Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The End

A little over a year ago I heard a radio program that changed my life.

When I listened an interview on NPR with Jen Mac, where she talked about her year-long project to do a new thing every day, I was fascinated. I was almost ready to turn 49 and I wondered if I could pull off a similar project. In less than a week I set up a blog (although I barely knew what a blog was!) told all my friends what I was doing, and solicited ideas for activities.

Now, a year later, the project is done. Three hundred and sixty-six activities (plus a bonus one) have been completed. I'd like to say thank you to everyone who's read this blog or left a comment. I've "met" so many wonderful people along the way.

The biggest thank yous, though, have to be for my family and friends. Hubby Tony was my partner in many of my activities, provided lots of moral support, and patiently put up with my daily writing. Sons Tony, Brian, and Donald also participated in a few enterprises, and supplied me with lots of ideas.

My wonderful friends kept me supplied with ideas, encouraged me, and were always ready to embark on activities with me. In no particular order, they are Dani, Kathy C, Dana, Stephanie, Patty, Debbie, Nicole, Peter, Joe, and Denise. If I've forgotten someone, I apologize; let me know and I'll include your name.

I'm finished posting here, but now I'm sort of addicted to blogging. If you're so inclined, you'll be able to find me at my NEW blog, The Second Half of My Life. I won't be posting everyday; I'm aiming for quality rather than quantity.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bonus New Thing #367--Ducky

Even though it's past my birthday, my trip still has a day to go; I can't finish yet!

After yesterday's full day at Epcot, I had hoped to sleep in. However, our hotel is expanding and the construction site we could see from our window, which was closed down during the weekend, started up again right at 7:30. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was impossible. Since Tony was already up, I decided to join him.

Our first objective was breakfast. We decided to eat in the hotel, at the B-Line Diner. Afterwards, because we could, we put on our suits and used the hotel's outdoor pool and hot tub. Even though the air temperature was in the 50s, it wasn't a problem; the pool was heated, and the hot tub felt great. The only bad part was getting out!

After we got dressed, it was down to the lobby to watch the March of The Peabody Ducks. I've seen the ducks leave their fountain in the hotel lobby (both at the original Peabody in Memphis, and on the day we arrived in Orlando), but I've never seen them march to the fountain at the start of the day.

Every day at 11:00 A.M., the Peabody Ducks are escorted from their penthouse home on the mezzanine level to the lobby via elevator. To the sounds of the King Cotton March by John Phillip Sousa, the ducks proceed down a red carpet to the hotel fountain. They're accompanied by their "Duckmaster", who makes sure things go smoothly.

This was one of the funniest things I've ever seen! At night, the ducks walk down a red staircase and leisurely stroll the red carpet back to their elevator to go home. In the morning, as soon as they turn the corner from the elevator they start running to the fountain; that's where their food is!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Thing #366--Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

When Tony was revealing all his secrets last night, he told me that we were going to a Disney park today; I got to choose which one. The pressure was on, but after much deliberation I decided on Epcot (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). I chose it mainly because it had the latest closing time, and I wanted to do as much as I could on my magical day.

I'd seen the ads on TV about getting into Disney free on your birthday. Tony had, too, and had completed all the steps for me to be their guest. After I turned in the certificate at the Will Call, they gave me my ticket, and wrote my name on a "Happy Birthday" button. Almost every Disney employee I saw (and a few guests, too) wished me a Happy Birthday. At one attraction, I was told the office had a message for me; I picked up a house phone, dialed a number, and listened to Goofy tell me to have a great birthday!

On our last trip to Orlando, we went with some friends who had kids the same ages as ours. It was certainly a family vacation; every morning I'd make peanut butter or bologna sandwiches, and fill a backpack with lunch and snacks for the day. We got to the park when it opened, because we needed to be out of there by mid-afternoon to take a break for recharging. The kids had a big say in what activities we did and at what times.

In contrast, my adult day was perfect. The temperature made it up to 80 degrees. Tony and I got to pick exactly what we wanted to do, and when we did it. We got to the park about 11:00, a few hours after it opened, because we went to Mass first. I was a little concerned when our first ride gave us the option of standing in line for 55 minutes, or coming back with a Fast Pass at 3:30 in the afternoon (it was 11:30 at the time), but every other ride had a minimal wait. We did everything we wanted to in both Future World and the World Showcase, had a great dinner in the Moroccan restaurant, and saw the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks at the end of the night.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Thing #365--Revealed

Today is the day I went on a mystery trip.

I'm sure if I had tried I could have figured out where we were doing, but I didn't want to. My first clue came in the tram from the parking garage to the airport; the driver asked what airline we were taking. Based on Tony's answer (AirTran), he asked if we were going to Atlanta or Orlando (the two options from the St. Louis airport). When the answer was Orlando, he asked if "we were going to see the "Big Mouse". I asked Tony to stop there, because I didn't want to know.

We did indeed end up in Orlando. The mystery continued when we boarded the shuttle to the hotel. The driver was making several stops, and announced the order before he started. Tony asked me if I wanted to know which one was ours; I didn't. I soon found out, though, that our "home" for the weekend was the Peabody.

