Friday, October 31, 2008


Yes, she looks a bit like Queen Elizabeth, even a British woman we met in Florence thought so. We were sitting in the cathedral of the Duomo, catching our breath, and a British woman joined us in conversation. When Valery asked, the woman agreed that Velda did resemble the queen. Like the Queen, Velda was always well turned out. I never saw her without jewelry coordinated to her outfit. We will miss this Queen of our hearts.

Velda had a generous heart. I received several sweet thoughtful gifts from her over the years. She was famous for her blanched, toasted almonds. She often sent Christmas cookies, and who can forget her chocolate mint zucchini bread?

She became more present in my life after brother Ken moved to the Seattle area. She and Ronda were the only family Ken had in the area and they became very important to him as his life closed in on him during his terminal illness.
Especially memorable was a dinner at Ken’s new (to him) condo in Issaquah.

On another occasion, we had Thanksgiving dinner at Ken’s first Washington condo in Des Moines.

Here we all are at Connie and Dieter’s wedding. Valery, my mother (Ruthanne, not pictured), Velda, Ernabeth, and I drove down together from Sacramento for the occasion. In addition to the wedding, the trip was memorable for an earthquake on the following morning.

The most memorable time I spent with Velda was our trip to Florence, Venice and Lake Lugano, Switzerland when Janet’s daughter Chrissy married Lorenzo in Florence.

As always, Velda looked regal – here with mother of the bride, cousin Janet. Notice that Velda is dressed in “royal” purple.

We shared rooms and meals for two weeks and had a fabulous time. In addition to the wedding, Velda’s 89th birthday was cause for celebration. Velda realized the dream of a life time when we went for a gondola ride in Venice.

La Dolce Vida

Valery and Velda rode a funicula and then climbed a zillion steps to reach this mountain top above Lake Lugano while I languished in the hotel, nursing a smashed toe. Velda displayed amazing stamina and abundant energy throughout the trip.

On Top of the World

Don’t they look cute, dressed all in pink and blue?

Velda chats up the Florentine lace vendor

Velda was great at striking up conversations with people. We learned she didn’t even need to speak their language to engage them. She managed with gestures and song to explain to the restaurateurs at our favorite Florentine restaurant that it was her 89th birthday and the whole place sang to her and celebrated. She told me she would come to see me for my 70th birthday. It’s next April. I’ll be thinking of her then and missing her.

The Nichols descendants include several “sister pairs. ” In addition to Velda and Ernabeth, I can think of Christine and Lynette, Connie and Janet, and Valery and me. It’s hard to think of one without conjuring up the other. I’m sure the loss of her sister is unbearable for Ernabeth. My heart goes out to her.

In addition to her family, I know she leaves a big hole in the community where she has given countless hours of service. I also know that Cory and his family were a big part of Velda’s life. And George who so generously co-hosted her 90th birthday and the memorial gathering, and gave unstintingly of his decorating advice! These are people Velda spoke of and I know she carried them close to her heart. I’m sure there are many others.

I can’t imagine Ronda's loss. From these pictures, it is evident what a devoted daughter she was and how much time she spent with her mother. I hope she gets some comfort from knowing what a special lady her mother was and how much she will be missed by so many.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I finished Nichole's birthday quilt yesterday, 19 days after her October 9th birthday, and put it in the mail today. This one is called "Metamorphosis,"
symbolic of the changes in all of our lives during the past year that the quilt has been under construction, and because there are butterflies in the batik print around the border. The square at the right is my first pieced block, assembled last October when friend Irene was visiting. She is an excellent quilter and patiently helped me stumble through my first efforts.

On my trip to the Post Office this morning, I noticed that gas is now $1.96.9

On Monday, a local lawn-mowing frenzy signalled the end of the growing season --everyone was giving their lawns one last going over before storing the mowers away for the winter. In California, we mowed all year.

Tonight Ben and Logan will rehearse "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Ben is Linus and Logan is Snoopy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

People of the Earth

We are such farmers! Tonight has been forecast to be the first freeze of the season and tomorrow night is predicted to reach a low of 25 degrees. So, we dug up the sweet potatoes and the remaining carrots. Logan spaded and raked one of the garden beds where I will plant bulbs for spring blooms. I'm going to dedicate at least one other bed to local annuals that attract hummingbirds and butterflies (and are pest resistant). We'll wait till spring to decide whether we will plant any veggies. We've joined a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for winter vegetables and cheese. That should yield potatoes, winter squash and lots of root vegetables that we will learn to eat (rutabagas, parsnips, turnips, etc.). I've discovered that if vegetables are roasted with EVOO and garlic, we will eat them. There will also be hot house salad greens and herbs as well as a different cheese each week. The farm (Milsap Farm) also produces free range chickens and eggs. I think CSA membership may be the solution to my hunting/gathering vs agriculture dilemma of a couple of weeks ago.

Gas is down to $2.13, maybe the lowest price in the nation. However, Logan's braces really are going to cost $6,000. I did some price comparisons last week and there seems to be a local orthodonture cartel that effectively keeps prices about $3500 above the same treatment in California. Oh well, if gas stays $1 a gallon cheaper for the foreseeable future, it will all even out in about 6 to 10 years.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Strike Up the Band!

Ben's school band is going to appear in a Public Service Announcement on National TV. The Bob Woodruff Family Trust funded the filming of a spot featuring the band playing at the town square. The square was chosen as being typical of mid-America. The PSA will run the week of Veteran's Day and I wouldn't be surprised if it aired on ABC (Woodruff's network). For more information see the article in the paper and the Woodruff Foundation website
This picture was taken last year; this year Ben is playing the quads (four drums).

Here's Valery!

