Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Quilt

Hello! Several years ago I made a slipcover for our couch. By now, I've tired of the slipcover and have been thinking of making a new one. But until that happens, I've been hunting for some sort of blanket or other fabric-y item to toss over the slipcover and hide its drabness.

And yesterday my search was over when I spied a vintage quilt in a local thrift store. I examined it closely and saw that it was in decent shape. There were a couple of loose seams, but no fading or stains. I wasn't worried about the loose seams since I could easily repair them. 

I was a bit worried about the asking price, though, since for some reason the price tag had been left blank. So I took the quilt up to the check-out counter to ask what the store charge for it. Many thrifts have a policy of not setting prices on the spot for unmarked items, but not at this particular one.
The clerk briefly looked the quilt over and said I could have it for five dollars. Sold! 

And here's what five dollars got me:

Washed and dried, my "new" quilt brightens up the sofa nicely. I didn't measure it before I tucked it into the sofa, but I think the quilt is twin bed size. 

It's machine-sewn and appears to be reversible. Its back is made up of large fabric squares; mostly prints but a few solids were used as well. 

Since I'm not exactly a fabric historian I'm not sure how old this quilt is, but I think most if not all of the fabrics date from the 1960's or 1970's. So, not super old, but still old enough to be called vintage!

A few close ups:

I'm a sucker for vintage kitchen-print fabrics.

Cute apples!

Nice florals too.

I was pleased to find such a colorful cover-up for my sofa, and if this quilt means I can delay the slipcover issue for awhile longer, then that's even more pleasing!



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Along Tulip Lanes

Hello! The annual tulip festival in my town is in full swing, which means the six miles of "tulip lanes" (designated city streets with curbside plantings) are in their full glory for all to enjoy. There have been years when the tulips bloom before the festival, and times when the flowers bloom later. But this year most appear to be right on schedule, and as always, the tulip lanes are truly a lovely sight! 

Thousands of people come from all over to see these tulips, but I'm lucky enough to live close to a couple of the tulip lanes. And so for those who can't make it to the festival, I took some pictures this morning for you to enjoy. 

Tulips whose petals have crinkly-looking edges.

A boulevard tulip lane means two rows of blooms to enjoy at once!

Another boulevard planting. 

Row after row of tulips, and as you can see, there's quite a variety of colors to view. 

A tulip lane sign points the way. 

My pictures scarcely do the tulips justice, plus it was a bit overcast this morning. But I hope you get some sense as to just how nice these plantings are!

If you'd like to learn more about the tulip lanes, go here.
The link will take you to the portion of the tulip festival website that discusses where tulips can be seen throughout the area. 

And of course, the website has information on other parts of the festival, such as Dutch dance, shows, events and more. I confess, I don't attend the shows and some of the events - but the tulip lanes are a must!


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Children's Readers

Hello! Although I found grade school pretty boring, I enjoying the readers we were issued every year - in fact, I enjoyed them enough to seek them out at secondhand markets as an adult.

These readers are now old enough to be considered vintage, so sometimes are priced accordingly, even at some thrift stores. But depending on condition, pricing whims, and who knows what else, they can also be quite very inexpensive.

I didn't really care about condition when I purchased my readers; I was in it for the nostalgia factor:

The book with the blue cover is in good shape, but the others are more beat up. But that shouldn't exactly be a surprise, since these were handled by kids in the mid-1960's, and who knows how many years they were in use. Obviously my collection isn't complete since the three books represent just 3rd, 4th and 6th grades. 

Flipping through the 3rd grade reader, I was struck by how creative, resourceful and responsible the children were portrayed as being

Above, the boy in the story had decided to sell his old bike in order to buy a new one. He goes through several fix-it steps, including taking the bike to his dad's gas station mechanic to get the gears oiled.(Are there still gas stations with mechanics on duty? If so, there's not nearly as many around as there used to be!)

And after all the work the boy put into his bike to get it sale-ready, he decides it's like a brand-new bike now and decides to keep it!

Above, two young girls, who happen to be best friends, meet up at the grocery store. Both had been sent by their mothers with grocery lists. Granted, both lists were short, but when's the last time you saw kids doing some family grocery shopping alone? Perhaps such things still happen in places that have corner markets, but like the gas station mechanic, those businesses are dwindling in number too.

