Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

I've never really thought about the verses of this song before, but some of them don't make sense. Do geese really lay eggs in the winter? The only experience I have is with the ubiquitous Canadian Geese that have taken up residence (and have become pests) here; they only nest in the spring.

I think it would be interesting to eat a goose egg. They're four times bigger than a chicken egg, and according to my research the much bigger yolk is very firm, almost custard-like, and makes a richer baked product. Unfortunately, I won't be enjoying one this year. Maybe in 2010.

Here's a fable from Aesop about geese:

THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGGS

A man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once. But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose. Thus, they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped, nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.

Moral: Much wants more and loses all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Just like yesterday, today's verse also has an error. Originally the fifth day's gift of golden rings referred to ring-necked birds such as the ring-necked pheasant, not jewelery (or napkin rings, as The Chic Chauffeur suggested). However, I'd rather have gold the metal rather than more birds or napkin rings, so we're going with that.

Today I checked out gold rings, as well as other types of jewelry, when I went to a jewelry store at the mall to redeem a coupon. Last year when I signed up for this store's loyalty program I must have given them my birthday, because somehow they knew I have one coming up. Earlier in the week they sent me an email which offered me a pair of freshwater pearl earrings. All I had to do is come into the store to collect them. I don't really need another pair of pearl studs, but I couldn't pass up the chance to get something for free.

Son Tony came with me on the adventure. Fortunately, the Christmas frenzy was over at the mall. I scored a premium parking space in the garage, the return I made at one of the department stores went quickly, and we didn't have to deal with hordes of crazed shoppers on our way to the jewelry store.

This mall has a lot of places to buy jewelry. There are four dedicated stores, several kiosks, and three department stores offering merchandise. The store we were headed for was on the top floor at the intersection of two aisles. The entire storefront is open; you can enter it from either side.

Although one of the associates was busy, there was another one just standing there; she immediately asked if I needed some help. I gave her the coupon, and followed her as she walked to the sales desk, admiring the shiny rings and necklaces as I walked past them. It only took her a few minutes for her to enter something into the computer, then she gave me a small drawstring jeweler's bag and told me to have a great birthday. I was amazed that she didn't try to show me something else or pressure me in any way.

I was skeptical about the quality of the giveaway, but the earrings are quite nice. They're button shaped (not perfectly round, but flattened on top), and silver-white in color. The posts are only 10 Kt gold, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.


I like to think that the composer of this song was a woman. Today her true love sent her more birds...four calling birds. However, they're not what you might think. According to the Wikipedia entry, over the years some errors have slipped into the original version of the song; one of them occurs in today's verse. The four calling birds were originally four colly birds, another word for a blackbird.

With that in mind, I started thinking about blackbirds. A little research revealed that the colly birds in the song (Old World Blackbirds) aren't the same as New World blackbirds. They're actually a completely different species. Although both groups contain birds of all colors, many of them are black, like the grackles, cowbirds, and occasional red-winged blackbirds I see in my area.

Other information:
  • In the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence four and twenty of them were baked in a pie.
  • The SR-71 Blackbird plane was a reconnaissance aircraft used from the 1960s through the 1990s.
  • The Blackbyrds was a rhythm and blues group in the 1970s.
  • "Blackbird" is a Beatles song from the album The Beatles (AKA The White Album).
Time for a sing-along:



Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Third Day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.


On the third day of Christmas, your true love gave you…chickens. Female chickens, or hens, to be precise. But not just any hens--French hens. Ohh la la!

Chickens are one of the most popular domesticated animals in the world. There are hundreds of hybrids, but Wikipedia lists six types in the category "French chicken breeds": Bresse, Crèvecœur, Faverolles, Houdan, La Flèche, and Marans. I wonder if the author of the song had a particular breed in mind?

I don't know about you, but when I think of chicken, I think of dinner. However, I wasn't in the mood for elaborate French food, so I decided to go with a simple Oriental-inspired meal. In honor of today's hens I baked some frozen popcorn chicken and served it with spicy mustard, stir fried broccoli with garlic and a bit of sesame oil, and cooked some rice.

Somehow I think the chickens would approve.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Second Day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

What exactly is a turtle dove? Wikipedia says:
The Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur), also known as European Turtle Dove, is a member of the bird family Columbidae, which includes the doves and pigeons...a New World dove of similar appearance and behavior to that of the Turtle Dove is the Mourning Dove.
Oh....ok. I'm familiar with Mourning Doves. We see them year round at the bird feeder. They nest on the porch columns in the summer, and I watch the fledglings learn how to fly. I enjoy hearing their mournful call, although the whistling sound they make when they fly away can be a bit annoying.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I got out of bed this morning, the grass was covered with a light blanket of snow, and fluffy flakes were still flying through the air. The skylight in the kitchen was completely covered, which lent a surreal quality to the room. The snow finished an hour or so later; there was less than an inch of snow in total, and nothing on the streets.

After lunch I went out to fill the empty bird feeder on the deck, leaving a trail of footprints on the snow-covered slats. Some time later I looked at the feeder from the kitchen window and saw quite a sight: four mourning doves were perched on the feeder tray, another two were in the red bud tree next to the deck, and a seventh bird was on the deck rail. Their dark feathers were a wonderful contrast to the white snow.

I grabbed my camera, but the birds were gone before I could get a picture of them. Even through the closed window, I could hear them as they flew away.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The First Day of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

In the everyday world, I've been inundated with Christmas sights and sounds since before Thanksgiving. However, in the liturgical calendar of the church, the Christmas season is entirely different. It starts on Christmas and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th), which celebrates the visit of the three kings to the Christ Child.

The twelve days in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas are the period from the day after Christmas (December 26) to Epiphany. In honor of partridges and pear trees, here's part of the present I received from my niece in our family Rob Your Neighbor game:

The wonderful faux pear is more almost seven inches inches tall, and looks great on the bookshelf in the family room (although it may find a permanent home above the kitchen cabinets after the holidays).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas


Years ago I took my Christmas planning seriously (think Martha Stewart). However, over the years I've become more laid back about the whole thing. Maybe too laid back. When I woke up today, I realized the extended family will be at the house tomorrow for dinner. I've made the menu and done the shopping, but hadn't thought at all about what the dining room should look like. It needed attention to make it company-ready.

One of my goals today was to stay out of any kind of store, so I had to decorate with what I had around the house. There's a box of Christmas linens I've acquired over the years, but many of them aren't big enough for the dining room table when it's stretched to its maximum length. After a bit of searching, I found a length of green material in my fabric stash that could pass as a tablecloth. A quick spin in the dryer removed the wrinkles.

The table centerpiece was pretty simple. A friend gave me a lovely hurricane candle last month. It had a removable top, and she filled the bottom with a beautiful fall garland. I replaced it with a piece of evergreen and silver garland. I found a pair of napkins in the linen box that I'd bought on clearance a few years ago. I refolded them and arranged them on either side of the candle.

The table is set creatively but tastefully. I used the plainest set of china, which is actually two different patterns, but both have silver rims so they coordinate well. The silverware is a mashup of styles. Most of the pieces came from my parents' set, but over the years I've supplemented with other pieces. If you look closely (and I hope you don't), there are also several types of white napkins.

