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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5 Great Gifts for a Writer

If you have a writer in your life, you may struggle to choose a gift that pleases. It doesn’t take long before most writers have an abundance of books or DVDs on the craft, journals for noting character descriptions of passersby, mugs with author quotes (though my Jane Austen mug is a favorite), and writer refrigerator magnets. They will have already subscribed to The Writer Magazine and downloaded Scrivner to the hard drive.

So what other writerly gifts would be fun to buy and fun to receive?

Here is my Countdown for 5 Great Writer Gifts:

#5. The Perfect Pen to use at book signings.

The Perfect Pen

Ready to sign my Author Page for Abingdon’s 2014 Fall Fiction Sampler.

You laugh. “Pshaw!” you say. But I say it’s a great gift. Some years ago, a fellow writer gave me a couple pens at our Quills of Faith Writers Group Christmas party. Those pens are the only ones I ever use to sign books because:

  • They have a cushioned grip so my hand won’t tire after signing dozens and dozens of books. Okay, it hasn’t been a problem yet because I haven’t had that long line of fans spilling out the store and around the corner. But I’m prepared, by golly.
  • The ink doesn’t bleed through the book page or leak all over my hands.
  • And most importantly, when I received the pens, signing my own book was still a dream. That little gift told me someone else believed I would get there and I felt encouraged. (Thank you, Ed Reinagel.)

    Shakespeare Cookie Cutter

    Bard Cookie Cutter

#4. Literary Cookie Cutters. Your writer can whip up a batch of cookies featuring the profiles of our dear Jane Austen (I need that cutter to compliment my mug), the Mad Hatter, Harry Potter’s glasses, an open book or bookworm, Clifford the dog, and more. Ideal for any literary event. Check out the Bard cookie cutter shown right (William Shakespeare) on Etsy.

Hobbit Tea

Hobbit Tea

#3. Seems like we need some tea to go with those cookies, eh? How about some Hobbit Tea (left) for the Tolkien fan in your world? I  bought both the Gandalf the Grey Green Tea and Bilbo Baggins Breakfast blend. Rave reviews from two LOTR devotees when they received my gift. Unusual and tasty, too!

Amazon's Steampunk Phone Cover

Amazon’s Steampunk Phone Cover

#2. Steampunk Typewriter Phone Cover (right.) I really want this, even though I’ll have to figure out how to pry the present cover off my phone. They seem pretty bonded. But, what a way to remember you are a writer every time you use the phone. And remind your friends.

And a drum roll, please…..

#1. Typewriter Key Jewelry!! Oh, yeah. Best gift ever! If you like Steampunk, if you like vintage, and if your gift target is a writer, you’ll like this. Each piece is handcrafted using authentic, vintage typewriter and cash register keys from 1900-1940s. The keys are recycled from non-working typewriters, only.

I recently bought a fabulous bracelet from The Magic Closet with designs by Gail Selby. Mine spells out WRITER using various colored keys and silver-plate backings. Check out the picture below. Looks right at home on my computer. Great weight to it, nicely crafted.

Typewriter Key Bracelet

Typewriter Key Bracelet

In the bracelet category, there others that spell out EDITOR, I * WRITE, AUTHOR, and more. Each is unique; no two are alike.

(Did I just repeat myself?)

Worried about your sales numbers? Teaching your baby to count? Forgot the date of your wedding anniversary? Gail has number bracelets that will do the job. (And she can do custom orders.) There are earrings as well, and handsome cuff links for the fellas in your writer sphere.

Don’t mean to give a one-woman sales pitch for The Magic Closet. Or…maybe I do? I’ve seen Gail Selby’s work and am ordering again. Today! However, there are other artisians on eBay or Etsy who have different designs you might enjoy. Take a look.

Just type “Typewriter Key Jewelry” in the subject line and start shopping!

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June 16, 2014 · 7:07 am

A New Tradition: Holiday Mail for Heroes

Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey

Traditions come to the fore when family gets together on holidays. Like you, we have ours. Long-loved practices we cannot wait to practice again.

This year our Thanksgiving table was set in splendor. Designed by my daughter, Heidi, who makes everything beautiful. Fresh flowers in silver vases, chargers giving the plates even more importance, flickering candles, and lacy leaves scattered about. She added our usual name-tags, each decorated with fall cutouts and personalized with winsome descriptions: Extraordinary Eric, Debonair Dietmar, Exquisite Essie, Magical Maya, Sweet Sidney, and more. Mine was Creative Cathy.

Though Heidi is really the creative one.

In the kitchen, my son-in-law Eric sliced the plump turkey he had cooked; the aroma told us dinner was ready. Soon we stood around the table, holding hands, one by one expressing the gratitude in our hearts.

After giving thanks, we tucked in, enjoying our traditional dishes, turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, fresh green salad, corn pudding, Parmesan asparagus, grilled artichoke hearts, and Marcia’s famous Jell-O.

Once we relaxed with pumpkin and apple pie, sipping coffee and cranberry-apple cider, Heidi announced a new tradition for us to practice. Recently, she had seen a moving video of wounded soldiers, in hospital, lonely and away from home for the holidays. Yet cheered by Christmas cards sent from their grateful countrymen. And country’s children.

