Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Thing #110-Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Way back before I started this project, I was listening to a radio show where they interviewed Frank Warren, the developer of PostSecret. PostSecret is a community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. The show was really interesting, but I didn't think about it again till someone mentioned it last week; today I sent a postcard to Postsecret.

There are all types of secrets posted. Some of them are shocking, some are sad, some are funny, and some are inspirational. I like the idea behind the site, but some of the art inspired by the secrets is a little strange. Sometimes there are responses to a post card posted on the Website; it's interesting to see how other people respond to a secret.

Some of the postcards displayed on the site are pretty depressing, but my "secret" wasn't one of them. However, I still felt weird about putting it in my home mailbox, so I drove to the post office and mailed it there. That way, NO ONE will know! Of course, I can't show my postcard here, because then it wouldn't be secret!

It looks like they update the page pretty frequently with new postcards. Here's my favorite one that's currently on the Website:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Thing #109--Dream On

The room I use for my tutoring center is owned by a church. We use it four afternoons a week, and almost every night there's a meeting of some type there. I never know from day to day exactly how the tables and chairs will be arranged when I get there, so I always arrive early in case I have to do a lot of furniture moving. Today, things were exactly as I had left them yesterday; since my setup time was minimal, I took a power nap at work before the day started.

I woke up really tired today; I don't know why. I had been dragging all morning, and not even a cup of coffee was able to kick-start me. I thought that maybe a short rest would give me the energy I needed to make it through the afternoon.

There were about 20 minutes before anyone else would be there, so I went outside, sat on a bench, and put my feet up. The weather was perfect; the sun was warm, but there was a cool breeze blowing. I leaned back against the arm of the bench, put my arm on the top of the bench, and cradled my head on my arm. It wasn't the most comfortable sleeping position I've ever been in, but it worked.

At first I just kept thinking about all the sounds that were going on around me--birds chirping, a garbage truck backing up, and a power saw buzzing away. After a couple of minutes, I heard the playground bell ring at the school across the street, and I knew I had 15 minutes left.

I dozed off for a bit, but I jerked to consciousness when I heard a sound close to me. I opened my eyes and saw a squirrel sitting on the ground about a foot away from me. I don't know who was more startled-me or him! He took off running, and my rest was over.

The first person showed up right on time at 1:00. As I anticipated, the short rest I had energized me and I was able to keep going the rest of the day.

Monday, April 28, 2008

New Thing #108--Fun With Styrofoam

As much as I try to keep our trash to a minimum, there's still stuff that we can't put in the recycling bin. For example, our meat from the grocery store comes on a tray covered with plastic wrap. Today I tried to find an alternate use for a Styrofoam meat tray when I experimented with making jewelry from it.

I Googled uses for Styrofoam trays and started checking out sites. It soon became a trip down memory lane. Remember Shrinky Dinks? It's a piece of shrinkable plastic you color, then put in the oven to shrink. They get smaller and thicker; you can use them for ornaments, jewelry, or other decorations. When my kids were in preschool, they brought home "Shrinky-dink like" pins and earrings made out of meat trays; I decided to see if I could make a more adult version.

The first step was to cut my meat tray into pieces. I cut off the sides to make a flat piece of foam, then measured and cut it into individual pieces. I made the pieces 1" square, and poked a hole into each with a skewer.

Next, I cut free-form circles from the pieces. I made different sizes, so I could see what would happen to each size after they baked. (Yeah, I know my circles aren't perfect. I'm a Martha wannabe!)

After the pieces were on a pizza tray, I put them in a 350 degree oven for 2 minutes. This is what they looked like when they came out. The foam came out about a third of its original size, and the color was much more intense. They were completely rigid, and very hard.

These beads weren't ready for prime time...they were too irregularly shaped, with ragged edges. The hole shrunk so that a beading needle could barely pass through. However, with a few adaptations, I could see these beads in a pair of earrings or on a necklace.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New thing #107--The Sound of Silence

I'm a big fan of radio. The first thing I do when I come downstairs in the morning is turn on the radio, and the last thing I do when I leave the house is turn it off. I hardly ever watch TV, but I don't know what I'd do without my tunes! Today I chose to keep the radio off and enjoy the silence.

I didn't even realize what I was doing for a while. Tony and I walked to church today, and when we got home, I changed my clothes, started the laundry, and I grabbed some leftovers for lunch out of the refrigerator. Donald came in from a trip to the grocery store, so all three of us sat down to eat. My normal routine was broken, so I just didn't get around to turning on the radio.

A couple of hours later, Tony was working at the kitchen table and I was checking my e-mail when I realized the house was QUIET! It was actually nice. When I went in the family room to read the newspaper, I made a conscious decision not to turn on the stereo or the TV for the white noise it usually provides. I could hear a gentle rain shower coming down, and a couple of birds chirping outside.

