Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Job Jar - Month #4

Hello! With April waning, it's time for another job jar report. 

As had been the case in the previous three months, I did a fair amount of cleaning and decluttering - closets, bookshelves, the refrigerator and the shelving above the stove all got some attention from me. I also kept up on the filing. And I did a repair on a vintage embroidered piece that had developed a tear - like about three years ago. Yeah, it wasn't a huge deal, but it was nice to have the piece looking like new again. The embroidery had been done by one of my husband's now long-gone relatives, so there is some sentimental value. 

But the biggest decluttering task involved going through some studio supplies. I ended doing a very thorough job on this, working off and on for several days. Got rid of a lot of stuff!

When it wasn't raining, I went on some walks, tried a new workout, was mindful of giving out compliments, and researched new volunteer opportunities. I also distributed guerilla art again after a bit of a hiatus (I had to make some more mini art pieces to leave around).

To feed my creative side, I read craft books, did some crafts, worked on photography, brought in flowers from our backyard (daffodils), did watercolor painting and carved a rubber stamp. The last two crafts were done with the aid of kits I'd purchased years ago but hadn't used in quite some time. 

Actually, in the case of the hand-carved rubber stamp, I had only tried this craft once before. Hadn't like the results, so I just left the kit lying around in my studio. I figured if I made a job jar tag that said "carve a rubber stamp", then I would be forced to try another attempt. And that I did. This time, I found a helpful tutorial online, took my time, and got much better results. It ended up being a lot of fun!

Alas, there was one problem with the job jar system this month, though:  I drew the tag that instructed me to bake a cake. The problem? I had made some brownies a few days before then and there were still some left. I briefly pondered baking a cake anyway and freezing it for the next round of dessert, but decided against it. I just drew another tag instead.

Not a bad problem to have, though! Who knows, maybe I'll draw that "bake a cake" tag at a more opportune time in May.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Made It - Outdoor Pillow

Hello! Now that outdoor weather has finally arrived, it's time to start sprucing up the yard. A few years back, I'd assembled a park bench from a kit and placed it in the corner of our backyard underneath an ornamental crabapple tree. It's a pleasant place to sit and relax, but that park bench is hard! I figured it'd be more comfortable if the bench had some pillows. The pillows would add a nice decorative touch as well.

Came across directions for outdoor pillows in a back issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. The pillows begin with squares of the appropriate size cut from vinyl tablecloths, sewn together on three sides, stuffed with pillow forms or batting, then the last side is sewn together. 

I purchased a vinyl tablecloth and a pillow form at a thrift store; paid $1.50 for both. I'd never sewn vinyl tablecloths before but the material handled just fine. 

And here's how the project turned out:

Rather cute pillow if I say so myself! I don't know how waterproof this will be in the long run, and I suppose I also have to watch out to make sure the pillow doesn't blow away in a storm! But it was fun and easy to make, and if it helps make the park bench more comfortable - well, as Martha herself would say: "it's a good thing"!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Better Homes and Gardens September 1978

Hello! Another blog post, a blast from the past again with the 1978 version of Better Homes and Gardens, this time from September of that year. 

From a historical standpoint, there were several interesting articles in this issue, such as:

What career recommendations were made? Well, the allied health field was considered good, as was secretarial work (thanks to such marvels as magnetic media, electronic memory typewriters, and sophisticated dictation systems), electronic repairers and automobile mechanics. These jobs are still relevant, of course, even if "electronic memory typewriters" aren't. 

However, it seems awfully quaint now to read that in 1978 "...a college degree won't always be necessary to break into the computer field..." Although today we hear of computer-whiz teens who have made millions, they are the exception rather than the rule.

Also noted: the article commented "...the demand for women engineers will continue for the next five years or so." Really? What was supposed to happen after that? My husband, who's an engineering professor, thinks that women are still under-represented to this day in engineering fields. 

"Electronic innovations are viewed as supplemental services", so bank tellers' jobs were still safe. This was before the rise of ATM's. 

Another slice of 1978 life is noted in this article:

The magazine staff had embarked on a survey regarding the state of the American family, and in this issue, they gave a summary of the over 300,000 replies they had received. It didn't take long for me to realize some things have changed very little since 1978, such as when the magazine opined their reason for setting the survey in the first place: "So often the calm, sensible voice of middle America is drowned out by special interest groups modest in size but gifted in the tactics of high-decibel hype." That sentence could have been taken from today's op-ed pages! 

