Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Aren't these eyes just irresistible?

They belong to a sweet 15 year old Irish Setter named Molly whose portrait I was commissioned to paint for Christmas.

Isn't she beautiful? When my friend first contacted me about doing a painting of her son's Irish Setter, I mentioned to her that Fred's and my first dog was an Irish Setter named Molly, and that our family had had a succession of Irish Setters over the years. When I found out that the dog I would be painting was also a Molly, it seemed it was meant to be!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tribute to a Life - A Memory Collage

How do we commemorate a life well-lived?

People pass from our lives, and we look for ways to hold onto those dear memories that we've built up over the years with that person. My life was touched by a special woman who passed away last winter at the age of 93. She lived a simple life, but she meant the world to her family. Her name was Vi, and she was my brother-in-law's mother.

My sister and brother-in-law gave me a large jar of buttons that Vi had collected over the years, and that sparked an idea. I decided to make a memory collage as a gift for them, as a way to remember this loving and generous woman who was such a huge part of their lives.

18" x 22"

Here's a closer view  of the collage, before it was put in the shadowbox frame ...

I included family pictures, vintage lace, and buttons from Vi's button jar. The fabric yo-yos are made from reproduction fabrics with a 1940s look. Vi was a gardener and tended her flowers and extensive garden even in her 93rd year, so I included a daylily watercolor that I had painted years ago (on handmade paper with flecks of daylilies in it!) for my sister to give Vi as a gift. (My sister helped me out with this project by passing along the photos and other items for me to use.)

This was my first foray into a scrapbooking type project, so I was a little overwhelmed at the selection of supplies at my local Michaels. I picked up this small brass frame there and used it with a print of an old photo of my brother-in-law as a baby, with his mom.

Don't you love the look of old photographs? I used a couple here, along with some antique lace pieces and vintage mother-of-pearl buttons. I hand-painted Vi's name on watercolor paper, but this quote, and all the other lettering on the collage, were purchased from Michaels, along with a few small floral accents.

We all love this photo of Vi (below). She looks so happy and relaxed. She was so contented, living in her little house, making her quilts, tending her garden - it was a good life. The quilted heart represents the many, many quilts she made and gave away to family and friends. The crochet hook is from her sewing basket.

It may seem funny to include a painting of an egg beater, but my sister says it was one of Vi's favorite kitchen tools, and she had used it from the time she was a young bride. Just think of the thousands of eggs she whipped up with this thing, and the hungry tummies she filled! Since I couldn't fit the actual egg beater in the shadow box frame, I did a painting of it. The recipe card is the one that she used when making her famous Monster Cookies, a delicious peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate-chip cookie that her family begged for whenever they got together.

Her cozy, just-the-right-size house in the mountains of West Virginia was surrounded by flowers in the summer, and served as the family gathering place for Christmas homecomings every year.

Vi made several trips to the North Carolina coast with our extended family over the years and loved nothing better than to walk the beaches, looking for shells.

I included these old wooden spools of thread to represent all the sewing Vi did over the years for her family - clothes, curtains, aprons, clothespin bags, rag rugs, and lots of quilts. I like the way they look, marching across the bottom of the frame.

I started out making this memory box collage as a way for Vi's family to hold onto their memories of their mom and grandma, but, as I was working on it, I really enjoyed remembering my visits with Vi, too. Her quiet and gentle spirit was a testimony to me that just by living a good life and being a good person, we can have a positive impact on our world.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Molasses Sandwich Cookies

I remember coming home from school when I was a kid and getting so excited when I found out my mom had made Molasses Sandwich Cookies that day. I loved them with a tall glass of cold milk. What bliss! I'm still crazy about them, but haven't thought to make them for years. Today I was baking some Christmas cookies and decided to pull out this old family recipe and make a batch. They're not the prettiest cookie, but they're definitely one of the tastiest. They're spicy and molasses-y, and that creamy filling just melts in your mouth.

Molasses Sandwich Cookies 
½ c. shortening
¾ c. sugar
2 eggs
2/3 c. molasses
2 ¼ c. flour
1 tsp soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
½ c. milk

In a mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar.
Add the eggs and molasses, and beat well.
Combine the dry ingredients. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk.
Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets about 2” apart.
Bake at 375, 9-11 minutes. Remove cookies to cooling rack.

When cool, spread with…

½ c. butter
1/8 tsp salt
½ tsp ginger
3 c. confectioners sugar
¼ c. molasses
2 T. milk

Cream the butter. Add salt, ginger, and 1 cup confectioners sugar. Beat well.
Add remaining 2 cups confectioners sugar alternately with molasses and milk, beating well after each addition. Filling should be smooth and creamy.

