Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I have heard it said when visiting other places, 'If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change.' That seems to be what is happening right here in my little corner of the world. Just yesterday I was complaining of the summer-like heat after several days where the mercury reached the 90's. This morning as I was rinsing my breakfast dishes, I looked out the window to see R-A-I-N! Well, it was really a misty little shower, but the patio was completely wet and the window needs a good washing now to remove the little spots.
I have also heard it said that, 'April showers bring May flowers.' And what girl wouldn't want an assortment of lovely baskets to gather those flowers in? Look what arrived in my mailbox - a lovely assortment of spring baskets in the form of my Four Seasons Swap quilt from the quilter. Greer is more than happy to hold it up for all to admire.
And a closer look at the fabrics and quilting.
Great little baskets for berry picking, flower gathering and keeping quilt projects organized. It sure says, 'Spring!' Thanks, Paula!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm melting . . . okay, maybe not melting but certainly sweltering. You know it's bad when you go to check the temp and the current reading exceeds the predicted high - and it's only 10 a.m. I believe the forecast is for some relief beginning today and that comes not a moment too soon.
Last week Annie from Quilt Til You Wilt shared an idea for recycling old tablecloths into napkins. Armed with a collection of tablecloths for a rectangular table that we no longer have, I went to work. These four seemed like good candidates.
In the end, the one with the seed packets didn't make the cut. The fabric seemed a little thin for a napkin. Here there are: 30 cotton napkins that can be used over and over and over again.
While I am not particularly enjoying all the heat, the plants in the garden are. Saturday I noticed the very first tomato blossom. Isn't it sweet? By yesterday afternoon there were several more. The pepper plants are also blossoming quite happily. The other plants can't be too far behind.
Work continues on the 'Secret Deadline Project.' I started working on the next part late yesterday afternoon. There are quite a few half square triangles. I struggle with some of the 'easy' methods for making them. Instead I layer the two fabrics right sides together, cut the square, then cut the triangle. Now I have neat little stacks all ready to just put through the machine.
As long as I remember not to turn on the ceiling fan directly above the table to full blast and scatter them to kingdom come, I'll have some fun sewing ready to go this afternoon.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tagged! Paula at A Latte Quilts tagged me with Fluff Five. Guess what? I'm pretty fluffy.

Here we go.

Five Things Found in Your *Bag/Purse:

1. Wallet
2. Cell Phone
3. Key Ring
4. Makeup bag/first aid kit
5. Glasses/Sunglasses
* These days I don't often carry a bag - just grab my wallet into which I can slip my cell phone and go.

Five Favorite things in your room:

1. A framed page from a children's coloring book that Hubby did for me just prior to a long deployment
2. My mom's childhood rocking chair
3. My childhood rocking chair
4. Framed photographs of Hubby, The Princess, Harper
5. A teddy bear made from my grandma's mink coat

Five Things you have always wanted to do:

1. A cartwheel
2. Whistle - the loud kind that people do through their fingers
3. Water ski - gracefully (I can get up but I look something akin to a baby giraffe standing for the first time)
4. Rappel - I vacillate on this and sometimes it is not on the list, not even on the radar
5. Travel around the country stopping in for a peek at anything that catches my eye

Five things you are currently into:

1. Quilting
2. Baking
3. Gardening
4. Blogging
5. And always - my family and my home.

Five people you want to tag:

I can't limit a list to just five. Since I'm not good at narrowing down my list, consider yourself tagged and share some fluff about yourself.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Remember the Cosmetically Challenged Berries? Just like in the Ugly Duckling, they have been transformed into a thing of beauty (and good taste) - 31 half pint jars of delicious strawberry jam.
It is good to know that we will be enjoying the strawberry season long after the last fresh berry is gone.
This little beauty has arrived to complete my pepper garden. Already in the ground are 2 different bell peppers and Anaheim chilis, but I had been unable to locate any jalapeno plants. I had mentioned this to a friend recently and when she came to visit for a couple days this week, she had this beauty with her.Now the salsa with be good and spicy this summer.
Aren't these cute little flowers? This is a planter with chives growing in it. I just let them go to flower and reseed themselves year after year.
If you haven't had the chance yet, follow the link to OKPerri's Place. On her banner you will see a beautiful quilt that is being offered in a raffle for a very worthy cause - Cystic Fibrosis. You can read how CF has touched Perry's life and learn how you might win the beautiful quilt being offered.
I have been diligently working away on the Secret Deadline project. Good progress has been made, but I cannot rest on my laurels as the deadline looms. Still that didn't stop me from completing the little Mourning Cross top from Prairie Children and Their Quilts.
I can put a few stitches in the quilting on it here and there so I don't burn out on the other. Ooops, I see that I didn't catch all the piecing mistakes. Quilting keeps me humble.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Yesterday was such a lovely day. The sky was blue and clear. My little bird friend returned to admire himself in the mirror again and again and again. I began the day by giving myself a challenge - to leave the television and radio off during the day. I hoped in doing so that I might accomplish more in the hours and at the same time better experience the sights and sounds around me.
My usual habit is to have the television or radio on all day long. I always think it's nice to have the noise like company. Last spring Hubby and I took a weekend trip to a B&B and I recall how I enjoyed listening to sounds of the creek, birds, frogs, and even bugs whether we were outside or indoors. And for the first few days home from the trip, I left off the 'noise makers' in favor of the ambient sounds. But before long my usual habits returned.
So now I am going to have a go at it again. I think that I have fooled myself when I say, 'I just have it on for the noise.' It's easy to just stop for a moment to watch a segment of something and soon I'm surfing channels in search of something - anything to watch. I found things to keep myself busy and accomplished far more than usual during the day. I hope to keep it up.
In the afternoon, one of the sounds I was treated to was my own doorbell. When I got there I was delighted to find a SURPRISE package from Finn. I didn't waste a moment opening up that box to find out what treats she sent. A delightful selection of books she chose from her own library - each about a simpler time and way of life. Right up my alley, for sure. I've already read one and can't wait to start another tonight.
Also tucked into a corner of that box was a secret little wrapped package. Inside are these 9 patches of vintage fabrics. Oh what fun! Aren't they sweet? Just like Finn.
This morning, Hubby and I headed out after breakfast to the local farmer's market. It is open twice a week on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. The Saturday version is the smaller of the two. But I know that the 'Tamale Lady' is there both days and I have had a hankerin' for some of her tamales lately. She makes them by hand and has several different fillings. We picked up a Baker's Dozen - some green chile and cheese and some chicken.
We also picked up a flat of 'cosmetically challenged' strawberries for making jam.
The Tamale Lady offers a half pint of homemade salsa free of charge, but we find her recipe a little too spicy. Instead we favor the avocado salsa from El Pollo Loco that you can only get when you dine in there. One day I did an Internet search and found a site that offers a recipe. I have been tweaking it here and there and I think I'm getting pretty close to the real deal. I made up a batch today to use on our tamales tonight.