Kids are depicted over and over as resourceful, creative problem solvers:

A girl fashions a dog run for her lively puppy so he won't cause any more destruction inside the house (the last straw was when he chewed up her library book). 

A girl needs to wake up very early, but the family alarm clock is broken. She and her older sister devise a makeshift "alarm" by hooking up the vacuum cleaner with a timer their dad had bought to use when defrosting the refrigerator (thank goodness the days before self-defrosting refrigerators are long gone!). Now, both girls are older than 3rd grade (the older sister is in high school), but that was still pretty clever of them. In fact, that older sister is said to be better at fixing things than their dad, who's an engineer. What a positive message for girls, especially in the days before Women's Lib! 

I was also pleased that this textbook wasn't lily-white. The girl who made the dog run is Asian-American, while the girl above who woke up to the roar of the vacuum cleaner is African-American. Other stories featured Hispanics. Thus, all in all some good diversity.

I'll show off one last bit of cleverness from this reader (there were even more stories along this vein):

A boy creates a pulley system for making his bed in a fraction of the time. Pretty clever indeed! I must have been inspired by this story, for a year or two later I designed my own bedroom aid: a pulley system  that turned the bedroom light switch halfway across the room on and off without having to get out of bed. Not bad for a 10-year-old when I think back on it now! Alas, my pulley system was short-lived, for I'd had some rare bedroom time to myself. My sister had gone away for the weekend, so I had to remove my innovation before she came back home.

Moving on to the 4th grade reader:

An Aluet boy in Alaska looks up at the stars before he goes to sleep at night. Later on his school participates in a contest among Alaskan children to design the Alaskan flag. The boy references the Big Dipper in his design and this is a winner with the judges. His design becomes the official flag. It's a true story of how the Alaskan flag came into being.

When I was a kid, parents were almost always depicted as ever-helpful and patient with their children (maybe they still are shown that way, I don't know). In my set of readers, parents gladly let their children take in stray dogs and a goat. And in the above photo, a dad is helping his son with a burgeoning guppy population. 

By 4th grade, the Powers That Be had decided that kids were old enough to read a portion of a chapter book. I had fondly remembered the chapter book from that grade's reader, and searched in the vintage readers I saw for sale until I found the one that had:

The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz. In this book, nothing much seems to happen in the life of 11-year-old Ann, except for the hard work involved in settling up western Pennsylvania in the late 1700's. She misses the more settled life her family had left behind in Gettysburg. But by the end of the book, she's as dedicated as the rest of the family in protecting their crops from a fierce storm.

And guess who comes to dinner? George Washington himself, in the area to check up on some land he owned nearby. As a kid, I thrilled along with Ann at having such an illustrious man share a meal with her family. And it really had happened: Ann was the author's great-great-grandmother, and the oral history of that great event had been passed down. (George Washington also mentioned the meal stop in his diary, Fritz says). 

Of course I read the story again after buying this reader, and enjoyed it just as much as I had in 4th grade! It is a delightful book. 

The 6th grade reader had many stories that took place in other countries:

Above, an Irish boy explores a cave off the coast and discovers the skeleton of a Viking, with the wonderfully-carved board game that had been left with the warrior upon his death. The boy estimated that the game and the skeleton were centuries old. What a find! 

An American girl living in Japan makes friends with a renowned artist who recognizes her own budding artistic talents. 

In order to ease the family finances, a young man in China prepares to leave for the west coast of the US. 

And from the US to New Guinea we have:

The Rain Forest by Armstrong Sperry. This was the 6th grade reader's chapter book selection. I recall the teacher reading it out loud to us at the end of the day, bit by bit, and my class found it fascinating. After all, it was long way from small town Midwest to the rain forest of New Guinea. The main character, a boy of 14, joins a excursion that will lead him to his dad, an ornithologist on the hunt for a rare bird. His group has many adventures along the way, including some close calls.

Alas, only the first half of the book was included in our reader. I wanted to find out what happened in the second half, so I went to the library to check it out. The public library was literally across the street from the school (and both were a short walk from my house), so that took little effort on my part. But when I told the teacher I'd read the book in its entirety, she seemed surprised.

