Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Eating Healthy... and Enchiladas

My husband announced this weekend that he intends to go on a diet.  He then bought chocolate milk from the store so I'm not entirely sure how serious he is, but I did start thinking about eating healthier.  In my opinion, we don't typically eat unhealthy food.  We rarely go out to eat and we usually cook rather than eat pre-packaged dinners.  However, we probably add too much salt and sugar to our food, we drink a lot of our calories, and we may not incorporate as many fruits and vegetables as we should.  I suppose there is always room for improvement.

I stopped by the grocery store this morning and spent much more time in the produce section than I normally do.  I figure that eating healthier begins with eating more foods that come straight from the earth.  With that in mind, I picked up spinach, brussel spouts, scallions, a turnip, peas, carrots, beets, lemons, and bananas.  We already had red and yellow onions, potatoes, apples, pears, limes, avocado, celery, lettuce, and cabbage at home.  I have no idea what I am going to do with all of this produce, but I'm looking forward to playing around with some new recipes this week.  I've already decided that we will be having "neeps and tatties" at some point this weekend.  For those who are not Scottish, "neeps and tatties" is basically just mashed turnips and mashed potatoes mixed together.  I had the dish while I was in Scotland 7 years ago, and I have been wanting more ever since.  It never occurred to me that I could just make some until I saw the turnips in the store today.  I can be really slow sometimes.   

Speaking of recipes, I was craving enchiladas yesterday so I made some with whatever I could find in our fridge.  They turned out so tasty and lovely that I wanted to share the loveliness with you.  Unfortunately, fluorescent light doesn't make for good pictures.  This is the best picture that I managed to take:

I used traditional corn tortillas and canned enchilada sauce to make these.  My cupboards were pretty bare so these two ingredients were the only "proper" enchilada fixings that I had on hand.  I pulled together whatever I could find for the filling.  I ended up using 1 pound of ground beef, one small yellow onion, 3/4 of one tomato, fresh cilantro, a couple of tablespoons of sour cream, 3/4 cup of enchilada sauce, and 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese.  I also sprinkled in some red pepper flakes, cumin, and garlic powder.  After I put together the enchiladas, I poured the rest of the enchilada sauce over them (I used a 20 oz can) and I sprinkled 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese on top.  I popped the enchiladas in the oven for 20 minutes at 375 degrees and sprinkled some additional fresh cilantro on top once they came out of the oven.  Although I should have used more sour cream, a couple more cups of cheese, and used cheddar instead of mozzarella, they still tasted really great.  In fact, I had enchiladas for dinner last night, breakfast this morning, and for dinner again tonight.  Yum!

If I stumble across some good recipes while I munch my way through my fridge full of produce this week, I'll be sure to share them here.  Cooking and subsequently blogging will be more work than I am used to doing, but I'll try not to be lazy like someone I know:

(We call this Domi's "superman" pose.  His back legs don't really show in this picture, but he has his back paws sticking straight up in the air just like his front paws.  He loves to sleep on his back like this.  Heh!)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring is Here!

I might be slightly optimistic, but I do believe that spring is just around the corner.  The air smells like damp earth and awakening plants, the cold 30 degree winds nip rather than bite, the birds are chirping louder than they have for months, the sun is rising before I do, and check out what I discovered yesterday:

The daffodils are coming up!  My heart did a little happy dance when I spotted them.

In just a few weeks, stark, bare branches will soften with a green haze, the daffodils will turn their cheery little faces up to the sun, and the famous Washington, DC cherry trees will be drenched in showy blossoms.

**happy sigh**

I have been perfectly content to stay inside the past few months, but I'm slowly starting to feel like a caged animal.  I'm also starting to feel an inexplicable need to sink my fingers into dirt and plant something.  I might temporarily satisfy my need to plant by re-potting my dwarf pomegranate tree.  Look how nice it currently looks:

We bought the pomegranate tree from the colonial nursery in Williamsburg, VA last June as a souvenir.  Pomegranate trees need warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight in order to survive - the tree received plenty of both over the summer while sitting on the edge of our balcony.  I unfortunately had to bring the tree inside during the winter months and I thought the tree wouldn't survive for several reasons.  Our condo faces east, so the tree only received a few hours of direct sunlight every morning.  In order to maximize the amount of sunlight received, I had to set the tree right against the cold window.  In addition, Domi chews mercilessly on plants and many of the branches started to die due to an insect infestation. 