Spread 1 tablespoon filling between two cookies to make sandwiches.

Recipe Notes:
- The cookies usually turn out flatter than the ones shown. Since I and several other family members must eat gluten free, I made my batch with Jules Gluten Free flour, and the batter was stiffer than it normally is with wheat flour. But they still taste great!
- The filling recipe makes plenty for a generous amount on each cookie. I'm always worried that I won't have enough, so I tend to be stingy with the filling on the first half of the batch, then, by the time I frost all the cookies, I end up with leftover filling!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Folk Art Christmas Stockings

I thought you might enjoy seeing these Christmas stockings that I made for everyone in our family several years ago. I need to make a few more since we've had some additions this year, but I think that will have to wait until 2011.

The stockings themselves are made of homespun plaid with a cotton flannel interlining. All of the appliques are wool.

Each of the stockings is individualized - Fred's has a Santa and an airplane, since he's an airline pilot (and he's been obsessed with airplanes since he was in diapers!)

Mine features an angel.

Sara loves all things Maine, so her stocking has a moose and a Maine pine tree.

Matt loves snowboarding, so I made him a snowman.

I even made a stocking for our golden retriever, Tucker. Hey, dogs need presents, too! His is smaller than the "people stockings". I need to change the name to Buckley, I guess, since Tucker is no longer with us, but I just can't seem to do it, so Buckley just uses Tucker's stocking every year.

Each stocking has a different homespun plaid background, but the colors of the appliques are repeated on all the stockings for continuity. The button-stitched circles are reminiscent of the penny rugs made in the 1800s.

All of the blanket stitching and embroidery is done by hand with DMC floss.

The idea for these stockings came from one that I saw in a quilt shop years ago, but I'm not sure if there was a pattern for them. I think I gathered some of the applique designs from books I had on hand and others I drew myself. I enjoy embroidery, so they were a lot of fun to do. They've become so well-loved in our family that my sister and my aunt have both made sets for their clans, with unique appliques to fit each person's personality. They're definitely a labor of love.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quilted Pillow with Origami

Here's a cute little pillow I made this week for a Christmas gift exchange that I participated in. It only took a couple of hours and was made entirely of  leftover materials, but what a beauty it is!

It's only 13" square, made of dupioni silk with tassel fringe. A beaded origami flower sits on a stippled background surrounded by four quadrants of interlocking quilted circles.

I enjoyed making this little gem and the woman who received it at our meeting was thrilled!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Joyful Simplicities

I woke up this morning thinking of all the things that needed to be done today : finish a tucked Roman shade for a job to be installed soon, start on a large valance, finish a proposal for a new customer, address Christmas cards, vacuum up the giant fur balls that are rolling around my kitchen, answer emails, walk the dog, and so on and so on and so on. You get the picture - I'm sure your days are just as filled as mine are with all the things that should be done.

After I gulped down my breakfast and finished the vacuuming, I was heading down to the workroom to work on that Roman shade, when I was brought up short by the scene in my living room. Bright sunlight was streaming through the windows, and one of our cats, Genevieve, was just settling in for a nice nap in the sunshine on top of the slipcovered sofa cushions. So peaceful, so inviting, so beautiful.

9" x 12"

Something spoke to me in that scene, and I decided right then and there to stop my running around, and pause for a few minutes, get out my sketchbook, and paint that peaceful scene. I have such a good life, and I need to pause more often to appreciate the beauty that's right in front of me, the joyful simplicities that are part of my days.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stuffed Pepper Soup

It snowed all day yesterday, our first real snowfall of the season. It was blustery and cold, and I was so glad to be home, all snug and warm and cozy. It's still snowing today, and I'm looking forward to a lunch of the leftover Stuffed Pepper Soup that I made for supper last night. It's a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup that warms you from the inside out. Great for the long,cold winter that's ahead of us!

Stuffed Pepper Soup

1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup diced green pepper
1 cup diced onion
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (28 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
2 T. brown sugar
½  tsp. dried oregano
½  tsp. dried basil
1 cup water
2 beef bouillon cubes
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 cups cooked rice

In a large stock pot, brown the ground beef. Drain the fat. Add the pepper and onion. Cook until the onion is translucent but not brown.

Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, brown sugar, oregano, basil, water, and bouillon cubes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the peppers are tender.

Add the cooked rice. Simmer an additional 15 minutes, then serve.

Recipe Notes:
- Adjust herbs, salt, and pepper to your taste.
- A nice variation is to substitute ground turkey for the ground beef.
- The soup thickens up after the rice is added. If it gets too thick for your taste, add some beef broth.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Little Painting, All Grown Up!

