Saturday, December 31, 2016

Watership Down: A Family Legacy, and a Quilt

In 1972 Richard Adams published Watership Down, a now classic tale of rabbits on a heroic quest for a new home, who encounter various societies which they reject. until they find an unsettled land and establish a peaceful warren. The rabbits are provided with human like personalities and a whole world complete with myths and religion.

I read the first American edition in 1974, as did my husband. We had a liter box trained pet rabbit at the time. Nasturtium would nip us when she wanted attention, and liked to sleep on our lap or on the back of the couch near our head. We had to lock her out of the bedroom at night, or she would jump on the bed and wake us. She loved peanut butter and came begging when she smelled it, and would chew electric cords and upholstery when she had no apple tree sticks to nibble.

Years later we passed our first edition copy on to our elementary school aged son, who became even a bigger fan than his parents! The book shows the wear of many readings.

Consequently, as a family we regard the passing of Richard Adams with sadness and also much appreciation for sharing the stories he told his girls with the rest of us.

In the late 1990s I worked on a crayon tinted and embroidered quilt based on Watership Down, featuring the characters. It has been languishing in my UFO pile.

The rabbits are from Bunnies & More by Darcy Ashton. My son helped me decide which bunny pattern to use with which Watership Down character.

In honor of Richard Adams I thought I had better get this top out and finish the quilt.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Devastatingly Beautiful, Devastatingly Sad: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

"In Emily Ruskovich's wizardly vision, Idaho is both a place and an emotional dimension. Haunted, haunting, her novel winds through time, braiding events and their consequences in the most unexpected and moving ways." -Andrea Barrett
If my Goodreads friends reviews were not enough, this comment by Andrea Barrett--whose books I enjoy--was the clincher, motivating my interest in reading it. When I finished Idaho I learned that Ruskovich had studied writing with two of my favorite writers, Marilynne Robinson and Ethan Canin.

The novel is a complicated, slow moving, intense story, delving into characters linked by love and horrific tragedy. The writing is gorgeous with no stock cliches. This is not a fast plot-driven read. It is not a happy story full of joy. It is about how people carry on living in the midst of pain.

Young marrieds Wade and Jenny had left the prairie to live on a mountain in Idaho, discovering later how isolated they were. They build a home from scratch, saved up for a plow so they could keep open the road going down the mountain in winter. They have two daughters and are happy.

Then Jenny killed their daughter May, for no apparent reason, in a thoughtless act. Wade hid their other daughter June in the forest to keep her safe, but when he returned for her she was gone, never to be found. Jenny is convicted to life in prison; she would have preferred death but remarked she should never again receive anything she wanted.

Early onset Alzheimer's disease runs in Wade's family; it caused his father's death when he wandered out and became lost in the snow. That does not stop school teacher Ann from falling in love with Wade and offering herself to be his caretaker. Wade has moments of clarity without memory, wanders off as his father did, and at times becomes dangerously violent. Wade has lost his daughters and memory of that loss, but the heartbreak of loss remains.

Ann once observed May giving a knife, made by Wade, to an older boy. She becomes obsessed with Wade's daughters and wife, the mystery of June's disappearance. The girls haunt the mountain and their home. Ann is also painfully aware of Jenny in prison.

Jenny's early self-destructive desire resolved into accepting her punishment as just. She finds the pain of scrubbing floors a soothing mortification. Without contact from the world, isolated within the prison of her own making, Jenny seeks nothing more from life. Until she decides to help her cellmate who has been banned from education classes; Jenny attends the classes, takes notes, and gives them to Elizabeth. Their friendship grows.

The story's ending is astonishing and moving and we discover Ann's power of love is truly redemptive.

Ruskovich joins the league of impressive first time published authors in 2016.

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

Emily Ruckovich
Random House
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
$27 hard bound
ISBN: 9780812994049

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Quilt Projects

CAMEO Quilt Guild Challange: Favorite Michigan Season
by Nancy Bekofske
It seemed like I have not made many quilts in 2016 because so many are still in process. But I did finish some a few projects and tops.