The tree more than doubled in size from June to September, but I had to cut back some of the growth over the past few months due to the dying branches.  However, now that the days are getting longer and the insects are finally dead, the tree is looking happy and healthy again.  I can't tell you how proud I am of myself and the plant for making it through the winter!

On a side note, the quilt project has stalled.  I can't decide on a pattern and size.  I'm going to think about it while I do some much-needed spring cleaning this week, and I'll hopefully have a decision by Friday.  In the meantime, I updated my previous post with a couple of more details about the fabric.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sewing Project 2011 - A Baby Quilt

I have been interested in sewing for as long as I can remember.  I can't quite pinpoint why I want to sew anything; I know that most items are quicker and cheaper to pick up from the store.   However, I have fond memories of both of my grandmothers crafting items from fabric with their sewing machines.  I was too young to get involved in sewing when I lost my grandmothers to cancer and Alzheimer's.  I wish I had been able to glean some nuggets of wisdom from their years of experience, but I am lucky that I have the internet and a well-stocked library nearby that should teach me most of what I need to know.

I recently found out that a dear friend of mine is expecting a baby in several months.  I immediately knew I wanted to do something more personal for this baby than buying several sizes of diapers in bulk.  I have some scraps of material that would appeal to the mother-to-be because of sentimental value, and I have a relatively untapped desire to sew.  Therefore, within days of finding out about the baby, I decided to make a baby quilt and two matching receiving blankets. 

My husband and I went to the fabric store yesterday and picked out the fabric shown.  I wanted to go for a neutral look, but we couldn't keep ourselves from picking up blue fabrics!  The fabrics that we chose will be perfect if the baby is a boy but may not work if the baby decides to be a girl.

The bright blue on the left will probably be the outside border of the quilt.  The light blue fabric is a light-weight flannel and will be made into a receiving blanket.  The yellow gingham and the multi-color-dotted fabric will be pieced into the quilt.  The final fabric on the right is also a flannel and will be made into the second receiving blanket.  I should have extra material from the flannels, and the extra material will be incorporated into the quilt.

I think that all of the materials work well together color-wise, but I am worried that the heart/block fabric might throw off any theme.  The pale blue flannel doesn't show well in the picture above, but it has white clouds, yellow moons, and yellow stars all over it.  If I leave the heart/block fabric out of the quilt, I can make a sky-themed quilt that should work for a boy or a girl.  If I use the heart/block flannel sparingly, I might be able to incorporate it without a problem.

Now that I really am thinking about the quilt, I'm wondering if maybe a silky edge might be better for the baby.  Then again, do babies really care if a blanket has a silk edge as opposed to a cloth one?  Ugh.  I should probably have a baby before I try to make something for one.

I should mention that the dotted fabric, the yellow gingham, and the bright blue fabric are just regular cotton quilting fabric.  I missed including the backing in the picture above, but it is just a plain white muslin-type fabric.  I believe that the sentimental pieces of fabric are polyester, and I think the color will be white.  I will probably put the sentimental pieces in the center of the quilt and build the quilt around them.

I didn't originally intend to have a theme for the quilt.  When I realized how much blue I had bought, however, I thought maybe I could swing the quilt back towards gender-neutral if I made it all about the sky.  I probably won't go that direction, but I'm keeping it in mind just in case.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Snowmageddon 2010 - One Year Later

This past week was full of sunshine and 60-70 degree temperatures.  It was beautiful weather for February, but it was especially wonderful considering what the weather was like around here last year.  Two storms (February 5-6 and February 10-11) dumped so much snow that weather records were shattered.  Our area received just under 3 feet of snow in the first storm and almost a foot of snow in the second. 

When we moved to the area, we heard that winters were relatively mild with minimal snowfall.  We frequently drive over the Appalachian Mountains to spend time farther north, so we did have boots, warm coats, and winter tires.  However, we never thought we would need to have a shovel.  We ended up digging our car out of the snow with a bucket, an ice-scraper, and a broom.  It took us a little over an hour and a half of hard work to dig the car out from the first storm.  We own a shovel now.

We had a week and a day off of work, and the clean-up process continued throughout the area for a few weeks.  The folks who cleaned our metro station's parking lots pushed the 3 - 4 feet of snow as close as they could to the corners.  Despite all of their hard work, several rows of parking remained covered with 8 feet of snow or more.  In fact, some areas literally had piles of snow over 2 stories high.  I wish I had remembered to take a picture of them, but life isn't perfect.  Over the course of 3 months (3 months!), parking spots became available as the snow melted.  The return to summer temperatures in mid-May finally melted the remaining snow.

