Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Circle of Life

When we left the house for an after-dinner walk, we were treated to a gruesome sight. There was a small patch of dried blood on the driveway with a few feathers stuck to it. Next to the driveway, several dozen downy feathers were caught in the grass. It was obviously the remnants of what was once a bird.

I wondered what would be the most likely predator. The area doesn't have any bushes or tall grass, so there wasn't anywhere for a cat or dog to hide

Based on the scarcity of the remains, I suspect it was the work of a raptor. Last summer we saw a hawk in the neighbor's yard, and last week there was a huge bird of prey perched in a tree as I drove down the road on my way to work.

The yard next to ours has a large tree in it. I wonder if that's where the raptor hid to plan its attack? I'm glad I wasn't there to see it!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who Comes Up With These?

I was looking up a synonym for grow on the other day. When you use the Website, your result includes a few ads and a sidebar of related searches.

I got the answer to my original query, and these related links:
  • Grow game
  • Grow geography
  • Grow taller
  • Indoor marijuana growing
  • Grow tips on marijuana
  • Grow cube
  • Cannabis growing
  • Grow rpg
  • Growing weed indoors
  • Grow hydroponic weed
  • Grow my own marijuana
  • Grow cube walkthrough
HOW (and why) did they choose these topics?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

You're Only As Old As You Feel

Saturday night Tony and I went to a surprise 40th anniversary party. The invitation indicated that we were invited to Boogie Down 70's Style.

After a bit of deliberation and shopping, I came up with my costume: a semi-hippie look, with elephant bell jeans, a "peasant-y" shirt and platform clogs. I couldn't find any jeans wide enough, so I made my own (just like back in the day) by ripping open the side seam of a pair of narrow jeans and sewing in a piece of material. I bought clogs with wooden platform bottoms at a thrift store; I could tell by the brand they were only a couple of years old, but they evoked the mood of the era. My hair was easy-I let it dry naturally straight, and parted it in the center. Tony wore jeans, a knit shirt with an open collar, his school ring, and a vintage necklace.

On the way to the party, we were scanning through the presets on the car radio to find something to listen to. We caught the end of a disco song. Perfect! Next was "Candle In the Wind" by Elton John, followed by Santana's Oye Como Va". We were loving the 1970's mood music. However, when the third song was over and the station went to a commercial, I found out we were listening to the OLDIES station!

When did I get old?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not Just For Kids

Since the boys are all grown up, it's been a long time since I've gone to an Easter egg hunt, but tonight Tony and I participated in an Adults Only one.

There have been "over 21" egg hunts in the area for several years, but they've never fit my schedule. This is the second year three cities in our area (Manchester, Ballwin, and Ellisville) have joined together to sponsor a hunt, which changes locations each year. This year it was at Bluebird Park in Ellisville. When I signed up, they told me to bring a flashlight, a bag or basket, and a cooler with beverages for the post-hunt bonfire.

Since we didn't know what parking would be like, Tony and I arrived at the park early, but it wasn't really necessary. The hunt was held on the softball fields in the back of the park. Park employees directed us down a winding road to a lot. We parked the car and walked to a pavilion to check in. After we checked in we walked over to the large, roped off large hunt area. Yesterday's rain had made the infields quite muddy, and there was a huge puddle right where third base would be. Eggs were scattered haphazardly over the grass, not hidden at all.

While we waited for the hunt to start, we stood close to the bonfire; as the sun went down it got quite chilly, and I was glad I'd worn my winter coat. I checked out the opposition. Everyone had to be over 21 to attend, but the crowd skewed to the younger side. By the time the hunt started it was completely dark and there were several hundred anxious people lined up at the entrance to the field.

When the hunt started everyone ran out into the area, quickly snatching eggs. I held my flashlight in my right hand, with the handles of my bag over my wrist; that kept my left hand free for grabbing. Tony and I had agreed to stay together, but when I started running the adrenaline kicked in and I left him to fend for himself. At one point I stepped into a large puddle, completely soaking my shoes, but kept on going. All the flashlight beams bouncing around made the whole thing surreal. Each person could take 17 eggs; it didn't take long for the hunt to finish.

