Saturday, May 31, 2008

New thing #141--Lunch Adventure

KATHY-"I don't know what I want to do today, but I gotta get out of West County. Gas is sooo expensive, though. It doesn't feel right to drive anywhere."

TONY- "Whatever you decide to do, I'll come with you."

KATHY-"I know! Let's take the bus to Maplewood for lunch. We can stop at Theodore and Gail's store and see if they're working."

TONY-"Great plan!"

We drove to Manchester Road and parked the car at a strip mall parking lot. There's one bus per hour going eastbound, (and one bus per hour for the return trip), so we didn't want to miss it. No problem. The bus was running late. It arrived seven minutes after it should have.

The trip to Maplewood (an inner-ring suburb of St. Louis) took about 45 minutes. It was a pretty straight shot down Manchester Road- just one short swing through the West County mall parking lot, where there was a stop. At one of the stops there was a driver change, which took a couple of minutes; at one stop a passenger had to attach their bike to the rack on the front of the bus, which took a little time. The strangest thing, though, was when the driver picked up a passenger at a stop, put the bus into park, and ran into Burger King for a snack!

When we got to Maplewood, we got off the bus and tried to decide on a restaurant. Unfortunately, many of them were closed for lunch. After some discussion, we decided to eat at El Scorcho. They serve a combination of Mexican and BBQ dishes, and have an interesting take on fajitas--you can get them with BBQ meat instead of the traditional beef or chicken. We chose smoked turkey, which of course came with peppers and onions. The turkey was covered in spicy BBQ sauce. The side plate had real guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, cheese, and tomato chunks. The entrée was accompanied by tortillas, black beans, and rice. I walked out of there stuffed!

We decided that a walk might help us recover from the massive lunch. The weather was great. The sun was very warm, but there was a good breeze blowing. Tony talked me into walking down several unknown streets to find out where they went to. Turns out we made a circle and ended up right back where we started!

We've known Gail and Theodore for about two years. They own Archangels Gift Shop. I've always wanted to shop there, but it's been closed every time I'm in that neighborhood. The store is fascinating-it's crammed to the brim with merchandise! They carry Orthodox Christian books, icons, music, and gifts. My wallet was a bit lighter when we left.

We also stopped in Penzeys Spices, another store that's always been closed when I've walked by. They have the biggest collection of herbs, spices, and seasonings I've ever seen! We also dropped a bit of cash there. My purse was getting heavy with all our purchases.

After our big lunch, walk, and shopping, it was time to head back home. The westbound bus was substantially fuller than our morning bus. When we got about halfway home, the bus made a turn and started going back east! Tony figured out that because east & westbound Manchester is split in that portion, they had to backtrack a little to drop off any passengers who requested it. The bus looped back around to the west, and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

Friday, May 30, 2008

New Thing #140--How Much?

One of the things that fascinates me is commercial real estate--why some businesses make it and some don't. There are several buildings on Manchester Road (a major thoroughfare in my neighborhood) that have been vacant for a VERY LONG time. Today I inquired about a commercial property that's for sale.

According to the Website of the real estate agency, the building (which used to be a bank) was listed at $2,900,000. However, the property Website listed the sales price as $1,100,000, and a flyer about the building that was linked to the site had a price of $990,000. Considering that the building's for sale sign has been up for at least two years, I can understand the price reductions.

I would think this building would be a great buy for someone. Since I really don't have a use for a bank, though, I think I'll pass. However, it's good to know where I can go for information in case my needs change for some reason.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Thing #139-- Remember the Cold War?

There was an article in the POST DISPATCH yesterday that really jogged my memory.

When I was in elementary school, I put one of my baby teeth in an envelope and sent it away. At the time, I didn't know why, but later I discovered that the teeth were part of a project to find out if children were absorbing radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests. It was called the St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey. St. Louis was part of a "milk pathway" where fallout from nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s contaminated pastures. The milk along the pathway had higher radiation than normal; anyone who drank the milk ingested the radiation.

Fast forward to this decade. In 2001 thousands of baby teeth were found at a Washington University research site. The teeth are going to be used in a study to learn whether fallout from atomic bomb tests increases cancer risks for Americans born during those Cold War years. Today I registered with the Radiation and Public Health Study to participate in their tooth study.

Even though I don't have any major health problems, I thought it was important to add my name to their list in case I can help them. They only have a quarter of the total teeth collected, and for the first year of the study they are only going to use male donors, so chances of me actually participating in the study are slim.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Thing #138--Wireless Recording

I try really hard, but I'm not the most technologically proficient person you'll find.