When Tony got back from the grocery store, he turned the radio on to NPR, which is his tradition when he's cooking Sunday dinner. I couldn't believe how different the house sounded.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Thing #106--Being of Service

I belong to a very large parish; there are many opportunities for service there. There are so many organizations that will accept your volunteer time, it's hard to choose among them. Sometimes it takes a personal invitation to become involved in a new activity, which is what happened today when Tony and I volunteered to be a driver for Room at the Inn.

Room At the Inn is a 24-hour emergency shelter for families dealing with homelessness. The shelter is run by the Sisters of Divine Providence, and serves 20 people daily at their day site. The clients are transported by volunteers to spend the night at different churches, where they are served two meals--dinner and breakfast, share in an evening of fellowship, and stay overnight.

Kelly, a member of my woman's study group, approached the group earlier in the year about volunteering for this activity. I had noted with interest the introduction of this ministry several months ago, but it got lost among all the other ministries and I never actually signed up for it. I was really happy that Kelly laid the groundwork and did the initial organization. I got a follow up e-mail from Joan, who organizes the monthly event, a couple of weeks ago.

I was told to expect 3 passengers in our car, and to arrive at the day site between 5:00 and 5:15. We drove a very nice woman and her two sons to our church's facility and dropped them off there. The whole thing only took about an hour, and was a great way to get to know someone who's different than me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Thing #105--It's a Challenge!

One of the coolest parts of this project has been the other bloggers I've "met". My blogroll contains people whose thoughts I really enjoy reading. While I have other blogs I read on a semi-regular basis, I check for new posts on the blogroll every day.

Wednesday the author of Blue Collar Crunch wrote about eating less food to lose weight AND to reduce her share of global food resources. I've read the stories in the newspaper about food problems (along with riots in some places) in Egypt, Haiti, and Senegal. It's scary to think about, and it offends my Christian and spiritual principles to think that people in the world could be so hungry.

Today Blue Collar Crunch issued a challenge. It's about eating simply so that others can also eat. I accepted her challenge, and joined the Diet for Global Hunger Action

Here's a summarization of the rules for her challenge. If you want more details, you should read it at the source.
1. PUT DOWN the fake diet food. Ditch Lean Cuisine meals, diet sodas, low-carb bread, and 90-calorie "meal replacement" bars.

2. Similarly, opt for "real food" whenever possible - cheese instead of Cheez-Its, apples instead of apple-flavored Jolly Ranchers.

3. Eat as locally as you can. Restrict your sources to this hemisphere, or just North America, or go for the full-on 100-mile diet, whatever, but try to make an improvement from where you are right now.

4. Eat as low on the food chain as you can. Organic/"happy" meat is better than factory-farmed meat; adding in vegetarian or vegan meals is even better than that. Again, just try to improve from where you are right now.

5. Check out the USDA food pyramid site to find your recommended daily calorie intake, based on your age, gender, and activity level. Try not to exceed it.

6. If you are carrying "excess" weight and would like to lose some, you can choose to stay under a stricter calorie limit.

7. Do one thing every day to take action on the global hunger crisis.
Some of the Things I've done have been designed to be one-time activities; some I write about one day, but continue incorporating into my life each day. This is one of the long-term changes I'm going to attempt to work on for a long time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Thing #104--Chapstick Crazy

I've been keeping my lips moistened with some type of balm for many years. I always have a tube in my purse, one in the kitchen, and one in my bedside table. It doesn't really matter what brand or flavor it is, as long as it goes on smooth and keeps my lips from drying out. Today I experimented, and made my own cocoa lip balm.

The directions, as posted on wikiHow, were pretty easy. I melted some Vaseline in the microwave, added a bit of cocoa powder, and let the mixture cool. The resulting balm, poured into a small plastic container, was a dark brown color. It smelled faintly of chocolate, and actually added a brown tint to my lips. If I did this again I would put a little less cocoa in; I suspect the color wouldn't be as noticeable.

Check this out for another perspective on lip balm:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Thing #103--Antz

Spring is actually here in the St. Louis area! The temperature has been (and is forecasted to be) in the high 60s and low 70s during the day, and in the 50s at night. We went to sleep with the windows open last night and woke to the sounds of birds chirping. Life is good!

However, another sign of spring has been scurrying around in my kitchen. We've got our yearly infestation of ants. Each year they find a crack to come in; they don't read the memo that tells them they're not welcome. Since I'm opposed to using chemical sprays in the house, each year I try different deterrents, in ascending order of harshness, until the ants decide my kitchen isn't hospitable and leave.

