Thursday, April 30, 2009

Enough, Already!

After a beautiful weekend it started raining Monday morning. It was cloudy on Tuesday. We did see a hint of sunshine Wednesday, just long enough for the grass to dry so we could cut it, but the rain started again about bedtime. Today has been nothing but gray with intermittent showers. There's a chance of rain for the next five days. The gloomy weather is starting to get to me.

How wet and gloomy has it been?
  • The damp towel I hung up after yesterday's shower was still clammy this morning.
  • The section of the yard where the sump pump disgorges has eroded a channel from all the water that's been removed from the basement.
  • The strawberries I put in the dehydrator today took hours longer to be done because all of the humidity in the air.
  • The laundry room redecorating has been put on hold; paint chips I hung on Monday are still there. I need to see the colors in daylight before I decide and that hasn't happened yet!
However, I'm trying to put a positive spin on these sodden days, and decided the wet weather wasn't going to stop my outside work. I took my shoes off and squished through the yard to do a bit of work in a perennial bed. There's some humongous dandelions growing in the middle of an clump of lobelia. Most of the 18 inch tall stems were going to seed, so I felt good about getting rid of them before they spewed their seeds all over the yard. The Creeping Jenny, which turns into Galloping Jenny in wet periods like this, got a trimming, and I captured a few pieces of vinca vine that were trying to escape to my neighbor's side of the fence.

When I was done my feet were cold and covered with mud and grass clippings. I scraped the mess off before I came back in the house, and decided that perhaps a sunny day would be better for the next set of yard work.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bird Feeder Bandits

Years ago I proudly hung my boys' Cub Scout-project bird feeders in the Bradford pear tree in our front yard. The feeders attracted many feathered creatures over the years, but when a windstorm knocked the tree down we didn't replace it. I enjoy watching the birds in my yard, but all our remaining trees are too far away from the house to get a good view of the action; I convinced myself that my bird feeding days were over.

At Christmas I was excited to get a new bird feeder, along with a seed tray that attaches to the bottom and a hanger that clamps to the deck rail right outside the kitchen window. I'm having a great time watching the birds at the feeder (and the cats appreciate it too). However, I am NOT enjoying the squirrels that also appeared!

The furry-tailed rodents consume huge amounts of seed. It didn't help that we made it extremely easy for them. All they have to do is scamper across the deck railing and sit in the tray to gorge themselves. At first they'd run away when we banged on the window, but they soon realized there wasn't any negative consequence to the noise and started ignoring it. Now we have to go into the family room and open the door to the deck to get their attention. Sometimes that's enough to scare them away, but often they just run halfway down the deck stairs and wait there until we go back in.

Last week the screw that attaches the tray to the feeder came loose and got lost. Although no tray meant no mourning doves at the feeder (which was sad) it also meant more work for the squirrels (which was a good thing). However, it didn't take long for the wily critters to figure out alternate ways to nosh. This morning I saw a squirrel hanging upside down plastered against the feeder!

I went to our local bird store this afternoon to get a new screw to reattach the tray, and asked if they had any advice about getting rid of squirrels. The clerk told me they sold a capsaicin powder to add to birdseed that's often effective. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers that gives them their "hot" taste. Bird taste buds are insensitive to red pepper, but mammals like squirrels have the receptors to taste the heat. I wondered if the Sams-sized container of red pepper flakes in my pantry could also work, so I decided to try that first before I bought the specialty product. Today I experimented with peppering up bird food to keep the squirrels away.

The store clerk told me capsaicin wasn't guaranteed to work; some squirrels will do ANYTHING to get an easy meal. However, it didn't seem like the project would take a lot of time or energy, so I decided to try. I poured some bird food into a large baking pan, then added a tablespoon of ground red pepper and mixed it up. The pepper wasn't sticking well to the seed, so I added a few drops of hot sauce to moisten the mixture. The pepper now adhered to the seed, and the whole mixture smelled hot to me. I used the new screw to reattach the seed tray to the bottom of the feeder and carefully poured in the seed, then hung the whole thing up.

So far I've seen all the normal birds at the feeder, but no squirrels. I think it would be fun to see what happens when the tree rat takes a bite of pepper-laced seed. Would it break out in copious sweat, or recoil in horror and rush off to drink gallons of milk? The squirrels seem pretty smart. I hope that a few nasty-tasting bites of food will cause them to look elsewhere for their meals.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shake Your Moneymaker

I couldn't tell you the difference between a cha-cha and rumba tune, but I think I exercised to both of them today when I took a Zumba class for the first time.

When I changed gyms, I was excited to see that they offered Zumba, because the old one didn't. Zumba is Colombian slang for 'fast', and was developed by Alberto "Beto" Perez, a Colombian fitness trainer. One day in the mid-1990s, he forgot his regular music and pulled out the Latin-music tapes that he had in his car. His improvised movements based on Latin dances such as the merengue, salsa, samba, and flamenco caught on, and now Zumba classes can be found in many countries around the world.

When I got to the gym the group exercise room was empty, but by the time class started the room was filled. I was a little apprehensive about trying something new, because it seemed like everyone else knew what they were doing, but once the instructor got the music cranked up and the bass line was pumping through the speakers, I decided I wasn't going to worry about looking silly. It was a real party atmosphere!

