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October 2021
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Trinket: My New Autumn Quilt

This September when I got out my autumn quilt from the top shelf of the linen closet, I got the itch to make a new one.

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my first autumn quilt

I’d been reading quilting books about paper piecing, and a technique I read about in Sarah Sharp’s book, Adventures in Paper Piecing and Design, . She calls it “graffiti,” and it means making the solid places on your quilt out of different pieces instead of one piece of fabric. She’s referring to paper piecing, but I loved the idea.

Somehow that little spark grew into an idea: what if I made a graffiti autumn leaf as a sort of center medallion and then surrounded it with log cabins?

Especially since I realized that while I’ve made several baby quilts out of log cabins, I’ve never made a quilt for myself with them. And I love log cabin squares. They are magical to me, that mix of dark and light and the way that how you arrange them entirely changes the quilt that you’re making.

So one morning after physical therapy, I popped in to one of my local fabric stores. I found some gorgeous autumnal pieces. Then I visited another store and found some more. I went through all of my stash, looking for extra pieces to add. I wanted the quilt to feel like a walk in the autumn woods does, when the mountain is scattered with all different colors of leaves and light filters through the thinning trees and it is all entirely magical.

It didn’t quite feel right yet, though. I kept looking at the fabrics I’d assembled and it was close but not yet exactly right.

Then, a few days after the autumn equinox, Kendell and I went for a long drive in the canyon so we could go on a short walk. (All I was up for at that stage in my surgery recovery.) As I scuffed through leaves, that’s when I noticed: there are bits of purple here and there mixed in with the golds, browns, reds, and oranges.

Purple was the bit I needed to bring the quilt to life. (I also mixed in a very few brownish pinks.)

I love how it turned out!

Trinket Autumn quilt

To make the center leaf, I started with the “Fall Leaves” pattern by Cluck Cluck Sew. I increased the measurements of the block by 1.5 because I only wanted one big leaf in the middle.

To create the “graffiti” for the leaf, I drew out how tall and wide the pieces would be, and then I drew lines to help me map out the horizontal seams. (The seams on the pattern, not the strips, if that makes sense.) I didn’t want a strip to coincide with a seam but wanted the color to cover both sides.

Trinket graffiti leaf

Then I sewed all the strips together, wide and long enough to then cut the pattern out. I arranged the colors of the strip into an ombre pattern. (Not technically a rainbow because there isn’t any green or blue.) And I used an autumn print I absolutely loved for the background.

I blocked out the rest of the leaf with background strips and what I think of as photo corners so that the leaf square was 19.5” squares.

For the log cabins, I used 1.5” strips for the low volumes and whites, and 1.75” for the colors. This is the first time I’ve made log cabins with strips the same width! (On other quilts I’ve just made wonky squares.) The uneven sides make a slightly curve in the resulting squares on the quilt. (This would be more dramatic if the difference was bigger.) There are four strips on each side (8 light, 8 dark). I wanted this to be a fall quilt, and since Halloween is in the fall, I put in a few Halloween fabrics, but none that scream ghouls and ghosts. (Although one literally does say “Witch’s Brew”!)

I made 60 log cabins (because it’s 8x8) so it’s about 75” square.

For the back, I used a panel I bought last year on clearance (it’d be hard to track down by now I think) and some Woolies flannel.

I worked on this throughout October and finished it a bit after Halloween. The quilting was done by Melissa at Sew Shabby Quilting and I have to say: HOLY COW. Her quilting just took this over the top. I wanted something swoopy and beautiful, and the wave pattern she used was perfect. I wanted the quilting to stand out so I had her quilt it with pumpkin-orange thread.

Finally, for the binding, I made a flange and then sewed the front of the binding on with chunky quilting. This was my first time doing that and I’m not sure I did a great job (and my thumb and forefinger are so sore!), but I enjoyed doing it. And I ordered several different colors of thread for it, so I think I see more chunky quilting in my future!

One thing I love about quilting is that it gives me time to my thoughts. Some of that time I spend listening to audio books, but some of it is just thinking. Part of my thoughts while I made this quilt was about creativity and personal style. In essence, this quilt grew out of one of my oldest quilts, the rag quilt I made in 2009. When I made that quilt, Kaleb was only three and Haley 13. So much has changed during the time between that quilt and this one. My family…my outlook on life…my faith…my body. I have learned so much about many things, including quilting. I am a better quilter and have more skills. But my basic design aesthetic is the same. I like scrappy quilts and I think I am pretty good at figuring out how to put a  bunch of seemingly-disparate colors together.

