Thursday, July 30, 2009


Note: This post may contain too much information for some readers, so you might want to pass today and come back next time. If you choose to continue, don't say you haven't been warned!
When I walk out the door in the morning, I have to take a whole slew of things with me: a purse, a work bag, a gym bag (containing everything I need to get ready for work), lunch (in a container with some blue ice to keep it cold), and anything I need to complete errands.

With all that stuff to remember, it was inevitable that someday I'd forget something. It happened today. After my workout at the gym, I was laying out my things before I got into the shower. Towel--check. Clean clothes to change into--check. Undergarments--Uh-oh. I had some, but not everything I needed.

What to do? There was NO WAY I was going to reuse the sweaty piece I just took off. If I had been a couple of decades younger, I probably could have gotten away without wearing the item. However, that wasn't going to happen now, especially since I was going to work. I showered, put on what I had, and headed to a store to buy a replacement.

I found something suitable on the "80% off" clearance rack and took it to the checkout at the front of the store. After the clerk rang it up my purchase, she started to put it in a bag. I told her that wouldn't be necessary, because [speaking in sotto voce] I needed to use it right away. Fortunately, I was the only one at the cash register. When she didn't get it, I was forced to lower my voice even more, and tell her why. This time I could tell by her expression she understood. She said, "I hate it when that happens" and handed me my purchase with the receipt. I asked her if the store had a bathroom I could use and she pointed towards it.

Things don't end up on the massive clearance rack for no reason; according to the garment tags the piece should have been my size, but it was a bit too tight when I put it on. However, at least it was better than going without. I'm gonna make sure I double check the gym bag from now on!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Today I took the Tonedeaf test.

Jake Mandell, the developer of the test, is a musician and medical-school graduate. He's the developer of several tests, including the one I took today. According to the Website:
While working at the music and neuroimaging lab at Beth Israel/Harvard Medical School in Boston, I developed a quick online way to screen for the tonedeafness. It actually turned out to be a pretty good test to check for overall pitch perception ability. The test is purposefully made very hard, so excellent musicians rarely score above 80% correct. Give it a try!
The test was very simple. There were 36 sets of musical phrases. For each set you had to decide if the phrases were the same or different. Some of the sets were played by single instruments and some had a more orchestral feel. Each set began immediately upon the completion of the last, so you really had to pay close attention.. At one point during the test my phone rang. As much as I tried to ignore it, I couldn't, so I'm pretty sure I got all of those phrases incorrect.

My score wasn't even close to that of an excellent musician! However, I did score above the "Possible pitch perception or memory deficit" category.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


There's going to be a wedding in our family next year!

Son Brian and girlfriend (now fiancee--I love that word) Nicole are engaged!

He called on Sunday to tell us the news. Since they live out of town, it will be a couple of weeks before we can see them. I can't wait.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Brownie By Any Other Name...

I needed to bring some treats to work this week, but didn't want to put a whole lot of effort into it. The only quick and easy thing in the pantry was a box of brownie mix.

I LOVE brownies. They're easy to make, but not the easiest thing to serve. If I cut them at home, I have to deal with a mess. My brownie-cutting skills aren't very good; they always stick to the knife and I end up with crumbly pieces instead of nice squares. I also have the problem of finding a container that's big enough to hold them. If I take the uncut pan of brownies with me, I need to remember to bring a knife--one extra thing to carry with me on a busy morning.

Today I took the easy way out and I made cookies from brownie mix.
The recipe:
1 box brownie mix
1 egg
3 T water (I substituted coffee for a richer flavor)
1/4 cup oil

Mix all ingredients together, and drop by tablespoon onto a greased pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 5-6 minutes.
Unfortunately, I got an important phone call just as I was putting the pans in the oven, so I didn't watch them as closely as I should. They cooked a bit longer than they should have, and ended up being a bit crunchy, but I sampled one and they still tasted wonderful.

I put the cookies on plates and slid the plates into bags. They'll be easy to take with me on my way out the door.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sound Off

I think the biggest hot-button topic today is health care reform. Everyone has an opinion about what should happen, and I've seen people get angry when someone doesn't see things their way. Today I tried to express my opinion in a reasonable manner when I sent a message to someone I disagree with.

