Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Thing #202--Can You Read This?

Dictionary.com defines readability as "the quality of written language that makes it easy to read and understand."

Today I took the Blog Readability Test to find out what level of education is required to understand my blog. It was fun and very easy to do...I just had to enter my URL, hit the "Check Readability Now" button, and wait a couple of seconds.

Turns out that I write at a Junior High School level. I don't know if I'm pleased or disturbed by that fact. I hope that's not a reflection of my overall thinking; I believe that I'm more sophisticated than that.

I was curious to know how accurate the Website was, so I picked several random blog posts and used the grammar feature in MS Word. I discovered that, according to Bill Gate's staff, my writing (measured on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale) is somewhere between a 6th and a 9th grade level.

blog readability test

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Thing #201--Thank YOU!

I have a small collection of used textbooks for sale on an Internet site. Some of them have been posted for several months; I'm always surprised (and happy) when I get an e-mail that I've sold one and need to ship it to a buyer.

The site conveniently provides a link for a printable packing slip. I usually just grab that page off the printer and stick it in the box before I tape everything up. However, today I wrote a personal note to the buyer of a used book.

I folded a piece of colorful stationary in half like a card and wrote on the inside. I thanked her for buying MY book instead of any of the other duplicate copies of the book that were listed. I added that I hoped she enjoyed using the book. It's a literature compilation and has a lot of great stories in it.

I can't remember the last time I received a personal, hand-written note. It made my day; I hope the person who opens my package feels the same way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Thing #200--Bag It

I've done my best to be more "green" this year. My newly-acquired habits include giving up bottled water and using canvas tote bags instead of paper OR plastic from the store.

However, there's one last frontier I need to cross--plastic produce bags. We're making an effort to eat lower on the food chain, so that means more fruit and veggies coming into the house. The bags are starting to pile up, which means something has to be done. I already use the bags for some things, like storing food and for covering leftovers in the refrigerator, but I was bringing in the bags faster than I could use them up.

Today I took some produce bags back to the grocery store and reused them. Just like my motly collection of tote bags, my handful of produce bags was diverse. There were yellow, green, and clear bags with several different store logos. I stuffed the bags inside one of the totes and walked into the store. I though it would be a big deal, but it wasn't. When I pulled them out in the produce department, no one noticed what I was doing. The cashier didn't make a comment, either.

I came home and immediately put all the bags back into the car. Hopefully I can remember to carry them into the store the next time so I can do this Thing more than once!

Monday, July 28, 2008

New Thing #199--Pet Theory

So it turns out I missed Take Your Dog To Work Day, which was June 20. Since I don't have a dog, and my cats would politely decline my offer, it's not any great loss. However, today I took an imaginary pet to work with me.

I chose a green ceramic frog that my mother-in-law crafted back in the 1960s. It's about seven inches tall, and it sits on the window seat in my kitchen. It normally doesn't have a name, but since all pets should be named, I decided he looked like a Francis. He was the perfect mascot...my tutoring center is for teens in substance abuse recovery, and the acronym F.R.O.G. stands for "Fully Rely On God"--a Twelve-Step slogan.

I laid Francis in a small basket and carried him carefully out to the car, then from the car into the building. I set him on the corner of my table, next to the sign-in sheet. That way everyone would notice him. However, over the course of the day only one person asked about him. I explained he was my pet, and asked if he would like to pet him; he backed away in disbelief.

Francis was very well behaved. He didn't run around the room, make noise, or ask to use the restroom. He stayed inside during the breaks, resting in his basket. At the end of the day Francis went back into the car for the ride home, and reclaimed his place on the window seat.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Thing #198--A Street Runs Through It

I was rummaging through the bookshelves downstairs today, and came upon a fascinating book. Today I looked at a street guide of the St. Louis area from more than 50 years ago.

More specifically, it was Cunetto's 1957 Street and Sectional Guide Map of St. Louis and St. Louis County. It was printed before any of the area Interstates were built; the main East-West streets were Olive, 40, Manchester, and Watson. If you wanted to go North or South, the main choices were Broadway, Riverview, or Lindbergh. Route 66 meandered through the city on different roads-it came into the area from Illinois on the Chain of Rocks Bridge, followed Lindbergh down to Watson, then continued west approximately where Interstate 44 is west of the Meramec River.

The area where we live was nothing but farmland, although just a couple of miles away Manchester Road was relatively developed through Manchester, Ballwin, and Ellisville. According to the map, some of the streets I drive on every day have been improved to make them straighter, and some were realigned so they could meet up more easily with other through streets.

