Friday, February 29, 2008

New Thing #49--Belly Up To The Bar

Tony and I went on a Leap Year's date tonight. It started badly because the restaurant we had chosen is now open just for lunch and not dinner. However, we found another place to eat, then went to the Art Museum to look in the galleries.

We are lucky in St. Louis because most of the cultural institutions have no admission. There were very few people in the museum, so we were able to see the art with no distractions. I particularly liked the Asian collection and the German Expressionist paintings.

Afterwards, we went to Fitz's American Grill and Bottling Works in the Delmar Loop and had root beer floats sitting at the bar. There is a great view of the kitchen from the barstools; it was funny to watch the cooks scurrying around as they assembled the orders. The floats and shakes are made at the bar, and that was even more fun to watch!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Thing #48--Letter to the Editor

I read an article in the Post-Dispatch yesterday about a proposed state law. The bill states that students who had dropped out of school or had bad grades would be unable to get their drivers licenses until they were 18.

I believe this law would not be a good idea, so today I wrote a letter to the editor. According to the requirements for the paper, the letter had to be 250 words or less, and I had to include my name address and phone number (for verification purposes).

I don't know how many letters the paper receives each day; perhaps just one person will read what I've written before putting it in the "reject" pile, but it felt good to put my ideas into words and send them off.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Thing #47--Am I a Winner?

Back when I used to read "women's" magazines on a regular basis I was a sucker for any type of test that could tell me about some aspect of my personality. Today I took an online personality test that promised to do the same thing.

I was introduced to the Website mary.com a while back. The site is to "Discover yourself, understand your relationships on a deeper level, read articles, take quizzes on your personality and love, meet singles, meet friends." There are literally dozens of tests you can take; today I wanted to find out if Mary's interpretation of "Are You a Winner?"

Mary thought I was! According to my report: "Your level of achievement-striving is average. You balance work and family well, a great skill for developing good relationships. You'll get on fine with almost any scorer on this scale." I patted myself on the back and went on about my day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Thing #46--Can You Reconcile That?

I'm extremely lucky to have a wonderful husband who takes charge of paying the bills and reconciling the family checkbook. However, when I opened my business account I needed to take care of the monthly bank statement myself.

Tony was very patient with me when I had stupid questions about the process and kindly showed me where I went wrong (which was almost every month in the beginning). However, over the years I've gotten much better and hardly ever have to ask for his help.

This month I was having a very hard time reconciling the statement. I almost threw in the towel and asked for assistance. Much to my surprise, I found the mistake in my checkbook and reconciled the account on my own!

It took a couple of tries to find my STUPID mistake. I had to pull out last month's statement for comparison, and calculate the register several times, but it felt really good when I found it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Thing #45--Everyone Has an Opinion

We subscribe to the daily St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I try to read it every day, but in actuality, some days "reading" it means looking at the headlines in each news section.

One section I never get around to reading is the Editorial/Opinion pages. I look at the day's political cartoon, skim through a few letters to the editor, and occasionally read one of the columns. However, today I challenged myself and read the Editorial and Opinion page from cover to cover.

As you might expect, there were columns about the presidential campaign. I also read about Medicare changes and the initiatives that will show up on the state ballot in November. There were two national columnists that are printed each Monday--Jonah Goldberg and Paul Krugman. There was also a local column about pediatrician training.

The letters to the editor covered most of the same topics; I agreed with many of the opinions expressed in them.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New Thing #44--Nice to Meet You

Pearl S. Buck said, "You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea."

During Mass today, the priest started his sermon by talking about how he's working up to a milestone birthday; he was realizing that he needed to be open to change in his life...exactly what this project is about. I felt like he was speaking directly to me!

Tony and I usually go to church at the same time every week, and sit in approximately the same place (give or take a few rows). Consequently, I see many of the same people every week. I know some of them by name, and others by sight only. When we're leaving at the end of Mass, I can always find a familiar face to chat with on the way out.

So, thanks to Fr. Dave's inspiration, at the end of Mass I turned around and introduced myself to the person sitting behind me. She had a beautiful singing voice so I told her I was glad I had the chance to be in front of her.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

New Thing #43--Make Mine Manga

Donald is quite a fan of fantasy novels and games. Today I asked him to make a recommendation of a book so I could read manga. Manga is the Japanese word for comics and print cartoons.

