A Legacy of Quilts


The temperature had dropped and I decide to sit on my purple porch swing to finish hand-sewing the last edge of binding on the quilt I’m making for the young woman who became my granddaughter four years ago when my son married her mother. Maggie is an artists so I had her pick a pattern from a couple of books of contemporary quilts. I am excited about getting it to her because I think she will love it. The name of this pattern is ‘Birds Migrating’ and it is from the book is “Quick & Easy Quilts” by Lynne Goldsworthy.

This morning I sit long-wise on the swing and the motion of my body with each stitch (or the slight breeze making a loop through the porch) keeps the swing gently swaying. My sewing is smooth and efficient from decades of hand sewing, automatic – so I have extra brain cells for thinking.

Today my thoughts are about the quilt my cousin gave me. She found it in a closet she was cleaning and she didn’t want it – she thought it was Grandma’s quilt (passed down through her mother) and she knows that Grandma and I had a very close bond during our shared lifetimes. I smile a bit as I think of the symmetry of my motions and Grandma’s as we both work on our quilts, with over 75 years dividing us. I wish that we could sit on a summer’s day and talk and sew and talk and be together. I think she would enjoy the new techniques of rotary cutting and chain piecing. She would marvel at modern sewing machines as she never owned an electric one. And I would ask her all the questions that I have now that I am older, about the same age as she was when she died.


I have some questions about the quilt – ones I don’t want to ask because I want it to be Grandma’s quilt. On three or four places there is a name stamped with a rubber stamp and the little letters seem to read “Taylor”, the name of my grandfather’s mother’s second husband. She died in 1939 at the age of 90, five years before I was born. I I remember family members talking about her was alive when I was very young but I don’t remember being around her; I only know her from what I overheard the grown ups say about her.

My grandfather was a very impatient, surly sort of guy, not the kind of guy a person would want to cuddle up to, or even hug. But he showed a caring for me by doing things for me or with me. When I was small, he let me ride on the tractor when he cultivated his fields and I helped him plant and harvest potatoes in the muck. He also allowed me to learn to drive on his Cub tractor – big stuff for a thirteen year old. I remember being around him in the summer when we were outdoors doing stuff, but I sat on Grandma’s lap and cuddled into her ample body as she quietly rocked me as the blown glass in the front door made the telephone pole do funny things.

The word was that Grandpa’s mother was a difficult person that people didn’t enjoy interacting with. I’ve never thought much about my lineage coming through my grandpa and his parents. I came through Grandma and her mother Grandma Carry, who lived behind them and died when I was 6.

I’m struggling to get my mind around the fact that something of importance, be it a quilt or a part of who I am as a person, may have also come through that side of my father’s family. It feels strange to me that I struggle because I also treasure the parts of me that come from my mother’s mother and her sisters. I was around my mother’s father but I know very little about him because he only spoke Polish and I don’t remember him ever trying to interact with me. I find it strange that there are people that I have included as parts of my identity and those that I have excluded.

I’m shifting, though. Grandma will always be the central character in my life story but just as I have added important characters throughout the years, I can also go back and redefine the way people from the past fit in. In my world and my story I am in charge of most of what goes on and always how I respond.

Maybe this is a lesson for all of us. Inclusion and exclusion is not cast in steel and rock. We can become more open to people who are different. We can embrace those that other’s have told us are bad. And just maybe these new people, or new understanding of who they are and how they fit into our lives, may bring us increased meaning and joy. I am growing to love my new quilt and want to know more about the woman who pieced together each half-triangle square by hand, with tiny stitches.

Saying Good-bye


We just returned from taking son and daughter-in-law, Mike & Natalia, to the airport after a 9-day visit. On the way home we talked about what a good time we had and what a wonderful man Michael is, and how lucky we are to have such a wonderful daughter-in-law. I didn’t want them to leave – but we have friends arriving tomorrow so the bedroom needed to be cleared.

I took them to the Naples Botanical Garden on my normal Tuesday morning photo shoot. They wandered the trails and paths while I enjoyed the flower colors in the overcast morning light. Of course I treated them to my ritual of drinks and scone at the cafe overlooking the lotus pond. Mike asked if I was able to take a photo of the purple flowers with their heads pointed towards us. This photo is my good-bye gift to them.

