Picture Perfect

During a recent trip to Washington, I enjoyed a lovely visit with my brother & sister-in-law (Mike & Pam) on Whidbey Island. And, as usual, acquired a few antiques. Among them, a lovely old pastoral painting in a wobbly, gilt frame. Something about the scene spoke to me & Pam encouraged me to buy it, saying she & Mike could make the frame fit.

Once back at the house, Pam got busy, first removing the old frame – stamped with “Made in France” on the back. (Ooooo, France!) Mike took the frame apart in his man cave, then brought the pieces inside & laid them on the table.

“Back to you, sweet Sis.”

Pam lent supplies to work on the grimy-looking frame parts. With a turpentine-soaked toothbrush, I began a gentle scrub, trying not to dislodge any of the remaining gilt.

Then, Pam handed me the painting to clean.painting-whalf-frame  How do I…? Uh…no idea.

Google offered some choices. But which was best? If I used the wrong method, I might ruin my precious painting. Gulp.

One wikiHow site warned, “…you can’t use water, paint thinner, alcohol, or any abrasive force.” Instead:

  1. Use saliva. (One’s own, I presumed.) Apparently, it was a technique promoted by many museum curators. “Saliva has enough enzymes to break down dirt and grime, but not so much that it will damage the paint.”
    1. Maybe so, but ew. Not a fan.
    2. That was a “no.”
  2. Use bread. Get a loaf of sourdough, break it apart & take some out of the middle. Rub gently against the painting…then brush it off. Really?
    1. On another site, the gal used the inside of a bagel. She seemed happy.
    2. Other sites cautioned, “No bread!”
    3. Okay…no bread unless it’s a sandwich.
  3. Use a soft brush. I had a clean blush-brush so I tried that, going over the painting little by little, using circular motions. I was pleased with the affect. One could see the difference between the treated & non-treated areas.


Soon, my bro & wife teamed up to trim the loose frame, Pam measuring & Mike using his table saw to trim a smidgen more. Once perfect, they glued & fit it into Mike’s homemade jig to “cure” overnight. The next day, painting & frame were reunited. Pam finished the project with new strap-hangers & wire.

And voila! A mini-masterpiece…the result of a lot of loving care. Looks great on the wall.painting-4Thanks, you two! What a beautiful & generous gift.


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The Art of Motherhood

When I was little, I thought all mothers were artists. And musicians. And seamstresses. Like my mother.

Because she had so much creative talent, my mom enriched my  childhood with constant doses of it. She whipped up numerous dresses for me on her old 1940s Singer sewing machine. I was always in style at church or school. And so were my baby dolls. Chatty Cathy & I often wore matching frocks, thanks to Mother’s genius. In fact, until I took this picture, I never realized that little Muffy’s dress wasn’t just like mine.

Muffy & Me

Muffy & Me – Twins!

The turquoise-blue, dotted-Swiss number I wore for my portrait (about four years of age), was a rare store-bought dress. But Mother found similar material for Muffy’s look, added some fancy lace, & I thought we were twins.

For my birthday, Mother sometimes drew beautiful ladies on white cardboard, the stiff backing saved from packages of nylons. She sketched enough so each invited guest could take away her own, original paper doll. Each doll wore a unique hairstyle & bathing suit. And each had a large sheet of art paper filled with tabbed clothes. During the party, we could fill in the outfits using new sets of colored pencils. Scissors were provided so each girl could cut out clothing for her doll to model. We lay on the living room tiles, industrious, creating our own masterpieces.

Probably the only time we were quiet all day.

Paper Doll

Though I no longer have the paper dolls, I have a lot of my mother’s drawings that are reminiscent.

When I think of how much time & love Mother put into such projects on my behalf, I feel rich. Now that she is in Heaven, these memories are great treasures.

I hope I remembered to thank her adequately.



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Shirley You Remember!

43 Years old

She looks great, even after 43 years!

For many years, twenty-three to be exact, I stored my daughter’s classic Shirley Temple doll from 1972. Left behind when Heidi set out for college, I dutifully found a safe spot for Shirley to wait, gently pulling a clear plastic bag over her head. Couldn’t have those beautiful curls covered with dust!