Other things that have stayed the same? People worried about the negative impact of TV (only today we have the Internet as well)and the high cost of living. There was worry about "alienated, immature, selfish parents", "childishly greedy materialism", and so on. But people thought their own families were just fine. 

A common survey reply was that people felt guilty over neglect of the elderly. I'm not sure if senior citizens today are being neglected any less than they were in 1978. That's sad.

However, another magazine staffer is quoted as saying: "...common sense is still in goodly supply." There were few signs of "panic or overreaction" about teen drug use. And 80% of the survey respondents were in favor of teens having access to birth control methods and birth control information. 

Indeed, although people had strong feelings about full-time daycare, abortion, divorce, religious beliefs, overall they seemed to have a live-and-let live attitude on these issues. But there was one subject the respondents had strong words against - and that was television! "TV isn't fit for humans" was one such indicative statement. 

Okay, after a couple of articles, let's look at some ads:

Digging those fitness clothes? Could those red athletic shorts (on the man second from the right) be any shorter? The unicycling woman's shorts are just as short - but she's ahead of the male runners because of the snack in her hands - a Dole banana. 

Dole bananas not your thing? Well, then, how about Maganvox fine furniture audio "tricoustic projection"? 

Fine furniture? Ye gads, that thing looks as cumbersome as a tank! 

Check out this house:

"Twenty years ago, domes were considered far-out, but today's domes are way in." The article goes on to say that dome homes used to be for vacation and retire homes, but the majority of such homes were now primary residences. They were considered cheaper to build, more structurally sound, and more energy efficient than conventionally-built homes. But for all that, it would seem that domed homes are out again. I just don't see that many around. 

Nevertheless, the interior pics of the above home are interesting:

Because of the absence of walls in the first photo, there is a ton of floor space - they could have fit several Magnavoxes in there!  

Well, as with the issue I showed off in my previous blog post, there's a lot more I could discuss, but I think you get the idea: for a small sum of money, there's big fun to be had in reading older magazines! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thrifty Acres - Better Homes and Gardens July 1978

Hello! One fun thing about thrift store shopping is coming across a current issue of a magazine - and then right next to it is another issue of the publication - only it's decades old! Some thrift stores slap a higher price tag on these vintage issues, but I recently paid one quarter for the July 1978 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I was an older teen in 1978 and wanted to see what I remembered - or forgot - from that time. 

Of course, if you were around then, you're likely to remember the favored kitchen appliance color:

Good old Harvest Gold! Wonder how powerful that microwave (seen left in the foreground)was? 

Ah, how quickly we forget - well, at least I had! Seems like so long ago now that we took our film in to get developed at a Fotomat. 

Another blast from the past:

I know that Lysol is still around, but it seemed to me that the last time I checked, the old familiar can, as seen in the ad above, wasn't - instead there were several other colors of Lysol cans. I don't use Lysol, so I don't know what the different types of Lysol mean.

Perhaps these cans represented different scents. One reason why I don't use Lysol is that I never liked its smell. My mom used to spray it around whenever we kids got sick, and I seem to recall that she liked to disinfect trashcans with it too.

However, I don't ever remember my mom packing Lysol to use on a road trip! In the ad, the mom is shown spraying Lysol around motel rooms with great abandon. She seemed especially preoccupied with air, as in the air of motel rooms, motel room closets, and motel room air conditioners. All received blasts of Lysol.

I had to wonder what types of motels the mom's family chose, though, for she's also seen spraying Lysol on the shower floors "to kill athlete's foot" and on the shower curtains, for "Lysol killed mold and mildew..." there. What, were they staying in motels that hadn't been used in years? I mean, wouldn't the housekeeping staff have cleaned the bathroom after the previous occupants of that motel room had checked out?

Okay, so maybe they stayed at the cheapest mom-and-pop motels around. However, there was an unexpected bit of luxury in this magazine - and in a Sears ad, of all places:

The bedspread is described as a "luxurious floral Custom quilted...Everglaze finish. Outline quilted". On sale, the full-size version cost $125.00 (that was $25 off the full price). 

That sum seemed pretty high to me, so I did a little checking online to see what it would be in today's money. According to this site  that bedspread would cost $446 dollars today! And as dated as it looks today, I wonder how much it would sell for at a thrift store? 

