Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Eric Larson

On a beautiful morning with a calm sea, it took eighteen minutes for the Lusitania to sink.

Of all the stories of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, it is the image of a woman giving birth in the frigid waters that haunts me. And how one surviving passenger, a child, always carried the fear that the woman was his pregnant mother. I am angry to think how nothing was done to protect this family. Instead, information was withheld with secret hopes that American deaths would bring the United States into WWI.

There are certain synopsis of history that we hear over and over again, easily memorized history in one sentence. People who lived the history didn't need more to conjure up stories and memories about it. The one-line history gets passed on through the media or in books or in the classroom to following generations who have no further information. Part of my reading life is finding out the story behind these snippets.

I knew the passenger ship Lusitania was sunk by the Germans, and there were Americans on board, and that people were appalled. I heard that the sinking brought America into WWI. I vaguely thought the ship was American with mostly American passengers. I had heard that Elbert Hubbard was among those who died in the shipwreck.

I chose to read Eric Larson's Dead Wake through Blogging for Books because I enjoyed his Devil in the White City and because I wanted to learn more about the Lusitania.

It was interesting, then tense, then harrowing, then enraging, and finally enlightening. Larson is a masterful story teller.

We get to know the passengers on that fatal voyage--the charming, the famous, the wealthy, the captain and crew. And we also get to know the U-20 commander, his dedication and skill, and how the horror of seeing the disaster he wrought upset him but did not deter him from doing his duty for his country. Meanwhile, President Wilson was a broken man after the loss of his wife, detached and depressed until he meets the vibrant and sympathetic widow who revives his hopes of love and companionship.

Larson exposes several myths of the sinking: the early belief that two torpedoes hit the ship, and that Capt. Turner was at fault.

Why wasn't Cunard warned about the U-20's previous hits and location? Why didn't Britain offer protection to the Lusitania? Why was Captain Turner not warned to take the safer northern route?

Churchill had written a letter to the Board of Trade commenting that it was important to attract "neutral shipping to our shores, in the hopes of especially embroiling the United States with Germany." The British military were decoding every message sent by U-20 and knew where it was.
The Lusitania was in the right place at the right time, a sitting duck. And yet so many things could have prevented the tragedy.

As for the revision of my received history: The Lusitania was a British ship of the Cunard line, like the Titanic. Like the Titanic it was thought to be too big to sink, plus it was so fast it could outrun a sub. 114 American citizens lost their lives, including millionaire playboy Alfred Vanderbuilt who died a hero's death assisting other passengers to safety. The ship was carrying secret military cargo. It was sunk by a German submarine. It took two more years before America entered the war and meantime the Germans stepped back from attacking passenger ships for fear of involving America.
A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.  Elbert Hubbard.
That quotation was in my Sixth grade English textbook. I memorized it and took it to heart. It was all I knew about Elbert Hubbard for a long while.

When my grandfather Lynne O. Ramer passed I was given his library. It included a complete set of Hubbard's Roycroft set Little Journeys into the Homes of the Great. The series was published in 1916 after Hubbard's death. I have carted it around for 40 years. My grandfather collected books in the 1920s, even though he had little money and was working in the kitchen to pay his way through Susquehanna College (now University). Hubbard was one of the most famous men in America when Gramps was growing up. When my grandfather was ten Hubbard set sail on the Lusitania.
There are only two respectable ways to die; One is of old age. the other is by accident. All disease is indecent. Elbert Hubbard
Elbert and his wife Alice retreated to a Boat Deck room and closed the door. He followed his own advice: "We are here now, some day we shall go. And when we go we would like to go gracefully." Their bodies were never identified.

Learn more about the Lusitania at

Learn more about the book at

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Sinclair Antiques

We visited a new antique mall in Clawson. Sinclair Antiques is right next to our local bakery/bread/pizza/sub/shop, Julian Brothers.  The building dates to 1947 when it was a Sinclair gas station.

There is a couch and tv in the lobby for spouses or kids who get bored! But who will get bored--there is something for everyone.
 This Erector set has it's original Hudson's label marked $50.
Bring TR home for $400
There is a 1915 bust of Teddy Roosevelt! If I had room I'd bring TR home with me! What a marvelous conversation piece he would be!

There was a lot of vintage clothing, including shoes and fancy Edwardian white shirts, dresses, and skirts.

And several quilts.
this wonderful quilt top was used behind a display 
$95 hand made quilt
$125 kit quilt Little Red Riding Hood

 And dolls.
 The owners are lovely people. Coffee and a plate of cookies were provided.
I will be back.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Apple Wars: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is best known for her first historical fiction book The Girl With the Pearl Earring which imagines the subject of Vermeer's painting of the same name. I have read all of her books since.

Her new novel At the Edge of the Orchard includes historical figures Johnny 'Appleseed' Chapman  and William Lobb who collected seeds and seedlings for export to England. But its focus is on the Goodenough family's tumultuous history and battles over what kind of apples to grow.