One of the best parts of Zumba is that it's like a dance class with Latin rhythms that make it easy to move to the beat. The instructor didn't do a whole lot of talking. For the most part everyone just imitated her moves, a combination of fast and slow rhythms, which were simple and repeated multiple times during a song. I got a little more winded than I would have expected; I did a lot of walking as an enumerator, but it wasn't particularly aerobic.

As the class moved into high gear, there was a lot of shimmying and swaying going on. I tried not to look at myself in the mirrors that lined two sides of the room; I didn't really want to know what I looked like. The instructor also added a few hip-hop moves. This body does NOT pop, but did the best I could. No one was paying attention to how I looked.

I couldn't believe how fast the hour went! Since Zumba is offered several times throughout the week, I'll be able to attend regularly and get really good at it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fīnis

Today I concluded my Enumerator job, so I'm no longer an employee of the Census Department. Before I could be released, I attended a meeting where I completed the final paperwork and turned in my handheld computer and name badge.

I actually finished all my work on Saturday. Tony came with me again, which was helpful because a portion of the area had houses spread out on a busy street with no sidewalk or curb to walk along. Tony drove while I jumped in and out of the car, so I was able to save a lot of time. It felt good to mark the area complete, then watch it disappear from my handheld. It felt even better this morning when the rain started coming down; I was extremely grateful that I didn't have to work in the nasty weather today.

From the start, I knew that this was a temporary position, but it was a chance to make a few extra bucks and be part of an historic opportunity. I had some great adventures and talked to a lot of friendly people...and a couple that weren't so friendly. I found some subdivisions in my area that I never knew existed, and I know two small sections of Jefferson County like the back of my hand.

Now that the job is over I'll have more free time. For the last month my alarm has gone off 45 minutes earlier than I'm used to. I've already set it for the "normal" time, so tomorrow I get to sleep in a bit. I've let things around the house slide, so I'll start working on the backlog of indoor and outdoor chores.

Of course the census doesn't officially happen till 2010. There will be a handful of jobs available over the next several months, and more next year at this time, but I'm not going to wait around for them to call me. If I still have free time next spring, though, I'll certainly consider doing census work again.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Create A Masterpiece, Feed A Family

One in eight Americans are struggling with hunger. Food banks are seeing greatly increased demand this year, and it's not limited to people who live in the inner city; 9% of suburban households are "food insecure", lacking enough food to live fully productive lives.

To bring attention to the increasing problem of hunger in the United States, the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), a non-profit nutrition education association, has created the Bread Art Project, which uses virtual toast as a strategy for fighting hunger. GFF is donating $50,000 to Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief organization, plus $1 for every Bread Art submission (up to a maximum donation of $100,000).

After you enter the Workshop section of the Bread Art Project Website, you get to decorate a digital bread slice. The artwork is hung on the wall of the online art gallery. It's easy to create a work of bread art. You start with a canvas of white, country white, wheat, or oatmeal bread, which can be toasted to your specifications. When the canvas is ready, you upload a picture or use the tools to draw your own design. You can add text, and animate the creation if you want.

When you're satisfied with the way your masterpiece looks, you give it a name, place it in a category (people, animals, landscape, illustration, or other) and submit it. After the art is approved, it gets "hung" in the virtual Gallery. It was a lot of fun to browse through the thousands of images that have already been submitted. Some of them were very professional looking.

At this point, the Bread Art Project is scheduled to continue through the end of May, so if you want to participate do it quickly. As of today, there were approximately 17,000 submissions.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

BUNCO!

Yesterday I finished up my census assignment in De Soto, and got to move to Festus, another area of Jefferson County. It's about 15 minutes closer to the Interstate, and significantly more suburban. However, just when I though I was back in St. Louis County, I'd encounter a bumpy gravel road with a handful of houses along it, or a long twisting driveway leading to a house tucked way off the main road. My car will need an alignment soon!

I arrived home tired, hungry, and ready to settle in for the night. Much to my dismay, I remembered I had plans. An organization I belong to was having a Bunco fundraiser at church, and I had volunteered to work. After dinner I showered and left again for the evening.

Bunco is a dice game usually played in small groups, predominantly female. It's a good excuse to get together to talk, eat, and drink. Sometimes the game itself is almost an afterthought. Our organization decided to enlarge the concept. The evening, called A Bunch For Bunco, is held in the school gym. This year we had 60 participants (all women, although there have been a few men attendees in previous years). Since players change seats after each round, it's a great way to meet new people.

Some of the women were familiar with the rules of Bunco and some had never played before. However, since the game is very simple before long everyone was happily rolling dice and tallying their scores. Occasionally someone would yell out when they had a good roll, but for the most part the room was pretty silent during play. The first year we hosted this event, the sound of dozens of dice hitting the tables was overwhelming. We now provide place mats for the center of the tables to muffle the noise. Between each round, as the players moved from table to table, people renewed acquaintances with old friends and chatted with others they had just met.

For their admission price, the attendees were provided with Bunco supplies, snacks, desserts, and beverages. Most everyone went home with an attendance prize, and there was a small silent auction for those interested in bidding. At the end of the night after the big winners were announced and everyone who had won a silent auction item claimed their prize, the room cleared pretty quickly. Plans are already in the works for next year's event.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Data Detective

I was back enumerating in the same rural area of Jefferson County today. My weeks of working in west St. Louis County, which is overwhelmingly suburban, didn't do a good job of preparing me for what I've done since I was transferred.

