Diary of a Mad Quilter

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January 2

I’m writing this on the porch, even though it’s freezing. For the first big DIY project of his retirement, Darrell has decided to renovate the downstairs bathroom, and the racket he’s making has driven me out of the house. All the porch furniture is in the garage, so I’m sitting on a red cooler and balancing this journal on my lap (which, Future Reader, is why my handwriting is so bad).

I have mixed feelings about the bathroom remodel. On the one hand, that bathroom hasn’t been updated since 1987, and I’ve been saying for years it’s time for a new look. The days of Country Cottage Blue are long gone, my friends. On the other hand, I can’t imagine this turning out well. Darrell’s carpentry skills are impressive. His plumbing know-how? A little less so. 

Still, I’m glad he has a project to keep him busy. He’s been at loose ends ever since he retired two months ago. That’s not entirely true—Christmas kept him busy. He took Tyler and Taylor to every Christmas event in a twenty-mile radius. Christmas parades and Christmas tree lightings and Santa trains and, oh, just everything. Jessica actually started hinting that Darrell could take care of the boys on the days that she works, but I put my foot down. I’m not against babysitting my grandchildren—far from it! I’m happy to take the boys for the day, or even a weekend. But all day, three days a week? I don’t think so.

Not everyone feels that way, I know. A lot of the girls in my guild love having their grandchildren stay with them for weeks at a time, even if it interferes with their quilting.

I don’t let anything interfere with my quilting.

Guild last night was interesting, as always. Pat was out of town, so our VP Lynn ran the show. I love Lynn, but she doesn’t know how to control a crowd, and the Ashland County Piecemakers can be a rowdy bunch given half a chance. It doesn’t help that Marianne Knight and her gang get together for dinner and drinks at Applebee’s before our monthly meetings (“Better keep her away from the rotary cutters,” Sheila whispered to me when we saw Marianne last night. It was true—the woman definitely looked tipsy).

Anyway, Sheila and I got there a few minutes late—we actually pulled into the parking lot five minutes early, but we sat in Sheila’s car discussing Carie’s latest experience on OK Cupid. Suffice to say it wasn’t good. But then Carie’s always had bad luck with men; as Sheila says, her older two girls were always lucky in love and the youngest two—well, not so much.

I can’t express how grateful I am for the fact that I’m not twenty and looking for romance on a dating app. I met Darrell at a Doobie Brothers’ concert in 1976, when you could still meet people by just going out with your friends. I remember everything like it happened yesterday—innocently asking Sheila what a doobie was, and I guess I was yelling a little so she could hear me over the music, because everyone around us laughed—everyone except for Darrell, who was standing behind me. He tapped my shoulder and said, “A doobie is a marijuana cigarette—a lot of people don’t know that.” Judging by the laughter, I’d say a lot of people did know that, but I appreciated that Darrell was trying to make me feel okay about being so dumb.

There’s a lot to discuss whenever you start talking about Carie’s love life, so Sheila and I ended up being a few minutes late to the meeting. When we walked in the room, Lynn was standing at the podium looking like she was thinking about retiring her   vice-presidency and moving to New Zealand. Marianne Knight and her gang were rummaging through the door-prize bags—which is strictly verboten. Pat would have never stood for it, but Lynn looked at a loss as to what to do.  She also looked like she was about to cry.

“I bet nobody would notice if I pocketed a couple of these fat quarters,” Marianne said in a loud fake whisper to her friends. 

 Just then Betsy Wiggins burst into the room. “Leave those alone!” she bellowed as she hurried over to where Marianne was making her felonious intentions clear. “How many times do I have to tell you, Marianne? Half of the fun of the door prizes is that no one knows what’s in the bags!”

“Oh, chillax, Betsy!” Marianne said, because Marianne makes a point of using whatever she thinks the current slang is, although she’s usually at least half a decade behind. I have to admit I find it sort of funny, but at the same time, I don’t want to encourage her by laughing. Marianne is one of those people best left unencouraged.