And all these years later, I still just love this hobby. The colors, the textures, the techniques. The making of things that might last longer than I do. Items to wrap around people, to sleep and read and snuggle under. Hopefully it will be something to love for the next decade. A bright thing to love during my favorite bright season.  

PS. I like to name my quilts. This one is called Trinket from an Emily Dickinson poem about fall. If you zoom in you might spot one of the strips also has an Emily D. quote. 

Thanksgiving 2021

This Thanksgiving I found myself a bit…well, “sad” sounds kind of pathetic, but there you go.

I remembered so many past Thanksgivings, when we’d go to one relative’s house or another, and the house would be full of babies and toddlers and teenagers and grown ups.

Slowly, over the years, that has changed.

Parents have passed away.

Siblings’ kids have grown up, gotten married, and started their own families, so it’s just gotten difficult to have so many people, and more in-law families for everyone to rotate through.

I think that is normal with time passing, but it still makes me ache a little bit. (Having some family members’ various comments in my head also doesn’t help. “You’re alone because of your choices” and “if you were nicer and stopped sharing your politics on Facebook more people would want to spend time with you” are the two common ones that pop up at random.)

I’ve adapted, though. Over the past decade or so, I’ve made the Thanksgiving meal for just my family, plus a significant other or two, four times. I’ve established our own traditions (pecan bars, Italian sodas, mac & cheese which would horrify my mom) and enjoyed the time with my kids.

But I never stopped missing the big Thanksgiving meals of my kids’ childhoods.

The last one with my side of the family was in 2016, at my mom’s house. It was the last time Haley had Thanksgiving with her last living grandparent. Also the last one I ate with Becky. Most of the grandkids were there, even the ones who live in Texas.  I got this photo of all of the littles, but not a big group picture. (I continually learn this lesson: Even though everyone will grumble, even though maybe you did a group photo last time, take a group photo THIS TIME too.)

Thanksgiving 2016 kids

The last one with Kendell’s side that included everyone was in 2009. I got some great photos that day of my kids and of Kendell with his parents (which is awesome because his dad died the next year) but not a group photo.

2013 was the first year I made the entire meal all on my own.

Thanksgiving 2013

2017 was the last year that Haley was home for Thanksgiving and thus the last year the six of us all ate together.

Thanksgiving 2017 with haley

2019 was a dismal year, because not only were we missing Nathan and Haley, it was the first Thanksgiving after my mom died and Kendell talked me into going to a restaurant. (Never again!)

Everyone’s 2020 Thanksgiving was a COVID holiday I suppose.

For 2021, I had just planned on it being at our house with my boys and some video-call time with Haley. But, a few days before the holiday, things shifted around and my sister-in-law, Cindy, invited us to come to her house. It wasn’t the entire Sorensen clan, and there weren’t any babies, but it was enough. A crowd. Food from many different kitchens. A guest (Nathan’s friend Abe who didn’t have another house to go to). Family members admiring each other’s cooking. A group photo! (YES, someone grumbled, but I chose to just thank that person for putting up with my photograph proclivities.)

Resized_20211125_155633 thanksgiving everyone 4x6

Who knows what next year will bring. I have made peace with our smaller festivities (and appreciate that when I make the whole meal I have all the leftovers!) so whatever it looks like, big or small, I will love it.

But I feel like I learned something this year.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I always say I love it the best because it’s only about food and hanging out with your family, which remains true. But it is also, I realized, more. It’s about recipes, both the ones you’ve made for the past two decades and a new one you tried just this year. It’s about passing them down, too: this year, Haley made her own rolls (which she modified into a vegan recipe successfully!), Cindy tried apple pie the way I like it (with cheddar cheese on top), and I brought the pecan bar tradition to Kendell’s family. It’s about textiles—the tablecloth and the hot pads and the towels. And dishes, inherited from my mom and from Kendell’s and some that I’ve bought myself that maybe one day, when I’m gone, someone else will cook with. The scent of cranberry and cinnamon, the cubes and cubes of butter, the hiss and steam and whisk of preparation.

It’s about missing those who aren’t there while simultaneously loving the time you get to spend with those who are. Watching your son laugh with a friend, your husband with his brother, your sisters-in-law at each other.

Life changes so much. Sometimes, at this phase, I feel like all the good changes of my life are in the past. But I also have to acknowledge that I have no idea how it will change again over the next twelve months. And if Thanksgiving is about being grateful, I think that tug and ache is part of gratitude. If you’ve lost people you loved the heartache means you were blessed enough to love them. I think when I was a kid, Thanksgiving was just about eating a meal with my sisters, parents, and grandparents. (I actually have only very vague memories of Thanksgiving before my late adolescence, which is odd, and literally not a single photo of one.) When I was a mom with growing kids it was about seeing them interact with their cousins, aunts & uncles, and grandparents and knowing that they were experiencing holidays they will someday remember fondly. (I hope.) Now that I am nearly an empty nester, it is about remembering, but I am learning it is also about savoring now. Who knows what the future will hold, so on Thanksgiving 2021, I just lived. I just felt what I felt, the missing-ness and the bitterness and the sadness over what has been damaged. The absolute joy of what exists right now. The deliciousness of food prepared with love, the compliments from others and the giving of them as well. The ghosts and the living.