Back to a more serious issue:

That's a good-looking scientist there, or so he claims to be one in this ad, which is for the Edison Electric Institute. Nuclear power doesn't seem to be the answer for a lot of folks nowadays. I live about 30 miles north of a nuclear power plant which seems to be having its share of issues. Hopefully it will be kept under control.

A year after this magazine was published, it just so happened that I saw the movie The China Syndrome  in a movie theater located just a few miles from that same nuclear power plant. This movie was about safety hazards at a nuclear power plant, so I thought viewing it in that town (South Haven, MI) quite ironic. 

I've been discussing the magazine ads thus far, but of course there is non-ad content as well! In this particular issue, much of the content was 26 pages of "100 Ideas Under $100". I like to scan such features to see if any of those back-then ideas would still be good today. 

One of the still-good ideas, I think:

This project is entitled "Big-stash sacks" and has an estimated cost of $32 ($114 in today's money). All you do is slip-stitch some sturdy tote bags together with carpet thread. "Arranged on big, bold hooks, the bags can turn any wall into a catchall". Like I said, still a good idea! If I were going to make something similar, I'd look for tote bags at a thrift store or garage sale. 

Then there's the not-so-good idea:

I'm not sure why the staff at Better Homes and Gardens thought that pandas - in a blue and white color scheme, no less - made for good bathroom decor. Not shown is the shower curtain, which is a blue and white checkerboard with a huge panda applique on it. No thanks, I'll pass!

What I've shown off in this post is only a small portion of the magazine, of course. I think I've shown enough, though, for you to see that I more than got my quarter's worth! 

Oh, and speaking of money - this issue had a single-issue cost of 95c. In today's money, that's $3.39. Hmm, that's not bad - I think that single-issue magazines cost more than that today! 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Thrifty Acres - Almost Free Fitness

Hello! When I exercise, I prefer the convenience and privacy of my own home for workout sessions. I'd get mighty bored if I was doing same routine over and over, but thanks to thrift stores and other secondhand sources, I have a small collection of fitness routines on hand for variety and new challenges as I see fit (no pun intended!).  I'll discuss a few favorites below:

Power Of 10 (subtitled The Once-A-Week Slow Motion Fitness Revolution),  Adam Zickerman, author.  In this case, "slow motion" means ten seconds up, ten seconds down per repetition, with the exerciser using weights to the point of muscle fatigue for each exercise. If that sounds tough, it is, but it works pretty well. It's a big timesaver over traditional weight training routines in that there are only 1-2 workouts per week, each lasting a little more than 20 minutes. The author also has some sensible diet and lifestyle tips. 

The Core Program (subtitled 15 Minutes A Day That Can Change Your Life), Peggy W. Brill, P. T., author. I didn't do any weightlifting in February because I shoveled so much snow. As that month went on, I felt my shoulders becoming more sore. I also felt that my hips and legs needed more flexibility, so when I spotted this book at a thrift store, I snapped it up. The author is a physical therapist and has a great information on what she calls "hot spots" of the body - areas where muscular weakness and tightness are common. The hip and leg exercises seemed to help me a lot, but another bonus was the simple series the author says "...will tone and strengthen the muscles of the face and neck...The exercises tone the muscles of the cheekbones and neck, shrink jowls..." I'm pleased to report that her claims appear to be true; the ugly jowls I was beginning to develop really do seem to be diminishing. 

Yogacise, Vimla Lalvani, author. I like this book because it has several routines one can follow. None of them take more than 20 minutes per session, although I usually do a half hour at a time (I just do more repetitions of the poses than what is specified). The "Energizer" routine delivers what its name promises, but my favorite section is "Ultimate Stretch". There are simple explanations about the poses and just enough photos to be helpful with body positioning. 

Just for fun, I have a couple of late 1970's fitness books; both were purchased at a AAUW used book sale. They may be older books, but still have some good info in them. They are as follows:

Barbara Pearlman's Dance Exercises (subtitled 8 Weeks 15 Minutes A Day To A Shaplier You), Barbara Pearlman, author. This is a series of stretching and toning exercises, most of which are similar to warm-up routines in modern dance classes, the author informs. Other exercises in the book are based on yoga poses. The author looks impossibly long, lean and limber in photos demonstrating the exercises, but her tone throughout the book is pleasant and encouraging. 

As I'd said, I tend to get bored doing the same routine over and over, so I just started using this book again in place of Brill's book (I'll continue to do those face and neck exercises though!).

