Monday, January 31, 2011

In the Mail Today...

So last week I was playing around on a new-to-me fabric site - Burgundy Buttons - and I stumbled across the Max & Whiskers fabric line...isn't this beyond adorable?!

I managed to order one of those great layer cakes (I'm now addicted to them after the LC Quilt Along and that great Moda Bake Shop quilt that is still on my list)...

and then one of these charm packs...

and even one of these before I stopped myself!  I somehow avoided the fat quarter and fat eighth bundles :)


I had been kicking myself for not doing the Postage Stamp Quilt Along over at p.s. i quilt, and if I can find a deal on a solids jelly roll, I may have to turn this one into the postage stamp quilt (although not in my immediate future)!

So that was my fun today!  Here's a snapshot of the whole line...I'm thinking that working with these fabrics will make some great projects!

P.S. Moda Bake Shop used this line recently in a great dog bed tutorial, how perfect!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Layer Cake Quilt Along - Block 7

Block 7 was posted earlier this week, and I managed to keep on schedule and get it done here this weekend!  I liked this block, it wasn't as confusing to put together as I thought it would be.  I can't say that I'm thrilled with how the fabric choices flowed together, but that's my own fault for using scraps for a majority of the block!  I'd like to try it again some time and use colors as suggested in the directions.

I should add that the talented designer of this block, Celine Perkins of Perkins Dry Goods/A Few Loose Threads, was nice enough to do a giveaway on her blog in conjunction with the release of this block as part of the Quilt Along.  I was the lucky winner of a fabulous Charm Baskets* quilt pattern (an incentive to keep working on getting better!) and a Perfect Piecing Seam Guide (which I desperately need to learn how to use).  So THANK YOU to Celine!  Also, even if you're not doing the Quilt Along, but like this block, Celine posted a tutorial for a table runner using this block -- it's been added to my to-do list!

*You can see the Charm Baskets pattern by clicking on either of the hyperlinks.  There are a ton of great quilt patterns on there!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: The Hemingses of Monticello - January Book Club

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed was our January book club pick.  This was actually my "pick"* and it had been sitting on my bookshelf for ages.  I didn't realize when I made it one of my suggestions though that we were talking about 650+ pages of small print in the hardcover version!

This was an interesting book, but really, about twice as long as I think it needed to be.  Tons (and I mean TONS) of details about a unique family that we often don't hear about, the Hemingses are fascinating, with their long and intricate ties to Thomas Jefferson.  While this was interesting, it wasn't at all what I expected.  I expected more of a straight biography of the family, which in some respects it was, but it was also almost a treatise or textbook on slavery during the time frame as well.  There was almost just too much information to make it a truly riveting book.  Even I, speed reader and avid reader I am, had to break the book up and read in short sections to get through it.

I'm the only one who finished it for the meeting, but a majority of the folks do audiobooks,and this was not a good choice for them.  Too long on audio, and the subject and format of the book would make it very hard to listen to for very long.  All that being said, I'm glad I read it.  I keep saying it, but it's the best descriptor I can come up with -- it really is interesting.  It's a book far outside my normal zone of reading, it won or was nominated for tons of awards, and it does make you think about people and times and situations that you wouldn't otherwise have reason to focus on.

If you are interested in history, slavery, Thomas Jefferson or biographies of interesting people/families, then you'll enjoy this.  My recommendation though is to give yourself lots of time to make your way through it.

*  The way our club picks books is that each month, one person is responsible for giving 4-5 book suggestions.  The only real rules are that it needs to be something not brand new (i.e. available in paperback) and not straight romance (which gets me out of my comfort zone!).  After we get the suggestions, we vote as a group to pick one which becomes the choice for whatever month we're looking at, usually 3 or 4 months ahead.  When I did mine (back in August or September I think) I picked books off my shelves that I'd been wanting to read but hadn't gotten to for whatever reason.  This was one of them!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: Unveiled - Courtney Milan

Review: Even though I've only read one of her novels and one novella, I'm already a huge Courtney Milan fan.  Unveiled is another great story with well-developed characters and a story that sucks you in until you can't put it down.