Random notes from my exploits today:
  • People that live in the country don't seem to feel the need to post an address on their house. The number is always posted on the mailbox, but that may be on the opposite side of the road and hard to verify when you're driving. If someone is home, the job is easy because they TELL you the address, but if no one is home it becomes more difficult. More than once I pulled my car into a driveway and darted across the road to check to see where I was
  • Occasionally even street signs are optional. I guess if you live in the area you KNOW where you need to turn.
  • Sometimes the only indication of a house is a gravel drive leading off the road. It's not a good idea to try to make a sudden stop to pull into a narrow lane!
  • "No Trespassing" signs don't necessarily mean I shouldn't go down a driveway. Every person I talked to at the end of those driveways was very friendly.
  • "Beware of Dog" signs mean I should look carefully before I get out of the car, but the majority of the time all I had to beware of was the dog's wagging tail.
  • A gas station with a soda fountain and a real bathroom at the end of the day is much appreciated. Bonus points if they also sell fruit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Walking Down Your Street

When I signed up to be a census enumerator, I was told the job would be over by May 15th. However, the area I've been working in was completely finished this morning. Everyone assigned to Crew Leader Tom was offered the chance to move to another area and continue working. I took them up on the offer, and today I was transferred to another Crew Leader in Jefferson County, a 45-minute drive to the south of me.

The work was the same, but different. I've been working in suburban subdivisions, with only a few houses on large acreage to visit. Jefferson County is predominantly rural, (although the area adjacent to Interstate 55 has the normal compliment of strip malls). There are a few arterial roads spreading out from the interstate, and a few small towns are tucked along those. That probably has something to do with the need for additional census workers there. My first assignment was close to the city of De Soto. I have NO knowledge of the area, except the large state roads that run through it. I relied on GPS and a bit of luck to get where I needed to go.

Tony had an open schedule today and asked if I wanted company. After checking with my supervisor to see if it was ok if he rode along he packed a pile of reading material in the car to amuse himself while I was busy. It was great having him with me. Some of the houses were miles apart, on fairly major roads with high-speed traffic. He drove me from residence to residence, where I got out and did my work, then got back in the car to be chauffeured to the next stop. Even when I was working in subdivisions that had houses on smaller lots, it was nice not to have to double back to get my car parked at the other end of the street; Tony drove ahead and was patiently waiting for me to arrive.

In the late afternoon, I had to attend a meeting at the library, which was located in downtown De Soto. The town has a compact shopping district spread up and down one side of Main Street (there were train tracks on the other side). Unfortunately there wasn't time to browse. After the meeting, I went back to do a bit more work before my stomach decided it was time for dinner. We stopped for burgers in the city of Festus. I drank water with dinner. A lot. The warm sunny weather really dried me out!

Tomorrow and Friday I get to do the whole thing again, but by myself. Should be interesting

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Appeal To The Masses

Our house is approximately 20 years old, and we've lived here for 16. When we moved in, all of the décor was the latest style. Now much of it is dated and old looking. Since all the boys are gone now and the house is too big, eventually we'll sell it. Even though we may be years away from moving, rather than doing all of the updating at the last minute, I'd like to do some things as I have extra time and money, so today we had a real estate agent come and give us ideas for getting a house ready for sale.

I asked an agent who lives in my subdivision to help us out. She really knows the market around here, and could tell us about buyers' expectations in this neighborhood. When she arrived for the appointment, she handed me a copy of a booklet about preparing your house for sale. It was full of practical (but general) suggestions. She suggested we walk through the house so I could get some specific ideas for mine.

I tried to write everything down as we moved from room to room. Most of the suggestions were minor. Her fresh eye pointed out some simple repairs, like the window with a leaky seal that I've just learned to ignore, and the water stains in the bathroom sinks. She had suggestions for paint and furnishing colors.

However, some things would take more work and money. Polished brass, which screams 1980s, is the biggest offender in our house. Most of the light fixtures are shiny. So are the faucets and shower surround in the master bathroom. And the cabinet hardware in the kitchen. It all should go.

The beige kitchen appliances are outdated, and should be replaced with stainless steel. The laminate kitchen countertops with their innumerable knife dings and mystery stains also need to be changed. The Parquet floor in the entry hall, which was the height of elegance when the house was built, now clashes with the plank hardwood floor we installed in the dining room.

At the end of the meeting, I had a long list of things that would have to be done to get our house ready to put on the market. Some things, like paint and carpet, would need to be re-done later, so we won't even bother to tackle them now. However, the rest will be good projects that will go a long way towards sprucing up our house.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Not Easy To Be Green

We've had the same upright freezer in the basement for many years. I know it's not energy efficient because of its age, but it was never a priority to upgrade it. However, the state of Missouri is giving me a reason this week with a Show-Me Green Sales Tax Holiday on Energy Star-certified appliances. Some cities and other taxing districts are also waiving their municipal tax (although St. Louis County isn't one of them). We decided it was time for the old freezer to go.

I was excited to be making an environmentally friendly choices by buying an appliance that used less energy. We got in the car after dinner to check the prices at a couple of stores before we plunked down the debit card and bought something. I figured the whole errand would take less than an hour. Much to my surprise, we came away empty-handed; none of the stores had what we were looking for!