The Miracles Of Rebound Exercise, Albert E. Carter, author. As I already had a rebounder (aka mini trampoline) at home, I got this book. Apparently Carter is a pioneer in the promotion of rebounders for home fitness use. It was interesting to read of the many benefits he says rebounding has, and various rebounding movements and some exercise routines are included. I have found my rebounder to be especially helpful during times of inclement weather - I can get a good workout in no matter what it's like outside! (Carter has since published an updated version of this book).

For even more variety in my exercise routines, I've picked up various fitness magazines at thrift stores, garage sales, etc. At a quarter or so apiece, no need to keep the whole magazine - I just tear out the workouts I want to try.

Thus,  as you can see, there's always a workout to keep me interested and challenged - and so I have no excuse for not working out on a regular basis! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thrifty Acres - Spring Decor

Hello! Don't think I've shown off my springtime decor in years past, but on a monsoon-like day like today, I thought it'd be nice to get a dose of spring here. Like the decorative objects I've shown off at other times of the year, my springtime collection is handmade, thrifted or gifted. (I guess I should be exact and mention that some of my purchases were from garage sales).

I like to hang decorations from the dining room chandelier - in this case, a thrifted egg decorated with papers. As my town has a huge tulip festival every year, the tulip motif is fitting. I made the bird resting on top from art paper scraps. 

I don't recall where I got this small doll (8" tall), probably at a garage sale. She's a little beat up, but I liked the colors of her dress. Seen on the right side of the photo is a gift from my husband - a tiny pot (3 1/2" tall) of tulips made of clay. I think he purchased this at a craft show, but he always tells me "I don't like to reveal my sources". 

I purchased the above guidebook at a garage sale run by an antiques dealer. It's all in Dutch, so I can't tell you anything about the museum, but I liked the cover. 

At the same sale, I bought the above, a vintage bridge tally card. Again, the tulip design is appropriate for this area, but I was also happy that along with this tally card were ones showing daffodils and lilacs as well. There's no date on these, but they might be from the 1940's. 

This little box came from Goodwill; I liked the sweet scene painted on it. 

The next set of items came from a garage sale:

These butterflies are representative of the eight I have on my dining room feather tree; I paid 50c for all. Crochet cotton in various colors and two sizes of pipe cleaners: they look like a craft someone's mother or grandmother had made. I was delighted to find them, but sorry that whoever was running the sale hadn't wanted them. 

 Well, they say that "April showers bring May flowers", so with all the rain we've had this month, hopefully there'll be a lot of growing of flowers (and vegetables) next month! I made the two pieces above with rubber stamped flowers, oil pastels, art paper scraps, photocopies of a 1930's garden catalog, vintage rickrack and words from a vintage game. Just another dose of springtime decor!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Made It - Now Look At Them Yo Yo's

First off, did you recognize from where I got the title of this post? If not, the answer will be coming up at the end!

Anyway, I saw THIS  on the Internet and thought it'd be fun to make something similar. Unlike the project's creator, I had no ready-made fabric yo-yo's at my disposal, but I did have the Clover Quick Yo-Yo Maker. This is a handy tool that makes yo-yo making go by fairly quickly. For my project, I used the large size, which yielded yo-yo's of 1 1/2" in diameter. 

I picked green and blue fabrics for my yo-yo's since I planned on hanging the finished piece up in our green and blue bathroom. Some of the fabrics were vintage, but not all were. It was fun to dig into my stash to pick and choose; as long as the fabrics were no smaller than 4" square, they would work with the yo-yo maker.

For the base, I painted another one of my 9x12 thrifted blackboards white. Then it was simply a matter of arranging the yo-yo's in a pleased order and gluing them on. 

The finished project:

As it so happened, I didn't care for the way it looked in the bathroom - no matter where I placed it on a wall there, it just didn't look right. This bathroom happens to have a fair amount of wall space, so it could be that 9x12 is too small in scale to look good. Maybe I'll just leave my yo-yo piece as shown above, resting on a downstairs windowsill between the kitchen and the powder room. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about fabric yo-yo's to a younger woman and learned she didn't know what they are. A brief history of fabric yo-yo's and how to make them the old-fashioned way is shown HERE. 

Oh, and the source for this blog post's title? Why, it's none other than the first line of Dire Strait's 1985 hit, Money For Nothing. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thrifty Acres: A Tale Of Two Lampshades

Hello! We've had a particular tabletop lamp for years - actually more likely decades - now. It wasn't expensive, but is serviceable and has made the move with us from house to house. Currently it sits on top of a small corner table in our dining room. 