The guide showed the metro area's parks and cultural institutions. It also indicated the locations of country clubs (some of which are no longer around), cemeteries, and religious convents (most of which are no longer around).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New Thing #197--Film Fest

This will be short, because I don't have a lot of time. Today I went to watch two movies.

Tony and I went to see The Dark Knight after lunch. It was a long movie (almost three hours counting previews), but worth it.

We came home, did some paperwork, cut the grass, and ate some dinner, then decided to go to Grand Center to see Moulin Rouge under the stars. It was a longish movie, too, pushing two hours. Total time spent watching movies today was about 5 hours. That doesn't count the time spent driving to and from the movies!

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Thing #196--Toot Toot Tootsie

I don't go barefoot much in the summer, but by this point in the season, I usually have dry, cracked skin on my heels and the bottom of my feet. It's pretty annoying, so today I set out to take care of the problem. I used a homemade scrub to exfoliate my feet.

Google gave me thousands of hits for my search; I tried to find the simplest possible recipe. The one I chose used only two ingredients--granulated sugar and hand lotion. The directions were equally simple--mix a cup of sugar and two tablespoons of lotion in a bowl and work the mixture into your feet, then rinse it off and pat dry.

I didn't have a lot of sugar in the house, so I cut the recipe in half. I mixed the sugar and lotion together in a measuring cup, then decided to do the exfoliation outside to cut down on the mess. I sat on the patio with my feet sticking out into the grass, scooped up a glob of the mixture with my fingers, and started scrubbing. At first I didn't notice anything, but then all of a sudden the sugar granules started working on those dead skin cells, and my feet started tingling. The scrub got quite gray and dingy, which I assume was all the dead skin coming off.

Even though I only made half a recipe, the reduced amount was more than enough. I used a little bit extra to scrub the dead skin off my hands, then hit my elbows while I was at it. There was STILL some left over, so I put the leftovers in a container for the next time.

Hours later my hands and feet still feel soft; almost as good as when I got suckered into letting a girl use Dead Sea Salt scrub at a kiosk at the mall!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Thing #195--Take Action

I've always admired the work of Amnesty International. They do a good job of shining a light on injustices throughout the world ...which is especially important when the local news is nothing but "sound bites" with little substance. Today I took action on an issue that was brought to my attention by Amnesty International.

The issue that really touched me is taking place in Slovakia; it's the inappropriate placement of Romani (gypsy) children into "special schools" for children with mental disabilities. According to the information on the Website, children in Slovakia should have a right to formal assessment, and their parents need to agree to the placement, but as many as two thirds of Romani children attending primary school in some parts of the country are segregated into a special school. Once children are assigned to special schools, it's hard for them to return to regular schools, which leads to limited opportunities for their employment and further education. As an educator, that really bothers me.

Taking action is easy. They have a letter template all set up for you; you can add a personal comment if you like, or just hit "Print" and it flies away through cyberspace. No postage required.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Thing #194--Dream On

Although the experts say that everyone dreams every night, I never remember what I dream.

Yesterday MSN had a link to a dream interpretation page. I clicked through, even though I thought "that's interesting; I don't have a use for it". My subconscious must have grabbed onto the information, though, because when I woke up this morning I actually remembered the last dream I was having. I grabbed a scrap of paper, wrote it down, and today I interpreted my dream.

My dream is in black, and the interpretation from the MSN Dream Dictionary is in green. If there were two possible interpretations for a word, I chose the one that made the most sense to me.
I was cooking some brown (Illness, Materialism) gravy in a dark (Darkness hides one's surroundings, and so darkness in a dream could indicate that you are "in the dark" about something, and need to find the truth) bathroom (Secret places, where the company of others is usually not desired). I kept stirring and tasting (Tasting food represents minor steps towards prosperity) it to make sure it was ok.

A crowd (Dreaming of actually being part of an orderly and purposeful crowd implies aspirations in tune with those around you and support and assistance in making all your dreams a reality), which included some of my students, was playing a game (Watching a game hints at feelings of being on the outside looking in - or possibly feelings that you're sitting on the sidelines while life passes you by) around me in the background. Every once in awhile, one of them would come check on my progress; in the dream I could see their face (If you see a happy, smiling face, then pleasures and good times lie ahead) clearly. The situation was very positive. There was a sense of love (If the dream is of observing the love between other people, this portends the consummation of some of the dreamer's own hopes and wishes) in the room.
So what does it mean? Far as I can figure out, I'm a clueless, relatively prosperous material girl who likes to hang by myself. I have realistic goals, and help to reach them; however, I think that life is passing me by. I better get busy and work on achieving those dreams, so good times can come to me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New Thing #193--Wax On

Our house is about 20 years old, and many of the things inside are "original equipment", including the off-white Formica kitchen countertops. We're slowly weighing our options for replacing them, but in the meantime I need them to look as good as they possibly can. Some Internet research revealed several possibilities for cleaning them up, and today I polished my kitchen countertops with car wax.

