The PaperGirl “Leaders & Enders” Essay Contest: What You Made (and Second Runner Up)

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag, Quilting 34
Me, at the Merchandise Mart, freakin' out. Photo: Mom.
What other photo could there be for this post but the one Mom took of me, reading your essays, freakin’ out. Photo: Marianne Fons.


This post is about the results of the first-ever PaperGirl “Leaders & Enders” Essay Contest. For all those of you who didn’t get around to writing, never fear; there will be future contests.

Which brings me to the first point I want to make in my opening remarks, before I announce the Second Runner Up. (That’s right: You have to wait till tomorrow to know who the First Runner Up is and the next day to know won the whole thing because it’s my contest and I’ll create tension if I want to. Also, this was getting really long.)

Over and over again — not in every letter but almost — came some version of the refrain: “Thank you for giving me a reason to write.” This essay contest/writing prompt was all a lot of you needed to do something you were clearly itching to do: write about your life. I’ll take credit for suggesting you put hands to keyboard (or pen to paper!) but those who wrote about their quilts and quiltmaking practice and sent it to me, that’s all you. You did the work. And you did it for you, but, as I said in the original contest announcement, you did something good for posterity, too. Writing your life is writing the history of you, your family, your time on this planet, etc., etc. It matters. As a person who is reading more and more (quilt) history all the time, I cannot tell you how important it is, how crucial it is, to have these personal accounts.

What my reading partner and I read in these sixty-or-so accounts is hard to describe without sounding dramatic and sentimental on account of the humanity on display. As we read, phrases such as “life’s rich pageant” came to mind, as did Thoreau’s observation about lives lived in quiet desperation. And then we’d laugh because one of you would be so charming, so fierce, so Unsinkable Molly Brown about it all.

There were essays about family. Mothers-in-law (the angelic, the not-so), sisters, granddaughters. Many of you have really wonderful husbands, brothers, boyfriends, girlfriends. One of you had a very bad boyfriend who lied to you and hurt you terribly (but you win, because you’re a quilter and he’s not.) Some of you, like me, have quilted with your mom, while one woman has fought her whole life to “quiet [her] mother’s voice.”

We read tales of quilts that weren’t appreciated, while other quilts were loved till they were rags. Teachers, doctors, and cancer survivors wrote to the PaperGirl mailbox. Some of you volunteer in prisons and teach people who live there how to sew. Some of you live in London, Canada, the Netherlands. And two of my favorite people in the world sent essays: my friend Kater and my dear assistant, Carmen herself. You both said you figured you couldn’t be the winner, but to see your names and read your stories (both about your fathers, interestingly) made my heart swell with love and affection. You’re both very special to me.

Also: My mother made me promise to mention how PaperGirl readers and writers possess terrific penmanship and grammar and format letters beautifully. What an audience I have! You are intelligent people. As a group, you have class and excellent taste! I expected nothing less, but it was cool to hold the proof in my hands, to stuff all your tidy letters into my Modern Quilt Guild totebag. That said: Everyone needs copyediting and a second pair of eyes on a piece of writing. If worrying about crossing every “t” kept you from entering, don’t ever let that stop you again. If I publish your work here, I’ll do all that stuff. Don’t ever let a fear of not “sounding” a certain way stop you from participating in this sort of thing, okay?

And so, thank you. Every single one of you. Thank you for the lunch box notes and the book of poems. Thank you for the stickers, the drawings, the time you took. I loathe dead phrases like “Picking a winner was very difficult” but how else can I put it? It was terrible, in many ways, having to do this. And here I am telling you we’ll do it again, and soon.

Don’t stop writing. At the very least, whenever I prompt you to write an essay and send it, write it and send it. You have absolutely nothing to lose and perhaps fun prizes to win that come from my house.

And now…the Second Runner Up, with her phenomenal essay (condensed-for-space and copy-edited-by-yours-truly.) I’ll be sending you something good as a prize, Ms. Morrow; standby for that.

Second Runner-Up:
Kristina Morrow


About five years ago, I was asked by a dear friend if I had a bucket list. In my early fifties at the time and being a firm believer that every day after fifty is a gift, I’d actually given the matter some thought. 

“I’d like to make a quilt before I die.” 

