30 June 2011

Chicken Enchiladas - Clean Eating Magazine

This week's new recipe was Chicken Enchiladas, another great recipe from Clean Eating magazine. The downside was that making it took only slightly less effort than childbirth. The upside? Like parenthood, it was worth it!

Some of my enchiladas fell apart, but that didn't seem to hurt the taste! And of course one can cover up any number of flaws with enough sour cream, cheese, and salsa. Yeah, yeah, yeah...in so doing, we negated some of the "clean" in "Clean Eating". But I truly deserved it, after all the time I spent on this dish!

Click on the above image for a larger view of the recipe. Print it as a full page, and you'll get all the details of this recipe plus a bit of information about Mexican comfort food.

To make this recipe, I had to buy a couple of items which were new to my grocery list: poblano peppers and tomatillos. The poblano peppers are broiled long enough to char the skin (not to ignite them!). After slicing them, they're rolled up inside the enchiladas with the chicken and onion.

tomatillos (which remind me of green tomatoes, but firmer) are boiled and then chopped in the blender to make salsa verde. The recipe suggests dipping the corn tortillas in the salsa before heating them a skillet. (Heating softens the tortilla so that it can be rolled.) I'll admit that all of this tortilla business (dipping, warming, then rolling) got a bit cumbersome for someone like me who is not terribly adept in the kitchen. If you have an idle child this summer, put him or her to work helping with this step!

We all enjoyed this dish and agreed it was worth the extra effort to prepare it. If you try it, let me know!

29 June 2011

Garden in Late June

Garden Collage #1 - click to enlarge

In an effort to document my garden successes and shortcomings, I've been trying to take photos around the yard every couple of weeks. It's amazing how much change occurs in a short period of time. And it's not always good change! Last week I had to pull out my new larkspur plant which died suddenly -- after looking beautiful for a couple of weeks. Then just this week I noticed powdery mildew on my phlox. My zinnias continue to suffer from some sort of fungus, although they're blooming nicely.

While I still have several problem areas, overall I am much more pleased with my garden areas this year than in the past. The above collage includes some "distance" shots so that I can see where I still spacing problems. I can definitely identify a few plants that need to be divided next spring.

Garden Collage #2

Overall I have much more color around the yard this year than in years past. Much of it has to do with the abundance of patio pots I filled this spring -- many more than in the past. This collage includes close-ups of a few of my favorite little spots around the garden and patio. A friend recently suggested planting a few herbs in pots on the patio, and I'm pleased to report that I did that. It's been several years since I've had herbs in pots and I'm very much enjoying the fresh Thai basil and cilantro. I haven't quite figured out what to do with the lemon balm yet, but it's very pretty!

Success or failure, here's to continued garden adventures!

* * * * *

Garden Collage #1 photo descriptions:

Left to right across collage -
Patio garden (yellow coreopsis in foreground); front garden (hosta, oak leaf hydrangea); garden behind garage (mixed perennials); patio garden (dianthus, sedum, etc.); close-up of same area; distance view of patio garden; dwarf lilac bush, coreopsis; garage garden (daisies, beard tongue, salvia, coreopsis, monarda); front garden (spirea bush in foreground, shade perennials); back garden (Eiffel tower, liatris, daylilies not yet blooming); back of house (heliopsis, iris); distance view of front garden; new shade area with hostas; distance view of back garden

Garden Collage #2 plant list:

Left to right down left side of collage -
zinnias, daylillies, fan flower, lemon balm, sweet marjoram, daylily close-up

Left to right down side of collage -
mixed planter with impatiens, angelica, etc. (large photo), Thai basil, million bells, mixed planter with wave petunias and sun coleus, oak leaf hydrangea (white flower), heliopsis (yellow flower), 3 mixed planters

28 June 2011

Our Life = Zits

I've been told that this is ME.

I honestly don't see what the problem is here. It's obvious that NOTHING is going to get done unless Jeremy's mom makes it happen with her spreadsheet.

And that, my friends, is my lot in life. I shudder to think what might become of my family without my spreadsheet skills!

Spouse and Daughter: Don't answer that.

27 June 2011

Motivation on a Cough Drop?

Summer allergies. Yesterday while I was sitting in church, I unwrapped a Halls cough drop and popped it in my mouth. Nothing unusual about that...

...until I noticed something written on the wrapper. On closer inspection, I could see that the good people at Halls have now decided to add motivational sayings to their cough drops:
"A Pep Talk in Every Drop" says the wrapper.

Really? Motivational sayings on a cough drop?

