Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Need For Speed

Several months ago our city's police department bought a new "toy"; a trailer containing a radar gun and an electronic sign that tells you exactly how fast you're going as you drive past. Since then, I've seen the speed trailer in several different locations. As I drive by it, I always glance at my speedometer to make sure I'm not going too fast.

Tonight Tony and I were out for a stroll and saw the sign sitting on the side of the road. As we walked past it I wondered what it would take to make the screen activate. After a little experimenting I figured out how to set off a radar speed sign while I was on foot.

It wasn't hard at all. I just danced around in front of it a little bit and waved my arms. There were no cars in the vicinity to see my performance, but the screen showed me moving at 29 miles per hour. After my experiment was over I walked away (at a much slower rate of speed).

Monday, June 29, 2009

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

Sage at Wise Herb's Random Jottings gifted me with a lovely "faithful follower" award a few days ago. As I'm just getting around to acknowledging it just now, I'm not sure how faithful that makes me, but I'm honored to accept.

As all blogging awards go, I now get to choose others to receive this one. Based solely on the fact that they've recently commented on my ramblings, my picks are:

Life In The Second Half
Dkzody’s Weblog
New things each Day
Life In The 2nd Half Century
The Unemployed Elitist
Not Rocket Science
Journey to Flow
Kathy's Kampground Kapers

Please don't feel compelled to pass the award on, but if you'd like to, here are some rules:

1. Put this award on your blog.
2. Invite 10 people to take this award.
3. Don't forget to link back to the person who gave you this award.
4. Let them know that they have received this award.
5. Share the love to those who get this award.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Plant or Weed?

This year we decided to cancel our lawn service. There's been no "weeding and feeding" of our turf, and the non-grass plants that were missing last year have started to return. (A few never really went away.) I know the names of some of the invading weeds...dandelions and clover are so distinctive they're easy to identify. Crabgrass is forever popping up in the garden, and because nutsedge (aka watergrass) grows faster than the grass it's sadly easy to find in the yard.

However, I can't identify many of the other weeds. There's the plant with the yellow flowers, the one with succulent-looking leaves, and the one that starts out looking like a petite dandelion, but has tiny white flowers at the top of a longish stem. I decided to rectify my ignorance and today I researched the names of the weeds that I see in our yard.

I got my information, and photos, from the University of Missouri Weed Identification Guide Website. It was very helpful. There were several different classes of weeds, but I concentrated on the garden, landscape, and lawn categories. I spent a lot of time clicking through to different plants. There were some very unusual names that caught my attention, such as clammy groundcherry, mugwort, and poorjoe. A few plants, like Jerusalem artichoke, are considered weeds when they grow in wrong places, but are actually cultivated in others.

Some of my more interesting discoveries:

This is yellow woodsorrel. The leaves look a bit like a shamrock, as woodsorrel is in the oxalis family. The plant is a perennial, and I'm forever pulling these plants from my flowerbeds starting in the spring. They tend to grow in clusters; there's always four or five plants growing together in one spot. An orange dye can be obtained by boiling the whole plant; I may need to try that!

Common Lespedeza is an annual that's also called Japanese clover. It forms a large flat mat that can be more than a foot wide. At my house, it likes to grow in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, and kills all the grass underneath it. Occasionally after a hard rain I can pull up the whole plant; it's attached to a long taproot.

Do you ever wonder how some plants got their name? Shepherd's-purse has triangular, purse-like pods. It can flower almost all year round. Although it can get as tall as two feet, in our yard it gets mown over on a regular basis, so it tends to stay short.

Common purslane is in the portulaca family, which explains the leaf's resemblance to the annual flower I buy from the garden shop. This plant loves to grow in the driveway and sidewalk expansion joints at my house. Someone told me that purslane is edible, but because it's growing so close to the street at our house I think I'll pass!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Be Cool

Although our grass isn't growing as quickly as it was last month, it still needs to be cut on a regular basis. Today was the day, and I wasn't looking forward to it because the forecast called for temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index of over 100. I was gone all morning, and when I got home I kept finding things to do other than get the lawn mower out. I spent so long procrastinating that it was mid-afternoon before I got outside-ironically, the hottest part of the day.

In preparation for the job I put on old baggy clothes, slathered on sunscreen, and borrowed Tony's lawn mowing hat (an old sweat-stained baseball cap from the Cayman Islands). I was almost ready, but I decided to take one additional step to keep myself cool while I cut. I filled a bucket with water and added a handful of ice cubes to keep it cold. Just before I started the lawn mower, I dunked the cap in the bucket, wrung out most of the excess water, and put it on my head.

It felt wonderful! There were cool rivulets of water running down the side of my face, and drops of water from the brim hitting my nose. After I finished cutting the front yard, I turned off the the mower and re-wet the hat. This time I left a bit more water on it so it would cool off the top of my head. I repeated the dunking procedure three more times before the mowing was finished, not because I had to but because it felt so good. Each time the hat was a little more saturated when it went back on my head and there was more water dripping off it.

