Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wave Your Flags

Last night I was watching Saturday Night Live while I played on the computer. Although most of the show was just moderately funny (I didn't even look at the TV for a couple of the sketches), I thought this Digital Short was pretty good:

The jokes here came quickly, one after another. Some of my favorites were Light flag, Kite flag, We love Betty White flag and Yahtzee flag, R.O.T.C flag, neo-Nazi Potsie flag. When it was done, I wanted to see it again.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

E-Cycle Me

Our basement has become a repository for old, broken, and unneeded things, so we've been working on cleaning it and getting things out of there. Today we got rid of a couple of boxes of old electronics by e-cycling them.

Web Innovations & Technology Services (WITS) is a local organization that recycles and refurbishes electronics and computers, which they donate to low-income individuals. They also sell computers and peripherals at a reduced cost. They have a 0% landfill policy--anything they can't reuse is recycled appropriately. Although their office isn't particularly convenient for us, they have a monthly drop-off location in Chesterfield, a suburb not too far from our house, that is. That was our destination today.

The list of accepted items is wide-ranging. You can bring in computers, computer accessories, peripherals, computer programs, CD/DVDs, and all types of data storage. They'll take home electronics, appliances large and small, and electrical equipment. You can get rid of furnace and air conditioning equipment, lawn equipment, old motors, and any battery containing lead. Most items are accepted free, but there is a small suggested donation to cover the costs of recycling anything with a screen and appliances larger than a microwave.

Our boxes contained a combination of things. There were several broken items--a phone, a portable radio, an answering machine, a printer, and a DVD player. There were also a couple of obsolete software programs and a large handful of old burned CDs. The drop off location was well marked. We pulled into the parking lot, and immediately someone was there to take the boxes from the trunk. The whole exchange took less than five minutes.

Sadly, I suspect we haven't found the last of the electronics. At least now I know what to do with them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do The Stroll

When I got in my car after work today, I saw my gym bag on the floor of the passenger seat. I put it there this morning to remind me to go to the gym on my way home. But this afternoon I didn't want to go.

I thought of all kinds of reasons for not going. I told myself I was tired, that my muscles ached from using higher weights on the machines earlier in the week, and that I'd had enough physical exercise wrangling preschoolers today. I knew that once I got there I'd find the energy (with the help of the music on my ipod) to use the treadmill, and I'd have a real feeling of accomplishment when I was done. However, in the end, the justifications for laziness won. I turned to the right out of the parking lot instead of to the left and headed towards home.

I felt guilty, though. I tried to figure out if there was a way to incorporate some exercise into my day instead of using the gym. It was cold outside, and I didn't have a hat and proper gloves, so going to the park was out. The closest mall was in the other direction, so mallwalking wasn't an option either. Then I realized there was a big-box hardware store right on the way home. I wondered if I could do my walking there?

I pulled into the store's lot and parked close to the door. I left my coat in the car, but I did bring my purse, so to a casual observer it would look like I was shopping.

When you walk into this store, the aisles to the left are perpendicular to the door, and the ones to the right run parallel to the door towards the back of the building. I turned to the left and started meandering up and down each aisle.

My pace wasn't aerobic, but it was steady. One department segued into another...the seasonal merchandise turned into the lawn equipment, then the outdoor and indoor storage. When I reached the end of the aisles on the left, I started traipsing through the ones on the right. There were appliances, plumbing, flooring, windows, and doors. The lumber aisles were double-wide, so I sauntered up one side and down the other. I ambled through heating and cooling, hardware, home decor, lighting, and paint. At this store, the tool department is segregated at the front of the store; that was the only section I didn't go through.

During my perambulation I passed a couple of store associates. When they asked if they could help me find something, I didn't stop, but smiled and said "No, thank you". I think I may have passed one gentleman more than once. I wonder what he thought I was up to?

I'm not sure what the distance of my jaunt was, but it took me 25 minutes to complete. When I left the building I got a bit of bonus exercise-it was so cold I jogged to my car!

