A Thimble’s Worth of Advice


Some of the best things in life are also the smallest! A hopeless collector, I adore thimbles! I’ve picked thimbles up as inexpensive souvenirs and at flea markets. However, I had no idea that one day a chance meeting at a tag sale and a cigar box of thimbles would lead to a surprise and a life lesson!

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Chalkboard Paint,101


“French country”, “shabby chic”, “vintage” – my kitchen has a theme with two favorite things: chickens and cherries. I adore the bright, happy red of cherry-themed items. Much of the decor is antique and vintage, but it was a chalkboard with hand-painted cherries that I ordered from a charming catalog over a decade ago that made me smitten with a cherry-themed decor. As a kid in the seventies, we had a bright red rotary phone on the wall in the kitchen; next to it was a chalkboard. Mom would write phone messages on it, and the family grocery list. (Remember the Brady Bunch? Catch re-runs and take a peek at Carol Brady’s kitchen…there’s a blackboard in her kitchen, too). Through the years, my little cherries chalkboard has been the place we scrawl quick notes, to-do lists, doodles, and of course, the family grocery list. However, after over a decade of use, it no longer was writable. The surface wore out, and chalk no longer would make a mark. Before letting my cute little board go, I wondered if there was a way to bring its writing surface back to life. Could it be revived? Hence, my new love affair with Chalkboard Paint.

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Indoor Gardening, 101


If you’re like me, you can’t wait to get outside and get the garden growin’! Unfortunately, it will be a few more weeks in my area before we can really get gardening outside. That’s okay – we can garden indoors!

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Long Distance Tea


Mothers have a special bond with their daughters. My mother and I have been no exception. When I was little, my dad was a traveling salesman. Mom was a stay-at-home mom, a “homemaker” as she was called back then.

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This Cover Has A Story: An Artist and Her Quilts


Quilts are so are beautiful, a way to showcase an incredible talent. While I do sew, I haven’t mastered true quilting skills yet. The closest I’ve come so far are a few small quilted table runners. I’m in awe of anyone who can craft quilts, but was truly amazed after seeing the inspiring work of one very passionate quilter. Her pieces aren’t just cozy covers – they are pieces of art with stories to tell.


I first met Stefanie Palermo Lagana at a local art festival, where I admired her stunning quilts so worthy of admiration, just like paintings. Stefanie, who studied art in college and is a former art director for Mademoiselle magazine, was a weaver when she moved from New York City to the Connecticut suburbs over twenty years ago.

One of Stefanie's woven creations.

One of Stefanie’s woven creations.

Realizing that weaving wasn’t a portable hobby, she decided to try quilting. Looking to also meet new people (she had small children at home and a husband who traveled), Stefanie signed up for a quilting class through her local Parks and Recreation. She quickly became friends with her classmates. Soon the ladies were a weekly Thursday “quilting bee”. After their children were in bed, the group would get together on Thursday nights to quilt, often until the wee hours. “We all learned from each other”, Stefanie says.


Stefanie has an eye for color and loves fabrics. She especially loves working with “watercolor” fabrics. Her favorite quilt, “Nantucket Quilt”, is a beautiful example; a stunning all-handmade work of art. “This one I’d never sell,” Stefanie says.

Stefanie's personal favorite, "Nantucket Quilt".

Stefanie’s personal favorite, “Nantucket Quilt”.

This particular one took my breath away. Stefanie says it is special because she created it during a stressful time in her life.

This particular one is so beautiful, it took my breath away. Stefanie says it’s special because she created it during a stressful time in her life.

Stefanie's special quilt for Newtown. There are twenty six stars in honor of Sandy Hook Elementary.

Stefanie’s special quilt for Newtown. There are twenty six stars in honor of Sandy Hook Elementary.

Stefanie’s very first quilt was a “sampler” quilt. From there, she decided to try doing a “Fairy Tale” quilt. Her first example was a Cinderella quilt- not her own pattern design, but she found great enjoyment in the embellishing process.