When I finished the lawn my clothes were completely covered in sweat, my eyes were burning from sunscreen running into them, and I had very unattractive raccoon rings from melting mascara. It was time to get clean.

I don't like to shower after exercising in hot weather, because it doesn't cool me off; I continue to sweat after I get out. I'd rather take a bath, because I can sit in the water as long as I want. However, today I decided to improve the bathing experience. I carried a large drinking glass and the ice container from the freezer up to the bathroom. I filled the glass with ice and water, then turned the cold faucet on in the tub and dumped the rest of the cubes in.

There wasn't a lot of ice, so it was melted about the time the water got six inches deep. I stepped into the tub and sat down. The water was almost cold, but quite invigorating. I dunked my head under the water and let the extra run down my back, then sat back and drank my ice water. In less than five minutes I had stopped sweating and was ready to get out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Must Have Medical Tests for Women (from Life123)

It’s easy to put off going to the doctor. Life gets busy and you feel healthy, right? While you don’t want to spend more time in the doctor’s office than necessary, certain tests are well-worth the time investment because they will extend the length of your life as well as the quality of your life. The following must have medical tests are ones you won’t want to skip.

Tests you’ll need once you turn 18

Once you’re on your own, make sure you get these medical tests:

* Annual Physical. It may sound basic, but many people think as long as you feel healthy, you don’t need to see the doctor. Establish a relationship with your primary care physician by scheduling an annual physical. Make sure this yearly exam includes a pelvic exam; an all-over skin examination, looking for signs of skin cancer; weight check, as one of the most common signs of other illnesses is unintentional excessive weight loss or gain; blood pressure check, given that it’s never too early to watch for signs of heart disease, the number one cause of death for women; and a discussion about your mental health, touching on signs of depression. Continue to have these annual exams for the rest of your life, using these annual physicals as a springboard for the rest of the annual medical tests mentioned in this article.

* Twice a year dental exam. You may feel like your teeth are bright and shiny--you may even clean and floss them three times a day—but there’s no substitute for your biannual dental appointment for a professional cleaning, check for cavities and gum disease, and visual check for oral cancer.

* Annual breast exam. While you’re in the doctor’s office for that annual physical, make sure your doctor does a manual breast exam looking for signs of breast cancer. Ask your doctor to show you how to perform a proper self exam and make sure you perform a self exam monthly.

Tests you’ll need starting in your 20s

* Cholesterol test every five years. When you turn 20, you’ll want to ask your doctor to check your cholesterol every 5 years, charting your levels of good and bad cholesterol. The test can be done during your annual physical and consists of having blood drawn. You have to fast the day of the exam, so make sure you tell the physician’s office you want this test done when you schedule the exam and follow the instructions carefully, so you don’t have to come in again another day. If the test comes back saying you have “high cholesterol”, this means your bad cholesterol is too high or your good cholesterol is too low, putting you at risk for heart disease in the future. Your doctor may prescribe certain dietary, exercise, and even prescription drugs for you if your cholesterol is high.

* STD screening if you’re sexually active. Once you have been sexually active with more than one partner, or if your partner has had multiple partners, you should consider an STD screening. It’s advised to be screened at the very least for Chlamydia, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), herpes simplex virus, trichomoniasis and AIDS. If you have had any concerning symptoms, such as itchiness, unusual discharge, sores, blisters, or irritation in your genital area, mention this to your doctor. Early detection of STDs can reduce chances of serious consequences. How often you should be tested depends on how many sexual partners you have in any given amount of time, so be open with your doctor at each yearly physical. If you are under age 26 and do not have HPV, you may want to get the HPV vaccine and protect yourself from cervical cancer later on.

Tests you’ll need starting in your 40s

* Diabetes screening every 3 years. When you hit 40, you’ll want to ask your doctor to perform a diabetes screening since uncontrolled diabetes takes a toll on your internal organs—especially your heart, kidneys and liver. This test requires you to fast and is done via drawn blood.

* Annual mammogram. Once you hit 40, you’ll want to be more aggressive in your fight against breast cancer, and that includes yearly mammograms. These tests can detect a lump in your breast much smaller than anything you could find on your own in a self exam, giving you the edge against cancer. The test entails allowing an x-ray-like machine clamping sections of your breasts between slides, and although it is somewhat painful, it is a quick and simple way to protect yourself from a life-threatening illness.

Tests you’ll need starting in your 50s

* Glaucoma and cataract screening. You’ll want to see the optometrist—whether you’ve worn glasses or not—when you hit 50, because you’ll want to get checked out for glaucoma, a disease involving the optic nerve that is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, and cataracts, the clouding of the clear lens that protects your iris. While both tests may be uncomfortable, they are not painful. Get screened every 2-4 years until you hit age 60; then see your optometrist annually every year thereafter. If you are African American, you’ll want to start getting these tests at age 40.

* Thyroid test every 5 years. If you’ve noticed significant weight loss or gain or have trouble staying warm, it’s time to get the old thyroid checked out. A thyroid test is as simply as drawing blood and is recommended every 5 years after you turn 50, helping your doctor identify either an over or under active thyroid before it becomes a problem. Get this taken care of by your primary physician during your annual physical.