Turns out that Donald introduced me to a classic--Osama Tezula's Phoenix series. He has several of the 12 volumes in the series; I chose the first volume, which is called DAWN. Phoenix is Tezula's "life's work"; each of the books tells a separate, self-contained story and takes place in a different era. Phoenix is about reincarnation. Each story involves a search for immortality. The phoenix's blood is believed to grant eternal life, but immortality in Phoenix is either unobtainable or a terrible curse.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that DAWN takes place in the era of Queen Himiko (an actual ruler) of the Yamataikoku (an ancient Japanese country). Using her army, led by feudal general Saruta, to invade Japan, she seeks the Phoenix and eternal youth.

It took me a couple of pages to get interested in the book, then I had trouble putting it down. The plot was really interesting, although Dawn had a lot of violence in its pictures. The book was definitely for adults and not kids!

Friday, February 22, 2008

New Thing #42--Have I Got a Tip for You!

I had a coupon from one of the local pizza restaurants for a free lunch special. Since I couldn't find anyone to go with me I went by myself.

I didn't have to pay ANYTHING for my meal; the special consists of salad, pizza, and drink. The cashier even pointed out how I could upgrade to a larger 10"pizza instead of the 6" standard size and stay within the parameters of the coupon. I placed my order, was given a number to put on the table, and helped myself to drink, plate, and silverware.

The cashier was also the one who brought out my salad and pizza, and picked up the dirty salad plate when I was done. She was friendly and chatted a bit when she brought the food out. When I was finished with my lunch I stayed for a while and finished reading the newspaper, because the restaurant wasn't busy. The last thing I did before I left to go back into the cold was leave a BIG tip for my server. Proportionate to what my lunch would have cost it was a bigger percentage tip than I've ever left (way more than my standard 20%); but I still had more money left in my wallet than if I'd paid for lunch.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Thing #41--Can You Teach a Cat a Trick?

The sleet and snow that were predicted for today came earlier and harder than forecasted. I heard sleet when I woke up at 5:00A.M.; when the alarm went off at 7:00 there was already a good sheet of ice covering everything. No work, no activities out of the house. If I'd known I was going to be stuck inside I would have prepared better with a good book or two!

Today's planned activity was a no-go because of the weather. Looking at my list, I found one that I thought might be good for a laugh. I taught the cats a trick.

After doing some research on teaching cats, I decided to concentrate on "Sit". It sounded pretty easy-- First put the cat on the table at the edge nearest to you, and pet him so he is comfortable. Next, show your cat a reward, then give the command to sit and move the reward back and over his head. As he tips his head back to follow the food, he will sit to keep his balance. When he sits, verbally reward him by saying "sit, good sit" and immediately give him his food reward. The goal is to have your cat respond to the command "sit" without you having to move the food over his head.

In practice, I don't think it worked like the book said. First, although I had identified Jackson as my target kitty, Pepper came running in too when he heard me getting out the treats. I couldn't catch either cat to place him on the island, and neither cat would jump up there, so I sat on the floor. Jackson wouldn't even come close to me, even though I held out a treat for him. Pepper did, so he became the object of the training. He seemed to get the concept right away, and sat on command three different times!

Jackson, though, ran to the laundry room and jumped up on the dryer; after some thought I figured out he's learned to do that right before mealtime. I tried to make him "sit" on top of the dryer, but he wasn't inclined to do it.

Here's a picture of Pepper "performing".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Thing #40--Thank a Teacher

Wanda left a comment in response to one of my first posts on this blog with the suggestion that I should "thank a teacher" for the education I got. I know that teachers are really unappreciated, and I thought that was a great idea, so I added it to my list.

Today I received an e-mail in my Inbox asking me if there are people in my life that I need to thank--particularly a counselor or teacher. I decided that was the inspiration I needed for today's New Thing. I wrote a note to my high school thanking them for my education.

I graduated a long time ago (McCluer North High School, class of '77), and I doubt that there are any teachers still working there, but I addressed the letter to the current principal. I told him the reasons I really enjoyed going to school there, and asked him to pass my thanks along.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Thing #39--Parking Space Roulette

Last week one of my students came in complaining that someone parked in "his" parking space. We use a surface lot at the neighboring city park and there is no assigned parking. When I pointed this out to him, he asked me why I always park in the same place if we don't have spots.

Why do I? I had to think about that one. Force of habit, I guess. I always park on the same side of the lot at the grocery store, and in the same row at the gym. That way I have one less thing to remember when I exit the building. But there are only 4 or 5 cars each day at work...it shouldn't be hard to remember where I parked!

I'm always the first to get there, so I can set up for the day, and I just pull in the spot that's closest to the door. The only time I pick a different one is during snowy weather (about 3 or 4 times a year); the park lot is a very low city priority and doesn't get plowed until everything else is done.