“I will not chillax!” Betsy  turned and waved to Lynn. “You want to get started, hon’? The natives are clearly restless.”

 Lynn raised her hand and leaned toward the podium mic. “Hi, everybody? Hi? Can everybody sit down? Pat’s visiting the new baby, so I guess that means I’m in charge.”

“Janey had her baby?” someone called, and when Lynn nodded, asked, “Boy or girl?”

“Boy,” Lynn said, sounding more confident now. “His name is Jackson, and he weighs nine pounds, 7 ounces!”

“That’s a big baby,” somebody said approvingly.

“Everybody’s named Jackson nowadays,” someone else said, less approvingly.

“Um, anyway,” Lynn continued. “We’ve got a lot on the agenda today. First, Laura wanted to talk about dues, which are, um, due.”

From there, the meeting continued in the usual way, reports, announcements and reminders, etc. etc. Then Judy did a presentation on big-stitch quilting—suddenly everyone is into hand-quilting around here! I used to hand-piece when the kids were little and I needed a project to carry around, but for the last twenty years it’s been nothing but Bernina, baby.

As always, show and tell was my favorite part. There were more quilts than usual—lots of the latest Bonnie Hunter mystery quilt. Joanna Laverty finally finished her “Dear Jane,” which was incredible. I don’t know if I’d have the patience—or, quite frankly, the skills—to pull it off.  Not to downplay my abilities  but “Dear Jane” is for Olympian quilters–our Michael Felps and Mary Lou Rettons. I’ve always admired Joanna, but now I stand in awe of her. 

Uh-oh—I can hear Darrell yelling—better run!


 January 3

Plumber here all morning.  Steve whistles while he works, which is cheerful and maybe a tiny bit irritating But what do I care? Steve let Darrell assist him, which meant I got to quilt uninterrupted until lunchtime (tuna on toasted rye—Steve’s favorite, as I’ve learned over the years).

Sheila says she knows the new year has truly begun when I pledge my troth to the Piecemakers annual BOM quilt. I honestly believe there’s an actual chance I might finish all of the blocks this time. It could happen. I’m almost done with January and the month has just begun. I’m on a roll!

At lunch Steve told us how he became a  plumber. It turns out he has a degree in economics, but he hated working in an office all day. When he realized he could make as much—or more!—as a plumber, he quit his finance job and started his own company. He never looked back.

“I worked as a carpenter back in the day,” Darrell told him. “I loved it, but I needed better health benefits once Marnie and I got married. But now—well, I’m ready to pick up a hammer again.”

 “Hence the bathroom remodel,” Steve said.

“Yeah, but it turns out I don’t know a lot about plumbing,” Darrell said.

“You know just enough to be dangerous,” Steve assured him. “So what else are you going to do now that you’re retired?”

Darrell shrugged. “I don’t know. I think I need a hobby, one that’s less expensive than remodeling the entire house. Maybe I’ll get Marnie to show me how to make a quilt.”

Steve laughed, but I wasn’t  a hundred percent sure that Darrell was joking. I also wasn’t a hundred percent sure a quilt-making habit  was less expensive than remodeling a house.

I tried to go back to sewing after lunch, but I decided I need to write in my diary instead. Does Darrell really want to make quilts? Would I mind if he did? Would he get his own sewing machine? Would he want to work in my sewing room? Would I end up stabbing him with my scissors (not the good ones)?

Darrell has always enjoyed my quilts—and other people’s as well. He goes with me and Sheila to the local quilt shows, and we’ve been to Quilt Week in Paducah twice. But he’s never talked about wanting to make one.

The thing is, I could never discourage another human being from quilting. What’s more wonderful than making a quilt? But I’m not sure I’m woman enough to welcome my husband into my quilting world. Or my sewing room.

Does that make me an awful human being?


