Friday, April 15, 2016

PINK FRIDAY

Hope you're all having as wonderful a Friday as I am. I'm loving the glorious spring weather that has finally come to central Iowa! That alone is worth celebrating. I'm also in a celebratory mood after just completing the quilt top for the little Irish Chain quilt I'm making for my niece. I thought the pink and green palette would be perfect for a little girl, plus this project was a great way to use up some of my 1930s repro prints. As you can see from the photo, my kitty Figgy approves! I was able to quilt it up in practically no time on my Bernina. Now comes my least favorite part—binding.


And here's some more pink cheer for your Friday. I was delighted to receive this pretty variegated pink-and-cream kalanchoe from my hubby. My vintage candy tins make charming stages for potted plants like these.  This pink beauty was made in England. I bought it several years ago at Junk Bonanza in Minneapolis. I always thought it was next to impossible to get kalanchoes to rebloom indoors, but I've discovered it can be done if you have a really bright window. I've had one for three years now in my sunny bay window, and I'm hoping I'll be able to coax this one to rebloom.


Figgy did his best to get in the photo of the vintage tin. Can you see his little head peeking through the lace curtains below? He is curious about everything! 


Since Figgy has already been in two of today's photos, I might as well share another one of him. Early this morning as I swept our porch, I noticed him following me from room to room inside, looking out the windows. I think our poor little boy is so bored that he could use a friend! Once we get our carpet installed, we plan on looking for one.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

WHAT A HOOT

Not much exciting happening here at Ashton House today so I thought I'd share one of the pincushions in my collection. Dressed in bright blue and purple, this little owl makes quite a statement on my pincushion shelf. I know his colors are pretty wacky but he was made in the 1960s, after all.


Turn him around and you realize he's also a handy tape measure. Curious to know if any of you who lived through the 1960s might have remembered a pincushion like this? Seems like a lot of these novelty examples were made in Japan. They certainly had a knack for quirky designs!


In other sewing-related news, I spent Sunday afternoon at The Quilt Block for our monthly Kim Diehl Simple Whatnots quilt club and got inspired by this show-and-tell quilt from one of the members. Don't you love the colors she used? I should have asked for the name of the pattern!


Back at home, we're still busy preparing for new carpet this spring. We have all the old carpet torn up and hope to get either carpet or hardwood installed by May. We're still checking out other carpet options like this beauty, which unfortunately turned out to be out of our budget. Figgy liked it, too!


We soothed our dampened spirits with some homemade sour cream peach pie. My mom has been making this quick and easy pie for years. It's a little lighter than traditional peach pie because it doesn't have the top crust. Instead, the top is layered with a creamy mixture of sour cream, flour, and other goodness. Luckily, it doesn't use very much flour and I substituted the regular white flour with whole-wheat flour, which my friend Anne says has more fiber. It makes the topping darker, so it's not quite as pretty. I also halved the amount of sugar and used lite sour cream and canned peaches packed in water versus syrup. The topping is then sprinkled with a hearty helping of cinnamon. The verdict? My husband could not tell any difference taste wise. He liked it so much that only three pieces of the original eight remained in the pan this morning! 


Thursday, March 17, 2016

SPRING FEVER

Signs of the coming spring are popping up all around Ashton House as I see signs of life in my garden. This latest issue of Best of Country Gardens magazine, on newsstands only now, also gets me in a spring mood. A couple weeks ago, I found out my African violets made the cover. The miniature violets are staged in my collection of demitasses and tiny tea cups. Inside is an article that I wrote on these pretties. As always, I am happy to provide anyone who contacts me with a brochure on how to grow these enchanting houseplants.


This afternoon finds me preparing my program on Victorian sewing trade cards for my P.E.O group. I enjoy bringing out all these treasures from yesteryear, then choosing which ones to present in my slideshow. I prefer that format since they are a little hard to see otherwise given their size. I hope the ladies will enjoy the slideshow.


I also did a little organizing in my impromptu sewing nook in one of the parlors. I change out the vintage dresses on the antique dressforms with each season. I only purchase dresses that I can actually wear. To me, they are like works of art, so the dressforms are the perfect way to display a couple of them when they're not in use. The brown and pink one on the left is one of my favorites. Maybe it's because that is one of my favorite color combos.


Little Figgy (Figaro) thought he needed to help with the organizing!


When Figgy gets tired like after "helping" me with a task, he retreats to his little chair. This is a shot of him from last month. I can't imagine being comfy in this position but he was sound asleep.