I'm not sure who came up with this marketing campaign, but thinking it will be short-lived.

So as I was trying to stifle my cough, I also had to try to stifle a laugh. (Remember, I was in church.)

"Nothing you can't handle!"

"Power through!"

"Buckle down and push forth!" (Push forth?)

"Go get it!"

"Get back in the game!"

"Push on!"

"You've survived tougher." (That one's a little depressing...)

I just don't get it. Are the folks at Halls thinking you'll crunch through an entire bag of strawberry cough drops instead of going to therapy?

I checked out the Halls website but found no mention of this marketing campaign (no surprise there). But the Halls
Facebook page seems to be playing to this new higher calling of cough drops:

HALLS Lozenge of Wisdom: (LOZENGE of WISDOM???) We know it’s irritating, but next time someone cuts you in line or takes your parking space, just take a deep breath and move on. It’s not worth the stress. Of course, if you breathe deeply after a HALLS, your throat will be soothed too.

That's not bad advice.
Maybe they're on to something at Halls.
Motivation on a cough drop. Who knew?

24 June 2011

Feline Friday: ALMOST LOST!

I had one of the worst scares ever last week. In fact, it's taken me a few days to even write about it.

I almost lost Tinsel.

Those of you who know me and/or follow my blog know that I am the most doting of Cat Moms. I pay meticulous attention to everything about Lily and Tinsel and I certainly know their whereabouts at any given moment. They are strictly indoor kitties and are allowed outside only on a leash. So it is shocking that I even came CLOSE to losing one of my cats.

One late afternoon last week, I went outside to water the plants on the patio. I walked out of the house through the door that connects to the garage. The large garage door was up, so I went out to the patio that way.

I had just finished watering the plants and turned off the hose when I looked down and saw TINSEL standing next to me on the patio. "Meow?" she asked. Completely shocked, I reached down, swooped her up in my arms, and ran back inside. After making sure Lily was still in the house, I had to sit down, still squeezing Tinsel tightly. My heart was pounding. I couldn't believe what had just happened. How did Tinsel get outside?

As it turned out, the door that connects our house to the garage hadn't latched completely, and the wind blowing in through the large garage door must have forced it open slightly. Tinsel, ever on the ready to make The Great Escape, must have slipped out the back door the minute it cracked open.

The more I thought about it, the more frightened I became. We have a side-facing garage, so in order for Tinsel to have appeared on the patio as she did, she had to have walked all the way through the garage, out the big door, down the driveway, and around the back of the house to the patio to find me.

Any number of things could have happened to her along the way. What if a car had pulled into our driveway? What if she had continued down the driveway into the street? What if the noise from the garden hose had scared her? If I had still been watering plants as she made her exit, I know she wouldn't have approached the patio. She could have easily escaped and (save for the fact that she has a microchip) I might never have found her.

Although I'm always mindful of the doors, this little incident has made me even more vigilant. I'm extra careful to be sure the back door latches now, and I try to keep the garage doors closed anytime I'm outside. During the warmer months, Tinsel waits for the opportunity to slip out the door, so the extra attention is warranted.

I'd like to think that maybe Tinsel wouldn't have left the yard. Perhaps she wouldn't have tried to to run away. After all, she did come around to the patio to find me as if to say, "Hai, Mom! Luk at meee!" Maybe that's all she wanted to do. She knows we love her. And even though she has to put up with Lily, I can't imagine that Tinsel would want to stray too far from her Forever Home.

But believe me, I'm not going to give her the chance!

21 June 2011

What's in the china cabinet, anyway?

I'm still recovering from our new carpet experience of last week. The carpet is great -- but it's not so fun moving everything back in place. One of the last things I reassembled was our china cabinet. Of course it had to be completely unloaded for the carpet installation. That was actually GOOD because I had the opportunity to really look at the stuff inside and do some rearranging.

As I was doing that, I realized that not many people know about our china cabinet. It didn't start out this color. When we were living in our 1923 house many years ago, one of our neighbors was Ruth Christian, an older lady who was well-known for her beautiful lithophane creations. When the time came for Ruth to move to a nursing home, her family helped her sell some of her household items plus many of her porcelain pieces.

Spouse and I were newly married and didn't have a china cabinet but we liked the one we saw sitting in the corner of Ruth's dining room. It didn't matter to us that it was PEA GREEN! We bought it and Spouse undertook the difficult job of refinishing it. He had it professionally stripped, at which point we discovered that it was constructed of mahogany, then Spouse set about the tedious job of refinishing it. It's a beautiful piece with a lot of character. It reminds me of the years we spent in our first home.