* Colonoscopy every 10 years. Even though this is an uncomfortable test, you’ll want to get your full colonoscopy at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter, with a digital rectal exam midway between (every 5 years) to catch signs of colorectal cancer early on. You can get this over with during your annual physical.

* Stress test every 10 years. Since heart disease is so prevalent among women, it’s a good idea to get a stress test once you turn 50 and every 10 years thereafter. A stress test will involve physical exertion (usually on a treadmill) while your heart rate and blood pressure are being monitored. This test can tell your physician a great deal about your susceptibility to heart disease.

* C-reactive protein test. This test is one more way to detect heart disease early on. The test uses blood from a blood sample to determine how high your c-reactive protein level is in your blood stream. A high level of this protein indicates inflammation in your body, which is either a predictor of a propensity towards heart disease or one sign that heart disease may already be developing. There is no standard recommendation for this test to be done, only that it should be performed on women over age 50 who show signs of possible heart disease.

Tests you’ll need starting in your 60s

* Bone density test. The tests used to measure bone density in your hip bones and spine are DEXA scans and quantitative CT scans. Both of these tests are painless and work much like an x-ray machine, using radiation to capture images of your bones. It is important to note that both tests use less radiation than a traditional x-ray machine. The tests are quick, usually taking less than ten minutes total. You’ll want to get this test done every two to three years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Geographically Challenged?

The Traveler IQ Challenge is a lot of fun. I'd like to say I breezed through all the levels with perfect scores, but I guess I'm not as good at world geography as I thought I was!

Try it and let me know how you did.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Drink Up

Over the weekend I made a cake that called for a total of one tablespoon of root beer concentrate (some in the cake and some in the frosting). The concentrate came in a two-ounce bottle, so there was quite a bit left over when the cake was done. As I was putting the bottle back into the package, I noticed there were directions for homemade root beer on the back of the box. Since I already had the concentrate on hand, today I made root beer, then figured out how to prepare a single serving for myself.

Making the root beer was easy. The recipe had four ingredients: water, sugar, concentrate, and club soda or seltzer. The first step is to make a simple syrup by cooking the water and sugar till it boils, then stirring in the concentrate. Next, the chilled syrup is poured into carbonated water and mixed till it's blended together. How simple is that?

The plan was to serve root beer with tonight's dinner. I made the syrup, put it in the refrigerator, and walked away. But the syrup kept calling my name from the kitchen. Eventually, I gave in and decided to have some soda for a late-afternoon snack. I didn't want to mix the entire batch together, since I didn't know how long the carbonation would last once the concentrate was mixed with the club soda. Not a problem; a little computation allowed me to pour just enough of the syrup into a glass for a single serving. I added the soda water and a few cubes of ice and gave it a stir.

The soda was great! The syrup tasted like something you'd put on a snow cone, so I was afraid the end result would be way too sweet, but the carbonation of the club soda really cut the sugar and gave it a different taste. My treat was gone quickly, but I still have a partial bottle of concentrate left for another day. Root beer float, anyone?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why Not?

Last week I went shopping for material for a sewing project.

I ended up at a store that specializes in home decorating fabric. One of the things that I like about this place is that they have sample swatches of each material already cut and pinned to the end of the bolt. The samples aren't large; they're usually about six inches long and three inches wide, depending on the repeat design of the fabric. I picked nine potential fabrics and brought them home to decide which one I wanted. Today I returned to make my purchase.

When I got to the store I absent-mindedly carried the entire set of samples in with me, instead of just the one I had decided on, so I decided I might as well give back the ones I didn't want. Today I returned free fabric swatches to a store.

All the fabrics I had chosen were grouped in one corner of the building, so it was easy to match the sample to the bolt. I unpinned the safety pin that held each bolt's swatches, stuck mine on the pile, and re-pinned everything back on the bolt. I felt like I was doing something I shouldn't, and I kept checking to make sure no one saw me, but the store was pretty empty and I was the only customer on that side of the store. It only took a few extra minutes to complete the job, then I found the material I was purchasing and took it up to the cutting table.

I'm sure the store considers giving the samples away part of their cost of doing business, and they don't expect to get them back. However, they were too small to do anything with and I would have just thrown them away, so I hope the next person to take "my" samples home appreciates them.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Scoop

Ted Drewes is a St. Louis institution, selling frozen custard since the 1930s. Although they serve only one flavor of frozen custard (vanilla), there are infinite combinations of flavorings and toppings that can be added to make sundaes, malts, or floats. However, they're probably best known for their concretes. A concrete is custard (with mix-ins) blended in a cup that's so thick that it doesn't fall out when the cup is turned upside-down.

Somehow it slipped by me that the 50th anniversary of the concrete occurred back in May; this weekend we went to Ted Drewes to celebrate.

