Monday, April 29, 2019

Book Review: The Great Passage

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

If you love words, you will love this book. The story takes place in Japan and is a story of the creation of a dictionary. Who knew that would make a great story?

A quiet and nerdy guy who loves words lands a job in a publishing house dictionary division. He is fascinated by words and their etymology. He's perfect for the job of creating a new dictionary.

I loved all the thought and enjoyment about words and their various meanings. The story is touching and even gripping. I was surprised and pleased with how much I enjoyed this book. In Japan a movie was made of this book. I hope I can find it somewhere on the web and watch it. I expect it to be a great movie if it does honor to the book upon which it is based.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


Four friends at a cabin in Wisconsin. Weather was beautiful. Lake was beautiful. Days were fun and productive. Most days we sewed. Some days we also went into town and hit a couple of quilt shops. This is what I completed:

That's a lot of tops, but most of them were already started. Only one was made totally from scratch.

See the purple and aqua quilt top above? Those blocks were made by someone else. I just had to trim and assemble and add the sashing and borders. I was curious about the block itself, so I tried one of my own in a 12.5-inch size. This is what I created (the green/red one). It was fun to experiment. I like the block.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Book Review: I Will Always Write Back

I Will Always Write Back, How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda.

A true story about a 7th grade girl in Pennsylvania who was given an assignment: pick a country from which you would like a pen pal. Caitlin picked Zimbabwe because "Zimbabwe" looked like a cool word. As a 12 year-old, she really had no world awareness. As the pen pal relationship with Martin progressed, she began to learn a lot about Zimbabwe and a lot about the world, and a lot about herself. Their friendship lasts a lifetime, and their correspondence changes them both in amazing ways.

I loved this book and the story of how interactions and kindness can change lives in untold ways. I'm so glad I read this book, and it only took one day.

Monday, April 15, 2019

H2H Check-in

I posted these two quilts separately, not long ago, but I am posting them again, this time together. It'll be easier for the H2H Challenge quilters to come see my progress so far. These two were already sent to Jack's Basket.

This one is in progress.. I hope to do something to it to make it useable. I made this top a couple years ago, from the gift I received from H2H, so it feels good to turn it around and gift it back to H2H. I just hope I get it done in time, whatever it is I end up doing with it. Pattern is Gemini, I think from Villa Rosa.

Check the progress of other quilters here.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Politics and the World

Yesterday I responded to a story on a Facebook page which belongs to a local TV station. People were decrying Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments given in a recent speech. I posted "I support her." You should have seen the vitriolic responses to my little statement. If I let it get to me, it could be scary. I choose to not let it get to me.

The world situation right now is awful. It scares me. Under Trump's leadership so many things have been turned topsy-turvy. Now Hate is OK and persecution of "other" opinions is OK. You know what I mean.. one can see it everywhere in the news and in social media.

The thing that really bothers me is that we don't understand each other. People will post blanket statements like, "Liberals believe x, y, and z. They don't believe in freedom." (I actually heard someone say that: "liberals don't believe in freedom.") As a person who labels herself a Liberal, usually when I see statements like that, the statements do not in any way describe what I believe and what I disavow. If I say that's not what I believe, and that I most certainly do believe in freedom, will it change anyone's opinion about what Liberals believe? It doesn't ever seem to.

I no doubt have inaccurate perceptions about what Conservatives believe. If I were to write a sentence this very minute, "Conservatives believe a, b, and c..." I'm sure I would get it wrong. It used to be OK to disagree. We could still be friends. It's so much harder now. I wish I could find that sweet spot where we do agree, or at least where I could understand why a person believes something so diametrically opposed to my beliefs.

For the above reasons I joined a group called Better Angels. Their aim is to bring opposing groups together so that we can learn from each other. I have not yet attended any of their gatherings. I better do so. Maybe it will help me feel more hopeful. What I feel now is sadness at the terrible state the world is in. I fear that we are being blinded and are being led down a path to self destruction. One day will we wake up and find ourselves living in a dictatorship? An autocracy? It feels eerily close to that already.