IMG_6397“Cinderella” is all hand quilted, with metallic thread and fabric that looks like hair, and  “diamond” buttons for the carriage wheels. The quilt, once in her daughter’s room, now graces the wall of her sweet little granddaughter’s room.

From there, Stefanie was inspired to create her own patterns, and the rest is history. For her son, she made a Jack-N-The-Beanstalk quilt, which hangs floor to ceiling. The details on this piece are breathtaking. Using the “Trapunto” style (“stuffed” fabric to create a 3D effect) and embellishments like beads and fancy buttons, a  fairy tale story unfolds as soon as the eye hits the colorful images crafted from fabric and thread.




Each quilt has a story or special meaning on the back.

Each quilt has a story or special meaning on the back.

When her son was older, before he left for college, Stefanie created a t-shirt quilt using t-shirts from all aspects of his life, from age eight to eighteen years (a tricky process, since the shirts ranged in so many varying sizes) “It was a mathematical nightmare”, she laughs. The result is a beautiful, personal keepsake.


The backing of her son's t-shirt quilt is a perfect nod to the teenage years.

The backing of her son’s t-shirt quilt is a perfect nod to the teenage years.

Stefanie’s quilts have been displayed in schools, and she likes getting kids involved. One quilt very dear to Stefanie’s heart is the “Character Counts” quilt, made with her daughter’s second grade class.



Students were divided into groups, and each group was given a character trait – respect, responsibility, caring, fairness, and trustworthiness. The children picked their fabrics, drew pictures, and took photos illustrating the trait. The process taught the children many things- from using a new art medium, to math, measuring and critical thinking, as well as working in a group and the elements of how to be a good person. At the end of the year, the teacher gave Stefanie the quilt as a keepsake (Stefanie in turn made the teacher a smaller version).


The children acted out the character trait and then took photos of the action for the quilt. This is Stefanie's daughter when she was little.

The children acted out the character trait and took photos of the action for the quilt. This is Stefanie’s daughter when she was little.


Stefanie's quilt for her late father is very dear to her heart.

Stefanie’s quilt for her late father is very dear to her heart.

Stefanie creates heirloom keepsakes. Pillows are a great way to display old photos.

Stefanie creates heirloom keepsakes. Pillows are a great way to display cherished family photos.

Stefanie is so talented. i thought this framed piece on the wall was a painting, but it is actually made from fabric!

Stefanie is so talented. I thought this framed piece on the wall was a painting, but it is actually made from fabric with wax release.

Quilting as “Acolorsplash Designs” Stefanie’s work has includes commissioned quilts, photo quilts, beach scenes, and t-shirt quilts. Each quilt has a special story or meaning on the back, as well as her signature butterfly hidden on the front of each one. The time and detail involved in each piece is jaw-dropping. All her letters are hand cut, and much of the work is all hand-appliqued. Stefanie’s truly passionate about her art. “I could sew all day long,” she laughs. She finds inspiration everywhere, from her hometown and in everyday life.


Stefanie’s advice for other quilters, or those that want to quilt? “No fear. Fear blocks you from so many things you want to do. Just do it.”  

Until Next Time… Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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Cool Again: Collecting Colorful Glassware


While I think shopping’s fun, I’ve never cared much for a mall. I love flea markets! Tag sales and antique/thrift stores are fun, too. Items that have withstood time or have a past history are interesting. Like many Farmgirls, I’m passionate about vintage items, and love anything glass! When glass is colorful, it’s even more tempting!

My childhood kitchen was red, colorful and inviting. Sure, there were gold appliances popular in the 70’s, but there were also red-and-white-checked cafe curtains mom had sewn herself, and a big strawberry McCoy cookie jar that was always filled. It was a big eat-in kitchen, but on holidays we sat in the dining room using tableware reserved for special occasions. Mom’s ruby-colored crystal water glasses graced the table on those occasions, and then stored in the credenza for safekeeping. The goblets would make the sweetest twinkling sound as we’d tiptoe by the credenza. I remember how I loved the way water looked in those iridescent cranberry glasses! I knew I was a “big girl” when I drank water from one on a special holiday. As an adult, Mom gave them to me as a housewarming present. How they survived shipping is a miracle! Mom bought her water goblets in 1964 from Foley’s Department store. Today, they’re stored in my china cabinet, but I don’t often use them, and my daughter’s never sipped water from one! They’re so delicate with thin rims – I’m afraid I’ll break one! (They still make that familiar “tinkling” sound when my footsteps vibrate the cabinet).


