Thursday, March 16, 2017

HOME COMFORTS

My heart always sings when I see the first harbingers of spring—the crocus—in my garden. Here they are peeking through the layer of leaves we leave in the fall to protect the flowers through the winter.  I also noticed the leaves of my rhubarb plant are starting to redden.


Too bad it still feels like winter here in central Iowa. The colder months often find me baking something to satisfy our sweet toothes. My vintage owl cookie jar was crying out for more cookies. 


So I obliged by making a batch of ginger cookies with molasses. They are my favorite kind of cookie. Does anyone else out there like molasses cookies? I always hear about people raving about chocolate chip or peanut butter but I rarely hear people singing the praises of molasses. If you regularly read this blog, you know that my husband is prediabetic, so I have to find ways to reduce or eliminate the sugar in the treats we keep around the house. The only sugar these cookies have are the molasses and turbinado sugar I rolled them in. I also substituted half of the butter (it called for a whole stick!) with a healthier alternative and most of the flour with whole wheat flour. These cookies are NOT designed to crackle as much as regular molasses cookies. I tried three other molasses cookie recipes and we found this recipe tastes the best with no sacrifice in flavor for the healthier substitutions. 


Besides cookies, my husband has also been clamoring for homemade granola. He buys a couple brands every week at the store hoping to find something healthier but good-tasting. I don't know much about granola but he told me it's actually pretty bad for you because of the sugar and oil. So I made it my mission to find a healthier alternative for him. I found most of my ingredients at my local Trader Joes. I already had plenty of old-fashioned oats and unsalted walnuts in the pantry. All nuts we used were unsalted due to my kidney condition. 


I enjoyed baking up this sugar-free, oil-free granola. We like it as dark as possible without burning it. I'd like to eventually add dried fruit to the mix but I couldn't find any that hadn't been sweetened at the grocery stores, so I plan to dry some blueberries in my dehydrator for the next batch. Despite being oil-free, this recipe actually clumps because of the special syrup I use but I'm not one to have to have clumps in my granola. I prefer to break it all up but my husband likes small clumps.


Last but not least, I wish you all a Happy St. Paddy's Day. I just love the way my favorite kitty boutique dressed up their window for the festive occasion! How cute is that?!

Friday, February 10, 2017

FEBRUARY GREETINGS FROM ASHTON HOUSE

Valentine's Day came early here. I received this pretty vintage pink and brown Brother sewing machine from my hubby.


The seller was nice enough to thread the machine so whoever bought it would easily be able to figure it out even though a manual was also included. While I've seen these machines on the internet, I've never seen one in person. If you happen to own one of these or know anything about the history of these machines, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me by clicking the "Email Me" button in the right-hand sidebar of my blog. Thank you, hubby! He also gave me this cheerful vintage granny squares lap blanket that was on my wish list.


This new/old machine will be the perfect addition to my freshly organized sewing room. If you read my blog, you know I've been parting with a lot of fabric lately—16 bags to be exact! They all went to a very good home—a local organization that teaches inner city residents and refugees who cannot afford fabric how to sew. I knew it was the perfect place when I saw that their offices are also home to two friendly cats! What a good feeling it was to give to those in need. 


To reward myself for finally getting through my fabric stash (a huge accomplishment for me), I decided to splurge on a dress I'd been eyeing at one of my favorite stores, Anthropologie. Two years ago, I made it a goal to wear more dresses after being inspired by one of the hosts of a cooking show that I watch. I've been wanting to find more long-sleeve dresses to wear in the fall and winter and it seems like they are harder to find than sleeveless or short-sleeved ones. I was immediately smitten with this one on display in our local Anthro store.


I go to this store because I not only like their clothes but their great customer service. I like this dress's nice comfy, loose fit. I'm sure I'll be wearing it for years to come! You might have spotted my new iPhone in this photo. It will be a shock to all who personally know me as I've lived with a cheap TracFone for years and vowed never to buy a smartphone. Well, my husband decided it was time to get me a better phone and promised me he could find a reasonably priced service. Ours is $35 a month. If any of you who have iPhone have found a cheaper service, please let me know! This is my very first smartphone and it's probably a waste of money as I rarely use it but I have learned how to take photos with it. 


In other but totally unrelated news, I was really excited to find a dairy-free cheese. For those of you who are lactose-intolerant like me, finding alternatives to regular cheese isn't fashionable—it's necessary if we don't want to get sick all the time. I can still eat some cheese but have to be careful about the type and amounts I consume. When my sister was here visiting back in August of last year, she told me about some almond cheese that she really likes. I just found this cashew cheese that tastes equally good. Just thought those of you who are also lactose-intolerant might be interested in this.


This happy find inspired me to start a Dairy-Free Living board on my Pinterest page. Can you tell I have a weakness for pistachio ice cream?! It's great to have a dairy-free option, although I am hooked on the Halo Top brand. 


I finally received my replacement Cuisinart blade after hearing about the recall late last year. So I can now once again make my raw brownies. Just mixed up another batch this morning! I use unsalted walnuts in mine but pecans also work well, however, they are more expensive than walnuts in my local stores.


