Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thrifty Acres: But Patience Isn't Always Necessary!

Hello! My previous post discussed buying something at a thrift store many moons after I'd spied a similar item at full price elsewhere. 

While it's fun to spy a hoped-for item at a thrift store whenever that may be, it's even more fun when I buy something at a thrift store just after I'd determined a need for it.

Case in point: I'd been repainting a room in our house (originally a parlor, and this work was the reason I hadn't been posting much the previous few weeks). This meant I had to take down the window treatments in that room, of course - sheer curtains and valances.  Both were courtesy of the previous owner. I was fine with the curtains but had never cared for those valances, which were a blah, medium brown-colored cheapo lace (the stuff that's supposed to look like fine lace but ends up not fooling anyone).

Earlier this week, I finally finished all the paint touch-ups, so I hung the sheer curtains back up. Now it was time to figure out a valance replacement. I figured I could make some, but that could involve a lengthy deliberation at the fabric store. Should I pick this print? Or what about this one? And so on. It can be hard to choose a fabric that's "just right" - or at least it is for me!

Or should I arrange some of my vintage embroidered linens and use them as valances? That would work, except that unfortunately most of the embroidered linens I inherited from my husband's aunt feature rather garish color schemes that wouldn't look quite right in the room.

Then yesterday I popped into a thrift store I rarely visit, on my way to another store I rarely visit. And lo and behold, in the household linens section, were four matching valances that I knew would look perfect in my parlor. They were in like-new condition too!

Of course, to be on the safe side I put the valances through the washer and dryer and then eagerly hung them up:

The colors aren't quite as dark as what the above photo shows. 

A close-up of the pattern. The colors in this photo are closer to how they actually look. 

These valances were made by Springs Global but I don't know what stores carried them, nor do I know what they originally cost brand-new. An eBay seller is currently asking $22.99 for a set of two, plus shipping. Including tax, I paid a little over $12.00 for my set of four. 

These valances would have been worth the wait even if I'd found them later on, but I'm glad I didn't have to wait at all!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Thrifty Acres: Patience Is A Virtue

Hello! Most of us probably have at least one shopping weakness, which can lead to impulse buying when a new "gotta have it"  appears on store shelves or online. 

One of my weaknesses is stuff for the kitchen. Manufacturers are constantly coming up with gadgets, gizmos and small appliances that do everything from cutting a watermelon into slices to making breakfast sandwiches. 

No, I don't have either of those, but I do have an electric ice cream maker that makes two quarts at a time. Each time I make ice cream most of it gets eaten by my husband (he LOVES ice cream) so of course I have to make the flavors he prefers. 

The trouble is, there are many flavors I'd like to try that he wouldn't touch. I don't eat ice cream with wild abandon as he does, so I'd get bored with my batch before I could eat it all.

A summer or two ago, I spied an ice cream maker that makes small amounts of ice cream at a time. That would solve my dilemma: I could make flavors I like and not get sick of them before I ate them up! But, after all, we did already have an ice cream maker at home, and it's not as if I have to have certain flavors of ice cream. So I deemed this mini ice cream maker an impulse purchase and passed it up. 

But remember, the title of this post refers to patience, as in  someone else's impulse purchase showing up at a thrift store eventually. And so, a couple of weeks ago I came home with this:

The Hamilton Beach Half Pint Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker. It works the same as my larger maker: a chilled ice cream base is placed in a work bowl that's frozen before use, and a small electric motor turns the paddle that churns the base. But unlike that larger machine, this one uses between 6oz and 12 oz of base. 

As it turns out, this model has mixed reviews on Some people complained about design flaws, such as motors that died too soon or bowls that split. Others complained that the ice cream didn't set up. (I figured that issue could be due to improper procedure.) But some raved about how great the machine worked. 

I decided to take my chances and whipped up a small amount of Vanilla Malt Chip base(recipe courtesy of my Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book)

Here's how it turned out:

Perfect! I made a flavor I like that my husband wouldn't. And since 12 ounces of base really isn't very much, I can finish the batch before I get sick of it.

Time will tell if I run into the durability issues that people complained about, but if I do, at least my impulse purchase had a thrift store price. Yes, patience really is a virtue!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Eats:Sour Cream Chocolate Cookies

Hello! Yep,another post,another cookie recipe. Most of the batch from the recipe I'd written up in my previous post went with my husband on a business trip.

