Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
Thread Count, Powerlifts, Quilting, Karaoke, Lemon Cookies, and Graphomania

Friday, December 30, 2016

What I Learned in B-School: The Wedding of A and R

...a compilation of mistakes I made in and around grad school, where what I learned was "don't go."

I was delighted this fall to go to the wedding of my b-school classmate and sterling fellow Alex, and his bride Rachel (wherein I also got a chance to catch up with another classmate Greg and his ladywife Liz).  I'm not sure why I went with a quilt based in brown for Alex and Rachel - the wedding color was a superb and gorgeous deep purple - except that I'm down with brown, as anyone will tell you, and it seemed to set off the glowing jewels of these shot cotton squares quite nicely.  (I tried gray: it didn't work. That's about as far as my neutral color palette extends.)  This quilt itself is no great feat, just squares and sashing, so I'm mostly going to write about why grad school was a terrible idea, but I'll still show pictures.  Like this one:

Post washing - all the quilting is in the sashing, so the colored squares look kind of puffy/saggy, but are quite soft.

Granted, Alex was only really my classmate for a hot second before his interest in, and aptitude for, Advanced Corporate Finance far outstripped mine, and we parted ways in terms of curricula, but by then we had discovered a small posse of like-minded folk within the greater group of tiresomely brilliant Type-A financiers, entrepreneurs, and engineers-turning-managers that comprised the rest of the school. Though to be clear,  I was probably the most notably Type-B person in the entire university - even my friends were clandestine over-achievers, though they were humble about it, kind about my LAS-induced lagginess, and often helped me with my homework, which probably seemed laughably remedial to them.  Thus my first mistake was in going to the school I did, which was....over-challenging, shall we say:  as I lamented at the time, I'm pretty sure I only even got in because they needed SOMEONE to be below average.

I was trying to capture the pretty iridescence of these colored
squares, but I'm afraid that subtlety is beyond my phone's camera.

I believe I have mentioned how big of a tragic financial disaster I found b-school to be - part of this was my age when I went back, which basically dictated that I would never make up the truly ridiculous monetary outlay in future salary gains before retirement or death, whichever comes first (am betting on death).  Part of it was my own inability to focus on absorbing the material, an albatross-y legacy of carefree days when I could remember things after reading them once, and majoring in languages and literature, surely the path I could follow with the least effort.  Because, you  know, I like words. (No, it's true. I know it's hard to believe.)

The back: deliciously soft double-gauze. The strip on the left was inadvertent - apparently double gauze
has a directional quality of which I was unaware.

(Side-note: At b-school orientation, of which two-day affair I quite characteristically forgot about/blew off the first day, I learned that on that first day they had shown a pie chart of the incoming class' undergrad majors, in a get-to-know-ya exercise of the sort I find most tedious - "40% of this incoming business school class majored in - business!  The rest majored in Accounting or Engineering." Revelatory! But I know this because the next day a new classmate, upon hearing my undergrad major was Russian, exclaimed, "Oh! YOU'RE the Slavic Languages person!"  and, faced with my evident confusion, explained that the pie-chart had had a tiny sliver of "Slavic Languages and Literature" to account for me; and that the orienteers had announced this to the group, perhaps as evidence of the "diversity" of the matriculants, and tried to find this exotic beast in the crowd when in fact, I hadn't even bothered to show up. (Hmpf. Typical Slavic Language major.) In spite of my mortified mumbled defense, "Well it was a double major with English," this was a clue that I was going to be an anomaly in this cohort right from the get-go, even in advance of my failure to grasp the Weighted Average Cost of Capital or the Dupont Equation or whatever the hell; and probably my only sad chance at ever being considered A One Percenter, to boot.)

