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From the Heart

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The Oregon Street Antique Mall in Redding, CA – where you can “Seek the Unique!”

One of my favorite sites in Redding, California sits on the corner of Shasta and Oregon Streets. A spacious, historic building that inhabits nearly a block. The Oregon Street Antique Mall. That store sends my antique-anticipating-heart racing when I step through the doorway. My last treasure hunt there, a lovely Roseville vase talked me into taking it home. Ridiculous, since none of my art pottery is even displayed now. They are all carefully packed in boxes. So what’s the obvious end for this piece of Apple Blossom patterned art-pottery? Easy answer. Still, I do enjoy it so much, decorating a small table, waiting for placement.

The Antique Mall’s two floors hold diverse riches. But for me, the prime attraction is Kate Barker, the winsome owner. Her welcoming style is genuine and folks flock to her store’s events & because they are great fun. And, because she supports other businesses with a passion. Historic Downtown Redding and Kate Barker have a close relationship.

Kate & Phil Barker (2)

Kate & Phil Barker. Photo UBP from Kate’s Facebook @Writer Kate Barker.

A couple years back, the Oregon Street Antique Mall had been run by Kate & her husband, Phil Barker. But as they neared their 50th wedding anniversary celebration, Phil passed away. I watched Kate as she made the brave decision to continue running the Mall by herself. It was tough, of course. All the challenges that arose from operating a business were hers to resolve alone. Before, Phil had taken care of many hard things. Now Kate took it all on her shoulders, pressing on to a path she’d never wished to walk. But Kate wanted to make Phil proud. So she dug in, orchestrating new events to draw folks to Downtown Redding, learning to advertise on Instagram, and create memes for the Antique Mall’s Facebook page.

As the one-year anniversary of Phil’s departure appeared on the calendar, I longed to do something to comfort Kate. Something special to mark the day. Since she had recently admired the antique, crazy quilt hearts crafted my friend Geo, I contacted her.

Kate's Owl Heart.Geo.3a

Victorian Crazy Quilt heart cut from antique quilt & crafted by Georgina Diehl (Geo).

Geo (Georgina Diehl) is a master at needlework and recycles antique crazy quilts by cutting up old quilt tops, forming small stuffed hearts or cats or Christmas stockings. The results are stunning and popular eBay items. I knew I’d called on the right person when Geo, touched by Kate’s story, cut into a new, antique crazy quilt to make a small heart featuring a pair of embroidered owls. It was a sacrifice of sorts. Geo may have had other plans for those owls, but she generously offered them to make something exquisite for Kate.

Kate's Owl Heart.Geo.BACK2

Geo’s creation backed with velvet from an antique opera cloak. And a special message for Kate.

Backing the heart with a piece of velvet from an ancient opera cloak, Geo completed it quickly so I wouldn’t miss the looming deadline. The day I gave Kate the package, Geo had referenced her eBay dealer name – lavendergatherings – in the presentation, tying fragile lavender ribbon around the outside and attaching a lavender-filled sachet. Charmed, Kate turned it over in her hands, wondering aloud, “Whatever is IN there?” She opened it with ooos and ahhs. When she read the writing on the small paper heart attached to the back – “Forever Phil + Kate” – the tears came.

Kate Holding Owl Heart

Kate Barker and her owl heart.

Because of Geo’s artistry and kindness, I was able to give Kate a unique gift to mark the day. The two owls – one larger, one daintier – represented the perfect pair, Phil & Kate. Love remembered and love remaining.

Kate's Sign & Heart

Photo courtesy of Kate Barker.

In Victorian times, when Geo’s crazy quilt top was first created, an owl symbolized wisdom, intelligence, protection, and vigilance. I realized these were all attributes and gifts I would wish for my friend Kate every day going forward. Only doubled.

 

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Feeling Blue…Red, White & Blue!

On a quick trip to the store to buy some graduation cards, I noticed an early display of July 4th holiday-ware. How could I not? Colorful clothing, picnic items, streamers, banners & bunting, all featuring the Stars & Stripes. A cornucopia of creative whatnots reaching out to rev up my patriotic heart.

Of course, I began to plan. Now where was that recipe for Barbara Bush’s Red, White and Blue Cobbler? The one I – shhhh – shortcutted & made with canned cherry & blueberry pie filling? But the dish had scored at every potluck, served up warm with vanilla-bean ice cream. Made one’s taste buds stand at attention & salute. For the next bake, perhaps I’d tap my inner chef’s shoulder & use fresh ingredients. A longer process, but the effort ought to result in a higher-ranking of deliciousness. Right?