January 5

Something very strange happened today.

Darrell bought a featherweight.

“I was looking around on Craig’s List for a leaf blower, and there it was,” he said when he came home this afternoon. “Seventy-five bucks and in good condition. I don’t know, Marnie—it just spoke to me. I mean look at it; it’s a beauty. I knew it would be, just from the picture.”

He’d just gotten back from Trader Joe’s, where he met the seller in the  parking lot for the exchange. Now the featherweight was sitting on the middle of the kitchen table. I had to admit that it really was beautiful.

“It’s a 1962 Singer,” Darrell told me, circling the table so he could admire his purchase from all sides. “A classic. I didn’t know they were still making these in 1962.”

“I didn’t, either,” I said. “I didn’t even know there were electric featherweights. I thought you had to—I don’t know, push on a pedal or something to make them go.”

Darrell gave me a sympathetic look. “Oh, honey, the Singer featherweight has always been electric, from the very first ones that were manufactured in 1933.”

“So are you going to put it on display, or take it apart or what?” I asked, turning to the sink, where the lunch dishes were waiting for someone to wash them. “It would be interesting to see what its insides look like.”

There was a moment of silence before Darrell replied, “I’m going to use it to sew. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided I’d like to learn how to quilt. I thought I could start with new quilts for the twins. Jessica said the ones you gave them for their birthday last year are starting to get worn out.”

“That’s because the boys drag them everywhere,” I told him. “But I can make them new quilts; I don’t mind.”

I don’t know why I said that; one of my New Year’s resolutions was no more quilts for the twins until they’re old enough to appreciate quilts. Say, when they’re thirty. Maybe thirty-five. Okay, I know I’ll never stick to it, but I thought maybe I’d wait until Halloween.

“You’ve got too many other things to do,” Darrell said. “Don’t forget it’s almost time to start on your show quilt.”

Big sigh. My show quilt. The deadline to enter quilts into the  Piecemakers’ annual show is June 1st and I don’t have the vaguest idea of what I want to make. It has to be original, and I want it to be amazing. So far, inspiration has eluded me.

Still, I need to get started, and sewing quilts for Taylor and Tyler would definitely get in the way of making any progress.

I looked at the Singer. It was the first time I ever had anything resembling mixed feelings about a sewing machine.  Where exactly did Darrell plan to put it? He wasn’t planning on leaving it in the kitchen, was he?

He wasn’t planning on finding a place for it in my sewing room, was he?

And if so, could this marriage be saved?

“In case you’re worried, I’m going to make a sewing space in the corner of the Man Cave,” Darrell said. He began packing the machine back into its box. “I have no plans for taking over your sewing room.”

I laughed an unconvincing laugh. “You’d be more than welcome to work in my sewing room! Of course, I do listen to podcasts the whole time I’m in there. You know, like “The Off-Kilter Quilt”  and “Post-Menopausal and Loving It.”

“You’re making those up!” Darrell said laughing.

“Not the first one, but okay, the second one is make-believe,” I told him. “Although I bet there are some great podcasts for those of us who’ve been through the change.”

Darrell held up a hand. “I’ve been through menopause once. I don’t want to relive it.”

“You witnessed my menopause,” I corrected him. “That’s very different than going through it.”

“I took notes, Marnie,” Darrell said. “It was bad.”

He was right. It was bad. Everybody suffered.

Darrell started for his study. “So, you want to go fabric shopping in the morning? I’m buying!”

“Free fabric?” I said, filling up the sink with hot water. “Say no more. The Cozy Quilter opens at 10:00.”

And then I realized Darrell was about to learn how much fabric really costs.

This could be bad. Really bad.