The quilting was just 4 lines in each sashing, crossing in a grid at the intersections, easy peasy.
Another mistake of grad school turned out to be the lack of an actual job market for my new skills when I graduated, which was just after the bottom fell out in the economic shitstorm of 2008-09.  And Alex, who clearly did grasp market nuance much better than me (to the surprise of no person), cleverly read the tea leaves, and commenced to taking one class at a time forever, such that he graduated with his shiny new degree as late as possible, when employment prospects were already looking up a bit and that degree was legit just worth more.  (I had wanted to career switch and in fairness, I did end up in a job I love, albeit 5 years after graduation; and despite my employer's protestations that shiny degrees did not matter to them, I have to think that mine at least got my foot in the door.  Curiously, that job was in the same building in downtown Chicago as Alex worked, which we realized to our mutual surprise one day when I saw him unexpectedly in the lobby.  Which made it delightfully easy for us to have least, one time, before my travel schedule intervened, and now he doesn't work in that building anymore. Boo!)

In spite of all of this disparity in ability, Alex proved to be an absolute rock-solid friend, a true salt-of-the-earth fellow, and another alum of our flagship state school (where he went some years after me, and where I'm quite sure he did not major in Russian, given that he and his family had emigrated from Ukraine sometime around the first heady days of Glastnost.)  And since each of my favorite b-school buds were Secretly Weird - this one collected Ivy League degrees, each of which made him successively less employable; that one kept her dirty dishes in the freezer when she did not feel like washing them and hoarded incandescent light bulbs; another had apparently been some kind of semi-pro soccer player - it was no surprise to me that Alex's secret hobby was collecting antiquities from ancient worlds, an off-shoot of his love of history.

I went simple on the label - a wedding date, and a blanket-stitched heart for the newlyweds. 
(History to me is one of those infuriating sandhills that one labors to climb, only to discover 50 million shifting layers lie between you and the "truth", or whatever truth got recorded, at least.  My brother Hercules also has a head for history, inherited from our mom, and sometimes I like to hear him take flight, with as little prompting as: "Knights of Malta, 16th century - go!"  Alex is quite the same way.  I trust in the future I will get more opportunities to shoot the shit with him over some beer and hear his collected historical truths.  As always, I am sure to have a LOT of questions in those cases, as I struggle to connect whatever random pieces of information have lodged in my brain without context or details, such that I might brightly burp out "Queen Anne Wars!" or "Boxer Rebellion!" or "Bessarabia!" at odd intervals, like Wikipedia talking in its sleep, possibly while also experiencing some mild dyspepsia.)

Sadly, I have only met Rachel on a couple of occasions, once when she had to run the gamut of our grad school posse on a lovely summer day at a riverside bar after work - which is really an overwhelming sort of way to meet a pile of people; and again on the day before her wedding, when I foolishly and hilariously got the date of the ceremony wrong and showed up 24 hours early, right at the end of their rehearsal.  How I managed that I will really never know, but Rachel to her everlasting credit did not laugh me out of the venue, but instead kindly asked if I would like to join them for the rehearsal dinner - which generosity I truly appreciated but hastily declined, as there's already enough stress and expense in a wedding as it is without dopey friends of your fiancĂ© showing up a day early expecting to be fed.  In any case, she is accomplished and fascinating in her own right, having been a roving news reporter at several local stations before moving into the already saturated news-media market of Chicago to be with Alex....and I have a lot of questions for HER about that, and how she likes the job switch, and whether maybe we shouldn't go on that canoe trip down the Chicago River like we'd talked about three years ago.

Here's the label from the front: just a ghost heart on the purple.

