All posts by Sonja Hakala

I am a professional writer, book coach, and quilter. From newspapers such as the BOSTON GLOBE to magazines such as the OLD FARMER'S ALMANAC to books such as YOUR BOOK, YOUR WAY and AMERICAN PATCHWORK, my 26-year career as a writer spans the gamut of print media. In addition to writing, I have worked as an editor, designer, and project manager on an array of book projects. I wrote YOUR BOOK, YOUR WAY based on my experience in the publishing field, and now teach other writers how to publish high quality books themselves. I am also a professional quilter, and the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Quilt Project to provide lap quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

Gardens of Comfort and Joy

SH-Garden PhloxYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

Well, this is the BIG weekend for the Carding Home and Garden tour. If you’ve missed the prelude to this event, you can catch up here, here and here.

Otherwise, saddle up! The judging’s about to begin.

Jane Twitchell, Carding’s erstwhile librarian, felt a wee bit nervous as she thumbed through the entries for the best-in-show trophy for the Carding Home and Garden tour. She’d never seen so many. Who knew there were 36 such ardent gardeners in her hometown?

At first she’d sorted the entries in alphabetical order—she was a librarian, after all—but then countermanded her decision and grouped them by location. Otherwise, the four judges would be racing all over town just to catch a glimpse of the gardens never mind spend enough time to judge them.

The faithful grandfather clock in the library’s entry quietly reminded Jane that it was seven o’clock and the judges were now waiting for her in the parking lot. Don’t be so nervous, she scolded herself. It’s the library’s biggest fundraiser of the year. All the tickets are sold and the entries… She looked down at the papers in her hands again.

Thirty-six entries. Who would have thought?

This means it’s a success, right?

As she walked out to the parking lot, Jane’s hands shook a little and she was grateful not to be one of the judges.

“They’re getting their paperwork,” Ruth Goodwin whispered, “and they’re sorting themselves out with a town map. No sign of G.G. yet.” She handed her binoculars to Agnes Findley so her friend could take a turn watching from Edie Wolfe’s attic window.

“Hmmm, that’s strange. After the big fit she threw in the library last week when Jane objected to the pages she tore out of all those Fine Gardening magazines, I figured G.G. would be stalking the judges. After all, she’s been stalking us all week.” Agnes turned the binoculars over to Edie.

“You’re right. No sign of G.G. I wonder what that means,” Edie said as she examined the cars in the library parking lot.

Keys rattled in Ruth’s hands. “Let’s go see, shall we?”

Minutes later, the three friends were packed into Ruth’s Jeep and headed toward the oversized, overpriced mansion that the Dieppes owned on Mount Merino. As soon as Ruth parked at the head of the trail they’d cut through the woods to G.G.’s backyard, they pulled on their gardening boots to creep through the underbrush.

They were still a good twenty feet away when a shrill voice made them stop in their tracks.

“What do you mean I need to water them?” The pitch of G.G.’s voice hurt the ear.

“Just what I said,” a young voice replied. “You’ve got to water plants after you stick them in the ground.”

“Well, why didn’t you do that?”

“I did, last week when I planted them,” the young man replied. “But you didn’t want to pay me to take care of them. You said you’d spent enough money on them already. It’s not my fault it hasn’t rained.”

Edie, Ruth and Agnes moved forward, being careful not to rustle the Joe Pye weed that towered over their heads. Its heavy flowers were on the verge of bursting open and the slightest touch set them waggling.

“You mean I spent $3,000 on plants and you just let them die? The judges will be here any minute. Do something!”

Ruth’s eyebrows leaped up her forehead at the mention of $3,000 spent on plants. If you added up all the money she’d ever spent on her gardens, it wouldn’t come anywhere close to that.

“Wait! What are you doing?” G.G. yelled. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“You said to do something.” The young man’s face was tight with anger as he looked over his shoulder. “You’re not a gardener at all. You don’t care any more about these plants than you do about a lost golf ball so I’m doing something. I’m outta here.”

Edie dropped to her knees—no small feat for someone with arthritis—and crept forward. She just had to see. Ruth and Agnes were right behind her.

The devastation in G.G.’s yard nearly made them gasp. Ruth, the most tenderhearted gardener of the three (she had a hard time thinning carrots), almost bounded out of the underbrush in a bid to rescue the prostrate zinnias, echinacea, celosia, poppies, begonias, lobelia, hosta and nasturtiums. The fact that they were all dying of preventable thirst made her want to weep.

But Edie and Agnes pulled her back. It was time to go.

“Let’s just hope Jane remembered to do as I asked when she put those entries in order for the judges,” Edie said as they sped through the center of town. “The poor thing’s been a nervous wreck all week. She can’t get over the fact that G.G. cut up magazines that belong to the library.”

As soon as the Jeep stopped, the three women threw open all its doors. Gardening buckets full of tools were pulled from the back storage compartment, and in a flash, the three were taking last-minute snips, fluffing up the soil where it met the neatly clipped lawn, and poking their fingers into the dirt to check its moisture level.

“All right then?” Andy Cooper asked as he pulled into the parking lot.

“Where are the judges?” Ruth asked.

“Last seen headed up to Lydie Talbot’s place,” Andy said as he gazed at all the bright flowers and vegetables in the elementary school garden. “You and the kids have done a great job in here. I brought a couple of bags of mulch, just in case you need it.”

“We haven’t done much,” Edie said as she straightened up. “Just supervised a little.” And then she laughed when she saw a blinged-out scarecrow that the third-graders had set up in their corn patch.

