Friday, October 31, 2014

Refined by Fire, A Journey of Grace and Grief 
       by Mary Potter Kenyon

       I just finished reading Refined by Fire, A Journey of Grace and Grief.  I flew through the pages, barely stopping to eat, use the bathroom or even breathe.   I didn't want to stop to do the necessary things in life until I finished.
        But I almost felt guilty reading Refined by Fire.  Why guilty?  Mary’s private thoughts, pains, anger and glimpses of happiness were written in such a way I felt like I was spying on her. Was I an intruder in her home?  Was I the proverbial fly on the wall, seeing and hearing all the conversations, both those spoken aloud and those in her head?
        Mary’s book shared her path of grief after she lost her mother, her beloved husband and her grandson within a few short years.  She writes clearly about the process of joining the world of the living, slowly and painfully until she gets cut off at the knees for the second and then a third time.  I felt her heart shatter and the physical pain that comes from such a loss.
       Yes, this book has very sad things to say.  It is about death, grief and loss, but more importantly it is about hope.  I was allowed to follow along as Mary went through her stages of extreme sadness until she came to the conclusion she was strong enough to go on with life. She illustrated how she came to that place.  I felt myself rooting for her, as much as if I was at a high school football state championship game. 
       I enjoyed the quotes she included from books she read that helped her as she walked the path alone.  The sources were listed so I could go and read them for myself.  She also included her own journal entries as she waded through the muddy waters of her emotions.  Both gave me insight.
      I think this book would be helpful for anyone who grieves the loss of a loved one.  Most everyone experiences a loss during a lifetime: a parent, a spouse, a child, a grandchild or a close friend.  Mary's journey speaks to all paths of grief.

       I recommend picking up a copy, reading it for yourself, whether you are in the grieving process or not.  It is a story of one woman’s resiliency in dealing with the messiness of life.  Share it with a loved one who could use a hand up during a difficult time.  I know I plan to share this book as a gift to my friends and relatives when they experience a loss.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