And last but not least, I wanted to share something about Winnie, our most recent addition to the family. I've received eight emails asking where he got his pink nail caps. Here is a photo of my sweetie. Like his brother Figaro when he was younger, Winnie loves to sit on my lap while I work at the computer. It must be a phase of their youth since Figgy has since outgrown it.


Winnie got his nail caps installed at our local kitty boutique, Smitten Kitten, in Des Moines. We've been going to this boutique for two years and love the service we receive. I got the cutest pink cat carrier here. The clerk called me as soon as they came in and held on to one for me.


This is a darling shop and one of the only ones I think in the area dedicated to our feline friends. They have a large selection of nutritious cat food and will be glad to help you select the right one for your kitty. We've been getting Winnie and Figgy Orijen chicken-flavored food here.


There are two resident kitties, Walter and Lola. I'm not sure which one of them this is as they look very similar except for the fact Walter is quite a bit larger than Lola.


The owner fosters kittens for Furry Friends Refuge, so at any given time, there are lots of sweet kittens running around. Be careful to look underfoot if you visit! An added bonus is that Creme Cupcake is right next door. I love their cake bites and lemon bars. 


Speaking of sweet kitties, I want to tell you about a very special guy up for adoption at Boone Area Humane Society in Boone, Iowa, where we found our Winnie. We are sponsoring this kitty so you can adopt him for free if approved. His name is Mr. Magoo and he is completely blind. I'm so glad the shelter found him as he was wandering the streets of Boone terrified and alone. In case you're wondering, yes, he can find the litter. The shelter says he uses it like a champ. If you'd like to find out more about this sweet guy, you can contact the shelter at 515/432-6112 or visit him at 226 W. 16th St. in Boone!







Wednesday, January 4, 2017

MORE FABRIC FOR SALE

In my previous post, I listed some fabric bundles and a medallion quilt kit packaged in an fabric-covered chest. Be sure to check it out as the latter is still available. The others have sold. I found a few other bundles while sorting through the sewing room today. If you care to take a look, keep reading for some other great bargains. First up is this cheerful bundle of Riley Blake's Nantucket Summer fabric. It's a little hard to part with this one but I'm blessed with many fabrics in my stash so it's time for me to see if there is anyone else who might get some enjoyment from it. There are 16 fat quarters in this bundle, which sells for $26 plus $6 US shipping. Please note that I may have unfold some of fabrics to ship it most cost effectively for you. If you live in the Des Moines area, I'm happy to arrange a pick-up date so you can save on postage costs. SOLD!


Here's a pretty bundle of prints reminiscent of the Victorian era. It's Wyndham Fabrics' Parlor collection. There are 15 fat quarters, which I'm selling for $24 plus $6 US shipping. SOLD!


And for any Civil War fabric fans, here's an oldie but goodie—Nancy Kirk's Civil War collection. There are 12 fat quarters in this bundle, which sells for $18 plus $6 US shipping. Please note that I may have to unfold some of the fabrics to ship it most cost effectively for you. SOLD!




I'm not sure which collection this fat quarter bundle is from but it's filled with pretty yellows, pinks, greens and blacks. There are 18 fat quarters in this bundle, which sells for $27 plus $6 shipping. Please note that I may have to unfold some of the fabrics to ship it most cost effectively for you. SOLD!


Here's a fun project for any bag lovers out there. It comes with fabrics to make Indigo Junction's Nouveau Hobo Bag (pattern included). I'm selling it for $16 plus $5 shipping. SOLD!



And here's the fabric-covered chest filled with fabric featured in the previous post. See that post for more details. SOLD!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

TAMING THE FABRIC STASH

Over the holiday break, I finally managed to get my fabric shelves in order. It's been a longer process than I anticipated but we had so many distractions this past year that I just couldn't get it done. In the process of taming my stash, I decided to part with about five bags of them to donate to a local organization that provides the fabric to women who can't afford to buy their own. When I search for places to donate to I usually look for charities that will put the fabric to good use, making quilts for those in need or to people who can't afford to buy their own fabric.


I also came across a couple bundles of fabric that I wondered if any of you could use. If so, I would sell them at a greatly reduced price. This kit of Kaye England English Pathways fabric came packaged in a charming fabric-covered chest. It originally sold for $150 but I would sell it for $65 plus $10 US shipping. It's stuffed to the brim with fabric to make the stunning medallion quilt pictured (pattern included). SOLD!



Any Jo Morton fans looking for some prints from her Lucinda's Needle line—an oldie but goodie? I would sell this bundle of 10 fat quarters for $15 plus $6 US shipping. Please note: I will have to unfold the fabrics from the bundle to ship it most cost effectively for you. SOLD!


And lastly, this bundle of Randolph fabric collection—another oldie but goodie—has 25 fat quarters in it.  I would sell it for $30 plus $8 US shipping. Please note: I will have to unfold the fabrics from the bundle to ship it most cost effectively for you. SOLD!


