Happy Little House

Panama Mom Runs Business From Home

A house watercolor painted from a photo with a season change. These make a thoughtful gift for realtor to client closing, wedding anniversary, Father's or Mother's Day or housewarming. Submitted photo

Ashley Thomas of Panama has numerous interests, most involving creativity or physical activity. Entrepreneur, outdoorsperson, hairdresser, animal-lover, skater and artist all describe her.

“My number one job is a stay at home mom of these two,” she says of her 2 -and-a-half-year-old daughter, Violet, and 10-month old son, Van.

Before the birth of her children, she worked as a licensed hairdresser until she became bored and returned to school. Her second career was that of a vet tech which she worked at for 11 years, 10 at Jamestown Veterinary Hospital.

“They are my second family,” says the mom.”

Toward the end of her time of working with animals, which she loved, she decided she wanted an actual college degree. She then enrolled at Jamestown Community College, where she will earn a degree in environmental science in December.

Ashley Thomas at work on a project for her The Happy Little Home business. Submitted photo

“I’m so passionate about the environment and I’m not a sit-behind-the-desk-person,” she says. “My dream job would be wildlife conservation, but right now I’m just looking for anything in the conservation field.”

She has been finding internships on her own and not just those needed for college credit.

For fun she enjoys creating and liked to draw while growing up, especially pen and ink and the use of colored pencils. She attributes her talent to her father who has a gift for drawing.

After posting on Facebook a large letter V she had painted to hang in her daughter’s room, she received requests to buy them. The interest prompted her to start a Facebook page called From A to Z and a children’s art shop on Etsy called BreezlyBrilliant.

Since she has a love of houses, she was a fan HGTV’s “Hometown,” where a lady renovates houses and gifts a watercolor portrait of the home to the owner on completion of the renovation. She painted a watercolor portrait of the house she shares with her partner, Edwin Gray, surprising him with it for Christmas. She began selling the house portraits as gifts for anniversaries, housewarmings, Mother’s and Father’s Day and to realtors as a closing gift for their buyers.

A child's name custom painted with a super heroes theme. Submitted photo

“My client loved the picture,” says Kacyn Cheney of Century 21 Turner Brokers about the first time she presented a portrait to a new buyer. “They first looked at the picture and then it dawned on them that it was their house and they were ecstatic. They were very much appreciative of the thoughtful and unique gift. It is a gift they can have forever.”

The entrepreneur told about an out-of-state order where the woman sent 12 pictures from various angles, close-ups of flower beds, etc. She even had a bare tree that she wanted the artist to research in order to add foliage. The buyer was very pleased with the finished portrait, but the artist no longer offers them in such a large size.

She can create according to customer’s specifications but still include her own style. She will gladly add unseen details, such as flags, flowers and leaves, if desired and tries to make them affordable. She, also, has ready to ship watercolors and home decor that can be purchased directly from the site.

“I know it sounds cliche, but I put so much love into my painting. I care.”

“I can attest to that,” says Ed. “It’s not uncommon for me to say ‘that looks really good’ and then she works two more hours because she’s a perfectionist.”

A few ready to ship gifts. Submitted photo

She is a self-taught artist who was a little insecure about her work, but has come to see she has a gift due to the interest it has generated.

Inspired by Bob Ross, of PBS’ “The Joy of Painting,” she named her watercolor portrait business “The Happy Little House.” Due to being an avid fan of the artist and having a good sport for a mate, she put perm rods in Ed’s hair one Halloween, making a giant Ross-like Afro hairstyle and then joined him in a Happy Little Tree costume.

“Skating is my number one hobby. I have already gotten Violet on skates and she loves it,” says the active mom.

She was the lead jammer for the Babes of Wrath, a flat track roller derby team of Chautauqua County. Her number was 13 and her derby name was Daisy Jukes. The team has since disbanded.

“I just bought a double bike trailer for the mountain bike so I can take the kids biking and I plan on getting back into snowboarding. Violet will be able to go this year.”

Most popular wooden letter custom-painted with a patriotic theme. Submitted photo

She has been doing kayaking for five years and says Ed had been trying to move her toward cross-country skiing.

She took an interest in cooking when she moved out on her own when she was 17. Later, she nearly set her kitchen on fire when she prepared her first turkey in a foil pan. The flimsy pan buckled as she was lifting it from the oven, causing grease to spill out on the hot heating element.

