Friday, March 20, 2015

HELLO, SPRING!

The first day of spring is always a welcome sight here at Ashton House. That means it's time to start thinking about seeds, and packets galore are pouring in from the seed companies. As a freelance garden writer, I get to trial various seeds and plants in my garden each year. It's interesting to see which ones fare well and which ones flop. My climate is not very forgiving of anything that needs a lot of maintenance.


This year I'm hoping to try more edibles. Family and neighbors often gift us a bunch of tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, and potatoes but it seems we hardly ever get zucchini, which happens to be my favorite vegetable. So this year I hope to remedy that problem by growing some of my own. Renee's Garden sent me the following mixed variety package containing Clarimore—a plump pastel green zucchini, Raven—a glossy dark green beauty, and Golden Dawn—a buttercup yellow variety with a delicate, nutty flavor. 


Among the other seeds was this vibrant purple carrot from Holland that is said to be a vigorous grower and loaded with antioxidant flavonoids. It has a little yellow core.


I also received some All-America Selections winners, including this 'Butterscotch' butternut squash bred by Johnny's Selected seeds.


I am not a huge fan of beets (This 'Avalanche' variety is a sweet, mild-flavored variety bred by Bejo Seeds). Let me know if you'd like some seeds and I would be glad to share. 


Spring is also the time when many of us look forward to retiring our winter clothes to the back of the closet in favor of some spring-fresh ones. I love my coral pink daisy embroidered dress because it reminds me of my garden, which includes these cheerful flowers. In the below photo, I've displayed the dress on my vintage Bauman dress form. I wasn't able to find a dress form in my specific size but this one still works pretty nicely and makes a charming accent for my sewing area. Speaking of dresses, I watch an Italian cooking show called "Extra Virgin" on the Cooking Channel and it's hosted by the most charming couple, Debi Mazar and her Italian husband, Gabriele Corcos. Debi wears the neatest dresses even in casual settings (I rarely see her in something other than a dress) and I thought it would be fun if I challenged myself to wear more dresses this spring and summer. For the longest time, I shied away from them because I didn't think they would fit normal body types, but you know, life is too short not to try something new. A health scare last year taught me that I need to do the things I want to do NOW, not later (If there can be a "blessing" in a health crisis, perhaps it is that it makes you realize how important it is to live the life you have more fully, no matter how mundane the details get). So I'm going for it! Luckily, this dress is designed to be very loose fitting, so it's really comfortable. For a cheerful dose of more pink goodies, head over to my pink blog by clicking here


And for all you quilters who haven't yet heard, C&T Publishing is having a SPRING FLING sale with up to 70% off some items this Friday–Monday. They asked me to help spread the word. So head on over to the sale by clicking here.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

TREASURES FROM THE PAST

Greetings, my friends. It's been a busy week here at Ashton House editing the latest edition of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine, which goes to press late this month. Seems like we just wrapped up the spring issue. Where does time go? I'm also staying busy with my writing. Design profiles for Country French magazine and Decor magazine are in the works this week. Last Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed going to the latest installment of my monthly quilt club where we got to see some stunning quilts. Our teacher Marge shared this lovely little Carolina Lily quilt that she made. What makes it even more stunning is its tiny size. I don't think it was even 18 inches long! The border strips are even—I just cropped this photo badly!


I also enjoyed seeing this vintage beauty made of cigar silks. We were talking about those types of fabrics in our textile history lesson, so it was a fitting show-and-tell! It was truly astounding to see this variety of them all in one quilt! In the foreground, you can see some of Marge's vintage laundry child's toys. Laundry days of the past were one of the topics of our conversation.


After the club meeting, I made a quick detour by one of my favorite antique haunts, where I found this vintage doll bed. It's very similar to one I purchased from Mary Ghormley (author of Childhood Treasures: Quilts Made for and by Children) seven years ago. I don't believe this one is particularly old (probably from the 1960s) but the price was right at $16.


Also snagged this darling antique pink lusterware bowl for $10 and blue feedback print for $4.


I capped off a wonderful day by watching the season finale of Downton Abbey and indulging in fried cod strips from my favorite seafood restaurant (Their half pound special is a great deal at just under $7). Since I now cook most of our meals, it's quite a treat to get carryout once a week!


A few weeks ago I found out that one of my favorite local antiques shops is closing its doors later this month. I've enjoyed going to Found Things for what must be close to a decade. Its owner, Marsha, is a real gem, and I forged an instant connection with her. Have you ever been lucky enough to meet someone who instantly "gets" you? Well, Marsha was one of a handful of those people for me. She had a way of making me feel like I was the neatest person in the world—don't worry, I didn't get a big head. That's never been of my problems! Her one-of-a-kind shop will be sorely missed (I can't imagine how the new tenant is going to fill those shoes!).


Over the years, I've found everything from Victorian scrapbooks and calling cards to toy pianos and 1960s kitchenware in this treasure trove. When I see each find, I'm reminded of how fun it was to discover them. Along the way, Marsha was there to share in that excitement. I think she was as genuinely thrilled for me as I was. If you're in the area, I hope you can stop by her going-away party on March 28. It will be a sad day but we all wish her the very best in whatever new adventure life takes her next. 