I usually don't go to the trouble to wax my car, so I had to buy some wax at the auto parts store. There was a whole section of waxes; I just bought the cheapest one and brought it home.

The first step in the project, though, was getting all the old embedded dirt off. I brought out the big guns, and scrubbed them with cleanser. It was amazing how much dirt was embedded in the surface! With a lot of cleanser, elbow grease, rinsing (and a change of clothes after I got wet cleanser all over my shirt), the countertops were clean. However, they didn't have that shiny gleam I was going for.

It was wax time! The directions were simple--wet the applicator, apply wax and let it dry, then wipe it off. I did it a section at a time, and found that it takes a LOT of elbow grease to remove dried-on wax. However, the horizontal countertop was much easier to do than a vertical surface like a car.

I finished up the countertop and the island shortly before I had to leave for work. They looked nice, but I didn't notice a dramatic difference. However, when I came in the door after work I was greeted by an expanse of gleaming counters. They were beautiful! I got out all my supplies again so I could clean and polish my kitchen desk, which is made out of the same Formica.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New Thing #192--Reconnect

A while back I joined Facebook, mainly to see a friend's uploaded vacation pictures. I only log into my account about once a month. However, a conversation the other day sent me searching for familiar names from my past. Today I used the Friend Finder on Facebook to send an e-mail to a high school acquaintance.

My high school graduating class was huge (almost 800 students) and I didn't know most of the people. Consequently, I didn't recognize most of the names of fellow alumni on Facebook. However, one jumped out at me. Alice and I were in several of the same clubs. She joined the Peace Corps after college, and I lost track of her. According to her profile, she's now living in South Africa.

I sent her a quick e-mail asking how she was doing, and giving her a quick summary of what I've been up to. I felt weird hitting the "Send" button; what if she didn't WANT to reconnect with me? If she doesn't, I guess she'll just ignore my message. If she logs into her account as infrequently as I do, it could be months before I know!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Thing #191--Game On

Last week we bought a new TV for the family room. Because we want it to last for a LONG time, we went with a higher-end model. Based on our past electronics purchases, I'm sure it will be really old technology by time we get rid of it. After some consultation with our "techie" children and a couple of salespeople, we ended up getting an LCD model with 1080p resolution. The picture on this TV is amazing.

Because we were getting a TV with high definition, we (read-male members of the family) decided we needed to upgrade the DVD player too. According to several salespeople, for the money the best Blu-ray player on the market is actually a PlayStation 3 system! We bought the new equipment, wires, and peripherals, then spent a good chunk of last weekend untangling the wires from the old TV components and setting up the new ones. After watching the promotional disk included with the PS3 player, we decided we needed some movies or games to take advantage of its capabilities. Blu-ray movies are still quite expensive, so I bought myself a video game.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, I have the worst eye-hand coordination imaginable. For that reason I've stayed away from video games. I'm not a fan of violent games, or those with raunchy themes, and I didn't want to spend a whole lot of money for something that would probably only frustrate me. After looking at several stores, I ended up purchasing a used Sonic the Hedgehog game; I remembered the original version of this game from years ago.

Our system came with one controller. When Tony left to run some errands this afternoon, I fired up the game. The graphics were really impressive, and since the system is hooked up to the surround sound, the music filled the room. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the first level of the game, so the repetition of that music got REALLY annoying. About that time the cats decided it was time to eat, and I was all too happy to agree with them.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Thing #190--Get Wet

Ahhhh...summer in St. Louis. The temperature's in the mid-90s, and the humidity's high.

The grass needed to be cut today. It was my turn to do the trimming, and I was drenched in perspiration after I got done. I came inside; the air conditioner felt great, but I knew I'd keep sweating for a while until my body cooled off. My favorite cure for this problem is to run some cool water in the bathtub, plop my sweaty body in it, and let the water cool me off. Today it was too much work to disrobe before I got in the tub, so I took a bath with my clothes on.

My clothes were already wet and sticking to my body, so it was actually easier to just get in the water without taking them off. The tub isn't long enough to stretch out in, so I stuck my head under the faucet to wet my head, then leaned back to enjoy the experience. After a couple of minutes, I decided that some bubbles might be a nice touch.

