Friday, January 9, 2015

QUILTS, COOKIES, AND KOALAS

What do all these things have in common? This blog post! Read on to find out what I have to say about them. First of all, I hope everyone who emailed me requesting the recipes for the pumpkin cookies and chicken salad featured in my previous post received my replies with the recipes. If not, please email me again as according to my notes, I've responded to everyone. Also, I wanted to thank all of you who emailed me about the oddity with my hands that I mentioned in the previous post. It was very kind of you to think of me! Now back to today's happenings. I had my eye dilated at my annual ophthalmologist appointment this morning. So what does one do until the eyes return to normal? I can't really do my editing work at the moment, so I thought I'd write a blog post! It could be a very interesting one, though, since typing is more challenging when the eyes are dilated. Last Sunday afternoon, bad winter weather almost prevented me from getting to my monthly Simple Whatnots quilt club meeting but I'm so glad I ventured out as I had such a fun time. Whenever I get lazy and feel like staying home, I try to shake off the temptation as you never know what you might be missing—it could be a terrific day! My hubby was kind enough to drive me to the meeting so I wouldn't have to worry about the road conditions, which turned out to be perfectly fine (As usual, the weather forecasters made a mountain out of a molehill). At this month's meeting, our group facilitator, Marge, shared her awesome collection of antique and vintage doll beds. Aren't they dear?


I was especially smitten with this sweet doll cradle, which Marge said she found on a trip to England. 


At each meeting, Marge gives us a fabric history lesson and shares some swatches of her reproduction fabrics that reflect each of the types of fabric she highlights in the lessons. This time, she talked about conversation prints and our swatch featured the sweetest little kitty sipping tea from a cup (see photo below). Being a cat lover, I asked her if she could tell me the fabric line so I could purchase some yardage. Marge was so generous to give me her piece of the fabric! If you're reading this, Marge, thank you so much! You really made my day. 


We also got our first glimpse of this month's charming project, which can be made with or without the appliquéd center medallion.


Mary, the owner of the shop (The Quilt Block) where our club meets, has assembled a nice display of Kim's projects, books, and fabric.


One of the fun things about the club is that we always get a fun bonus project. This month's project was this scissor keeper that you can hang around your neck. The shop provides all the materials to make it.


After the meeting, my hubby took me to eat an early dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant, where we indulged in jasmine tea and chicken fried rice...


...and my hubby's favorite, Pad Thai Eugene...


The restaurant owner herself cooked the dishes for us. One of the things I like about her dishes is that they don't taste so heavy, oily, and greasy like some Chinese dishes can. It appears the secret might be the kind of oil she uses. I asked her as I thought I might consider using more of it in my Chinese cooking. So that was my Sunday afternoon. Not a bad one, was it? Now back to today... Before sitting down to right this blog post, I decided to try making a new healthier version of chocolate chip cookies that my friend gave me this month. It uses no flour or margarine/butter, and the chips are dark chocolate—my favorite type of chocolate! I'm letting the dough chill as I write this, then I'll pop the cookies in the oven! When I look at healthier recipes like this, I only want ones that don't sacrifice flavor. If it doesn't taste good, I won't eat it—no matter how much healthier it is! But if you can make an old favorite healthier while still tasting great, why not?!


And here's a feel-good story to leave you with before I close. Did any of you see last night's news segment about the koalas who were caught in those terrible Australian wildfires? Many suffered burns to their rumps and paws as they clung to burning trees. Well, local knitters are coming to their rescue by knitting special healing gloves to help them recover. I snapped this photo of one on my TV set. Aren't knitters and quilters the kindest people!? International donations of mittens are welcome, too. They require a special pattern to fit the koala's unusual paw shape. If you'd like to knit some mittens for them, the pattern can by found by clicking this link.



Why am I writing this? Because I have always had a soft spot for these adorable marsupials. As a kid, I collected stuffed koala bears instead of Barbies and dolls like my sister. This childhood photo of me shows me with my koala family. My mom saved all my koalas (which totaled 25) in a box for me, which I still have today.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A HAPPY HOLIDAY BREAK

Happy New Year! With the start of a new year, I always have such high hopes of making it more productive than the previous one. So I started 2015 by waking up early to get a head start on tidying my fabric stash, which was in need of some organization as you can see from this photo. I did make some progress but am not finished with my task yet!