Natalia’s Story

20170125-dsc_0020Our personal stories are very important because they help us define ourselves and remind us of who we are when we get lost. I have been thinking a lot about various segment of my story-line in an attempt to clarify what values I stand for, what I am willing to fight for.

My story involves some difficult times where I felt I was loosing myself, when I sought help from a therapist. It was difficult trusting another with my story of brokenness, but I received acceptance and love instead of rejection. Later as a therapist I was pulled into the lives of others as they struggled to authentically remember the difficult paths they had followed. When we share our true selves, without the puffed up facades of how perfect we are, we feel vulnerable, like we are standing naked.

The miracle I so often see is that when we listen to a personal story, it touches us and calls us to respond. When we read authentic stories, we can frequently identify because we share so many aspects of the human experience. Here is Natalia’s story of being an outsider in her country of birth because she came from the wrong region, of becoming insignificant, of loosing everything, and of finding refuge in the United States.

26 years ago I came to this country as a refugee. I still remember that day pretty clear. We were extremely tired and disoriented, but excited.

It was a long journey, it took us about 24 hours to get to Lansing, MI from Moscow, Russia. I had $200 to my name, I knew 4 words in English and I had no idea where we are going to sleep that night. It was alright, it was not too bad. It was not about what we had, it was about what we left behind – fear for our lives, fear of tomorrow and feeling of not belonging. We did not belong in USSR, we were not valued. We had no rights and no protection of police and government. If my family would’ve been killed (just like many others had), no one would have cared, there would not have been an investigation and a trial, there would not have been any justice.

I am grateful to my parents for their extraordinary bravery. In their mid-50s they had their lives pretty established – they had good jobs, good house, savings, vacations, two adult children … and overnight they lost everything. Everything they worked for and earned, but most importantly they lost their citizen’s rights, their sense of security and safety.

Real heroes in my life are my parents Vladimir Agababian and Larisa Melik-Bagdasariants, my aunt Aida Melik-Bagdasaryants and my uncle Eduard Badaliants, perhaps most of all – my uncle Mikhail Melik-Bagdasaryants. My uncle Mikhail risked his life by going to American embassy in Moscow. If it was not for him, we might’ve all been part of forgotten people. Forgotten people of Armenian descent that still are, after 26 years, live in ruins, live in fear of tomorrow, live without hope for better life and without basic human rights.

I would like to say that since day one my life in US was easy and I got it all and right away, but it was not. The first decade was a struggle, life was confusing. But it was alright, because the most important things like safety and outlook for brighter future was simply given to us and given right away, we were no longer forgotten people.

Natalia’s first husband, Gary, died of a fast growing brain tumor a little over 10 years ago, leaving her to raise two children by herself. A year and a half ago she married our son so now she and her two beautiful young-adult children have joined our family. They are a blessing, and we have had the privilege of joining her extended family for meals around her happy dining table laden with wonderful Russian foods. Most important, she has supported our son through tough times because she knows how to live through loosing everything and come out the other side standing firmly on the life values that are most important.

We can’t let hate and fear close our borders. We need to welcome those who are fleeing desperate situations so that they can be a blessing to our nation and hopefully touch our personal lives. Thank you for your courage, Natalia, and for joining our family.

The Loss of Christmas Past

Christmas decorations 061-2Last week I was looking at videos of Christmas’s past. My grandsons’ mother died this past year and there were home videos I wanted to copy for them so my beloved grandsons could sort out their memories of their lives with her. She suffered from mental illness so life could be crazy sometimes. My goal was to give them something to use as they grieve and to help them sort out the naughty and nice of this part of the tapestry that is being woven to define who they will be as they age.

As so often happens, I got hijacked along the way by my own tapestry that continues to be woven, even as it is fraying along the edges. The video I watched was of Christmas, 1995. It doesn’t sound that long ago but it was, 20 years long ago. The wine I drink and the cheese I eat haven’t aged that long. In 1995 I hadn’t yet arrived at the decade I would consider the prime of my life.

I became nostalgic as I watched that video of Christmas 1995. My whole family was together – my mother came from Florida, one sister from Wisconsin, and my other sister came from Grand Rapids. They brought their husbands and children. Our son was still married and they were there with our two grandsons, along with our youngest daughter who was home from college. In the video our home was bursting with activity and laughter and stories. We were all together – well almost, except my father who had died 14 months earlier and our other daughter who was living in Russia that year.

