Sunday, May 31, 2009

Eat AND Save Money!

Years ago, when my boys were in Cub Scouts, the Pack's big fundraiser was selling Entertainment and Gold C coupon books. I started out buying the Gold C book, which had more fast-food and family-friendly offers, then switched over to the Entertainment book a few years later. Cub Scouts is now a distant memory, but I still buy the book every year. Although the book's coupon savings are nice, we also use it to find restaurants that we're not familiar with. Today I explored a new way to find unique restaurants when I bought certificates from Restaurant.com.

Restaurant.com is a Website that offers discounted certificates to restaurants. A $25 gift certificate normally costs $10. However, I got an e-mail from a reward program I belong to that they were having a sale on the certificates; they would cost even less than the normal discount price. That was enough to incent me to buy.

The site was very easy to navigate. I entered my zip code, chose to search for restaurants within 15 miles of my house, and seconds later I found out there were 47 restaurants that participated in the program. A few clicks revealed basic information about the restaurant, directions, and a menu. I chose certificates for a Bosnian and an Italian restaurant, I completed the purchase process, and printed the certificates.

There are a few conditions for using the certificates. Most of them aren't good on the weekend (when I'm sure the restaurants don't have trouble filling their tables). Each restaurant has a minimum purchase amount listed, which is more than the face value of the certificate. Some restaurants automatically add a tip when a certificate is used. However, the certificates are good for a year, so we'll be able to enjoy some inexpensive mid-week treats.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lyrical

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light...

Almost everyone knows the words to The Star-Spangled Banner. The national anthem of the United States of America was written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. However, did you know that there is more than one verse to the song? Today I learned the second stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Feel free to sing along. You know the tune.
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And, for your viewing pleasure, here's an oldie but goodie version of the song:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Straight From The Farm

At the beginning of the month I visited a new farmer's market. Today I went to yet another market on its initial day of business.

The Ellisville Farmer's Market is somewhere between a 10 to 20 minute drive from my house, depending on the time of day. It's tucked in the corner of a Straub's grocery store parking lot at the intersection of Clarkson and Clayton, and is open on Thursdays from 4:00-7:00. I arrived a little after 4:00, cloth bag in hand.

The market isn't large, but it looked like everything was represented: produce, meats, eggs, cheese, and plants. All of the vendors came from Missouri or Illinois, and most of the fruits and vegetables were advertised as organic. I saw some sellers that I've seen at other markets, but also some that I wasn't familiar with. There were a couple of booths sampling locally-produced salsa and olive oil, and one artist.

Although I was tempted by a lot of different things, I only ended up with one item in my bag--a head of heirloom lettuce called Grandpa Admire's. It looked like a huge butterhead with red-tipped leaf edges. I've heard about heirloom tomatoes, but never stopped to think that there may be other vintage types of vegetables. (The lettuce ended up being part of tonight's dinner, and it was wonderful; even the ribs were tender and edible.)

A local radio station was broadcasting there today. According to the market Website, they plan on having special events, but none has been posted yet. The also had an interesting looking children's section, which was practically empty when I was there. However, since some of the schools are still in session they probably anticipated that. I'm sure the area will grow in popularity as the summer wears on.

I know there's a lot of farmer's markets around the area now. I wonder how long it would take to visit them all..

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Relief...

Last week I did some work in the yard, cleaning up a perennial bed outside the garage. When I was finished I had two tubs full of weeds, bloomed-out iris fans, and grass that was growing where it wasn't supposed to.

The net day two bumps appeared on my left arm. It looked like poison ivy, but I KNOW there was none in the bed I worked in. Two days after that a cluster of bumps appeared on my right leg by my knee. Each day since that time I've found a bump or two somewhere on my body, even in places that were covered up during the original gardening.

Is it poison ivy or something else? In the end, it doesn't really matter what's causing my rash. The areas on my arm and leg itch horribly, and this week's sticky, humid weather makes it worse. It's even been waking me up in the middle of the night. Turning to my friend Google to research remedies for poison ivy rashes, I found the very informative Website for the Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center. One of the site's pages was about home remedies. About halfway down the list was the suggestion to use white vinegar. Since I hav a gallon jug of the stuff in the pantry, I thought that I'd give it a try; today I got relief from a rash by applying white vinegar.

I soaked a sponge in the vinegar and applied it to the spots on my arm. It stung a little bit, but the itch definitely stopped. I moved the sponge to the spots on my leg. It stung A LOT, but also stopped the itching. I let it set on the area for about five minutes, then applied some calamine lotion. I was itch-free for several hours, which is the longest period in the past week. After a walk the itch reappeared, but I repeated the procedure again.

I may end up smelling like a vinaigrette, but I don't care!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Director Discourse

Over the weekend we rented the movie Slumdog Millionaire. It was marvelous; I can see why it won so many Oscars (including the one for Best Picture). I wanted to see it again before it got returned to the video store, but to put a different spin on my watching this time I turned on one of the special features and watched the director's commentary to a movie.

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik, a young man from the slums of Mumbai, who competes on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. When he gets one question away from winning it all, he is accused of cheating. The movie is about how Jamal's life experiences cause him to know the correct answers to the questions he was asked.