A heavy sigh escaped from his mouth as Alfred settled on his left side once again and faced the room.   He glanced to his right as he shifted.  He blinked, rubbed his forehead, head jerked up and his eyes sprang open. “Did something just brush my back,” his heart and mind raced.  He sat up slightly and looked to the opposite side of the bed.  He peered through the darkness to the empty pillow and he shook his head.  “Oh, Al, you are imagining things,” he whispered and tried to relax.  The coolness of the pillow against his face reminded him he was alone.  He pulled the sheet to his chin.  He eyes closed as he remembered the few days earlier when his beloved Gracie had slipped into her life of unlimited sweets.  He could still see their children, Tony, Roger, Pat, Linda, Cindy and Vicky and the feel the sorrow as together they watched Gracie go home.  He rolled to his right side.  “There it is again,” and he commanded himself to lay still.  The pressure between his shoulder blades began to move.   Circular motions with a gentleness that reminded him of the many times Gracie’s gently rubbed his back.   “Was that a hand,” his mind questioned.  “Don’t be ridiculous,” Alfred Kremer silently scolded himself.  “You are only wishing it was real.”  But the feeling continued until he drifted off to sleep.
He slept fitfully for several hours before the warm rays of the morning sun danced on his face.  He rubbed his eyes and scratched the whiskers on his chin.  “Did last night really happen or was I dreaming,” as he struggled to look around the bedroom.  It looked exactly the same as it had the night before.  The double bed was along the north wall, a dresser, mirror, next the closet door and his trousers draped across a chair.  “It was a dream,” he muttered, disappointed as reality set in.  “I wish it was true,” as he made his way to the kitchen. “It felt so good to have my back rubbed.”  A tear slid down his cheek as he recalled the many nights Gracie had helped him relax.   Al stepped on the porch and snatched the morning paper.  The chair scratched the linoleum floor as he pulled it out and sat next to the kitchen table.   The paper rattled as he snapped it open.  His eyes scanned the headlines and followed the typed words in the columns.  He looked up.  “I have no idea what I just read.”  His mind wandered, desperate to relive the night and the feeling of having Gracie still with him.  
Al tried to stay busy, but the minutes dragged throughout the day.
 At last the hands on the clock gave him permission to retreat to the bedroom.  Al grunted slightly as he pushed himself up from his favorite chair in the front room.   He shuffled sadly through the house to the bedroom.   “I hope I can sleep tonight.”  He sandwiched himself between the sheets and darkness settled in.  A small stream from the street lamp was the sole beam of light.  Exhaustion set in and soon he was breathing softly with a steady rhythm.
A horn blare on the busy road beyond the lawn surrounding the house jarred Al out of his sleep.  Disgusted, he rolled over and tried to shut out the street noises. He had become accustomed to the continual sound of traffic.  “Why did you have to wake me – I was finally asleep,” he grumbled.  He wriggled in an effort to find the same position and as he did he glanced to the far corner of the bedroom.  A slight movement of white hovered near the angle of the room.  Startled, he sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes.  “What…” he questioned.  “What is that,” his heart thumped as he strained to adjust his eyes to the darkness.  Cloud-like wisps of white hovered in the once vacant corner.  The figure, about four feet tall, moved silently back and forth in the corner.  The thumping in his chest was the only sound.  “Are you trying to tell me something,” he said, as the figure gestured to him.  Al watched, his eyebrows raised.  He could not understand the hand motions and after some time the apparition faded away.
“Was that my Gracie,” he thought as he lay in bed, unable to slow his mind.   He counted the ceiling tiles of his bedroom.  Outside, the wind gently rocked the tree branches against the siding on the house.  The scratching sound diverted Al’s attention.  He glanced toward the window, hoping to glimpse the visitor again.  He realized he was the sole occupant and lay back with a heavy sigh.  He tugged the sheets around his chin.  Without a thought his hand slid to the pillow next to him.  As his fingers stroked the cool cotton, covering a tear slid down his face and trickled in his ear.  “What will I do without you, Gracie?”
Morning light peaked through the closed brocade drapes and Al rolled slowly to his side.  He sighed as he swung his feet out of bed and straightened upright.  His legs felt heavy, almost wooden and his arms rubbery as he pulled on the plaid flannel robe.  He shuffled to the corner of his room.  The emptiness of the corner matched his mood.  “Was I dreaming last night?  Was that real,” as he made his way to the kitchen.
He grabbed the coffee pot and filled it with cold water.  He measured the grounds carefully, replaced the lid and plugged it in.  As the smell of the fresh coffee began to fill the air, he walked to the cupboard and reached in for his favorite cup.  The routine felt good.  He had been making his own coffee each morning for the last five years.  He poured the hot, black liquid energy into his cup and sat in his favorite chair at the table.  He glanced up and seeing Gracie’s chair empty, buried his face in his hands.  Sobs of grief racked his body.  He remembered an earlier time when it was the two of them in the kitchen on the farm. 
Gracie stood beside his chair as she poured him a cup of coffee.  She set a plate of cookies in front of him.   “Al, I still tested positive,” Gracie said.  She had just returned home after her check up with the doctor following the birth of Cindy.  “I will always have to be careful what I eat.”
“I thought that diabetes was only supposed to last during the pregnancy,” he asked her.  Gracie smiled as she often did, but her eyes looked sad.  “I guess not this go ‘round,” she said softly.
Al shook his head with sadness as he remembered how quickly the illness dictated how Gracie felt each day.  Blood tests, insulin shots, forbidden foods became a daily routine in their household.  In spite of her illness she still loved to bake.  The cookie jar never ran empty while pies and cakes were ready for daily desserts.   It was a slow progression gradually overtaking her health.   Gracie handled it herself until her kidneys became compromised and she suffered the effects.  He shuddered as he recalled the first time he gave her the shot of insulin.  “I was so afraid I would hurt her,” he thought as he pictured himself with the syringe and small glass bottle of insulin.   He hands shook, but Gracie gentled talked him through it and soothed his raw nerves.     When he was finished, Gracie smiled at him with her eyes and her mouth turned up in that smile that he fell in love with years earlier. 
Al’s face softened.  Still lost in his memories he saw himself as a young man again.  His good friend, Marvin Key was sitting in his white Ford convertible.  Al could almost feel the warm summer air rushing toward him as they whizzed by the fields of corn. “Let’s go to White’s Cafe before I have to go to work.”   
“Sure, I owe you,” Al stated, “Thanks for doing my chores while I was gone.  Dad would have never milked my cow twice a day like you did.”
“No problem.  Remember when I came to help shell corn for your dad,” Marvin said.  “And how he took out his chew, stuck it on the clothesline pole on the way in for lunch, and then, and then,” Marvin laughed, “took it down and put it in his mouth again after lunch,” he could barely finish his sentence.
“Yeah,” Al snickered. “I think he did that just to get your reaction,” as he parked in front of the newspaper office.  “We can walk from here.”
The glass door swung in as the pair entered the cafĂ©.   Murmurs from the small clusters of regulars in the green booths along the walls met the two friends. Al spotted an empty spot and led the way.  Just before he slid between the cushioned seat and the chrome accented table he noticed the girls in the next booth.  He nodded to the pair as he sauntered to their table.  “Hi there,” he said.  The girls smiled warmly and he continued.  “I’m Alfred Kremer this is my friend, Marvin Key.  And who might you be?”
“I’m Gracie and this is Bonnie.” 
“Mind if we join you,” Al asked.
“Well, sit right down,” Gracie said. 
The chime of the mantel clock brought Al back to the kitchen and his loneliness was back immediately.
Al sighed, “Well, sit right down.  How many times did I hear that phrase from you, Gracie?   You were always so welcoming to everyone,” as he said as he rose from the chair.  “I’ll wash you later,” he said to the cup as he set it in the sink. The kitchen door swung shut behind him as he left the room.
Over the next few weeks this became his routine:  sleepless nights, endless days, and morning coffee alone.  He looked forward to the blackness of the night when he could feel Gracie’s presence beside him.  The shadowy white figure continued to appear.  The presence always seemed to be trying to tell him something.  “Go talk to Carol, call Frances, and get out into the world again.”  But Alfred felt paralyzed.
“A road trip, you need a road trip,” the pixie-like figure told him after several weeks of visitation in the same far corner of his bedroom.
The following morning, Al made plans.  “I’m going to travel, take a trip,” he explained to Roger and Tony during a visit.
“Where,” they both asked at the same time.
“I’m not sure. California, maybe, Arizona, I’ll let you know.  I just know I need to get away.  “I’ll be okay,” he said, noticing the look of concern on his sons’ faces.  “I’ll keep in touch, I’ll call, I promise.”
The next day Al tossed his suitcase in the trunk, slammed it shut and slid in behind the wheel.  He turned the key and the engine sputtered to life.  He backed the car out of the garage, on to Highway 150, and the trip began.  He wasn’t sure why or where he was going; he just knew this trip was necessary.  The miles on the odometer rolled over as he sped down the highway.   At last he turned into a drive, shifted the car into park and turned the key to off.  He looked up at the sign on the building.  “Monastery, here I come,” he muttered as he retrieved his brown leather bag, walked the cobblestone path and rang the bell.
 “It was good you called and made reservations,” the brown-robed friar spoke softly he led Al to his room.  As the door closed behind him Al studied the furnishing of the area he would use over the next few weeks.  A small metal cot with a thin mattress, a woolen blanket folded neatly at the foot was along the south wall.  A square window with a simple curtain looked to the garden.  A wooden chair and a tiny table were below.  The remaining wall had the hook for his clothes.  “It’s a simple room, but I won’t spend much time in here,” he thought to himself.  He knew his time would be spent in the quiet chapel with needed prayer and contemplation.  He spent several weeks at the monastery.  He felt a peace that had been eluding him since Gracie’s death.  When his time among the religious brothers ended, Al felt ready to continue his travels.  Slowly he made his way back to Independence, Iowa, visiting family in California and Arizona before returning.
He glanced at the highway sign along the road: Amarillo – 15 miles.  “I should be able to swing through there with no problem and keep on going.  I’m getting anxious to get home.”  He glanced to the eastern sky and noticed a dark, ominous cloud forming in the horizon.  “I guess I’d better keep an eye on the weather,” he reminded himself.  As he entered the city limits of Amarillo, the clouds  turned black and angry.  Spotting a small motel with a bar and grill attached, Al braked slightly and steered his sedan into the parking lot.
“Do you have a room for tonight,” Al asked the young clerk behind the desk.
“Yes, sir, we have a room with a double bed available.  Would you like that one,” the brown haired girl as she tucked a loose strand behind her ear. 
“She reminds me of my girls,” Al thought as he signed his name in the registry.  He took the key for his room and made his way to the second floor.  The suitcase felt heavy and he dropped it as he unlocked the door.  He lumbered in, dragging his luggage and collapsed on the floral bedspread.  He stared at the ceiling for a moment before his eyelids shut out the bareness of the room.
“Get up,” a voice startled Al.  He jerked, sat up and looked around the room.  “Get up.  What are you doing up here,” the voice came from the far corner of the room.  Night had fallen while Al napped and the room was dark.  He rubbed his eyes and stared in the direction of the voice.  He saw the familiar white, translucent body.  “Go downstairs.  Get something to eat,” the willowy figure continued to instruct him.  He hesitated.  “Go on, go down to the bar and order some food.  You can’t stay in here all night.”