When it was time to get out, I had a problem. I didn't have a laundry basket to carry the soaking wet clothes downstairs in, so I ended up just leaving them in the drained tub.

Friday, July 18, 2008

New Thing #189--A Day at the Races

Tonight Tony and I did one of those things we always said we'd do "someday". We went to Fairmount Park racetrack and bet on the ponies .

Fairmount Park, in Collinsville Illinois, opened in 1925. When I was a kid, it was open a good chunk of the year. Now it has races only on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Party at the Park takes place every Friday night during the summer. The admission cost includes an all-you-can-eat buffet, drink specials, and a band (tonight's was Paint the Earth).

The doors opened at 6:00, so that's when we arrived; the line to get in was already several hundred people long! There were no tables left by time we got to the room, which was on the second floor of the clubhouse, but Ray and Pauline, a very nice couple, agreed to share their table with us. Ray said the way to insure a place to sit was to arrive early; they had been waiting in line for 45 minutes.

There were people everywhere! The lines for food (there were tables that held salad and veggies, fried appetizers, hot dogs, and nachos) and drinks were very long. Fortunately the first race didn't start till 7:30 so we had time to eat, study our program, and make our bets.

I know people who go to racetracks on a regular basis and take their betting very seriously. I wasn't one of those people. I had a "theory" for betting that ended up working about half the time, and left me pretty much break even at the end of the night. The most exciting race was when my horse came from the back of the field to win after I had written him off and stopped watching! I tried a couple of more exotic wagers, and came very close to winning a substantial purse.

At the end of the night we walked outside to watch the last two races. The temperature had gone down, and it was very pleasant. We stood on the rail and had a great view of the horses galloping by us at the finish line.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New Thing #188--Whee!

I had to get some things at Target this afternoon. Because it was getting close to dinner time, the store wasn't crowded, and as I walked out of the store, I noticed the lot was pretty empty, too. This Target (in Ballwin) has a parking lot that slopes slightly away from the store; I had parked all the way at the end of a parking lane.

I got to the parking lot, looked around for moving cars, saw there were none, and did something I've always wanted to do. I rode on the back of a shopping cart through a parking lot.

The cart had several 12-packs of soda in it, so it was nice and heavy; I wasn't afraid my weight would tip it over. I got to the top of my parking lane, jogged a couple of steps, then hopped up on the back rail of the cart and let gravity carry me along.

I rolled right down the middle of the lane. As I got close to my car, I started to pick up speed, and was afraid I wouldn't be able to stop. I tried to steer the cart towards my car, but I couldn't, so I jumped off the cart, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and resumed my normal persona.

If there had been someone there to film me, it would have looked something like this:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Thing # 187--Is It Real?

I saw yet another ad today from a company that was anxious to buy my "unwanted" gold jewelry. Over the years, I've collected random rings, bracelets, and watches from my grandmother, parents and in-laws. Although I have NO desire to get rid of any of the jewelry I have--too many memories go with it--I wondered if there was a simple way to find out which pieces were costume and which weren't. Today I tested my gold jewelry to tell if it was real gold.

wikiHow had several different ways to test. Some of the the methods needed scientific equipment, so I ruled them for my informal experiment. I decided to use the streak test. I rubbed the pieces of jewelry across an unglazed porcelain tile (which I had in the backyard from an unfinished craft project). wikiHow said that if the jewelry left a black streak then it wasn't gold, and if the streak was golden yellow I had real gold.

I took a handful of jewelry outside and started rubbing. Much to my amazement, I DID get different color streaks from different pieces!

These were not gold:
  • My college ring (I knew this wasn't real; I never would have paid for the real thing)
  • A garnet ring from my mother-in-law
  • An opal ring from my mom
These were:
  • My Dad's wedding ring
  • An old cocktail ring from Mom
  • A bracelet marked 14k on the inside (yes, I threw in a ringer for verification)
wikiHow didn't tell me, though, if I would get the same results if the jewelry was plated gold, so I guess if I really want to know I'll have to take it to a professional.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Thing #186--Which is It?

I have several pots of herbs growing on the deck-there's oregano, basil, sage, and chives. There's also a cilantro plant that's flowered and gone to seed. I didn't know that wasn't a bad thing till someone informed me I was now maturing the spice coriander! I wasn't sure what to do with the seeds; after some research today I harvested my own fresh spice.

According to Wikipedia, "Coriander...is an annual herb. The name 'coriander' in a culinary context may refer to either the seeds of the plant (used as a spice), or to its leaves (used as a herb); however, in North American countries the name cilantro is given to the leaves." I use cilantro in Mexican food and use the leaves to garnish different dishes, so I always buy a small pot at the greenhouse when I'm buying my other plants. However, I've never been able to keep a plant going until it flowered.