Tony had planned everything--he had dinner reservations and a suggested itinerary for the weekend. I think he was glad that the cat was out of the bag, and he didn't have to keep secrets any more.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Thing #364--Why Yes, It IS All About Me!

What do you do when you've come to the end of a year-long project? You throw a party for yourself!

The invitation said:
On my 49th birthday last January, I committed to do a new activity every day for a year. Come help me celebrate the completion of my project with food and dancing.
The whole experience was wonderful! Because I wanted to dance, we hired a DJ. Our house isn't big enough for dancing, so we rented a facility. I made mountains of mostaccioli, chopped and blanched veggies, and bought food, beverages, and cake.

Here's the table decorations. I started with paper bags I made myself, then added blades of ornamental grass from my garden that I spray painted gold, and pieces of garland with black "stems" and metallic discs.

I've made food for large groups before, but the events have always been at our house; tonight we had to take the food somewhere else. It was a challenge to keep the cold things cold and the hot things hot. Tony and I both took a car, and they were both filled to the brim!

It took a while to set the room up, but when the first guests showed up it really started to feel like a party. After dinner the dancing started; the DJ played a song from the year I was born and the years I turned 10, 17, and 20. Those were followed by a song from the year I got married and the year each of my children were born. The whole room was dancing along with me.

All too soon the night was over. We cleaned our stuff up and drove home. I'd turn 50 every year from now on if I could have another party like this one!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Thing #363--Singalong

I was at home by myself tonight, so it was time for a chick flick. I put on "Mamma Mia! The Movie", one of the DVDs I got for Christmas; in addition to the regular movie, one of the bonus features on the disc is a sing-along version. Tonight I sang with the sing-along version of a movie.

In case you're not familiar with "Mamma Mia!", (which is scripted around the songs of the '70s musical group Abba) it's about Sophie, who wants to discover her father's identity on the eve of her wedding. She secretly invites three men from her mother's past back to the Greek island they last visited 20 years ago. However, in this movie the plot is secondary to the music. There's one great song after another--22 of them, to be exact.

The sing-along feature was great! The lyrics to every musical number were subtitled on the screen, karaoke-style. Since there was nobody else around, I cranked up the stereo, and didn't have to worry that my horrible voice would disturb anyone else. The cats, though, were not amused with my performance:

There was one downside to the sing-along version, though. When I was able to read the words, I realized how some cheesy some of them were. In the song Our Last Summer, they manage to rhyme Paris restaurants and morning croissants. That still didn't stop me from bopping around the family room, dancing and singing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Thing #362--It's A Mystery To Me

I'm going on a vacation this weekend. I just don't know where.

Tony has informed me that I have to be ready to leave Saturday morning for a trip; we won't return until sometime late Monday. Today I started packing a suitcase for a mystery trip.

I was instructed to bring:
  • Jeans (for the airplane!)
  • Shorts
  • Jacket or sweater
  • "Church" clothes
  • Swimsuit
  • Toiletries and makeup
Tony is great at planning, so I know everything will be taken care of. I have no idea where we're going, but not knowing is part of the fun!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Thing #361--Doggie Depiction

Have you ever seen one of those images made out of text or patterns? I did that today when I made a picture out of text using Word.

Once again, I turned to wikiHow for my inspiration. The process was very easy. After I found a picture (I used clip art), I drew a text box around it, then made the box transparent so the graphic showed through. The next step was to completely fill the text box with small-font size letters. I used the word "dog" repeated over and over. After I typed the first row, I was able to copy and paste the subsequent rows.

Once the typing was completed, I went back and changed the text color; brown for the dog, and white for the background (which made it disappear). The most challenging part was deciding what color to make a letter when only part of it fell into the dog's outline.

When the project was done, I used the Zoom command to make my graphic fill up the whole monitor screen. It looked pretty good!

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Thing #360--Assistance

When I made the decision to close my tutoring center last year, I knew there would be a small number of students who wouldn't be finished with all the classes for their high school diploma. I told them (and their parents) I would be happy to offer support as they completed the requirements for graduation.

The students were all using a correspondence curriculum. They worked at their own pace, and the tests were mailed to the school as they got completed. However, one of the purposes of my center was to provide encouragement and assistance to the students. Now they'd be doing the work on their own.

Today was the first day back to school for many schools, and the first time I met one of my former students to answer questions he had about a test.

We arranged to meet outside the library of the community college that's closest to his house. He arrived right on time, and we went into the library to find a table. I was impressed with the amount of work he had done on his own; after I answered a couple of questions, he quickly completed a test. We agreed that he would call me in a couple of days and let me know if he needed help with anything else.

I think I'll be doing this for a couple of months, depending on how many students I hear from.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Thing #359--Noteworthy

I volunteered to help Tony wrap up a project at church tonight. He had to remove some things from the ends of each of the pews, organize them, and return them to the proper place. The church is a short drive from our house, so we left shortly before we thought the lass Mass would be finished.

However, when we got there we found out that the Mass, which is in Spanish, was only about halfway through. We took a seat in the back; as the remainder of the celebration unfolded I got to hear Christmas carols sung in Spanish.

