There and Back Again

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By Sheila just back from Ireland

One more report from Ireland, after a rather hectic two weeks spent there furnishing my small cottage. Writing related? In a lot of ways, actually. Research isn’t always about places and how things look—a lot of it is about people, and the small details of daily life.

I’ve been visiting Ireland since 1998 and writing about for nearly as long. After a lot of thinking, I bought a cottage from which I can see where one of my great-great-grandmothers was born.

 

cottageThe cottage  was built around 1950, but it hadn’t been lived in for about ten years when I bought it. All things considered it was in pretty good shape, but it was empty, and a bit sad and lonely. So my husband and I went over to make it more like a home—starting with the kitchen, and then adding furniture and a wireless connection and a satellite dish.

We’re looking forward to going back in the spring (when all the wild daffodils are blooming and the new lambs are bouncing in the meadow down the lane). But although I have spent a couple of weeks at a time in the area in past years, it’s different when you’re becoming a part of the place and people know it. What’s more, as we writers know, it’s the details that make a book or story come alive, and you see things differently when you have a stake in a place.

The Connolly surname lets people “place” me in West Cork, and it still matters—not out of any snobbery, but because people like to find connections. If you’ve worked on your family history it’s a plus because then you can share information with others. But simply being there and talking to ordinary people who live there (like Ted at the hardware store and Jerry at the furniture store and Sean at the second-hand store, all of whom I’ve spent a lot of time with) gave me a different perspective on the place, and on being an American.

kitchenIt stands out that Americans are conspicuous consumers. Our homes are big, our appliances are big, our cars are big. Cut those down to half the size and you have what is more typical of rural Ireland. That’s not just a matter of economics, but also of the culture. You shop more often for food—you don’t pack a month’s worth of supplies in a giant refrigerator. You cook on a stove-top that’s 24” across. Your washer measures loads in kilograms: the one that came with my place will take up to 4-point-something kilos as a load. That’s about two pairs of blue jeans. Yes, they come larger, up to about double that, but they’re still small by US standards. And not everyone has a dryer, just a clothesline out back.

I have a second cousin who lives in the house her family moved into in 1956, when the place was new. We visited there last week, and by our standards (even for the 1950s) it’s small. She raised four children there, and helped manage a farm where her family raised both pigs and cattle. It is interesting that two of her married children have settled close by and built new homes, and they are more what we here would call a mini-mc-mansion—handsome two story homes with lots of frills, like electric gates (there are both dogs and livestock to keep in). A lot of the new construction in West Cork follows a much more American model, but plenty of people live in the older places as well. And the insides of the older homes are crammed with generations of pictures and mementoes (makes me feel better about my own housekeeping—maybe clutter is hereditary).

farmers-marketSkibbereen is the nearest town, and it’s booming. The population there hovers around 3,000, but there are new homes being built, and the town is proud that they are now home to the Ludgate Hub, a digital hub that enables regional connectivity and provides local business services (and jobs). It opened in 2015. But if you’re envisioning a huge, sleek building, think again—it’s housed in what was formerly a row-house bakery. The town itself still has only one main street, and a year-round weekly farmers market in the center. In the shops people know you and greet you, and if they don’t have what you need, they’ll tell you what other shop to look in. To me it is a perfect little big town, with everything I could ask for (including good restaurants).

Many of the local towns are tiny (don’t blink as you pass through or you might miss them), but they host a wealth of small festivals—literary, cooking, art, theater and more. It’s a lively cultural region.

The whole area, and maybe the whole country, has one foot in the past and one firmly in the present. You stop someone on the road and they’ll turn out to have known your family years ago. At the same time, you can get wireless with a tiny “hot-spot” device, pay as you go, which is more than I can say for my Massachusetts home. Sometimes the mix of old and new is enough to make your head spin.

sunsetI could ramble on (the Irish are great talkers and rarely seem to be in a hurry), but you get the drift: the best of old and new exist side by side in Ireland.

And one thing that either breaks or warms my heart is how many people, those who know me and those who don’t, asked “when are you comin’ home again?” Soon. I promise.

Readers: Have you ever visited somewhere that you’d love to live?

 

Thankful For Our Readers — Week Five Winners

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3It’s the end of our fifth and last week of giveaways for Thankful for Our Readers, the Wicked Cozies all November giveaway. Thank you so much to all of you who stopped by! And watch for upcoming giveaways! We used Random.org for all our drawings.

