Monday, November 10, 2014

a full weekend

 Good Monday morning, friends! I hope you all had a lovely weekend.
Brian and I usually go out to dinner on Friday nights, but we decided to break out
of our little box this time and try something different. When I got an email
from a garden nursery and flower shop saying that they were hosting a wine tasting,
  I thought that'd be a fun thing to do on a Friday night. Especially since it was free!

There were wines from Washington, Spain, France, and Italy. Snacks were set out
in various places, too. Their indoor shop and greenhouses were all decked out
for Christmas. We stayed long enough just to sample some wines and food and walk
around admiring all the decor, but then we left. It was very crowded - hundreds of people -
which becomes a bit overwhelming for introverts like us.

I saw a tree like this last year at Pottery Barn - decorated with woodland

On Saturday, we took a day trip to Evanston. You've heard me talk about this town
before ~ it's the town Brian grew up in, right by Chicago. We love to explore the unique
shops, try new restaurants, and take a walk down by the lake (Lake Michigan). This time
we didn't go down to the lake due to lack of time - plus, it was quite cold! We ate lunch
at a Thai restaurant called Zoba. I had Pad Thai - which was OK. I've had much better.
Brian had the Crazy Noodles with shrimp, beef, and chicken. We ate with forks. Neither
one of us know how to use chopsticks. Tim learned when he was a kid and is still good
at using them. He's tried to teach me, but I still can't get the hang of it.

We were walking around trying to determine where to go next and I pulled out my
phone and used Yelp to find "nearby places". I clicked on shopping and a bookstore
came up. You don't have to ask me twice whether I want to go to a bookstore! All we
had to do was follow the footprints down an alley. 

 Turn a corner and there's Bookends and Beginnings. This is a "new" store ~ they took
 over what used to be Bookman's Alley. Bookman's Alley was an Evanston presence for 
over 33 years. The owner was 85 years old and closed the store due to his age, health,
and competition from online stores. Interestingly enough, the owner and this bookstore
made a presence in Audrey Niffenegger's book, The Time Traveler's Wife. You can 
read the story here  if you're interested.

I love these old buildings that are bookstores: shelves filled floor to ceiling with books...

and long aisles with scattered Oriental rugs.

This is where I spent most of my time: in the cookbook section. I was excited to find
that they had a lot of used cookbooks (at good prices) mixed in with the new. I found
out through the owner that a local man whose wife had recently passed away, donated
her cookbook collection (over 600 cookbooks!) to this store. Part of the proceeds are
being donated to a local music program for children.

Brian found the local and Chicago section and settled right in...

 Of course, our trip to Evanston wouldn't be complete without a visit to my favorite
vintage store, Secret TreasuresI found only one little treasure - which is fine since
I'm cutting down at bringing more "stuff" into my home.

This was my found treasure ~ a vintage nut grinder that still works!

 Another favorite store to browse in - Stumble and Relish.
 Even the little storefront is so inviting. This store is owned and operated
by a mother and daughter team. They have lots of unique gifts and beautiful
hand-crafted jewelry made by local artists.

Our last stop was Thee Fish Bowl pet shop to perhaps find a unique cat
toy for our kitties. The best part about going into this little store was being
able to see and pet the free-roaming animals. This is Will. He was so sweet.
I kneeled on the floor and petted and loved on him for awhile.

I don't know the name of this kitty, but I thought it was so beautiful, especially
with its golden eyes.

And this is Betty - the 70 lb. turtle from Africa. I'm kind of afraid of turtles, so I 
didn't touch her.

The weekend continued Sunday with my father-in-law and two of my sisters-in-law coming
to our house for a visit and us all going out for a meal. Father-in-law is in his early 80's and
 isn't doing too well, physically and mentally. I believe he has the beginning stages of
 dementia - and he knows it. So he wanted to talk to us about a few things before he
completely loses his memory. It's too bad he doesn't write some of these things down.