I'm almost ready for the big event, but the table will need a few last-minute details tomorrow. I'll have to light the candle and remove the small stacks of dessert plates I've stacked all over the empty spaces so the cats don't decide to take a nap on the table tonight!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mr. De Mille, I'm Ready For My Close-up

When I got to the gym today, there was much more action than usual. Turns out they were filming a commercial.

I was there to take a group class, but I was a bit early. I went to the locker room and put my things in a locker, then sat down at a machine to do a bit of exercise while I was waiting for the instructor to arrive. A woman carrying a clipboard came up to me and asked if I was going to be there long. I explained I wasn't, but she still had me sign a waiver form in case I showed up in the background of one of the scenes.

There was a small section roped off in the middle of the main room. The object of interest seemed to be a plate machine, although they'd also moved an abdominal machine close to the first one and perpendicular to it. A large light provided enough illumination to make the immediate area much brighter than normal. A camera mounted on a massive tripod stood next to the light. Several technicians were fiddling with the equipment while an official-looking man ordered them around. Two actresses were in chairs by the front desk having their makeup done. They were pretty normal-looking, which I think the target market this gym is going for.

When the instructor for my class arrived, I moved to the group class room. It has a glass wall in the back that overlooks the main area, so I was able to occasionally look behind me to check on the progress of the filming. It wasn't all non-stop action. The actresses would take their places, get some instruction, and "work out" for a few seconds before they stopped. This was repeated over and over. All the people in the class were feeling sorry for one of them; it looked like she was working so hard! Later I found out she was actually using foam free weights--what looked like a 45 pound disk was actually just a couple of pounds.

They class ended, and I headed for the locker room (going the long way so I "accidentally"walked in the camera's path). I showered, changed my clothes, and got all my stuff together. As I left the building, the crew didn't show any signs of being finished with their filming.

I suspect the commercial will start airing after the first of the year, just in time for people's New Year resolutions to kick in. After watching all the work that went into it, I'm looking forward to watching it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Drummer Boy

Today we went to Grace Church to see a friend's son, who was one of the drummers performing in their Christmas extravaganza, Drummer Boy 09.

Grace Church is one of the largest non-denominational churches in the area. We were told to arrive quite early, and I'm glad we took the advice. About a block from the complex, traffic stopped. It was stop and go until we reached the entrance to the parking lot, where there were people dressed in orange jumpsuits directing cars. After we parked, we followed the crowd towards the building.

The first thing we saw when we entered was people. A lot of people milling around. Standing in line at the coffee bar. Sitting at small tables eating, drinking, and chatting with their friends. It was hard for me to realize I was in a church. Again following the stream of people, we headed towards the auditorium, which had two levels-the main room and a second floor balcony which wrapped around three sides of the huge room. The area was so big that not everyone could see the stage, but there were jumbotron screens on either side of it to show the action.

Although we arrived 45 minutes before the start of the program, the room was almost filled up. We grabbed a place in the second pew from the rear on the right side. Soon we heard an announcement that there was no more room in the auditorium, but "overflow seating" was available in an alternate area. Ten minutes before the hour, there was another announcement that anyone who was saving seats should release them for people who were already here. At showtime, the place was packed.

We had been to a version of the show two years ago, so we knew what to expect. Right after the house lights went down, the spectacle began. The program was a little Stomp, a little Blue Man Group, and a little Trans-Siberian Orchestra with an African and Brazilian flavor. I didn't recognize a couple of the songs (but they conveniently put the words up on the screen), and they put a unique contemporary spin on the "classic" carols. The big production had dozens of percussionists, and a few singers and dancers (including two awesome tap dancers). The sound system really showcased the music, and the light show rivaled anything I've seen at a concert-there were even some lasers flashing around the darkened auditorium.

Halfway through, the pastor got up and said a few words, the ushers passed the basket, and then the lights were lowered again for the second half. When the stage was crowded with performers and huge drums were lowered from the ceiling of the auditorium, I figured we were coming up on the culmination of the program. I was right. The pastor came out for a few more words, then an on-stage duo led the congregation in a short sing-along before everyone started heading back to their cars.

Here's a video of last year's program that gives a taste of the spectacle:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Underdog?

A St. Louis teenager who was frustrated with his classmates' lemming-like following of a popular clothing line came up with a line of parody apparel and now faces a lawsuit for trademark infringement.

The South Butt was started in 2007 by Jimmy Winkelmann, who is now 18. He wanted to poke fun at the kids at his high school who all bought the exact same North Face jackets and vests. Each year he's made a few thousand dollars; at first the money went back into the company, but last year he helped his parents pay for his tuition at the University of Missouri.

Even though the company wasn't very large, it still caught the attention of The North Face. In August they sent him a cease and desist request. The South Butt refused. This month The North Face filed suit.

As you might imagine, all of the media coverage has dramatically increased sales of The South Butt. A couple of places around here are selling the t shirts, fleeces, and shorts. Today I saw a mom wearing the branded hoodie when she dropped her son off for preschool today. She said the first time she tried to get one, the store was out of her size, and she had to wait for another shipment to arrive.

I don't know if I'd wear one of the shirts, but I'm sure I'm not the company's target market; I wouldn't wear a North Face item either.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Third Time's The Charm

Every year Tony and the boys do a great job of putting Christmas lights on the front of the house. The lights are on a timer so they go on at dark, stay illuminated for several hours, and go off by themselves. Unfortunately, I don't see them much. They're not lit when I leave the house in the morning, and it's still bright when I get home from work. Unless I happen to walk out to the mailbox or run an errand after dark, I can go many lightless days.

However, this is what I see from the kitchen:


Several years ago my neighbor decorated her deck. I liked the idea so much I stole it. My kitchen has a bay window that overlooks the deck, so I get to admire these lights every night. It almost didn't happen this year.

We put up the lights the weekend after Thanksgiving. The strand I've used the last few years for the deck decided to kick the bucket, so I went to the drug store to buy a new one. Instead of one 200-light set of colored mini lights, I had to buy 2 100-light models. I came home and after a bit of work had them wrapped around the top deck rail, then plugged them into their timer.

The lights were beautiful. For about a week and a half. Right after I recycled the box and tossed the store receipt, one of the two strands stopped working. I tried tightening each of the bulbs on the offending set, but nothing worked. I added "redo the lights on the deck" to my massive holiday list.

Last weekend we put up the Christmas tree. One of the sets of lights didn't work, so Tony headed out to buy more. He was back very quickly, and told me that our local drug store was out of lights! I've never had that happen. I offered the working ones from the deck; he accepted them, and I set out for the closest big-box hardware store to get something to go on the deck.

The hardware store's Christmas section was hopping. They had ornaments, decorations, artificial trees, and stands for real trees. I got to the lights section. It was pretty much bare, except for several boxes of blue rope lights and one set of white LEDs. Neither was what I was looking for, but I didn't want to drive all over town, so I decided to take a closer look at the white ones. When we replaced some bad strands in the front yard, I said I'd invest in LED strands as I could.

The bulbs must have been returned to the store. They were wound loosely on a spindle, and held on with plastic wrap and clear packing tape. However, it was the only one so I checked the price...five times as much as I'm used to paying for my Christmas lights! I stood in the aisle for several minutes trying to decide if I should go to another store or purchase what I had in my hand.