Afterwards, it was time to see what we'd gotten. Tony and I found a spot to sit and open our eggs. Most contained Tootsie Rolls or Hershey's Kisses, although there were also a few bite-sized candy bars. In addition to the candy, each green egg we'd gathered could be exchanged for a prize. I had two and Tony had one; we won a portable radio and two five dollar gift certificates for a local restaurant.

We retrieved our prizes and donated the empty eggs back to the park, then we sat by the fire for a bit. Even its heat couldn't keep my wet feet warm, though. It was time to leave.

Morpho Mania

Photo by Mark Deering, Courtesy Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House

Although it's been open for more than a decade, today I visited a place I've never been before, the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Faust Park.

During "March Morpho Mania" the Butterfly House greatly increases the number of Blue Morpho butterflies. This month there are more than 3,000 fluttering around, in addition to the approximately 1,000 other tropical butterflies on display. Although I put the event on my calendar for sometime during the month, I was waiting for the right day--chilly and rainy, to take advantage of being inside a tropical place. Today fit that description.

There weren't a lot of cars in the parking lot when I arrived mid-morning, and I jogged through the raindrops to reach the entrance. After buying a ticket, I entered the building. With my admission, I got a brochure that included a Species Identification Guide that included pictures of the most commonly exhibited species and a "March Morpho Mania" quiz. By completing the 5-question quiz I could get a gift and a discount in the gift shop.

Before I entered to see the main event, I looked at the exhibits in the Grand Hall, an interesting display of other insects. There were arachnids, invertebrates, and several types of cockroaches. Thank goodness they were all behind glass! When I'd had my fill, I got in line to enter the Tropical Conservatory, where the butterflies reside. I had to wait a few minutes before I could enter. After a half-dozen people had collected, a volunteer opened a door and let us into a small vestibule. She explained the rules (watch our for dampness on the walkways, don't touch the butterflies), then opened the inner door and let us into a paradise.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the Conservatory was the heat and humidity. (It was so humid, my glasses fogged up momentarily.) The next thing I noticed were butterflies. They were everywhere-flying through the air, on the ground, and resting on plants. The room was filled with tropical trees, vines, and flowers.

The Conservatory is a giant greenhouse; it has exterior walls made of glass. A circular path looped around the outer perimeter of the room, and meandering paths cut through the middle. The sound of a small waterfall in the center echoed throughout. I wandered around in amazement, then sat on a bench, where a Blue Morpho landed just inches away from me. The underside of its wings made it quite nondescript, a startling contrast to the bright blue of the top. After a few moments of rest, it was off again.

Sadly, I couldn't stay in the Conservatory all day so after I'd seen everything it was time to exit. Again, there was a double door vestibule. This time, we were asked to check for butterflies on our clothes, hair, and belongings (even inside purses) before the outer door opened.

The Grand Hall was much fuller now, with some children on a field trip and a group of people from a senior center, many of whom were in wheelchairs, along with their attendants. I made my way to the gift shop to turn in my quiz and receive my gift. I decided not to take advantage of the discount, so I exited the building and went back to chilly, rainy reality.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Bit of theTropics

Spring is in the air, but the weather's still too iffy here to do a lot of outside planting. Via Scribbit, last week I found a post on Tropical Permaculture about growing ginger root. I decided to try it.

Want to know an interesting fact? Although everyone calls it ginger root, the name isn't technically correct. Ginger grows from rhizomes, or horizontal underground stems. However, I'm not about to go against tradition, so ginger root it is.

You can grow a plant using store bought ginger root, so yesterday I went to a local supermarket and bought two nice looking pieces with well developed "eyes"--the growth buds that look like little horns at the end of the piece. Even though the per-pound price of ginger root always makes me wince, it takes a lot of root to actually make a pound. My tab was under a dollar.

Ginger is a tropical plant that likes warm weather and humidity. Our cold winters would kill it, so I'm starting it in a pot that can go out on the deck with the other houseplants when the weather warms up. By July, the St. Louis weather makes it feel like the tropics, so it should do well.

