The Dog On The Plane.

Standard Australian Shepherd. Photo: Wikipedia.

Standard (but clearly perfect) Australian Shepherd. Photo: Wikipedia.

There was a service dog on my flight from Sacramento to Chicago on Tuesday, a miniature Australian Shepherd with brown, white, and black fur. His owner was a man with disabilities I could detect but not define. There were certain limitations in his movements, mannerisms that implied a condition that inhibits his ability to move through the world in the breezy way so many others do and don’t think about, don’t have to think about.

The Shepherd had permission to sit on his owner’s lap and I was sitting across from his owner. This means the travel gods were smiling on me that day because how can you have a bad flight when there’s an I’m-gonna-squeeze-you-you-so-cute puppy across the aisle? On top of that, I had a coupon for a free adult beverage because at this point I’m putting Southwest Airlines employees’ kids through college and they give me drink coupons to say thanks. You’re welcome, guys. Merlot.

I know better than to try and pet a stranger’s dog without asking and I certainly know not to reach for a service dog without permission. But when we were delayed on the runway for another ten minutes and everyone was sitting around bored, I figured it would be okay to ask if I could pet the dog.

“Yes, you can pet him,” the man said, friendly, his speech staccato. “His name is Cody.”

I put my hand out gently for Cody to sniff it and then, having been accepted, I petted that sweet creature and felt every tense cell in my body melt. I don’t love all dogs — I’m mightily afraid of most big dogs, in fact — but there are magical dogs in this world. Cody was one of them. Mild. Kind. A honey of a animal. Which made it all the more painful to watch him as we took off.

The captain announced we were next up for departure and the engines started revving. Cody began to pant. He whipped his head around, scared at the noises: the fans, the announcements, the wheels, the machinery in the belly of the beast. I never realized just how noisy it is when a plane begins to take off; it’s loud in there. Cody’s brow displayed intense fear. He never whined, but he shook and shook, trembling so hard his owner had to hold him tight to his chest to keep him safe.

My heart ached. I don’t know why it was so hard to see it, but when Cody plunged his head into the crook of his owner’s arm to hide, to make it go away, there were tears in my eyes. Life is terrifying. Oh, it’s grand and it’s great but it’s terrifying — and that grand, great stuff can be as terrifying as the rest of it. The man told me later in the flight that Cody was attacked by pit bulls a couple years ago and was still traumatized by the event. He said Cody didn’t use to be so nervous.

Landing was tough, too. But when we deplaned, a little girl of about six was at the gate where we came out and squealed with pure joy when she saw Cody. She ran up to the owner and asked if she could pet the dog. As I passed them to head toward baggage check, I saw the little girl love Cody completely and totally, smiling, welcoming him to terra firma with no idea how happy Cody was to see her.


A Jar of Peanut Butter and a Mouse.

Peanut butter is love. Image: Wikipedia

I figured an image of peanut butter would be more welcome than one of a mouse. Image: Wikipedia.

I’ve come to Iowa for the America Quilts EXPO show in Des Moines. Usually, when I’m in Iowa for quilt-related business I’m taping TV and I’m here with only Mom, my stepdad Mark, and Scrabble. This time, my sister Rebecca and my brother-in-law Jack are here too! They’ve come to work on the movie theater and host a special screening of the John Wayne classic The Searchers up on the town square on Saturday night. (If you’re in the area, you must come down; I’ll post details on my Facebook page.)

We all crammed ourselves into a booth at the Northside Cafe for dinner tonight. Between spoonfuls of chili and glasses of white wine, we reminisced about how Jack and Rebecca got together because it’s basically their one-year anniversary. We talked about how we have peanut butter and a mouse to thank for their love. Yup: a peanut butter and a mouse.

Jack knew Rebecca from work circles and when they met they connected instantly. They were just friends though, because Rebecca was already seeing someone. They kept everything on the level, but it was plain how excited they were to have met the other and every exchange they had was pure delight and intrigue. Jack began to bring homemade peanut butter to my sister’s office. (If that’s not a genius way to get the girl, you’re gonna have to help me know what is.) When Rebecca told me about her new friend Jack, her eyes sparkled. I didn’t think her boyfriend at the time was the right match at all so I was excited about the peanut butter — okay, I prayed about the peanut butter, if catch my drift.

One night in Chicago, I went to Rebecca’s apartment. She had come from roller derby practice and was real sweaty. We were talking at her dining room table when we saw a mouse run fast across the floor. We jumped ten feet in the air and landed on top of the table, pathetic in our terror. Not long after, we heard a terrible, terrible sound: the mouse was caught in a trap — set by the landlord, apparently — under the stove. But it was not dead. It was alive. The sound was horrible and these two extremely capable young women were somehow incapable of dealing with this dying-mouse-under-the-stove situation ourselves. Women and mice, man: it’s a thing.

Rebecca called her boyfriend to come help. But when she got hi on the line, he said “didn’t think [he] could make it.” It wasn’t that he was busy; he just “wasn’t sure” how he was supposed to help. When Rebecca got off the phone and told me this, I tried very hard to continue to support the relationship, but we were literally huddled on the dining room table in distress. I looked at my sister.

“What if you called Jack?” My sister looked at me. She nodded slowly. And in that moment, she knew what she had to do. She called, and Jack said he’d be over in twenty minutes. I insisted she change out of her sweaty roller derby clothes, comb her hair, and put on some lipstick. She thanks me to this day for that, but that’s just my way and what an older sister ought to do.

Jack arrived and went straight to the kitchen. He got down on the floor, eye-level to the mouse, and pulled that thing out. Then he took it out back and made sure that mouse went up to the big Swiss cheese wedge in the sky real quick. He cleaned up from where he moved the stove, he washed his hands. This was a good guy. This was the kind of guy my sister needed to have in her life and in the months and years that have followed The Night Of The Mouse, she and Jack have grown to be the most inspiring, hilarious, marvelous couple I know.

That was the night it really happened — and that’s the way it happened, too. Happy anniversary, you guys.

Home Economics: The Reckoning

Women's cookery class, Ohio State Normal College, 1913. Photo: Wikipedia

Women’s cookery class, Ohio State Normal College, 1913. Photo: Wikipedia

When I was in junior high school, I experienced home economics class twice: the first section was for one half of one term my seventh grade year, the second for one half of one term in my eighth. That is not a lot of home ec, or “family and consumer science.” When you consider where I’m from — a rural farming community with a population of 5,000, a town with a county fair and a noon whistle — this may surprise you. Because when you look at the definition of home economics, what you find seems to square with the basic values of small town America:

“[Home economics is] the profession and field of study that deals with the economics and management of the home and community. The field deals with the relationship between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.”

Or maybe that’s not “small town America” stuff; maybe that’s everyone-on-the-planet stuff. What could be more important than studying how to make and manage a good home? That seems foundational to me. And ’tis a noble pursuit to examine “relationships between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.” Am I missing something? This all sounds like good stuff to teach a kid.

But in the 1990s — at least in my town — home economics curriculum was usurped by keyboarding and computer classes and scarcely any home ec programming survived. The kids didn’t choose to swap out home ec; the parents and the school board did. In order to compete in an increasingly tech-driven world, the adults felt kids needed to learn computers and they weren’t wrong. So unless you were in 4-H or FHA (Future Homemakers of America) you learned precious little in school about managing a household and a whole heck of a lot about the proper storage of floppy discs. I remember three projects we did in home ec: we made drawstring bag, we learned how to sign a check, and we made chocolate chip cookies.