BERRY COBBLER

I remembered our town’s tradition to set off our own fireworks. The night before the big 4th celebration in a nearby city, locals pack the stands at the fairgrounds in anticipation. The light show never fails to fill the sky with glory & uplift our spirits. As a bonus, the spectacle is easily seen from my own back yard. Just one requirement – a lawn chair.

Fireworks Many

A Navy brat, my heart has always swelled at anything that highlights our nation’s history & fight for freedom here & abroad. Knowing of my military connection & pride in my dad’s service, my friend Georgina (Geo) & I had swapped stories of our father’s military service records. Her father – an Army veteran of WWII, Korea, & Vietnam & a Bronze Star recipient. My dad also served in WWII (a Pearl Harbor survivor) & the Korean War, & as a career Naval officer for twenty-seven years.

Geo, a master seamstress & crafter, had already created an exquisite heart with a simple anchor embroidered on one side, cut from an antique crazy-quilt. After the heart was sewn, she set it aside for a while. But once we’d chatted about our personal heroes, Geo finished it up & sent it my way. A surprise gift.

Geo's Anchor Heart2

When I unwrapped the beautiful heart, tied with wide, lavender ribbon, I didn’t think of the Navy link first. Instead, I thought of Jesus as the Anchor of our hearts. Touched, I did a little research of its meaning during Victorian times – when the quilt was made – and learned the anchor symbolized hope. According to the scripture referenced:

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil…,” Hebrews 6:19 (NKJV)

Not until I received an email from Geo, “When I saw it (the heart) again the other day, it just spoke to me of your father being in the Navy…,” did I see the rest of the significance.

On this 4th of July, I shall not only celebrate Independence Day, but also honor my dad by hanging the anchor heart in a prominent place as a tribute to those who have gone before. And as reminder to never give up hope.

Thanks, Geo. Let freedom ring!

Sparker w-little flag.2

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The Making of a Cozy Mystery

I’m a cozy mystery author. When researching for my debut novel, A Vase of Mistaken Identity, I found a favorite cozy definition: “Cats, quilts, and not a lot of blood.” So clear, I understood the recipe right away. So clever, I can still remember it. But could I plot a mystery that included all the angles?

  1. CATS: According to the definition, I needed a cat for my story. But not just any ole momma cat, snoring on the sun-warmed carpet. I wanted an interesting animal. So I closed my eyes and sent out an inner casting call. Soon Betty padded into my brain and meowed a hello. Here was a freedom-loving calico with golden eyes and a crooked whisker. Perfect. She even had a habit of slipping through the smallest door opening, darting across the lawn, and springing over the fence onto the neighbor’s yard. Betty often chose to hang out with the wrong crowd – the strays next door. Last count – eleven mousers making mischief all over that dilapidated house. The bad habit got Betty into more than one scrape. Even so, my heroine, Thea James, adored her furry feline. In fact, I grew quite fond of Betty myself. And crossed “cats” off the list.

Betty Outdoors

  1. QUILTS: The Log Cabin quilt has always been my favorite pattern. Maybe it’s because the colors can be arranged in so many ways, yet the result is always gorgeous. Or maybe because it was the first quilt I ever made. Since I needed a quilt for my cozy mystery, I designed a small Log Cabin quilt for my rookie-quilter-heroine, Thea, to sew. I named it “Kitty in the Cabin.” As the book progressed, her work on the quilt did, too. My design featured a center block fashioned into the shape of a kitty’s head. I used a variation on a nine-patch to give it a little twist & some extra personality. Pictured is the prototype created by my cousin, Linda Gholson, quilter extraordinaire. She chose the 1930’s reproduction fabric & hand-quilted it with lovely details like French knot eyes, whiskers, & little fish stitched around the border. Quilts? Check.
  1. NOT A LOT OF BLOOD: This idea agreed with my Care Bear’s preference in books & movies. If blood had to be spilt, I didn’t want to be there when it happened. In a cozy mystery, the crime happens behind the curtain. Or, off stage. Then the reader doesn’t have to live through a nightmare-making, murder scene. In my story, the crime happened years ago, the body recently discovered by happenchance. Our heroine, a bit more clumsy than usual, stumbled smack into the mess. Poor Thea. But hurray for me! Now I could paste an imaginary, gold star by the last requirement for a proper cozy. All done.

Murder Off Stage

Then, I had only to write the book. The fun part. But perhaps you wonder about Thea’s first adventure in A Vase of Mistaken Identity? Here’s a teaser:

Thea James, antique dealer and budding amateur sleuth, discovers a list of names in a vintage vase. Curiosity prompts her to seek out the first name on the list. When she learns that the first woman lies in a coma after an accident and another has mysteriously disappeared, her inquisitiveness turns to fear – for Thea’s name is also on the list!