Agnes looked at her watch. “It’s almost ten. I think we’d best get out of here”

The return trip to Edie’s house was slowed immeasurably by the home and garden lovers who’d packed the streets to see Carding’s best botanical efforts on display. Even though she’d planned to change her clothes, Edie never made it inside her house because she was whisked away to answer questions and give short tours.

At Ruth’s house, her daughter Sarah was barely holding down the fort for her mother and was glad to be relieved of the responsibility of talking about flowers. And Agnes arrived just in time to prevent her partner, Charlie, from giving out the wrong name to every plant in her gardens.

It was a long day but the sun finally crested and then slid back down the other side of the sky. With the tour part of the day over, folks crowded the town green to sop up tall glasses of lemonade and buy cookies made by the library’s trustees.

Finally, an exhausted Jane Twitchell approached the microphone set up in the town gazebo and rested her hand gently on the best-in-show trophy, a tall, hand-blown glass vase etched with the names of previous winners. A large contingent of excited students, fluttering like small birds, settled near her feet.

Agnes, Ruth and Edie finally spotted G.G. at the back of the crowd, her large straw hat askew, her cheeks ruddy with sunburn, and her eyes glaring at them.

“What’s she mad at us about?” Agnes whispered. “We didn’t forget to water her plants.”

“Do you think we could sneak up there to rescue some of them before she gets home?” Ruth asked.

“Ladies and gentleman.” Jane’s voice broke in before Edie or Agnes could answer Ruth’s question. “On behalf of the Frost Free Library of Carding, Vermont, I want to thank you all so much for coming.”

She held up an envelope. “The judges have made their decision.” She tore the envelope open. “And the winner is…”

It is said among the Carding-ites who were there that day that no one had ever heard anyone scream at the garden show before. It certainly made Jane Twitchell jump out of her skin when G.G. Dieppe let loose with her scorn for the announcement.

But they all agree that the hand-blown vase, with its mild hint of green in the glass, looked perfect in the elementary school’s trophy case.

They also agreed that they’d never seen so many different plants in Ruth Goodwin’s garden before.








“May Your Hands Always Be Busy”

SH-SpireaYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This week, we continue our garden show saga. This is the third of four parts (it was going to be three but the story just kept growing) and the town’s gardeners are making the final touches to their botanical artistry while keeping an eye on their competition.

If you need to catch up, here are links to the first and second parts.



Holding her favorite clippers, Ruth backed up slowly so that she could judge the impact of her assault on her hedge of Magic Carpet spirea. Many of its cotton candy-colored blooms had gone by and she wanted to make sure only the brightest ones were on display tomorrow morning when the judges arrived. For the first time in many years, winning the best-in-show trophy at the Carding Home and Garden Show was important.

She darted forward and SNIP went another dead blossom. Then SNIP SNIP and two more fell into her weed bucket.

There, as perfect as it was gonna get.

She glanced at the sky though it didn’t look any different than it had ten minutes ago. Blue from horizon to horizon. After such a drippy start to the summer, the idea of watering her flowers seemed rather strange. She snapped off her gardening glove so she could slip a bare finger under the mulch to check the soil moisture. An earthworm glistened by, his morning repose interrupted by her probing.

“Sorry,” Ruth muttered as she hastened to cover him up. “Sorry.” Then she sighed. Who was she kidding. Even though her yard was a riot of color—pink spirea, yellow evening primrose, white valerian and elderberries, and red bee balm—no one would ever mistake the mistake of describing the Goodwin garden as organized.

Ruth loved everything about the botanical world…except maybe poison ivy. But she loved to live in it, not dominate it.

“Oh well,” she said as she tossed her tools in their bucket. “Either Edie or Agnes will win and that’s all right.”

A car rolled by slowly just as Ruth closed her front door behind her. A second cup of tea was definitely in order.

From inside the car, G.G. Dieppe scanned Ruth’s yard. True, there was a lot in bloom. And true, it did look very pretty…but only from a distance. Even from the road, G.G. spotted some weediness along the edges of a circular raised bed.

“Hmph, no one’s going to find any weeds in my gardens,” she sniffed to herself. “They are perfect. The best that money can buy.”

Ruth watched through the lace curtains on her front windows as G.G. drove on.

“She just left,” she texted Agnes. “Probably headed your way.”

It took a few years but Agnes Findley had finally turned Charlie Cooper’s scruffy yard into a virtual Eden. The blue and purple blooms of spring had given way to the red of the climbing roses that sheltered the sunny end of their screened-in porch. Her hosta hedge, each plant placed so that its leaves complimented the plants on either side, was at the height of perfection.

Her collection of colorful pots added height and wonder to the landscape, and the hens and chicks lining the walkway to their front door had just started to share their peach-colored flowers.

They were Agnes’s specialty.

“Do you think I should stand out in the front yard to wave?” she asked Charlie as they stood behind a short hedge of limelight hydrangea that divided their front yard from the back.

Charlie nearly choked up his coffee. “I thought the idea was to be stealthy about your spying ways,” he said.

“Oh, I know. It’s just that I find that woman so irritating,” Agnes said, tapping her foot.

“And you don’t want her to win,” Charlie said.

“Yeah, that too.” They watched G.G. crawl by their house, her neck extended to its full length. “Gawd, how nosy can she be? Ah, there she goes. She must have found some imperfection. Well, so be it. At least maybe Edie or Ruth will win, and that’s fine.”

“You’d better text Edie,” Charlie said, trying to mask his grin. He couldn’t remember when he’d enjoyed a competition more. Who knew that watching gardeners could be so entertaining?

By the way, the quote I used as the title for this Chronicle is from a song by Bob Dylan. Here’s the whole verse.

“May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation,
When the winds of changes shift.”
—Bob Dylan, “Forever Young” on the album Planet Waves