I went out to the deck one day a couple of weeks ago, and the cilantro didn't look the same-- the leaves had begun to turn feathery, with a group of blooms at the top of the "new" leaves. After the first blooms, the plant was soon all feathery leaves, and covered in small white flowers, and. Some time later the seeds began to form. They started out green, and slowly turned brown.

I picked the brown seeds off the plant, and put them in a brown paper bag in the pantry. I ate a couple instead of putting them in the bag. They tasted great! According to my research, I'll be able to use the seeds in pickles, marinades, and salad dressings. I could even keep some of the seeds to try to grow my own plants next year.

For more information on coriander, try: Finished Coriander Seed Project

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Thing #185--On My Side

We live in a safe area of St. Louis County, and have a good relationship with the City of Manchester (our municipality). They've lived up to our expectations by doing what they need to do--fix the roads, make sure the trash and recycling are picked up, and remove the snow in the winter. The police patrol our neighborhood on a regular basis, and the Parks Department meets our needs. Over the years, I've not had to communicate with City Hall at all.

Today I corresponded with my City Alderman. I became a Trustee for my subdivision at the end of last year; we're having some issues with our retaining basin, and thought we could get some assistance from the City. The first step was contacting one of the two alderman for our ward, so I volunteered to make the contact.

I exchanged several e-mails with Alderman Diehl, and followed up with a phone call. He seemed like a very nice person, and generally interested in our problem. It's nice to know that someone is looking out for us at City Hall.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Thing #184--Gimme A Hug

The best Things can't be planned; they just happen.

I was in the checkout line at the grocery store today. The well-dressed older woman in front of me had on a huge button that stated she was an "Official Hug Tester". I asked her what that meant, and she told me that she liked to give and receive hugs at church...and at grocery stores. Before I knew what was happening, she reached over and embraced me! Today I was hugged by a stranger.

There was a time I would have been weirded out by a stranger giving me a hug, but I'm way past those days. I thought the whole experience was pretty awesome. Her effort wasn't half-hearted, either. It was a friendly cheek-to-cheek hug, and would have been even nicer except there was a grocery cart in the way. Afterward, she gave me a small card that said "Free hugs-no expiration date!" The back of the card had her church information.

After I'd paid for my items I walked over to the bagging area. The woman was still there organizing her groceries. I went up to her, thanked her for the hug, and explained how I'd be adding her to my list of activities on my blog. She gave me ANOTHER hug.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

New Thing #183--Dear Me

Today I'm halfway through my year-long project. I can't believe how fast the time has gone! Instead of looking back to the past, today I looked forward and sent emails to myself in the future.

I used the Website FutureMe.org. The site allows you to send yourself an email time capsule at any date up to 30 years in the future-I chose to send myself birthday wishes (along with some affirmations) to be delivered next January, when I turn 50. After some thought, I ALSO composed and sent a message to myself for my next milestone birthday five years after that.

The process is very easy. All you have to do is enter your email address, the subject, and the message you want to send. The e-mail can be private or public (but anonymous). If you choose to make it public, it will be available on the FutureMe Website.

As I was composing my message, my big question was...what point of view to use when you're writing to yourself? I ended up using second person (you), as in "you did this" and "this is what you were thinking at the time". I'll see if it all makes sense next year when I receive the email in my Inbox. I wonder if I will have forgotten sending the 2009 version by time I receive it? I'm sure I'll be completely surprised to get a note from myself in 2014.

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Thing #182--List It

We had the upstairs carpets cleaned, so yesterday morning I was moving things out of the bedrooms before the technicians came.

I moved some shelves that had been in the corner for a long time - so long that I'd started to look past them and didn't even realize they were there anymore. They were just plain sturdy curio shelves that had hung on the wall in one of the kids' rooms. I was keeping them "just in case" I had a use for them. However, yesterday I decided that I could use the extra space they took up.

They were too nice to give away on Freecycle, so today. I became a member of, and posted an item on Craigslist.

The process was really easy. I took a picture of the shelves and uploaded it to the Website, then added the description and price. I made them REALLY cheap because I want them out of my house!

I hope that someone decides they need my shelves and contact me. If the process goes well, I have many more things I could get rid of...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Thing #181--Skivvies

One of the last things I did in Cleveland was shop in Tower City Center, which has a mall similar to Union Station in St. Louis. I spent a bit of money in Victoria's Secret, buying something that was a new style for me. Today I broke out my purchase and I wore a type of "undies" that I've never worn before. They were much more comfortable than I originally thought they'd be...I'll leave it at that.