Remember back in September when I showed you the custom blog header I designed for Madison Lane Interiors?

Well, look where that sketch is now ...

2nd & Main St., Joplin, Missouri

Isn't that cool? My little 3" x 7" painting has been blown up to billboard size!

Amber Sachetta, co-owner of Madison Lane Interiors, says they have gotten lots of customers as a direct result of the billboard, which sits at a main intersection in town. The taco shop signs actually help to catch people's attention while they're stopped at the signal light.

Thanks, Amber, for sending me the pictures - I got such a kick out of seeing them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More Watercolor Landscapes

I enjoy painting nature and scenery, but I've always been locked into painting what I see. The workshop I took last week helped me to see the possibilities of using color in a more imaginative way. I love the way watercolor washes blend and combine in unexpected ways, as in this little painting ...

5" x 7"

During a particularly frustrating moment in class, I decided that one of my paintings was simply not worth spending any more time on, so I scrubbed off as much paint as I could, turned the paper over and sketched out another painting on the wrong side. This one (below) turned out to be one of my favorites. I wonder if I was just more relaxed working on this one since the paper had already been "ruined" on the right side. What did I have to lose?

9" x 12"

I admire those witty artists who dream up clever titles for their work - I'm woefully inadequate in that department, I'm afraid. When faced with the task of titling one of my paintings I generally draw a blank, usually having to resort to something like "Landscape with Barn". It makes me feel so uncreative! I need titles for these two paintings before I offer them for sale at our local gallery. Any ideas?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Mom's Apple Pie to End All Mom's Apple Pies

I'm an inveterate recipe clipper. I have folders and notebooks full of exciting new recipes I want to try. The majority of them languish in my cupboard for years, never seeing the light of day, but some become family favorites, like this recipe for apple pie.

When I made it a few weeks ago for the ladies in my November slipcover class, it was so much fun to see the blissful looks on their faces as they took that first bite. The rich homemade crust topped with cinnamon-y Granny Smith apples and a generous topping of spicy-sweet crumbs is enough to make anyone swoon. Last evening, as Fred and I were enjoying a piece of warm, fresh-from-the-oven pie, I said, "If I were stranded on a desert island, and could have only one food that I had to eat for the rest of my life, I think this quite possibly could be it!"

 The Mom's Apple Pie to End All Mom's Apple Pies

1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
3 T. flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 large tart apples (Granny Smith or Rome Beauty),
     peeled & thinly sliced (about 6-7 cups)
10” unbaked pie shell (use my Perfect Pie Crust recipe)
2 T. butter

1 c. lightly spooned flour
½ c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ c. butter or margarine

1. Filling: Combine sugar, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, pressing out any lumps. Add sliced apples and toss well to mix. Fill pastry shell with the mixture. Dot with the 2 T. of butter.

2. Topping: Combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Scatter topping thickly over apple filling.

3. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 45-65 minutes or until the crust and topping are nicely browned and the pie is bubbly. (May cover pie with foil after the first 30 minutes to prevent over-browning.) Cool the pie on a wire rack before cutting. Dust with 10X sugar, if you wish.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Perfect Pie Crust

Thanksgiving means PIES in our house! Pumpkin, of course, but we also usually have a couple of other varieties, like pecan, apple, or cherry crumb. And, in my humble opinion, and, at the risk of offending a few people, I think every Thanksgiving pie deserves a homemade pie crust. No two ways about it, they just taste better! And, since I have to eat gluten-free, if I want pie, I have to make my own crust. Here's my choice for the best pie crust recipe I've found (so far!)  It makes four crusts, and you can freeze the extras to use another time. It's so handy to thaw one out and whip up a pie, even when it's not a special occasion. Any day can be a PIE DAY!

Perfect Pie Crust
4 c. flour
1 T. sugar
2 tsp salt
1 T. vinegar
1 ¾ c. shortening
1 large egg
½ c. water

Put the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender.
In a small bowl, beat together the vinegar, egg, and water.
Combine the two mixtures, stirring lightly with a fork until all ingredients are moist.
May be refrigerated for up to 3 days before using. Or may be frozen.
Makes 4 single pie shells, or 2 double 9” pie crusts plus 1 single pie shell.

Recipe Notes:
- Adjust the liquid if needed so that the dough just holds together. It should not be sticky.
- Rolling out pie crust is really easy if you place it between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll to the desired thickness then peel away the top layer of plastic, lift the dough using the bottom piece of plastic wrap, flip it over, and position it in the pie plate. Peel away the plastic wrap and finish pressing the dough into the plate. Crimp the edges and fill the crust.

