Wednesday, April 19, 2017

midweek this and that

Hello friends ~ I hope it doesn't seem too far off where I begin talking about last weekend. Saturday started out with our washing machine dying. The serviceman said it was the transmission. We asked his opinion if the machine was worth fixing - it's about 12 years old - and he said no. I'm not surprised we needed a new washing machine after 12 years: I do a lot of laundry.

The good news was that the serviceman had a few refurbished washing machines at his shop. I didn't want anything fancy. All I need is a gentle and regular cycle, warm and cold water, and small - large settings. And no digital, please. To me that means more stuff that can break and bigger repair bills. We chose a refurbished Whirlpool machine that was only a few years old and met my simple criteria - for only $175. That included delivery and hauling our old machine away. Before our machine was delivered, we went to the laundrymat to do our laundry. It's been years since I've been in a laundrymat. I've always found these places a little depressing. They look so tired. There was one lone older gentleman in there. You can see him in the middle of the picture. He never moved a muscle and stared straight ahead the entire time. 

We didn't waste any time in the laundrymat, as yard work beckoned. I haven't been able to do much because of my knee (meniscus surgery), back (pulled a muscle a couple of weeks ago), and shoulder (impingement). Jeez, I sound like an old lady! ;-) And with Brian working most days and many long hours, we have to grab yard work time wherever we can get it. Brian and Tim worked hours raking the yard and the garden beds. I planted pansies (hooray for cheerful spring flowers!), and uncovered the patio furniture and got it set up. It still needs to be power-washed, but in the meantime, it will do.

Sunday was Easter. It was just the three of us, plus my mom at our house. I bought an uncured (nitrate-free) spiral ham, and also made cheesy potatoes (no nasty, chemical and sodium-laden canned soup in this recipe), honey-glazed carrots with thyme and lemon, and asparagus with a Dijon vinaigrette. A low-key, not-much-fuss dinner with mild weather where we were able to sit out on the patio after our meal and relax and talk.


Spring has truly sprung here in the Midwest. With warmer temps and lots of rain, the landscape has come to life once again. The vinca is showing off its little purple flowers...

hostas are almost completely unfurled...

lilacs will burst into bloom any time now...

clematis has come back to life...

and my neighbor's cherry tree is so beautiful right now, that I had to walk down the street and take a photo.

In other little bits of news, I'm still working on cleaning out my books. I now have 11 bags of books to donate! I contacted one local library so far, and am dropping off five of the bags of books tomorrow for their Friends of the Library book sale. On my last post, someone had commented about getting rid of books after they've read them. I do indeed do that - unless it's a non-fiction book that I know I'll be referring back to. These books that I'm getting rid of are ones I haven't even read yet! Several years ago, I had a friend over and she was looking at all my bookcases. She said, "You'll never be able to read all these books before you die!" I think she'd be proud of my cleaning-out efforts.

Happy Wednesday. Have a blessed rest-of-the-week.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

spring amazements and a big project

This weekend, I went to one of my favorite local garden centers to look around. When I walked into this greenhouse, I stopped in my tracks and smiled. One thing's for sure: When you live in an area that has long, cold, gray winters, it sure makes you happy to see color and flowers again.

I didn't rush and buy any flowers yet though as I knew I wouldn't be able to plant them this week. And right now, all I want to plant is some pansies and they were overpriced at this garden center.

What I did buy? ONE succulent.

Remember the vintage planter I got a couple of weekends ago at an antique shop?
It was calling for a succulent.

If you're wondering about the piece of art in the background...that's a metal and wood plaque by the contemporary American artist, Nancy Thomas. I found it in Goodwill many years ago.

I am amazed by what is blooming or coming out of the ground every day. One day the hostas were barely poking out of the ground and two days later, the leaves were already unfurling.

Today I was walking around my yard and I found these beautiful daffodils in bloom. A couple of days ago, they were merely green stalks.

And rhubarb! That appeared practically overnight, too.

 I had physical therapy this morning (and oh, by the way, I saw the orthopedic dr yesterday for my six week checkup and he didn't like how my knee and leg are still I started a prescription anti-inflammatory that will hopefully get that swelling down...and lucky me got another month of PT tacked onto my schedule, too), and this afternoon decided to start a big project.