Being next door neighbors with a lithophane artist, we were fortunate to acquire several of her other porcelain pieces over the years. This Christmas tea set is one of my favorites. It sits in our china cabinet year-round.

We also have several beautiful dessert plates, tiny cups and saucers, and bowls. I think Ruth considered some of these pieces "seconds" for one reason or another, but I think they're all beautiful.

We also have this gorgeous porcelain raccoon. This photo doesn't do it justice -- it's a stunning piece with great detail.

There were many other items in our china cabinet, but these are a few of my favorites. The china cabinet itself and all of these pieces represent a connection to our past. I feel fortunate to have them with us!

20 June 2011

4th of July Mini-Album and Other Stuff

I have several Memory Bound classes coming up over the next few weeks. On Saturday, June 25, I'll be teaching this mini-album class. It's a 4th of July themed album using WRMK's new Yankee Doodles line. You can find more information on the Memory Bound blog.

In other news, summer seems to be moving along very quickly. We've been busy with a series of home improvement projects and there are still tasks remaining on that list. (Shh...don't tell Spouse!) Of course, once you spruce up one area of the house, it highlights the need for even MORE sprucing up elsewhere.

It's wonderful having Daughter home for the summer, although I think after approximately two hours here she was ready to go back to college. I've been working hard on Not Driving Her Crazy but apparently I am a slower learner. :) She's busy this summer taking three classes and teaching percussion lessons. She's also counseling at two different music camps so she actually gets to return to college twice before she heads back for real in mid-August. In fact, she just returned from the first music camp and reportedly had a great time chaperoning 200 middle and high school kids for the week.

The perennial gardens continue to plague me with spacing issues, although there are areas that actually look pretty good at the moment. Now that most of the plants have reached full size, I can see new problems. Many plants need to be divided or moved. I wish I could just point to them and say, "HEY, SCOOT OVER!" But digging in the dirt (minus the worms) is of course one of the great joys of this hobby.

So here's to continued enjoyment of the summer, whatever it brings!

17 June 2011

15 June 2011

And now, new carpet!

This was a VERY exciting week at our house. We got new carpet!

It may not seem all that thrilling, but around here new carpet doesn't happen very often. In fact, it has NEVER happened! So it's a really big deal for us!

The new carpet is a low loop Berber, a few shades darker than our old pile carpet. Don't look too closely at these photos -- they were taken before I vacuumed!

Our old carpet was WAY past its prime. It was a builder's grade to begin with, plus it had been completely traumatized by years of (my) coffee spills and cat accidents. So when we were picking out new carpet, we specifically looked for carpet that would camouflage these kinds of things. In fact, one evening while we were out shopping, I heard myself telling the Carpet Guy, "We're looking for something in the color of cat vomit."

And that's what we got! Our new carpet is the color of cat vomit!

Actually, it has several other good features, too. It's made with SmartStrand
using sustainable, corn-based materials, plus it's extra durable and easy to clean. If and when we have something to clean up, that is. ;)

In order to get ready for the carpet installation, we had to move the grand piano. Most people would hire that done, but not us! Good thing I go to the Dreaded Fitness Place. Now I am qualified to move pianos. And Spouse thinks he could (almost) be on one of those World's Strongest Man shows. As the narrator, of course. :)

Anyway, we had to roll the piano out into the entryway without cracking the tile, so we used plywood sheets to distribute the weight. This entailed lifting the piano several times to shift it from one plywood sheet to another. (Trust me, this operation was MUCH more complicated than it sounds.) Then after the new carpet was installed, we had to move the piano back in place using the plywood to protect the new floor. The fact that Spouse and I executed both moves without injury (either from the piano or each other) is quite remarkable!

Here is Lily modeling the "before" carpet on the stairway. (Oops, I see my toes got in that photo!)

And here is the "after" staircase, minus Lily, coffee spills, and cat vomit.

I'm hoping that it will be a long, long time before one of us puts this SmartStrand carpet to the test!

Bathroom Update: Part 2 (Before & After)

We recently finished our upstairs bathroom update and are very pleased with the results! We still have a few things to do -- notably the frame for the mirror and wall art of some sort -- but it's far enough along to share a few photos. This bathroom, which really belongs to Daughter when she is home, also doubles as a guest bathroom.

Here is a "before" photo. You can see more photos in my original post here.

And here's an "after" shot from the same angle. Daughter chose the color scheme based on the shower curtain she found at Bed, Bath, & Beyond. We looked for colors that would work with the vanity and countertop, since those were features we could not change. The warm caramel paint color works really well with the wood tone.

