Byrd – Book Review

ByrdDear Byrd, This is how I told your father. We climbed up on his roof. We could see the ocean, wrinkles of light in the distance. I was wearing a billowy cotton skirt. I wanted to look soft, unthreatening, unselfconsciously pretty. I wanted your father to love me. My legs were pale, not used to sun in winter. I had painted my toenails lavender. I wanted him to be a little sorry he hadn’t love me all along. – from Byrd -

Addie Lockwood meets Roland Rhodes when they are young and impressionable. Growing up in a small Southern town in the 1970s, they connect briefly and then go their separate ways, only to re-connect in Venice Beach, California years later. Roland is a wannabe musician and Addy is a bookstore clerk. When Addy becomes pregnant, it is clear that Roland does not love her nor want to be a father. So when a botched abortion results in Addy giving birth to a son, she decides to surrender him for adoption without telling Roland.

Written in spare prose that packs an emotional punch, Byrd is about regret and motherhood and finding happiness in the small spaces. Kim Church has written poetry and short stories before publishing this debut novel, and her beautiful prose is a testament to finding just the right words to reel the reader into a story.

Addie writes letters to her child, who she named Byrd because she wanted a “name no one else would ever call you.” Her letters fill in the gaps in her life, and reveal a deep love for a son whom she has never known. Addie is a woman searching for meaning and love, grasping at small moments where she thinks happiness may be found. Roland is unreachable, a puzzle, an emotional void for Addie. But the reader learns more about him as Church peels back the layers of a sensitive and emotionally vulnerable man.

Byrd is one of those books that resonate when the reader turns the final page. There is an ache of loneliness, the sting of regret…and finally a burst of hope that makes the journey through Addie’s life well worth it. Church’s insight into the human psyche, her understanding of the struggle to make sense of past mistakes and difficult choices, is deeply provocative.

Readers who love spare, literary fiction which is riveting in its exploration of the human heart, will want to pick up a copy of this amazing novel.

Highly recommended.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.


The Invention of Wings – Book Review

Invention of WingsThose skinny ones stuck out from my back like nubs. She patted them and said, “This all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get ‘em back.” – from The Invention of Wings, page 1 -

Sarah Grimke and her sister,  Angelina, grew up in a privileged family in South Carolina during the 1800′s. They were two of the first female abolition activists, who later became feminist speakers and advocates. Despite their courage and impact on social advancement, they are not well known in our historical record.

Sue Monk Kidd has brought these two sisters to life in the pages of her remarkable novel, The Invention of Wings. The book focuses on Sarah, the older of the two sisters, and opens in 1803 when Sarah receives the gift of a slave girl for her eleventh birthday. Hetty “Handful” is ten years old, the daughter of an outspoken slave named Charlotte who works as the seamstress for the family. Narrated in the alternating voices of both Handful and Sarah, the story unfolds over nearly four decades.

Thematically, the novel explores the idea of freedom (or the lack thereof) both from the perspective of slavery and that of women’s rights. For Sarah, her dreams of doing something exceptional are squashed because she is a woman. For Handful, her life is limited by the fact that she is viewed as less than a person, someone who lives only to serve the needs of her “owners.” Both woman find a voice in Kidd’s novel, giving the reader a glimpse back in history to a time when women and blacks had no rights.

For me, Handful’s story was the more powerful. Her relationship with her mother, Charlotte, is well developed and tugs at the heartstrings. I especially appreciated the narrative thread about quilts and quilting. The rich history of quilting has been said to play an important role in the cause of abolition. In their book Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard explore the idea of a slave code which contained secret messages that helped direct slaves to freedom. The book has become controversial and many people have debunked its theory, but others are convinced of its truth (the book was based on oral testimony). Kidd uses this history in her book – Charlotte and Handful hide items by sewing them between the fabric of their quilts – and also explores the history of “story quilts” – a form of quilting whereby the quilter tells a story.

The Invention of Wings is a rich novel that reminds us of the often painful road to freedom for blacks and women. There are many historical characters included in the book, as well as fictional (Handful is a fictional character but is symbolic of the countless number of slaves who sought freedom in the 1800s). Kidd develops her characters well and her decision to use alternating points of view is a good one which gives the reader an in depth understanding of both Sarah and Handful.