But not really getting to know Rachel does highlight the last mistake of b-school, which is:  losing track of my b-school friends.  Because this was a part-time/weekend program, everyone already had jobs and lives and in many cases families of their own, so it was dissimilar to undergrad in that it was not the sole pre-occupation of most of us.  And let me tell you, there's nothing you want to do more after 8-10 hours of work than sit in a classroom for another three hours, twice a week, squinting at formulae and modeling economic theory and TALKING TO PEOPLE SOME MORE.  (Well, the economic parts weren't that bad.)  But b-school was nevertheless a deep bond: of fatigue and of stamina, of handling hyperactive partners in group projects, and trying to sort out when one might have time to write a 15-page paper; of meeting to grab some Chipotle for dinner to fortify ourselves before a slog through Implications of Foreign Currency Valuation, and meeting afterwards for a relief beer in the student lounge.  And while I do not miss those classes particularly - especially the stats class that made me cry every week and required me to run on a treadmill for two hours after each class to decompress - I miss the hell out of those people, and their quirky secret weirdnesses, and their brilliance, and their willingness to let me play their reindeer games, despite being a Slavic Language (and English) major.  To not know their spouses - or children, or about their new jobs and how they might be applying that wretched degree to them - strikes me as the worst mistake of all, one I hope to rectify, and soon.

I was going to put "Sept 24", for the day
I showed up to the wedding, but is it really
something I should commemorate?

So, Alex and Rachel, congratulations to you, you delightful weirdos - I trust you will revel in each other's eccentricities for many many years to come, and I hope to be able to appreciate them some more in the future myself.  Because if there's one thing I learned in grad school - and actually, it might have been just the one thing - it's that appreciation increases the value of things over time; in business, in friendship, and with some luck, in marriage, too.

Besos to you both and Mazel Tov!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler While You Still Can: A Late Celebration

....because they found love in a hopeless place.

I'll get political here in a sec, fair warning.  It's been that kind of week.

Back in the carefree, liberated days of March, 2016, these two fine gentlemen got married, because they are in love, and they wanted to celebrate that love with their loved ones....and because it was finally legal for them to do so.

This is grainy because my phone camera is crap, but also
possibly because I was trembling with joy when I took it.
Remember the bow ties. Those show up later.

I know JJ through his ex, an old college chum, and even though that is over now I am pleased to keep custody of both of them.  JJ is one of those organizers of people...because it was his job, for one thing, but it's also his nature to gather up the loose elements of disparate groups and throw them all together onto the porch and fuse them together with some wine and a string of christmas lights for an excellent dinner party.  It was JJ who up and moved from his wintery, urban-midwestern perch to New Orleans, convincing 4 of his besties to go as well, all owing to a dream he had that they had found happiness there.  He is a sterling host, an unfailingly generous friend, a devout lover of this cashew brittle I make every Christmas, and a mysterious jack of all trades that I'm pretty sure makes things happen with just the force of his mind.

And when I refer to him as a "jack of all trades," I mean the trades part quite literally, since he is a carpenter of some note but also a mason (the stone kind, not the Dan Brown kind, though...maybe! who the hell knows?), a gardener, an electrician, a restorer of all things vintage, and a tinkerer down to his very bones.  It was JJ who stepped up when I was fumbling my way through the last stages of a kitchen renovation, having to sell my condo - sweeping in, in a flurry of drills and circular saws and concrete mixing and levels to get me something presentable to sell in a matter of hours - the only reason my place sold when I needed it to, for which timely magnanimity I am forever grateful.  (Shout out also to the Bean's husband Senor "Sleepy" Fitzgerald, who hung my wall cabinets on brick with some fancy French cleats.)  So JJ was already due a Quilt of Gratitude anyway, but then, a wedding on top of it?  Get cracking, Astrid!

A hole in my kitchen brick wall, patched and still wet, by Mason JJ.
(It blended much more than this flash makes it appear).
The front of my island, fashioned out of leftover cabinet doors, by Carpenter JJ.

To my dismay, I haven't gotten to know Chris, JJ's betrothed, very well yet, apart from a brief pizza-n-beer outing and some good chats on FB. (And he has joined the select group of People With Whose Families I Routinely Argue on FB, because I have impulse control issues.) But I can tell he is wonderful: because he makes JJ happy, sure, but more vitally because of his measured equanimity in the face of puzzling callousness from people he loves and who love him; and his refusal to be anything other than who he is - a good man, in love, with a steady job and convictions he will defend to the end -  which should clearly be enough for anyone, and is definitely just the right cocktail for JJ.