The recipient was the author of a column that appears in a community newspaper that gets mailed all the houses in our area. Although the newspaper is conservative-leaning, I usually give it a few minutes of my time before I put it in the recycling bin because there are often articles about my city that don't make the main metropolitan paper. Sometimes I read the columns and letters to the editor because I like to examine ideas from different points of view; I try to take away some thought-provoking tidbits.

In the latest edition of the paper, one of the columnists made some points about health care that I completely disagreed with. Usually when that happens, I get annoyed and toss the paper. This time, though, I felt the need to express my views. When I wrote, I gave all the reasons why I disagreed with his assessment, and I tried to make my points in a reasonable manner. It doesn't help to bash the author!

I felt better after I hit the 'send' button. I have no expectation that my short message will cause the author to change his thinking, but hopefully he'll read my opinions with an open mind.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Preschool Fitness Plan

I couldn't make it to the gym today, but I managed to get in a good exercise session while at work:
  • I got my aerobic workout by dancing the "Hokey Pokey" and doing the motions to "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes"...twice. When I was outside later in the day, I corralled several students from the far corners of the playground and brought them back to the main area. I also played catch with someone who wasn't a very good thrower and spent a lot of time running after balls.
  • I strengthened my core muscles by physically removing a recalcitrant child from the group and placing her in time out. It was even better than lifting weights, because the child was wiggling in my arms trying to get out, so I really had to work hard!
  • My arms got the attention they needed when I pushed several students on swings multiple times during the day.
  • Every time I had to get down to preschooler eye level, I made sure I did a squat instead of bending over. My legs are really feeling the exertion!
  • I increased my dexterity by quickly weaving my way through a group of children on the floor to reach someone who was about to fall off a tricycle!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Put A Shine On It

I got my set of copper bottom cookware for a wedding present oh-so-many years ago, and the bottoms of the pots are now discolored and dull. Today, I experimented with cleaning the copper bottom of a pot to see what would happen.

It was an easy job to do, and required just a few ingredients. I mixed one tablespoon of salt with a cup of white vinegar and stirred it until all the salt was dissolved. Next, I soaked a rag in the solution and placed it on the copper portion of an inverted pan. I let the whole thing set for ten minutes, then checked to see if anything had happened.

Wow! Check out the difference in the picture. The pot on the left has uncleaned copper, and the one on the right is shiny. I've been so used to looking at the dirt and oxidation on the copper bottom that it now looked unnaturally clean. I used a scrubber pad to remove the last of the residue from the copper, then rinsed the pan and dried it. The bottom of the pan gleamed.

The copper is clean now, but I didn't have time to remove the heat discoloration stains above it. I'll be tackling that project, and the rest of the pans, very soon.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Same But Different

I had a wonderful experience today when I went to a gospel Mass at St. Alphonsus Liguori Rock Church.

The Rock Church is on Grand Blvd., not far from the Fox Theater. The beautiful Gothic-style church was dedicated in 1872. It was nicknamed the "Rock Church" by the construction workers who built the church and the rock wall that surrounds it. The church continues to draw people from the immediate area and all over the city.

Driving north on Grand, we could see the tall church steeple a couple of blocks before we saw the building. We found the parking lot and were directed to a space, then we followed the stream of people entering the building.

The Gothic-style church is beautiful. Stained glass windows line the sides of the building. The ceiling was painted a wonderful sky-blue color. There was a awesome high altar, but a simpler African-decorated one has been placed in front of it. The baptismal font, which was in an area halfway up the main aisle, had the same African motifs on it.

Before Mass started people were milling around talking to each other. Since we didn't know anyone, we sat in a pew about a quarter of the way up and spent the time looking around. There was a diverse group of people in the congregation...old, young, black, and white. When the piano in the corner by the choir started playing lightly everyone started taking their place.