If anyone is interested, let me know and I can send you a paypal link for payment. If they don't sell, I'll probably hold on to them since I was a little on the fence about whether to keep them. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A FRIEND FOR FIGGY

Those of you who regularly read my blog may know that we've been searching for a friend for our tuxedo kitty, Figgy, who we adopted this past February. About a month ago, we found the sweetest little friend for him—a Blue Russian mix kitten who is as soft as velvet! We named him Winston Finch (Winnie for short). Here he is with big brother Figgy. He looks larger in the photo than he really is since he is in the foreground. He was four months old here and just four pounds.


The best thing is that Figgy adores Winnie and after just a couple days, they were cuddle buds. Here they they are hugging each other on the cat bed, which just happens to be next to a heating register. They love the extra heat! Who can blame them living in a drafty old Victorian house?!


Ever curious like typical cats, they both love to watch my husband and I work in the garden. I took this photo through the kitchen window so it looks a little grainy but you can still see a couple cute cat faces.


Winnie is affectionate and braver and more gregarious than Figgy. Case in point is that he went right down to the basement the first day he arrived while Figgy has yet to step foot in the basement willingly. Winnie has really done so much to bring Figgy out of his shell in the brief time he has been here. Sometimes, he's a bit too brave—like when he decided to climb our new pink Christmas tree. Look closely at the below photo and you'll see something that does not belong. It brought back memories when I was looking at our Christmas tree many years ago and saw our black kitty Poe peering right back out at me.


My husband and I finished decking the house out for Christmas over the weekend and found more ornaments for the tree. Part of the fun of trimming the tree is rediscovering the wonderful ornaments we've collected over the years and the memories that are associated with them. We found this vintage-style ornament on a trip to Minneapolis.


We just found this charming tree topper at Hobby Lobby of all places. It looks just like the old German ones and its hues were perfect for my tree.


As darkness fell, we illuminated the tree and admired our "hard" work.


You might have detected a bit of a color theme going on here at Ashton House with pink being the focal point. Even my pink Featherweight gets in on the decorating action with a small but cheerful holiday accent. Nothing perks me up like a primitive snow lady—in pink no less!


We changed out the dining table centerpiece with a holiday-themed one. In keeping with my pink theme, I bought pink pillar candles to go with the silver rings of holly leaves and berries. Because the colors are not overly Christmasey, I think I will be able to keep these out through the winter until Valentine's Day! I will share the centerpiece of the arrangement in a future post.


And just when I said there was a color theme going on, we do break it here and there. This little red shelf gets populated by bottlebrush trees and snowmen in traditional holiday colors come December. There's even a little sheep tucked in there! Can you spot him?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

STARGAZING AT THE IOWA QUILT MUSEUM


I am lucky to live near the Iowa Quilt Museum, which opened earlier this year in Winterset, Iowa—home to the famous bridges of Madison County. I had recently had a free Friday afternoon and decided to pop over for a visit. What a treat it was to catch their star quilt exhibit, “Stargazing: American Star Quilts" which features more than 30 antique and contemporary star-studded quilts. My friend and antique collector Virginia Berger curated this amazing exhibit and she has played an instrumental role in getting the museum up and running. Won't you step inside this charming building with me to take a peek at the quilts?


Set amidst the nostalgic charm of an 1886 building that was originally a hardware store, it's quite a sight with the original tin ceiling, museum-quality light fixtures and beautifully refinished floors. Several antique items native to Madison County—such as treadle sewing machines, display cases from historic local merchants and a four-poster bed from the local historical society— accent the interior.


The quilt to the very left of the previous photo and below was made by Liz Porter of Fons and Porter. Inspired by 19th-century star quilts, she used 1800s reproduction prints from her stash to create this beauty.  


I loved the way the walls were arranged to spotlight the quilts on display. I was especially charmed by the pink quilt in the below photo. According to its accompany info, it is called Broken Stars and was made 1930. Virginia assembled lots of intriguing info on the history of the patterns and some of the featured quilts were loaned by her. I had as much fun reading her information as I did looking at the quilts!


On the second floor, we were able to catch a bed turning of more lovely star quilts like this pretty green one. I'm afraid I did not catch the details on it but it was certainly a treat to see it.


The second floor even included an enchanting display of toy sewing machines! Don't they just make you smile?


To get a closer look at the quilts featured in this post plus many more, be sure to plan a visit to the Iowa Quilt Museum by January 24, 2017, when the exhibit closes. I hope this post will encourage you to go. I really feel so fortunate to have such a quilting treasure trove so close by! The museum is located at 68 E. Court Ave. in Winterset, Iowa and admission is $6 for adults or an annual pass for $20. For more details on the museum, visit iowaquiltmuseum.org.


I thought I'd close this post with a couple star-theme photos from my own photo archives. The below shot is a snippet of my antique LeMoyne Star quilt, which is predominantly the same green you see in the photo. Because I believe in using the quilts I have, I drape this one over the pink sofa in my parlor. It makes a nice nesting spot for my kitties!


And here is a little star pincushion I designed for the Moda Bake Shop several years back. It is inspired by an antique one I picked up in Lexington, Kentucky 15 years ago that had what looked like little fluffy balls attached to each star point. 


I'm curious to know if any of you who read this blog have made star quilts or are lucky to have found an antique one. Whether old or new, they certainly make cozy accents for our homes!