Lyn’s Comfort Quilt

Hopefully every one of us bears witness to – or is blessed to be part of – a truly wonderful marriage. I’m talking about the kind of marriage in which both people know beyond any doubt that they are each other’s best friend, that only together are they the best individuals they could be, that because of being together their lives are full, rich and meaningful to the limit of what humans can experience and that words like commitment, trust, companionship, care and joy are not just words, but are lived out in tangible, consistent ways.

Lyn and Bertie had one such marriage. I got to know them in my early 20s and was blessed to watch in awe for decades as they walked their godly ways, kindly opening their home to me and many others, being the best of neighbors and friends, modeling grace, humor, generosity and gentleness. Ten years ago we stood in their living room capturing a single moment in their wonderful world.

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We never want sad things to happen, especially to people we love, but we know we are not immune, that we will not escape crying buckets when the realities of life and death impose upon us their at-times-devastating ways. There are no words for the heartache that comes, as it did for Lyn a year ago, when one of a perfect pair is left behind.

I had tried for years to tell Lyn how much she meant to me, how her everyday walk inspired my own, how her selfless service to those in her path shone brightly and brought good beyond measure. I wrote notes and letters mostly, but words are just words, as they say, and you can’t hold them in your hands and they don’t dry tears.

My dear friend Kim, Lyn and Bertie’s only daughter, had an idea that turned into an opportunity for me to show my love, gratitude and admiration. Shortly after her father passed away, Kim told me she wanted to use his shirts to make pillows (or something similar) to remind her own sons and their cousins of their grandfather. As we talked, the idea quickly evolved into using those same shirts to make a quilt for her mom – a way to help her feel close to him, to be wrapped up in him, to have a part of him near. Kim said the only problem was that she herself would have a hard time cutting her father’s shirts.

That’s where I came in. One thing led to the next and Kim sent me the shirts – mostly conservative, neutral buttondown oxfords that were either solid color or had teeny, muted plaids, but also one dark green solid, a work shirt as Kim called it. All of them had (as men’s shirts generally do) a chest pocket. Bertie always kept a hard candy in his chest pocket to be able to offer one to others, but also, as Kim says, “as handy access for himself because he loved sweets!” He also liked to wear bold-striped rugby shirts, but using knit fabrics along with woven fabrics would be tricky, plus the stripes are proportionally bigger than would work well.

Kim agreed to leave the project in my hands. I did what I always do when a quilt is happening – I opened my own fabric scrap boxes and began to see what might work alongside the shirt fabrics. By themselves, the oxfords and the one dark green would have a hard time being interesting, even if they were the core of the piece. I found some perfect blue and white bold-striped material, a miniature version of rugby stripes that would serve as the rugby element and got Kim’s permission to add color and some femininity – it would, after all, be a lady’s (a dear lady’s) quilt and lay on her bed in a room papered with tiny rosebuds.

I had some other good coordinating fabric scraps, but not enough, nor enough variety of color. Coincidentally, my friend Anett was coming from Germany to visit for five days in April. If anyone has an eye for color and design, it’s Anett. We went to the store and found the following to add to the shirts and what I already had.

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Making a quilt is more fun together. This was already a group project with Kim’s idea, Anett’s eye and Lyn’s consent. It was even better that Anett was willing to iron, cut and organize squares with me. We even got a few of the nine-squares sewn together while she was here. My dining room table was the perfect work surface.

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Anett and I cut large squares of the shirt fabric and alternated these with nine-squares that themselves were put together with a variety of fabrics. After Anett left, I kept going, hugely motivated by the hope that somehow this quilt would bring comfort to Lyn. I knew I was taking a chance with the additional fabrics. I hoped, for example, that the polka dots (tiny as they were) wouldn’t strike her as frivolous or too playful at a time when her heart hurt so much.

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I played around with the arrangement a good bit, getting closer to what seemed best every time I moved them around on my bed, and finally got them connected with the strips of gray that form the mullions of the panes. I chose a lighter gray for the back, a soft flannel sheet in fact that looked silvery to me, like the silver lining of a cloud. I chose one of the shirt pockets and appliqued it on the back of the quilt in the upper left, about where (proportionately) a shirt pocket sits on a shirt.

