A Dido’s Crown preview….

I’m blessed to be good friends with an amazingly gifted author; Julie K. Rose has published two novels, and her third, Dido’s Crown, is set for release next Thursday.  If historical fiction tickles your fancy, or a healthy dose of action and adventure figures in your fictional pleasures, this novel set in 1935 Tunisia will be the perfect start to autumn.

Mary Wilson MacPherson has always been adept at putting the past behind her: her father’s death, her sister’s disappearance, and her complicated relationship with childhood friends Tom and Will.

But that all changes when, traveling to North Africa on business for her husband, Mary meets a handsome French-Tunisian trader who holds a mysterious package her husband has purchased — a package which has drawn the interest not only of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, but the Nazis as well.

When Tom and Will arrive in Tunisia, Mary suddenly finds herself on a race across the mesmerizing and ever-changing landscapes of the country, to the shores of southern France, and all across the wide blue Mediterranean. Despite her best efforts at distancing herself from her husband’s world, Mary has become embroiled in a mystery that could threaten not only Tunisian and British security in the dangerous political landscape of 1935, but Mary’s beliefs about her past and the security of her own future.

I’m itching to start this book, although I was graced to have read an early draft.  Yet, novels evolve during the revising process, so in a way a new version of Dido’s Crown awaits me.  You can pre-order Dido’s Crown, or go to Julie’s Goodreads page and enter in a drawing for one of five signed copies.  In the meantime, check out Julie’s other books, The Pilgrim Glass and Oleanna, both available in print as well as ebooks, or her You Tube channel, which includes fascinating insights about writing as well as details pertaining to Dido’s Crown.  My review of Dido’s Crown will be forthcoming, but probably not until next week.  My husband and I are hosting Little Miss for the weekend, so this abuela will be snatching as much free reading time as I can find.  And one day Little Miss and The Burrito can read Julie’s novels as well as their grandmother’s, hehehe….

A Christmas Gift, Not a Christmas Quilt….

There is a distinct difference, for this blanket can be used for much of the year, and if one goes camping, as the theme subtly suggests, then it will be a year-round quilt.  I love not camping, but I think my nephew, the eventual recipient, might have more affection for that outdoor pastime.

I considered adding some yellow or orange, but didn't have an appropriate shade handy.

I considered adding some yellow or orange, but didn’t have an appropriate shade handy.

It’s definitely autumn now, not that we’ve had rain, but cooler, shorter days are the norm.  I’ve been up to my ears in machine quilting and hand-binding, so it was lovely to throw squares on the quilt wall, seeing what developed.  It hearkens to writing, which is just around the corner, in that arranging squares feels like fabricating (hehehe) storylines.  I just started revisions on the last section of The Hawk, and if all goes relatively well, I’ll dive back into the telling of that tale come October.

(Oh my goodness, that’s pretty darn amazing, let me just say.  It’s as if The End waits on the horizon like the city of Oz.  I just have to negotiate a rather overgrown field of poppies to reach it.)

I love the details in the camping square, down to the boombox, lol!

I love the details in the camping square, down to the boombox, lol!

Ahem, back to sewing….  But truthfully I don’t separate my passions all that much.  One requires a certain level of cerebral concentration, the other provides an outlet for less fettered machinations.  Together they bring to my life a gorgeous cohesiveness, words and fibres making up the tapestry of my being.  I give away sewn treasures like I hand over novels, or novels-in-progress.  Very few of these creations are for me to keep; they do little good piling up on my sofa or in a hard drive.

I have no idea with what I'll back this, or a binding.  It's like figuring out plot lines as the characters dictate.

I have no idea with what I’ll back this, or a binding. It’s like figuring out plot lines as the characters dictate.

And perhaps that’s the best part of artistry.  Giving is far better than receiving, be it comfort under a quilt or empathy within a story.  A few other Christmas-themed projects await my attention, but once I start writing, The Hawk will possess my main focus.  About all I will be good for is machine quilting, hand-binding, or some hand-quilting if there’s time.  Yet time will emerge for all these wonders to occur.  I simply need to keep the faith, have another cuppa, and let the blessings flow.  That’s all this life is truly about.

