Love In Abundance

As summer comes to a close and we consider school days and fall leaves, our family has one more special occasion. The family reunion – a long-loved tradition.

My folks were raised in Sisters, Oregon, so we had relatives nestled around that area. At first, our reunions were in Central Oregon, beginning at the Wickiup Reservoir, located sixty miles southwest of Bend. My parents were camp hosts there for several summers and able to arrange places for everyone to camp close by. Usually, my immediate family was first. Then, a day or two later, a cousin’s camp trailer arrived. Next, an uncle and aunt pulled in, and so on until each family was tucked into a reserved spot. By the weekend, we were a bustling community.

Daddy always brought his metal fishing boat with its humming Evinrude outboard motor. He took the kids for rides and we all did some fishing out on the lake. Never a good fisher-gal, I once threw in my baited hook on the right side of the boat, getting no bites at all, while my sister-in-law caught fish after fish on the other side.

I loved casting my line, even without success.

I loved casting my line, even without success.

An hour later, she took pity and we switched. I caught zero fish on the left side of the boat while she reeled them in on the side I’d just abandoned. It was a puzzle I never solved. (And possibly the start of my cozy mystery writer career.)

The family reunion meant so much to Mother and Daddy. All anticipation as the date approached, it was a not-to-be-missed event. They eagerly loaded up their camp trailer, checking off needed items. Mother mentally gathered the ingredients for her popular “Beans in Abundance” dish for our feast day.

“Oh, I have to make it,” Mother would say. “It’s always requested. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

Sizzling start for Beans in Abundance.

Sizzling start for Beans in Abundance.

If not for my parents and my cousin Bob, the reunion would have receded. But they kept it alive because it was so important to them to follow up with family, wherever they scattered. Not everyone could make it every time, but the reunion went on, year after year. The location changed to a big picnic on the Deschutes River in Bend. Then moved out to Sundance Ranch for a number of years where my folks had a time-share. We stayed in the bunkhouse and played cards into the wee hours. Or sat around the campfire, swapping stories.

This year is our thirtieth reunion year in Bandon-By-The-Sea, on the Oregon Coast. My cousin has made room for us to come and camp in a clearing on her forested property.

Some "invited" visitors drop by for apple quarters, tossed out by the family.

Some “invited” visitors drop by for apple quarters, tossed out by the family.

Now when I think of the reunion, I also remember how we paid tribute to Mother the summer after she changed her address to heaven. Everyone she loved best was due in Bandon, so the family decided to have a goodbye gathering in her honor there, under the pines. My brother gave a sweet eulogy. At the end, my daughter Heidi and I passed out the cookbooks we’d created on Shutterfly, with my mom’s favorite dishes inside. We titled it Cooking By Heart. If only she’d been there to see it! She would have hugged that book close, happy tears trickling down her cheeks.

Mother's Cooking By Heart book, created by my daughter Heidi & me, as a family momento.

Mother’s Cooking By Heart book, created by my daughter Heidi & me, as a family memento.

Afterward, we adjourned to enjoy the usual potluck delicacies. Mother would have been tickled to see a pot of her famous “Beans in Abundance” bubbling on the stove. Cooked by cousin Carol, who continues to make it for our yearly gatherings in her Auntie Evelyn’s honor.

At last, I have my own signature dish, “Chuck Wagon Tortilla Stack.” First tasted at a card party potluck. It was a wow. Now it is my go-to. So easy and so yummy, a young relative called it crack-in-a-pan as she went back for seconds. High praise! (I think.) I plan to make it again for the upcoming reunion. Fingers crossed for more equally enthusiastic, culinary reviews.

Elliott.C.Chuck Wagon Tortilla Stack.RecipeTime has gone by and so much has changed. But still, the constant love of family calls me back to beautiful Bandon each summer. To answer the call of our reunion, an irresistible tug on my heart.

 

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Save Room for Surprises

A fellow antique-collector once told me, “Some antiquers end up with so much wonderful stuff, they have to sell some. And another antique store is born.”

Antique Shop

I shouldn’t even look at anything as I pass. But isn’t that white container with the yellow flowers too adorable? I mean, those slats on the side! Is that an old doll crib? Aww…. (Walk on by, Cathy.)