For example, my cell phone is really basic--the kind they basically give away with a service plan. With rare exceptions (the alarm clock when I'm on vacation) I use the phone ONLY for making and receiving phone calls. My phone's wallpaper and ring tone are manufacturer-provided. The phone does have a camera, but most of the pictures I've taken are of the inside of my purse, because the shutter button gets hit as the purse moves around!

Today, however, I used the voice recorder on my cell phone.

I didn't even know that my phone had a recorder. I found it by pushing different buttons on the phone while I was killing time before work started. The recorder seemed pretty easy to use-push a button and it starts recording. Push another button and it stops.

I experimented with the recorder. I spoke into the microphone a couple of different times, and got pretty good results. Then I tried recording a snippet of a song from my car radio, and found out why they call it a voice recorder; the quality was terrible!

Next time I need a memory jogger, I won't pull out my stack of sticky notes and pen. I'll reach for my trusty cell phone and leave myself a VERBAL reminder!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Thing #137--Members Only

A couple of weeks ago I read, and commented on, a personal blog written by a person whose company sends me a weekly e-mail. Much to my surprise, the next day I got an e-mail from an adversary of the blog owner telling me some "unsavory" things about him, and reasons I shouldn't associate with him. I am completely aware of, and comfortable with, this person's past; I resented the attack on him and what he stood for.

The next time I tried to read the blog, I got a screen telling me I couldn't unless I had been invited. I corresponded with the owner, received an invitation, and today I accepted an invitation to read a private blog.

I'm looking forward to reading this blog's words of wisdom, and being able to comment without being attacked myself.

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Thing #136--Rinse it Well

Hair is the one thing that people notice right away, so there's no surprise that people want their hair to look as good as it possibly can. My hair's been looking a little out-of-sorts lately, so today I made and used a homemade hair conditioning rinse.

I used apple cider vinegar; a beautician recently told me the vinegar removes all the old shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, etc. build-up in the hair. I mixed 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar with water and poured it all over my hair. I massaged the vinegar into my scalp, let it sit for a few minutes, then rinsed it out.

When my hair dried, it was a lot softer and fluffier. The only (momentary) problem during this activity came when some of the vinegar got in my eye. Even though it was diluted, it REALLY stung!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Thing #135--How Rich Are You?

An interesting and thought-provoking Website is Global Rich List. According to the site:
Every year we gaze enviously at the lists of the richest people in world, wondering what it would be like to have that sort of cash. But where would you sit on one of those lists? Here's your chance to find out.
Basically, you input your annual income (choosing from one of several currencies), and the site computes where you stand in relation to the world's population, where 85% of the population lives on approximately $2,000 a year. Our household income puts us in the TOP 0.91% richest people in the world! That really puts things into perspective.

I'm the 55,146,441 richest person on earth!

Discover how rich you are! >>

New Thing #134--Backcountry Adventure

During Tony's Boy Scout leader days, he went on high adventure hiking trips to Philmont and Boundary Waters. I've done quite a bit of tent camping with the family, but I've never done anything that could qualify for high adventure before this weekend, when I went on an overnight backpacking trip.

When we went to the Earth Day festival back in April, we met Ambre from Ginkgo Adventures, an outfitting company. She told us that some of her trips were short enough for beginners; it sounded like a good way for me to try it out and see if I liked backpacking. We signed up for a class through St. Charles County that was called "Backpacking for Adults".

We met Ambre at noon on Saturday. She provided all the gear and food, so all we had to bring were our personal items. Ambre helped us pack the backpacks with our personal things, a tent, sleeping bags and pads, and our share of the food and cooking equipment. She gave us trail snacks; we filled our water bottles and were ready to go!

We hiked for two hours, stopped to set up our camp, then day hiked (without backpacks) for another hour or so. When we got back Ambre made dinner, then started a campfire. (What would a campout be without s'mores?) Before we went to bed we learned a little bit about constellations in the night sky thanks to Dennis, a fellow hiker who brought a star chart.

I woke up Sunday to the sound of distant thunder, which became less distant, and then turned into rain. Fortunately, the rain didn't last very long; it was gone about the time I heard some of the other campers stirring. Ambre cooked a great breakfast, we broke camp, and hiked until lunch. Our adventure ended after lunch. We turned in our gear, said goodbye to Ambre, and were on our way.

I was really happy to discover that I could make it on a trip like this. I learned a little bit about how to pack a backpack, what to look for in hiking gear, how to pick a campsite, and backcountry cooking techniques. I had a great time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

New Thing #133--Garden Gratitude

Driving in my car today, I noticed a house with absolutely gorgeous landscaping. There was a mixture of purple and red flowers in bloom all across the front of the yard. When I passed the house a second time on my way back home, I was struck by the stunning display again. I decided that the beauty of the yard needed to be commended, so today I wrote a note to thank a stranger for their garden.