The End of Summer Is in Sight

Scrappy mug rugs awaiting some hand-binding.

Scrappy mug rugs awaiting some hand-binding.

Often when one of my fave tennis tournaments are on, I’m writing.  When that happens, I watch very little tennis, but this year I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of the US Open, even with friends staying over a couple of nights during the Labour Day weekend.  They appreciated a break in their lengthy road trip holiday while I took advantage to feast upon the action in Flushing Meadows and sit behind my sewing machine.  By the end of yesterday, I had two scrappy mug rugs waiting to be bound as well as great conversations reviving distant friendships.

Not sure how the latter figures into the end of summer, but the US Open tennis tournament always hearkens to the start of autumn.

While I sew and write year-round, there are lulls in the action, and when a break in writing coincides with another passion, I don’t waste too many prose-less moments.   Sewing is a great pastime amid breaks in serve or commercials.  I had planned to finish the coasters, then present them to my friends as a parting gift of sorts, but a pleasant surprise interrupted; our eldest, her hubby and Little Miss (and Buttercup too) popped in for a belated dinnertime visit. These days Little Miss is also known as Frownie Brownie, for she has mastered a grimace that isn’t completely related to new teeth coming in.  However she was happy to eat leftover BBQ while Buttercup ached for some scraps.  When they left at a near toddler’s bedtime, I thought what a lovely way to wrap up the weekend.  A firm door was closed behind them, as this morning I shared breakfast with friends, then saw them off on the rest of their journey.  My youngest and The Burrito are back in school, daylight is lessening, and evening temperatures are starting to dip.  Maybe it’s warm out right now, but come sundown, I’ll be glad to snuggle under a quilt while Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga take to Arthur Ashe Stadium.

I especially like hand-quilting these, something very soothing about the process.

I especially like hand-quilting these, something very soothing about the process.

In the meantime….  I will be watching the Caroline Wozniacki/Anastasija Sevastova match, but no comforter will be required.  I plan to start machine quilting the housewarming placemats, although I suppose first I should piece together the batting that goes in the sandwich.  I’ve made the backs for those six placemats; my quilt wall is covered in a bright array of summer/fall hues, with some Christmas coasters in the upper corners for good measure.  Actually, it’s a bit of a mess right now, as is our backyard (The hubby bought himself a new hedger and has taken my poor honeysuckle bushes to task!).  I would have done some raking today, but the green can is full, more signs of the changing seasons.

Placemat bindings!

Placemat bindings!

Transitions are often a jumbled barrage of unexpected joys; I’m not writing, but thoroughly thrilled by other activities.  Once I make the placemat sandwiches, the quilt wall won’t look so disheveled.  And perhaps next week, I’ll have a better idea of when I’ll slap on my authorial hat, that last section of The Hawk starting to peck at the back of my brain.  Do tennis players feel that way as August winds its way into September, the end of the season in sight?  Maybe it’s how I used to feel as a kid, when Labour Day rolled around, the start of school hovering.  (I probably spelled it Labor Day back then, but hey, eleven years in the UK sticks with me in funny ways.)  I doubt I noticed how shadows fell differently, but the sunshine possesses an autumnal appearance, which I first noticed back in Britain.  Then it appeared not long after Wimbledon ended.  In California, the US Open is the demarcation.

Coasters for myself as well as part of the housewarming present; mine are the two already quilted.

Coasters for myself as well as part of the housewarming present; mine are the two already quilted.

Autumn won’t officially arrive for a couple of weeks, and for me, it’s delayed until either it rains or gets somewhat chilly during the daytime.  That means October usually, although my husband and I hope for a September shower.  We’re not alone; California needs all the precipitation it can get.  Rain hampered some of the matches today in New York, but tonight’s games will be played under the new roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium.  Just watching those matches brings to mind how fleeting are the seasons, even a West Coast summer.  The Christmas coasters will be my next project, followed by a Christmas quilt.  And if all goes well, by the time that holiday arrives, The Hawk will be nearly done.  Goodness, where has 2016 gone?