I love traditional carols. Although they've been played on the radio since before Thanksgiving, in the Catholic church they only get sung between Christmas and Epiphany (a twelve day period, which is where the title of the song "Twelve Days of Christmas" comes from). It's always a treat to sing and hear them in a reverent setting every year.

Even though tonight the carol's language was unfamiliar, the tunes were still the same. The choir sang We Three Kings and Angels We Have Heard on High; one of the women had a mesmerizing alto voice that harmonized beautifully with the others.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Thing #358--Kraft It

Today I learned how to make a paper bag.

I used the tutorial "How to Make a Paper Bag" at eHow, which was very easy to follow.

One bag used a piece of paper 9 1/2" by 15". I found some pieces of Kraft Paper downstairs; each was 8 1/2" by 15", so my bag was a bit shorter than the directions indicated. My bag is also pretty crinkled, because the paper had originally been used as box cushioning, but it was just fine for my experimental purposes.

Other than the paper, all I needed was a ruler, a pencil, and some glue. The project only took about fifteen minutes, part of which was just waiting for the glue to dry.

My new found knowledge may (or may not) come in handy for a project during the next week...I haven't decided.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Thing #357--The Crib

Tony has offered to teach me a couple of times before, but today I learned how to play cribbage.

Cribbage is a card game that involves playing and grouping cards in combinations to earn points. A distinctive feature is the cribbage board (which has a series of holes and a set of pegs for each player) that's used to keep score. The object of the game is to obtain 121 points before your opponent does. This is accomplished by "pegging", or moving your pegs around the board.

The major rules of the game:
To start the game, each player is dealt six cards. Both players pick two cards from their hands and place them face down to form a "crib" that's used by the dealer at the end of play. The "pone", or non-dealer, cuts the remainder of the pack to select a starter card, which is used in counting the value of each player's hand and the crib.

The pone lays down the first card, then the players take turns laying cards down trying to get to 31 points. The cumulative value of the cards played is announced as each card is played. Face cards are 10 points, aces are 1 point, and everything else is its numerical value. When a player cannot play a card without the total exceeding 31, that player calls "go" and the opponent continues to play all cards possible.

After all the cards have been played on the table, the second part of the game takes place. Each player reexamines their cards, trying to get points for different combinations of cards in their hands. As points are earned, the peg is moved on the cribbage board.
Tony was a good sport as I tried to remember all the rules and the intricate scoring of the game. He even pointed out some points I missed, even though by some rules he could have taken advantage of my mistake and claimed the points for his own.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Thing #356--Hand It Over

Tony and I were walking this afternoon. I wasn't watching where I was going, stepped on a sweet gum ball, and almost fell flat on my face.

(In case you're lucky enough not to know what I'm talking about, a sweet gum ball is the fruit of the sweet gum tree. When the spiky little balls mature, they turn brown, drop their seeds, and fall off the tree. The balls aren't good for anything. The spikes hurt when you step on them barefoot and they don't decompose; they're still hard and firm months after they fall. In normal years there are a good number of balls under the trees in the fall and winter, but this summer we had enough moisture that the trees were able to produce prodigious amounts of fruit.)

After I steadied myself, I took a good look at the brown orbs scattered all over the sidewalk and decided to see how many sweet gum balls I could hold in my hand at one time. I stooped down and started grabbing, picking them up with my left hand and setting them in my cupped right hand.

The spines of the balls stuck together, so I was able to stack them really high. I stopped when I got to 37, but I probably could have gone higher if I'd stacked them more carefully. When I was done, I threw the balls back on the grass where I found them, and continued walking.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Thing #355--Auld Lang Syne

I've done a variety of things on New Year's Eve. Many years we've gone to dinners, dances, and house parties with friends. When the kids were younger, we took them to our city's First Night. The last several years we've attended a lockin in conjunction with a group Sons Brian and Donald were involved in; there were parallel activities for parents and children, but both groups came together to celebrate midnight and the turning of the year. We wanted to do something different this year, so when I heard about a promotion by Wehrenberg Theaters, we decided to stay close to home and take in a movie. Tonight I welcomed in the new year by going to a movie, but actually celebrated New Years Eve by dancing in the theater parking lot.

The promotion was a good deal; the package included a movie ticket (for any "9:00 hour" movie), refillable popcorn and soda, and a goodie bag with hats and party favors. We purchased our tickets several days ago, to make sure we got our first choice of movies. When we arrived at the theater tonight, the ticket-taker stamped our hand, indicating that we were entitled to all the extras. It was great to not open my wallet again at the concession stand; carrying our sodas and Diet Cokes, we entered the auditorium and picked out seats.

The movie (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) ran for more than 2 1/2 hours, so it was close to midnight when it finished. In the lobby, our hand stamp got us plastic leis, party hats, and bags containing noisemakers, bubbles, streamers, and party poppers. Although the promotion had indicated that "guests are welcome to stay in the lobby to welcome in 2009", the lobby was practically deserted; everyone was leaving after they received their things. We put our hats and leis on, grabbed our bags, and left too.

Tony and I walked to the car, turned on the radio as loud as it would go, and rolled down the car windows. We danced to techno music for a couple of minutes until midnight, then shot our poppers, threw streamers at each other, and blew our noisemakers at the other people who were still in the parking lot.