After soaking the pieces in water overnight it was time to plant it today.I have a motley collection of pots in the garage; it didn't take long to find one that looked like a good size. The plant does best in rich soil, so I wanted to mix potting soil with a bit of compost from the bin. However, I had to do a bit of work first.

Around here the compost pile freezes during the winter, making turning impossible, so we've just been throwing things on top for the past few months. The surface was covered with an even, deep layer of coffee filters and grounds, orange, grapefruit, and banana peels, and random plant debris. I completed the first ceremonial turning of the bin for the year, then scooped out some compost and mixed it with potting soil from a bag in the garage. I got a bit distracted; while I had the shovel out, I dug up a couple patches of wild onions, then walked around the house and excavated several dandelions.

After I got done ADHDing, I broke the ginger into several pieces and buried them about two inches into the soil, watered the whole thing well, and set it on the window seat in the kitchen in between the philodendron plant and schefflera tree. They'll all go outside when the weather gets warm.

In the tropics the plant dies back as the weather cools down, and the ginger is ready for harvest. However, it takes eight to ten months to get to that point, so I don't think I'll be harvesting any. It will be more of a wonderful (I hope) ornamental specimen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Get A Job!

I love my job, but it's not full time. I only work 20 hours per week, and I'd like something more substantial. This is the time of year when education professionals indicate whether or not they're accepting a contract for next year, so I decided to fill out a few applications and get in the queue for any teacher or assistant openings.

This morning, I applied for a behind-the-scenes job with my local district. Filling out job applications is one of my least favorite activities. It's nice to be able to do it online, because I was able to gather the needed details from my files as I went along, but it takes a VERY long time. Fortunately, I had copies of the applications I'd filled out last year, so I didn't have to search for many of the addresses, phone numbers, and employment dates. After I finished the process and sent the application through cyberspace, I e-mailed my references and contacted the Registrar department at my college to request an official transcript.

The second application was easier. In our county all of the public special education services are provided by the Special School District. Having one entity to deal with makes the application process much smoother.

I was pleasantly surprised when I could still access my online application from earlier in the year. All I had to do was update it with my new job information. The district had updated things, too. Now the reference process is electronic; instead of printing off a form for each person to fill out and getting it to them, they're e-mailed a reference request directly from the district. I was also able to scan my college transcript and teaching license and attach them to the file before I sent it off.

It feels good to have applications submitted. Now all I have to do is wait for some phone calls!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Things Have Changed

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

How many of the ideas and concepts covered in the test are still relevant today?

Grammar (Time, one hour)
  1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters
  2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
  3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
  4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run'
  5. Define case; illustrate each case.
  6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
  7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
Arithmetic (Time, 1 hour 15 minutes)
  1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
  2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
  3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
  4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
  5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
  6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
  7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
  8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
  9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
  10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
  1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
  2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus
  3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
  4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
  5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
  6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
  7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
  8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.
Orthography (Time, one hour)
  1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
  2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
  3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
  4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u.'
  5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
  6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
  7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
  8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
  9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
  10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.
Geography (Time, one hour)
  1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
  2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
  3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
  4. Describe the mountains of North America
  5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver ,Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco
  6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
  7. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
  8. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers..
  9. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sharing Local Information

If you live in St. Louis, Denver, Las Vegas, or San Diego, there's a great new resource for finding things to do called Urbhub. It allows you to ask and answer questions about local places and happenings (a blurb) in 140 characters or less, making it quick and easy to exchange information.

From the Website:
Urbhub takes something basic, like asking a friend - "What's a good place for sushi?" or "Are there any sales this weekend?" - and broadcasts that to your neighbors, visitors, and friends.
Why these four cities? Brad Hogan, the owner, has connections in all of them. His theory is finding new things to do, whether as a tourist, local, or new resident shouldn't be complicated.

The site has some features that are similar to other social networking sites. You're encouraged to invite your friends to join (the more people involved, the better the site's content). If you appreciate what someone has written, you can LIKE it. You can also share the site's content with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and email.