Well, that wraps up my weekend. Hope you found some time to have a little fun, too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

bits and pieces from comfy house

More of a random, mish-mosh of a post today. I've been on the run a lot lately and
haven't gotten much accomplished at home. I've also been dealing with a medical problem
(not the rotator cuff tear, but something else) that kinda of got swept under the rug this past 
year, but now came to light again. I received a ton of info today and will be going for a 
test and some treatments all within the next few weeks, so I'm feeling a little overwhelmed
by it all. I don't want to put too much personal information out here on my blog, but if you
want to know any of the details (and I'll warn you ahead of time: it's long), just send me a
private email (link to my email is in my profile) and I will share with you.

This past weekend, a friend of ours had a Halloween party and one of the games
we played was Bingo. On this round we were playing the coverall version, where you had
to cover every square. We ran out of official tokens, so we started looking around for what
we could use as tokens. At first we were using M&Ms, but everyone ended up
 eating them! Then we got desperate and used leftover candy corn, the white tops of the
 candy corn (which look like teeth!), and then we got really desperate and my friend 
found leftover party mints from her daughter's baby shower back in January.

Tim told me he needed a new pair of glittens - that the ones he bought last year got
chewed up by Mojo - one of his roommate's cute but naughty dog. I stopped at the store
where he got his pair last year and they had tons. I'm talking baskets and baskets full. They
had regular and fleece-lined and were very reasonably priced. I think I'm going to go back
and buy a pair for myself, too. This is just one of the times I'm glad I have a smartphone. I
picked out a few pairs that I thought he would like, took a photo and sent it to him via text
 so he could choose, and got his reply. He chose the red, black, and green ones. 

I filled up the bird feeder with seed now that weather is cold. It attracts mostly sparrows
and juncos, but this gorgeous red-bellied woodpecker has been visiting everyday, too.
I grabbed my DSLR camera and was able to get a decent photo through my living room
window. I love how he has a seed in his long beak.

I made a big pan of roasted vegetables the other day. I used broccoli, cauliflower,
turnips, butternut squash, red and white onion, fennel, red and orange peppers,
carrots and parsnips, and even a few pieces of leftover celery. It's a great way to use
 up any bits of leftover veggies. I tossed them all with a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil,
salt and pepper and popped in the oven at 350 degrees F. for about 40 minutes. I
opened the oven and stirred a couple of times while the veggies were roasting. The
great thing about this is that the veggies are so versatile. You can eat as is, make a
frittata (which I did the first night for dinner), make a rice or quinoa bowl, toss with
pasta or make veggie lasagna, put in a wrap, make veggie soup, veggie enchiladas,
or vegetarian pizzas.

 For a little something sweet, I baked this delicious pumpkin and dark chocolate cake
from Better Homes and Gardens magazine. When I bake, I indulge in just a little bit, then
either freeze the rest of send with Brian to work. This bread was delicious - and not
overly sweet because I cut back on the sugar in the recipe. The recipe calls for 1-1/4 
cups - way too much. I used 3/4 cup. Unfortunately, I only had regular white sugar in my
cabinet (poison, I know). I ran out of organic coconut sugar, which I had been using in
my baking. Shoot, who am I kidding...I just need to cut way back on sugar - period!
Well, if baking urge hits you and you're looking for a good recipe, here it is:

Thanks for your visit!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

the last few nice days

Two days ago - Monday - was probably the last nice (read: warm) day we'll have here
until next April. I decided to take advantage of it and go for a hike in a beautiful bog area
that's just an eight-minute drive from my house. If you've never walked on a boardwalk through
a bog, it's quite interesting. The path is a little shaky and wobbly since it's resting on top of 
water, so it's a little scary at first, but you get used to it. I had practically the whole place to
myself and I felt like I was transported into another world, walking through the tall grasses
and woods. I brought my new camera (the DSLR that Tim gave me) and decided to give
it a try using the automatic setting, not the manual. I previously tried the manual setting like
Tim suggested and let me tell you - my pictures were awful. I also have no idea what all those
buttons and dials and settings are for and how to use them, so I have a lot of learning to do.
And I do want to learn, because I love photography. I guess winter will be a good time to
use on-line tutorials and look at some books that I have.