On this date last year, I was finishing my first week of work after the storm.  I was parking in what is normally an over-flow parking lot at the metro station, and I was getting used to walking past oceans of white downtown. (The snow was not removed from the wider sidewalks until a week or two after the storms) I watched a mail truck drive down a clean sidewalk because the street was still covered with at least of foot of slush.  It was all pretty incredible.

I wish I could have finished this post earlier in the week, but it is better late than never.  Here are pictures taken after the first Feb 2010 snow storm and pictures of the same spots that I took today:


(Note: The Jeep was sitting on top of at least 2 feet of packed snow.)

Happy President's Day Weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Washington, DC Pictures

According to Domi, I am getting healthier by the day.  Domi was practically glued to my side on Tuesday.  I felt marginally better on Wednesday, so Domi hovered about a foot and a half away from me.  Today, Domi is cool with being in an adjoining room.  Unfortunately, I do still have a slight fever and a pounding headache.  I'm really disappointed because the weather is perfect and the blog post that I have in mind depends on taking pictures outside.  I'll hopefully be able to drag myself out of the house tomorrow.  Domi should be happy about that... I'm sure he can't wait to return to his normal routine which involves taking over the bed between the hours of 1 and 5.  I don't think Domi has spent more than 5 minutes in the bedroom since I got sick on Tuesday.  (I've been staying on the couch because that's where the tv and computer are located.  Much more interesting than the 4 white walls in the bedroom.)

I've been going through my discs of pictures today, and I've been admiring the pictures of DC that I've taken over the last two and a half years.  In person, the city is humid and sticky and generally oppressive in the summer.  The metro is often a royal pain in the tuckus, the amount of walking involved in admiring the scenery causes muscles to seize up for a week, and the wide, open streets that make the city look attractive and feel Parisian are great, except that attractions feel like they are placed at least a mile apart.  In pictures, however, DC is a beautiful city.  Regardless of the time of day, the monuments and marble buildings never fail to impress.  Here are some of my favorite DC pictures:

(By the way, I'm sorry if this take a while to load.  The pictures look so much better when they are a larger size.  You can view an even larger version of each photo by clicking on the photo.)

I took this picture on the first day I set my feet on DC territory.  The day was crystal clear, and this is one of the best Washington Monument pictures I've been able to take.  Gosh, it's tall.

Cherry Blossoms 2009.  You can barely see the sky through the blossoms, and we weren't there on the peak day!  Lovely.  I want an orchard.

One of many pictures I've taken in Arlington National Cemetery.  The thing that I love about this particular picture is that you can see the Washington Monument if you look closely.  (See it between the trees?)

I love, love, love this picture.  I think it is gorgeous.  This was taken as the sun was setting in October 2008.  Unfortunately, I took this picture while my dad stood a few feet away talking to my cousin who had called to let my parents know that my brother had been rushed to the emergency room with a serious bee sting reaction.  This picture was the last great thing about that evening. 

I love the National Mall at sunset.  This is the Washington Monument again.  I have a slight obsession with taking pictures of it.

This is not the best picture of the Lincoln Memorial, but it is really difficult to get a good nighttime shot without a tripod.  The thing that I like about this picture is that it reminds me of the feeling I get when I ascend the steps of the Memorial at night.  There really is nothing like it.  Due to the play of shadows and light in strategic places, it makes me feel like I'm walking up the stairway to heaven with God sitting on his throne before me.

FDR at the Roosevelt Memorial.  The Memorial is quite isolated, so I wouldn't recommend going there at night alone.  However, the many fountains and statutes look pretty cool after dark.

My favorite monument/memorial is the WWII memorial.  I really cannot understand why so many people objected to it when it was built.  In my opinion, the design and location are perfection.  I've been there many times and it still strikes me with its detail, thoughtfulness, and overall beauty.  One of the best things about it is that it is equally beautiful during the day and after dark.

I saved the best for last.  This is my dad at the WWII memorial.  He is standing in front of the Field of Stars on Freedom Wall.  The wall holds 4,048 stars - 1 star for every 100 Americans killed in the war.  The wall's inscription, "Here we mark the price of freedom," is even more powerful after dark when the wall's reflection pool perfectly mirrors the stars on the wall.  Here, my dad is just one of many who stand looking at the wall in silence.  (Did I mention that it is pretty powerful?)