However, Urbhub has a couple of unique features. First, the blubs you create can get you discounts. Each time someone LIKES your blurb, you earn a point. You can use the points to obtain discounts provided by local business. The second distinctive attribute is called Ego Busting. If you think a blurb is too self-centered, self-promoting, or spam, you can DISLIKE it. If too many people dislike something, that author isn't allowed to create new content for a period of time.

At this point Urbhub is still in it's Beta launch. Check it out and help Brad test out his concept!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

I'm on Spring Break this week, and today's springlike weather made me decide that today was the first gardening day of the year. Here's what I did:

You can see the fence and if you look hard you can see the trellis on the left; what you can't see are the snow peas that I planted next to the trellis (in what will be the back row). In our area, mid-March is the magic planting date for cool weather vegetables like lettuce, radishes, and peas.

Unlike last year, when all of the early-season plants I'd planted and babied were eaten (see HERE and HERE for all the sordid details), I'm hopeful that things will actually produce this year. The first thing I did was put chicken wire around the perimeter of the area, then added the support for the snow peas. In a few days I'll plant a row of lettuce in front of the beans. All the other planting will wait for much warmer weather.

Now all I need are the proper temperatures, proportions of sun and rain, and the absence of bunnies, squirrels, and other creatures. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NOT America's Next Top Model

A couple of weeks ago I attended a vendor fair. Most of the booths were giving away attendance prizes. Since I love free things, I signed up right and left. A week later I got a call from Jan, a Mary Kay consultant, telling me I had won a tube of hand cream. We made arrangements for her to drop it by the house; she also asked if she could give me a product demonstration while she was here.

I don't use makeup of any type--I just spread some sunscreen on my face, add mascara to my lashes, and I'm ready to go. Back before I had kids I used Mary Kay products and liked them, but when I tried them again years later they made my face break out. I figured I could use that as my excuse for not buying anything and said yes to her offer.

Jan arrived last Wednesday evening with a large black case that included her supplies. After giving me the tube of hand cream the real work began. She squeezed out blobs of each step of the skin care regimen onto a palette and had me apply them according to her directions. Although Jan did her best to convince me I couldn't live without her products, she left without an order. I just don't have the time or inclination to keep up with a multi-step process.

However, on her way out Jan asked if I'd be interested in being a face model for a group of Mary Kay consultants that meets at her house. The procedure involved applying a "look" for the group, so they could see the makeup shades on a real face. You know me...I'm always up for something different, so last night found me sitting at the dining room table in Jan's house. Three other representatives were in chairs lined up against the wall, and a table pushed against another wall held a selection of products and promotional items.

After the introductions each consultant told the group what the highlights of the last week had been Mary Kay-wise. When each woman finished, the group clapped. I didn't know if I should or not, so I did. Then, the next item on the program was me!

Just like the first time, Jan laid out the palette containing the steps of the skin care regimen. This time I applied the cleaning and toning products to only half of my face so the group could see the difference between the two sides. Although I couldn't see anything unusual when I was done, one of the woman gasped in delight at the change.

The second part of the session was devoted to makeup. Jan laid out a dozen cards in front of me and told me to pick the one I liked the best. Each card had designated colors for blush, eye shadows (three shades), eye liner, lip color, and lip gloss. After I picked a card, one of the observing consultants pulled out the biggest binder I ever saw. Inside were samples of every color. She took out samples of each of the colors on my card and set them on the table. Jan gave me step-by-step instructions as I applied each item to my face.

After my makeup was complete I felt ridiculous. The disposable applicator did a horrible job of spreading the blush, and one of the eye shadow colors was a blue that I'd never wear in real life. I'm out of practice applying eye liner; the line wasn't straight and not at all close to my lashes. The only thing I liked was the lip color. Even though I thought I looked stupid, all of the women ooh-ed and aah-ed over my transformation. Jan handed them some papers to read and discuss while she talked with me. Once again she tried to get me to buy the products, but again I said no.