A couple of months ago it was accidentally knocked over (not by me), which caused the lampshade to separate from the washer top. The top edge of the stiff paper inner lining had been affixed to the washer top, thereby attaching the lampshade to the edge of the washer top (a ring that screws onto the inner workings of the lamp). It was this lining that tore away from the washer top when the lamp was knocked over. And that meant the lampshade no longer stayed on top of the lamp.

Other than that, there was nothing wrong with the lampshade, so I didn't want to buy a new one. It seemed like there must be a way to attach the lampshade back to the washer top. And last week I found the solution in a thrift shop shelter magazine (I think it was an old Country Living issue) - fabric strips were wound around a plain lampshade. I could do the same with my lampshade. 

Here is my before:

The lampshade with its washer top next to it. The rough edges at the top of the lampshade are from that torn lining.

I had a bag of assorted fabric pieces on hand; I'd gotten them a couple of years ago from a local artist. Most of the fabrics were from fancy garments she'd picked up at consignment shops and then had cut up to use in projects. She was selling off some excess supplies at a garage sale and I got these fabric pieces for very little. 

I decided to use these pieces for my lampshade wrapping. I began by cutting my fabrics into strips 2" wide or so, then sewed them end to end into one long strip. But when I started to wrap the strip around the lampshade, I quickly decided that was too laborious, plus it would use up too much of the fabric - I had a limited supply of fabric from that garage sale purchase. So instead, I glued one end of the fabric strip to the top of the lampshade, attaching the end of the fabric to the washer top as I did so. I then cut the fabric strip to go to the bottom edge of the lampshade, with enough length to glue under. This took a bit of time, but eventually the whole lampshade was covered and attached to the washer top. From there, the whole thing was screwed back onto the lamp, secure again. 

And here's how the lampshade turned out:

I guess you could call this the "Shabby Chic" look. Our daughter was quite impressed; she said it looked hip and trendy - high praise indeed from a teen! My husband was pleased because the lampshade would now stay in place atop the lamp as it used to. 

And as for me - I was pleased that I repurposed some secondhand craft supplies in an attractive, yet practical, way!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thrifty Acres: At Your Service

Hello! Did you ever fantasize about what it would be like to have a staff of household servants at your disposal? Someone to prepare all your meals, to do all your cleaning, to drive you around, to do all the repairs around the place - sounds pretty good! 

I don't know what it's like to have such a staff on hand, but I do know what it was like to have household servants - or, should I say, the ideal servants - in 1930, thanks to this book:

I got this on Monday at the local college library's used book sale, but haven't had a chance to read it all the way through yet. However, I did note that the foreward wastes no time in extolling the wonders of "domestic service" while at the same time decrying those who are more satisfied with factory or retail shop work. "An ignorant, ill-educated girl, living in the most unpleasant surroundings, worn down by the hard hours of shop work, may be fool enough to plume herself upon not being a housemaid, - well-fed, cared for, better paid, and of far better mentality." Ouch! You tell 'em, Vogue! 

So it sounds like a no-brainer, right? Everyone should aspire to a household staff position! But on the very next page begins the chapter "Demeanor And Character"; many do's and don'ts are discussed, like the "smart way" to open a door for visitors. Then there's the reminder for the servant to rise and stand when the master, mistress or other family member enters the room. Ha! That servant probably needed to rest his or her feet more than their employers ever did. Numerous rules about serving meals were also commented on in this chapter, including comportment during parties. Naturally the servant is to remain quiet, attentive, pleasant and polite at all times. 

Whew! I would have had a hard time being so meek and obedient, but what do I know? Anyway,"Demeanor And Character" is followed by several chapters, each describing a particular servant's position and what it entails. 

The butler is mentioned first. I found the daily routine list fascinating; here's a list for Monday: Wakes Master (say 7:30). Takes away clothes for pressing and shoes for cleaning. Prepares trays for breakfast or sets breakfast table. Presses clothes - cleans Dining Room. Serves lunch. Makes Sandwiches and prepares Tea-tray (I liked that one; the thought of a butler bringing me a Tea-tray sounds very nice!). Lays Dinner-table. Lays out Master's clothes. Serves apertifs and appetizers (another nice touch!). Serves dinner. Off-duty after dinner say 8:30 alternating day with parlour-maid. 