Feast: St. Louis Magazine's food, wine, and spirits blog tells the story this way:
Just so happens that in 1959, 50 years ago this May, a guy named Steve Gamber (who's now 64) began bicycling to Ted Drewes' Chippewa location for a daily Landshire sandwich and a chocolate malt. Each day he'd ask 30 year old Ted Drewes Jr. to make the malt thicker. Ted made the successive malts thicker and thicker but the 14 year old wanted them thicker still. One day, "Just to shut me up," reports Gamber, "Ted turned the malt upside down right in front of me and said 'is this thick enough for you? If it falls out, it's free.'" Gamber paid for his malt.
Ted Drewes was a very busy spot on a weekend night. We didn't even try to park in the lot, but found a spot on the street a block away. As always, there was a crush of people in front of the building, but every window was open and it didn't take too long to get up to the front of a line. After we received our order we walked over to the side of the building and found a spot to eat our treats. Since everyone ordered a different concrete, we had fun tasting each others treats. After we were finished, we people-watched for a while, then walked back to the car.

Although there are several frozen custard stands closer to our house, it's always worth the drive to go to Ted Drewes.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hallmark Moment

A friend used to be married. I just found out today that she isn't anymore. All the legal work has been finalized and signed, and she's moving on with her life.

What do you do when someone you've known each a long time has had a major life change? If she were sick I'd send a Get Well card. If someone she was close to died, I'd put a Sympathy card in the mail. There are cards for just about every occasion; today I sent a divorce card to a friend. I was amazed that there were several cards to choose from. Some of them were funny and irreverent, and some were heartfelt.

I picked out one I thought she'd like, added some words to the bottom of the card, signed my name, and sent it off. I'm sure if the shoe was on the other foot, I'd appreciate knowing that people were thinking about me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I've been buying a lot of spring fruit while it's in season and using my food dehydrator to dry it. The theory is that later in the year, when strawberries, blueberries, and cherries are expensive I'll have some in my pantry that I can use. The problem is that we keep eating my work! Dried fruits taste wonderful in a bowl of cereal or a batch of muffins. They also make a great snack on their own.

I found strawberries on sale for 99 cents a pound today, and brought four pounds home to dry:

This is the third batch of strawberries this month. There are three trays filled; when the dehydration is complete tomorrow morning they'll fill a large Tupperware container. I may go back to the store before the week is over for another set of berries!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


We're getting new wrought iron furniture for the deck to replacing the warping picnic table that's been there for many years. The table and chairs are being delivered Friday, just as the weather's getting hot and muggy. It will be uncomfortable to sit on the heated metal, so I've been pricing chair cushions.

At one upscale store 2-inch thick cushions cost $49 each, and a mid-level place was charging $25 each. I thought I could make them for less, so I stopped in a fabric store. They had a selection of all-weather fabric on sale for $10 a yard, but the cushion inserts cost $12 each. Even at the lesser prices, the project would still cost quite a bit.

My last stop was the Goodwill store closest to my house. I browsed through the store and at first didn't see anything, but as I was heading towards the door I saw these...

These cushions were $3.00 each! All I have to do is cut them to size, cover them in new material, and we'll have great padding for the seats of our new chairs.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Not-So Brown Bag

Tony and I usually eat dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. Since I'm at home for lunch it's easy for me to reheat my entree, but Tony has to carry his food to work. If there's more than one container, he needs something to carry them in. A small lunch box isn't the right size or shape to hold our microwavable containers, and a larger box is too big for the refrigerator in his office.

He usually ends up stacking everything in a plastic grocery bag. Even though they're bad for the environment, we always seem to have a pile in the pantry. They're the right size and they can be reused many times before they fall apart. However, they leave something to be desired in the style department. I decided I'd try to come up with a bag the size of a plastic grocery bag that wasn’t plastic. Today I made a lunch bag patterned on plastic grocery bag.

My inspiration was this post on Supafine, which gave wonderful detailed directions for putting the bag together, along with step-by-step pictures. I modified the directions just a bit when I cut out the bag pieces (she called for tracing around the template; I pinned the bag to the material and cut through both layers at once), but otherwise followed everything to a T.

What I did:
  1. The project called for about a half yard of two different fabrics. I dug through my leftover fabrics until I found two remnants I could use.
  2. I grabbed a plastic bag from the pantry and cut it open at the top and bottom to use as a pattern.
  3. After folding the main fabric together wrong side out, I placed the plastic bag on the fold, pinned it, and cut around it 1/2" from the edge of the bag (to allow for a seam allowance). I did the same thing with the lining material, ending up with two very long rectangles.
  4. I pinned the rectangles right sides together, then sewed around the entire piece, leaving a 4" opening for turning on one of the long edges.
  5. Next, I trimmed the corners and notched the curves so they'd lay flat, then turned the rectangle right side out. A small dowel poked into the corners made sure they were crisply turned.
  6. All the seams were pressed flat with an iron.
  7. I folded the bag in half right side in, matching the edges, and stitched down the sides and across the top of the handles. The very last step was to turn the bag right side out.
I could have stopped there for a basic flat bag, but I decided to make it more resemble a plastic bag by folding the handles in half and folding the bottom edges in. I stitched across the top of each handle and sewed down the points at the bottom. It's amazing how the modifications took a simple bag and made it look just like something I'd get my groceries packed in.

