Friday, August 8, 2014


Three weeks ago, I found a lump in my sweet cat Poe's neck, and last Thursday, he underwent surgery to remove it. He had previously undergone two other surgeries in the last year and a half to remove lumps in the same area. This time, the doctor suspected cancer due to the shape and area of the lump and we were told to prepare for the worst but hope for the best. Evidently, there is an aggressive type of cancer caused by the very things that are supposed to protect our furry friends—rabies and feline leukemia vaccinations, and Poe's lump was in that exact area. He was given a 50/50 chance of it being cancer. Worst yet, we had to wait a week for the biopsy results. It was agony. God answered our prayers yesterday when the doctor called with good news, letting us know that Poe beat the odds and that his lump was a fatty benign tumor. Even the doctor said that he was surprised it wasn't cancer. After losing Poe's brother Teddy so recently, I wasn't sure how I was going to get through the loss of another furry friend. Below is a photo of Poe recuperating. You can see the spot where his back hair had to be shaved for surgery.

When it rains, it pours as I have also been dealing with my own health issue the past few weeks. It became so bad that I couldn't keep any food down (even a popsicle) and ended up on anti-nausea medication among other things. So if I owe you a return email or call, please be patient as I play catch up. I think the best medicine of all was just hearing that Poe was okay. I have much to be grateful for, and trying times like these always serve as good reminders of that, although I have always been one to value the meaning of gratitude. One blessing is that my mother-in-law came to stay with me for several days this week to look after me because I felt so ill. She took such good care of me. Some people are just natural caregivers and Mom is one of those rare gems. One night while I was recuperating on the sofa, my hubby took Mom out to dinner as a thank you for helping us. When they returned, the hubby woke me up and Mom surprised me with my very own iPad! So now I have a new toy to play with when I feel better.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


It's a great day here at Ashton House. I'm making good progress on two of the quilt books that I'm editing this quarter. The one closest to completion is Betsy Chutchian's ode to autumn joys. The title is Just Treats, No Tricks: Bewitching Quilts and More to Celebrate Autumn. Her love of all things Halloween is a common thread throughout the book but you will find much more than just fun accents for that holiday. There are plenty of autumn-inspired quilts and projects to enjoy, too!

Not far behind Betsy's book is Dawn Heese's latest title, Autumn Splendor: Folk Art Quilts and Projects. Inspired by the splendor of the season, Dawn has created a charming cornucopia of six quilts and two coordinating smaller projects. With her folk-art flair for appliqué and patchwork, she puts a fresh twist on autumn-inspired motifs. Don't you love the kitty on the straw bale on the cover? Luckily, both Dawn and Betsy are fellow cat lovers.

Both books will be released in September, so be sure to watch for them at your favorite quilt shop! And stop back in August for a giveaway when I'll share more details about both books.

In other good news, I just got a good report from my doctor at my appointment today! My blood pressure is now down to 98/68, an all-time low for me (and that's with no medications). I've been off my blood pressure medication for more than a year now and it feels great. My cholesterol numbers had also improved from last year and especially from 2012—again without any medications of any kind. My doctor said that it's best to have a total cholesterol level of less than 200 and mine is now 154, down from 220 in 2012 and 194 in 2013. My triglycerides (fat in the blood) level is now 81—down from 133 in 2012. My doctor said the ideal range for triglycerides is under 150 and under 90 is even better. I'm still battling some kidney issues but am hopeful they'll improve soon. Now I'm celebrating the good news by eating a couple blue raspberry cookies my hubby made last night! Yum! Yes, my doctor would probably cringe at this but a girl's gotta have her sugar, right?! 

I've also been making good progress on my summer-cleaning venture. I've been tackling my bedroom closet and gathered six whole bags of handbags as well as clothes which no longer fit to donate to Goodwill. I realize this venture is long overdue as I still have some clothes from my college days! The only down side to the cleaning fest is that it left only a handful of clothes in my closet. Most are pink.