Bittersweet, emotional, and eloquently crafted, The Invention of Wings will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially that which is based in the South during the early part of the nineteenth century.



Pillow Pop Round-Up: June

BlogButtonThe Pillow Pop group is a really fun sew along over on Threadbias. We’re making pillows from the fabulous book Pillow Pop all year long.

To learn more about the group, visit this post.

We’d love to have you join us. If you’re not already a member at Threadbias, why not join – it is free, and it is a great community of sewists.

We chose Photogenic (easy) and Sunburst (challenging) as the pillows for June…and here are the wonderful finishes with links back to each sewist’s project page. I hope you will click through to see the entire projects as the backs and quilting on each pillow are also fabulous.

Photogenic: A pillow which showcases a special fabric or embroidered design – the corner triangles evoke the feel of a photograph.


A palette of navy and peach softens this lovely pillow by Karen.


Marsha made a pair of coordinating pillows that are bold and beautiful.


I chose some vintage Heather Bailey fabric with large scale prints to make a summery pillow.


Cathie’s pillow highlights some amazing Aboriginal fabric that will really brighten up a room.

Sunburst: The traditional Dresden Plate design of this pillow can become contemporary or old-fashioned depending on the fabrics chosen.


Mary’s pillow has loads of “pop” with black and white fabrics and a punch of turquoise.


Margaret used darker hues to create her “moonburst” pillow.


Karen put an entirely different spin on her pillow by using Dresden Fans to make her pillow shine.


Carol’s Sunburst Pillow includes a sweet embroidered message.


Sue’s pillow has a vintage feel with a scrappy selection of 1930′s reproduction prints.

I hope you’ll think about joining us for July!


Whiskey Beach – Book Review

whiskeybeachThrough the chilly curtain of sleet, in the intermittent wash of the great light on the jutting cliff to the south, the massive silhouette of Bluff House loomed over Whiskey Beach. It faced the cold turbulent Atlantic like a challenge. I will last as long as you. - from Whiskey Beach, page 1 -

Bluff House has stood for more than three hundred years overlooking Whiskey Beach. Its secrets are well hidden. But now Eli Landon has come home to find refuge behind its walls. Accused of murdering his wife, he is free due to a lack of evidence, but his reputation is shattered and his career as a Boston attorney is over. Eli’s beloved grandmother has been hospitalized after a nasty fall down the stairs of the home, and Eli has agreed to watch over the place until she can return. But once back in the home of his youth, Eli becomes distracted by Abra Walsh, a feisty woman who keeps house for Eli’s grandmother, teaches yoga, works as a massage therapist and makes jewelry. Almost immediately there is tension between Abra and Eli…and a growing attraction. But if Eli thought he could escape his past and start over again at Bluff House, he couldn’t be more wrong. When Abra is attacked and other strange things begin to happen, Eli once again becomes the focus of a murder investigation and Bluff House’s dark past must be unraveled to give Eli back his life.

Whiskey Beach is a bit of a chunkster at over 450 pages, but Nora Roberts reels in the reader with her signature romance, suspense and captivating characters. As Abra and Eli give into their passions and then become a team trying to solve a centuries old mystery, the novel picks up pace. At times the plot felt a bit contrived to me, and some of the “twists” were a little predictable…but what makes the novel work is Roberts’ skill at connecting her characters and creating chemistry and sizzle on the page.

I don’t tend to read a ton of Nora Roberts, but when I do, I always enjoy this guilty pleasure. Whiskey Beach is a terrific summer read – not overly heavy, but with plenty to keep the reader glued to the pages.

Readers who enjoy suspense-romance novels will not be disappointed in Whiskey Beach.


Pillow Pop Round-Up: May

BlogButtonThe Pillow Pop group is a really fun sew along over on Threadbias. We’re making pillows from the fabulous book Pillow Pop all year long.

To learn more about the group, visit this post.

We’d love to have you join us. If you’re not already a member at Threadbias, why not join – it’s free, and it is a great community of sewists.

