“I’m glad [you] happened to be awake.”

If you don’t know that line, it’s from Jane Eyre, and it was posted on Facebook on the morning of March 19, 2012 by my dear friend, Christa.

You see, the night before, she had been house-sitting for us when the smoke alarms went off. She rescued all four of our geriatric animals from our house before the fire department arrived. She ran back into the building again — in bare feet — and opened the front door so that the firefighters wouldn’t break it down. And she threw a quilt onto the fire, which horrified me at the time but ultimately probably kept the fire from reaching the ceiling and attic. She saved our house from being more damaged than it was, and I had been uncertain about how to repay heroism like that. Jokingly I had told her “I’m going to make you a superhero cape,” but decided that would be a little silly. And not really practical. We live in Alabama, after all. People would stare.

In any case, we saw her once after the fire, after the house had been fully gutted but before any real work had been done to put it back together again. We took her out to dinner, and that was all we had done to say thank you. It bothered me for a year, really — I wanted to do something more tangible than just thanking her, you know? But how do you really say thank you?

And then in May of this year, it hit me. I was pressing the final block in a Block-of-the-Month program from the Fat Quarter Shop that I had signed up for last summer. Suddenly, I knew who that project had been for the entire time and why I had been so driven to stay caught up with it. Even the colors were right — Christa’s favorite color is red. She also likes green, but not usually those two colors together because her birthday is really close to Christmas. I know this because I asked her last winter, casually, what her favorite colors were so I could start formulating a plan for a quilt for her. I was going to do library books on a shelf — she’s a graduate student in English Literature, after all — but that felt kind of cheesy, somehow.

… To tell this story right, I have to go back to last summer.

Last summer was REALLY hot here. And it was really hot very early, too. There was a week in June that it was 106F for the whole week, and that was the week Helen was at Camp McDowell without any air conditioning. That was also the week that Alice and I were trapped inside with all of the blinds down and closed in the rental house because the air conditioning didn’t work. We had managed to get the house functional, but I was very frustrated that I didn’t have a design wall and yet the summer was stretched out in front of me and I needed to sew for the therapy.

Fat Quarter Shop had a new Designer Mystery Block of the Month, and so I signed up for it. I wasn’t familiar with the fabric line that they were using, but several of my local friends had done the FQS BOM in the past and had raved about the quality of the instructions and the amount of fabric you were sent each month. If you were really careful with your cutting, they said, you could actually get TWO blocks cut from the supplies sent each month, and have enough for two quilts at the end of the year. So I signed up. I decided that it would be good “prescription sewing” — the fabric and instructions would tell me exactly what to do each month — and the lack of a design wall wouldn’t be a problem.

The first month’s fabric and instructions came, and I made one block, some extra pinwheels and half-square triangles, and I still had fabric left over. Not quite enough of the white to make a second block, but almost. I did go find more white locally and make the second block, though. Couldn’t stand it.

Month One

As the months went on, I was able to make two blocks every time:

Through Month Three

And extras:


And then school started and Jerry got hurt and we moved and I got a little behind. But I caught up again at a retreat in February:

Through Month Eight

and again during Lent:

Through Month Ten

and then the end of school ate up all of my free time from mid-April until the end of May. But in May, I finished the last two blocks. And that’s when I realized that this quilt had been for Christa the whole time.

So I had 24 blocks. I could set them 4×6 and it would have been 58″ wide and 84″ long before borders, which just seemed like a weird size to give to a person. Then I realized that if I made one more block, it could be 72″ square for a straight setting before borders, or about 80″ square if I set them on point. I tried them on point, and LOVED the look — they were beautiful blocks before, but they just SANG when on point.

So I made a house block to go in the center, and tossed them up on the design wall, which I finally had again:

Twenty-Five Blocks and a HOUSE

In the house block I used some of those extra pinwheel blocks that I had been making from the cuttings the whole time:

house block

And then I added solid sashings and setting triangles to make it square again. Oh, and a cat. Always the cat.

Finished Quilt Top

Once I knew who the quilt was for, I couldn’t WAIT to get it finished for her. While Jerry was on his scuba trip in June, I layered the quilt and basted it, and started quilting it from the center.

House block, quilted

In the window, I quilted a cat to symbolize the four animals she saved: Emily, Tango, Linus, and Logic.
In the door, I quilted the panels that she had protected.
In the rear right of the roof, I quilted flames. And there are smoke puffs all around the house on the ground.

Helen wanted me to quilt “THANK YOU, CHRISTA-SAVE-THE-HOUSE” (which is her name, of course) around the house, but I told Helen that this needed to be, first and foremost, a quilt. To Christa, it can have more meaning, but she shouldn’t have to explain why she has it unless she really wants to. So I wanted all of the symbolism to be subtle.