I decided to go for it, and brought the package home. I plugged the unwound set into the outlet on the deck. Tony (and Donald who was here assisting us with the tree) liked them, so I unplugged them and wound them around the deck rail. I plugged them in and stepped back to see...half of the stupid lights not working! A chunk of the bulbs in the middle of the strand were dark. I wasn't thinking happy thoughts as I took them down. The whole mass got shoved into a grocery bag to take back to the store, and I left the deck dark for the night.

Monday I visited the Customer Service counter of the hardware store to get my money back, then went to another store to see what they had. I was getting pretty discouraged. Once again, the Christmas department of the store was brimming with items, but the lights section was sparse. However, among a stash of boxes of 350-bulb white lights, I spied a box of 350 colored mini lights on the top shelf. Even though it was almost twice as many as I usually use, I grabbed the box and held on tight. No one was going to take it from me!

I didn't have time to install the lights before dark last night, but when I got home from work today I made it my first task. The weather was much less pleasant than it was the other times I did the job; today I had to stop in the middle to come in and warm my hands up. However, the results are worth it. As I was cooking dinner tonight, I was able to look out the window and admire the cheery Christmas glow.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time To Have Some Fun!

This challenge has now popped up on two different blogs in my reader, so I guess I better play. The first was Nancy's Life in the Second Half; the next was Emom at Life in the 2nd Half Century. Mandy at Mandy's Life After 30 came up with the idea.

Here are 25 questions to let you know more than you could possibly want to know about me. If you're reading this post, then you must:

(a) leave a comment and answer the 25 questions below,

(b) write the answers to the questions below in your own blog post (if you have a blog, that is) or

(c) call yourself a scrooge in the comments below and refuse to answer them.

I hope you choose (a) or (b) but if you choose (c) then I'll just let the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future deal with you. If you do decide to write your own blog post about it, please mention Mandy since she is the author of these important questions. (Writers credit and all that jazz - thanks!)

(1) What is your favorite Christmas movie? I don't really have one favorite. For old movies, it would be It's a Wonderful Life. If I'm wanting something new, The Santa Clause always makes me laugh. Even though it's not completely about Christmas, I enjoy Meet Me In St. Louis (imagine that!), and the holidays aren't complete without seeing at least part of A Christmas Story.

(2) What is your LEAST favorite Christmas movie? One year my boys tried to start a new family tradition on Christmas Eve--watching holiday episodes of Family Guy and South Park. Ugh!

(3) What is your favorite Christmas song? Too many to list...but I have a soft spot for Holiday Sing Along with Mitch by Mitch Miller and the Gang. My parents had the LP when I was a kid, and it was part of my collection when my kids were young. Now I have it on CD.

(4) What Christmas song(s) drives you crazy? Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. However, Boudreaux's Christmas (Boudreaux Got Run Over by a Mudboat), which is basically the same thing with a Cajun spin, always makes me laugh.

(5) What is your favorite Christmas drink? (i.e. egg nog, hot chocolate) Instant hot chocolate mixed with coffee instead of water.

(6) What is your favorite Christmas memory? The year Tony went with a friend to cut a tree on the friend's country property. He came home with one so tall it almost touched our ten-foot tall ceiling! The tree was so top heavy we had to tie it to the wall with fishing line secured to hooks.

(7) What is the best toy/gift you've received on Christmas? Anything my kids made for me.

(8) What is the worst toy/gift you've received on Christmas? Does it make me an incurable optimist if I can't think of one?

(9) What do you LOVE about the holidays? The feeling of goodwill and spirit of giving. People going out of their way to help others.

(10) What annoys you about the holidays? The commercialization of the season.

(11) Do you prefer star or angel on top of a Christmas tree? Or something else? For the past few years we've used a crystal-looking topper that's shaped like an onion dome. Before that it was a shiny gold star.

(12) What is your family favorite recipe at Christmas? I don't really have one. Christmas is our holiday to host the extended family, and I serve something different every year. That's my tradition!

(13) Are you a Grinch or a Who at Christmastime? Definitely a Who!

(14) Christmas light displays - Love them or Hate them? Love looking at them, not so thrilled about putting them up and taking them down at our house.

(15) Santas at the mall - Fun times or Creepy? I think Santas are fun, but they look so lonely when they're sitting there by themselves with no kids.

(16) Christmas cards - do you send them, yes or no? We send fewer than we used to, but I love receiving them, and the best way to receive is to give, too!

(17) What is the best thing about Christmas, in your opinion? Having the whole family home.

(18) What is the worst thing about Christmas? Cleaning up after it!

(19) When do you put the tree up and take it down? We put it up sometime in the middle of the month on a day when the calendar's empty. When the kids lived at home, it would be a day when everyone was available to help. I take it down sometime after New Year's Day, after I put all the other decorations away.

(20) Out of the 12 days of Christmas, which day and item would you want your true love to give to you? Five Gold Rings. Everyone needs a little bling!

(21) Why do you think that Grandma got run over by a reindeer? She forgot to look both ways before she crossed the street..

(22) Who is your favorite reindeer? Rudolph. Gotta admire his spunk!

(23) Do you believe in Santa Claus? Absolutely!

(24) What is your favorite smell at Christmastime? Anything baking.

(25) What would make you happy at Christmas this year? Seeing the surprised look on everyone's face when then open their presents.

Thank you and pass it on!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fiesta

Today was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and we attended a bi-lingual Mass and fiesta in honor of the day. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, is important to Mexican Catholics and has been given the titles of "Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas" and 'Patroness of the Americas".

Our parish church has been designated as one of the "hubs" for the area's Catholic Hispanics. There is a Spanish Mass on Sunday evenings, and one of the priests works with both the English and Spanish communities. The past few years the feast has been celebrated on the Sunday closest to the actual day, but since it fell on the weekend this year they went all out.

The day started with an overnight prayer vigil and a solemn procession in the afternoon. When we arrived for Mass, I heard drumbeats before we entered the building. As we picked out a place to sit, I saw a group of teenagers dressed in Indian costumes dancing to the rhythm of the drum in front of the altar. They were shaking maracas, and their costumes were covered with beads that rattled when they moved. They danced for about five more minutes, then left to assemble in the back of church. When the entrance procession started, they led the way.

After the first reading, there was going to be a reading and reenactment of the Guadalupe story. However, the group wasn't ready, so they ended up doing it after the Gospel reading. The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, according to my program:
As a widower, Juan Diego was prone to long periods of silence. He walked every Saturday and Sunday to church, and on cold mornings, like other members of his Indian tribe, wore a woven cloth called a tilma, or ayate made with coarse fibers from the maguey cactus for cotton was only used by the upper class Aztec.

On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he reported the following: As he was walking to church, he heard the sound of birds singing on Tepeyac hill and someone calling his name. He ran up the hill, and saw a Lady, dressed like an Aztec princess. The Lady spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue. She called him “Xocoyte,” her little son. He responded by calling her "Xocoyata", his littlest daughter. The Lady asked Juan Diego to tell the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumárraga, that she wanted a "teocalli", a sacred little house (church) , to be build on the spot where she stood, in her honor, where:

“I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help
and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings,necessities and misfortunes.”

