what manner do I roast a chicken? Just what is my chicken-style? If I have a signature salad, I can say with conviction that whatever it is, nuts are involved. As for the cake, I made a killer Sacher torte over the holidays last year and if I needed to impress, I’d do that again.

There’s a special feeling one gets reading words like, “rub the skin with butter,” “tender, crunchy,” and “two foaming batters” while doing a load of whites. To be learning and drying, well, it’s worth a nice roasted chicken for dinner, at least.

“You Open-Minded?”

posted in: Day In The Life 6
Le cheeps.
Le cheeps.

One day not long ago, I got very sick on an airplane.

As it turns out, something inside my body had ruptured. Is there any more terrifying word that “rupture”? So close to “rapture” you wonder if someone was joking. What ruptured wasn’t an appendix (there’s just one, right?) and it wasn’t my spleen, but it felt like I was dying when it happened. Considering my history of being quite sick for long stretches with ulcerative colitis and complications from it, I not only felt like I was dying, I recognized the feeling of feeling like I was dying and this made it all worse.

You need to know that this story has a happy, funny ending. But I have to tell you how bad it was before we get there because it’s part of how we get there.

I was bent over so far in my seat, clutching my abdomen, that my head was almost under the seat in front of me. White as freshly fallen snow, I vomited once, twice, almost three times, that’s how bad the pain was. When you’re involuntarily barfing from agony, you know something is very wrong. The people next to me shot out of the their seats (honestly, it was more to help and less because of the vomit, but the latter probably contributed) and before I knew it, I was laid out on the three seats and I heard over the PA, “Is there a doctor on board?” Really, they said that!

A man came up to me, looked extremely concerned, asked me if I might be pregnant, I squeaked out a “No, I don’t think so” and then I passed out a little. I say “a little” because I don’t remember anything else before suddenly being in a wheelchair at my gate with paramedics looking at me and writing things down.

I got pain medicine in my body and felt markedly better and really, the whole thing kind of cleared up pretty quickly, though I was bone tired. If you really want to know, which you maybe don’t but I’ll tell you because I don’t want to confuse you: I had an ovarian cyst. A largish one. And it raptured.

So then came Verda.

Verda was fifty-something employee of the Atlanta airport (ATL). Verda was charged with getting my gimpy self to my connecting gate. The paramedics, deciding that I was actually okay, cleared Verda to whisk me off. Whisk me off, she did.

“Honey,” Verda said, “You thirsty? You need a snack? Let’s get you something, honey, you’ve been through a lot.” She was a true Atlantan, a black woman, a mother with a southern accent. She wheeled me into a Hudson News and I was eye-level to the chips and candy.

“Get you some chips, honey. The salt will be good for you. You like potato chips?” I said that I did, sure, and reached for PopChips. Verda nearly smacked my hand.

“Mm, no, no. You want those?? Honey, get the regular. They’re better.” She grabbed a large bag of Classic Lay’s and put it on the counter. I got a Gatorade, too, and Verda got me her employee discount. As we moved out of the shop and into the stream of airport traffic, Verda began to talk. Totally unprovoked, she told me about her current situation. I listened with rapt attention and cracked the bag of Lay’s. She was right. They were way, way better than any PopChip and my body nearly screamed, “Oh God! Thank you!” when the salt and fat hit my tongue.

“Honey, I got problems,” Verda said. “I tell you what. This young man’s after me! Right here at work! He’s sayin’ all kinds of things. Honey, I’ll tell you right away: I’m a married woman. This young man, hm! he doesn’t seem to mind that, and I’m tellin’ him, ‘What do you want with some married woman!’ And child, I am twice his age! But he keeps after me and I just don’t know.”

“Verda!” I exclaimed, instantly all in, “What are you gonna do?”

“Nothin’! Nothin’ at all!”¬†We were passing through the C terminal¬†when Verda paused and lowered her head down to mine. “I ain’t the kind, but lemme tell you…” Pause, then with a keen eye on mine: “You open-minded?”

I nearly choked on a chip.

“Yes,” I said, swallowing, thankful I was faced front with Verda behind me; she couldn’t see my ill-conceived glee. This was the most brilliant code for “Can I tell you something I shouldn’t? Something of a prurient nature?” I had ever, ever heard.

