Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Make My Day

One day a week I have to go into work at 8:00 in the morning for a staff meeting. During the summer there wasn't much traffic, and I could get there in 15 minutes, but once all the schools started the time nearly doubled. The traffic always backs up at one particular stoplight as a long line of cars tries get to a nearby high school. It takes several cycles for me to get through the light.

Sitting in traffic one day I glanced over to my left and saw something completely unexpected. A generic-looking plain tan tract house on the corner of the main street and a subdivision street has a side garage door that's painted a glossy sunset orange color. Now, every time I get hung up at the stop light I look for the door. It's a real day brightner. I wanted to let the homeowners know what I thought of their decorating, so today I wrote a note to thank a stranger for their lovely door.

I put the note in their mailbox this morning on the way to work. I guess I still need to work on my powers of observation, because I never noticed that the mailbox was located on the main street, which has no sidewalk. I parked the car on the side street and walked through the grass to the box. Even though it was later in the morning, there was still a lot of dew on the grass, and tops of my canvas shoes got pretty wet. Mission accomplished, I returned to my car and finished driving to work.

I hope my note will brighten their day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Button, Button, Who's Got The Button?

A while back I helped a friend clean out her mother's house to get it ready for sale and came home with a box filled with fabric pieces and buttons. I got the fabric put away, but procrastinated on doing anything with the buttons. Today I decided to take care of the project, and I organized a collection of buttons by color.

There were a couple of pounds of buttons stored in baggies in a box. A few of them were already bagged by color, but most were loose or all jumbled together in bags. I tackled one bag at a time and started sorting, putting them into custard cups. When I ran out of those I used our Oriental soup bowls too.

When I was done, this is what it looked like:

There were buttons in every color of the rainbow as well as brown, black, gold, and silver. I re-bagged them by color, and put them all in a larger bag that will be easier to store than the original box.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the buttons, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find something suitable next time I need one.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Road Trip!

This weekend I had a great time in Columbia, MO.

Earlier in the week son Brian, who lives in Columbia, extended an invitation to the Roots ’n Blues ’n BBQ Festival. He and his fiancée Nicole have attended the festival the last few years, and they promised it would be a good time. The festival started Friday night, but I had an early morning meeting on Saturday that I couldn't miss. However, I got on the road as soon as it was over. Two hours later I was in Columbia. Son Donald came separately with a friend; we all met up at Brian and Nicole's house at lunchtime. After a quick meal we piled into the car and headed downtown.

The forecast called for clear weather, but it started drizzling as we walked out of the parking garage. We headed to a nearby Starbucks for a cup of coffee, then sat outside at an umbrella-topped table where we could hear a bit of music from the closest stage. When the rain stopped, we headed over to the festival. We exchanged our tickets for wristbands and got ready to have some fun.

There was a incredible variety of music being played on the three stages. Over the course of the day, we heard a bit of reggae (The Itals), some gospel (Blind Boys of Alabama), country (Junior Brown), Newgrass (The John Cowan Band), and R&B/blues/soul fusion (Booker T). We missed the BBQ contest portion of the event, but there were several vendors selling BBQ and other goodies. It's never a problem finding food at a festival!

At the end of the night, we went back to Brian and Nicole's, where Donald and I got to be their first house guests. I used the spare bedroom and Donald slept on their new couch. My bed was great, and the bathroom was stocked just like a hotel's with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. They even thought of a tube of toothpaste!

Sadly, after a great breakfast, it was time for Donald and me to leave. I threw my suitcase in the car, wondering when the festival will be held next year.

Friday, September 25, 2009

God's Acre

After I finished my errands this afternoon I decided it was too pretty to go home. The gloomy weather that's hung around the past couple of days moved off this morning; the sky was blue with just a wisp of cloud and the temperature was in the upper 70s.

I decided to explore one my city's municipal parks. When the boys were in Boy Scouts, the Troop used to have their summer meetings there. The park's not very big; the boisterous Scouts tended to overrun it. Today the small parking lot was empty. I locked up the car and started walking. The paved park trail looped around a pavilion that held eight picnic tables. A small building held the bathrooms, and a tiny playground was next to it. It only took a couple of minutes until the pavement started curving back towards the parking lot. However, a second gravel trail veered off to the east. I decided to follow it.