But it's no surprise to me that this is still an engrossing read. When our daughter was old enough, I had her check out The Rain Forest from the library so I could read it in its entirety once more. 

It's funny how something you read as a kid can stay with you as adult. But thanks to my small collection of vintage children's readers, I can reread those stories. Hmm, I do have several grades' worth of readers missing though. I'd like to find the one that has the story of how Paul Revere became a silversmith...



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thrifty Acres: An Impulse Buy

Hello! Impulse buying can be the downfall of any shopper, and the thrift store shopper is no exception. In fact, it can be even harder to resist a thrift store item because of the low price. It can all too easy to justify a purchase when you're paying a fraction of the original retail price.

Impulse buying can lead to frivolous purchases, and I can be guilty of this, as seen here:

The Easy Chef Chocolate Bar Maker. The kit was priced a little higher than I would have preferred, but it was complete and in fact, looked like it had never been used. So I guess the thrift store pricing folks took that into consideration. I still paid far less than what the Amazon listing showed. 

So what does this complete kit contain? Two sizes of chocolate bar molds (two each of each size), plus inserts to make "pockets" for adding fillings to the larger bars or fancy designs  to the tops of the smaller bars. 

There's also a plastic squeeze thingy for melting/squeezing out chocolate; this tool also has a nozzle for decorating the bars with chocolate drizzles.

The kit includes four candy bar wrapper-like bags and matching sticker labels; just the thing for four small gifts.

The molds don't look like much; the "large" ones measure about 3 1/4"l x 1 1/4"w x 1 1/4"d. The "fun" size molds are the same width and depth, but are about an inch shorter in length. 

This kit was on the "kids' crafts" shelf at the arts and crafts section of the thrift store, so I suppose the chocolate bar maker is marketed toward kids. However, among the filling suggestions are three "entertaining" candy bars that call for more sophisticated ingredients, so see, you don't have to be a kid to want to use it. 

And I did want to use it, even though I didn't have to have it, of course. But the "recipes" listed in the instruction booklet made me want to try my own combinations. 

And that's what I did today:

Left, the "sharing" bar (the three sections are meant to be cut off and shared) and right, the "swirl top" bar. (The molds used to shape the bars are behind them, of course). They look rather professional if I say so myself!

For my first "recipe", I soaked about a tablespoon of dried cherries in a small amount of chocolate liqueur, and used about the same amount of chopped toasted pecans.

I didn't bother using the plastic thingy for melting the chocolate. I figured a glass custard cup would be easier to clean, so that's what I used instead. 

Of course, a chocolate bar is really only as good as the chocolate used to make it. Well, I melted some semi-sweet chocolate chips - not fantastic quality, but good enough for this project. I used 1 7/8 ounce chocolate chips per bar. (with the add-ins, the total weight of each bar is 2 1/8 ounce.)

Here's a section of the "sharing" bar cut away:

The dark red of the dried cherry is hard to see in there, but I could definitely taste it.  This "sharing section" made for a nice little post-yardwork treat. 

Not bad for an impulse buy! It'll be fun to make other types of candy bars too.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Double The Thriftiness

Hello! Gardening season is finally here, so it's time to haul the yard work tools out.

And with yard work on my mind, I paid 50c for a vintage weeding tool at a thrift store last week. Here's what I got:

I wasn't familiar with this brand, Village Blacksmith, so I looked it up online and learned it was a company from Watertown, WI. It was in business from the early 1900's until the 1960's. 

My online search showed similar tools to the one above, but the handles looked different. This puzzled me until I looked closer at my purchase - and discovered that it's not the original handle! The photos I viewed showed a flat handle, either made of plastic or wood. I'm guessing older versions featured wood handles, while newer models had plastic ones.

My handle is wood, and was likely formed from a sawed-off handle of another tool. Once I realized this, I smiled, for this is what I meant by "double the thriftiness". Someone thought enough of this weeder to fashion a "new" handle for it, thereby extending its life further.

And whoever did the fix-it job did it well. I tried my vintage weeder out this past weekend and it worked like a champ:

The vintage weeder faced off against our OXO weeder on the right.  
I'd gotten the latter weeder several years ago for my husband as a gift during his mad gardening days. 

