Welcome to American Homestead. I'm happy you have found my blog. Make yourself comfy and see what's been happening around here. I write about the things that interest me ~ creativity, travel, food, nature and a happy life. I'd love to read your comments.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Majestic Autumn

I guess I have some catching up to do.  As many
of you know this has been a big travel year for me.
I think I have been away as much as I have been
home.  Between mid-May and mid-September, I
traveled over 50,000 air miles and then there were
the additional thousands of miles by car, train,bus,
boats, bikes and elephants. 

The last time I posted on this blog it was still hot
Summer.  Since then I have been busy as always,
just not blogging about it.  In September I went 
to Alaska for a big quilt retreat and I will be writing
about that soon.  Just after getting back from that
trip my laptop got very sick and had to be sent away
to the hospital.  Sadly all my data was lost including
all my photos.  I am working to get them back and I
will post about the retreat once I have photos again.

When I got back from Alaska I decided I had to 
attend to some chores around my house before
the cold weather set in.  I spent a day painting
my garden shed with primer and in trying to reach
the roof I ended up doing some interesting gymnastic
moves while hanging from the top of the ladder and
I ended up seriously injuring my back.  For quite a 
while every time I tried to move I would actually 
scream, it was very embarrassing.  

Once I got moving about a little better I got to work
and made 7 quilt tops for a new book I am involved
in that will come out in December.  I wrote a chapter
of the book and my chapter alone has 8 different quilt
designs.  I am working on a new lecture about my
chapter in this book.  Here is the book if you are 
interested in pre-ordering: 
Now it is on to the quilting and binding of these
quilts.  Perfect work for this time of year as the days
are getting colder.

I took a nice long hike in the woods today and thought 
I'd share some photos from this beautiful Fall day.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Shelling on Sanibel Island

Just call me Shellin' Ellen!

Last week Mr. Wonderful and I celebrated our
25th Wedding Anniversary.  I wanted to do 
something special to mark the occasion and  at
first I thought we would go out for a nice dinner.
The more I thought about it though, that didn't
seem to be special enough to mark such a big
milestone.  As I was travelling all over the world
earlier this summer, I would fall into bed exhausted
and talk to Wonderful on the phone each night and
ask him to take me to the beach for our next trip.
Something relaxing and laid back.  A big anniversary
seemed like a good reason to head to Sanibel Island.
Well, it was laid back... I'm not sure if you would call
 it relaxing.

I'd have that poor guy out on the beach at dawn 
each day so I could have an early look at what 
washed up overnight.

We got up close and personal with the local
wildlife.  We saw dolphins and manatees and
all sorts of shore birds and an eagle flew right
over us one morning.

I would walk for hours down the nearly deserted
beaches.  I was lost in my thoughts listening to the
waves crash on the shore and the tinkling of the 
shells as the waves went back out to sea that sounded
like the most beautiful wind chimes you have ever

The best reason to come to Sanibel is for the
shells.  This is what I found in just the first day
and a half.  I especially love the beautifully 
colored calico scallops.  While most teenagers
were rebelling against their parents, I was traveling
with mine.  My Mum and I would spend weeks
collecting those beautiful scallops and finding so 
many now makes me miss her even more but at
least I have happy memories of times gone by.

On our third day at Blind Pass Sanibel beach, we
arrived early and I was noticing the shell line was
being pulled out onto the sand bar,  I worried that
maybe the sand bar was weakening and there could
be a rip current.  I went for a walk for a few hours
 and when I got back the area that looked strange
that morning had become a mountain of shells.  It
was as if it was a volcano and the lava was shells.
The really odd thing about this was it happened
right in front of where we had set up camp for the
day.  I think the mermaids got together and said
Ellen has come here for a big celebration, let's 
give her a present from the sea.  And by the next
day it was gone, all washed back out to sea.
(I'm so sorry I didn't get a photo of the mountain!

We had a great time on our little getaway.  Oh, how
I miss living near the beach.  We also got to catch a
few terrific sunsets.

Too often I see people watch the sun set into the
water and then they take off.  Then they miss the 
after show, always wait for the after show!  That's
when you can often see the best color.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Can, Can, Canning!

This weekend I pulled out the canning equipment 
from a back shelf in my laundry room.  I haven't 
used it in years!

I didn't grow up with much canning in my family.
If we came home from Bramhall Woods with a pail
filled with blackberries and the scratches to show 
for the effort, my Mum would take pity and whip
up a batch of jam but it wasn't something that 
happened on a regular basis.