After a few minutes of revelry, we realized it was cold! We got in the car, closed the windows, turned the radio down to a reasonable level, and drove away. It was a great night.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Thing #354--Talk To Me

Did you know that your computer can talk? I didn't until today, when I used the Microsoft Narrator utility on my computer.

Narrator is a basic Microsoft accessibility option that uses Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology to read what is displayed on the screen. It allows people with little or no sight to use computers that have Windows operating systems.

I had to do two things before Narrator could start vocalizing to me. First, I had to set up the speech properties for my computer, and then I had to configure Narrator itself. I found the Speech Properties folder in the Control Panel (because I still use Windows XP). In the text-to-speech tab, there were three voices to choose from-I picked "Microsoft Sam", and set him to speak at a normal rate of speed.

Narrator was in the Accessories menu, under the Accessibility category. Once you open the Narrator, a dialog box lets you select from several different TTS functions that include, among others:
  • Announcing events on the screen, where the narrator will read aloud new windows, menus, or shortcuts when they are displayed
  • Reading typed characters (including every keystroke you make, like shifts, spaces, backspaces, and deletes).
The Voice Settings box lets you adjust the speed, volume and pitch of the voice you've chosen. When the Narrator settings configured and the volume turned up, it was time for me to put Microsoft Sam to the test. I opened a Word document and started typing.

I found Narrator very annoying. It would probably be helpful to someone who couldn't see well, but the voice was way too slow-paced for my typing rate; it tried to keep up, but it couldn't, even when I put it on the fastest speed. When I tried to end the program, it asked if I was sure I wanted to exit; I didn't have to think twice before I clicked "Yes".

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Thing #353--Chill Out

I wanted a soda with my lunch today. There were some cans in the pantry, but none in the refrigerator, and I think nothing is worse than warm soda. I could have gotten a glass and poured the soda over ice, but today I used everyday ingredients to chill my can of soda in two minutes.

The principle is the same one that I used years ago when we made homemade ice cream. When you add salt to a ice and water mixture, the salt lowers the freezing point of the water, meaning it gets colder than it normally could. Agitating the can of soda makes the whole cooling process go faster.

The steps:
  • Fill a container with water and add ice to it. (I used a 50/50 mix of ice and water, and performed my experiment in a six-cup measuring cup since I was only chilling one can of soda.)

  • Add a handful of salt to the ice. (Rock salt would probably have worked better, but all we had in the garage was something called "ice melt"; I didn't know if it would have the same effect. I used table salt, and it did the trick.)

  • Place your drink in the ice water solution and rapidly stir it around. (My hands were already cold, so I used a wooden spoon for this step.)

  • Wait two minutes, then test.
I was skeptical that my room-temperature soda could get cold so quickly, but it really worked! Next time, though, I would chill the can another minute, because I like my soda really cold.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Thing #352--Measure Up

I've heard that cats can sleep eighteen to twenty hours a day. An intestinal virus has caught up with me, and I've been laying around a lot since yesterday. Today I compared my sleep schedule to my cats'.



7:30 AM--Woke up, rolled over, went back to sleep

Are you kidding? We got up at 4:30, ate breakfast, and then started our early-morning nap.

9:15--Pulled myself out of bed. Pepper was sleeping on my feet. Showered, dressed, and passed Jackson curled up in the hallway as I went downstairs.

Ahhh…nothing like a cat nap. Makes the day go so much faster!

9:45--Made some tea for breakfast, and ate a handful of Cheerios.

The cats thought the cereal sounded like kibbles, and came into the kitchen to see if there was anything for them. They walked under the table a couple of times, and then went to take their mid-morning nap.

10:30--I’m not feeling so good, so I go into the family room to stretch out on the couch. Pushed Jackson out of the way, and take the prime spot in the sun.

Jackson opened one eye, looked at me, and then went back to sleep. After a half-hour, he got up, stretched, and lay back down (with his head facing the opposite direction as before). Pepper tried to join us at some point, but decided it was too crowded on the couch.

1:00--Decided to go to church; although I couldn’t sleep there, at least I wasn’t exerting any energy.

Pepper joined me in the bathroom as I was getting ready, and then followed me into the hall. As I was leaving, he was getting ready to curl up for his early-afternoon nap.

2:00--Went in the car with Tony to run several errands. Dozed almost the entire time.

The cats got fed before we left; expending the most energy they had all day. Afterwards, it was time for the all-important mid-afternoon nap.

3:00--Fell asleep on the couch, and woke up about 4:00 to the sound of dinner preparations. Got up and drank a cup of coffee (which did not agree with me!)

The cats are still missing in action; based on past experience they’re on or under one of the beds in the house

4:30--Back to the family room to stretch out, although for variety I chose the couch on the other side of the room.

Jackson was taking his late-afternoon nap on a blanket which was thrown over the top of the couch. He passed on the opportunity to join me.

6:00--Dinner time. Eggs, sausage, and pancakes for everyone else; one dry pancake and tea for me.

The cats make a couple of passes under the table, looking for crumbs. They don’t find anything, so they left to go curl up together somewhere.

