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.

Flowerage

WQ-FlowerageThe Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

But you 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 me to you 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.


The aroma hit Ruth Goodwin in the face as soon as she stepped out her front door. The scent of the deep purple lilacs in her yard was nearly overwhelming. Across the hill, she could see white clouds of blossoms covering the apple trees in the Tennysons’ orchard.

Her beagle, R.G., hesitated on his way to the Jeep where he had planned to ensconce himself in the passenger seat for the first of his many daily naps. Why was his human sniffing the air like one of his fellow canines?

He snorted and sat down. R.G.’s first law of dogdom was to never waste energy trying to figure out people.

“What an incredible spring,” Ruth murmured. “Time to break out the colored pencils and camera. Be right back, R.G.”

The dog yawned then shook his head until his great floppy ears whirled about his head. Waiting sounded like a good plan to him.

For years, Ruth Goodwin had had a secret. In the world at large, it would never be considered a big deal. In fact, folks in Carding would have been floored to find out that Ruth had any secrets at all because she’d always cultivated a reputation as forthright and open. But we all have our little privacies, don’t we?

Ruth’s was her drawing, particularly her colored pencil drawings.

Particularly her botanical portraits.

As a child, she’d adored the tales of Beatrix Potter, inspired by the detailed illustrations of her favorite author. In her teens, Ruth had been appalled to discover that Potter’s lifetime ambition to be a botanist had been stymied by her father because he did not deem it a suitable endeavor for a woman. That’s why Beatrix had turned her keen eye toward illustrating children’s books, much to the delight of millions of readers.

But still, ambition thwarted is ambition thwarted, in Ruth’s opinion. So Ruth, unencumbered by male opinion, decided to pursue a private career in botanical illustration in honor of her heroine.

And in order to remain unencumbered by male opinion, Ruth kept her efforts a secret.

While Beatrix Potter had wielded watercolors to bring Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck to life, Ruth eventually decided to use colored pencils because they were far more portable, no water necessary.

In the winter months, she sketched the purple and white glory of red cabbage and the seedy interiors of squash. In summer, Ruth turned to beets and watermelon and beans and zucchini from her garden.

Fall, of course, was dedicated to brilliant leaves, acorns, and goldenrod.

But spring—aah spring—that was the season for flowers. And in Ruth Goodwin’s opinion, this was one of the most glorious springs she’d ever witnessed in her beloved Vermont.

R.G.’s wait was soon rewarded when Ruth bustled out of the house to stow her pencil case and camera under the Jeep’s driver seat. “Come on, R.G., let’s hope the mail is light. We’ve got blossoms to visit.”

But as often happens when we’re in a hurry, Ruth’s morning tumbled downhill from there. The delivery truck with its tubs of mail had had a flat tire so it was late. Which made Ted Owens, the postmaster, late sorting Ruth’s deliveries.

And instead of a light mail day, her mail totes were stuffed with Memorial Day sales flyers and festival announcements. Then her daughter Sarah called with a reminder about their Saturday date to pick out a wedding dress, and Ruth had to catch herself before admitting that it had totally slipped her mind. Sarah’s fiancé was nice enough but Ruth remained unconvinced that he was the right guy for her strong-minded daughter.

“Not my choice. Not my choice,” she chanted to herself while aloud she said: “The Bridal Place. I remember. I’ll be there, rest assured.

All of which meant that by the time Ruth and R.G. got on the road in earnest, they were already 45 minutes behind schedule. Then they got stuck behind the Tennyson hay wagon and then they had to detour around the asphalt patching on Route 37 which made them just in time to get behind the kindergarten school bus delivering its tiny passengers home for lunch.

With a sigh, Ruth tuned into Dirt Road Radio to catch the noontime weather which hadn’t changed much from the morning forecast—rain, clouds and drizzle for the next three days. Not good drawing weather by a long shot.

By mid-afternoon, Ruth still had one heavy tote of mail left in her back seat and R.G. had turned his mournful eyes in her direction, a signal that it was time to stop so he could stretch his legs. Ruth gazed up the hillside to her right and thought about the remnants of an old orchard tucked into a fold up there. Some of those old trees were crabapples renowned for their ecstatic pink hue, like no others in the whole Corvus River valley.