As most of you know, I'm an avid reader and love my book collection. I have books in every room of my home except for the bathrooms. Downstairs in my family room, I have three big bookcases and two small ones. I also have big wicker baskets full of books because I have no more room left in the bookcases. Well, I decided to tackle the books today. Monkey was absolutely thrilled by this prospect.

I started with the first bookcase and cleared off the half the shelves, starting at the bottom. I carried those approximately 150 books upstairs (lots of trips) and piled them on the kitchen table. I looked up each book on amazon to see the average reader review. Anything less than four stars, I didn't keep it. After that, I decided which ones to list on paperbackswap and which ones to donate to my local library for their Friends of the Library book sale.

I ended up listing 44 books on paperback swap and bagging up another 47 to donate to the library. The remainder were the ones I kept.

Look - I already have empty bookshelves! My goal is to finish this first bookshelf by this weekend. I have a loong way to go, but this is a start.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter - if I don't talk to you all by Sunday!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

citrus cakelets

I rarely bake these days since we try not to eat sugar and white flour ~ though once in awhile I'll bake a healthy treat that uses pure maple syrup and almond or oat flour.

But when I saw this recipe for Olive Oil Cakelets in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune, I had to try them. I know the title of this post says Citrus Cakelets, not Olive Oil Cakelets. But since these little cakes have citrus in them and the word citrus sounds much prettier than olive oil, I call them Citrus Cakelets. ;-)

 I made them with fresh lemon...and let me tell you, they are were (we ate them all) phenomenal!

Just look at the inside of one of these cakelets: so airy and moist.

Without any further ado, here's the recipe. Go make them. But do yourself a favor and double the recipe. This recipe only makes five cakelets (muffin tin). The recipe says it makes six, but I filled my paper liners to near the top. 

1/2 cup plus 3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar (I used organic cane sugar & used a little less than 1/2 c)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
6 T milk
1 large egg
1/2 tsp citrus zest
2 T citrus juice
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 c sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350F. Place 6 free-standing paper cups on a baking sheet or line 6 cups in a muffin pan with paper baking cups. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, milk, egg, citrus zest, citrus juice and almond extract. Add to dry ingredients; stir just until combined. 

Divide batter evenly between cups. Top each cakelet with sliced almonds and dust lightly with sugar, if desired. (I didn't do this.) Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it.


Monday, April 3, 2017

monday night chat

I started this post by uploading some photos this morning, but severe back pain hit and I wasn't able to write until now - nighttime. More on that later in the post.
Wow, did I ever have a great weekend! My sister and brother-in-law invited Brian and I to a Blackhawk's game. Brian and I have never been to a live Blackhawk's game. We had a blast. I was a little worried ahead of time about my knee, with all the walking and going up and down the stairs in the stadium, but I did fine.

I love hockey. It's the only sport I enjoy watching. Must be the Canadian in me. My dad was Canadian...and I was born in Canada, though we moved to the States when I was three months old. My dad was a semi-pro hockey player back in Canada, and when I was growing up, he coached kid's hockey games (I went to a lot of these games with him) and he also took me and my sister ice-skating on a huge pond every winter. 

Brian and I spent the day in Evanston on Saturday. It's one of our little day trip go-to places. While browsing in Stumble and Relish, I was eyeballing these handmade earrings. I thought they were pretty cool and I love handmade jewelry, especially by local artists. Brian asked if I wanted them and I told him I wasn't sure; that I'd think about it. He insisted on buying them for me. :-) 

Of course, a trip to Evanston wouldn't be complete without a stop at our favorite antique store, Secret Treasures. I brought home this vintage pottery planter, which was only $6. Not sure who the maker is - it's only marked USA on the bottom. Now I just need to buy a little succulent to put in the planter to make it complete.

We decided to try a new-to-us restaurant for lunch and at the suggestion of a store clerk, went to a casual Mexican place.

Brian's tacos look good, right? He said they were...though I was a little disappointed in my fish tacos. It was one piece of fried fish, almost like a fish stick. And there was a sauce in a little jar on my plate that went on the tacos. The waiter neglected to warn me that the sauce was very spicy. My mouth and lips were on fire! I also had a "real" guava margarita (not made from a mix) but was in a very small glass that was filled with mostly ice. Needless to say, in general we were disappointed with this place and won't be going back.

 We also visited one of our favorite independent bookstores, Bookends and Beginnings where we purchased a couple of used books and also had a nice chat with the owner. I didn't take any new photos, but here's one from a previous visit. This is the cookbook section - they have a fabulous selection.