The dark green worked as a defining border around the edge. Kim said later, “One thing that struck us about the quilt is that you used my dad’s work shirt cut into those small strips as the edging to frame it and hold it all together. Far beyond the dark green edging looking nice, it was symbolic of my dad’s hard work, strength and care for his family.”

I quilted the three layers together and carved Bertie + Lyn on a tree, so to speak, on one of the shirt squares. If any part of this project brought tears to my eyes (and still does), it’s this.

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Some of you may recall that in the early spring there was a huge building project at my house – a new chicken coop. I had helped dismantle the old run, dig post holes for the new run, set the cedar posts in cement and erect the foundational elements of the new coop. Then right at the end of April, I got sick. I got a coughing sickness that kept me pretty much planted on the couch for almost a month. By the time this happened, the main part of the quilt was together and mostly handwork remained. Had I not been sick and confined to indoor, quiet work, I am not sure how this quilt would have been finished by the time Kim and I planned to rendezvous at Yoder’s in Madison, Virginia, for the hand-off in May. But it was.

Before I packed it up, I put a hard candy in the pocket.

Kim had asked me to send a photo of the quilt while it was in process. I had this photo of it finished…

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… but I told her a photo would spoil it, would not give the best idea of it (I still think this) so I didn’t send it. She waited. I was very happy that when she finally held it in her hands, she was sure her mom would like it.

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Along with the quilt I sent a note to Lyn. It included: No doubt you will recognize Bertie’s shirts. But all by themselves they would have made a very dull quilt indeed and not come close to reflecting his unique personality. Plus, we all know that only together with you was he the man he was. You were there every step of the way and he needed you as you needed him. So the quilt had to reflect you too. You are so beautiful!

Oh the fun I had! There had to be some bold stripes for his rugby shirts, a pocket for his candy, some rosebuds and other flowers and some pink for you, some softness, some delicacy, splashes of color, old and new, subtle and fun, conventional and unexpected, greens for the Green Mountains of Vermont, blues for the glorious, endless sky, golds for the golden years you had together, your names carved together somehow (I hope you like the how!).  Hopefully the fabrics, each in different ways, bring you good, peaceful, comforting thoughts, and the combination of them pleases your eye and your heart. Hopefully it looks nice in your room and adds warmth in ways that only God can make happen. Hopefully Bertie feels a little bit closer.

Lyn sent me a beautiful, heartfelt letter of thanks that overjoyed me. Kim said, “The quilt is a treasure. Mom snuggles down beneath it as she rests. I often go in and rub my hands over it when I am at the house. It feeds the longing I have to be near my dad. I think the quilt, made with love and with all its symbolism, is the most beautiful gift you could have given my mom to bring comfort to her broken heart.”

When I went to Vermont in August, I got a big hug from Lyn and was able to see it on her bed. How blessed am I to have such marvelous people in my life, and how grateful to have had the opportunity to give back some small measure of good to Lyn, who has done more for me and for everyone around her than she will ever know.

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A Tattered Quilt

A most fabulous event occurred yesterday in my family – a new granddaughter was born! She is perfect and healthy and blessed to have such wonderful parents, though she is as yet unnamed. Piper is her two-year-old sister, so Brad and Beth have been calling the baby P2 up till now. They said they have to look at her a while before they decide on the name. Fair enough.

My own name, to all my grandbabies, is “Oma” (not Grandma or Grammie or any other sweet name for grandmother). I love being Oma.

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I got it in my head some time ago to make a quilt for this little baby. I finished it and mailed it off yesterday, pleased with how it came out but at the same time kind of nervous. I chose the fabrics. I chose the colors. I know Beth is partial to purple and liked a simple green receiving blanket I had made for Piper. I found a friendly, happy daisy print that’s got purple, green and yellow and decided to build the rest of the quilt around that one.

But colors are funny. Think of the variety you see when you go to buy paint – how many different reds, greens, blues, etc. Colors can be warm and inviting or cold and off-putting. They can make you feel comfortable or give you the creeps. They can calm you down or make you want to want to run in the other direction. So how do you choose? Will they like what I have chosen?

Comfort came unexpectedly from my neighbor Tracy. “I have a quilt my grandmother made for me and I used it until it started falling apart,” she said. “I hope they love yours just as much.”

