Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Fabric Sample Books

Hello! There's an interior design business on one of our downtown blocks, and it participates in the downtown's summer sidewalk sales. More often than not, the shop sells discontinued fabric sample books during this event. I scooped up five large sample books at this year's sidewalk sale, which set me back all of $2.50 total.

Spent some time over the weekend deconstructing these books. Typically, the assembly is a heavy cardboard back, a heavy cardboard front flap, and fabric samples stapled in between these pieces. To take apart these books, I pulled the front flaps up as much as I could, which exposed the heavy-duty staples. I pried the staples out by inserting the tip of a screwdriver underneath them, then pulled up on the screwdriver to lift them up. I could have used pliers if the staples had been especially stubborn, but I didn't need to. 

Then it was simply a matter of pulling the fabric samples apart and sorting them by color. Here's some of what I got:

And a few close-ups:

These are decent-sized pieces; they range from 23"x16" to 17"x17" to 11 1/2"x17". I have a home decor project in mind for these fabrics, and what's left over can be turned into cloth napkins, placemats and whatever else I may think of. 

These decorating fabrics were all very expensive if bought the usual way - the prices in the back of the books ranged from 85 dollars/yard to over 200 dollars/yard.  Yow! 

Since these fabric pieces are samples, not every inch is usable - there's paper labels adhered to a small portion of the backs. Some of these labels are wide enough that I just cut them away and turn them into bookmarks, like this one:

Very simple to do!

My sample books came from two different home decor fabric houses, but both sets came with more than just fabrics:

Above, one group of books had some of the fabrics printed onto off-white card stock. Sizes range from 11 1/2"x13" to 5 1/2"x6 1/4"to 3 1/2"x6 1/4". All the pieces are blank on the other side, so these could be cut down to make into cards or gift enclosure cards. 

The designs are quite pretty too:

The butterfly design is printed on one of the largest pieces. It would look nice cut down to fit in a small frame. 

Instead of printed paper versions of the fabrics, the other company chose to include large glossy pages showing its fabrics in use as pillows, curtains and upholstery. (I shudder to think how much curtains or a sofa would cost if using some of that $200/yard fabric!). 

I've begun to use some of these pages to make envelopes:

I've seen directions for making envelopes that call for taking apart a commercial envelope and tracing around it for a template. However, I've always used this kit:

I purchased it back in the early 1990's, when most folks didn't have email and texting wasn't heard of. Letters were still a common form of communication. My late mother used to enjoy getting them from me, sent in my handmade envelopes. She kept every letter and every handmade envelope in a basket in her living room.
Alas, with the advent of the Internet and cellphones, I don't write letters as much as I used to, but still can't resist using The Envelope Mill kit to make pretty envelopes like the one above.

Pretty fabrics, pretty papers, and all at a low, low price - I'm certainly glad we have an interior design business that participates in the town's sidewalk sales! 

Your town's sidewalk sales may very well not include fabric sample books. However, I've occasionally seen them at thrift stores and garage sales. I don't know if asking interior design firms about discontinued sample books would yield anything, but it couldn't hurt to try.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Eats: A Big Batch Of Berry Cream Muffins

Hello! Do you need a big batch of muffins for a bake sale or a brunch? Or maybe you have room in your freezer and want to stash some extra muffins there.

If so, may I suggest Berry Cream Muffins? I baked them last night for a brunch party at a neighbor's this morning. They were easy to make and delicious. What more do you need in a muffin recipe? 

Berry Cream Muffins (adapted from clipped recipe attributed to a Linda Gilmore of Hampstead, Maryland, but I'm not sure of the source. It might be from a Taste Of Home publication.)

4 cups all-purpose flour (see notes below)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups fresh or frozen raspberries or blueberries (I used the latter)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream (see notes below)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add berries and toss lightly. In another mixing bowl, combine eggs, sour cream, vegetable oil and vanilla; mix well. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until muffins test done. Yield: about 24 standard-size muffins.(see notes below)

Notes: I used half white wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. I used full-fat sour cream, but I'm sure these would be fine with reduced-fat sour cream as well. 