We chose Don’t Be Square (easy) and Fresh Bloom (challenging) as the pillows for May…and here are the wonderful finishes with links back to each sewist’s project page. I hope you will click through to see the entire projects as the backs and quilting on each pillow are also fabulous.

Don’t Be Square: A crisp, solid background allows small pops of color to shine.

DontBeSquare.Terry DontBeSquare.Margaret

Both Terry and Margaret used cream backgrounds, but Terry chose an array of grays and yellows, while Margaret introduced blues and taupes to make their squares pop.


Belinda’s pillow became a high school graduation gift with the school’s mascot appliqued in the center.


Marsha had some fun with all that negative space and did some intricate quilting to make her pillow shine.


I couldn’t resist using some Scrumptious fabric by Bonni and Camille, and then tried out a new type of quilting to fill the negative space.

 Fresh Bloom: Raw edge applique and a variety of scraps give this pillow a one-of-a-kind signature.


Carol’s selection of raspberry and pink with some hints of green, gives definition and beauty to this pillow.


Mary also chose a pink palette, but then added some half moons and smaller circles to give her pillow a one-of-a-kind appeal.


Cathie selected a medium gray background and then added in shades of gold to create her blossom.


I selected golds, oranges and dark grays against an ash background to create a bloom of color.

I hope you will visit each pillow’s dedicated project page to learn more about the quilters’ choices and see the lovely backs on each pillow.

Dresden Baby Quilt with Prairie Points

AltheasQuilt.Front.010001*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view.

My husband’s cousin and her husband just had their first child (a girl) in mid-May. Lena, the baby’s mom, is a bit traditional, but she is also in her early 20s so I wanted to give her a traditional baby quilt with a modern “pop.” The baby’s room is green and yellow, so those colors became my inspiration for the color palette for this quilt.

I thought a Dredsen quilt was the perfect choice and found some really sweet fabrics in my stash – flowers and dots in green, yellow, blue, and red. I chose a red with white dot fabric from the Delilah collection by Tanya Whelan  for Free Spirit (also in my stash) for the centers of the Dresdens and for the cornerstones.

AltheasQuilt.Front.Detail0001The solids in this quilt are from Cotton Couture: Candlelight (yellow) and Bright White. The green border is a print from True Colors by Heather Bailey.

I used Fig Tree’s easy piecing method for Dresden Plate blocks (which comes from their Little Lollies pattern which you can find here). This is a super simple way to make this block. I straight-line, top stitched the dresdens and centers to the background fabric about an 1/8th” from the edges.

AltheasQuilt.OnRail0001I decided I really wanted to make Prairie Points for this quilt – something I have never done! And it seemed destined I do so when I saw that the Fat Quarter Shop’s notion of the month was the Quick Point Rulers. I chose the 2″ X 4″ ruler for my quilt…and watched the video on how to use the ruler before cutting. I am here to tell you, this is THE simplest way to make Prairie Points…accurate, fast, and easy. I decided on two fabrics – both from the Delilah Collection by Tanya Whelan: the red with white dot and the white with red dot.

AltheasQuilt.BackReveal0001 AltheasQuilt.PrairiePoints0001

Here is what the Prairie Point strips look like before being added to the quilt:

AltheasQuilt.PrairiePointsBefore applying0001The back is a soft yellow Minky dimple dot – just like butter and perfect for a baby!


I quilted this one very simply with echo quilting and straight lines, which is best seen from the back.


The quilt measures 44″ X 44″


I was very, very happy to be able to gift this on in person during our trip across the country…


Are you ready for cute baby photos??!?

AltheasQuilt.DeliveredwithMe010001 AltheasQuilt.DeliveredwithMe020001



Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals – Book Review

KnowledPhysicalTherapyAnimalsge is power. Animals deserve all we can give them. – from the Introduction -

Physical Therapist Susan E. Davis spent more than thirty years using her skills to treat human patients, and then decided to funnel her love for animals into her career. She trained at the University of Tennessee’s Veterinary School and opened a canine and small animal practice in 2008. Her book – Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals – focuses on physical therapy for canines, although she does talk a bit about other species.

