Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Blizzard Buddies"

My copy of the Just CrossStitch 2016 Special Christmas Ornament Issue arrived today, and I am pleased to share my contribution to the magazine with you. My ornament is titled "Blizzard Buddies" and can be found on page 65...and this year, I included my recipe for my Blue Ribbon Stuffed Mushrooms (which I will also share later in this pre-holiday post). My 2016 ornament features red birds, pine trees, and snowflakes and complements my woodland ornaments from the past several years (along with ornament from the 2016 Christmas Ornament Preview Issue) - and as usual, combines cross stitch over both one and two linen threads. I stitched the model on 40-count Mocha linen from Weeks Dye Works (same as previous ornaments in this series) and used Weeks Dye Works cotton floss (DMC conversions are provided). I opted for a flat-finish with two-tone twisted cord to match my previous holiday ornaments. *Please note - the image on page 67 is definitely not true to color - it is extremely light/over exposed - this ornament DOES match the colors of my previous ornaments in the series...don't let the overly lightened image fool you - you can see all the details in the ornament...and the snowflakes show up beautifully!

This is the 10th (yes, 10th) year I have been included in the annual Ornament Issue - WOW, how time flies! If you would like to see all 10 of my contributions, you can visit the "Publications" tab on my website (my ornaments from the Christmas Ornament Preview Issues are shown there, as well). This magazine has gone through a lot of changes over the years (just like my design style), yet still continues to be a yearly fan favorite. I remember getting my first designer invitation back in 2006 to be in the magazine - I was "giddy" - it was an honor to get that invitation each year to be included. This year, they sent invitations to "submit a design idea" - and for me (to be honest) that took away quite a bit of the prestige and excitement that came along with being included in the magazine (especially when this is an "unpaid" assignment and designers do not receive compensation for being included)...this may be why you aren't seeing some of your favorite designers in the 2016 issue. With the needlework industry constantly changing, who knows what the future holds - but I have been proud to be a part of this special publication for the past 10 years!, as promised - my recipe for stuffed mushrooms. We all have a "go to" recipe...the one that everyone wants you to bring when you have a holiday or family gathering...the one that everyone asks for the "go to" recipe is for stuffed mushrooms. I started out years ago with a basic recipe and have continued to make changes...years later, I have finally tweaked my own recipe to (what I think is) perfection. So, here is my original recipe (which I call "Blue Ribbon Stuffed Mushrooms" - the magazine edited my recipe name/title)...from my kitchen to yours...enjoy!

Blue Ribbon Stuffed Mushrooms
1 Pound of mushrooms (washed and stems removed)
3 tablespoons margarine (softened, not melted)
1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper (I like to use a red pepper)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup Feta cheese (crumbled)
2 strips of cooked bacon (crumbled) (real bacon bits make it easier!)
1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs (I like to use moistened Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned stuffing mix)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (fresh ground is best!)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Mix all ingredients except mushroom caps in a bowl - blending ingredients well. If your mixture seems a little dry, add some chicken broth or stock (or water) to the mixture to moisten. Fill mushroom caps with mixture. Place stuffed mushrooms in a lightly greased baking dish, then bake for 15-20 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Stuffing mixture can be made and refrigerated a day early for stuffing the mushrooms the day of your event. ...and of course, the measurements don't have to be exact, this is just a guideline for ingredients - I usually just "eyeball" the measurements. I always make these during the holidays and they are a HUGE hit.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Take a Little Trip with Me

Sometimes when you *need* to get away, you have to make the best of a long weekend...and that is exactly what my husband and I did over the Labor Day holiday. An unfortunate change in my travel plans for this fall had my husband wanting me to go on a week long fishing, don't get me wrong, I love spending time with my husband, but the idea of an entire week of fishing from sun up until sundown sure didn't seem like the vacation for we made a compromise - he takes me away (without any fishing) for a few days and he could go on his fall fishing trip with the boys - win, win. I chose to go to South Dakota because seeing Mount Rushmore was on my bucket list...and it was within driving distance (a nine our drive from our home in Iowa). We left bright and early on Saturday morning and had Saturday evening, Sunday and Monday in the Black Hills...and then headed for home before the light of dawn on Tuesday. I wish it could have been a few days longer, but we made the best with the time we had! Here is a little diary of our travels, full of photos (click on images for larger views)...