7:15--Finally starting to feel better.

Pepper joins me at the computer, sitting on the desk as I type.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Thing #351--Going Bananas

Today I used a food dehydrator to dry fruit.

Son Brian's is a pro with his food dehydrator. His specialty is beef jerky, but he's also dabbled with drying apples and other fruits. For Christmas I got a dehydrator of my own, and I was excited to try it out. I've sun-dried tomatoes a couple of times in the summer, but it's hard to do in the Midwest humidity, and a pain to bring the trays in each night and when it rains. It's also impossible to sun dry anything in our cold winter weather.

A food dehydrator has an electric element for heat and a fan for air circulation. Dehydrators work by increasing air current around food to remove the moist air, which makes the whole drying process is faster and easier.

My dehydrator fit nicely on the island in the kitchen. It has a lid that contains the heater and fan; the lid sits on top of four round stackable trays. (However, I can buy more trays and expand the tower up to 12 layers). It has adjustable temperature settings for herbs, nuts, fruits and vegetables, and meats. Another nice feature is a top handle that makes it easy to check on things by lifting up the entire lid.

Brian was full of information about the dehydrator, the operation of my setup, and the drying process. I barely had to read the manual!

I decided to dry bananas today. They're easily available, inexpensive, and wouldn't take as much preparation as some other fruits. The biggest problem with bananas is their tendency to turn brown. I peeled and sliced them, tossed the slices in an ascorbic acid mixture, then laid them out on two layers of the dehydrator. The slices completely filled each tray.

The directions indicated the bananas would dry in 6-12 hours. However, if the surrounding air is humid, then drying will take longer. Our weather forecast called for several inches of rain over the course of the day, so at the six hour mark the bananas were still quite rubbery. They were also a bit browner than I would have liked, but they tasted good. The fruit flavor was intensifying nicely.

After about nine hours the process was almost complete. I took most of the dry banana chips out, leaving a few that were still sticky. Ten hours after I started, I was cleaning the racks and getting ready to put the dehydrator away.

The bananas had shrunk substantially in the dehydration process. I started with a little over two pounds of fruit, and finished with two cups of chips.

I'm looking forward to drying fruits and vegetables, and making fruit leathers and jerky

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Thing #350--Next Blog

One thing I enjoy doing is searching within Blogger to find new and different blogs to read. There is a "Next Blog" link at the top of the page that leads you to a random writer's thoughts. Many of the pages are not in English, but that makes it more interesting. It's fun to try to figure out the subject of a post by picking out a word that may be familiar, or by the pictures that were added to a post.

Today I left a comment on a random blog I found by searching within Blogger.

The author that received my comment is a farmer who lives in the United Kingdom. The blog detailed his everyday life, and was written in quite an amusing style. In addition, the photos he posted were spectacular. I commented on a post from a couple of days ago when he wrote about some shenanigans his two dogs got into.

I hope the author enjoys getting a comment from someone he's never even met!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Thing #349--Swap It

Merry Christmas!

This morning we opened presents within our nuclear family; later in the afternoon the extended family came over for dinner and another round of presents. However, we changed things up this year and we did a rob-your-neighbor gift exchange.

There are infinite variations on the rules of Rob Your Neighbor, so we set ours before we started. Everyone had to bring a wrapped gift--with a price limit to make sure all of the gifts were of similar value. After dinner we gathered in the family room and put all the packages on the floor. There was a wide variety of sizes and shapes.

Each person drew a number from a basket; the person who drew #1 picked a gift from the pile. Starting with #2, each person had the option to select an already-opened gift or pick an unopened gift from the pile. If the person robbed someone of their gift, the one without a gift had two options--take someone else's gift or select a from the gift pile.

We decided that a gift couldn't be stolen more than two times each round, which led to some interesting strategies as the game unfolded. The game started out sedately, but soon got wild as people began to rob others. When all the numbers had been used, the first player got one last chance to take a gift, which led to a domino effect of robbing until all were satisfied.

The most fought-over gifts were a hot sauce set and a fajita cooking set. However, the box full of energy drinks went around the room a bit, and the Cars logo hot cocoa mix set had some fans too. I was satisfied to end up with a Dora The Explorer bubble bath set, and the cow I gifted, while not exactly sought after, made someone else's eyes light up.

After the game was over, there was a bit of unofficial trading going on. Everyone got something they wanted, and we agreed we'll definitely play the game again next year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New Thing #348--Dinero Deposit

Nothing says "holidays" like the Salvation Army red kettle; the unofficial start of the season is the sound of the first bell ringing outside a store. I usually try to put something in the kettle a couple of times each season, but today I put a big bill in the Salvation Army kettle.

Or at least it was a big one to me; the largest I normally carry in my wallet. Nothing like the anonymous donor in this story, who dropped $50,000 (five cashier's checks for $10,000 each) into kettles in Joplin Missouri. Having collected money for various charitable organizations over the years, I know that by far the most common gift is a handful of change or a dollar bill. Anything higher than that is cause for celebration.