I filled my muffin cups two-thirds full (or maybe even a little fuller than that). After I'd filled my two dozen muffin cups, I still had batter left over. I'd read somewhere that it's okay to refrigerate muffin batters, so I tried that. I baked the rest of the muffin batter this morning, and thus I ended up with a total of 31 muffins. 

I'd consider that a big batch of berry muffins! And here's how they turned out:

I think these turned out great! They're not as sweet as some muffins are; with all those blueberries, who needs a ton of sugar? 

Some of the muffins went to the brunch party, and what was left went into our freezer. Win-win!


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Get Carded: A Milestone Birthday

Hello! Our daughter had her birthday earlier this summer, and the milestone one of turning 21 at that. But with her out-of-state summer job, our family vacation, and several days of leadership training she needed to do for her upcoming school year job, we didn't get around to celebrating her birthday until yesterday. 

Of course, I'd made a greeting card for the occasion. I often make whimsical cards for her and my husband, but I crafted a more sedate card this time:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • black/gold star patterned art paper
  • pink-toned paint chip
  • dress, purse, high heel shoes: scrapbook embellishment set; purchased at sample sale several years ago for a fraction of what this set would have cost at retail
  • "happy birthday" stamped in black ink
A couple of close-ups:


A very nice card, if I say so myself! 

I do enjoy designing whimsical cards for my family, but there's times when a pretty card is fine too. This was one of those times, I felt.

Happy (delayed) Birthday to a great girl!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fly/Drive Vacation 2016: #2

Hello! In today's post, I'll recount the 2nd half of our recent summer vacation. (Part 1 was covered in my preceding post). 

Day 5: We were only traveling from Omaha, NE to West Des Moines, IA today, so we lingered in our hotel room long enough to grab an early lunch at Los Portales a couple of miles away. Good tacos and great salsas! (I do enjoy a good, home-style salsa).

Not only did this restaurant get good reviews on Yelp, but it was on the way to Lauritzen Gardens. We like to visit botanical gardens (our daughter, the museum frowner, even likes them) and the 100-acre Lauritzen Gardens didn't disappoint. 

There was a  lot to see, but I managed only a couple of pictures:

Chenille plants inside the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory.

A train on the move in the Model Railroad Garden. I'm a sucker for small-scale installations such as this. I could have watched those trains going around and around the layout all day.

I didn't, of course - I also viewed the Children's Garden, the Garden of Memories, the Herb Garden, the English Perennial Border, and more. If you like botanical gardens, then Laurizten Gardens is a can't-miss if you visit Omaha. 

Next to the Gardens' parking lot is a set of steep stairs that lead up to Kenefick Park. At the top of the steps are two locomotives  and many signs that explain the history of Union Pacific Railroad. There's also a great view of the Missouri River, with the I-80 bridge spanning it. And on that bridge was the state line sign for Iowa, our next stop on the trip. 

Stopped in West Des Moines; we were back to our usual hotel-in-a-strip plaza location. As expected, my husband, the craft beer lover, championed dinner at Draught 50. Since it was a scant block away (if even that) from our hotel, I acquiesced. Wasn't expecting much from the menu, but my Philly Steak flatbread sandwich was better than anticipated, and we had a very friendly waitress too.

There was plenty of shopping in the area, although some stores had already closed for the day (it was Sunday evening). We did find a Trader Joe's, a TJ Maxx and an Orange Leaf fro-yo place open, and purchases were made at each stop.

Day 6: Another day of sightseeing ahead of us! After several previous trips through Iowa, I finally convinced my husband to stop in Pella, settled by the Dutch in 1847. He had never wanted to go there because we also live in a town settled by that same ethnic group, the same year. But I was curious to see how Dutch-American life is interpreted by the folks in Pella. 

The downtown was very quaint, but as we had other stops to make, we ate lunch at the Windmill Cafe (solid diner-style meals) there and  then just looked around a bit. We didn't do the town justice at all, but at least I could say at last I got to go there! 

A few pics:


This looks much like DeZwaan, the windmill on Windmill Island in Holland, MI. There's a difference though: Pella's Vermeer windmill is a reproduction, whereas ours is an actual Dutch windmill, dismantled over there, then shipped and put back together here. Both windmills are working grain mills; one can buy bags of flour produced from them. 