Recognizing the Lady as the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego went to the bishop as instructed, but the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga was doubtful and told Juan Diego he needed a sign. The Lady promised Juan Diego she would give him a sign the following day. According to Juan Diego, he returned home that night to his uncle Juan Bernardino’s house, and discovered him seriously ill. The next morning December 12, Juan Diego decided not to meet with the Lady, but to find a priest who could administer the last rites to his dying uncle. When he tried to skirt around Tepeyac hill, the Lady stopped him, assured him his uncle would not die, and asked him to climb the hill and gather flowers. It was December, when normally nothing blooms in the cold. There he found roses from the region of Castille in Spain, former home of bishop Zumárraga. The Lady placed the roses carefully inside the folded tilma that Juan Diego wore and told him not to open it before anyone but the bishop. When Juan Diego unfolded his tilma before the Bishop roses cascaded from his tilma, and icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously impressed on the cloth, bringing the bishop to his knees.

The bishop acknowledged the miracle and within two weeks ordered a shrine to be built where the Virgin Mary had appeared. He entrusted the tilma with the image to Juan Diego, and permitted him to live in a small hermitage near the shrine, and the spot where the Virgin Mary had appeared. Juan Diego told the story to all the pilgrims who came to pray there, propagating the account of the apparitions in Mexico.
Because it was a bi-lingual celebration, the priest and deacon moved back and forth between Spanish and English. All of the music was in Spanish; I recognized some of the songs, although I couldn't really sing along. During a couple of the prayers, we were instructed to recite in either language. It was really confusing!

After Mass everyone was invited to the school cafeteria for a meal. When we got there the line wasn't too long, but it quickly stretched out the door! There were taco chips and salsa on each table. We went through the cafeteria line to get our food. Each plate contained a tamale, a large spoonful of pork in green chili sauce, beans, and rice, and I picked up a bowl of excellent soup that contained meat, vegetables, and hominy. There were several tables covered with desserts, and the drink station was set up in the corner.

The atmosphere was chaotic, but in a good way. A DJ set up his equipment in the corner of the cafeteria and started playing. The entire cafeteria filled up, and the extra people were directed to tables in a couple of the school classrooms. There were children running around and playing with their friends, and adults talking animatedly.

After we finished our dinners, we sat for a few minutes, then decided to leave so someone else could have our seats. We said goodbye to our table mates, threw our trash away, and left. I was glad we decided to attend.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Solid As A Rock

The countertops, island, and desk in our kitchen still have the original Formica on them. They're pushing 20 years old, and it's time for an upgrade. After a lot of research, Tony and I decided on a company who will install granite for us early next year. Today I went to the granite wholesaler to pick out the slabs of stone that will be made into our new countertops.

Tony and I tried to do this project last weekend. We met our designers at the warehouse, only to learn that the people who were authorized to move the stone weren't available. Although I was disappointed I couldn't cross the task off my list, we got a great tour of the facility while we were there. The huge warehouse had several long aisles with granite slabs of every imaginable color and pattern. They were standing on end, several deep, lining both sides of the aisles. Each type had a sign on the floor in front of it that told its name, and sometimes what country it came from. We had seen a lot of samples when we got our estimate, but the stones looked much different as complete slabs.

When we got to the last aisle we saw the style we'd chosen. The slab that was in the front of the stack had several occlusions (large splotches of minerals) that looked like ink stains. That's NOT at all what we wanted, so I made an appointment to come back a second time to look at other slabs.

The warehouse had been quite cold on Saturday, and I wasn't looking forward to being there in today's frigid weather. I was pleasantly surprised. All the truck bays were closed, and there was a heating system that was working pretty well. I still kept my coat on, but didn't need to pull out my gloves.

It was fascinating to watch the process of slab moving. It was a two person operation. One worker drove a crane with large rubber-lined tongs on the end. The second assisted him by using a crowbar to move the top of a slab forward a couple of inches--enough to put a wedge in. That gave the tongs a chance to slip in between the two pieces. He secured a fastener on the tongs, which allowed the piece to be picked up a few inches and moved out of the way.

After they pulled several pieces out, I was able to make my selection. Each slab had a unique SKU numbers that they wrote on my paperwork. They also stuck labels with my name on the two slabs. I signed off on my decision, and it was done. The warehouse will call my company and let them know the slabs are waiting.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished product!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

....gnitseretnI

(In case the title has you stumped, try reading it backwards.) Crazy? No, just Google Mirror


A mirror site is an exact copy of another Internet site, so that multiple sources of the same information are available. It's usually on a different server, in case the first one gets too busy or has something go wrong. Google Mirror is a play on this idea, except instead of an exact replica, it's a real mirror image of the site. It's the brainchild of All Too Flat.

The site uses the classic Google logo, not the alternate one that was on the official site today. It was really strange seeing all the familiar words and graphics backwards on my screen. Even the textbox is flipped, so you have to enter search queries backwards. For example, to search for "cats" you can type:
  • stac
  • c [backspace], a [backspace], t [backspace], s [backspace].
Either way it's a laborious process.

The Google Search and I'm Feeling Lucky buttons were also on the opposite sides of the screen than what I'm used to. In my first couple of experiments I clicked in the incorrect place and got it wrong.

Playing around with this site was a lot of fun. I don't know that I'd ever use it on a regular basis, but there have been several instances of people in China being able to use Google Mirror after the government blocked the official Google site. It's amazing that something that started out as a parody has been able to be so useful!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fun On The Freeway

Highway 40 is a major road through the St. Louis area. Since the beginning of 2008, we've been unable to take it to many of our destinations, because two different five mile sections of it have been shut down for reconstruction. Last year when the first section re-opened Tony and I attended a celebration and walked on the roadway before it opened to cars. When they announced that they were going to have another event for the second portion of the road, we knew we had to be there. The day was today.

The whole thing was very well organized. Although you could enter at any of the reconstructed interchanges, we drove to the eastern end and took a shuttle bus to the highway ramp at Hampton. There were hundreds of people taking advantage of the opportunity to walk on the road before it opened to traffic; from a distance, the highway was full of color.

This year they designated the westbound lanes for pedestrians and the eastbound ones for bikes, which made the whole thing run more smoothly. The only thing I had to watch out for was a couple of piles of dog poop. There were dogs of every size, from dachshunds to Great Danes.

I saw babies in strollers, toddlers being pulled in wagons, young children on tricycles and bikes with training wheels, and a few on their parent's shoulders. A woman on a handicapped scooter was slowly making her way down the road, and a older gentleman using a cane walked deliberately by himself. One or two joggers breezed by. A group of skateboarders were taking advantage of some slight inclines in the road. When they'd get down to the bottom of one, they were going pretty fast. Later I saw them on the bicycle side, which was probably more appropriate.

Not everyone was walking on the pedestrian side. There was a dad and his son throwing a football back and forth, an group of people playing Four Square, and a collection of people on yoga mats practicing their sun salutations. (I found out they were doing some advertising for a nearby studio.) We walked past the area where they were going to have an official ribbon cutting ceremony later in the day. The rows of folding chairs in front of the stage took up a good portion of those lanes.

The median had been decorated with chalk in several spots. I found a small piece and added a bit:


We walked about two miles to the west, and then turned around and made our way back to the starting point. By the time we started walking up the exit ramp to leave, I was ready to be done. The temperature this afternoon was in the upper 30s, and the slight breeze didn't help. When we finished walking and got back on the shuttle bus, it was nice and warm!