However, this Thing almost didn't happen. I started trying to find a kettle last week, but there were none to be found! Although I saw stands for kettles outside a half-dozen stores, there was no bell ringer collecting donations at any of them. It turned into a game. What store could I drive by that might take my money? Tony said he saw one in Columbia, but I wasn't with him.

This morning, Christmas Eve, was my last chance. I went to a grocery store early, but once again I just saw an empty red kettle stand outside the store's door. I came home to drop off the first load, and headed out in a different direction to buy more food for dinner tomorrow.

Once again, I was disappointed to see a red stand with no attendant. On a whim, I drove to a third shopping center. This time, I heard the bell ringing as soon as my car got close to the store! I parked in the (very full) parking lot, walked up to the receptacle, and slipped my bill into the very full kettle. The bell ringer gave me a friendly smile, a genuine thank you and a warm Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Thing #347--"...Merry Christmas to You"

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos..."

The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé and Bob Wells 1944)

Today I roasted (and ate) chestnuts.

Earlier this year, I read in the newspaper that Missouri produces a fair number of chestnuts, but they need to do a better job of promotion; nobody I know uses them. (According to this website, U.S. consumers consume 0.1 lb of chestnut per capita, Europeans average 1.0 lb per capita, and Koreans are the world's largest chestnut consumers at 4.0 lbs per capita).

After I read the article I added "roasting chestnuts" to my list of Things to do and promptly forgot about it until last week. I was in the grocery store, saw a bin of chestnuts, and added some to my cart.

The Internet was full of information about how to prepare chestnuts:
The most popular method of cooking chestnuts is roasting.

It's important to puncture or cut the shell before roasting. Use a sharp knife to cut a ½-inch "X" on the flat side of each nut, cutting down to the meat. DO NOT roast a chestnut until the shell has been cut; if the shell is not punctured, steam pressure will build up and cause the nuts to explode.

Preheat the oven to 425 °. Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes (or until the shells open and the nuts can be removed easily). Partially cool the nuts and peel them while they're still warm.
I only bought about a dozen chestnuts at the store, because I didn't know who'd be around to eat them. Turns out that was plenty, because there were only three of us. A couple of hours after dinner, I cut the shells, put the chestnuts in the oven, and set the timer. When they were done, I poured them in a bowl and carried them into the family room. Everyone grabbed a nut and started peeling; since it was my project, I got to peel the remaining ones!

The shells were much easier to peel then I imagined; I found out that the better the cut on the shell, the easier it was to take off. Hot chestnuts peeled easier than cool ones (but were harder on the fingers), so there was a fine line between tractability and comfort.

I was surprised at the texture of the nutmeat. It was much softer than a pecan or walnut, and not at all crunchy. The flavor was sweet and nutty. Overall, quite a treat.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Thing #346--Towering

Thursday was the final day for my tutoring center. Although I had been bringing home extra supplies for a week or so, there was still quite a bit to move. At the end of the day, the students helped me load everything into my car before they left. When I got home, I brought it into the house and put all the boxes in a corner of the dining room.

Today's job was to organize the crates so I could take them all down to the basement. First, I took out the things that belonged to me and returned them to their correct place in the house. Next, I grouped the books by category and organized them in crates, and put all the office supplies in a box. The last activity was to take care of all the paper that had accumulated over the last three years. Most of it (student records and completed tests) needed to be shredded before I could dispose of it.

Scolding myself for leaving all of the shredding till the end, instead of taking care of it as I went along, I got out the shredder, set it on the island in the kitchen, and started on the task. Within minutes I had filled the shredder bin, an office wastebasket, with strips of paper. I emptied the strips into a bag and kept going. Soon I had filled every bag in the pantry, and I started stuffing the shreds into folders that were also being recycled. I filled one milk crate with paper-laden folders, then a second, followed by a third. The job took several hours, and every empty milk crate I had!

When I was done, there were paper strips strewn all around the kitchen. Milk crates and bags littered the floor. I swept the floor and threw all the stray shreds into an open bag before I closed it up. The last part of the project involved taking my handiwork to the paper recycling bin at our local elementary school. Before I put the paper in the car, I stacked it all up to see how much there was. Much to my surprise, today I made a tower of shredded paper taller than me.

The tower of paper was tall, but not heavy at all. I was able to take it out to the car in two trips. When I got to the paper recycling bin, I opened the lid, threw the bags of shreds in, and dumped the milk crates. It took all afternoon to create the shreds, but only a few minutes to dispose of them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Thing #345--Go Elf Yourself

Today I Elfed myself.

The ElfYourself site is a cute little site from Office Max. It lets you upload up to five photos, then the people in the pictures show up dressed as elves. After the characters are created, you can have them perform a dance, choosing one of several styles. (And if you don't have enough pictures to upload, the program will substitute "real" elves!)

Here's me as an elf doing my best Saturday Night Live imitation:

The biggest problem is that although you can embed a video, it's only available for about three weeks. If you want to have it for a longer period, you have to pay for the privilege of downloading it to your hard drive.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Thing #344--Commencement

Today Son Brian became a graduate of the University of Missouri.

Mizzou is a big school, and even though fewer people graduate in December, there would still be a lot of students for a campus-wide ceremony. Instead, each college has its own convocation ceremony. The one we went to was held this afternoon in Jesse Auditorium.