We replaced the dreadful light fixture, updated the faucets, and changed the drawer pulls. Those changes alone were well worth the effort! I'm sure Spouse would agree. (Right, Spouse? Right???)

Daughter created this nice little focal point using vanilla candles with a few rocks around the base. You can't see it in the photo, but she also filled a clear glass container with coffee beans to hold her combs and brushes. The bathroom now smells like vanilla and coffee, two of her favorite scents. With the rocks and the coffee aroma, it's like a Starbucks spa! Well, not really, but you get the idea. :)

I'm very happy with the end result of this little update. My only regret is that we didn't do it years ago!

14 June 2011

Tabby Tuesday

Eek! Lily is NOT a good jumper. That's why it always worries me when I see her perched on the upstairs railing. It's a LONG way down from there!

She must know that it's safer for her to just sit down rather than attempt a grand acrobatic feat. I guess we could call her Lily, the Rail-Sitter!

12 June 2011

Crazy Mixed-Up House

Right now at our house, nothing is where it should be.

That's not to say we live in perfect order all the time. FAR FROM IT! But things are a little more out of order around here than usual.

All the breakable items from the china cabinet are sitting on the kitchen island.

The furniture is mostly moved out of the living room.

The piano is in the entry way.

And even the girls' food has been moved from its normal place. (Poor Lily is obviously in a state of confusion, staring blankly at the wall.)

Why is all of this happening, you ask?

For the first time ever, we are getting new carpet!

After the carpet is installed, I'm going to take this opportunity to really edit the contents of the rooms before putting things back. While the china cabinet is unloaded, now is the time to seriously examine what's in there (what IS in there, anyway?) and take a box or two to the local thrift store. (I've been donating household items to the Hospice of Central Iowa Giving Tree thrift store, a wonderful little shop which uses proceeds to fund various hospice services.)

I am soooo excited for the new carpet! I hope to post "after" photos by Wednesday or Thursday.

If I can find the camera, that is. :)

10 June 2011

Feline Friday: WEE GOTT MALE!

A few daiz ago, mi mommie bringed sumfing to us from da big box by da rode: MALE! Wee gott MALE!

I was purrty excited becuz I never got MALE before! Tinsul was happie too but I telled her to get out of da picture.

Dis is MI MALE!

I dint noe about MALE cuz mi mommie never talked to mee about deez thingz b4, but den I seed what it wuz fur miself! Mi mommie's frend from wai bak in collij sended us a buk!! She noez how to sew soft blankies and thot of mee and Tinsul (mostly mee!! See how mi nayme is furst on da rapper??) when she seed dis buk. So she sended it to us!

Dis MALE iz full of piktures of kittehs on blankies!
But deez kittehs r stikked rite on! Dey do not come loose to plai!

Luk at deez kitties wif der mommie! I miss mi kitteh mommie sumtymes. I wunder if she haz a scarff. Once i asked Tinsul to bee mi mommie an she hissed at mee.

Dis little gurl has two kitties, just liek mee and Tinsul! You can tell she lieks da one kittie moar -- dat wud be meee!

And luk at dis one! It is such a purrty blankie! It wud bee purrfect fur mi afternune napp.

Thank u mommies frend fur sending dis buk to us! Wee reallie luv our MALE!

Luv, Lily

08 June 2011

Bathroom Update: Part 1

With Daughter home for the summer, we've been undertaking a few home improvement projects. When she's around, it's two against one -- Spouse is powerless to resist our lengthy project list! :)

Our upstairs bathroom was long overdue for some upgrades. Other than the shower curtain and towels, the bathroom really hasn't been updated at all in the 17 years we've lived in the house. Most people would not have let it go this long. I'm not sure why I did!

As we've been replacing all of our 80's brass fixtures around the house, these faucets were high on my list to vacate the premises.

But not as high as THIS LIGHT FIXTURE. I have hated this light fixture with a vengeance since the day I first saw it. But, like other projects around the house, I guess it was easier to put up with it than to embark on an update of the entire bathroom.

I made sure that we took down the old fixture on the day before our neighborhood "large trash" pick-up day. I leaned it (bulbs included!) carefully against a tree near the curb and sure enough, under the cover of darkness, some kind soul picked it up. Perhaps it will grace a theater dressing room some day!

Spouse and Daughter replaced the light fixture with this new one. Of course, this part of the project was fraught with all kinds of unexpected problems. Nothing is ever as easy as it should be, you know. In the above photo, you can see that we still had holes in the wall to patch. This was the least of our troubles.