I believe it. For a while now, I’ve been in danger of needing to open a store. So I’ve tried to cull my collections & get rid of things that no longer speak to me. Or have great meaning. To that end, I’ve purposed NOT to acquire anything more. Nada. Zip. (Etc.)

One day, a friend on Facebook messaged me & asked for my mailing address. She said she wanted to send me something. Thinking it was a card, I gave her the address. But why would she send me a card when she could just message me? So I asked, “What are you sending, by the way?”

SHE: “A box of books on quilting.” After seeing my FB posts, she knew I’d like them.

ME…having a Mayday moment: “No, please! I can’t take them. I’ve recently gotten rid of lots of books – cookbooks & quilt books. I still have no room. So nice of you, but can you give them to someone else?”

She said the box was all labeled & on its way. I could pass them on if I wished.

My inner whiner whimpered. I began to plead.

ME: “What about your local library? Quilt guild? Used book store?”

SHE: “Look for it on Monday.”

ME: “Okay.” Sigh. “Thank you.”

Man w:Box (1)When the box arrived, it wasn’t as sizeable as expected, which was a blessing. But I didn’t open it for a couple weeks. Instead, I worried. Oh, dear. Another bunch of books to find room for, or pass on. Those books needed a home, yes. Just not mine. Then I remembered our local charter school had quilting classes. A plan emerged. I got excited & grabbed my scissors to cut the tape & expose whatever was inside.

The box held only four books. Another blessing. Two were quilting novels by Jennifer Chiaverini – Elm Creek Quilts books. Nice. The other two were even more my style. Pioneer diary type books – one was called A Quilter’s Journal & had entries starting in 1859 through to 1880. My favorite one entitled, The Quilt that Walked to Golden: Women and Quilts in the Mountain West From the Overland Trail to Contemporary Colorado was written by Sandra Dallas, w/Nanette Simonds. That was the book my friend had loved best, too. She’d sent me unexpected treasure!

“Wow,” I told myself. “This one has a forever home with me. I’ll be reading it from cover to cover.” Two centuries of history. Winsome photographs. Definitely a cozy-quilty feel. Plus, the book included four vintage quilt patterns at the end. A recipe for hours of delicious diversion. What if something within the pages also whipped up a surprising cozy mystery idea?

Could happen. One never knew.

Thank you, Cheryle Miller, for your thoughtfulness. You were right. And I’m glad you didn’t take “no” for an answer. (This time.)

NOTE: Amazon.com book description for The Quilt that Walked to Golden:…

Drawing its inspiration from letters, journals, and—most importantly—quilts, this engaging account chronicles the history of the women who settled the town of Golden, Colorado, over the course of two centuries. Laced with true stories drawn from American quilting history, the narrative follows the transformation of the shanty mining village into a thriving community, moving through the Depression and up to the present day. Throughout the decades, the art of quilting provides a window into the lives of these women, their successes, and their sorrows. With more than 70 photographs and four vintage quilt patterns, this unique saga is a treasure for historians and quilters alike.

 

 

 

 

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The Bolo Tie

“Here, Sis. Catch.” My brother, Mike, tossed something across the dining room.

Reacting fast, I hooked my hand through a flying gray cord and it looped around my wrist like a lasso. I stopped its spin and laid it out on the counter with care.

My dad’s old bolo tie.

“Don’t you want it?” I asked. Somebody should take it. The tie was a striking western accessory that my dad had worn often. It was still hard to part with his personal items, though he had passed away several years before. The task of disposing of them had been so daunting, we’d put it off again and again. Now, since our mother had moved to a full-time care facility, we needed to ready the house to rent.

“I’ve got plenty of Dad’s things to remember him by,” Mike said. “I’d never wear it.”

Actually, it didn’t look like my other brother’s style either. But just in case, I held it up and waved it at him. “Dan? What about you?”

He stopped stacking books in a box and glanced over, shaking his head. “No thanks, Sis. I’ve got Dad’s bomber jacket. That means more to me than anything. You take it.”

“Well….” I hesitated. What would I do with a bolo tie?

“You could hang it around the rear view mirror in your car,” Mike said.

Did I really want something swinging from my mirror? I mean, it wasn’t like a set of fuzzy dice or anything.

Thank goodness.

