Monday, December 30, 2013

THE GIFTS OF CHRISTMAS

Christmas 2013 was a good one here at Ashton House. My dad, who is recuperating from surgery at the hospital, was able to come for a few hours to celebrate the holiday with us. We were also able to see my Grandma and spend time with my in-laws. It is always a gift to see loved ones at such a special time of year. On my blog, I like to remember some of the holiday gifts I received, so if that's not your kind of thing, you might want to skip this post (I'll be back to regular programming in a couple days!). As usual, the hubby surprised me with some very thoughtful gifts, including this extra special one (pictured below). He commissioned artist Sara Pulver to paint a portrait of our two black kitties (Teddy and Poe) and ourselves. Sara sells her art on Etsy and is known for her quirky paintings, prints, and cards of animals. We are big fans of her work and love how she often cleverly interchanges the role of people and pets in her portraits. For example, in our painting, our cats are shown quilting and sipping tea with crumpets while we are downsized and curled up on a small rug near the fire. Can you see us?! What a special one-of-a-kind treasure this is!


Before I move on from the subject of kitties, I wanted to share the sweet little stocking that my friend Belinda made me. She made the hanger with some pretty cording. Belinda makes beautiful cording and seeing it always makes me recall the day that she taught me how to make it. It sure adds a wonderful touch to everything from stockings and ornaments to pincushions and beyond. I am always so touched when friends take the time to make something for me by hand. There's just nothing like a handmade gift, and I've been lucky to receive several beauties from Belinda over the years. 


On a funnier note, my husband also gave me a hairbrush in the color of Shrek! I had to ask him what that was all about. He said that on the internet it looked like my favorite shade of spring green and he had intended to brush my hair with it as a treat. So that solved the mystery of the garish-looking hairbrush! 


I've been wanting a pair of pink UGG boots for years. Well, my hubby surprised me with a pair of beribboned hot pink ones this Christmas. I was afraid I would never be able to find a pair of them as my feet are too small for any of the adult UGG sizes, but the hubby found a pair of kid-sized ones that fit perfectly! They couldn't have come at a better time as we just got a fresh layer of snow this morning! Speaking of pink and feet, the hubby also gave me a beautiful little pink glass decanter that holds soothing foot massage oil from the Ancient Ways shop here in Des Moines. It's nice because it doesn't make your feet slippery afterward!


A day colored with pink is always a good one, and today my friend Merry showered me with this generous box of pink goodness. I was so touched that she took the time to knit me this beautiful pair of socks in my favorite shade of pink and the cozy fingerless gloves. I was totally awestruck by her workmanship. Take a close look at those exquisite socks and gloves. Knitting is a mystery to me, so I really admire those who have mastered the art of it. The delightful cranberry and cream china is precious egg cup, and she found the piece of wonderful pink wool (bottom left) and rose quartz (top) for me while vacationing in South Dakota earlier this year. Merry loves to search for unique china pieces and has a keen eye for finding pretty and well-priced ones.


My friend Cinda gifted me these cute little journals as she knows I'm always jotting something down. With such fun graphics, their covers really inspire my creativity! I already have a few new ideas for wool portraits.


If you're a regular follower of my blog, you might know that I write magazine articles for Victoria magazine. What a wonderful resource I received in this thoughtful gift from my friend Anne. It's a DVD containing the complete set of Victoria magazines since its inception in 1987 to 2012! 


I received several gifts from employers, including the kind sisters (I call them the "prim sisters") behind Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine, who sent me this yummy gift set of gourmet pastas and pasta sauces. My hubby is looking forward to enjoying a nice pasta dinner!


I promise not to bore you with all my gifts but must share one last one—this captivating green milk glass nesting hen. I've collected nesting hens for more than 15 years and like to decorate my kitchen with them. This beauty measures 8 inches from beak to tip of tail and 7 1/2" tall.


In years to come it will be fun to look back on previous posts like this one to see all the fun gifts I've received over the years. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and I'll see you in 2014! That sounds so far away but it's only a couple days away!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU!

Well, I finally got my internet back—just in time to wish all my fellow blogging friends the merriest of Christmases! I will be back later this week after all the festivities. Despite a serious lapse in internet service yesterday, I was able to get the Spring 2014 edition of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine to the printer on time, so I'm a much happier camper now than I was yesterday! I will be sure to post more about it very soon. All of us here at Ashton House are looking forward to spending the special day with loved ones. It will be another white Christmas here in Iowa!