I spied Vermeer's milled flour for sale at the nearby visitor's center where, funnily enough, the woman we talked to had the same opinion about visiting Holland, MI as my husband had about touring Pella: like him, she didn't feel the need to visit another Dutch-oriented town. LOL.

One advantage Pella has over Holland - there are two bakeries downtown; in fact, they are on the same block. One of them, Jaarsma Bakery, is very well-known, and had the crowds to prove it. So I stopped into the other one:

Its offerings weren't as extensive as at Jaarsma, but they had Dutch letters for sale too, so I bought a small one. It was delicious! In case you don't know what they are, Dutch letters are rich pastries with an almond filling. 

Examples of architecture in downtown Pella.

I would have been happy to spend more time in Pella, but my husband wanted to check out Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. I wasn't quite sure why, but he's a college professor and thus likes to see what other campuses look like. So we drove up there and walked around a bit. It's a pretty campus and Grinnell is highly regarded for its liberal arts curriculum. 

The rest of the town didn't look like much, but at least I was rewarded with a purchase at the used book sale room in the town's public library: Richard J. Perry's The Good Home Cookbook. This is the sort of cookbook I enjoy: good old-fashioned cooking, with the history of many of the recipes included. But instead of the vague directions typical with older recipes, more detailed steps are included. I skimmed through it once we got back home and was happy I'd gotten it. 

Speaking of food, we drove on to Iowa City and ate at Augusta, near the edge of downtown. We've eaten at Augusta several times already, but at its former location in the village of Oxford. The owners made the move to Iowa City earlier this year, as it had become a struggle to thrive in Oxford's off-the-beaten-track location.
I missed the charm of the Oxford restaurant decor: mismatched chairs, tables, place settings. Even the salt and pepper shaker sets and flower vases were different from one table to the next. In the Iowa City location, everything matches. But the menu was the same Iowa/New Orleans blend(the owners once lived in the latter city). 

I stuck to the Iowa side and got a pork tenderloin sandwich. It is a huge thing, with the breaded meat sticking way out all around the sandwich bun. I only ate half of it and saved the rest for breakfast the next day. My husband went New Orleans with a shrimp po-boy sandwich, and our daughter ordered the grilled chicken club. The food was just as good as always and I highly recommend Augusta. 

College towns can be sleepy in the summer, but downtown Iowa City was hopping! Since it was after dinnertime on a Monday night, a few businesses were closing, but we had time to browse in Akar Architecture and Design. This is an artsy-style gift shop. I confess, I've yet to buy anything here in a couple of visits, but that doesn't mean I haven't been sorely tempted. In fact, I visited Akar this time to specifically buy something I'd seen there during my last visit. Alas, they no longer carried the item, so I couldn't buy it. 

Our last stop of the day was our hotel in Cedar Rapids. We've yet to do anything in this town other than stay at a hotel; this is due to always spending time in the Iowa City area. But sometime I'd love the visit the National Czech and Slovak Museum there. My husband's ethnic background is 1/4 Czech and 3/4 Slovak, so it'd be interesting to learn more about his heritage. 

Day 7: A return trip to Galena, IL, which we had visited twice last year. Both times we had to deal with very congested Saturday crowds. Galena is an old town with narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks, so navigating in car and on foot was challenging. Today's excursion was on a Tuesday, so we were hoping for lesser crowds.

And that we had - but didn't realize that many of the restaurants are either only open for dinner on Tuesdays, or aren't open at all. We understand that restauranteurs need time off after busy weekends, but had thought Monday would be the day off. One shop owner told us restaurants in one end of town take Monday off, while Tuesdays are for restaurants on the other end of the town to be closed. That may be true, but it seemed like we saw more closed than open places for lunch at both ends of town. But eventually we found the open Victory Cafe and ate there - another solid, diner-style place. 

