Never Far Away

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The night before, we laughed and hugged.

I said goodbye and love you, too. Just like I always do.

And that was it. We didn’t know it was the last time.

When morning came, we rushed to your side,

only to find you closed your eyes and just let go.

Long before this moment arrived, you promised

you’d never be far away.

I never once questioned it, I always believed.

You said not to cry, but I did anyway. We all did.

The tears, however, did not stay.  Because I remembered,

you are never far away.

I still hear your laugh and words of wisdom.

Our memories make me smile, they never fade.

It’s been a year without your touch, but I can still feel you.

I miss you so much, but find comfort in knowing

as promised, you are never far away

A place of many wonderful memories.
Big Portage Lake, near Land O’Lakes, WI
Photo by: c.b.w. 2013

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For Grandma – I love you.

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c.b.w. 2013

Sewing With Grandma

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One of the most precious memories I have of my Grandma is how much she loved to sew. She made beautiful patchwork quilts, pillows, and placemats out of calico prints and scraps of fabric. I loved watching her choose a color scheme, trace the pattern, and cut out the pieces. It was like watching an artist create a masterpiece.

One summer, my Grandma decided to make the most difficult quilt she’d ever attempted.  The flower basket pattern looks simple enough, but the difficulty lies in making sure each and every corner meets up without a gap. There’s about three dozen geometric pieces in each block! On top of that, she wanted to cover the borders and empty spaces with intricate stitch designs.

For most sewers this is a challenge, but my Grandma added a bonus challenge. She believed that patchwork quilts were best when made by hand. That meant tracing and cutting each piece individually and hand-sewing every single stitch. I remember watching her at the kitchen table with stacks of fabric and quilt templates. And how could I forget her sewing blocks together while in the car (it was a looooong drive into town) and even when flying (back in the days when it was okay to bring scissors on a plane).

A few years ago, my Grandma passed her crowning achievement to me. I’ve always treasured it, but now that she’s gone, her flower basket quilt is absolutely priceless.

Grandma's Handiwork: Flower Basket Quilt

Grandma’s Handiwork: Flower Basket Quilt

I love how I can still see her pencil marks and that I can remember her sewing some of the petal stitches. In particular, I have a distinct memory of her using pink thread to make the flowers in the upper right corner.

Grandma's stitched flowers and swirls.

Grandma’s stitched flowers and swirls.

As soon as I was old enough to hold a needle without hurting myself, my Grandma started to teach me how to sew. She taught me how to make invisible knots and how to evenly space stitches. Just like her, I learned how to do everything by hand. To this day, I make my quilts the traditional way.

I made my first micro-quilt when I was about nine years old.  While she was working on a larger Tumbler pattern quilt, I used a few scrap pieces to make a smaller version:

Tumbler Quilts. Grandma made the big one and I made the little one.

Tumbler Quilts. Grandma made the big one and I made the little one.

The bright yellow piece on my quilt was actually sewn in on purpose. One of the special things my Grandma taught me was to make sure there was an “oddball” piece or a mistake in every quilt. This was important because it paid homage to the pioneers who used nothing but scraps to make quilts. They didn’t have beautiful fabrics or the luxury of perfectly matching colors and we shouldn’t forget that tradition. Can you find the “mistake” in her quilt?

One of the last projects we ever worked on together was a quilt I started when I was sixteen. It took ten years for me to complete all the blocks (college kind of distracted me), but she was still there to help me lay out the border and trace the quilting lines. Then, there was one evening when we were both on the floor rolling out the backing and pinning all the layers together. I couldn’t have done it without her!

Another few years went by before I finally finished the quilt. I am so grateful that she got to see it before she passed away. Along with her flower basket quilt, my eight-point star quilt holds memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.

The last quilt I worked on with my Grandma.

The last quilt I worked on with my Grandma.

Yes, there are a few on-purpose mistakes in this quilt! Can you find them?

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c.b.w. 2013

Grandma’s Rainbows

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It’s been a little more than a month since my Grandma passed away. I’ve worked through the grief in a number of ways, but I’m still holding true to the promise I made to her. Whenever I feel sadness coming on, I simply dig into my memories and find one that makes me happy.

While cleaning out my closets and drawers, I came across some old crystals that at one time created one of my Grandma’s favorite things: rainbows. She always hung crystals from her window, so the sun would catch them and throw rainbows all over the floors, walls, and ceiling.  I remember her teaching me how to hang them with fishing line and how to swing them so the rainbows would race across the room in a crazy cyclone of color.

Grandma's Rainbow Makers Photo by: c.b.w. 2013

Grandma’s Rainbow Makers
Photo by: c.b.w. 2013

The heart crystal was my Grandma’s favorite. I have to agree with her because it creates the largest and brightest rainbows when the sun hits it just right.