Coming later this week ...
"The Mom's Apple Pie to End All Mom's Apple Pies"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Watercolor Landscapes

Here are some more of the paintings I did in a workshop this week at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, with Robert Yonke. This first little landscape was painted using a limited palette of only three colors to give it a more unified look.
Dusk  7" x 10"

This next one is really "drippy" - I'm not sure if I'll leave it this way, or crop it smaller. I was inspired by a photo of a Tuscan hilltop villa. If I can't visit Tuscany, at least I can paint it!

Tuscan Hilltop  9" x 11"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Watercolor Workshop

It's always fun to learn something new, right? Well, it can also be challenging and frustrating! I spent the past three days in a watercolor workshop at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, and there were moments when I was ready to pack up my stuff and head out the door. I had to step outside my comfort zone and draw on resources that I didn't think I had - to paint without photos or sketches as a guide, to be bolder with paint, and to experiment without a preconceived idea of what the end result would be. For someone like me who likes to be in control, these were scary ideas!

"Appalachian Landscape"   8 1/2" x 11"
The instructor, Robert Yonke, was remarkably patient with all of us. Endlessly enthusiastic and encouraging, he kept me going, even when I was a little puzzled at times as to how to proceed with a painting. I've admired his work for years - take a look at his website and you'll see why. His colors are luscious, and I like his use of selective detail.

So, I persevered and actually did end up with some paintings that I like. I think I'll be able to incorporate a lot of what I learned into my work. And it was probably good for me to be reminded that things don't always come easily when you're learning something new - I'll try to keep that in mind the next time I'm teaching free motion quilting to someone who's never tried it before.

"Idle Hours"  10" x 12"
Watch for more new paintings in coming days ...

(All of these paintings will be offered for sale soon at Artisans, Waynesburg, PA. If you would like to purchase an original painting or a print, just drop me an email.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cute Kid's Apron

Seven girlfriends, great food, cheap wine, lots of sewing and decorating projects, and unseasonably warm November weather combined to make one really fun weekend here at my house! My two aunts, my sister and niece, my mom, and my daughter all joined me for a weekend of sewing, talking, laughing, and eating way too much. We had the best time! There's just nothing like time spent with women friends to lighten your spirit and put a smile on your face.

We love getting together to work on sewing projects. This time we worked on wool appliqued Christmas stockings, fabric origami ornaments, yo-yos, an appliqued Advent calendar, a crocheted baby blanket, a patchwork quilt, and some cute kids' aprons. Plus we chose fabrics and planned a bunch of window treatments!

My aunt brought along a pattern for a child's apron, and, since my new step-granddaughter loves to help me in the kitchen (and LOVES cupcakes), I made this adorable one for her ...

I even found some cute little berry buttons in my stash to accent the pocket and the foldover at the top. Cherries might have been better, to match the fabric, but it's a long way to the nearest Jo-Ann's and I like using what I have on hand, so raspberries it is!

So I now have a total of ONE Christmas present made! I know Lilly will love it, and we'll have lots of fun making cupcakes together the next time she comes to visit. The pattern, from Vanilla House Designs, went together quickly and was super easy to make.

Are you making any homemade Christmas gifts this year?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Broccoli-Mandarin Salad

This Broccoli-Mandarin Salad is one of my favorite recipes, and I always serve it during my Summerhill Weekend Sewing Retreats. It's really colorful and has an interesting variety of textures and flavors. The dressing is light, with just a hint of sweetness. Everyone seems to enjoy it - I hope you'll give it a try.

Broccoli-Mandarin Salad

4-5 c. broccoli
Small purple onion, sliced thin
½ c. raisins
½ c. pecan pieces, toasted

½ c. mayonnaise or Miracle Whip or combination of the two
1 ½ T. white vinegar
¼ c. sugar

11 oz. mandarin oranges

Combine broccoli, onion, raisins, and pecans.
Separately, combine mayo, vinegar, and sugar.
Pour dressing over vegetable mixture, and stir to combine.
Fold in mandarin oranges, and serve.

Recipe Notes:
- I usually use about 5 cups of broccoli for this amount of dressing. If you like a salad with more dressing, use only 4 cups of broccoli.
- For the dressing, I usually use 1/4 cup mayonnaise and 1/4 cup Miracle Whip.
- Dried cranberries may be substituted for the raisins.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

California Roll-Ups

These cute little pinwheel sandwiches are a great accompaniment to soup and salad. During my Summerhill Weekend Sewing Retreats, we serve these California Roll-Ups for lunch, along with Cheddar Wild Rice Chowder and Broccoli-Mandarin Salad. I'll pass those recipes along to you soon, also. They're both winners!