We didn't have much time to shop in Galena since my husband wanted to get to our hotel in the Chicago area before rush hour hit. This was too bad, since the lack of congestion meant it was much easier to see what was in the stores. (some of the most popular stores get so crowded on peak tourism days, you can barely get in them). I did buy some fun craft supplies at Ink And Stamp With Sue - and had a hard time limiting myself to what I bought! It's a cool place if you're into rubber stamping, scrap booking and many other paper-related creative pursuits. 

Our final night on vacation was spent at a hotel in Hoffman Estates. From there, we headed over to The Lucky Monk for dinner. (my husband always seem to find a local brewpub every place we stay). Although noisy with after-work get-togethers, I liked the artwork that represented the beers made there, and the menu was decent. I got the mini taco plate, which meant I had room to split a very decadent brownie sundae with our daughter. Hey, it's vacation after all!

Of course, it was back to reality the next day when we returned home: dirty laundry to deal with, mail to go through, garden to water (it hadn't rained here while we were out of town), and a very upset cat who didn't appreciate our absence. But we'd had a very good time, and I hope you had a good time "traveling" with us!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fly/Drive Vacation 2016: #1

Hello! My family recently returned from a fly/drive summer vacation that took us to Denver and back. I'll summarize what we did and saw along the way. 

Day 1: We flew from the Gerald Ford International airport in Grand Rapids MI. Although this airport is close to where we live, this is the first time I'd flown from it. Usually we drive to Chicago for lower fares, but this time a non-stop flight to Denver had competitive pricing.

I'm a wimp when it comes to flying, but our flight was on time and had no turbulence. Can't ask for better than that! In a little over two hours we were on the ground in Denver. 

Unlike the Ford, Denver's airport was very crowded, so I had little chance to view the bizarre artwork there. Did see the mural in which a person wearing a gas mask is prominently featured. And as our shuttle bus was leaving the airport, I saw the large blue horse sculpture, eyes glowing red. I don't take stock in all the conspiracy theories that abound about the Denver airport (if you're not aware of these theories, you can search the Internet), but there's no denying that the murals and the horse statue look creepy. 

An online car rental booking gone wrong (Hertz' fault, not ours) led us around and around southeast Denver, but eventually things got resolved and we could relax in our hotel after dinner at a local Mexican joint, Las Caras. Very good salsas came with our taco orders.

Day 2: Why is it that my husband and daughter aren't affected by jet lag but I am? I woke up at 5 am, but that gave me time to look over some travel info for planning our day. Our daughter doesn't care for museums, which is what we might have done in Denver had she not been with us. 

Or we might have gone to Rocky Mountain National Park, but an early starting time is suggested due to the probability oafternoon thunderstorms. Since my husband and daughter were still slumbering, this excusion didn't look likely either.

But eventually we decided on nearby Boulder. As we approached that city we could see the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park looming behind it. That's as close as we got to the mountains this time, but it was still fun viewing them from a distance. 

We began our visit with lunch at Falafel King, located in the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall. After that, we ducked in and out of the many shops in this mall. Didn't buy anything, but greatly enjoyed window shopping. There were street performers too. 

Above, a street performer is playing and singing a Bob Dylan song while hanging upside down. Quite a feat!

Storefronts along the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall.

Statue in the pedestrian mall. 

Since we didn't get a chance to do any mountain trail hiking, we decided to walk a portion of a trail along Boulder Creek, also in town. This creek is prone to flooding (due to those aforementioned mountain thunderstorms), but no such issues today. We saw a number of people enjoying a pleasant summer day strolling along the path or tubing on the creek. 

Boulder seemed to be a cool, laid-back city with a funky vibe. I'd definitely return for a visit! 

Dinner was at Pho 63, back in Denver near our hotel. Nothing spectacular, but we'd done a fair amount of walking this day and so wanted a low-key meal. Later on, chatted with a Canadian couple in the hotel hot tub; interesting to hear their perspective on the current state of the US political scene!

Day 3: Eastward ho! Time to start heading back home, with the destination of North Platte, Nebraska for the night. I drove most of this stretch and let me tell you, driving through northeastern Colorado is certainly no Rocky Mountain high! The only thing I saw of interest was a prairie dog running across the road shortly after we left the greater Denver area. It was the first time I'd ever seen a prairie dog outside of a zoo, so I enjoyed that. 