I repurposed part of a thank-you card to write my note. I cut off the front of the card (which had drawings of daisies in pink and yellow), and used the front like a postcard. I jotted my message on the back of the card, slid the card in my pocket, and was ready to go.

The house was only about a mile from me, so I decided to walk. I usually use the sidewalk on the east side of the street, but today I walked on the west side because that's the side the house was on. It was interesting to see all the houses that I never really notice as I walked by them.

When I reached my target house, I was surprised at the variety of plants--there were many more than I noticed from the car. I saw spirea, lambs ear, red yarrow, red roses, purple salvia, and another purple flower I didn't know. Everything was in perfect bloom, and I didn't see a weed anywhere in the garden. My plan was to put my note in the mailbox and leave, but much to my surprise this house didn't have a mailbox out by the sidewalk! I walked up to the front door and slipped my note in between the storm door and the front door.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Thing #132--Mayhem in the Midwest

Back in April I volunteered at a pledge drive for KDHX, our local community radio station. Several weeks later I received a ticket for Midwest Mayhem, their yearly party for members and volunteers that's held at the City Museum. I'm not sure how many years they've been having this event, but I've never been, so today I attended the coolest volunteer appreciation event ever!

When my kids were all in school, I sometimes felt like a professional volunteer. When they were in elementary school, I was a room mother, reading volunteer, Tiger Cub organizer, Cub Scout leader (and the Committee Chair for the Pack), and playground duty supervisor. I also volunteered for innumerable one-time classroom activities. When we moved into high school, every school organized an auction to raise money; lots of hands were needed there. There were also other Mother's Club meetings and activities to volunteer for. Other than the occasional thank-you note, and an end-of-the-year volunteer appreciation breakfast there wasn't much reward.

Tonight's party really lapped all the other appreciations I've ever had. Not only did I get to attend the main event, my ticket also allowed me to attend a pre-party just for volunteers. Tony and I got to get in early and climb on, over, and through the Enchanted Caves and MonstroCity at the City Museum without a lot of other people around. We even slid down the huge slide that goes from the second to the first floor.

There were 12 different bands from just about every genre you could think of-pop, blues, bluegrass, zydeco, country, reggae, jazz, and hip-hop on four different stages. We spent some time at each of the stages and really enjoyed all the bands we saw.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Thing #131--Tie it Right

My tennis shoes are forever coming untied. It doesn't matter if I'm just walking down the street or exercising at the gym, if I don't double knot them before I start I'll have to stop and retie them. Someone pointed out to me that the floppy lace problem was because I was tying my shoes the wrong way, so today I learned a better way to tie my shoes.

I actually found a Website that's dedicated to the art of tying shoes! Ian's Shoelace Site discusses the difference between an insecure Granny Knot (which is what I've been using all these years) and the more secure balanced shoelace knot, which sits flat across the shoe. I tried his suggestions today. My bows came out straight, flat, and balanced. More importantly, they did NOT come untied during the hour I had my tennies on.

There's only one difference in the knots. In the first cross-over of the shoestrings, before you make the loop, if you normally cross the left lace over the right, then switch things around and cross the right lace over the left then tie the loop part like you always do.

From now on, I'll use this ditty to help me remember the correct method:
Right over left, left over right,
Makes a knot both tidy and tight.

Maybe it will help me when I tie other types of bows too?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Thing #130--Flower Power

Right now I only have boys at my tutoring center. It's been my experience that adolescent boys adorn their personal areas by leaving all their stuff lying around. They really don't have an appreciation for things that lend decorating ambiance to a room. I decided to change that today when I brought a vase of flowers to use as a table centerpiece.

Putting together the arrangement was easy. I went out to my back yard and cut some iris blooms that were perfectly opened. For greenery, I used some of my neighbor's burning bush that's growing into my backyard through a hole in their fence. I arranged everything in a vase, and carefully transported it in the cup holder in my car.

When I got to work, I put the vase in the middle of the table. It really classed the room up. A couple of minutes later someone came in to get something out of the closet, and asked if I was getting ready for a function.

Were my efforts worthwhile? During our 3 1/2 hour session, not one person commented on the flowers! The arrangement made me happy, though.

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Thing #129--Minty Fresh?

Gotta hand it to the folks at wikiHow...they come up with ideas that I never would think of in a million years. Thanks to today's random article I Checked to See if My Breath Smelled Bad.

The article had four different ways to check--the wrist method, mouth cover method, cheek pulling method, and an alternative method. I chose the wrist method. I licked the back of my wrist and waited 5 seconds, then smelled the back of my wrist. I didn't smell anything, which meant my breath smelled fine. (according to the article, if I smelled something bad then my breath smelled bad, and if I smelled a minty smell I had just brushed your teeth.)

