Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sixth Day of Christmas

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

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

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

Here's a fable from Aesop about geese:

THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGGS

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

Moral: Much wants more and loses all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Fifth Day of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Fourth Day of Christmas

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Third Day of Christmas

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


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

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

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

Somehow I think the chickens would approve.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Second Day of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The First Day of Christmas

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Drummer Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Underdog?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Third Time's The Charm

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

However, this is what I see from the kitchen:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time To Have Some Fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and pass it on!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fiesta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Solid As A Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

....gnitseretnI

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fun On The Freeway

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mmmmm.....

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

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



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

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