I was particularly interested in reading this book as I am also a licensed physical therapist, having worked twenty-five years in the field, mostly in geriatrics, neurological disability and with adults with developmental delay. Anyone who comes to my blog also knows how much I love animals, especially dogs. When I was training my dog, Caribou, for search and rescue I found myself in the unique position to offer her some physical therapy. After all, despite differences in anatomy, much of what I have learned treating humans can be used to treat our four legged friends. Caribou suffered from elbow dysplasia (an Ununited Anconeal Process) and underwent surgery for this condition. Following the surgery, I provided ultra sound treatment, massage and range of motion exercises and used my knowledge as a physical therapist to gradually increase her exercise under the guidance of the surgeon and my veterinarian. Caribou went on to become a certified search and rescue dog in three disciplines and worked until she was nine years old going on multiple searches in and around California.

Susan Davis is doing pet owners, and also those with working dogs, a great service in sharing her knowledge of the field of physical therapy for animals. Although I provided PT for Caribou, I was not specifically trained in working with animals…and I would encourage pet owners to seek the skills of someone who has gone through that specialty training and received the appropriate certification. At the time I was working my dog, there were very few practitioners in this field…but that is changing now.

Davis’s book is written so that anyone can understand it. There are helpful chapter divisions including how the field has emerged and developed, how to choose a therapist (and what to expect), various forms of treatment, use of therapeutic exercise, use of equipment, explanation of various orthopedic and neurological conditions and how to treat them, rehabilitation of medical conditions and a special section on performance enhancement for show, agility, sport, and working dogs. Davis spends some time educating the pet owner on expectations of therapy and provides an appendix of helpful resources.

I found the book well organized, well written and a great resource for my library on care for my dog. Pet owners, as well as those who have working or agility/sport dogs, will find Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals an essential reference book.

Highly recommended.


Saving Fish From Drowning – Book Review

SavingFish“Just saying we should be aware of the consequences. You can’t have intentions without consequences. The question is, who pays for the consequences? Saving fish from drowning. Same thing. Who’s saved? Who’s not?” - from Saving Fish From Drowning, page 163 -

Bibi Chen is a well-known patron of the arts in San Francisco when she is found dead. Her death might be murder, but who knows? Even Bibi herself, who remains on earth in spirit form, is unsure of how she died. Before her death, Bibi had planned a journey of the senses for her friends – a trip to China and then along the Burma Road…and she intends to still go with them to see how they do without her.

Narrated in the omniscient voice of Bibi, Saving Fish From Drowning takes the reader on a journey to the East, into a country rife with political drama where anything can happen…and does. Tan intentionally blurs fact and fiction, and explores the consequences (intended or not) of our choices and intentions. Almost from the start, Bibi’s friends change their itinerary and wander astray, deliciously ignorant of the differences in culture, religion and political atmosphere from their home in the United States vs. that in Burma and China.

She had heard that many Americans, especially those who travel to China, love Buddhism. She did not realize that the Buddhism the Americans before her loved was Zen-like, a for of not-thinking, not-moving, and not-eating anything living, like buffaloes. This blank-minded Buddhism was practiced by well-to-do people in San Francisco and Marin County, who bought organic-buckwheat pillows for sitting on the floor, who paid experts to teach them to empty their minds of the noise of life. This was quite different from the buffalo-torture and bad-karma Buddhism found in China. - from Saving Fish From Drowning, page 77 -

The characters in the novel are lovingly imagined, idiosyncratic and deeply complex. Tan writes with a sardonic humor to explore her themes of morality, consequences, and the connections between people of different cultures and socioeconomic means. There are surprising twists, and insights into the characters and their situations.

Amy Tan is the consummate storyteller. She spins a fantastic yarn in this novel, and in the process delights and entertains the reader.

Highly recommended.


Flying Geese Block Tutorial

**Click on any photo to enjoy a larger view

This tutorial is for a scrappy flying geese block which measures 16.5″ X 16.5″ unfinished. This block uses 8 flying geese units laid out in a 2 X 4 block placement. This is one possible layout option (all geese pointing in the same direction):

DSC_0366For this tutorial, the background of each Goose Unit will utilize a variety of solid gray OR low volume prints that use gray. The centers of the geese will be fabrics which coordinate with the 2wenty Thr3e collection by Julie and Eric Comstock of Cosmo Cricket for Moda.