And then I just had a wonderful time quilting it. The whole machine quilting process took me less than a week, which is just insane for a quilt this size. But I kept the plan manageable so the quilt will be soft to snuggle under.

Friday interfered as much as possible.

Friday on the quilt

sashing quilting

I used my grandmother’s lampshade to get the curve for the swags in the setting triangles… Took a while to find a curve that was the right size for that space. If Jerry had been here he would have said, “Use a MIXING BOWL!” like he did when I shared this with him the night he got home. But he wasn’t home, so I used a lampshade.


And then I put the binding on it. This simple act gave me a huge sense of closure, actually.

Binding going on

And then it was DONE!

Finished quilt

from the side

more swag



Today, I gave it to her. She wasn’t expecting a present, which made it even more fun. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry when giving it to her, either. That’s completely weird for me. I cry very easily, and would have expected that. But I didn’t.

Christa with her quilt


So thank you again, Christa. I’m glad you happened to be awake, too. (And I did write that on the label after I took the picture… Decided that phrase needed to be there too.)

So I haven’t posted in a while…

I keep meaning to be better about that and then I just don’t get around to it.

I’d love to make excuses that are ironclad, but I just don’t really have any.

What I can say for sure is that I had a rough spring, and kind of lost my interest in interacting for a while, which meant that blogging wasn’t really for me. But I feel like I’m finally coming out of that and so here I am again. Life is good and I feel like myself for the first time in over a year, and it’s a good way to feel. Depression sucks, no matter why you have it. And it’s hard to climb out. But I can see the top of the ladder now so maybe I’ll be able to climb all the way out soon.


I have been wildly productive this spring and summer. With emotional stress comes creative productivity, for me, anyway… For Lent (February 13 – April 6) this year I gave up purchasing new fabric AND starting new projects — I had to work with what I had on hand to finish projects that were already in process. As a result, I got excited about older, “stale” projects that had stalled out when I got to a hard part. It was one of the very best Lenten disciplines I have ever done, because it was a challenge for me but it was also tremendously rewarding. I daydreamed about and doodled new projects a lot, but I didn’t purchase anything new… I didn’t count the monthly subscriptions I already had in place (block of the month programs, charm square clubs, etc.), and there was one fabric pack for a local project that I had already agreed to purchase before I came up with this idea for Lent, so I didn’t count that either although I did write the check 6 days before Easter. I didn’t open the bag until after Easter, pinky promise.

Here was my Lent:

I got caught up with my blocks for the 2012 Designer Mystery Block of the Month from Fat Quarter Shop:
8 months of the FQS BOM

Finally came up with the PERFECT border treatment for my wonky neighborhood quilt… I had been completely baffled by what to do in the border for over two years, and this border got me really excited about the quilt again finally:
wonky border

I got Alice’s new bedquilt totally finished. I should do a whole post just about this quilt, actually. It was a fun process:
Alice's Swoon quilt

Figured out corner blocks for the wonky neighborhood quilt… Hindsight being what it is, I wish I had made these a little smaller because the finished quilt top is GIGANTIC and won’t really be suited for hanging, but I guess that’s OK… It’s still really cool:
corner blocks
(Incidentally, these corner blocks got me and Jerry to brainstorm over a hundred other buildings that could be recreated this way, and maybe I’ll explore that idea more next Lent?)

Got the whole quilt top assembled. It’s so big I can’t take a picture of the whole thing at once in my house because I can’t get far enough away from it:
Wonky Town

Pulled this one back out so I could work on it during the trip to NYC in March…. Got a few stars done, but not a huge amount of progress on it, but I’m OK with that.
diamond stars

Finished this little 19″ doll quilt. Might sell it… not sure.
Oops quilt

Finished this king-sized quilt for our bed, too. My friend Lisa Marshall quilted it for me.
Secret Garden

I got caught up for the first six months of the Christmas Block of the Month from Fat Quarter Shop… This was a LOT of work, actually. I only had the first month done because it would require so much tracing, fusing, and blanket stitching. But I did finally do it and I’m SO glad, because I got excited about the project again.
Christmas Quilt

I finally finished this scarf, which has been only about an inch from completion for a few years. It’s about 6 feet long and 4 inches wide and just perfect for the trip to NYC in March:

And I also got this Scrappy Trips made from a Figgy Pudding jelly roll assembled. I will probably sell this one also once I’ve got it quilted and bound.
Figgy Pudding Scrappy Trip

In another post I’ll show what I’ve done since April 7 — it’s also quite a bit. But I’ve finished more than I’ve started (or at least moved projects very significantly forward), so I’m still feeling very good about what I learned during my Lenten discipline. I am really glad I did that, because I got a lot out of it. The best part was getting excited about old projects again.