But otherwise, driving from Denver to North Platte along the interstates is very boring, but it can't be helped. Got to get from Point A to Point B somehow! We were hoping for interesting things to see around North Platte, as it's a "big city" for its region, but the downtown looked rather dead. I should add that it was after dinner when we drove through it, so that likely didn't help. 

The Fort Cody Trading Post attraction was next to our hotel, but we didn't go there. It might have been worth it, but instead we headed to Whiskey Creek restaurant, also next to our lodging. This is a small chain with steakhouse-type foods. Nothing fancy, but the food was solid (I had a chicken tenders dinner) and we had a friendly waitress.

(Lunch, btw, was an early one in Denver at a Qdoba. The reason for stopping there was that it was close to a See's candy store. See's is always worth a visit in our book!)

Besides that pleasant dinner, North Platte redeemed itself by having a decent Goodwill store. Our daughter and I bought some tops, and I also bought a local community cookbook and a cool vintage interior decorating book that will be great fun to look through. "Souvenir" shopping at its cheapest and best! (IMO anyway.)

Day 4: The eastern third of Nebraska is much more settled than the rest of the state. Lunched at a Subway in Kearney, drove past Lincoln, the state capitol, then reached our destination, a Homewood Inn at the edge of downtown Omaha. We usually stay at hotels on the edges of big cities, or in the suburbs of those cities, so downtown lodging was a novelty for us. The location worked in our favor, as the Hot Shops Art Center was just a stone's throw away. 

This center is a collection of studios and gallery spaces housed in an old warehouse-type building. According to the Omaha Visitors Guide, the "hot shops" refer to glassblowing, pottery, bronze casting and blacksmithing, but we also saw examples of jewelry making, quilting, photography, sculptures and more. I took some photos:

I miss our cat while we're on vacation, so I took a pic of this painting. 

An art quilt. 

Small sculptures, based on the painted examples near their feet. 

I took a close-up of this one, which was titled "Cyborge Catwoman", because of the stories our daughter wrote and illustrated when she was younger. Her tales were based on our cat's imaginary kingdom - and her accompanying drawings of our cat looked very much like this!

Do you have a bunch of doodads in a junk drawer and old plastic toys from your kids? Then you can make this:

A close-up:

I didn't study the particulars of the assembly, but it looks like some sort of mounting board, an adhesive and metallic spray paint were used. 

This sign was outside a studio. Since the artist wasn't around, I deleted her name and contact info from the sign, but kept the reason for taking a photo of it: the word "recyclopath". Don't know if that's a made-up word the artist coined, but I like the sound of it!

A series of doggie portraits, based on pet photos people had submitted to the artist. If I remember correctly, this is an ongoing series to be completed over the course of this summer.

Most of the studios were empty, so we had to content ourselves with viewing the works posted on the walls outside these workspaces. This surprised me, as it was a Saturday. I'd assumed that the artists would have workweek jobs elsewhere and would be in their studios at night or on the weekends. But one artist who was in her studio said that for many of the artists there, their studio work is their fulltime gig. So hats off to Omaha for supporting the artists of the Hot Shops Art Center!

Another open studio:

I liked the colors in this quilt. The artist was busily sewing away on more patches, but was happy to chat. She's recovering from hand surgery, so has to use her non-dominant arm for cutting and sewing - hence, the simple piecing shown above. She had more complicated, pre-surgery works on display as well, but I admired her for perservering in spite of her cast!

After our tour of the Hot Shops Art Center, we headed over to a nearby restaurant, Blatt Beer and Table, for dinner. The place was hopping with aging baby boomers enjoying food and drink in advance of the Journey/Doobie Brothers concert at Century Link Center, a block away. It was amusing when a concert vendor strolled through the eatery, literally pulling t-shirts from underneath his shorts to sell to willing concert goers. 

(Eventually he came over to me but I told him no thanks, I'll stick to my memories of the Journey concert I attended in 1978.)