Tony and I made three stops on our trip. The first was to a locally-owned appliance store in a strip mall. They only had one freezer on the floor; it was way too big for us. The second was a Home Depot which is located in a city that wasn't collecting the municipal sales tax. They didn't have ANY freezers. The third stop was at an appliance-only Sears store on the way back home. They only had one to look at, and it wasn't Energy Star certified.

I came home and did some Internet research. I found one freezer that might work for us, but I'm reluctant to spend hundreds of dollars on something without seeing it first. I'll have to call around to some stores to see if they have the model (or something similar) in stock.

It shouldn't be this hard to be green!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Root The Crown

Last Sunday I started preparing pineapple tops for growing. After I removed all the excess fruit pulp from the crown and stripped off some of the lower leaves, the directions said to let the crowns dry so the leaf scars could heal. Today I tackled the next step in the process, which was to root the crowns. Once again, I referred to the Website How To Grow A Pineapple for guidance.

When I retrieved my containers from the shelf in the laundry room, I noticed the leaves of the crowns were looking a little shriveled, and some of the leaf tips were brown. However, the stump where the lower leaves had been removed looked healthy, and the root buds on the bottom appeared as small brown bumps, contrasting with the cream-colored stem.

The directions said the most effective way to encourage roots to form was to place the crown in a glass of water, place the glass away from any temperature extremes, and change the water every few days. I decided to put my cups back on the shelf in the laundry room, because it's cozy there and the cats won't be able to jump up and disturb them.

Here's a picture of my crowns ready to root:


It will take about three weeks to see new root growth. When the crown has a set of healthy roots, it's ready to plant in a cactus-type potting mix. It can take two more months before the pineapple is supporting itself as a new plant. If the process works, it will be wonderful. If it doesn't, at least it won't cost a lot.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's Still Rock and Roll to Me

I think it would be great to work in a record store. I love music and usually have some type playing in the background whether I'm at home or driving in the car. Although I don't spend as much money on tunes as I used to, I love digging through the bins and finding something I've been searching for, or buying the CD of an unknown band and having it turn out to be a real gem. I don't do digital; I can count on two hands the number of times I've downloaded a song straight to my hard drive.

My music collection has a predominantly '70s feel. I've replaced many of the albums I had as a teen with the same title on CD, or bought greatest hits compilations of the bands I loved back then. However, classic jazz artists are well-represented in my cabinet, and I have a pretty good selection of vintage country and musical soundtracks. There's also a small collection of releases from local artists that have sold their wares at shows we've attended.

Sadly, there aren't as many independent record stores in my area as there used to be; they've been replaced by big-box stores, Internet purchases, and music downloads. When I heard that today was Record Store Day I decided to participate by going to one of my local stores.

This is the second annual day, although somehow last year's slipped by without me noticing. Participating stores were listed by state on the Record Day Website; filtering out the ones not in the St. Louis area left just a handful. Slackers, (which is a small Columbia-based chain), had the closest choice--a store in Chesterfield Mall, but that didn't have the ambiance I was seeking. That left two convenient choices: Euclid Records in Webster Groves and Vintage Vinyl in University City. Both stores were having special events in honor of the day--live music, refreshments, and giveaways. They both had a similar selection of exclusive Record Day merchandise. However, Euclid Records won out because it's a bit closer to our house, and fit into the evening's plans better.

I'm sure the store's plan to have an outdoor stage sounded great on paper, but Mother Nature didn't care about their plans. It started drizzling as we got close to the store, and the drizzle turned into a more steady rain as we walked from the car. Although there was a small display of merchandise on sale outside the store, the majority of the action had moved inside. It was quite crowded in the store. The stage was set up by the cash register area, and a band was tuning up and getting ready to play.

One thing that's notable about Euclid Records is the large selection of vinyl records, both old and new, that they stock. They also have a good selection of new and used CDs and a small amount of DVDs. I managed to find a few CDs to add to my collection, paid for them, then stayed to listen to the live music for about 10 minutes before it was time to leave for the next event.

I'm looking forward to listening to my new music in the next couple of days.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Show Me The Mistake

My car's registration needs to be renewed this month. Missouri released a new license plate design last year, and has been handing out new ones as the old ones expire. Today I came home with a set of unbent, shiny plates. The first thing I did was see if the state corrected a glaring grammar mistake. (The hyphen is missing in the state’s nickname, “Show-Me State”. A compound modifier before a noun should be hyphenated.) They had not.

Last fall I corrected the mistake on Tony's license plate. Today I did the same thing with mine, using a Sharpie to make a small mark in between the Show and the Me on the front and back plates before I installed them on my car. I also checked to see if the dash on Tony's license plate was still visible; it was. Now I know that there are at least two cars on the road that are sporting correct grammar.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who You Gonna Call? FurBusters!

Jackson and Pepper, our cats, have declared it shedding season.

They're always losing a moderate amount of hair, but the shedding kicks into high gear as the weather gets warmer. Cat fur balls are huddled in corners of the house where no one walks. Any fabric surface they come close to is covered with an even layer of cat fuzz. Yesterday Tony took his blue blazer out of its storage bag and there were a few hairs on it!