Some parts of Highway 40 have been in use since the 1930s--long before the Interstate system was developed. It was long overdue for an upgrade; now that the road is up to current standards, the signage all says Interstate 64. Will anyone in the area ever call it that, though?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Changes

Since I started working as a preschool teacher assistant over the summer, my schedule has been pretty much the same. I work three partial days a week (starting at 11:15) , and one whole day (arriving at 8:30 in the morning) in Classroom A, where all the students are four or five years old. That program finishes at 2:00. Most days I transition over to Classroom B, the extended day program, which has students of several ages, for an hour or so. However, everything revolves around the number of students in each classroom.

Two students left the school last month, so my hours were decreased. I was no longer needed in the extended day room every afternoon, and there weren't enough students in Classroom A to justify all the time I was there. However, I've been able to shift gears a bit and spend additional time concentrating on two of the special-needs children who needed extra help.

In Classroom A I'm working with a child that needs more one-on-one help to meet his annual goals. I've done things like supervising him while he sorts manipulatives into categories, helping him count sets of one, two, or three items, and playing games with him and some of the typically developing students in the classroom, who model behavior like taking turns. I also get to tag along when he has time scheduled with the Speech Pathologist or the Occupational Therapist. If there's a downside, I'm also doing more of the bathroom duty; this child is still working on toileting skills.

Another change in my duties is in the extended day room. There is a young boy with autism who attends one of the classrooms in the building. His mother would like him to stay for a while after his regular classroom day has ended, but he doesn't like the open, boisterous atmosphere of the extended day program. Ideally he'll transition into the room on a daily basis but right now he's coming two times a week. Guess who's helping him out?

He's there for an hour before his mother arrives to pick him up. We always start off in the large group environment, although we stay somewhat to ourselves at a table. I have a list of suggested activities from one of the assistants in his regular classroom. We paint, glue, and use stickers. He likes to listen to books and play with Duplos. Sometimes we successfully stay in the room the whole time, but sometimes we move to a different classroom so it's just him and me. We do the same activities, but in a much quieter atmosphere.

I was initially concerned when I found out that my job description was changing, but I'm having fun and learning a lot. You never know when the extra skills may prove to be helpful in the future.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mmmmm.....

Today is Mr Toast's 1st Annual Christmas Tea! All his guests are gathering in Aspen ready for the festivities. He promises "all the goodies with none of the carb guilt"!

Having never been to a tea before, I wasn't sure what to wear. The invitation did call for formal attire, but since the event starts in the late afternoon, I was pretty sure I didn't need evening wear. After a lot of thought, I chose this outfit from Nordstrom's:



The eyelash knit jacket looks soft and warm, and the "Caviar Shimmer" color promises to provide a bit of shine. I hope it sparkles when I stand next to the fireplace with my cup of tea!

I don't believe Mr. Toast would be at all offended if you'd like to pop in on him unannounced. Although the tea itself runs from 4:00-7:00 MST, there's a Pre-Tea event beginning at 3:00 pm, and the festivities continue for several hours at the after party. It sounds like he's having quite a crowd.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Illuminate Me

Earlier this weekend we put up the outside Christmas lights. The weather was nice, and Tony recruited the boys to help him on the front side of the house. Before he started, he tested the lights in the family room and then asked the yearly question, "How come the lights were working when we took them down, but they don't work when it's time to use them again?"

Last January we carefully took the strands off the house, wound them around light holders, and put them in the closet under the basement stairs. They should have been out of harm's way there, but as always, one strand wouldn't light this year. Tony spent a bit of time trying to find the offending bulb(s), but in the end he decided it wasn't worth his time. I was on my way to Walgreens, so I bought him a strand to replace the one that wasn't any good.

What do you do with the strands that no longer light up? In the past I would guiltily throw them in the trash, but this year I remembered hearing about an opportunity to recycle them. A bit of research led me to the Website of stlouisgreen.com.

I found out that several Wal-Marts in our area were collecting old or unworkable holiday lights for recycling; one of the stores was only a couple of miles from the house. Today Tony and I took our discards and dropped them in the container in the garden center. I was glad to see that the large box meant to hold the discarded lights for recycling was about half full, and I'm wasn't the only one taking advantage of this recycling program.

I know Wal-Mart's motives aren't completely selfless; they're hoping that you buy new lights there. They were really pushing the LED ones. I know that LEDs last longer and use less energy, but I don't want to mix the two light types. I think I'll try to buy new strands for next year when they're on clearance after the holidays. I hope I'll still be able to recycle the old ones!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Make Trade Fair

I've never gotten up early to shop the day after Thanksgiving, and I don't know that I ever will. However, that doesn't mean I don't buy anything the first shopping weekend of the holiday season. For the last few years, it's been a tradition at our house to do some socially responsible and conscious consumerism at (as their advertising touts) "the nation’s largest Fair Trade Market" at Manchester United Methodist Church.

I think Fair Trade is a great concept. It ensures that producers (usually in Third World countries) get a fair price for their work so they can make a decent living. It prohibits child labor and forced labor, guarantees that men and women receive equal pay for equal work, and ensures safe and healthy working conditions.

The MUMC market has been held for seven years. Originally, it lasted one weekend and they brought in their merchandise from one Fair Trade store in the area. Now it lasts for two weekends and this year they had six different vendors. There was clothing, jewelry, art, musical instruments, games, home décor, food, books, toys, and holiday items from more than 50 countries for sale.

I think they had an even wider selection of goods this year than in previous years. I saw the all my favorites-the beautiful soapstone sculptures, the South American fabric throws and purses, the Peruvian alpaca scarves and hats, and the wide selection of Christmas ornaments. However, there were also beautiful (microwave safe!) dishes from Africa, packages of yummy-looking dried fruit, and handmade body-care products. The most unique item? Elephant dung paper journals and stationary!

Although a lot of the products at the Market were for women and children and my gift list skews more towards adult males, I didn't come away empty-handed. Neither did Tony! After we finished our shopping, we stopped at a small performance stage and watched some traditional dances from the country of India.

If they follow their pattern, next year's market will be held the weekend before Thanksgiving and the weekend after. If you live in the St. Louis area, it's well worth a visit.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slow Cooker French Dip

The whole family was home for Thanksgiving, so I made sure the refrigerator and pantry were stocked with a variety of foods. Turkey and dressing are wonderful, but I figured that over the course of the weekend we'd be ready to move on to something else.

I love this French Dip for its taste and convenience. I cooked the roast and cooled it, sliced and layered it in a casserole, then poured the au jus over the top and put the whole thing in the refrigerator so everyone could help themselves to a sandwich whenever they wanted.

It's important to use bread that won't fall apart when it's saturated with juice!

SLOW COOKER FRENCH DIP
4 pounds rump roast
2 (10.5 ounce) cans beef broth
1 envelope dry French onion soup mix
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer
Italian bread or crusty rolls

Trim excess fat from the rump roast, and place in a slow cooker. Add the beef broth, onion soup mix and beer. Cook on Low setting for 7 hours. Slice as thinly as possible against the grain of the meat.

Serve on good Italian bread or crusty rolls and use the juices for dipping.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Father, We Thank Thee
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

For flowers that bloom about our feet,
Father, we thank Thee,
For tender grass so fresh and sweet,
Father, we thank Thee,
For the song of bird and hum of bee,
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

For blue of stream and blue of sky,
Father, we thank Thee,
For pleasant shade of branches high,
Father, we thank Thee,
For fragrant air and cooling breeze,
For beauty of the blooming trees,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

For this new morning with its light,
Father, we thank Thee,
For rest and shelter of the night,
Father, we thank Thee,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last Name Game

A friend sent me this. I had fun coming up with the different answers. It's harder than it looks! Every word has to be real; nothing can be made up.