This year vinegar wiped on the counter didn't do it, nor did the lemon juice I splashed in the crack I traced the ant line back to. In years past I've bought lemons, used the juice for cleaning, then threw the peels in the dark corners under the cabinets, and sprinkled cayenne pepper along their trails. If none of those work, I bring out my version of an ant atomic bomb--I sprinkle a borax-and-flour mixture around the house foundation. That always stops them (until the next year!)

However, today I didn't have lemons or borax in the house, and I wasn't planning on going to the grocery store. My friend Google came to the rescue. Out of the thousands of hits for "natural ant repellents", this one was my favorite. I scrolled down the list of tips looking for an ingredient that I had in the house. Bingo! Today I tried using cinnamon as a natural pest deterrent.

I moved the plants off the shelf by the sink, sprinkled cinnamon all along the perimeter, and brushed it into the edge next to the wall. I opened the windows above the shelf, sprinkled some at the edges of the frames, and tried to work it in so it wouldn't show against the white plastic. I washed the window seat where plants had been overwintering, and shook some in the corners there. I opened up the cabinet under the sink that holds the trash can and did my best to get the spice along the edges. If it doesn't work, at least the areas will smell good!

I didn't see any ants running away from the cinnamon in apocalyptic terror; when I got home from work, I was disappointed to see four ants scurrying on the counter. I'll give the cinnamon a day or so to work. If it isn't effective I'll move on to another natural remedy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Thing #102-- No Idolatry

When I told some friends what my Thing was for today, their jaws dropped. They couldn't believe I've never watched the mother of all reality shows. Since I've never done it before, tonight I watched, and voted on, American Idol.

I think you're either a huge fan of the show--you never miss an episode--or you don't understand what all the fuss is about. I'd put myself in the latter category. I'm not a fan of pop music in general. Other than a couple of local singers that have made it to Hollywood on the show, I probably couldn't tell you more than a couple of names of people that have been on it. I've never gone out of my way to listen to music recorded by any Idol contestant.

It was a challenge even getting started on this Thing. I NEVER watch TV shows that come on at 7:00, because I'm usually still finishing up dinner. I had to arrange my whole night around being in the family room, remote in hand, when the show started. I tried to talk Donald into watching with me, but he respectfully declined.

I know the basic format of the show after attending a couple Idol-inspired karaoke contests
. Tonight featured the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, so Sir Andrew was shown mentoring each of the contestants on their selections. I knew about half of the songs that were sung. Most of the performers did a good job, although I really enjoyed the snippets of the songs I recognized. The thing I really noticed, though, was that this show has A LOT of commercials! I grabbed a rag and started dusting the family room during the first break. By the time the show was over, the entire main floor of my house was dust-free, and I'd removed the cat hair from all the couches and chairs.

I voted for my favorite performance at the end of the hour, so I may even pay attention tomorrow when they announce the results.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Thing #101-- Say Cheese!

The e-mail said:
SUBJECT: For something new
You should try this
recipe for making fresh mozzarella. I'll give you the ingredients you may not have at home so you don't have to buy them.

How could I refuse? I'm an adventurous cook, and I LOVE to eat. The recipe was called 30-Minute Mozzarella, so it shouldn't take a lot of time. I got the citric acid and rennet from my friend Dani and was ready to go.

Well, almost ready. The recipe called for unchlorinated water, so I had to let some set on the counter for 24 hours. Dani said I should use whole milk, so I had to go buy a gallon. It looked so much richer than the skim milk (Donald calls it "colored water") that I usually get!

The directions said to measure out everything before you started; I needed 1 1/2 level tsp. citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water, and 1/4 tsp. rennet (or a quarter of the tablet Dani gave me, crushed) diluted in 1/4 cool water. I poured the milk into a pan, put it on the stove, and started heating it:

After a few minutes, the milk was the right temperature for adding the citric acid; about 5 minutes later, right on cue, it began to curdle!

It was time to add the rennet. I stirred it in and kept heating the mixture. My directions said that when the milk was just over 100 degrees, the curds should be pulling away from the sides, and the whey should be clear. That WAS NOT happening to my pot! I cooked it a little longer, then took out the curds that were formed. This is what I got--check out the un-clear pot of whey in the back:

I figured I didn't have anything to lose, so I dissolved the rest of the citric acid in some more water and added it to the milk. Immediately lots of curds formed and the whey was acceptably clear.

The next step was to press out as much of the whey as possible, then microwave the curds several times in the microwave, squeezing out the accumulated whey after each time. Yes, it was hot on my hands! I added salt, and then started kneading the cheese. The directions said that it would be finished when it could be pulled into ropes like taffy, but if the curds broke I should reheat them a bit more in the microwave. I reheated it several short periods. Maybe my microwave has fewer watts than the one they used for the recipe. I never could get it to be taffy-like, but it tasted like mozzarella, so I formed it into balls and put it in the refrigerator to eat for dinner:


After it chilled for several hours it was much denser and cut into nice slices. The cheese really classed up our leftover spaghetti tonight.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

New Thing #100--In Your Own Back Yard

The title refers to the theme of this year's Earth Day celebration - "In Your Own Backyard." Although there has been a festival in St. Louis for years, today I went to an Earth Day Festival for the fist time.