Monday, December 23, 2013

CHRISTMAS CHEER

I'm in need of a little Christmas cheer about now as I'm not feeling so merry. Our internet went down at 8 p.m. last night in the middle of a critical work deadline and we've been told it might be 24+ hours before we're back up and running. If you live in a small town like we do and have CenturyLink service, internet just isn't very reliable. I can't recommend CenturyLink for that reason. This is the fourth time in a year that our internet has been down for more than 15 hours and that's bad news for someone like me who relies on internet for business purposes. Luckily, we were able to set up my Mac elsewhere bright and early this morning so I could make my noon work deadline! And as I wait for the designer to get some layouts back to me for review, I thought I'd share a few festive holiday images from a wonderful local shop named Hinge, which was has been decked out in holiday finery since Thanksgiving. The owner has a knack for dazzling displays like these santas on a miniature spiral staircase.


I've got a weakness for lanterns, and this one looks so magical in silver. It seemed to have a Turkish flair. 


Doesn't this little glittered house cozy? I was tempted to get it but decided on a pink Santa instead. I am a pink kind of girl, after all. 


I hope your day is off to a better start than mine! If I'm unable to get back online before the holidays, I hope you and your family have a wonderful one!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TEA TIME

Victoria magazine's special interest publication, Tea Pleasures, will soon be on newsstands (This is not part of Victoria's regular subscription, so you have to get it separately). I was delighted to write copy for eight of the sections. Each of the sections highlights a different tea theme.


There is even a sewing theme to inspire lovers of needle and thread to get together with kindred spirits in a nostalgic setting accented with antique sewing accessories. As you might imagine, that was my favorite section to write!


In the spirit of giving, I'm giving away one copy of this magazine. The first person who would like a copy and emails me by clicking the Email Me button under my profile pic will get a copy!  For those who might not be able to get this magazine, I will have a few copies for sale for $7.99 plus shipping. 

The mag has been claimed! Thank you!

Monday, December 16, 2013

TABITHA THE TREADLE

Back in 2011, I posted about Tabitha the treadle, a beautiful antique New Home treadle sewing machine I received as an anniversary gift. Well, Tabitha is back in the spotlight today on the Janome website. A couple months ago, Janome contacted me, asking if I would be willing to share Tabitha's photo and story on their blog as part of their spotlight on heritage sewing machines (Janome merged with New Home back in 1960). If you're interested in checking out the post, just click on this link.


Can you believe Christmas is nearly here? It seems like just yesterday it was so far away. With work deadlines piling up, I find myself far behind on the usual holiday activities like baking and Christmas card writing. I did take a little break from work this afternoon to make peanut clusters for my husband's work team. Those of you who are regular blog readers probably know that I prefer softer clusters that won't break your teeth. I'm also a bit odd in that I like fewer peanuts than normal in my clusters. Many years ago, I got a great recipe that makes soft, creamy clusters from a family friend. We've been making them ever since!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

OUR THANKSGIVING

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week. I again hosted the annual gathering at my house. We were blessed to have Grandma join us once again! She made homemade rolls for our dinner and afterward, made sandwiches with them and the leftover turkey. She very much believes in keeping her hands busy! As a thank you for the rolls, I sent her home with a few new African violet babies, which she gladly accepted.


My mom usually makes the cranberry relish, which I've pictured on my blog before (see an old photo of it below). We always serve it  in my Martha Stewart green milk glass turkey dish. This year, Mom wasn't able to make it since she was busy taking care of my dad, who recently had surgery and is back in the hospital, following a second surgery in less than a month. So my mother-in-law graciously took over the relish-making duties and did a wonderful job I might add! It's one of my favorite foods. If I were to have a last dinner, it would consist of this, freshly-baked fish, and morel mushrooms! 


This Thanksgiving I received a surprise special gift from my mother-in-law's sister, Aunt Vonnie, of all people. She made this felt advent calendar for us. She enclosed a nice note telling me that she's enjoyed making these calendars for several years. 


As you can see, a lot of time and love went into making each and every one of the little ornaments. I was tickled to receive such a thoughtful gift. What could be more heartfelt than a handmade gift? 


I can't believe another week is nearly at an end. This week, I've been writing another Quilt Sampler article, editing a new KC Star quilt book, and working hard on the spring 2014 issue of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazineThe spring issue is always due out just before Christmas, so it makes an already busy holiday season even busier! As usual, we have an awesome mix of projects for our dear readers—quilts, of course, plus hooked rugs, pillows, a pincushion, two punchneedle projects, and some of my wool portraits! Well, it's about dinner time here as I wrap up writing this post, so I'm off to get a salmon patty dinner ready for the hubby and me. Have a good evening! I plan to catch the live TV performance of The Sound of Music tonight.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

QUILTS, BUTTONS, AND A BOOK

Yes, I'm still here! Thank you to those who have written asking how and where I am! Something terrible happened a few weeks ago and I'm still trying to get my feet back on the ground from it. However, I don't want to dwell on the negative, so I thought I'd post about a few positive things that have happened since my last post. Over the weekend, I went to a vintage button sale and found a few treasures to take home with me. The three pink pieces in the top right are unused vintage button cards from Iowa! How fun is that?! It's so neat to see many of the buttons still on the cards as the cards are often adorned with enchanting artwork. I also found a few more pearl buttons to add to my collection and some wonderful cut-work turquoise buttons from the 60s.