The church practices Catholicism in the African American tradition. Although the mass lasted almost 2 hours, it didn't seem near that long. Some differences I noticed between St. Alphonsus and my regular church:
  • The choir was outstanding! It certainly added more energy to the Mass. We had a sheet with the words to all the songs, but most of them were very simple and easy to learn. Often a soloist would sing a phrase which was repeated by the entire group.
  • If someone was moved something, they'd let out an 'Amen'. Clapping and swaying to the music was common.
  • Although I saw a few teenage boys in jeans, most people were dressed nicely. Several woman had on dresses and hats.
  • The opening procession was like nothing I've ever seen. First in line was a woman carrying a bowl of incense, who swayed to the music as she walked. When she got halfway down the aisle, two sets of young people, dressed in servers robes and carrying candles and a cross, started their trip. Each group waited until the previous group was almost to the front before they began. The presiding priests came last.
  • There were no missal books in the pews. Instead, during the readings I noticed most people opened the Bible they brought with them and read along.
  • When the offertory gifts were brought up to the altar from the back of church there was another wonderful procession. Seven people-two pairs of teenagers, two adults, and an usher-took part. The teens swayed to the music as they walked up; the adults carrying the gifts were more solemn. The usher carried a large woven basket containing the offertory money.
  • The Sign of Peace, which takes just a couple of minutes in our church. lasted at least 10 minutes today. Everyone left their pew and mingled through the church hugging and exchanging greetings with other people. Even though they didn't know us, several people came up and gave us a hug.
Even though there were a lot of differences, in the end it was the same; I was at a Mass. I prayed the same prayers and listened to the same readings. When the priest gave the final blessing I realized that I had gotten a lot from this incredible experience.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In A Pickle

At lunch today Tony and I were talking about dill pickles, and how they just naturally go along with certain foods. My mind, in one of its strange segues, jumped from dill pickles to sweet pickles. I'm not a huge fan of the sweet variety, but every once in a while I get a taste for them. As a result of our discussion I wanted some, but there weren't any in the house. Trying to brainstorm the easiest way to take care of my craving, I thought of the watermelon that was sitting on the kitchen counter from today's shopping trip. I could use some of the watermelon rind instead of composting all of it as I usually do. That's how I happened to be in the kitchen this afternoon making watermelon pickles.

I'm sure I have a recipe for watermelon pickles somewhere in my voluminous cookbook collection, but it was quicker to find one on the Internet. I ended up using a recipe for Refrigerator Watermelon Rind Pickles, because it was easily scalable. I'll be the only one eating them, so I didn't need a whole lot.

The recipe was very easy. In addition to the watermelon rind, I used sugar, apple cider vinegar, cloves, and a cinnamon stick. I cut the peel and all the flesh from the rind, cubed it, and added it to the pot with all the other ingredients. After the mixture boiled, I turned down the heat and let it simmer for an hour. Partway through the cooking process I went outside to check the mailbox, and when I came back in there was a wonderful smell emanating from the kitchen!

When the cooking time was up, I poured the pickles and liquid (which had turned syrupy) into a bowl and put it in the refrigerator. The recipe said to allow 12 hours for the flavors to blend, but I tasted one of the warm pieces. It was good now, and I suspect it will be even better later.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pretty In Pink

It's tomato season! The plants I put in the ground a couple of months ago are starting to bear fruit. This year I planted my old reliables (a Roma, a grape, and a cherry) and a couple of heirloom varieties. I've been picking the smaller fruits for a couple of weeks and keeping an eye on the big tomatoes as they grow.

One heirloom variety that I'm trying this year is Mortgage Lifter, a pink fruited beefsteak tomato. According to the nursery pot label, these tomatoes are large (1-3 pounds) and pinkish-red in color. They're supposed to have very few seeds and a meaty texture. The plant has done well in the humid St. Louis weather, and now several large fruits are hanging on the vine. I've checked them each morning for the past week, because I'm looking forward to the first perfectly ripe slicing tomato of the season. Yesterday the biggest fruit showed just a bit of green, so I was pretty sure I'd be picking it today.