I will try not to let it be 6 months before I post again… I’m on Instagram a lot (@messygoat) and Twitter (@epoplin) so you can find me microblogging often in those places. And of course, Facebook. I post mostly quilting photos (and pet photos) on Instagram, it seems.

Thanks for staying with me if you found this blog again. 🙂 I’ve missed you; I hope you’ve missed me too.


I mentioned the fire two posts back. I’ve been meaning to post more about the experience but I’ve been kind of busy running around this summer… I’m not sorry about that so I won’t apologize, but I’ve been meaning to tell you about some stuff.

While I do have a very strong faith, I’m not one to discuss it a whole lot — it’s just not my style. My beliefs are very personal, and not something I feel too compelled to share. They just bring me peace in my daily life and that’s enough. What you believe is likely very personal to you — and I respect that. So that’s where I’m coming from here.

But I did have something I wanted to share.

There has been so much grace bestowed upon us in the 3 months since the fire in our home. I cannot possibly mention all of the blessings, but I’ll try to get some of them.

So… some examples of the grace we’ve seen: the decision to hire a house sitter rather than send the dogs and cats to be boarded for the week or to have my mom and dad come over and let the dogs out multiple times a day. Mom tried to talk me into just letting her care for the animals: “It’ll be fun for me and Alice and it’ll give us something to do.” I said no — I knew that I’d be tweeting for Randolph and Jerry would be on Facebook talking about the Williamsburg trip and it would just be a neon sign pointing to an empty house. I hired my dear friend Christa to care for our home and our animals. If she hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t HAVE a home. She ran back into a burning building multiple times to get all of the animals and even had to search for one of them.

I have no memory of my house on fire, because I wasn’t home. I don’t remember the sight, the smell, the sound, the feel of it. I saw it the next day, but it’s not the same. I didn’t see it. Christa has that unfortunate privilege. My husband and children don’t have that memory either. We get to deal with the aftermath, but we don’t have to replay that in our heads and wonder what could have been done differently. Christa was totally objective, and acted purely on instinct. I would have wasted precious seconds trying to “save” things and possibly endangered more — myself, my animals, my family. I am forever grateful to her, and I respect her more than she will ever truly understand. There just aren’t words.

…Three neighbors who sent text messages, photos, and called me that night within minutes of the fire… One made sure I could speak to the fire inspector while I was in Nashville. So amazing. Christy, my across-the-street neighbor, went above and beyond, staying up until the wee hours of the morning until the fire personnel had all gone home.

…Jim, my husband’s boss, came over to make sure Christa was OK and to make sure that everything was being handled. He stayed for three hours and took photos in the house after the fire was out so that Jerry and I could see the extent of the damage.

…My parents took turns going over and checking on the house and simultaneously watching over our peacefully-sleeping youngest daughter who was staying in their home.

…Our friends Marc and Mary who got out of bed to go retrieve our panicky dogs, based only on a phone message. They didn’t wait to speak to me to confirm, they just got up and went. They kept the boys for a week.

…Standing on the driveway the morning after the fire, and looking at my home…. From the driveway, nothing looked amiss — but you could smell it. Oh, could you smell it. My insurance agent (Robby Rowan from State Farm in Huntsville), my mother, my mother-in-law, the man who was best man at our wedding, another of Jerry’s friends, the builder who is now rebuilding my home (Bret Slaton of Slaton Homes)… and who else was there? My priest? My boss? The owner of the restoration company? A few friends? The day is blurred for me… I don’t really remember, though all of those people were there that day… But I looked at the home next door and realized that the previous tenants had moved out the weekend before. And the kicker? Our insurance agent insures that home too so we have been able to rent the house next door to ours since the week before Easter.

…Josh and the entire crew at Jerry Minor Restoration. I cannot say enough good things about these people. Really. I’ll just sum it up with the comment that my KitchenAid Mixer has never been so clean except for the day I took it out of the box. Any idea where you put my funky costume jewelry? I miss my weird necklaces. All the spendy ones came back… No clue where the cheap stuff is. Jerry keeps telling me “it’s in a box,” but that’s not exactly helpful.

…My boss came and looked at the house the day after the fire and spent time with me and then looked at me and said, “You’re done. Take the time you need.” He didn’t want me back in Nashville with the trip I was supposed to be chaperoning. What a gift. I had two weeks to deal with the immediate needs of the insurance company and my family. It was incredible.

…My friends… Carolyn, Beverly, Connie, Claire, Pat, Ann, Lisa, Meg, Susan, Judy, Laura… and I’m sure I’ve missed some. These women brought me coffee and company and took my quilts and quilt fabric and washed everything.

…Judy, who brought me supplies for a handwork project she knew I was working on, because it was uncertain how long my sewing machines would be gone. And she knew I’d need to make something to keep myself sane. And Dale, who refunded my class/kit fee for that same handwork project so I could spend the money on things for our home.