I think deleting 90% of home ec curriculum was a mistake.* “Family and consumer science” is an umbrella under which so many crucial life skills could be taught. My mom did a great job raising us, but if I’d had more instruction in financial management I might’ve avoided being suckered into that college freshman credit card. I would’ve loved to learn how to bake bread, how to organize a community meeting, how to get a marriage license.

With more home ec, my classmates and I might’ve learned how to avoid the schemes of the grocery store designers (junk food at eye-level, dairy stocked at the furthest point from the door so you have to walk through the junk food to get to what you actually need); we might’ve gone on a field trip to a working farm, to an office building, to the community playhouse in Des Moines. We could’ve learned how not to yell at the customer service agent when we’re frustrated on the phone. I would’ve rolled my eyes like any dutiful junior- or high-schooler while all this was being taught, but I would’ve appreciated it later like I appreciate the rest of my public school education.

Ours is a service-oriented culture. We are no longer the manufacturing nation we once were. Rather than this being a reason to jettison home ec under the assumption that the world has changed so drastically “household” knowledge is at best old-fashioned and at worst obsolete, I see the shift as a reason to fiercely support home economics in schools: it’s a brave new world and we need to learn how to live in it. Besides: when you ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, the hot answers these days include chef, fashion designer, and business owner. Looks like cooking, sewing, and economics to me. Does it look like that to you?

If you sat with your mom and dad and absorbed their excellent time management skills, great. If you worked at a job from an early age and learned cash registers and bank drops, awesome. If your nanna baked cinnamon rolls and you became a mean baker by osmosis, wonderful. But many, many kids out there do not get this kind of teaching at home. It makes all the sense in the world that home economics classes in schools can close the gap on essential life skills like these. Even those who do come from a “civic duty” kind of family can always expand their knowledge of life skills. As a woman with no children I’m not sure how to affect change regarding this issue, but I feel passionately about it. Perhaps I’ll put a colander on my head and march through the streets banging a pot with a ruler, shouting:

“Viva la spatula! Viva la spreadsheet! Viva la home economics!”

*There are school systems out there with current, even robust, home ec curriculum. In my experience talking to many thousands of people across the US about this topic, however, it appears that home ec has dried up or completely disappeared in most regions.


The AMC “Dine-In” Movie Theater: Goodbye, Cruel World.

The "scene" of the crime! Get it? Scene? Like a scene in a movie? Oh, brother! I kill me! Photo: Me.

A: Claus’s feet, my feet; B. pinot noir; C. popcorn bucket; D. lights that had to stay on low through the whole movie because the waiters have to see where they’re going; E. peanut butter M&M’s, naturally. Photo: Me

I’m going to tell a story about Claus but I’m not being nostalgic.

Last weekend, I wanted to check out the fancy new theater up on State Street. The theater is new within the year, I think, though sometimes I’m the last to know about these things. It looks new: everything is shiny and the carpet is fresh-smelling. But that’s not all that’s going on at the AMC on State Street, oh, no.

This AMC features “Cinema-Suites.” What’s a Cinema-Suite, you ask? A Cinema-Suites is a place where you go to die happy. The official description is different; AMC decided to not include “die” in their messaging for some reason. Officially, “Cinema-Suites [offer] a grown-up atmosphere featuring in-theater dining, a full bar, and extra-comfy recliners. Enjoy handcrafted burgers, bowls, desserts, and more while you enjoy the show.” Oh, but, AMC! You’re being modest!

Here’s how it works: You get your ticket. You go into your theater. You are shown to your specific seat by an usher. You sink into the comfiest recliner into which you ever sank your tush. A table tray swings in from your right hand side. There’s a cup holder. There’s no bib, but you feel like there could be and that would be fine. There’s a button on the left side of the chair and when you push it, the chair begins molesting you in a friendly way, raising your feet up on the foot rest as it’s reclining you back. It’s not a massage, exactly, but it’s not not a massage. Then, just when you’re laughing with a tall German that this is so much fun and way, way too easy to love, a waiter — a real waiter! — comes and gives you menus.

There are delicious foods on this menu. Your waiter comes and takes your order and he will bring you what you ordered while you watch the movie. Hot food. Like a burger. Or a hot fudge sundae! Or — wait for this, you can’t believe this — popcorn! You can’t get popcorn at a concession stand because they bring you your popcorn on a tray. Is anyone else freaking out about this? Because I am not being sarcastic: this is amazing. I didn’t even want popcorn. I’m not supposed to eat popcorn. But I ordered some anyway because it was Claus and my last date and because they were going to bring it on a tray. A big bucket of popcorn on a tray, brought to me while I’m essentially lying in a bed, watching a Hollywood movie that cost more to make than the GDP of most of the world’s developing countries.

I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it’s a heckuva town.


Recipe: Clay-Baked Possum.

Young boy with possums, Blackall district, Queensland (or Louisiana) 1908. Photo: Wikipedia.

Young boy with possums, Blackall district, Queensland (but it could totally be Louisiana, too), c. 1908. Photo: Wikipedia.

My Aunt Leesa had dozens of her own cookbooks and then inherited many from my grandmother. Looking for a praline recipe this morning, we discovered Mary Land’s Louisiana Cookery (1954). Scanning the index, we found something unusual before we hit “Praline.”

There’s sweet intro copy before many dishes and then precious few instructions or measurements in the “recipes”; Louisiana Cookery appears to be a cookbook for those who already know how to make this stuff but need a reminder before they, you know, skin a possum. That’s right. “Possum” comes before “Praline” in Louisiana Cookery. The intro:

“A clear, cold night, baying hounds, and a flash of flambeaux form a picture dear to the Southerner’s heart. Treeing possums has long been a nocturnal sport with country folk of the Deep South. Whether it be the large Virginia possum, the small Gulf possum, or the long-tailed Texas possum, both the hunt and its reward are exciting experiences. If the possum is taken alive, pen and feed him for two weeks on milk, bread, and persimmons.” 

What have we have learned, students? “To tree” is a verb, and feed your possums persimmons for two weeks before you slaughter and eat it. Here I thought it was oranges! Oh, you southern cooks. You think of everything. 

Land offers five recipes for your now-persimmoned possum: Clay-Baked, Idle Acres Plantation Possum, Arkansas Style, Louisiana Style, and Possum Dressing a la Gowanloch. Here’s the winner in my view, though this one doesn’t specify what another does, namely, “Scald, dress, and pick hairs off possum.” Take out your notebook, here we go:

Prepare possum as for kitchen baking. Roll in a sheet of moist clay and cover with a bed of coals. Bake from one to four hours, depending on size and age of possum. Break away the clay and eat. (Serves six.)

I do love the idea of baking something in a clay sheet. But if I understand this correctly, when you break off the clay, you’ve got hot possum. That is not okay. But I have to be careful sharing my feelings about the attractiveness of these recipes; I once shared my distaste over another of my grandmother’s recipe books and received a well-that’s-a-bit-harsh note (my first!) from a lady who thought I was being disrespectful and rude, that if “[I] wasn’t grateful enough to appreciate it, I should send it to [her.]” I felt like I was pretty fair. I mean, there was olive jello loaf involved. My grandmother was great.

If anyone makes Clay-Baked Possum and serves it with olive jello loaf and takes a picture and sends it to me, I will… I’ll think of something good. Because you should win something for that.


Love, Overboard.

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, goofing off. Photo: Goldie Hawn's Instagram Feed.

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, goofing off. Photo: Goldie Hawn’s Instagram feed.