After breakfast I went outside to throw some scraps in the compost pile and check on the garden. This is what the tomato I planned on picking looked like:

Gaaa! I'm guessing the culprit was a squirrel, because nothing else has been able to get over (or under) the garden fence. Whatever it was it must have been hungry, because this was more than one bite. Or maybe the tomato was so tasty that the first squirrel took a bite and sent out word to the whole squirrel family, who all came and took a bite. Doesn't matter who or why. My fruit wasn't perfect anymore.

That wasn't going to keep me from trying it, though. I brought the damaged fruit in, washed it, and cut off the section that contained the bites. Even with the imperfect area removed, it still weighed close to a pound. I cubed the remaining tomato and added it to my lunch for today. I would have preferred a big slice of 'mater on my sandwich, but the cut-up pieces definitely were the high point of the meal.

Now I have my eye on a couple of other Mortgage Lifters that are getting close to maturity...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Use It Or Lose It...

Your brain, that is.

Last week I was leafing through a magazine while sitting in a doctor's waiting room. One of the articles in the magazine caught my eye; it was about brain fitness in baby boomers. According to the author, to keep your brain nimble you need to keep learning. When you challenge your brain with new skills and ways of doing things, it increases connections in the brain and improves its effectiveness. Sounded interesting to me, so today I tried doing a normal activity in a different way when I brushed my teeth with my right hand instead of my left.

I'm a confirmed southpaw. Some things I've learned to do right handed, like using a computer mouse. However, most activities are awkward and it takes me longer to do them if I use the "wrong" hand, but I was willing to have the job be a bit more challenging than usual today and use my opposite hand if it meant that I was exercising my brain.

When I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth after breakfast, force of habit caused me to take the brush out of the holder with my left hand. I realized preparing the brush was part of the process, too, so I put the brush back and picked it up with my right hand. I also tackled the toothpaste tube with the opposite hand--my left. It was very awkward; even though I was squeezing the tube with my dominant hand, I ended up with a too much toothpaste on the brush.

Brushing with my right hand was a unique experience. It was actually easier than I thought it would be to do the outside surfaces and tops of my teeth, but the inner surfaces threw me for a loop. I couldn't get the right angle to get everything cleaned. When I was done, I had toothpaste on my chin and all over my lips.

Just to make sure I'd gotten rid of all the plaque-forming materials from my teeth, at the end I switched back to my left hand and did another once-over on all my teeth. I'm not willing to risk a cavity for the sake of exercising my brain!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Facebook Friends

I have a Facebook account, but I'm a pretty casual user. I check it a couple of times a week to see what my "friends" are up to. I also use it to send messages to a couple of people who seem to use Facebook instead of an e-mail account. My "friend" list is pretty small. Other than a few family members (including those of my children who have accounts), I have some friends from high school, and a group of women that I've done volunteer work with. There are also a handful of people I knew from organizations I participated in years ago.

I usually don't do the friend requesting, but somehow my list grows by a name or two each month. Last week I got a request to "friend" a person who is friends with one of my sons. Real friends. I've known this young man since they were in Cub Scouts together. It seemed like a strange request, but today I became Facebook friends with someone who is a friend of one of my children.

This isn't the first request I've gotten from one of my children's acquaintances. However, the other times it looked like the people were just trying to accumulate an enormous number of "friends" (can you really be friends with 547 people?), so I ignored their requests. Besides, I don't know if I wanted to be aware of what they were doing on a regular basis.

When I checked the friends of today's requester, however, I saw that in addition to the normal complement of people his age there were also several adults, including his mom. He seemed sincere, so I confirmed the request.

It will be interesting to get all of his updates.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Baseball Is Everywhere

If you (a) live in the St. Louis area (b) are a fan of Major League Baseball or (c) watch any shows on the Fox network you're probably aware that the MLB All-Star game is being played on Tuesday. This year St. Louis is hosting the event, which has morphed into a multi-day extravaganza of activities. A ticket to the All Star Game includes admission to a Futures Game with up-and-coming minor league players, the Celebrity Softball Game, and the Home Run Derby. If you weren't lucky enough to get a ticket, there are other MLB-sanctioned activities that you can pay to participate in. FanFest is a conglomeration of exhibits, hands-on activities, and shopping opportunities, and this year for the first time there's a charity 5K run and fun run. However, a quick reading of yesterday's newspaper showed there were a lot of other entertainment downtown with a baseball theme that didn't cost a lot of money, so we decided to take advantage of them.