I found this adorable long-lost cat (and dog and koala) fabric nestled among the fabrics. I wondered where it had gone! I guess it really does pay to organize your stash once in a while!


Then I decided to rearrange my collection of wooden peg dolls on my piano. Do any of you have one of these dolls? The one that started my collection was the one in the little black dress. Each one has been relatively inexpensive (The most expensive one was $40 and I found several for $20 or less). I found two of them for a song from a Missouri museum that was liquidating their collection.


We had a couple friends over for lunch. I served this healthier version of chicken salad made with broccoli and cherry tomatoes on a small bed of butter lettuce leaves (I was happy to find butter lettuce from a local farm at my grocery store). This was also the perfect opportunity to use these darling vintage green glass leaf plates that I found at Winterset's annual city-wide garage sale.


The dressing is made with assorted seasonings, herbs, mayo (I used reduced-fat mayo with olive oil and less than half of what the recipe called for) and two different mustards. For the latter, I used a combo of Dijon and whole-grain. I like the Dijon kind that is thinned down with a bit of white wine. 


For dessert, we had my sugarless and flourless pumpkin cookies. This time, I processed the oats finer, giving the cookies a smoother texture, but I think I like the texture of them when the oats are coarser like the cookies I featured in a previous post.


I also served some assorted snacks by Graze, which sends you a box of nutritious snacks every week, couple weeks, or month—depending on your preference. Since I am one who loves to snack throughout the day, it couldn't be a more perfect snacking solution.



I don't know about you but the week between Christmas and New Year's was a whirlwind. We spent the holiday with my family, came back that night, then went back out of the town the following day. The day after that, we spent time with my hubby's brother and his wife who were home briefly to visit my hubby's parents. The day after that, we ventured over to Cedar Rapids to visit my friend Anne who lives in Alabama but was home visiting her mom and family. Anne's sister was also home and had brought her adorable dog, Butterscotch, pictured here with Anne. Isn't she a cutie? 


Anne loves to shop for clothes, so after lunch, we headed to the local mall where Anne convinced me that I had to get two dresses, a plaid wool skirt, sweater, red gloves, and a black-and-white houndstooth Calvin Klein coat—all on sale (Are you chuckling as you read this? I am!). It seemed like everything I tried on she wanted me to get and she would enthusiastically suggest other things that I could wear with them. However, she is also good about letting you know when something doesn't work as well (She's worked in upscale clothing stores since she was in high school and feels it's important to be honest yet tactful when customers ask for her opinion). Shopping with Anne is like have your own personal shopper—as my blogging friend Jan noted in her comment! You might be surprised to hear that my hubby took it all in stride as he knows Anne knows her fashion. One of the things I was glad to find was this pair of gloves. For about a year now, my hands have always been extremely cold—to the point where I have to wear gloves until May. A couple months ago, they literally turned purplish blue—not just sort of blue but truly dark purple/blue and it was my entire hands, not just my fingers. It was rather startling. It literally looked like someone had beaten them up! I'm not sure if that happened because they were literally cold or if it was something else but if you've ever experienced this, please email as I would be curious to know what causes this. I've been tested for diabetes and that isn't it. In fact, my blood sugar is low. But I digress! Anne loved the tiny leather bows on these red gloves (40 percent off at Talbot's) and suggested I get them to wear with my new black-and-white coat. Knowing nothing about fashion, I would never have thought of that but it really does work! Their only drawback is that even though they are the smaller size, they are a little too long for my short fingers. Still, they should keep my mitts quite warm during the harsh Iowa winters!


During my holiday antiquing adventures, I found this timeworn yet pretty quilt block that has seen better days. Since it was only $2.50 and I'm not one to feel a quilt or quilt block has to be perfect to be beautiful, I decided to get it but now what to do with it? Any suggestions? I thought about maybe framing it or making it into a pillow.