Last but not least, I'm selling a couple of clothing items on my pink blog here. If I don't sell these by next Monday, I'll be taking them to Goodwill so someone else can hopefully enjoy them. If you're local to the area and are interested in any of them, let me know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

GIVEAWAY WINNER

Thanks to everyone who entered my latest impromptu giveaway for a copy of the latest edition of Victoria magazine with my article as well as a half yard of adorable flannel woodland friends fabric. It was delightful to hear from old friends as well as so many new ones. I'm go glad you found my blog and hope you'll return for future visits. I enjoyed reading about what you all love about spring. I share all your sentiments about this lovely season! Greta, you expressed my sentiments about spring so well in your comment! It does come around just when you need it! As promised, I drew a random winner via Random Generator and that person is:


I have started following you on google. :)

Congrats go to mlhummy! Please email me your mailing address by this Wednesday by clicking the Email Me button in the right-hand sidebar. I will ship your package out on my weekly run to the post office this Thursday. As always, I wish I could give something to everyone who entered but rest assured, there will be more little impromptu giveaways this year. I always like to share the wealth whenever I can!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

THINKING SPRING

                          THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!

The January/February issue of Victoria magazine with my article on the Dallas Arboretum arrived in the mail last week and it definitely got me in the mood for spring.


I enjoyed writing the piece on the Dallas Arboretum, which puts on a spectacular botanical show of color every season. The article is aptly named "Season's Best". I hope you'll check it out (Read on for details on an impromptu giveaway for a copy).


I hope you all had a happy Valentine's Day. My heart purse, which I ordered from England, showed up a week late but I still had a fantastic day. Thanks to some styling help from the online shop I ordered my dress from, I got a cute vintage-inspired pair of shoes that complemented my Valentine's dress, and best yet, they were on sale for less than $15! I was so glad to get some styling guidance as I have no idea how to pair shoes with dresses or tights. You might call me fashionably impaired!




My dear hubby surprised me with a couple other gifts, including this handy shoe storage unit that hangs on a door and accommodates up to 36 pairs of shoes. Unlike many women, I don't have that many because I'd rather fill my closet with what's photographed in the next photo. Nonetheless, it's a great storage solution for a closet in our 1885 Victorian home—These old Victorians aren't known for their ample closet storage or storage space in general!


Yes, I'd rather fill my closet with fabric than clothes, and more than half the built-in shelves are taken up by fabric rather than clothing! 


Hubby also gave me this sweet owl book of quotes. Even the little bookmark is an owl!


This quote echoes my sentiments exactly!


And how sweet are these quotes? Winnie the Pooh was certainly a wise little bear. His quote on the second page is so true.


Hubby saw this owl bag on my Pinterest Wish List page and ordered it for me all the way from England. I thought that was really thoughtful of him. I never thought I would actually get it.


Hope you are all starting to think spring, too. To get you in the mood, here's a little impromptu giveaway for a copy of the Victoria magazine shown in the first photo in this post and a half yard of this owl/forest friends flannel fabric (shown below). You needn't be an official Google Blogger follower, though if you are, please feel free to enter a separate comment telling me you are for an extra chance to win as a thank you for your support of my blog. The giveaway is also open to my international blogging friends. This is just a quick little giveaway, so it will end Tuesday, Feb. 24, at noon central time, and I'll draw a name that evening. Winner will be responsible for contacting me as several bloggers are non-comment bloggers, which means your comments come through with no email address for me to reach you at. To enter, just leave a comment telling me what you like most about spring.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

THE SWEETEST DAY OF THE YEAR

I'm trying the auto-post feature of blogger and hope this post pops up Saturday afternoon! We will see! Several years ago, we found these vintage valentines in the attic of our 1885 Victorian, and it seemed appropriate to share them with you today as we celebrate Valentine's Day. They just don't make them like they used to!


To celebrate this special day, I surprised my hubby with these sugarless mini chocolate cookies made with unsweetened 100 percent pure cocoa and natural stevia in place of sugar. As I mentioned earlier, he is pre-diabetic and I'm trying to find ways to indulge his sweet tooth without raising his risk of diabetes. I even purchased a cookbook on using natural sweeteners in baking--I know that many artificial sugar substitutes like Splenda or ones containing aspartame, sucralose, etc. are harmful to your health. I served the cookies on my vintage shell pink leaf plate.


I found the sweetest little mini mint chocolate chips at my local baking shop and sprinkled some of those on top to give the cookies a hint of sweetness. Mini chips are certainly a nice alternative to the regular sized chips. These little mint green chips are sprinkled with brown spots—such a delightful color combo!


I have a wish list on my Pinterest page and if I'm lucky, my hubby occasionally surprises me with one of the items on it. Here is one such gift that my hubby surprised me with this morning—a new Marc Jacobs quilted pink iPad case! I love that it has a strap, which will make it more likely that I'll take it with me while on the go. It goes perfectly with my new pink plaid wool coat, which is pictured with it. 