I traveled for a minute on the new trail before I saw a large open area to my right. It beckoned me to see what was on the other side of it, so I followed my instincts. Soon, I saw a large parking lot in front of me, and I knew exactly where I was. The lot (which was on the other side of a residential street) belonged to the Methodist church where my boys went to preschool. Also on the street is the parish cemetery for my Catholic church. When I got to the street, I turned right, traveled a couple of hundred feet, and walked between the substantial wrought-iron cemetery gates.

Manchester, the city where I live, hasn't always been the land of traffic jams and strip malls. It has a history dating back to the early 1800s. At one time, Manchester was a one-day stagecoach ride from St. Louis along the Overland Trail. The original settlers were predominantly Irish, but in 1865 there was a large influx of Germans into the area. The first church began in the 1850s (as a mission with no permanent priest). As more people moved into the area, a resident pastor was appointed, and a larger church was built. The cemetery was dedicated in 1851.

The cemetery is not large; you can see the entire thing from the entrance. I was the only person there today. It's up on a hill behind a bank that faces Manchester Road, but it feels like it's far away from the everyday hustle and bustle. You can barely hear the traffic.

Even though I've lived in the area for more than two decades, I was at the cemetery for the first time a couple of weeks ago when a friend's father died. The day of the funeral there was a large canopy covering his grave area. Today the canopy was gone; the hole had been refilled and the grass placed back on top. The remains of a lovely flower arrangement, which had been vibrant the last time I saw it, was laying on top of the grave. All of the flowers had turned brown, although the roses still maintained their shape.

The older gravestones were clustered in the back of the property. The weathered markers were barely readable, although I could make out that they were written in German. Looking at the names, birth dates, and death dates, I was able to contemplate who those people were and what their lives were like. Several of the newer graves were decorated with flowers, and one had a pair of small ceramic bunnies set on top!

My exploration finished, I retraced my steps and went back to the car.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

WHAT Was The Problem?

The grass needed to be cut. Because of my schedule and the weather forecast for the next few days, it had to be tonight.

The weather wasn't particularly conducive to yard work, though. The above-average temperature and high humidity didn't feel so bad when I left work and walked to my car, but the exertion of mowing the lawn made me sweat profusely. The waistband of my shorts was completely saturated and I had to keep wiping my face off with the sleeve of my shirt. It was hard to push the mower through the grass, because it was long and slightly damp from yesterday's rain. The farther I got into the project, the more rotten my mood became.

I knew I had to knock myself back into a better state of mind. As I paced back and forth across the back yard, I started making a mental gratitude list, which helped:
  • Since there's no one else in the house, I can make (and have) dinner whenever I want.
  • I can eat whatever I want!
  • Cutting the grass can substitute for a trip to the gym today.
  • I'm glad I have a lawn to cut. And a lawn mower to cut it with.
By time I put the lawn mower back in the garage, my attitude had already started to improve. I came in, drank a big glass of water, and decided to take a bath. I ran some cool water in the tub and poured in a sample packet of Burt's Bees Baby Bee Buttermilk Bath, which was appropriate because I had been acting pretty childish.

I sat and soaked in the tub. As the dirt and sweat melted off my body, my mood continued to get better. Pepper the cat came into the bathroom, jumped on the side of the tub, and gave me a tail swish. I got out, dried off, and sat on the bed to get some clean clothes out of the dresser. Pepper followed me, even though it wasn't even close to meal time. He jumped on the bed, leaned against me, and purred.

Immediately, the last of my bad mood disappeared. I spent a few minutes petting Pepper between his ears and rubbing the underside of his chin. His purring got louder. After a couple of minutes I was as content as he was.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Today my dermatologist prescribed a topical medicine that has to be applied twice a day for the next eight weeks. Even though I'm fairly well organized, I was concerned that I'd have trouble remembering to do it. I tried to find a small calendar so I could note each application, but I didn't have a whole lot of luck. Then I thought of a solution. The PocketMod.