In a somewhat related story that I somehow missed last month:

Woman sues Victoria's Secret claiming thong injury

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Jun 20, 2008) - A woman who says she was hurt by her thong panties when a metal clip flew off and hit her in the eye has sued Victoria's Secret, saying in a TV interview on Thursday that the injury caused her "excruciating pain."

Macrida Patterson, a 52-year-old Los Angeles traffic officer, told NBC's "Today" show that she suffered cuts to her cornea from the small piece of metal that had been used to secure a rhinestone heart onto the blue thong.

"I was putting on my underwear from Victoria's Secret and the metal popped in my eye. It happened really quickly. I was in excruciating pain. I screamed. That's what happened," Patterson told NBC.

Patterson's lawyer Jason Buccat, who also appeared on the "Today" show, said the metal staple causes "severe damage" to her cornea that required a topical steroid.

The product liability lawsuit, which was filed on June 9 in Los Angeles Superior Court and first reported on the Smoking Gun Web site, seeks unspecified damages.

A spokeswoman for Victoria's Secret, which is operated by Limited Brands Inc, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New Thing #180--What's For Dinner?

Coming home from vacation, even a short one, is exhausting. There's mail and e-mail to be gone through, laundry to get washed, and old newspapers to take care of. The last thing I wanted to do was cook today, so Tony and I ate lunch out, then went to the Kirkwood Farmers' Market for produce.

One of the vendors at the market had "eat em today" cherries for an unbelievable price. We bought a bag and brought them home. At 6:00, I realized I wouldn't be hungry for dinner after the massive lunch I ate, so I suggested to Tony that it would be interesting if
I served dessert for dinner.

"Dinner" tonight, complements of About.com, ended up being Cherries and Cream Rice Pudding.

  • 5 cups half-and-half cream
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • cup heavy whipping cream, very cold
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a saucepan, bring half-and-half, white granulated sugar, and salt to a boil. Add rice and stir until combined. Bring back to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes until thick and creamy.

Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract and dried cherries. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 4 hours.

Pour whipping cream into a large bowl. With an electric mixer on high speed, whip the cream until noticeably thickened. Add confectioners' sugar and continue beating about 2 minutes.

Fold half of the sweetened whipped cream into the rice pudding. Use the remaining whipped cream as a topping for pudding.

The recipe called for dried cherries, but I pitted some of the fresh ones and added them instead. I used arborio rice, so it was incredibly creamy, but swapped out skim milk for some of the half-and-half called for in the recipe. It was delicious, and had all the necessary parts of a meal-carbohydrates from the rice, vitamins and fiber from the cherries, and protein from the milk. How bad could it be?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New Thing #179--Splendid

Day 3 of our Cleveland trip found us going in a different direction for culture, both by geographic area and by subject matter. Today I visited a special exhibition-Vatican Splendors-at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

According to the museum Website, "Vatican Splendors comprises one of the largest Vatican collections ever to tour North America...[and] includes some things that had never before been on public view".

The museum is located in the University Circle section of the city, where Case Western Reserve University and several cultural institutions are located. It was farther than our hotel shuttle would take us; when we asked the best way to get there, the concierge told us to take a taxi. However, that's not our style, so we decided how to get there using public transit.

We bought a day pass for the RTA and validated it. The museum turned out to be pretty easy to get to-a 15 minute walk to the nearest stop, then a 15 minute ride to the University Circle area. We were prepared to walk the rest of the way to the museum, based on the concierge's information; however, we found out there's a shuttle bus that runs through the area that got us within a couple of blocks of the museum.

The exhibit was wonderful. We entered at 10:30 (the tickets were timed entry) and didn't finish till well after noon. There were works by Michelangelo, Bernini, Giotto, and other artists, religious relics, and other items. Some of the artifacts dated back to the third century; others (items used by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II) were just a couple of years old.

There were four themes to the exhibit. The first was the evolution of the Church and its papacy beginning with Saint Peter through the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. The next section concentrated on the Renaissance (current) Saint Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel. The third section covered the Papal Swiss Guard, and included some very colorful uniforms that have been worn over the years. Last was an area devoted to the Vatican Museums, which included artwork that had been acquired by the Vatican and religious articles.

Although our ticket allowed us to be admitted to any of the other exhibits in the museum, we were hungry and decided to leave and go to lunch. Thanks to a very informative gentleman in the Information booth, we learned we could walk about a short distance to get to the Little Italy neighborhood, where there were restaurants lining both sides of the street for several blocks. We picked one and had a great lunch, then walked back to University Circle to return back to downtown, and eventually the airport.

