All posts by Sonja Hakala

I have been a professional writer since 1987. I've written for newspapers, magazines, worked in the book publishing industry, and published novels and non-fiction books. In addition, I've guided numerous authors through the process of independent publishing, and offer workshops in that same vein. I'm the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Project and over the course of six years, we gathered and gave away over 500 handmade quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

The Comfort in a Quilt

Margie Clark was one of the first people to receive a quilt through the Parkinson’s Comfort Quilt Project.

I was at two events for the Parkinson’s Comfort Quilt Project over the weekend. The first, on Saturday, was at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where I womaned a table covered with quilts, and talked to folks about the project.

During the time I was there, a woman came to tell me how her husband received one of the first quilts we gave away. It was one I made, a simple quilt of autumn colors. She told me how much he loves that quilt, and that he keeps it with him all the time.

Then a gentleman who was working at the table next to me told me that Margie Clark, who’s in this picture with some of her family members, is now in a hospital. She also received one of the first quilts we gave away. The gentleman told me how she keeps that quilt with her all the time, and how much it means to her.

That’s why I do this.

The second event was speaking at my son’s church, Saint Thomas Episcopal in Hanover, New Hampshire. I really like the priest at his church, Guy Collins. He sat in on my talk, and during conversation, I realized that working with clergy was a very good way for me to spread the word. So I have a new avenue to explore.

After I get through my next deadlines, I plan to start making some small, stuffed angels to sell in order to raise the money I need to make this a formal 501(c)3.

The Twice Warmed

Continuing my 40-gratitudes series, I want to talk about wood. Specifically, wood heat.

For those of you unfortunates who live by furnace alone, let me explain about wood heat. If you are chilled—as in cold down to your bone marrow—nothing warms you better than wood heat. If you have a wood stove with a glass front, you can indulge yourself in the ancient ritual of fire-watching. In fact, fire circles have inspired more stories than any other natural phenomenon used by humankind.

Then there’s the scent of woodsmoke on a cold morning as you walk to the end of the driveway to get the morning paper.

Nearly everything about wood heat involves ritual from the cutting and splitting of trees to the meditative state you can achieve while stacking to opening up the top of a wood stove to see the pulsing orange glow of the embers inside.

Yep, I do concede it’s work intensive, and you end up vacuuming around the stoves a lot. But I love wood heat, and when the power goes out, I am reminded once again of the fragility of fossil fuels and the benevolence of trees.

Dear Jane

Not long after we got hit by Hurricane Irene, a friend of my son’s sent me an article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the healing balm to be found in classic literature.

When we are under stress, the article stated, we find comfort in the familiar. And for readers, that comfort is most often found in classic literature.

When Marie sent me the article, I was re-reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, one of my all-time favorites. But as much as I enjoy Edith, it’s Jane Austen who rules my heart when it comes to comfort books.

For years, my collection of Janes was a rather dilapidated mess of old paperbacks, a couple of which had failed bindings. I once sighed over this, and told my husband that “someday, I am going to buy myself a full set of Jane in hardcover so I can read and re-read them to my heart’s content.” That year, for my birthday, he presented me with this wonderful set of Jane Austen done by the Oxford University Press from the earliest print editions of her work. They are a treasure of historical and literary pleasure.

The comfort of familiar books is powerful. It’s the reason why young children want to “read” the same book over and over because what Bartholomew does with the Oobleck on page 10 is exactly what he did on page 10 the last time the book was opened. Books are rational in that way, behaving as expected again and again.

And for me, when my whole life has been turned upside down by a hurricane or illness, there’s nothing better than Jane.

Today, I’m restarting my quest for Irene recovery funds to stabilize the bank on which our house sits. Please pass the Pride and Prejudice.

Un-Still Life with Birds

I love birds. Love to watch them. Love to collect their left-behind feathers when I find them on a trail. Love to find nests of eggs that we can watch hatch.

And I feed them. In fact, I would say that feeding the birds is a lifelong habit with me. One year when I was seven or eight, I asked for a bird feeder for Christmas. My Grampa Hakala kept three large feeders in his backyard every winter, and anything Grampa did was something I wanted to do too.

Anyway, my Uncle Don—handy guy that he was—made me a feeder that attached to the outside wall of our house so that the feeder itself was level with my bedroom window. We filled it with seed, and waited for the birds to show up.

They did. Chickadees first. They’re always the first to spy a new food source. And then the gray squirrels. Actually, I liked watching them too.

This winter, my two feeders are attracting flocks of wintering-over goldfinch. I’ve never seen so many goldfinches during the winter. And now their feathers are starting to change from their seasonal olive green to their brilliant yellow.

And then, three weeks early, a flock of redwing blackbirds showed up, eating seed on the snow before roosting in our big ash tree to trade gossip in their screeing voices.

Endlessly fascinating, these little critters. I’m so glad they’re a part of my world.