I do believe people are basically good. But we are also sheep, easily led astray. I'm praying for a more hopeful, optimistic future. What do you feel about the world today? Are we doomed? Is there hope?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Book Review: Bend

Bend by Nancy J. Hedin

This story takes place in a small farming community, Bend, in central Minnesota (a fictional town). The main character is a teenage lesbian who feels unwelcomed and eager to leave Bend as soon as possible. Her goal is to go to college, become a veterinarian, and perplexingly, to return to Bend to practice her medicine there. She is unhappy in Bend and feels ostracized for being a lesbian, though she is not openly gay. So why she wants to return to Bend is a mystery to me.

She has a twin sister who is "perfect." The twins are competing for a large college scholarship funded by a local very conservatively religious man. That does not go well, nor do many other plot twists in the story. In the beginning the characters seem far too stereotypical.. the mother is a nag and very bitter. The father is a quiet, patient farmer. The twins are constantly bickering and appear to hate each other.

Despite these problems, the story kept me interested, and I read the book in a day. Some of the characters actually grow and evolve out of their stereotypes. But for more disappointment, some of the plot twists and turns seem a bit far fetched, as if the author had a world of social issues that had to be crammed into one book. And the main character recovers very quickly from a traumatic event and boom! she moves on.

I feel that the story should have been more focused, and the other myriad social issues the author wanted to touch on put on hold to put into a second book. Despite my seemingly negative review, I liked the writing style overall and feel that the author has some talent to hone in future writing endeavors.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Book Review: Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

This book is beautifully written! Enger's language is superb. A family experiences a tragedy and it sends them on a long expedition. It's a story of family, love, growing up, right and wrong, honesty, faith.

Confession: it took me a long time to read this, because I kept putting it down and interrupting it with other books. However, the writing was so great that coming back to this book was never a jolt. I picked up where I left off and was drawn right back in by the great writing and strong characters.

I want a cozy book nook in my house! Do you have one?

Monday, April 08, 2019

My Blocks for May

I already made my Sunshine Lotto blocks for May. The theme for May is nine-patches. I really love how they turned out. The colors are so pretty, aren't they?

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Story #4 by Carol Egan


I can hardly get out of bed. What did I used to do that was so much fun? I can't remember. Everything seems boring and pointless. I get up because I have to. I go to work and put on a bright face. Inside I'm dying.

Fred told me about Luke. I literally crumpled to the floor. My husband has a son! What am I supposed to feel? I feel like I should be happy for him. Should I? I just can't. All I can think of is those awful years of trying and trying to get pregnant, having multiple miscarriages and hopes dashed. My heart was broken. It took me forever to come to terms with the truth -- we were never going to have a child. I picked myself up and carried on. I got used to the idea and was even happy. Now.. out of nowhere... Fred has a son.

How could he do this to me? I know, he didn't do it TO me. But it has happened to me, and I'm mad as hell, creeped out, and so envious I can hardly think straight.

Mad: after all these years! We tried and tried. Three times we got pregnant! I was thrilled! I ALWAYS wanted to be a mom. I know I'd be a great mom. I love kids! The miscarriages hurt so much. The longest I went was 10 weeks into the pregnancy. Oh, I had such hopes and dreams! So now, to see that my husband has a son, conceived in their teen years. It must have been easy. No thought given to making a child. It just happened. And me? I had to try and try, take medications, measure my temperature, do it when I didn't want to other than this is how to make a baby. So yeah, I'm mad.

Also, I'm mad on Fred's behalf. How could Annette have kept this from him for 26 years? It wasn't fair to Fred and certainly not to Luke.

Creeped out: OK, we weren't virgins when we got married. I knew that. I accepted it. We both had made that choice. But to learn that his girlfriend had his child? That makes it real. I can't help but picture them together, and it makes me ill. I know it's not fair, but how can I stop the feeling?

Envious: Annette had the baby I should have had. Did she even want it? I would DIE to have Fred's baby. I wonder if Luke looked like a cute little Fred. And I wasn't the one cuddling him, kissing him, making him giggle, reading to him, and chasing him around the house. It's eating me up inside.