Today I parked in a different spot. Not just one space away from my normal spot, but in the next row around the center island. It took me an extra 20 seconds to walk to the building, but it was worth it for the variety. Who knew that being flexible could be so easy?

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Thing #38--Fluffy Footwear

For me, mid-February is when the "winter blahs" really set in. Christmas was way in the past, and Spring Break doesn't happen for another month. This week's forecast:
  • cloudy, windy, and cold
  • snow showers and falling temperatures
  • partly cloudy and cold
  • mostly cloudy and cold
  • cloudy and cold
UGH! I have to wear the same old winter clothes I've been wearing since Thanksgiving, cause short sleeves just won't cut it. I need to do something different. Today I wore my slippers to work.

My slippers are broken in, blue, and fluffy. They're the most comfortable footwear in my closet. However, except for a quick trip out to the mailbox, they've never left the house. Since there was a little snow on the ground, I wore a pair of hard-soled shoes into the building, and then changed into the slippers. They worked great except for when I had to step outside to get something from a car...the ground was a little muddy and wet, but I managed to keep my feet dry.

My students, who have great but unusual fashion sense, didn't even mention my unusual footwear.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Thing #37--Mix it Up

I have an MP3 player that I use when I walk and when I use the machines at the gym, but I've barely scratched the surface of its possibilities. Most of the music I've loaded onto it I got from my sons' computer hard drives--songs which they burned from my CD collection! However, it was time to put some more up tempo tunes on the player, so today I downloaded a music mix from the Internet.

I won't download music without paying for it. I don't understand how people think musicians get paid if everyone uses file sharing music sites. However, I recently learned that most podcasts are free. By Goggling "music mixes" I was able to find many places to search. However, since my player is a brand other than ipod, I couldn't use the itunes format. With just a little more looking, though, I was able to find what I was looking for at Podfeed. I found dozens of programs featuring music of every type! I downloaded the program to my player to try out tomorrow morning; I think I'll probably end up downloading non-music podcasts, too.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Thing #36--About Face

Before I started this project, when I was still compiling suggestions, my friend Dani challenged me to "drive backwards all the way down my street". I thought about doing it, but there are too many cars parked on my street for me to navigate with confidence. However, the idea interested me so today I drove backwards through a parking lot.

Finding an empty parking lot isn't easy, but I headed to my local high school. It didn't have too many cars on a Saturday afternoon. The lot has a drop-off lane in front of the building that empties into a lot with two rows of parking. I drove the correct direction until I entered the lot itself, then pulled into a parking space and backed out going the wrong way.

I didn't know the proper etiquette for driving a long distance backwards--do you turn around and look directly out the rear window, or do you rely on your mirrors? When I was about halfway down the first row, I saw a car pulling out of a parking space about a dozen spaces away from me! I thought I was going to have to reverse course, but instead I followed the car out of the row; it was going the correct way and I was going the incorrect way! I turned around the concrete island at the end of the row still going backward, and finished by going to the end of the second parking row. I then put the car into the correct gear and left the parking lot.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New Thing #35--Buddha for Beginners

A chance remark by Mark, who was teaching a yoga class I attended yesterday, led me to today's New Thing. The class was about mind awareness, and the power of "center" and "ground". After the class, Mark indicated these concepts came from the Buddhist tradition, so today I decided to learn about Buddhism and it's teachings.

Much to my surprise, today turned out to be a noteworthy day for Buddhists, so it was a great time to be learning about their religion. To quote from the Website About.com: "Parinirvana — Nirvana Day — is observed primarily by Mahayana Buddhists, most commonly on February 15th. The day commemorates the death of the historical Buddha and his entry into Nirvana."

The Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, a practical guide of bringing about ethical and meditative discipline, is divided into three basic categories:

  • Wisdom
    • Right view
    • Right intention
  • Ethical conduct
    • Right speech
    • Right action
    • Right livelihood
  • Mental discipline
    • Right effort
    • Right mindfulness
    • Right concentration

The moral of the story for me? Religion is any specific system of belief containing a code of ethics, and a philosophy of life. ALL spiritual traditions keep coming back to each other...Catholic (and Christian), Jewish, Buddhist, 12-Step, and Native American.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

New Thing #34--A Heart-y Meal

Today is Valentine's Day. I didn't really want to go to a restaurant tonight, because I figured they'd be crowded. Instead, we stayed home and I cooked a meal that was "heart-y".

We had romaine heart salad with red pepper strips, heart shaped meatloaf, and pasta with artichoke hearts and hearts of palm. Dessert was heart shaped chocolate muffins with ice cream. We didn't have to wait for a table, wait to get our food, or wait for our bill.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Thing #33--Fueled by Ramen

I always have ramen noodles available for purchase my tutoring center. They are cheap and filling--perfect for hungry teenagers.