I’d check on Shirley once in a while. But she never ran away or got dirty. Good girl. A big Shirley Temple fan myself, I thought of the doll when I wrote my latest cozy mystery, A Stitch in Crime, placing her on a shelf in my fictional antique store. That dolly needed a little outing, for pity’s sake.

Recently, Shirley was on my mind again. I invited my eight-year-old grandgem, Sidney, to watch a few YouTube clips of the curly-topped moppet singing & dancing. My girl was entranced. Soon my daughter stopped by & watched, too. I glanced at her & she looked at me, both of us emitting mutual “awws.” Amid the craziness of today’s world, I’d missed this sweet, sweet innocent darling from long ago, represented by those uplifting movies and that collectible doll.

When I asked Sidney if she’d like to have her mom’s doll, her face lit up. “Yes, please, Gramsey. Can you send her tomorrow?”

Sidney & Package

Sidney can’t wait to open her package.

“I’ll be traveling tomorrow, honey. Maybe the next day? Or Wednesday?”

“Tuesday?” she asked, hopeful.

I did my best & my best was Wednesday. However, I decorated the mailing label with a pic of a Shirley doll & sent a video message from the very doll I’d just put in the box & mailed. Sidney emailed me back, thanking me for the video & saying she & her little brother were cracking up.

Today, Sidney & Shirley were joyfully united. I hope she’ll treasure this new little friend. Maybe one day, she can pass it on to her own daughter. Meanwhile, I’m hunting for Shirley Temple DVDs to fill in the cultural blank. I think her heart will welcome knowing about a time when America’s Sweetheart enchanted all the country & uplifted us during a troubled time.

Sidney & Shirley

New mommy, Sidney Anne, with her own Shirley Temple doll.

Next up? Pollyanna!


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What’s in Your Wall–…er…Cupboard?

Fiesta Tea Time w/A Stitch in Crime

Fiesta Time w/A Stitch in Crime

When friend, Angela McInnis (who crafted the quilt for my book cover), posted a pictorial record of her new Fiesta collection on Facebook, I rushed to check my own kitchen collectables, including vintage Fiesta, partying behind my cupboard doors.

Goodness, but her new Fiesta was charming! Did I like it better than the old? I read that it’s now (& has been) the most popular line of everyday dishes for Macy’s. Unlike the old, the new stuff has added wonderful pastel colors, is microwaveable, & dishwasher safe. Nice. My daughter uses hers daily & her kids love to pick out their own plate colors. (Me, too.)

But my Fiesta is all from the 1930s & ‘40s & must be hand-washed. No microwave use. Yet, has a charm of its own. Unlike some of my collections acquired over many years, picking through antique stores, yard sales, & online, the Fiesta came to me in an unusual way.

A friend of mine was getting rid of boxes of old things offloaded by someone. “Do what you want with these,” she’d been advised. Knowing I was a collector, she  invited me over to check them out & help her decide what to toss & what to keep.

Fiesta dishes on shelf

Fiesta in the Cupboard!

Deep in the first box, I found treasure. And became over-the-moon-excited about some Vaseline glass pieces, hoping to absorb one or two into my small collection. I oo-ed & ah-ed so much, she decided to keep them all. Rats.

But one box housed quite a lot of old Fiesta ware ready to use.The colors were mainly cobalt, yellow, light green, & ivory. Plus a couple broken bits, some chipped plates, & a cup with no handle. Of little interest to my friend, she offered the entire box to me for $75.00. Of course, I’d hoped for my favorite price. Free. But her price seemed fair.

A few special pieces beckoned from the bottom. A carafe with its rare top & a mint, covered casserole. Later, shopping for missing pieces out in the antique world, I realized that three dinner plates alone might cost $75.00. I had almost an entire set of dishes!

Dishes on the shelf

American Sweetheart & Fiesta ware.