I made two small quilts for my sister-in-law using her heirloom lace.

by Nancy Bekofske

by Nancy Bekofske
Every month new blocks for the 1857 Album Quilt are released by Sentimental Stitches. The project will continue into 2017.

1867 Album, Nancy Bekofske
I have quilted my T. S. Eliot quilt and it is ready to be bound.
T. S. Eliot by Nancy Bekofske

I finished the Bea-utiful Quit top, a free embroidered quilt pattern from MODA
Nancy Bekofske's Bee-autiful Qult

Bea-utiful Quilt by Nancy Bekofske

I also completed a quilt top that used my father-in-law's shirts.
Nancy Bekofske, Evening Star quilt top

My very favorite quilt of 2016 is William Shakespeare. The idea came to me in the morning, I was at the quilt shop buying fabric before noon, and had the design worked out and cutting started before day's end.
William Shakespeare by Nancy Bekofske

I made this in a hexies class with Mary Clark.

Another top I finished was Kit Fox, a pattern  from Sew Fresh Quilts.
Fox Kit quilt by Nancy Bekofske

After Will I made Edgar Allan Poe.
Edgar Allan Poe by Nancy Bekofske

My John Quincy Adams quilt spent the year traveling across the country with Sue Reich's President Quilts exhibit.

John Quincy Adams by Nancy Bekofske
John Q and my Redwork quilt Remember the Ladies appeared in Sue's book Quilts Presidential & Patriotic.

I have not finished Hazel or Love Entwinned from Esther Aliu. Or the Tigers quilt. Or finished quilting the Austen Family Album! I have three Gatsby blocks done.
Little Hazel, by Nancy Bekofske

Love Entwinned by Nancy Bekofske

Plus I am working on Icicle Days from Bunny Hill, an applique quilt of ice skates!

I really need to work on those UFOS!

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Tunnels: Escapees Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill

A few weeks ago the Facebook page for The Tunnels shared this post: "Monica Crowley, Trump's pick today as a top National Security adviser, tweeted quite seriously "Walls work" a few months ago in standing in front of and endorsing Berlin Wall (with this photo of her below)." 

I had been reading The Tunnels for over a week when I saw this post. First, it was a nonsensible quip since the Berlin Wall was meant to keep citizens in East Germany, not to keep people from entering East Germany. And the wall that President-elect Trump has proposed is meant to keep foreigners out and not to keep Americans in America.

But it also showed how little we remember the Berlin Wall and the war zone it created--the young people, trapped in East Germany, desperate to join family or to continue their university studies, who tried to climb over the wall only to be shot by Soviet guards. East German boys were instructed to open fire on their own people; those who wanted to leave East Germany were made into criminals, and the East German news media covered up the truth behind the shootings. I don't see how the wall "worked."

Greg Mitchell's book is the story of the brave men and women dedicated to bringing people out form East Germany. It is the story of American newsmen who recognized the Berlin Wall was the story of the decade and who wanted to document the building of escape tunnels.

It is also the story of President Kennedy juggling the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Wall , endeavoring to prevent the nuclear war that some thought inevitable. If America attacked Cuba, and the Soviets attacked West Berlin, America would be drawn into nuclear war. Kennedy said of the military, "These brass hats have one great advantage in their favor. If we listen to them, ad do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell the that they were wrong." We were that close.

I was inspired by the selfless heroism of the men and women who risked their lives to help people escape East Germany. I was interested in how NBC and CBS fought to have their films of tunnel building and escapees brought to television. The White House used political pressure to suppress the films as damaging to American-Soviet relations. And I was appalled to read that in a 2009 poll early half of eastern Germans believed that the former state had 'more good sides than bad.'

I appreciate a book that is a great historical read that also sheds new light on events we are forgetting. It is even better when the subject is also of contemporary relevance. Walls have been going up across the world. Mitchell's book reminds us that walls do not solve our problems.