Al obeyed, but was still bewildered as he entered the room on the lower level.  He noticed the bar with a rough wooden bar with several cowboys leaning upon it.  The door to the kitchen was just beyond.  The smell of beer and fries wafted to Al and his mouth watered.  He turned his left wrist over.  “No wonder I am feeling hungry.  It’s after eight o’clock.”  The murmur of conversation from a group seated in a booth in the far corner reached his ears and he glanced in that direction.  The smell of sawdust mingled with the earthy smell of horses. Scuffed dark planks created the dance floor just beyond the tables.  Several couples swayed to the music drifting from the jukebox, the boots scraped the floor and the blue jeans moved in synchronized movements.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Two word sentences

Each month I try to attend a writer group.  We catch up on news, have creative writing assignments and practice drills.  I look forward to it each month and am sad to miss it.  And yes, for those who know me well, I tend to talk lots.  After all, I am an EXTROVERT.
Anyway.  Today's warm up exercise was to write  using only two sentence words.  It was a fun and interesting challenge, one that made us use every word wisely. We had a few minutes.  I hope you can visualize what I am doing.

Fabric chosen.
Machine oiled.
Iron heated. 
Scissors sharpened. 
Strips Cut.  
Blocks sewn.  
Squares pressed.  
Rows assembled.  
Layers pinned.  
Needle threaded.  
Stitches secured.  
Bed covered.  
Joy shared.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Life is like a patchwork quilt

Recently I was invited to speak at a the St. Athanasius Catholic Daughters of America annual banquet.  My subject was, Life is like a patchwork quilt.  This is my talk, along photographs of the quilts used during my talk.  Since it was about a 20 minute talk, more or less, I will do it in parts.

One of many baby quilts I have made using scraps from other projects.
Life is like a patchwork quilt.

Thank you for asking me to come and speak with you tonight on “Life is like a patchwork quilt.”  When Marsha asked me to come, I questioned, “Are you sure?  Aren’t you getting tired of seeing my face and hearing my voice.  This will be the fourth time I have spoken to your group,” but I hesitantly agreed.  When I told my husband Rick about it, he remarked, “Well, duh, don’t you get it? They want you to join the Catholic Daughters; they’ll keep asking you to speak until you join.”  Keep in mind this comes from the guy who also says, “If I die first, I want you to have me cremated.  Take my ashes and sprinkle them in JoAnn Fabrics. Then at least I know you will come and visit me.” 
But, in speaking with Father Willgenbush recently at your out of hibernation gathering, he commented, “That’s during Holy Week,” and I concluded, “you CDA ladies wanted one last big dose of penance to send you into Easter.”  
In preparing for visiting with you about quilts, I did a bit of research:
Does anyone know the origin of the word quilt?

The term "quilt" comes from the Latin word, culcita (CULCEETA) meaning a stuffed sack.  The word has come to have 2 meanings. It is used as noun, meaning the 3-layer stitched bed covering. It is also used as a verb, meaning the act of stitching through the 3 layers to hold them together. 
So basically a quilt is a cloth sandwich.  It has a top, which is usually the decorated part, a back, and with a filler in the middle. We generally think of 3 different types (1) the plain or whole cloth quilt, (2) applique quilts, and (3) pieced or patchwork quilts.  