“Let me think about it.”

I placed the tie on my “possibly” pile and got back to work, joining family members as we sorted through a number of personal items – some to keep, some to store, and some for the Salvation Army.

At lunch time, we decided to go for hamburgers in town. As I reached for my purse, I noticed the bolo tie still coiled on the counter and grabbed it, too. Once in my car, I hung it around my rear view mirror, as my brother had suggested. A nice effect. It even matched the gray interior of my car. Maybe I would keep it after all.

Dad's Bolo Tie2

We caravanned our cars over the rough road, the bumpy ride causing the tie to sway back and forth. Though I needed to pay attention to the pot holes, a scene from years past filled my mind instead. I envisioned my dad, taking his place in line behind my mother at a pancake breakfast. Wide-shouldered and straight, his six-foot frame towered over her five-foot-two petiteness. A dashing cowboy hat covered Dad’s thick white hair and his steel blue eyes were highlighted by the silvery gray of his bolo tie.

More than one woman gave him a second glance. And a third. None of these looks were lost on my mother, who secured his hand and looked up at him with a mixture of pride and possessiveness. He gave her a wink and a smile. To Dad, Mother was always the only woman in the room.

It was a sweet memory, especially now that he was gone. The tie evoked other memories, as well. Of dinners out and family reunions and snapshots of the handsome man I liked to call “The Silver Fox.”

I touched the tie as I drove, running my fingers up and down the cool cord, stopping at the silver slide. The setting featured a black background with a swordfish arced across the metal. It reminded me of my dad’s lifetime enjoyment of fishing – his hand-tied flies, tackle boxes, and humming reels. Boat rides across the lake and an Evinrude motor that ran smooth long after its heyday – another beneficiary of Dad’s talent for tinkering.

Dad's Bolo Tie

Rubbing the tie’s ribbed tips between my fingers, I sent a thank you heavenward for my dad. While passing through this life, he had also passed on his love of the outdoors to my brothers and to me. An inheritance more valuable than mere money.

And I offered gratitude for fond memories of a winsome, white-haired cowboy, unwittingly winning over all the ladies in the room, while wearing a bolo tie.

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Love Letters

Have you seen writing imprinted on furniture? Whether on fabric or wood, it’s a graceful, vintage look. On close examination, one often recognizes the writing as a collection of love letters. My heart melts as I read the tender snippets & invent stories of the two who penned those thoughts. Pictures or pillows can also feature words that inspire…like dream or believe or love.

Pillows w:Writing

How welcoming! And inspirational. (Image by StockSnap from Pixabay)

I once saw a pillow decorated with the word Paris in fancy cursive next to an image of the Eiffel Tower. Made me want to book the next flight. (Sigh.) Love the look of imprinted writing. Probably, because I love words.

My only imprinted items are a couple of insulated water bottles. One was a gift. The other? A must-buy. But I’m very attached to them. And their writerly look.

A while back, I was putting together a workshop for a writer’s conference & wondered what visual aids I might use to make my point: Turn your rejection into REdirection! After all, one wants to find the right market for a piece. One needs the editor to believe in the work, to be a cheerleader. A rejection might be a good thing. A loving thing. It could turn out to be a wise new path. A REdirection, instead.

But how could I take the sting out of rejection for my workshop attendees? I remembered my own pile of rejection letters. Maybe I could I use them. An idea popped from the pile. I’d mimic the writing I’d seen on various fabric-covered chairs or pillows or other pretty furnishings by making a lovely writerly something out of the harshness of rejection.

First, I bought a big container of Mod Podge. Then…,

  • I photocopied the rejection letters;
    • Some on white paper;
    • Some on an aged-looking, onion-skin,
  • And ripped them to shreds!
  • I placed them at artistic angles;
    • On a lampshade;
    • On a lidded container;
    • And on a paper-mache star;
  • Then secured them to the surfaces with the Mod Podge.

My class got such a kick out of my crazy crafts! They amazed at the unexpected use of rejection letters to make new things. Pretty things I could use. Filling the container with Hershey Kisses, I passed it around so they could taste some REdirection love. I attached a silver thread to the star & stuck some rhinestones in the center, changing it into a Christmas ornament.