“I swear that was the best turkey we’ve ever had.”

She shares recipes that mean a lot to her and her family.

“The first recipe is most special to me. My full-blooded Greek grandmother, Nena, Linda Thomas, was everything to me. She did her part in raising me. I went to her if I needed anything and went there every day after school. One of my greatest memories of her is her famous (amongst family) spaghetti sauce. She made it almost every Sunday and it was a big family event with my Dad, sister and cousins,” says the granddaughter. “She never had a recipe. When I would ask, she would simply say, ‘you have to be here to watch me make it. I can’t write it down.'”

Unfortunately, the granddaughter didn’t learn how to make the recipe before her grandmother’s unexpected passing but did the next best thing by experimenting with the ingredients she remembered seeing her grandmother use.

“After several attempts, I think I figured it out. The family can all attest, as it tastes just like Nena’s spaghetti,” she rejoices. “Later on, I found out from my sister that this recipe was not an old Greek family recipe as I suspected. My Nena actually got it from an Italian friend. The fact that it’s not an old Greek recipe does not take away sentiment for me. The meatballs and salad are her recipes.”

Mom’s Mac Salad was often made by her mother.

“It was a special day in our house when we got to have her famous mac salad for dinner and for breakfast and lunch the following day. People would look at us funny when we mentioned sweet pickles and Spanish olives, but it is always a big hit. Ed and the children all love it too, so it will be passed down as another family recipe.”

The remainder of the recipes were given to her by Ed’s mother. Some are from her parents, and some from Ed’s father’s side of the family.

Nena’s Spaghetti

3-4 14.5oz cans tomato sauce

6 oz can tomato paste

1/4 c sugar as needed

4-6 links, or a coil, of hot Italian sausage

1-2 boxes of thin spaghetti

meatballs (see additional recipe)

Combine tomato sauce, paste, and some sugar in a large pot. (Sugar can be added at any time, so start with a small amount and add to taste.) Add meatballs and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat, add sausage and cook for at least two hours. (I prefer to cook mine all day on Sundays.) The longer it cooks, the better the flavor.


1lb lean ground beef

1 egg

1/4 c bread crumbs

1/4 c Romano-parmesan cheese

Generous sprinkle Italian seasoning

Pepper to taste

Shape into two-inch balls. Place in boiling sauce for 5 minutes, then simmer for at least 2 hours.


1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped

8 oz feta cheese (no brine)

1-2 tomatoes, chopped

Ranch dressing

Mom’s Mac Salad

1 box small shells

3-4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

2 cans tuna in water, drained

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

1 jar sweet gherkin pickles cut into 1/4-inch rounds

1 jar Spanish olives, halved

1/2-1 c Miracle whip (add as desired)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 tsp dill

Bring water to boil in large pot. Add noodles and cook as directed on box (about 10 minutes). Drain and let cool. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Start with small amounts of Miracle Whip, and add until desired consistency is achieved.


4 c flour

1 3/4 c shortening

1 T sugar

2 tsp salt

1 egg

2/3 c water

1 T vinegar

Mix flour, shortening, sugar and salt with a fork. Beat egg. Add water and vinegar and mix well. Add to dry ingredients. Combine until moist. Mold together with hands, but don’t handle it too much. Chill before rolling or keep in the refrigerator up to a week. May be frozen. After rolling out and setting in pie pan, prick shell well to prevent swelling.

“Chocolate” Salad Dressing Mayonnaise Cake

3 c flour

1 1/2 c sugar

1/3 c cocoa

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp of baking soda

1 1/2 c salad dressing

1 1/2 c water

2 tsp vanilla

Grease 2-9-inch by 1 1/2-inch layer pans. Sift dry ingredients together in large bowl. Stir in salad dressing. Gradually stir in water and vanilla until smooth and blended. Pour into prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched. Let cool.

Mama Gray’s Caldwell Salad

Layer the following ingredients:

1 hd lettuce, chopped

1 bunch celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 bunch carrots, shredded

1 pkg frozen peas, thawed in hot water, drained well

1/3 lb bacon, cooked, crumbled, and cooled

Sprinkle with:

2 tsp sugar

pepper to taste

salt (optional)

gobs of mayonnaise (enough to moisten entire salad)