Ash Turner set out for India at the age of 14 to make his fortune in an attempt to save his two younger brothers and provide them a better life.  Before that time, Ash had made a desperate plea to the Duke of Parford, a distant relative, for help to save his desperately ill sister.  The Duke was wholly unsympathetic (to say the least) and sent Ash on his way.  Ash swore revenge, and we begin the book with his having succeeded.

Ash provided evidence  that the Duke had already been married when he married the woman believed to have been the Duchess of Parford...the woman who produced the Duke's three children and his heir.  By proving that the Duke was a bigamist, the Duke's three children were declared illegitimate, leaving Ash as the Duke's heir.  As we meet Ash, he and his youngest brother, Mark, are arriving to spend the summer at one of the Duke's estates, the same estate where the Duke is living in desperately failing health.

The Duke's daughter, Margaret, has had her life turned upside down.  Not only has she been deemed illegitimate, she has lost her family name, her friends and her fiance.  Her brothers, however, still have hope that they can regain the family name, and have left Margaret at the estate to spy on Ash and provide them with ammunition to support their plan.  Margaret, in the guise of the Duke's nurse, is not known to Ash, who doesn't realize that she is the Duke's daughter.

Unveiled is the story of Ash and Margaret.  Ash is a hero you fall in love with.  He's far from perfect - brash, arrogant, harsh in some ways, brutal in others - he's also kind, responsible, brilliant and would do anything to give his family a better life.  Margaret is also a likable character, you can't help but feel for her as she attempts to regain her bearings.  Neglected horribly by her family, it's not until Ash comes along, with some of his revolutionary ideas, that Margaret really begins to learn who she is and finally feel comfortable with herself, gaining courage and independence.

As Ash and Margaret fall in love, Margaret is placed into a horrible situation.  How can she choose between Ash, the man she loves, and her family?  While this seems like a cut and dry story, it's far from it.  It's so well developed, the characters are used to play out the numerous family dramas and relationships and yet that doesn't overshadow the ways the characters themselves grow throughout the book and the numerous interrelationships and secrets.  Ms. Milan's books do a great job of using the time period that the story is set in, yet challenging the accepted perceptions of the time and incorporating characters that fall in many ways outside the "norm" of those you see in many historical romance novels. 

I don't want to give anything away about this story, I want you to enjoy it and the various emotional twists and turns as much as I did.  The side stories and characters are wonderful, and I'm very much looking forward to the stories of Ash's brothers down the road.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cherry House Quilt Along

I've been drawn into another Quilt Along!  I can't seem to resist them :)  This one moves pretty fast, but I think (hope) I'll be able to keep up.  Hosted by Cherry House Quilts, all the information can be found here.  It gets started February 1 and I just ordered my fabric from where the Kona is on sale!  I am buying the material for the orange quilt, as well as a modified version of the gray background (using only two colors for columns, orange and blue).  I better get sewing on my other projects!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Ape House Update

I posted earlier about attending the launch of Sara Gruen's book Ape House here in Des Moines.  After most of my book club attended the launch, we made it our December read.  I had to miss the December meeting, and as a result didn't finish (although I had started!) the book until just today.  I thought I'd post here the bit I wrote on GoodReads.  I enjoyed the book, although in a much different way than I did Water for Elephants.  It moved a bit slow at times story-wise, but overall was a quick read.

GoodReads review: At times the book was riveting, at others it seemed to drag, but overall an entertaining read.  I know I'm partial to the story and author because of the time spent researching here in Des Moines at the Great Ape Trust, but I think the book did a good job at conveying the magnificence, awareness and intelligence of these fascinating creatures.  While very different from "Water for Elephants" it is another interesting book from Gruen and I look forward to more from her.

Fabric LOVE - A Grand Tour - Victoria & Albert Collections (David Textiles)

I. Want. This.  All of this.  There is no way to express my love for this line of fabric.  My new love is The Grand Tour from the Victoria and Albert Collection for David Textiles.  Melanie over at A Sewing Journal posted about it tonight and I was instantly smitten.  I'm trying now to figure out how I can rationalize several yards of every print.  If anyone finds precuts or bundles, PLEASE let me know! 