Having never been before, I didn't know what to expect. The festival is held in Forest Park on the grounds of the Muny Theater- in the covered walkways leading up to the theater, lining the streets leading up to the building, and in the grassy areas next to the streets. The grass was a bit muddy in places from the rain the last couple of days, but not too bad. I saw, and stepped around, lots of people, dogs, and strollers.

There were HUNDREDS of booths! Every time I thought we had reached the end, there was another section to look at. Most of the booths (except for the food section and the kid's activities) were in no particular order. A lot of non-profit organizations (both big and little) had booths; there were government organizations and utilities represented. Some booths were selling green products and services, and several religious organizations were giving out information to help you improve the relationship between your body/mind and your environment.

I think that almost EVERY state constitutional petition initiative drive had representatives there. I can't remember the last time I've been asked to sign so many petitions! We were asked to participate in a photo petition...we held a sign that said "Stop Global Warming"; the organizer took our picture, and said they were going to make a collage to send it to Governor Blunt.

We walked by the Peace Garden area, which was located at the perimeter of the festival next to a small pond. It looked very serene, but we didn't stop to go in. There was great music on a couple of different stages-- pretty easy to hear as you walked around. We saw a group of belly dancers performing in one of the pavilions; I realized that not every belly dancer is young and svelte, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves!

It was a great day for being outside and learning what we can do to be better stewards of the earth.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New thing #99--It's Meez!

Meez, according to Wikipedia, is a social entertainment Website that allows users to create their own animated avitars or "3D I.D. graphics. Today I created a Meez that looked as much as possible like me.

This activity was interesting and mindless, a good choice for my fuzzy brain today. First you choose a gender, then you start customizing it. The Meezmaker had categories for Body Type (I picked the one the most like me, but "Curvy Carla" or "Booty Betty" would have been interesting), Face and Features, Skin Color, Nose Shape, Hairstyle, and Beauty (Beauty Marks, Face Paint, and Makeup).

Once you have the basic Meez, you get to pick clothes--organized by category to make it easy to pick your "look", shoes, and accessories. (Again, I picked clothes I would actually wear, but I could have tricked myself out in branded clothes, evening wear, goth or princess outfits). The last step is to pick a background for your figure to stand in front of. If you want, you can also add animations.

I chose to use free items, but you can also purchase premium items. Each account comes with 2,500 "coinz" that you use to pay for things. If you need to buy more, they'll be happy to take your payment information.

Once you're satisfied with your Meez, you save it. It even gives you the code if you want to publish it. Check out my Meez in the right sidebar!

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Thing #98--Pledge Central

In my opinion, the best radio station in the nation, KDHX, is located in St. Louis. It's a non-commercial, independent, community station staffed by volunteers, and it has an incredible range of music types. The volunteer programmers change every two hours, and each programmer is an expert in the type of music they play. There's no such thing as a suggested playlist at KDHX!

Because the station doesn't run commercials, two times a year they have pledge drives to raise money for the station. One of the best things about this project (and blog) is that I get to do activities I've always wanted to do, but I've never gotten around to. Today I volunteered to work as a pledge drive phone volunteer.

KDHX has been the main station I listen to for many years--it's been on the air 20 years, and I think I've been a member at least 15 of those. The station is located in the Tower Grove East Neighborhood in South St. Louis. I don't know what I was expecting when I turned onto Magnolia Avenue, but the building is tucked into a residential area, and has only a small sign out front. The radio station was on the first floor of the building, and all the phone volunteers were sitting around a large table in the back of the building.

The job was simple--the volunteer coordinator Korinne spent about five minutes talking about the pledge form before we went into "pledge central". When someone called to pledge, our job was to complete the form (with about 10 questions on it), then hand it to the supervisor. At times the phones were very busy, and other times all six phone volunteers were just sitting. We got to listen to the on-air program, Bob's Scratchy Records, while we were working. The time went by quickly. I met some great people, and got to put faces to a couple of the voices I hear on the radio.

I don't know what took me so long to volunteer; I don't think this will be my last time!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Thing #97--The Color Purple

I'm a real minimalist when it comes to my hair. I wash it, let it dry naturally, then pull the top area up and secure it in the back with a barrette. Styling time...less than five minutes. Today, though, in an effort to change things up I used wash-out hair highlighter to accent the top section of my hair.