I decided to test the theory again after I had eaten some leftover General Tso's tofu for lunch. After I was done eating, I certainly felt like my mouth and teeth weren't fresh...I licked my wrist, waited, and didn't smell anything! For the second course of my meal, I tossed some broccoli florets and carrot pieces in balsamic vinegar, ate them and tested again. My wrist was starting to feel a little damp from all the licking.

I was surprised to notice that there was a definite smell of broccoli on my wrist. I went upstairs and brushed my teeth like I do everyday after lunch, so the smell didn't last too long.

There was a warning attached to the article: People may think you're weird if you lick the back of your wrist, so either do that in private or use the other way to check if your breath smells bad. I'll certainly remember that one!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Thing #128--Meditation Space

One of the best things about my retreat experience was that I got an introduction to different types of prayer and meditation. Of all those I tried over the weekend, the one I most enjoyed was walking the labyrinth.

A labyrinth isn't a maze--there's just one path that leads to and from the center. To start, you cross the threshold. Then you follow the path in to the center, enjoy your experience in the center, then take the same path back out across the threshold. Since you don't have to think about where you're going, it's easy to meditate while you walk. As a matter of fact, the twists and turns can serve as a metaphor for life's journey.

The labyrinth at King's House is made of stones, and is a replica of the one in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, France. It is on a beautiful part of the grounds, and is ringed with trees, bushes, and flowers. The center of the labyrinth has benches so you can sit and meditate. Its path is covered with wood chips, which were very soft to walk on.

I had about an hour to complete the meditation; coincidently (without looking at any kind of timepiece) that's about how long it took. The hardest part of the exercise for me was emptying my mind. It helped to practice awareness of all the things I passed as I walked--there was a wildflower growing at the side of the path, and smaller weedy plants growing right in the middle of the path. A couple of acorns were half-buried in the bark, and some of the bushes were growing close to the path. Half of the labyrinth was in the sun, so it was warm; the half in the shade was a little chilly.

When I got to the middle, I was really surprised. The labyrinth didn't follow a logical path, and so I didn't know I was getting close to the center. I chose a seat in the sun, sat down and closed my eyes. I don't know how long I sat there, but when it felt right I got up and started to retrace my path. I again noticed all the plants I'd passed by the first time. In my head, I was singing a meditation I'd learned earlier in the day. My steps matched the beat of the singing. I got finished right on time, and felt relaxed and rested.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Thing #127--Away From the Familiar

I've been friends with Debbie since the third grade. When she e-mailed me last month asking if I wanted to go on a retreat along with her, I jumped at the chance. That's why this weekend I participated in a quiet retreat at King's House Retreat Center in Belleville.

According to the King's House Website, a quiet retreat is... "a place where we can take our deepest questions. The questions may be about where our life is going, our relationship with another, or the place of God in our life. A retreat gives us the solitude to work on those questions. During the retreats we offer a quiet atmosphere, time for solitude and prayer, inspirational talks, and the opportunity to talk to our qualified staff."

The theme of the retreat was "Restless is the Heart: God's Longing For Us". I arrived Friday evening and got settled in my room. The retreat started at dinner, and then in the first of the four conferences that were presented over the course of the weekend. After the first conference was over, we were told not to speak until dinner on Saturday; after that dinner we were to maintain silence until Sunday at lunch.

The retreat was wonderful. Each of the conferences touched me, and the solitude in between each of them was great for taking to heart what I heard. The weather was beautiful, perfect for walking in the woods or sitting on a bench.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Thing #126--Hey, It's Free!

I had a lot of things to do this morning, and not a lot of time.

After I went to the grocery store, I was going to swing by one of my local "big box" stores, where I had a coupon that expired today for a free 12-pack of iced tea . The weather's FINALLY starting to dry up and warm up here; soon iced tea will taste mighty good. Free tea tastes even better!

At some point I realized that there was no way I could get everything done. Quickly prioritizing the errands I still had to do, I made an executive decision that there would be no iced tea for me today. Even though I was going to drive right past it, the store that gave me the coupon is often slow when it comes to checking out. I couldn't take a chance on being late for a meeting because I was still standing in a cashier's line. I decided to make someone's day, swung into the store parking lot, parked the car, walked up to the door, and I left a coupon for a free product on a shopping cart.

Hope that whoever finds the coupon realizes what it is and has a use for it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Thing #125--How Many?

My name is not exactly common; there aren't too many people in the St. Louis metropolitan area that have the same last name as me. I'm always surprised when I go into a business and they have someone with my surname as a customer. Today I found out how many people there are in the United States with the same name as me.

