Thankful for Pie 2016 (is the year over yet?) Edition

Well.

I know that I’m definitely not in the minority when I state that 2016 was mostly a flaming garbage fire of a year. Losing so many inspirational people (especially David Bowie…my bestest kitten’s namesake…that one still hurts) and watching this country (well, large parts of the world, actually) attempt to tear itself apart with prejudice and hate…

It’s very hard to be thankful this year.

However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. So, here’s my annual year-in-review, Thankful for Pie, featuring a whole boatload of photos and stories that did not end up on the blog this year due to the fact that working night shift makes blogging extremely difficult. I will try my best to not be so lame about it next year, I promise.

January started with a very special project…

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cap and peggy

making hats for Cap and Peggy! My friend Bailee and I got up insanely early in the morning in order to spend 15 seconds getting this picture late in the afternoon, and let me tell you, what a fantastic decision that was. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell were both lovely, lovely people, and they deserve all the handknit love.

Later that month, I spilled an entire gallon of milk on my kitchen floor.

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It was really a grand achievement.

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Dan and I also got into watching professional darts competitions on YouTube, and I discovered that I am acutally pretty decent at darts. Please, do yourself a favor and go watch some of these things, and then walk around your house yelling “One hundred and eighty!” at the top of your lungs. You’ll feel awesome.

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Many walks in City Park were had as well, and we were particularly photogenic that day.

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And we got to go see Tool! Second time for me, third time for Dan, but I will go see that band every time I can until the day I die. So good.

In February, Dan made me go canoeing on Valentine’s Day.

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I say made me because for some reason, even though I am a decent swimmer and also wearing a flotation device, going out in this canoe gives me all kinds of anxiety. We seriously bought this canoe with spare change collected from over a number of years, and I need to make a special point to get more comfortable getting into that thing, because Dan has suggested we go canoeing every single weekend since.

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There was Mediterranean food at the end, though, so that made it okay, with the added bonus of my Captain America t-shirt.

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That month I also discovered that Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls and I have the exact same kitchen light fixture. Good deal.

In March, I got to deliver a baby blanket filled with love to my much-deserving friend Christina.

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She remains one of the reasons why I’m still sticking with night shift at my crazy-busy hospital, and her tiny baby will continue to receive knitted love from me whenever possible.

Dan’s family came into town that month, and we took them to China Lights.

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The entire park was filled with these beautiful sculptures made of hand-painted silk and light, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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Stunning.

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I made some awesome socks, and told their name to any- and everyone who would listen. Say it with me. Drachenschwingen.

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My friend Paul made me the most beautiful masterpiece of a snoball at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, one of the greatest places on Earth. Snoballs will remain a theme throughout the year.

In April, my good friend Kelli from nursing school got married, and I got to see some much-missed friends.

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It’s always nice to see beautiful weddings happen to really good people.

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I also got a really good 7-letter word in Scrabble that month, you guys.

In May, Dan and I celebrated our ten years together with brunch and pretty trees.

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Riccobono’s Panola Street Cafe will always treat you right with the good, good breakfast food.

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My best friend’s band, the Ghostwood, had their very last show. Jonathan and his wife Rebecca have since moved to California, and I miss them all the time.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t really sad, but I did have a moment of triumph at this particular show. A crowd-surfing/mosh-pit/poorly-place speaker situation led to the guitarist Andy’s lovely girlfriend Lisa getting hit really hard in the knee, and I got to spring into first aid action, helping Andy get her out of harm’s way, providing her with ibuprofen, and then getting her an ice pack. I felt downright nurse-like.

She’s totally okay now, guys, don’t worry.

Dan and I got to see this really awesome papier-mache elephant.

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And I got to witness what is possibly the greatest license plate of all time.

June. Oh my god, June. I completely forgot to tell you guys what happened to…bum bum bum…the Hamilton hats. This could be a post all by itself, so hang in there.

Well, first things first, I made an insane amount of hats for the entire cast of Hamilton.

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Actually, first-first things first, my brother and sister-in-law made the arrangements to take me and Dan on a fantastic New York Hamilton-based trip for my birthday, which I will never, ever be a good enough person to deserve, so I have no idea why they keep doing these awesome things for me.