I was happy with the results, but next time I'd use nylon fabric so the bag would be lighter and a bit easier to wash out. Tony thought it looked like it would work for him, so if I want one of my own I'll have to do this again. At least I can use the same plastic bag template, and keep a second one out of a landfill.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gluten For Pun-ishment

For health reasons I've been trying to incorporate more whole grains in my diet, eating whole wheat bread instead of white whenever possible. However, I need to watch my budget, too, and quality wheat bread tends to cost more than the white fluffy stuff. I'm solving that problem by making bread in my bread machine. It takes less than ten minutes to assemble all the ingredients for a loaf of bread, and 3 1/2 hours later I have a delightful fresh loaf with no work on my part.

I buy my white bread flour at Sam's Club and store it in the freezer downstairs. Although it has no fiber, it produces a light, fluffy loaf, because bread flour contains more gluten than other flours. Gluten is a protein that provides the structure in bread. The higher the gluten content, the more volume the bread will have. Whole grains on their own don't have enough gluten to make a light loaf of bread. The first loaf of whole-grain bread machine bread I baked was dense and heavy. It would have made a great doorstop!

Over the years I've experimented with different proportions of bread flour and whole grain, but have yet to come up with the perfect recipe. During a recent browsing trip through my local Whole Foods store, I saw something called Vital Wheat Gluten in the grain aisle. The package said using it could be especially helpful for baking breads made with course, whole grain flours. A glance at the nutrition label indicated the only ingredient was wheat gluten. I was intrigued, so I bought a bag and brought it home. Today I used vital wheat gluten to make a loaf of whole-grain bread.

My basic bread recipe calls for 4 cups of flour. For today's experiment I used half oatmeal and half whole wheat flour. The directions on the wheat gluten indicated I should use 1 tablespoon for every cup of low gluten flour, so I added 1/4 cup into the pan, along with the liquid and olive oil, sugar, salt, and yeast. I selected the whole wheat cycle and hit the Start button.

I left to run some errands. The kitchen was filled with the wonderful smell of freshly-baking bread when I returned. The machine beeped when the baking was finished, and I turned the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool. A loaf of white bread usually rises to the top of the pan. My wheat bread was only 2/3 as tall, but it was substantially taller than any of the other whole grain loaves I've made. I could hardly wait to cut into it to see what it tasted like.

The experiment was a success; the bread was wonderful. It was substantial, but not dense, moist but not gooey, and so good I had to have a second piece. I usually keep homemade bread in the freezer because it doesn't have preservatives to keep it fresh. However, this loaf may not last long enough to reach the stale point!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hello! It's Meez

When I started this blog, I decided to not install a lot of add-ons so it would load quickly. However, I've decided it looks a little plain, so if you're reading at the blog itself (as opposed to a RSS reader), you'll notice my Meez avatar over on the right.

In case you're not familiar with it, Meez is a social entertainment Website that allows users to create animated avatars. Although the image can be as crazy as you'd like it to be, I tried to create a Meez that looked like me, given the parameters of the Website.

To make a Meez you choose a gender and body type, then personalize the skin color, facial features, hairstyle and makeup. After that's done you dress it from an almost overwhelming selection of clothes, shoes, and accessories. There are backgrounds for your figure to stand in front of ranging from plain to wild. If you want, you can also add animations to the Meez.

Once your satisfied with your Meez, you save it. You can add it to just about any social networking site or download it to your computer. Even if you don't want anyone else to see your creation, it's a fun way to spend some time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Today we shopped for dinner at Global Foods Market in Kirkwood, which is the biggest international grocery store I've ever been in. Each aisle of the store has items from a different country, and the produce, meat, dairy, and frozen sections of the store are also organized by region of the world. There are people of every nationality shopping for ingredients from their native lands.

I've been in the store a few times before. During my previous visits, I spent a long time wandering down every aisle of the store, looking at all the stuff I've never tried before and buying things I was already familiar with. Today Tony and I decided we were going to be adventurous and purchase a complete meal from the store.

Each item came from a different part of the world. We bought:
  • A packet of dry mix for minestrone soup from Croatia
  • Tofu crackers from Indonesia (which we added to the soup like you would fried wonton strips)
  • Chicken kabanosy sausage from Poland (similar to kielbasa, but richer)
  • French Emmenthaler cheese
  • Russian-style half sour pickles
  • Canned jackfruit in syrup fromThailand
  • Gelato (from Gelato Di Riso, which is actually a local company, but according to their Website they make authentic Italian Gelato!)
The evening turned out to be quite international. We listened to Radio Rio, which showcases Brazilian music, on KDHX while we prepared and ate the meal. I served the Eastern European soup in Chinese soup bowls with flat-bottomed soup spoons, and the main course on Wedgewood stoneware from England. To go with dessert I brewed some tea that son Brian brought us from The Butchart Gardens in Canada.

Everything tasted great, and we even have enough left over for lunch tomorrow.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I read in the newspaper today that the state of Oklahoma now has a State Rock Song--"Do You Realize" by the Flaming Lips. It's one of three states that have made the designation for official rock song; Washington's is "Louie Louie", and Ohio's is "Hang on Sloopy".