Shortly after we left home we stopped at Mobil on the Run for a cup of coffee. They have a promotion that if the Cardinals score more than six runs the day before (which they had) you can get a coffee, fountain drink, or frozen drink for a quarter. After we loaded up on our caffeine we headed downtown.

Our first stop was the grassy area under the Gateway Arch. The Perfectos Vintage Base Ball team was playing. They use baseball rules from 1860, and their equipment and uniforms are appropriate for the time (including no gloves). It was very interesting. The players who weren't on the field were nice enough to talk about the game and answer our questions. The only thing that detracted from the vintage feel was the sound checks for the concert later in the evening in the background.

All of the streets leading into the Arch grounds were blocked off, so we didn't have to fight the traffic on our way to the Kiener Plaza area for lunch. After lunch we took a short break from baseball-related fun and shopped at a sidewalk sale along Locust Street on our way to the Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library to see an African-American baseball exhibit. It was the opening reception for the exhibit "Pride and Passion: The African American Baseball Experience". The exhibit, which is based on a permanent exhibition at the Baseball Hall of Fame on Cooperstown, was composed of panels that featured photographs of teams, players, and artifacts of African-American baseball players in the late 18th and 19th century. The reception portion had drinks and refreshments, including the baseball game staple Cracker Jacks.

Our next activity didn't involve much walking because it was also in the library. We went to a book discussion and signing by Joe Posnanski, who is a sports columnist in Kansas City. He wrote a book called The Soul of Baseball: A Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America where he details his travels with the legendary Negro League player during the 2005 baseball season. The program was very interesting, and Tony ended up buying a book to have signed. I'm looking forward to reading it after he's done. After we finished at the library we meandered back towards the area around Busch Stadium, stopping at City Grocers to buy a snack.

What would a modern major sporting event be without corporate sponsors? Our next stop was the area next to Busch Stadium (where the old stadium stood before it was demolished in 2005). The two-block area was a mecca for all things sponsored. There were two sections. At the first, the State Farm name was predominantly displayed on everything. They're sponsoring the Home Run Derby on Monday, and you could get in line to try your luck at a fan home run derby on a softball-sized field. There was also an inflatable t-ball game for young children and a pitching cage where you could test the speed of your fastball. We answered a few marketing questions and got a prize-I chose an umbrella and Tony brought home a commemorative baseball. We also had our pictures taken with a cardboard cutout of Albert Pujols.

From there we moved over to the next block and got some free swag at the Sponsor Zone, including another photo-this one in front of a green screen that came out of the printer with us standing at home plate in Busch Stadium, free tacos from Taco Bell, and a towel dunked in ice water from the Anheuser-Busch area. (They also had a nice area set up with the Cardinals game on TV and a big cooling fan.)

The end of the night found us back under the Arch grounds for a free charity concert by Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello. When we arrived there was plenty of grass area available to spread our blanket, but by the time the concert started the grounds were completely packed. After the concert and two encores there was a short unannounced fireworks display which was a nice surprise.

On the way home we stopped at Mobil On The Run again, this time for a cheap frozen drink. Somehow that seemed like an appropriate way to end a great day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kids Today

A friend sent me this, and it made me laugh. I couldn't find any information about the author. If you know, would you pass it on so I can properly attribute it?

When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were when they were growing up, what with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning uphill... barefoot... BOTH ways.

Yadda, yadda, yadda

And I remember promising myself that when I grew up there was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it!

But now that I'm over the ripe old age of thirty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today. You've got it so easy! I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a damn Utopia! And I hate to say it but you kids today don't know how good you've got it!

I mean, when I was a kid we didn't have The Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalog!!

There was no email!! We had to actually write somebody a letter, with a pen! Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox and it would take like a week to get there!

There were no MP3' s or Napsters! You wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the damn record store and shoplift it yourself! Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio and the DJ'd usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up!

We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting! If you were on the phone and somebody else called they got a busy signal, that's it!