Monday, February 22, 2010


A friend sent me this today:
The process of living, for each of us, is pretty similar. For every gain there is a setback. For every success, a failure. For every moment of joy, a time of sadness. For every hope realized, one is dashed.
--Sue Atchley Ebaugh
I think this quote pretty much sums up life's balance. When one thing goes well, something else won't. Triumphs are tempered by failures. Life isn't always a bed of roses (but you should enjoy it when it is).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Signs Of Spring

Usually our area gets a short break from the cold weather in mid-winter, but it didn't happen this year. Since the beginning of 2010, less than a third of the days have been warmer than normal, and this month is on track to be one of the top 20 coldest on record. We've had a succession of snowstorms that leave a bit of white stuff, which melts just before a bit more is deposited from the next storm.

Last year about this time son Brian had a potted spring bulb arrangement delivered to the house. The basket of hyacinths and tulip plants was almost ready to bloom, and I got to watch as each of the flowers opened over the course of a week. When they were spent, I took the block of potting mixture and bulbs out to the back yard, where I planted them close to the patio by the garage door. I know that often forced bulbs won't flower again, but I thought I'd try.

I was REALLY excited when I looked out the back of the garage today and saw this:

Something is pushing up out of the mulch! It's too soon to tell what type of flower it is, but just seeing it is a sign that the cold weather can 't last forever.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Not Just Cucumbers

Sauce Magazine is a great culinary and entertainment magazine in the St. Louis area. Their tagline is "dine, drink, and live well". The free magizine comes out monthly, and I always look forward to seeing the newest issue.

Last October, they had an article about pickling vegetables and fruits; it included a recipe for pickled grapes that sounded really interesting, and I decided to try it. However, by time I'd acquired all the spices, grapes were out of season and expensive. I wasn't going to spend a lot of money to try a recipe I didn't even know that I'd care for, so I filed the page for future reference.

This week I found a sale on grapes, so I pulled out the recipe and got to work:
4 cups stemmed red seedless grapes
1 cup sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. finely minced red onion
2 tsp. yellow whole mustard seeds
3 3-inch sticks Ceylon cinnamon, broken into large pieces

• Wash the grapes, then score the skin at the stem end. Place the grapes in a nonreactive mixing bowl.

• In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, onion and mustard seeds and bring to a boil. Add the cinnamon sticks and simmer over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Pour the hot syrup over the grapes and allow to cool to room temperature.

• Remove the cinnamon sticks and distribute them in four containers or jars with lids. Ladle the grapes into the containers, making sure to cover them with the liquid. Place in the refrigerator and allow the flavors to blend for at least 8 hours.
I decided to cut the recipe in half, in case no one liked it. (I hate to throw food away!) My grapes were on the smallish side, so scoring the skin of even two cups took a while. Everything else went smoothly, though. I poured the finished product into a bowl large enough to hold the grapes in one layer and put it into the refrigerator. Several hours later I tried one. It was good, but still needed some more time in the brine. I moved the pickles to a smaller container and let them sit for another day.

This morning I tasted one, and I was impressed. The grapes were firm, the syrupy vinegar gave them a sweet-tart taste, and the onion and mustard seed gave them a little kick. Tony acquiesced to taste one. Although he's not a sweet pickle fan, he gave it a polite ok.

I think pickled grapes would be great served with cheese (maybe speared on a toothpick with a cube of cheddar as an appetizer) , nuts, or salami. Or eaten a few at a time out of the refrigerator. I've done that more than once today, and the container's almost half empty...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


From the fine folks at Big Huge Labs comes a nifty application called Photobooth, which let you use your own digital images to create vintage photo booth strips.

The Website says:
Create vintage photo booth strips from your digital photos. Four poses! Your photos are automatically aged for an authentic vintage look. For the best results, use really bad photos. You know, ones where your hair is doing something it shouldn't and the flash is going off right in your face and one eye is halfway closed and your mouth is open. Like that.