My very busy, slightly chaotic, quilt wall.

My very busy, slightly chaotic, quilt wall.

It’s going at a pace that amazes me, one of the reasons I take these minutes to blather about tennis and sewing and writing and summer turning to fall.  These moments are here, then….  Then I’m calling Little Miss Frownie Brownie as she glowers for no discernible purpose.  She’s fifteen months old, no way!  Before I know it, Christmas will be on the doorstep, she’ll be eighteen months, and….

Completed coasters; go ahead grandkids and do your worst with them!

Completed coasters; go ahead grandkids and do your worst with them!

Hold it, just hold it now.  Time moves fast enough without me nudging it along.  Best that I concentrate on placemats and tennis matches as it’s just after four PM PDT, the second women’s quarterfinal about to begin.  I’ll leave Christmas and growing grandkids for another day.  Now, where is my batting scrap bag?

My love of colour….

Since coming home, I’ve been working on a housewarming gift for friends of my eldest daughter.  They had a baby girl in May, and I’d made a quilt for little miss A, as well as some coasters for her folks.  They were so appreciative of those gifts, asking if I had time, might I make some placemats.  All someone has to do is ask, and I’m on the job!

Quite a collection, with unfinished Christmas coasters in the upper corners, lol.

Quite a collection, with unfinished Christmas coasters in the upper corners, lol.

Sewing quilts is part of my joy, but smaller items are just as favourable.  Also easier, ha ha, with a quicker sense of satisfaction, unlike comforters or say behemoth novels, ahem.  Sewing provides tangible results for my efforts, treasures for others, and a way to indulge in my attraction for colour.  Be it embroidery floss or fabrics, I’m a colour junkie!

A couple of days ago I finished up the last mug rug, which incidentally I’m keeping; I’ve made it a habit to scrap together mug rugs from various projects and lately they have come in handy, as when my grandson surreptitiously hides them, lol.  One disappeared during his last visit, so this abuela needed a replacement (or two).  Last night I cut fabric for binding strips, allowing enough extra for the coasters.  Those I’ll bind with scraps, but for the placemats themselves, I’ll use a solid colour for each.  (I used six main solids within the placemats, so each mat will have its own hue.)  This morning, as I worked on revisions, I glanced over at those strips, then felt compelled to take a picture of them.

I don’t know the exact name of the Kona blue and plum, but the rest are from left; Konas tangerine, lemon, persimmon, and ice peach.

I’ll sew them later today amid some tennis matches; the US Open is in full swing, and it’s fun to see what the players choose to wear in this tournament compared to Wimbledon, which requires tennis whites.

The shades I chose for these placemats weren’t based upon what went into the baby quilt from earlier this year.  These hues are firmly summer-themed, with some prints from a bundle that has lent itself to other placemats, and hopefully a quilt for my nephew.   For the backing, I’m going to incorporate a fat quarter from the bundle that otherwise I just can’t imagine using within a quilt top.

This came in a bundle called Boys Go Camping.  I truly can't fathom how else to use it!

This came in a bundle called Boys Go Camping. I truly can’t fathom how else to use it!

I’ve cut it into sixths, and will piece it together with larger scraps.  I do like me some colour, but psychedelic forest animals are too much for me.

I am considering hand-quilting these; I hand-quilted the baby blanket, but not the accompanying mug rugs.  We’ll see what mood I’m in when I reach that point.  Whipping out the quilting on the sewing machine does have its advantages.  I have some bright orange machine quilting thread, yellow too, which would add to the vibrancy.  For now, it’s enough to contemplate those crazy deer, and moose too, my goodness.