On the quilting front, I finished the cross squares for the little mourning quilt. It only needs sashings and a final border for the top to be done. And this is a sneak peak at the 'secret deadline' project - I'd better get back to work.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The extreme temperatures of the weekend have gone away and now we are enjoying some very lovely weather. I'm trying to make the most of it because all too soon it will be a distant memory. We are about to enter the gray days of spring. In our area, the months of May and June are marked with days of marine layer (fog) that sits on top of us and rarely if ever lets the sun shine through until July. It can be quite depressing for some. I have nearly always lived in a coastal area and thankfully the weather does not affect me in that way.
All of this warm sunshine continues to bring changes to the yard and garden. We now have blossoms on the pepper plants and there are signs that blossoms on tomatoes will not be far behind. The flowers on the lavender are bringing bees every day. I wonder where their hive is at - I bet the honey will be delicious.
This little fella has set up camp here. I think his egg may have been partially cracked before he hatched. It all started as a relentless *tap tap tap* that I kept hearing on Monday afternoon.Just at the point of being at my wit's end from the annoying sound, I went out to find the source. The little genius is fighting himself in the mirror leaned up against the fence. This picture is taken through the screen in an attempt to catch him in action. He pecks and pecks, then flies onto the bedstead or the top of the fence to chirp and chirp his triumph. I would have thought his beak would be sore by now, but he has been out there from sun-up to sundown every day.
In my wanderings, I found this little guy on the fence. I hope he brought friends. For the last couple of years I have been adding plants and flowers to attract butterflies to the yard. This is a good sign that I am going to have butterflies for sure this year.
Indoors, I started the next quilt from Prairie Children and Their Quilts this week. The fabrics have been cut and on the table ready to go since I did all the scrap cutting. This is The Mourning Quilt and is made up of black crosses.
No matter how hard I concentrate, I always mess up blocks that require directional placement. Out of 9 blocks, I had to take 5 of them apart. I do not catch on quickly.
I came home from the quilt shop last night with these fabrics for a new project that is a surprise and has a deadline. I won't be able to share much more until after it's complete and with its new owner.
Did I say, 'Deadline'? Better get busy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Did somebody leave the heater on? We are having VERY unseasonably warm . . . no, make that HOT weather. Yesterday the mercury hit 91 with more of the same today. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. I'm just not ready for this to be an every day occurrence for a few more months. I hope the mercury heads back to a more reasonable level soon.
With all those clear skies, it seemed like a good time to head out to the yard and have a look around. Looky, looky! There are apricots on the tree.Such sweet, fuzzy goodness.
The garden now has 3 varieties of squash, 3 varieties of peppers, a couple of cucumber plants and 6 tomato plants. I'm still looking for jalepeno and I want to add some herbs. I'd love to have more, but space is limited and we are only 2 people.
Check out what came in my mailbox this week. A while back I was the lucky winner of a drawing at Ozcountryquiltingmum. Tracey uses her photography to make these wonderful cards and calendars. I have just the perfect spot to hang the calendar where I can enjoy it all year long.
Lisa at Stashmaster had a drawing to celebrate her 3rd year of blogging with a drawing. Her lovely assistant was so kind to pull my name from the hat and before I knew it there was a package at my front door. Inside - a new rotary cutter! And 2 wonderful pieces of fabric just dying to get into a quilt. I must admit that Hubby had to show me how to engage the blade on the cutter, but now I am ready to get cutting on a stack of fabrics or another pile of scraps.
And one last thing. Remember earlier this week when I wrote about making things from scratch versus convenience items? Here is something that tips the scale in finding a balance between modern convenience and the simple things in life.
I love this stuff! I know that it takes no time at all to whip cream in a bowl. It tastes fresh and tops off several yummy and decadent desserts. But I would only be kidding myself if I made strawberry shortcake and didn't buy 'squirty cream.' It is a complete sensory delight- and is there anyone who can resist squirting it directly into their mouth? I hope not.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It was an exciting day of firsts today. I had a few errands to run which included a quick stop into the grocery store. The big supermarket chain in my area is not a favorite for me, but sometimes it is the only place I can find what I need. Is anyone here surprised that I much prefer shopping in the smaller markets in my area?