Missouri only has one state song, the Missouri Waltz. I know that our nickname is the Show-Me State, and the Eastern Bluebird is the state bird. I though the state flower was the flowering dogwood. I had incorrect information though. Turns out our tree is the dogwood; the white hawthorn blossom is our official flower. Today I researched all the state insignias for the state of Missouri.

I got my information from two Wikipedia articles. The List of Missouri State Symbols had most of the insignias, but I found a couple additional ones in Lists of United States State Insignia, which listed the insignias of every state.

Our official:
  • State amphibian: American Bullfrog
  • State aquatic animal: Paddlefish
  • State bird: Mountain Bluebird
  • State dance: Square Dance
  • State dinosaur: Hypsibema missouriensis
  • State fish: Channel catfish
  • State flower: White hawthorn blossom
  • State food: Ice cream cone
  • State fossil: Crinoid
  • State grape: Norton (also known as Cynthiana)
  • State grass: Big Bluestem
  • State horse: Missouri Fox Trotter
  • State insect: European honey bee
  • State instrument: Fiddle
  • State mammal: mule
  • State mineral: Galena
  • State motto: Salus populi suprema lex esto (Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law)
  • State nickname: Show Me State (an unofficial one is The Cave State)
  • State nut: Eastern black walnut
  • State Poet Laureate: Walter Bargen
  • State reptile: Three-toed box turtle
  • State rock: Mozarkite
  • State slogan: Show Me State
  • State soil: Menfro
  • State song: Missouri Waltz
  • State tree: Flowering dogwood
I was disappointed that Missouri hasn't designated a state beverage, tartan, toy, or sport like some other states have. On the other hand, maybe that means our elected officials have better things to do than make more insignia designations!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

No More Indoor Dust Storms

After yesterday's severe weather today was beautiful. I opened all the windows and did some long-overdue sprucing up around the house. I dusted, swept, and removed a few cobwebs. I even got to a few nooks and crannies that usually don't get cleaned, like the ceiling fans, using a tip my friend jd sent me. I believe she originally got it from The Dollar Stretcher Website:
The hassle of cleaning ceiling fans can be made easier by using an old, preferably king size, pillowcase. I spray a little Pledge inside the case and slip it over the fan blade. While the blade is inside the case, grip the back of the pillowcase and the blade and then slide the pillowcase toward the end of the blade. All the dust is removed from the top and bottom of the blade in one clean sweep. The best part is that all the dust is enclosed inside the pillowcase rather than falling in your face! You can do several fans with the same pillowcase.

When you are finished cleaning, take the pillowcase outside and turn it inside-out and shake out the excess dust. When it's washed and dried, store the pillowcase with your cleaning supplies, so you will have it ready the next time it's time to clean your ceiling fans. By the way, if you don't have an old pillowcase, you can find old pillowcases at Goodwill or thrift stores.
jd is a friend and walking companion. (Visit her blog, Walk It Off, and tell her I sent you.) We've never traded cleaning ideas, but this sounded like a good one and I decided to try it. I found an old pillowcase in the linen closet, sprayed it with some furniture polish, and headed for the ceiling fan in the family room. The pillowcase worked great - everything fell into the pillowcase and not on the floor. I was able to do all the fans in the house before the pillowcase got too dirty to use. When I was finished I threw the whole thing into the laundry basket.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nibble And Nosh

Before I can start my new job next month I need to have a health form filled out and signed by my doctor. When I called the doctor's office to make an appointment, they told me I was past due for a "complete" physical (including those annoying routine blood tests for things like cholesterol levels). Having blood work done means I need to fast; no food for 12 hours beforehand. What a drag!

It normally wouldn't be a problem to fast, but the earliest appointment time I could get was 10:00. By time I get through with the doctor and make it to the lab to have blood drawn it will be almost lunch time. My other choice is to go for the appointment tomorrow, then go back bright and early another day for the blood work. That would be two mornings are wasted instead of one, so I'd rather just get it all taken care of at once.

Besides, that way I can have a late night snack.

The family tradition, started years ago, is to have substantial nourishment just before you aren't supposed to eat anymore. My theory is that if you're going to be without food for a period of time, you should go into it with a full stomach. When the boys had their wisdom teeth taken out, we'd hit Domino's and order a medium pizza just for them. They thought it was a real treat.

I had everything planned out. About the time Tony went to bed I was going to drive to Sonic for some fast-food delight. Sadly, I forgot to ask Mother Nature if my plan was ok with her; a little before 9:00 the skies opened; rain poured down and I heard hail hitting the roof. There was a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado watch posted for the entire area. I was looking forward to my snack, but it wasn't worth leaving the house for!

As the stormy weather continued, I gave up hope. I made myself a bag of lite microwave popcorn, poured it into a bowl, and ate it. Ironically, it was probably healthier than anything I could have bought at Sonic and will probably stick with me better. It was quite a letdown, though.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Famous Question

The question How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? was first answered by Mr. Owl in 1969. I can't respond to the original question, but today I got to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop without biting.