As for my coasters, I’ll back them with whatever I find in the general scrap stash.  One will go by my husband’s recliner, the other into the kitchen circulation.  They are visible reminders of previous projects, keepsakes if you will.  Most of what I makes goes to others, but it’s nice to have a little something hearkening back to fave fabrics.  I can’t keep everything, but little mug rugs fit perfectly.  And with toddling grandkids afoot, one can never have too many coasters!

It’s a Big Wide World, The Conclusion

Taken from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC.

Taken from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC.

On Sunday the 21st, I spent the afternoon at the National Mall.  I had been once before, five years ago, my first time in DC.  That was right before the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was dedicated, and the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial was being renovated.  So for this trip I had some goals.  I also wanted to see the Jefferson and Korean War Memorials, a lot on tap for a few hours in the capitol.

I want to preface this post by noting that I am not a political sort, nor am I especially keen on historical markers.  But for some inexplicable reason, I find this end of the Mall so moving.  Not sure if I’ll get to the other end, maybe one day.  My hosts and I discussed that if I return next summer, Arlington Cemetery would be our destination, perhaps the Holocaust Museum too.  But for this day, we began at the Jefferson Memorial, and would wind our way toward Lincoln.

So, Thomas Jefferson….  He’s lost some luster over the years, but one can’t deny his accomplishments.  This memorial is less than one hundred years old, which surprised all within my party, although it feels as old as the Washington Monument.  I was struck by the views of course, the largess of Jefferson’s statue, but what hit me hardest was one of the quotes along the wall.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions.  But laws and constitutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.

Not sure how many folks fully grasp the power behind that statement.  Of course, taking photos at the Mall means capturing tourists, and we all had our reasons for being there.  I do hope some took a moment to read Jefferson’s words, reflecting upon that and other vital truths.

One of the many quotes in the FDR Memorial.

One of the many quotes in the FDR Memorial.

Words were everywhere we went, next to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  This is a rambling memorial, covering FDR’s four terms in office.  I loved the waterfalls, appreciated Eleanor’s inclusion, snapping shots of most of FDR’s quotes.  I don’t know if today’s youth can properly grasp the Depression’s effect worldwide, nor the magnitude of WWII.  But there is plenty of food for thought, if one is willing to seek it.

As we approached the MLK Memorial, I photographed quotations which lead up to the monument.  Again, time is necessary to read over King’s messages; it’s one thing to know who these figures were, another to understand their impact upon society.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Intriguing to contrast King with Jefferson, both seeking freedom, yet one was a slaveholder.  Changes in laws and constitutions must be enacted to ensure our continued advancement as worthwhile human beings.

In reaching the Korean War Memorial, my thoughts were twofold; admiring the sculptures, also taking mental notes; the Korean War figures into my WIP, one of the reasons I wanted to see it.  The sculptures are magnificent, bringing home the corporeal message of battle; they were fashioned by Frank Gaylord, himself a veteran of WWII.  I imagined characters from The Hawk standing amid the juniper bushes, then pondered the number of US dead from that conflict, over 54,000 people lost.  (As an aside, that was over the course of just three years.  A similar number of lives were lost in Vietnam over the span of two decades.)

After that, my friends and I had a bite to eat at the nearby refreshment stand.  I still wanted to trek over to the Lincoln Memorial for pictures of the renovated Reflecting Pool.  We split into two groups, one which would fetch the car, while my group would wait near the Korean War Memorial, preferably on a bench under a lovely grove of trees.  And that was what happened, slightly interrupted by an impromptu rain shower.  Visiting the National Mall stirs many considerations, which are still with me days later.  I pleaded my West Coast upbringing more than once, was that why these memorials touch me so deeply?  Is it the history behind those honored, their convictions and sacrifices?

Maybe it’s a mix of all those notions alongside the appreciation for merely seeing these monuments.  Usually I spend my time in my little corner, but how fantastic to step into another, and within those acres find myself transported many years in the past as well as to a foreign land.  As a writer, I want to soak up myriad experiences so my characters ring as true as possible.  But as a human being, lifelong learning is a must, for as Jefferson also said: We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

IMG_20160821_125502

I look forward one day to accompanying my grandchildren to these monuments, sharing with them my gratitude for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And if we’re caught together in a thunderstorm, all the better.  We’ll chat about the day Grandma first saw Jefferson and Martin Luther King together, and just what that truly means.