So while walking across the parking lot, I steeled myself for uninspiring displays and fake-y customer service when suddenly I was over come with joy. There at the door was a lovely stack of produce flats filled to the brim with the first local strawberries of the year. Oh boy! I couldn't get a cart fast enough. The color! The aroma!
Here is my first purchase - 6 pint baskets in my sink for a little rinse, hulling and slicing up.A few too many to fit in the bowl. A wonderful justification to snitch a few while slicing. These will mostly be eaten on cereal in the morning or with a little yogurt for dessert at night. As the season progresses, I hope to make a trip to the U-Pick field and bring home enough berries for jam and freezing to get us through the months when fresh berries are not available.
Another first. A rose bouquet from the backyard. That yellow rose bush is a sneaky one. I can't quite see it from my kitchen window and when I went out to water, found that it had exploded in blooms. Quickly I went back in the house for scissors, removed the spent blooms and gathered a few to bring inside. My favorite is the other color - whatever it is. I call it 'Big Stick' because the colors remind me of the pineapple-cherry flavored Popsicles .
I finished the little rail fence top earlier this week. It finished at 52". I originally had an idea for a border treatment with applique. When I started auditioning fabrics, it suddenly seemed like a border wasn't necessary. I folded the top and hung it up over a plaid fabric I planned to use as the back. Boy did that look sweet on the edge of the quilt. So - what do you think? A border? A vine-y applique, a plain plaid? I'd love to hear what you think.
Oh yeah - the blueberry bread was a hit. Not all the ladies showed up, so there was plenty to bring home to Hubby for a little snack last evening and with coffee for breakfast this morning. It's a recipe that I will definitely make again and again.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Just as the name of this blog implies, I do enjoy the simplest of things. I have talked in the past about growing up on the cusp of convenience. A time when so many products became available to ease the burdens of housework for the stay-at-home- mom as well as shorten daily housework tasks for those women that were heading into the work force. I don't begrudge any of the women of that day for jumping at the chance to try all these items. However, it did put me in a generation of gals that didn't always learn how to do these things for themselves. I never took a home-economics class in school and much of my early baking career was focused on a mix from Duncan Hines or a roll of dough from Pillsbury.
From the time I learned how to make my own butter by volunteering in The Princess' first-grade classroom, I have become more and more interested in learning how to make things in the kitchen from scratch. From butter to cheese, aioli (a mayonnaise like condiment) to mustard, freezing fresh fruit to making jam, and all sorts of breads, cakes and cookies, I find a wonderful satisfaction creating in the kitchen.
Bread making has been the most difficult. When my usual 'dive-right-in-and-see-what-happens' failed miserably, I signed up for a class at a local cooking store. I did come away with a better understanding of the chemistry and a respect for yeast and still my loaves tended to be more dense and heavy that I hoped. Watching Food Network, I learned that rather than just proofing yeast I could make sponge to start my dough. I tucked that little piece of info in my head. Then yesterday I got the chance to pull it out and put it to use.
It all started innocently enough. While enjoying my morning coffee and reading blogs, I came to a new post at Thee Handworks. She shared a link to a new recipe and I went to check it out. Breads of all sorts. Heaven. I quickly settled on a recipe for Blueberry Cream Cheese Braid. I had all the necessary ingredients on hand (remember all that fruit I froze last summer?) and the recipe offered me the chance to try out making a sponge.
Here is the sponge after only 30 minutes. I love kneading the dough by hand. It's rhythmic and relaxing - kind of like the rocking motion of hand quilting.
After a successful first rise.
All punched down and ready to go in the fridge over night.
This morning I prepared the fillings - think of the possibilities - blackberries, apples, cherries, apricots, maybe even brown sugar cinnamon with nuts. I want to try one in every flavor.
I was practically giddy when I got to this stage. I would have never believed that I could get mine to look like the sample.
Here they are - fresh from the oven. The house smelled absolutely delicious.
I'm taking them to share with my local quilt friends tonight. I only hope they taste as good as they look.