I actually wanted to dye my whole head temporarily, but all I could find at the beauty supply store were permanent and semi-permanent options. I did NOT want to have to wash my hair multiple times to remove the dye, so I purchased a magenta hair highlighter that looked like a tube of mascara. It promised me on the label it would shampoo out easily.

I allowed 30 minutes to complete my new hair adventure, which almost wasn't enough. The directions said to hold a section of hair and apply the highlighter from the root to the end, then brush through the hair to even out the finish. However, since my hair is fairly long, a lot of the time I seemed to end up with a blob of highlighter near the root of my hair, and hardly any near to the tip. First the color looked too light; I added another layer of highlighter, but then it was WAY too dark! I stuck my head under the bathtub faucet to wash out some of the excess, cleaned out the tub, threw the pink-tinged towel in the laundry, and left the house with damp hair. Every time I touched my hair. my fingers came away slightly pink.

After I set up for the day at Quest, I went outside to let my hair dry in the breeze. By time the first student arrived, my hair was dry, and I was able to pull the top back. I was amazed when only some of my students noticed (and commented on) my new color! I had to go to the grocery store after work. Several people gave me a funny look, but only the cashier at the register next to the one I used asked me about it.

This picture doesn't really capture the intensity of the color:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Thing #96--Hail, Hail Rock and Roll

A living music legend makes his home in the St. Louis area. I'm embarrassed to say I've never seen him play live, but took care of that tonight when I saw Chuck Berry perform at The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill.

When I was younger, Chuck Berry's music was played on the "oldies" station, which wasn't my cup of tea. I preferred new rock music. However, as I've gotten older my tastes have completely changed. How could you not like and respect a musician who's performed for over 50 years? Our area has had a slew of older rock and blues musicians die over the last couple of years--Johnny Johnson, Henry Townsend, and Ike Turner are the some of the most notable. I knew it was time to get to the Duck Room before time ran out.

Chuck Berry usually performs in St. Louis once a month. When I tried to get tickets for March's show they were sold out in less than 24 hours, so when tickets went on sale for this show I was sitting in front of my computer ready to jump in the queue. It worked! A couple of weeks later the tickets arrived in a nondescript envelope that I almost tossed in the recycling bin unopened.

The Blueberry Hill Duck Room is in the basement of the restaurant and holds about 300 people, and chairs for half of those. There was no reserved seating, so we were there when the doors opened to grab a seat. We were in the front row, next to the reserved section, but had a pole partly blocking the view. When the show started, it didn't really matter.

When the band came out, I noticed that Chuck really LOOKED his age. However, once the music started, the years slipped away. He still has it! He played the big hits, of course, but also some of his other great songs that you won't find rotated every day on the radio. He had a great band, which included his son; his daughter Ingrid even came up on stage to play harmonica on a few songs and sing one. What a voice!

He played for about an hour, then it was time to leave. What a magic time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Thing #95--"That Guy"

When my kids were too young to stay home by themselves, I had no choice but to take them with me whenever I ran errands. Three boys can be loud and rambunctious when they're doing an activity that's not of their choosing. I was forever on them to stop messing around and be quiet, and would get very annoyed when an older person would smile and tell them they weren't all that bad.

Today I got to be "that guy" and compliment someone else's kids when they were messing around.

I was bagging my groceries after doing the big shopping, and the woman next to me had two boys who looked to be approximately 7 and 4 years old. They were sitting on the bagging counter. Every once in a while they'd look at each other, giggle, then the younger one would poke the older one and they'd giggle some more. Every minute or so the mom would say in a stern tone, "stop being so loud" or "be quiet".

I actually didn't think the boys were being bad at all (based on my recollections of grocery trips from decades past); they were kind of cute. After the third time the mom corrected them, I looked over and said (so they boys could hear also), "Oh, I don't think they're being bad...I think they're being pretty good". Mom tried to look annoyed, but then smiled at the compliment. I then asked the boys, "which one of you is being the good one today"? They both raised their hands and giggled.

When I got home I was relaying the story to Donald. He told me he remembered a similar experience in church--I had been on them the entire time to settle down, only to have an older person come up afterwards and compliment him on his behavior. He remembers that this person even gave him a mint!

I wonder if my compliment will stick in these boys' minds?

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Thing #94--Portside Mousing

I'm left handed. I was talking with someone recently about all the adaptations left-handed people have to make..we have to hold scissors "upside down", and when we're writing our hands brush over the ink, which can smear it all over the paper. If the writing is in a notebook, the notebook binding gets in the way of our hand. However, there's one activity I always use my right hand for--using the computer mouse. That's the way I learned. Today I moved my mouse to the left side of my keyboard and used my left hand to operate it.