January 6 

Katie called tonight. She’s decided to attend QuiltCon for the first time. It makes me happy that my daughter has caught the quilting bug. I have to admit that I’m still getting used to the fact that she’s a modern quilter. There are a few modern quilters in the Piecemakers, and sometimes I think they find the rest of us boring. Behind the times. Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I think my quilts are boring and behind the times. Something to think about, I guess. But even if it’s true, I don’t see myself becoming a modern quilter any time soon. I love traditional quilts. I love blocks. I love patterns. I need patterns. When it comes to math and measuring, I shouldn’t be left to my own devices. 

Don’t get me wrong–I really do love Katie’s modern quilts. She leans toward a bright and happy palette, and last summer she learned how to sew curved pieces. I’m careful not to say this to her, but I already see her trending toward more traditional quilts. When she moved into her new apartment in Atlanta, I sent her an antique orange peel quilt I’d found on eBay—with the caveat that the cats could NOT use it as their bed. (Sheila laughed when I told her that—“Those cats own Katie,” she said, which is the absolute truth.)

Anyway, when Katie opened the package, she called me right away. “You’ve gone modern!” she squealed. “And you’re repurposing old fabric. That’s so cool, Mom!”

That’s when I explained that the orange peel quilt was probably made in the 1920s or ‘30s and there was nothing modern about it. Or, to put it another way—which I didn’t do with Katie, because we were having such a nice conversation—a lot of modern quilts strike me as pretty old fashioned, in a 1930s sort of way.

That’s a conversation for another day.

Katie wants me to join her at QuiltCon, and maybe I will. After all, it’s not often I get to spend one-on-one time with my daughter, though it’s true I’ve seen her a lot more since the divorce. Poor Katie! She and Matthew were so happy before they got married, and so miserable from the moment they said, “I do.” Six years of trying to work something out that so clearly wasn’t going to ever work out.

Well, I don’t want to dwell on it. It’s too sad. And now Matthew’s getting married again! And his girlfriend is pregnant!

Stop. Let it go.

So, anyway Katie called because she was excited about her decision to go to QuiltCon and excited about quilts in general. “I just wanted to thank you, Mom! Thank you for giving me a sewing machine when my life was falling apart. It saved me!”

I understood perfectly. Quilting got me through two miscarriages and Sam’s leukemia when he was twelve, back in the day before childhood leukemia was still really scary. I mean, I know it’s scary now. No kind of cancer isn’t scary, especially when it’s your kid who has it. But back then, chances of surviving weren’t as good as they are these days.  Anyway, I spent a lot of time sitting next to Sam’s hospital bed stitching simple blocks—nine-patches and four-squares, just anything to keep me from melting into a puddle of anxiety.

Okay, why did I bring this up? I’m making myself sad. Oh yes—my happy daughter at her happy quilts. She’s been sending pictures all day of quilts she wants to make this year. I showed a few to Darrell at lunch, and you know what he said?

“Some of these look like they were inspired by Amish quilts, don’t you think?”

I nearly choked on my turkey sandwich. “How do you know about Amish quilts?”

“I’ve been doing research. Quilt history, that sort of thing. Where did you say Katie’s going?”

“QuiltCon—next month. It’s the annual Modern Quilt Guild show.”

Darrell picked up his phone and started tapping. “Let’s see—hashtag QuiltCon—yep, here we are.”

“Where are you searching?” I asked.

“Instagram,” Darrell told me. “Does Katie have an Instagram account?”

I shrugged. “Probably—text her and find out.”

More tapping, a few seconds of waiting, and then a ping. “Yep, she sure does!” Darrell said, and then tapped some more. “QuiltDivaKatie. I like it!”

He spent the next five minutes scrolling through pictures of modern quilts, Katie’s and others. Lots of murmurs of delight and lots of affirmative head-shaking. Finally he looked up at me and said, “I like modern quilting! It’s a very fresh aesthetic.”

“Sure, in its way,” I told him as I stole a potato chip from his plate.

“I’m going to make one! Do you have any solid color fabrics I could borrow? It looks like modern quilters don’t use many prints.”