And we didn't have fancy Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was! It could be your school, your mom, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, a collections agent, you just didn't know!!! You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!

We didn't have any fancy Sony Playstation video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics! We had the Atari 2600! With games like 'Space Invaders' and 'Asteroids'. Your guy was a little square! You actually had to use your imagination!! And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen forever! And you could never win. The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died! Just like LIFE!

You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on!

You were screwed when it came to channel surfing! You had to get off your ass and walk over to the TV to change the channel and there was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday morning. Do you hear what I'm saying!?! We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled little rat-bastards!

And we didn't have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up we had to use the stove ... imagine that!

That's exactly what I'm talking about! You kids today have got it too easy. You're spoiled. You guys wouldn't have lasted five minutes back in 1980!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Easy And Open Access To Information

Today I had about an hour to kill between finishing at the gym and clocking in at work. Home is in the opposite direction, so it doesn't make sense to return there; I wouldn't have time to accomplish anything before I had to leave again. The other days this has happened I spent the time shopping, but because I don't plan on doing that every day I tried to think of an alternate activity. I remembered there was a library right on the route between my two stops, so I figured I could use a computer there to check my e-mail. I also had time to use the computer at the library to write this post.

I haven't used a library computer for several years, and they've completely revamped the procedure. You used to have to sign up at the front desk, but now all you have to do is pick a machine, enter your card number at the prompt, and the clock starts on your session. Each session lasts for one hour, but I suspect if you need more time than that and no one else is waiting you could log in again.

At home I have my browser to set up to open with multiple tabs for sites I use on a regular basis. Others I have bookmarked so I just drop down the list and click-no typing required. Today I had to remember the addresses of all the pages I needed so I could put them into the address bar. Most of them were easy, but I've only typed the one for the work Web mail system a handful of times and didn't have it committed to memory. Fortunately, I had the memo with the information in my wallet.

After I was all caught up with my various e-mails, I opened up the blog and started writing. It felt strange not to be sitting at the desk in the kitchen where I always work, but the ideas seemed to come out faster in the new location. I followed my normal procedure of saving the post to come back to it later in the day for editing; I can "fix" the mistakes much easier if I look at my ramblings with a fresh eye. When it was time for me to leave for work I made sure I'd logged out of each site I visited. I wouldn't want someone else accessing my accounts!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Thanks for asking!

Dkzody of Dkzody's Weblog was nice enough to leave me a comment yesterday wanting to know how the new job was going. So far it's been great. Every day when I punch in the code to enter the building I get excited about all the new things I'll get to do before I leave for the day.

The first week of my life as a preschool teacher assistant is almost finished. I came home exhausted after the first day, but each day has gotten better. The biggest challenge right now is that each day is completely different. I'm working in two different areas (Classroom A and Classroom B). In Classroom A some days I arrive at lunchtime, one day I'm there for the entire program, and one day I come in for a staff meeting, leave, and return for lunch. Classroom B is an extended-care program that begins when Classroom A ends. Depending on how many children are in the area, I may leave at 3:00 or 5:00. I suspect that it will settle into a routine in a few weeks, but right now just figuring out when to be there has been interesting.

Classroom A is by definition more structured, with units, goals, and objectives. Since the school is inclusion based, a portion of the children in the classroom have special needs. One of my responsibilities is to make sure these children are participating to the best of their ability. Teacher A has been doing this for a long time, and can keep track of dozens of things at once. I hope I can get there, but this week the best I can do is one thing at a time.

I'm enjoying interacting with preschoolers again, especially at circle time. It's amazing how the songs I sang with my boys when they were young weren't removed from my brain, just temporarily buried.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Talk Is Cheap

Our cell phone contract ended last month, but before we renew the plan with our current carrier we want to investigate some other options. Right now we're paying month to month on our existing contract, which has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is being able to compare service options at our leisure, but the biggest disadvantage is not being able to get a new phone at a discounted price!