Not long after I took this, the heavens opened….

Still learning what this book (and my life) is about….

Orchards in bloom, spring 2015.

Orchards in bloom, spring 2015; I think back on those days, often wondering just how I made it through some of them….

On the second leg of my recent holiday, friends asked the subject of my WIP.  It’s slightly difficult to describe without giving away the initial plot line, but past that, I noted it’s about love, PTSD, war, faith….  It’s a big book, plenty of room for various themes, but it would be nice to settle upon a main idea to easily sum up The Hawk.

A couple of days ago I flipped to the next quote in my page-a-day calendar, finding the essence of my novel encapsulated in a single sentence: To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.  I meditated upon those words as I finished dressing for the day, but no one was attributed to such a statement.  Fortunately, the internet provided me with the sage, one Arne Garborg, a Norwegian writer and linguist.  According to Wikipedia, Garborg championed the use of Nynorsk (New Norwegian), in addition to tackling the issues of his day.  I had left up the tabs for Garborg, as well as not moved my calendar ahead, just so I’d remember to write this post.  For this quote truly sums up the last three years of my writing life, as well as chunks of my personal existence.

But let’s first talk about The Hawk; initially I had in mind a short story.  Then within weeks, I found a much larger project had developed.  I wasn’t scared off, for I’ve written another series, and it felt good to sink my teeth into something so different than anything I’d previously created.  Magical realism has been a thrill to incorporate into the story, but this novel is grounded by factual events of the era, which is the early 1960s.  I’ve learned plenty about the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, and how The Beatles were first introduced to America.  But the novel’s main focus is human relationships, my stock in trade.  Several love stories are being told, not all of them romantic.  Finally there is war and how that colours the soul.  Early on I came upon a quote by GK Chesterson, which for a good while highlighted my work: The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.  Perhaps the first half of The Hawk is based upon Chesterson’s words.  The second half required different guidance.

I can’t actually say how much I’d written before my father died in April 2015, certainly a decent amount.  When I came home from caring for him and my youngest and her new baby, writing was far from my brain.  I sewed quilts, experimenting with the improv style that now forms the basis of my crafting.  By August of that year, I felt able to sit at my computer, and since then I’ve been steadily churning out chunk after chunk, interspersed with family, fabrics, and finding my way post-Dad.  Recently my friend Laura Bruno Lilly noted that this novel’s length might subconsciously be related to how long it takes to grieve, and I would agree.  How much I have grown as a person during the last three years is directly related to my father’s illness and death, becoming a grandmother, and still eking out chapters of a tale that has evolved from a mystical historical yarn into….  It truly is a love song learned from my beloveds, kept in a safe place to return to them wherever they might be.  Where I am within the story, it’s as if Arne Garborg was waiting for me to reach 25 August 2016, even if he’s been dead for nearly one hundred years.  I have one final part to complete and his quote is a beacon illuminating the safe shore.

When writing any kind of story, be it a saga or flash fiction, I am firmly led by my faith not merely as an internal compass, but for how the words are placed upon the document.  A combination planner and pantster, I don’t try to overthink the plot, although I’m not adverse to taking down necessary notes.  Is it a coincidence that Garborg is Norwegian and Klaudia lives in Norway?  Ha ha, perhaps.  Or maybe just how threads of my work interconnect in unexpected manners, richly flavouring a tale with very humble beginnings.  My biggest goal as an author is twofold; to entertain and uplift.  But behind those notions is how this work pertains to my personal enrichment, often surprising me, as well as delighting.  I love to sing, in addition to writing, so it was with a sly smile I read Garborg’s quote, also with a profound sense of gratitude, both for the insights and how blessed am I to perform this task.  It’s been a while in the making, but good things do come to those with patient hearts, both the reader and the writer.  And the lover; to learn another’s heartsong doesn’t happen overnight.  Yet, once that that intimate knowledge is accrued, miracles are possible.  I knew it many of the days I spent with my dad, I feel it daily with my husband, children, grandchildren, and other relatives.  I can’t escape it as this story winds down, but in that case, often I am the one being sung to.  And good thing, for many loose ends remain in need of resolution.  As I await this novel’s conclusion, I am aware of copious grace wrapped in a blessed melody.  When I forget this or that point, I simply close my eyes, permitting an otherworldly guidance to set me aright.  Music has long been an inspiration, but not always are the tunes of a corporeal strain.