Monday, April 07, 2008

For several months now I have been thinking about purchasing a new digital camera. The one I had was quickly becoming a dinosaur in the fast moving age of mega pixels and optical zoom. I read with interest each time a blogger pal made a new purchase or received the gift of a camera. I surfed online electronic shops, read testimonials and comparisons. In the end, I could never quite justify the expense - even though my current camera had a hair-trigger of a power button causing it to eat through batteries faster than I could say Duracell - it still took very nice pictures.
Then 'IT' happened. After taking pictures for a blog post, I tried to hook up the USB cable. Nothing. The cable just fell to the floor. I tried again. Same thing. I got out a different cable. Still nothing. The plug had finally just worn out. Hubby and I talked it over. We weighed the cost of repairing a 5-year-old camera against the purchase of a new one. And the decision was made - time to buy a new camera.
More online searches and comparisons helped me narrow my search to only two cameras. Saturday morning we headed out to compare them in person. The store made it quite easy as the two choices were side by side. A few demonstrations and test shots later, we came home with a new camera.
It was quickly unpacked from the box and I started reading the first of three (3!) manuals.
Harper was curious as to what all the fuss was about and agreed to pose while I tried out some of the settings.

Lighting not so good.
Better - you can see how soft and fluffy her fur is. Trust me, she has the softest ears.
Okay, this is getting boring. Can we stop now?
Done. 'When you are quite through, I'd like to go outside and play.'

It's easy to see that the 'new' quickly wore off for Harper, but not for me. It's going to take a good long time to work my way through the 'advanced' user guide - remembering to remove the lens cap is still a challenge. In the end,I have to agree with Rick in Casablanca ' . . . . I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.'

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ahhh - the joys of mindless sewing. I happily sat down with my little basket of 1 1/2" strips and starting stitching up rail fence blocks. Before long that little basket was getting low on fabric. Should I worry?No! I went to the closet and pulled out the tub stuffed to the gills with 1 1/2" strips. I discovered that I have gone through a phase where I used '1 1/2"' rather loosely. There were quite a few 1 1/4", some 2" and even some random chunks of fabric deep in the recesses. As I came across them, I made separate piles on the floor next to me. Hopefully I have them distributed to their proper spots now.
In no time at all, I had 144 rail fence blocks. I chose a fabric for the alternate blocks and started piecing the top. Just about half way there. It's an overcast day and I just couldn't seem to get a picture that shows the true colors and the background looks rather flat and dull here. It is the small check in this photo. It doesn't look nearly so lackluster in person.
It feels like I have been working almost exclusively out of my scrap baskets lately. It is an endeavor that I have enjoyed. But lest you all begin to think that I am on some boycott of new fabrics, let me share what came home from the quilt shop with me this week. The fat quarter pack of wovens from the Hemming House line by Brannock and Patek. (another poor picture - to get the full deliciousness check out the entire line at any of your favorite shops.)I got a very sweet e-mail from my Four Seasons Quilt Swap partner yesterday. The quilt arrived safely, she is pleased with the outcome and now I can reveal the completed top. I really enjoyed making it. I got stalled in the quilting. I tried a free-form swirly thing that just wasn't working. After about a week, I knew I just had to pull that out and try again. I'm glad I did.
I'm anxious for the summer segment to start. I already have a few ideas buzzing around in my head.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How in the world did it get to be April already? It seems like we were just getting the last of the Christmas decorations put away. (Truth be told - I still have one Christmas quilt hanging. It's not in an obvious spot. So it may just stay there all year long.) All of the April-must-do's are now done - taxes filed and The Princess' birthday gift is on it's way. I had a minor celebration at the post office yesterday when I realized that was the last gift I would be mailing to her overseas. WooHoo!
My email box was filled with the various quilt shop newsletters to which I subscribe. Until now I have managed to keep off the tote bag bandwagon, but one newsletter contained a bonus pattern for this little sweetie and I could no longer resist. Two fat quarters work into a nice bag that would be great for make-up in a travel kit.Two yards work out to be a nice size for the beach - sunscreen, book and mp3 player or a bag to bring home some produce from the Farmer's Market. Done up in the right colors any size would be a great little gift bag. It took hardly any time to stitch up. Since I'm not a big fan of wrapping gifts - this could be a great solution for me.
I still wanted to sit at the machine and do some fun, mindless sewing. So I dove into that basket of 1 1/2" strips and starting putting them together. Last week, Wendy at Snippets of a Quilter shared a wonderful quilt made up of rail fence blocks in vintage fabrics.
There is just something about simple blocks set on point that makes them even more desirable and cute. I'm just going to stitch strips together until I get bored and see where that takes me. While it will certainly have a different look with fabrics from my stash, I think it will make up into a great little quilt. Back to the machine for me.