If you counted all the times I’ve seen the movie Overboard, and then added the number of times each of my sisters have seen it, and then added the number of times we’ve all seen it together, you would no longer be surprised as to how it is we can run the lines from Garry Marshall’s 1987 masterpiece from start to finish. You would understand how it is we can (and do) so frequently reference Overboard when we’re together, calling up scripted gems such as: “I just! Ate a bug!” or “Now Billy, when did we date?” or the perfect-for-every-occasion: “Roy?

The day we learned that Goldie Hawn and co-star Kurt Russell (mercy!) weren’t just “together” in Overboard but “together” in “real life,” we were floored. Really? They’re a couple in real life? It was like Joanna and Dean from the movie were actual people who actually met when Joanna hired Dean to work on her yacht and was mean to him and then she fell off the boat, hit her head and got amnesia, then worked off the money she never paid Dean because Dean pretended she was his wife except things didn’t go according to plan because he was slowly falling in love with Joanna who he pretended was “Annie” but then Annie/Joanna regained her memory and saw she had been tricked and he almost lost everything but then Joanna/Annie realized she loved Dean, too, and she was happier with Dean and the kids than being the old Joanna who was snotty and shallow. And they rode off on a boat together! Into reality!! What?!

In my experience, spending time on celebrity Instagram or Twitter feeds is extremely productive if what you’re looking to produce is post-postmodern anxiety and/or lassitude. But I make an exception for Goldie Hawn’s Instagram account. I love to check up on it. She never posts, for one thing, so right there it’s already a winner: I don’t want Goldie Hawn to be a social media addict. It’s not right for her. Nope, there are just fifty or so pictures of her attractive family, some archival shots from her long career in Hollywood, and a number of pictures of her and her husband, Kurt Russell, clearly in love after all these years. (See photo.)

She’s seventy. He’s in his late sixties. They’ve been together for three decades. I cannot impress upon you how much joy and hope this brings to me. We loved Joanna and Dean in my family. We still do. Joanna (really “Annie”) and Dean are together after all this time, having weathered the storms of fame, of scandal, of tabloid trash, plus the regular ups and downs of parents and two people in a marriage, period, and this calms me. Pictures are only pictures, I know. But Goldie and Kurt are plainly crazy about each other. Am I wrong?

Good job, you guys. Please, please let it be true that you run lines from Overboard sometimes, just for fun. Please. The only thing that makes me happier than your enduring love is the thought that at the breakfast nook every once in awhile you just:

Goldie: “What was I doing out in the ocean?”
Kurt: “That’s something you like to do, go fishing for oysters at night.”
Goldie: “Oysters in a cold ocean at night? That doesn’t sound like me.”


Meditations On Hand-Quilting (Love, The Quilt Scout.)

Mom's hand-quilted Tulips quilt hanging on the back porch at the lake house. Photo: Marianne Fons

Mom’s hand-quilted Tulips quilt hanging on the back porch at the lake house. Photo: Marianne Fons.

From where I sit in Sacramento, I’m about two hours away from the Pacific Ocean; if the breeze blows just right tomorrow, I might get some salt in my nose. Who doesn’t like that? I’m fourteen-and-a-half hours from Berlin, by the way. But I’m glad I’m at my aunt’s house. I don’t want to be in Berlin and I don’t want to be home right now, either. It would be hard tonight, being among all those objects that have now changed shape.

Tonight, rather than moping around or rubbing it in my auntie got us facials at the spa tomorrow (it has literally been a year since I had a facial) I shall direct you to the latest Quilt Scout column wherein I share my maiden voyage into hand quilting. This column has been up for about a week, actually; Quilts, Inc. has gotten a bunch of mail about it. I didn’t realize just how many hardcore hand quilters there are out there. I have been invited to join several groups already and I might do; if I bring the quilt and huge quantities of cookie bars to each group, I might get some sewing bee-style help and get that dang thing done by 2021.

The post is about memory, though, too: our first memories in life. What’s yours? What does our first memory say about how we see the world? My first memory, as I say in the article, is one of sitting on my mother’s lap while she hand quilted a wholecloth quilt. The resonance of her voice in her chest. The rocking of the rocking chair. That’s what the post is really about, I guess.

Tonight, feathers in the rocking chair to you all. Goodnight, friends.

We Don’t Wear Signs.

German stamp for social welfare, 1982. Image: Wikipedia.

German stamp for social welfare, 1982. (I like the roses.) Image: Wikipedia.

I leave Thursday morning. I’m going to California.* Claus will leave a couple hours after me on a flight to Berlin.

Very glamorous-sounding, isn’t it? California. Berlin. It would be glamorous if we were each on our own private jet. It would be glamorous if we were meeting up in Havana next week at midnight. We’re not. It’s the end of something and it cannot be denied any longer. Oh, you can give me a virtual knock on my chin and tell me that if it’s meant to be it will be — and I do appreciate it — but I’m cynical and jaded tonight. Any chance I had of being glamorous at all is gone with this grumpy look on my face. That’s me: grumpy and sitting in coach with a totebag. Somebody take my picture!

We went to the store tonight to get eggs. Claus’s omelettes are world-class and I wanted one more. We were standing in line for the checkout and I was leaning up against him. He had his arms around me. It wasn’t a yucky PDA; we just looked like a happy couple, or at least a couple that wasn’t actively mad at each other. So I’m hanging on him and thinking how it’s going to be to go to the store alone again, how it’ll be to not have a tall body to lean up against, and I’m pretty sure I saw something. I saw a gal in the line next to us looking right at us and she looked really bummed out. At best, it was a “Gee, that must be nice” look; at worst, it was an “I hate love” look. Whatever it was, when I saw her, she looked away quickly and bought her frozen peas.

I’ve been there. You see a couple all clingy and sweet and if you happen to be in a bad mood for whatever reason (especially for a love-related reason) you think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Must be nice. Get a room!” And if that’s what was going on with this gal, and I think it was, I wished I could’ve said:

“We look lovey-dovey, it’s true, but you don’t know what’s really going on. He’s leaving for Germany the day after tomorrow and we don’t know how to date across an ocean. We think we’re just going to go on with our own lives and see what happens if he gets a job here in the future. We’re too old to like, profess love in blood on notebook paper and send a bushel of postcards to each other every day. We’re going to try and hold this loosely, if that makes sense. Neither of us have done this before. And I’m turning thirty-seven this summer. It’s relevant, somehow, but that’s a longer discussion. Do you want to go get a drink, maybe? Just hang out? Talk stuff over?” 

Approaching the young woman and sharing this with her seemed like a lot of work, so we just paid for our eggs and green onions and walked home. She walked home. Everyone walks or drives home and you don’t know their lives. Appearances aren’t always what they seem and even if they are what they seem — a happy couple, being sweet on each other in the grocery line — there is always, always more to the story.

*I’m visiting my favorite auntie for a few days, full reports from San Francisco/Sacramento. It’s really good timing.

On Teaching Writing.

One day, I'll have a circular rug and a redhead in a hunter hat in my class. Until then, it's just tables and chairs. Photo: Wikipedia

One day, I’ll have a circular rug, long dangly earrings, and a redhead in a hunter hat in my class. Until then, it’s just tables and chairs. Photo: Wikipedia.

Back in March, I was asked by an accomplished and incandescently beautiful woman at the University of Chicago if I was interested in teaching some writing classes over there. I yawned and told her I was washing my hair but that yeah, maybe that would work, and I told her I’d call her later that week. I forgot about it and then remembered and texted her, “hey u wat up. still want me 2 teach?”