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

Read more at:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Fifty Years With Holden Caulfield

I was still fourteen, a freshman at Kimball High, when my English teacher Mr. Botens had our parents sign permission slips so we could read The Catcher in the Rye.

At this time my favorite books were still The Count of Monte Cristo and The Great White South about Robert Falcon Scott. I had read Jane Eyre, and Les Miserables, and lots of horse stories and dog stories and Edgar Allan Poe.

I had not read contemporary or Modern fiction.

As I read those first paragraphs and heard Holden's voice I was hooked. I did not identify with Holden, but I felt like I knew him. Mr. Botens led us through an understanding of the book. He did not explain some things I was still ignorant about.

Like 'tossed their cookies'. Holden says the taxi cab smelled like someone had 'tossed their cookies.' Only because his next sentence is about vomit was I able to get it. And D.B. prostituting in Hollywood? I did not know about the lure of big, easy money that drew established writers to become screenwriters. How they sold their talent, watched their darlings get sliced and diced into something new, and then bear the shame of having their name associated with the screenplay--or get no credit at all.

At fourteen I got the comedic moments. I introduced myself as Rudolph Schmidt then had to explain the reference. I loved the concept of 'secret slob', someone who is always well groomed but whose razor is never cleaned.

I did not understand how the Caulfield family had been impacted by the horrid death of Allie, I did not know what dying from leukemia meant. The workaholic father, the mother up all night smoking cigarettes, Holden spiraling into depression while idealizing about saving all the innocent and bright children from toppling over the cliff--it was so foreign.

The summer after ninth grade I read everything published by J. D. Salinger. I had the book nearly memorized.

This month our library book club read The Cather in the Rye. Many had read the book in high school, forgotten about it, and on rereading saw the sadness and self-destructive acts and teenage angst.

But the book is more than about teenage angst.

I was deeply moved this reading. My husband talked about PTSD. We talked about parents who couldn't cope so sent kids away to school, and teachers who could only preach conformity and getting one's act together, and the loneliness of falling into a dark place, desperate to connect, to be saved.

I asked people to think about who Holden does like as a way of seeing his innate decency and goodness: the nuns, the classmate who was bullied and killed himself. Even the mother on the train to whom he wove a story about her popular son--he liked her, and thinking she probably knew what her son was like Holden wanted to give her the gift of a fantasy son.

I reminded my fellow readers about the post-war world of conformity, the worship of status and wealth that Holden found phony, and which his peers seemed to accept as normal.

In his article Holden Caulfield at Fifty, Louis Menand wrote that this is a novel spawned of the 1940s, a novel about loss and a world gone wrong. I don't think Salinger could have written the same novel had he never served during World War II.

Each generation has its moment of horror that changes everything. The assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The Viet Nam War. The Challenger explosion. 9-11. Desert Storm. Columbine. Perhaps that is why Holden endures: he gives voice to what young people feel about the world they are inheriting and expected to live in, the messed up values that adults expect them to accept.

The times change. But how our kids feel about what we have done, or not done, remains unaltered. We keep messing up and we expect the next generation to like it--or fix it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Tonawanda Stories a Hit in 2016

It was a huge surprise to find that my  stories of growing up in Tonawanda, NY were such a hit, drawing hundreds, and sometimes a thousand, readers to my blog. It all started when a post I created to celebrate my Aunt Alice Ennis's birthday 'went viral' weeks after it was posted. I snooped around and found a photo from that post had been shared on a Facebook group "Growing Up in the Town of Tonawanda."

I joined the group and shared some older blog posts I had written about Tonawanda history, which also had a wonderful reception.

My dad wrote a memoir of his childhood and I decided to share it with the Facebook group, and soon new friends were encouraging me with "more, please" comments. In the past few months I have added my own memories.

I have enjoyed reading about other's lives since a child, and still enjoy reading diaries and memoirs and autobiographies. But it amazes and humbles me to hear that people have relived and recalled their own experience through my sharing family stories and photos.

In January I will continue the family saga as our family moved to Detroit in 1963, sharing about my homesickness and Dad's new life. It won't be a Tonawanda Tale but the story of Tonawanda folk adjusting to a new community.