The Website How Many of Me says that "There are 304,074,407 people in the U.S. How many have your name?" They claim that the numbers are estimated based upon statistical and demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The data for the program came from the U.S. Census Bureau's 1990 census.

I found out that...

For my first name:
  • There are 644,638 people in the U.S. with the same first name.
  • Statistically it's the 75th most popular first name.
  • More than 99.9 percent of people with my first name are female.
For my last name:
  • There are 2,524 people in the U.S. with the same last name.
  • Statistically it's the 12488th most popular last name.
And finally, I found out that there are only FIVE people in the U.S. with the exact same name as me!

LogoThere are
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New Thing #124--Listen to the Music

Tony and I were gifted with tickets to the baseball game tonight. This is the first Cardinal game we've attended this year; the tickets were great; unlike the "nosebleed" seats we usually sit in, we were in the boxes right behind the visiting team dugout four rows from the field! We even had a waitress that would fetch things from the concession stand if we needed anything.

The game was great. The Cardinals beat the Pirates 5 to 1. Todd Wellemeyer pitched a two-hitter before he was relieved in the seventh inning. We stayed until the fireworks announced the end of the game. On our way out of the stadium, there was a musician--a saxophone player standing on the sidewalk with a box for donations. Every time we go to a game there's music being played by some type of musician or another. I always enjoy hearing the music as I walk to my car, but I'm usually in a hurry to get home. I've never done it before, but today I dropped money in a street musician's box.

The musician smiled at me and kept on playing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Thing #123--Branches of Knowledge

American Heritage Dictionary: en·cy·clo·pe·dia n. A comprehensive reference work containing articles on a wide range of subjects or on numerous aspects of a particular field, usually arranged alphabetically.
There's a couple of Websites I use all the time. One of them is Wikipedia. Thousands of people have contributed to this resource. It was time for me to give back, so today I added to a Wikipedia entry.

In case you're unfamiliar with it, Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. All it takes is a registration, and you can add to any article. If you add incorrect information, you'll be called on it, and the information will be removed, so the accuracy of the information is self-policed. There have been some problems with companies editing their own articles to put a more positive spin on them; WikiScanner now tracks the comments on entries back to the IP address of the computer that generated them, so once-anonymous writers aren't quite so anonymous anymore.

I added some information to the Missouri portal (a page that serves as a "main page" for the state I live in). What a feeling of power to know that many people may read the words I wrote!

Monday, May 12, 2008

New Thing #122--Waste Not Want Not

I got a new nightgown for Mother's Day...a Land's End Short Sleeve Knee-length Sleep-T. It's exactly what I wanted to replace the one I've been wearing for several years that was starting to get all stretched out of shape. The question was, what to do with the old one? Today I made a tote bag from an old t-shirt.

Every store is now selling "green" reusable bags, usually with the store logo predominantly featured. Why should I spend money and waste more resources to have reusable bags? I have a motley collection in my car; an old preschool bag and a vacation-souvenir gift are the ones I use most often, but I can always use more.

My nightgown had a small neckline, but wanted a larger opening than its jewel-neck would provide. I saw a post on a blog a couple of weeks ago that used a tank top as the basis for the tote. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the exact site today. I ended up combining elements from a couple of different Websites for my finished bag.

I cut the sleeves off, took a bit off the sides, squared off the neckline, and cut about 8 inches off the bottom. I sewed the sides and bottom on the sewing machine, and reinforced the seams with another row of stitching. When I was all done, I turned the bag right side out and voilà! A tote bag was born.

I chose not to reinforce the handles of this bag, so it will be light duty. However, it packs much smaller than any of the other ones I've accumulated. I rolled it up and used the handles to keep it secure. It will be handy to carry in my purse when I'm just going into the store for a couple of things.

I even took the material I cut off the bottom of the gown and made cleaning rags out of it. I felt good about not throwing any of it away.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

New Thing #121--Letter to My Mother

Today is Mother's Day. For me it's been one of the best in recent memory.

All three of the boys were here. Even though the weather was cold and gloomy, they and Tony cooked a BBQ feast, including Omaha Steaks and twice-baked potatoes, grilled squash, corn on the cob, and salad. They bought a chocolate tart from Trader Joe's that was to die for, and a box of chocolate-covered strawberries. When the meal was over I felt like I needed to be rolled away from the table.

After all the celebrations subsided, I took a few minutes to think about my own mom. She died in 1985, which seems like a lifetime ago. We had a pretty good relationship, but I did normal teenager things that I wish I'd had a chance to apologize for. I've been thinking about this for sometime, but today just seemed like the right time to do it.Today I wrote a letter to my mother to make some amends.

