Sunday, November 29, 2009

Illuminate Me

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Make Trade Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slow Cooker French Dip

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Father, We Thank Thee
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last Name Game

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hooray For Me!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'll Have Mine With Milk And Sugar

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pretty Is As Pretty Does

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hard Copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Those Who Served

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Disappearing Act

Have you ever had this happen to you?

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It Can't Hurt

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 6, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Celebration Of Those Who Have Gone Before Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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