Each of the three main characters in the movie (Jamal, his brother Samil, and a girl, Latika) are portrayed by three different actors-a young child, a young teenager, and an older teenager. It was fascinating to see how they were able to cast sets of actors that "aged" so realistically. The movie was completely shot in India; the settings were dazzling, especially since we were able to get a Blu-Ray copy of the movie.

The commentary (by Director Danny Boyle and actor Dev Patel) gave me a lot of additional information and anecdotes about the making of the movie. They talk over the film, so I couldn't hear most of the dialogue, but since I already knew the plot I could still follow what was going on. It was interesting to watch the special feature and compare what I thought about the movie with what the director had to say.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jelled

In honor of the unofficial start of the summer season, we cooked a BBQ feast for lunch today. Tony was in charge of the meat and we divided up the side dish preparation. I made a salad with lettuce from the garden and sliced tomatoes and onions for the burgers. For dessert, I made "Jell-O" using fruit juice and gelatin.

My inspiration was an article for homemade gelatin desserts that I cut out of the newspaper a while back. The few gelatin recipes I make start with a box of Jell-O. However, Jell-O has a lot of sugar and artificial flavors; I figured I could make something that would taste better and be healthier.

The basic recipe I used:
1 packet gelatin
2 cups juice, divided
sugar to taste
chopped fruit, if desired

Add the gelatin to 1/2 cup room temperature juice and soak 1 minute until softened. Heat the remaining juice till boiling, then pour it over the gelatin. Stir until gelatin is completely dissolved (about 5 minutes). Add sugar to taste. Add chopped fruit when gelatin is partially set. Chill until jelled.
Looking around the kitchen for inspiration, I discovered a box of Knox gelatin in the pantry. I don't know how long it had been there, but I don't think it ever goes bad. The one packet it contained would be just enough for my experiment.

The next requirement was some type of juice. I opened the refrigerator to see what we had. There was a bit of orange juice, but not enough for my recipe. However, on the shelf above the juice there was a bowl of cut-up watermelon. Since the fruit is primarily water, I figured I could easily extract liquid from it. I pressed watermelon pieces through a sieve. The vast majority passed right through the holes, leaving just a little pulp. I chopped the pulp finely and threw it in too, for extra substance.

I poured some of the juice into a small bowl, stirred the gelatin in, and set it aside while I heated the rest on the stove. I carefully mixed the two liquids together and stirred for what seemed like a very long time. I decided not to add any extra sugar, so when all the gelatin was dissolved, I poured the mixture into a bowl and placed the bowl in the freezer so it would chill quickly (it was getting close to meal time). When the gelatin was partially set I stirred in a large handful of grapes from the fruit drawer.

I was apprehensive about the gelatin being done on time, but it was ready just as we finished the meal. I brought my masterpiece to the table, along with bowls, spoons, and a can of whipped cream. The gelatin wasn't sparkling clear because of the watermelon pulp it contained, but it tasted very good, and the grapes added an extra pop of sweetness. Tony and I managed to finish off the entire thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Toss The Trash

Today was all about celebrations; we had a graduation party and a picnic to attend. However, the forecast of "scattered showers" was unfortunately accurate and forced us to change the evening's plans for an outdoor meal with friends. We were forced to come home, carrying our picnic items with us.

Tony had done a great job of organizing the meal. The cooler contained sodas and water, carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing, and cherries for dessert. A bag held pretzels, paper plates, napkins, and utensils. After we left the graduation party we stopped at Subway to pick up a sandwich. It fit nicely on top of all the other chilled items.

We were pulling out of the Subway parking lot when it started drizzling. Soon the drizzle turned into a steady rain. We debated what to do, and decided to try driving to the park on the chance it wasn't raining there. However, the rain followed us all the way and when we pulled into the parking lot there were no other cars. We decided eat our dinner at home where it would be dry.

It was a very quick job to put food together. Half of the sandwich went on each paper plate. Tony put a towel down on the coffee table in the family room and laid out the rest of the food. We sat next to the table to enjoy our meal. When we were finished all that was left on our plates was a smear of ranch dressing and a pile of stems and pits from the cherries. I gathered all the cherry waste on one plate to take out to the compost bin, but realized that I could put the plates in too, since they were paper. While I was at it I added the paper napkins to the pile. Today I cleaned up after dinner by throwing it all into the compost pile. I wish I could do that every day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gifts

As part of our adventures today Tony and I went to church across town from the one we usually attend.

We pulled into the parking lot 15 minutes before Mass was supposed to start; since we had been out and about for a couple of hours, we needed to use the restroom. Tony attended this parish on a fairly regular basis when he was a teenager, so he was familiar with the layout. The bathroom facilities are completely separate from the church. You have to exit the building, walk around to the back side, and go down a set of stairs into the parish hall.

After we had taken care of our business, it was time to go into the church. Tony remembered that the same stairwell we took down to go to the hall would allow us to enter the sanctuary if we went up from the main landing. We entered into the front of the church and picked a pew about a third of the way back.

No sooner had we gotten settled than an elderly gentleman approached Tony and whispered something in his ear. Tony turned to me and said we had been asked to take the gifts (bread and wine) up to the altar. I'm not sure why he picked us, because normally this would be done by a parishioner, but today I took up offertory gifts at a different parish.