The story begins in the Black Swamp of Ohio, just outside of Perrysburg, where James and Sadie Goodenough are trying to establish a homestead in mud and amongst mosquitoes. They left Connecticut to find land, traveling west until the good roads ended in the swamp.

James has brought his beloved Golden Pippin apple seeds, a legacy brought by his ancestor from England to Connecticut where his father raised apple trees. The apple's flavor recalls James home, a sweet apple with a sharpness and a finish of pineapple. To keep one's land claim James must have an orchard of 34 trees. He sets the goal higher to fifty.

James prefers the good eating Golden Pippin apples, but his wife Sarah has become dependent on the Apple Jack made from the sour 'spitter' apples. After years living in isolated wilderness, losing her children to the annual fever, and regretting her marriage to James instead of his brother Charlie, Sadie is bitter and angry. Only the Apple Jack offers respite.

A family tragedy drives the Goodenough son Robert to leave home, heading west. He becomes an eternal wanderer, alone and separate, but writing an annual letter home to the siblings he left behind. Robert's journey ends at the Pacific Ocean where he discovers the giant Sequoia trees and William Lobb, an English seed agent. Robert finds work collecting Sequoia seedlings for Lobb.

This Sequoia stump appears in At The Edge of the Orchard.
Robert is enigmatic, a living ghost cut off from society and unsure of what 'family' really means. He makes few choices, just goes with where life leads him. Reaching the limits of America he finds himself going back East for the first time, to end up where his family began.

This novel begins with the Goodenoughs, jumps to a series of letters from Robert, to rejoining Robert in the West. The early section is violent and full of action, the characters powerfully drawn. The second part is quiet and internal. Robert is so shut down and uncommunicative that he almost fades from his own story, allowing stronger personalities to shine. There is no resolution to his story, but movement towards a possible new beginning brings hope.

Following the Goodenoughs is a badly used nine-patch quilt, with fabrics holding memories of home. But it is a home life Robert escaped from, at the behest of his mother, a hard life with a family at war. The quilt is torn and repaired, but makes the bedding for the next generation.

And that is perhaps what life is all about, each generation taking the tattered remnants of whatever good they can glean and use it to endeavor to cushion and ease the way for the generation to come.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Hear an interview with the author at NPR here.

At the Edge of the Orchard
Tracy Chevalier
Publication Date March 15, 2016
hard cover $27.00
ISBN 9780525953005

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Whimsical William Shakespeare

April 23 was the 400th anniversary of  the death of William Shakespeare. This quilt came to me and I rushed out to buy the fabric and supplies. I drew it out on freezer paper and cut out the shapes. I fused fabric for the face and pieced the doublet.

 His ruff print has love endearments.
I printed his sonnet 116 on fabric. And made 3-d folded flowers.

So much fun!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Modern Millinery & the Flapper Hat of Choice

The Michigan State University Museum dug into its collection and put together their current exhibit Up Cloche: Fashion, Feminism, Modernity. The cloche hat was a symbol of Flapper modernity. Women needed short hair to wear the bell shaped, helmet style hat. It was the antithesis of the ornate and decorated hats of their mother's age, simply constructed and some even foldable to carry in pockets.

 The cloche nodded to the helmets worn by early aviatrix.

The hats may share a shape but the details are wonderful including appliqué, embroidery, beading, folded fabric.

A display showed the earlier style of hats on the right and the cloche hat and hat form on the right.

 The cloche embellishments were Art Deco--flat, streamlined, geometric.
Previous hat embellishment was more ornate, three dimensional and naturalistic. Cloche hats could be made at home and mass produced cheaply. It brought an end to the millinery industry, which had been one of the few businesses a respectable woman could run.

1920s dresses were also on display.
 Sheer fabrics with amazing beading.

 Amazing silver Art Deco beading on what appeared to be panne velvet.
 A sheer dress with embellishment worn over a colored chemise. Brassieres were optional.

We watched a film showing fashion shows and Hollywood film influences on fashion.
tatted hats

The exhibit runs through August 30, 2016.

Rejecting tradition and embracing more body-conscious styles, the young American "flapper" wore her newly won freedom to vote, earn, and learn on her body: short dresses and clear stockings, bobbed hair, and a head-hugging cloche. The cloche - a bell-shaped hat considered "clever" and "smart" - framed the face with fashionable Art Deco panache. Explore how American women of the 1920s and '30s used consumer goods to become modern. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Possibility of Love After War

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, set in London, begins the day war is declared. Nineteen-year-old Mary, wealthy and beautiful, rushes to volunteer. She is assigned to teach, and meets Tom, who falls for Mary. Tom's friend and flatmate Alastair's work evacuating art to safety had ended and he enlists.

The characters endure the Blitz, starvation, maiming, near drownings, and all the horrors of war. I pondered how a writer could put these lovely young men and women, beautiful and witty and charming, through such travails without his heart breaking.

