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

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 sportsy crew, including the recipient of this T-shirt quilt, our setter, LP.  Her team ("Who's Evil?") was in the same league as my first team ("Better from Behind") and were, in fact, charter members of that league.  She had been playing for years before I showed up....and we know this, because she had proof in the form of EVERY SINGLE T-SHIRT from every season she played, from 1996 on.  And she rarely missed a season - in fact, as far as I know, she rarely missed a game at all, even if she might be a little late if, for instance, she were to drive out of a parking lot having left her wallet on her back bumper. Just, you know, hypothetically.

Luckily she had her wallet for Volleybowl night, circa...?  2004? Not sure, but for me that was like 70 lbs ago.

Those of you who have done these kinds of rec leagues know that you're getting an XXL t-shirt thrown at you every time you turn around. LP, bless her heart, kept 'em all, because even though she wore them infrequently, her OCD collection mentality, love of the league, and aversion to wastefulness, made it impossible for her to toss them - a potent brew of nostalgia, packrattery, and loyalty to the team.  And that, my friends, is what sports fanaticism is all about.

In the course of collecting these many (many, many) t-shirts, LP and I also discovered a strong common love outside of volleyball: the Chicago Cubs.  (Well, also, sausage Totino's Party Pizzas and Margie's ice cream, but those came later.)  As a season ticket holder, she has many times invited me to join her for a night of festivities at Wrigley....and, of course, in this most recent year, that invitation is increasingly gratifying, because these boys are so fun to watch, and so frickin' good, and so promising for the years to come.

That's some good looking future.  

 Linked from here: Jul 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) and second baseman Addison Russell (22) against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Even when they are bad, though, you can't beat fun at the old ballpark - especially if the park is Wrigley, the wind is blowing out for the home team, your scorecard-keeping pencil is sharp, the Goose Island is cold, and the post-game tradition includes double fudge sundaes from Margie's. You remember Spaulding Grey's definition of a "Perfect Moment"?  One time I went with LP to a 4th of July game which we won - after which they shot fireworks off the top of the giant green hand-operated scoreboard, and then we biked home in the cooling summer air, stopping en route to ice cream to chat to a vball teammate whom we happened upon, also leaving the park. I felt like I was in some kind of feel-good movie about Chicago, about baseball, and about the weirdly strong bonds of affection we have for the people who root for the same professional sports teams we love.  Tribalism, yes, but the good kind - in the same way my apoplectic cursing (and availability to play) signified to Who's Evil that I was One Of Them, securing me another match that night, and some lifelong friendships to boot.

Seriously, is there some kind of sports-related oxytocin that makes you high-five total strangers in the streets?

(Side note: there is quite a body of work about the science of fanaticism - this guy explains that it goes beyond the dopamine hit; that associating with a favorite team blurs the distinction a fan feels between her self and her team, that team successes are our successes, and even that the elevated testosterone levels of a player are mirrored by elevated testosterone levels in some watchers - which is some pre-historical way of keeping track of social hierarchy. By chemical proxy, fans are the leaders of the social pack.  So in other words, there is a scientific reason for the intolerable smugness of a winning team's backers - St. Louis Cardinal fans, for instance.)

This year has heralded many changes for LP, including the birth of an obscenely cute and happy baby girl, and the loss of a beloved pooch; and the winningest record in baseball being pulled out of Theo Epstein's magic ballcap by the losingest franchise in the MLB.  A World Series run, and the nail-biting games thereof, are surely the final glorious twists on what has been a very topsy-turvy year for her. (On the other hand, some things never will change, like her curious obsession with/lust for, even now, noted headcase Carlos Zambrano; or her indifferent mastery of the baffling sorcery of statistics.)   In the midst of new-mom nesting and spring cleaning, LP thought maybe the best thing to do with all those volleyball league t-shirts was to quilt them into something useful, and I was delighted to give this a try. I'd never made a t-shirt quilt - but how hard could it be?

I really gotta stop asking that question.