I was a little nervous, because different churches do the ceremony differently, but it turned out it was easy. At this church the gifts had been placed on a small table halfway up the main aisle. When we saw the priest leave his chair and stand in front of the altar ready to receive the gifts, we walked back to the table, picked up the cruet of wine and the container of hosts, and carried them up to the priest. He thanked us, and we went back to our seats.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Captains Courageous

I've been wearing my hair in a bob style for quite a few years. The only thing that changes is the length. Sometimes I let it grow a bit longer, and sometimes it's short. In the hot weather I like to have the hair off my neck, so last Friday I popped into a strip mall no-appointment chain salon for a haircut.

My style isn't particularly complicated. I asked for it to be cut chin length (which was about 2" off the bottom) and for it to be undercut (where the bottom layers are cut incrementally shorter than the top ones; this will let the ends of my hair turn under without a lot of work on my part). When the stylist finished I thought the cut was nicely done, but the next day when I washed it I could tell it wasn't what I asked for. I don't like complaining, so I thought about just living with it till the hair grew out, but today I gathered up my courage, went back to the salon, and complained about a haircut.

The salon has a sign posted that they have a 100% SATISFACTION policy. I had seven days to have the cut fixed, as long as I brought in the receipt. All week I've carried the receipt with me, but always "ran out of time" to make it there. Today my errands brought me back to the same strip mall. I made the salon my first stop so I couldn't chicken out.

The person who cut my hair last week wasn't there, but the stylist at the front desk remembered me from last week. She couldn't have been nicer about the whole thing. After she wet my hair, she lifted up the top layers of my hair and made incremental cuts to the underneath sections. When she was done my hair was turning under obediently like it should. It didn't even need to be blow dried.

I left feeling brave and happy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Implements Optional

People have been eating with their fingers long before they started using cutlery. Many things are acceptable to eat without a utensil: sandwiches, ribs, pizza, fried chicken, chips, asparagus, artichokes, cookies, ice cream cones, and breads. However, good manners dictate that most other foods require some type of tableware. I'm sure I shocked the etiquette police today when I ate all my food with my fingers.

For breakfast, I defrosted some chocolate-strawberry muffins and peeled a banana. Nothing wrong with eating either of these without silverware. While I ate, I read the cartoons and advice columns in the POST-DISPATCH. It was an advantage to have one hand free to hold the paper.

When I was running errands mid-morning, an Almond Joy bar just happened to jump out of the rack and onto the counter with my other purchases. (Don't you just hate it when that happens?) I paid for it and made it to the car before I opening the wrapper. Although the warm weather made the chocolate a bit messy, I managed to eat it without getting too much on my fingers.

At lunchtime I wanted to read the rest of the newspaper. I heated up some leftover Ravioli Casserole--cheese ravioli baked with broccoli, tomato sauce, and canned tomatoes. The mixture was a bit dry; yesterday's plentiful liquid had been absorbed into the pasta. As I was carrying the bowl to the table I absentmindedly stuck one of the ravioli into my mouth. It tasted great wasn't sloppy. I decided I could concentrate on my reading better if I left the fork laying on the table, so one at a time I transferred the ravioli from the bowl to my mouth with my fingers. When the pasta was all gone, there were a couple of spoonfuls of broccoli and tomato chunks that I scooped up and ate with my digits. I completed the meal with some dried apricots, which are a perfect finger food.

In the middle of the afternoon I had some frozen watermelon chunks, which were so hard they couldn't have been speared with a fork even if I wanted to!

Dinner was pizza, the ultimate finger food. I cut some carrot and celery sticks for a bit more color on the plate, and happily picked everything up and transferred it directly to my mouth without the benefit of any silverware.

There you go. A whole day's worth of food with no silverware needed. However, I did use a napkin. I'm not a complete slob!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Evaluation

Buying women's pants can be tricky. Every brand is cut slightly different, and the size on the tag isn't always accurate. It's rare that a pair of pants fits correctly in the waist, hip, and length. If the waist is right, the hips are too loose. If they're perfect through the hips, the length is too long. It gets frustrating to run in and out of dressing rooms trying to find the right pair.

In an article from RealSimple called 14 Shortcuts for Everyday Tasks, they shared a couple of measurement tricks to use when you're trying on pants. One of them piqued my interest. Evidently, the distance from the side of your neck to the tip of your fingers (on an outstretched arm) is about the same length as your inseam. In theory, you could determine if the length of a pair of pants was correct without trying them on. Of course I had to see if that was true, so today I sized the inseam of pants by using my arm.

I used the pants in my closet to perform the experiment, because I knew they were the correct length. Although a good portion of my cold-weather clothes have been put away, there were still a half-dozen pairs of pants hanging on the rod. I held each pair against my outstretched arm, holding the hem between my thumb and index finger. I was amazed to find out the theory was pretty accurate, although I had to stretch my arm out to the point of uncomfortableness. I don't know if that means I have proportionally short arms or long legs.

I can't wait to try this trick the next time I'm shopping for pants.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Reveal

Last month we got some suggestions about sprucing up our house for an eventual sale, which gave us a long list of projects to do around the house.