ANYWAY: To the shock of no one who has read past posts, this gift was late.....7 months late. I had been plotting a quilt for them for some time before that, but I could never get it quite right - some hyper-rainbow-y attempts were set aside midway through the process as being too dissimilar to the proud, out, but nevertheless only moderately flamboyant couple it was for.  It's not every gay activist who wants a rainbow-brite bedspread in his spare-room, surely.  (And why SHOULD it have to be a statement of identity - why can't they just be married in peace and have an ugly damn quilt made by an old friend for the fricking spare-room, already?)  What could I make for them that was a little closer to their taste in, say, clothes, furniture, paint color, and general aesthetic, but still acknowledge the momentous (and, sadly, still brave) decision to unite as a matter of public record?

And so this is where I ended up.

Not quite large enough for the king-size bed.  Sorry, that picture is kind of dark.

The front is a old traditional pattern (I do favor the traditionals for wedding quilts) sometimes called Trip Around the World.  It's done in scrappy grays, some from men's shirt material, many of which were included in the first quilt I ever made - which quilt, coincidentally, I hand-bound at JJ's first N'awlins house, sitting in the sunshine on his back porch, listening to him putter around cleaning up old bikes to sell, after a night of raucous, farty, whiskey-fueled games of Trains some number of Thanksgivings ago.  (Thanksgivings were kind of JJ's thing, collecting many "orphans" who didn't want to, or couldn't, go home for the holidays.  Though I had a perfectly delightful family to go home to and no one second guessing my sexual orientation, I did enjoy their Orphan Thanksgivings, because they were fun as hell, and also because the food was second in fabulousness only to the company.)

If you haven't played Trains before, I recommend it.

Anyway, somehow that particular fabric reappearing in JJ's wedding quilt feels fitting, a circle completed - but also, these gradations shade from light to dark and back again, an apt summation of marriage if ever there was one (from what I can tell, being a single girl and all.)  And, perhaps as importantly, they will hide either the black or the white hairs of their Dalmatian, Lucky....though hairs have a way of finding their most opposite-colored fabrics to land on, which a regularity that suggests an actual Law of Physics, I dunno.

Not actually Lucky, but still a menace to white AND black AND gray fabrics.  And purple, forget about it.

The back is a stretch of startling, shiny purple cotton sateen from the Stash of the Unknown Benefactress, which shade I have mentally dubbed "Prince Goes To Mardi Gras."  The binding is mostly a nice N'awlins green, with a tiny 3-leaf botanical print, that will stand as my fleur-de-lis analog, and a little bit of gold binding thrown in on one side to complete the trifecta of carnival colors (but not much gold because light colors don't wear very well on the edge of quilts, as I discovered to my great regret.)

Purple Rain Down on Bourbon Street
Purple for Justice, Green for Faith, and Gold for Power.

But Astrid, you may be saying, what part of this quilt *does* shout "#lovewins!" so that all can hear it?  Especially now, the week we have found out our new president elect is not someone who will bear the rainbow standard going forward, but fosters a divisiveness that puts my gay friends and family at risk from people wearing homophobia openly and proudly, emboldened by an environment of xenophobia and mistrust?

It's not a grand statement, per se, but it's here, in the quilting, where I used a multi-colored variegated thread called "Over the Rainbow."

You can't see it much here, but Judy Garland would be proud.

You can see a bit more of the colors here, from the back.

My sewing machine and my skills were really not cooperating so some of the sewing is just...well, it's what I would term "bad," if I were to be judging this quilt for show.  Many of the quilting intersections ended up getting tucked, which fortuitously created a sort of intentional-looking ruching in spots; and the stitch length varies wildly from "teeny weeny" to "yeah, that's not going to stay in."  But though some of these stitches may not hold, I figure of the thousands of loops that comprise all the stitching, *most* of it will keep the rest of it together.  And I fell back, of course, on my very favorite wine-glass/orange-peel pattern, because wine-glass pattern!  I love it so.