About 200 students marched in at the beginning of the ceremony, all looking proud to be there. After the opening ceremonies, speeches, and student presentations, it was time for the graduating seniors to walk across the stage and receive their diploma.

The presentations were done by department. As each department was called, the graduates lined up at the steps to the stage. The announcer was at a podium at stage left; at the other end the dignitaries and faculty lined up to congratulate the students. As each student reached the announcer, they gave their name card to her. After she read the name, it took a good 30 seconds for the graduate to walk across the stage and shake the hand of each of the people at the other end.

Some students had quite a cheering section. Others didn't have much at all. There were eight of us (family and friends) waiting to applaud when Brian's name was read. I clapped loudly and gave a polite "whoo hoo". Brian worked hard for his diploma!

After Brian crossed the stage, there were still several departments to go. I began to feel sorry for the students who didn't seem to have someone in the audience to acknowledge their accomplishments. I decided to be a one-person cheering section, and I clapped for graduates who didn't have anyone to clap for them. It actually made the ceremony go faster!

At the end of the presentation of students, they announced the "turning of the tassel", had a short benediction, and then it was time for the recessional song. All of the people in the audience hurried out to meet the new graduates.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Thing #343--In Love With A Tub

We're in Columbia, Missouri for the December commencement of the University of Missouri. We will be attending the ceremony tomorrow afternoon, but tonight we're staying at the University Avenue B&B. Our room, the Blue Room, came equipped with a beautiful clawfoot tub in the bathroom. Of course I had to try it out, so today I took a bath in a clawfoot bathtub.

I love a nice hot soak, especially in cold weather, and this tub was long enough that I could stretch out completely. That's quite a contrast to the bathtub in my house, where you can have either your knees or your shoulders in the water.

Of course, what's a long soak without bubbles? Tony and I stopped in a Walgreens after dinner. I checked in several different aisles, but I couldn't find what I was looking for; there was an empty shelf where a selection of bath salts should have been. I had to settle for a small bottle of baby shampoo. When I added it to the water, it foamed up nicely, but the bubbles didn't last as long as they should have.

I filled the tub up as far as I could without water spilling out the overflow drain. The back of the tub was very cold to lean against at first; the water took a while to warm it up. However, once the tub warmed up, it really held the heat.

After I'd soaked long enough to turn into a human prune, it was time to get out. The tub was much higher off the ground than I'm used to. It took a bit of maneuvering to make sure I didn't end up falling on the floor.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Thing #342--Furbish

I have several black shirts that are still in good shape structurally, but they're quite faded. When I heard that adding coffee or tea a washer's rinse cycle would restore some of the color, I knew I had to try it. Today I rinsed black clothes with coffee to make them darker.

I didn't have a complete load of dark-colored clothes, so I decided to perform my experiment on a couple of black tee shirts. I wore one of them yesterday, so first I had to make sure it was clean. I got out a bucket, added some detergent, and hand-washed it. This shirt has never been treated so well! For comparison, I got a Mizzou tee out of my closet. The shirt is a few years old and pretty dingy looking.

I put both shirts in the bucket, poured a cup or so of coffee over the top, and agitated them with my hands until the coffee was incorporated. I let the shirts sit for a few minutes, then I squeezed all the excess water out and threw the shirts in the dryer.

I took them out when they were dry and hung them in the laundry room. I was pleased to find out there was no noticeable coffee smell. At first I didn't think there was a substantial color difference, but when I compared the "Before" (above) and "After" (left) photos I discovered the Mizzou shirt was quite a bit darker as a result of its coffee bath. The other shirt wasn't quite as faded to start with; its transformation wasn't as dramatic.

The darker color is temporary; it will rinse out the next time I launder the shirts. I can't see myself using a coffee rinse every time I wash something black, but it's nice to know how to do it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Thing #341--Egosurfing

Son Donald told me in that he saw his brother Brian's name and picture on the Internet (as a result of his participation in a contest for school). I asked Donald how he knew this about his brother; he said he often Googled people's names to see what came up. The concept intrigued me, and I wondered if I showed up anywhere on the Internet. Today I Googled myself to find out.

I typed my first and last name into the Google search bar and hit Enter. There were more than a hundred responses to my search. The first and second hits were profiles for a social networking site; the first was someone with my same name, but the second result was "me".

It was interesting to see other people that had "my" name. There were results for a business owner, a person who works in the medical field, a teacher's assistant, a photographer, and a woman who was inducted into the Old-Time Country Music Hall of Fame. When I expanded my search to include alternate spellings of my first name, I also found a medical technician and a veterinarian.

I was glad to see that none of the sites I checked had mean-spirited or salacious information about anyone who shared my name. I'd like to think that all of the people who share my name are upstanding citizens who wouldn't do anything wrong.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Thing #340--When You Care Enough

We're going to a college graduation this weekend, and today I was looking for a card. I went to three different stores, but didn't have any luck. However, at one of my stops the clerk opened up the bottom of the rack and I browsed a "secret stash" of greeting cards.