On Monday, I enjoyed a girls' day out in West Des Moines with my mom-in-law, shopping some of the after-Christmas sales. Even between the multiple holiday shopping trips, I could not have imagined I'd come home with this much loot (below) but some of the sales were just too good to pass up. I normally don't shop at J. Crew or Talbot's because they're too expensive for my budget but even they had some unbelievable bargains. 


Being a bag lover, my favorite stop of my multiple holiday shopping excursions was the Kate Spade store where everything was 60 percent off.


With so much eye candy to take in, it was visual overload! I seriously pondered this black, pink, and white bag but ultimately settled on something more practical that I thought I would get more use out of. Hubby made my day when he said to pick out three bags. Decisions, decisions! The apple purse (below) was interesting but not very practical so I passed on that but wanted to share a pic of it since it was so cute.



I hope you all had a terrific holiday break whether it was spending it relaxing at home or out and about with friends and family. Here's hoping that 2015 will be a brighter year for all! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS WISHES

Can it be that time of year already to wish you a merry Christmas?! As usual, I'm scrambling to get things done right up until the last minute. I didn't even get my holiday cards sent out in time. I might just have to start a tradition of sending them out AFTER the holidays.


We won't get our wish for a white Christmas this year but here's a past snowy snapshot of our home to satisfy our dreams for a white Christmas.


We celebrated Christmas with my hubby's parents last night. They took us out to eat at our favorite seafood restaurant where we feasted on coconut shrimp and grilled halibut. Afterward, we went back to their house to open presents. Here I am trying to unwrap one. For some reason, it takes me twice as long to open gifts as everyone else.

 

Ever since my mom-in-law went to Germany several years ago and brought back handcrafted wooden smokers (wooden figurines similar in style to nutcrackers), we've had a tradition of gifting them a smoker. Here is dad admiring this year's chef smoker.


We gave mom a vintage classroom songbook for her piano. Here she is flipping through the pages. We had a good laugh listening to some of the funny lyrics from the songs.


And here are a few favorite holiday gifts I received this year. I've always purchased Rowenta irons and have been very happy with their performance but when this pink Oliso iron came out for Breast Cancer Awareness month, it went on my wish list! Lucky for me, a kind elf got it for me.


I fell in love with this mirrored headband of posies and leaves the moment I saw it. Hubby was kind enough to get it for me. 


And last but not least, I received this fun pair of English wellies. One can never have too many wellies in my opinion. And here's a quick little side note about boots: If you wear size 5 or 6 shoes, did you know that you can often get the same patterned boots in the kids section for a cheaper price? That's what I've often done with boots like Joules and UGGs. If you wear a size 6 adult shoe, you can get a kids size 4 (The boots shown in the photo below are a Joules kids size 4. They are very comfortable with room to spare in the foot area).


With that, I will bid you adieu until after Christmas. All of us at Ashton House wish you and your family the merriest of Christmases! 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

WINNER OF TEA MAGAZINE

It was lovely to hear from all of you fellow tea lovers in my last post! I heard from so many new folks in addition to old blogging friends. What a delight it was to read your kind notes. Thank you for taking the time to write me. As promised, I drew a name via random number generator and the winner is....

Susan of The Victorian Girl

Congratulations, Susan! Please email me at the email button in my right-hand sidebar and I will get your complimentary copy in the mail this coming week. For those who did not win, please don't be discouraged. I try to have a giveaway on my blog as often as I can, so there will be other chances to win goodies!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

CATCHING UP AND A QUICK GIVEAWAY

                                       THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED!

Has it really been a month since I last posted? I honestly don't know where the time goes. In the days since I last posted, I've been up to some fun and not-so-fun things. One of the fun things is Kim Diehl's Simple Whatnots Club at my local quilt shop, The Quilt Block. This is the next little quilted treasure we'll be making! Mary, the quilt shop owner, sells kits to members who wish to purchase one. This one is very reasonable at just $11.95. I don't have a lot of Kim Diehl fabric, so I've been purchasing all the kits.


At our most recent meeting, the group's facilitator, Marge, shared some of her antique and vintage quilt blocks with us. We talked about how blocks are often known by various names.


This fun club is a very good value as we get a quilt history lesson from Marge complete with fabric swatches, plus a fun bonus project. At the latest meeting, our bonus project was ribbon candy ornaments made with ribbon instead of candy. We were also treated to tea, cider, and goodies like these colorful spritz cookies. 