Of course the author's heart broke. Chris Cleave was writing a novel inspired by his own grandparents experiences during WWII. Not that they oft told the stories. Sitting in a movie theater when it is hit by a German bomb and watching your fiance' die is not the kind of memory one willingly returns to.

Cleave visited Malta where his grandfather spent three grueling years slowly starving and watching German attacks kill one friend after another. Cleave was overwhelmed by the sadness of the war. And that emotion carried through in this novel.

There is no nostalgia casting a pretty haze over London during the years of 1939 through 1942. The British are not elevated to an idealized civilization. The pretentiousness of the rich and racism are portrayed. The country folk won't take in evacuated children who are less than perfect. The bureaucracy evacuates the zoo animals before the school children.

We do see the bravery of those at home and in harm's way.

You can read a synopsis of the plot anywhere online. I really don't want to go there. But perhaps if you understand how emotionally this novel has affected me you will understand why you should read it. Scenes haunt me, the beauty of how Cleaves uses words to convey experience is amazing. The story line and characters will catch your attention, you won't want to put the book down. But it is the way Cleave writes scenes that make them memorable.

I will tell you one incident from the book.

At the beginning of the book Tom makes a jar of jam and when his flatmate and friend Alastair enlists Tom gives him the jam. Alastair hoards it hoping to share it with Tom when the war is over. Even when starving on besieged Malta Alastair keeps that jam, a symbol of what life had been and will, hopefully, be again, a concoction of summer and joy and friendship and beauty and all the things that war has removed from life. Alastair's CO Simonson is concerned about Alastair's physical and psychological wounds and sneaks him off Malta.  Alastair give the jam to Simonson.

Malta has been besieged for years. The men are starving in a barren, dry land with scant, foul water. They have no ammunition. Simonson wishes the Germans would just make an end of it all. He stares at the paperwork on his desk when his eyes are drawn to the jam, a deep ruby color in the moonlight. Simonson was to keep the jam to share with Alastair at war's end. If only he could just smell the jam; he opens the jar but could smell nothing. Have his senses become dulled by the dust?He dips the nub of his pen in and tries the jam. He is transported. Suddenly the dry and dessicated island is filled with sweet water and green growing plants, stamens shaking with laughter, finches landed on the stems, and Simonson sees his lover's eyes. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever tasted.

We understand everything. We understand that war takes away our memory of the simple joys life can offer. We understand that the war wounded must find their way through the dark waters that have sucked them under and nearly downed them, find the way back to life and love. Everyone forgiven must also be brave, Mary thinks at the end.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair an unbiased review.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster
Publication May 2016
$26.00 hard cover
ISBN: 9781501124372

Saturday, April 23, 2016

For Will

I woke up and saw William Shakespeare died on this day--April 23, 1616. A quilt image came to me and I was suddenly inspired...ran out to buy started. Here's day one's work...

Joe the Quilter, Returned to Michigan

Joe Cunningham with his quilt honoring his ancestral line
CAMEO quilt guild hosted Joe Cunningham this week. Joe is a 'local boy' from Swartz Creek, MI. He admits to a life long love of books, writing, art, and music.

Joe Cunningham's spoof on state bird quilts
He had a ten year music career when he met Gwen Marston. She was documenting the quilts of quilt historian and quilter Mary Schafer of Flushing, MI. Joe offered to assist Gwen by contributing  the quilt catalog copy. To educate himself Joe read extensively about quilts and even learned how to make quilts. He went professional, writing books and creating quilts with Gwen.

Memories of Italy and Flint MI inspired this quilt by Joe Cunningham
Joe Cunningham's take on Michigan Winters
Honoring the standards set by traditional quilt maker Mary Schafer became limiting to Joe's creativity and he allowed himself to leap off the path into a new style. His quilts often have a sense of humor. Some are abstract, others are naturalistic but using flat planes of color in the images. Joe often uses large pieces of fabric, or cuts a patterned fabric and repieces it. He has mastered computer quilting.
Joe Cunningham used photos of tar road repair for the embroidered designs
Joe's presentation was a blend of songs, the story of his artistic development, and a trunk show.

Rock the Block, Joe Cunningham's workshop quilt
Everyone had a wonderful time. Joe is personable and down-to-earth, funny, and a natural entertainer. We even learned some new tricks, like how to fold quilts to prevent creasing and a new way of finishing quilt edges.

Joe Cunningham
Joe has authored 11 books, including Men and the Art of Quiltmaking.

Read about Joe the Quilter at
See Joe's quilts at

Joe's brother Jeff attended a quilt display I helped create in Pentwater, MI. He was involved with the Coopersville Farm Museum show, Quilts and Their Stories. Jeff was excited to see Ann Sole's Gee Bend quilt.
Jeff and Ann looking at the Pentwater quilts