We left Cleveland not having done everything that was on our list of things to do, and wanting to go back someday. That's my definition of a good vacation!

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Thing #178--It's Only Rock and Roll

Today was the Main Event of our trip to Cleveland. I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

When people found out we didn't know anyone in Cleveland, they wanted to know why we wanted to go there. I'm a big music fan, and the Hall of Fame and Museum has been on my list of things to do for a long time. I can now say I've done it!

The museum was a short walk from our hotel. We were there at 10:00 when it opened. I had done research at home, and decided to become a museum member. It only cost a few dollars more than the cost of two admissions, and gave me some immediate benefits. I got a t-shirt in a great guitar-shaped box (my souvenir!), and a discount in the gift shop. So while the vast majority of the people headed straight to the admission counter, Tony and I went to the gift shop, became members, then went to the "Members Only" section and didn't have to wait in line to get in.

The building is shaped like a pyramid. We started in the museum on the bottom level, which is where the main exhibition hall is. About 2 1/2 hours later, we had seen most of it, but we thought it was time for lunch.

The other floors were smaller, and held fewer displays. When we left (close to 4:00) we agreed that we had seen most of the exhibits, and all of those we wanted to see. It would have taken MORE than one day to completely digest all the building had to offer!

My highlights:
  • Seeing artifacts that belonged to the artists. I especially enjoyed seeing actual costumes that had been worn on stage.
  • One of the special exhibits (on the very top floor, which was small and intimate) called "Break on Through-The Lasting Legacy of the Doors". There was a Doors concert playing on a video screen in the corner of the room, and the music permeated the area.
  • The movie in the Hall of Fame wing, that highlighted every one of the Hall of Fame inductees. Of course, it also included music!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

New Thing #177-Where Are You Going on Vacation?

When Tony and I were looking for a short vacation getaway for this week, inspiration struck my Inbox when I got an e-mail from Southwest Airlines. One of the cities they were offering a special price to was Cleveland, Ohio. I've always wanted to visit there, so today I went on a vacation that was planned based on the price of the airfare.

When we told people where we were going for vacation, most assumed that we were visiting friends or family there. Not one considered Cleveland as a "real" destination city. It ended up being a great time! Cleveland (at least the downtown area, which is where we spent most of out time) seems comparable to St. Louis:
  • They have a riverfront (also a lakefront, as the Cuyahoga River empties into Lake Erie).
  • They have an area (the Flats) comparable to Laclede's Landing where the original buildings have been repurposed into restaurants and night spots.
  • They've renovated their Terminal Tower-which was the main railroad station-into a mall similar to Union Station.
  • They have a relatively good rail transit system (the RTA) that got us most places we wanted to go.
There's also some things that make Cleveland unique. Because of the way the river twists and turns, there's many bridges in the city. Some of them jackknife or lift to allow large boats to pass under them-very cool to watch. Cleveland has more professional sports teams (along with the requisite stadiums) than St. Louis. However, much to Tony's dismay, we were not able to take in a baseball team because the Indians were out of town.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

New Thing #176--Please Eat the Flowers

I have plain orange day lilies (aka ditch lilies) growing in the back yard. They come up reliably year after year without any effort on my part. I don't think I could get rid of them if I tried! As I was cutting the grass this morning, I noticed the day lilies in bloom and decided to cross something off my list of Things to do. Today I ate flowers from my garden.

I've always been fascinated by edible plants, especially those that can be found in the "wild", or a plant that's grown more for its ornamental properties than its taste properties. Even if it's just the "wild" of my back yard, I enjoy taking leaves from the herbs on my deck to add to dishes, and I've been known to snip chive blossoms in the spring to make a dish look pretty. However, I've never before eaten part of a plant that wasn't marketed as a fruit or vegetable.

Although I know that some fertilizer from the lawn may have sprayed onto the blooms, I figured that eating just a couple of petals couldn't harm me too much. I picked two prime flowers-one for me and one for Tony, brought them inside and washed them thoroughly. When lunch was ready I put a flower on each plate. They really classed things up!

When it was time to eat, I tore off a small piece of a petal, put it in my mouth, and chewed gingerly. The petal was sweet and crunchy, and almost like a crisp lettuce leaf. Not bad. I ate the rest of that petal, and soon finished off all the other ones.

Not that I've eaten the flower and lived to tell, next time I'll put the petals IN a salad. It would make it really colorful.