Because of the concert crowd, a much smaller menu than usual was on offer that night. I was fine with the Southern-style chicken sandwich I'd ordered. A harried waitstaff meant we had to wait awhile for both food and bill, but we weren't in a hurry and understood the delays. 

Since it was a pleasant evening, we strolled over to the Old Market  commercial district, which was busy with shoppers and diners alike. Easy to see why - restored vintage buildings, brick streets and lots of places to while away a few hours and more than a few bucks. We did make a couple of stops in this part of town:

Above, a chocolate malt from Ted & Wally's ice cream shop. As the sign on the napkin holder shows, it recently was awarded "best ice cream" in a local reader's choice survey. Prices are a little high, but we all enjoyed our ice cream treats very much. This store is known for its unusual flavors, but we stuck to traditional flavors like Dutch chocolate, mint chip and vanilla bean. Only a few flavors are offered at a time anyway, since this shop makes small batches  the old-fashioned way: rock salt and ice are used to harden their ice cream bases. 

Kitty-corner from Ted & Wally's are these businesses:

Fairmount Antiques & Mercantile/Hollywood Candy. Unfortunately, I only had a little time to browse around this place, which was a shame because it looked like a lot of fun. The Hollywood Candy section had tons of candies, including a big by-the-pound area. That "by-the-pound" price was rather high, but it would have been fun to fill a bag with some of the retro candies. There's a small restaurant near one end of the candy area too. This part of the building was crawling with people, mostly families with small children. 

Beyond the edibles was the antiques section. Would have loved to explore it; the couple of booths I wandered in seemed to have reasonable prices. I definitely think this building would be worth a return visit!

But speaking of return, it was time to return to our hotel; we'd been gone from it over four hours by this point. Think we walked close to six miles all told during that time. And in all that time and distance, we did not see an single panhandler on the streets, which is unusual for cities these days. 

In my next post I'll recap the rest of our trip. 




Saturday, August 6, 2016

Made It: ICAD 2016

Hello! As anticipated in this post, I participated in ICAD (Index Card A Day)during June and July. Since these two months are now over, it's now time to show off some of my efforts. 

Small-scale projects like ICAD are ideal for exploring new techniques and new art supplies, but on time-crunched days I stuck to familiar techniques and supplies. Either way, it's all good! 

Created the day after my dad died: a photocopy of a WWII pic of him and a military plane; both accented with gold glitter glue. The photocopy was mounted on an index card stamped with a swirly black ink design.

Thrift store stencils that pay homage to my love of both dogs and cats. The stencils were used to cut out words and shapes from vintage cookbook pages to which I'd added paint. 

I love to read as well, so affixed a poem about reading (vintage ephemera found in a thrift store book I'd purchased)onto an index card. "READ" was made with stamps from a vintage printing set, but the hand image was created from a newer stamp. 

Goofy collage: vintage paper, rubber-stamped eye image, vintage matchbook and more. 

Not as goofy a collage:

Bird shape cut from scrapbook paper, affixed to paint-patterned vintage cookbook page. The saying reads: "More important than length of life is how we spend each day." These words of wisdom were cut from a vintage cookbook. Doesn't everyone get words of wisdom from a cookbook?

And from Albert Einstein: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." 

Above, an image of a man was painted over, then cut out and glued onto a background cut from an old chart. This chart had been used to protect the surface of my studio work table from stray marks of paint, rubber stamp ink and other art supplies. Over time, enough drips, splatters and the like turned the chart into an art paper of sorts. 

"The Power To Change Lives" was cut from a magazine. And what has such power? The answer is the rubber-stamped image next to the man image: a heart with the word "love" within it. 

One last ICAD effort shown off:

For this one, I started with an index card stamped with a design in blue ink. I glued on an old Kenya Airways boarding pass, then added the words "In flight" and "flying" (both cut from vintage books). The boarding pass was another stuck-in-a-thrift-store-book find. I love such "forgotten bookmarks".

Obviously this is a small sampling from my ICAD works. Yes, I did a lot of collage, but I also drew, made lists, experimented with paints, painting tools, colored pencils and more. It was a lot of fun, and I was a little sorry when the two months were up. But now I have 61 new mini art projects to enjoy!