If you try it, let me know how you do.
  • What is the first letter of your last name-----G.
  • 4 Letter Word-----give
  • A Boy's Name-----George
  • A Girl's name-----Gail
  • An Occupation-----garbage collector
  • A Color-----green
  • Something you wear-----glasses
  • A Beverage-----Gatorade
  • A Food-----guacamole
  • Something found in the bathroom-----guest towel
  • A place-----Georgia
  • A Reason for being late-----got lost
  • Something you shout-----Go!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hooray For Me!

What good is it having a blog if you can't toot your own horn? My presentation on Saturday went fantastically, thank-you-very-much.

I was the last of several speakers that were presenting to a group of women from numerous churches over a three-day period. I didn't have a lot of time to think about my presentation early on, but whenever I did I was a bit nervous. Would I make a mistake? Would I forget what I had to say? Would the audience like what I had to say? At breakfast Saturday morning, several people wished me luck. It made me feel less apprehensive, knowing they were pulling for me.

After breakfast we met in the conference room to get the day started. The first speaker of the day gave her awesome talk, then finished it with inspiring music that got me pumped up; it was a signal that it was almost time for me. When her music finished I left the room to get ready. Since I was speaking after breakfast, I had originally dressed in jeans and a tee--I didn't want to have any spills down the front of my good shirt! My dress clothes were in a room off the main foyer of the building, so I quickly grabbed them and changed in the bathroom. I spoke to a couple of my fellow team members for a few minutes, then got a signal that it was time to enter the conference room.

I spoke for about a half-hour. The audience seemed very interested, chuckled at all the appropriate parts, and seemed to empathize with me. I stumbled over a word once or twice, but I don't think it was too obvious. I used my printed script more than I thought I would, but since the other presenters also did, I didn't feel too bad about it.

When I was done everyone applauded. I left the room to change my clothes again, and missed most of the group discussion. However, several people who were there told me that there was some great exchanges going on, and later in the day I had people come and strike up a conversation with me about my talk.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Speak!

I'm not the world's most eager public speaker. I'll do it, but I don't necessarily seek it out. As part of a church event that's happening this weekend, I've been asked to give a presentation. In front of a group. With a microphone. When I was invited to do it over the summer I thought for a few minutes, then said "Yes". Life is boring without challenges!

I've been working up to the main event for a couple of months. Back in September I wrote the first draft of the talk, and presented it to a handful of people. I used their comments to make revisions, and then delivered it to a group of women I know. Again, I got feedback that I used to fine tune my thoughts. I've read over it multiple times since then and tweaked a word or two. This week I printed it out in a large font with double-spaced paragraphs. It will serve as a script, but I'm so familiar with the content by this point that I think I won't have to refer to it much.

In order to boost my confidence on the big day, I've picked out a pair of pants that make me feel good and two different shirts. One is short-sleeved, in case it's warm, and the other is a sweater. I'll bring both and be ready for any eventuality. I'm also putting my most comfortable shoes in the pile of things to take. I'll be standing in front of a podium, and it's hard to feel confident when your feet hurt!

There will be a chance to practice in the room before I give my talk. I'll be able to check out the seating arrangement, the microphone, and the sound system. There will be about 60 people in the audience. Half of them will be friendly faces, so I'll be able to pick them out if I need some reassurance.

After all my practice I'm confident I'll do a good job. I'm hoping to leave all my butterflies HERE, and not take them with me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'll Have Mine With Milk And Sugar

One of my new bloggy friends is Mr. Toast of Hot Toast and Jam. Some time ago he issued an invitation for his first annual Christmas Tea on Tuesday, December 1st; I finally got around to accepting today. I'm not a big tea drinker, but Mr. Toast says he makes an excellent cup; I'm willing to give it a try.

According to the invitation, I'll need to bring some formal attire. Since we're traveling to Aspen for the big event, I'm thinking something in velvet or cashmere would be nice. Or maybe both. The weather here has been unseasonably warm, but our forecast calls for chilly and rainy the next few days, so I hope I can start getting acclimated to the cold.

Would you like to join me? Everyone is invited. Doors open at 2:00 p.m., tea will be out from 4:00 - 7:00 pm, and the after-party will be going until 10:00 pm. It would be best, though, if you'd RSVP to make sure there's enough tea and scones for everyone.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pretty Is As Pretty Does

Today's horoscope said, "You might want to do something very different."

Hmmm...how was I going to fit something unconventional into a very busy day? My To Do list included inside work (doing dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor, dusting, and picking up wads of cat hair from the wood floor in the dining room and foyer) and yard work. At first glance, there was no time for "different". However, I've discovered that adventure is where you make it, so before I jumped into the chores I decided to dress up to do my housework.

When I clean, I usually wear my oldest jeans and a shirt that's already past its prime. That way I don't have to feel bad when they get dirty. Today I pulled on an elastic-waist skirt and a short sleeved button-down shirt that wouldn't be out of place at a nice restaurant. Instead of taking off the earrings I'd been wearing for the morning's activities, I left them on and added a necklace. A pair of casual flat shoes completed my look.

With the inside chores done, it was time to tackle the outside. I changed into a pair of tennis shoes and got ready to start. There are cannas planted in two spots in the backyard and three spots in the front yard; they aren't hardy here, so the rhizomes need to get dug up and come inside until next spring. Unfortunately, the clothes that worked so well inside left something to be desired outside. The skirt kept tangling between my legs as I was digging up the canna clumps, so I went inside and put on a pair of jeans. I did keep on all the other pieces, though.

As I was sitting on the ground by the driveway removing the excess dirt from a clump of cannas the neighbor across the street came out to get her mail. She said 'hello' and gave me a funny look before she went back inside.

I wonder if she was jealous of my "look"?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hard Copy

This week I need to produce several dozen copies of two different documents. Normally this isn't a big deal--all I have to do is make sure that there's paper in the printer downstairs and hit Print-- but our printer is on the fritz. I don't have time to quarterback the problem, so I decided to go to the local copy center and use their copy machines. One problem...I needed to have a good original to put on the machine! After thinking about it for a while, I came up with an easy solution. Today I used the printing system at the local branch of the county library.

I use the library's computers for Internet access most days on my way to work. I log on using my library card number, (which, sadly, I don't have memorized, so I have to pull the card out of my wallet each time), check my e-mail, read a couple of blogs, and sign off. Although I knew there are some basic Microsoft programs installed on the computers, I've never had to use them. They came in very handy for today's project.

My first issue was how to access the documents. I e-mailed the files to myself, so it was easy to retrieve them via the Internet. I opened the Word documents, and got ready to print them. The library's print menu was pretty much like it would be at home, with one additional step. I had to "name" my file so I could identify it when I went to the shared printer. I downloaded both of the documents and sent them to the printer, then logged off my computer. After asking a volunteer who didn't know what I was talking about, I found the printing station centrally located by the checkout desk.

The printer was next to another computer terminal, and connected to a change machine. Fortunately, there were directions predominantly posted. The first step was to log in with your library card number (so I had to pull out my card out of my purse again). That brought up a screen with a queue showing the documents I had sent to be print. I highlighted both documents, inserted the appropriate amount of money in the change machine next to the printer, then clicked "Print". The laser printer hummed for a few seconds, then spit out one of my two documents. Then it went silent.