On other days, the butler is supposed to clean silver and knives and do paintwork. There are actually four days listed during which silver was supposed to be cleaned. Silver cleaning was obviously a very important task; the last chapter of this book is devoted solely to this job. 

The book has specific ideas on how each servant is supposed to be dressed for the job:

The waitress, in her "cool grey dress of crepe de Chine", which is from the Shop of B. Altman and Company.

The caption reads: "The parlour-maid, in neat crepe de Chine, waits at the door for a slow guest. Her expression testifies to her perfect propriety of conduct, as well as costume; maids' clothes and accessories from Saks-Fifth Avenue."

Well, yeah, it wouldn't do to have the parlour-maid at the door, screeching at that slow guest: "Will you hurry it up! It's ten below out here!" 

Caption: "Here the butler is dressed correctly for the afternoon. He is checking off his list the names of those who have accepted, at the telephone, for dinner." 

"This chaffeur's undress clothes, not for real overhauling of motors, but for the usual, inevitable tinkering, looking exceedingly trim and serviceable." Yes indeed!

"The nurse shown in this sketch is in the warm double cape and very good-looking felt hat that Madame Joseph recommends for wear in ordinary cold weather". Reminds me a bit of Mary Poppins!

Hmmm - B. Altman, Saks-Fifth Avenue, very good-looking felt hats, that nattily-dressed butler and trim chaffeur - these servants dressed better than I do today! But of course they did - they have several pages of rules of what to wear - and of course, what NOT to wear: "No butler ever wears livery. A man in livery is a footman. This never changes". 

Sorry, Vogue, a LOT has changed, especially this way of thinking: "The old-fashioned motherly "mammy" with her apron, kerchief and bright bandana is a delightful figure and would never be out of any picture. She has her eternal place". Oh really? Even the Aunt Jemima pancake box doesn't have the "mammy" look going for it anymore!

I've just scratched the surface of this book, but I will show one last photo:

"For tea, toast, fruit and scrambled egg, or some such light dish, this tray has been prepared". Ah yes - breakfast in bed! Much has changed since Vogue's Book Of Smart Service was published, but to my way of thinking, breakfast in bed will always be a good idea!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Eats: Top Secret Recipes

Hello! As it was chilly and rainy here today, a steaming bowl of soup was perfect for tonight's dinner. We dined on Olive Garden's Toscana Soup; very tasty! If you've not had this soup, it's made with potato, kale and Italian sausage, simmered in a broth of chicken stock and cream. 

We don't have an Olive Garden restaurant in our town. Did we hop in our car and drive to the closest one? No, we did not - we stayed in the comfort of our own home, and saved money to boot, by making the copycat recipe from Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Restaurant Recipes cookbook.

I don't recall when I first learned of Todd Wilbur and his penchant for recreating commercially-produced foods at home. I have had his first cookbook, Top Secret Recipes, for years now. I may have purchased it, discounted, at a Sam's Club. 
I've also gotten recipes from Wilbur's website, seen HERE; there is an index of recipes organized by company or restaurant chain name. One can sign up to receive email alerts when new recipes are posted. 

Unfortunately, some of the recipes on the website come at a cost of 79c. The Toscana Soup is one of these. (when a fee is involved, only the introduction to the recipe and the very beginning of the ingredients are shown on the website). And due to copyright laws, I cannot share the recipe in this post. I will add, though, that if you google "Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana recipe" you'll get somewhat similar-sounding recipes. 
Or perhaps you'll find a secondhand copy of the cookbook; I've picked up some of Wilbur's subsequent cookbooks that way (he's published several by now). 

You may wonder why anyone would go to the bother of replicating commercially-produced, brand-name foods at home. Well, for one thing, besides saving money, the cook can also shave calories or add more nutrients without sacrificing taste. For instance, when I made the Toscana soup earlier tonight, I used turkey Italian sausage instead of regular Italian sausage, milk instead of heavy cream, and doubled the amount of kale. 

Admittedly, some of the Top Secret recipes are quite fussy to make, and there are others that call for deep frying. I don't bother with these recipes, but have enjoyed making versions of Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls, Kraft Thousand Island Dressing, 7-Eleven Slurpees, Skyline Chili (from a Cincinnati-area chain), and more. 

As with the Toscana soup recipe, I reduced calories when possible, and richer recipes like the one from Cinnabon have been a rare treat. But I see nothing wrong with having a home-style Slurpee once in awhile when the temperatures begin to soar. Besides, we don't have a 7-Eleven here, either. 