Along with the Fiesta in my cupboard, reside my everyday dishes – a monax American Sweetheart set from the Depression era. They are lovely in form, opalescent, with a raised design decorating scalloped edges. Unlike the Fiesta, it took me ages to collect the American Sweetheart.

The top shelf is populated with early Franciscan ware (Gladding McBean) in a creamy, swirl pattern. A service for twelve, they have appeared in many Thanksgivings at my home, doing utilitarian duty in a most elegant way.

Franciscan & Fiesta

Franciscan & Fiesta

I look into my cupboards & see great value there. Not how much they are worth. But the years of pleasure I’ve had, treasure hunting with like-minded dear ones. I see places I’ve been & conversations & laughter. They are more than colorful dishes. They represent shared experiences.

A very special lady once said to me, “Things do not satisfy. Only Jesus satisfies.” I so agree. These dishes are just things that will break & chip. They won’t last.

But He knows what delights my collector heart. So I’ll enjoy them in the here & now, until the day when I’m walking on the streets of gold.


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The Memory Keepers

Momma Recipe Cards

Much loved recipes written in Mother’s own dear hand.

Since my darling mother’s passing on Christmas Eve 2014, I have found unexpected comfort in things she left behind. I had no idea the memories each item would inspire in this devoted daughter’s heart. A trinket here, a memento there, some handwriting in a book, or on a recipe card. All much dearer to me, now that she has gone.

Emptying a box of stored Mother-stuff, I came upon a tiny, graniteware berry bucket. Mother used to tell the story of family berry-picking adventures, accompanying her two sisters, Nellie and Thelma, and her brother, Dave, out into the berry patch to gather fruit that would become jams, jellies, and juicy pies for dessert.

Momma's Berry Bucket

Berry Bucket Circa 1920s

As the youngest child, Mother’s job was to cover the bottom of that little bucket with berries. But she never could. “I always ate them as fast as I picked them!” she would say, laughing. I smile at her memory, which is now a kind of memory for me, too. Represented by the tiny berry bucket.

When Mother was slipping into dementia, I told her not to worry, I would hold all her memories close and retrieve them whenever she needed them. That seemed to calm her, something she could accept as she struggled to remember. Now I have all her memories to hold. Plus, memories of her sharing those memories. Precious gems in my treasure chest.

Perhaps I’ve been consoled by family possessions for some time. My Dad’s bolo tie’s been hanging from my car’s rear view mirror since his passing in 2005. It soothed me somehow, swinging back and forth, catching the light, reminding me of his handsome appearance and my mom’s pride as she walked beside him, hand in hand. The other day, I added one of Mother’s necklaces to Daddy’s tie. Then another, because I couldn’t decide.

Though they are beginning to suggest a bejeweled chandelier, I’m leaving it for now. Their shimmery sparkle brings many memories to light. And I think Mother, a great lover of all things bling, would approve.

Car Chandelier

Mother & Daddy Bling


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The Mystery is Solved!

For an author, the receipt of a box of one’s books, delivered right before release time, is a long-anticipated joy. I got mine the other day, ripped open the cardboard, and held the just-birthed book in my hands, proud as a new momma. At last. A Stitch in Crime was ready for the shelves and it was gorgeous!

A Stitch in Crime Cover

Assault, larceny, anonymous threats. Who knew quilt shows could be this dangerous?

Inspecting my new, cozy mystery cover, I marveled at the crazy quilt adorning the upper two-thirds of the design. How did my publishing company get it so right? Sure, I’d had input…lots. Perhaps, a bit too much. But at the time, I’d been guided by James 4:2 – “You do not have because you do not ask.”

Not wanting to make that mistake, I asked. Then surfed the net for good examples of an appropriate quilt. Though I didn’t find the one, I came up with some (okay…a bunch of) guidelines for the cover designers:

  • It must look antique, but elegant;
  • The stitching should be exquisite and some beading would be nice;
  • Nothing too modern looking;
  • Nothing too busy (it shouldn’t look like a map of the USA);
  • No polyester or lace;
  • And BTW, a spider web signified good luck in Victorian times. Just sayin’.

The result was an engaging cover from Abingdon Press, achieving elegance with overtones of suspense. I loved it. But where did they find that quilt? It was a mystery.