The Website Dumb Little Man suggests that using your opposite hand with the mouse was a great way to improve your brain power. Based on my experience today, I have to agree. It uses a lot of mental energy to stop and think about things that usually come automatically!

If you're of a Certain Age (like me), you didn't grow up learning how to use computers. I remember the first time I tried to use a computer mouse--I couldn't make the pointer do anything I wanted it to, or go in the right direction at all. That's pretty much how I felt with the mouse in my left hand. I kept getting the right and left buttons mixed up. Every computer task took three times as long to complete because I kept forgetting and reaching for the mouse with my right hand before I remembered where it was.

Other than my lack of technical prowess, there were a couple of problems with left-handed mousing. Because I AM left-handed, I often have paper and pencil handy to take notes with my left hand while the mouse is in the right. This wasn't possible today. It wasn't as easy to use keyboard shortcuts for Cut (CTRL-X) and Paste (CTRL-C).

There were some benefits to changing the mouse. It kept my right hand (along with my arm and sore shoulder) still and on my lap. Another was that I was so frustrated with my progress, I SPENT MUCH LESS TIME SITTING IN FRONT OF MY COMPUTER TODAY!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

New Thing #93--A Diamond Day

Neither Tony or I have any parents left, but our friend's parents have allowed us to become part of their family. Today we got to go to a 60th anniversary party for our friends Bill and Lorraine.

The wonderful party, was given by their children, but you could tell there was a lot of assistance from the extended family members. Even the grandchildren and their spouses had a role.

When we RSVP'd to their daughter Christi, we were asked to write down memories that we wanted to share with the happy couple. These were compiled into a book that was on display along with their wedding pictures; there was also a PowerPoint presentation (made by their daughter Lynne and son Bill) that showed the family growing through the years.

Before the dinner started, their son-in-law Mike read a benediction that was actually a set of wedding vows; they really touched me. While we were having dessert, their daughter Sally acted as a mistress of ceremony and had different family members read some of the memory letters from the book. The presentation was capped off with a song by all of their children, spouses, and grandchildren.

I can't believe what a milestone anniversary that is...I hope that one day Tony and I can do the same thing with our family and friends.

Congratulations!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Thing #92--Organize Me!

I try very hard to be organized, and for the most part I am. I rarely forget appointments, and I usually get paperwork where it needs to be on time. However, since my PDA pooped out months ago, I've not had a good way to know what's going on in my life when I'm not in front of my calendar. Today I made a PocketMod to carry in my purse to help me be organized.

A friend had sent me a link to the PocketMod Website a while back, but I didn't follow up on it till today. If you're not familiar with the concept, a PocketMod is a recyclable personal organizer; if you have one piece of paper and a printer, you're ready to start. The resulting organizer, which is the size of your paper folded into eighths, can fit easily in your purse or pocket. It opens like a book, and the first page has a pouch to carry a business card or other small paperwork.

There are many widgets you can add to customize the PocketMod. Mine included a calendar for this month and next month (although there are daily and weekly options), conversion and formula reference pages, a mini-checkbook register (so I can record my debit-card charges when I don't have my checkbook handy), and some blank pages for notes to myself.

After it printed, I used the embedded YouTube "how to fold" video to complete my PocketMod and put it in my purse. I'm set for a while!

Friday, April 11, 2008

New Thing #91--Water, Water Everywhere (But Not Bottled!)

St. Louis has great-tasting water-it was actually voted the nation's best-tasting tap water by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in a 2007 competition.

Just in time for Earth Day, on Wednesday, a group of restaurants in the area pledged to serve tap water and stop selling bottled water. St. Louis City Hall will to follow their example; City employees will be encouraged to drink water from the tap, and the city will no longer supply bottled water for meetings.

I really don't use a lot of bottled water, and I'm a recycling Nazi when it comes to the empty bottles. I also usually refill my disposable bottles several times before I recycle them. However, I'm realizing that when I carry around bottled water I'm not setting a good example for other people, so today I took the Think Outside the Bottle Pledge.

The pledge was easy to complete...it took less than 5 minutes. I went to the store and bought a translucent blue water bottle that will fit in the cup holder of my car. It may take me a while to remember to carry it from the car into meetings and functions, but I'm going to try!

Think Outside the Bottle Pledge (www.thinkoutsidethebottle.org)

I pledge to Think Outside the Bottle, which means:

Opting for public tap water over bottled water; and

Supporting the efforts of local officials who prioritize strong public water systems over bottled water profits.