On our way to Mount Rushmore, we couldn't resist stopping at a few of the advertised tourist stops...I should let you know that while some might find tourist areas fun and "must visit", we are the exact opposite and usually do everything in our power to avoid them - cheap trinkets, carnival scenes, and crowds are not our thing...they are just not for us. However, we thought we might see something interesting along the, first, we visited the self-proclaimed "World Famous" Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD - which we thought was WAY over-rated and wasn't worth the time...except we needed to get out of the vehicle and stretch our legs. My understanding is years ago, this was quite a sight...but in 2016, not so much - the history was interesting, but stopping was not needed - in fact, we didn't even think a drive-by was needed...but live and learn...and now we can say we were there. By the time we needed to eat and stretch again, we were in Wall, SD - home of  the "#1 Roadside Attraction in America" (really??) - Wall Drug Store...which was (let's say) an experience. We did take advantage of some of the funny photo ops in "backyard" (if you are friends with me on Snapchat, you got to see some of these)...but didn't shop or eat there (not our scene) - we did however (on the advice of TripAdvisor) visit the Badlands Saloon and Grille across the street, which was much more our speed to have a late lunch. Then it was back on the road to our home away from home, the K Bar S Lodge. We arrived late afternoon and once checked in, were excited to see Mount Rushmore from our private balcony. This lodge is located in Keystone, SD and although close enough to the tourist areas, it was off the beaten path - we loved it - a beautiful mountainside property with great views, great service, a fabulous breakfast each morning (in a glass gazebo with deer all around) and a rock fireplace fire pit each night for s'mores. Now it was feeling like a vacation! After getting settled, we headed to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial (just a few miles away) - and it was worth the trip - my jaw dropped - a beautiful way to spend the evening. We walked the Presidential Trail and took it all in...and I was so happy this is where I chose to go for our mini vacation. After Mount Rushmore, we were ready for dinner...and again using advice from TripAdvisor, decided on Powder House Lodge Restaurant...a perfect pick (a huge thumbs up!) - we enjoyed the patio and a delicious dinner....and then we went back to the Lodge and collapsed after a LONG day.

Deer at the Lodge

We were up bright and early for breakfast and were on our way shortly after 7:00. First stop of the day Bear Country U.S.A. (and we were the first to enter the park) - and it did not disappoint. This is a drive through park where you can see all sorts of wildlife from the comfort of your own vehicle. All the animals were out and about...the reindeer were extra friendly, as well as the wolves...and we saw TONS of bears, elk, sheep, and buffalo (to name a few). There is also a walking tour where we enjoyed watching the baby bears play. Next, we were on our way to Badlands National Park...we took advantage of many scenic overlooks with spectacular views as we drove the Badlands Loop Road. We even got to see Big Horn Sheep up close and personal in their habitat. It was like visiting a mini Grand Canyon and well worth the additional drive. Following the Badlands, we headed to Downtown Rapid City - where we had lunch at Firehouse Brewery Company, then walked the quaint Main Street Square and visited quite a few of the local shops...we also found an incredible "Art Alley" full of graffiti (which I thought was AMAZING). After walking off lunch, it was time to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial - to me, this was pretty spectacular - I really enjoyed watching the movie of the history, taking in the exhibits, and learning about the memorial going forward.We spent the afternoon being educated about this unbelievable project. After a full day, we headed to the Red Garter Saloon (in the heart of the Keystone tourist area) - we enjoyed a live show and a couple adult beverages...then walked to Janes Boardwalk Pizza for dinner (ranked #1 restaurant in Keystone)...and it did not disappoint - although it is in a touristy area, we enjoyed it and the people watching (you order at a window and sit on the boardwalk and we still give it two thumbs up!)...after another beverage at the Red Garter Saloon, we headed back to the lodge for a little fire pit action. It was another full day!

We reserved all of Labor Day for Custer State Park...and truth be told, I could have spent an entire week there - I could have a serious love affair with this park...I thought it was SPECTACULAR. We started our early morning at Sylvan Lake and then driving the Needles Highway - and unfortunately, it was foggy...really, REALLY foggy...but with the fog came something incredible...right after the Needles Eye Tunnel, we saw mountain goats - two of of the most magical things I have ever seen (and my favorite sighting of the entire trip)...I LOVE them. The locals told us it is VERY rare to see them and that we were very lucky (and I agree!). After the Needles Highway, we headed to the Blue Bell Stables for horseback riding...yep, two plus hours on the trails in Custer Park - it was BEAUTIFUL! My husband and I rode two Norwegian Fjord Horses (Aztec and Cortez) and they were gorgeous - I was a bit nervous, as my horseback riding is limited - so, of course, during the ride, there was a problem with my saddle and I nearly fell off (my saddle rotated around and I was hanging off the side of my horse!) - but my husband, who is an experienced rider, jumped off his horse to my rescue...and I survived...and I provided loads of entertainment for all the riders, so that was a plus (Bling Bats, I know you have a visual and I can hear you laughing!). It was an incredible experience (minus the near fall) and I really enjoyed it and the breathtaking scenery and riding through the rocky streams. Horseback riding was followed by lunch at the Blue Bell Lodge - an Old West saloon-style lodge with yummy food - I was impressed! We then drove the Wild Life Loop Road - hoping for lots of animal sightings (we were especially looking forward to the buffalo). We saw quite a bit of wildlife - Prairie Dogs (of course), White-tailed Deer, Burros (they were super duper friendly), and Pronghorns...but only ONE buffalo. I would have been extremely disappointed, but we were headed to the Game Lodge Area to take the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour (we had a reservation for weeks - it was the one thing I picked to do on our trip)...and they promised me that they would take me to the buffalo...and they didn't lie - I saw more buffalo than I could have ever imagined...and I saw them up close and personal from an open-air was unbelievable. They were able to drive us off road and right into the herds...WOW...I couldn't believe it...and I would go again, if I could - it was worth every penny! The park currently has 1,400 buffalo and I think we saw most of them. It was ASTOUNDING. Following the Jeep Tour, we had reservations for the  Chuck Wagon Cookout in the canyon - good food and live music - and we all wore cowboy hats and bandannas - it was memorable. I enjoyed every single minute of this day! We then took Iron Mountain Road and Pigtail Bridges to get back to the lodge - this drive through the Black Hills National Forest was incredible...even at night...and we had to slow way down for hundreds of buffalo on the road (in the dark) and quite a few deer. It was the perfect end to our trip...