Last fall, I was in a thrift store with one of my friends when she spied a set of glasses and a pitcher. She exclaimed, “Nicole, that just screams “you”! Not knowing what the set was, I could tell it was old, probably from the 1950’s. Clear at the top, the bottom half of each piece is a pretty cranberry red.  It was love at first sight, and I was thrilled with the price tag: $4.00 for the whole set! Bringing my new treasure home, research revealed it was a “Blendo” set.


“Blendo” glass, made by the West Virginia Specialty Glass company, was most popular during the 1950’s and 1960’s, when colorful dresses wore worn with colorful aprons and cocktail parties were a popular past time. Blendo glass came in a variety of shapes and colors, and featured pitchers, glasses, cocktail shakers and serve ware such as salad sets and cruets. Today, Blendo’s popularity is increasing again. Collectors can find really reasonable prices on pieces at thrift stores, tag sales, and online through Facebook, Etsy, and Ebay.

This tall Blendo pitcher is a "frosted" example.

This tall Blendo pitcher is a “frosted” example.

It’s recognizable by the clear glass that “blends” into a rainbow of colors such as blue, orange, yellow, pink and more. The “frosted” pieces have a cool, refreshing look that begs to hold cold lemonade or iced tea to be served on a hot day. I love my cranberry red set, as it blends (pardon the pun) with spring, summer, or fall decor, as well as served me well (no pun intended again) at the holidays. Just use care to always wash by hand, and do not use harsh detergents, because the color can fade and flake off if handled improperly.

That same friend found another piece of the same color for me at Christmas. This piece is a small footed pitcher with a glass stirrer, shaped like a very large brandy snifter. This was used in the cocktail era to serve large batches of martinis. I think it’s adorable!

I love tin trays, too. The vintage one this Blendo piece is on is vintage from Denmark (like my husband, hee hee).

I love tin trays, too. The vintage one this Blendo piece is on is vintage from Denmark (like my husband, hee-hee).

Another friend and I have a tradition at Christmas, the “Vintage Gift Challenge”. Our gifts to each other must be vintage and under $10. This year, she gave me a chip and dip set in the same cranberry color as the pitchers and glasses! Oddly, she found it in a store and put it away before I ever found that first pitcher and glass set! I’m so lucky to have friends that really know me! The shape of the bowls are unique, and if you turn the little bowl around on the stand, it becomes a salad set… genius design!



My particular set came in the original box, made by Indiana Glass, but similar pieces are listed on eBay under “Blendo”. Can’t you just imagine ladies of a bygone time, in pearls and heels, getting together for a game of bridge and serving munchies in colorful glass? If you spy a beautiful, old glass pitcher or serving piece by West Virginia or Indiana glass, snap it up. The pieces recall another era, but are still beautiful today. Try a colorful Blendo pitcher filled with flowers as a vase, or use a bowl as a centerpiece.

Tell me, are you are a Blendo or vintage glassware fan, too? What’s your favorite color of glass?

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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I Did It!


Happy New Year! I’m not much of a “resolution maker”. Instead of looking at what needs “fixing”, I reflect on what was great or what was accomplished. I do keep a “bucket list” – adding and crossing off as I go through this adventure called life.  2015 was wonderful, and I’m thrilled I completed something I wanted to for a very long time: becoming a Certified Master Gardener!


“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

~ Audrey Hepburn

I began gardening at age seven, when my dad and I planted our first veggie garden in Houston, Texas. In the early 70’s, I was also my dad’s “helper” when we planted pine tree seedlings along the fence line of my dad’s ranch in the Texas hill country. Those trees are still there, sky-high and thriving. From then on, I was hooked on all things gardening!