Her brother on the other hand was mad for gardening
and always put up some of the fruits of his labor.  Uncle
Ed would make the best zucchini pickles and once we 
said to him, "Unc, the zucchini is great but we fight over
the onions at the bottom of the jar."  Wouldn't you know,
the next season he put up jars of just the onions.  We 
would pull off a piece of Italian bread, spread it with
some brie and top it with the pickled onions ~ it was

When I moved to the Midwest twenty-five years ago
(25!), I was in my Country Living phase.  I dreamed 
of living in an old farmhouse and going down to the
cellar to shelves lines with jars of things I canned 
from my garden.  Of course, I didn't know how to can
but I was moving to the Midwest and thought I would 
learn.  About 30 minutes away from where I lived at 
the time was Muncie, Indiana, the home of the Ball
Corporation, the canning jar people.  I marched into
their corporate office building one day and admired 
all the old jars in their lobby and asked where do I
find out information about canning?  They looked at
me like I had two heads.  They had no idea.  I told them
they should...

I had to teach myself through books and I generally
stuck to just fruits.  I would go to the strawberry farm
every June and pick 30 pounds of strawberries and make
jam.  When the kids were little, we had friends who 
lived in the country who had grapes on their property.
We would fill the station wagon with boxes of grapes and
go home and make a big mess and enough grape jelly to
last us all year.

Then life got too busy for canning but luckily we had our
Uncle Jamie who was a mad scientist in his kitchen and 
he whips up all sorts of chutneys and pickles and preserves.
Every Thanksgiving he comes with boxes filled with goodies

so we really relied on his delicious efforts.  

When we were at his house after the big trip this summer he
served us a snack that used his Pike County Tomato Preserves.
Kate and I were crazy for it and we said we'd make some for 
ourselves this summer.

It is tomato season in our neck of the woods and this
was the weekend to "put up" some preserves.  I went 
to the Farmer's Market at Minnetrista yesterday
morning which coincidentally is where the Ball Brothers
lived years ago, their mansions still stand on the property.

The first table I went to had a display of Ball canning items
and the ladies were making Bread and Butter pickles. 
They gave me some good info on where to find the best
stores with the largest selection of canning items.  We
picked up some tomatoes from another vendor and also 
stopped at a farm stand near our house.

I made two batches of Pike County Tomato Preserves.
The recipe calls for tomatoes, an orange, a lemon, sugar,
salt and pumpkin pie spice.  Mine aren't as good as
Uncle Jamie's but I'm happy for my first attempt.

We like to eat ours on a thin cracker spread with whipped
cream cheese and topped with the preserves.  Num!

In the stores I was happy to see a big selection of
canning supplies.  There must be a resurgence of 
interest for major retailers to give up that much shelf
space to canning.  I had to take home these little jar
toppers.  They are made to look like a fabric and 
ribbon top that we have all used at one time or
another but they are made of silicon so they keep
your jams or jellies fresh in the fridge since it keeps
the jar airtight.  

I'm already thinking about zucchini pickles...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Asia Through the Back Gate and The House of Waris

With such a limited time in Istanbul we knew 
our days would be busy.  We started the day 
with a beautiful Turkish breakfast.  Mr. Wonderful
and I had stayed at this hotel the first time we were
in Istanbul.  We told Midi about it and he stayed 
here the next time he was in town.  It is a small hotel, 
the rooms are small but nice but the reason we stay
here is for the breakfast, it is fantastic.  It is such a 
spread that our first time we stayed here we had to
make two trips to the buffet just to be able to taste 

This is the honey dispenser,  I'd love to
have this at home.

But enough with the food, we had sites to see.
The first stop was the Hagia Sophia,  I told my
kids that the first time I entered the vast room
I gasped and I hoped it would have the same 
effect on them.  Sadly, there was construction
scaffolding on one side so that took away from
the soaring impact of the space.

We could still enjoy the beauty of the architecture.

And enjoy the beautiful mosaics.

After leaving the Hagia Sophia we strolled
over to the Spice Market and stocked up on
some of our favorites.

And who could pass up the Turkish Delight?

Afterwards, it was time for lunch and we decided
to go to Asia.  Asia you may ask?  Yes, Istanbul is 
the only city located on two continents and it is 
only a short ferry ride away.  

We arrived in Kadikoy on the Asian side of the
Bosphorus and I was looking for a particular
restaurant.  We hiked up and down winding lanes
trying to find it.  Locals were happy to help us, one
young woman google mapped it and even called 
the restaurant to confirm the directions.  

When we finally arrived I told the man at the
door that I had read that some said it was the
best restaurant in Istanbul ~ he countered with,
oh no, the world.  We weren't disappointed.
There were no tables outside though and since
it was such a nice day we wanted to eat outside, he
said no problem, we have a few restaurants on 
this street and all the food is the same.  He took 
us over to one of the other restaurants and gave
us a description of each of the dishes.  The food
was fabulous.

We walked off lunch with a stroll back through 
the winding streets to the port to catch a ferry
to Karakoy on the other side of the Golden Horn.
From there we took the funicular or mountain
tram as they call it and walked up the hill until we
reached the Pera Palace Hotel.