I have never been able to eat a Tootsie Roll Pop without crunching through the candy shell to get to the soft middle. In my opinion, the combination of hard and chewy just can't be beat. I was challenged to complete this activity, though, so I decided to give it my best.

I stopped at a local gas station/convenience store and bought a cherry Tootsie Roll Pop for 10 cents. (What a surprise...I didn't know you could buy anything for 10 cents anymore!) I was extremely hungry and decided not to wait till I got home to unwrap the pop and stick it in my mouth. At first, all I tasted was the cherry sucker. However, about halfway through I got a distinct tootsie roll flavor. When my treat became the texture of Tootsie Roll, I decided I had reached the center and chewed the rest up.

I can't tell you exactly how many licks it takes, because I cheated and used a combination of licks and sucks. Licking requires one free hand which is hard to do while you're driving. I do know it took about a half-hour from unwrapping the pop to tossing the stick in the trashcan.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Nighty Night

For the last few months I've had trouble getting a good night's sleep. Some nights I toss and turn for an extended period of time before I doze off, and other nights I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and have a hard time getting back to sleep. I understand the problem is common among women "of a certain age", but it's getting really annoying. Recently an acquaintance shared a few ideas that helped her when she experienced the same problem. I followed up on one of them and last night I took melatonin to help me sleep.

Before I put any foreign substances in my body, I did a little research. I found out that:
  • Melatonin isn't a chemical; it's a hormone produced by the pineal gland (a small gland in the brain) that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles
  • It is secreted only at night
  • Natural melatonin production decreases with age
I bought a bottle of melatonin at the chain pharmacy closest to my house and put it in the bathroom until I needed it. Last night I turned in at the regular time. As I climbed into bed I turned the radio on low. I pulled the sheet up to my chin, got my pillow situated just right, and closed my eyes. I listened to one song, then another, then a third. Turned over to my other side and listened a while, then turned back the original way. It was ridiculous! I got up and went to the bathroom where I took out the bottle of melatonin and read the label. The suggested dose was one 1 mg tablet. After putting a tablet in my mouth I discovered the bathroom cup was still in the dishwasher, so I scooped up some water with my hand, washed the tablet down, and went back to bed.

This time it only took about fifteen minutes to fall asleep. Hallelujah! I woke up once about four o'clock to use the bathroom, but went right back to sleep. When the alarm went off this morning I was well-rested. I didn't even need my normal mid-afternoon nap to stay focused. Life is good.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tower of Goodies

Tony and I needed a housewarming gift for a 20-something male. This young man and his roommates are typical bachelors, so I knew that the gifts I'd usually bring (like a candle, picture frame, or plant) wouldn't be appreciated.

We decided to go with something consumable. I bought a set of nesting bowls, made a recipe of good chili, and poured it into the biggest bowl. We put tortilla chips in the next bowl, and a container of sour cream and bags of chopped onions and cheddar cheese in the third. In this picture the top bowl is empty; we stopped at the grocery store and bought a bottle of sriracha hot sauce to put in it. I tied everything together with a ribbon and we were on our way.

When we presented the tower, the young man's eyes lit up. Who doesn't like to have prepared food waiting for them when they come home from work? He can either keep it all for himself (freezing it in smaller portions in the bowls) or share some with his other housemates.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mow, Mow, Mow Your Lawn

If you're a regular reader here or at my original blog, Kathy At 49 , you know that I'm always trying to do things in new and different ways. Today was grass-cutting day, and I figured out a way to vary the job when I mowed the sections of the yard in the opposite order.

We have a typical suburban yard with the house surrounded by grass on all four sides. When I mow I always do it in the same order. I start in the front yard, moving back and forth across it, then head for the tree yard, a small piece of grass between the sidewalk and the street. When that's done I proceed to the strip on the other side of the driveway between our yard and our neighbor's. That yard flows into the side yard which flows into the back yard and then to the section on the other side of the house. I've not really tracked it, but I think I may even mow around all the obstacles (patios, trees, deck posts, and garden beds) the same way each time.

Today I started in the tree yard in front of the house, then completed the main section of the front. Next, I mowed the side yard I usually do last, which meant I came into the back yard from the opposite side I usually do. It was strange to be pushing the mower through areas I usually don't get to until I'm hot and tired. I KNOW I did a better job there than I usually do. However, when I got to the second side yard I was starting to feel the effects of pushing the lawn mower, and the sweat was making my sunscreen run into my eyes. Since I usually do this part while I still have energy, I never noticed that this area has quite a few things to mow around, and the incline between the front and back yard is more extreme on this side of the house than the other, making it hard to push the mower up. By the time I got to the section that contained the mailbox I was glad to be finished.

However, there was one real advantage to my route through the yard today. The mail truck had come by while I was cutting, so I could grab the mail from the box right after I turned off the mower!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Search Is Over

When I closed my tutoring center last year I decided my ideal job would be working with teenagers in the education field. However, that's not panned out. I've filled out some applications for administrative assistant positions, but got no nibbles there either.