And then I wrote a rather unintentionally heartfelt post about them addressed directly to Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The hats came with us to New York City!

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We saw Fun Home! It was an astoundingly beautiful piece of theatre, and I was totally crushed when it closed earlier this year. Every single person in this world would benefit from seeing it, and I hope that communities get their own productions running soon.

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Ignore my weird grinning double-chinned I-totally-wasn’t-bawling-my-eyes-out-ten-minutes-ago face in these, but just be excited that Beth Malone and Michael Cerveris were such wonderful friendly people. Michael Cerveris was super excited to talk about New Orleans with me for a little bit (he lives here!), and I dream of one day being super cool and not weird at all if I bump into him on the sidewalk.

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The entire cast was just so friendly and sweet to the fans. It was really fun to watch them.

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On Hamilton day, Dan and I started early and roamed Central Park.

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Dan discovered that in order to get the proper angle on some extremely important photos, you have to fall over backwards into a bush.

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The original bag that I had packed the hats in disintegrated in my suitcase, so I packed the hats up into a nicer laundry bag from our hotel, complete with a printed out copy of the blog post, like a giant dork.

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We went to this super-cool lunch/interview thing at Sardi’s where there was a Q&A with Betsy Struxness and Stephanie Klemons, original member of the Hamilton ensemble and assistant choreographer/dance captain of Hamilton respectively. Two very cool and accomplished ladies who encouraged everyone to pursue the arts and get their entire families involved. Also, I was wearing an awesome dress with chickens all over it that I got from Trashy Diva.

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We got in line for the show, and I mustered up the courage to knock on the backstage door, at Betsy and Stephanie’s advice. A kindly older gentleman came out and asked me who the hats were for. I told them that they were for everyone in the cast. And that was it.

Until. We got inside the theatre, bought some merch, made our way to our seats, and then my sister-in-law Kim tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Jinger, look!” I turned to see who I assume was the stage manager, wearing one of my hats and making her way up into the booth about 5 minutes before the show started. I died for a second. And that was it.

No, seriously, that really was it.

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We waited for autographs afterwards, plus after the evening show, and even though we saw and chatted with both Rory O’Malley and Leslie Odom, Jr. (both fellow Carnegie Mellon alums and people I have actually met and interacted with in real life before), neither of them knew anything about the hats. I tweeted and re-tweeted about the blog post to Lin-Manuel Miranda and other cast members, and aside from getting a “like” from Renée Elise Goldsberry…

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…which, don’t get me wrong, was freaking awesome, I never heard anything else about them. I sincerely hope that they didn’t end up in a garbage can somewhere. Perhaps they are hanging out with Jeff the Squirrel somewhere.

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Got Rory, Leslie, and Ephraim Sykes (who has since gone on to win hearts playing Seaweed on Hairspray Live!) to sign my Hamiltome, too, even though there were no pictures of that due to the crush of the crowd, so that was good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, there were many other wonderful things about the trip.

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We toured the Aladdin theatre and got to interact with some cool Disney Broadway memorabilia.

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We saw a DeLorean parked behind a pile of trash.

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We had a wonderful picnic in Central Park with more incredibly beautiful people from Carnegie Mellon, my friends Carla, Nora, Marie, Evan, and Evan (yes, I meant to type two Evans), who all, even though I see them only every five years or so (which is ridiculous and I hope that we can change), remain the most lovely people who fall into conversation as if we just saw each other the day before.

This picnic took place on Sunday, Tony Awards morning, which was unfortunately also the day that the news erupted about the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting the previous night. It was a good day to hug your friends as tightly as possible.

Speaking of Tony Awards…

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We went to a viewing party at this wonderful restaurant whose name unfortunately escapes me at the moment, but we had a great time. Dan cheated off of me on our Tony ballots, but promised to split the prize with me.

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We ate an array of tiny delicious foods and drank an astonishing amount of wine, all while tearing up while watching Lin-Manuel accept his award with starkly beautiful poetry and seeing Hamilton and The Humans just clean up all the awards. Good stuff.

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A wonderful trip, but bittersweet.

In July?