I guess we have to take some of the blame, because we don't brush the cats on a regular basis. A friend told me she bought a fancy groomer for her dog at Target that did a great job of removing loose fur. Today I decided to declare war on cat hair; I purchased a "professional De-shedding Tool" called the FurBuster.

The FurBuster Website says:
A must have for all pet owners! Pets shed hair every day – you see it on the carpet, on the couch and all over your clothes. The new FurBuster De-Shedding System reduces shedding with minimal effort and without busting your wallet!
The tool has a stainless steel blade that removes loose hair and undercoat. The blade, which looks like a very small thatch rake, snaps easily into a padded handle. (There are three blade sizes for different sized animals, but only the smallest came with my set.) At almost $15.00, the FurBuster wasn't cheap, but the cost would be worth it if it got rid of some excess cat hair.

I brought it home, opened the package and decided to show the cats their new grooming accessory. They were not impressed. Pepper, the more skittish of the two, immediately ran upstairs where we couldn't get him. Jackson sniffed it, then cautiously moved just out of arm's reach.

After a couple of tries over a period of several hours Jackson got the hang of it, and decided it was ok to be groomed. He was laying on the back of the blue couch--his favorite place in the family room. Tony brushed him for a few minutes before Jackson got bored and sauntered out of the room. Tony did get a big wad of hair out of his coat, though, so I was satisfied.

Pepper, however, took more convincing. He hid under a bed upstairs for quite some time, but after dinner I found the two of them curled up on the couch in the living room. I brushed Jackson a bit and he started purring. Based on his brother's recommendation, Pepper then deigned to let me "dethatch" him. His coat isn't as thick as Jackson's, but I did get a good bit of hair before Pepper decided our time was up. He jumped down and strolled away.

I'm confident that if we use the FurBuster on a regular basis, it will be the end of tumble weed-like hair balls and tufts of hair laying on the carpet. I hope the cats see it the same way!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Big Switch

I feel restless if I don't exercise on a regular basis. Right now I'm doing enough walking working for the census that I'm passing on trips to the gym, but that will eventually come to an end.

When Tony became a member of a gym a couple of years ago, he convinced me to join with him. I was sure I wouldn't use it enough to get my money's worth, but I was soon hooked, and try to go four or five days a week. Our gym raised their prices last month, so Tony looked around for other alternatives. After a bit of searching, he joined a different gym. As part of his membership, they offered me a free pass and a personal training session if I came in for a visit within 30 days. The month was almost up, so this morning I took advantage of the offer. I liked what I saw, so today I joined a different gym.

When I arrived for my appointment this morning, the person at the front desk called me by name. All of the staff was friendly and welcoming. While I was there, there was a wide range of ages and body types working out, so I was pretty sure I'd fit in. During my personal session, a trainer took my measurements, checked my body mass index, then showed me how to use a variety of machines that would work most of my major muscle groups.

This gym has only been open for several months, and everything from the front desk to the locker rooms was sparkling clean. The layout was pretty standard--there were rows of cardio equipment, an area for resistance machines, and a separate section off to the side for free weights. Every cardio machine had a TV attached to it, and a jack to plug in a headphone to hear the audio.

There is no hot tub, sauna, or swimming pool at the new facility, but I don't use those anyway. The day care area wasn't as nice, but that's another thing I have no use for. I'll have to change the group classes I participate in; this gym is missing some of my regulars, but has some the old gym didn't.

The sign on the door states it's open 24 hours, but the building isn't always “staffed”. The doors are unlocked and there's someone at the front desk between 6 AM and 10 PM. If you want to go at other times, members have a way to unlock the front door and get in. I think I'll try that once, just to say I did it.

After I signed the papers, I came home and canceled my original membership. I'll miss the women I've become friendly with at the old gym, but I have no doubt I'll strike up an acquaintance with some new people. In my experience, people really bond over sweat and sore muscles!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Convenient And Efficient

Several years ago when I opened a checking account for my business, I also signed up for the bank's Online Banking service. I've never used it, and lost the paperwork with my user name and password. However, I'm going to start having money direct deposited into the account, so I thought it would be nice to be able to see when it's been added without going to the bank. Today I activated an online banking account.

Tony's way ahead of me on this one. He set up our main household account for online banking a while back, and pays most of the bills online. However, my account operated just fine using checks and a debit card. There was no need to do any transactions electronically before now.

My first step today was to try to guess my user name and password on the bank's Website. I was unsuccessful, so I called the bank branch where I do all my business. They were able to help me a bit, but ultimately gave me a Customer Service number to call.

I was pleased with this bank's Customer Service setup. The automated menu didn't have a lot of options, and within 30 seconds I was talking to a real person. She reset my user name and password, giving me temporary ones to log in with. After my initial log in, the system prompted me to immediately change them, which was good because I would never remember the ones I was given!

With just a few keystrokes, my account information was displayed on my monitor. I expect the first deposit tomorrow; you can bet I'll be checking to see if it's there!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Apologies In Advance

In between Easter excess and census walking, I'm beat tonight. I'm going to go spend the evening vegged out on the couch. While I'm doing that, here are some groaners for you:
  • The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

  • I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

  • She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

  • A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.

  • The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.

  • No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

  • A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

  • A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

  • Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

  • A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

  • Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

  • Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other, "You stay here; I'll go on a head."

  • I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

  • A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: "Keep off the Grass."

