Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are You Linked?

Since you can never have enough social media in your life, yesterday I signed up for a LinkedIn account.

Actually it wasn't exactly my idea.  The communications director at work suggested it.  Because some parents are using LinkedIn for preschool referrals, she wants to expand the center's presence on the site.  I was able to help by signing up for an account and "connecting" to my employer.

You don't know what  LinkedIn is?  It's a business-oriented social networking site which has more than 70 million registered users.  It allows you to keep in contact with present and former workmates while helping you to build a professional network.  Tony's used the site for quite some time.  As a matter of fact, because he became a member of employee alumni groups for companies where he used to work, he's been able to reconnect with some coworkers he'd lost contact with.

The site lets you maintain contact details for people you know, which are called Connections.  A contact network is built up based on the concept of of "six degrees of separation". Your network consists of your direct connections, the connections of each of their connections (second-degree connections) and the connections of second-degree connections (third-degree connections). You can use the information to gain an introduction to someone through a mutual contact.

Signing up for LinkedIn was VERY easy. After my account was opened, I spent a bit of time working on my profile; education and employment information.   I then allowed the site to search my email contacts, and sent invitations to all the people who were already LinkedIn members.  Less than 24 hours later I had 9 Connections. They ranged from Web developers to writers to business owners. In theory, those 9 Connections could link me to more than 50,000 professionals.

At this point I don't think I'll be an extremely active LinkedIn user.  I'll make sure my profile stays up to date, and respond to any requests that are sent to me.  However, things may change in the future, so it's probably good that I'm now LinkedIn.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Age Has Its Privileges

I read recently that because of the new financial reform bill, banks may end free checking accounts. It didn't take long.  Yesterday when I opened the statement for one of my checking accounts, they included a message that starting in August, the account would have a monthly maintenance fee.

This checking account used to be for my business. Even though I closed the business more than a year ago, I kept the account open. I have my paychecks deposited there, and I use the money for unexpected events.  I didn't really want to close it, but what were my choices?  According to the bank Website, I could avoid the monthly fee by keeping a (quite large) minimum amount in it, or I could also take advantage of my age and open a "50+ year old" account. 

What?  Me a senior?

Shortly before Tony's 50th birthday a couple of years ago, he received an invitation to join AARP; now he's a proud card carrying member. Since the membership covers both halves of a couple, I didn't have the privilege of getting an invitation, and my membership card is in his name. I read the publications that come to the house. (a bi-monthly glossy magazine that usually has a "mature" celebrity on the cover, and a monthly news bulletin) but I've never personally taken advantage of any of the membership discounts I'm entitled to..

However, I can play the age card when it suits me, so after work I drove to the bank to open my new free checking account.  The process took two minutes. It involved finding my account on the bank's computer and changing the account type on a drop down list. They printed a change form for me, and I was done. I get to keep the same account number, so I don't have to fill out a new automatic deposit form at work, and I don't have to order new checks.

I may have to start investigating other discounts!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Garden Update

Remember the volunteer tomato plant that I discovered at the beginning of June?

It turned out to be a Roma.  It's all grown up, and sporting a couple of dozen fruits in  various stages of growth.  I picked the first one today.  Sadly, it had a crack down one side.  It's just a cosmetic defect, though; the tomato still tasted good.  All my tomato plants are growing together, and it's hard to tell where one stops and the next one starts.

Here's the tropical section of the deck, where a pineapple, philodendron, and ginger plant mingle with a spider plant in a hanging basket:


I put the plants on the deck in the spring.  Then the weather turned cool and I had to bring them in.  I repeated the process two more times before they were permanently out.  They didn't grow in the cooler weather; however, this month they're thriving. The pineapple is sporting several new sets of leaves (which grow from the center). There are some roots peeking out of the holes at the bottom of the pot.  Time to repot it! When the ginger went on the deck, it was just a sprout. Now it's got multiple stems, and they just keep getting taller.  The philodendron's stems are getting long.  One of them is close to three feet in length.  At the end of the summer I'll snip them off and pot them up in their own container.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Decking The Halls

Can you believe it?  Many stores are trying to get customers to buy this month by having Christmas in July sales.  Target is having a one day online Black Friday sale today, the fourth Friday of the month.  That's four months before the official Black Friday, which is the fourth Friday of November (otherwise known as the day after Thanksgiving).  Sears and Kmart are promoting both online and in-store sales in their Christmas Lane department, and Toys R Us has special sales this weekend, and Monday (which they're calling Cyber Monday, mimicking the marketing term for the Monday immediately following Black Friday)