“Katie says that’s changing,” I informed him as I stood. “But I have a bunch of solids. I’ll go grab some for you.”

“Great!” Darrell said, and there was something i n his voice that told me he’d be in his sewing roomman cave – until dinner.    

January  16

Darrell has joined the Milton Falls Modern Quilt Guild.

As soon as he told me this morning, I texted Sheila. Lunch at Barb’s Barb-B-Q. High noon.

That’s our international distress signal. We only go to Barb’s in cases of emergency, when we really need the calories.

I’ll be there, she texted back. You can count on me.

 “He joined a guild?” Sheila asked as soon as we sat down, tilting her head, as though confused. “I know he’s enjoying the quilting thing, but a guild?”

“Not just any guild,” I reminded her. “The Milton Falls Modern Quilt Guild.”

“I’ve heard it’s a very nice group,” Sheila assured me. “Carol Woolsey is a member.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “How many guilds does Carol Woolsey belong to?”

Sheila started ticking off names. “The Milton Falls Modern Guild, the Milton Falls Evening Stars, the Central Ohio Textile Artists Circle—and maybe the Columbus City Limits Quilters? She might have stopped going to their meetings, though, because of the traffic. Of course, she’s in the Piecemakers, but we meet the same night as the modern guild, so she’s been alternating between the two. All I know is that ever since she got divorced last year, she’s signed up for every fiber-related club in the tri-county area.”

“Well, ask her if there are any other men at the modern guild,” I told her, chewing on a hushpuppy. “Not that Darrell would care if he was the only one.”

“He’s very comfortable in the company of women,” Sheila agreed. “But not too comfortable—that’s not what I’m saying!”

“I know what you’re saying,” I assured her. “He has two older sisters. He’s been well-trained.”

Sheila piled some more slaw onto her pulled pork sandwich. “So do you think he’s interested in modern quilts because of Katie?”

“Maybe. I think it’s a combination of factors, actually. There’s the design angle—the mid-century modern thing. It suits Darrell’s love of clean lines and lack of clutter.”

“That makes sense, given he’s a math guy,” Sheila said, handing me a paper napkin. “You’ve got barbecue sauce on your chin, honey. So tell me—what’s your real problem with Darrell joining a guild?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know if I have a problem, honestly. I just feel like he’s, well … ”

“Invading your space?”

“A little bit?” I sighed. “You’d think I’d be happy that my husband is interested in what I’m interested in. And it’s not like he’s joining my guild. I mean, can you imagine? I’m a certain way at guild—not like I’m a totally different person at guild, but I’m—something.”

“You’re sassier,” Sheila informed me. “A little silly sometimes. You’re more like you were in high school.”

“I was an idiot in high school,” I reminded her. “I dated guys like Mark Herndon.”

“We were all idiots in high school. But you were a really fun idiot. When you’re with Darrell—well, you’re a wife and a mom. A good wife and a good mom. But not as fun as you are in guild. Less prone to playing pranks on people.”

I nodded. “It’s true. Guild brings out the prankster in me.”

Sheila reached over and grabbed a  hushpuppy from my plate. “You and Darrell have one of the best marriages I know. You support each other. You take care of each other. But you’ve always had your own things. You’ve always given each other space. Now that he’s retired, things are going to be less … spacey. I think it’s great he’s taking up quilting. Although you know this featherweight machine thing is going to become an obsession, right?”

“It already is,” I said. “He’s got an eye on a Singer Featherweight 221 he found on eBay. Made in 1933 and in mint condition.”

“He’s such a guy,” Sheila said, shaking her head.

“Plus, he’s researching quilt history,” I told her. “It’s all we talk about at dinner these days.”

Such a guy,” Sheila repeated.

I felt better after lunch. It was like going to confession—or therapy. I always thought Sheila would have made a great therapist. Instead she managed a bridal shop and raised four daughters on her own after her husband left her for another woman. That happened nearly twenty years ago and I still want to hunt Kevin down and beat him with a stick.