That’s when I flashed back to two quilts I made many years ago and gave to friends who had had babies. The images that came in my head were of meeting up randomly with both of these moms and their babies after some time had gone by, maybe a year, maybe two. Both quilts that I had so carefully sewn together were right there with each child and both were in tatters – I mean ragged edges and stuffing coming out. Can’t get rid of it, both moms told me in different ways. “She loves this quilt! This is the one she wants.”

A little bit like The Velveteen Rabbit learns from the Skin Horse, right?* I know I’ve referred to this story before, but it’s pertinent again.

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“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Sometimes.” For he was always truthful. “When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I don’t know if any of them – Brad or Beth or Piper (who has a dolly-size quilt to match) or especially the new baby – will like the colors and the pattern I’ve chosen. Hopefully they will not want to put it in a drawer under a bunch of other stuff! But Tracy’s words about the quilt her grandmother made gave me an image of the quilt I just made, only with its colors faded and its edges worn and its fibers super soft from use and time. By then the colors and the pattern are no longer important. What will matter, what I hope will override any other impression this quilt gives, is the love that went into it, the deep, inexpressible love in my heart. Nothing will make me happier than if it serves as the vehicle of that love, if it speaks to it and of it, and is someday worn, thin, tattered, Real.

Think what you will of the colors. These are the fabrics I chose.

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This is the pattern I chose.**

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First you make a plan to evenly distribute the three yellows, three purples and three greens, using the daisy print to tie them together. This was my plan. I messed it up by the third block, but was able to recover.

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Then you cut out all the squares with a rolling blade.

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You have to pay close attention during the first block or two. Before trimming, it looks like this, which throws you a bit.

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Same block after trimming (ah, that’s better):

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Then you make the other eight blocks and move them all around until you are happy with the balance and distribution of color. It’s never perfect. Lots of the corners are not perfectly joined. I did the best I could with the balance of colors.

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Then you add cross-pieces to hold it all together. I used the same purple (flannel) as the four triangular corners of each block. I hope Beth still likes purple!

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Then you add a middle layer of batting and a backing and you bind it all together. I found a soft green flannel for the backing. From the back it looks like this. Nothing fancy. I am no expert. But it will serve.

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I had enough leftover pieces to make a small dolly-size quilt and I thought Piper might like it.

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Can you imagine it years from now, faded and tattered? Stained maybe? Much used? Much enjoyed? I hope so!

 

*The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and illustrated by David Jorgensen, Alfred A Knopf Publishers, New York, 1985

** from 501 Quilt Blocks, Better Homes and Gardens, Meredith Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa, 1994

Corn for Fun and Corn for Pudding

These days, getting thread to go through the eye of the needle involves remembering where I put my glasses, which sounds easier than it is, especially when a deadline looms. My granddaughter Ellie, this darling girl, has a birthday very soon, and I needed to get her present in the mail.

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She has been playing picnic lately, and if you were three and playing picnic, you would want some food. So Oma (that’s me) is making some food to add to her picnic, and I hope she likes it. Even under a deadline though, I got maybe a little carried away.

I started with a book, a sweet classic that some of you might remember: Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present*. In it, a little girl is trying to come up with a present for her mother. Mr. Rabbit, an unlikely helper, guides her through with fun suggestions, based on color, of what the little girl can and cannot give her mother. For example:

“What else does she like?” said Mr. Rabbit.

“Well, she likes yellow,” said the little girl.

“Yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit. “You can’t give her yellow.”

“Something yellow, maybe,” said the little girl.

“Oh, something yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“What is yellow?” said the little girl.

“Well,” said Mr. Rabbit. “There are yellow taxicabs.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t want a taxicab,” said the little girl.

“The sun is yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“But I can’t give her the sun,” said the little girl, “though I would if I could.”

“A canary bird is yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“She likes birds in trees,” the little girl said.

“That’s right, you told me,” said Mr. Rabbit. “Well, butter is yellow. Does she like butter?”

“We have butter,” said the little girl.

“Bananas are yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“Oh, good. That’s good,” said the little girl. “She likes bananas. I need something else though.”

And voila, they find bananas on a picnic blanket.