Here's my first project. This picture was taken in the laundry room, which is right off the kitchen. The builder installed one wire shelf above the washer and dryer area, putting the brackets into the drywall with anchors. We use the shelf for laundry baskets and supplies, the newspaper recycling bin, and cat food. Over the course of the years the weight of the items has caused the bracket to start pulling away from the wall.

I took the shelf down, spackled and sanded all the holes, then primed and painted the room (using a color from the palette I generated). When that was done, I installed adjustable shelves above the appliances.

Here's the new and improved laundry room. I was able to hang three shelves where there once was only one, so the things that used to be stacked on top of one another now have their own distinct place. I even have a bit of empty shelf space (although I doubt that will last for very long)!

Of course, like every project there are loose ends to tie up. I need to hang a couple of hooks behind the door to hold the broom and some aprons, and buy a new rug to replace the stained model that's there now. However, this project is about ready to be crossed off my list!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Straight From The Breakfast Table

Today was a very physical day. I went to the gym in the morning, walked with a friend for an hour in the afternoon, and then came home and put a new fence around my garden. When I was done I was tired and my whole body ached. I decided to treat myself to a bath, but for a change of pace I went to the kitchen for the ingredients I needed to take a milk and honey bath.

Cleopatra, who was renowned for her beauty, reputedly enjoyed milk baths. Scientists now know that milk contain lactic acid, which helps to exfoliate your skin and make it soft and smooth. Honey is a humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture. The two ingredients put together sounded like a great combination for a relaxing bath.

I got the Tupperware container of nonfat dry milk and the jar of honey out of the pantry and carried it to the master bathroom upstairs. The bathtub hasn't been used in a couple of weeks, so first I had to brush out a bit of cat hair, some dust, and yellow oak pollen that had come through the open window. When the tub was clean, I started the water and dumped in the other ingredients. My directions called for three cups of powdered milk. I used everything that was in the container, and may have come up a bit short. However, I added more honey than the two tablespoons the "recipe" called for. I also added a bit of jasmine perfume to give the water a nice smell.

I took a book into the bath with me, but once I took my glasses off to splash water on my face, I didn't want to put them back on. Taking a bath in warm weather is much different than taking one in the middle of winter. Since the bathroom window was open, every once in a while a cool breeze blew over my body, making a wonderful contrast to the warm bath water. I could hear the birds chirping outside, and a neighbor calling to her children in the distance. I decided to close my eyes and relax.

When the water got cold it was time to get out. I couldn't believe how quickly the time had gone by. My skin seemed to be softer, and my aches and pains had disappeared during the warm water soak. I toweled off and went back to join the real world.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Destruction Part Deux

In my last post I ranted about the loss of the snow peas, broccoli, and lettuce in my garden.

This morning I found the culprit. When I was throwing fruit scraps in the compost bin I was amazed to see a rabbit inside the fenced area next to the lettuce stubs. It wasn't full-grown, but still big enough to break a hole through the plastic chicken-net fencing I'd installed around the perimeter. When he saw me he slipped through the hole and disappeared into a patch of day lilies next to the plot.

The hole was at the base of the netting, about 6 inches in diameter. I patched the hole with another piece of fencing, "sewing"them together with green garden twine. Next, I put a big pot in front of the repaired fence. I also dragged flowerpots, rocks, and other obstructions along the length of the side so the rabbit would have difficulty squeezing through. There are three other sides it could enter, though, so I did some research looking for other things I could do to keep rabbits out of my garden.

I found out that a rabbit's preferred garden crops are peas and lettuce. (Bummer!) In general they will not eat squash, tomatoes, or peppers, so my other plants should be safe. However, several Websites noted that rabbits would much rather eat clover than produce. My bunny mustn't have read that memo, because there's a patch growing right on the other side of the garden fence!

Other suggestions I found for deterring rabbits:
  • Spread used kitty litter throughout the garden. We've been trying to get the cats to pull their own weight around here for years, and they certainly do a good job of producing used litter. I experimented with putting a couple of clumps along the breached side of the fence.
  • Sprinkle human hair around the garden. Both Tony and I have recently had haircuts, so there's no extra hair to be found. I wonder if cat hair would do anything, though. The only thing they produce more of than dirty litter is hair.
  • Pour hot sauce on the plants. This worked on some hostas last year, so I dug a bottle of Zulu Fire Sauce out of the refrigerator, dumped a generous amount into a large container of water, and poured the water over the lettuce and broccoli stumps. I HOPE the rabbit tries to eat them now!
Tomorrow I'll be going to the hardware store for stronger fencing material to redo the perimeter of my area. I refuse to let the wildlife win!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Destruction

I came home from a graduation party and saw this in the garden:


It used to be a broccoli plant with real leaves and a couple of baby florets; all gone. All of the snow pea plants I'd patiently trained to grow up the trellis had been snipped off six inches from the ground. The tops of the plants, now deprived of water and nutrition, hung limply suspended from their tendrils. The lettuce had substantially shorter leaves than the last time I'd checked it.