It’s a Big Wide World, Midwest Version

The first leg of our trip was to see my husband’s family in the Midwest.  My sister and brother-in-law live on the shore of a lake, and for over twenty years it has been a fave holiday destination, that stretch of water similar to an ocean, although smaller, and with more distinct alterations.  While the tide doesn’t change, the water goes from calm to choppy, at times silent, often with a roar similar to waves breaking along the California coastline.  The best part of the lake is how easily accessible it is, just another part of the backyard.

Perhaps to focus only on one small section of water seems incongruous with today’s title, yet for this West Coast gal, upping sticks to the center of the country, even if for only a few days, is a major trek.  Then my world is widened by the embraces of relatives, their camaraderie and kindnesses further expanding my heart.  My sister-in-law saved little plastic animals we sent to her daughter, and now those toys are in my living room, waiting for another generation to claim their delights.  The Burrito loved playing with them, and I expect Little Miss and Grandmaster Z to find them just as fantastic.

I did no work while on holiday there, although I picked my brother-in-law’s brain for my next novel; he’s a builder and offered plenty of advice for the basis of the next tale.  I didn’t think much about The Hawk either, spending my time chasing after my grandson, walking the neighborhood with my other sister-in-law, or reveling in the peace offered by such a grand spectacle, be it dawn,

mid-day….

or late at night.

A good friend of my daughter’s drove from Indiana to visit; I’ve known that young lady since our days in the UK.  I chatted with my nephew, who I hadn’t seen in ages, and I observed my husband and his two sisters, how much they are alike, and their differences.  My youngest, her partner, and The Burrito were also in attendance, how blessed to have several generations together at once!  My husband’s mom turned 90 earlier this year, and it was great to see her with her great-grandson.

The Burrito also found the chickens a thrill; this place was like a wonderland for him, much as it has been for my children since they were his age.  And that’s another part of the expanse, memories being added as new family members are introduced to this magical land.  Sitting on the back deck, listening to water lapping along the shore, I found myself transported back to my first visit here in 1992; I was pregnant with my youngest, had never been west of Colorado.  Every time I return, it’s a mix of the past and present entwined, which increases the sense of how big is that moment, like my entire life has been spent near the healing waves or peaceful stillness.

Packing for the next leg of my journey, I recalled highlights; admiring stars in the night sky, taking my grandson for walks around the park, fantastic conversations with those I love.  While travel expands my sense of planetary scope, it’s time spent with my nearest and dearest to affect me the deepest.  And when these two notions are aligned, it’s as if time has no meaning, nor age, which I am finding a bit distracting, harrumph.  Crawling around the sleeping loft of the garage house, where my husband and I stayed, will be something for our children and their partners for next year.  And again my world is altered, as aging allows other traditions to emerge.

I might recapture the sense of being in my mid-twenties, but truthfully that was half my life ago.  And accepting one’s age is part of evolution too.  Years accrued elongate the horizon; perhaps age is a bigger element than I’ve ever previously noticed.  But it’s not overtly troublesome, other than making sure I don’t bump my head on a low ceiling first thing in the day.  For at night I can peer through trees, watching the sunset’s glory, the gentle hum of familiar voices announcing a perfect close to the day.

Summer holiday doesn’t get much better than that.