Enjoy St. Paddy's day, my friends! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

SOME ENCHANTED EVENING

I'm excited to tell you about my latest quilt book editing project, which will be published in May! If you love wool and 1800s reproduction fabrics, you'll want to check it out! Simple Blessings in Patchwork: 13 Traditional Projects with a Twist brings fresh inspiration from the talented sister duo known as Yellow Creek Quilt Designs. Jill and Vicki's designs both grace the cover. I will share more details as I can but wanted to let you know you can pre-order the book on the C&T Publishing website at this link.


Thanks to all who so warmly welcomed my new kitty Figgy who I introduced in my last post. It took him a little while to navigate our stairs to find this favorite hangout on my cedar chest. The vet said he's about a month behind physically but mentally he is quite sharp.


He is fast becoming a spoiled kitty. This surprise package of kitty toys and treats arrived just last week from fellow cat-loving friend, Merry. How sweet is that?! We were so touched by her kindness. The box even came addressed to Figgy! Needless to say, Figgy didn't wait to let me take the toys out of the box. He helped himself to them!




All the toys were quite imaginative and ones I'd never seen before. The cute cat face in the photo above is a laser toy. Figgy especially loved this green toy (I call it a cat dog!). I couldn't get a good photo of him with it because he was moving so fast as he both hugged and kicked it.


I feel a little sorry for Figgy as he's living in a bit of a state of chaos as we pull up our carpet in preparation for new later this spring. It was quite a feat to move all the furniture out of our dining room. Those of you have seen photos of it before will know why! Here's what was under that old carpet. A friend suggested we consider painting the hardwood. Hadn't thought of that. 


I'm sorry to digress from the title of my blog post! I seem to be having trouble focusing this week! This past weekend we had the most wonderful dining experience at Strudl Haus here in Des Moines. It's rare to find a restaurant that has both good food and entertainment, so we were delighted to enjoy an idyllic evening at this Austrian restaurant where we could dine while being serenaded by the sweet sounds of a talented violinist.  She did an amazing job!


She played everything from classical and Celtic pieces to broadway favorites and pop tunes like Lady Gaga's Bad Romance with flair. I didn't think Lady Gaga could sound so good on a violin! No offense to Lady Gaga. I do love her music. The violinist (below) also played classics like the Beatles' Let It Be and the Hawaiian ukulele version of Somewhere over the Rainbow. Figgy loves to listen to the latter, it's so mellow!


We can't recommend the food enough! My husband had the chicken cordon bleu (below) and for dessert, a scrumptious Napoleon and raspberry hot chocolate.



I forgot to take a photo of the Napoleon while we were there but had taken a shot of it when we ate at Gaston at the Des Moines Art Center a few weeks ago. They also serve them there, although they are freshly made at Strudl Haus.


I couldn't wait to dig into the pork schnitzel and a decadent lemon cake (below). Both our entrees came with parsley potatoes and asparagus and homemade bread, and the restaurant serves a sampling of sauerkraut and other salad accoutrements before the entree. We felt the food was very reasonably priced as we were both able to eat quite well and enjoy some lovely entertainment in the process for $50. The chef takes great pride in his food and came out to greet his guests. 



If you live in the Des Moines area or ever pass through it, I'd definitely recommend Strudl Haus. It's not a very large place so reservations are highly recommended. Those who just show up have to wait awhile. The violinist plays on Saturday evenings. Because it was cooler that evening, I was able to get a little more wear out of my winter coats by wearing this vintage early 1970s purple crushed velvet coat. Quite frankly, I thought it was a bit of an oddity when I bought it so I was surprised when two people at the restaurant asked me about it. Most of the time I figure people are just being nice when they mention things like that but one of the waitresses even asked me where I got it. So I'm thinking it must not look exactly vintage. What do you think? I'd be curious to know! And for those of you who remember wearing 1970s fashions, do you recall seeing a coat like this? I buy vintage because I feel like I'm getting something a little more unique and I think it's better made than today's clothes. I also like their nostalgic charm. I've always thought I had quirky taste in clothes so I don't expect anyone to really understand it. The important thing is that it makes me happy.


The very next day I wore this vintage 1960s shift dress to church. Yes, I know, crazy weather we have here in Iowa where we can go from winter coats to sleeveless dresses in less than 24 hours! Again just like with the purple coat, I was approached by a lady telling me that she liked the dress and asking me where I got it. So I'm starting to wonder if vintage clothing doesn't really look vintage? I would be curious to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me. The shop I purchased the dress from suggested I wear it with a belt because the dress was a little baggy. The clogs are 1970s-style Swedish Hasbeens. You would think they would be uncomfortable and take awhile to break in but these were comfy from the instant I put them on! Some of their other styles took awhile to get used to, though.