At the end of my hike in a more open area, I came upon some gorgeous oak and maple
trees that still had their leaves. Most of the trees in my area - including the beautiful red
maple across the street at my neighbors house that I've showed you pictures of - have lost
all of their leaves already. 

I laid down on the grass under a big oak and daydreamed and let any stress
and worries just melt away. I almost fell asleep! How long has it been since you
laid under a tree? I highly recommend this free therapy.

This is what I don't recommend: moving furniture.

That was Sunday. I had the brilliant idea of trying to rearrange my living room.
I cleaned behind all the furniture while I was at it. The worst part was that once
I rearranged things, I didn't like how it looked, so everything needed to be moved
back to its original places. Good thing Brian was home from work by then because
I was worn out and my back was very sore. 

The daytime temperatures here are now in the 40's and 50's, but it goes down into
the low 30's at night. The extended forecast shows temps going down to 28 on Friday
night (poor kids and parents who will be trick-or-treating!) so yesterday we put my
rose bush to bed for the winter.

This photo was taken just five days ago. Yesterday, there were no blooms left at all.
Brian took dirt from our compost bin and mounded it under the bush. Next step will be
to cover it with leaves and put a wire or styrofoam cover over it. We still have a couple
of big planters with some flowers in them that are still somehow hanging on, but we
really need to dump them before we get a big freeze. I somehow feel like a plant murderer
when we have to do that. 

Happy Wednesday, everyone.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

the love of vintage runs in the family

I switched a few things around in the living room again.
Here's the before with the white stool and the small chests and lots of plants.
(My plans still stand to get rid of the black and white prints and put up a big 
shelf to use as a mantle.)

I took the large vintage suitcases that I was using beside the couch...

 and stacked them where the stool and smaller chests once were.

I'm now using my grandma's table as a side table where the large suitcases were. 
The lamp base belonged to my grandma, too.

 Speaking of family and their lovely vintage things, this past weekend we
visited extended family 2-1/2 hours south of us. We all connected the past
couple of years when my great-aunt was ill. Otherwise, I hadn't seen these
family members in about 35 years. We all gathered for lunch at a restaurant, then
went to my second cousin's house for dessert and talk. I'd never been to my
cousin's house out in the country. Her dad - my great-uncle -  used to own an antique
 store (and he still sells antique furniture in a booth at a store) and I knew  she sold 
vintage items on eBay and etsy, so I wasn't surprised that her house was filled with 
beautiful antique furniture and vintage collectibles.

This was one of my favorite pieces - a library card catalog cabinet.

 Another favorite was this curio cabinet-desk. I love the curved glass of the cabinet
and the leaded glass above the desk area.

A vintage bread board was filled with pumpkins and gourds from my cousin's property
 and used as a centerpiece. 

 I don't have one favorite decorating style ~ I also like contemporary, mid-century
modern, cottage, and a little farmhouse and french country ~ but vintage will always
have my heart.

Sharing this post at Cozy Little House: Tweak it Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

comfort in a bowl ~ soup recipes for those chilly autumn nights

Day two of gloomy, gray skies and rain. Blech. I'm one of those people who's affected
by the weather both physically and mentally. Give me a sunshiny day and I'm cheerful and
motivated and full of energy. Gloomy days? Something usually hurts more than usual on
this middle-aged body and I feel lazy and blah. 

I find myself craving soup in this kind of weather. I love the process of making it, too.
There's something cathartic about mindfully chopping vegetables. Then there's the
fragrance filling the kitchen as the onions, garlic, and celery saute on the stovetop. And
finally, the whole house fills with the aroma of simmering soup. Ever walk into a house
where soup is simmering on the stove? It smells like comfort. It smells like home.

The first recipe I'm sharing with you is one of my family's favorite, tried-and-true classic
soups: Pasta E Fagioli. It's hearty and delicious, makes great leftovers, and is easy
to make. Recipe below.