Okay, Marnie, let’s walk that back. I am a nonviolent person and a former third grade teacher.. But I still feel angry about what Kevin did. A woman like Sheila should have been treated like a queen, not an old Kleenex discarded as casually as–well, an old Kleenex. I’ve tried to fix her up on blind dates over the years, but she won’t have it. She’s got work, she’s got daughters, she’s got quilts. Her life is full, she says.

But it could be fuller, couldn’t it? Doesn’t it have a man-sized space in it? A space in the shape of a good man. A kind man. A man that looks a lot like Harrison Ford. Maybe I should make it one of my New Year's resolutions to find that man and deliver him to Sheila’s doorstep. 

Yes, I’ll add that to my list. Lose twenty pounds, exercise more, finish this year’s BOM quilt and fix Sheila up with Prince Charming. Or Hans Solo. Either will do.


January 19

Some big news today ! Big news I can’t tell anyone! Not even Sheila!

This is going to be tough.

When Jessica came over this afternoon and told me that she and Sam were thinking  about going on a second honeymoon, I thought they were looking for an excuse to get a little time away from the twins.

I wouldn’t blame them. Not that Tyler and Taylor aren’t wonderful boys—really, they couldn’t be more adorable, especially now that Taylor is over his biting phase. But they’re three, and three is hard—much harder than two, in my opinion. Besides that, now that Jessica’s back at work part-time, she’s more stressed than ever.

If you ask me, she should go back to work full-time. I know that’s an unpopular opinion in some circles, but the fact is that Jessica loves her job as a health educator. She loves going to retirement communities and sorority houses and middle schools to talk about wellness and mindfulness and how important it is to wash your hands to stop the spread of colds and flus and COVID. It makes her really happy, and a happy mom is the best kind of mom there is.

Besides, I worked full-time and raised two kids, and they both turned out fine. Of course, it helped that I taught third grade and the kids went to my school for the first six years of their education. After the last bell rang, they came to my classroom and drew or did their homework or helped with little jobs like stapling papers together until I was ready to go home. Boy, did Katie ever love stapling!

So anyway, Jessica came over with the boys this afternoon after she picked them up from daycare. They’d both made pictures for Pop-Pop and wanted to give them to him in person. At first, I suspected that the real reason Jessica stopped by was that she needed someone to make her a snack before she went home and cooked dinner. Or she knew that if she hung out here for a while, Sam would get home first and he’d have to start dinner. Jessica and Sam subscribe to a meal box service, and whoever gets home first on the days they’re both working is in charge of pulling the box out of the fridge, reading the enclosed directions, and putting the meal together.

Darrell thinks a meal box subscription is a waste of money—how hard is to boil spaghetti and heat up some sauce?—but I think meal boxes are brilliant if you can afford them. Sure, spaghetti is easy, cheap, and it tastes good, but you can’t eat it every night. Or you can—but as the Fetzer family learned over the years, you can also come to hate spaghetti with a passion verging on the operatic.

“We’re thinking about going to the Caribbean,” Jessica told me as she dipped a carrot into a bowl of ranch dressing. “Somewhere affordable where we can relax for a few days. We’re looking at the third week of February.”

I carried a container of hummus to the kitchen table. “Will your mom take care of the boys?”

Jessica crunched on her carrot a moment before replying. “Welllllll … I’ve brought it up with her …”

“And?” I sat down across from Jessica. I was only asking to be polite—I already knew the answer. Jessica’s mom, Abbie, is not the kind of grandmother who takes the kids for a long weekend—or even a long afternoon.

“You know Mom,” Jessica said with a sheepish shrug. “She’s got a lot going on. She and Billy are thinking about spending February and March in Florida. Billy’s son has a house in St. Petersburg, but he travels all the time, so they’d mostly have the place to themselves.”

“You could drop off the boys with them in Florida,” I suggested. “The twins would love the beach.”

