It’s not quite December yet. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and it was a great one. For the first time, I hosted Thanksgiving at my own house, for Joe’s parents and three of his sisters’ families along with us. It was a lot of work, but I loved it. I loved the baking and cooking. I didn’t love the cleaning but I love how clean my house still is right now. I loved having our home full of laughter, delicious aromas, and great conversation. Around five p.m., everyone left for other festivities. Some went to see Christmas lights on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Some just went back home to relax. And Joe, my husband, left to start his annual tour with Michael McLean’s The Forgotten Carols. (Joe does the sound and drives the truck with all the set and gear.) The kids were tired and full and content, and my home felt peaceful, but I felt a tinge of sadness. We’re grateful for Joe’s work. The people he works with at this time of year are like family. We wouldn’t change anything, but I have to admit, getting through the holidays and my own shows and all of the kids’ events with him mostly being gone can be tough. We have a good system down for the most part. I’m a big girl and we can do it. It isn’t our first rodeo. Honestly, the biggest thing is that I really just miss him when he’s gone.

Today all four kids ended up playing with friends for a few hours and in spite of other more pressing things on my to-do list, I felt in the mood to take the quiet time to work on a sewing project. As I cut little squares of fabric and measured things, it dawned on me that I was finishing a project started by a woman even lonelier than I. I’ll have to go back in time a little to explain.

When I was 14 years old, I was on a trip with my family and we happened to visit my Great Aunt Artice Bird in Mendon, Utah. Artice is my grandmother’s sister, my mom’s aunt. Artice never married. She lived alone in the house she grew up in. My mother remembers visiting the home often as a child. Mom’s grandfather, Mormon Bird, was the postmaster of Mendon and a pillar of the community. But the parties were no more at the time we went to visit Artice. We knocked on the door and she let us in. She gathered some fresh vegetables from her garden and made us a salad for lunch. That alone seemed so magical to me. As I looked around I saw stacks and stacks of handmade quilts. Quilts Artice made in all her spare time. One had tiny octagons sewn together. Each piece was less than two inches in diameter. They were beautiful. My parents sat and chatted with Artice after lunch. I think my brother, David went outside to look for frogs, and I went upstairs. I opened a creaky door and saw a room with boxes overflowing with papers. I looked at a paper falling out of a box and noticed it was a life history of an ancestor. All the boxes were full of genealogy files. I sat on the floor in the middle of it all, and an overwhelming feeling came over me. I found some plain, loose pieces of paper and scribbled down some words. Lyrics. I was writing one of my very first songs. I don’t remember anything else about the visit. We left after a couple of hours and I never saw the place again. Artice has passed away. I have no idea what happened to all of those quilts. The house is no longer in my family. But before we left that day, Artice handed my mother a stack of hand embroidered squares. One for each month of the year. She had intended to make them into a quilt but didn’t think she’d ever get to it. Many years later when I was helping my mother move, I found the squares and asked her if I could have them, and she said yes.

I’ve had them for a few years now, and I love them, and I have felt intimidated by them. A couple of years ago I considered saving some money and having a professional quilter make them into individual squares I could hang up each month. But the money always seemed to be needed somewhere else. Or in the back of my mind I felt like this was something I needed to do myself somehow or it just wouldn’t seem right. But I’m no good at quilting.

A couple of months ago, our family was driving home from a vacation at Bear Lake, and being in Cache Valley on the way home made me think of Artice. Joe suggested we take a detour and try to find that house. We called my mom. We hunted obituary info on our phones. We even went to the cemetery and I stood next to gravestones carved with the names of my family members generations gone by. I felt a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was just like the feeling I had when I wrote the song in that quiet upstairs room, surrounded by life stories of my ancestors. I started to cry. I felt silly, I couldn’t really explain it to my kids and Joe. It was windy and about to rain, and I was standing in a cemetery crying. We got back into the car, and even found the address, but still never found the house. It was so weird. I called my mother that night when we got home and she said the house is way back behind thick trees. I should have just walked beyond the trees. I was probably standing right in front of it.

That whole episode made me want to finish those embroidered squares, so I decided to just do it. I got November done just in time for Thanksgiving, and I love it, though I hope no serious quilters look too carefully at it. I hope Artice isn’t disappointed in my work. When I was at the fabric store choosing the fabric for November and December, I quietly whispered to her; “Okay, Artice. I’m going to make these quilt squares and they might not turn out so pretty. You don’t have to watch it all go down if you don’t want to. But if you could, help me choose the right fabric. I’m listening.” I walked around the store. I touched a bolt of fabric that looked festive for December and felt, “no, too flashy.’ Then I went a couple of bolts down and saw a delicate looking poinsettia print. I touched it and my heart heard, “yes, that’s good.”  I continued on like that till I had a nice little stack of bolts to be cut.

Today I made December. Here’s a picture of it.December quilt block

Now, why does any of this matter? I don’t really know. I felt like telling you about it, though. Maybe I felt a connection to a woman in my family who turned loneliness into creativity. Artice’s sister, Orlie, my grandmother, did the same thing. As a young girl, I remember grandma always mailing us a little package at Christmas time. For each child in my family, there was an envelope with $5, a pair of socks, and a shiny piece of wood. What is a shiny piece of wood, you ask? It’s this: shiny piece of wood

My grandmother would cut out little pictures from magazines and shellac them onto a little block of wood. We laughed about it when I was a kid, but now that I’m grown up and doing crazy crafts at home alone, I feel a tenderness in my heart for my widowed grandmother, smiling as she flipped though Reader’s Digest and saw a pretty picture of a bird, then cutting it out so gently, thinking maybe her granddaughter would like it. She had no money. I don’t even know how she managed those $5 bills. But she made something beautiful for each of us. She’s gone now, but I proudly display a shiny piece of wood on my piano every Christmas.

Maybe the other feeling I get in the midst of all of this is that sometimes the holiday season is hard. Sometimes family is hard. Sometimes it’s happy and warm like Thanksgiving dinner in a full house. Other times it’s cold and windy, like standing in a rainy cemetery, or searching for a place called home that is so close, and yet so far. Sometimes you measure and cut things and try your best and it all still turns out crooked and imperfect and you have to try to see it for the beauty it has anyway.

Whatever your situation is this December, I hope you can find a way to make something beautiful out of it. I’ll be doing my best to do the same.

(By the way, I hate to break the mood here, but if you’ve been searching my website for Christmas deals, I have a good one. You can get my Christmas album for $2 a copy if you buy ten or more. You can’t get that deal from my music page here but email me at and I’ll hook you up. Christmas! Here we go!)

One Response to “December.”

  1. Lynette says:

    What a beautiful story, and a beautiful quilt block. I loved reading this post. Thank you for sharing it with us. I am glad you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and hope the busy Christmas season with your husband away so much goes smoothly for your family!

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