Fred has been very careful with me. I know he's trying his best. He can see that I'm crushed. It's hard for me to talk to him right now. Next week he's going down to Saint Paul to meet Luke. He'll have to tell Diane about Luke, too. I wonder how she will take it? She'll probably be thrilled. She can finally be a grandma. She always says she's fine and happy without any grandchildren, but if she had some..... yeah, I know it would have been a joy for her. But now Luke is 26. That will be strange for Diane, too. Suddenly she'll be the grandmother of an adult.

I have been thinking this to death, working it over and over in my mind. I don't want to hurt Fred. I want him to be happy, and I hope the meeting with Luke goes well. But right now, I'm a wreck. Luke was born on July 20. Too ironic -- that was the due date for our first baby that miscarried. I always feel blue on July 20. Not sure how I'll feel this year -- even bluer?

Today I have to get up. Get out of bed and face the day. Put on a fake smile and slog through the hours. I love you Baby Fred and Baby Karen.. the babies that were never meant to be, that I almost got to have but never did. I will always love the people you might have been.

Friday, April 05, 2019

My Quilts are Everywhere

My post title is not me attempting to brag. It's just a fact. After all these years of making and giving away quilts, there are now kids in many, many countries who own quilts made by me. The most recent is this one which was made by Tammy of Sunshine, but four of the blocks were made by me (the top row: middle and right, the second row: middle, the third row: left). So I am counting it among "my" quilts. This one went to a kid named Sayed in Egypt. He had cleft lip repair surgery and got this quilt to warm up in and recover. Of course, he gets to keep the quilt and take it home.

Here is another one I made for Jack's Basket. It will go to a child with Down's Syndrome. I'm sending them two. The other one is in yesterday's post. The drop-off address is here in Minnesota, but I assume the quilts get sent all over. I will probably never know where these quilts end up. (I frequently don't know where my quilts go, and I rarely learn the child's name, as I did of the quilt above. Finding out its destination and seeing a photo of the kid with the quilt is always a THRILL.)

Just for fun, I'm going to try to name the countries where I have sent quilts. This is what I can remember as I sit here today and dig into my fuzzy memories: USA, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, England, France, Czech Republic, Estonia, Armenia, at least one of the former Yugoslav countries, Russia, China, Liberia, Australia, East Timor, Israel, Japan, Germany, Philippines, Haiti, Ethiopia, Jordan (for Syria). I'm sure there are a few more in South America and in Africa, but I can't remember them all. It's just fun to try to keep the list in my brain. I like to think the quilts are spreading warmth and love wherever they go.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Still Cleaning with Bouts of Sewing

I'm still working on cleaning my sewing room, but with lots less enthusiasm. Once I got it back to semi-useable, and I had found previous unfinished projects, I got enthused to work on them and started sewing again. I finished these two quilt tops.

This one I purchased. Someone made it and then didn't want it. Isn't it cute? All I had to do was finish it. I donated it to my church for the baptism blankets they offer to parents.

This little one was so easy to finish. It is going to Jack's Basket which is for babies who have Down's Syndrome (giving through the Hands 2 Help Challenge). This one went so quickly that I am going to make a second little one and send two to Jack's Basket.

Meanwhile I continue plugging away at cleaning up my sewing room. There is still more "stuff" to sort through. Maybe I'll find more treasures to inspire me to sew. (When it rains it pours. Either I'm in a sewing slump and can't do a thing, or I'm so eager to sew and there are SO many possibilities that I have to give it all my waking hours. Anyone else have this problem?)

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Story #3 by Carol Egan

Visiting Mom by Carol Egan

I need to visit my mom again soon. It has been too long. I have been so busy with that book draft that is giving me major headaches. Lately I have had severe writer's block, so it might be a good time to visit Mom.

Mom lives alone in a small apartment above a store in Saint Paul. She seems happy there, but how much longer can she live independently and use those stairs safely? From my home here in Duluth it's just a long enough drive to Saint Paul to make it a chore to go there, and it's easy to put off. Still, I think I do a pretty good job of keeping in touch with Mom, despite what that nosey Meals on Wheels volunteer thinks of me. She thinks she's hiding her thoughts, but I can read faces. She disapproves of me. "Fred just can't find the time" to visit, as Nosey Volunteer puts it. She doesn't know the whole story.