And the winners are:

The winner of the November 28th winner of an ARC by Edith Maxwell is: Andrea Stoeckel! Please contact Edith at edithmaxwell dot com

The winner of the November 29th book and vintage postcard by Sherry Harris is: Cozynookbks!  Please contact Sherry at sherryharrisauthor at gmail dot com

The winner of books by Liz and Barbara is: SueKey12! Please contact Barbara at maineclambakemysteries dot com and contact Liz at liz dot mugavero at gmail dot com

 

Wicked New England: Where Would You Pose for a Holiday Photo?

New England is very, very photogenic and has a bit of everything–oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, cities, towns, farms, factories. Wickeds, if you were going to take an iconic shot for a holiday card, where would you take it?img_0404

Jessie: I love shadow photos. You know, those pictures that are of the shadows made by the subjects rather than the subjects themselves. I love to take them of friends and family on the beach at Old Orchard. Everyone lines up and we snap a shot of what is cast upon the sand. They are especially nice if there are some distinctive hats in the mix. I think one with my husband and all my kids would make for a great holiday card.

2005christmas05Edith: I love those, too, Jessie, and I have one in a frame of my same-height-friend Jennifer and me, also at the beach. The only time we’ll ever have long legs! Our family tries to get a picture in front of the decorated tree – but it’s usually  on Christmas morning. And since I rarely get a card out before Christmas, that actually works! This one is from 2007, with my sister Janet at far left.

rockportSherry: We also have lots of Christmas tree photos! And photos from the many different places we’ve lived. As for iconic places in New England, I always wished we would have taken a picture in one of my favorite coastal towns, Rockport, Massachusetts. I’m not sure why they call this building Motif #1 but it would make an excellent background for a Christmas photo!

Liz: I love community Christmas tree lightings – so if a picture is possible in that setting, perfect. Otherwise, it’s always a good photo to have the dogs and cats sitting under the newly decorated tree!

Barb: I need one with one of those iconic lobster trap Christmas trees.

Readers: Where would you – or do you – stage your holiday photo?

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Guest: Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith here, who can’t believe it’s December already. I’m delighted to have Canadian judy-penz-shelukmystery author Judy Penz Sheluk as our guest today to kick off the last month of 2016. Judy and I each had our debut novels published by Barking Rain Press, and we’ve both spread our wings and flown farther afield since. I recently read her latest, Skeletons in the Attic, and loved it. Take it away, Judy!

Regional Authors

When fellow Sister in Crime Edith Maxwell invited me to post on Wicked Cozy Authors, my first thought was, “but I’m not a regional author. I’m not from New England.”

That led me to think…what exactly is a regional author? While I personally don’t think someone has to be born and bred in a particular area to write about it—especially in our Internet world where we can travel virtually—it is vital to get the details right. Readers will be quick to point out any inaccuracies. That said, the setting in a novel should be treated as another (important) character. As writers, it is our responsibility to create a world that readers can believe in. A good book is like a passport to another place— not just the major landmarks, but also the tucked away places only the locals know about.

It’s also important to layer in regional idiosyncrasies. For example, a visitor to Toronto, Canada, will call it TOE-RON-TOE, each syllable clearly defined. A native Torontonian will call it TORAWNNO (spoken quickly; Torontonians speak really, really fast; there’s no southern drawl north of the border!). Those same visitors will also find a myriad of Tim Horton’s coffee shops. Canadians love their “Timmy’s.”

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Toronto’s Lake Ontario skyline

Agatha Christie was the master of creating atmosphere and place, whether she was at the English seaside, or solving a murder in Mesopotamia. I’ve never been to Minnesota, but when I sit down to read the latest John Sandford novel, I feel as if I’m returning to familiar territory. Tana French has helped me discover Dublin. And anyone who’s read Louise Penny has visited Three Pines, even though it’s a fictional town in Quebec.

The following shot is Newmarket’s historic Main Street. Marketville, the town in Skeletons in the Attic, is loosely based on Newmarket. The historic Main Street in Judy’s book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, is also loosely based on this street.

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But what about me, and my novels? If I’m talking to a fellow Canadian, I’ll say, “My books are set in fictional towns north of Toronto,” whereas if I’m speaking to an American, I’ll say they take place in fictional towns in Canada. That’s probably because, if I am talking to someone in the U.S., they will invariably say, “Oh, I love Canada. I was there last year.” It may be they were in Vancouver, British Columbia (about 3,000 miles away from Toronto), or Montreal, Quebec (about 350 miles away), but it’s all Canada! Whereas, a Canadian will never say, “I was in the U.S. last year.” They’ll say, “I was in Chicago,” (or Dallas or Boston.)