I also enjoyed going to my Prairie Women's Sewing Circle last Saturday. This was our final installment of the club since the shop that hosts our group has decided not to continue the program next year. Our guest speaker was local soapmaker Sue Denny, who shared some history on soap and showed us how to make soap (We all went home with our own soaps). Sue makes lots of heavenly-scented soaps. Pictured below are her Roasted Nuts and Citrus Blush soaps. Practically all of us indulged in a few bars for ourselves! I plan on putting mine in my linen closet and kitchen pantry to take advantage of their wonderful scents before I use them.


In between work deadlines, I even managed to complete a little quilt. I had made one in the same fabrics several years ago but had given it away as a gift, so now I have one to keep in my home. The quilt pattern is by Tara Darr of Sew Unique Creations. Speaking of Tara, we are at work on a follow-up book to her highly successful book, Simply Charming: Small Scrap Quilts of Yesteryear. If you love scrappy little quilts, you'll definitely want to get the book, which does not yet have a name! It won't be out until next spring.


While on a recent shopping trip, I spotted this antique quilt set in a zigzag pattern. I don't have a lot of purple quilts but this one spoke to me for some reason, and the price was right at $60! I'm no quilt dating expert but it seems like it might have been made in the late 1800s based on the fabrics. It has many of the same fabrics that are in one of my other quilts that was dated to the late 19th century and I didn't see any black fabrics in it. It's hand-quilted and hand-pieced. If you have any guesses as to when it might have been made, feel free to chime in. I was delighted to find that it was in excellent condition. I plan to make it in a smaller size for one of my doll beds. 


The weekend before last, I managed to escape my office and my growing pile of work deadlines to see author Amy Tan speak in Des Moines. Earlier this year, my mahjong group had heard she was coming to town, and I definitely wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see her. I loved her book, The Joy Luck Club, and the movie by the same name that came out in 1993. If you haven't seen it, you should!


She was an excellent speaker and was going to read from her new book, The Valley of Amazement, but ended up talking a lot about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. Did you know she's part of a rock-and-roll band called the Rock Bottom Remainders, which consists of published writers, including Stephen King, Dave Barry, and Mitch Albom (love his Tuesdays with Morrie book!)? You can see some videos of them on YouTube. I couldn't get a good photo of her but I did manage to quickly snap this one of her speaking with the moderator. I'm afraid the quality is quite poor due to my cheap camera!


I was delighted to have her sign my copy of her book, The Hundred Secret Senses, which I have had since 1995.


Well, that wraps up what I've been up to besides work, which probably wouldn't make for a very interesting post!

Monday, October 28, 2013

PUMPKIN LOVE

Happy Monday! It could be a better one here at Ashton House but I'm making the most of it. So I'm taking the advice of my favorite Sound of Music song and thinking of my favorite things! And this time of year, it's pumpkins—and the more unusual, the better. When I spotted this mottled orange and green one at the local grocery store a week ago, I knew I had to have it. It was lopsided, which probably explained why no one had picked it, but I couldn't resist its charm.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

WINNER OF VICTORIA MAGAZINE

By random draw, the winner of the October issue of Victoria magazine is....
Garden of Daisies

Congrats! Please email me your mailing address by clicking the Email Me button under my profile pic and I'll get your copy sent out this week.

Friday, October 25, 2013

AUTUMN BLISS

Brimming with autumn splendor, the October issue of Victoria magazine is on newsstands now. In it, you'll find an article written by me! Entitled "Shades of Serenity", it profiles the Portland Japanese Garden. I didn't know much about this magnificent garden until I researched it for the article. Its subtle yet striking landscape, which adeptly melds stone, water, and plants into a seamless whole, is a living tribute to the history and culture of Japan.


Always one to share the wealth, I'd love to gift a copy to one of my readers. If you'd like to be included in the drawing, please leave a comment telling me what you love most about autumn on this post by Sunday, October 27, at 6 p.m. central time. I'll draw a random name and announce the winner later that evening. You needn't be an official follower to enter but I would like to thank those who are for their support with an extra entry (For the extra entry, you just need to enter a separate comment telling me you're an official follower who shows up in the Google Followers sidebar on my blog. That way it can be counted when I draw the name on Random Generator).