Monday, February 22, 2016

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

A heartfelt thank you to all of those who left a comment, emailed, or called after reading my last post about my cat Poe who passed away in November. Your kindness meant so much to me. I deeply appreciate each and everyone of you who took the time to write. If you are a no-reply blogger (which means no email address came with your message), I was not able to respond to you directly. So I replied to you in the comments section. Much has happened in the short time since I last posted. The most exciting is that Ashton House is once again home to a furry friend! We just adopted a 5 month-old tuxedo kitten. It was rather unexpected but when when we met Figaro (named after the cat in Pinocchio), we knew he was the right one. We wanted to get another little friend for him at the same time so they could grow up together and even asked about adopting his mommy, too, but we found out she passed away shortly after giving birth. Only Figaro and one of his brothers survived the bottle feeding. So we will forge ahead this spring or summer and look for another kitten in need of a home.



When we met Figaro, he was relaxed from the moment he was plopped into my arms and he instantly started to purr. He stayed there in my arms for 30 minutes without trying to wiggle free. I thought, wow, what a mellow kitten! However, that disposition was short-lived.



By the time we got him home, he was as rambunctious as a typical kitten. I have a feeling it was because he lived all his life in a kennel since he was born at the shelter. Once he realized he could roam free in a 3,000-square foot house, it must have seemed like an adventure to him. The most precious thing is that Figaro loves Poe's old wingback chair. I thought it would never again be so loved by a cat. Seeing him in the chair makes me think of Poe and smile.


Figgy and I are fast becoming good friends. He seems to think I need his help when working at the computer. He paws at my legs and asks to be picked up and placed on my lap. Pardon the duds I work in. My usual work attire is a sweatshirt and Grimace-colored sweatpants! One of the perks of working from home—if you would consider that a perk!


Apparently, Figgy can also write as I received this sweet Valentine's card from him. Who knew such a little guy could be so smart?! I think he must have had some help from my husband.


Yes, this Valentine's Day was extra special because of Figaro and my sweet husband, who surprised me with these thoughtful goodies. If you're wondering why he's so good at finding things, it's because he gathers ideas from my Pinterest Wish List page, however, he does deserve a lot of credit as he found the vintage owl purse and antique copper mold on his own.


This was one of the more eventful Valentine's days I can remember—not only because of Figaro but because we attended a Valentine's Tea at a historical house in Waterloo, where we were treated to a talk on the history of Valentine's Day and learned how to make Victorian Valentine crafts like paper roses.



After that, we headed to one of my favorite vintage shops, Miss Wonderful, where I found a couple 1960s cardigans for $12 and $15 each. 


The blue one is really warm and cozy. Looks to be some sort of wool. And the pink one has a fanciful black scalloped trim. They just don't make clothes like they used to! If only I could time-travel back to the 1960s and see all those neat clothes in action. The women of the 1960s wore them so well. I like that the clothes come in an array of sizes and styles to flatter all sorts of body types. Right now the shop has an amazing navy, yellow, and green shift dress in an extra-large for thirty some dollars. It would definitely be worth checking out if that's your size. 


Just a side note that if you happen to wear smaller sized shoes like 5.5 to 6, Miss Wonderful has some nice options like these 1950s heels that I tried on during an earlier visit last year. I was surprised that these hadn't been snatched up yet. 


For Valentine's dinner, my husband took me to Le Jardin in Des Moines, where we enjoyed a four-course dinner. It's not as much as it sounds since the portions were smaller. First course was a charcuterie plate of homemade pork pate, herb-crusted salami, pickled onions, olives, and Cheese Shop cheese. The second course was a petite bacon and onion quiche served with mixed greens, gruyere cheese, cherry tomatoes, and anisette vinaigrette. The main course was my favorite, a chicken Francese served atop artichoke and Roquefort mashed potatoes, Dolin Vermouth, and lemon sauce. And for dessert there was a lemon creme brûlée with amaretto strawberries or a flourless chocolate cake served with warm cherry sauce and Grand Marnier whipped cream. My husband got the former and I got the latter so we could sample both. 