I'm not in the market for any Christmas items now, but the whole concept was goofy enough that I had to check it out. Besides, thinking about late December weather would be a welcome change from dealing with the last few weeks' swelter. This afternoon I drove to the closest Sears store to do a bit of browsing.  I figured the Christmas department would be on the lower level of this store, which is where they have the seasonal department, so I parked on the lower parking lot..  There weren't many cars in this section of the lot, so a lot of prime parking spaces were available. I was already liking Christmas in July!

The first thing I saw when I walked into the store was red.  Lots of red, as in the color of the packaging of Craftsman tools.  It made for a festive, Christmas-like atmosphere, but it wasn't what I came in for, so I pressed on.  A little farther into the store I heard the sound of tinkling water, coming from a fountain in the outdoor furniture department, where large signs announced End of the Season discounts.  Again, nice but not what I was looking for.

I walked through the fitness, cookware, and home decor departments and came up empty handed.  Just as I was starting to despair, I found the Christmas Lane: a 10 foot by 20 foot area consisting of end cap shelves, a tall stand-alone shelf, and a round table.  A half dozen stuffed animals dressed in holiday sweaters shared the space with a small selection of boxed ornaments and some tabletop decor.

After I got over my disappointment, I decided to do some more seasonally-appropriate shopping, and went upstairs to see if I could buy some shorts or a new swimming suit on clearance..

Update--I talked with an acquaintance today at the gym whose husband works at Target.  Evidently the decision about how much to participate in Christmas in July festivities was left up to each individual store. The manager at the Sears I visited must not have felt the early holiday spirit.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tea Time

I always have a bottle of water in my car, stowed in a tote between the front seats that also holds CDs and miscellaneous stuff. I've got water available at my fingertips if I want a swig while I'm on the road, and I'm ready to keep hydrated when I go to the gym. Earlier this year I switched from a plastic squeeze-top bottle to an electric-purple metal model, which holds 3 cups and has a screw-on loop top.

When the bottle is empty I bring it in the house, fill it from the spigot in the refrigerator, and put it back in the car.  I've been doing this for quite a few years, and the system works for me. By leaving a filled bottle in the car, though, I have seasonally different drinking experiences.  In the winter the water gets a bit icy, and when the weather is steamy like it is now, it's quite hot.  As I was drinking the tepid water yesterday afternoon a thought occurred to me: I wondered if the water was hot enough to make tea.  I decided to perform an experiment on the way home from work today.

I brought a tea bag with me this morning, and added it to the water bottle before I left the preschool's parking lot at the end of the day. You need 6-8 ounces of water to make a cup of tea, so in theory I could have made enough tea for an entire party in my bottle, but since I only had one bag I poured two thirds of the water onto the parking lot, added the tea, and put the lid back on.  I had to run an errand, and it took me 25 minutes to get home. When I brought the water bottle inside and opened the top I had perfectly brewed tea!

I added some sweetener to the tea and drank it after I fed the cats.  It tasted good, but it would have been even better poured over ice.  Maybe tomorrow I'll bring two tea bags and make double-strength tea...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Value Of A Teacher

A while back someone sent me an inspirational email titled "The Value of a Teacher".  I thought it was worth passing on, but there was no author listed (I'm all about attributing things correctly), so I went on an Internet treasure hunt to try and find the information.

Much to my surprise, I found that the email I had received was a modified version of a poem by Taylor Mali, which was even better than what I had been sent:

What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don't work out, you can always go to law school

Taylor Mali, 1999

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fast Cars and Facial Hair

Are you a man who likes facial hair and car races (or a woman who knows a man who likes facial hair and car races)?

If you live in the St. Louis area, you can combine both this weekend, when Wahl, the makers of trimmers and clippers, brings its Let It Grow tour and mobile barbershop to the Gateway International Raceway for a NASCAR doubleheader: the 200 tonight and Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 tomorrow.  Guys can come in, sit down, and relax while they get their beards, mustaches and goatees trimmed and cleaned up for free.  In addition, they can get trimming tips from the experts.