Her response: “Oh! Eleanor Burns will be in town next month for a three-day workshop!!! We should go!!!” 

I said, “Who?”

We went. I learned to use the rolling cutter thing. I learned to press, not iron. I learned about UFOS. I dubbed it “Quilt Boot Camp” and I loved it. I fell in love with making quilts, which is good, because I was burned out in my career. 

I am a veterinarian. 

“Oh,” people say, “How lucky! I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I love animals too much.” Or, “Why didn’t you become a real doctor?” (It’s true: People actually say these things quite often — but that’s for another essay.) 

Veterinarians are often GPs, surgeons, OB-GYNs, dentists, ophthalmologists, proctologists, parasitologists, internists, nutritionists, and funeral directors, all rolled into one little degree. If the client has no money (or claims to have no money yet drives a much newer, nicer vehicle than ours), we’re expected to work for free because we love animals.

The sad truth is that veterinarians have a suicide rate six to eight times higher than the general population. I desperately needed a distraction and I jumped on quilting as a hobby. It’s become an obsession. 

In March of 2016, I had a heart attack, totally unexpected, and it seemed like a good time to take a professional break, catch my breath, spend time with family, and make quilts. I thought I’d miss medicine and be ready to go back in a few months. It didn’t happen. I don’t want to make life or death decisions anymore.

I’ve sold my practice and retired, broke and happy. 

I want to make quilts. I want to make quilts that mean something to someone; quilts that give comfort. Memory quilts. Quilts made from Grandpa’s flannel shirts, or Dad’s ties, or the baby’s clothes, or a decade of t-shirts. 

I have eight quilts I’m actively working on at this time for myself, friends, and family, but the one I just finished is significant. It just happened that recently I was perusing a veterinary suicide prevention site, and someone posted asking what other veterinarians do for relaxation. I posted a picture of one of my quilts. A veterinarian from a thousand miles away saw it and messaged me. She asked if I could turn her t-shirts into a quilt and I said I’d be happy to, for a fee.

My new business has begun. I have just finished turning her 27 t-shirts, one silk shirt, two scarves, a pair of pajama bottoms, and her graduation gown into a queen-sized quilt. It will never win a ribbon, but to this veterinarian, who has served in the armed forces (yes: a veteran veterinarian!), it will have meaning. And when she passes it on — I pray it will have meaning to those who love her — it will live on. And in a tiny way, I will live on. 

34 Responses

  1. Li
    | Reply

    I can see why this essay made the cut. What a great idea, the essay contest.

  2. Shauntae P.
    | Reply

    Fantastic. So much detail of her life, her career, her aspirations, and the impacts quilts have made. The last sentence is beautiful and I think, resonates with many of us.

  3. Janie H
    | Reply

    What a story to share! Thank you!

  4. Linda Shumway
    | Reply

    Yes, I can see bits of other quilters in her story. Each of us know that feeling of love and commitment when we first discover the joy of making something out of bits and pieces of fabric that others might discard. Can’t wait to read the others.

  5. Judy Hart
    | Reply

    Love this, makes you laugh, cry, and catch your breath. I hug my veterinarian (just did it today) as often as I can, and hug my vet (husband) every day. So glad she’s found quilting, it really can heal a person from a lot of woes and agonies.

  6. Joyce
    | Reply

    Beautifully told….her story

  7. Nancy Neely
    | Reply

    Wow! If that was the second runner up, I’m expecting something Pulitzer-worthy from the first runner up and the winner. Well done Kristina Morrow!

  8. Anne
    | Reply

    Kristina Morrow, this is so very beautiful. I am touched. Thank you for your story. And PaperGirl: thank you for sharing and providing us with this opportunity.

  9. Jennifer Reinke
    | Reply

    This was wonderful to read…even though I had tears running down my face, and at times was hard to read the words on my computer screen. I also hope and pray that the quilts I make will let me “live on”. Thank you Kristina and Mary

  10. Linda
    | Reply


  11. Trena Johnson
    | Reply

    Beautiful story.

  12. I’m sure many of us can relate to this story. There’s therapy in cutting up beautiful fabric and sewing it back together again. Thank you, Kristina, for sharing your story with us. : )

  13. Julie W.
    | Reply

    Read this essay first thing this morning, and must say it got my day off to a nice start. I love that Ms.Morrow shared her story. . I love her values and her good heart.