I wrote about PocketMod last year. It's a way to keep yourself organized using one piece of paper. The paper gets cut and folded into eighths, so it's small, and it wouldn't be obvious if I left it on the vanity next to the toothbrush holder.

Although there are many PocketMod page widgets available, all I needed was the monthly calendar. I filled the whole page with blank months and printed it out. Half of the months were oriented the wrong way, but that didn't matter to me. I wasn't planning on using my finished product in my purse, so I didn't cut and fold it as the directions indicated. Instead I folded the paper in quarters and wrote in the month names and dates. My only beef is that the boxes to put the date in are tiny-I had to write underneath them.

I put the calendar in the bathroom next to the tube of medicine, and found an orange marker to accompany it. If I make a mark each time I apply the ointment to my skin, I hope the brightly-colored ink will make it obvious if I've missed a dose.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Less than five miles from my house is a unique destination that I've driven past for decades, but today I stopped and I visited the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, AKA Dog Museum of America, which has the country's largest collection of art and artifacts dedicated to man's best friend.

The museum was founded in New York in 1982 and moved to St. Louis in 1986. It is housed in the Jarville House in Queeny Park, which was once owned by Edgar Queeny, the president of Monsanto Chemical Company. The museum's collection soon outgrew the original house, and an addition was built in 1989.

When you walk into the lobby, the original house is to the left, up a flight of stairs, and the addition is on the right. Over 700 pieces of art are on display in a variety of media--paintings, drawings, pastels, prints, sculptures, ceramic figurines, and photographs. The museum's art spans the centuries. There were sets of wooden Chinese dogs from the 16th century, and works produced just a couple of years ago. Each piece of art's identification label had the usual information you'd expect to find-the name of the piece, the artist's name, the media type, and who donated it. But at this museum there was an additional line-the name of the breed.

I especially enjoyed the selection of posters from mid-20th century movies featuring Lassie and Old Yeller, among others, and the All-Star Dogs Hall of Fame exhibit which showcased champion show and field dogs, famous dogs from movies (such as Lassie and Toto from the Wizard of Oz), and dogs that have contributed to society, such as the rescue dogs of 9/11 and drug-sniffing dogs who work at airports.

I think the most outrageous artifact was a Palladian style doghouse by the Chilean decorator Juan Pablo Molyneux. I'm guessing it was at least three feet square, with a columned portico in front, windows on all four sides, and faux-painted decorations. The special exhibition was a display of dogs featured on matchbook covers. I actually remembered seeing some of themwhen I was a kid!

What would a museum be without a gift shop? This one was staffed by a friendly lady and her canine companion, who was delighted when I gave her a scratch on the head.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Type Fast Or Die

Tonight I played Word Shoot, an addictive typing game from Cognitive Labs.

I'm just an average typist, so the game was a good challenge. There are four levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Impossible, and I tried them all. Each one started with easy three-letter words, but the harder the level, the faster bigger words came rolling out.

Word Shoot is a Flash game, so the animation isn't particularly elaborate. Your character is in the center of the screen with enemies coming at you from all directions. Under each enemy is a word that you have to type correctly and hit Enter to fire your weapon. If you get it right, the enemy disappears in a small squirt of blood. Every time you misspell a word, however, the gun jams and the enemy advances.

The more letters in the word, the bigger and nastier the enemy looks. I couldn't find the rules, but I would hope you got more points for harder words. At the end of the game, the final score consisted of the regular score plus a bonus. The higher your accuracy percentage, the higher the bonus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Information I Hope I Never Need

The preschool where I work doesn't have classes on Friday. Today, though, they opened the doors again for staff CPR, First Aid, and AED (automated external defibrillator) training. The school is getting an AED machine, but the life-saving tool doesn't do much good if people don't know how to use it!