My preference is to make patchwork quilts and tonight I will mostly talk about them.
 I also put a question on my face book page to my fellow quilting friends.  I asked them, “How long have you been quilting and why do you quilt?”  Some of the responses to my unofficial survey:
“I sew for gifts and to make memories for my kids and grandchildren…”
 I quilt because I love giving the best gift you can give to someone! Handmade awesomeness with love!
I made my first quilt in 1969 when I was a student here at St. Athanasius.  We were assigned a group project for American history class.  Three classmates and I decided to make a quilt, depicting a continuous craft in our country’s history.   Early quilts were just a way of using every precious scrap they had.  Blankets were patched, used as filler between worn clothing reused and pieced together for blankets.  They were intended to be used for warmth.  In later years the manufacturing of fabric and clothing freed women to have the time to sew artistic quilts.  From 1750-1870 thousands were pieced, many were very elaborate taking years to make.  Some have survived and are preserved.
My first quilt at age 14
Well, this quilt is NOT one of them.  If you look carefully at the workmanship, it is apparent this was a first for us.  But we did it, we learned, and most important, to us at the time, we got an A.
I didn’t attempt quilting again for many years.  But I never lost the interest in fabric, needles and thread.

 There are a couple of sayings about sewing; maybe some of you have heard them:
“My soul is fed with needle and thread.”
“When I learned to sew, I forgot how to clean.”
“Stitching forever, housework whenever.”
For those of you who know me, do you think these fit?  My favorite is, “geniuses are rarely tidy.”  I see some of you nodding on that one - you must have been in my house or shop, I’m sure what you are nodding about is NOT the word genius.  And I would agree with you on that.  You see, I don’t think I am an expert on quilting or even on stitching.  Look at my first quilt  - and my first project in High School Home Ec class received a dismal “C minus.”  But I have been blessed to have that “dog with a bone” tenacity and a love of learning and have spent most of my life seeking a better way to do things.  I include stitching and quilting in those passions.
I should tell you a bit about myself.  I am the daughter of Jerry and Rita Kies, and I grew up on a farm outside of Jesup with 8 brothers and two sisters.  My maternal grandmother, Tillie Kremer, a member of this organization in days gone by, was a professional seamstress and the ancestors on my dad’s side were accomplished seamstresses as well.  So I like to tell people I inherited the love of sewing.  I married my husband, Rick Rottinghaus, here at St. A., in 1975 and together we raised four children, Eric, Dean, Kathy and Adam.  A special gift each of them received at birth was a quilt made by my great Aunt Mary. 
Quilts by Aunt Mary Winkel
She loved to sew rags together with her treadle sewing machine and have them woven into rugs.  People gave her their cast off materials and worn out clothes.  When she happened upon pieces worthy of a quilt she set those aside and created those treasured blankets for all of her loved ones.  As I reflected on her gifts to my children, I thought about the love she illustrated for us all.  For not only did she pump that pedal with her arthritic legs to sew those quilts, she chose things others often discard to craft items that became her legacy.  Aunt Mary looked at people the same way she viewed rag rugs or quilts.  All are valued, including people living on the fringes of society.  Her house was home to piles of fabrics waiting to be stitched into a gift of love, along with many people down on their luck who needed a place to stay.  She used her large two story home as a boarding house for folks who needed a hand up as opposed to a hand out.  What a wonderful way to live a life and something to strive to attain. 
When Aunt Mary passed away in 1989, she left behind boxes of fabric and had given away too many baby blanket/quilts to count.  It was then I decided to learn to quilt.  I wanted to continue her tradition of welcoming each new life in our family with a quilt made just for them.  
I wish I had taken a picture of each quilt I made from the time I started until today, but I never thought about at the time. It’s probably for the best - I would have to stop and count, but let’s just say I could show you a slide show that would be so long your eyes would cross and you’d leave here having Holy Week penance checked off your list.
I do remember one of the first ones was hand quilted.  That didn’t last long, okay, I only did it once.  I switched to a machine technique, stitch in the ditch, which means to follow a seam, placing stitches in the center.  The stitches fall into the “ditch” and are hidden.   Now I use a method called stippling to secure the top, batting and bottom together.  I lower the feed dogs on my sewing machine, either Bernie or Sew-n-Sew, and working at a fairly rapid speed I move the fabric on the machine bed.  .  Oh, are you wondering who Bernie and Sew-n-Sew are?  Did I forget to tell you I name all my machines?  The two mentioned: Bernie, (Bernina), Sew-n-Sew (an industrial machine that stitches about 4 x the speed of Bernie b/c I’m always in a hurry).   I named all my machines because some days I only have them for conversation, AND they never sass me back.    Anyway, I move the fabric freely and lay down stitches that move across the quilt in a random, flowing movement, taking care they don’t overlap.   This is also referred to as free motion quilting.   This method suits me the best because it mirrors the way I try to live my life: moving freely from one project to the next, trying not to overlap them.  Long arm quilting is another method used, many hire this done.
Tufted quilt
Back to the history of quilts for a bit: Earlier I shared the definition and that the word quilt is used as both a noun and a verb, referring quilt to the art of stitching the three layers together.  A variation is a "tufted" quilt that is tied through in enough places to keep the filling from shifting and bunching. While a tufted quilt has no stitching holding the layers together, it does have the typical 3 layers seen in traditional quilts.   We have some samples on display of quilts made by a former member of CDA, Agnes Mangrich and her daughters.   Early quilts were used as bed covering for warmth, and to cover doors and windows to keep out the cold.   By the early 1900's
quilting was transforming from a necessary art into a creative one.
During the Depression, people simply did not have the money to buy blankets so once again women relied on their own skills and resources to keep their families warm.  "Use it up, wear it out, make it due, or do without” was common practice for life and many used feed sacks for fabric.
Made by my Great Grandma Wester using feed sacks
I have a sample of one, made my paternal Great Grandma Wester.   She used the Dresden plate pattern, popular at that time.  She appliqued the pieces of feed sack fabric on muslin and quilted it, all by hand.   As you may guess, I treasure this piece of my great grandmother and her legacy.  My Great Aunt Mary, who inspired me to sew quilts, was her daughter. 