This recipe is really quick and easy, and the combination of flavors is wonderful. The roll-ups are as delicious as they are pretty!

California Roll-Ups

Spinach tortillas and/or tomato basil tortillas, large size
Ranch dressing
Smoked turkey slices
Shredded cheddar cheese
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Lettuce, shredded or small pieces, like spring mix
Scallions, sliced
Avocado, sliced
Ranch dressing

Spread a thin layer of ranch dressing on each tortilla.
Layer on turkey, cheese, bacon, lettuce, scallions, and avocado.
Roll up tight.
For best results, wrap the rolls tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours before slicing into 1” slices.

Recipe Notes:
- A nice variation is to spread a layer of soft vegetable cream cheese on the tortillas first, then layer the other ingredients, with ranch dressing drizzled over at the end.
- It's not absolutely necessary to make these ahead of time and refrigerate, but it makes the slicing much easier.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Perfect Slipcovers" Class at Summerhill

Slipcovering is a bit of a lost art, but it's a handy skill to have, and I enjoy teaching others how to give a well-loved chair new life with a brand spankin' new slipcover. This past weekend I hosted a "Perfect Slipcovers, Start to Finish" class here at Summerhill, and six women came to learn this practical skill (and have a lot of fun doing it!)

Here's my class in their unslipcovered chairs, ready and eager to learn.
It was a great group of women - (above, left to right) Therese Davis (Barrington, IL), Terry Prouty (Glen Ellyn, IL), Mickie Beverly (Richmond, VA), Lisa Forman (Ambler, PA), Debbie Williamson (Macedon, NY), and Nancy Hogan (Rochester, NY).  

The ladies arrived Friday afternoon around 1:00, and, after a quick tour of the house, we headed for the workroom where I did a pinfitting demo to show them the technique that I use. Then they dove in and got to work pinfitting their own chairs.

Nancy rough cuts the pieces of her slipcover

My mom was here for the weekend and was a great help to me in the kitchen. I may do all of the planning for the weekends, but she does most of the cooking, and, ask anyone who has come to Summerhill, it's GOOD food!

Saundra Conklin

Saturday morning we were back at work bright and early. When the pinfitting was completed, it was time to trim and notch seams. The slipcovers always look like a mess at this point, and everyone feels like they don't know what they're doing, but they soon see the slipcover emerge, as they match their notches, sew their seams, and put the puzzle back together.

Terry and Debbie work on trimming seams

Debbie marks her darts

Lunchtime offered a much needed break for my hardworking crew, and, for dessert, my cookie sampler is always a big hit. It's so hard to decide on a favorite - you just have to keep tasting, to try and make up your mind!
Lisa and Therese

Then it was back to the workroom for more sewing. Saturday afternoon flew by as everyone worked feverishly to finish their slipcover construction.

Lisa sews her slipcover together
Mickie and Terry, working hard

After a busy afternoon, we took some time to relax, have some wine and appetizers, then sit down to a great home-cooked dinner.

After dinner, we had a little more workroom time, then I dragged them away from the sewing machines to gather in the living room and share our portfolios, and have some coffee and dessert. It's always so interesting to learn about people's businesses, families, and backgrounds. This was a really talented and successful group of women - very inspiring to me!

Mickie shares a slideshow of her work

Sunday was a gorgeous, sunny day, just perfect for a scenic airplane ride. Mickie was the first to climb aboard, and she was so excited about her flight that three more people decided to take to the air after she landed.

Mickie and Fred

After one last delicious meal, and some final instructions from me, everyone was ready to head home. They were all eager to get back to their own workrooms and start putting into practice all that they had learned.The next day, some of them emailed me to say that they were already working on a new slipcover of their own. That makes the teacher in me so proud!

The graduates, sitting in their newly slipcovered chairs!

It's amazing how much my students learn in one short weekend. They devote themselves to working really hard for hours on end, putting up with sore backs, bleary eyes, tired hands, and frequent corrections from me, but they love the whole experience. They're learning and being challenged to push themselves to master new skills, but at the same time, they are pampered with nice accommodations, great food, and the luxury of time away from home to focus only on themselves. Making new friends is an added bonus. It makes me feel so good when they tell me that the experience was more than they ever dreamed it would be. And when they leave, I like seeing those big smiles on their faces. 

(To see more photos of this and other Summerhill Weekend Sewing Retreats, go to www.lesliefehlingdesigns.com and click on the Summerhill album.)
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