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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.

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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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My Beautiful Word of Honor

Would you believe me if I told you I love to pay bills? Truly, I do! But there was a time I dreaded the job. That is, until my friend told me about a book on how to make it a delightful event. What? How could that be? Still, since Barbara seemed always bathed in beauty, giving every situation a splash of loveliness, I wanted to know her secret. So I bought my own copy.

Written by Alexandra Stoddard, the book was titled Living a Beautiful Life. It made me look at hearth & home in a new way & helped me find beauty in the mundane. I haven’t seen that book for years though I know it’s in a box somewhere. My memories are sketchy after so long. Let’s see…a touch of yellow in every room? Hmm. But there was something I put into practice – paying my bills in a beautiful way. Making it a special time.

Impossible, you say? Not so fast! First, I set up my desk or writing area with:

  • A favorite pen of good weight & elegance for ease of use;

 

  • Charming postage stamps, pleasing to the eye;

 

  • Pretty checks that made signing my name a pleasure;

Checkbook

  • Lovely note cards (or greeting cards) kept at-the-ready.
Pretty Cards Mine (1)

Some of my note cards at-the-ready.

Then it was time to put on the kettle & brew a cup of tea served to self in a gorgeous cup. Or pour coffee into a mug worthy of wonder. Didn’t hurt to have a couple cookies on a plate for a snack break. (All that math!) Or music in the background? A fragrant candle burning?

In that lovely environment, paying bills was a pleasure. A treat to be enjoyed. Back then, it changed my world.

My quest for loveliness in the bill-paying task has now morphed into the pleasure of keeping my word. Every time I use a service, like electricity from PG&E, I know it’s on loan from the company. Entrusted to me up-front until I reimburse them. When I do, I’m keeping my word & that makes me very happy.

“Thanks for another month of heat or cooling or juice for the microwave, PG&E!”

Handshake (1)

So this is my new style of paying bills. When it’s time, I set up my station rather like days of old. On the table to the right of my computer, an antique plate holds crispy toast covered with apricot jam. Nearby, a china cup is filled with steaming Cinnamon Spice Tea. The aromas tickle my nose & the radio plays softly in the background. I begin tap-tapping on the keyboard.

Rawpixel-Computer & Tea-unsplash

These days I only pay a few bills by check, but I still use an elegant pen & pretty postage stamps. My current checks are charmers, though I feel a bit of a dinosaur when writing one out. Still, I sign with a flourish & love the wonderful feeling of keeping my beautiful word of honor.

Taking another sip of tea, I smile at my accomplishment.

Jon Tyson-unsplash

NOTE: Living a Beautiful Life by Alexandra Stoddard remains in print & has been updated for changing times.

 

 

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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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