Actually, that is not what I did. What I did was a backflip. I ran around the room and yipped like a dog. I levitated. Really? Teach at the University of Chicago? Teach writing at the University of Chicago? I sat down so my legs would stop wiggling and said that yes, I would like to do that very much. Would she like me to pitch some ideas for classes or was there something she had in mind? Could I get her anything? Coffee? Tea? A new car, perhaps? She said she’d love to hear my pitches — no car or coffee required — and within the week, all three of the classes I pitched to her were put on the schedule. These are they:

Blogging as Reflection & Reputation (4-week)
Blogging isn’t just for political junkies or mommies — though if that’s the kind of blog you’re interested in writing, that’s great. Blogging at its best offers a platform for daily writing practice, self-reflection, the opportunity to understand the world a bit better, and to give yourself a presence online that extends far beyond your Facebook or LinkedIn page. In this 4-week workshop, learn the basics of blogging, do’s (#consistency) and don’ts (#oversharing), and gain confidence as a writer.

Stories Onstage (8-week)
Everyone has a story to tell. Our stories can be sad, hilarious, thought-provoking, completely nuts, quiet, loud, weird, sweet — and are often a combination of all of that. In this 8-week course, we’ll put your stories onstage in the form of solo monologues. We’ll stretch them, bend them, shape them and generally play around with them to form a piece you’ll be invited to perform for an invited audience the last week of class. Writing and performance go hand in hand here to illuminate your life, your story. Bring paper and your voice. 

Beyond Slam: Poetry on Its Feet (4-week)
You may be familiar with the poetry slam: competitive performance poetry created in Chicago in 1982. Slam is here to stay, but the old tropes have fallen away, leaving the strongest elements of performance poetry as a gift to us all. In this workshop, write your life in poems, hone solo performance skills from a professional poet/slammer, and come closer to what poetry was originally meant to be: an aural tradition.

This poetry class is the first one up, actually; it began this week. The students I have are engaged, interesting and interested, funny, and excited to learn everything there is to learn about delivering a poem effectively while standing in front of a microphone. My core objective is to break them of any preconceptions of what a poem onstage looks like. I’m drilling into them that the typical slam poetry rhythm and schtick is dead, dead, dead; the only poetry worth sharing onstage, worth honing and rehearsing to perfection is the original poem, the true-to-your-own-voice poem, the poem that no one else could write but you. I can teach them how to win a slam, but I’d rather make it okay for them to be themselves.

You don’t have to be a student at the University of Chicago to take classes at the Writing Studio. So if you live in Chicagoland, come on by. The next class up is the blogging class (starts July 11th) and the Stories Onstage class is slated for September right now, but that might move up.

Teaching scares the poop out of me. But saying no to something that scares the poop out of me scares…more poop out of me. Did I mention I’m a writing teacher?

The Shoe Spook.

An aerial view of my coffee table...and my spooky shoes. Photo: Me, on a ladder.

An aerial view of my coffee table…and my spooky shoes. Photo: Me, on a ladder.

There’s something in this world that deeply wigs me out. It is strange that it does that because the thing that freaks me out so much should definitely be no big deal. But that’s what an irrational fear is all about: irrationality.

Here goes: I am disturbed when a pair of shoes are placed together on the floor with the right foot shoe on the lefthand side and the left foot shoe on the righthand side. See above, then see me turn my head away and shiver.

Wherefore, weirdo? Let me try — for the first time in my life — to explic the inexplicable.

It’s unusual to see feet going the wrong way, for one thing. But what’s unusual is often funny and I am amused by all manner of unusual things on a regular basis. This is not one of those things. Is it upsetting to me to see shoes in this way it because it looks painful? If there were feet in the shoes, it would be awfully painful. Now, feet will go that way when a person crosses her legs or performs some ballet moves, but just feet, on their own, backward like that? No. And that’s the other thing: when I see shoes placed in this manner, I automatically think about disembodied feet.

My sister Hannah hated the Dr. Suess book The Walking Pants. She would howl in fear when I would say “walking pants,” which of course I would do from time to time just to make sure she was listening to me. It’s a strange, almost grim tale of these empty pants that walk around the town. They’re green and a lot of the story takes place at night, if I’m remembering correctly. Perhaps my uncomfortability with this shoe thing has its roots in those dumb pants; the story frightened me, too.

This irrational fear is not a superstition, because a superstition means that you see something, in this case, that causes you to think there will be a consequence, usually a negative one. I don’t see shoes the wrong way and think, “Well, that’s that! I’ll be dead in a year!” or “Great, just great. I saw spooky shoes today and now I have to tie a goat to a tree and name my firstborn Jebediah. Just when I was on top of my email.” It’s not a superstition, it’s just an old-fashioned case of the willies.

When I used the words “disembodied feet,” it occurred to me I could have created a new, irrational fear in any number of people reading this blog. I hope that didn’t happen, because I’m telling you: this backward shoe configuration happens a lot. You can’t escape. The good news is that the more people afraid of something (e.g., mountain lions, witches, Tyra, etc.) the less irrational it is to be afraid of that thing.

Am I wrong? Is it not strangely disturbing or am I just strangely disturbed and no you do not have to answer that. (Also, the shoe thing is a fear; this is my actual phobia.)

Man Yells At City, City Silent.

Kid hollering. Photo: Wikipedia

Kid hollering. Photo: Wikipedia

If you like chilly, driving rain, strong winds, and a temperature hovering just over fifty degrees, you would have loved downtown Chicago today. I enjoy foul weather from time to time because it’s pleasant to be inside while it happens. Blow, ye winds, like trumpets blow, but put the kettle on.

It was ugly today. I had two appointments and didn’t think to bring an umbrella along when I left the house. (I did put on my rain jacket and it does have a hood.) The rain began approximately eight minutes after I got out the door. It wasn’t committing to being a downpour, though; it was the kind of rain that makes you think, “Aw, man! Well, it’s not that bad, I’m almost there” but while you’re looking on the bright side, it’s getting worse. You’re the lobster in the pot that doesn’t feel the water getting hotter and hotter, except that in this situation you’re a human, you’re walking to the drugstore, and you’re getting colder and wetter by the second. The wind kept blowing my hood back so I had to pinch it shut at my chin while my hand got soaked. It was not fun.

I was suffering along, headed for my second appointment when I heard a remarkably emotional man turning the air blue with rage. I look over to my right and this thirtysomething dude is positively freaking out. His umbrella had broken — and he hated his broken umbrella.

“G-D sonofa B! Effin’ Chicago! Eff you! G-D it!”

He was angry at the city! Cursing Chicago itself! Cursing it for today’s terrible weather and, I assume, for its general weather pattern, which is to say no pattern at all, just violent changes every five minutes. He was literally shaking his fist at the sky, furious. I had never seen anything quite like this. Well, that’s not true: I have witnessed plenty of angry rants directed at the gods, but those have always come from the pitiable, deranged folks on the subway or on Lower Wacker. This particular individual seemed to me to be having a special moment. He was flailing around, whipping his broken umbrella back and forth and gritting his teeth so hard they could’ve popped right out.

He didn’t have a coat on, and I think that was part of it. It was really cold. He had gotten stuck in the cold rain with a broken umbrella and that’s lousy enough, but I have a feeling it was a really bad day at work, too, or maybe he lost his wallet. I was witnessing one of the worst days in that guy’s recent memory, whatever it was.