Wednesday, we were back home and it is (once again) business as usual...I was back in the gym and back to work...but I slept well and refreshed last night...and my load feels just a bit lighter after fresh air and beautiful scenery. There was a lot of creative inspiration on this trip...luckily, I took a TON of photos! Thanks for revisiting our mini vacation with me...

I'll be back again real soon to share some stitching and quilting projects with you....for now, enjoy the rest of your week...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Finishing Frenzy

Needlework Finishing - Pincushion/Bowl Filler...
It's been a finishing frenzy in the Blue Ribbon Designs studio the last few weeks. I am getting ready to take a rare mini vacation with my husband...and I am "one of those" who has an extremely hard time relaxing - especially when I have work waiting for, I have been super focused and working round the clock to finish up the projects on my to-do tables before we head off for a little rest and relaxation. I am down to one last project (that isn't time sensitive) - and although it won't be complete before I leave, I have a great start on it and it will be waiting for me when I return home. I have been working on a variety of creative endeavors, including: needlework finishing, custom sewing, custom quilting, and freelance designing. Here is a picture trail of some of the projects I have completed (some I can't share with you just yet)...

Needlework Finishing - Flat-Finish Ornaments

Needlework Finishing - Flat-Finish Ornaments

Needlework Finishing - Stuffed Ornament with Pocket on Back

Needlework Finishing - Stuffed Ornament

Needlework Finishing - Flat-Finish Ornaments

Needlework Finishing - Flat-Finish Ornaments

Custom Project Bags and Custom Tool Bags

I got to cut into these gorgeous Robert Kaufman fabrics...

Major pin basting...

After receiving a tremendous stash gift from a dear friend, at her request,
I made her this Amy Butler "Birdie Sling" bag...
I also have to share, I received a fabulous surprise package in the mail from my very dear NH friend (which came at the perfect time!)...and it had the most adorable squirrel ribbon/trim (along with several other goodies and a hand-written letter)....isn't it wonderful?!

...and speaking of squirrels...
Anyone have a pet squirrel?? 🐿 A neighbor's tree is filling my backyard with acorns...this is the first bucket full of the season...I have to gather them before each mowing or it makes for very bumpy lawn care...

For now, I'm off to clean house and get the laundry complete...then I will be working on a quilted wall hanging later today...and maybe have time for a little model stitching tonight. For my friends in the United States, enjoy the long holiday weekend...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sugar Cookie Friendship Quilt

Hello friends! I am guest posting on the AccuQuilt Blog today...go take a look and read all about my Sugar Cookie Friendship Quilt. This mini quilt (measuring 20" x 20") was designed especially for gift giving, but there's no shame in making one for yourself!

It is the perfect size for a wall hanging or table combines traditional piecing (Ohio Star quilt blocks) and easy appliqué (circles and hearts). Each block measures 5" finished...and for cutting all the pieces, I used the GO! Qube Specialty Set-Serendipity by Edyta Sitar (oh how I love this Qube - I just adore the small shapes! - and it is full of FUN ideas - I am going to get TONS of use out of this set - if you haven't looked at it yet, definitely check it out!).

I provide a full detailed tutorial for this mini project (with images) that will have you sewing up your own friendship quilt in no time! Stop by the AccuQuilt Blog for all the details...

I was super excited to gift this special quilt to a dear friend last week - she inspired the project...and my sample uses her favorite colors!

It has been a finishing frenzy in my studio the last couple weeks! I have completed piles of fun projects (trying to clean my tables before my mini vacation to South Dakota) and I will be back tomorrow to share a bunch with you...see you soon!