50th Anniversary Quilt for my parents
This large quilt is one our family made and gave to my parents for their 50thwedding anniversary.  As you can see, each family member decorated their own square.  Once we accomplished this we pooled our scrap fabrics; each family added to the mix.  My sister, Audry, cut squares and constructed the top.  I would like to note that she took care so each piece is different.  If there are two alike it only happened because two of us gave her identical scraps.   May I ask a question and no, you don’t need to answer this, “How many of us have looked at another person and sighed, “I wish I had her/his talent?”

Romans, chapter 12, verse 6 tells us:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

50th Wedding Anniversary Quilt - no two squares are the same
So please direct your thoughts to the variety of fabrics used – no two are alike.  Could I take out one piece and have the same treasure?  It would be incomplete, just as I like to think about people.  Each one of us is unique and the gift given to us by our Creator is important.  Not one is more important than the other, and without one, humanity would be incomplete.  I challenge each of us to recognize our own gift, thank God for it and then use it to the best of our ability. 
For 1 Corinthians 12 states:
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
When the top was complete our family gathered together as on one from my mother to the young nieces.  We learned how to hand quilt together and built community as we stitched.  It was reminiscent of an old fashioned quilting bee and we created a wonderful memory together.  Isn’t that we do as a church community:  gather together, learn new lessons and create some awesome memories.  
Next I’d like to talk about some of quilts I have made as gifts over the years.

Kile's Quilt
Old McDonald Had a Farm
Cavanaugh's Quilt
These first four are the ones for my grandchildren.  When our first, Kile, was born I decided to sew a theme quilt, using the pattern, Grandma’s Attic Window, selecting farm fabric and the song ‘Old McDonald’ as applique and motifs.  For the first two grands, Eric’s children, Kile and Cavanaugh, I managed to accomplish that.  

Garrett's Quilt
But when our third grand, our son, Dean’s first born, came along someone purchased a matching nursery set for him.  I needed to switch gears. I researched the internet and found fabric to match the purchased items.  I used that as a basis for my design, still using the Grandma’s Attic Window pattern.  My daughter-in-law, Meg said it matched the nursery perfectly. J
Lauren's - Variation of Nine Patch
But when Grand #4 Lauren, Dean’s second came along, I needed to adapt.  You see, Dean’s first born, Garrett returned to our Creator unexpectedly at the age of 5 months and 27 days.  In an effort to lessen their pain, I used a completely different pattern, but some of the same fabrics.  To me this says: life changes.  What works in one situation will not necessarily work in every one that comes our way.  And so, I must be open to change and adapt.

Joel's Quilt
James's Quilt
The next quilts were gifts to great nieces and nephews.  As I construct quilts I try to use fabric left from other projects and match the colors to the flannel backing. .  I want to draw your attention to Joel’s first.  If you look carefully you will find three pieces of blue fabric that don’t quite match the rest.  I ran out and found something similar.  I point this out because I thought - Life is not perfect and that’s okay, I must just do the best I can with what I have been given.  Many quilters add an odd piece in every quilt to illustrate this.

Josie's Quilt
These two quilts belong to James and Josephine.  I used the same pattern for each but look how different they look.  I talked about talents a bit ago and I think this illustrates another point about them.  Many people share similar talents, but each individual brings a different dimension to our world by being themselves.  Just as different fabrics changed the look of these quilts, so can a fresh outlook change our perspective when different people work together using their unique gifts.

Always Kiss Frogs 2
Always Kiss Frogs 1
These next few, the two frog quilts belonging to Mia and Rachel, and no they aren’t identical – I never make two exactly the same.  

Zachary's Quilt
Zachary,James and Josephine’s were made using the same pattern.  They look so different because of my decision to sew the strips in a different order.  I also added an additional row on some and I’m sure you can see the size change.  I talk about this because it gave me another perspective on our world -  we sometimes define our path in life by the choices we make.  One small change can direct our journey on to a totally new fork in the road. 

No Pattern Quilt
Sammy's Quilt
Sammie’s monkey quilt was made using no pattern.  I knew his room was to be decorated in monkeys and I had some scraps that fit that theme.  So I did a technique called fussy cutting and cut my first pieces using only the monkey faces.  I then created the quilt using those 4 rectangles, cutting and fitting pieces as I went.  For me this reminds me once again - sometimes my world has no consistency.  I have to look at what I have been given that day and piece things together to work.  Romans 8:28 tells us “28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.