  • A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, "No change yet."

  • A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

  • The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

  • The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

  • A backward poet writes inverse.

  • In democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

  • When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

  • Don't join dangerous cults; Practice safe sects.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't Throw It, Grow It!

Fresh pineapples were on sale at the grocery store yesterday, so I decided to buy some for today's dinner. Son Tony did the honors of peeling and cutting the fruit. Instead of tossing the pineapple tops in the compost pile with the rest of the inedible parts, I decided to recycle them by trying to grow a pineapple plant. The Website How to Grow a Pineapple had great information about the whole process. Although there are a lot of steps (spread out over multiple months), they all seem pretty simple.

The first step was to obtain a pineapple.
  • The Website indicated the best pineapple for growing has healthy, firm leaves and golden brown skin. The leaves should be free of scale insects, indicated by grey spots at the base. All of the pineapples at the store met this requirement, so this was easy.
The second step was to prepare the crown.
  • Before the crown can be gown, it needs to be separated from the fruit. To do this, I grabbed the leaves and twisted them until the entire set pulled away. There was a bit of pineapple left on the bottom of the crown; the directions said to trim this flesh off so the plant wouldn't rot after planting.
  • Next, I carefully removed small slices from the bottom of the crown until the root buds were exposed. (The buds appeared as small dots on the cut surface around the perimeter of the stem base.)
  • After the root buds were exposed, the directions were to bare the stalk by stripping off about an inch worth of the lower leaves so they don't rot when the crown is planted. The missing leaves revealed some small brown-colored bumps below the leaf scars. These are root primordia, or baby roots waiting to grow.
  • The last step for this round was to place the crown in a dry, dark place for about a week before planting so the cut end and the leaf scars could heal. This seemed a bit unusual; most plants I've dealt with would die if they weren't placed in soil or water, but I did what I was told. The crowns, each set upside-down in a plastic deli container, got set in a shelf in the laundry room where the cats can't reach them.
Mature pineapple plants can reach a height and width of four to six feet, and in the best of conditions take two years to bear fruit. I suspect my experiment won't do that well, but you never know. By time our weather here turns hot and steamy, I hope I'll have a tropical-looking plant that will look great on my deck.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Since tomorrow is Easter, we'll have a house full of family and guests. Son Tony is already in town; sons Brian and Donald are arriving tomorrow. Tomorrow we'll go to Mass, then come home and do last-minute preparation before the rest of the extended family rolls in for dinner. Among other things, I'm providing a turkey for the meal. To make things easier, I decided to roast the turkey today, and turn the slicing over to the males in the house.

Our electric knife is late-1960s vintage. I remember giving the GE "Custom Electric Slicing Knife" to MY dad as a Father's Day present many years ago. From the start, the knife only got used a few times a year; I guess that's why it's lasted so long. The box, which proudly proclaimed the knife was Made In USA, is pretty decrepit looking, but once the blades are attached to the tan and brown knife body appearances don't matter.

However, everything good has to come to an end. Halfway through Tony's turkey carving the knife sputtered, sent a small jolt of electricity through his hand, and stopped. Knowing it had sliced its last, Tony unplugged it and set it aside to throw in the trash.

However, Son Tony had a different idea. He asked if he could disassemble the knife before it got tossed. He's an engineer by profession, and I could tell he relished the idea of seeing the innards of an electrical appliance designed long before he was born. I gave him the same answer he got when he was ten years old and trying to figure out how things worked....it was ok with me as long as he cleaned it all up!

After several trips downstairs for different types of tools, the dismantling started. When Tony was finished, everything was reduced to its smallest components and the table was full of random electrical parts. He tried to describe the motor's operation to me, but it pretty much went over my head.

And, as promised, he did clean everything up when he was finished!

Friday, April 10, 2009

D'oh!

When I put a stamp on an envelope, I usually choose commemorative stamps over the generic ones. I love the variety they add to my mail, and I enjoy making a new choice each time I go to the Post Office. I was excited to learn that on May 7th some commemorative stamps will issued featuring The Simpsons--Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

After they unveiled the artwork yesterday, the Post Office announced a promotion to allow people to vote for their favorite. Today I voted for my favorite Simpsons stamp.

Random facts:
  • Out of the approximately 50,000 suggestions for stamp subjects the U.S. Postal Service receives each year, about 20 are selected to become postage.
  • The Simpsons, which is the longest-running comedy in television history, is the only television show to be featured as the subject of a stamp set while it's still in prime time production.
  • Bart Simpson is a philatelist (stamp collector). His stamp collection is stolen in episode 92 (Homer The Vigilante), which was first aired in 1994.
Voting for my favorite stamp was easy. I scrolled through the five stamps, and clicked the button. Voting began on April 9th and will go through May 14th, 2009. The website encouraged me to "vote early and often"; I may just do that!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Search Is On

The last time I wore my favorite black casual shoes was on a shopping trip. The shoes, which have been extremely comfortable for several years, unexpectedly started rubbing a blister on the back of my heel about the time I got to the far end of the mall. Sadly, it's time to retire them and get a new pair.

However, that will be harder for me than it would be for a lot of people. I have a very unusually-sized foot, and I know from experience many brands don't fit me. It's difficult to come up with the correct combination of size, style, and practicality.