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Above is Judy’s one-year-old Golden Retriever, Leroy Jethro “Gibbs” at her cottage (sometimes called a camp) on Lake Superior, near Sault Ste. Marie, in Northern Ontario. A regional difference: the US/Michigan side of the area is known as the Upper Peninsula.

I find it an amusing distinction…but it’s also much more than that. When I’m writing, I need to be ever diligent when it comes to introducing my readers to the world that I’ve created. Then again, the same came be said for any “regional” author…whether they’re in Canada, California, or New England.

Readers: Do you have a favorite regional author or region you like to read about?

skeletons-in-the-attic-front-coverSKELETONS IN THE ATTIC

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Skeletons in the Attic is on a .99 promotional sale from December 1 through 15 on Amazon Kindle. It is also available on Kindle Unlimited and in trade paperback at all the usual suspects. Paperback: http://www.imajinbooks.com/skeletons-in-the-attic 
Amazon: http://getbook.at/SkeletonsintheAttic

An Amazon International Bestselling Author, Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016. Judy’s short crime fiction appears in several anthologies. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy on her website/blog at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

 

Wicked Wednesday — Thankful To Our Agent

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This is the last day of our Thankful To Our Readers giveaways! Thanks for sticking with us this month

Leave a comment for a chance to win Eggnog Murder with holiday novellas by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross AND a book by Liz Mugavero! (And it’s Liz’s birthday today, too, so leave lots of comments. Ssshh, don’t tell her I said so…)

 

It’s unusual for a group of writers who blog together to have the same agent but we Wickeds do. It’s John Talbot of the Talbot Fortune Agency. Today we are sharing stories about working with John.

Liz: We all pretty much share the same story, so here goes. Back in 2011, John reached out to Sheila Connolly, then-president of Sisters in Crime New England, and asked her if she could refer some writers who might want to work on cozy mystery proposals with him. Not wanting to pick and choose, Sheila put the word out to the whole chapter, and a bunch of us answered the call. I emailed John and he got back to me right away. Within a few days we were on the phone discussing how my interests might fit into something he could sell. We brainstormed and came up with the gourmet pet food idea, and the rest, as they say, is history! Thanks, John, for being such a great partner in this crazy business.

john-talbotJulie: There are three things I appreciate about John. First, he helps me think about my career arc. What is a good next step, what should I be thinking about. Like Liz, I feel like he’s a partner on this journey. Second, he has opinions, and shares them. You don’t just hand him a proposal–he works with you on it until he feels like it is ready to send out. Third, he’s a good guy. This is too crazy a business to be on a ride where you don’t like the other person in the car with you.

Edith: Same story as Liz’s, except with me he sold the Local Foods Mysteries. I’ve now sold four series via John Talbot, and I agree with everything Julie says about him. Another thing he helps with is understanding the nearly undecipherable royalty statements from one of my publishers. The statements come twice a year in tiny print. After Barb alerted us to read them very, very carefully, I found an mistake in one of mine, which John got straightened out with the press. It was their error, of course, not his (see  Barb’s first item below). But I wouldn’t even know what to look at without his help. He also picks up every time I call. I don’t phone unless I really need to talk to him, and he realizes that.

Barb: Here are four things I treasure about John.

  • He’s as honest as they come. I never worry, ever, about the publisher sending him my money and him passing it to me. I have been in other relationships (never with a literary agent, but in my past professional life) where that wasn’t the case, and I can tell you it stinks.
  • He’s approachable. I was terrified of my first literary agent. I’m sure that was a lot more about where I was at during that time in my life than it was about her, but it does not make for an easy relationship.
  • He shares. John goes considerably out of his way several times a year to update us on trends in the publishing industry and how they might affect us. Some agents are of the “mushroom” school of managing clients (keep them in the dark and spread manure). I can’t say how much I appreciate being treated like a grownup and having this important information.
  • He’s committed. Many readers know there has been upheaval in the mystery publishing world over the last couple of years. Watching John work his tail off to keep his clients in print has been a wonder.
This is a picture from Crime Bake a few years ago.

This is a picture from Crime Bake a few years ago.

Sherry: John became my agent when Barb told me he was looking for someone to write a garage sales series — that’s the short version! And ditto to everything Barb said (except the first agent business — I’ve never had another agent). As a first time author John walked me through the process and answered all of my anxiety-ridden questions. I’m thankful for John because he makes me laugh when I’m down about something or frustrated. Like Julie said he wants us to have long and fruitful careers and goes out of his way to help make that happen. He is frank with his thoughts about ideas for new series. His advice has been invaluable and I feel blessed to be part of his team.