Here's Valery riding the range at Colleen's while I was visiting in California last week. Of course, you realize she is sitting still in this photo. I am here to testify that she actually did put Robby's quad in motion and go for a little ride. I wasn't brave enough to try, but Kathy and Valery each gave it a go.
When she wasn't riding, we (Colleen,too) shopped at Raley's and put together a fabulous meal. Valery's friend Scott joined us for dinner. The menu was:

Salmon or chicken breasts topped with peach/avocado chutney
Roasted red potatoes with garlic and rosemary
Roasted asparagus spears
Spaghetti squash with basil, walnuts and tomato.

It was delicious and gorgeous, I wish I had taken a picture.

Meanwhile back at home, time had taken its toll on our formerly gorgeous pumpkins. I guess I won't be making pies from them. Pretty scary.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Home Sweet Home

The ocean is still there, just west of California. For peace of mind, I need to check up on it from time to time. Also, California still hangs on to the western edge of the continent; it has not tumbled into the Pacific during my absence. California will always be the seat of my soul, but Missouri is home. I felt a strong magnetic pull toward home as I traveled the last couple of miles from the airport on my return journey. I'm not sure if it is the place, or the fact that the boys live there. For now, it feels right. Oh my God, I missed them. Grandpa Steve and Julia did a fabulous job, the boys were happy while I was gone, and happy when I returned. I heard no complaints about either my absence or my presence. Although, Logan did mention that I don't serve as many desserts as Grandma Julia.

Heartwarming reunions and fabulous food were the features of my week. I reunited with relatives and work colleagues every day. Women I worked with in 1985 gathered one evening and we feasted on food for the mind, body, and soul. My trip was planned around the Pacific International Quilt Show in Santa Clara. It was interesting, but not so interesting as the time I spent with host Irene and cousin Lynette on the same day. Two days spent with my dear friend of nearly half a century, Nancy, were way too short. She also facilitated my reunion with the Pacific and with the fabulous Pasta Moon restaurant in Half Moon Bay. She is a person I could spend days in silence with, yet come away having learned something and feeling loved. All the people I love and commune with are life-long learners. I hope I qualify.

And my dear daughter Colleen. I am so proud of her and the life she has built for herself. She lives on a wonderful piece of property (never mind the rattlesnakes) in the Sierra Foothills that emanates tranquility. Meeting with treasured friends and relatives in her home was a privilege. She is a warm, gracious, and generous hostess. I was deeply touched by the time that dear friend Lisa, her husband Brent, kids Alexandra and Cameron carved out of their lives to spend with us. Brother Rick and his partner Kathy came to visit on short notice and helped warm my heart. I never see enough of any of them.

Tomorrow, we return to the comfortable day-to-day of our lives and I am content. I did not get to see all the friends and relatives I love, but I have seen many of them one way or the other during the past year. Maybe I'll catch up with the rest of them next year.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Weather report

It was clear and chilly last night, so why did the tornado sirens go off at 9:30 P.M.? I sniffed around and all I came up with was the scent of a skunk, hardly cause to go to the storm shelter. Must have been a system malfunction -- I'm learning why the locals tend to ignore warnings.

The leaf-bare walnut trees await one more strong wind to bring down the rest of the walnuts and to bring out the gleaners. Fallen nuts don't stay on the ground for long around here; loaded pickup trucks carry off the harvest. The walnuts are the last to get their leaves in the spring and the first to lose them in the fall. The maples are just beginning to turn while the hickory, ash, and oak forests are still green. I'm sure it will be a very different landscape when I return from California. I'm hoping the frost holds off because I'm planning to leave the sweet potatoes in the ground until I return.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I'm leaving on Friday for California while Grandpa and Julia come and stay with the kids. Here's what I need to do:
1. Clean house
2. Get the Medical POA forms in order -- organize with health cards, birth certificates, etc.
3. Make out the kids schedule for the week.
4. Hem the new outfit I'm taking with me.
5. Get a pedicure
6. Go grocery shopping
7. Pay bills
8. Let people in California know my schedule and plans
9. Pack
10. Clean the refrigerator

Here's what I am doing:
10. Reading a novel
9. Catching up on the New Yorkers
8. Sorting clothes to take to the Thrift Shop
7.Taking the dogs for a walk
6. Staring out the window, watching the rain
5. Working on a quilt
4. Googling everything I thought I might ever want to know
3. Archiving old photos
2. Blogging
1. Photographing blog

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Whole Cloth

I finished this hand-appliqued quilt top a couple of days ago and now will put it away until my quilting teacher appears. Twice I have signed up for classes and both times the classes were canceled due to insufficient enrollment. I'm certain that when I'm ready the teacher will appear. How Buddhist is that?
These gorgeous fall days and anticipation of my upcoming trip to California have ramped up my productivity in all areas. I love it. With day time temps in the 70's, chilling to the mid-40's overnight, I am filled with energy. God willing, I may even clean the garage and the car. In my chauvinistic, atavistic thinking, I keep waiting for the man of the house to do those chores. However, like the quilting teacher, he has yet to appear.
Quilting has made me realize how much I love textiles as a mode of expression. I have dabbled with them in the past, making clothing, soft sculptures, painting garments, etc., but never with any continuity. As I look back over my life, I can think of two things I wish I had done more of: exploring the Sierras, and exploring textile art forms. It's too late to go cross-country skiing and backpacking, but at least I can still do some work with textiles. Somehow I missed the clues that presented themselves earlier in my life. I have always been fascinated with Christo and his use of fabric combined with landscape and architecture, and I remember the rapturous feeling of exploring the Cluny museum in Paris, opening drawers to exhibits of fabrics centuries and even thousands of years old. These fabrics are displayed in wooden cabinets like map drawers, under glass, and you can just pull the drawer open and see remnants of ancient fabrics. I love the connection to the mind of a human being from the dim past through something expressed by their hands.