Like poisonous snakes and thorny bushes, one must avoid ragey strangers in the city, so I gave the guy a wide berth and kept my quick pace to make it to my appointment on time, however soaked. But wouldn’t you know it, the guy was headed in my direction and had taken the other side of the street, so I saw him again and he was still struggling with the umbrella. He was trying to put it back together but it was futile. I saw him wang it against the side of a building a couple times before throwing it on the ground as I went through the door at 116 South Michigan.

Haven’t you always wondered what happens to those broken umbrellas everywhere? Now you know.


Stolz Wie Bolle: “Proud As Bolle.”

I love this guy. German people, c. 1916. Photo: Unknown

I love this guy. German people, c. 1916. Photo: Unknown

For all the love I have for words, you’d think I’d have managed to learn another language by now. When I was going to go to Peru back in April, I surprised myself when I focused on remembering Spanish words; turns out I remember a lot from Senora Harold’s clase de espanol, including “Puedo, por favor tener una galleta? No? Okay.” 

And I’ve got a healthy store of foreign words and phrases at my disposal (e.g., in extremis, tikkun, bete noir, lasagna, etc.) but these are but pebbles tossed into vast seas of possibility available to me if I could truly speak another language. Today, Claus had the occasion to share with me a fabulous, brilliant German idiom and I have to share it with you:

Stolz wie Bolle.

The direct translation here is “proud as Bolle,” Bolle being a man’s name. Bolle — you could translate it to “Bob” from the German if you like, or just say “BOL-ee” — is the village guy who wins a ribbon for his prize hog at the fair and then walks around the rest of the year snapping his suspenders and offering all kinds of advice on hog farming, finding ways to mention, offhand, you know, that he won the big show.

Isn’t that great? That there’s an idiom for that thing that humans totally do? It’s so sweet! My sister told me about a guy in an improv class she took once who would totally Bolle-out when he was praised by the teacher after a scene. He would try not to smile so hard his cheek would twitch, he’d get all puffed up and then be impossible the rest of the night.

The image for this post does not come from Wikipedia for once; this is a portion of a photo that Claus sent me from his personal archive. It is a picture from almost exactly 100 years ago. The guy pictured is a villager who came to welcome home a distinguished general who had returned from the war. The look on his face is precisely stolz wie Bolle because he got into the picture. The distinguished man of the hour is in the center of the shot, but Bolle made it into the frame. You can tell he can’t wait to get to the bar and accidentally bring it up.

That man makes me so happy. His smile is a straight line!

By the way: my Small Wonders fabric line (exclusively for independents, you know) has a line extension coming out soon. In addition to the India, China, France, USA, South America/Peru, and Netherlands groups, we’ll be adding Japan, Brazil,  and Germany — just for you, Bolle. Small Wonders is available at your local quilt shop and at fine online retailers like Missouri Star and Fabric Depot. 




Good Moms.

Marianne and Mary, c. 1981. Photo: My dad.

Me n’ Marianne, Christmas, c. 1981. Photo: My dad.

When I sat down to write this Mother’s Day post, I started it: “I’ve got a good mom.” But what you’re reading now is a second draft.

Around the third paragraph, somewhere between detailing my Mom’s incredible bring-home-the-bacon-fry-it-in-the-pan-single-mom sacrifices and all 627 of her current projects, I decided that though I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have a “good mom,” saying that I have a “good mom” implies that there are not-so-good ones, as well as downright dastardly moms and worse than that.

Before I head into the terrifying wilderness of moral relativism, I want to say that there are bad people who are bad, full stop. If you hurt someone who can’t defend himself or herself, and if you do that on purpose, more than once, that’s bad, and we can stand in judgement of the perpetrator and say, “You cannot do this. This — and you, by extension, sir/madam — are bad.”  Since there’s nothing keeping anyone from having children, if a kid’s got a for-real bad female for a parent, it follows that a person can definitely have “a bad mom.”

But apart from these depressing exceptions, I’d like to suggest there are no “bad moms” in the delivery room. Rare is the woman who holds her 30-second-year-old on her breast and feels anything but wonder, pride, good intentions, love. Things kick off that way and then they go on from there. Sometimes they go pretty good. Sometimes, not so much. Sometimes, not so much at all.

Now, I’ve never made a mistake in my life, of course. All the decisions I’ve ever made have been perfectly-timed and dead-on. I’m constantly delighted by my 100% rightness in every situation; I regret nothing. The plans I lay, they are carried out precisely as I intended from a place of clarity and wisdom. Nothing bothers me. I don’t lose my temper. I love everyone for who they are because I realize holding people to my high expectations is absurd. I laugh at life’s troubles and I have unwavering grace and tact in all my personal and professional relationships.

But I’ve heard there are people who make mistakes — and I have heard that people who are mothers were people first. Contrary to fabric softener commercials and stories about “the good old days,” a woman does necessarily not become a flawless caregiver the instant she gives birth. It’s more likely that she is essentially the same person she was before she had a baby, except now the whole world has changed, which would shake anyone up.

My point is: Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms: good, less-good, and otherwise. It’s a heckuva job, from what I can tell. I’m not a mom, but I could be someday* and I know I will need plenty of grace; this is a Mother’s Day card to the moms out there who need some today.

*Big Mother’s Day ups to Gramma Graham, my mother’s mother; she had my mom and Mom’s twin brother David at age forty, and that was back in the early ’50s. Dorothy was a cougar! That’s hot, Gramma. I’m thirty-six.




Yellow chiffon dress, 1968.  Image: Maison couture Jean Dessès via Wikipedia.

Yellow chiffon dress, 1968. Image: Maison couture Jean Dessès via Wikipedia.

On the drive back from Beaver Dam to Chicago this evening, I stopped at Gurnee Mills. Gurnee Mills is a collection of small pond mills set in the rolling countryside of Illinois. Just kidding; it’s an absolutely enormous shopping center outside of Chicago off I-94 and a couple times a year for one reason or another, I’ll pass Gurnee Mills in an automobile. I’ve pulled off the highway to visit the Old Mill a couple times and both times, I was sad and happy.

Because they have a Neiman Marcus Last Call store there. The Neiman Marcus Last Call stores are where all the stuff that didn’t sell at Neiman Marcus Regular Stores goes to die. You’ve got your Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dresses here, you got your Fendi paperweights there — you get the idea. They price everything relatively low, low, low, but “relatively low” when you’re talking about Stella McCartney is still “relatively ridiculous.”

But lo, the siren song of discounted high fashion called to me and, as I was not able to lash myself to my own Toyota Corolla rental car, I had to exit and find a parking spot.

The dresses I tried on would make you crazy. Crazy with lust. With desire. There was the Akris shift with the hand-dye. There was the Isabel Marant snap-front mid-length thing that was a little tight but in a good way. The Jil Sander. The other Jil Sander. I kept thinking about restaurants I’d go to if I had this one, about various charity functions where that one would work, etc. When you try on clothes, you try on a life.

Now is not the time for dresses, though. I’ve got bigger things on my mind and don’t have the dough. Changes are afoot, comrades. More will be revealed and it’s a whole lot of more. I did buy a cute little jacket. It was 65% off the lowest marked price and is the hottest pink.

Confession: I also bought a chicken sandwich for the ride home. Jesus, take the wheel!

[The management would like to point the new reader’s attention to a three part story from April about a girl in a pretty dress.]

Eureka Moment or, “Why I Push Hard.”

"Dutch Summer" by me, 2015. This quilt uses the Netherlands group from Small Wonders. Photo: Court at Springs Creative.

“Dutch Summer” by me, 2015. This quilt uses the Netherlands group from Small Wonders. Photo: Court at Springs Creative.