My colleague Peter decided that the ramen should be classed up a bit, and brought "mix-ins"-pesto, chili seasoning, cream cheese, butter spray, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese.

I've always try to eat lunch at home, so I'm usually not hungry, However, today I ate gourmet ramen. I added some pesto to a prepared bowl of chicken ramen. WOW! What a difference it made!

Some favorite combinations of students:
  • creamy chicken ramen with pesto, Parmesan, and garlic salt
  • beef ramen with chili seasoning
  • chicken ramen with butter and Parmesan

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New Thing #32--Please Mr. Postman

When you think about it, the Post Office does a great job. Although the price of a stamp keeps going up, for 41 cents you can send seven or eight pieces of paper anywhere in the country, and your envelope gets there within a couple of days. It's not hard to mail your letters; all you have to do is walk out to the curb, put them in the box, and raise the flag. Unlike e-mail, the recipient doesn't have to use their own paper and ink to print the document out.

Although I don't know our carrier's name, I appreciate what she does on a daily basis. Today I gave the postal carrier a thank you note. I wrapped a small bag of candy inside the note, put it in the mailbox, and put the flag up. It was gone when I got home and replaced with today's pile of mail.

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Thing #31--The Spin

I try to go to the gym on a regular basis. I have my little routine of classes I do-weightlifting, step, and yoga. Gold's Gym, where we have our membership, has an entire room devoted to Spinning. The people that go into that room look like hard-core cyclists. Since I can't even peddle up the hills in my neighborhood, I've never gone in because I didn't want to embarrass myself. However, in the interest of trying a new thing each day, today I took a Spinning class.

I picked a bike next to the one familiar face I knew in the room; Bob gave me some pointers as the class went along that helped. I was also able to watch other people to see what I should do. The music was really good, which provided additional inspiration.

Much to my surprise I was pretty much able to keep up with the class. The sweat dripping off the tip of my nose at the end of the class made me feel like I had exercised hard. After it was over I confessed to the teacher that it was my first time.

I may add Spinning to my rotation of classes!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Thing #30--Be My Valentine

Valentine's Day is Thursday. When the kids were little, each year they would buy boxes of cards to give out to their classmates. The cards usually involved some sort of pop culture reference--a popular sports figure, celebrity, or cartoon.

After they got older and stopped giving away cards, I used some of the leftovers as a kind of joke, and stuck them in lunchboxes, book bags, or duffle bags. Now that not everyone lives at home, it's gotten more and more difficult to acknowledge the day.

Today I made homemade Valentine's greetings and sent them. Can't add too many more details in case some of my recipients are reading!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

New Thing #29--Cuts Like a Knife

Many years ago I invested in good W├╝sthof knives. They have served me well...but over the years they've gotten pretty dull. Not even the sharpening steel was having an effect. Today I got my knives professionally sharpened.

Bertarelli Cutlery is in "the Hill" area of St. Louis. There are many Italian bakeries, grocery stores, and restaurants there, which makes for pleasant errand-running. I invited Tony to go with me but since he and his germs had to stay in the car we weren't able to pop in and out of places, which was a shame because the weather was beautiful for February.

When I dropped off the knives, the clerk estimated it would take 45 minutes. Tony said we couldn't leave the area without a loaf of bread, so we drove to Missouri Baking. Got a loaf of butter crust...AND a pastry for Tony...AND a hot cross bun for me...AND some Valentine cookies! We ate our treats in the car, then drove back to pick up the knives. They were ready before the promised time.

I chopped some broccoli with one of my newly-sharpened knives when I got home. What a difference! I'm planning on getting the knives sharpened once a year from now on.

Friday, February 8, 2008

New Thing #28--Storytime

Hubby Tony's been sick with the flu (along with, it seems like, most of the St. Louis metropolitan area). He went to the Urgent Care today. Turns out he has pneumonia. He came home with his medicine, ate dinner, and stretched out on the couch with a blanket.

When the kids were sick, I always took care of them by making them comfortable and keeping them company. Even though he's an adult, I asked Tony if I could read to him. He agreed. I started with a Mark Twain selection, Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, and then moved on to some other classic American Literature. Soon he was asleep! I tiptoed out of the room.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Thing #27--Say What?

Today's idea comes from my friend JD, who edits the blog CraftGossip Crochet. Her post of February 4th concerned translating non-English Websites into English.