No photos, but on the way home we stopped at a Mediterranean grocery store and picked up fresh pita bread, hummus, baba ganoush, dolma, and a block of paneer cheese so I can try and make one of my favorite Indian dishes, Palak Paneer. It's basically cubed cheese in a spicy spinach sauce. A few miles up the road, we hit a Jewish deli for corned beef, pastrami, tuna salad, chive cream cheese ("schmear"), and bagels. One good thing about living in the Chicago area, is that we have access to just about any kind of ethnic food we desire. A foodie's heaven!

 We stayed home on Sunday and got a lot done around the house. At one point, we were outside picking up some of the twigs and branches that have fallen into our yard from all the storms and when I bent over, there went my back. I immediately started having horrible back spasms. I wasn't totally surprised. I had noticed a couple of times since my knee surgery, when getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, my lower back would lock up on me for a moment and have one of those spasms.

This morning, my back was in slight pain and I'd get those spasms if I made a sudden movement or bent over even in the slightest bit. I took a slow, gentle walk to the channel down the road. The fresh air and movement felt good, even though it was - surprise - another gloomy day with rain moving in.

 When I got home, I took a warm bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil, then did some gentle stretches. I was feeling better until this afternoon, and then the pain started getting worse. I normally don't take ibuprofen, but by 3:30, I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to take something. That only took the edge off the pain for a couple of hours. The pain and spasms got bad again. I spent a lot of time with the heating pad on my back, which felt really good.

 I Googled about pulled muscles in the back + remedies and one thing I read said to try using a tennis ball. So I took a tennis ball and put it between my lower back and the wall and moved around to try and get some of the tight muscles loosened up. Guess what - it worked! I'm not pain free by any means, but it helped a lot. I'm supposed to be going to physical therapy tomorrow, but I don't know if I'll be able to. I'm pretty bummed about that possibility. I was making good progress with my knee in PT and was halfway through. If I miss a session or two, I'll be going backwards. 

 (my clematis coming to life!)

And now it's time to feed the cats and get ready for bed. 
Here's to a better tomorrow.

Friday, March 31, 2017

call me old-fashioned

I was recently invited to a bridal shower. The invitation didn't specify where the couple was registered for gifts, so I asked the mother of the bride-to-be if they were registered anywhere. She answered no; that the couple was hoping to receive money to go towards their honeymoon or for putting towards a house.

Call me old-fashioned, but I was taken aback. Brian and I only took a weekend honeymoon to Wisconsin - because we simply couldn't afford a week-long honeymoon to Mexico or the Caribbean (or whatever other popular honeymoon destination). We wouldn't have dreamed of asking anyone to contribute $$ towards that - or for a down payment on a house!

I thought the whole purpose of a bridal shower was to "shower" the bride-to-be with gifts. And how boring would it be as a guest at the shower, to sit and watch someone open...envelopes?

I also thought that giving money to a couple was the standard gift when you attended the wedding

I understand that a lot of young couples live together before they are married - as is the case with this couple. So they probably already have everything they need as far as the traditional bath towels, kitchenware, sheets and a Crockpot. But, there are so many other creative ideas out there: you can pamper the bride-to-be with a spa basket or sexy lingerie to wear on her honeymoon. There are couple's gifts such as monogrammed robes, pillowcases and beach towels. I've even heard of showers where couples have registered for things such as tools and garden accessories.

(Pillowcases sold by ZCreateDesign)

All this made me think of my bridal shower. Or rather, showers. I had three of them. This was back in 1984 - when showers were held in church basements and homes, with food prepared by family and friends. Yes, my first shower was in our church basement. There were wedding bells and hearts hanging from the ceiling, as well as some childhood photos of me and Brian. We received gifts such as Tupperware, bath towels, mixing bowls, silverware, a coffee maker, a quiche dish, dish towels and pot holders, salt and pepper shakers, and a punch bowl set. And, of course, a Crockpot.

Our second shower was held at my parent's house and was given by my sister. She made sandwiches, salads, cheese puffs, and dips to go along with the veggie tray. Brian and I had been out shopping and were surprised by coming back to my house full of relatives from both our families. The small living and dining room was packed, with ladies sitting all around on folding chairs and the piano bench. And the gifts kept coming to help us set up our first apartment and start life together as Mr. and Mrs.: sheet sets, dishes, an electric knife, canisters, a spice rack, cookie jar, knife set, toaster oven, picnic basket, bathroom scale, a kitchen clock.