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a lead. The preschool she works at was looking to fill a teacher assistant position. Preschoolers are about as far from teenagers as you could get, so at first glance the job wasn't a good fit. However, the more I thought about it the more intriguing it sounded. The school is inclusion based; it enrolls children with and without special needs. I have the necessary certifications to work with both types of children, and it would be a professional challenge. I sent my resume off and hoped for the best. I had an interview for this morning, and came out with a job!

The facility operates year round, with the new year (and my position) starting in July. Although I'll be working more hours than I did at the last job, it's still less than full-time, and only a four day work week. The biggest difference will be in the hours of the day; instead of working completely in the afternoon, I'll leave the house right after breakfast and return mid afternoon.

I guess I'll be spending the rest of the month brushing up on my cutting, singing, and reading out loud skills.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Get Your Kicks

I like exercising in a group setting, because I get bored using a stationary bike or treadmill. When I joined a new gym I realized that I'd have to get used to a whole different set of classes. I'm settling into a weekly routine of workouts that include Wednesday's kickboxing class.

There's no contact in this class. Instead, it's cardio kickboxing, which combines elements of boxing and aerobics. It's a high-intensity form of exercise to a mix of rock, rap, and dance music. In just a few weeks I'm getting better at it. I have more stamina and strength; the first time I could barely make it through the hour, but today I was bobbing and weaving for the entire time with no problem.

The class starts with a warm up, which includes a bit of stretching, followed by the kickboxing portion. We do punches (jabs, hooks, and uppercuts) and kicks (front, side, and roundhouse) in different combinations. In between, we do jumping jacks and "jump" rope without a rope. The instructor encourages everyone to work at their own pace and emphasizes proper boxing technique. There are mirrors on two sides of the room, so you can watch yourself jabbing away if you so desire. The last portion of the session is devoted to cooling down, core work, and stretching.

I'm finding that this class does wonders for any anger I bring into the room with me. I just imagine the person or thing that's frustrating me at the end of my fist! Besides, by the end of the class I don't have the energy to be mad. It's all I can do to walk to my car and drive home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For-You Just Might Get It

I was sitting in front of the computer this afternoon, thinking how my quiet day needed a little adventure, when the phone rang. It was Youngest Son Donald. You know it's going to be an interesting conversation when the other person starts out by saying, "Don't worry. Everything's ok." However, he continued that he was on the shoulder of 270 just south of Manchester because the brakes on his car went out.


He asked if I could call AAA and come help him. I started my adventure...

As I was driving east on Manchester towards 270, I turned on an AM radio station to see if they mentioned the stalled car on the side of the highway, but all they talked about was the normally slow rush hour traffic. I pulled down the highway entrance ramp and immediately saw Donald's car about 200 feet ahead of me, I stopped behind him, turned off the ignition, and put my flashers on. Donald got in my car while we waited for the tow truck.

Donald's car is getting pretty geriatric. The exterior is showing its age and it's had a steady stream of minor mechanical problems over the past six months. Donald explained that due to the traffic jam, he was only going about 10 miles an hour when he tried to use the brakes and didn't get a response. He maneuvered the car over to the side of the road and used the parking brake to stop it. While he was waiting for me, he talked to someone who "knows" cars. The person suggested he try to drive the car, because it could have been an air bubble in the brake line that caused the failure. Donald told me that he drove a bit down the side of the highway and the brakes seemed to work. He wondered if the car was good to go. As much as I admired his resourcefulness, I couldn't agree with his assessment, and insisted that he get it towed to a garage to get it checked.

The tow truck came, loaded the car on the back, and we followed it to a chain facility in Sunset Hills. Unfortunately, the shop had no electricity due to the storm earlier in the day, so Donald left the car there, along with the keys and his phone number. I drove him back to Kirkwood so he could complete his original errand, and then to work.

I arrived back home a little over two hours after I left. So much for my quiet afternoon!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hand. Hand. Foot. Foot.

When I was a kid, I liked to do cartwheels. I could do them from one side of the back yard to the other without stopping. I haven't done one for many years, though. In honor of the first summery day of the year today I did cartwheels in the back yard.

I was pretty sure I'd still be able to do it, but just in case I took my shoes off and tried a practice one first in the basement where no one could see me. It went pretty well, so I moved outside. The ground still felt pliable, not hard and brittle like it will be in the middle of summer, and the grass was soft against my feet. Before I started, I took a quick glance at all the yards surrounding mine to make sure there was no one to watch me.

The coast was clear, so I raised my arms straight above my head, stepped forward with my left leg, and looked down to where my hands would go. I reached down with the left hand, than the right one, and kicked my legs up in the air. The momentum pulled my body up and over. I landed on one foot, then the other, and straightened up. I looked around; there was still no one outside to see me.

The first one was pretty awkward, but I think I managed to get my legs straight up in the air. After two it started feeling more natural. I did several before I started getting winded and stopped. I suspect I'll have some sore muscles tomorrow, but the pain will be worthwhile. I'm happy to know I could still do it.