In the meantime, I'd gotten the news that his brother's family - two adults and five kids - were going to be in our area over the weekend. Fortunately my husband made it back just in time to visit with them before they had to return home.

And fortunately I'd spied another tempting cookie recipe in my recent thrift store acquisition, Taste of Home's Chocolate Lover's Cookbook:

Sour Cream Chocolate Cookies (from Tina Sawchuck, Ardmore,Alberta)

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened (I used butter)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in egg, sour cream and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes or until set. Cool for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Yield: about 3 dozen. (I got 30 cookies)

Here's how they turned out:

Recipe contributor Sawchuck commented "These soft cookies can easily be altered to make several varieties - I've added everything from mints to macadamia nuts to them." 

Tossing in other goodies sounds fun, but I followed the recipe as written this first time around. When our guests arrived, I showed them the tin and told them to help themselves since dinner had to wait until my husband showed up. The kids needed no urging and pronounced the cookies delicious!

When they had to leave I sent most of the cookies home with them, but I did try one for myself. They, were, indeed, delicious! Easy to make too. If you like chocolate, you can't go wrong with these. 

I do enjoy baking cookies, but don't do much baking once summer weather arrives. So it's good to get some baking while I can - even if that does mean two batches of cookies in a week.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Eats: Chocolate Chip Butter Cookies

Hello! A recent thrift store trip resulted in a purchase of Taste of Home's Chocolate Lover's Cookbook. I guess you could say I'm a chocolate lover - and my husband is even more so. So what better than a cookbook loaded with recipes devoted to that ingredient? 

Decided to make what sounded like an easy but good cookie recipe yesterday, Chocolate Chip Butter Cookies. How easy? After the inaugural baking, I had already memorized the recipe and rattled it off to my appreciative husband. (I should add he was appreciative of the cookies, not my memorization skills!)

Check out the recipe and see for yourself how easy it is:

Chocolate Chip Butter Cookies (from Taste of Home's Chocolate Lover's Cookbook; recipe credited to Janis Gruca, Mokena Illinois)

1 cup butter (no substitutes)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup (6 ounces) miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Melt butter in a microwave oven or double boiler; stir in vanilla. Cool completely. In a large bowl, combine flour and sugar; stir in butter mixture and chocolate chips(mixture will be crumbly). Shape into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets; flatten slightly. Bake at 375 for 12 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Cool on wire racks. Yield: about 4 dozen. 

Notes: I hastened the cooling of the melted butter by placing it in the refrigerator while I waited for the oven to preheat. My yield was 30 cookies, probably because I made them a bit bigger than specified. 

The results:

"...these crisp, buttery treats can be made in no time" Gruca commented in the note that accompanied her recipe in the cookbook. I agree with her - these taste a bit like a cross between shortbread, Russian teacakes and chocolate chip cookies. All good cookies, so these are good as well! And they really are very fast to make. I saved even more time - accidentally - by neglecting to flatten the cookies before I put them in the oven. This didn't seem to affect the baking time, and in fact, I think they look better than the ones photographed for the cookbook. 

And there you have it - an easy, delicious cookie. If you'd like a homemade treat but don't have much time, give these a try!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Thrifty Acres: Only In Alaska

Hello! I'm not sure why, but I have a fascination with reading of people who settle in isolated areas. I don't really have a desire to do without central heat, indoor plumbing and other modern conveniences, but I like reading about those who willingly - and seemingly cheerfully - live far away from the rat race. By now, I've enjoyed learning about the lives of adventurers who experienced very different lifestyles after moving to Alaska(Four Seasons North), Maine (We Took To The Woods)or west-central British Columbia (Ruffles On My Longjohns). 

I picked up another "we got away from it all" book recently at a thrift store:

Only In Alaska, written by Tay Thomas and published in 1969. Thomas' book recounts her family's adventures after moving to Alaska in 1960 - shortly after it had become our 49th state. The impetus for the relocation was their desire to escape what had become an increasingly hectic and congested lifestyle in New Jersey.

There's a couple of big differences in this book and the three I listed above, though. For one thing, the Thomases didn't settle in an isolated area; they moved to Anchorage. Their lifestyle there didn't sound much different in many ways from that of those living in similar-sized towns in the lower 48. Indeed, the first chapter is entitled "But I Don't Live in an Igloo".
Another big difference is that Tay's husband, Lowell Jr., was an accomplished pilot and had his own plane. They also owned a sturdy vehicle. The folks in the other books had no planes of their own and were limited in other forms of transportation as well.