Jessie: Considering the business we are in, it delights me that John is a great storyteller. I won’t be a bit surprised if one day he writes a book of his own. I also appreciate his enthusiasm.  I always know when he feels I have handed him a sure thing because of his response. He doesn’t hold back about how much he likes what he sees and how well it will fit with an editor he has in mind.

Readers: Who has helped you either personally or professionally?

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A Sarah Winston Tour

By Sherry enjoying a rainy late fall day in Northern Virginia

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I’m happy to do another give away today! You can choose a copy of one of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. I will also give away either a vintage Christmas or birthday postcard.

 

 

I was delighted when Robin Templeton asked me if I would take her on a tour of Sarah Winston sites before the writers conference, Crime Bake, started. And was equally delighted when we found out Eleanor (Ellie) Carwood Jones could also join us. These are all places Sarah visits or mentions in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series.

Photo by Ellie

It was the perfect fall afternoon. There were so many places I wanted to take them and I knew we couldn’t do it all. Plus by the time we drove from Dedham, Massachusetts to Concord we’d only have about two and a half hours of daylight. I had to pick wisely. (And yes I ducked down to fit in the picture — we were trying to capture some of the fall foliage!)

The Minute Man National Historic Park which spans Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord, MA is one of my favorite places. It follow the path that of the opening battle of the Revolutionary War. I decided we’d stop at the Paul Revere capture

Photo by Ellie

Photo by Ellie

site. I was fascinated with the true story of what happened the night Paul Revere road from Boston.

I’d always believe the poem by Longfellow that Revere was the only rider and that he made it to Concord to alert them that the Redcoats were coming. Boy was I wrong.

Our next stop was at The Wayside the home of three very famous authors: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriet Lothrop (Margaret Sidney — she wrote The Five Little Peppers books). The stories that take place in Little Women happened at this house.

img_1547 I pointed them to the left and said, “There’s Orchard House where Lousia Mae Alcott wrote Little Women.”  I wish you all could have seen how excited Robin and Ellie were. It made me so happy to show them around!

I think Louisa’s room is on the upper right. I wish we would have time to taken the tour because it is fantastic.

img_1557Our next stop took us through the town of Concord to the North Bridge of “the shot heard round the world” fame. However, before we walked to the bridge we stopped at the Old Manse near the bridge. Ralph Waldo Emerson lived here. He let Nathanial Hawthorne and his wife Sophia honeymoon here (for three years). Thoreau was their gardener.

The North Bridge is where the militiamen first fired on the Redcoats. The fight had the militiamen chasing the Redcoats all the way back to Boston. The bridge is a reproduction of the original which was taken down in 1788. There is something so special about this spot — you can just feel the spirit of freedom here.

photo by Robin

photo by Robin

 

Across the bridge is a statue of a Minute Man to honor those who fought. The statue was sculpted by Daniel Chester French who had his first art lessons with May Alcott. His best known work is the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Ellie

Photo by Ellie

Our next stop was at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. (Sarah goes there at the end of Tagged For Death). This is not the Sleepy Hollow of headless horseman fame — that cemetery is in New York. But it is famous for its Author Ridge where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Emerson (along with their families) are buried.

It’s a beautiful space and it’s amazing to think that all these great authors, who knew each other in life, are buried so close together.

 

 

Here are some other images from the cemetery:

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By this time we’d worked up an appetite. I suggested a couple of places to eat but we ended up at one of my favorites The Colonial Inn. It’s supposed to be haunted. Ellie took these photos and the food shots:

And then there’s our food chicken pot pie, cod with crab stuffing, and Yankee pot roast:

After dinner it was on to Bedford which I’ve fictionalized for my books and re-named Ellington. We stopped at the town common and parked across the street from “Sarah’s” house. I’ve added a covered porch to the house and it sits a bit farther back from the street. This is the church that Sarah sees out her window.

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This is a picture of Sarah’s house (I took these on another trip) although I’ve added a porch and set it back from the street just a bit. The second picture is of DiNapoli’s Roast Beef and Pizza if you were standing in front of Sarah’s house. It’s the green building. Paint and Wine would be to the right.

We ended our tour at Bedford Farms Ice Cream. We managed to save a little room after our dinner. Sarah often goes to get a kiddie cup of ice cream. Believe it or not the picture below is the kiddie cup. Sarah’s favorite is in the middle — Almond Joy. Yum!

 

It was such a fun day for me to show Robin and Ellie some of my favorite places and Sarah’s too. Next time I hope I can take them on base, spend more time at the Minute Man National Historic Park, and tour Orchard House. And then of course have ice cream.