I felt sad when I realized it was the last time we would all get together as a family for Christmas. I enjoyed watching my mother talking and laughing and teasing me – she remarried and never came to Michigan for Christmas again, dying about ten years later. My baby sister moved to northern Wisconsin, a two-day drive away, making visits for holidays difficult – besides our children have grown, with families of their own. Between my offspring increasing and my other sister not wanting to travel the two hours to our home we didn’t see them at Christmas much after 1995. She died about three years ago. I have invited my brother-in-law and two nieces to our Christmas Eve celebration but they can’t come because of work responsibilities. My son’s marriage broke up so my daughter-in-law was no longer a part of our gatherings; her death three months ago didn’t have an impact on our gathering.

As I watched Christmas Eve 1995, I also realized that our youngest daughter hadn’t met and married her husband yet so he was missing, and they hadn’t given us our three bright and beautiful granddaughters. The Christmas video reminded me that families change over the years as some people leave, others are added, and sometimes configurations change.

On Christmas Eve 2015 we once again gathered – and our family was all together again. Except it was a different configuration from 1995, and our oldest grandson, his new wife, and our new adorable (step) great-grandson couldn’t be here. This year our daughter-in-law and her two young-adult children are “official” because they married our son last summer. We had welcomed them as real family several years ago, but this year was special because of the legal change.

It was a lovely gathering, full of joy and peace and good-will. Our home was alive as gifts were lovingly exchanged, and we laughed over our feeble attempts to explain how words (like poop) are related to the Christmas story as eight people gathered for a game of Scrabble (with new rules). We gathered around a long Christmas table set and decorated by our youngest granddaughter, sharing food the better cooks lovingly prepared. There was more laughter and bantering as children and grandchildren bartered unwrapped stocking stuffers they had picked from a pile in the middle of the floor.

I took video clips throughout the afternoon because I know that someday in the future the people we shared this beautiful and sacred day with will look at it and think about how Christmas used to be, feeling sad about those who are no longer present and how much things have changed. And then, hopefully, they will feel contentment with their new Christmas traditions filled with love, joy and peace.

Time with my Woman Child

Victoria 025

J & I just returned from a long week-end with our daughter who lives in Texas. During the past months, memory neurons have been firing in my brain of when my children were young – a long time ago memories since all three are now in their 40’s. I’m a little nostalgic, but not too much because it is so nice having grown children.

This daughter, the middle child, is successfully settling into her career at a university -leading assessment and working on accreditation activities. She had a few career starts that ended painfully and her pain also left us crushed and aching. It almost seems that the pain our adult children feel is more difficult to bear than their pain as little children. When adult children hurt we can’t fix it; their pain is frequently caused by injustices we have no control over. We also can’t control their decisions, even though we would love to protect them from themselves.

Just as we felt her pain, we now experience immense joy when we see her so excited and happy as she is defining herself and her work in this new position. This isn’t what called us to Texas, however. Our purpose was to see the house she bought, her first, and to help her paint. J worked really hard putting Popcorn White on all the ceilings while daughter and I did almost all the walls and woodwork. The rooms popped with freshness. J also helped her put up a new lighting fixture, moved others, and changed most of her electrical outlets and switches. This made her so happy.

I marvel at how competent she is as a homeowner. She had everything spackled, primed, and prepped so all we had to do was open the paint – the five gallon container that we emptied plus two gallons. She had already hired people to do the jobs that were really big and take skill she doesn’t have.

She remembers she is an adult, a woman, as well as our child. She didn’t expect us to do her work, but graciously accepted our efforts as a gift. She was so grateful and joyous as she admired her “new” rooms, as she started hanging her prized art works. She also expressed her gratitude by stocking her frig with foods we like, giving us her bed, taking us out to eat, and going out for ice cream twice (even though she isn’t a big fan of ice cream). We went to Sunday brunch at the Pump House where we each ordered something different to share. J reached for the bill but our woman-daughter insisted on paying and didn’t back down.Victoria 001On Monday we were getting pretty tired and punchy and daughter had a hankering for a good burger and sweet potato fries for lunch. She knew where she was going, whether we went or not, downtown to the Rosebud Grill. The inside has large signs painted on the walls that were covered up at one point and now re-exposed. There is a fountain counter with the fountain equipment. There is lots of charm plus really good food. I can share the charm but we ate all the food.