Consequently, much of Only In Alaska reads like a travelogue, as the Thomases and their two children journey all over the state. Flying to visit a friend's cabin on Mt. McKinley, camping trips, and excursions to remote communities were just some of the adventures Tay Thomas describes. 

Her father-in-law, Lowell Thomas Sr., was a well-known traveler, writer and broadcaster. His son Lowell Jr. seems to be much like his father: he, too, is an avid explorer, and also worked as a producer in film and television. Flying his single-engine plane was a huge passion as well. One chapter, "Lowell and His Flying Machine", details some of his many flights - whether ferrying party guests to a gathering at that Mt. McKinley cabin, landing on other mountains to climb them(a "glacier pilot", she calls him), or taking the family to native villages in the far north - there didn't seem to be any place he wouldn't fly.

Naturally sometimes a flight became more challenging due to poor weather conditions. During one flight back from a big celebration of the Episcopalian church's presence in the northern village of Point Hope, very poor visibility prevailed. The author only agreed to that return trip because a pilot she considered even more skilled than her husband suggested they could follow his plane's taillights for their navigation. That pilot happened to be an Episcopalian priest who had had to learn to fly in the late 1940's in order to visit his flock around Alaska.

Tay Thomas readily admits that she was nervous throughout most of the flight, until they reached a point where the weather cleared. She was actually no slouch herself, however - her father was an executive with Pan Am, and he counted Charles Lindbergh as a close friend. So no doubt her formative years were full of interesting experiences, which prepared her for marriage to Lowell Thomas Jr. 

She was an excellent writer as well - at the time of Only In Alaska's publication, she had written two other books and went on to write more - including one about that priestly pilot! 

As I reached the last chapter of the book, "Earthquake!", I realized I had read a portion of it before, in an old National Geographic  passed down from my late grandfather. Even as a kid of around 10 or so, I was struck by the vivid first-person account of the earthquake that hit Anchorage in March of 1964. The article had been written by Tay Thomas. 

According to her book, most of the "Earthquake" chapter had originally appeared in the July 1964 issue of National Geographic - the one I'd remembered reading as a kid. Her narrative was as riveting as I'd remembered from the magazine. The homes of the Thomases and many of their neighbors were destroyed, and two neighbor children were killed.

But this is really the only chapter in her book that describes great loss; overall this was a very entertaining read! Vivid descriptions of dramatic scenery, travel adventures via car or plane, drama, humor - this book kept my interest on every page. 

Thanks to the Internet, I can read up on authors to learn what they'd done since their book was published. As I'd already mentioned, I discovered that Tay Thomas had written more books and had been active in several organizations in Anchorage. She became the "2nd Lady" of Alaska when her husband became Lieutenant Governor in the mid 1970's. She died just last year at the age of 87. 

Lowell is still alive and is in his early 90's. Not surprisingly, after his foray into politics, he owned and operated Talkeetna Air Taxi, a bush flying service, in the 1980's. 

Remarkable people - no wonder Only In Alaska was such an enjoyable read!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thrifty Acres: Spring Fling

Hello! Spring has sprung, and with it thoughts of springtime home decor. 

I wanted a springlike wreath to decorate our front porch, as the wreath I'd hung outside for the winter has been (thankfully) packed away. I do have a wreath decked out with silk-flower tulips, but I like to wait until May and the local festival that honors that flower to hang it up. 

It's not May yet, though, so I pondered making some sort of wreath to display now. I began keeping my eye out for craft supplies at thrift stores, and I meant to browse Pinterest for ideas too. 

But before I bought any supplies or looked at Pinterest, I found a perfectly fine, springlike wreath at a thrift store last week:

How large is this wreath? Well, the base is an adult-size hula hoop, of all things, so it's fairly large. The base had been wrapped in something that's dark green; I think it's some paper twist stuff. But that green is barely noticeable, as the wrapping is covered with various silk flowers, silk leaves and lengths of tulle in several pastel colors. 

A close-up: 

A pretend daffodil with pale pink tulle behind it.

The use of a hula hoop for a wreath base may border on the tacky, but the variety of flowers and tulle colors make for a pretty look. And the price was right: two bucks. Even at thrift store prices, I might have spent just as much, if not more, on supplies to construct my own wreath, and of course would have had to spend time to make it too. I didn't mind that someone else had spent that time and money instead!