9 Patch and Rail Fence Pattern Combined
This blue/white baby quilt I brought along tonight is for my great niece Lilliana, or Lily as we call her.  I did several using two patterns.  Why?  My life was pretty hectic and I just didn’t have time to do a more complicated design.  Lately I have been hearing speakers or readings that tell us our world is too busy and we should: “ simplify our life.”  This quilt is an example of a very simple pattern.  This square is a 9 patch. It was first used in the early 19th century and, because it is easy to learn, was often the first quilting square mothers taught their young daughters.  Once it is mastered there are hundreds of variations of the 9 patch.  I chose this for simplicity and paired it with another simple pattern, the rail fence, constructed by stitching three identical strips together to form a block. By combining the two I was able to make it a bit more interesting.  This is one of my latest quilts, it was very quick to stitch together, and it does represent my life – I am working at living a simpler lifestyle.  I slowed down as a business woman and am trying to concentrate more on what is really important, my faith, my family and people around me.  I am exploring new horizons and discovering exciting things I enjoy.  In choosing simplicity, my pleasures in life have expanded.

When we look at some quilts we may think – I could never do that, it is too complicated.  Life situations can make us feel like that sometimes.  We’ve all experienced a problem that seemed bigger than we could handle.  I like to use this pinwheel quilt to illustrate that idea.  All these little triangles may look problematical. So does life sometimes. During a very difficult time in my life from late 2004 through 2006 our family struggled with three major things, mental illness, cancer and the loss of our grandson.  There were days I felt overwhelmed and didn’t think I could get through the day.  I had to quit looking ahead to see how our situation was going to end.  Instead I focused on one day at a time, or one hour, and some days it was one minute at a time. I couldn’t look at the big picture.  Instead, it worked better for me to break it into smaller sections and figure out a way to make things work.  

 So it is with this pattern. Let’s break it down into smaller bites:  I took two pieces of fabric, placing them right sides together, sort of like my situation and my attitude toward it.  I used this paper template, to me it represents my faith, and pinned the three together.  I stitched on the dotted lines – that represents the path for me that Jesus laid out for us as a way to live life.  After stitching, I cut on the solid lines using wonderful tools, a rotary cutter, rule and board (a quilter’s best friends.)  The cutting of the solid lines to me is like when I cut away the way things that I have held on to too tightly.  Some of those things are not important to my spiritual growth and I needed to slice them out of my life.   A press from a hot iron and my challenge has been reduced to a manageable procedure.  So must we, press toward the prize of eternal life. Finally, I stitched the squares together to form the pattern, just as I must use prayer as a tool to hold everything together.   

As I studied this pattern it also reminds me of times in my life.  Look with me at the dynamics of this pattern.  It is has only three fabrics, one light, the lavender, one dark, the navy/lavender print and white.
Ecc.  3:4 tells us,   4 A time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing.  This quilt illustrates to me this verse.  Everyone has difficulties in life, the hard times, the dark times, a time for tears: the navy print.   But we all have good times, too.  Times when life just rolls along smoothly and all is good, times of light:  a time for laughter: the lavender fabric.    Imagine if I had used only lavender prints or only navy prints?  It would not be as striking, would it?   We need the valleys and the mountaintop experiences for life to be harmonious.  If I had one without the other, neither would be as meaningful.  And the white fabric? – God.  Without a relationship with God my life would not stay together.  I have to stay connected with God at all times, just as the white fabric connects the squares and completes this quilt.  As my figurine states: God Mends Broken Hearts.

The last quilt I wish to talk about is one, given to Rick and I from my sister, Audry, as a gift for our 30th wedding anniversary.  Each square represents a part of our family and our life together.  But to me it represents much more.  In 1993, Audry was in a serious auto accident that left her with a permanent head injury.  She was no longer able to work at her teaching job, but her reaction to this is an inspiration to me.  After her long recovery, she had to choose a new path for herself.  She looked at what abilities she still had and concentrated on those, as opposed to the things she had lost.  This quilt was made by her, along with countless other quilts and sewing projects, since her accident.  She exemplifies to me the saying common in a quilter’s world: “When life hands you scraps, make a quilt.”

Backside of a quilt
As we leave here tonight I would like to leave these final thoughts:  Life REALLY IS like a patchwork quilt.  I shared with you many quilt tops.  Lastly I wish to show a quilt back.  It sure doesn’t look as pretty does it?  It’s jagged, ragged and messy.  When we see life here on earth, this is the side we see.  Often times it doesn’t make sense; we can’t see understand why this is happening.  We are only looking at our life, our quilt, from the underside.

One day, when we meet our creator, we will be able to look at the quilt from God’s view.  With this new angle I believe we will be able to it’s beauty.  Our life, our quilt will be finished.  It will be at that time the veil will be lifted.  We will understand the reasons our blocks were constructed in the manner they were, that without one of the pieces our quilt, our life, would have been incomplete.   Each quilt block will assure us:  We are each valued, we all are unique in our gifts and talents, sometimes we choose our own path by our choices; that we will have times of light and times of darkness; sometimes we fray around the edges, but with prayer we can bind it all together.  And may all of us rest in the knowledge that our quilt WILL be beautiful and irreplaceable in God’s kingdom. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Chemo-Therapist How Cancer Saved a Marriage by Mary Potter Kenyon

Chemo-Therapist How Cancer Saved a Marriage
                   by Mary Potter Kenyon

 “While we had developed an extraordinary relationship, we had never been extraordinary people.  We were just two flawed humans who eventually discovered what it was to put the other first.”  Mary Potter Kenyon.