I had a huge, revelatory moment with Tammy, the ebullient and creamy-complexioned event coordinator and production genius at Nancy Zieman’s here in Beaver Dam:

When I get done at the end of a day on a gig, I am bone-weary. Missing a number of internal organs has something to do with it (and my low hemogoblins don’t help) — and in a day I will typically meet hundreds of people, sign a lot of things, and smile for a whole bunch of pictures, which is all pretty intense — but it’s something else, too.

Proving myself in the quilt world takes an extraordinary amount of energy. Since I began doing this quilt world thing for keeps, I have committed myself to knocking it out of the park every single time I do anything: editing a magazine, hosting shows online or or TV, lecturing, speaking, teaching, etc., etc. I know for a fact I have failed at all of these things in various ways over the years, but boy, I will take extraordinary measures to not let that happen. I am nearly obsessed with taking everything through and past that finish line because I have to prove that I am not riding on Mom’s coattails, that I have my own point of view, that I know what I’m doing, that I’m not an imposter. Sticking around for a bunch of years has done a lot; I can’t be a dilettante if I’m still here.

But if people leave an event with me feeling disappointed, if they don’t have a good experience in class, any feelings they had about me being lame or a phony, well, those feelings are suddenly validated for them. “Hm!” they might say, “I went to see/take a class from Mary Fons and it was just awful.” I fight, fight, fight hard to “catch” every last person and create happy customers so that doesn’t happen. A lad in Buffalo last weekend said, “You know, when you first came on the show, I thought you were just a spoiled brat. I told my husband, ‘I won’t watch this show anymore.’ But now I think you’re great!” These sorts of things haunt me.

But my thinking on these things is ridiculous — cannot possibly change what a person thinks about me; they’re gonna feel a type of way whether I bend over backwards for them or not. But look at my profile: I’m a middle child whose dad left early on in life and I have a born interest in doing stuff onstage. I’m perfectly set up to be an over-achiever; add to that a fierce need to prove I’m not just glomming onto my mother’s success… It’s a recipe for dragging myself to my hotel room and getting horizontal as soon as possible after a day of work.

Mary: get over it. You’re starting to get circles under your eyes. I think that’s supposed to start happening at forty-something. Don’t push it at thirty-six.

**Crucial note: I don’t just try to do a good job because I need to prove something. I genuinely want people to have a fabulous day, an a-ha moment-rich class experience, to laugh and ponder stuff I share with them. That is really important to understand.


What’s In a Year, What’s Not In the Next One.

Me, Death Valley, 2015. Photo: Claus

Me, Death Valley, last summer. Photo: Claus

A year ago yesterday, I was doing the feature performance at the original Uptown Poetry Slam at Chicago’s legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. I was up there at the microphone saying poems at the Mill to a packed house. There was no way that night wasn’t gonna be awesome.

In the audience that evening was a person named Claus. He didn’t know much about poetry slams, he didn’t come for me. He was at the show with an acquaintance of mine. His friends told me later they elbowed each other during my performance because when they looked over at Claus, they could see “he was clearly smitten.” What can I say? He had been smit.

I got offstage and made the rounds (and had a round) and soaked in the pure magic and vitality of that place on a Sunday night; at some point I spotted my friends and sat down in their booth. They introduced me to this tall, German person, a visiting scholar, here to be paid to think about philosophy and write a new book.

“You’re a philosopher,” said Claus. “Your poems. This is philosophy.”

What can I say? I was smit.

That summer, we took a roadtrip west. I took a break from PaperGirl for the first time in ages in order to focus on that experience in a macro way, i.e., rather than wash clothes in a river and write about it that evening, maybe just wash clothes in the river and see how that feels.

In fifteen days, Claus goes back to Germany. His time as a visiting scholar is over. I don’t know what’s going to happen, how it will feel, what we’ll do. I hate Skype. I detest long-distance relationships. I have a talent for winding up in them and it is a damnable curse. All I can say is that tonight I sleep in Beaver Dam alone and the quiet is curious. It’s big. But it’s calm, too.


Glitter: A Short & Shiny Play For Two That Is Mostly True.

Glitter. Photo: Wikipedia

Glitter. Photo: Wikipedia

by Mary Fons (c) 2016

MARY 1 and MARY 2 are drinking coffees at a cafe. MARY 2 pulls her phone out of her purse and a burst of extremely shiny glitter poofs out from her bag. 

MARY 1: What is that.

MARY 2: What.

MARY 1: That glitter.

MARY 2:  Oh, yeah. That’s this glitter.

MARY 1: Why is it coming out of your purse?

MARY 2: I was making valentines and my friend asked me if I wanted to take home the glitter we didn’t use.

MARY 1: And you said yes?

MARY 2: (Guiltily.) Yes.

MARY 1: Why?

MARY 2: It was pretty.

MARY 1: That’s where it starts. One moment you’re a grown woman making homemade valentines with craft paints, and the next thing you know you’ve got glitter stuck to the bottom of your foot, glitter dangerously close to your eye, glitter in your cell phone. Glitter is not your friend. I don’t care how sparkly it may be. Bits of glitter? Every tiny piece? Each tiny piece of glitter is a spore on the wind, attaching itself to anything it can in order to extend its lifespan. Never say yes to extra glitter. Never say yes to glitter at all!

MARY 2: It’s really wonderful glitter, though. Did you see how fine it is?

(She shows MARY 1. They touch the counter and then look closely at their fingertips, admiring the glitter.)

MARY 1: Woah. It’s like shimmering baby powder. It’s like…sparkly silt.

MARY 2: This kind is called “glitter dust.” It’s finer than the regular kind.

MARY 1: Why does it make me feel so good? Am I wishing for a simpler time? Am I so easily distracted? As a female who loves shiny pink glitter, am I reinforcing negative gender stereotypes? Is it weird that I love how glitter comes in a test tube-like container? What is that about?

MARY 2: That’s just glitter, man. That’s glitter.

MARY 1: No! Resist. (She steps back from the table.) Get it away from me. Glitter is worse than Christmas tree pine needles. Such things are vacuum resistant, carpet sweeper resistant. It’s already everywhere!

(As MARY 1 says this, a person carrying a large, open canister full of honey passes by and MARY 1’s wild hand movements cause her to whap the person, who promptly spills all the honey over MARY 1.)

MARY 2: (After awhile.) It’s really pretty, caught there in the honey. It’s like in Jurassic Par

MARY 1: Please get me a damp towel.

MARY 2: I’ll be right back.



National “Eat Sponge Candy Until I Have a Stomachache” Day.

I strongly object to this idea at Fowler's Chocolate today. Photo: Me

I strongly object to the idea of “TV Delights.” But I cannot throw stones. Or truffles. Or anything right now. Photo: Me

The picture above is not a picture of Buffalo’s famous sponge candy. There is no picture of sponge candy available to me at this time because a) we know I use only public domain images or images I have taken myself for PaperGirl, and b) I have now eaten all of the sponge candy that came through this hotel room over the course of two days, a quantity that would surprise you. No, really. It would surprise you.

But what is sponge candy? The devil knows.

That’s no colloquialism; not this time. I don’t say “the devil knows” with a shrug and look at the ceiling, as if to communicate “Sponge candy. Who can say?” No, I mean that the devil knows what it is. Because the devil has a test kitchen and he spends good money on R&D.

