Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I first read Dandelion Wine in my teens, back in the late 1960s. I had read through all of Bradbury's books, and a few years later when my younger brother needed a boost in his interest in reading I gave him my collection. It revitalized his interest. And my son has also read this novel, and most of Bradbury as well.

Because it had been so many years since I had read this book, when a local book club chose it for their monthly read I knew I had to fit it into my heavy reading schedule.

Reading Dandelion Wine in my mid-sixties was very different from reading it as a teenager. I read it in small bites, drawing it out over several weeks. I would pick it up and read a few paragraphs, or pages, or a scene, and my heart would hurt and my mind would thrill and I had to let the feeling just be for a while.

The nostalgia overwhelmed me. I was not alive in 1928, the year in which the book is set, and I never lived in this small Indiana town with the trolley and front porches with swinging chairs on creaking chains. Two Black Crow records and stereoscoptic viewers are antiques to me. But I felt the perfect beauty and preciousness of the time and place, of which the protaganist, Doug, finds himself suddenly aware.

Doug is a boy who is on the cusp of growing up, and has just discovered he "is alive." The other side of that knowledge also comes to him over the summer, for all that he wants to deny such knowledge: all that is alive will die, and all that is changes and passes.

"...does everyone in the world..know he's alive?...I hope they do," whispered Douglas. "Oh, I sure hope they know." 
Douglas takes a notebook and makes lists about life: Rites and Ceremonies, the cycle of known things, and Discoveries and Revelations/Illuminations/Intuitions, what he is just learning about life.

The passage that most hurt with bittersweet truth was when Douglas's friend John notices the colored glass in the attic window of a house. "I never saw them before today," John marvels. "Doug, what was I doing all these years I didn't see them?" "You had other things to do," Douglas responds. John is upset, "It's just, if I didn't see these windows until today, what else did I miss?" And since John is moving, it upsets him all the more, and he makes Douglas promise to never forget him.

I set my tablet down and looked around me. It is the end of August and the days are growing shorter. I felt the urge to go out, do something, see something new. Life is passing by, and here I am caught in the web of 'something else' and missing the colored glass in a window I pass every day. There are so few years left me, so few years of health and ability, and what am I missing? What have I not noticed?

In the forward, Bradbury writes, "I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiement and was statles when truths leaped out of bushes like quail before gunshot. I blustered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true."

He uses the wine metaphor as a way of fathering "images of all my life, storing them away, and forgetting them." He plunged his memories and they bloomed into flowers that were captured in this rare vintage of Bradbury wine. I am so glad to have sipped it again.

"Here is my celebration then, of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror, written by a boy who once hung upside down in trees, dressed in his cat costume with candy fangs in his mouth, who finally fell out of the trees when he was twelve and went and found a toy-dial typewriter and wrote his first "novel."

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Life is a Journey by Betty Chan Tells Her Family Story

Life is a Journey by Betty Chan
I met Betty Chan at the Threads quilt show at the Troy Historical Center earlier this month. Her quilt Life is a Journey was on exhibit. The quilt tells the story of her parents' immigration to America. The back of the quilt is her genealogy.

I asked if we could met so I could learn more about her quilt and the story it told. She kindly lent me a book she self-published which explains the images on her quilt and details her family tree and history.
Betty's parents, going to America
Betty Eng's parents

Genealogy on the back of Betty Chan's quilts Life is a Journey
Life is a Journey tells the story of her parents Din Lee Eng and You Ying Eng, born in Toishan, Canton, China. Betty started the quilt in 2012 while taking a Story Book workshop with Mary Lou Weidman. In 2013 she returned to the workshop to continue working on the quilt. The quilt was finished in 2014. (Learn about Weidman's Story Book Workshop at

The central figures represent Betty’s parents.
Betty's great-grandparents who first came to America
Pictured on her quilt to the left of her parents is a Water Buffalo surrounded by Bamboo to represent her parent’s village. 
Betty traveled to China to see her ancestral home, symbolized by the water buffalo and bamboo.

Betty's ancestral village in China
Three red fish represent the three generations which came to America, starting with her great-grandfather on the bottom. He was one of the Chinese laborers who built on the Transcontinental Railroad. He hoped to find wealth in house building, and was well liked by his employer, a prominent citizen near Seattle, WA. His investment in a hotel brought in regular money. He returned to China with gifts, and his fish holds a coin representing wealth.
Red fish with a coin, lower left, is Betty's great grandfather who brought home
wealth. Two more fish represent her grandfather and father who later came to the USA.
The other two fish represent Betty’s grandfather and father who lived in New York City.