A portion of the staff gets trained each year, so some of the people there were actually being recertified in first aid and CPR, but all of us were novices at AED use. The atmosphere in the building was more festive without any students around, and I got to talk to a few women I usually don't cross paths with. After everyone assembled, the class started. Our instructor was great; she seemed to really want us to learn the material, and asked everyone exactly what they taught so she could tailor her presentation to our specific population.

We started with CPR training. Everyone had their own practice manikin with a bright blue foam body and plastic head that tilted back to the correct angle. A plastic bag "lung" inside the body rose when we blew into the manikin's mouth. The instructor used a DVD presentation, stopping it occasionally to let us practice the steps. After we completed the training on adult and child CPR, we used the manikin to practice the Heimlich maneuver.

Following a short break we moved into the AED training. I learned that an AED helps to restart a normal heart rhythm when it goes into Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Again, there was a video to watch, then the instructor brought out a Non-Shocking AED unit to show us what it was like. We paired off to try it on a manikin, and I thought it was very easy to use. One person performed the CPR portion, and the other one worked with the machine itself. Two pads are placed on the patient's chest and connected to the AED. A computer inside the machine analyzes the patient's heart rhythm and determines if a shock is required. If a shock is required, the AED uses voice instructions to guide the user through the required steps.

It was lunchtime by this point, so we took another break and enjoyed the great food that the director was nice enough to order in for everyone. Stomachs full, we went back to the room for a short first aid training. The instructor answered our questions, gave us our certification cards, and told us we were free to go.

Hopefully, I'll never have to use any of the skills I acquired today, but if an emergency strikes I'll be ready.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Be My Guest

While Tony's gone I'll be cooking for one and eating by myself most nights. Today I started some pulled pork in the crock pot before I left for work. Frozen into individual servings, it will give me lots of leftovers for the coming weeks. When I came home, I was greeted with a wonderful smell emanating from the kitchen. Before I went outside to cut the grass, I put two potatoes in the oven-one for tonight's dinner and one for lunch tomorrow. The potatoes were almost ready when I was done cutting, but were fork-tender after I showered and changed my clothes. I cut some carrots and prepared to dine.

When I'm by myself, I often eat sitting in front of the computer, but tonight I felt like doing something special, so I ate by myself in the dining room, using china, silver, and crystal. I used a place mat and napkin that coordinated with a flower I'd gotten from a friend, and gathered a plate, glass, and silverware from various parts of the house. The only thing I passed on was a candle, but since it was still quite light out, it wasn't necessary.

By time I arranged my pulled pork sandwich on whole wheat toast, baked potato, and carrots on the plate it was quite full. I poured myself a glass of lemonade; it was extra-special in the elegant glass. The food wasn't particularly fancy, but the atmosphere more than made up for it:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No, It's NOT Time To Wake Up!

Sydney left a comment on yesterday's post and asked about the cats, who were on the outs a while back. After several days of lessening antagonism, things were finally back to normal with them.

But today's post isn't about the cats and their social habits. It's about the cats and their eating habits, and how that's now a problem for me. Even though both cats are from the same litter, they have very different body types. Pepper is svelte, while Jackson has always tended towards stout. When they were young, they ate food out of a communal bowl in the laundry room. One day I noticed the food bowl was always empty. Pepper looked a bit gaunt, while his brother looked even rounder than normal. The vet suggested we feed them in separate areas of the house, and take up the food in between mealtimes so Jackson couldn't eat more than his share.

Fast forward to today. The "princes" get fed three times a day--morning, afternoon, and bedtime. We've tried giving them fewer but larger meals, but it doesn't work. Pepper only eats a limited amount of food before he walks away from the bowl. (I wish I had his willpower!) As I mentioned yesterday, Tony gets up quite early, and the cats are used to eating then. He'd actually stopped setting an alarm most days, relying on Pepper to wake him up. I was the beneficiary of the Pepper alarm today, several hours before my alarm clock was supposed to go off. Although I knew I could go back to bed after cat duty, it was annoying to leave its comfy warmth.