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Now you see why there had to be bananas for Ellie’s birthday present. Felt bananas can be part of any fun picnic. Mr. Rabbit and the little girl also put red apples, green pears and blue grapes in her mother’s birthday basket, so there had to be those too. But let me tell you what happens when you get on the internet and look for a pattern for fake food. You see a lot of cute stuff! And the next thing you know, you are also making carrots and corn.

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I did buy the grapes, but the rest happened yesterday. The apples came out smaller than I wanted, and the bananas not as bendy/curved as they should be, but Ellie will figure it out. There are not that many steps to making felt food and it went pretty fast.

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Except for the corn. The corn is way more time-consuming that anything else but it is super cool so I had to do it. I know some of you are going to wonder how those kernels came to be.

One kernel, one stitch, at a time — that’s how. **

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Ellie won’t have any idea that the corn took more time than the pears, but you might be able to imagine how much more time! It didn’t matter to me. The corn was too cool not to make. And one more ear is in the works and will be in the package before I mail it today.

Coincidentally, there was corn on my fridge that I had cut off the cobs the last time we had corn on the cob. We had had it on the grill, and you can see that some of the kernels got a little dark. I love it that way.

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Corn Pudding is what you do with leftover corn! Simple and quick, totally yummy. I was in rather a hurry with making the fake food and all, so this was perfect. Start with the recipe.

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Naturally I am all about eggs right now. This is what I gathered yesterday from my hens, nine total.

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Some of them are still small, starter eggs, one came from a silkie and some are normal. Look at the difference in sizes. The big one here I collected a few days ago, thinking surely there must be a double yolk inside. The littlest one is from a silkie.

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I used all these but the silkie egg for my corn pudding, three instead of the four that the recipe calls for because I was right about the double yolk.

 

I keep my butter in a cabinet, not in the fridge, so at this time of year it’s plenty soft. Whisking the butter into the eggs will not work as well if your butter is hard. If yours is not soft from having been in the cabinet, soften it in the microwave.

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Use a whisk to beat this up. I mean beat. You have to break up the butter, and you can’t do that by stirring. You have to beat. I suppose you could use an electric beater. I prefer to do it by hand because 1. I feel more connected to the process if there is only a hand tool between me and the food. And 2. I think it’s better to use your body if you can (burn the calories, maintain some semblance of arm strength, etc). I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by letting machines do for us what we can do for ourselves – to a reasonable point, of course – but that is another conversation.

At first when you start beating in the butter, you will see some egg white un-mixed-in and some butter still in small pieces. It will look like this.

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Now use your wrist and beat it with a little umph until it looks like this.

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Now add the flour, salt and baking powder.

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And beat again.

(Perhaps you see the evidence that I had other things to do yesterday and was not paying too much attention – I never saw or felt that there was butter on the handle of my whisk!)

After you have beat in the flour etc., you will have a smooth, almost velvety batter. It’s quite lovely.

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Now add the milk.

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(I still didn’t see the butter on the handle!)

Mix that milk in. Notice I did not say beat it in. Mix the milk in carefully or you will have splashed milk all over your counter. After it is nicely mixed in, add the corn. The recipe calls for 2 cans or the frozen equivalent, neither of which I was using (fresh being far superior), so I judged that 2 cans would be about 3 cups. It worked out fine. Go with three cups.

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Then pour this into a buttered dish, using a rubber spatula to get every bit out of the bowl. Before it went in the oven, mine looked like this.

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After 40 minutes or so (so sorry! I did not time it exactly because I was distracted by stitching fake corn kernels onto a fake cob while waiting), it looked like this.

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That part around the edge where the batter met the butter and they made the darker, crispy part is oh so good! I took a corner piece. Along with the wonderful salad Samuel made, it was a fine meal.

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He, of course, took a larger portion, Oh, to be able to eat like that!

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If you want to, you could add other things to this pudding: chopped spinach, onions, pepperoni, ham, tomatoes (well drained) – your call. Play around, have fun. But maybe start with the original. And enjoy!

 

* Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow with pictures by Maurice Sendak

** http://whilewearingheels.blogspot.com/2011/11/i-heart-fake-food-felt-corn-tutorial.html