Sooner than expected, the mystery was solved. The maker of the original quilt, Angela McInnis, left a comment on my blog, telling me how excited she was to have her design chosen for my cover. What??? I quickly found her email and wrote back, asking questions about how the design came to be. (There’s that asking part again!) And she poured out the story behind the cover quilt. Angela and her son own/run an antiques & collectibles shop called Dwellings just outside Florence, Mississippi on Hwy 49 South. And it all started with a treasure-hunting trip.

“My husband and I traveled from Mississippi to Lancaster, PA so I could purchase  some redware, salt glaze pottery, and an Amish quilt. Long story

Amish Crazy Quilt piece all framed!

Amish Crazy Quilt piece – a $2 find – all framed!

short, I purchased the pottery, but the price of the quilt was way out of my pocketbook range. On our way home, we made one last stop and deep in a basket of linens I found a very plain Amish quilt piece. When the lady said $2…I asked if she meant $200 – since all the real Amish quilts were so high. She assured me it was $2! I brought it home, framed it and admire it to this day.

“However,” Angela continued, “as I admired the stitching, I decided to try my hand at doing a little crazy quilting of my own. The result was a wall hanging that I eventually had framed and it still resides in my hallway.” She used Amish colors but says it was “not Amish at all because I blinged it up.” Angela added the spider web for interest and for good luck.

Original crazy quilt crafted by Angela McInnis & used in A Stitch in Crime's cover.

Original crazy quilt crafted by            Angela McInnis & used in A Stitch in Crime‘s  stunning cover.

I wondered what fabric she used in her original crazy quilt…wool? Flannel? Old or new? Angela said the fabric was felt. A good choice in my opinion; it gives the look of wool, but fresh and new and clean. Her handwork is lovely, the finest craftsmanship.

 What if Angela hadn’t found that $2 Amish crazy quilt piece, the inspiration for her own version? A charming, beaded beauty that attracted the cover designers at Abingdon Press? And caused them to contact her for permission to use the image for my book?
That’s a mystery I don’t even want to solve. I cannot imagine “our” cover any other way.
To see more about Angela and her crazy-quilty-ways, visit her at:  A. McInnis: Crazy for Crazy Quilts  And for more information about A Stitch in Crime and to read the first chapter, click on BOOKS.


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Quilting Cousins

Recently, a stunning quilt top was handed off – from cousin Linda (in Prineville, OR) to cousin Gary (who played delivery guy) to cousin (me). Fingers fumbling, I opened the box, ready for a first glimpse. I unfolded it and caught my breath. Gorgeous! And what a treat to partner with Linda Gholson, quilter extraordinaire, in this part of my novel journey with Abingdon Press.

Tail in the Rail Quilt

“Tail in the Rail” Quilt

My upcoming “Quilts of Love” mystery, A Stitch in Crime, features Thea James stitching on this very quilt in her spare time. (Not that she has much of it. Too busy trying to figure out whodunit.)

I’ve named the quilt “Tail in the Rail” because the pattern consists of Fence Rail blocks, floral sashing, and Aunt Elena’s Nine Patch variation of a kitty-cat to represent Betty, the feisty calico in the story. It’s my own design, along with Linda’s artistic twist. Like in the book, the quilt fabric is all from the Smithsonian Collection, no longer available. This quilt is a treasure, indeed.

Though Thea hand-quilted the book’s rendition, mine will be sent to Stacy Boyd, a wonderful local quilter. With a long-arm quilting machine.

Quilt Backing & Top

Quilt Backing & Top

Between unfurling the thing and admiring it from this angle and that, I must now decide if the backing I bought is a good match.

Hmm. Too dark? Good enough?

Nope. “Good enough” isn’t good enough for this lovely quilt. Off to get new muslin….

"Tail in the Rail" Quilt

“Tail in the Rail” Quilt

NOTE: If you’d like to make this quilt, take heart. I hope to make the “Tail in the Rail” pattern available when A Stitch in Crime is released in January 2015. Stay tuned.


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