The cats do their best work on Tony, but I've been awakened often enough to know there's a definite routine to the morning's actions. Pepper is always the instigator; Jackson is on the floor waiting in the wings. Pepper starts with a soft meow, and waits for a response. If he doesn't get one he cranks up the volume to MEOOOOWWWWWW! If that doesn't work, he moves to jumping on your body, or laying next to it and kicking with his feet. Sometimes he uses his tail as the tool, and whips it back and forth hitting everyone in his path. He keeps all this up until he gets the desired results.

Today I was able to buy myself 15 extra minutes by continually throwing Pepper off the bed, but I know I can't rely on that every morning. I decided to do a little Internet research to see what others in the same boat have come up with. Some ideas I can try:
  • Close the bedroom door with the cats on the wrong side. Put a piece of bubble wrap at the bottom of the door for when the cats scratch on it!
  • Keep a spray bottle filled with water near your bed, and use it to spray the offending animal. This is supposed to make the cat run away for an extended period of time while they groom themselves to remove all the water. It also supplies negative reinforcement; they don't like to get wet!
  • Play vigorously with your cats in the evening. That should make them so tired they'll sleep later in the morning.
  • Hiss at them when they try to wake you. That's like saying "back off" in cat-speak
I actually like having Pepper sleeping on the bed in the middle of the night, so I don't want to close them out of the bedroom. Besides, their main water bowl is in the master bathroom and I can't stand the thought of them being thirsty. I may try rousing them from their early-evening nap tonight for a game of "running around the house". That would be good exercise for them AND me. There's also a water bottle in the spare bathroom that may come in handy tomorrow morning...

Monday, September 14, 2009

He’s Leaving On A Jet Plane.

I dropped Tony off at the airport this morning, and he left for a multiple-week job training class. There are no convenient flights on the weekends to make it worth his while to come home, so it will be a while before I see him again. Every other time he was gone on a lengthy business trip there were kids in the house. Now there are none-just me.

This morning I rolled out of bed an hour early, threw on some clothes, and ate a quick breakfast before we were out the door. After I finished at the airport, I stopped at a different branch of my gym that was on my route home for a workout. It was still rush hour when I left the gym, so traffic was still pretty heavy, but I pulled into the garage just a little later than my usual wake up time!

Now that Tony's gone, some things will be the same. I'll still have go to work, eat, and do housework, although there won't be as much to cook or clean up with only one person in the house. The cats will still want their food three times a day, but they won't understand that early-rising "Dad" is gone, and I sleep later than he does.

However, a lot of things will be different. After 29 years of marriage, Tony and I have got things around the house divvied up pretty well. Now I'll be doing my tasks and his. I wonder if I'll run out of coffee cups and milk glasses before the dishwasher is filled up, and if I have enough socks and underwear to last me, since I won't be doing laundry as often.

I'll have a lot of time to fill up. I resurrected some ideas from my bucket list, but I'm still looking for suggestions. If you have any, please leave me a comment.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


This summer for some reason I'm a mosquito magnet! If I go outside to pick a few tomatoes--I have a bite. Five minutes deadheading flowers--four bites. Although the itch subsides quickly when I use After Bite treatment on the welts, it's annoying to have to go through the process again and again.

I keep a bottle of repellent in the pantry so that when we want to eat dinner outside I can spray myself before I go out on the deck, but it makes me feel sticky, and I don't want to use it if I'm just spending a couple of minutes in the garden.

Other than bug spray, I've heard of a lot of alternate ideas for keeping yourself bite-free. A friend swears by fabric softener sheets. She ties one to the belt loop of her shorts and says that keeps the mosquitoes away. Even though Snopes pooh-poohs the idea, today I used a dryer sheet to try to keep mosquitoes away.

My project was a perennial bed in the back yard. It's been neglected for the last month and there was quite a bit of misplaced grass, dandelions, and other weeds to remove. I grabbed my trowel and bucket, accessorized my outfit with a Bounce sheet, and walked out to the offending area.