Most of us go through life thinking we are nothing special, we are not extraordinary people.   This book helps remind us all that we are all special in the eyes of those who love us.  Mary’s voice rings true throughout her entire journey.  This is an honest, touching journey of one woman’s revelation on what it means to truly love your spouse.  A must read for everyone who wants to improve their relationship with the person you have chosen to spend a lifetime.  It is sometimes painful to be with Mary and David as they discover the bond that allowed them to fall in love, but was forgotten with the daily grind and pressures of everyday life.  Mary invites us along on her passage as she allows us to enter her mindset, her thoughts, her actions, and her pain.  I felt like I was the proverbial “fly on the wall” as I witnessed the scenes unfold before me.  My heart ached as Mary took me to her secret places in her mind and soul.

Yes, this story is about cancer.  And if you are looking for a heartwarming story of a couple’s journey through oral cancer this book is for you.  This story helps the reader understand answers questions and gives a glimpse into what can be expected.  At times I blushed as I read intimate details of her thoughts and actions.  Mary tells it like it really happened, the good, the bad, the ugly and not, but not least, the joy.  I was changed by absorbing her words.

Each chapter begins with a quote that was obviously and carefully chosen to reflect the lesson learned during that time.  It left me something to ponder.

Once I picked up this book and entered into the life of Mary and David Kenyon, I had a hard time putting it down.  I recommend reading Chemo-Therapist and walking with a couple as they travel down a road that was chosen for them by life.  We all have those paths and how we react can either make us bitter or make us better.  The choice is ours and ours alone.  Mary chose to become better.

Thank you, Mary Potter Kenyon, for your honest look at this very personal time in your life. I feel honored to learn from your experiences.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meeting Nancy

With Nancy Zieman of Sewing with Nancy
For more years than I actually know, I have followed the television show, Sewing with Nancy.  It is a "how-to" show on what else, but sewing.  To say I have learned a lot from this show would be a bit of an understatement.  I have a drawer filled with VHS of shows I taped in order to re-watch them when I forgot techniques she demonstrated.  With the wonder of Face Book, I was able to follow her without fear of getting the label, stalker.  So when she announced a book launch party on her page for her autobiography, Seams Unlikely, I lost no time in purchasing a ticket to attend this event.  It would take place at the set of the longest running sewing and quilting show on television at the Wisconsin Public Television station..  I marked my calender, but that was rather silly.  Of course, I wouldn't forget the date.

     Yesterday was the day.  I kept an eye on weather predictions all week.  Madison, Wisconsin, the location of the station, was a three hour trip from my home.  Of course, this winter being the winter it has been, the forecast was 80% chance of snow.  And this year that means, brace yourself for another snowstorm.  Rick, the man who agreed to put up with me through thick and thin, decided to come along and do the driving.
     "What are you going to do while I'm in the studio," I asked after his announcement that he would be joining me.
     "Probably wait with all the other husbands standing around."
     In the end, he decided to join me for the entire book launch and I was able to purchase him a ticket.
     On Friday morning we decided to leave a day ahead and book a room, rather a suite.  Because of my erratic sleeping schedule, having a separate area where I can bide my time at 2 a.m. without disturbing his sleep, is important to me.  I got a suite. Our Valentine's Day meal, rather our "on the road" meal, was a buffet at Pizza Hut.
     As we arrived and entered the building there was another husband directly behind us.
     "Well at least we know you won't be the only male in a crowd of 100 sewing frenzied women," I remarked as we found our spot.
     There were actually three husbands smiling beside their wives.  I did ask each one if they shared the same philosophy as Rick, you know, twenty minutes in a fabric store is equal to three hours of man time.  Both of them had a witty comeback.
    As we settled in we were treated to drinks and cookies.  It was pretty cool to sit and stare at the set I had felt like I was in for so many Saturday afternoons.  Nancy was introduced in a manner that embarrassed her, but she took it in stride as she had all the things in her life that brought her to where she is today.  For the next hour we all listened intently as she shared her life story in snippets.
   I always knew she was knowledgeable when it came to fabric, thread and all the wonderful things to do with them, but I didn't realize the sense of humor behind the woman.  Parts of her talk made me laugh out loud, parts of it made me choke up a bit, and parts inspired me.  What more could you ask of a speaker who has visited your home each week for over twenty years?  I loved the thought she shared, "I am a regular person like all of you.  I just have a very public job."  She came across as a very warm, humble, love and faith-filled woman who has overcome some adversities in her life.  She also shared the idea that everyone has struggles in life, but not to let it dictate who you are.
      After she spoke, each person was allowed to meet her, she signed our books and permitted photos with her.  It was a welcoming atmosphere, we were thanked numerous times for coming and treated to a wonderful luncheon to close the day.  Yup, it was a pretty incredible day and I shared it with my husband, Rick, who knows how to make a gal feel special by taking twenty-four hours to enjoy her passion with her.
    I can't wait to bury my nose in her book, Seams Unlikely.  And, oh yeah, I even won a door prize.  Sweet!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Original Bachelorette