Betty’s father came to America as a ‘paper son.”  In 1882 the Federal Government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act banning the immigration of Chinese. They were stereotyped and deemed unable to assimilate, but in truth they were competition for jobs, willing to work hard for low wages. Chinese already living in America would claim they had sons in China for which they obtained immigration papers. The papers were sold to Chinese men so they could come to America. As a ‘paper son’, Betty’s father had taken the surname Lee of his fake father, his real name being Eng.

Betty's father's fish  near the American President Line boat that brought him to America.
After 1943 Chinese living in America were able to become citizens but only 105 Chinese immigrants a year were allowed entrance.
Betty's father as a US serviceman
He joined the US Army during WWII. After his time in the army he returned to China to marry Betty's mother, a ‘war bride’.  Betty’s mother was very beautiful and always elegantly dressed, and Betty made sure her figure on the quilt had a hat.
Betty's beautiful mother
Betty’s father’s portrait on the quilt wears a blue Chinese jacket like he wore in China. In the 1960s amnesty was offered for those who arrive in America with false papers. Then Betty’s father and his family could legally take their rightful name of Eng. In his pocket is his business card for Eng’s Kitchen in Merrick, NY and his Army dog tags are in another pocket.
Betty's father with the tickets, a subway map, dog tags and restaurant business card
From Betty's book, her parents' ticket and pass
The two chicks near the central figure’s feet represent Betty's sister and brother. The chicks chase after their parents because they were left behind in China with their grandmother and did not see their parents again for ten years. They were only six and eight years old at the time.

Betty's mother's suitcase with photos of her husband and family,
the chicks representing the children they left behind in China
The New York City Subway map in her father’s hand shows where they lived in a house above his Canton restaurant. The New York City skyline and Statue of Liberty appear just left of his head, symbols of their adopted city and the welcoming symbol to immigrants.

The Statue of Liberty, NYC skyline, and the World Trade Center Twin towers which
Betty's parents saw fall while going to work on 9-11.
Betty grew up near Times Square and Rockefeller Center where she learned to ice skate. Her parents were on their way to Chinatown on 9-11 and they saw the towers go down, so the ‘brown chopstick buildings’ represent the World Trade Center buildings.

A large red house represents the house they grew up in, with Betty and her brother peeking from behind the bush in front of the house. Betty always had a ponytail like the girl on the quilt. An American flag pin from her father’s collection is in front of the house.
Betty and her brother peek from behind a push in front of their childhood home
Flowers on the quilt represent her mother’s love of flowers. She made shrimp dumplings and sewed clothing for Betty.

Her dad was a wonderful cook, played the Chinese banjo, and he loved the Yankees.
Betty's father at his restaurant
The family Chinese restaurant in NYC
It was a happy day when Betty finally met her older siblings. 

Betty with her family
The border blocks on the quilt are in colors of the US and China. The heart blocks represents “East Meets West.”
Betty working on Life is a Journey
Betty and her husband have lived in Metro Detroit for 40 years. When they arrived her community was very rural. It was quite a culture shock after living in New York City! They had to travel to Windsor, Canada to find a Chinese grocery. Now it is a thriving multicultural city. She is a retired math teacher.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Victoria & Abdul: A True Story That's Stranger than Fiction

Queen Victoria was quite taken by her title of Empress of India. She was unable to visit India, so she brought India to England.

For her Golden Jubilee, several men from India were assigned to be her personal servants, including the twenty-four-year-old Abdul.

The lonely queen had lost her beloved Albert and her loyal servant John Brown. Queen Victoria fell in love with Abdul's stories about his exotic homeland of India. She formed a motherly attachment to Abdul, promoting him to her teacher.

During Queen Victoria's last ten years she studied Urdu under Abdul's guidance, becoming quite proficient. The Queen's dependence on her Munshi led to friction with her government and her family. Every power was pushing the Queen to abandon her interest in Abdul. Abdul was spied upon and defamed, but the Queen defended him and showered titles and gifts upon Abdul and his family.