Eons ago, fathoms below Buffalo, NY, the devil put honey, baking soda, and sin into a big, fat (really, really fat) cauldron and he stirred it with The Spoon of Regret. He stirred and stirred and then, when his special “honeycomb toffee” was ready, he poured it out into sheets or something, cut it, then dipped the cubes into the most wonderful, creamy, silky milk chocolate you have ever tasted in your entire life. The devil then tried a piece of it and he laughed and laughed and laughed because he knew what he had done. He christened** the stuff “sponge candy” and now I’m on my bed with a stomachache and I can feel my hips expanding. “Oh, that’s impossible,” you say, “that’s just in your head.” I think you’re wrong. My hips are pooling and the more I look at that white paper bag in the trash can over there, the wider the pool gets and I feel it.

At the quilt shop yesterday, the devil used the kindest, most generous quilter named “Margaret” (sure) to bring me a bag of this famous candy simply out of the kindness of her heart. This was very smart of the devil because I didn’t suspect anything. Margaret, you were a pawn. I tried one in the kitchen and it was all downhill from there: I ate four before for my second lecture and six more when I got back to the hotel. I ate the rest of the bag about an hour ago. But wait. That’s not all.

Do you think I could resist going to legendary sponge candy-maker Fowler’s Chocolates two doors down from the quilt shop during the lunch hour today to buy large quantities of this delicious confection also known by adorable name “hokey pokey?” No, of course not. The devil is in the business of putting small-batch chocolate shops two doors down from quilt shops in adorable American towns. This quilt shop-chocolatier combo is deadly for many, many of my friends. A quilt shop adjacent to a chocolate shop is my tribe’s fly paper. The devil’s flypaper. Lock up your daughters and sons if they like to make quilts and have a fondness for pure gustatorial bliss: the end is near.

**this was difficult for the devil but he pushed through

Welcome To Draft Town: You’re Late.

I understand this man's name is Ki'won T. Bates Jr. He seems to be very good at football. Photo: Wikipedia

I understand this man’s name is Ki’won T. Bates Jr. He seems to be very good at football. Photo: Wikipedia

In the grand tradition of being embarrassingly out of the cultural loop, I bring you this.

A three-day event kicked off this afternoon in Grant Park, a.k.a., “my backyard.” The event is called “Draft Town” and I’ve been seeing signs up for this thing for at least a month. The blue banners all say, “Welcome to Draft Town!” and feature a small NFL logo near the bottom; the bus stop ads feature smiling families and smiling football players and the NFL logo near the bottom, but no other information. So I walked around for weeks with no idea what all this meant. Other thoughts and tasks claimed my attention so I never got around to figuring it out.

Then my neighborhood erupted. A monstrous — we’re talking five, six story-high — concert stage went up overnight. Claus and I were biking on the bike path when we saw it; I almost skidded out. Many people had pulled over to the side of the path to gape; it was like an alien ship had landed in the park and we were waiting for little green men to come out. For two weeks, circus tents have been popping up like mushrooms; construction guys have been snapping chalk lines; fence companies have been fencing everything off. 

Turns out Draft Town is a free festival centered around Chicago’s hosting of the 81st NFL draft. The draft is where the teams pick players. (I looked up how it works but my eyes glazed over and I couldn’t see to type, so if you want to know more about the system, that’s all you.) All the stages, the tents, the structures, the fences, the every blinkin’ street for ten miles around blocked off and detoured, the hordes of people on the street — this is Draft Town. It is not a town in which I would like to live, but I haven’t gone to the video game bonanza tent, the make-a-jersey attraction, or the corn doggerie, so you never know.

Here’s the funny thing, though: this is not new. This happened last year, too. Draft Town didn’t tell me what it was on the banners and bus stops because everyone on the planet already knows what Draft Town is. It would be like Nike ads saying, “Just Do It. These Are Shoes.” Or a rock concert advertising that rock music will be played for your listening enjoyment, live, by musicians who know songs by heart. Draft Town, man. It just is.

I’m on a plane right now, speeding at high speeds far, far away from Draft Town. I’m sure the masses of people flooding into the park are having a blast; some people like that sort of thing and I’m all for it, really. Me, I get claustrophobic in big crowds and I do not understand football, much less follow it, much less paint my face and torso for it. I like where I am just fine, 35,000 in the air with no way to survive a firey, firey plane crash.



"A Sunday Afternoon Meeting of the Rubber Workers Union," 1942 Wikipedia

“Sunday Afternoon Meeting of the Rubber Workers Union.” Photo by Marjory Collins, 1943. Image courtesy Wikipedia via the Library of Congress.

I am flying to Buffalo, NY tomorrow afternoon so that I can scoot over to Williamsville, NY Saturday and Sunday morning to hang out with the savvy and able-bodied gals at Aurora Sewing for the weekend. They had to add an extra day for my lectures and trunk shows because clearly, when it comes to itinerant quilt teachers, the quilters of the greater Buffalo area have excellent taste.

I’m clicking around to learn a little about Buffalo because I have an occasion to do so, and that’s good; Buffalo is a city you hear about in the news from time to time but probably don’t know much about if you’re not from around there or close to around there. I suspect most of us read several paragraphs about Buffalo in an American History textbook at some point. Industry, is it? Wealthy escape for New York Cityfolk? Surely there aren’t buffalo there. Surely.

Here are the things I am learning about Buffalo as I click back and forth from here to my other browser pages. This is a play-by-play account of Buffalo you’re looking at. Let’s do this:

1. Named after Buffalo Creek.

2. Terminus point for the Underground Railroad! Woah!

3. Right there on Lake Erie, not too far from Niagara Falls/Canada; this explains #2.

4. President McKinley was shot there! Woah! He died eight days later! And it was Teddy Roosevelt who was sworn in when he died! Zounds! That’s kind of a big deal, Buffalo.

5. I was right about industry: cars, shipping, freight, grain elevators, stuff like that. Hard times came in the Depression, etc.; a rust belt city.

6. Now it’s coming together for me: I’m picturing some sad newscaster out in snow up to her stocking cap, reporting from a highway in Buffalo about the latest blizzard. Buffalo gets seriously dumped on in winter and for some reason, we hear about that a lot.

7. OH MY LORD: BUFFALO WINGS. Buffalo wings were first served in a bar in Buffalo, NY! That juicy little fact was worth the price of admission. I do not understand the appeal of buffalo wings, but at least I now know the truth of their origin.

I can’t top that last one, so I’ll quit while I’m hot. I do want to point out the picture above is of a meeting of the Rubber Workers Union in Buffalo in 1943. Those women are so fabulous! They are wearing hats and furs. It looks like they’re about to do a Broadway finale.

I’m not a fan of wistful, misty gazes into the early 20th century; stuff was as weird back then as it is now and people had plenty of problems we do not want now. But man. Those clothes. That pride! The pride of going to meetin’! The photo says it’s a Sunday, so they probably came from church. But still. That’s some Sunday best, ladies.

I shall take my best purse on my journey to your great city.



My Printer, My Battleaxe.

The Cannon Pixma MX420: workhorse, monolith. Image: Internet

The Canon Pixma MX420: workhorse, monolith. Image: Internet.

I have had the same Canon Pixma MX420 printer/scanner since October 1, 2011. I know the exact date because I bought it on Amazon and I’ve just learned that when you buy stuff on Amazon, Amazon keeps the date of your order. This means that if you go through a breadmaking phase or an “I’m-going-to-read-George-Bernard-Shaw’s-entire-body-of-work” phase and years later you have a reason to figure out when all that went down, you can look back at your Amazon purchases and find out.