I am always so happy in my garden and flower beds.

I am always so happy in my garden and flower beds.

Relocating to Connecticut over twenty years ago, I had to learn planting in a completely different zone with a totally different climate, adapting my gardening and choice of plantings to suit the area. (Master Gardeners have a great mantra: “Right plant, right place” – best garden advice ever)! For years I’ve admired a nearby home with its beautiful yard and garden, belonging to a Master Gardener, and my father and I long talked about how wonderful it’d be to have Master Gardener training. I decided finally not to talk about it anymore, but to do it.

Started in 1972, Master Gardener programs are offered throughout the country at county Cooperative Extension Centers through land grant universities. Interns in the program are trained in the science of gardening and horticulture; in return, they become volunteers – passing what is learned to the public. Programs emphasize doing the “right thing”, and the education is research proven. The amount of time to complete the course varies, but Connecticut requires one of the longest amount of hours, and is very environmentally focused. According to Julia Cencebaugh, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Fairfield County Extension, there are around 100 Connecticut Master Gardener Interns each year. The course is offered through the University of Connecticut County Extension near me every two years. I excitedly filled out the application and in December 2014, learned I’d been accepted to the program. I couldn’t wait for January!

Once a week for four months, January to April, the 2015 Master Gardener Interns would take an all-day class. Each week’s class was a different subject: topics like botany, plant pathology, entomology, IPM and more. I’d go home at the end of the day, tired but exhilarated by what we learned – joking after each class that my brain had a new wrinkle! I couldn’t wait for planting season to put what I learned to use! It was a long, cold winter; those gardening classes made the cold season fly by.


We interns were all different ages and backgrounds, but shared a common interest and goal. In addition to classes, we took a written midterm exam, and a diagnostic final, where we had to identify the plant and/or the problem. I was so nervous – I hadn’t taken a test in decades!

We also had to complete a “TSV” – tree, shrub, vine project, and were given a list of plant specimens to find and research. For nine months, I snipped, dried and stayed up past my family’s bedtime pasting specimens, researching and typing. At first I was intimidated by the project, but soon enjoyed it. I learned more than I could’ve imagined!

My TSV is thick! It's a helpful reference and a  treasured souvenir.

My TSV binder is thick! It’s now a helpful reference and a treasured souvenir of my year.

A page from my project showing forsythia.

A page from my project showing forsythia.

It wasn’t easy because I had other commitments, as well. I blog, I’m a Scout leader, I teach classes; I have a husband and daughter, we’ve pets and chickens to care for and a home to maintain. I have my own garden, as well. But this was something I wanted to do; I was determined to see it through.


I was amazed how much I didn’t know, learning universal Latin plant names, and noticing details like leaf galls or insect damage. A new world was opening up as I spied plants, leaves and bugs everywhere. It was fascinating. I relished learning about my areas’ trees, something I didn’t have much knowledge of. (Before, all evergreens were “Christmas trees”). Now I know what different trees are, how to care for them, and to watch for signs of disease. This serves me well, since our property is partially wooded.

A Tsuga specimen with Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

A Tsuga specimen with Hemlock Wooly Adelgid



Before graduation, each intern must complete sixty hours of service, thirty volunteering in the office and thirty volunteering for an outreach project. I enjoyed the office hours. My mentors were amazing teachers!  It was exciting being able to answer questions on plant issues for clients, or acting as a sleuth – identifying a “mystery”  plant brought in.

Proud to wear that apron! I logged in about 75 hours this year, but there are MG's who have hundreds of hours of service under their belts!

Proud to wear that apron! I logged in about 75 hours this year, but there are MG’s who have hundreds (even 1000!) of hours of service under their belts!

For my other hours, I chose to work in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden (http://www.fairfieldcountydemonstrationgarden.com/) right on the Extension property. Designed in 2013 by a dedicated group of Master Gardeners, the garden is the crown jewel of the extension center. We learned so much from each other; the garden is beautiful and inspiring to everyone who sees it. All  food harvested goes to local food banks. I look forward to volunteering there again.