The phone that I've had for two years has become increasingly unreliable. Some days it works fine, but on other days I have to reboot it multiple times before it will work, or every call automatically disconnects after several minutes. I went to the phone department of a big-box electronics store to see what my options were. A nice associate showed me the full-priced phones (which, as I suspected, were very expensive) and then suggested another option I didn't know existed. Today I bought a pay-as-you-go phone and used my current SIM card to switch it onto my regular contract.

I bought the cheapest phone that would work with my carrier. It won't win any awards in the style department, but it will do the job. I brought it home and put it on the charger. While the battery was charging, I saved all the phone numbers in my old phone's address book to the SIM card. While I was doing it, I took the time to delete all the numbers I don't use any more. When all the numbers had been transferred, I took the SIM card out of the old phone and put it into the new one.

I made a call using the address book of the new phone and it worked! I'm looking forward to being able to make a cell phone call when I need to. Another advantage: if we end up staying with our current carrier, I'll be able to keep the prepaid phone as a backup in case I need it in the future.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Intersection of Art and Nature

There are a lot of places to see sculpture in St. Louis, but today Tony and I visited the newest one, Citygarden. Citygarden is a three acre public sculpture and landscape garden that's part of the Gateway Mall downtown, bounded by Eighth, Market, Tenth, and Chestnut Streets.

Citygarden opened less than a week ago and has had a lot of press, but I wasn't really sure what to expect when we got there. I was very impressed. The park is laid out in three “bands” that represent the geographic features of our region: the Northern River Bluffs Band which symbolizes the high ground along the river bluffs, the Middle Floodplain Band that suggests the bends of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and the Southern River Terrace Band that calls to mind the cultivated river terraces. You move seamlessly from one area to another by way of steps, ramps, or paths.

There are two dozen pieces of sculpture in a variety of sizes, mediums, and styles. The art is sited well; a few of the sculptures are hidden around a turn in a path, and some are so big there's no way they could be hidden! The plaques identifying each piece's title and artist name are set in concrete at the base of the piece and are sometimes hard to find, but I think that may be because some of the sculptures have no dominant "back" or "front" side.

The park also has a 16-foot-long video wall that was showing a rotating collection of art videos today; however, the Citygarden Website indicates the wall will also show baseball games, movies, and commercial films. There are three water features--two fountains and a splash plaza-- scattered about the area that already seem to be popular with children and the young-at-heart who don't mind getting wet.

Both of the buildings in Citygarden have green roof systems, which will provide a nice view for the people in the office buildings around the park. One of the buildings, a cafe, is open six days a week (but unfortunately not on Sunday). It has floor-to-ceiling windows and looks like it would provide a great view of the park. The other building, a maintenance structure, is only visible from the street, because it's attached to the back of a large stone-block wall that is one of the park's design elements.

Although the sculpture is what brought us downtown, I was also impressed with the Citygarden landscaping. Most of the trees, plants, grasses, and groundcovers are native to Missouri, and it looks like the gardens were designed with all four seasons in mind. The plants were labeled, but some of the signs were a little hard to find. Although many of the plants need some time to mature and fill in, a few of the focal point trees were already quite large. Another interesting feature is the six rain gardens that will filter storm water from a majority of the park's surfaces.

There were informational maps available at several places in the park, but they were large and hard to maneuver in today's wind. Next time, I'll use the self-guided audio tour which can be accessed by cellphone on the spot or downloaded as an mp3 file. The tour is narrated by national and local figures, and is billed as being "funny, interesting, and surprising" without " the "artspeak" that can make art seem inaccessible".

I'm looking forward to going back and seeing Citygarden again.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Yesterday Tony and I went to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park and wandered through the exhibits for a while. Although I've been there many times, there is so much information to take in I always learn something new. One of the things I saw there yesterday led me to some research today, where I learned about the Battle of San Carlos, the only battle in the American Revolution fought west of the Mississippi River.

The Battle of San Carlos (sometimes called the Battle of St. Louis) was fought on May 26, 1780. A group of more than 1,000 British soldiers and Indians fought against approximately 300 combined Spanish soldiers and militia. The decisive Spanish victory in the battle helped prevent the British from obtaining control of the Mississippi River Valley.