After my blood stopped boiling I started planning my revenge. Stay tuned...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hybrids

This isn't a great time of year for produce. All of the "winter" fruits are past their prime, and it's too early for warm weather varieties. I really enjoy eating fruit, though, so when I saw something different at the grocery store today I had to buy one and check it out. Today I ate an aprium.

I had no clue what the apricot-looking fruit was, but the tag next to the bin told me it was a cross between an apricot and a plum. After a little research, I learned that the aprium is a combination of ¼ plum and ¾ apricot (not to be confused with the pluot which is ¼ apricot and ¾ plum). Floyd Zaiger of Zaiger Genetics developed both hybrids a couple of decades ago. Both fruits are the result of cross-pollination, and take a couple of steps. First, a plum tree is cross-pollinated with pollen from an apricot tree. The seeds that result from the cross are planted, and the second generation fruits are called plumcots, or ½ plum and ½ apricot.

If cross-pollination is continued for another generation, one of two fruits will occur. When a plumcot is crossed with plum pollen, the result is a pluot. When a plumcot is crossed with apricot pollen, the result is an aprium.

The aprium was the size of a small plum, but could easily be mistaken for a very large apricot. The fruit resembled an apricot on the outside with just a hint of fuzz. The flesh was bright orange, and tasted like an apricot with a plum aftertaste. It was sweeter than an apricot would be.

At $2.99 a pound the apriums were a bit pricey, but they were small so I only paid about a third of that for the experience of trying something new.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shop For A Good Cause

Last month a sign went up in the window of an empty storefront near the intersection of Big Bend and 141. The Schnucks grocery store that used to be there opened a new and bigger store across the street, and the building has been empty since then. This month, though it's been put into use for a Design Ideas Charity Sale.

I wasn't familiar with Design Ideas, but a little research revealed that it's a product design firm located in Springfield, Illinois. It's been around for more than 25 years, and sells home and office accessories. You can find their products in chain stores and independent stores and boutiques.

It was a bit surreal to walk into the newly-opened store today, because I used to shop there for groceries all the time. The lighted signs for the deli and seafood departments still hung on the wall, and there were remnants of the video department at the front of the store. The pharmacist's office where I would drop off and pick up prescriptions seemed to be the break room for store workers.

The sale took up about half of the store. It looked like they were trying to keep similar products together in a rough order--all of the office products were housed in a couple of aisles, and the home accessories were segregated from the dishware. There were a lot of Earth-friendly products; totes made from plastic bags in India, rattan baskets, and trays and magnets covered with recycled labels. They also had a very cool product called GelGems, which are squishy translucent plastic shapes that you can stick on glass. Everything had the retail price and the sale price listed; there were some very good deals to be had.

There are four local charities that are benefiting from the sale: the Missouri Botanical Garden, Edgewood Children's Center, The National Children's Cancer Society, and Friends of Character Plus. There were several large signs that stated that all sales were final, so I ended up not purchasing anything today (although there were also signs stating that all of the items were in limited quantities, and not guaranteed to be there next time). However, I'll be going back with a list of measurements and a tape measure soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Harmonious


The Palette Generator from Big Huge Labs is coming in handy for an upcoming redecorating project.

You upload a photo and a palette of colors based on the colors in the photo is automatically generated. If you're so inclined, you can download the color swatches to use for computer-based applications.

My "inspiration piece" was a poster of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I laid the framed poster on the floor in the living room and took a snapshot of it. The picture has a substantial amount of warm colors in it, so I was surprised by the preponderance of subdued cool colors in the palette that got generated.

However, between these ideas and the paint chips I got at the hardware store, I should be able to figure the project out.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"An Inspirationsal American Icon"

I don't know how I possibly missed it on CNNBC, but my friend Denise has sharp eyes and saw the announcement from the National Maternal Society that I won the 2009 Mother of the Year Award. She was nice enough to email it to me.

Among my achievements, I was honored for ..."selflessly contributing 52 hours of every day to people other than myself" and "initiating cleanup of toxic waste buildup in TV rooms and closets." Beyoncé was one of the celebrities that paid tribute, saying that "one day she hoped to be a mother just like the mother of the year...only much richer". Even President Obama had words of praise!

The video, of course, was fake, but a lot of fun. It looked just like a cable news show, complete with scrolling text bar at the bottom and related news headlines. My name was written into the clip about a dozen times.

At the end of the video, I was offered the opportunity to send it to other moms. I guess I can share...

Monday, May 11, 2009

How Am I Supposed To Finish Making The Bed?

So much to do!

My list of projects is endless. There are indoor jobs and outdoor activities. The errands never stop.

I don't know which thing to pick up first.

But maybe the cats have the right idea. There's always time for a nap in their world. Maybe I should lay down and join them, or go find a shady spot in the grass and stretch out with the newspaper.

Next month when the temperature is pushing 90 and the humidity is almost as high I'll wish I could listen to the birds sing through the open window. I'll be sad I missed the chance to watch the birds while sitting on the deck.

Carpe diem. I'm outta here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eat. Drink. Play

For Mother's Day Tony was taking me out for lunch. Son Donald is the only one in town, and since he didn't have to work he came along. I thought I knew where we were going, but our destination turned out to be a surprise. Today I went to Dave & Busters to eat lunch and play games with the family.