Friday, July 4, 2008

New Thing #175--Picture It

I'm a horrible photographer. Back when I was using film, I'd have to throw away at least half of every roll, because the camera had discharged in my purse, or I'd take a picture of someone's foot, or the camera strap got in the way, or something else had gone wrong. I have boxes full of fuzzy pictures of the kids I can't bring myself to get rid of, because if I did I wouldn't have anything left! At least with my digital camera I can delete the worst mistakes and not spend the money to print them.

My camera has many settings, but I just use the Simple mode. I've also learned how to use the zoom. Everything else is too complicated. Ms. Point-and-Shoot, that's me.

But there's no way to take a picture if you don't have your camera with you. I have a problem remembering to even bring the camera. Today was a case in point. We went to a picnic this afternoon. I put the camera case in the car, got to the picnic, and left the camera in the car. After dinner, we decided to walk to a fireworks display at Manchester City Park. I put the camera in my tote bag along with the bug spray and blanket.

We arrived about 7:00, found a place to sit with some acquaintances from church, and started talking. Before I knew it, the fireworks had started. Shortly after that I realized that I might want to get my camera out and use it. I vaguely remembered that my camera had settings for different types of light, so I switched over to that position on the dial, and discovered (HOLY CRUD!!) that my camera had a mode specifically for fireworks! Tonight I took pictures with the Fireworks mode on my camera.

Here's one of my creations:

I'm certainly not ready to join the professional leagues yet, but this is much better than I usually do!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Thing #174--Huh?

My plans for today had to morph as an upshot of a long chat with a good chum. I thought about an unusual Thing that I could do in a short span I had, but I was at a loss. I had to do an activity that would allow satisfaction and fulfill my conditions.

Following long thought, I found a solution. My daily product would last only for today, as all good Things should.

It was difficult, and took much work, but today I could author a post without a part of our array of symbols with which I scrawl words.
It's really hard--try it yourself sometime.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

New Thing #173--Two Trillion Methods

I have a really hard time finding shoes to fit my feet. I've had the perfect pair of white Keds mary janes for several years. They finally hit the dust earlier this year, though, and I had to throw them out. It was time to go shoe shopping for a replacement.

My criteria for these shoes:
  • They needed to fit well
  • I wanted white so they would go with anything. I'm trying to cut down on the amount of shoes in my closet.
  • They needed to be dressy enough to wear with skirts or capris
  • I had to be able to be wear them without socks. Skirts and socks just don't mix, in my opinion!
  • I had to be able to walk several miles in them (to church, for example)
  • I didn't want to spend a lot of money. The ideal price point was less than $50
I could find shoes that met MOST of my criteria, but nothing that met them all. I even raised the amount of money I was willing to pay; still no success. After going to almost a dozen stores I got tired of looking. I gave up and bought a pair of old school white canvas Keds lace-ups. The only problem was that the bow and laces flopping around made them look less dressy, so today I learned how to lace my shoes in an unusual way.

I returned to Ian's Shoelace Site, where I learned to tie my shoes earlier this year. The "lacing page" indicated there are 2 trillion ways to lace a shoe with six pairs of eyelets! I only needed one, so I started clicking through to some of his examples.

I tried two different ways. The first was Display Shoe Lacing, because it ended up with the lace ends tucked inside. However, the laces really hurt my feet. The second way (and the one I settled on) was the Hidden Knot Lacing. As the name would indicate, the knot (and shoelace ends) are hidden inside the shoe. In Ian's words, "By hiding the knot underneath, the result is an uninterrupted series of straight 'bars' that looks particularly distinctive on dress shoes or sneakers alike."

I'm ready to wear my distinctive-looking, newly-laced shoes to work today!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New Thing #172--Cut It

Last night Tony and I went to Whole Foods for dinner (since he'd not been yet, and wanted to go), then we did a little bit of shopping.

The store had a lot of samples displayed; in the produce section we tried pineapple, mango, and oranges. I realized that I had never purchased a mango, so I put a couple in my bag. I wasn't sure how to serve the fruit, so I did some research, and learned how to cut and serve a mango.

I used the "How to Cut a Mango" page on the Simply Recipes Website for my research. The process looked pretty easy:
  • Stand the mango on its end, stem side down. Cut from the top of the mango down one side of the oblong pit, then repeat with the other side.
  • Take a mango half and use a knife to make lengthwise and crosswise cuts in it, without cutting through the peel.
  • Take the fruit off the peel with your fingers, or by using a small paring knife to cut the the pieces off.
  • Get the flesh off the middle section with the pit, then peel it.
I used my cook's prerogative and ate all of the fruit from the middle section myself as I was preparing dinner. I served the mango in custard cups for dessert tonight. It was yummy!