Ruth knew that turning up the hill on the backside of Mount Merino would make her late with her last deliveries. But how often do you get a perfect spring in Vermont, she asked herself.

So she turned up the hill…and never regretted it for an instant.

 

 

 

 

A Three-Hour Tour

Have we mentioned that Vermont is having the most spectacular spring! So far, we’ve had just the right amount of rain and sun plus the temps have stayed (for the most part) cool so that the flowers last longer.

Carding’s mail delivery person, Ruth Goodwin, gets out to enjoy the countryside more than most due to her rural route job. And sometimes, she gets distracted.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle!

WQ-Flowerage

Sunshine in Scotland

Sunshine on Scotland StreetEven though it may be hard to find on a map, you can visit Carding, Vermont 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.

Today in town news, it’s a book review from Carding’s librarian, Jane Twitchell. A box of new books has just arrived for the shelves of the Frost Free Library and she can’t wait to share them with the town’s readers.

You are welcome (and encouraged) to share all the news from Carding with your friends, co-workers, and the family members that you like best. This news is guaranteed to be a good read with that first cup of tea in the morning.


Sunshine on Scotland Street
a review by Jane Twitchell

I believe that books serve purposes that are far beyond their entertainment value. They provide solace in dark hours, wit to lighten the sadder patches in life, philosophical reveries, knowledge and comfort, among other emotional necessities.

Personally, I think that Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith provides all of the above in all of his books. If I had to choose just one word to describe his work, it would be “kind.” Even his most buffoonish characters (and there are any number of those in his books) are treated with a certain respect. Yes, he seems to say, we know this person is: A. Silly or B. Awful or C. Pretentious but that doesn’t mean we must hate them or revile them. We don’t have to have dinner with them but the least we can is nod cordially on the street when we pass.

McCall Smith is an amazingly prolific author. He has a handful of stand-alone novels but I suspect that most of his fans have a favorite series that they follow avidly, either the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency or Corduroy Mansions or the Isabel Dalhousie novels.

I confess to a particular fondness for the 44 Scotland Street books, a series that is focused on the fortunes and misfortunes of the tenants of a building at this address in Edinburgh, Scotland. Some of the tenants have moved out by now but McCall Smith doesn’t neglect them. There’s artist Angus Lordie and his new wife Domenica, the uncertain Pat and her former roommate Bruce (a narcissist’s narcissist), Big Lou and her coffee shop, and most of all, the always suffering but beloved Bertie who is cursed with a mother that…well…let’s just say that I hope Bertie turns 18 sometime soon so that he can escape from Irene while his good heart is still intact.

I think what I enjoy most are the largish helpings of musings and philosophizing that thread their way through these books. Let me give you a sample that struck me in Sunshine On Scotland Street. I cherish this quote because it reflects my attitude toward the place I call home.

“We have to have some meaningful sense of the local in order to understand what our shared humanity is. If you take that away from people—as is happening—then they don’t know who they are and that means they don’t care very much about others. You’ll get a crude materialism, because material is all that we will have in common. You’ll get vast, anonymous societies where we are all strangers to one another. We get much of our humanity from the local, the immediate, the small-scale. We do, you know.”

These are all delicious dips in the word pool. You can read them out of order but you’ll miss the chance to savor some of the best nuances if you don’t start from the beginning.

Come visit the library. There are lots of new books to read, some new movies, and copies of the New York Times crossword puzzle for the word-addicted among you. The Frost Free Library is open from 1p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9a.m. to 5p.m. on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.

That Old Presby Guilt

WQ-Blustery dayCarding Chronicles, short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

Even though it may be hard to find, you 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 me to you 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.


Ruth Goodwin thought it was a secret but everyone in Carding knew how much she loved celebrating her birthday. It wasn’t that she expected presents from everyone—”Where would I put that much stuff?” she thought—but that she felt entitled to treat herself to anything she wanted all day long.

Or at least she tried to feel that way.