First, I have to say I'd love any line of fabrics that includes books.  I mean really, what more can a girl ask for but for fabric that incorporates books?!  And wine bottles?!  All that aside, the colors are fabulous, the prints awesome, I could have so much fun with these!

The only place I've seen it for sale so far is Fabricworm...hopefully it will start showing up around more places (and even local shops) soon!

Weekend Project

Over on Moda Bake Shop today, they had the cutest "recipe" for a baby quilt.  Not only was it adorable, it's one that I looked at and felt extremely comfortable saying, "Hey, I can do that!".  So today I went out and bought the supplies to make one (or, well, two actually).  I didn't quite get the Layer Cake I was hoping for, but I figure if these turn out well, I can always order some online and make more.  I think that the batik fabric I bought will turn out really nice though.  My goal is to do some major cutting this weekend, beyond that we'll see!  The image is the finished sample from the blog posting, which I think is just adorable.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: The Orchid Affair - Lauren Willig

Barnes & Noble made a delivery to my house yesterday, including the newest release in Willig's Pink Carnation series - The Orchid Affair.  I sat down this morning with the book, thinking I'd start it while I drank my morning coffee.  Three hours later, I had a half a cup of cold coffee and a completed book.  Needless to say, once I started the book, I didn't put it down.

This installment of the series is back to being fabulous.  Don't get me wrong, I've thoroughly enjoyed the series as a whole -- just some more than others.  The Orchid Affair though is the perfect blend of history and fiction, with a bit of humor thrown in as well. 

Like the majority of the books, the Pink Carnation herself is not the main character in the book.  Instead, we have Laura Grey...a quiet, serious governess who after 16 years of tending to other people's children realizes she needs to do something to find herself again.  Laura joins the Selwick Spy School, and for her first assignment, she is sent to France and the household of Andre Jaouen, the deputy minister of police, as a governess. 

Despite her misgivings, Laura is making inroads in the spying business, trying to determine what Andre's business and plans really are.  Laura becomes embroiled in trying to find out more about a plot to restore the royal family to the throne in France...thinking that Andre is trying to thwart it and that she can get the information she needs through her work there.  Yet nothing is quite as it seems, and soon she, Andre and his family are on the run.

Willig does a great job of providing enough history to make it all seem real, yet giving the reader a fun story full of intrigue and interesting characters.  The side story set in more present times, ties the past and current Selwick families together.  Eloise and Colin have great interactions with each other and Colin's crazy family.  While I'm always left anticipating the next in the series (because in each one you see characters who you're sure deserve their own book -- like the dramatic "poet" in Orchid) I always feel the little we get on Colin and Eloise is just a teaser...and I'm always left wanting MORE...NOW!

The Orchid Affair is a wonderful read that will grab you from the first and, as I found out, not let you stop until you're done.  I'm already bemoaning the fact that it's likely another year before we get the next Pink Carnation book.  Yet if it takes a year to turn out another great book like this, it's worth the wait...but I didn't say I'd wait patiently!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Layer Cake Quilt Along - Block 6

I'm caught up!  In fact, since there's a week until the next block is released, I consider myself ahead :)  Just today I cut and pieced and finished up Block 6.  After some initial confusion with the instructions was cleared up, this turned out to be a great block.  Easy to cut, easy to piece and I think it's a very versatile block.  In fact, I'd be tempted to make the whole quilt out of these types of blocks, as the designer did originally!  I was able to use scraps for a lot of this block, so I think I ended up only having to use one full square (for border) and then a chunk of another for the large green portion.

With this block, we are officially 1/2 way through the blocks for the Quilt Along.  Here are the 6 completed blocks, laid out in order so far.  I'm really enjoying how this is turning out, and I'm looking forward to the next 6 blocks.  And then maybe, MAYBE, I'll actually conquer my New Year's Resolution of completing a quilt this year!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011-2012 Fat Quarter Shop Block of the Month

I saw a post today on Where is my seam ripper? for Fat Quarter Shop's Block of the Month Club.  It doesn't start until June (and runs for 12 months), so I've got a bit of time to make up my mind, but I"m definitely thinking about it.  The Layer Cake Quilt Along ends in May, so that means a June start is good timing.  I'm trying to decide if the cost is worth it for me though, and if maybe instead I should work on some of the 800 quilt projects I already have collecting dust in the craft room!  At least I have a few months to decide here.  Either way it looks like fun, and great fabric (Strawberry Fields by Fig Tree - and yes, now I have the Beatles song running through my head)!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Layer Cake Quilt Along, Blocks 4 & 5

All I can say about these two blocks is UGH! But, they are done, and since Block 6 came out today, I am now officially caught up!