After the meeting, we like to browse the shop to see what's new. I spotted this fun new pink Bernette sewing machine. Isn't it cute? I still have my trusty Bernina that I purchased from the shop 14 years ago. 


In the not-so-fun category is venturing up to Minneapolis in search of some fall and winter clothes (Although the trip had a fun component since we also went for an African violet show!). Searching for clothes was quite an odyssey since it is not my favorite thing to do but our search was surprisingly successful. My hubby promised we could go to my preferred destinations such as antiques stores and quilt shops IF we found at least four pieces of clothing for me first. We decided that the Mall of America would be the most efficient use of our time since it has so many shops in one place. I came prepared with a list of all the shops I wanted to visit so I could get out of there as fast as I could. One of the shops beckoned with a window of pink goodness. It can be difficult to find age-appropriate wear at this particular store, but a friend who likes fashion had told me that they now have a line for women of my age, so I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did as I found several fun pink tops—several of them furry—to try on (Seems that faux fur must be in right now. I personally would never wear real fur). I also found a nice pink faux fur vest at Nordstrom. The salespeople at Nordstrom were very knowledgeable and advised going on the smaller, tighter side for vests if you are petite like me. Otherwise you end up looking like what my husband refers to as a Yeti (aka Abominable Snowman)! And you know, what?! He's actually right. I won't bother posting pic of me as a Yeti.



My new pink purchases coordinate with that new pink rubber purse (pictured below) that I bought back in October. Speaking of that purse, it certainly garnered lots of attention during my trip, much more so than here in the Des Moines area for some reason. Several people, including a couple men, actually asked if they could touch it. I thought it was rather amusing!


Despite all the pink goodies, my favorite purchase was this adorable kitty sweater that reminds me of my dear cat, Teddy, who passed away in April. I think of him every time I wear it. I also bought the coordinating compact. How could this cat and pink lover resist?! I noticed a lot of the clothes ran large so I sized down for this particular sweater. 


After finding my necessary four items of clothing as dictated by my hubby, it was on to a fun section of town dotted with unique boutiques and antiques shops. Among them are larger chains like Anthropologie. I love Anthropologie, so I decided to see what was new. As usual, they had the neatest kitchen accessories displayed on vintage pieces.


Had to indulge in this pretty muffin pan. It's almost too pretty to use!



One of my weaknesses is Penguin Classics books because they have such fun covers. These went home with me.


One thing on my clothes wish list was mustard corduroy pants. Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved corduroy pants. Well, it so happened Anthropologie had the perfect mustard corduroy pants! And the staff there was so helpful in finding the right size for me and suggesting some other items that would look good on me. It's a rather amusing story because in the process of trying on pants, I discovered I have apparently been wearing my pants too baggy. Am I the only one who likes my pants on the larger size for comfort? I will often buy a size bigger in pants and tops (like this sweater) just for comfort. Well, the girl who was helping me try on the pants kept insisting I try one size down until I landed at this pair, which she says fit correctly. I must admit they were quite comfortable throughout or I wouldn't have purchased them. Unfortunately, they didn't carry the petite versions in the store, so I'll have to hem it but that's easy enough. If you are interested in their corduroys, I think they run large as I ended up with a pair two sizes below my normal size. 


Last but not least, I've been rediscovering the joy of writing. Losing Teddy earlier this year convinced me that I need to take more time to do the things I truly love with the time I have on this earth, so I decided to reduce my editing workload to allow more time for my first love of writing. One of my articles recently came out in Victoria magazine's special tea publication, Tea Pleasures. Would you like a copy? I will be giving away one. For a chance to win it, just leave a comment mentioning you want to enter in the comments section of this post. I will drawer a winner this Saturday at noon central time.


For my assignment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charleen McCain, owner of Simply Scrumptious Tea Room and Emporium in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Charleen was a delight to work with and even sent me her tea room's lovely cookbook filled with many of the recipes featured in the team room. You can order your own copy by clicking here.


I hope life has been treating all of you well and that you are finding time to enjoy the holiday season.