First thing ya gotta know about t-shirt quilts - JERSEY MATERIAL SUCKS.  As someone who loves her quilt-weight cotton, I hadn't really realized how dang stretchy jersey really is. Conventional wisdom indicates that to sew jersey for quilts you stablize it with, uh, stabilizer - in this case, iron-on Pellon -  that limits the stretch of the jersey so the squares go together with relative ease.  After a few Pinterest sessions mulling over how to put the squares together (with sashing? Squares or hexagons? should I try to make them the same size? in what order?) I ended up with five rows of 15"-wide panels of varying heights that I put together in vertical rows, in chronological order of the representative seasons.  As you might expect in Chicago, the league year start with Winter.

Two columns, post- and pre-stabilizing.  Note wiggliness of the latter.

Many of the shirts had printed designs on the front and the back, so for the quilt top I used the ones that named the season ("Volleyball Spring 2000"). In deference to LB's thriftiness, I tried to use anything with writing, though; so the quilt back comprises a few extra squares that made two columns with one row across the top.  The whole middle is one piece of plain navy jersey, so it's not a wholly two-sided quilt, but I used at least one side of all of the unique shirts LP had (she also had doubles. I'm sending those back, even though I *should* do her the favor of throwing them away so she doesn't have to.  SHE'LL NEVER KNOW, MWAHAHA!)

In any case, after some routine worry about what the hell I was doing, the cutting out and stabilizing of the shirt panels turned out to be the longest part of the process by far: the assembly and quilting were a snap, comparatively. Quilting is a simple box grid, 3" apart, and binding is a chipper navy dot.  In fact, I was finishing up this binding during the NLCS games, which seemed entirely apt.  And it should be noted for the record that a hand-sewn binding might take about 5 regular season games' worth of couch-sitting to complete, but it only took like 3.5 post-season games.  So even quilters experience elevated testosterone levels, it appears - at least when that quilter has decades of dopamine-hit memories and self-identification wrapped up in team, too.

The finished front, all quilted, and bound...

But the reinforced squares on the front, coupled with the plastic-y stiffness of some of the ink on the printed designs, do make this all a bit stiff for a binkie. So I was determined to keep the back as soft as possible, for snuggling purposes, and did not stabilize all of the big navy back panel.  From a ease-of-work standpoint, this might have been a mistake. (Spoilers: it was.) But irritating as the stretchiness was, it did in fact prove to be more soft and snuggly than the rest of it.  In time, the printed parts will (I trust) start softening up too, just like any favorite t-shirt.

...and the back, with patented Super-Snuggl Core (TM).

And close as I got to making an even bottom edge with the disparately-sized panels on the front, I still ended up just cutting off a couple of those right in the middle of a line of sponsor bars, which makes for a less-than-professional finish.  But what the hell, LP has known me for going on two decades - she knew what she was in for.  And it was worth the effort alone just to have seen all those sponsor bar names again, some of which have been gone for years now.  This quilt is, thus, also a memorial to seasons' worth of alcoholic libations and bar food. Clark Bar, we hardly knew ye!

FUCK ME! Good thing Grizzlies no longer exists, or they might be mad about this.

The post-9/11 flag for the 2001 Fall league.....sponsored by Lite Beer.

So here's to you, LP, and your newest little Cubs fan, who has been to more games in her half-year of life than most adults will ever see.  I am grateful for the many games at which you have hosted me and the many MANY times you have made me cackle with glee regarding your work and dating ex-ploits.  May this t-shirt quilt warm you on the foulest of Chicago winter nights - with all of the aging competitive fire an adult rec league can muster, with the Cubs fever that has gripped us our whole lives, with the unrelenting burn of Montrose Beach sand underfoot on an impromptu summer day of hooky from work, and with the warm relief of a dollop of double fudge on top of an icy cold banana split - all the way to Spring Training.

She's actually famous now, that kid.  You can probably ask for her autograph, whenever she learns how to write.

This is the year!

Meet you by the Ernie! and besos to you and the KinderCub -