It was actually easier than I thought it would be. Once I sat down with paper and pencil, the words just started to come out. When I was satisfied that I'd cleaned up my side of the street, I signed the letter. Since I couldn't actually give it to her, I re-read it, then tore it into tiny pieces and put it in the compost pile. I know the paper will eventually decompose, and I'll be able to use the compost to enrich the soil in the garden. Somehow that seems appropriate.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

New Thing #120--Decorate Me!

As the title of my blog would indicate, I'll be celebrating a milestone birthday next year.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that a lot of my friends are also getting there. Today was Denise's big day. "Tulsa Tony" came in town unexpectedly, so I passed on going to the winery with her. Instead, we decorated Denise's condo for her 50th birthday.

I had some streamers and Dora the Explorer party hats left over from a celebration a couple of months ago. Tony decorated the perimeter of the front door, and set the hats on the stoop. I arranged my streamers in the tree next to the front door. We took these pictures, then left.

Happy Birthday, Denise! Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.

Friday, May 9, 2008

New Thing #119--Hello!

A while back I heard about "that guy with the nametag". He wrote a book called HELLO, MY NAME IS SCOTT . Scott Ginsberg, who has been wearing a nametag 24/7 since November 2000 (and even has a nametag tattooed on his chest), advocates wearing nametags to help you become friendlier and more approachable to people. It sounded like an interesting concept to me, so today I wore a nametag.

I picked a busy day for this Thing so that my nametag would be really noticeable. It's no fun trying to be different if no one will notice. I had a meeting to attend, and a half-dozen other stops to make. Before I left the house, I printed my name on the nametag and stuck it on my shirt.

I don't think that in my short experiment, the nametag made me more approachable to people. One person in my meeting asked why I had it on, and Tony asked at the end of the day. No one in the stores I shopped in commented on it. I started up conversations with the same number of people I usually do, and did the same amount of chit-chatting.

For a while I actually forgot it was there. I introduced myself to a couple of people at my meeting; they were nice enough not to tell me that they already KNEW what my name was because it was on my chest!

Here's an interview with Scott from 2003, where he explains how the whole nametag idea started:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

New Thing #118--Write-Away Contest

Last night I was checking out the latest Blogger "Blogs of Note", and I came upon Scribbit. In my opinion, it was the best of the group. Michelle Mitchell, the author, is a writer and mother who lives in Alaska. One of her posts was about a monthly writing contest called May's Write-Away Contest. This month's topic was "shoes". Today I submitted an entry in an Internet writing contest.

Here's the rules for the contest (copied from the blog):
  1. Write a post or find one in your archives on the topic, "Shoes," and email your post's permalink to me at: scribbit at gmail.com any time through Sunday May 18th. If you fail to meet the May 18th deadline I will still happily publish your link with the list of entries but it will not be judged. I reserve the right to reject submissions if they fail to meet the topic or if they contain objectionable content.
  2. Publish a link to the contest page here at Scribbit in either your entry post or in a separate post.
So, I found my post and sent it through cyberspace. I'll cross my fingers and hope it rises to the top!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New Thing #117--Stir it Well

I have cooked almost everything, and rarely use a recipe any more. One of the things that I've never made, because I've heard it's really difficult, is risotto. That changed today, when I cooked and served mushroom risotto for dinner.

On April 25th, I resolved to eat lower on the food chain (See Thing #105). When I did the grocery shopping last week I did part of it at a different store, in an effort to find more healthy foods. I saw Arborio rice on the shelf with all the other grains, so I purchased it and brought it home. The directions on the rice package didn't sound too hard or time consuming; I didn't know what all the fuss about the dish was. When I Googled the recipe, the fuss made a little more sense. My recipe seemed to be a "lite" version, unlike the "classic" version I'd heard about. It didn't call for as many incremental broth additions, or the constant stirring of the classic recipe.

I decided to go with the package recipe. I had everything I needed in the house, except for the white wine. I usually don't make special trips to the store for ingredients, but decided to make an exception this time and follow the recipe to a T to make sure it turned out right. (Note: In the end I added an unauthorized clove of garlic and a bit of celery for extra flavor, and a handful of parsley at the end. I just couldn't help myself.)

This is the recipe I used:
12 oz. Arborio rice
4 cups heated stock (vegetable, chicken, or beef)
1 chopped onion
2 T. butter
Parmesan or other grated cheese
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped and sauteed
4 oz. dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in butter till golden. Add the rice and stir until well-coated and translucent

Add the wine and cook till evaporated. Stir in 1 cup of stock and simmer gently. When the stock has been absorbed, add another cup, and continue in this way through the 18-20 minutes of cooking time.