Quoting from CraftGossip, the procedure is:
  • Find a blog you want to view and go there.
  • Copy the web address.
  • Go to www.google.com and paste the web address into the search box.
  • When the site appears, click the link NEXT to the web address that says something like this ‘translate this page’.
  • It just takes a few seconds for the huge old cyberbrain in the ether to give a reasonable facsimile of English from Russian, French, Japanese, Portuguese, whatever. Really amazing

One of the things I like to do when I have time to kill is to look at different blogs on Blogspot. There is a "Next Blog" button at the top of the page that will take you to a random site. Many of these are in other languages. I applied JD's principles to translate a Website from another language.

It worked! I read pages translated from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Greek, and Italian. None of the translations were particularly good, but I was able to figure out the captions to some of the pictures; it was nice to know the names of the strangers that were looking at me from my computer screen.

I also found a couple of English blogs that I bookmarked to go back to later.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Thing #26--Show Me the Way to Go Home

I had to take my car in for service today, because the "check engine" light came on. My first plan was to walk home, but the repair shop offered to drive me, so that's what I decided to do. My chariot was a big F-150; I got to watch it's dashboard GPS navigation system on the way home.

I've seen and heard ads for these systems, but I've never seen one in action; it was pretty weird to see roads pop up on the map as we passed them, and see the map turn slightly each time the road veered one way or another. My driver had the sound turned off, so I didn't get to hear the spoken directions to my house, but he assured me they were very accurate.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

New Thing #25--To The Polls!

I don't know when Missouri started having a presidential primary, but I was under the impression that you had to be a registered Republican or Democrat to vote in it. I was surprised when our household received a polling place notification card last week. Today I went to the polls and voted in the presidential primary.

I took my job seriously, and read about the candidates' positions in the newspaper and online. I did NOT listen to the pre-recorded phone calls that I guess are supposed to help me make up my mind. (Are you listening, Governor Blunt, Senator McCaskill, and Ann Romney? How about you half-dozen other callers that I was fortunate to miss over the weekend?)

There were no other propositions or things to vote for, so the whole process went very quickly. I'm sure I'll be able to find out tomorrow just who the winners were.

Monday, February 4, 2008

New Thing #24--Facebook

I'm not a really big technology user (or wasn't before I started this project!) It's really all I can do to keep on top of the e-mail I get on a daily basis, and check in on a couple of chat groups on specialized topics. However, after an invitation from friend Denise I set up a Facebook page.

She uses hers to make photo albums of her vacation pictures, and since we just spent the weekend together in Tulsa, I thought that would be a great way to see the memories she'd captured with her camera. It was a little creepy that I could let Facebook go into my address book and find everyone who could be a potential "friend", but I was surprised to see some of the people who were already registered.

After the registration process was done, I sent my first message to Denise letting her know I joined. I now have one official "friend"!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

New Thing #23--Breaking News

I woke up in Tulsa again today, and after watching TV for a while I decided to get a local newspaper and read it.

The major newspaper is called the Tulsa World. It was pretty comparable to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, except the comic section had a lot of different strips and the sports section barely talked about major league teams (in any sport), since Tulsa has none. The "political" cartoons, like Doonesbury and Mallard Fillmore, were on the editorial page. I was able to scoop Tony on some things about his town that he didn't know.

I also looked through a free newspaper called Urban Tulsa Weekly that was very similar to the Riverfront Times.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

New Thing #22--Tulsa Time

My friend Denise and I left last night to visit our sons in Tulsa. Tony (aka "Tulsa Tony" according to Denise) lives here; her son Ben lives in California but was in Tulsa for training. As we got farther away from St. Louis on Interstate 44, there was less and less snow, and NONE when we arrived.

The other two times I've visited Tulsa I stayed in a hotel, but since I didn't have a car on this trip I was a couch kid in Tony's apartment. His couch was just long enough to stretch out on and very comfortable. He gave me a sleeping bag for a blanket and a nice plump pillow.

Tony had an early-morning meeting at work, so he was gone when I woke up, but he showed me how to log into his computer. His monitor is actually his big-screen HD TV. My e-mail homepage never looked so good!

Here's a picture of my bed:

Friday, February 1, 2008

New Thing #21--More Fun With Snow

The snow kept falling overnight, and there was about 6" of it when I got up. Tony thoughtfully shoveled the driveway before he left for work, and Donald cleaned his car and drove off for his shift at work. I was left at home wondering if I should keep my Friday morning plans or bag them.

I decided to use some of my extra energy to play in the snow. Here's what I came up with:

I stomped this heart in the back yard close to the deck, then went up on the deck to take the picture. Plan number 1 was to do just the perimeter of the heart, but it was really hard to walk a straight line; I stepped into the middle so many times I just decided to flatten the whole thing.