You see, Ruth’s mother, Lorraine, had been a strict Presbyterian who believed that the greatest sin of all was wasting time on fun or frivolity. Even now, long after Lorraine had become a permanent resident of Carding Town Cemetery, Ruth still felt guilty if she didn’t have something productive planned for every minute of her day.

Ruth’s own daughter, Sarah, thought that “old Presby guilt” was just plain silly, and she’d tried, in vain, to convince Ruth to “to just take a nap, if that’s what you want to do on your birthday.”

But all of Sarah’s efforts were in vain until she hit upon A Very Clever Idea. “I’m taking over your birthday,” she informed Ruth a week before the big day.

“You’re what?”

“Taking over your birthday,” Sarah said. “I’ll be here first thing in the morning with coffee, muffins, and an itinerary. I’m going to fill your day with so much to do, there’ll be no room for any of that Presby stuff left over from Grandma.”

Ruth nodded and smiled but still she felt vaguely. . . guilty.

True to her word, Sarah was at her Mom’s house pretty close to the crack of dawn—the Goodwin family is an early-rising tribe—toting towering cups of coffee and morning glory muffins from the Crow Town Bakery.

As soon as the last morning glory crumb disappeared, Sarah herded her mother into the car. “Where are we going?” Ruth asked.

Sarah smiled as she turned up Belmont Hill. “When was the last time you hiked your favorite part of the Appalachian Trail?”

“But I didn’t bring my hiking shoes,” Ruth protested.

“They’re in the back seat, along with your walking stick, camera, and water bottle.” Sarah grinned. “No excuses, Mom. Today is all about everything you like to do.”

As soon as Sarah braked into the pull-off by the trailhead, Ruth heard the familiar strains of “Happy Birthday,” a little off-key because Andy Cooper couldn’t carry a tune to save his soul. And then Edie Wolfe opened the car door, Agnes Findley helped Ruth out, and before the guilty birthday girl could think about it, the four friends set off through the sparkling woods on a perfect May morning while Sarah drove herself to work thinking “Mission Accomplished.”

Ruth laughed as her feet swept dew from the familiar trail. A robin treated the group to an early morning ode to nest-building and plentiful seeds. They all remarked on the height of the ostrich ferns, the sprinklings of violets at their feet, the nodding heads of early coltsfoot already gone to seed.

The walk ended, as it always did for them, at a great round rock that thrust its chin over the rush of one of the many seasonal brooks that appeared alongside the trail each spring. Andy pulled two bottles of champagne from his knapsack. Edie added a carafe of orange juice and plastic cups while Agnes produced a small chocolate cake, pre-sliced and carefully wrapped.

“I’m not sure how agitated this will be after our hike,” Andy said as he aimed a bottle’s cork over the water. “Better have those cups ready.”

The champagne’s loud POP was followed by a lively froth, most of it caught in the drinking vessels. As they dug into the cake, Ruth leaned against a tree to watch some high clouds spiral above her head. “Looks like we might have some weather coming in.”

“Supposedly we’ve got some rain coming in early this evening,” Edie said. “Or at least that’s what the Dirt Road weather folks predicted.”

Just then, a stiff breeze set all the tiny maple leaves dancing at the tops of the trees. The four friends watched carefully, making their own interpretations of Vermont’s ever-changing weather. They all had stories about being caught in storms because they weren’t paying attention.

When the wind stirred a second time, the trees hissed in response. That’s when the hiking party rose as one to stuff cake wrappings and empty champagne bottles into their sacks for the walk back to their cars and the trip home.

When they dropped her off two hours earlier than scheduled on Sarah’s itinerary, Ruth promised her friends that she would “do nothing” for the rest of the day except exactly what she wanted to do. But her maternally-inspired Presby guilt just wouldn’t leave her alone.

When she looked out the window, her gardens beckoned. Ruth had been putting off the start of weeding season because of May’s cold beginning. It was as if the weather had been saying: “Wait, wait, wait. Not yet. It’s too cold. It’s too wet. Yes, I know you want to get into the garden but really, you won’t enjoy yourself.”

And now—BOOM—there was more grass in the flower beds than Ruth could imagine.

The wind blew a little harder, making the dandelions flatten themselves on the ground. “A blustery day,” Ruth sighed.