But the crowning glory was the papered lampshade, which I placed on top of a 1910 Weller (art pottery) lamp base. It sits on a small dresser in my bedroom to this day.

Weller Lampshade copy

When I look at it, I’m reminded of my beautiful writer journey, bruises & all. I don’t see rejection anywhere. I see love letters.

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A Cozy Quest

Tea cozy (USA) or cosy (UK)? Either way it’s spelled, cozies have a firm place in the tea-loving home & add a lot of personal style to the setting. Growing up, we never used one, though my mom was known to brew a pot of tea now & again. But cozies were mentioned in the historical fiction romances I practically inhaled. Thus, it seemed to me the proper way to cross a tea.

It is said that when the Duchess of Bedford made afternoon tea fashionable in 1840, she probably also introduced the cozy or tea warmer to insulate the pot. However, its use was not documented until 1867. Still, I wondered what kind of cozy the Duchess used for her intimate tea parties? Did they match her dress? Her mood that day? In these modern times, one can find myriad cozies fashioned to look like animals, beehives, cottages, cupcakes or even a bouquet of flowers. A posy cozy? They might made from any sort of fabric: brocade, velvet, wool, linen, cotton, patchwork, or felt. Or knitted from sturdy yarn to fit like a wee hat over the pot.  When I see one of those, I remember Dobby, the house elf, who wore a tea cozy hat in the Harry Potter books.

delfi-de-la-rua-130865-unsplash

Crocheted Tea Cozy with Decorations. Photo by delfi de la Rua on Unsplash

Still, I had no desire for a cozy for my teapot…until…I saw a Martha Stewart video online, “How to Make a Tea Cozy.” Monogrammed, no less. It was elegant & it was Martha. I filed the cozy idea in my mental filing cabinet & flagged it. When I took afternoon tea at my friend’s house, I noted her red transferware pot covered with a cozy out of something linen rich, one side decorated in needlepoint. Gorgeous! Plus, it really did keep the tea hot. And…did I mention it was gorgeous?

My friend tried to remember which site she had ordered it from – a store in Bath, England? We couldn’t find the link. Now, I was on a cozy quest. I haunted Etsy & eBay, my usual hot-spots, putting several choices on my “Watch” page. Though hearting other pretties, none were quite right. After the needlepoint cozy, my standard was too high.

Then I found some charmers on eBay, handmade out of vintage materials. One of white linen with antique trims. One cut out of an old Christmas table cloth. The last crafted from vintage tapestry material depicting a genteel scene with two ladies & a gentleman caller. What bounty! How could I decide between them?

I couldn’t. I bought them all, secretly assuring myself that one or more would be a gift for another tea-taking fan. But will that actually happen?

Tapestry Tea Cozy

My favorite! A tea cozy handmade from old tapestry fabric with ladies & gentleman.

Shhh. That’s still a cozy secret.

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The Time-Traveling Quilting Bee

Searching the antique shop’s crowded shelves like a detective, I spotted an interesting wicker basket. Heaped with linens. Digging down, I pulled out a stack of vintage quilt squares, held together with a safety pin. The pile consisted of already pieced blocks in antique white, contrasted with fabric in a faded red and gray pattern. All the blocks matched, except one. That square was similar – but the piecing deviated slightly from the rest. I wondered…could that be a Humility Block? The imperfect block left in an Amish quilt to show that only God is perfect? But wasn’t that a myth?

Elliott.Jacob's Ladder Blocks

The “imperfect” block looked most like the “Jacob’s Ladder” pattern to me.

Though I liked the story of the Humility Block, research told me no quilter needed to leave an imperfection on purpose because no finished quilt was without mistakes. Besides, this quilt didn’t look at all Amish in design. The material was lightweight and limp, unlike any I’d seen on a quilt. More like an opaque voile curtain. It reminded me of a dad’s old pajamas worn way past their prime. Later I learned the squares were out of shirting fabric – fine cotton that’s often an 1800s reproduction.

Elliott.Odd Block Out

Most of the blocks matched & looked like this one.