When they mentioned using really bad photos, I knew exactly which one to go for. Two Christmases ago we got a video game where you could put your face on a character. Everyone in the family lined up against the wall one at a time for a front and side snapshot. The shots got uploaded to the game.

My photo could easily pass for a mug shot. I don't believe I'd had a cup of coffee yet, and it showed. I was unshowered, with awful bed head and dark circles under my eyes. Somehow the photo, along with the other family members', ended up in my computer. Every once in awhile we open up the folder to check out the pictures and laugh at them. They were perfect for this purpose.

Using Photobooth to create the photo strip was very easy. I uploaded my files and clicked the "CREATE" button. The finished product could be colored or black and white, with or without a vintage aged style. When it was done there were several options: I could save the result to my computer, e-mail it, or send it to Facebook or Twitter. If I wanted a high resolution copy, I could buy one. However, this likeness isn't one I'd want to have printed!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Low Roller

In Las Vegas, the casinos refer to high-rollers as whales. The people who don't throw around a lot of money are called minnows. That's me.

When I visited Las Vegas almost two years ago, I signed up for a casino loyalty program. I used it to gamble a small amount of money, then put the card in the drawer when I got home and forgot about it. It stayed there until a couple of months ago, when we made a trip to the local branch of the casino. I remembered to bring the card with me and used it in each of the slot machines I used.

That trip was enough to excite the casino company; they smelled fresh meat. Several weeks after our visit, I got coupons from for a discount on food and two for a small amount of free casino play. (I'm sure it wasn't a coincidence that the two free play coupons were for different time periods, the better to suck me in.)

However, since the idea of losing money at the casino doesn't appeal to me, I didn't make it a priority to go. I let one coupon expire, and the rest of them kept getting buried under other things on the kitchen island. Today they got used. Thanks to the President's Day holiday, both Tony and I had the day off. This morning when he was running errands he picked up a promotional calendar that had a coupon for the casino buffet, so we decided to use both food coupons and go there for lunch.

The casino parking lot was MUCH less crowded than the last time we were there on a weekend night. We were able to park in the second row, and it was a quick walk to the building. The complex has eight different places to eat; the buffet is on the second floor close to the entrance, up an escalator. We paid at the cashier, got a table, and went to get food. The buffet had multiple food stations--appetizers, salad, Italian, Chinese, "home cooking", and dessert--and I had to try each of them! Some time later, with full stomachs, Tony and I left to hit the casino floor.

This area was less crowded (and, thankfully, less smoky) than on the weekend. It was easy to find a machine that suited me. I'm a cheap gambler. I stick to the penny and nickel slot machines, and don't play a lot of lines with each spin. You don't win a lot that way, but it takes longer to run out of money. I inserted my free play coupon into the machine, and Tony watched while I played. I lost a bit, then won a bit (and got a voucher for my winnings), then lost a bit again. Then lost some more. Before I knew it the free money was gone. Tony found a machine to play, and I watched him. His money lasted longer than mine...he had a few substantial wins...but after a while he was finished too. I used my wins voucher then we both decided we'd had enough.

We grabbed a "complimentary" cup of coffee before we left, then walked back to the car and left. I suspect that based on my cheapskate ways today I won't be getting more free coupons anytime soon!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"YOU AND I" Will Be A Team "FOREVER"

In my last post I mentioned that personalized candy hearts were figuring into my Valentine's Day plans. Now that I've given Tony his present, I can reveal my secret. I used the phrases on the hearts to write him a letter and included the hearts as part of the sentences. For example:

I started by creating about 20 hearts using phrases that might show up on real conversation hearts, saved them to my computer, then put on my thinking cap and got to work. As I typed the letter, each time I ran into one of the heart phrases I inserted the appropriate graphic. Remember when you were in school and had to use your spelling words in sentences? It was a fun challenge to take all the terms of endearment and put them into coherent thoughts. In the end I used most of the hearts I made. The resulting letter was cheesy in a fun way.