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Dan and I made pie, but unfortunately zero pictures of pie or pie recipes ended up on the blog this year, for the precise reason that I absolutely sucked at pie this year. I just could not get my crust game together, and I still have absolutely no idea why. Many attempts were made, many disappointments were had. I am aware of the irony that I always call this post Thankful for Pie, but the reasoning for keeping the name this year will be made clear later.

I made a decorative throw pillow for one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk.

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I think he liked it.

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In fact, I know he did.

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Look at the little picture he took of me! What a good dude.

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I also took the month of July to binge listen all of The Adventure Zone podcast while drinking coffee and coloring-by-numbers. It’s hard to stay in the lines when you’re listening to those McElroy brothers, let me tell you.

August brought with it more snoballs.

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Plus, my new favorite shoes, turquoise Vans covered with beach balls and tiny kittens playing in inner tubes. Like you do.

In September, I started a new vest for Dan, which will get a massive blog post when I’m finished, I promise.

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I went on a granola-baking binge.

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We had a few beach moments before it got too cold and gloomy to do so.

Something also happened in September that was awful, but ended up being something that I am incredibly thankful for. Because this involves nursing and patients, I have to speak very, very generally, so bear with me. We take care of a huge range of high-acuity patients on our floor, and having very young children with tracheostomies and ventilators is not uncommon. Early one morning, I happened to be the one to respond to a mother’s call for help and ended up performing CPR on an unresponsive and not-breathing baby with no pulse with a trach/vent for nearly five minutes. I got rotated out when the code team arrived and seconds later, her heart started beating again.

She’s totally okay now, I promise! She was back to her old self the next night, and I know that this is par for the course when you work with very sick children, but it would be wrong to pretend that this didn’t affect me deeply. I had nightmares for about a month afterwards where I saw the entire thing happen over again. We also had a long-time patient that I took care of all the time pass away this year, so it was like the entire reality of my job hit me all at once.

Hold on, let’s look at something happy.

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My parents dug up an old Karate Kid movie poster puzzle for me.

Plus, I have really cute cats!

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Like, the cutest! Feel better? Okay. Me too.

I am not rethinking nursing in any way, trust me. If anything, I’m digging in deeper. More on that later.

October started with the greatest Halloween decorations of all time.

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I see this house on my way to work all the time, and I wonder if the guy who does this knows how much happiness it brings me.

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More snoballs, this time featuring Hansen’s well-known motto.

Then, for a dress-up opportunity at work, Dan made me the greatest gift a man has ever given a woman.

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My very own Captain America shield made out of a garbage can lid. (Just like in the first movie! I know!) It is possibly now my most prized possession. I wish I could carry it around every day.

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And dang it if it didn’t look super cute with my vintage-y Captain America dress.

All this dressing up was for our superhero-themed Pediatric Nurses’ Week poster contest, and let me tell you, people on 6 Center know how to throw down.

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I know that we save lives and stuff, but this just might be my greatest accomplishment as a registered nurse. I’m way down in the lower right-hand corner, but all of the collaging, drawing, and lettering was all done by yours truly. Needless to say, we won the crap out of that poster contest.

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I finally got the Hamilton soundtrack on vinyl just in time for our Hamilton’s America documentary viewing party, which also included alcoholic cake…

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Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake, to be exact…

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…lots of Hamilton shirts…

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…and hilarious Hamilton bingo.

Remember how I said that I was digging in deeper into nursing? Well, in November, I was accepted into Loyola University’s DNP program.

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In three years, I will have a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, and will hopefully be able to work in a clinic in underserved communities to help children and their families. I start in a week and a half. I’m simultaneously excited and terrified, plus happy to buy some new school supplies.

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Dan and I did our part and became part of history, voting for the very first woman candidate for president. We all know how that worked out, but I’m still proud that we got a chance to do such a thing, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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For Thanksgiving, I continued to experience crust and pie-related failure. The pumpkin pie was perfectly fine, but that apple and cranberry one up on top was a huge mess. I fought through uncooperative crust and managed to make something that looked really good, but for some reason the filling never…gelled together. I sliced it open and dished up mangled pieces of apple, cranberry, and crumbled crust and tried not to get really upset. Pie really is a mystery that way. You can go from start to finish thinking everything is fine, but you won’t know until you try to get that first slice out of the pan.