  (Recipe from cookbook, Full Of Beans)

2 T. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta or bacon, minced (sub vegetarian Canadian 
bacon or omit entirely, if vegetarian)
1-1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T. crumbled dried leaf sage or 2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
5 c. chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 16-oz. can Italian-style chopped tomatoes with juice
(or use plain canned chopped tomatoes & add your own Italian seasonings)
3 c. drained cooked white beans such as cannellini or Great Northern
3/4 c. small dried pasta such as ditalini or tubetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large, heavy soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta
(or bacon) and cook until the fat is rendered but not browned, about 8 minutes.
Add the onion and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the
vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, and red pepper flakes
and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, tomatoes, and beans. Bring to a boil over high
heat, add the pasta, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook uncovered until the pasta
is al dente, about 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt, if necessary. (Leftovers
can be kept for a couple of days in the refrigerator and reheated, but if making the
soup ahead, don't cook the pasta until shortly before serving. It tends to absorb liquid
and become soggy as it stands.) Ladle into bowls and top with freshly grated cheese.


Another great thing about making soup is that it's so adaptable. I make up a lot of my
own recipes. Basically, if you have basic staples on-hand such as broth, vegetables
(fresh, canned, frozen), tomatoes (fresh or canned), any kind of pasta or grain, and if
you wish - some kind of protein such as beans or leftover chicken - you can make soup.

My yoga teacher mentioned last week that she made up a recipe for Mexican Chicken
Soup. I told her to tell me the basics of what she put in it - and here's what I came up
with. I love to make up my own recipes and with soup, it's easy to do so.


2 T. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 poblano peppers, coarsely chopped
1 cubanelle pepper, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1-2 tsp cumin (start out with 1 tsp, taste - add more to your liking)
1 T. chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
5 c. chicken broth
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1 c. frozen corn
Juice of 2 limes
Fresh cilantro

In a large, heavy soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion,
celery, poblano peppers, cubanelle pepper, and carrots. Cook over medium
heat for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add the garlic, cumin, chili
powder, and oregano and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, chicken, and frozen
corn and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes or until all the flavors come together.
Right before serving, add the juice of two limes into the pot of soup and stir. Ladle into
bowls. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

 Nom nom ~ enjoy!

Sharing with Cozy Little House - Tweak it Tuesday.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

just a few treasures ~ and the reason why

Remember how I used to frequently show you all my latest thrifting treasures?
Notice I haven't done that lately?
There's a good reason: I've only purchased a few goodies in 2-1/2 months!

Here's the few things I've found at Goodwill since the beginning of August.
(I found a beautiful light blue Laura Ashley cardigan and olive corduroy jacket
from the Gap at the local Savers right before it went out of business, but I 
normally don't take photos of clothes.)
I'm a big fan of Lisa Lill Studio handbags. She's a local Chicago designer.
This small velvet handbag will be perfect for dressier fall occasions. 

 I've been carrying this heavy cotton Lisa Lill bag this fall and love how it's
casual, sturdy, and pretty. I've gotten lots of compliments on it. There's nothing
like pretty bags ~ especially when they only cost $5!

 These lovely plates were only 99 cents each. They'll be pretty on the kitchen
table in the summer.

 Many years ago, my aunt gave me this August teacup for my birthday.
I was thrilled to find the matching plate last month!

 Of course, I couldn't pass up this cute, colorful kitty print. It's hanging in the 
main bath.

 Love these pretty teacups and saucers made by Grand Duchess Taste Setter
 by Sigma (Japan). 

 So...there's a reason I haven't been thrifting much. When you've lived in the same house
for over 24 years and you've raised two kids in that house, you accumulate a lot of stuff.
When my friend moved this summer, I saw how much stuff she had to (and wanted to) get
rid of. She said it was very freeing, and I believe it. I know how good it feels to get certain
spaces cleaned out and to let some of that clutter go. I was determined to stop bringing
in so much "stuff" and to continue decluttering ~ especially my messy basement. I just
donated 14 bags of miscellaneous household items, books, and clothing yesterday.

Here's the neighbor's maple tree today. Such beauty.

 Happy almost-weekend!