The only thing I left with was a lip gloss, mainly paid for by the $10 credit which was my "compensation" for the night. Jan's last question was if I'd be interested in being a consultant. The answer to that was NO, given as I hurried into the living room to gather my coat and purse.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time For A Shower

Yesterday I took a road trip to Fulton Missouri to attend a bridal shower as Mother of the Groom. The afternoon included a lot of food, a lot of fun, and a LOT of presents.

I'm used to making trips to Columbia Missouri to visit Son Brian and fiancee Nicole. That's a two-hour trip. Fulton is incrementally closer; it only took about an hour and forty-five minutes to get to the house where the shower was being held. Dana, the hostess, did a great job of marking the turns to her house with bright pink signs.

When I arrived, Dana was just putting the food out. It was fun to talk with the women I didn't know and find out their connection to Nicole while we were eating. After everyone arrived it was time to move on to the planned activities.

It wouldn't be a wedding shower without games:
  • First, we played "What's In Your Purse"? Dana handed out a list of things you might find in a purse. Each item had a point value (the more unusual the thing, the more points it was assigned). The winner was the person who had the most points based on the contents of her handbag.
  • For the second game, "Honeymoon Blackout", Nicole was given a suitcase filled with funny clothes, then blindfolded. Everyone got to watch as she got dressed in the "dark". It was funny to see the expression on her face when she saw her outfit after the blindfold was removed.
  • The third game was the ever-popular "Make A Dress Out Of Toilet Paper". Each group got a few rolls of toilet paper and some paper clips to design a dress for one of the women in their group.
Once the games were over, Nicole got down to the real reason for the event-the presents. She got a great selection of things for the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. After all the presents were opened and the guests had dispersed, the family met up with Brian for dinner. He was interested in everything that had gone on, but sounded relieved that he'd not been part of the festivities.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blog Redesign Part 1

If you use Blogger, do you know about all the brand new templates and features they've introduced? It's much easier to customize your blog now.

Check it out: Blogger in Draft--The Blogger Template Designer

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm A Winner!

CambridgeLady at Just waffling hosts a weekly Mystery Picture competition on her blog each Friday. She posts one or two pictures, and asks her readers to try to guess what they are.

Sometimes the mystery picture is an everyday thing photographed close up or at an odd angle, and sometimes it's an unusual object. She often gives a hint, such as it comes from the world of technology or it's from the garden. Each week I stare at the picture and try to guess what it is. Even with the hints, I come up short.

However, this week I did it! I guessed that the picture on the left was a small part of a beautiful seashell. It must have been an obvious picture, because there were six other winners. Howsever, easy or not I'm proud of myself.

If you're so inclined, check out CambridgeLady's blog. It's great. Maybe I'll see you at next week's Mystery Picture competition?

Friday, March 12, 2010


Last year when a Realtor gave us ideas for updating our property, we found out that the polished brass light fixtures throughout the house screamed 1980s. She suggested that we change them out for something a little more contemporary, and said it was a job we could do ourselves.

Yeah, right, I thought. Electricity scares me. But after taking a basic wiring class last night, I think I might be able to tackle the job.

The one-night class was offered by the Continuing Education department of the community college. Since this was a non-credit course, I just had to show up. There were no books to buy, homework to complete, or tests to study for.

Even though I had never been to the branch of the college where the class was held, it was easy to park and find the correct building and classroom. I arrived a few minutes early, but I wasn't the first one there; several other people were already waiting in the hall outside the room. By the time the class started, there were two dozen predominantly middle-aged people sitting in the desks.

Linda, the instructor, was a contractor; this electrical class was one of a series of basic home repair classes that she teaches. The two-hour class covered all the basics--wires, boxes, outlets, switches, fixtures, and breakers. Since I live in a newer house, some of the material wasn't applicable to me, but most of it was.

At the end of the night, I had a mental list of several possible electrical projects. Hardware store, here I come!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Can It Get Any Better Than This?

The temperature was 72 degrees, almost 20 degrees higher than average. Although the astrological clock would disagree, today felt like the first day of spring. When I got home from work, I put on a t shirt and dug my flip flops out of the back of the closet.