Stir in the cheese and mushrooms. Salt to taste. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside for 2 minutes before serving.
The hardest part about making this dish was the timing. I never know exactly when I'll serve dinner--it's anywhere from 5:45 till 6:30, or whenever everyone's home. I didn't want the rice to sit around before we ate it, so I sauteed the onions, garlic, and celery in a pan (and the mushrooms in another), warmed the wine and the broth, and waited for Tony to call to say he was on his way. That gave me 30 minutes to get dinner ready. I was finishing up when he walked in. We poured drinks, set the table, and ate.

The risotto was delicious. I'm already looking forward to my leftovers tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

New Thing #116--Frugal Fun

I love thrift stores, but especially Goodwill (or as it's officially called in our area MERS Goodwill). There's a branch a couple of miles from my house. When I worked in an office a good chunk of my business casual clothing came from there, because I could find the mall brands for much less money. I still check thrift stores for clothes before I go somewhere else. It's exciting, financially prudent, and ecologically sound, because I think reusing second hand items is another form of recycling .

I think it's also important to remember when I spend my money at thrift stores I'm helping other people. For example, Goodwill's mission is to provide job training and career services to people in need so they can enjoy productive lives. I know a couple of people that have benefited from these services; one received their GED and retail training thanks to Goodwill programs.

The Goodwill retail store that's close to us has a great variety of clothes at good prices. Most of them are used, of course, but there is a selection of new things from retail stores. The selection is always changing; you never know what you're going to find. If you go in with expectations of finding a specific thing, you'll be disappointed, because the odds of that are about one in a million.However, today I shopped for, and purchased, an outfit specifically to wear today.

I was completely flexible in what I was looking for. My only requirement was that the outfit needed to be comfortable and appropriate for today's weather. The first group of clothes I took to the dressing room included capris, pants, shirts, and a dress. Unfortunately, none of them was quite right, so I put them all back and tried again. I found a couple of likely items in the skirt aisle; I added some coordinating shirts to my pile and went back to the dressing room. This time I had luck!

Take a look at the wonderful cotton plaid skirt and the white t-shirt with the prestigious designer label still attached to the neckband. I couldn't find any coordinating accessories at the store. so I came home and added my own blue shoes, red bead necklace, and gold hoop earrings.

The total cost of my outfit? A whopping $6.00!

Monday, May 5, 2008

New Thing # 115--Rock the House

Yesterday Donald and his friend came home from a trip to Best Buy with full arms. Donald bought himself a X-Box 360 system, and his friend bought a Rock Band game (that he plans to store and use at our house). Last night I watched them in action for a short while, and it didn't look too hard, so today I played Rock Band.

The game allows up to four players at a time to perform in bands. The package includes peripherals modeled after music instruments (a guitar peripheral for lead and bass guitar, a drum peripheral, and a microphone). Players use the peripherals to simulate the performance of music, and must play these instruments in time with musical "notes" as they scroll by on the screen.

I really don't have a whole lot of hand-eye coordination, so I'm TERRIBLE at video games. I gave up playing regularly when 3-year-old Donald beat me in a game oh so many years ago. However, I thought Rock Band was different enough that I might do better. In the end I did, but not by much.

The pieces of the game were still set up from last night's session; otherwise I think it would be a big deal to set everything up. The game system senses how many of the peripherals are plugged in. It doesn't take much to get the game started after that. (If you want, you can change the look of your performer on the screen, but I didn't bother.) There's a pretty good selection of songs from just about every decade of rock. Donald and I took turns picking the songs to play...he concentrated on the newer ones, and I went for "classic rock", with a little Ramones mixed in.

I started out playing the drums at the Easy level, and Donald was on the guitar. I don't think I made it a quarter of the way through each of the songs we tried before I failed. It was really hard to remember to use the foot pedal in addition to the drumsticks, and do both of them at the right time. On one of the songs, Donald was able to save me when I failed because he had enough points, but after 3 or 4 songs I was ready to give up. He suggested I try the guitar. That was a little easier; by the end of the second song I was getting the hang of it.

I jokingly told Donald that I'd be practicing when he wasn't around, and he showed me how to get into Solo mode. He left to go outside, and I actually got through a whole song! My accuracy was only about 75%, but the virtual crowd at the concert was cheering, and I didn't get booed off the stage.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

New Thing #114--Rubbish!

The weather rebounded nicely today after yesterday's chilliness. It was a great day to walk to church. For the walk home I brought a grocery bag and I picked up trash.

Most of the walk is along a 3-lane, relatively busy suburban road. There are some houses that face it. A small portion of the road contains a concrete bridge that goes over a creek, and some of the land next to the road is waiting to be developed.