I have been amazed how many Tonawanda folk I have meet over my lifetime. In Philadelphia or Michigan I have discovered so many folk with Tonawanda roots, and my brother has as well. The Tonawanda settlers crossed New York State by land or the Erie Canal, and many continued west across Lake Erie into Canada or Ohio or Michigan. And of course work and career take many of us to places we never dreamt we'd go to.

Some, like my cousin David, have returned to Tonawanda from careers elsewhere. After all, there is no place like home, and home is where our family is.

Have a wonderful holiday season and may your hometown memories be warm and bright.

Stories by Me
The John Kuhn Family:
The Sheridan Park Volunteer Firemen:
The Becker Family:
Happy Birthday, Aunt Alice:
Halloween Costumes:
Christmas Past (late 1950s):
Building and running a 1940s gas station:
Tom's Brook Massacre:

Emma and Al Gochenour
with Mary and Gene
Al and Emma Gochenour with
daughters Alice and Mary

Dad's Memoirs
Part I:
Part II:
Part III:
Partk IV:
Alger Gochenour:
Grease and Cars:
Boating Tales:
Floods and Subs:
Lives Cut Short:
New York State Theme Parks:
Runnning a Coffee Truck:
Pets, Fishing, and Hunting:
Gene Gets a Girlfriend:
Aunt Alice and me

My memories
My Old House:
Birth and preschool:
Stories my Mother Told Me:
Trash Picking:
Lois Gibbs on my Green Heros Quilt:
Songs My Mother Sang Me:

Related Books Reviews
Love Canal:
1901 Pan American Exposition book:
The Sky Unwashed:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How To Make Children's Clothes the Modern Singer Way --in 1931

"Modern sewing methods and a modern Singer sewing machine are essentials that combine to make sewing at home recreational and economically valuable."

I found this booklet, How to Make Children's Clothes the Modern Singer Way, at the Royal Oak Flea Market. It was first printed in 1927 by the Singer Sewing Machine Company as Singer Sewing Library booklet No. 3; my copy was printed in 1931.

The 64-page booklet does not include patterns; it offers advice and illustrations of details of sewing garments for children of all ages, from baby layettes to 'dress frocks' for older girls.

"This book is designed to make sewing for children easy, to make the work interesting, and to encourage those who sew for children to appreciate the importance of correct and becoming attire, thus helping in a silent way to build a foundation of good taste and a sense of fitness to the child that will later prove an asset, economically and socially." from the forward by Mary Brooks Picken
The Modern Singer Sewing Machine in 1927-1931
"Authorities disagree on the quantity of garments necessary for a baby's layette, but all agree that beautiful cleanness is absolutely necessary.
"It is best to buy a 10-yard piece of fine nainsook and use this for dresses and slips, and buy a bold or bolts of diaper cloth, if diapers are to be cut and hemmed at home."

Rompers for boys and girls differed little.

The play overalls are suitable for boys or girls. Note that figure 45 has an apron.
Bloomer frocks, short dresses with matching bloomer panties, and Pantie Frocks for girls 8 to 12 years of age, are very familiar to us from movies and print ads of this time.
Combination Suits were meant to be worn under dresses. The seamstress is warned to allow enough fullness and length in the crotch and that the neck be low enough to not show above the slip or dress, and that the arm hole is large enough to not crowd the dress arm. 
The Middie and Bloomer outfit was perfect for gym suits.

Examples of dress frocks for older girls:
Pajamas, lounge wear and beach wear costumes had full pants.

Junior girls should not feel awkward; she can be "just as attractive at fourteen as she was at six or will be at twenty. She can be attractive for the age of fourteen."
Girls should be "encouraged" to "reason and observe and know what is best for herself." She should choose outfits appropriate to her age, temperament and type. "Under no circumstances should the clothes of an older person be shortened for a younger one;" instead the material can be dyed, recut, and remade.