My Seal Chase on Melville Island is a major roadblock in my ability to carry on with normal life. I thought I had it done, but it needs more revisions before I even dare present it to the publisher. I spend more time staring at the keyboard than I care to admit.

Karen complains about my "Hermit Time," too. As if I'm sitting there of my own volition, neglecting her, my job, and all the chores I need to tackle around the house. This book needs my attention if I'm ever going to get it done! As soon as it's done, I can breathe again. Not to mention, if it gets published, I'll get a big raise at work.

Next week I'm on Spring Break, so I plan to go visit my mom. She told me that Nosey Volunteer is on a trip to London, so I'll grab the chance to visit and avoid those disapproving looks. I'm hoping the break from writing will be the rejuvenation I need to come back and work full bore.

How should I tell Mom about Luke? Will she have a heart attack? I almost did, and I'm 30 years younger than Mom! That day I got a phone call from Annette, my old high school girlfriend, just about did me in. At first I thought she was calling about our upcoming high school class reunion. Why would she call me about that, though? I have never attended a reunion and don't intend to start.

Annette and I were both percussionists in the high school marching band. That's how we met. Her first words to me were, "you have shit on your pants." It's a big no-no to get the band uniform dirty. Even sitting down in them is taboo. But she was right. Somehow I had acquired a blob of bird shit on my pants. She helped me clean it off, and the rest, as they say, is history. We started hanging out more and more and became an item for my last two years of high school. I was head over heels in love and thought we would eventually get married. The year I went off to college, and she was still a senior in high school, she broke my heart. We seemed to remain tight at first, but after a while I could tell something was wrong. She broke it off with me in December, just before finals. Uffda! I was reeling. Made it through, but I'm not even sure how. My heart healed over time.... a long time.

I couldn't find it in myself to date again until I finally met Karen during spring semester of our senior year. I majored in anthropology, and she was taking a course where I worked as an assistant to the professor. I was instantly struck with her bright eyes, and her intelligence. She is bubbly and fun to be around, too. She is a great balance to my quiet. She brings the happy out in me. We were married a year after graduate school, and eventually we moved to Duluth where I was offered a professorship at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

So it was a surprise when Annette called me; I was expecting to hear something about a class reunion. Even that, I wondered, never warranted a phone call before. Why now? Instead I got a bombshell. Luke, she said, was with her and wanted to talk. I had no idea who Luke was. He got on the phone.

"Hi, I'm Luke," he said hesitantly.
"Hi, Luke," I responded, wondering what he needed from me.
"Um, uh, [pause]".
"Can I help you with something?" I asked encouragingly.
"Well, see, Mom, or Annette, tells me that, um, you.... are my dad."
Silence. "What??"
"You're my dad. I was born in July 1993. She never told you about me."
"Wait.. can I talk to Annette?" I pleaded.
Talk about blind sided! I never dreamed I was a dad! How could she have kept this from me?!

Long story short, I learned that when Annette broke up with me in December of my first year in college, she had just learned that she was pregnant. I guess she didn't want to ruin my future or something. So she kept it a BIG FAT SECRET. I was so out of touch with old classmates that no one ever told me Annette had had a kid!

His name is Luke Thomas Benson. Born July 20, 1993. What was I doing on July 20, 1993? Probably going on a seal hunt up in Kili Impini, Melville Island, Northwest Territories. I lived there for three whole summers in a row, in a small Inuit village that is rarely visited by non-natives, learning as much as I could about Inuit language and culture. Somehow they saw something in me and gave me permission to live with them. I went with them on many seal hunts, learned to eat the raw meat that they eat right after a hunt (especially the liver), immersed myself as much as I could into their culture. That's what my book is about, if I can ever get it done.

I'm still a bit in shock. Now I need to break the news to Mom. She's a grandma! She's going to hate the fact that she didn't get to be in Luke's life. He's already 26, and she never knew about him! I hate it, too. I always wanted to be a dad. I wish I could have... well, all of it. It's overwhelming. I can hardly even think about it. My head spins.