 I hope you enjoyed the pictures!  Are you wondering where I live that allows me the opportunity to take so many DC pictures?  Here's a hint... 

Ha!  Not really.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dominus ~ My Kitty and My Nurse

Valentine's Day 2011 ended up being pretty uneventful.  "Mr. Lilly" had to work until 9:00pm, so he didn't get home until 10:00pm.  He was pretty tired, but he did manage to give me chocolates and a card.  (Thanks, honey!)  I made a present for him, which he wasn't expecting.  I may share what the present was at a later date, but I think I'll keep it quiet for now.  Hopefully, I didn't also give him whatever illness has suddenly taken over my body.  I started coughing around 6:00pm or so last evening, and it slowly developed into a fever overnight.  I'm not happy about being sick, but I hadn't even had a cold up to this point this winter so I figure I don't have much reason to complain.

Dominus, my kitty, has been my constant companion today while I coughed, moaned, sipped water, and cursed the unknown person who passed these germs on to me.  As thanks for his unwavering devotion, I thought I should dedicate today's post to him.  This is Dominus:

I moved into my own place in the fall of 2007, and Mr. Lilly was insistent that I obtain a kitty for my place.  He finally convinced me that the pros would greatly outweigh the cons, and we went to the animal shelter to look at the kittens.  I wanted to make sure that my new cat could use a litter box consistently, so we looked at the 3-4 month olds.  Mr. Lilly went straight to a gray fluff ball of a kitten who purred so loud we could hear him across the room.  I wasn't impressed with the idea of having a cat who could blend into the shadows, but Mr. Lilly was very persuasive and the fluff ball ultimately came home with us.  The poor kitty was terrified for a couple of days, but he ultimately decided that life with me was better than life in the shelter.  I'm glad, because he has been an integral part of our lives ever since.

Mr. Lilly and I were taking a classical Latin course at the time, and we decided to name our new cat "Dominus."  The inspiration for the name came from a print on my wall that read, "Nobody 'owns' a cat."  The classical Latin word dominus means 'master,'  like the master of a house or land.  We later learned that Dominus in church Latin means, "Lord God."  Unfortunately, by the time we realized we had named our cat "God," he was responding to the name.  Oh well.

Domi (pronounced like dough-me) is the most talkative and expressive cat I have ever known.  He has a rather extensive vocabulary of meows that he uses to let us know exactly what is going on in his life.  He frequently holds conversations with us, and he mimicks the sounds that we make.  He often chooses to 'trill' or 'chatter' rather than meow.  Around 9:00pm every evening without fail, he lays back his ears and tears around the house yowling and howling with a deep voice that he never uses at any other time.  Once, my husband was talking to my brother-in-law on the phone when Domi began his nightly routine.  My brother-in-law asked if we had a panther in our home.  Ha!

Domi has always been obsessed with running water, and he loves-loves-loves cold weather.  When he wants our attention, he uses one paw to repeatedly tap our shoulder/upper arm, much like a small child.  He has a toy mouse that he carries with him everywhere.  He chatters goodbye when Mr. Lilly waves to him before leaving for work every morning.  He often insists on smelling our food, but will only eat olive juice and cream cheese.  He wrinkles his cute little nose when he smells lotion, deodrant, or particuarly smelly foods.  He sits on his bum and uses his front paws to juggle toys or to hold an item for closer inspection, much like a bear or a raccoon.

He enjoys watching the birds every morning:

He loves playing fetch with a q-tip every evening:

He enjoys sitting on his bum, putting his paws on our hand, and letting us bounce him up and down:

He's also 14 pounds and growing.  We have a small dog carrier because he won't fit in a standard cat carrier.  He recently outgrew the top part of his beloved scratching post (see picture above), and he has taken over my seat on the couch as a result.

We didn't know it when we adopted Domi, but he is a Maine Coon.  Every article that I have read about Maine Coon characteristics sounds as though it was written about Domi.  Apparently, male Maine Coons do not stop growing until between 3 and 5 years of age, and they weigh between 15 and 25 pounds when fully mature.  Domi will be 4 this spring, so he should stop growing in the next year or so. (Thank goodness!)