With the new light fixture in place, they began painting the walls. Daughter chose the color -- a rich caramel which looks just like the stuff you put on ice cream.

Just last night, Spouse finished changing out the faucets in each sink. The new faucets, a brushed nickel, are so much better than the old brass ones! Daughter also replaced all the drawer pulls with nickel knobs to match the faucets. And you can see a glimpse of the new wall color in this photo.

Over the next few days, she will be putting the bathroom back together with her new shower curtain, towels, and accessories. We are also planning to put a frame around the mirror, a trick I've seen on HGTV.

In an ideal world, we'd also replace the counter and the tile floor, but these upgrades will have to suffice for now. When all these relatively minor changes are done, it's still going to be a huge improvement.

Stay tuned for Bathroom Update: Part 2! I hope we can wrap up this project soon...because, of course, there are a few more on the list. :)

05 June 2011

Garden Glimpses in Early June

I have been working really hard on my perennial gardens this spring, hoping that this might be the year that I come closer to achieving my vision. I am trying to create a cottage / woodland garden look using mainly perennials, with just a few annuals for color.

I'm most definitely a novice gardener -- I'm quite good at identifying what I do and don't like, but I tend to fall short in achieving my vision. I've learned most everything by trial and error, supplemented with quite a bit of reading as well as studying other people's gardens.

BUT...after many years of tinkering with my perennial gardens, this year -- for the first time -- I finally feel like I'm getting closer to my gardening vision! If you click on the above collage, you'll see some of the things I'm really happy with right now in the garden areas around our yard. This doesn't mean everything is perfect (I don't think that's EVER the case with perennial gardening!) but I'm considerably happier with my gardens this year than I have been in the past.

I've been blogging quite a bit about my gardening progress this year as well as making some notes as to what I have done differently. Here are my thoughts:

* I over-planted my pots and used a bigger variety of color. For the first time, I'm pleased with how they look and I don't have to wait all summer for them to fill in!

* I was much more aggressive this spring in moving (or getting rid of) plants which weren't thriving. My tendency in the past has been to give them "one more year" to perk up. I decided this spring that time's up!

* I followed the same principle with my perennial gardens as my pots: I over-planted areas to create a fuller look sooner. As plants grow, I can simply divide or move out a few to alleviate any overcrowding.

* I tried to rectify spacing issues by moving plants which were too close to each other. I split several large perennials and found spots to plant them. This helped me to fill in blank areas without having to buy a lot of new plants.

* I added more native plants to the gardens. Once established, natives (I chose prairie plants) require virtually no care and attract all sorts of bees and butterflies.

* I have continued to tinker with my beds. In the past, I've tended to leave them alone after my initial clean-up and spring planting binge. This year, I've
continued to work on them in an effort to get them closer to my vision.

* This year (instead of just thinking about it), I'm going to keep a detailed garden journal with a diagram showing all of my plants. This will help me identify plants as they emerge (or fail to emerge) in the spring. As part of this process, I'll also finish adding metal plant tags to mark all of my perennials. (This finishing touch will also help prevent Spouse from accidentally Round-Upping any of my perennials again!)

Gardening has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. I love beautifying my little corner of the world.

04 June 2011

Fan Flower Visitor

I have two hanging baskets of scaveola, also known as fairy fan flower, in front of our house. This is the second year I've had fan flowers, and I'm extremely pleased with their hardiness. I've found that these delicate-looking flowers can withstand the somewhat extreme sun and drying wind we have at the front of the house, and they will still look great at summer's end.
The other wonderful thing about fan flowers is that they attract butterflies. Yesterday I happened to spy this beautiful butterfly enjoying the blooms. Isn't she stunning? I appreciated her willingness to pause while I grabbed a quick photo.

After a bit of sleuthing, I determined that this gorgeous creature is a red-spotted purple. I hope we have many more winged visitors this summer.

03 June 2011

Feline Friday: Tinsel's Tummy

Today's post is all about something we don't see too much of around here:

Tinsel's tummy! And it's a spectacularly beautiful tummy!

But do not attempt to touch it! Only on select occasions am I lucky enough to get near it. I can report that the fur on Tinsel's tummy is as soft as a bunny.

Tinsel is a beautiful kitty. And here she is flaunting it!

** Bonus points if you can find Lily in the above picture!

Did you find her? You can see by the look on Tinsel's face that she's not pleased that
Lily managed to weasel her way into her glamour shot!