Before I close, just a quick sidenote about Victoria magazine: For all you tea lovers, Victoria is producing a tea special interest publication, and I'm writing some of the copy! In fact, that's what I'm doing today. The publication features several themed teas—including a sewing tea accented with several vintage sewing notions—as well as delectable recipes to accompany your teas. You won't want to miss it. What a perfect fit for a tea-loving quilter like me! 

If you haven't checked out my previous post on a new vintage sewing machine purchase, will you please stop by to take a look? I received a couple informative emails from blog readers but I'm still hoping to hear from someone who might know more about my particular machine model. Information on it seems sparse. Don't be shy! I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

SEW EXCITING

While searching an antiques shop with my friend Merry, I found this vintage sewing machine painted a lovely soft blue. It came across as gray in my photo but it's actually blue. I put in an offer for it at the counter and decided if the dealer was willing to meet me halfway, I would buy it.


And here's the best part about the machine—It has a local connection! The label on it says "Younker's De Luxe". Well, Younker's happens to be a local department store here in the Des Moines area. That's what sealed my decision to put an offer on the machine.


In search of more information about the machine, I took it to my local Prairie Women's Sewing Circle group to see if any of the ladies might know anything about when it might have been made or even remember seeing it in the store. In the process, I discovered Younker's once had a fabric department (who knew?!) and that they did sell their own brand of machines. One of the ladies remembered seeing sewing machines there and estimated that this machine was made in the 1950s or 1960s. I wasn't able to find much about it on the internet but did run across one source that said the machines were made in the 1970s, though this machine doesn't scream 70s to me. If any of you know anything about these machines, would you please, please, please leave me a comment or email me by clicking the email button under my profile picture? I would LOVE to find out anything about the history of my machine. Wouldn't it be neat to see a photo of what the machines looked like in the store? We tested mine out at the shop and it appeared to run well. Plus, it came with its original manual, although ironically, it didn't include a copyright to give me any hint of when it was made. My other fun finds of the day were these vintage wooden bobbins. The price was right at just $1.25 each (the really big one, which is 8" tall, was $2). They'll make great bases for my handmade pincushions!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

FOR THE LOVE OF FALL

There's something about this time of year that brings out my nesting instincts, and I like to feather my nest with the cozy charm of handmade autumnal pretties like this woolly squirrel and pumpkin penny rug. They sit on a tiered table in my green dining room.


The penny rug's sunflower-adorned pumpkins bring a smile to my face every time I see them!


Thankfully, autumn's arrival hasn't put a stop to our fish dinners. On the menu a couple nights ago was this grilled halibut, which I prepared on my stovetop grill. It was ready in a snap! I must confess that halibut is my all-time favorite fish. 


Soon we'll be preparing soup and pot roasts to warm our tummies. I just found this lovely blue-and-white damask crockpot that matches my yellow and blue kitchen perfectly! It will come in handy for preparing those hearty soups as well as a crockpot salmon casserole recipe I like to make. 


I hope you are enjoying this beautiful season and that you have a wonderful weekend. This morning I'm off to give a program on the history of pincushions to my local Prairie Women's Sewing Circle. It promises to be a fun morning!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

AUTUMN AT ASHTON HOUSE

It is finally starting to look and feel like autumn here at Ashton House, where summer's sweltering days have thankfully been replaced by cool, crisp days and a splendid show of falling leaves. The Victorian hand decoration on our front door, which usually grasps a "Welcome Friends" sign, now holds a simple tussie mussie filled with autumn splendor.


While antiquing in Minneapolis last month, I spotted this rusty old little truck and put it in my cart. I got a strange look from my husband, who wondered why I'd want to buy such a thing. But I knew its wonderful weathered patina would make a great fall accent for our porch when paired with autumn's bountiful harvest of gourds.


I found the perfect-size gourds for my little truck at this pumpkin stand in Pella when my mother-in-law passed through there on a visit to my grandma's. The teeny ones are barely 2 inches tall. 


I love the friendly feel of small towns like Pella, where people still trust others to do the right thing. Another bonus? The gourds were a much better price than in larger towns like Des Moines! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

CATCH OF THE DAY

With this summer's unseasonably hot temperatures and devastating drought, I was especially eager to greet fall this year. The only thing I'll miss about summer is all the wonderful fresh fish that my husband and I were able to enjoy, compliments of friends and family. My father-in-law is an avid fisherman who often catches 30 bluegill during a single fishing trip and occasionally a catfish or large-mouth bass. We are also blessed to enjoy fresh fish from one of my husband's coworkers, who caught some wonderful walleye during a trip to Canada. We had the last of it this evening. Instead of frying it like we usually do, I breaded it lightly, baked it, and served it with some plain quinoa (pictured in the last photo of this post) cooked in low-sodium chicken broth and broccoli.