There are many ways to make the Flying Geese units. I used two different techniques – one the “traditional” stitch and flip method; the other a quick technique which yields 4 flying geese units with the same center fabric. I was able to get a nice scrappy block using the combination of techniques, but found that it was easier to get an accurate block with the stitch and flip method. Below you will find the instructions for BOTH methods. Each flying geese unit will measure 4.5″ X 8.5″ so that when sewn together, the completed block will be 16.5″ X 16.5″.

Quick Technique to Yield FOUR Flying Geese Units

  • Cut (1) square of fabric which measures 9.25″ X 9.25″ – this will be the center of each unit, or the “geese”
  • Cut (4) 4-7/8″ X 4-7/8″ squares of your background fabric – you should choose four DIFFERENT fabrics to yield a scrappy unit

Cutting.4blocks1Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of each 4-7/8″ square (the background fabric):

DrawLine.4blocks1Lay two of these background squares on the 9.25″ square of colored fabric (RST) in opposite corners as shown below. Note, the background fabric squares will overlap slightly in the middle. Your drawn lines should line up so that you have one long drawn line from corner to corner.

Sewing.4block01Sew a SCANT 1/4″ on either side of the long drawn line:


After sewing on either side of the drawn line, carefully cut along the drawn line, separating your work into two identical pieces:

SeparateBlocks.4block SeparatingBlocks.4block02

Press open towards the triangles. I use light spray starch to press on the sew line FIRST, and then carefully pressed the seam towards the triangles. After pressing, your block should look like this:

DSC_0347You will have TWO pieces which look like the photo above. Lay one unit aside and use the other unit to do the following:

STEP ONE: Place another background 4-7/8″ square RST on the last remaining corner of your colored fabric (in the photo above, it is that nice big space below the triangles). Line up the edges along the bottom – you will have some overlaps between the triangles and your drawn diagonal line should go from the corner of your colored fabric up through the middle of the triangles as shown below:

DSC_0348STEP TWO: Once again, you will stitch a SCANT 1/4″ on either side of the drawn line:

DSC_0350STEP THREE: After  sewing on either side of the drawn line, carefully cut along the drawn line, separating your work into two geese units:


STEP FOUR: Press your block open by pressing toward the triangle. Your finished units should measure 4.5″ X 8.5″. There should be a 1/4″ from the tip of each goose to the edge of the fabric (which is your seam allowance):

DSC_0354Take the second piece which you laid aside and repeat steps ONE through FOUR to create your final two geese units.

You should now have FOUR completed geese units which have the same fabric in the centers and a mix of background fabrics. You will need to make FOUR more geese units to complete the final block. To make your block scrappier, it is recommended that you use the stitch and flip method to make these final four units.

Stitch and Flip Method of Making Flying Geese Units

The following instructions will yield ONE flying goose unit. To make four units, you will need to repeat the instructions four times using different fabrics to yield scrappy blocks.

  • Cut out (1) rectangle of colored fabric measuring 4.5″ X 8.5″ (this will make the goose part of the block – or the central fabric)
  • Cut out (2) 4.5″ X 4.5″ squares of background fabric – for a scrappier look, choose two different fabrics

Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of each 4.5″ square (the background fabric):

DrawLine.4blocks1Lay one background square on one side of the 4.5″ X 8.5″ rectangle (RST) making sure your drawn line goes from one corner of the rectangle to the center of the rectangle.


Stitch along the drawn line (**HELPFUL HINT: to improve accuracy, stitch just a smidge along the OUTSIDE of the drawn line – ie: in the photo above to the RIGHT of the drawn line – this will give you a little extra fabric for when you do the flip part of the block and you can always trim off excess fabric if needed). IF you have prepared all four units for sewing, you can speed things up by chain piecing – which is what I am doing in the photo below.


Give your fabric a shot of spray starch and press, then flip the lower part of the square over and press toward the corner. Once pressed, you can then re-open the fabric and carefully trim back the excess fabric 1/4″ away from the sew line and then flip the fabric back over. You will have completed one half of the goose unit at this point.