“This young man, he’s sayin’ he’d like to do things. To me!” Another pause, then again, “Now… You open-minded?” I nodded vigorously. I am, after all.

“He’s tellin’ me how he’s gonna make¬†love to me and all this kinda thing. I have had it. I shouldn’t have listened to it for so long! And let me tell you somethin’ else: there’s another man trying to get after me, too! Now, he’s not as young as this young man, but I tell you what.”

“Verda!” I exclaimed, “You’re beatin’ them off with a stick!” I was halfway through the bag of chips. I never eat chips.

We got to my gate and Verda made sure I was gonna be okay. I sat slumped in my wheelchair till it was time to board. Wobbly, I got to my seat and the second leg of the trip was uneventful. I never told anyone about what had happened. I was okay and I would see my doctor, but no use in frightening the mother unit or the rest of the family needlessly.

I did tell several people about Verda, though, however obliquely. I just told about the “You open-minded?” part because it was so delicious. And now I’ve told you.

 

Touche, Soutache

posted in: Art 3

I cannot be denied: I am a lucky girl.

Several people in totally unrelated situations have said to me relatively recently, “I’d rather be lucky than smart any day.” The first time I heard this, I was appalled. How could anyone wish to be anything but smart? But if you apply it to business at least, it makes perfect sense. All the brains in the world won’t make your business succeed if the economy tanks or someone beats you to the patent punch. Ah, but if you’re lucky. If you’re lucky, there’s a snowstorm the day you debut your new + improved snowshoe and bam! Congratulations, old chap. Lucky trumps smart and you’re laughing all the way to the bank, except that it’s closed due to the snowstorm. It’ll be open tomorrow, don’t worry.

Anyhow, I am lucky to have found my current home when and where I did. It was a steal and it’s 100% perfect for me, not the least because I live close to the Chicago Art Institute. I can’t lean out my window and spit on it, not that I would, but it’s a pleasant 10 minute walk from my building which means that technically, it’s real close.

[Editor’s note: Sorry to digress, but I simply must share with you what I usually call The Chicago Art Institute, how I always see the words in my head: The Art Insta-Toot. It makes me laugh, you see, to call that venerable institution “The ‘Toot.” It’s like calling your beautiful daughter “Squirt” or the Hadron Collider “Binky.”]

I strolled up with a friend to see the latest exhibit, “Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity,” and the whole thing just rocked my face off. It’s an astonishingly well-designed exhibit and I urge anyone who has it within their power to see it, see it. Please. It approaches life-changing. I took notes. I’ll likely revisit those notes again and again and you’ll have to hear about Manet and plackets and gouache from me, which is a dubious way to spend your time, but these things are up to you. Really, it’s wonderful and I commend the curators.

I learned a new word there at the ‘Toot: soutache. I saw this dress in one of the galleries and thought, “Hey! I know that motif! It’s in quilts!”

impressionism-fashion-and-modernity-metropolitan-museum-of-art-new-york-california-literary-review-1362408763_b
Day Dress, American, 1862‚Äď64
White cotton piqué with black soutache
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

On the card next to this stunning garment was a note about how the “soutache embroidery.” I immediately thought of a sort of quilt, which, while it has variations and even different names depending on regions, makers, etc., is called “Lover’s Knot”:

Red and white Lovers Knot
Antique Lover’s Knot quilt
Maker unknown, 1900s.

 

See what I mean? The motif of interlocking, geometric loop-de-loops is clearly shared. So I thought, “Well heck, maybe soutache¬†is the name for that motif. Maybe that interlocking pattern of lines is called soutache.”

It’s not.

Soutache¬†is “the narrow, flat ornamental braid used to trim garments.” So it’s the trim, not the design of the trim. But that’s okay. I still learned the word. And it got me thinking about all the connections in textiles that exist. We human beings, we just love to make things. And from the prairie wife to the Parisienne, well, we love beauty, too. It was a neat connection to make in my brain and it made me feel so happy to be a person in the world who gets to see all the these beautiful creations mankind has wrested from the earth.

Toot if you love art.

[toot]