…Alicia, who brought a full week of gluten-free food for me to eat that first week after the fire. I remember the phone call: “That’s something I can do that most people can’t! Anna and I are bringing you food.” What a gift.

…The “Mommy Mafia,” as they’re known at school (whether they realize that or not), who brought us food for the first two weeks after we were in our rental home. And our church, who picked up after that and brought us food for another month. I’m gluten-free while my skin calms down from multiple allergic reactions, and every single meal that was brought to us had gluten-free options so that I could eat too. Even the neighbor who didn’t know of my recent allergy diagnosis happened only to bring gluten-free food.

… Others who have given us incredible gifts of cash, gift cards to restaurants, fabric, paper products… The whole crew at Skyline — thank you! Lain, Ginger, Sarah, Meg, Elaine, Tiffany, Barbara and Larry … I’m forgetting people, I know. But thank you, thank you, thank you.

…My parents opened their home to us for three weeks (and would have offered more had we needed it), no questions asked. They even invited us to bring the cats, which was a huge concession on their part.

…Penny, who owns VIP Grooming in Huntsville, kept our Collies for 8 days (and would have kept them longer) for an exceedingly reduced price. When I picked them up and asked about the price, she waved me off and said, “We’ll settle it later when you know you don’t need it. I’ll keep a room open for them just in case.”

…Ken at Carpet One, who happens to be a friend of my late father-in-law… Our insurance company recommended Carpet One as the flooring company to redo all of the floors in our home. Ken already had measurements for almost every room in our house since he had replaced everything except for the upper floor previously. He came over and hugged me and measured everything and has been absolutely amazing through the whole experience.

…Beverly again, who agreed to take over being the president of the local quilt guild for next year so I could stop completely freaking out about that.

…Peggy, who helped me sort through all of the Tervis Tumblers that arrived 10 days after the fire so I could distribute them at the next quilt guild meeting and get yet another box out of the rental house.

…Claire, the city inspector assigned to our project. She just happens to be a quilter friend of mine that I’ve retreated with at the Red Rooster more than once. I know that she will make sure that everything is done right before she signs off on it, and that’s such a great thing to know.

…My students, who gave me a sense of consistency. Special thanks to Elizabeth and Sanders in particular and all of the PreCal kids in general who kept me from falling apart on a daily basis as we got to the end of the school year. One day you’ll understand just how much you’ve meant to me in the past three months.

…Matt and Jennifer, Marc and Mary, Beth, Craig and Christy, John and Laura, Karen and Scott, and the many others who have provided an escape for us in the last three months. Matt I want to thank specifically for coming and sitting with me on the back porch and just listening to me sob for an hour.

…The neighborhood kids, who know our dogs, keep bringing them back to us. The dogs are SO confused because they’re living next door to their home and they DO NOT like this house. So they keep escaping. And then they wander around until a kid finds them and brings them back. The rental house is a bit of a fortress with not a lot of external views (either because of shades or because of layout)… so we don’t see the dogs wandering the way we could in our own home. And Logic has gotten really good at doors lately.

…Sherry, Helen’s psychiatrist, who offered amazing advice about how to introduce Helen and Alice to the situation so that they’d be the most protected, and who also offered to talk to Jerry and to me if we needed some help along the way during recovery as well. So kind.

…My coworkers have been amazing. I know they’ve been tiptoeing around me since “some stuff happened” back in March, but I cannot properly thank them for all of the little loose ends they’ve picked up on my behalf since my brain left my head. I hope that one day I can repay the favor but I hope for their sakes that the circumstances aren’t quite so extreme.

…Jerry. I just… can’t even… *sigh*… I love this man, I love this man, I love this man.

There’s so much more to say. I still have good days and bad days and really dramatic swings in my emotional state. The house is still gutted and we probably won’t be in it again until at least Labor Day (my birthday!). That’s probably optimistic, though — we were told that it would be 4-6 months from the fire. We’re at 3 months now, and there are still no walls and no ceilings and there’s a big gaping hole in one side of the house where a window needs to go. So we’re a long way out. I see little bits of progress every week, and communication with our contractor is very good so I feel good about everything still. I’ll come through it OK and the house will be amazing and so much better than before, but this is NOT what I had in mind when we started making our “list of improvements to the house” back in January. The universe took that list in Google Docs very seriously, apparently — almost everything that’s still relevant is getting done either because of insurance or because of upgrades we’re choosing to make while the house is gutted.

I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, but I do have to say that I have felt incredibly loved and supported from all sides through all of it. Sometimes I lack the wherewithal to go somewhere where I’ll be asked how things are going, and I’m thankful to have friends that understand that and don’t take it personally.

There’s no such thing as a small fire.