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At the end of the month, I got to help make a baby’s first Christmas a little more special. Christina’s baby (mentioned above with the baby blanket) has been “adopted” as honorary grandbaby to one of our other coworkers, and she commandeered me to make a label for this adorable stuffed bear. I went ahead and said, how about I make it a lot harder and make a whole sweater for the bear? No one who reads this regularly is at all surprised, I’m sure.

Also, the bear “unzips” up the back and flips inside out to fold into a plush ball, which is really, really cool, but makes it so that the sweater had to be able to come off, hence the wide neckline. When my coworkers saw it, they all declared that the cowl-neck was adorable, which was hilarious to me.

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In December, I made tiny Candlenights stockings for the McElroy brothers.

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I destroyed my coworkers in bowling.

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We ate even more snoballs. Any and every time of year is right for this icy goodness.

And, then, to finish things up on a high note, I conquered crust.

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I got out the big guns and let Joy the Baker tell me what to do. Every step was painstakingly followed, I rolled out everything extremely slowly and chilled everything multiple times, and it was perfect.

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Dan’s birthday apple pie was a success, and I will continue to kick ass at pie in the new year, hopefully.

I hope that you all take the time to find the light in such a dark year and also kick ass at whatever you choose to do. Although, seriously, you should make some pie. You’ll feel better, I promise.

I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow

Can we talk for a second about Chuck Palahniuk?

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My infatuation with his work started sort of atypically for me, but not for the rest of the world, with the fact that the first inkling I ever had of him was the movie Fight Club. For once, I didn’t read the book before the movie. I didn’t even know there was a book before the movie. I was 17 and not yet shaped into the devour-er of bizarre dystopian fiction that blogs before you.

That movie blew my damn mind.

Initially, the only reason I wanted to see it was because I had a massive crush on Edward Norton and wanted to see every single thing he was in. (The crush is still sort of there, especially Primal Fear-era Norton. Oh man.) I left the theatre feeling like I had just seen something that I shouldn’t have, and my consequential deep-dive into all things Palahniuk only reinforced that.

I made my mom buy me (in addition to being the awkward person next to me in that movie theatre, poor Mom…actually, to her credit, she’s a surprising fan of this type of stuff and subsequently made it through awkward viewings of Pi and Trainspotting as well during this formative period in my life…) the novel of Fight Club, which I read in one day on my way to NYU for college interviews. Then came Invisible Monsters, and I was completely hooked. Then Survivor. Then Choke, which is still and will always be my favorite. Then he couldn’t even write books fast enough for me to read them.

You could say I was a fan.

I have still maintained my fandom over the years, faithfully reading each new work as it comes out and adding most of them to my permanent collection. I still reread Choke and Diary every couple of years just for fun and to cleanse my palate between the Jodi Picoult guilty-pleasure novels I find myself into now. (Seriously, can there be two authors more different from each other? I have no idea why my brain works this way.) When I saw that Mr. Palahniuk was going to be coming to New Orleans for a book-signing this month, I realized that I had to add him to the increasingly-long list of admired people, especially authors, who receive a handknit gift from me.

But what to make? The answer came almost instantly. A throw pillow, emblazoned with an anti-capitalist message, of course!

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Say hello to I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow. (Easily downloadable and printable PDF pattern right here, plus the chart you’ll need to embroider Tyler Durden’s anti-establishment message on your pillow. And your heart.)

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Some notes on the making of this here pillow, so it’s easier to make your own:

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The knitting here is ridiculously easy.

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The duplicate stitching is a beast.

If you’ve never tried duplicate stitching before (or you’re not as obsessed with it as I am), it might be good to practice a little on a swatch (maybe your gauge swatch that you’ve diligently knitted, right?) before you move on to the finished project. Here’s a great tutorial from Purl Soho to review if you’ve never tried it before (be sure to follow the “V” stitch portion for our particular pattern).

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To perform a duplicate stitch, you insert a yarn needle threaded with your desired yarn into the base of the stitch you’d like to embroider over, from back to front. Then, you thread the needle underneath the “V” of the stitch above the one you’re working on, pull the yarn snugly, and then bring the needle back down into the base of the stitch where you came up. You’re basically following the yarn through the stitch as it loops up and down, but only doing it one stitch at a time.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your tension consistent. You don’t want your embroidered stitches to be too loose and floppy because then you’ll be able to see the knitted fabric underneath, and everything will just be a mess. If your stitches are too tight, there will be all kinds of puckering and strangeness, which will be near-impossible to block out. Just practice for a bit on some no-stakes stockinette swatches, and you’ll be good to go.