Tonight the hubby will take me to my favorite downtown Des Moines restaurant for a special Valentine's dinner. I bought the pink heart dress (featured in my previous post) just for this occasion and plan to surprise the hubby with it this evening. Hopefully he will like it! Hope you all have a very sweet Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

FINALLY FEBRUARY!

Looking out my window at our slumbering arbor garden, it is hard to believe that spring is next month! January is always the hardest month for me. By February, I can at least see the light of spring at the end of the tunnel!


Even though winter still has us in its icy grip, it's not too early to think spring! Our latest issue of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine will help you cultivate the seeds of creativity with a fresh crop of projects ranging from quilts and hooked rugs to wool appliqué and punch needle. It's on newsstand now! I'm currently editing projects for the summer edition. 


Now that it's February, I'm in a Valentine's Day mood. My fabric stash is lacking in Valentine motifs but I recently found this cute fox fabric. Have you noticed that foxes are becoming as popular as owls? Seems like I see more and more of them. 


Speaking of Valentine's Day, my hubby made dinner reservations at one of my favorite downtown Des Moines restaurants and I ordered a special dress and purse for the special occasion. As usual, the online boutique I ordered the dress from was very helpful in giving me measurements to make it more likely the dress would fit and luckily, it did! Yippee! Since it is always so cold here during this time of year, I will wear my black shrug over the dress to stay warm. The purse is in transit, so I hope it arrives in time.  



I will eventually post more details about the dress on my Pinterest as well as my pink blog, Tickled Pink, that I started last summer (There's also a clickable button on my right sidebar that will take you there). It's just my fun corner of cyberspace devoted to my love of all things pink. I had so many things in that hue that I decided it would be fun to have a place to record many of them.

In other news, February finds us continuing our goal to eat fish 2–3 times a week. I've always said that if fish weren't so expensive, I could live on it. Ever since I was a kid, I've loved all sorts of fish except for tilapia (Not a fan of that). Best yet, fish is easy to prepare even on nights when I don't feel like cooking. My father-in-law is taking a little break from ice fishing, which has prompted us to try some new fish. I saw some wild-caught hake fillets in the grocery store last weekend and decided to try them. Hake is less expensive than one of my favorite fish—wild-caught Pacific cod—so I thought why not give it a try? I first tried baking them and they were okay. The next night, I grilled them, which produced a much nicer flavor. If I were to have them again, I would definitely grill them! It seems like fish like this and halibut are best grilled, and it's so easy to do that on my stovetop grill pan (No need to brave the cold with an outdoor grill!). All Clad makes a nice stovetop grill pan that makes those grill marks on the fish like you see in my photo below. Broccoli is about the only veggie that my hubby and I will eat, so we steamed some to go with our meal. The verdict? I still prefer cod to hake but I wouldn't rule out buying it again. 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

COZY COMFORTS

After enjoying a high temperature of 50 degrees yesterday (which is pretty balmy for an Iowa winter), we're back to typical conditions today. It's cold and blustery—the kind of day that makes you want to nest indoors. I did have to venture out this morning to get a routine blood test done for my kidneys but I'm hoping to remain in the comfort of my home the rest of the day. Part of the benefit of working from home is that I can dress in sweats and my comfy, quirky slippers! How nice is that?!


This is the kind of day that calls for curling up with a warm cup of tea and a good book. I got this Matcha tea by Teavana for Christmas and am anxious to try it. For me, a good book involves Jane Austen. The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England offers a glimpse into day-to-day life in Jane Austen's time with tips on how to behave at your first ball and throw a dinner party. I don't imagine I'll ever have a need to put the former tips into practice but they're fun to read!


I also received these Teavana macaron tea tins, filled with loose tea leaves, for Christmas. The burgundy tin holds their Gingerbread tea, which has a sweet caramel apple flavor and the rust tin holds their Golden Monkey, which features golden-tipped black tea leaves and rich cocoa undertones. The tall yellow container harbors their Strawberry Cream white tea. After that container is empty, I plan to use it as a storage container for my sewing room as I don't think it will hold up to use in the kitchen with its pretty yet impractical paper wrapping.


After I finish my tea, I will resume sewing my latest project—a baby quilt. I am so excited that I am going to be an aunt! My husband's brother and wife are adopting a little girl. It is a joyous event for our entire family and we are eagerly anticipating her arrival. Because I love mixing patchwork and appliqué, I've decided to make another version of the below quilt (A Prairie Star pattern) that I made earlier. I like the pink and green color scheme and think it will be perfect for her room. 


I was originally debating between making the above quilt and the below Kitty Cucumber quilt made from a kit. I started it, too, so I can always change my mind on which to give her.


In addition to sewing, there is much work to be done here, too, but I'm taking a little break from that this afternoon to nurture my creativity. To see what I've been up to lately in the writing department, check out my previous post.