I'm looking for something like this picture--a black leather slip-on shoe. They need to be comfortable for walking long distances, with a nice wide toe box so my tootsies aren't cramped together, and dressy enough that I can pair them with casual black pants to wear to church. On top of all those requirements, I'd also like them to not cost very much.

I have a coupon for my local Big-Box Discount Shoe Outlet that expires next week. Today I stopped in to see if I could find something appropriate. They had several rows of women's footwear they classified as "Casual", but I couldn't find anything that met my needs.

As I left the store, I glanced over at the men's department. Ironically, there were several pairs of shoes similar in style to the pair I'm replacing. Hmmmm......I'd never thought about browsing the men's area for myself. Today I shopped for shoes in the men's department.

It was slightly embarrassing to be roaming the men's section without male accompaniment. I walked through all the aisles once, checking out everything they had, then went back to the most likely sections for a closer look. I was ready to try on a couple of different pairs, but ran into a problem. Big-Box Discount Shoe Outlet only had a narrow range of sizes; there was nothing small enough to fit me. However, as a test I went to the men's clearance rack and tried on a pair of fluorescent green tennis shoes two sizes smaller than my normal woman's size. Although the style was completely wrong, they fit like a glove. Now that I know men's shoes may be an option, the search is on for the perfect pair.

Next time you see a woman by herself in the men's shoe department, be kind to her. She may be looking for something for her own closet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Walk This Way

When I accepted the census job, the hiring manager told me I was required to work between 20 and 40 hours per week. I thought the minimum sounded quite easy; I was confident I'd be able to complete closer to the maximum amount. I didn't stop and think about some of the job requirements! As an Enumerator, I get to walk from house to house verifying the addresses and making any necessary changes to the list in my computer. The only time I use my car is to drive to an area, or to travel between sections if parts of an area aren't adjacent to each other. I'm used to physical exertion (I go to the gym most days and take a group class for an hour, and some days I add a walk with a friend to my indoor exercise) but not as much as I've been doing this week.

I was curious just how much area I was covering, so today I measured the distance I traveled on foot with a portable GPS unit. Yep, the same unit I geocached with over the weekend has an odometer feature so I could measure the total distance I traveled as I went about my day. I left the house at 8:30, and worked for six hours. Today was a great day to be outside. The sun was shining, and the temperature was moderate, unlike Monday's near-freezing weather. When I got home, the odometer said I had traveled 23.2 miles. After subtracting the driving distance (18 miles), I discovered today I walked a little over five miles.

When I get my first paycheck, I may treat myself to some new walking shoes!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Celebrate Poetry

I heard on the radio yesterday that April is National Poetry Month. Most of what I choose to read is prose; today I read the poem of the day, as determined by the Academy of American Poets.

National Poetry Month is a month-long celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. It was inspired by celebrations such as Black History Month in February and Women's History Month in March.

Today's poem was by Gregory Orr, a poet that was unfamiliar to me. According to his biography on the Website, "he is considered by many to be a master of short, lyric free verse." The featured poem was easy to read and understand:

Untitled [This is what was bequeathed us]

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

There's a new poem every day for the rest of the month. All of the poems are from books published in the spring, so it's a great way to be introduced to a lot of new material.

Monday, April 6, 2009

No-No Parking

I'm a rules follower. I stop at stop signs and observe speed limits. I don't talk loudly in the library, and I turn my cell phone off when asked to do so. However, today I stepped outside the box for a bit when I parked in a no-parking area.

I've been doing census enumerating in neighborhoods close to my house. Many of the streets in the area are part of a Parking Permit Required zone during weekdays, because they don't want students from the nearby high school parking there. I tried to get everything done in that area over the weekend, but didn't quite succeed. After lunch today I set out to complete the job.

The area was about a half mile away, in a subdivision that connects with mine. I parked the car right underneath a sign that said "No Parking Without Permit 7:30-3:30", got out and looked around. I don't know if the police patrol and ticket cars they see parked in the area illegally or if they wait for an angry resident to call. Most of the houses on the block looked unoccupied, but I wanted to do everything I could to avoid trouble. I put one of my "Official Census Business" signs on the dashboard so it could be seen through the front window and the other one in the back window. I had three different streets to visit, and the job took me about 15 minutes to complete. I was very glad to return to my car and not see a parking ticket.

It felt kinda good to be a rebel...maybe tomorrow I won't push my chair in when I get up from the table!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hair Fun

Today I played with new hairstyles. I did it virtually, though; no trip to the beautician.

The site was easy to use and a lot of fun. You could work with the picture of the model that was provided, or upload your own picture. However, there were file size limitations, and many of the pictures I had on my hard drive were too big.

Once you decided on a head shot, it was time to start experimenting. There were dozens of hairstyle selections, in short, medium, and long lengths. You could make each cut longer or shorter, wider or narrower to fit the shape of your face, or flip it so the style would be reversed.

After the hairstyle was selected, it was time to think about colors. You could choose from multiple blond, dark, or red shades, and several exotic colors like green, purple, and blue. The final result depended on the color of the original hairstyle.

The only problem was that once you were finished there was no option to save a style you liked. I guess if I'd had a "winner" I could have printed the whole page out and taken it to the beautician next time I went, but none of the styles struck me as likely.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cache Me If You Can

Last month I took a seminar on how to use the GPS unit I received for Christmas. Today I was back at the same location to learn how to geocache.