A Vase of Mistaken Identity

Can Thea find the murderer before he finds her?

Order your own copy of A Vase of Mistaken Identity! And enjoy….

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Craft Therapy: Quilting

Next to writing, quilting is my favorite pastime. I love plotting out the design, gathering the perfect fabric, and the actual seat-in-chair experience of sewing up a masterpiece. When it’s done, a quilt offers comfort, warmth, beauty, and even tells a story. Like writing, I find time spent quilting to be time that results in healing.

Recently, a friend showed me a quilt she’d hand-quilted over many months. Anne called the project her “Quilt Therapy.” Before she started the quilt, she’d struggled with a family member over something on which they could not agree. Anne believed she was in the right, but knew her attitude was wrong. So, she decided to pray about it and actively seek healing for their relationship. Through quilting.

Therapy Quilt - Anne McKinley who made the quilt

Anne & her lovely “Therapy Quilt.”

Anne took time to pray about the fabrics and the pattern for the quilt she would make. After cutting it out, she pieced the blocks together on her sewing machine, praying as she went. And not just any type of prayer, but prayers for the one with whom she disagreed. Soon, she started hand-quilting the top to the quilt back, praying all the while. As she worked the needle back and forth through the soft batting, the prayers soothed her spirit.

By the time Anne finished her quilt, God had changed her heart and stitched the torn relationship back together into something beautiful. More lovely than the quilt!

So many times I have experienced healing through the craft of writing. I know it works. Now, after seeing my friend’s stunning quilt, hand-stitched with prayer, I know that works, too. I wonder how many problems could be solved with only a bit of quilting therapy?

Therapy Quilt - Cathy Elliott

Sampler quilt, hand-stitched with prayer by Anne McKinley.

Epilogue: Anne just started another quilt. It’s crib-sized, with a pink, patchwork design for a wee one coming in the spring. When this baby arrives, she will be welcomed with a new quilt & lovingly wrapped in prayer.

Baby Feet

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Crazed for Crazy Quilts

I don’t own a crazy quilt. Though I admire them a great deal. So far, quilts that interest me also exceed my spending limit. I justify NOT buying them by asking myself pithy questions, like:

  • How much craziness is too much in a house with an overabundance of fancy teacups & saucers & feminine frills?
  • Should I purchase this expensive crazy quilt that doesn’t mix with my décor? Or give the money to missions? (A smashing alternative, no?)

There’s simply something so charming about crazy quilts. Consider their antiquity:

Think 1876 – the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition – & an exhibit in the Japanese Pavilion that stunned the Victorians. It featured crazed ceramics & asymmetrical art, unseen before. It wasn’t long before society-seamstresses mimicked the design with their crazy quilt technique. Every house displayed one (or more) as a status symbol. The quilts continued in popularity until about 1910. A perfect opportunity for ladies to show off their expensive, luxury fabrics & needlework skills. The exquisite designs were only limited by the fabric stashes & ability of their makers.

Some years ago, my dear friend, Nancy Boyd, crafted a heritage project for each of her granddaughters – to be given on their wedding days. Instead of a full-size quilt, she made “crazy” shadow boxes. Artwork with a crazy quilt piece made out of fabrics that meant something to their family: a button from a wedding dress, a part of grandpa’s tie, and so on. She included other precious mementos for each piece. The one pictured below shows some military service medals. I loved the idea so much, I “sewed” similar memorabilia into the crazy quilt in my cozy mystery, A Stitch in Crime.

Nancy's Crazy Quilt Creation

Nancy’s Crazy Artwork featured at A Stitch in Crime’s Book Launch.

In addition, a lovely crazy design by Angela McInnis was chosen for the book’s cover. After my precise descriptions of my vision of the legacy quilt in the story, I never expected the publishing house to search & find Angela’s framed crazy square, & travel miles across the nation to photograph it. But they did! The colors were exactly right, the “bling” pushed the stitching up a notch, & she’d even added a spider web for interest. I’d mentioned it to Abingdon Press & how they were considered good luck in the Victorian age. And…there it was! A spider web. Perfect.

I loved looking at A Stitch in Crime’s beautiful cover decorated with Angela’s crazy quilt. Made me want a real quilt of my own. Soon, I saw a gorgeous crazy quilt pillow on eBay & bid hard to win it. The cost was higher than I’d hoped, but the embroidery – flawless. I had to have it. My rationale? To use it as a prop at book signings & draw curious readers to my table with its striking beauty.