Victoria & Abdul  is an enlightening biography of Queen Victoria between her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. It tells of the human side of the queen and of her profound attachment to those she loved. It is the story of a humble man who rose to become a queen's most trusted friend, only to be vilified and his history erased after her death. And it is the story of racism and religious prejudice in Victorian England.
Detail of handkerchief celebrating Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee

The information is detailed and I felt I knew and understood Victoria and Abdul. There are wonderful photographs included.

This book is the basis for the upcoming movie Victoria & Abdul starring Judy Dench. I can't wait to see it!

View the trailer at

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

Victoria & Abdul (Movie Tie-in)
The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant
by Shrabani Basu
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Paperback $16.00
ISBN 9780525434412

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

When I was nine years old my best friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be an author. In a few years, I was writing stories and then poetry. I tried to get published for a while, then didn't try but kept writing. Then the poems dried up.

What happened? Life. Marriage, jobs because we needed money, a child.

"If I told you the whole story it would never end...What's happened to me has happened to a thousand woman."--Ferderico Garcia Lorca, Dona Rosita la Soltera: The Language of Flowers
This quote appears at the beginning of The Resurrection of Joan Ashbyalong with a quote from Olive Schreiner advising "live for that one thing" which is your aim in life. I recognized the story. I am one of the thousands who did not 'live for one thing.' But I do not regret my decision to put love first.

Joan Ashby, the heroine of Cherise Wolas' novel, was sidetracked away from her 'one thing,' that which she was born to be, which she had single-mindedly worked for and achieved before she allowed her life to be claimed by others and their needs.

This is the story of how Joan allowed love to determine who she was, and how love betrayed her, and the journey that brought her back to herself.

Within pages, I was mesmerized by Wolas' writing. The beginning of the novel recalled to mind an old movie, like Citizen Kane, with clips of news stories giving one an idea of the person they are going to explore. The novel begins with an article in Literature Magazine entitled "(Re)Introducing Joan Ashby" in which we learn that Joan was a prize-winning writer in her early twenties, a genius, but that it has been three decades since she last published. Next, we read several of Ashby's stories and excerpts from an interview with Joan.

"Love was more than simply inconvenient; it's consumptive nature always a threat to serious women." Joan Ashby 
When Joan meets Martin Manning she tells him right away that her writing will always come first and that she has no need to be a mother. Martin is smitten and appears to support her wholeheartedly. But when two months after their marriage Joan finds she is pregnant, Martin tells her, "I've never been so happy."

Martin makes her happy. Does Joan grant him this baby, which obviously will lead to another child? Or should she hold fast to her commitment and dedication to her art, have an abortion, even if it means losing her newly wed husband?

The decisions Joan makes over the next thirty years put her husband and children's needs before her own artistic life. She does love them, but they take everything she has and offer back little.

She feels a kinship with quiet Daniel and his love of books and story telling, but who opts for an unsuitable career. Eric is brilliant, testing the limits, achieving early success which he cannot handle. She is drained by their need, while longing to return to the one thing she wanted and needed above all else: the solitude of the creative life.

After a horrible betrayal, Joan packs up and leaves her life behind to find out who she is and what it is she wants. In India, practicing yoga, Joan contemplates her marriage and her children, and the role of motherhood in all its manifestations, slowly growing into an understanding of how she wants to spend the rest of her life.  The 500+ page book, for me, slows in this last third as Joan goes on an internal journey, including sections of the novel she is writing.

Joan's passivity and inability to carve out what she needed is a great part of her failed life. She is not completely a likable character when she accuses her husband of selfishness, for she did not stand up for herself and give him a chance to accommodate her needs. Their lack of communication indicates a flawed marriage. And Joan's need for secrecy about her writing life, novels and stories written in hours when she was alone, ends up harmful.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is an outstanding debut. I adored the nontraditional story telling which incorporated Joan's stories. The theme of the female artist's struggle to combine love and work will appeal to many women. I will be thinking about this book for a long time, and expect I will return to read portions as I grapple with my understanding of Joan.

I thank the publisher for a free ARC in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
Cherise Wolas
Flatiron Books
Publication August 29, 2017
Hardcover $27.99
ISBN: 9781250081438

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Nancy Gets the Quilt Pox

I am glad to have an upbeat post after sharing my very bad year!
At my quilt frame, wearing a dress I made. 
In January 1991. at a mom and pop grocery store in downtown Hillsdale, I opened a quilt magazine and saw a quilt of appliqued leaves. I thought, I'm going to make my brother a quilt for his college graduation.