And last but not least, I just wanted to share some other happy news. Indigo, the black kitty we were sponsoring at Furry Friends Refuge, found her furrever home! We were told a nice single lady who stays home adopted her, so Indigo will get lots of attention around the clock. We couldn't imagine a happier ending for a more deserving kitty! While we were at the shelter, we met another nice black kitty named Monique who has the sweetest disposition. If you're looking for a loving kitty girl, I hope you will go check her out. She's at the Grand Ave. location near downtown Des Moines.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

REMEMBERING POE


I’ve started to write this post several times since last November but for some reason the words just wouldn’t come out. On November 20, 2015, we lost our remaining kitty, Poe. When we lost his brother, Teddy, in 2014, the words came flooding out immediately. I don’t know if it was because Poe was the last of our kitties or just because grief works in mysterious ways that I haven’t been able to write about this until now. 


Poe came into our lives in the summer of 1999 when we were visiting the flea market near my hometown. We weren’t planning to get a cat that day but as it turns out, God had other plans and Poe found us. A family that lends its yard to parking during the flea market was trying to find a home for the last kitten in the litter (Poe) and they were going to take him to a shelter if they couldn’t find him a home by the end of that weekend. They told us some sad tales about how Poe spent his days foraging for food in the nearby junkyard. When I held Poe in my arms and he purred and touched my cheek, I knew immediately that he had found his home. I couldn't understand why he was the last kitten from the litter to find a home. Black cats are the sweetest. Poe immediately got along well with our other cats, Teddy and Caesar, and he took to the indoors like a fish to water. He was always the mellowest of cats, never playful but always loving beyond words. We called him our little shadow because he followed us wherever we went. He had a knack for making himself comfortable wherever he was—whether that was smushed between the cushions of our chaise longue...


...or smushed under my husband while he read a book...


...or cuddled up on a doll bed...


...or nestled in his chair...


After Teddy passed away, Poe was a great source of comfort to me and took over many of Teddy’s habits like begging for a bit of breakfast. It was as though Teddy was inspiring him and Poe was trying to fill his big brother’s footsteps. In the spring of 2015, we noticed some behavioral changes in Poe and took him to see his vet several times between then and the fall of 2015 but tests never indicated a problem. It wasn’t until early November of that year that his health rapidly deteriorated and an x-ray revealed he had intestinal lymphoma. During his last few weeks, Poe would approach me while I was sleeping and look at me intently. I’d reach out to give him a reassuring pat on the head then he would go lie back down but soon after, he'd be right back up near my head. I'm not sure if he needed assurance from me or as one of my friends suggested, he was trying to assure me? He was such a sweetie that it would be just like him to do something like that even though he must have been feeling quite sick. Poe spent his last day comforting me. Can you believe that? When I started to cry, he curled up on my lap and nestled his head against my stomach. 




On the day we were take him into the vet to be put to rest, it started snowing. Although I was irked by the snow at that time because I was concerned it would prevent us from getting Poe the help he needed, I now look back on it as a bit of a gift. The soft dusting of snow that fell on his fur made him look so pretty and I'll never forget how peaceful he looked when I took this last photo of him and my husband on our way to the vet. 


It's strange, I always thought of Poe as Tom's cat and Teddy as mine but at the vet, I was the one who held my precious baby in my arms as he drifted to sleep and over the Rainbow Bridge. It was hard to believe what remained was just the shell of a wonderful companion but somehow that made it easier to leave the room after we shared those final precious moments with Poe. I don’t think I could have if I’d felt Poe were still there. I will miss him terribly just like I do his brother but I know someday I will get to see him again—my grandma always reminds me that animals go to heaven, too.


The house is oddly quiet now without the pitter patter of kitties. This is the first time in our married life that we haven’t had one in the home. Despite the fact Poe is no longer with us, I am endlessly grateful for the 16½ years I got to share with him. I am also thankful to my two dear friends Mary and Cinda who have been a constant source of support since he passed away. Thank you, Cinda, for all your comforting phone calls. Mary emailed me every night for several weeks after he passed. The nights were often the worst at first, so I was especially grateful for those thoughtful emails, which were a bright spot during those difficult nights. She also gave me this precious memento to honor Poe’s memory. I do believe there are angels in our lives to help us through the darkest days, and these two special ladies are mine. Of course, there are others who have kindly offered their condolences and I am thankful to them as well. Most of all, I thank Poe for the unconditional love and kindness he showered on me every day of his life. Until we meet again, dear friend...


I have a question for those of you who have lost pets. Have you ever had dreams about your pets after they have passed? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to email me. Shortly after Poe passed, I had several very vivid dreams about him and Teddy. In one of them, I was going through a door and suddenly saw Teddy with a black kitten by his side but I shut the door on them. When I awoke, I was horrified as I would never have done that in real life but a friend interpreted the dream to mean that Teddy was encouraging me to get a kitten but that I wasn't yet ready for one.