A blustery day, she thought again. Suddenly, she swept into the laundry room, filled her washing machine, and then grabbed the step stool that she used to reach her top bookshelves, the place where she kept her favorites.

Finding just the right book, Ruth hummed as she brewed a pot of tea, and wiped the winter cobwebs off her favorite lawn chair. She hummed a bit louder as she double-pinned her clothes to the line so the wind wouldn’t carry them off.

Then she positioned herself in a sheltered corner of her house, book in hand, tea at the ready. A blustery day, perfect for a close re-reading of Winnie the Pooh.

“It’s the perfect compromise,” Ruth thought. “Clothes on the line to assuage the Presby guilt, and one of my favorite books just for me.”

And then she opened the book in her lap.

It was a fine spring morning in the forest as Pooh started out. Little soft clouds played happily in a blue sky, skipping from time to time in front of the sun as if they had come to put it out, and then sliding away suddenly so that the next might have his turn.

 

 

Comfort Books

My birthday’s coming up soon and my husband was asking me what I wanted. I didn’t have anything specific in mind so I joked: “You can take me to a bookstore and stand at the cash register to pay for everything I want.”

Oh, my sincerest wish.

He laughed and said “Why do people buy books when there are libraries?”

While I intellectually understood his question, I didn’t understand it emotionally at all, and I found myself saying: “Because they are my friends. I have books on my shelves that I know I’ll never read again (Nancy Drew mysteries come to mind) but they make me smile when I see them.”

And then there are books that I love so dearly, I re-read them as needed. Jane Austen’s Persuasion, both Winnie-the-Pooh books, Watership Down, Tolkien.

My lilacs are just starting to bloom and they reminded me of another book I need to re-read soon, The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle.

How about you? What are your comfort books?

WQ-Lilac

Violet Day

WQ-Purple violetsWelcome to the Carding Chronicles, short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

Even though it may be hard to find, you 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 me to you 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.


Weeding Diary for May 11
by Edie Wolfe

In Vermont, spring knocks on our door with a steady but persistent presence. For me, it begins in late March when I notice that the interior of my car is warm when I open its door to run an errand in the afternoon. In July I’ll be complaining about the heat but in March, I press my back against the seat to soak up all the stray warmth molecules, luxuriating in their welcoming embrace.

Early in April, my dog Nearly and I eat lunch in the sunny spot on my back steps, lifting our faces up to the great golden orb in the sky like two early dandelions while robins and phoebes streak across the backyard carrying building supplies for their nests.

Then May rolls over the calendar like a green carpet. All the grass I thought I’d dug out of the vegetable and flower beds in the fall reappears, thumbing its nose at my efforts. I am reminded of that wonderful quote from the naturalist Hal Borland: “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”

The disobedient grass always makes me wonder why I tolerate this relic of the British gentry. While I appreciate a grassy path as much as the next person, when you spread the stuff out in a lawn, it’s a downright nuisance. Why do we do it?

I suppose that’s why I enjoy the even greater persistence of stuff like dandelions, creeping Charlie, tiny wild strawberries, moss and violets.

Especially violets.

There are nearly 600 varieties in the family Violaceae of which my favorite is a purple beauty with a small white beard that pops up around my front steps on the first of May. It is an old and dear friend.

It’s the first violet to dot my lawn, its color complementing the vivid deep green of new grass. White and then blue violets follow quickly. I gather them in small bunches while enjoying my first cup of tea in the morning, bringing them into the kitchen in small glass vases .

Yes, I know, I know. My friend Ruth lectures me all the time about removing violets as soon as they appear because later on in the season, I’ll have to dig them out of my flower beds because they crowd out everything else. But I just smile and nod politely at Ruth’s annual agitation. It is an old and dear argument, weed vs. flower.

She insists on regimentation in her gardens—tulips here, zinnias there, foxglove here and no place else. I often remark on the amount of time she spends trying to make her plants behave. To me, “weeds” are so much easier. They bring us delight without effort.

So I let the purple Violaceae have their days in spring, holding back from mowing as long as I can. I find lawns without violets quite boring, don’t you?