Gary and Chris at a church ice cream social.
Chris in a short set I made.
I had been sewing clothes for my son, short and shirt sets and Velcro closing jackets, and dresses for myself. The lady at the fabric shop downtown always asked if I made quilts and I always said no. I did not think I could do it.

I gathered fabric scraps from sewing projects because I thought that's how quilts were made. I cut out the leaves and machine sewed them on to backing squares, sewed the squares together and added borders. I did not cut off the selvages and the printed selvage showed in one seam! I did not remake it.
My first quilt, Maple Leaf
In my ignorance, I bought a spool of button hole thread to quilt it. I layered the quilt top with batting and a backing. And proceeded to hand quilt without a thimble or a hoop. I was really basting it together.

It was a hot mess. But my Grandmother Gochenour was visiting Dad and he brought her to visit for a day. She was impressed. She said she always wondered if I would "do anything." I finished the quilt and presented it to my brother upon his graduation from Lawrence Technological University.

I sent a photo to the magazine that had the pattern and they shared it.
A newspaper notice about appearing in the magazine
I immediately started another quilt. I liked a block pattern in a magazine of a simple four square block with an appliqued heart in the center. It didn't have instructions for a full quilt.

For fabric, I decided to use Mom's painting smocks in red plaids. I had a Georgia Bonesteel book on the quilt as you go method where each block is quilted and then the layered blocks are sewn together, and that is how I constructed the quilt.
My second quilt, A Mother's Love Will Always Keep You Warm
in which I used Mom's plaid painting smocks
I was in the middle of the quilt when Gary told me that a new church member was a quilter and wanted to meet me. Holly had studied with the Amish and took one look at Hot Mess No. 2 and decided she had to teach me a few things.

She spent an afternoon at the house showing me how to applique, use a thimble, and the quilt stitch. My second quilt shows the progression from ignorance to basic competence.
Chris with Christopher's World, my third quilt.
By this time I was hooked. I made Chris a quilt using the Moon Over the block, made with jungle fabric from curtains I had made for his room and a fish fabric. This time I had to take it apart and remake it as I did not check that the blocks were a uniform size first. Holly let me put the quilt on her quilt frame to baste.
A House for All Seasons used the Madison House block from Quilts! Quilts! Quilts!
I made a quilt with twelve house quilt blocks, one for each season, and wrote an article on living in a parsonage and dreaming of a house of my own and sent it to Quilt Magazine who published it for $25.
Nancy Goes Reto incorporated an incomplete 1930s top (pink blocks)
I bought an incomplete top from an antique shop and finished a 1930s Bow Tie quilt, Nancy Goes Retro. The added blocks included reproduction 30s fabrics and vintage fabrics.

I made a quilt for both of my grandmothers and for my mom's sister.

I made my Grandmother Gochenour an old-fashioned quilt,
a scrappy Bow Tie with hand quilting.
Grandma (Greenwood Ramer) Fisher with her quilt.
I set up a quilt room in the basement. The room was huge, one end well lighted, and it was well heated. Chris had a playroom on one side and kept himself busy while I sewed, making cities and roads with the fabric scraps and empty spools.
"The Quilters" hand quilting around a quilt frame
Holly and I joined the quilt group that met at the church. The ladies made quilt tops and sat around a frame to hand quilt, and sold the finished quilts. They used the funds to support charities.
A star sample made by The Quilters 
These ladies taught me so much. We went on group trips to quilt shops and quilt shows. We sold quilts in Topeka, IN and displayed them at Sauder Farm, OH.
Newspaper article on The Quilters includes information about the members, including me (beginning at lower right above and continuing below).
Newspaper article about The Quilters.
I am at the near right.
When I learned that the ladies had once put on a quilt show I started bugging them to have a show while Gary and I were still there. Sure, they said, if I do the organizing they would help with the manpower.

I knew I could do that. I did the advertising, made flyers, got ads and articles in the local paper, and listed the show in national magazines. We called it The Quilter's Palette and we ran it in conjunction with the annual town art and garden tour.
Newspaper article on the Quilter's Palette
with photo of my Sunflower applique quilt In the Garden
The show was a success. I had drawings with names and addresses so when we decided to run it the second year I had a mailing list to send postcards to. The second show was a success as well.