Block 4 was a snowball, and I like how it looks now that it's done, but the directions on it were a bit confusing and the snowball part was a bit confusing to me.  I also had the border stars completely reversed initially, but I caught it right before I took the picture, tore it apart and fixed it.  I ended up pulling in some outside fabric for the background, as well as the green part of the snowball.  Again, I like how it looks, but I can't say this is one I would do again on my own anytime soon.

Block 5 was deceptively difficult.  The cutting was easy, the initial piecing was easy, yet somehow, my straight lines became curves on me.  This should be a square with 90 degree angles.  Final result was close but not quite.  I had a ton of re-dos on this one too, but again, DONE!  This one I might try again, just to see if I could actually get it straight.  It was fun, but it's harder than it looks to try to get those 90 degree angles.

Block 6 looks to be another challenge.  I glanced at the directions and am already confused, but I decided I'm just burnt out from doing these two blocks today and I'm going to look at it with fresh eyes over the weekend.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Adventures in Cooking - Asparagus, Chicken & Pasta

It's been a while since I've done an Adventure in Cooking, sticking to the old standbys lately (aka I've been lazy).  The last two nights though, I've stepped outside the box.  Last night I did our family version of Swiss steak (which if anyone is interested is easy as pie) and tonight I decided to tackle a new recipe I got via email today: Asparagus, Chicken and Pecan Pasta (sans Pecans). 

What you see above is what's left after dinner it makes a good amount (and I only used 8 oz of pasta vs the 16oz it called for!).  I did a few "tweaks" to work with what we had in the house...two roasted red peppers instead of a red pepper, gluten free quinoa rotelle pasta instead of penne, some celery, no pecans, and a blend of shredded pizza cheese & mozzarella because I was out of Parmesan.  I browned up about 14 oz of Bare Chicken tenders (love that brand), followed the rest of the recipe, and ended up with a fairly quick, but very good, dinner! 

Tonight's adventure has me thinking I need to do these more often.  Lately all we eat are variations of stir fry, risotto, roast and soup/grilled cheese.  Luckily, we both really like all of these, but every once in a while, some variety is a good thing.  These adventures should also be a good chance for me to find some recipes that go along with my goal of doing at least one meatless dinner a week (seafood isn't considered meat for this).  I have to start watching my cholesterol (I shouldn't be old enough for that) and I figure one meatless night a week will help with that!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Big Books

This is too funny!  Shared by Katie from Book Love, the more I watch it I realize the extent of its awesomeness and the need to pass it on.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Postage Stamp Quilt Along

I'm not up for this now, but wanted to pass it along.  Check out the link here if you're interested in a Postage Stamp Quilt Along -- looks like fun!  It's hosted by p.s. i quilt and has some great incentives to finish your quilt -- and a discount to purchase your fabric...what more do you need?!  Enjoy :)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holiday Reading Challenge Wrap Up

As part of the 2010 Holiday Reading Challenge I aimed to read the following books:
  1. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (a fabulous Christmas Classic - Goodreads review - no idea how to link to that)
  2. A Season of Seduction - Jennifer Haymore (Goodreads review - no idea how to link to that)
  3. The Mischief of the Mistletoe - Lauren Willig (sort of a cheat as I read just prior to the challenge beginning)
  4. Scandal of the Season - Christie Kelley (review)
  5. His Christmas Pleasure - Cathy Maxwell (DNR)
  6. The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg (DNR)
  7. A Chesapeake Shores Christmas - Sherryl Woods (review)
While I didn't quite finish all the books above, I'm happy to say I DID complete 5 of the 7!  Polar Express is one I wish I'd found to read, it's a wonderful story that I love to re-read whenever possible.  I also did not read His Christmas Pleasure by Cathy Maxwell, mainly because the library didn't have it available.  I should have checked that prior to choosing it as part of the challenge.