Well, I suppose I should get back to work now. I was just so elated about my cholesterol reading that I had to record the great news with a blog post.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


About seven years ago, our arbor garden was featured in Country Gardens magazine. Well, a few months ago, we learned that it made the cover of The Best of Country Gardens magazine—a compilation of favorite CG gardens from previous issues! I meant to post about it sooner but the loss of our dear kitty in April seemed to overshadow any bit of good news, and I don't think the issue is on newsstands anymore.

Here's a little backstory on the garden, which occupies a small enclave between our sidewalk and driveway. When we moved into our house, it was just a patch of lawn with a few ferns. Not being crazy about lawn, my husband and I decided it would make a neat potager (aka kitchen garden) since the space is just off our kitchen. The following spring, my husband and I set to work laying the brick-lined beds and planting the Korean and English boxwood edging (To save money, we bought really tiny plants).

At the time, I was working as a garden editor for Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications and once the editors caught wind that we'd created an idyllic little garden haven, they expressed an interest in shooting the garden. They offered to install an arbor to serve as another focal point for the freshly designed landscape. 

Using plants that they donated to the project, we added three large spiral conifer topiaries, several roses, and fanciful purple-flowering alliums to the existing planting scheme. Urns were filled with spring bloomers that would lush out in time for the spring photo shoot. Our deep window wells were adorned with potted geraniums from my favorite geranium grower, and I sprinkled the original fern bed with a few pink caladiums. To me, more is more when it comes to gardening and I like a really full look. I wonder if the original owners of our 1885 Victorian home were the same way? I've heard the Victorians had a penchant for that growing style.

To choke out weeds, the brick-lined beds were planted to the max. It was very gratifying to see them so full that even the weeds couldn't grow! Here, coleus and penstemon mingle with a chartreuse carpet of moneywort.

I took all the photos in this post the day of the photo shoot. Please also note that the photos and text for the article in The Best of Country Gardens are from the original shoot and not new ones. I hope you enjoyed this little journey down memory lane!

Friday, June 27, 2014


Hello, dear friends,
I've been staying busy since my last post. The fall issue of the quilt magazine (Primitive Quilts and Projects) that I edit went to press this week, and both of the quilt books I'm editing this quarter have been sent to the designers. I'm definitely feeling a sense of accomplishment as this work week draws to a close!

But it hasn't been all work here, fortunately. Thanks to the keen hunting skills of my husband and father-in-law, I was able to enjoy a bumper crop of morels this season. I had so many this year that I thought I'd try baking a batch rather than sautéing them in butter like I usually do. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that they turned out just as good with a light coating of butter-flavored cooking spray. I had my doubts about baking them, but I would definitely do this again if I'm lucky to enjoy another harvest of these golden delights.

Baking also proved a wonderful solution for a recent cooking dilemma. Our 10-year-old microwave conked out a couple weeks ago and we found ourselves needing to warm up some already cooked quinoa for dinner. So I put it in the oven with our salmon. My husband said he liked it even better twice cooked!

In other culinary adventures, my friend Merry and I enjoyed lunch at the Tulip Tea Room while visiting Pella last month. 

I had the rusk chicken with rice. It was served with a side salad, scone, and almond bar. Plenty to fill me up for lunch!

May also found us checking out the Downtown Des Moines Farmer's Market where we sampled gluten-free donuts. I do not have a gluten sensitivity but just thought it would be interesting to taste the difference.

We also got some of these delicious radishes from one of the Asian vendors.

A highlight in June was attending a vintage handmade fair where artisans were selling their wares. Many of the booths featured fun garden ideas like these gardens-in-a-tree stump.

While there, we indulged in lemon cupcakes from Scratch Cupcakery's cute pink-and-brown truck.

June also found us celebrating a special birthday for my grandma. One of her daughters put together a lovely photo book to commemorate the occasion. It included this photo of Grandma as a young woman...

...and this photo of Grandma with her fraternal twin sister as a youngster. Grandma is the one on the right.