I also had spring in mind when I bought these during the same thrift store visit:

We have enough coffee mugs, but a couple of them have snowflake designs on them. I don't want to be reminded of snow this time of year, so I'll pack those mugs away for next winter and use these two instead. I liked the design, especially the one on the right. Its close-up is below:

Very pretty, I thought. 

The bottoms of these mugs are labeled "Norleans Korea". I wasn't familiar with this brand, but felt that these mugs looked 1970's-ish. According to eBay and Etsy, I was right. Perhaps because these mugs are vintage, some sellers are asking as much as ten dollars or more for a pair of them. Needless to say, I was happy I'd only paid 50c for my two. 

So now I'm set for spring with my "new" decorative items - too bad I can't say the same for my spring cleaning!


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Made It: Springtime Scrap Fabric Wreath

Hello! As seen in this post from last year, I'd made a wreath by cutting fabric scraps into strips and then tying them around a wire wreath form. The finished wreath, with its myriad colors, pleasantly dressed up our front porch last summer. 

Found another wire wreath form last week at a thrift store, so I thought it'd be fun to make another scrap fabric wreath. This time I would aim for a spring-like look by limiting the colors to green and pink. 

Here's the finished wreath:

This wreath, like the one I'd crafted last year, is 12" diameter. 

A close-up:

Even though I only used pinks and greens, there's still plenty of variety among the various prints and solids. I do enjoy playing with fabric, and also enjoy finding a use for scraps too small to do much else with. 

Now that I have a rotary cutter, I used that tool to trim the fabrics to 5" x 1 1/2" strips, though I've found it's okay if the strips vary a bit in size. This step is a bit laborious, but the tying step is fun to do. 

I did both the cutting and the tying while watching some of the NCAA tournament basketball games. I was too nervous, however, to watch my alma mater Michigan State makes its improbable run to the Final Four. No matter - this is a portable craft, so I took the wreath form and the fabric strips up to another room in our house.

And too late, after I'd already cut the fabric strips for the wreath, I realized I should have gone for a green and white color scheme to represent the school colors. Perhaps I'll find another thrift store wire wreath form sometime. 

But for now, I have my springtime wreath decorating our front porch, hopefully encouraging the natural colors of green grass and pink flowers to show up soon! 



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Made It: The MCC Comforter

In this post  from February I mentioned that in honor of my late mother and her massive pile of flannel scraps, I was going to make a comforter. The finished product would be given to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to pass along to someone in need. 

I was happy to find a worthy cause for my mom's fabric, especially since I started this project during a very cold, very snowy month. After all, I have my own house to keep me warm, whereas MCC distributes comforters to those who have lost their dwellings due to natural disasters or the ravages of war. Reflecting on this as I worked on the comforter made the bitter weather outside more bearable.

The making of this comforter also happened to coincide nicely with the duration of Lent. It didn't take me quite the proverbial 40 days from start to finish - I took a day off here and there if I was tired from shoveling mountains of snow, and I took a week off while we were out of town last month.

Anyway, Lent is almost over, so it was time to hand my comforter over to MCC. Here's how it looked before I sent it off:

As per MCC suggestions, the comforter filler is a blanket, and I used a sheet (twin size) for the backing. The layers were tied together where the corners of the squares met (again, the tying was part of the instructions). 

Close-up of some of the flannel squares:

MCC had requested that colorful fabrics be used, a reminder that these comforters are meant to warm the souls as well as the bodies of the recipients. I think that my mom's flannel stash fit the bill. 

I will readily admit that the finished comforter has several - uh - irregularities. The squares above line up together perfectly, which they're supposed to do, but this wasn't quite the case in other parts of the quilt. No, it's not like the squares are way out of alignment, but I'm sure a more skilled quilter would have had every corner of every square in perfect order. 

And let's just say that the blanket I used for the filler seemed to have a mind of its own, which caused some issues when it came time to sew the comforter layers together. I did my best, but the design of the comforter top became a little skewed on the top and bottom rows.

When I mailed the comforter off to the MCC Great Lakes regional office (Goshen, IN), I enclosed a note saying the irregularities were a reflection of my own inexperience, not a reflection of lack of concern for the recipient on my part. Surely the MCC folks have gotten better comforters - but maybe they've gotten worse ones as well. 

I think I still have enough of my mom's flannel to make another comforter, so that can be next winter's project. I think I've learned from my mistakes, though, and round 2 should go better!

Still, I'm glad I did it, and I think my mom would be glad too.