Tony's choice of restaurants was unconventional, but I was excited. I've long wanted to check out Dave & Busters, which I'd heard could be compared to a Chuck E. Cheese for adults. There's a restaurant, a bar area, and a huge game floor. Although minors are welcome, they have to be accompanied by an adult, and they aren't allowed in at all after 10 PM.

The Dave & Busters parking lot was quite empty when we arrived close to noon. There was no wait for a table. The waitress came quickly to take our drink orders, and we were ready to order our food when she returned with the drinks. The promotion that's running now pairs select meals and a $10.00 game card for $15.99, so we chose from that part of the menu. It didn't take long for the food to arrive; since we were hungry it didn't take long for the food to be gone. After we settled the bill, it was time to go play. We took our glasses of iced tea into the game area, since the waitress said we get them refilled there too.

The game area is a little like walking into a Las Vegas casino. The room was dark, and games were flashing lights and making noises on every side. However, unlike a casino this room was family-friendly. There seemed to be something for everyone. There were sports, action, and driving games, vintage video games and new virtual reality ones. A couple of games allowed you to play head-to-head against other people. There was a whole section of "pusher" games where you strategically drop tokens in the hopes that tokens will be pushed over the edge and several variations of the claw game where you try to grab a prize with a mechanical claw. Some games gave you tickets, and some didn't.

Since it wasn't busy, we didn't have to wait for any of the games. To play you swipe your card through a machine, which deducts the correct number of credits. If your card runs dry, there are machines to add credits; they accept cash or credit cards. You can also use the same machines check the balance on a card.

I never have luck with video games, so I concentrated on the carnival-style games. The three of us played some skeeball and a Super Trivia game together. Donald and Tony played a shooter game, and he played Deal or No Deal with me. The three of us teamed up again (for several rounds) on a horse racing game. At this point our cards were just about depleted, so we searched for games that didn't cost a lot of credits. When all of the cards were empty, it was time to go to the "Winners Circle" to cash in the tickets we'd collected.

There was a wide variety of prizes, ranging from the usual carnival junk to name-brand video games. The clerk determined how many tickets we had, then swiped my card to store the prize value on it. There were enough tickets that each of us could get a prize (I picked out a Dave and Buster logo coffee cup with a lid) and have a few left over; when we checked out the cashier swiped our card to deduct the value. If I ever go back and use the same card (which is reloadable), I'll already have some tickets waiting for me.

I had the most wonderful time hanging out with my family. I think we started a new Mother's Day tradition; next year I hope more of the family can actually be here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

To Market, To Market

It seems like farmers markets are springing up all around our metropolitan area, which is great news because for a very long time there were only a handful. Today I shopped at a farmers market on its very first day of business.

The granddaddy of farmers markets in the area is Soulard Market, the oldest one west of the Mississippi. Long ago I shopped there on a regular basis, but when we moved to our present neighborhood it became too time- and gas-ineffective to go there except for special occasions. The Kirkwood Farmers Market has been around for more than 30 years, and has turned into our semi-regular provider of produce during the growing season. At approximately eight miles from our house, it was also the closest.

This year there are two close-by cities that have started markets. The one we visited today in the City of Wildwood (about a nine mile drive from the house) was probably a farm itself not too long ago. When we moved to Manchester 24 years ago, there was little development west of Clarkson Road. Since that time suburban sprawl slowly crept outward, and there's now the normal compliment of big-box stores and strip malls in the area.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the Wildwood Town Center, which they seem to be trying to develop along the principles of new urbanism. In addition to a chain grocery store, chain drug store, and all the other storefronts you'd expect in a strip mall there were multi-story buildings with street-level stores and restaurants. The streets in the area were arranged in a grid pattern, with roundabouts instead of stop signs at the major intersections, stone monument street signs, and on-street parking.

We weren't exactly sure where the market was being held; they needed more directional signage, but after a couple of wrong turns we saw the blue-roofed tents. After we parked the car in a convenient spot, I grabbed a couple of bags from the back of the car and we were ready to shop.

There were only about two dozen vendors there today. I had low expectations for the availability of produce, and I was right. It's really much too early for local fruits and vegetables. There were several local vendors of "stuff" and several booths selling prepared food, snacks, and baked goods. There was a grass-fed beef farm that was taking orders to be delivered later, and a man selling honey that came from not too far from where I live. I bought a pot of oregano from a local farm, we had lunch, then we left.

The market will be open on Saturdays throughout the summer and fall. I'm sure that once the growing season gets into gear there will be a lot more choices. I'd like the market to do well so there are more choices for good produce.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bad Mood Begone!

Several bloggers I read have mentioned being in a funk this week, but no one can put their finger on exactly what's wrong. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but I woke up feeling depressed today. It didn't help that it was cloudy when I woke up, raining while I completed my errands, and pouring as I arrived back home mid-afternoon.

I could pretty much predict what would happen the rest of the day. I'd turn the TV on and sit on the couch to read the newspaper, then probably fall asleep for a while. Get up in time to fix dinner, eat it, then clean it up. Maybe take a walk in the neighborhood, then watch the Cardinal game until bedtime. I realized I was stuck in a rut and needed to do something different, but every idea I thought of wasn't "right".