I brought my laptop outside to the shady deck. Thankfully the Internet followed me, because I had a full day's worth of emails and blogs to read. It was wonderful to surf from site to site while a light breeze blew through the tree next to the deck. Because of our lot's layout, the deck is in effect on the second story; the tree branches are right next to the rail, so it feels a bit like being in a forest.

Nature surrounded me. I heard dozens of birds chirping in the background. A pair of noisy squirrels caught my attention as they chased each other on the ground. Several robins were poking around in the newly-unfrozen soil. I heard a noise from the side of the house. When I looked over I saw a chipmunk sitting on it's haunches on top of the retaining wall. A female cardinal alighted on the bird feeder just a few yards away from me. We were almost at eye level. Unfortunately, when I moved she flew away.

All too soon my other obligations called, so I turned off the laptop, put it into it's sleeve, and went inside.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adventures In Cooking

Son Donald and I cooked dinner together tonight. I provided vegetables, condiments, a bit of brown rice, and dessert, but he supplied all the important things. At my request, he brought some exotic ingredients from his kitchen. Some of the items in the bag he brought (like tofu) I rarely use, and some were new to me...rice paper, dried shitake mushrooms, and miso.

For an appetizer, Donald showed me how to make spring rolls. We dipped the rice paper in water, added vegetables, and rolled it like a burrito. The wrapper stuck to itself so the ingredients couldn't fall out. I mixed peanut butter and miso to accompany the rolls, but we also pulled some balsamic vinaigrette out of the refrigerator to use as a dipping sauce. Nothing like mixing cuisines!

We continued to make and eat spring rolls while Donald worked on the soup. He directed me to soak the mushrooms in boiling water and cut the tofu into cubes. He boiled water while I sliced the mushrooms into small pieces, then added them, along with their cooking water and the tofu, to his pan. After the water boiled, he removed some of it, added it to a few spoonfuls of miso, and stirred it until no lumps remained. The miso mixture went back into the main pan and it was time to eat. He ladled the soup into two bowls and we sat down at the table.

I've never eaten miso before, so I didn't know what to expect. It was quite good! Donald suggested I add a few drops of hot sauce, which made it taste even better. The simple soup was quite filling. We ate the entire pot. After dinner I exchanged a small container of cashews for a bit of miso and a few mushrooms so I could make the soup again.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Where's George?

I bought some lettuce at the grocery store the other day and paid for it with a five dollar bill. When the cashier gave me back the change, I noticed that one of the dollars had been written on. Printed neatly in blue ink around the Federal Reserve seal on the front was and the words "please track me" had been added in pink ink to the front left border. On the back the website address was repeated again in pink and the phrase "Currency Tracking Study" was in purple on the bottom border. Of course I had to find out what it was all about!

Where's George? is a website that tracks the circulation of American paper money. The United States Currency Tracking Project was started in 1998 by Hank Eskin. Since then, thousands of bills have been registered and tracked.

You don't need to register with the site to enter information about a bill, but if you do, you can come back later and follow the bills you have entered. Finding out where my bill had been was easy. I entered its denomination, series (year), serial number, and my Zip Code. Turns out that since my bill was registered last August, it's traveled from Warrenton MO to Ballwin, where it made a couple of stops before it ended up in my wallet. When I spend the dollar it can continue on it's journey

Friday, March 5, 2010

Handle This

We're slowly but surely updating the kitchen; it's got new countertops and new appliances. I wanted the next project to be quick and easy, so I decided it was time to change out the 1980s-vintage polished brass cabinet and drawer pulls for new ones.

Our house has a big kitchen. The cooking area has a corner sink, with cabinets (both wall mounted and base) and drawers extending out on both sides. There's an island separating the cooking and eating areas, and a desk made out of the same style of cabinetry with wall-mounted units above it. I knew we'd need quite a few new handles, but when I started counting I realized there were more than 50!

The first step in the project was to go to the hardware store and pick out a selection of potential replacements. I came home with four to try in a variety of styles and finishes. I took off four old handles and installed the new ones. After a couple of days of looking at them in natural (morning and afternoon) and artificial light,we picked a winner.