I swiped up those old squares with delight, handing over a fiver for the lot. At home, I laid them out. The pattern appeared to be a sort of Jacob’s Ladder. And the odd block out really looked the part, which was a mystery. Another thing puzzled me. Every piece of fabric was attached by hand sewing, stitches long enough to look utility-style. Perhaps they were basted, meant to be reinforced on a sewing machine. Or…maybe the squares were much older. The idea made me smile. I pictured a pioneer woman riding in her Conestoga wagon, wielding her needle with skill in spite of the rocky ride, readying a coverlet for completion once she arrived at her new home. There she could strengthen those seams with a little time on the treadle.

Milk River Wagon Train.Library of Congress.1979

Young, Kay, and Michael Crummett. Milk River Wagon Train: Fourth day ride; Memorial service for “Flash,” the horse. Malta Montana United States, 1979. Malta, Montana, September 2. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1981005_mc48/.

Still, it was so fragile. Would it hold together if I left the squares in their original state? A half-hearted purist, I felt I couldn’t go over someone’s laborious work with a quick zip on my machine. Would that be right for the integrity of the blocks? For the hopes of the initial quilter and her quilt plan?

Not sure what to do, I put them aside for a time. For a few years. Until I was invited on a special family trip to Alaska and needed a project for the long ride over the Alcan Highway. In a motor home. The (almost) Jacob’s Ladder quilt-top needed a lot of work. I had a lot of time on my hands. So the squares, my trusty thimble, extra needles, and a spool of new cotton thread came with me.

In my imagination, I was like the pioneer woman. In my modern covered wagon, bound for territories never before seen. Unlike the woman of my daydreams, rather than created out of necessity, my needlework only served to keep my hands busy across the miles. Between glances out the window at the scenery, I wondered about the original quilt maker, adding to her stitches where they had come away with my own, making the corners match as precisely as I could. Until the entire quilt-top was sturdy and sewn together. In a way, she rode with me on that long trip, rather like a companion in a quilting bee across time.

I wonder if my unknown pioneer friend would have liked the final outcome of her work-in-progress? I sure liked thinking about her story.

Four Women Working on a Quilt.Adams, John Wolcott, 1874-1925, Artist (1)

Adams, John Wolcott, Artist. Four Women Working on a Patchwork Quilt. , None. [Between 1900 and 1925] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2010714905/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Flair

We’ve all heard of quilt fabric stashes and how they grow. And grow. My sister-in-law, Pam Elliott, has a very special stockpile she started after seeing beautiful, designer home fabrics on eBay. Beginning with sample sizes of spectacular silk-velvets, damasks, & lampas from houses like Scalamandré & Brunschwig & Fils, she added odd bits to her shopped stash. And of course, it grew.

Most samples were too small to use for pillows or too heavy for quilts. But what about Christmas stockings? Matching a luxurious fabric for the body with a different design on the cuff could be fun. A master seamstress, Pam lined the stocking interiors with satin & attached leather hangers cut from old, soft gloves purchased at an antique store. The first stocking turned out better than expected, so she made more. When her family saw them hanging on the fireplace that Christmas, they all wanted their own custom stockings.

Pam's Green Stocking.1

Though time consuming to make, Pam estimates she has sewn thirty stockings or more. Most are given as family Christmas gifts. Many become wedding presents and others celebrate the arrival of new babies. Her recipients seem ecstatic, even honored to have their own Pam designed heirlooms. All agree they are works of art & a labor of love.

Hanging out in Pam’s sewing room during a visit, I was transported into something like a secret cave full of treasure where she showed me piece after piece of marvelous material collected for her stockings. I couldn’t choose a favorite. Nor could I stop stroking the lush velvets or examining the intricate patterns, woven with silk thread.

One particular fabric fascinated me – a pale cream silk with a big, embroidered flower of scarlet. Pam admitted her daughter had dibs on that one & I put it back with regret. Later, I received an unexpected package from Pam, containing my own stunning, designer stocking. According to an attached note, the fabric she had chosen for the stocking’s body was truly special. A reintroduction of a 17th century, Old World Weavers design of silk & cotton-cut velvet. Though I knew Pam had finished her daughter’s stocking, somehow she’d found fabric enough to create another cuff from the cream silk with the scarlet flower.

Pam's Christmas Stocking.1

At Christmas, I love to display my exquisite stocking. It is my grandest decoration & truly, I never expect anything to materialize inside. Why would I?

After all, it’s already filled with love.

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