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. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

THE BUSINESS OF BLISS

I'm delighted to tell you that Victoria magazine's special entrepreneur issue, celebrating the talents and accomplishments of women business owners, is on newsstands now! As many of you regular readers know, I am fortunate to get to write for this beautiful magazine.


I wrote three articles for this particular issue, including a profile for their special Business of Bliss section that spotlights eight talented women reaping the rewards of living the life they love. It was a thrill to interview Hedda Dowd, co-owner of the Dallas soufflé salon aptly named rise n 1. Hedda's passion for French food, including soufflés, began when she was just a child. Every summer she visited her maternal grandparents in France, where she would often help her grandmother in the kitchen, making memories that would last a lifetime. 


I also had the pleasure of interviewing Texas bridal gown designer Patti Flowers whose talent for fashioning fabrics and embellishments into classically elegant gowns is truly inspiring. From a treasure trove of silks, delicate lace, and Swarovski crystals, she crafts the gowns of brides' dreams. 


The third article I wrote features an authentic sugar shack outside of Montreal, where maple syrup is made the same way it was more than a century ago. Indeed, time stands still at Sucrerie de la Montagne (Sugar Shack of the Mountain) run by the Faucher family. Son Stefan was a joy to interview and even invited me to visit the sugar shack. Wouldn't it be cozy to stay in a cabin like this? To create a storybook village that echoes time past, Stefan's father transported centuries-old log dwellings from neighboring towns to the site of the sugar shack.


I hope you can find this issue at a newsstand near you and check out these articles, plus many more! I have a piece on the Dallas Botanical Garden coming up in the next issue of Victoria that I will share more about later.

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!