And a honeymoon negligee from my mom. Clearly, my young cousin was amused. ;-)

Our third shower was given by my coworkers. This one was actually held in a restaurant because it was after work hours. The hit of the party was a book called, "The Wedding Night." I don't remember what it was about, only that it was inappropriately hilarious.

My boss read a poem called, "Ode to Products." When a product name came up such as "Dawn" or "Pledge", someone would hold up the product - and then we got to take all these things home with us. So much fun.

As a side note, I can't believe how young (and thin) we look! I guess we were. I had just turned 22 and Brian 24.

Lest you think I have a fantastic memory with what gifts we received at our wedding showers over 32 years ago, here's where I got all that information. Are these keepsakes even available anymore? I loved going through this book and reading my handwritten notes about my showers and the wedding, who attended, what gifts we received, and looking at old photos. And I can hand this keepsake down to Tim someday. Hopefully, he'll appreciate it!

Speaking of showers, that's all it's done here for a million  five, six, seven? days straight. The only clear day we'll have in the extended forecast is tomorrow. So this old-fashioned couple plans on taking advantage of that and getting out of here and doing something fun.

Happy weekend!

Friday, March 24, 2017

keeping the rug, lilacs, cats and warm weather

Thanks for all your comments about my new kitchen rug! After living with it for a few days, it grew on me and I decided to keep it.

A few of you commented that the rug was too small. That the chairs needed to stay on the rug when they were pulled out. I've heard that decorating rule for dining room rugs. And I can see why that makes sense and why it would look better. However, I can't do that in my kitchen. And here's why. This rug is 5'x7'. The next size in rugs is 6'x9'. There's no room either way for a bigger rug. Any longer - and the rug would stick out past the doorway of the kitchen/living room.

On the other end, the rug would extend too close to the cabinets and door that goes into the garage. We use this door a lot since our cars are parked in the garage. You can see that there's just a small space to walk into the house from the garage. I certainly wouldn't want dirty shoes on a kitchen rug - especially a rug that can't be washed! Shoes come off on that little red rug by the door as soon as we walk into the house.

Then there's the width. Any wider, and the rug would go over the vent and into the wall.

There's not enough room on the other side either. That's the main walkway through the kitchen. I don't want a rug going almost to the fridge and cabinets.

So, this is what we're stuck with. I honestly don't mind the smallness of the rug. I think it denotes our little eating area just fine. After all, this is not a "dining room".

In other news, it was a fabulous 76 degrees today! I went into the backyard to check on the lilac bush, and sure enough, the buds are starting to open. :-)

Clementine was in all her glory, sleeping in the open window. I'm sure you noticed the bird feeder is empty. I need to clean it and take it down. I'm done feeding the birds for the winter. All the seed is doing now is attracting big, noisy crows and a naughty woodpecker who is now pecking at my house! Though we can't figure out what he's "drilling" at: our house is all aluminum and vinyl. I've stood outside looking around, hoping to catch Woody in action, but no such luck. You can also tell from the photo that I desperately need to start on spring yard cleanup. That boxwood wreath is from Christmas and the branches on the bench below are winterberries. They once had beautiful red berries on them that looked so pretty against the snow.

Spring yard cleanup is going to have to wait though. Rain is now moving in again and looks like it'll be here throughout the entire week. Plus the temps are dropping into the 40's and 50's. Today's weather was just a teaser!

Some of you know I'm not crafty. About all I can handle is a can of spray paint. So with today's nice weather, I went into my stash of spray paint in the garage (I think I have just about every possible color) and decided to paint this metal tray white. Previously, it was gold. And before that - aqua. I don't even remember what color it originally was when I bought it! I'd been looking for a white tray for the coffee table for awhile and couldn't find one I liked. This was definitely a much more affordable option anyway.

And I suppose I can now put the winter throw and pillow covers away until October and unpack the spring ones. (That's Monkey - Clementine's "baby" - snoozing on the couch.)

Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 20, 2017

spring, new pottery and rug, and knee update

Happy Spring - finally! 
Here in northern Illinois, the signs of spring are subtle at this time of year. Just a few buds on bushes and the green stalks of lilies and daffodils sticking out of the dirt. I took this photo just a few days ago when we still had some snow on the ground. Thank goodness, that's all gone now. I just took a look at our 10-day forecast and it looks like nothing but clouds and rain, which is also sucky. But that's the way March rolls around here - it's very fickle.