Jessica sighed. “Billy’s not great with kids. I mean, he likes kids—” She stopped herself. “No, he doesn’t. He doesn’t hate kids, he just doesn’t—okay, he hates kids.”

“That’s too bad,” I said. “And no fun for your mom, either.”

“To be honest, Marnie, my mom is still having a hard time accepting the fact that she’s a grandmother,” Jessica told me, stabbing another carrot into the Ranch dressing. “I mean, she’s only fifty-four, which is young these days when it comes to having grandkids. A lot of her friends still have children in high school.”

“Fifty-four is young for grandkids these days,” I said, keeping my tone neutral.

“Mom really does love the boys,” Jessica insisted. “But I think she’d rather be their fun aunt than their granny.”

In all honesty, I’m not Abbie’s biggest fan. Like a lot of former prom queens, Jessica’s mom is having a hard time with growing older. She’s still an attractive woman—I mean, what I wouldn’t give for those cheekbones—and she still can turn heads when she walks into a room, especially if the room is dimly lit. But like a lot of women who were great beauties in their younger days, she never bothered to develop a winning personality to go with her winning looks. I think it’s fair to say that she’s the teeniest bit self-centered.

Still, I try not to let on to my daughter-in-law that I don’t care for her mother. Who needs that?

“I’m sure Abbie’s doing her best,” I said. “She’s had a hard life. But she did a great job raising you and your brother.”

Jessica gave me a grateful look. “Thanks, Marnie. She tried.”

I stood up to grab a seltzer from the fridge. “We’ll take the boys when you guys go on your trip. Darrell can teach them how to quilt, and then they can teach you.”

“That would be so great,” Jessica said, and then, to my surprise, her eyes filled with tears. “You and Darrell are so … you’re just so great.”

Which is when she started to cry. At first I thought she was feeling sad about how she couldn’t depend on her own parents to help out (her dad lives in California; nice guy but pretty distant), but after a moment I realized something else was going on.

“Honey, what is it?” I asked, pulling a chair next to hers. “Is everything okay?”   

Jessica looked around the room, as though she were making sure no one else was there. “I’m pregnant,” she whispered. “And I’m already so tired. I don’t know how I can handle another baby, Marnie.”

“How’s Sam?” I asked, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. I was trying to keep my own emotions at bay. Another grandbaby! I could hardly wait to call Sheila and give her the news. But now was not the time to jump up and down with joy.

“He’s over the moon, but he doesn’t want to announce it until I’m through the first trimester—so, a month from now.”

“And that’s why you’re going to the Caribbean—a last hurrah before the pregnancy really takes over?”

“Yeah,” Jessica pulled out a tissue from her purse and blew her nose before continuing. “Sam thinks a relaxing vacation will help me gear up for what’s next.”

“Definitely,” I told her. “You’ll come back feeling great. How do you feel now?”

“Okay. Not as sick as I felt with the twins, but still pretty tired.”

“Darrell and I will help you guys as much as we can,” I said. “We’ll take the boys when you need a break, and we can help pay for a full time preschool.”

Just then Taylor ran in to the room. “I’m maximum starving, Grammy! Feed me!”

“Can you say please, please?” Jessica prompted.

“Please please feed me, Grammy!” Taylor revised. “Pop-Pop says you have animal crackers and I can have as many as I want.”

I looked at Jessica. She’s pretty serious about limiting the boys’ sugar intake, especially late in the afternoon.

“Maybe some veggies instead, Tay-Tay?” Jessica said, and then she rolled her eyes and laughed. “Oh, who cares! Animal crackers for everyone!”

I leaned over and kissed Jessica on the top of her head before going to get the animal crackers out of the pantry. I’ll admit that there are things that my daughter-in-law does that drive me a little bit nuts. She takes the boys to their pediatrician at the drop of a hat, and she’s way too worried about gluten. She overdoes it on Christmas and is a wreck by Christmas morning, which means we’re all wrecks by Christmas morning. She already has the twins signed up for violin lessons this summer—who needs violin lessons when they’re four?—and she’s thinking about putting them in a preschool where the teachers only speak French. I could go on.