A panoramic of the garden early in the season.

A panoramic of the garden early in the season.

Another view of the Demo Garden

Another view of the Demo Garden

Radishes peeking out...

Radishes peeking out…

And beautiful lettuce.

And beautiful lettuce.

A monarch visits one of the Demo Garden's flowers.

A monarch visits one of the Demo Garden’s flowers.

One day's harvest to be donated. A real sense of community is felt in the demonstration garden.

One day’s harvest to be donated. A real sense of community is felt in the Demonstration Garden, growing all-organic produce. The garden is the result of many volunteers putting in a lot of hard work!

In late October, we graduated. I’m proud of the hard work, cherishing the camaraderie I found in my fellow  Master Gardeners.

Graduation Day!

Graduation Day!

I was soooo happy!

I was soooo happy!

Master Gardeners have varied garden interests, and are trained to help others with things plant-related. With gardening one can never know everything – there’s always something new to learn and share. I might not know the answer immediately, but I know how to find the correct one. In 2009, there were 95,000 active Master Gardeners nationwide. Got a plant-related question? Call your local Extension and speak to a Master Gardener. They’ve worked hard to be able to help!

Wishing you a Happy New Year (and happy seed-catalog browsing – ’tis the season to find them in our mailboxes)!


Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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I’m Dreamin’ of a Retro Christmas!


It’s Christmas! There’s so much joy packed into just a few short weeks! I adore cheerful holiday displays – especially  antique, vintage (or vintage-inspired) decorations. This year, I’m dreaming of a “retro” Christmas! Play some Bing Crosby, and deck the halls – vintage farmgirl style!


There’s serious collectors of vintage Christmas this-and-that, but I just choose what speaks to me. Each year, I add a little something different to our Christmas decor, trying now to incorporate more of the vintage style I love so much (giving me an excuse to go junk-tiquing with my gal-pals). Decorations from Christmas past have so much more charm than their contemporary counterparts, don’t you think? I especially love anything adorned with Santa! I’ve been counting down the days to Christmas with a tin Santa Advent Calendar I picked up at a tag sale this summer. (It was torture waiting for December so I could put him up)! Not convinced he’s that old (perhaps 90’s vintage), his ol’fashioned smiling Santa face makes me happy.

IMG_5538Of course, my little Santa blow mold greets me in the kitchen…


Also softly lighting the night is my kitschy, glittery cardboard Putz church with bottle brush trees (that was offered for free! on a tag sale – LOVE IT)!


Christmas figurines were the rage in decades past, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. Companies like Lefton (started by George Lefton in 1941), and Napco (started in 1938 and located in Bedford, Ohio), specialized in porcelain from Japan. My husband surprised me with this little Napco couple from the mid-fifties. The figurines are actually salt-n-pepper shakers, only a few inches tall, and sit on hall table as opposed to a dining table. To collectors, they have “spaghetti trim”. Aren’t they sweet?


Also from the same era, this little angel holds a tealight.

Also from the same era, this little angel holds a tealight.

Popular now (again), are ceramic light up trees just bursting with 1970s nostalgia.


Ceramic trees like this look amazing lit up!

Ceramic trees like this look amazing lit up!

One of the most amazing Christmas displays I’ve ever seen is this giant Santa Claus, once used in advertising, now seen climbing a ladder in front of a local house. Jackie Stakel says her Santa is around eighty years old! She’s the third generation to display the Santa, made of hand painted wood. Jackie’s grandfather started a paper product company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that created the first foil baking cups. Her grandfather did business with various advertising companies, one of which gifted him with the enormous jolly Santa. This is Jackie’s first year to display Santa, who has been handed down from her grandfather to her father to Jackie. “I’m so glad so many people like my Santa”, she says. He certainly makes my family smile whenever we pass by.