In addition to the 5 above I did read a few other Christmas books (whether by plot or just setting), including
  1. Countess By Christmas - Annie Burrows
  2. Holiday Affair - Lisa Plumley
  3. A Highlander Christmas - Janet Chapman
  4. The Christmas Brides - Linda Lael Miller (review)
  5. To Have and To Kill - Mary Jane Clark (review)
  6. A Seduction at Christmas - Cathy Maxwell (in process)
  7. The Night Before Christmas - Clement Clarke Moore
  8. Promise Me - Richard Paul Evans (in process)
So while I didn't post reviews to all, and I didn't quite read all that I hoped to, I did read way more Christmas-related books that ever for this time of year, and I count that as a success!  It was fun, and I'll definitely do this again next year

Reading Challenges to start off 2011 - 100+ Reading Challenge

The other challenge I'm joining to start 2011 is the 100+ Reading Challenge, hosted by My Overstuffed Bookshelf.

1. The goal is to read 100 or more books. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate. Posting on GoodReads or wherever you post your reviews is good enough.

2. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Manga, Graphic Novels, Library books, Novellas, Young Reader, Nonfiction – as long as the book has an ISBN or equivalent or can be purchased as such, the book counts.

What doesn't count: Individual short stories or individual books in the Bible.

3. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

4. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2011. Books started before the 1st do not count. You can join at anytime.

I've started a separate page to track my 2011 reads, so this will work out perfectly!  I don't know about reviewing all I read, but I'll definitely have to work to up that number as well.  Happy Reading!

Reading Challenges to start off 2011 - E-Book Challenge

All About {n} posted today on several reading challenges, two of which were no-brainers for me to join! 

First, the E-book challenge.  Hosted by The Ladybug Reads, anyone can participate, blogger or not!  I'll be tracking my e-books on my general 2011 reading list, just by noting that the format.  Here are the guidelines:
Challenge Guidelines:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. There are four levels:

-- Curious – Read 3 e-books.

-- Fascinated – Read 6 e-books.

-- Addicted – Read 12 e-books.

-- Obsessed – Read 20 e-books.

3. Any genre counts.

4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap-up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.

5. Challenge begins January 1, 2011 and lasts until December 31, 2011.
 Me, I'm  definitely going for "Obsessed"...I'm wondering if there is a super-obsessed category? 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review: Impulse - Candace Camp

Impulse, by Candace Camp, is a re-release of a book published originally in the mid-1980s.  I will say I'm a fan of Ms. Camp's work, but  I do prefer her more recent writings.  Of the older books I've read though, this was one of the better ones and I did enjoy it.

Impulse is a story of revenge in many ways.  Cam Monroe, a stable boy, and Angela Stanhope, the Earl of Stanhope's granddaughter, were childhood sweethearts.  However, they were discovered one evening, and Angela was forced, by her grandfather, to marry a peer in order to save Cam.  Cam, however, is unaware of this and thinks that Angela chose to marry Lord Dunston to stay within the proper class boundaries and all that.

After Angela's scandalous divorce, she returns to live with her grandmother and mother at the family estate.  Her brother, Jeremy is now earl, and he visits one day with a stranger in tow, a solicitor representing a gentleman who threatens to ruin the family unless Angela agrees to marry him.  Angela has sworn never to marry again (for good reason I must say) but it turns out that the gentleman in question is Cam.

Cam has sworn revenge on the Stanhopes and marrying Angela is part of his plan.  The story of this battle of wills is entertaining, especially as Cam starts to discover the truth.  Angela's former husband, Lord Dunstan, won't go away, and as Cam starts to look into his past, we learn why. I also liked the story of some key side characters, Angela's maid, Katie, who has always stuck by her, and Cam's solicitor, who is probably one of my favorite characters in the story.

I liked the story of overcoming the past and watching Cam and Angela learn to trust and love each other again.  The side story of Cam's family was a bit over the top, but not so much that it detracted from the overall story.  Overall, an enjoyable read from Ms. Camp.