Card manufacturers mustn't care about December graduates, because they sure don't have appropriate cards on their racks. At my first stop (a "factory" card store) I actually ran into another woman looking for the same thing I was. We commiserated about the poor selection of graduation cards available; I assured her the fancier "brand name" shop down the street would certainly have what we were looking for. Boy, was I disappointed!

The "brand name" store had a small selection of specialty cards in the last aisle, which seemed to be a catch-all category for anything that wasn't Christmas, birthday, wedding, anniversary, or get well. I was amazed at what you can buy a card for now: among others, you can give a card to someone going into the armed forces-a specific card for each branch, a Boy Scouts who's receiving his Eagle Scout award, a Girl Scout who's being awarded the Gold Award, a priest celebrating an anniversary, and cards for people undergoing chemotherapy.

When I asked about graduation cards at the cashier's desk, one of the clerks smiled sadly and said they didn't really have much right now. She walked back to the area with me, though, and showed me what they had. There were specific cards (one for each category) for someone receiving a bachelors degree, a masters degree, or a doctorate. However, I didn't care for "the" card. She also pointed out more generic "congratulation" cards, with no mention of what the person was being congratulated for.

When neither of these were acceptable to me, she opened the drawer underneath the display case and let me look down there. Sadly, there were still no graduation cards. I thanked her for her time, and went to a third store closer to my home, where I gave up my search and bought one of the generic cards they had available.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Thing #339--Aerobic Advantage

It’s cold and icy out today, and my foot is still a little bruised and finky, so I didn't feel like going to the gym. I definitely needed some aerobic exercise, though, to counteract all the rich holiday food I've been eating. A little bit of Internet research allowed me to do aerobic exercise at my desk.

There were thousands of results for my search, but this article from GoodHealth.com was exactly what I was looking for. The exercises could be done sitting down; if I wanted to do jumping jacks and running in place (which was what several other articles recommended), I'd go walk on a treadmill!

The routine had seven steps:
Step One - PUMP. Pump each of your arms overhead five times. Pump both arms overhead five time. Repeat for three sets; this should take about one minute.

Step Two - PUNCH. Punch the air across your body 20 times with each arm. Repeat for two sets, which should take about one minute. (Punching has an added advantage - you can work out frustrations with an imaginary foe!)

Step Three - JOG. Point and flex your toes a few times to limber up your legs then jog in place while seated in your chair. If you need more challenge, lift your knees higher. Use a timer, and jog for two minutes. (Note: This is harder than you think! I started out too fast and had trouble finishing.)

Step Four - BIKE. Lift both feet off the floor and bicycle in place. This works better without shoes, so slip them off if you can. If you need more challenge, lift both knees higher. Use a timer, and bicycle for two minutes. (This one is harder than you'd think, too. I had to pace myself to complete the two minutes).

Step Five - JUMP. Cross your arms across your chest and cross extended legs about calf level. To jump, swing arms outward at the same time as you extend legs outward. Jump back to original position. If you need more challenge, lift your arms above your head. You will get even more challenge if you lift your arms above your head and your feet off the floor. Use a timer. Jump for two minutes.

Steps Six and Seven - REPEAT. Repeat Pump and Punch to cool down.

This routine (which I did two times in succession) definitely got my heart rate up! Since I was by myself, I didn't have to worry about looking funny as I punched at imaginary opponents and jogged in place. However, the cat that was sitting on my desk looked mildly alarmed when I started pumping my arms, and quickly ran away when the punching started.

The only problem I had was my vintage desk chair; it's getting pretty creaky and all the movement made it shake even more. I though it might fall apart, so I moved to a kitchen chair to complete my workout.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Thing #338--Fun On The Freeway

Back in the summer, I took a walk on a closed road that was being rebuilt and wasn't open to traffic yet. That was practice for today's Thing, where I walked on an Interstate that hadn't been opened to traffic.

I had a lot of company today, though. Highway 40 (also known as I-64) is a major route through the St. Louis area. Parts of the road were built in the 1930s and were overdue for a renovation. The highway department decided it the whole job could be done faster and more efficiently if they completely shut down portions of the highway. They closed five miles at the beginning of this year. (Now that it's completed they're closing a second five-mile section until the end of 2009.)

Before they cut the ribbon for the new section this afternoon they opened the lanes to everyone but drivers. There were organized runs and bike rides in the westbound lanes, but the eastbound lanes were open for anyone.

It was quite a party; there were hundreds of people on the newly-constructed area. I saw people walking, running, bike riding, skateboarding, and even a man on a Segway. There were grandparents, teenagers, young children in strollers, and entire families out for a bike ride or stroll. A lot of people had cameras or video cameras to record the whole thing for posterity.

The highway pavement was in perfect shape. It was nearly white, with no skid marks or oil stains to dirty it. In some places the meridian walls had been chalked and were quite colorful. I found a piece of chalk and added a design to the ones already there.

Although traffic will be using the road starting tomorrow, there's still some cosmetic things that need to be done on this section. Not all the sound walls were up in the section we walked on, and there was some landscaping at the bottom of one of the exit ramps that was waiting to be installed. I'm looking forward to driving on this section soon to see what it looks like from behind the wheel.