It's hard to believe that June is nearly over. It's been a rainy month, and for that I've been thankful as there has been little time to work in the garden. Thanks to the rain, it has been holding its own. Sadly, many of plants suffered serious setbacks from the cumulative effect of several dry summers and winters. The roses, boxwood, and hydrangeas were the hardest hit. Oddly enough, some of the weakest roses (English roses) survived and some of the tougher ones (Knock Outs) that have come back year after year in the 10 years we've been here were damaged. Some even succumbed to nature's cruelty. As a result of all the rain, we've seen more toads at Ashton House than in past years. I spotted this plump fellow at my back doorstep this morning. At first I feared he was injured because he didn't move an inch when I touched him, but then he hopped away once I went indoors. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Words seem inadequate to express what a comfort it was hearing from each and every one of you who took the time to write, call, or leave a comment on my April 6th post about my dear kitty, Teddy. Thank you SO much for your kindness and compassion. Hearing from each of you was like getting a much-needed hug. I replied directly to every comment that came through with a reply email address. For those that didn't, my only way to reply was with a note to your comment in the comments section of my April 6th post. So if you did not receive a reply from me, please take a moment to look back there for my note to you. I wanted to share a beautiful poem (below) that Merilyn so kindly sent me as well as a beautiful quote about cats sent from Béra. I know you fellow feline lovers will appreciate them!

A lovely poem shared by Merilyn:
'My best friend
died last summer -
that lovable little character
who wore his own fur coat -
He was my confidante,
my comfort
and my clown - he was my warmth, 
my welcome home -
We burried him near wild mint and thyme -
I wept for him all winter, 
then in early Spring
white daisies
made a garland for his grave
where passing birds and butterflies
call in to visit nature's shrine -
Who knows
what happens to us when we die -
I like to think
his spirit's running free,
perhaps to grace a person
in some other life -
what a wonderful human being
that would be.....'
--Nan Whitcomb
'The Thoughts of Nanushka -Vol XV - XVI

And a lovely quote sent from Béra:

"Little by little, cats become the soul of the House".  —Jean Cocteau

Getting back on track has been slower than I anticipated, and I'm afraid that is the reason for my longer-than-usual blog absence.  The house has been so quiet without Teddy as he was the more active of our two cats. Hopefully, Poe will get used to being an only cat. I've been thinking about making a memory quilt in remembrance of Teddy and came across this sweet little paper-pieced pattern that my mom gave me last Christmas. Doesn't it seem fitting? I would love to get back in the sewing room to give it a try. Unfortunately, my workload isn't making that very easy, but I'm in the process of making some changes that will hopefully help with that in the future.

A few days after Teddy passed away, my sister from Berkeley, California, came for a visit and it was such a blessing to have her here. I wasn't planning to get out much during that time as the grief from Teddy's passing the previous week was so fresh, but she got me out and about for a day to look for bikes at a nice bike shop in West Des Moines. She is an avid bicyclist and knew that my husband and I were in the market for some new bikes that we could take out on the local bike trail for longer distances (I have a fun pink bike I blogged about here but it's only a one-speed so is only suitable for in-town riding). I was not anticipating getting a bike anytime soon (and certainly not while she was here) but I ended up buying the first one we saw, which also happened to be the one that she recommended! My new mint green bike has 21 speeds, so now my husband and I are well equipped to take on the bike trail. We'd like to eventually make a 21-mile round trip but are only up to 12 miles so far.

As life returns to normal here at Ashton House, I thought our surroundings could use a little cheer, and what better way to do that than with flowers?! I spotted these pretty orchids at the local grocery store and decided that they should come home with me. I planted them in my urn in the kitchen and topped the container with colorful chartreuse reindeer moss. They made a wonderful display for our Easter gathering last month and are still gracing my island with their beautiful blooms.

We had a grasshopper cake for dessert, and for a little treat with our tea, I fixed little toasted coconut cookie thins sandwiched with cookie butter from Trader Joe's. They were yummy!