I was outside for about 20 minutes, and was pleased to find out the dryer sheet worked pretty well. Based on my recent track record, I should have been covered in bites, but I only had one on my leg. I suspect this technique wouldn't work for an extended period of time, but I'm certainly using it again tomorrow when I tackle the bird seed that's sprouted under the deck.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What A Tangled Web We Weave

When I went out to the back yard this morning after breakfast, I saw dozens of webs like this one:

Some of the webs were large, and some were small, but they were all covered with dew and glistened in the sun. Each one of them had an open hole in the middle. I assumed they were made by a spider, but wanted to know what type. After a little research, I learned that I was seeing the handiwork of funnel web spiders, sometimes called grass spiders.

Funnel web spiders can make a sheet web as large as three feet wide. The web, with its funnel (the hole in he middle), is more often noticed than the spider itself. The funnel portion of the web leads to shelter in a rock crevice or dense vegetation. Funnel web spiders typically build webs several inches above the ground in short grasses and in window wells. The spider hides in the concealed area of the funnel and then dashes out onto the sheet portion of the web to capture an insect caught in or walking across the silk platform.

The female spiders are responsible for the webs I saw. Male grass spiders spend most of their life wandering in search of a mate. Females don't move from their web unless they need to find a new location to build a new one. They spend most of their time capturing and eating prey, building up their strength to mate and lay eggs. In the fall, after mating, the females will deposit a disc-shaped egg sac in a crevice. Both males and females are dead by the first frost.

I was glad to find out that unlike some funnel web spiders, our indigenous ones are harmless. Unless you're a bug!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Oh Nine, Oh Nine, Oh Nine

Today is September 9, 2009, or 09/09/09. It's the last set of single-digit, repeating dates for many years, and the last one I'll see, as the next one won't be until January 1, 2101.

There's really nothing special about today's symmetrical date, but some people and cultures ascribe powerful significance to the number nine. To them today's date is much-anticipated (or feared):
  • Chinese culture considers the number nine auspicious. In the major Chinese dialects, the word for "nine" sounds similar to long-lasting.
  • Hindus revere the number nine because it's considered a complete number that represents the end of a cycle in the decimal system.
  • In Japanese, the word for nine is a homophone for the word for suffering, so the number is considered unlucky.
  • In numerology, the number nine is associated with tolerance, generosity, forgiveness, benevolence, passion, romance, creative energy, and success.
Today I got up, ate breakfast, did a little Web surfing, and went to work. After work I came home, changed my clothes, read the newspaper, and ate dinner. Did a little Internet reading and watched a little TV. In other words, today was a completely normal day.

How about you? Any adventures associated with the unusual date?

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Pint Of Ice Cream Can Speak Gallons About Your Character

A while back a friend sent me a link that sounded fun, so today I took the What Ice Cream Flavor Are You? quiz.

The quiz introduction said it was loosely based on the science of "flavorology". Much to my surprise, there is real science behind it. A little research on my part found out that a survey conducted for Edy's by the Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation in 2005 determined personality characteristics that go along with a person's favorite flavor of ice cream.

The quiz had nine questions; each question had five answers to choose from. When my scores were calculated, I was a tie between Butter Pecan and Vanilla, although I had a bit of Strawberry mixed in too. In a nutshell, this is what those flavors say about me:
  • Butter Pecan: I am devoted, conscientious, respectful, fiscally conservative, and show integrity in all I do.
  • Vanilla: I am a colorful, dramatic risk taker who relies more on intuition than logic. I am emotionally expressive and idealistic.
  • Strawberry: I am a thoughtful, logical person who weighs each option before making decisions. In relationships, I am loyal and supportive.
Just like in most quizzes, there are no negative character traits represented, so I'm taking my answers with a big grain of salt. However, the quiz was a pleasant was to spend the end of a holiday weekend.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Are The Chances?

Do you know what a theremin is? I didn't until this week, when I heard a reference to the obscure instrument not once, not twice, but THREE different times!