I know sunset photos are cliche, but I never get tired of seeing a gorgeous sunset. This was also taken a few days ago, when we were driving home one evening. I made Brian pull over by the lake that's just a few blocks from our house so that I could take this photo. I like how you can see some traces of snow on the shoreline.

This past weekend while out running some errands in a nearby town, we had the chance to pop in at Fox and Finch Antiques and say hello to Ginene. If you're a fan of antiques, check out her blog. And if you're ever in the Richmond, IL area, be sure to stop in and check out her beautiful store. While browsing, I found a piece of pottery to add to my collection. This one's made by Hall China. I think technically it's ceramic, not pottery ~ but I was still drawn to the fabulous colors and design. 

More shopping news...

I've been on the hunt for a new kitchen rug for our kitchen. The previous rug was a solid cream color. It served its purpose for a couple of years, but that's as long as it lasted because it started showing a lot of dirt spots. I really liked the solid, light, neutral color so that I could use whatever colors I wanted as far as tablecloths, napkins, runners and other kitchen decor. We don't have a separate dining room, so this is our only dining space. I looked on every homegoods website that I could think of, plus took a look at the rug section in every store I went to.

We were in Target yesterday, so we took a look at the rugs there. We were thrilled to find a neutral jute rug in the size we needed - and bonus - it was on sale. Once it was on my kitchen floor though, I wasn't too sure. Our floors and cabinets both have red undertones and this rug is definitely more taupe. I wasn't sure if this is too much of a contrast. Brian likes it, but I'm still a little dubious - though I admit, I think it's growing on me. I told Brian I'd post some pictures on my blog and see what you all think.

I left the tags on the rug in case I end up returning it.

My knee continues to improve a slight bit every few days as far as strength and range of motion. I can now walk any store unaided (no cane) - even a big grocery store - though I still have a limp and walk slow because of swelling and tightness. All this is normal. The first week of physical therapy went great - though it's a little brutal and tiring. I also do my exercises at home every day, plus elevate and ice several times a day to help with the swelling. For those of you who were concerned I'm doing too much, too worries. I talked to the physical therapist and she said as long as I'm not in any pain or having an increase in swelling, it's all good.

Happy Monday ~ have a beautiful week!

Monday, March 13, 2017

spring puttering pleasures

I'm glad I bought this beautiful orchid for a bit of spring cheer yesterday...

because this is what we woke to today.

Granted, it was only a few inches and light and fluffy, but still disappointing to see in mid-March.

Thank you all so much for the kind comments and support on my last post! I am feeling good and no longer use crutches, though I do use a cane here and there. That helps alleviate the limping. My knee is still quite swollen and feels tight and stiff, despite doing gentle physical therapy exercises at home and elevating and icing several times a day. I start formal PT tomorrow, so I know this will be a big help in the healing process. I've also been doing a lot of walking...I'm pretty much back to my usual home care routine and I even went grocery shopping by myself yesterday, including making several trips into the house to carry in the bags. I've been having some calf pain, but I think it's from too much walking. I had my post-op appointment this past Friday and the doctor thought perhaps I had a blood clot. I didn't think so - I had a blood clot in my other leg/calf after a surgery in 2001, so I know what one feels like - but the doc sent me to the hospital for an ultrasound just in case. Thank God, no clot.

One thing I really missed while being laid up was puttering around the house and playing with decor. Now that I can (slowly) walk up and down the stairs again, I'm able to go to the basement to dig out some spring decor. Nothing fancy, but I put some lighter colors in the china cabinet...

and fresh flowers on the mantel.

I made some other simple vignettes, too. I love using these mini Limoges teacups every spring.

I just bought this shamrock plant at Trader Joe's. I'll transfer it to a pretty planter after St. Patrick's day. I have another shamrock plant that I bought several years ago and it's lush and full of white flowers. The secret is a south-facing window and giving the plant a thorough saturation only when it starts to wilt a bit (about every 5 days).

Time to bring out the spring birdies...

Of course, it's also time to bring out the bunnies and Easter decor.

Since Mother Nature is still in winter mode despite the spring decor, I'm trying to keep this proverb in mind:

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.