Like most Maine Coons, Domi is gentle and affectionate but is not a lap cat.  However, for the first time in the 3 years and 4 months that I have known Domi, he willingly and unabashedly snuggled up against me for several hours this afternoon while my fever was at its worst.  My heart melted.  I think he might like me.  :)

I'm not sure that Domi would like for word to get out that he can be affectionate, so I leave you with this final picture that shows what he would usually choose when faced with snuggling or sitting in his own chair:

(Yes, he is so big that he takes up most of the recliner seat.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love it or Hate it... Today is Valentine's Day

The first Valentine's Day that my husband and I spent as an official couple wasn't exactly memorable.  I assumed that every couple celebrated the holiday in some way, so I bought a cute little card, wrote a few words, and eagerly looked forward to giving the card to him.  When I proudly presented the card, he was perplexed as to why I would ever think of giving him even the smallest token on Valentine's Day.  While I had happily assumed that we would recognize the holiday, he had just as happily assumed we would not.

After that first Valentine's Day, I would dread the holiday almost as though I were a single girl.  As a female, opting to forgo Valentine's Day requires a lot of patience and thick skin.  According to the unwritten rules of the day, a man is supposed to dive out of his comfort zone and dream up some surprise for his partner that shows her how much he truly loves her.  Women are then supposed to 'ooh' and 'aah' and hold that memory in their hearts for the following year while their man returns to being... well, a man.  Over time, many women have turned the holiday into a competition.  A man's 'love' can only be measured by the degree to which his idea/efforts/depleted-bank-account has surpassed other mens' 'love.'  Therefore, a woman should expect to be asked about a zillion times what her significant other has done or has planned.  No one wants to hear something along the lines of, "Oh, he doesn't believe in celebrating Valentine's Day.  No, really... he's a good guy.  He just thinks that the holiday is too commercial.  You know... stores have made the holiday into a reason to successfully sell unecessary stuff." 

Bah humbug.

All of that being said, it is rather obvious why even the thought of February 14 makes me uncomfortable.  I hate the look of shock and confusion that gives way to pity on others' faces.  Yes, I would like for my significant other to do something romantic, but I can't change who he is.  Besides, I see how stressed out many guys become when trying to dream up something worthy of their lady's expectations.  I don't want to put my husband under duress just so I can brag about him to every woman in earshot on February 15.

And then my dear husband decided to mix things up a bit.

I assumed last year that we would again pretend February 14 was just like February 13.  I didn't plan anything at all - I didn't even bother to buy a card.  As I hovered between sleep and conciousness in the early morning, I heard my husband's cell phone ring.  I listened to his end of the conversation, and I began to realize something was wrong.  He yelled back the hall that I needed to get up and put some shoes on, pronto.  We live in a condo building, and the front desk had called let us know that a water leak had been discovered in the basement storage area.  We don't keep anything of value in our storage unit, but we do have moving boxes and some sundry items that we would rather not replace if at all possible.

I stumbled out of bed and found my shoes while picturing a foot of rising water destroying all of the boxes that I carefully hoarded over the past two years.  My husband impatiently waited for me and led the way to the basement.  I had expected to find maintenance workers and concerned residents hovering near the storage area, but all was calm and quiet.  My husband unlocked the door to the storage area and turned on the lights.  I thought it strange that the lights had been off in a flooded room, and I found it even more strange that the large expanse of floor in front of the doorway was completely dry.  I voiced my confusion, but my husband simply made his way to our seemingly dry storage unit.  As I sputtered, he unlocked the door and mentioned something about a leak against the back wall.  This made a small bit of sense, so I assumed he would promptly begin to move the large items on the floor that were blocking access to the back wall.  Imagine my surprise and frustration when he handed out two small shopping bags that had been perched on top of the heap.  He laughed as I slowly realized that the bags contained potted calla lillies, a card, and a box of chocolates.

It turns out that my wonderful husband concocted an elaborate plan to surprise me with traditional Valentine's Day presents.  He bought the presents on the 13th and dropped them off in the storage area for the night.  In the morning, he called his cell phone from our home line and had a premeditated conversation with himself.  He intentionally spoke loud enough for me to hear him, and he then acted impatient and anxious while he led me to my surprise.  I thoroughly underestimated both his thoughfulness and his acting abilities. 

I also realized that I assume way too much.

I hope that everyone has had a lovely Valentine's Day 2011, regardless of whether dinner or romance or chocolates or trinkets were involved.  If you did receive those things, hooray for you.  If you didn't, don't worry about it.  Your significant other just loves you more than he/she loves the retail sector of the economy.