In case you're as unfamiliar with the instrument as I was, a theremin is one of the first electronic instruments, invented in the 1920s. It produces the eerie flying saucer sound effect in 1950s B-movies, and is the high-pitched electronic effect in the chorus of the song Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. According to Wikipedia:
[it] consists of two metal antennas which sense the position of the player's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.
Tuesday night was the first time I'd heard of the instrument. There was a story on KWMU (our local NPR station) about Imogen Heap, a musician that uses a lot of social networking sites to help her write her songs. She said that based on a tweet from one of her fans she added a theremin to one of the songs on her new album. The story was interesting, but uneventful.

The next day I read an update from one of my Facebook friends, who wrote (tongue in cheek) that "it should be required by law to include, in every folk album henceforth released, a theremin." I was sure he said that because he had heard the radio broadcast, but turns out he had not. I passed a link to the story on to him, and thought how strange it was that two people were independently thinking about the same little-known topic.

This afternoon I was driving home from the store, again listening to KWMU. The show this time was Studio 360, and during a station identification break the announcer told me to stay tuned because [playing eerie 50s sci-fi music] they were going to be discussing the theremin later in the show. Holy cow! I made it home before the segment came on, so I rushed in, turned the radio on, and tuned it to the station. Sure enough, about ten minutes later Kurt Andersen, the host of the show, was talking with Pamelia Kurstin, a theremin virtuoso:

I wonder if the third time is the charm and the theremin will now drop off my radar, or if I should continue to be on the lookout.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Your Opinion Is Important

In honor of the beginning of the holiday weekend, Tony and I took a walk after dinner to get shave ice. The stand we went to is located in a trailer in the middle of a small parking lot. There are some picnic tables under a large shade tent next to the stand. The atmosphere there may leave something to be desired, but it doesn't matter, because the ice product is so good. It's shaved so fine it looks like snow, and they pour on the flavors liberally.

There are about 70 flavors to choose from, or you can combine more than one flavor. They actually list some popular combinations to make it easier. For example, a fuzzy navel is a mixture of peach and orange, tiger's blood combines strawberry and coconut, and you can mix any flavor plus pineapple to make a daiquiri.

All the choices can be a little intimidating, but there's usually a line of people waiting to order, and I can have it figured out by time I get to the front. However, today there was no line, and Tony knew exactly what he wanted, so there was no reason to wait. I was still undecided when I walked up to the counter and asked the clerk what HIS favorite flavor was. When he said that he really liked piña colada with peach, I told him I'd take that in a small.

It turned out to be a really good choice. So was Tony's lime and cherry. After we were all sugared up, the walk home was easy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Create A Breakfast Muffin

Back in the 1990s, I used to read a newsletter (which was eventually compiled into book form) called The Tightwad Gazette. Amy Dacyczyn, the author, promoted thrift as a viable alternative lifestyle in an entertaining, easy-to-read fashion. Over the years I've gone back to my dog-eared volumes many times to find ideas for economizing.

One of the greatest ideas I gleaned from The Tightwad Gazette is the principles for creating a homemade muffin. Not a recipe, but rather a formula. You can use whatever ingredients you have around the house or whatever is cheap. When the boys were young I used the "recipe" out of necessity, but now I'm using it as a template to make healthy food that tastes great, although it doesn't hurt that healthy also equals cheap.

The quantities listed are for a single batch of muffins. I always double the recipe and freeze the extras. They've turned into our go-to breakfast (and sometimes snacks), and two dozen last a little over a week in our house. I've made these so many times it takes me about 15 minutes to mix the batter and fill the pans. They never take more than 15 minutes to cook in my oven, and I let them cool in the pan for 10 minutes before I remove them to cooling racks. That means in a little over a half-hour I have a big Ziploc bag full of healthy muffins.

The original directions are below. I've added comments in orange. Hope you get a chance to try this!

To make muffins, combine dry ingredients, and then mix in wet ingredients until just combined; the batter should be lumpy. Grease muffin tin and fill cups two thirds full. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 15-25 minutes.