Newspaper article about the Quilter's Palette
showing quilts by Claire Booth

My Woodland Christmas 
I entered Quiltmaker Magazine's design contest twice. I won $100 each time, first for Dobbin's Fan and second for a Christmas Tree pattern. But I found out that they changed up my design quite a bit!
Quiltmaker Magazine with pattern based on my submission
I found the Dobbin's Fan block in an old book. It was
adopted for a pattern in Quiltmaker Magazine.
When a speaker from the Michigan State University Museum came to town to talk about the Michigan Quilt Project I saw a slide of a quilt I just loved, the Mountain Mist Sunflower Quilt. I bought the pattern, gathered fabrics, and hand appliqued and hand quilted it. I added bugs and creatures to the pattern. I had become a very good hand quilter.
In The Garden was my first big applique project.
With me and Chris.
In 1993 I saw a magazine advertisement for Handkerchief Quilts by Sharon Newman and I had to make a hanky quilt. I started collecting handkerchiefs and over the years have made numerous handkerchief quilts. I have 1,000 handkerchiefs in my collection!
Working on handkerchief quilts
We did not have much money and I wanted to my hobby to pay for itself. I taught basic skill classes at a quilt shop in Jackson, MI, sold quilts, and even was commissioned to make quilts.
One of my commissioned quilts was a Georgia Bonesteel pattern. Hand quilted.
We had missed P.J. so much after losing him. Chris and Gary were clamoring for another dog. I thought Chris was too young, and I did not want a dog that barked all the time or who thought it was the boss. I suggested Gary talk to the vet for suggestions.

The vet introduced Gary to Lacy who was in the office to be spade. She had given birth and the home breeders could not find homes for all the puppies. Lacy had one girl still needing a home. Gary liked Lacy and that evening he took Chris and I to meet Kili.
Chris and Kili. They have the same smile!
Kili was a four-month-old Shiba Inu. We just loved her and the next day brought her home. She was house broken and crate trained and was very well adjusted. She was the heart of our family for almost seventeen years.

Kili and Me
After Chris started Kindergarten I applied for jobs. I was hired to run a children's time at a bookstore in Jackson, MI. I read a book and led a craft project related to the book. I took my guitar and sang a song, too. I made a vest and I always wore it and a denim skirt.
newspaper article about my storyteller position at a bookstore
I applied to be a reading aid in the school. I did not get the job although the people I would have worked with were eager to have me. The Superintendent of Schools and I did not get along during the interview, especially after he asked illegal questions. I also applied to work for the library downtown, but the job went to a local man.

But I kept busy anyways. I taught a class for Senior Citizens through Discovery Through the Humanities.

When an opinion column appeared castigating the normalization of gay and lesbian parents I wrote a countering opinion. I had no idea how radical this was to do in a small community.

  I received several letters of support.

Chris was inattentive at school and after teachers complained we pressed the school to test him. They discovered what I already knew: in first grade, he read at a fifth-grade level and was a grade ahead in math. I had spent a lot of time with Chris, reading and doing learning activities. I later realized I had been homeschooling. Plus, PBS shows like Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street taught him all the basics.

Starting after Christmas break Chris was jumped to second grade with warnings that children rarely adjust. He was determined and did well. By third grade, he was happy and loved school. He had also joined the Scouts and Little League.

Gary and I had bought a pump organ and Gary took classes at the Conklin Reed Organ Museum to learn how to restore it. He also refinished a 1850s rosewood meoldian and bought a 1913 Victrola and started collecting 78 records.
Newspaper article on Gary's project restoring a pump organ
I had stumbled upon an auction one day and was fascinated. Gary and I soon were going to auctions, buying antiques, and for a while, I even had a booth in a local antique mall.

My quilt group made new church paraments and I contributed several sets.
I created the parament sets on the bottom.
Clair Booth made the communion sets on the top.
Church Conference report with photo showing parament I made
I made a liturgical stole for Gary and Easter Sunrise for behind the altar.

Easter Sunrise quilt by Nancy A. Bekofske
When an exchange student from Russia stayed with a parishioner's family I made a signature quilt for him so he could remember the church friends he had made in America.
Signature quilt I made for the Russian exchange student (on the left)
Our last year in Hillsdale I got a job as a part time church secretary at the Lutheran Church and also several temporary full-time jobs at Hillsdale College. I would have been hired full time at Hillsdale College but we knew we were going to be moved. How that happened is another story.

Hillsdale UMC