Decision made, I went back to the hardware store to make my big purchase. However, the overflowing bin of handles that was there earlier was now empty. Someone had been there before me and cleaned it out! A friendly hardware associate asked if he could help. I showed him what I was looking for. He checked his computer, which said there were a several dozen in the store. But he couldn't find them. They weren't on the overstock shelf or in the storeroom. He finally suggested trying other branches of the store.

The next day I did just that and purchased all they had--25 handles. Several days later I went to another branch, which had two, and several days after that I found five at a third location. At this rate I would be buying the complete inventory for the entire county! However, I was able to acquire the rest at the fourth stop I made.

Installing the new handles was easy, but time consuming. I soon came up with the Two Bowl method, an assembly-line system. Before I started, I opened each package, screwed the screws into the handle holes, and dropped them into a plastic bowl. The second plastic bowl was for the old handles after I took them off. Screwdriver in hand, I'd remove an old handle, put the old screws into it's holes for storage and drop it into the bowl, grab a new handle and take the screws off, put the screw through the holes in the cabinet, stick the new handle on the tips of the screws, then tighten everything up. Unless I had an old screw that didn't want to come loose, I could complete each cabinet in a couple of minutes. The drawers took a bit longer because I had to move things out of the way to get to the screws.

The activity turned into a competition with myself. Could I get five handles done before I had to leave for work? How quickly could I finish all the drawers on the desk? It was satisfying to see the pile of old handles get larger as the pile of new ones shrunk. Finally I was done.

The new handles are similar in style to the old ones, so the difference is subtle. But it's definitely there. Three projects down, dozens more to go....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Books For Free

Today I downloaded one of the more than 30,000 books available for free from Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg (named after Johannes Gutenberg, the German printer who was the first to use movable type printing) was founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart. Its mission is to encourage the creation and distribution of ebooks. Most of the items in its collection are public domain works (no longer copyrighted in the United States) that are free to use in any way without paying royalties. Books can be read online, or downloaded in several different formats. Some selections are also available as audio books.

The catalog can be searched by author or title. Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad; all the classic literature authors were represented, as well as dozens that were unknown to me. For my first download, I ended up choosing a book of short stories by Saki, a British author and satirist from the late 19th and early 20th century. I knew the selections would be short, quick reads. There were several of his books to choose from; I picked one called Beasts and Super-Beasts because it contained my favorite Saki story "The Open Window".

Downloading the book was easy, if a bit time-consuming, as my Internet was running slow today. When the file was completely downloaded, I started reading and I was transported to another century.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Piece Of The Puzzle

A couple of times a week I have 10 or 15 minutes to kill between my trip to the gym and the start of work. There's a public library right on the way, so I stop in there and use their computers to check my e-mail, then continue on with the rest of my day.

It took me several weeks to notice that there was always a partially-completed puzzle set out on a table in a prominent location by the door. Occasionally I'd see someone working on it; after a while I figured out that it was always a different person. There was no signs posted, so I wasn't sure who could sit there. Did you have to be invited? After observing the table when I walked into the library, and again when I walked out, I decided that anyone could jump in and do a bit.

Last week I walked up to the table and took a good look at the puzzle. It was in the beginning stages of completion, but according to the picture on the box, it was a collage of signs and things you'd find in Las Vegas. Today I decided to use my bit of time to actually work on the puzzle instead of logging on to the computer. I was amazed to see that last week's puzzle had already been completed; now the table held the beginning stages of a new puzzle!

All of the small puzzle pieces had been arranged face-up on the table. There wasn't a whole lot to see yet. According to the box, there were 750 pieces to this puzzle. The border was completely white, and the interior was cartoon drawings of dogs and cats. Someone had started separating out the edge pieces; I subdivided them into piles--the pieces either had two knobs or two holes. That would make it easier for someone to connect them.

Before I knew it ten minutes had passed and it was time to leave for work. When I check the puzzle tomorrow, I wonder how much will be done?