I would have told you the area was relatively clean. When you start looking for trash, it's amazing how much there is! I found several aluminum cans, fast food drink cups, plastic bags, pieces of paper and cardboard, and other miscellaneous trash such as cigarette packs, candy wrappers and straws.

My rules for this activity:
  • No cigarette butts. I was dressed for church, and didn't want to kneel down on the ground and pick up the hundreds I saw.
  • No tiny pieces of paper. Again, I wasn't dressed for it. Not to pat myself on the back too much, but I thought that any cleaning I did would be good; I wasn't going for perfection.
  • No broken glass
  • No excrement
  • No more than two steps into anyone's yard to pick up trash
I brought along a newspaper sleeve to put my hand in to keep it clean, but most of the trash we found was paper, or dry. Nothing was gross to pick up. I did empty a half-filled water bottle I picked up so the bag wouldn't get too heavy, but that was the nastiest thing I found.

We filled up a grocery store plastic bag. Here's a picture:

Saturday, May 3, 2008

New Thing #113--Good Google Gadget

Sigh...Another Saturday...another gloomy day of below-average temperatures. I have a whole list of projects that can't get done today. Can't weed the perennial bed (too wet), can't plant the annuals (ground temperature still too low). Don't want to fill up the vehicle with wood chips from the local park (too cold and wet). Time for an inside Thing.

While checking my e-mail this morning, I noticed a link on the iGoogle page that sounded like fun. Today I made a GoogleGram gadget.

GoogleGram is a gadget where you can choose from several images (sunflowers, balloons, roses, bonsai, and chocolates ) and create a custom message for someone for each day of the week. I used the balloon images, and added quotations about friendship for my messages. The gadget showed up on my iGoogle page. I had the option to publish the gadget to the directory (which I chose) or to keep it private. The gadget will be available in the directory in 10 days.

I e-mailed an invitation to view the gadget to some of the people on my address list (basically everyone who may be using Google already); it will be up to them to decide if they want to look at it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

New Thing #112--Good Will Hunting

More than half of American adults don't have wills or plans for the future if they become unable to do it themselves. I was one of them until today, when Tony and I met with a lawyer to do estate planning.

Neither Tony or I have any parents left. They all died prematurely (in a variety of ways), so the idea of stating our wishes for the future legally should have been obvious to us. However, we kept putting off the task. Tony had a discussion with a lawyer acquaintance a while back who offered to help us out. Ultimately, though, we ended up choosing a different lawyer who was recommended by a friend.

We ended up going for the "complete package" of estate planning tools. Since we've been involved in too many long, drawn-out probate messes, a Revocable Living Trust (since it avoids the probate process) was important to us. We also wanted a Durable Power of Attorney to designate a person to make health care decisions in event of our incompetency, and a Living Will.

The process was actually easier than I thought it would be, and certainly less emotional. Tony and I were in agreement about the beneficiaries and who our trustees should be. The whole thing only took about an hour. We'll get drafts of all the documents in a couple of weeks; if they're acceptable, we'll stop by the lawyer's office to sign the paperwork, and then it's all set!

The next step will be to talk with our family and closest friends about what we've decided. This might be the hardest part of the whole process. Many surveys report that the majority of Americans rarely discuss estate planning--I'm determined not to be one of them!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

New Thing #111--Newsworthy

We're lucky to have a wide variety of news sources in the St. Louis area. In addition to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there are many free newspapers and magazines available. I pick up some of them on a regular basis--The Riverfront Times (mainly for the Entertainment and Music sections), The Healthy Planet (for green news), and Sauce Magazne (food and restaurant news) are the ones I read most. However, I know there are many more out there. Today I gathered, and read, some free newspapers.

The rack at the grocery store had a variety of publications to choose from; I picked up the St. Louis Small Business Monthly (since I run my own business), the Prime Life Circuit (for active people 50 and older--I'm almost there!), and The St. Louis American (focusing on the African-American community--to get a different perspective).

I run a small business, but I found out it's much smaller than the target audience for the Small Business Monthly! I have no employees, no board of directors, and no need for a bank loan to expand my business. However, some of their columns were very interesting; one actually had some great food for thought about honesty in the workplace and in your daily life.

I don't think I'm really ready for Prime Life Circuit, either. They had a pull-out Retirement Living Guide, with a large list of retirement centers. Maybe I'll have to revisit this newspaper in a couple of decades!

The St. Louis American is a weekly newspaper that had all the sections I'm used to seeing- news, editorial, business, sports, and "lifestyle". There were even small classified and religion sections. Although I was familiar with some of the basic facts in some of the stories, the emphasis was certainly on the African American community. I think out of the three newspapers, I learned the most from this one.