Readers: Do you have a favorite small town?

Assembling Quilts and Stories

Edith here, staggering a bit from all the delicious rich foods of Thanksgiving, and still aglow from a lovely long visit with both of my sons.

Today, continuing our Wicked Month of Thankfulness, I’m giving away a promise to send the winner an ARC of one of my three 2017 mysteries as soon as I get them. It’ll be your choice of When the Grits Hit the Fan (written as Maddie Day), Called to Justice, or Mulch Ado About Murder. So make sure you leave a comment at the end of the post before midnight EST tonight, and don’t forget to check the blog Sunday when we post the week’s winners.

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Right now I’m trying to polish my fourth Country Store Mystery, Biscuits and Slashed Browns. I’m also about to move into writing a new book in a new series, the first in the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. And, of course, the Christmas season is creeping up on me way too fast, so there will be decorating and  baking in my life pretty shortly, not to mention coming up with ideas for gifts and then implementing them (which might or might not involve shopping). Life is very busy.

That said, the lovely quilt my late mother made me about twenty-five years ago is in tatters on our bed. Mommy was a master quilter, creating probably a hundred quilts in her retirement years. A few years before she died in 2012 she asked me what colors I’d like in a new quilt. She never finished it, though, and I’ve had a bag of the fabric for it in my closet for almost five years now. So I resolved to bring it out and finish it.

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I thought I had the pattern stuffed into the bag. I didn’t. To my delight I counted 46 four-fifths completed blocks, and 46 strips. I didn’t realize how much of the work my mother had already completed on the project. It was much like if someone I loved died with only part of a novel completed, but enough of the writing in place for me to see the way forward to finishing it.

I figured out where to add the strips, so I commissioned a son to haul my sewing machine down to the dining table and went to work.

machinework

After I added all the strips, I pressed the blocks and trimmed off the uneven edges while listening to my Saturday radio shows. Working with cloth, thread, and iron brought me so close to memories of my mom and older sisters. Sewing was part of our lives from a very young age – Mommy made our clothes, ballet costumes, Halloween costumes, nightgowns, even hand puppets, and we graduated into sewing our own dresses in high school.

The following picture is NOT of us in our high school dresses, obviously, but was taken a few months before our mom passed away, with one of her quilts on the wall and one her own mother made on the bed. (Now you could call us the Silver-Haired Spectacled Scarf Sisters, I guess.)

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Once the blocks were ready I was presented with the problem of how to lay them out. I thought maybe some of my far-flung quilter friends on Facebook might recognize the potential pattern, and many suggested some permutation of Irish Chain, but the examples Ms. Google showed me didn’t look like my blocks. It was a mystery! Again it was kind of like a book, where I set up the suspects and the crime, but often I’m not sure who the actual villain is until I write well into the story.

I did a little math before getting to the layout. Seven down and six across would use 42 of the 46 blocks. I could figure out later what to do with the spare four blocks. I smoothed out a plain-colored blanket on top of the worn-out quilt on our  bed and began to lay out squares. After a few false starts I figured out a pattern that worked, didn’t bring any color except the dark in contact with itself, and used all the blocks without any odd corners sticking out.

layout

I posted the layout picture on Facebook and a quilter pal suggested it should be more of a crossover line, but I’m happy with the look of those rings. It’s a little small for a double bed, so I’ll add several narrow borders and a wide one in between. Yet another quilter pal, author Betsy Bitner, suggested fitting the four extra squares into the corners of the border to extend the pattern. Brilliant!

Once again it’s like the stage of authorship I’m in right now with my Country Store mystery – the book is too short, but I always get up to the word count my editor expects by enriching the language, adding the five senses, including things like my protag’s reactions which I knew but forgot to actually write down. Sometimes I even discover a new subplot that betters the story.

The basic top is assembled, so after I add the borders it will need quilting.

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One thing I really don’t have time for is hand quilting my mother’s project, so I’ll either hire someone to machine quilt it or I’ll see if I can hire a group to hand quilt it – just like I use an independent editor to help me improve my books. I’m not in for a major hobby of quilting, so I don’t plan to join a quilting group (my mom’s group was called “Stitch and Bitch,” which I always loved). Here’s a shot of the now-tattered quilt when it was new, with my mom (second from right) with some of her quilter friends, all of whom helped hand quilt this lovely piece.

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I’m sure I’ll find a good solution for the quilting stage. And then we’ll have a beautiful new bedcover that will always connect me to my mom.

Readers: Do you quilt? What handcraft, recipe, or custom connects you with departed family? Remember, a special ARC giveaway to one commenter!