Besides being a delicious treat, fresh fish has had another positive impact on my life. A recent trip to my doctor revealed that I've been able to lower my cholesterol 40 points from borderline high to well within ideal range in just three months—with NO medication of any kind and no other dietary changes or any exercise! The only change I made was adding fresh fish to my diet two times a week as much as possible—we don't always have it that often. My husband and his dad are planning a fishing trip up north this winter and hope to catch walleye, perch, and pike. I can't wait to see what they bring home! Fresh fish in the middle of winter would be a real treat.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

TREASURE HUNTING WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY

I almost came home with a kitten this weekend! My husband and I were returning home from visiting my parents and going to flea market late Saturday afternoon when we stopped by the local garden center. We noticed the most adorable tiny black kitten (only about 8 inches tall) sitting on the counter, nestled among two other furry friends.


She had the sweetest temperament. It seemed like all the customers were just falling in love with her, as you can see in the photo below.


After all the attention she was getting, she was ready for a little cat nap. Knowing that the garden center often had litters of kittens who sometimes needed new homes, I asked the owner if they would consider giving this little girl a new home, and she said they would. So I told her I would go home and think it over a little. It was hard to leave without her. My only hesitation is that I already have two black cats, one being elderly, and I'm just not sure if this is the right time to introduce another furry friend into the family. As an adult, I've never had a female cat. We've always gotten boy cats since we'd heard they have such wonderful purrsonalities. We've been very happy with our boy cats. This little girl just melted my heart. If we didn't already have two kitties, I know she would have come home with us yesterday. I guess I will have to pray that I will make the right decision about whether to get her or not. 


I'm so glad we stopped by the garden center! While there, we noticed they'd gotten new fairy garden furniture and accents in! If you read my blog regularly, you might recall that my mom-in-law and I had taken a fairy garden class there earlier this year. Isn't this the cutest display? Since I have seem to have a pretty good radar for anything owl, I immediately noticed the cute feathered friends in the upper left of the photo below.


Now how could an owl lover like me resist getting a couple of these guys? Had to get the hedgehogs, too.


It was so hard to decide what to get but I finally decided on the fanciful gazebo, two chairs, a table, a little bridge, two owls, the hedgehogs, two matching blue pots, and two little pink mushrooms.


You can see what the little mushrooms look like when they're properly inserted into the fairy gardens in the photo below.


One of the things I really liked about the new furniture was its wonderful blue color—and the fact the gazebo even had a chandelier hanging from it!


Despite the rainy forecast, we decided to head over to the flea market bright and early Saturday morning as it was the last one of the season. We didn't find much there but did go home with a few treasures, including some metal planters of succulents. The dealers were in the mood to negotiate on prices, and my hubby was able to get a much lower price than the tag on this diverse planting in a vintage baking pan.


Speaking of fun plants, I saw the neatest plant while on a day trip Friday with my friend Merry. They looked like miniature pumpkins! I thought they were perhaps a tomato variety that just looked like mini pumpkins but it turns it out it was neither pumpkins nor tomatoes but an eggplant variety. Since they were only $5 a plant, I decided to get one and harvest the "mini pumpkins" for my autumn decor.


Merry and I both like to look at antiques so we spent most of our time perusing shelves of vintage wares and other fun items like this old sampler. The photo below shows a small portion of it.


This fun vintage print was on the back of a vintage quilt that I bought. How fitting that it shows a lady playing a piano—one of my favorite pastimes.


Saw these cute vintage towels embroidered in a fun owl design but didn't get them.


By the end of the day, Merry and I both found a treasure or two to bring home. I also found a Victorian autograph album, a few green buttons, and a vintage mottled pink-and-green Unde washer (below). Merry actually spotted the latter. I'd never heard of such a thing as an underwear washer but I decided to get it the price was right and it was in my favorite colors—green and pink (the photos don't show the true colors the best but the handle is pale shell pink and the rubber portion is also a lovely shade of pink combined with a leaf green). Plus, this unusual find will make a fun accessory for my laundry room, which is decorated in a 1930s vintage style. At first, its design resembled a toilet plunger to me but it's much smaller and shorter than that with a totally different design on the underside of the base.

  

Here's a vintage advertisement for an Unde washer. Evidently, they were used back in the 1930s. If you know anything about them, I'd love to hear from you. Drop me an email or leave a comment!