Fabrics should be neutral, never delicate, and becoming, with an even weave and smooth surface. Flannel, serge, gingham, flat crepe, are better than cheviot, dotted Swiss, or satin.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Review: First Time Writers To Watch

Here are the books I read or reviewed in 2016 that were the authors first book. It is one of the perks of reviewing new books that I can discover emerging voices.


The Nix by Nathan Hill was one of my favorite books of the year. A floundering man seeks to understand the mother who left him as a child by discovering her past.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Imbue considers the American Dream through immigrants from Cameroon and their employers whose dream is unraveling. Stunning.

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio takes readers on a journey into the human heart through Cuban refugees struggling with their own demons and working out their own salvation.

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond warns about habitat threats to the penguins of Antarctica through a tragic love story.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly's Historical Fiction novel concerns the 'rabbits', Polish girls who underwent horrendous 'medical research' at the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and the New York socialite Caroline Ferriday who changes their lives,

The Expense of a View by Polly Buckingham is an award winning collection of stories that probe the despair of people in crisis.

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar is funny, improbable, and emotionally wise. A Czech astronaut sent to explore a strange entity seeks expiation for his father's crimes as a Soviet informer. Review coming in 2017.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney is a lovely paean to New York City through the eyes of an elderly woman recalling her life and career as the top female advertising writer in the 1930s. Review coming in 2017.

Absalom's Daughters by Suzanne Feldman considers race and identity through two half-sisters, one black and once who can pass as white, as they travel through the Jim Crow South in search of their father.

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Skaran tells the heartbreaking story of an illegal immigrant whose child is fostered by an Indian-American couple who want to adopt him. Review coming in 2017.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich is a lyrical story of the redemptive power of love through a woman who cares for a husband with early onset Alzheimer's and her obsession over the tragedy of his first family. Review coming in 2017.

All the Winters After by Sere Prince Halverson is an Alaskan story of love and redemption.

The Longest Night by Andria Williams was inspired by the true story of a nuclear reactor accident.

Fobbit by David Abrams is a satirical novel about the absurdities behind the scenes during the Iraq war.

Sirius by Jonathan Crown is an alternatie history starring a spunky Jewish dog who becomes a Hollywood star, and accidentally becomes a spy when Hitler adopts him,

Mr. Eternity by Aaron Thier is a genre-bending novel that jumps through time with Robinson Crusoe, offering a chilling glimpse into an unrecognizable world altered by climate change.

Lay Down Your Weary Tune by W. B. Belcher is the story of confronting one's own demons and the toll paid by fame.

Angels of Detroit by Christopher Herbert is a sprawling novel with unforgettable characters, each obsessed with their own view of Detroit's future.

Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case recounts Bronte's story from a new viewpoint.

Black River by S. M. Hulse is the story of a man who has undergone horrendous loss, and is confronted the challenge to forgive. My second reading, for book club, of a book I read in 2014.


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah is a love letter to Noah's remarkable mother as he tells his story of growing up in Apartheid South Africa as 'a crime', the illegally conceived child of a European father and African mother.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalathani recounts his life-long search for meaning in context of learning that he is dying of cancer.

Lab Girl is Hope Jahren's memoir addressing her love of nature and struggle as a bipolar female scientist.

Spaceman by Mike Massamino recounts his career as an astronaut with humility and graciousness. A joyful memoir.

The Clancy of Queens is Tara Clancy's humorous and warm memoir of growing up able to leap social classes in a single bound.
Unmentionable by Therese Oneill is a hilarious consideration of the reality of women's lives in the 19th c,

Dog Medicine by Julie Barton is a memoir of her debilitating depression and how her dog Bunker gave her the purpose and love she needed to recover.

Smoke the Donkey by Cate Folsom recounts how a wild donkey helped soldiers heal and the remarkable battle to bring Smoke to America.

The Thunder Before the Storm by Clyde Bellencourt is a raw and unvarnished story of a man's discovering his roots and his fight to protect American Indian traditions.

Fast Into the Night by Debbie Clark Moderow recounts her journey to the Iditarod.