Next place the second 4.5″ square of background fabric (RST) on the opposite corner of the 4.5″ X 8.5″ rectangle (in the photo below you can see the flipped side laying flat):

DSC_0360Again, stitch along the drawn line or just to the outside of it, and again (as above) press with spray starch, flip the bottom up, press, then flip back and trim away the excess. Your unit is now finished.


Putting Together Your Units to Make the Final Block

You will need EIGHT (8) completed flying geese units. Although I used two techniques in making mine, you could easily create all 8 scrappy units individually by using the stitch and flip method.

Lay out your units in two vertical rows, being careful to mix things up a bit. All the points of your geese units should be pointing in the same direction. Once you have a nice layout, stitch together each vertical row, laying one unit on the next, RST, so that the point of one unit is lined up with the flat side of the unit above it.

*HELPFUL HINT: If you have pieced your units correctly, you should have a 1/4″ seam allowance at each point. To be sure not to lose your point, place the two units you are going to sew together (RST) with the point side ON TOP. As you stitch across the point, you will see that the seams have made an “X”. You will want to stitch just a smidge to the outside of the “X” (on the side of the seam) or through its middle, but NOT to the left of the “X” (click on the photo below to see this detail):


PRESS YOUR SEAMS OPEN between each unit.

Here is how your vertical units will look once joined:

DSC_0361Once all the units are joined vertically, you will need to decide if you are going to join these vertical rows so that all the geese point in one direction:

DSC_0364Or if one row will point up and the other will point down:


Once you have decided on the layout, stitch the vertical units together, lining up the seams. Once sewn together, press your vertical seam OPEN (this will make it easier when joining blocks to make the finished quilt).

That’s it! Now make a bunch of these blocks and piece them together to make an amazing quilt!!!

A Sunrise Quilt for my Sister

VoileAroundWorld.Front.010001This quilt was made for my sister, Paula who is my best friend and partner in crime when it comes to quilting. In many ways, Paula is my hero…she is extremely courageous, gritty and fearless. I wanted to make her a really special quilt…and this is it.

This quilt measures 72″ X 60″ and I used the Scrappy Trip Around the World pattern. I decided to finally cut into my stash of voiles – fabrics that I have been collecting for about 3 years whenever I saw them on sale, or saw a print I couldn’t live without. Most of them are from Anna Maria Horner collections, but there are also some Valorie Wells prints in there. I controlled the scrappiness of this quilt by making sure that the dark blues always ran down the center of every block…otherwise, I simply paired fabrics any old way.

VoileAroundWorld.OnRail.010001Voile is not all that hard to work with if you control some of the “floatiness” of it – I used light spray starch which really helped with the cutting part of things. I also used a very fine, Microtex needle.

The back is Shannon Minky Dimple Dot in Dusty Rose which I ordered from The Minky Boutique (I first ordered samples in order to chose the color – this shop is very easy to work with and offers discounts on purchases of 5 yards or more).

VoileAroundWorld.Back.010001 VoileAroundWorld.CloseUp0001

The binding is a Kaffe Fassett Shot Cotton which picks up the blues, purples and pinks in the quilt top.

VoileAroundWorld.Binding0001I used the embroidery function on my sewing machine to craft the label, then hand stitched it on the back with perl cotton thread.

VoileAroundWorld.Label010001 VoileAroundWorld.BackReveal.010001

The quilting on this is straight lines following the diagonals and diamond patterns from the front (you can see it best by looking at the photo of the back of the quilt).

The batting is 100% silk for a great drape and lots of warmth.

VoileAroundWorld.DrapedOnSwing.010001My goal was to create a super soft, cuddly and warm quilt that represented something extraordinary. A friend of mine told me it reminded her of a sunrise when I first showed her the photos of this quilt on my design wall…and so that was my inspiration for the name of this quilt!

VoileAroundWorld.BackReveal.020001I was able to deliver this to Paula in person on my trip back to New England…so of course I’m going to show you some photos of that…







reading a good book with a furchild by my side