Karen … telling her was horrible. She and I tried and tried to have kids but could never manage. She had three miscarriages, but never a successful, full-term pregnancy. We finally just accepted the fact that we wouldn't be parents. She didn't want to consider adoption or any "heroic" measures. We've been pretty happy, but … there has always been that sadness in Karen's heart. A sadness so deep that I can't help heal it. She volunteers at a pre-school and just loves those little kids. It seems to fulfill a need, somewhat, but not totally. My poor, dear Karen.

I had to tell her that I was a father. Her face just about did me in. She crumpled. Part of her is happy, I think, to have a new person in our lives. But mostly she is devastated at being pulled back into those dark days of mourning and grief at what we could never have.

We haven't met Luke yet. I will meet him for the first time when I make my next trip to Saint Paul. This is another reason I have been putting it off, yet at the same time I am eager to go. I am super nervous. I'm quiet and shy. I hope he doesn't find me weird. Some people do (Nosey Volunteer). I want Luke to like me.

Oddly, neither Annette nor Luke have ever sent me a recent photo of Luke. And he's not on Facebook, so I can't look him up. He only sent me this picture of him with his classmates at Saint Paul Science Academy, a charter school he went to from K-12. They were all dressed up alike to compete in a Science Fair at the state level. I guess he was proud of that day, so that's the picture I got, or maybe a part of him wants to rub it in that I wasn't there through all of his childhood. I don't know. He's the second one from the left, back row.

He ended up majoring in chemistry at the University of Minnesota and is now a chemist at 3M. My kid did well for himself! Annette must have done a bang-up job raising him. Well, she was a good person and very smart, too, so I shouldn't be surprised. Her fabulous parents (I had really loved them, too) probably helped her raise Luke. I need to find out all of these details. It's deep. It's scary. It's exhilarating.

Next week I go.. trying to prepare myself. I'll meet Luke. Whew! am I going to tell Mom?


Remember a while back I found a picture on the ice, and wrote a story about it? Then I wrote a story about a person finding the picture. I named the person in the picture Fred. Later my husband was out on a walk and found a picture, too. He handed it to me and said, "I found a picture of Fred's kid." So this story was born. All of it is fiction, including names, dates, and places. Kili Impini is a fictional village on Melville Island, Northwest Territories. Melville Island is a real island but is uninhabited. Kili Impini is real but is something like a weather data collection spot or an oil exploration area.. something that does not constitute a village.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Back to Nebraska

Nebraska has turned into a good place for me to go to quilt retreats. I recently went to Nebraska for my third retreat at the Carol Joy Holling Retreat Center at Ashland. Three of us drove down and had a great time. You may have heard about lots of flooding in Nebraska. We heard about it, too, but saw very little evidence other than rivers that were high. The flooding was not in the area we visited, lucky for us. It's very unlucky for the people who experienced it. We were told that $450 million worth of livestock was lost in the floods! Wow!

So.. back to the retreat. We had a lot of laughs and got a lot done. This is most of what I produced (not photographed: several random blocks that will appear in the future).

This started its life as a Pat Sloan pattern, but I diverted myself from the original and ended up with this. Almost all the fabrics are Kaffe Fassetts. I think I'll be adding a border of some kind, then will get it quilted and keep this quilt for me.

The three of us at the retreat all made this same bag. It was fun to do it together, and the bag has already come in handy.
The above quilts are both for Quilts Beyond Borders. The one in browns was made from some blocks my sister made, plus some other random blocks. The simple strips quilt is "Radiance," a pattern by Villa Rosa. We shopped in Lincoln one day, and I bought these fabrics and made the quilt the next day. Super easy and fun pattern. I am going to back it with minky.

The green with black stars is Pat Sloan's pattern, "Oh My Stars!". The last one is an adaptation of "Radiance" which is pictured above, but for this one I didn't have quite enough fabric and had to make do. I will add some sort of border to that before quilting it. Both these quilts are for Wrap a Smile.

I came back home and was very tired from having stayed up too late every night at the retreat. But I got a lot done and had fun, so it was worth it. I'm about caught up on sleep now. I'm eager to get back into my sewing room and attack more projects, but I decided to spend some time cleaning it. I can't wait to get it back to a semi-organized state and do some more sewing.