Everybody go quilt tonight

I’m big on handmade. Owning something lovingly crafted by another human being — not a machine — greatly appeals to me, and that’s probably why I spend so much time perusing handcrafted items on Etsy.

Crocheting has been a hobby of mine since I was a kid, and I absolutely love making scarves. The repetition soothes my soul. When life has gone awry or I’m feeling anxious, just holding the crochet hook makes me feel better. There’s something to be said for the joy stemming from wearing something you’ve created. Taking two skeins of yarn and weaving them into something new — something I made — is a great feeling.

I wish I knew more, though. Of all the skills I envy, quilting is at the top of that list. Between Trish’s posts on quilting bees, Lexi’s skills and my boyfriend’s mom’s talents, I find myself surrounded by adorable quilted items and long to learn the skills myself.

If we lived closer, Alex could probably help me — but I’ll settle with admiring her wares, now up in my Etsy shop. Her latest creations are those adorable miniature baskets pictured above. I have one on my desk with the rest of — ahem — the Valentine’s Day candy I’ve been squirreling away. I’ll be using it for storing paperclips and other cute things when it’s empty. She has spring patterns and gorgeous pastels out now.

Further proof of her talent wasn’t needed after she made me a sock monkey quilt for last year’s birthday. I mean, sock monkeys — on a quilt.

I crocheted her a scarf for her birthday, but let’s be honest — not nearly as impressive.


Any craft skills you covet? Are you a quilter? Or do you share my rampant obsession with sock monkeys? (I’m starting a support group. We can get through this . . . together.)

The Saga of Howard, and how he finally got back in touch

Howard was a sock monkey.

My sock monkey.

And when I went on a trip to Florida in 1998, he decided to jump ship.

Made from scratch and lovingly sewed by my mom as a Valentine’s Day gift when I was small (at right), Howard was the beloved brother of Harold — my sister’s sock monkey — and we were rarely apart. When we went to Miami and I got a horrendous sunburn (born of my own stupidity, yes), I wasn’t in my right mind. And somewhere in my overheated delirium, my beloved friend slipped away.

The picture below, snapped on a Florida balcony, is the very last time photo I have of Howard. (Please pay no attention to my terrible hair, Hanson hat and smug, sunburned smile. I was 12.) Though I considered splashing it on milk cartons across the nation, I never quite had the opportunity.

And Howard, in all his self-absorbed craziness, never bothered to send me a postcard from his new digs in South Beach.

Last week, I wrote a column for the newspapers where I work detailing my sock monkey’s abrupt disappearance from my life — and how, in the aftermath, I tend to see sock monkeys everywhere. I love them, of course — so much so that I bought one for Spencer and he got one for me for my birthday! I see sock monkeys on calendars, in commercials, on book covers. They’re everywhere.

In my column I talked about the summers Howard spent with Katie and me at my grandparents’ home, and how my mom re-glued his eyes and tied him a Valentine’s bow. I also expressed my displeasure that he wouldn’t even bother to call his own brother and let him know where he was headed . . . I mean, he and Harold are flesh and sock.

Well, the Saga of Howard was a big hit. Coworkers, friends, family and readers have emailed, called and popped in to inquire about my runaway monkey.

And yesterday? Yesterday, I got an anonymous letter in the mail.

From Howard.

Kelly popped into my office with a plain white envelope. My name was written in careful script across the front and, in lieu of any return address, “Howard The Sock Monkey” sat in the corner. Inside was a single sheet of white paper with these typed words:

My Dearest Meg,

Hello, from Howard, your long-lost sock friend.

I’m sorry for the greetings I failed to send . . .

But do not fear, my life is good

Having so much fun that I thought I never could!

You see, Harold often cramped my style and stole the spotlight —

And to be quite honest, we often partook in sock fights!

But I so enjoyed Florida and visits to Grandma

Truly reveling in the many things I saw!

I hid in El Paso Hotel, for there was more I wanted to see . . .

But I regret the pain I caused of your missing me.

I’ll never forget my very best friend

Or your Mom’s love for my life and the many sewing mends.

Never forget — you were the best —

Hey, tell me, is Harold still a sock monkey pest?

From my calendar photos I’m doing well, as you can see —

They’ll forever keep memories alive for you, Meg,

From Howard, your ‘lil sock monkey.

I’m not going to lie to you guys — I’m pretty sure this is the coolest thing ever.

As soon as I was done reading the poem aloud to my coworkers, I sat in shocked silence. I mean, wow. My sister was the next one to hearing my rousing rendition of the verse, and by then I practically had the whole thing memorized. Spencer read it. My dad heard it while making pancakes. I’m emailing it to my mom, and reading it to my grandmother at lunch today.

It’s postmarked from Southern Maryland, where my column runs twice a week, but I know the truth: Howard is really out there.

And his writing skills have dramatically improved from when he was helping me with my seventh-grade English essays.