When I was done, I printed out my creation on a piece of cardstock; the many hues of the hearts made for a very colorful page. I rolled it up, tied it with a ribbon, and presented it to Tony. It was interesting to watch his face as he tried to make sense of the whole thing, but after a few seconds he got it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

All Of The Fun, None Of The Calories

Just in time for Valentine's Day, here's a cool Website where you can generate personalized candy hearts.

The site lets you type a short message and choose one of seven heart colors. There's an additional fun feature is for those who hate Valentine's Day--the Goth mode has black hearts with one of four text colors.

Can't give too many details, but the generated hearts are figuring into my plans for Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Single Servings of Goodness

Today we celebrated Valentine's Day in my preschool class. The students wrote their names on cards, addressed them to the other students, and decorated shoeboxes to hold the Valentines. At the end of the day they took turns distributing the cards, and then had the treat they'd made earlier in the day with yours truly...individual Rice Krispie treats.

When I volunteered to quarterback the cooking project, I envisioned each child making their own snack, not just assisting with the typical large pan. That way, everyone would get to do all the steps. I figured it would be an easy process to find a scaled-down recipe. However, I was mistaken. After scrolling through several pages of the 261,000 results to my Google search for Rice Krispie treats I gave up, and realized I'd have to come up with my own recipe.

The process actually was pretty easy. The original recipe, which yields 24 squares, calls for 6 cups of cereal, 10 ounces of marshmallows (or 4 cups miniature marshmallows), and 3 tablespoons butter. After some calculation, experimenting, and taste testing over the weekend I came up with:

1/3 cup cereal
25 miniature marshmallows
1/4 t. butter

My activity today was quite an assembly line. I took one child at a time to a table by the microwave. They counted out the marshmallows into a bowl, added a cube of pre-cut butter, and microwaved it for 15 seconds. They stirred it, added a bag of pre-measured cereal, and stirred it again. (I found it helped to dip the spoon in a glass of water beforehand so the marshmallows didn't stick.) I spooned the mixture into a cup of a cupcake pan; after dampening their fingers, the child pressed it in and flattened the top.

After the treats set for 15 minutes or so, I was able to unmold them into a cupcake liner. At the end of the day we broke out some napkins and had everyone sit around the table to eat their snack. There wasn't much left when snack time was over!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tag, You're It


When I went to bed last night, the forecast called for several inches of snow, so after the alarm went off this morning, I toddled down to the computer, checked the Website of a local TV station, and did a happy dance when I saw that my preschool was closed.

Rather than go back to bed, I ran a hot bubble bath, grabbed a book, and read in the tub till the water was cold. I started a pot of beans (because being snowed in just brings out the domestic in me), ate breakfast, read the newspaper, and checked in with various e-mails, blogs, and other sites.

By mid-morning, I started feeling a little stir crazy. I thought about taking a walk, but the 15 degree temperature (with a 0 degree wind chill) was enough to keep me inside. I decided to do some deferred body maintenance. I rubbed cuticle cream on my fingernails, slathered lotion on my feet, and used some on the dry spots on the rest of my body, too.

As I was applying the lotion, I noticed I had some new skin tags that had blossomed since I last took a good look at my skin. They don't show now, but the annoying little flaps of skin will be obvious when it's time for sleeveless shirts and shorts again. Previously, I've had luck getting rid of skin tags by covering them with clear fingernail polish. The nail polish shrinks it so it eventually falls off. The secret is to keep the skin flap completely covered by applying polish twice a day.

Because the tags aren't visible when I'm dressed, I was afraid I'd forget to keep up with applications of clear polish. However, a splash of color might help me remember. No one would see if I chose to use colored polish, would they? I dug around in the refrigerator looking for a polish with some type of pigment in it, but I came up empty. All that was there was a almost-empty bottle of Clear.

I wondered if I could somehow tint it. The fine folks at eHow came to the rescue with the article How to Make Colored Nail Polish. I found an old blush that I should have thrown out months ago, ground it to a powder, added it to the bottle of clear polish, and gave it a good shake. The polish took on the blush color. I left the bottle on the counter while I fed the cats. When I came back the polish had separated, but it quickly mixed again.