My Canon Pixma MX420 printer will not die. It has moved with me — wait for it — seven times since I bought it and that’s a lot to ask of a plastic box with glass, microchips, and a laser inside of it. All those boxes, those trucks, the accidental bang here, the on-purpose bang there — the girl is as good as new. She prints. She scans. Her LCD display is bright as ever. Her USB ports are unsullied. She has her pride, her morals.

I still don’t like her, though. That’s the problem: I’ve never liked this printer. Oh, I like that she works. I give thanks for every single page she spits out because at this point, every page strikes me as miraculous. What I don’t like is her attitude. My printer has an attitude problem and believe me: we’re close. I know her better than anyone. We’ve lived in the same (seven) house(s) for five years.

If you hit the wall switch and the power goes off on her without you turning her off at her console first, when you go to turn her on again, there pops up a message that says, “The printer did not shut down correctly. Next time, press OFF before disconnecting power to the printer.” I’m sorry, did you say, “Next time”? What am I, your office drone? And you can’t do anything until you hit the “OK” button to “ACCEPT.” So this printer is like, “I’m not doing anything for you until you acknowledge what you did. Until you admit you made a mistake. OK? Until you ACCEPT IT.”

“I accept all kinds of things!” I used to yell. “You don’t even have a spinal cord!” But I stopped that years ago. She’s a printer. She can’t hear me.

And once I knew better, I did better: I dutifully turned her off before I flipped any wall switches. I learned you have to lightly touch the “Off” button to wake her up before she’ll let you actually turn her off. So you have to do a light tap, then a convicted press. If that second contact isn’t deliberate enough, it won’t work, so your instinct is to just tap again, but that does nothing. So you go to press hard again, but by then she’s been tapped and is feigning confusion. It took me several years to figure out how to avoid this mess; done sloppily, she’ll just turn off and on again at least twice. Don’t get me started about the fuss she makes if she runs out of paper.

Today, my icy heart melted a little. I looked over at her, printing out two contracts, a cover letter, and a 24-page chapter of Claus’s latest book (in German!) and thought, “That blinkin’ thing still works.” I thought how weird her life must be. She’s either dealing with the shock of being woken up and turned off out of nowhere or she’s idling, waiting for a command from a computer she can’t refuse if she doesn’t like — or approve of — the content. Being a printer does not sound like a good time.

I have just realized that not so long ago, I wrote about the issues I have with my stove. Wow, okay. I am going to back away slowly. I’m going to put on some makeup. Get dressed. Go outside. Meet some people. Talk with words.

I travel to upstate NY on Thursday for a 3-day work trip. Sometimes it’s hard to head off to a gig; sometimes it’s clearly good for me.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Canon, I know how corporations work. I know you’re watching your SEO. I know that if I say that I love the Canon Pixma MX420, someone — even if it’s a robot first — will see it. And surely you reward those people who are devoted to you and your product. Perhaps you will reward me with complimentary ink, perhaps, or an upgrade, maybe, should say that I love my Canon Pixma MX420 best printer for all best printer Canon Pixma printer scanner combination best Pixma MX420 ink ink cartridge Pixma Canon best home printer top ten printer scanner combination Canon printer MX420 ink refill top ten printers for home office Canon best printers for home use or business use highest rated Canon printer? Thank you for your consideration.]



That’s My Dad.

From R-L: Dad, Me. Photo: My Aunt Leesa.

From L-R: Dad, Me. Photo: My Aunt Leesa.

I was going through the dumb iPhoto album on this dumb laptop, looking for a dumb picture that apparently is in my old laptop’s dumb iPhoto album, though it’s likely it could be in either my dumb desktop iPhoto album or my old desktop iPhoto album, which is also dumb. I have sworn that when this laptop dies, I am switching to a Windows Surface thing. Seriously, I am doing that. The Mac cloud has failed me too many times and Steve Jobs is dead. These are facts, and I never found that picture I was looking for.

Another fact: that guy up there is my dad, and this was a picture that I didn’t mean to find. There aren’t many pictures of my dad on any of my computers. There are barely any on the Internet; I found two. Now there are three.

Dad and Jane were traveling through California while I was visiting my favorite Auntie in Sacramento some months ago. I got nervous when the prospect of them dropping by came up; I hadn’t seen my dad in over five years. But I agreed. What was I gonna do? Say no? No, because that just isn’t my style, even if my stomach hurt terribly that morning and I bit my thumb cuticle on my left hand till I drew blood.

Aunt Leesa and I made muffins; the meetup was going to be brunch at her house. We made strong coffee. My auntie knows how I feel about my dad (complicated) and she knows the early story of my family (lousy, complicated) but she’s not a Ground Zero Crewmember so she’s about the best person on the planet to sit next to at brunch if you’re me and Dad’s across the table. She also grew up with the guy, so she knows when he’s, you know. Full of muffin. Which he is.

I could write a novel about how that two-hour brunch went, what with all the labyrinthine thought processes running through memory and curiosity at the same time, trying to result in conversation not emotional but still genuine, not slow-burn rage-y but not without bite. You want those who have hurt you to hear a little bite in your voice, don’t you? We all want to punish, even while we eat bacon. Especially while we eat bacon.

You know what’s weird? Writing PaperGirl.


Heaviest Research Project Ever: The AIDS Quilt

Rally flyer for AIDS activists in California, c. 1985. Image: Wikipedia

Rally flyer for AIDS activists in California, c. 1989. Image: Wikipedia

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

No kidding, Ms. Ima Quilter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Sweetpea Star Block.

I'm calling it "The Sweetpea Star" block. Photo: Me

I’m calling it “The Sweetpea Star” block. Photo: Me

I was invited to teach a class at the 2017 QuiltCon and the one that they want is my (new!) class on partial seaming. The block above — which is old as the hills — uses partial seaming and will be the basis of the class. I’m calling it the “Sweetpea Star” but it surely has ten names already. “Partial” and “seaming” are two words that when used together make many quilters flinch. Isn’t that something garment makers do? Surely there’s a shortcut. A special ruler, perhaps?

Yes, garment makers use partial seams, but patchwork makers can, too: including you, if cutting up big pieces of fabric into small pieces of fabric and then sewing them back together again is your cup of tea. Are there shortcuts? Special tools? For most partially seamed blocks, yeah, but if you see a killer block that uses partial seaming and then you try to find a way around doing that part, you won’t get the same thing. The shapes will be a little narrower, maybe, or a little wider. It’ll look close, but not as good.

It’s like a designer handbag: you can totally buy the knock-off version, and okay, sure, it looks pretty good. You might even get compliments on it. But there are those who will know, who will ask you where you got your bag and, because you are honest, you will say, nervously, “Oh, well, haha, you know, a store — hey, are you hungry? Let’s get a panini.”

And of course, you’ll know. You’ll know you did some dirty patchwork to avoid doing partial seams. And you’ll have to live with that. You’ll have to live with that a long time.

This is a strange way to invite guild programming officers to request my new “No-Fear Partial Seams: Sweetpea Star Block” class when you contact me about coming to a guild near you. It’s also an announcement that I’ll be teaching at QuiltCon in Savannah in February and those planning to attend should register for the class. (I’ll be teaching two blocks of it and will debut a new lecture at the show, as well.)

You can do something hard. Usually, it’s not even hard. You just tried it once (whatever it was) and it yes, it was hard, so you got it in your mind that that thing is hard and you can’t do it, so you say you don’t want to do it. But you kind of do want to do the hard thing, deep down. I don’t know about all those other people, but if you’re a quilter facing a hard situation, I have fabulous news for you:

Fabric is soft.


It’s a Heckuva Town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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