According to Wikipedia:
Geocaching is an outdoor game in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches") anywhere in the world.
Today's class was organized, and taught, by members of the St. Louis Area Geocachers Association (SLAGA). There were about a dozen members seated at the back of the room. Instead of introducing themselves with their given name, they gave their user name, which is the primary way many of them know each other. I found out later in the day that many of them were husband and wife teams who pursue the hobby together.

The class started with a PowerPoint presentation. I learned that:
  • Geocaching started in 2000, shortly after the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network was made available for civilian use. There are caches in just about every country of the world.
  • Geocaches vary in size, difficulty, and location. Geocache containers range in size from film canisters (microcaches) which are too small to hold anything more than a tiny paper log to five-gallon buckets or footlockers. A cache can be in plain sight or well-hidden. They can be placed in easy-to-access locations, or in the middle of wilderness.
  • A traditional geocache consists of a waterproof container containing a log book and sometimes trinkets. After a cache is placed, its latitude and longitude coordinates are posted on a website, along with any additional details or hints for finding it. Other geocachers obtain the coordinates from the Internet and seek out the cache using a GPS receiver. The finding geocachers sign the logbook, and note their find on the website. Geocachers are free to take objects from the cache and leave something of similar or higher value, so there is something for the next person to find.
  • Another type of cache is the multi-cache (or serial cache), which consists of multiple waypoints containing the coordinates for the next stage. The final stage contains the log book and trade items.
  • There are also virtual caches, which are located in places that aren't conducive to a physical container.
  • Also common are objects that are moved from cache to cache, called Travel Bugs or Geocoins. They have a unique serial number and can be tracked online.
  • There are specific rules and etiquette for people who want to hide caches for others to find.
At the end of the presentation, they put in a plug for joining their group.

The next activity was to load coordinates for several close by caches into our GPS units. After the data was loaded, we went out into the park with an experienced geocacher and found the caches. Arriving at the correct point was easy; finding a hidden cache wasn't always. They were well-hidden, and I don't think I would have been able to find them if there wasn't someone to assist me.

Geocaching seems like a fun activity. There are almost 150 caches within 5 miles of my house. I'm going to start looking for the easy ones!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Coming Soon To A Neighborhood Near You

Census training wrapped up today. We went out into the field and actually used all the things we learned in the classroom. It was NOT a dry run; the work we did today actually counted.

We went out in pairs, so we could help each other with any questions. One person in each pair had an assignment (area) to complete downloaded to their handheld computer. My partner and I took turns sharing his computer and inputting the information as we walked from house to house. We had an easy residential area of single-family homes. The plan was to walk from house to house along the sidewalk, checking to make sure that all the houses were represented on the master address list. At each house, we signed off on the basic information and collected a map spot. Fortunately, there was nothing we needed to change, add, or delete from our list.

There were only a handful of homeowners home along our route. When we make contact with someone, there's a procedure to go through: introduce yourself and explain why you're there, then hand the person a sheet that contains basic information. None of the people we saw seemed particularly worried about our presence.

Our training time segued into the lunch break. When we returned from lunch, there was a final written exam. I think everyone in the training group passed with flying colors. Our instructor gave us some final instructions, then we were free to leave for the day.

Assignments are given via the handheld computer. We were asked to choose areas that we'd like to do; I picked some close to my house. I was excited when two neighborhoods very convenient to my house showed up on my handheld late this afternoon. After I finish those areas and transmit them back, additional work will be assigned. I'll be checking in with the Crew Leader or Assistant Crew Leader on a regular basis, but other than that I'm free to work on my own schedule. I don't think I'll have any problems getting my exercise taken care of the next few weeks!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Observations

On my lunchtime walk today, I...
  • Found a new "trail". I've lived in this area for over two decades, and traveled the roads on a regular basis. There's a difference, though, between seeing things from the driver's seat and seeing them on foot. As I was walking on the sidewalk along Manchester Road, I saw a street sign I'd never seen before. It indicated the asphalt path next to it was "Vlasis Trail". Intrigued, I followed the trail, which turned out to be a cut-though to Vlasis Park, my starting location. I decided that the trail would be a great way to get to the strip mall across Manchester...if you didn't mind taking your life in your hands as you crossed!
  • Stared down a Canadian goose that acted aggressively as I walked by. Because part of my route passed by a lake, I saw several types of waterfowl, but Canadian Geese predominated. There were about a dozen geese hanging out in the grass next to the sidewalk, with one particularly close. My path took me to within three feet of him. He fluffed out his wings a bit, opened his mouth, stuck out his pink tongue, and hissed at me. It was very intimidating; I didn't realize just how big geese could be! My first thought was to move to the other side of the street, but instead I looked the goose in the eye and kept moving quickly. Once I got past, I turned around to look, and he was settling back down.

  • Saw an incredible water feature in a back yard. After I recovered from my encounter with the goose, I started observing the houses that backed up to the park. One of them had a dry creek bed which started up by the house, then followed the gently-sloping yard down to the far corner where it emptied into a pond. The only water today was in the basin part; I wondered if the whole thing turned into a circulating system in warm weather, but I couldn't figure it out. The yard also contained a brick patio next to the pond with a grill and fire pit. The people who lived there had obviously put a lot of work into their yard.