Within a period of 15 minutes, the torrential rain stopped and the sun came out. That almost made it worse; now I was wasting a beautiful day. I needed to do something different to mix things up. There was no money in my checkbook for an "adventure", so I was going to have to be creative.

I went out to the deck to read the newspaper, but the picnic table was wet, as were the chairs and the deck itself, so I went into the garage, grabbed a chair and sat down. Sitting in the sun while turning the pages of the paper started to make me feel better. An idea hatched in my head; before I knew it I was happily buzzing through the kitchen coming up with ideas for a picnic dinner in the park. Our cupboard was pretty bare, so the dinner was anything but gourmet, but:
  • I found some challah rolls in the freezer. In the meat drawer, there were two pieces of Swiss cheese, one piece of turkey lunch meat (which I cut in half) and some ham. I layered it all on the rolls, added brown mustard, sandwich pickles, and the first two leaves of lettuce from the garden.
  • I made baked tortilla chips with the stale tortillas that were also in the meat drawer, and poured some salsa into a deli container.
  • Dessert was chewy granola bars and two pieces of cantaloupe from the fruit bin that I cut up.
  • There was one can of Diet Pepsi in the refrigerator, but more in the pantry. I put one in the freezer to chill quickly.
I called Tony, who was amenable to my crazy idea. We arranged to meet at a county park that was halfway in between his office and the house. Just in case we couldn't find an empty table, I added a plastic cloth and blanket to the car. We WERE going to have a picnic, no matter what!

The park is relatively small, and we pretty much had it to ourselves. I chose a pavilion by the playground since it had the most sun, and laid the plastic out as a tablecloth. There were some Star-of-Bethlehem blooming in the grass; I picked them and wrapped them in a wet napkin for a "centerpiece". When Tony arrived we got out the food, ate, and talked. After dinner we took a short stroll around the park, then returned to our cars and drove home.

Tonight I feel a bit full, but great. Life is good.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

News On The Run (Updated)

I don't have an iPhone, but if I did I'd download Newsflash, a free newsreader application, from the iPhone Application Store.

In the interest of full disclosure, my son is one of the four developers of Newsflash. I'm proud of the team, who did the work as part of a class project at Mizzou. Last November they were named as one of four finalists in a competition to develop an iPhone app. Earlier this week, Newsflash won the "People's Choice" award in the contest.

The app uses GPS to bring global, national, and local news to your phone. You can customize just about everything--the topic sections, article searches, screen layout, and even the color theme.

Newsflash has an embedded web browser that allows you to read the complete article on your phone without having to leave the application, which makes your news reading faster. I've seen Newsflash in action, and it's really nifty the way articles quickly pop up on the phone screen.

So if you're one of those people that have an awesome iPhone and you need to keep up with the latest breaking news, Newsflash is the app for you. You should try it.
Update:

Even people other than his mother have good things to say about Newsflash! PatrickJ at Just Another iPhone Blog says it "may just be the best iPhone news app I’ve seen yet – and I’ve seen, and liked, a lot of them."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How Cool Is That?

Last month when I joined a new gym, one of the selling points was that it was open 24 hours. (I seriously doubt I'll have a need to exercise in the middle of the night, but you never know.) The facility is staffed and the doors unlocked from 6 in the morning till 10 at night. After those hours you need a special high-tech way to get in. Today I had my hand scanned so it would unlock a door.

The storefront has two entrances, which are designated as "Member Door" (always locked) and "Guest Door" (unlocked when the center is staffed). Since I always come during staffed hours, I was told I could use the unlocked door as long as I scanned my access card at the front desk. I found out today the secret for getting in the locked entrance lies in a clunky-looking cylindrical device that sits outside the Member Door. Turns out it's a fancy biometric hand reader that verifies a member's identity and grants access.

The machine uses a hand print for identification. Before I could use the access machine, I had to give it a sample. After swiping my access card at the front desk, I walked around to the opposite side where a strange looking contraption was waiting. I was instructed to grab the bar at the bottom, release it, and then repeat the process.

After I provided my hand information, I got a quick lesson in the use of the machine outside the door. There's two parts to the system. First, you wave your access card over a scanner at the top. A panel slides open to reveal the biometric reader. You insert your right hand, grab the bar, and squeeze it. If it recognizes you as a member, the door unlocks so you can enter.

I can't wait to try out the access machine. There's nothing that says I can't do it while the building is open...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dig It!

Today was planting day at Casa Kathy.

I bought annuals and vegetable plants last week, but the ground was too wet and cold to plant them. It's supposed to start raining again tomorrow, so I grabbed the window of opportunity and dug in the dirt today.

When I planned my expanded garden a couple of months ago, I just turned over the sod in the area, so the first step today was to till the soil and add compost to counteract the clay I knew would be there. I wasn't counting on hitting rock! The area is several feet away from the patio. When they poured the concrete they must have dumped all the extra gravel right where I was now trying to set up the garden. I could only go down six inches before my shovel wouldn't go any further, so I switched over to a compost fork, which slid (somewhat) easily through the rocks. I didn't try to remove all of the gravel today; if I did I'd still be working on the job next month, but I filled one flowerpot with gravel pieces, and took carrots off my list of vegetables to grow in this area.