Signed by:
[Your name]

Because water is a human right and not a commodity to be bought and sold for profit;

Because bottled water corporations are changing the very way people think about water and undermining people's confidence in public water systems;

Because up to 40% of bottled water in the U.S. and Canada is sourced from municipal tap water;

Because some bottlers have run over communities' concerns and the environment when they extract water and build bottling plants to get local spring and ground water;

Because bottled water travels many miles from the source, results in the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels, and contributes to the billions of plastic bottles ending up in our landfills;

Because worldwide there is a need for investments in public water systems to ensure equal access to water, a key ingredient for prosperity and health for all people; and

Because solutions to ensuring water as a fundamental human right require people acting together and standing up for public water systems.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Thing #90--Mahjong Madness

I have my computer in the kitchen. I use it to keep my calendar (on Outlook), keep the grocery list on an Excel spreadsheet, and surf the Internet. It's handy for composing letters; I can type them then send them straight to the printer downstairs. The computer is really helpful in my activities, but it's also a big time-waster!

When I cook, I often have spare time in between the steps of the recipes. I used to always have a computer window open to play games like Solitaire, Free Cell, and Spider Solitaire. These are good because they aren't timed...move a couple of cards, go stir the pot, and come back. A while back I downloaded Big Fish Games Mahjong Towers Eternity, another puzzle game. That's turned into my time-waster of choice. I've played many different layouts over the past couple of months. Today I made and uploaded a Mahjong Towers Eternity game.

The process was very easy. I got to choose the positions of the tiles, how many layers of tiles to add, and the difficulty of the game. I added a name for the layout, then the computer program did the rest.

I wonder how many people will download and enjoy the game I made?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Thing #89--Scented Comfort

I hurt my shoulder playing Dodgeball a couple of months ago. After several visits to the chiropractor it felt much better. However, I've had a couple of twinges of pain this week when I moved my shoulder; last night I woke up in the middle of the night with sore shoulder and arm muscles.

I decided another trip to the chiropractor was in order today. After a thorough adjustment, my shoulder felt a little better. The doctor also prescribed some exercises, and suggested that heat would help. Instead of pulling out my normal heating pad, I used a lavender and chamomile anti-stress comfort wrap.

My cat Pepper was really interested in the wrap when it was sitting on my desk. He tried to pick it up in his mouth and carry it away, but it was way too heavy for him. The wrap was long and skinny and had a terry-cloth cover with ribbon handles at each end. It felt like it was filled with rice. It was probably designed to drape around my neck, but I heated it in the microwave, folded it in half, slung it over my shoulder, and held on to the handles to keep it in place.

It worked great, and stayed hot for a long time, but I was disappointed that it didn't smell more like lavender and chamomile.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

New Thing #88--New Territory

We've lived in the West County area for more than 20 years; I think I know the area well. However, today I drove through a neighborhood that was new to me.

The neighborhood is actually an apartment complex called Orchard Village. It's always been there, but I've never had a reason to go in. It looks nice as you're tooling down Manchester Road-lots of green space, with some big pine trees buffering the complex from the traffic noises and congestion. If you look quickly, you can see a couple of buildings as you're driving by.

However, the complex was much larger than you can see from Manchester. If you drive through the first parking lot, and then over a bridge, there were dozens of other buildings! There were several different building sizes, and one-story and two-story units. Here's a picture from the complex Website:


I saw several pools (closed, of course), a tennis court, a playground for the kiddies, and a pond with a gazebo (another picture copied from the Website):


If I needed to move into an apartment neighborhood, this is certainly one I'd look into!

Monday, April 7, 2008

New Thing #87--Driving on the Information Superhighway

Every morning, I have the same routine. When I come into the kitchen, first I pour my coffee, then I put together and eat breakfast while reading the newspaper comics. The next thing I do is check my e-mail before I leave the house. However, today that last activity didn't go according to plan. Instead of connecting to the Internet, I got the message that "The server cannot be found". I closed the browser and tried again; I got the same response.

On a normal day, this is where I would wait for Tony to come home and fix the problem. But since he was going out after work, I knew it would be a very long time before I could surf the Net, so I fixed an Internet connection problem myself.

I knew that there was a sheet somewhere in Tony's desk that detailed what to do when this happened. I rummaged around until I found it (in the third file folder I opened). The instructions were hand-written...and somewhat hard to interpret. Finally I found something that looked promising. Over by the right margin, I saw a list of computer components. The first three steps said to turn the components "off"; the next three steps involved turning the components "on".

I followed the steps and nothing happened! I had to leave the house then, so I cursed under my breath as I drove away. Later in the morning, I came home expecting more frustration. Much to my surprise, one click on the browser icon had me up and running!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New Thing #86--A Bed of Roses

Tony and I were listening to A Prairie Home Companion as we were driving to church last night. The host, Garrison Keillor, announced they were having a contest called the Bed of Roses Love Sonnet Contest, which inspired today's New Thing. I collaborated, and submitted a love poem in a contest.