A recent study from Wahl reports that nationwide, nearly 60 percent of men grow some type of facial hair. Traditionally, women preferred guys who were clean-shaven, but now the majority of women actually want guys with well-groomed hair on their face.  

A quick survey of barbers and hair cutting places in my area indicated that a beard trim costs $5-$10, so by taking advantage of the free service you'd end up with a bit of money in your pocket. In case getting a free beard trim isn't enough, though, for every trim performed, WAHL will donate one dollar (up to a maximum of $2,500) to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a non-profit organization that honors America’s fallen firefighters and assists their surviving families and coworkers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fueled By Caffeine

When you think of the Pacific Northwest, what comes to mind:  Fresh seafood and local ingredients? Environmental consciousness?  Grunge music?  What about coffee?  After all, Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks. 

I'm a casual coffee drinker.  I have a cup (to which I add milk and sweetener) with my breakfast every day, and once a week or so I have a second cup in the afternoon, . As long as it has the requisite caffeine kick, I'm good. Tony, however, is quite the coffee connoisseur. He drinks his coffee black, likes it steaming hot, and has been known to ask if a pot is fresh before he orders a cup.

Since we traveled to two coffee drinking Meccas (Seattle and Vancouver) on our vacation this year, we tried to sample as many different places as we could, and we kept track of the results.  I asked Tony to add his impressions (which are in italics).  Interestingly enough, good coffee didn't filter down to our hotels, each of which had the omnipresent in-room coffee pot and lowest common denominator prepackaged filtered coffee. However, both provided real mugs. What a nice touch!

In Seattle
  • Cherry Street Coffee House (Niece Jenne and Fiancé Tate's favorite)--This was excellent, and the best “Seattle" coffee. 
  • Foreza Di Vita--This was pretty good; it did not help that it was a very hot day
In Vancouver
  • Smart Mouth Grill in the Gastown section of Vancouver--Serviceable coffee in interesting surroundings.  There seemed to be a lot of regular customers in this place. 
  • Blenz, a Vancouver chain--Ordered a dark blend here. It was pretty good.
  • Tim Horton's--This was very good.
  • A concession stand in Stanley Park--I think this was the only time I ordered coffee and Tony didn't.  At the parks around our house, a concession-stand brew would be just drinkable; in Vancouver I was served a steaming hot cup made with Fair Trade beans.
  • A Korean coffee shop in the Robson Street shopping area--They only had Americano (hot water added to espresso)- no drip- I confirmed I do not care for that style. 
  • The cafe at Lynn Canyon Park--This coffee was surprisingly good (since it was at a park). It was also entertaining to watch the brewing process (they brewed each cup fresh with a vacuum coffee maker). It was a cool day. Overall this was my favorite coffee experience on our trip.
  • JJ Beans--This was the best tasting Vancouver coffee. I really enjoyed it.
  • The Keg Steakhouse--Average tasting decaf coffee.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I've Got A Map, And I'm Not Afraid To Use It

Before we left for our vacation, Tony and I had a tentative sightseeing plan, complete with suggested  activities and restaurants.  When we arrived at each city we checked into the hotel, got a map from the front desk, and jumped into our adventures. We followed our plans for the most part, but some of the best parts weren't on the original plan.

The first big change happened just 24 hours into our trip. We had tickets to take an Amtrak bus from Seattle to Vancouver because it left earlier and got us there before dark.  However, the bus was running almost two hours late, so we changed our tickets over to the train.  I'm so glad we did.  The train tracks ran next to the ocean on the west, and over the course of the four hour trip we got to see a beautiful sunset.

On our second day in Vancouver, we were going to visit Stanley Park, a huge green space in the northwest corner of the city.  However, after we bought our day's transit pass, we realized the bike rental stores around the park wouldn't be open yet, so we decided to take a 12 minute passenger ride across the Burrard Inlet on a sea taxi to North Vancouver.  A chance conversation with a fellow passenger completely changed our plans for the day.  After exploring the waterfront market (and picking up some picnic food for lunch), we took a city bus to Lynn Valley Park where we walked across a suspension bridge over Lynn Creek and hiked some of the park's trails. We stopped and ate our lunch on a large boulder next to the creek.

We made it to Stanley Park on Tuesday. The next day we'd planned on visiting Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, but were too optimistic with our time, so we bagged that part of the trip and spent the last day in Vancouver revisiting our favorite parts and buying a few souvenirs. We arranged to take an earlier bus back to Seattle on Thursday, which allowed us to fit in a few more things there.