(The Slurpee recipe is available for free, by the way, on the Top Secret website, so you may wish to give it a try - it's easy, especially if you have a good blender.)


Friday, April 5, 2013

Holidays - Easter: Better Late Than Never

Hello! For the past few years now, my extended family has gotten together on Easter Sunday for a combined holiday/birthday celebration. So my household has its own Easter celebration, using my husband's Slovak customs, on the following Sunday. 

Consequently, my Easter decorations are still up, and as I've never done a blog solely on them, I'll show off a few favorites now. 

I made all the stuffed bunnies you see above. Both patterns have been used over the years to make gifts for others as well; a fun way to use up fabric scraps! 

I have a tabletop feather tree that is decorated for the seasons, so many of my Easter decorations end up there. Above, a thrifted egg ornament and a pom pom chick I'd made years ago. 

Thrift store find; dates from 1955. Yes, it has a scotch-taped binding, but I could overlook that for the dime price. 

A basketful of eggs. I made the one covered in sequins (near the center) as well as the ones made in fabric, cross-stitched, or covered with trims. The colorful decorated eggs were a thrift store find. 

Besides decorating the feather tree, I also like to dangle things from the dining room chandelier. Above, you see a couple of eggs I'd made close to 20 years ago. The blue egg is decorated with sequins and small wooden eggs. The egg behind it doesn't show up well, but is a clear, pull-apart egg that I filled with a little scene of Easter grass, tiny Easter eggs and a little chick.

Another grouping of eggs hanging from the chandelier. The egg in the foreground, a thrift store find, is covered in delicate paper pieces. I made the egg to the right of it, using sequins and vintage trims to cover a styrofoam egg shape. 

A friend gave me the two little bunnies in the foreground; she'd found them at a garage sale. They say "Wilton" on the bottom, so I suspect they were meant to be cake toppers. The oh-so-cute bunny right behind them says "Japan" on the bottom. I don't know how old it is, but it was a pleasing thrift store find. 

The lamb with the cross on it had been my mother-in-law's. I don't know how old it is, what it's made from, or what its country of origin is. I'd like to think it's from the "Old Country", but I just don't know. No information on the bottom. 

The remaining items are vintage to one degree or another:

This postcard was never mailed, so I don't know how old it is, but it's definitely been around awhile!

Slightly stained hankie, but still cute. Watching over it are more of those Wilton bunnies. 

These two decorations aren't super old; probably from the 1960's or 1970's. They were a reasonable 25c each at the thrift store, so I scooped them up. 

I have more Easter decorations than what I've shown, but this is a representative sampling of my usual mix: handmade, thrifted and gifted! Yes, it makes for a rather eclectic decor, but it works for me. 

Well, speaking of work, I've got stuff to do around the house, so I'll close out here. But in case you hadn't come across my much-earlier post about our Slovak Easter dinner, you can see it HERE.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thrifty Acres - A River Runs Through It

Hello! The local college library occasionally has a used book sale, and one such sale is going on this week. When I go, I pass over boring (to me) used textbooks in favor of the more obscure items, some of which I suspect came from the donations of older alumni. 

For example, when I visited the sale yesterday there were numerous pamphlets from various house museums and other points of interest here and abroad. Many were decades old. But it was early in the sale and prices were still a little high, so I only bought two items. One was a 1950's-era speech therapy kit; I purchased it for the word flash cards. 

The other item was the 1937 A Plan For Lower Merion Township, purchased for personal interest. We lived in Lower Merion Township (suburban Philadelphia) for five years, and so this book was for nostalgia's sake, and to see what the region had looked like years before we had ever lived there. 

A photo of one of my favorite roads in the township was included in the book, looking much as it had when we used to live there:

Yes, that road is actually a ford; Mill Creek runs over Old Gulph Road. It always amused me to see a road thus constructed - and still being used. Seemed very quaint to me, and indicative of the area's history. According to this book, "Historical Old Gulph Road was reported to be laid out by William Penn as early as 1685 and was officially confirmed in 1713." That is historical indeed!

Needless to say, in times of heavy rain the road is impassable, and, since 2005, is closed for the winter due to icing. You can see a modern photo of the road and the wintertime gate closures HERE.

In regards to the used book sale, I was told by a library staffer that prices would come down later in the sale, but she wasn't sure when. So I may keep my eyes open and check back in a day or two. Who knows what I may drag home then!