Where was the other document? It didn't show up on the queue screen anymore, and there were no librarians around to ask for help. I figured the fastest way to resolve the problem was to return to the first computer, pull up my e-mail again, and resend the document to the printer. Of course that meant finding my card a third time, and then a fourth when I returned to the printing station. However, this time the document was there and printed easily.

With documents in hand, I drove to my local chain office supply store, where I printed my things on cardstock and decorative paper. They looked great. Another problem solved

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Never Know Where You're Going To Learn Something New

I've been a Catholic all my life, but the other day on Life at Willow Manor I learned that the Pope (along with the Holy See and the Vatican City State) has his own official anthem.

The music for the Pontifical Anthem and March was composed in 1869 by Charles Gounod for the celebration on April 11, 1869 of Pope Pius IX's silver jubilee. In 1949, Pope Pius XII decided that it would become the papal anthem, and Antonio Allegra, one of the organists of St. Peter's Basilica, wrote Italian lyrics; in 1991 Raffaello Lavagna wrote new lyrics in Latin. If you'd like to read both versions, you can find them on Wikipedia.

Today the march is played at solemn State occasions and ceremonies in which the Pope is present. When the Vatican's flag is ceremonially raised, only the first eight bars are played.

In case, like me, your education didn't include the Pontifical March, here's a version:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Those Who Served

Today is Veteran's Day, a day to honor ALL American veterans, both living and dead. Sadly, though, since the majority of American citizens has never served in uniform, it's easy to overlook the importance of the day.

Government employees had the day off, banks and financial institutions were closed for the day, but none of the other businesses or school districts around here were. As a matter of fact, it's easy to overlook Veterans Day unless you're in the mood to shop. It seemed like every store had special sales to "honor" the day.

I have to admit I forgot the importance of the day as I was getting ready to leave the house this morning. On the way to work, though, I saw the most awesome sight that helped me to remember what Veterans Day was all about. At the entrance to a subdivision, a row of small American flags had been placed in the common ground. Someone took the time out of their day to plant those symbols of our country for everyone else to see. Seeing those flags made me thankful for all the veterans that have sacrificed for our country.

One of the things the 4-and 5-year-olds in my preschool class do every morning is say the Pledge of Allegiance. Many of them don't know all the words, and I don't know how much of it they actually understand, but I stood a little straighter today when I said it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Disappearing Act

Have you ever had this happen to you?

You're composing the best blog post ever. The one that's going to bring you fame and fortune, and win every award in the book.

You've spent substantial time finding the perfect words to convey your meaning.

Right before you're ready to publish the post, you preview it one more time just to make sure. Looks good. You close the preview...AND YOUR WHOLE POST DISAPPEARS!!!!! All that's left is the title.

Makes you want to throw the computer out the window and walk away from blogging...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It Can't Hurt

For the past few weeks I've been having annoying sinus issues. No infections; just intermittent pressure and headaches. Allergy medicine takes care of the problem, but I was getting tired of relying on it. An acquaintance asked me if I'd tried using a neti pot. I hadn't, but based on her recommendation, I thought it might be a good idea. Today I went to my local drug store, bought a neti pot, and used it for the first time.

The neti pot is a small pot used for irrigating the nasal passages with saline solution. It looks like a small teapot with an extra-long spout. They can be made from many materials: ceramic, glass, stainless steel, copper, or plastic. The process has been used for hundreds of years; historically neti pots were used in yoga to assist in clearing the nasal passages, since controlled breathing plays a central role in the discipline. You can't breathe well if your nose is stuffed up!

The use of a neti pot requires mixing up a saline solution (salt and water) that gets poured through the nasal passages. I purchased a "system" that consisted of a plastic pot, packets of powdered saline solution, and a small plastic spoon to mix the solution. According to the packaging, using the system would provide relief for "...nasal congestion, sinus infections, allergies, dry air, post-nasal drip, and rhinitis". Sounded encouraging.

The steps:
  • Prepare the saline solution--a packet of powdered saline in warm water.
  • Stand in front of the sink, bend over, and breathe through your mouth. This closes the passage from the nose to the mouth so water can't get into your mouth or throat.
  • Put the tip of the pot into one of your nostrils so that there's a comfortable seal. The directions recommended starting with the right nostril; however, since I'm left handed I figured it would be better to start with that side.
  • Gently bend your head forward and roll it to the left (right for me) side. The left (right) nostril should be the lowest point. Your forehead should be higher than your chin .
  • The water will enter the upper nostril, and after a few seconds pour out of the lower one.
  • Repeat the process on the other side.
  • After all the water is used, exhale through both nostrils to remove the extra water, then blow your nose to remove the last of the excess mucus and solution.
When I finished the process I didn't feel much of an effect, but after 20 minutes I had substantially less mucous running down the back of my throat. The directions say it can be used as often as every two hours. I know I won't be doing it anywhere near that often!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Non-Corporate

I love supporting local, independent businesses. Today was all about that.

When I left the house, I headed east on Interstate 44 to. My first stop was Euclid Records, in Webster Groves, to pick up a CD I had ordered. We don't have ANY real record stores left in my neighborhood, and I don't know of many in the larger metropolitan area. In my opinion, Euclid Records is worth the drive. They have a wide variety of music, including local bands. I love going through the bins of used CDs looking for hidden gems. They also have a great selection of vinyl records, which is always fun for reminiscing.

After I left, I continued east on the highway to my next stop. The best radio station in the world, KDHX is having their twice-yearly membership drive, and I volunteered to answer phones today. The station is a listener-supported community radio station that has been broadcasting for more than 20 years. I've been a member for many years, but I only started volunteering last year.

All of the on-air personalities at the station are volunteers who are passionate about the music they play. During the course of the week, you can listen to a cappella, country (both alternative and traditional), folk music, blues, jazz, rock, reggae, and urban music. There are also some eclectic shows that can't be categorized, and a few talk shows.

The phone volunteer room had a large table with chairs arranged around it. There were five phones available. Each volunteer had a stack of forms to use when the phone rang; the questions on the form acted like a script to lead us through the whole process. There were periods where the phones were quiet, then suddenly multiple lines would ring. I had a few people hang up on me (wrong numbers? crank calls?), but the majority of the callers were very nice.

The shows are broadcast on the radio and the Internet. During my shift, I took a pledges from people in all parts of the St. Louis area, and from someone in San Francisco. Another volunteer took a call from Phoenix. It was fun talking with some of the staff and the other phone volunteers while we waited for calls. I also got to put faces to a couple of the voices I hear on the radio.

Another one of the highlights of volunteering is the great food they provide for the phone volunteers, usually from independent restaurants. Today it was comfort food from the City Diner; meatloaf, mashed potatoes (homemade, with brown gravy), and corn.

At the end of my shift I walked out to my car for the drive home. I realized I had a great day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Forecaster-In-Chief

Want to have President Obama tell you what the weather is going to be like in your area? Check out Obama Weather. You'll get an avatar of the president dressed in whatever clothing is appropriate for your area.

The site analyzes information from weather.com (including the temperature, humidity, and wind), and then visualizes the best clothes to wear. The site's default temperature readings are in Celsius, but it's easy to switch over to Fahrenheit.