  14. Cara
    | Reply

    Oh, well now, Ms. Morrow. You’ve made me cry.

  15. Natalie
    | Reply

    What a beautiful, well written story of life and human survival!

  16. Ivy
    | Reply

    Wow, beautiful, informative, heartbreaking, and inspirational! I wish we could read more than just three!

    • Anne
      | Reply

      Yes, indeed! Me too! So good!

  17. Barbara
    | Reply

    Beautiful story, Kristina, you are doing what your heart tells you to do after caring for I’m sure, so many animals.

  18. Mary Lynn
    | Reply

    Lump in throat and tears in my eyes – thank you for sharing your story, Kristina

  19. Beverly Letsche
    | Reply

    That was a wonderful essay. I can see why making a choice would be tough.

  20. Kathy Darnell
    | Reply

    I am often amazed that quilters often feel the same way about giving their quilts to be used, loved, crumpled, washed and aged until a ragged appearance gives way to knowledge “This token of my work was used and loved”. I was impressed with this story but why am I surprised? This blog fills a void with talented women whose writing about everyday simple occurrences is a balm to my soul.
    Keep it up ladies. I look forward Mary to your blog the same way a child waits for Santa Claus. Anticipation and then just smiling with joy. Thank you

  21. Susn
    | Reply

    Oh wow…just wonderful! I’m writing with tears in my eyes, as you see, my daughter is a brand-new veterinarian, and knowing that this profession has such a high risk for its practitioners, I worry about her. She’s strong (like her momma!), but still I worry. Thank you Kristina for a wonderful essay, and thank you Mary for being the instigator! I didn’t write one this time, but maybe next time….

    • Kristina Morrow
      | Reply

      Susn – thank you. I’m sure that with Mom for emotional support, and hobbies outside of work, your daughter will have a wonderful veterinary career (just introduce her to quilting early).

  22. sue
    | Reply

    Ditto to all of the above!!! tears in my eyes and loved having a glimps into someone else’s life and story.
    I will be sending my unfinished essay in to subsequent contests:) I want to be part of this effort.
    Hugs Mary…and thanks for sharing your life and experiences with all of us!!

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Sue! Yes, I meant to say that it’s a good idea to compile some of the best-o-the-best. We shall see! Thanks for reading. xo, Mary

  23. Pamela Keown
    | Reply

    Thank you Mary. And thank you Dr. Morrow. I love how words – just words – can physically touch your heart. (I’m also glad my tear drops did not fall onto the computer.)

  24. Linda
    | Reply

    Beautiful story.
    Thank you

  25. Karen Seitz
    | Reply


  26. Carmen
    | Reply

    Congratulations, Kristina! What a touching reminder of the healing and lasting power of quilts. I’m so excited for tomorrow and the next day!

    p.s. Mar, you’re special to me too! I feel so lucky to work with you. I’m excited for another prompt! xoxo

    • Mary
      | Reply

      CARMEN!!!!!! :: swoon ::

  27. Janice Ladehoff
    | Reply

    Congrats on your sharing your wonderful true story. So happy I got to know you and who you really are. God’s blessings to you for continued success on your new journey!

  28. Katie Mims
    | Reply

    Oh Tina, this made me cry. While your retirement saddened me because no one will care for Edgar and Charlie like you did, I am so happy that you did and stumbled upon something so much more than a hobby! You are still touching people’s lives through your beautiful quilts, stitching love and little pieces of your heart with each stroke of the needle. May we be so blessed 🙂


  29. debby
    | Reply

    Oh I loved this story. First of all, I love animals and wanted to be a veterinarian until I discovered I couldn’t make myself dissect an earthworm in high school biology. Second, I did end up being a neonatal intensive care nurse. And third, I so related to her “taking a break” and then deciding to end her career and throw herself whole heartedly into quilting. It happened quite similarly for me. Thank you so much, Mary, for sharing this story.

  30. […] veterinarian Kristin communicated honestly the healing power of quilts in our personal lives. Kathleen’s essay expressed the pure joy of making, the inspiration around every corner, as […]

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