After breakfast on Friday we checked out of the hotel, and headed to the transit station for the trip to the airport, wheeled suitcases dragging behind us.  Fortunately, our flight went according to plan; we even arrived back in St. Louis ten minutes early!  

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Walk And Eat, Eat And Walk

Tony and I crammed a lot of fun into our week of vacation in Seattle and Vancouver.

The guidebooks we consulted (AAA, Fromers and Fodors) all said a car was a liability, so we chose hotels close to the major tourist attractions.  Even so, we did a lot of walking. We also hiked and rode bikes around the perimeter of Stanley Park (at one point the bike path was right next to the ocean).

In addition to using our feet, we rode on light rail systems and several types of buses (local, sea, and over the road), a train, and a couple of taxis.

The upside of all that activity is that it gives you a good appetite!  When we're travelling, we like to rely on restaurant recommendations from guidebooks, city newspapers and magazines, and local recommendations (although not necessarily from the hotel front desk).  I don't go out of town to eat at a chain restaurant that I can visit at home! Some highlights:
  • In Seattle, Niece Jenne and Fiancé Tate took us to their favorite coffee shop.  Then we went to a dim sum restaurant where they did all the ordering for us.
  • A trip to the Northwest wouldn't be complete without some seafood, would it?  At different times during the week I had a "salmon burger", which was actually a perfectly-cooked fillet on a bun, freshly prepared fish and chips, and the best clam chowder I've ever tasted.
  • For lunch one day we shared a charcuterie tasting plate of local meats, cheeses, and condiments.
  • After a long day of activity, dinner was some amazingly good New York-style pizza, served by the slice in a nondescript storefront.
  • Each morning at our Vancouver hotel, the continental breakfast included fruit, toast, cereal, and a large bowl of real yogurt (not the watery nonfat kind I buy for myself).  It was quite addictive.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Time flies!  When we last talked, I was getting ready for a week of adventure.  It was; Tony and I went on vacation.  We arranged for a cat sitter, packed our suitcases, and headed to the Northwest for fun in Seattle and Vancouver.

Why there?   Several reasons. We hadn't used our passports in several years.  I only had a week-long break, so a Grand Tour of Europe was out. The temperatures in Canada are more comfortable than most foreign destinations to the south at this time of year. Also, niece Jenne and her fiancé Tate have lived in Seattle for several years and we hadn't been to visit them yet.

We left St. Louis Friday morning to fly into Seattle for 24 hours, moved to Vancouver for five nights, then returned to Seattle to regroup before our flight home today.  I organized the transportation (plane to and from home, Amtrak between the cities) and Tony took care of the lodging, booking a wonderful boutique hotel in each downtown area.

The trip was a resounding success.  We navigated two transit systems in two new cities.  We got used to loonies and toonies (Canadian $1 and $2 coins),  and experienced the best of both places.

More later.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go make a dent in the dozen of emails and hundreds of items waiting for me in my reader

Friday, July 2, 2010

Step Away From The Screen

The preschool where I work holds classes year round.  Since the school is inclusion-based, the special needs children have less disruption in their schedule; they can continue to receive their therapies no matter what month the calendar says it is, and the typically-developing children get to keep seeing their friends each day.

School was over for the year yesterday, and the new year starts a week from Monday.  Many of the students in my classroom are going to kindergarten in the fall, so the last day of school featured a graduation ceremony, complete with recognitions, diplomas and special awards for all.  The parents (and sometimes the complete families) of the graduates were in attendance, video cameras and still cameras working overtime. After the ceremony there was a short reception, then everyone went their separate ways.

Now I have a whole week off!  Time to futz around, eat rich food, and do some things I don't usually get to do.  In order to fit in all these exciting activities, I'm taking a computer break and putting myself on an Internet vacation.  I'm going to stay away from the computer as much as possible, which will be hard for me to do.  How will I know what's going on with all my Facebook friends and my blogging buddies?  I'll miss out on all my important emails, and my Junk folder will be full of messages from people who want me to train for a new career, invest some of my money with them, or buy ED drugs.  

However, I have no doubt the fresh air and sunshine I'll get when I'm not sitting in front of my computer screen will be good for me.  See you next week!