In 1780, St. Louis was a Spanish colony. At the time Spain was providing covert aid and supplies to the colonists; the Spanish Lieutenant Governor, fearing British reprisals, planned to defend the town by building four stone towers and digging entrenchments around the town. Although most of the trenches had been dug, only one of the towers, called Fort San Carlos, was completed when the British attacked. The tower (which was located near the current Fourth and Walnut Streets) was equipped with five cannons, three four-pounder and two six-pounder.

On their way to St. Louis, the British attacked settlers working on the outskirts of town. When word of the attack reached the city, the town militia manned the trenches and the tower. Fire from their muskets hit some of the attackers, but the cannon fire from the tower saved the day, causing the Indians to falter. The battle lasted two hours, but in the end the attackers retreated.

No further attempts were made to take St. Louis from the Spanish.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Candy Bar Would Have Been Safer

Today was a "big" grocery shopping day. After lunch I prepared the list, made sure the bags were in the car, and set off for the store.

When I got there, I navigated up and down the aisles putting things from my list into the cart. Since I wasn't hungry I was able to pass by all the impulse items, but when I got to the produce section some gorgeous looking plums caught my eye. Their dark purple skin glistened in the store's fluorescent light. I picked out one that was almost the size of a baseball and put it in my cart to have for a snack on the way home. They were a little pricy, but I justified the cost by telling myself it would be a healthy snack.

I made it through the checkout process, bagged up the groceries, and started pushing the cart out of the store, cradling the plum in my hand so it didn't get lost in the recesses of a bag. When I got close to my car I held up my key fob to unlock the door and lost my grip on the plum. It hit the ground with a thud and rolled under the car. I got down on my hands and knees to try to retrieve it and watched it as it rolled completely under my car, out the other side, and halfway under the car next to mine.

If I wasn't all pumped up to enjoy my fruit I probably would have just left it there, but at that point I had to have the plummy goodness, so I decided to try to retrieve it. I walked around to the other car, got down on all fours again, and tried to snag the plum. That didn't work, so I had to lay down on my stomach and stretch my arm out as far as it would go. The asphalt was hot and gritty, and I hit my head on the side of the car as I maneuvered myself into place.

After I grabbed the prodigal plum I got up and went back to my car. I got settled in the seat, put the key in the ignition, and took a big bite of fruit. It was as good as I thought it would be and worth all the trouble I had to go through. It was finished by time I got out of the strip mall parking lot.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Setup

Although my new job at a preschool doesn't officially start until next week, this week the teachers are organizing their classrooms for the new year and I've been assisting.

My job description has changed a bit since I was hired. Instead of being in just one class, I'm splitting my time between two rooms. One of the teachers (in Classroom A) has been at the school for many years, but the other one (in Classroom B) is new to the school. Most of my tasks this week have been with Teacher B. Since both of us were unfamiliar with the building, we lost a bit of time finding things like the art supply closet and the stash of office supplies, but it didn't take long to learn the setup and we got started.

I put together a bulletin board, which is something I haven't done for decades. I found, though, that the necessary skills weren't lost, just buried in the recesses of my brain. When I was done, the bulletin board was a colorful representation of the room's theme, complete with cut-out letters, student names written on construction paper cutouts, and tissue paper flowers for a 3D accent. I set up a filing system, organized craft supplies, and stacked games in a closet, then browsed a jumble of unwanted materials in the foyer and carried several armfuls of goodies back to Teacher B.

I was also able to assist Teacher B in setting up an Excel spreadsheet to track student attendance. Her computer used a newer version of the program than I'm familiar with, so it was challenging to navigate through all the features. Another challenge was that the laptop didn't have a mouse, so I was forced to muddle through with just the touchpad, but eventually the job got done.

This school emphasizes small-group teaching; there are always three adults circulating through the room while the students are there. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I'll be doing more than classroom setup and cleanup each day. Teacher A told me that each day next week I'll be supervising several activities (including doing my own materials gathering, setup, and cleanup). She prepared the plan for the first week, but I got to choose several activities to lead the second week. My suggestion for expanding one of the activities was quickly approved.

I'm looking forward to relaxing tomorrow and Friday because I suspect I'll be busy next week!