A bit o festive green to hint at the party in the back.

And here, in the label, the bowties that my gents wore on their wedding day (bow ties are *also* kind of JJ's thing, a legacy from his own preppified youth and, let's be honest, the 80s):

From before I attached it to the quilt....attempted font based on
the wedding invitation...bow ties based on my boys' finery!

And in a week where they have discovered that their very marriage could be under fire from the new regime - don't believe me? "Cultural Warrior" and Governor-cum-VP-Pence wanted to defund AIDS clinics for promoting a dangerous lifestyle, ferchrissakes - I have finally finished their quilt: bits of light and dark, like clouds passing over a midwestern field of snow, underlaid by the shiny escapist promise of a midwinter Mardi Gras parade (and a good pattern for a time when many of my friends are contemplating their own four-year Trip Around the World, or creating their own wine glass patterns with greater frequency....); and all stitched together by the power of a single, fragile rainbow thread that nevertheless, woven over and under a hundred, a thousand times, ten thousand times, ties together the shifting layers into a cohesive warmth, as welcoming as dinner party christmas lights; or a new home town where you have found a dream of happiness; or a husband's embrace at the end of a day of anxiety and frustration.

Beautiful photo by Michele Encar, used with kind permission. 

And though New Orleans is only a tiny anomaly in reddest Louisiana, and not free of homophobic assaults, I trust that their adoptive city may provide some safe harbor.....or, failing that, one hell of a party in our darkest days to come, akin to Paris during the occupation by Germany, where the wine and the resistance flowed freely (unless you were Jewish, of course).  Sign me up for *that* float, boys!

So a belated toast to you, JJ and Chris - I wish I could cocoon you in the safety you felt among the celebrants of your beautiful wedding, that lovely March night in NOLA when we all really believed It Would Get Better.  But in lieu of that, a humble gift of love and ally-ship: good for a spare room, or for farting under while eating cashew brittle (or Toffi-Fay) or for wrapping yourself in to play Trains on the back porch; and hopefully you know that in wanting to reflect your identities I do not mean to tie you to a stereotype, but honor who you are.  And in honor of what you've both gone through, and what others who are denied a family or a place at the Thanksgiving table might experience, I also made a wee donation in your you guys, and keep the faith.  Numbers, history, and the inexorable tide of demographics and time is on our side.

Oh....and about those hyper-rainbow quilts that were started but rejected as wedding gifts for being too TOO colorful?....those will find a home in a Community Center like this one, too, if they will have it; or a hospice care, or wherever those colors can proclaim to someone, even if they don't see it happening every day, that #lovewins.  Because it must, and because I believe that it will; and because I can, in a small way, contribute something to make sure it does.

Dusting off some old rainbows.

Besos, always and always,


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hey Hey, Holy Mackeral, and Take Me Out To the (Volley)Ball Game: A Primer on Fandom

....being a reflection on the bonds of sports, and the irritating wiggliness of jersey.

It is unclear what enticed a band of strangers, who had been waiting for my volleyball game to end before theirs started, to recruit me to their team way back in the early 2000s.  Was it my my unabashed, uncontrolled yelling of "FUCK ME" every time I screwed up?  Was it the gracelessness with which I ran into the empty bleachers after shanked balls in the St Greg's parish gym?  Was it resounding thud of my hurtling mass hitting the floor for an attempted dig, while the ball bounced breezily past me?  The world may never know.  (Spoilers: they were short-handed and facing forfeit.)

But I'm glad they did, because it introduced me to a whole new

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Hand-Pieced Stars and Basement Dwellers: A Fan Letter to D&D's B&B

...being another Quilt of Gratitude for a friend and her hubby, whose basement apartment has a revolving door.

Last year around this time, after I started my traveling job, I decided I was going to have to figure out how to hand-piece quilts, not knowing yet how I would cart my sewing machine around to client sites.  I wanted something portable, with small pieces I could kit up and throw in my carry-on, to while away the dead hours at the airport doing something more useful than scowling at other business travelers.