And so Thanksgiving remains my favorite

Book Review: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

After Goodnight Moon I never thought I’d care about anyone’s hair again. But you can’t ever imagine what you’re going to care about when you turn into the version of you that’s waiting on the other side of five years from now. That’s a stranger waiting to ambush you, and all you can do is plant your feet and try not to get thrown.

I worry a lot about the environment and the damage we are doing to it. I know not everyone understands that, and many of my friends and family think I’m ridiculous, swept up in some media-induced fearmongering, but really it goes far into my past. In 1991 I took an ecology class for one of my science credits and that is when I first learned about things like global warming, the J-shaped curve of the population explosion, water and air pollution, greenhouse gasses, endangered species, sea birds strangled by soda-pop plastic. Since then I have worried about it. I do what I can (recycle, try to reduce my carbon input, support companies trying to innovate in environmental ways); when I build or buy a different house I will install solar panels. But I have carried that anxious worry ever since, my whole adult life in fact.

(If you want a fun story ask me about the time I exploded at one of my sisters for her faux-news-inspired take on the Green New Deal and how betrayed I felt by another sister who told me she didn’t know I was a conspiracy theorist.)

So why add to the anxiety by reading post-climate-apocalypse novels?

The devil you know, I suppose.

Practicing to live in a ruined world.

Searching for some clue to what I might do to change it.

Past is redThe Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente is unabashedly post-apocalyptic. It’s set perhaps two hundred years in the future, where the polar ice caps are gone and all ice is gone and snow is gone, and all that’s left is blue earth. No land, but some things still float, enough to support some human life. Tetly Abednego lives on Garbage Town, an enormous floating garbage island. When the flooding happened, all of the garbage was sorted, and she was born in the spot where all the candles went. She has a twin brother, who might love her, and parents who decidedly don’t, and when she heads out into the wasteland of Garbage Town, things happen. She makes choices that change society, loses people who love her, gains others. (You have to read it to experience her adventures.)

But what doesn’t change is her hopefulness.

She doesn’t love this world she’s been born into, but she doesn’t hate it like others do; she is able to find happiness in the heaps and piles, in houses constructed out of refuse. And the place this story takes you to—I did not expect to go there. In the face of Tetley’s hope, where the story ends up is absolutely devastating, except Tetley still keeps on hoping. I can’t explain it as well as the author does in the afterword:

Tetley is beyond all the fear and uncertainty of the present. She lives in her world, the only world she has ever known, and it shines for her, as the ‘50s shine for one generation and the ‘80s for another, despite the dystopia of both periods. She is, in some sense, my best hope for us, for our future, that we will live, and remember a little, and some of us will even bey happy, after everything goes to hell. She is the part of humanity that will love anything, find meaning in anything, build a new civilization out of anything, because it’s a compulsion with us. I don’t have a lot of hope for the powers that be pulling us out of the tailspin they put us into. But I have hope for Tetley. For the other worlds to come, which will not be this one, which may never have the ease of this one again, but which will be, one way or another. And be loved by someone.

In a sense, I am in the midst of my own little apocalypse right now. “My own” but also others. I don’t know what the world to come will look like or how I will find joy in all of that damage. But reading this novel made me just a little bit hopeful. That somehow there will be joy, goodness, connection, the opposite of loneliness (what is that?), happiness. That I will be able to love that world too.

I hope I never forget this book and how it made me feel.

Book Review: One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

When she looks back at that moment, Charlotte will always think about the way stories begin so, so much earlier than you realize, long before the first chapter. And she’ll think about the way stories continue, too, the way that words carry meaning, over the ages and every circumstance, through plagues and floods and wars, through falling and rising again. She’ll think about the way books can save you, and lead you through fog and deep lagoons, down twisting streets and dead ends, and away again, in a speedboat under the moon, white pages riding waves.

But she will also think about the missing books. The books that never were. The voices that fought to be heard but were never heard, or heard and then forgotten…She will imagine a ghost library of all the other books that aren’t there, and will never be there. All the voices and stories of women behind one kind of wall or another. Voices and stories stolen by thieves.