I suppose I should get back to work now. I'm working on a Quilt Sampler article today. Every time I write an article, I think about Beatrix Potter's quote: “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they'll take you.” I guess that's part of what makes writing an article such a fun adventure! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014


July 1996—April 4, 2014

Into each life some rain must fall...and sadly, it has here at Ashton House. A few weeks ago, our dear 17-year-old cat Teddy fell seriously ill and we learned he was dying from kidney failure. The only thing we could do to prolong his life was to administer fluid therapy (a kind of dialysis) to rehydrate him each night through an IV. We decided to try it as long as he would not be in any pain. For the first three days, he was so weak he spent all of his time in his little cat bed, eating only the shredded turkey meat we brought him. He rallied on the fourth day when shadows of his old self returned as he left his bed to bask in the sun of the living room—something he always loved to do. He even started to eat his usual food again and he ran around the house like the old Teddy. He improved so much that we thought he might be able to make it to his birthday in July. But by the end of the third week, it became apparent that he could not live the way he wanted to. So we did the only thing we could for him. He spent his last night doing all his favorite things—like basking in the warm glow of the fireplace, playing with his favorite little lizard Beanie Baby toy, and sleeping at the foot of my bed—something he hadn’t been able to do for a year because of his bad arthritis (Our bedroom is on the second floor, so I decided to sleep downstairs on an air mattress that last night so he could cuddle up). He ran right for the bed when he saw it and spent the night cuddled up on my feet. In the morning, it was time to say our final farewell to Teddy as we took him to his vet, Dr. John (Broderick), who he always liked very much. The following pictures were taken on his final morning with us. His passing was peaceful and he was surrounded by loved ones. Teddy died this past Friday, April 4. It's hard to believe he is gone. 

We are so grateful for those last three weeks with Teddy. What a precious gift it was to have that time to say goodbye. I know that’s something a lot of us don’t get a chance to do with our pets. Still, there aren’t enough hugs I could have given him in those last three weeks. He was a dear friend who was always there for me and it’s hard to envision life without him. I want to remember him the way he was when he was healthy and a little mischievous. As a youngster, he pulled all the beards off our nutcrackers one Christmas eve and we awoke to find little white tufts all over the house, and I'll never forget the time he managed to grab a pair of underwear from a dresser drawer we forgot to close and brought it down to our living room while we were entertaining guests! Can you imagine how mortified we were?! Here is a photo of him during his younger, healthier days. He was such a beautiful cat both inside and out. Even on the morning of his death, an assistant at the vet clinic admired him and told him what a pretty kitty he was. He seemed to like that.

I want to dedicate the following beautiful song to his memory. The song can be interpreted many ways but to me, it reflects what I feel for Teddy. I think of the mountains in the song as the many challenges Teddy faced with grace and courage over the past five years with his bad kidneys, which caused premature arthritis and many other problems. Despite the medication we gave him for arthritis, it became so difficult for him to climb stairs yet he continued to do so even on his last day. I think the last year of his life was especially difficult, but he was such a trooper because I think he wanted to be strong for us. Through his kind and gentle spirit, he encouraged me to live each day to the fullest—something that was a little difficult for me to do as, like the lyrics in the song, I am someone who often lives life looking behind. With all the health challenges I've faced the last five years, it's easy to think the best years are behind me. Like the song says, "All we have is here and now", so we need to treasure all our moments with loved ones. Just a few short months ago, I had no idea I'd have this little time left with Teddy. If I had known, I would have done some things differently. We really should live today as though it is our last day.
On the day we put Teddy to rest, we heard this song on the radio. I like to think it was a sign that Teddy is okay now.

Up Where We Belong

Who knows what tomorrow brings
In a world, few hearts survive
All I know is the way I feel
When it's real, I keep it alive

The road is long, there are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day

Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry on a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the world we know, up where the clear winds blow

Some hang on to "used to be"
Live their lives, looking behind
All we have is here and now
All our life, out there to find

The road is long, there are mountains in our way,
But we climb them a step every day

Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry on a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the world we know, up where the clear winds blow

Time goes by
No time to cry
Life's you and I
Alive, today

Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry on a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the world we know, up where the clear winds blow

I’m sorry this has been such a somber post but it helps me to write and talk about Teddy. I know if I keep him in my heart, he will never be forgotten. The Loving Rest Pet Funeral Home gave us this precious memento of Teddy—an impression of his little paw print—and a touching poem written from the pet's perspective. Thank you for letting me share a part of what Teddy meant to me.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Congratulations go to Laurie of Iowa, who wrote:

Thank you for the opportunity to win this new book... it looks wonderful!

She won by Random Generator...

Laurie, you have until this Monday at noon central time to claim your prize by emailing me at the email button under my profile pic on the right side of this blog.