     Tillie walked the hall, the sound of her daytime boots echoing as wooden heel met the planked floor.  She closed the door to the Home Economics Room for the last time.  Tillie thought of the many hours spent in the room, perfecting her dressmaking skills.  She memorized the sights and sounds of her second home during the stay at St. Joseph’s Academy. A row of treadle machines was flanked by walnut tables and matching folding chairs. Beyond the work tables was the line of wardrobes, doors now closed, but Tillie could still envision the garments in various stages of construction that hung from each student’s cubby.  Hanging lamps gave the welcome light for detailed stitching.  The sound of pumping treadles, the whir of the needles as they formed the chain of stitches, once a constant hum, were now silent.
     Tillie walked to the next building.  Satchel in hand, Tillie turned and glanced around in the stark dormitory.   Her heart memorized the room as her eyes rested on the curtained cubicle that enclosed her bed.   Heavy drapery attached to the metal pipe hung three feet from the ceiling, and almost touched the four sides of her single metal bed.  A solid, plain coverlet covered the thin mattress, a wooden chair placed precisely at the right foot and the small square dresser at the head held the basin and bowl.  This was the extent of her living quarters.  Over-sized windows illuminated the room by day and a single lamp hung in the center for evening light. More than a dozen girls shared this institutional space, each with their own six foot by eight foot chamber.  She felt no sadness as she surveyed the room.  Instead, the spirits of her classmates filled the room with laughter and chatter.  It was graduation day; her time here was over.  The skills learned and life lessons taught in the last six months would go with her.  And she smiled as she was transported to an earlier moment in her life.
   She was once again sitting at the table in the simple farm home near Cold Spring, MN with Pa and Ma.  The discussion was exciting. Michael and Susanna Lardy recognized her talent with needle and thread. 
"That girl has a talent," Pa stated.
"Yes, she sews a fine stitch," Susan agreed, an accomplished seamstress herself.
"She can earn a fine sum of money.  A girl can support herself with a skill like that.  I read in the newspaper of a young seamstress out east who earned one hundred dollars each month!"
    The decision was made to allow Tillie to attend St. Joseph’s Academy to study with the Benedictine Sisters.  The forty miles from home to the academy was a day’s journey. She would board at the school to study the art of dressmaking. It was a dream come true for Tillie.  She was happiest with a bolt of fabric, scissors and thread, and had wished for the chance to learn all the finest stitches. After many hours of preparations, the day finally arrived.
    Butterflies filled Tillie as she climbed into the covered buggy with Pa.  Her trunk rested in the back, all her worldly possessions neatly tucked in layers of white cotton. One dress for Mass and one dress for other occasions. New shears, needles, threads and fabrics were added as well. Her journey into a new life at the age of sixteen had begun.
     “Matilda, come on, we’ll be late!” jolted Tillie back to the present time.  Her time was finished at St. Joseph’s Academy and she was traveling to the state of Iowa.  Arrangements had been made for her stay with relatives, the Schmidt family.  Maggie, her cousin, was close to her age and one of her dearest friends. Ma and Pa had decided there was more work in Iowa than with them.  Ma and Pa had made the decision, based on Ma’s fragile health and her battle with asthma, to move the family to Sentinel Butte, North Dakota.  The air was much drier and the family doctor felt that would be better for Susanna’s lungs. 
     So Tillie did not join her family in the move, rather she moved to Black Hawk County,Iowa.  She stayed with the Schmidt family, but would also go and live with other families to do their sewing.  She made her home with each family as long as necessary to take care of their sewing needs. She would sew anything from bed linens, to underclothing, to dresses and suits.  At times she had a treadle sewing machine to create the items needed.  Other times she would rely on her skill with a needle and thread.  Both methods had been perfected during her education at St. Joseph’s Academy. 
At one point in her career as interim seamstress, she was invited to stay at the home of Nicholas and Anna Kremer. Tillie turned the heads of the two young men, Matt and John.  Her skills as a seamstress enabled her to dress very stylish.  Her trim, 19 inch waistline was the perfect complement to her tiny five foot one inch stature.  Her clothes were impeccable fit and accentuated her well cared for figure.  Petite feet and fashionable shoes, and the five dollar hat she wore proudly, gave the young men a treat for their eyes.
 Both brothers wanted to court Tillie.  One evening as they two worked doing the family chores, an argument ensued.
“I’m the older brother, I should get first chance,” argued Matt.
“Well, she likes me better, so I should get the chance,” John retorted.
One heated word led to another and soon one brother pushed the other. This was followed by a more forceful shove and the wrestling match was on. The two brothers settled their disagreement in a way they had reached a compromise many times before, the fittest and the strongest was the victor.
On January 14, 1914, Matilda Lardy was wedded to Matt Kremer in her parent’s home town of Sentinel Butte, North Dakota.  The ceremony took place in the Opera House, as the church in the town was not built until the following year. Tillie fashioned her own wedding gown.  It was made of velvet brocade.  The bodice was made of handkerchief linen, with a stand up brocade collar, edged in lace.  Her jacket, also crafted from velvet brocade fabric, buttoned at her diminutive waist with self-covered buttons and lace at the sleeve hems.  She wore matching velvet pumps with a velvet bow.  Tillie was beautiful in her latest style bridal attire.
 Matt brought his new bride back to Black Hawk County, where they settled. Soon afterward they began their family.  Matt farmed and was a very successful and well respected farmer in the area.  Tillie was well known for her tremendous faith, beautiful flower garden and bountiful vegetable garden.  She supplied countless bouquets of flowers for the church they attended. 
Matt and Tillie celebrated fifty-three years of marriage.  Tillie passed away on September 15, 1967 and Matt passed away on June 29, 1978.  Leaving a true legacy of love, they were parents to twelve children, Marie, Joseph, Agnes, Mathilda, Margaret, Rose, Rita, Lucille, Theresa, Matt, Alfred and Robert; and grandparents to eighty-three.
Matt’s brother, John, eventually found his own love and married Susie Nizen.  Matt and Tillie Kremer, John and Suzie Kremer became the best of friends and spent many evenings and Sunday afternoons gathered as one family.

Tillie could make her own patterns.  All the clothing made for her children were fashioned for clothes she recut and remade to look as good as anything purchase in a store.  Tillie Kremer continued to sew all her life and never stopped creating items with her sewing machine.