The following ingredients are required:

Grain: Use 2 to 2 1/2 cups of white flour. Or substitute oatmeal, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, rye flour, or flake cereal for 1 cup of the white flour. Or substitute 1 cup leftover cooked oatmeal, rice, or cornmeal for 1/2 cup of the white flour and decrease liquid to 1/2 cup. I've been using half whole wheat flour and half oatmeal. Surprisingly, they're not too dense.

Milk: Use 1 cup or substitute buttermilk. Or sour milk (add a tbsp. of vinegar to 1 cup milk). Or substitute fruit juice for part or all of the milk. I use dry milk powder, adding it to my liquid of choice. Leftover coffee works great. My last batch used a bit of orange juice in the refrigerator and some watermelon juice. The results were outstanding!

Fat: Use 1/4 cup vegetable oil or 4 tbsp. melted butter or margarine. Or substitute crunchy or regular peanut butter for part or all of the fat. The fat can be reduced or omitted with fair results if using a "wet addition."

Egg: Use 1 egg. Or substitute 1 heaping tbsp. of soy flour and 1 tbsp. of water. If using a cooked grain, separate the egg, add the yolk to the batter, beat the white until stiff, and fold into the batter.

Sweetener: Use between 2 tbsp. and 1/2 cup sugar. Or substitute up to 3/4 cup brown sugar. Or substitute up to 1/2 cup honey or molasses, and decrease milk to 3/4 cup. I've used maple syrup with good results.

Baking Powder: Use 2 tsp. If using whole or cooked grains or more than 1 cup of additions, increase to 3 tsp. If using buttermilk or sour milk, decrease to 1 tsp. and add 1/2 tsp baking soda. I use 4 tsp. for a double recipe.

Salt: Use 1/2 tsp., or omit if you have a salt-restricted diet.

The following ingredients are optional. Additions can be used in any combination, up to 1 1/2 cups total. If using more than 1 cup of wet additions, decrease the milk to 1/2 cup:

Dry Additions: Nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut, and so on. The majority of the time I add a scoop of cocoa powder in with the dry ingredients. I figure these muffins are a pretty healthy way to get in my daily dose of chocolate!

Moist Additions: Blueberries, chopped apple, freshly shredded zucchini, shredded carrot, and so on.

Wet Additions: Pumpkin puree; applesauce; mashed, cooked sweet potato; mashed banana; mashed, cooked carrot, and so on. If using 1/2 cup drained, canned fruit or thawed shredded zucchini, substitute the syrup or zucchini liquid for all or part of the milk.

Spices: Use spices that complement the additions, such as 1 tsp. cinnamon with 1/4 tsp nutmeg or cloves. Try 2 tsp. grated orange or lemon peel.

Jellies and Jam: Fill cups half full with a plain batter. Add 1 tsp. jam or jelly and top with 2 more tbsp. batter.

Topping: Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the batter in the tins.

Non-sweet Combinations: Use only 2 tbsp. sugar and no fruit. Add combinations of the following: 1/2 cup shredded cheese, 3 strips fried and crumbled bacon, 2 tbsp. grated onion, 1/2 cup shredded zucchini, 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese. Spices could include a tsp. of parsley and a pinch of marjoram.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Go Cards!

Baseball Cardinals, that is.

As of today, with 30 games left to play, the Cards have a 10 ½ game lead over the Chicago Cubs. The "magic number" of wins they need to clinch their division is somewhere in the mid-20s, so it didn't surprise me when the team announced the procedure for selling playoff tickets to non-season ticket holders. Today I registered for the chance to participate in a lottery for post-season baseball tickets.

The registration is only taking place online at the team's Website; you won't be able to get tickets at the stadium ticket office, any ticket outlets, or by phone. There's always more people who want tickets than the amount available, so this registration is just to participate in the opportunity to purchase. After the registration closes on September 18th, they'll have a random drawing. The people whose names are selected will have the opportunity to purchase up to four tickets for one game out of the seven possible National League Division and Championship series games.

In the past Tony has taken care of things like this, but this year I decided to take the lead. There's a good chance he won't be available to go to a game, and I didn't want to miss out on my chance to participate in the post-season game excitement. Besides, even if he also registers, that will increase the chances of getting chosen.