Before I write about this book and how it affected me, I have to write about an experience I had earlier this year which I continue to think about.

Our library had finally opened the auditorium we’ve been working on for decades. (Literally, they were fundraising for it when I started working there in 2008.) It has a beautiful open space in the front with lots of wall space for art. I happened to wander over there one day just after new art had been put up, and the librarian told me a bit about it. It was a painting by a local artist, and as the librarian (a friend!) spoke, I confess I paid more attention to the tone of her voice than I did about what she said about the piece. Because she sounded so respectful and admiring of the artist.

As she talked I found myself wondering…how does that happen? I think many people have creative impulses of some sort, be it painting or sculpture or literary pursuits or music. But how many of us actually pursue those impulses enough that we produce work that others want to interact with? And how do you, as a creative person, become someone whose work is admired by others? There is a certain type of confidence that successful creative types seem to have that I haven’t ever managed. I understand it takes work, dedication, commitment, and actually putting your pieces out into the world, but I also just wondered how that would feel. To know that people respected you for what you made, rather than feeling (like I do) that your creative pursuit is kind of a silly hobby you shouldn’t tell anyone about.

One great lieI thought about that moment a lot as I read the YA novel One Great Lie by Deb Caletti, which tells the story of Charlotte, who wins a scholarship to attend a writing workshop in Venice with her favorite writer, Luca Bruni. Charlotte is a descendant of a person who lived in Italy centuries ago; her family still owns a copy of the chapbook that contains her poetry, but not much is known about her. So we read the story of Charlotte exploring Venice as she comes to know that her literary hero is, in fact, an actual human being (likely not a very good or honorable one) as she researches her ancestor. Each chapter starts with a short biography about other Italian women poets who history has forgotten.

I mean, I’m always up for a book set in Italy. I only spent about eight hours in Venice, but I still got a little thrill at Charlotte experiencing and describing a place I had also experienced, and now I want to go back to Italy even more, to Venice itself, to the Biblioteca Marciana which I think we walked past but definitely didn’t enter.

But a book that explores the many ways that women are silenced by the book industry, hundreds of years ago and all the way up till yesterday? Always up for that too.

This is likely my favorite YA I read this year. Definitely so far (but I’m still waiting for Instructions for Dancing, which I think I will also enjoy quite a bit).

It made me think about that moment in front of the art at the library. It made me think about my own lack of confidence, where it originated (several painful memories with specific men come to mind) and how I might overcome it. It nudged me: do I want to die silent, with my book only in the ghost library? It reminded me: I don’t aspire to be someone like Luca Bruni, who uses his fame in self-serving ways. I just want to be successful in a way that feels true to myself; I want to not be ashamed of my silly writing aspirations but to feel sure in knowing it is my calling.

Charlotte, in entirely different circumstances, also wants to find the same strength within herself. And what I loved about the novel is that it doesn’t end with a “happy” ending, not if you are wanting vindication or a publishing deal for her. But it ends with her light growing, with her removing the doubt and fear that have kept her light dim, and that is a hopeful ending.

Book Review: The Quarry by Damon Galgut

When the policeman climbed back out of the dam he got up again and went on. He was no longer sure that there was a difference between them or that they were separate from each other and they moved on together across the surface of the world and the sun went down and it got dark and still they continued in duet. They moved through the night in faintest silhouette like dreams that the soil was having.

QuarryI'm one of those pretentious people who pays attention to literary awards. Or maybe I'm not pretentious, maybe I just am a librarian who likes to know what books people are talking about. Or maybe both.

At any rate, when I watched the video of Damon Galgut winning the Booker award a couple of weeks ago, I decided immediately I wanted to read something by him. The Booker introduced me to him—I hadn't ever heard of him before this year's nominations and I didn't pay much attention to his book The Promise, which won the award. But I read about him and then I decided I needed to read something he had written, and since my library had his novel The Quarry I decided to read that.
His work is described as "spare"—consider, for example, this description of sky: "clear smoke zigged across it like a thin fatal flaw in something otherwise perfect"—and that was what I kept coming back to as I read this story of an unnamed man who has committed some sort of crime and is fleeing across South Africa. He is picked up by a minister who is driving to his new congregation, a smarmy sort of man with questionable motives. The criminal kills him, disposes of his body, and drives to the small village, assuming the minister's life. Nothing is described in an effluvious way in this story; there are simply boulders and sunsets and a decrepit church. But the landscape still comes to vivid life: spare, but also precise.
This is a short novel, one you can read in a single afternoon if you want. It is violent and gritty, but it says something about human nature, how we are all fumbling along and sometimes that fumbling includes connection but often it leads to misunderstanding and violence.
I believe I will seek out more from this author