It's not entirely accurate, though. When I entered my city, I got a pretty nice forecast--highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s, with chance of rain on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. That wasn't exactly what I remembered hearing on the radio this morning, so I checked out my local forecast on MSN Weather. It wasn't close to the Weatherman-In-Chief's at all. Then I realized Obama Weather was referring to the weather in Bay St. Louis Mississippi, not St. Louis Missouri!

The site's developers, who live in Belarus, don't seem to have gotten around to my area yet. However, the site does have a lot of different locations throughout the world. It was fun to see how the president would dress in different weather extremes. In Anchorage, he’s wearing boots and a parka. In Miami, it’s a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops.

If you don't want Obama showing you the weather, you can have it delivered by Bender from Futurama, Dr. Gregory House from the Fox drama “House”, or Angelina Jolie.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Blowout

I have really thick hair, and I don't spend a lot of time or energy on it. I wash it in the shower, let it dry naturally, then pull the crown section back and secure it with a barrette. This works well during the warm weather, but now that it's getting cooler it's a bit of a problem.

I used to have quite a bit of time between my shower and leaving for work. Enough time for my hair to dry. However, now I have less time; some days I go straight from the gym to work. Because my hair is so thick, the section I secure with the barrette will often still be wet when I go to bed at night!

Today I stopped by the library to check my e-mail in between the gym and work, and decided to use the bathroom on my way out of the building. As part of their "green" initiative, they've gotten rid of paper towels and installed an energy efficient hand dryer. It's so powerful that it dries your hands in 10 to 15 seconds, and makes the skin on your hands ripple and move around in a weird way.

I've been in this bathroom multiple times, but today, for the first time, I thought about alternate uses for this powerful hand dryer. No one else was in the room, so I decided to use it to blow my hair dry.

It was quite difficult; the nozzle doesn't rotate to blow air up. I had to bend over at the waist, stick my head under the dryer, and get close enough to trigger the automatic motion detector. I ended up getting the underside of my hair more than the top. It did NOT get dry, but in 20 seconds the dampness was substantially gone. An added benefit--when I stood up, my hair was fluffy and tousled like a Cosmo cover girl.

Just the look I was going for as a preschool assistant teacher!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Celebration Of Those Who Have Gone Before Us

Happy El Día de los Muertos (aka The Day of the Dead)!

This day commemorates family members and friends who have died. It's a holiday celebrated in Mexico, and by Latin Americans living in the United States. This afternoon I went to a Day of The Dead observance on Cherokee Street in South St. Louis.

Cherokee Street runs east to west south of downtown. The section east of Jefferson is known as an antiques district. I've shopped there many times, but have never been on the Hispanic District section of the street west of Jefferson. The district, a mixture of restaurants and stores, is five or six blocks long, but the epicenter of today's festivities was the intersection of Cherokee and California Avenues.

According to Wikipedia, Day of the Dead traditions include "building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts." The ad for today's celebration promised music, altars, and samples of traditional food.

Before I commemorated in the afternoon, though, I started with Mass in the morning. November 1st is the Feast of All Saints, which celebrates all the saints--the known ones as well as the unknown. After Mass I came home, ate lunch, and fed the cats before I got in the car to start my adventure. Cherokee Street is a half-hour drive from my house. The street was crowded, and it took a few minutes to find a parking place on a side street at the west end of the district.

There wasn't a whole lot to the festival, but it was still fun. Many of the stores had altars or shrines with offerings to the dead. Some were more elaborate than others. A fake graveyard was set up on the sidewalk at the main intersection. The "deceased" were those who died of breast cancer, the uninsured, and the immigrants who died crossing the border to the United States. The only music I heard was from some speakers in one of the building windows (but it still sounded good).

As I walked down the street, wonderful smells started wafting through the air. When I passed the third taquería, I realized I should have come hungry! Instead of a meal, I stopped and bought a pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) sprinkled with sugar and topped with a squiggle of neon-pink icing.

I stopped to browse in a Mexican grocery store; I always enjoy looking at all the exotic ingredients, and trying to figure out what they're used for. Two pound bags of dried chile peppers? Eight types of white cheese? Fresh nopal cactus? They're all there. I ended up buying some spices and heads of garlic that would cost much more at my local grocery store. At the far end of the area, I found a small flea market in a fenced-off parking lot. I bought a jacket that I thought Son Donald would like, but passed on the jewelry, knick-knacks, and record albums.

As I was getting ready to leave, I thought it would be a shame if I didn't have at least a little Mexican food. Maybe one taco? My plans were derailed, though, when I walked past a restaurant that was giving away decorated sugar cookies. I chose a ghost, and nibbled on it as I walked back to my car. It was a great representation of my day.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick Or Treat, Smell My Feet, Give Me Something Good To Eat !!!

With Tony in Los Angeles, I'm by myself this Halloween. I decided to celebrate it by staying home and handing out candy. I really enjoy seeing all the different costumes and hearing all the corny jokes the trick-or-treaters come up with.

When we moved into this neighborhood 17 years ago there were a lot of young families, but as the subdivision is getting older, there are fewer kids. Last year we had about 100 come to the door; since tonight was Saturday night, I figured we'd get the ones from our subdivision and the other nearby ones.

I wasn't sure what time we'd start getting trick-or-treaters, so at 5:00 I opened all the bags of candy, poured them into a bowl, and put the bowl by the front door. I also added a folding chair and a fleece throw; my plan was to sit in the chair on the front porch once kids started arriving, so I wouldn't have to keep getting up to open the door.


At 5:30 no one had shown up yet. I was bored, so I decided to give myself a black rose spray fake facial tattoo. Later in the evening a girl told me it looked like I had a huge scar on my cheek.





When 6:00 rolled around without anyone ringing the doorbell, I looked out the front window to see if anyone was on the street. (There wasn't.) It was getting dusky, so I turned on the porch light and the foyer light inside the house. At 6:15 I heard a group of kids on the street behind us. I figured they'd be coming my way soon, but the cats (who hide upstairs at the first sign of action) didn't look too concerned. It turns out they were right. No trick or treaters.


At 6:30 I started computing how many calories I'd consume if no one came to the door all night and I had to eat all three 36-count bags of Snack-Size Now and Later.





FINALLY, at 6:43 the doorbell rang. A group of nine kids was arranged on the porch. After they all did their tricks (every one of them a corny joke), I handed out the candy and they ran down the driveway. They were followed a few minutes later by a second group. I debated whether I should move out onto the porch, but decided to wait until it got busier.

By 7:00 three groups had come to the door. I broke down and had some candy from the bowl. I didn't think I needed to worry about running out! At 7:15 I had some more candy. At 7:30 I had a stomach ache from too much candy.

We either don't have any small children left in the neighborhood, or they skipped my house, but we had more than our fair share of middle schoolers and high school-aged kids. Although the traffic never got steady enough to think about sitting outside, when I turned out the lights at 8:45 more than two-thirds of the candy was gone. My Halloween was officially over.

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Best joke of the night: What is a cat's favorite color? Purrrr-ple

Best costume: A homemade Happy Meal. The young man cut a hole for his body in the bottom of a large square box, painted the box red, and glued on a McDonald's logo.

Worst costume: A preteen (maybe ten years old?) dressed in a skimpy outfit that would have been R-rated if she had any body curves at all.