Cards for the Troops sign

Six-year-old Sidney made a great sign for us.

What a great idea for us, Heidi thought. We could make our own cards! So in preparation, she spent many evenings at work on her Cricut, cutting out cards and ho-ho-ho designs.She gathered up festive stickers and colored pens. On Thanksgiving day, she asked her wee daughter to make a sign to hang over the kitchen table.

The children got busy and made a couple cards each. My two-year-old grandson went wild sticking stickers all over his card, slapping even more on the inside.

Heartfelt Thanks from Linnea.

Heartfelt Thanks from Linnea.

Children working on cards

The Kids Got to Work!

 

Their messages were strangely mature in spite of their youth. Full of respect and gratitude.

Busy Cardmakers

Busy Cardmakers

Basket of Cards for the Troops.

Basket of Cards for the Troops.

Soon the adults took over the table and made more cards. We didn’t stop until we ran out of card stock and filled a basket with our warm wishes.

I hope we do it every Thanksgiving. A new tradition, worthy of much practice.

If you are interested in making a card for a soldier, please visit Holiday Mail for Heroes to get the details.

Hurry! The deadline is December 6 to guarantee delivery by Christmas.

Maybe I’ll start early for next year.

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What’s in a (Hobbit) Name?

I never cared for my name. Cathy. Not Catherine or Cathleen. Just plain Cathy.  Though, when my mom told me they considered “Bunny” because I was born on Easter, I decided Cathy wasn’t so dreadful, after all.https://i2.wp.com/media.cmgdigital.com/shared/img/photos/2013/05/31/89/84/baby_name.jpg

But it was common. Cathy was the Jennifer of my generation. In high school, I hung out with three other gals with the same name. The unique thing about mine? It started with a C. Wow. The others were K-gals. Still, I longed for something beyond a nickname.

Something romantic and memorable. Like Fiona! Ah….

Not long ago, an Elder at our church, smitten with all things Tolkien, told us he’d looked up his Hobbit name online. The first name was cool – Miles. But the last name spanked – Chubb. Miles Chubb. He wasn’t happy.

I was excited. This was new name territory I could cozy up with – my very own Hobbit name. How bad could it be?

Pretty bad. The Hobbit Name Generator informed me:

Your Hobbit Name is Celandine Gawkroger. Gawkroger, a name only appearing in drafts as a predecessor to ‘Goodbody’. Also spelled Gaukroger. The name means ‘clumsy roger.’

You share your Christian name Celandine, with a Celandine Brandybuck (2994–?): The third child of Seredic and Hilda Brandybuck, she attended Bilbo’s farewell party.

How enchanting. Ms. Brandybuck attended Bilbo’s party. And we shared the lovely name, Celandine. (I decided to try again.)

2nd Try at a Hobbit name:

Your Hobbit Name is Pearl Took. Took, a wealthy family who held the Thainship. The name had no specific meaning.

You share your Christian name Pearl, with a Pearl (Took): (2975–?) was the eldest sister of Peregrin “Pippin” Took. She also had two sisters named Pimpernel and Pervinca. Pearl probably died sometime before the year 63 of the Fourth Age when Pippin left the Shire to live in Gondor.

Really?

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Okay, I did like the name Pearl. And I knew a really sweet quilter with the last name Tooker. An improvement over my Gawkroger moniker, but I figured I could do better. Using a different name generator.

A Lord of the Rings Name Generator, My Precious, declared:

Cathy Elliott, from this day forward you will also be known as Ducla ‘Proudfoot’-Proudfoot of the Bree.

Uh…no, thanks. This wasn’t working for me. Celandine Gawkroger? Pearl Took? Ducla Proudfoot? Maybe I wasn’t meant for Hobbit-hood. Tweaking the same LOTR Generator, I tried my Elven name. Twice. The result stopped my search:

Cathy Elliott, from this day forward you will also be known as Fonia Eluchíl.

This, I could embrace. It wasn’t quite my favorite Fiona-name. But close enough.

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Remembrance

When I was a child, our school passed out poppy-pins for us to wear on Memorial Day. Looking back, it might have been because the school was located on a Navy base. But I imagined everyone everywhere received poppies, too. And wore them with grateful hearts.

We had solemn parades with lots of red, white, and blue. The Blue Angels flew overhead and we heard the familiar sound of “Taps” played by a lone trumpet. Later, in a quiet moment at home, I’d open Mother’s slim book of poetry and read “In Flanders Fields” over and over, until I could recite it from memory.

https://i0.wp.com/photos.foter.com/150/in-flanders-fields-the-poppies-blow-1_l.jpg

In Flanders Fields  by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Though written during WWI after the death of his friend at the second battle of Ypres, Dr. John McCrae’s touching poem is as meaningful today as then. And today, I wish I had a poppy pin to wear.

For more information on the inspiration for McCrae’s classic poem, visit The Great War. And to find out about the tradition of the remembrance poppy, visit The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy.

Photo credit: *Lie … on a short break … ! / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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