When I moved into my own home, I tried to hang crystals from the window, but my cat would not leave them alone. Every day she’d swat at them until they came down, so I had to put them in a drawer to keep them from breaking. I learned to live without the rainbows for the last 8 years, but I decided it was time to bring them back. My cat will learn just how “fun” a squirt bottle can be if she even thinks about swatting!

My Grandma gave me five different crystals long before she died, but I also inherited a couple of new ones. They all now hang from my kitchen window with “invisible string.” Come late afternoon, Grandma’s rainbows scatter throughout my house. I like to think of them as a little “hello” from her each day.

A very bright hello from Grandma! Photo by: c.b.w. 2013

A very bright hello from Grandma!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2013

Note: This particular rainbow came from the heart-shaped crystal. It was at least 8 inches long and 4 inches wide! I did nothing to alter the color or lighting in this picture. The colors really were incredibly vibrant, even in a dark corner. It’s easy to see why that particular crystal was Grandma’s favorite!

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c.b.w. 2013

In Grandma’s Words

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While the last week has been filled with emotions ranging from laughter to tears, I’ve had one thing to keep me grounded through it all. More than three years before my grandma died, she wrote a poem to my sister and I to remind us of how her passing is not necessarily an end. I am so thankful to her for writing these words . . .

And so my dears
my time is near

Please no tears
and have no fear

I know where I’ll be
you will be, too
eventually

In the meantime
we’ll rely on memories
We have many of them
and I know they’ll pop up

I hate to go
I love you so
Remember me,
I’ll come to you
Just stay aware
for I’ll be there
Listen with your heart

Sunbeams in a Wisconsin Sky Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

Sunbeams in a Wisconsin Sky
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

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Today we say goodbye to Grandma, but not really. She said she’d always be around and I believe her.

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c.b.w. 2012

Playing Cards With Grandma

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One of my favorite memories of my Grandma has to do with a deck of cards. When I was a little girl around eight years old, she taught me how to play Double Solitaire, Rummy, and the best one of all, Canasta. To this day, I play a mean game of Canasta thanks to a very feisty lady who always played as if a national title was on the line. I loved that about her, (and I inherited some of that competitive edge).

While the game was fun, the time we spent laughing and strategizing from the first hand to the last was precious. The last few years of her life made it impossible to hold cards or remember the rules, so it’s actually been a long time since I thought about our many games together. Revisiting these memories is an absolute joy . . .

  • When I was learning to play Rummy, Grandma refused to let me win. I must have lost 50 games before I finally got her and that’s only because my Grandpa decided to teach me the “finer points of the game.” While frustrating to lose so much, I certainly learned persistence pays off.
  • She used the same tactic to teach me Canasta.
  • Grandma loved to save aces and tens. She always said tens were my Aunt Kathy’s cards, but I think she said that to throw me off the scent. I caught on quick.
Grandma would love to play this hand in a game of Canasta!

Grandma would love to play this hand in a game of Canasta!

  • I loved to save low cards, because I knew she’d always toss them.
  • Grandma couldn’t resist picking up the pile, even if there wasn’t anything good in it. I have no idea why!
  • We would get hand cramps from holding so many cards in a game of Canasta.
  • When I was younger, she always kept score. She counted her fingers to help her add and I remember how she had trouble subtracting when it was necessary to borrow. As I got older, she passed on the scorekeeping to me . . . and I know she kept an eye on my math.
  • Grandma always swore under her breath when it looked like she was going to lose. It was hilarious! She never used any profanity around my sister and I except during a game of cards. She always said, “S**t!” when the score went in my favor towards the end of a game.
  • Canasta was a bit like a blood sport. Both of us loved the strategy. Grandma liked to lay her cards down quickly, but she always kept a pair in her hand so she could snatch the pile and create a “natural.” I had a knack for landing wild cards, which I never revealed until the end. I also loved freezing the pile with them. That strategy usually backfired, though, because Grandma always seemed to have a black three!
  • After years of playing, we looked up the rules and realized we had been playing somewhat incorrectly all along. We’d reversed the colors for a canasta (red) and a natural (black), we assigned the wrong opening point totals, and I think there were a couple of other rules we got wrong, too. Either way, I won’t play any other way because our way is my Grandma’s way.
  • We always nibbled on cookies and candy bars while we played. Grandma was never without a can of Coca-Cola.
  • We played with the same two decks for years, until the cards got so beat up they were practically marked. Once card was missing a corner and while another had a folded corner (it was a two of a spades – a wild card!). There was also a card that was literally peeling apart in three layers.
  • My Grandma is the one who taught me how to shuffle cards two different ways.
  • My sister was never one for Rummy or Canasta, but she did join in on three-handed solitaire. The insanity that ensued from playing each other’s aces was incredibly funny. I have countless memories of us laughing hysterically.

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c.b.w. 2012