I didn't try the polish on my fingernails, but I doubt it would be very effective. It was just right for what I was looking for, though. I now have several splotches of Earthen Rose covered by my long-sleeved shirt and pants. In my experience, it can take a couple of weeks for the skin tag to dry up and fall off, but the whole process should be finished long before I'm ready for warm-weather clothes.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream

Last night I learned something interesting. Did you know that the first Saturday in February is Ice Cream for Breakfast Day? That would be today--February 6!

I LOVE ice cream. Although I prefer the high butterfat gourmet stuff, I'll eat any type. Of course I was going to commemorate the holiday. However, because I didn't learn about Ice Cream for Breakfast Day until after I was in for the night, I was limited to what was already in the house. This is what I came up with:

A scoop of vanilla ice cream went on top of a base of chocolate muffin. (Whole grain, so it felt healthier.) The next layer was a fruit compote made with dried apricots, cranberries, and a spoonful of apricot preserves (again with the healthy!), and the whole thing was drizzled with a bittersweet chocolate sauce made with cocoa, sugar, milk, and a splash of hazelnut coffee creamer. A sprinkling of walnut pieces added crunchiness. My mug of steaming coffee went wonderfully with the decadent entrée.

A local ice cream shop, Serendipity in Webster Groves, had all kinds of fun activities planned in honor of the holiday, but I couldn't make it there today. Maybe next year...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stop Thinking, Start Doing!

My To-Do list was getting quite long, but instead of doing the things so I could cross them off, I kept coming up with all kinds of excuses for not completing them. It was too early in the day, or too late, or I didn't have enough time, or the places I needed to go were closed for the day. The more I thought about not doing these things, the worse I felt about it. However, this morning I decided to take action. Today I:

Replaced an old shower head with a new one

Listed some things on Craigslist (and made arrangements to get rid of one of them)

Sent an e-mail to a friend asking her for a favor

Consolidated two piles of donations (including a box that had been sitting on the kitchen floor for several days) and dropped it off at Goodwill

Dropped off some volunteer paperwork that I'd been carrying in the car since Monday

Once I got going, all the tasks were easy (even the ones I'd put off because I though they were going to be difficult). It felt SO good to be able to get these things finished!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is It Spring Yet?

If you live in the United States or Canada, you know that today is Groundhog Day. Legend has it that if a groundhog doesn't see its shadow when it emerges from its burrow today winter will soon end. On the other hand, if the groundhog sees its shadow, it will retreat back into its burrow and winter will continue for six more weeks.

The "official" groundhog, Punxsutwaney Phil, saw his shadow this morning in Pennsylvania. Not all groundhogs are in agreement, though. According to Wikipedia, 10 of the 17 groundhogs in North America predicted an early spring. Our local groundhog (Lilly at the St. Louis Zoo) didn't even participate. She was allowed to sleep through the day, but it was so cloudy she wouldn't have seen her shadow anyway.

Groundhog Day is a fun tradition for the middle of the cold weather. But why a groundhog, and why February 2nd?

Early February is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many cultures commemorate it in some way. Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, when the Holy Family traveled to the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after Jesus's birth as Jewish law required. The day is also called Candlemas in the Church, the day candles are blessed for the upcoming year. Today is Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, and one of its four principal festivals. Imbolc is also one of the eight sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, a religious calendar used by Wiccan groups. In ancient Rome, the first day of spring was celebrated on February 5.

An old European superstition was that a sunny Candlemas day would mean the winter would last for another six weeks; the tradition was adopted in different ways by different countries. A Scottish couplet says, "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." The Germans believed that if a hedgehog was frightened by his shadow on Candlemas it meant that winter would last another six weeks. This belief was brought to America by German settlers during the 18th century. There were no hedgehogs around, so they adopted the groundhog as the new world's weather forecaster.

Whether or not the groundhog saw his shadow today, the Spring Equinox, the official first day of spring, will be March 20th. It can't come soon enough for me!