Crazy Quilt Pillow

Beautiful antique crazy quilt pillow created by Georgina Diehl Kosa. I love it!

The colorful, crazy part is cut from an antique quilt, while the backing is black velveteen cut from an ancient opera cloak. Isn’t that romantic? I can almost see a story when I gaze upon its design….

Since then, I’ve restrained my crazy quilt lust. To a point. While I’ve decided a quilt will not work for me, some crazy hearts have found themselves welcomed into my home. Some were gifted from pillow-maker & artist extraordinaire, Georgina, mentioned above. The rest arrived after a few little eBay excursions. I only need another twenty or so to deck out a Victorian (crazy heart) Christmas tree! In my world, that’s a shopping opportunity. And, when opportunity knocks?

Well, you know!

Crazy Quilt Hearts

 

 

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Patchwork Pillow Hugs

For my grandgem’s tenth birthday, I bought her a sparkly, mermaid-fabric pillow at Home Goods. It was covered on both sides with pink, sequined fabric that turned to silver when brushed the other way. Perfect for drawing hearts or writing a message. Or forever doodling in something like silver and pink glitter. She seemed charmed by it and I gave myself an inner stamp-of-approval. Job well done.

Until my daughter dropped a recent remark on the subject, ”Blah-blah…loves it…blah-blah…but she’s disappointed. She can’t cuddle up with the pillow or lay on it because of the sequins on both sides.” Oh-oh.

Sidney's not very happy. Neither is the pillow.

Sidney’s not very happy. Neither is the pillow.

The comment stuck with me. Why hadn’t I thought of that myself? So caught up in its twinkle, I never considered what her pillow was tasked to do. To be a comfort. What tween girl – or anyone – would want to flop in a chair and lean against a prickly pillow?

Then I remembered a handmade, patchwork pillow, loved from the first day I laid eyes upon it, gifted by my sister-in-law many years ago. Sent for no reason except sisterly-affection, it was (and still is) the perfect pillow. A generous 26”X26” square, filled with soft down, and covered with quality Ralph Lauren fabrics: the striped material cut from a set of curtains, the backing from a skirt she no longer wore, the rest of the fabrics from a design store’s old sample book.

In fact, that pillow is just what it should be – beautiful in design, skillfully crafted, and as comforting to lean against as a hug at the end of a hard day. All wrapped into a patchwork masterpiece, always welcoming me home.

Though my grandgem might not appreciate designer fabrics yet, I bet she’d treasure a Gramsey-made pillow out of fun fabrics that make her smile or stir a happy memory. Something huggable – front and back. That’s the goal. Out with the prickle and in with the cozy cuddle!

winnie-pandey-pillow hug_1280I’d better get busy.

 

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Decorating With Grandma. Again.

Once upon a time my mother, two sisters-in-law, & I decided to start a new Christmas tradition. We each crafted a handmade ornament to hang on our trees. Four ornaments total. One for Mother, one each for sisters-in-law Pam & Nancy, & one for me to keep.

That first year, everyone made a beautiful ornament. We wrapped, ribboned, & readied them for their tah-dah moments, opening them up with anticipation. Mother’s, made of felt & sequins, elicited smiles from us as they sparkled with Christmas spirit. Pam stitched up a gingerbread man that quickly became a favorite. Nancy’s cross-stitch stunner dazzled us. Each one a treasure, beginning a family legacy.

Except for mine. Without going into detail, it was…unfortunate. My kind relatives uttered undeserved oos & aws over it, but I wasn’t fooled.

You might think these pictured are my handiwork. But no. They are more winsome than what I produced. Over the years, I tried to make an angel out of coffee filters, a salt dough ginger-boy (who was too heavy for the branch), a ball glitter-glued to gruesome heights, & a snowman who looked rather like Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North. But none turned out well.

Still, I yenned to fashion a gingerbread man as cute as Pam’s. Maybe a ginger-girl?

Handmade UGLY Gingerbread Girl

Oh, my goodness! It didn’t work out for me. (Sigh.) Another awkward attempt.

Eventually, we each fell away from the tradition. The task too time consuming, I fell first, followed by the others. Except for my mother, who faithfully crafted her ornaments year after year, gifting them to us joyfully, without comment on our lack of reciprocation.

We looked forward to receiving them & each ended up with a collection of her creations. Hours & hours of close work, stitching far into the nights to keep her end of the bargain, though we didn’t keep ours.

Every Christmas, when we unpack the precious ornaments, we enjoy the blessing anew. And remember the legacy of our Mother’s abiding love.

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