I'm now the mad gardener of the family, and so was dismayed when the tines of that OXO tool became warped during normal usage a couple of years ago. It still does the job, just not quite as well. I like the design of the Village Blacksmith weeder better. It's more solid overall, so it's easier to dig into the soil to remove whatever it is I'm trying to remove. 

In the above photo, I've removed some of what must be hundreds of scilla. They have pretty blue flowers, are among the first blooms of the spring, and remind me of the scilla in the yard of my family's house when I was a kid. 

But we never had anywhere near the scilla then that I do now in my present yard. In years past, I'd just pull them out, which removed the leaves but didn't stop their spread. These plants grow via bulbs, so to reduce their numbers, I had no choice but dig the bulbs out. Before I started weeding over the weekend, the above patch of ground was a solid mass of scilla.

This took quite some time, and I'm still not done, but at least I can now see where my perennials are coming up. And it's almost fun to do such weeding with my Village Blacksmith tool. 

I'm glad that a previous owner crafted a new handle for it, and I'm glad it was a inexpensive thrift store purchase. 

Yep, double the thriftiness!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Eats: Soft Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Hello! I'd written about my Chocolate Chocolate cookbook here. 
I've made a few cookie recipes from the cookbook since that post, for parties and for out-of-town trips. Out-of-town trips? Yeah, my husband has been known to hunt down places where cookies and other goodies are sold when traveling; he's gotta have his desserts (and yet he's one of those people who never gains weight!)So I figure by making a treat before an excursion, at least we're saving some  money. 

He had an out-of-state conference to attend recently, so I dutifully made Soft Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Chocolate Chocolate for him to pack along. Author Lisa Yockelson's directions are a bit fussy, as you'll see, but the results were worth it. 

First, the recipe:

Soft Chocolate Chunk Cookies (adapted from Chocolate Chocolate)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla
13 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (see note below)

Sift the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar into bowl or onto sheet of waxed paper.

Cream the butter in the bowl of a freestanding mixer on moderately low speed for three minutes. Add the sugar and beat for two minutes. Add the light brown sugar and beat for two minutes longer. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Blend in vanilla. On low speed, blend in sifted ingredients in three additions, beating until the flour particles are absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently to keep the dough even-textured. Blend in the chocolate chunks. 

Cover the bowl of dough and refrigerate for one hour. 

Preheat oven to 325. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. 

Place heaping two-tablespoon-size mounds of dough on the prepared cooking sheets, spacing the mounds about three inches apart. Keep the mounds high and plump. 

Bake cookies for about 16 minutes, or until set and light golden on top. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheets for two minutes, then transfer then to cooling racks. Store in airtight tin. Yield: about three dozen. 

Notes: the recipe calls for chopped bittersweet chocolate, but feel free to use other sizes/types of chocolates. If you have chocolate chips on hand, that's fine, I'm sure. I had a partially-open bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips stashed in the refrigerator, so that's what I added. But as that bag didn't have 13 ounces of chocolate chips in it, I made up the difference by cutting up some leftover Easter candy: Hershey's foil-wrapped Special Dark eggs. So, my batch had both chips and chunks! I'm guessing author Yockelson would approve, as she has at least one cookie recipe in the cookbook that calls for both chips and chunks in the dough. 

As you can see, the recipe is easy to make, but the fussiness comes in the number of steps in the mixing. In general, chocolate chip cookies don't have so many separate mixing steps - for example, the butter and sugars are usually creamed together. But since this was the first time I was using this recipe, I decided to follow the directions as written.

Yockelson has breathless descriptions of her recipes and this one is no exception: "These soft and chewy cookies are buttery and mellow, with just a hint of caramel and chunks of bittersweet interspersed within the creamy, vanilla-centered dough". 

I added: "Smooth, rich, buttery". And these words, and the author's, really are true. These cookies may have those extra mixing steps, but as I'd said, the results were worth it. I don't think you'd get a better cookie of its type at a fancy bakery! 

I have one photo, of the last cookie from the batch:

Yockelson suggests that these cookies be eaten within two days of baking, but the above cookie was already nine days old. 10 seconds in the microwave and it tasted as if it'd just come out of the oven. 

If you make this recipe, I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!