I haven't written poetry since college, and even then wasn't very good. However, that didn't keep me from grabbing a notebook and two pens. I put the notebook on the couch between Tony and me, so he could also write if the inspiration struck him. Although the rules of the contest said only that the poem had to be 14 lines long and about "love", our model was the English Sonnet -- it has the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b / c-d-c-d / e-f-e-f / g-g.

It took us about an hour to come up with the finished product; I submitted it on the show's Website. With classic lines like
I love you, my dear
All is well when you're here.

I'm sure we won't be winning the prize (a mattress and three dozen roses- a bed of roses!) but it was a fun activity to do.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

New Thing #85--For The Birds

There was an article in the newspaper a couple of days ago about the yearly migration of hummingbirds into our area. According to humingbirds.net, the first bird in our area was seen on March 28th.

I enjoy watching birds, but have never gone out of my way to attract them to our yard by feeding them--unless you count the Cub-Scout created bird feeder that lasted a week, or the pine cones with peanut butter and birdseed the boys would bring home from preschool every winter. This year I decided to feed the hummingbirds by using a hummingbird feeder.

When I went to the store I was overwhelmed by the variety of feeders available. I bought an inexpensive bottle feeder; if it turns out I can indeed attract hummingbirds I'll buy a better one. We have a redbud tree in the backyard which you can see from the kitchen window, so I hung the feeder from one of it's branches.

I made artificial nectar from sugar and water and put a bit in the feeder. Since there's no leaves on the tree yet, the red color on the feeder really stood out. It attracted my attention; we'll see if it attracts the birds'.

Friday, April 4, 2008

New Thing #84--The Play's the Thing

A month or so ago Tony and I bought tickets to see tonight's performance of Ella at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. We usually wouldn't make plans like this on Friday night, preferring our "dates" be on Saturday, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to sit in the center of the front row of a theater.

Shortly after we bought the tickets, Tony discovered he would be attending an out-of-town seminar this week and he wouldn't be home in time for the curtain rising, so I asked my friend Patty to go with me.

Ella
is a play about Ella Fitzgerald. The plot has her on a stage on the French Riviera, rehearsing for a concert in 1966. When her producer asks her to add more “patter” to her act, she begins to reminisce. There was as much singing as there was dialog, and at the end of the play, it felt so much like a concert everyone stood up to demand an encore. It was awesome!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

New Thing #83--Think You're So Smart?

If I lived in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone, where "all of the children are above average", I'd fit right in. I got pretty good grades in school, but it was more about putting in a lot of studying time than innately knowing information. As a result of a conversation with several acquaintances last week, today I took an online IQ test.

When you Google "IQ tests", there are 983,000 results. I tried to narrow that down by searching for "Mensa tests" (not that I think I'm that smart, but it was a good point of reference); that gave me 652,000 results. I clicked on the first link and started my adventure.

Actually, I took two tests. I didn't trust the results of the first test--I think the result was quite inflated! This site actually gave the embed code so you could post the results to a blog so all your friends would think you were smart, too. The second test gave me a number that was probably more in line with reality.

Both tests had the same types of questions, and in some cases the VERY same ones. There were pattern recognition questions, word games, and some questions that reminded me of the dreaded word problems from Algebra.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

New Thing #82--Bubblicious

In one of my daily meditation books recently, the topic was not taking yourself so seriously, but having fun. The book gave several examples-one of which jumped out at me as a great activity for today. I blew bubbles.

I bought a package of scented bubbles that contained three small bottles (blueberry, lemon, and pineapple) and took them to work. After I had set up the room for the day, I went outside and started blowing. After a couple of minutes, I got a phone call that went like this:
  • Student: Hi, Kathy. Whatcha' doing?
  • Me: Blowing bubbles
  • Student: Why?
  • Me: It just felt like a good thing to do.
  • Student: Ok. See you soon.
Some of the bubbles I blew got caught on a wind current and drifted over into the next yard- more than 50 feet away. Sometimes the wind would blow the bubbles right back into my face, and sometimes carry them away from me. It was very soothing to watch the large and small bubbles float along.

I left the jars on a bench outside when the day started. Later, during a class break, I came outside to find all three jars being used by students.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New Thing #81--The Joke's on You

Today is April Fools' Day.

I'm not a big fan of pranks or jokes on April Fools'. Even though the pranks should be done in good fun, too often they're mean spirited, passive-aggressive, or just plain mean.

However, I couldn't let the day pass by unacknowledged. Looking through my drawers, I found just the right accessory to add to my outfit. Today I wore a jester hat.

I was convinced that I looked very unusual with my hat; I saw a couple of drivers do a double take on my drive to work. There were four students in attendance at Quest today. It was about an hour into the day before anyone asked why I was wearing the hat.