After digging in some gypsum, two wheelbarrows of compost, and a bag of manure from the hardware store, I was ready to plant. Being careful not to disturb the already-growing lettuce and snow peas, I dug holes for three tomatoes (slicing, grape, and a heirloom purple), four peppers (green, yellow, pepperoncini, and a heirloom medium-hot red), one zucchini, and two broccoli plants (which I bought as an experiment; I've never grown it before). The front row was reserved for the marigolds I always plant to keep away the bugs.

I usually mulch with newspaper and grass clippings, but I forgot to use the bag when I cut the lawn yesterday. Fortunately, it won't take too long for the grass to grow long enough to cut again, then I can do the mulching and call the job finished. When everything was planted in the garden, I inserted a stake next to each small tomato plant and affixed a plastic chicken wire fence to some poles around the perimeter of the area. Looking at my work, I felt like quite the Earth mother.

But I wasn't done planting yet. I brought out the canna bulbs I dug up in the fall and set them out. I stopped to talk to my neighbors who were also doing yard work, traded some cannas for a hydrangea sprout, and planted it. Finally, I took care of three six-packs of annuals, putting some of them in the front yard and some in the back.

I had to haul the hose out from the basement and hook it up. Everything got a good watering, then I put all my equipment away and collapsed in the family room.

I hope all my hard work pays off down the line..

Monday, May 4, 2009

House Wrecker

Today as I was trimming a greatly-overgrown barberry in the front yard I revealed this:

Because of my work, the nest was now completely exposed to the elements. I felt horrible! Some bird spent a lot of time constructing its nest in a sheltered location, and I go and mess everything up. The nest was a work of art; perfectly symmetrical, built on a frame of sticks, lined with soft material, and ready for eggs.

How long does it take a bird to make a new nest?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Be The Star


The Internet is filled with myriad time wasters. I got sucked in tonight when I made an "animated interactive adventure" at the Legends of Me Website.

The stories were designed for someone many decades younger than me, but it was still a lot of fun. You get to make a customized character, specifying its name, sex, age, favorite color and favorite city. The character can sport one of several hairstyles and skin colors, can wear glasses or not, and is clothed in a t-shirt and pants (with multiple color choices for both). Every good hero in an adventure story needs a sidekick, so the Website allows you to pick a friend with all the same choices in personalization.

After the characters are set, they get to play the starring roles in one of four adventures. My character's name was Kathy, so my story choices were:
  • Super Kathy
  • Kathy and the Beast
  • Kathy Space Cadet
  • Kathy and the Wizard's Brew
The story's plot was quite detailed, and had multiple interactive elements. At several points in the story I controlled the plot by choosing one of several options, and a couple of times there was a mini Flash game integrated into the storyline that didn't take much skill at all.

My story ended happily when I saved the day by defeating all the bad guys, so I could go to bed satisfied that all was right in the world.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mocha Mask

Tony and I went to the gym this morning, and he discovered when we got home the coffee pot had been left on; we had half a pot of "cooked" brew. When I made a cup of iced coffee later in the day, I had to admit it was past its prime. However, I don't like to throw anything out, so I researched unique ways to use up leftover coffee. Today I made a facial mask out of coffee grounds and coffee.

According to my source, coffee grounds make a gentle exfoliation product for your skin. I mixed a quarter cup of coffee grounds with enough of the old coffee to make a thick paste. My first plan was to apply it in the bathroom in front of the mirror so I could see what I was doing, but I quickly realized that was a mistake when coffee grounds started flying everywhere! I moved to the kitchen and leaned over the sink to complete the job.

After I applied the paste on my face, I let it dry for 20 minutes. This part wasn't too messy, but when I had to scratch the skin next to my eye, a few stray coffee grounds fell off. The removal, as you might expect, was also a bit sloppy. When I was done there were grounds all over the sink and countertop. However, my face DID feel very smooth, and had a glow to it.

I don't think I'm going to repeat the process again tomorrow, though. The rest of the old coffee is going to get poured into the compost pile.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A-Tisket, A-Tasket

Does anyone else remember delivering baskets of flowers to your neighbors on May Day? You'd ring the doorbell, leave the flowers on the front door, and run away. In school we made paper baskets with handles long enough to slip over doorknobs and flowers on pipe cleaner stems to put in them. We giggled all the home, thinking how much fun it would be to surprise someone with our present.

I can't say that I saturated my neighborhood with May Day baskets today, but I did "gift" one of the people down the street with a ding-dong-and-dash when I left a May Day arrangement on their front porch.


No one is home on my street during the day, so I had to wait until late in the afternoon to do my good deed. When I saw a garage door open on the other side of the street, I cut an iris from the back yard, wrapped it in a damp paper towel, and attached a card that said "Happy May Day". I took off the flip-flops I was wearing (so I could run faster) and snuck across the street toward my target. The house had one car in the garage and another on the street, so I was afraid someone might see me before I got there.

When I reached the front porch, I put the flower on the door threshold so it couldn't be missed, rang the doorbell, and ran away as fast as I could. I tried to go somewhere where I could see the reaction to my gift, but I couldn't get a good view and still be hidden from sight. I do believe I saw a puzzled smile on the woman as she closed the door, though.