At the same time, I had been keeping in the back of my mind that I wanted to do a traditional-style quilt for my teammate D, and as it turned out, those two notions dovetailed nicely into this:

Stars n Stripes 4eva.  Figured out how to mitre the corners on multiple borders finally, too.

After some fiddling, this turned out to actually be really easy and relaxing, and I am readily starting up another hand-piecing project as we speak.  I used 2" hexagons and diamonds

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Little Skewed, A Little Scrappy, A Little Scattered: Some Reflections

...being a look at how the wretched world bleeds into my peaceful hobby, and the people who get me through.

A while back, after I started saving and cutting up my scraps for easy use, I fell in love with the excellent Scrap-Jar Stars quilt by Amber at Gigi's Thimble.  I was idly testing some of those star blocks, not sure who they might be suited for, when my co-worker Colt stopped by my apartment and saw them up on the design wall.  "Beautiful!" he declared. "The colors match my living room."  Well that was easy. Sold!

Scrap Jar Stars: cool blues, greys and whites, with the odd green and purple
Design notes: The single squares floating around outside of the stars are actually

Mint, Mustard, and Diamonds: The Sophisticated Baby

....being a quick post for a quick binkie for a co-worker, who would probably rather I didn't.

So my co-worker Molls is preggo, and despite working with her 4 days a week since like February, for the longest time *I did not notice.*  This is because I am a poor observer of things, yes, but also because she is just about the least pregnant person you're liable to run across - not from a physical perspective, but from her general attitude.  She'd literally never said a single thing about it in my hearing at work, which I respect deeply: because, in general, it's nobody's life-changing undertaking but her own (and her hubby's) and she should not feel the NEED to offer it up for public consumption or have a fuss made if she'd rather avoid the whole being-the-cynosure-of-all-eyes bit.  And also because some folks get so so weird about it: I have witnessed things said to, and invasions of personal space of, pregnant women more times than I can count.  We speculated about the cultural origins of this, perhaps dating from when your offspring was becoming part of a smaller community that might end up supporting him/her, or the fear-tinged anticipation of a time when surviving birth was a pretty spectacular feat in itself. Or perhaps it is just the holdover notion that women are common property and their job is incubation.  I confess my own curiosity about what Molls thinks of the whole motherhood thing had me biting my tongue on several questions that were just, frankly, none of my damn business (though a few leaked out.)

Whatever the source, it results in encounters like

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Winner's Curse: An Elegy for an Unknown Colleague

...some cognitive dissonance, followed by a remembrance of someone I never met.

I've done some dumb shit in my day and I'm sure that's not going to stop just because I am allegedly an adult or whatever; in fact, dumb shit might become more frequent if I progress career-wise, and have a bit more disposable income than before.   Inevitably, these episodes are due not to a callous disregard for a presumed outcome, but a childish obliviousness to the farthest-reaching ramifications of my actions.  In short, I get excited, and I don't think it through all the way.  I am the very definition of Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time.

Quite possibly these things number in the millions, but in the interest of getting to the point, here is a list of the top 3 dumb things I have done, in descending order of magnitude of dumbness:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Tale of Two Binkies

...being a meditation on the various shades of friendship.

This post is a twofer, but that is mostly due to the vagaries of my travel schedule these days, and should not be construed as any slight on the ladies of the hour.  They have been friends with each other for many many (many) (sorry, ladies) years, and I know the one through the other, and my job history is inextricably tangled with theirs now.  I delight in their company in very different ways, and somehow it seemed fitting that they should get posted together, since their quilts were made in tandem over some months this winter, each chosen to be reflective of its recipient.

Meet San:

And Charo:

San is the mother of E (whose quilt is chronicled here) and so I've known her since I was 15 and she was an impossibly young and cool adult to me (my parents were much older).  She is directly responsible for