But whenever I start getting irritated, I remember that Jessica’s doing everything she can to be a great mom—to be a better mom than the one she had. And anyone can see from these happy, healthy boys that she’s doing an amazing job.

Plus, she gives me gift cards to the Cozy Quilter for Christmas. So what’s not to love?


January 20 

Sheila and I met for coffee this morning at the Lin-Ways Diner. She could tell right away that I was keeping something from her.

“Spill,” she said as soon as she slipped out of her coat. When I started to protest I didn’t have any news, she rolled her eyes. “Oh please, Marnie! It’s all over your face.”

“What’s all over my face?” I asked, neglecting  to make eye contact. I picked up the menu instead. “Syrup, probably. Darrell made pecan waffles for breakfast again. I think I’ve gained five pounds since he retired. Boy, the French toast here is so good. Is it too early for brunch?”

Sheila tapped her fork against the salt shaker. “You’re stalling, Marnie. I’ve known you since you were fourteen, and I know when you’re keeping something from me.”

I looked across the table at my oldest friend. Fifty years next September, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to keep a secret from her. There was no reason to try now.

So I spilled my news, and Sheila spilled the glass of water the waitress had just set in front of her. “I’ve got a lap full of ice, and I don’t care—that’s how excited I am!” she exclaimed. “A new baby! We’ve been needing one of those for a while now.”

“Three years since Taylor and Tyler,” I said, counting on my fingers. “Four years since Marco.”

“Almost five years since Marco,” Sheila corrected me. “I hinted around the other day to Grace that Marco might like a baby brother or sister, but she wasn’t biting.  ‘Marco’s very happy being the sole tyrant of our abode’ is how she put it.”

“Remember how Grace was always asking to be an only child?” I asked as I mixed half and half into my coffee. “I always wondered what she hoped you would do. Sell the other three?”

Sheila snorted. “That’s exactly what she hoped I would do. And don’t think I didn’t consider it. Sometimes I wonder how I made it through those years when the girls were little. I couldn’t wait for them to become teenagers so they’d stop talking to me.”

“It was a little chaotic,” I agreed.

“Chaotic?” Sheila shook her head. “It was a war zone. Anyway, I think Marco is it for Grace and Rob.”

“How about Suzzy?” Suzzy—Suzanne—is Sheila’s oldest daughter. She’s got two kids with her partner Sara and has been dangling the possibility of a third in front of Sheila for a couple of years now.

Sheila held up her hands in a “who knows” kind of gesture. “Suzzy likes the idea of three, but Sara says she’s done. Her therapy practice is doing really well, and she and Suzzy have finally paid off all that credit card debt … Besides, things are calmer these days, now that Willa is in third grade and Henry’s in first.”

“It’s so nice when things start to settle down. I can still remember the night I told Katie it was time for bed—and she went. Just like that. Put on her nightgown and brushed her teeth and called out goodnight from the top of the stairs. I felt like a free woman.”

“I didn’t feel that way until Carie went to college,” Sheila said. “Everyone kept asking me how I was doing after she left, like someone had died. I had to pretend like I was in mourning because all of my children had flown the nest.”

“When you were actually celebrating. With a lot of pizza and Cabernet Sauvignon, if I recall correctly.”

“It was glorious,” Sheila said. “I gained seven pounds in two weeks, but it was still glorious.”

The waitress came to refill our coffee, and Sheila ordered a donut. “Unlike you, I didn’t have pecan waffles for breakfast,” she told me. “I’m making up for lost calories.”

“You know I’m going to eat half of any donut that lands on this table,” I told her.

“I know,” she replied. “Maybe I should order two.”

Which is exactly what she did.