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You don’t want to make your working yarn too long, or you’ll end up tangled all the time. Make sure, as you’re moving from area to area, that you leave enough slack on the back of your work that the fabric doesn’t pucker, but not enough that you’re getting tangled up and catching on loops back there all the time. The way that I do this is to put 2-3 fingers against the back of the fabric and under the slack as I’m pulling the yarn across and making my first stitch, keeping things loose, but not sloppy. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to look at the back of crazy embroidery? All knitters love that stuff.

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You’re going to wet-block your pillow before sewing it up, just to give those letters a chance to even and flatten out, plus to get your edges straight, which makes things so much easier.

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Mattress stitch everything up almost all the way, leaving the stuffing until the very end. Afterwards, I gave mine another good hit with the steam iron, just to make sure that everything was fluffed and puffed and perfect.

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I feel like someone was watching me.

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—–

One other important moment before we get to the main event.

I went to get all of my Chuck Palahniuk books, just to make a super-cute picture (and it worked, right?), and I decided to look up the page in Fight Club where our famous quote resides.

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Hmmmm. Turns out that the internet steered me oh-so-wrong. I, like probably 99% of the people on the planet, had completely forgotten that the bar scene in which Tyler states, “The things you own end up owning you,” is completely invented for the movie. In the book, the narrator, musing to himself before he has any idea that his apartment is no more, states, “Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”

As much as I love the phrase “lovely nest,” that sentence is a little too long to put on a throw pillow. I was mortified that I remembered it wrong, but then Chuck ended up agreeing with me, saying that it didn’t matter and he thought that it was great. Yeah, that was awesome.

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I’m getting ahead of myself.  When I got to the book-signing, I patiently waited my turn, sitting almost entirely in a plant with pillow in tow, chatting with some lovely people who traveled 900 miles to see him. That’s some dedication.

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The book-signing was to celebrate the release of Fight Club 2, the graphic novel continuation of the original novel, which is stunningly gorgeous to me already, and I was only flipping through the first few pages. From what I gather, there’s some 4th-wall-crossing mind-bending author-acknowledgment stuff going on, a la Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, and I am always on board for that. I am so excited to dig in.

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The moment to present my gift was nearly here, and the wonderful people at the Garden District Book Shop caught me looking very coy, wearing my Hamilton shirt in honor of the 212th anniversary of his duel with Burr. Yes, I can’t just geek out about one thing at a time, apparently.

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Can we talk about this man? What a gem.

Not only was he doing the entire event in his bare feet, but he proclaimed the pillow beautiful and asked me all kinds of questions, for which I had extremely short and insufficient answers. Maybe because my brain was overloading with awe.

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He posed me with the pillow so that he could take a picture of it! How freaking cute is that?

He asked me how long I had been knitting (16 years!), and what made me start knitting in the first place. I was honest with my ridiculously lame answer and stated that I saw a friend knitting during a lecture my first semester in college and decided that that was something I needed to learn how to do. No awesome family-heritage-based or raw talent story. Just boredom. If only I knew how much it would come to define me as a person today…

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He personalized our books with the most wonderful messages!

And then…

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…oh yeah.

I had to go with choking, of course, being that Choke is my favorite of his novels, but all I can see when I look at this picture is how genuinely happy Dan looks to be abused by a famous author. I don’t even know how he managed this winning smile because my facial expression is only 30% pretend here. I don’t know if it was the height difference or what (or the fact that he was standing on a cooler behind us), but Chuck Palahniuk actually managed to take my breath away a little bit. More than a little bit. That man’s got some arms.

We strode out of there on top of the world. I’m still smiling, sitting here the next day. I can’t wait to read my book and dive once again into Mr. Palahniuk’s twisted world, knowing that he now knows how much he’s shaped mine.

Seriously, Chuck, thank you. You’re one of the good ones, and you deserve all of the decorative throw pillows life can give you.