I started a thread a few weeks ago on the MaryJanesFarm Farmgirl Connection, asking which decorations were everyone’s favorite, most-special holiday decorations. The answers were all different; it was interesting to see what each person holds dear. One of my most special decorations is the first to come out for display after Thanksgiving. Made from vintage greeting cards, my hand-sewn paper card baskets were a gift from MaryJane and Meg, and featured in the December2012/January 2013 issue of MaryJanesFarm (with instructions on how to make them). The baskets are so lovely and delicate. I love how Christmas lights reflect their soft colors.


Speaking of cards, my favorite illustrations feature Ellen Clapsaddle’s drawings. While I don’t have any original cards, I love items adorned with her work. My little wooden piece with its reproduction of an old Ellen Clapsaddle Christmas card, came from TJ Maxx one year, and I have seen similar pieces there each season.


I still hand-sign, hand-address and mail out “real” Christmas cards each year, sadly a disappearing tradition. I so enjoy sending and receiving cards. They look so cute displayed in a old soda-pop crate. There’s so many ways to re-purpose those crates, and the pop of red blends great with holiday decor.


I love incorporating pieces that aren’t necessarily “holiday”. My porch greets visitors with cheer using my daughter’s first pair of skates, an old, antique railroad lantern (lit at night with a battery-powered tea light), and a washtub filled with evergreens.


An old red train case looks festive tied with a vintage hankie, opened to display a collage of old family photos of Christmas from generations past.


White milk glass “pops” when mixed with festive colors of red and green!



Production of Little Golden Books began in 1942 as an economical, easy way for children to read, and didn’t break parents’ piggy banks at only 25 cents! After only five months, debut sales soared to 1.5 million books sold! When my daughter was born, I wanted to share with her the cherished titles I remembered as a child. Now that she’s a teenager, I enjoy seeing them displayed as a nod to Christmas past (and yes, that’s a real corn cob pipe by Frosty)!


Comfy handmade pillows in vintage prints make for a comfy reading corner.

I love to sew. Comfy handmade pillows in vintage prints make for a cozy corner.

Collectors love antique ornaments like those made by Shiny-Brite. While these aren’t Shiny-Brite, they’ve weathered with age. They were actually inexpensive and new when my husband and I bought them for our first tree in 1992. A plus to getting older – our things become “vintage”!

 IMG_5531No “retro” Christmas would be complete without some fun, festive drink ware! A dear friend gave me four vintage glasses last year after I admired hers, then I found four more at an antique shop. I love the  “Merry Christmas” on one side, and “Happy New Year” on the other.  I like their smaller size and use them for everything from seltzer to juice to iced tea. The little tray they sit on was a gift from an elderly couple at a church my husband and I attended as newlyweds our first Christmas away from all of our family. I can’t remember their names after 23 years, but I always remember their kindness each year I pull out the little tray. When friends visit, various retro stirrers keep guests from mixing up their glasses.

 IMG_0198IMG_5504-001Christmas nowadays can be hurried and stressed with today’s lifestyle. Maybe that’s why I prefer vintage decorations, all sweet and jolly. From simpler times, they are a reminder to slow down, relishing in the wonder and joy this season brings.

What is your most favorite or special decorations, and why? Stop by the comments section and say hi!

Until Next Time…Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Farmgirl Hugs! ~Nicole

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A Farmgirl Christmas Party


My Farmgirl Sisterhood Chapter, “CT Simpler Life Sisters” have been together as a group since 2010. Every year, we try to vary the activities we do, but each Christmas, we keep to our tradition, started that first holiday season together. I have the privilege of hostessing our Annual Christmas party – and it is this sisterhood chapter gathering that we really look forward to all year long.

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The Recipe Box (and A Giveaway)


Happy Thanksgiving! Are you ready? Y’all know how much I love to cook and how much I adore holidays! My kitchen’s the hub of my home, and I decorate it for each season. However, there’s one thing in my kitchen that’s always been a constant, that will get more use at Thanksgiving than any other item. Treasured, it’s something I’ll someday give to my daughter for her kitchen. Can you guess what it is? This post also marks my sixth year anniversary as the Suburban Farmgirl Blogger (my first post was Thanksgiving, 2010), so to celebrate I have an adorable giveaway for one lucky reader!

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