The Pera Palace is a grand old hotel and it
was especially interesting to us since we are
Agatha Christie fans and this is where she 
wrote Murder on the Orient Express.

The grand tea salon was being used for a private
party so we headed out to the terrace.  Kate and I 
headed inside to find the wash room and came into 
the tea salon as the turbaned and bearded Waris
Ahluwalia of the House of Waris was giving a 
speech about creativity and our need to take time 
for tea.  Waris is a some time actor, designer and
now I suppose tea peddler.  This event was part of
Istancool, an international arts and culture festival.
The crowd had gathered in the middle of the room
and Kate and I were stuck in the crowd so we stayed 
for the speech.

Back on the terrace we enjoyed some lovely
beverages and desserts.  Following this we
headed back to the hotel for a rest.

Later in the evening we went back to 
Sultanahmet for dinner.  On our way 
to find a restaurant we came upon a
Whirling Dervish performance.

Brennan chose the restaurant this evening, he
wanted one of the places where you sit on the
floor on pillows.

Thankfully, the food was good too.

Then we stumbled back to the hotel and
fell into our beds.  A grand day in a grand city.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Return to Istanbul

Midi and I were returning to Istanbul, we had
both been here a few times though never together.
I  was so excited to introduce my kids to this vibrant
 city for the first time.  When you exit the metro from
the airport at Aksaray, you are nearly blown over by the
fact that you are in a new and different place.  The flags
and banners are waving, the warm air smacks your face,
the foreign music that is blasted from speakers is so 
unusual, the delicious aromas from the food vendors
on the street, it is all a reminder of being in a faraway
land and you are still in Europe, at least in this part of
the city.

We took a short rest and freshened up and then it
was time to get out on the streets, we would only
be here for a short time and we had a lot to see.
We took the tram down Divan Yolu to the
 Sultanamhet district and walked around a bit to
see the Hagia Sofia...

...and the Blue Mosque.

Then we took a short stroll up Yerebatan to 
find one of my favorite little restaurants in
Istanbul.  I told the man at the door that I
had been there a few times before but it was the
first time for my family.  He asked if I had ever 
been to the roof garden ~ well, no,  hadn't.

And he led us up a winding stairway to this
funky, folky roof garden painted like a gypsy
caravan.  I could move in!  

We were only here for drinks and an appetizer
since we had so little time and so many places 
we wanted to go.  The appetizer was a fabulous
cheese plate with cheeses and turkish cucumbers
and tomatoes and dried fruits and nuts.  It was
delicious!  We watched the sky turn dark blue as
the sun set and then it was time to move on to 
our next stop.

On my very first night in Istanbul I passed this 
restaurant and said I wanted to eat here and I
had never gotten around to it.   So tonight was
a first for me too.

In this type of restaurant the food is already
prepared and you point to what you want.
Honestly, the salad plate had filled us up so we 
just shared one plate between the four of us.  

Since it was such a lovely night we decided
to eat outside, there are tables set up along
the side street.  This is a great spot for people
watching as it is in the historic district and it
is always crowded.  After dinner we were 
exhausted so we jammed ourselves into the 
packed metro and headed home to sleep.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Going Old World in Prague ~ Cafe Slavia

We were exhausted after returning by train from a 
day spent out of the city in Kutna Hora.   Though we
all could have fallen into bed for a nap we also realized
we were running out of time in Prague.  The next day 
we were traveling to Istanbul so if we wanted to see 
everything on our list, we had to slap ourselves awake 
and get to Cafe Slavia.

Cafe Slavia opened in 1881 and has been the place to 
meet for writers, artists, poets and performers.  It is
located along the river right across the street from the
National Theatre.  It is the type of place to gather and
discuss and debate politics, art and the latest projects
of the movers and shakers in the art world. Vaclav Havel
 used to hang out here.

As we were enjoying our hot drinks, Midi nodded to a 
nearby table and said, "Check out this guy, looks like a
truck driver, sounds like an opera singer".  Yeah, it's 
that kind of place, a few tables away a beautiful woman 
was being interviewed by a nervous guy.  The woman's
cute cocker spaniel ended up jumping up on the guy 
for a taste of his dessert and that broke the ice and 
allowed the guy to relax and get on with it.

As you enter the main door be sure to check out the
sweets case and remember the number of the item 
you want to order.

Try to get a table along the river for great views 
of Prague Castle.  It is lovely to sit and watch the 
boats on the river and the people walking by.

It is nice to go late in the afternoon for a
snack and coffee.  A piano player performs 
late in the day and it is a perfect place to relax 
and soak in a bit of Prague history.

For us, the guys headed home afterwards but Kate
and I took one final stroll over the Charles Bridge
to say goodbye to Prague.