Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weather Armageddon?

The snow that fell a little over a week ago is just about gone, except in the shady areas and a few mounds at the ends of driveways.  Over the weekend the temperatures were in the mid-40s, and Tony and I took the opportunity to get out for a walk and enjoy the relative warmth.  We weren't alone; I saw people jogging, strolling, and walking their dogs.  However, according to the forecast a change in the weather is coming.

Twenty nine years ago today we had a massive storm that dropped more than a foot of snow on the area.  If things play out as predicted by the National Weather Service, a storm that's on the way could rival that one.  According to the forecast, tomorrow will start out with sleet and freezing rain.  After we get a good layer of ice, the precipitation will change over to snow, and keep going until the middle of the day on Wednesday.  All the news outlets are leading with stories of icy roads, falling power lines, and general chaos.

Since it's the end of the month I had already planned to do my "big" grocery shopping today, so I got to shop alongside the people were stocking up just in case they got stranded in their houses.  The store parking lot was full, and it was tricky maneuvering through the shopping cart-filled aisles. There were long lines at the checkouts, but for the most part people were polite.

I've looked at the Websites for the local news channels several times this afternoon to see if anything's changed, weather-wise.  So far it hasn't.  It sounds like I'll be checking tomorrow to see if I have a snow day, but I wouldn't be too sad if the Weather Service gets this one wrong and we end up with nothing...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Are The Chances?

St. Louis is a good-sized city, but sometimes it feels like a small town.

Tony and I went to an event tonight that drew a couple of hundred people from all over the metropolitan area.  The room was quite full when we got there, but we saw a friend sitting at a table across the room and took seats next to her.  Once we got situated I introduced myself to the other people sitting at the table.  The woman across from me said I looked familiar and we started trying to figure out a connection:
  • Had we crossed paths through the organization that was sponsoring tonight's event?  No.
  • Did she have children the same ages as mine?  No.
  • Did she live in my community?  No, but she had lived in a neighboring city 15 years ago.  Aha!
  • When she lived there, did she go to my church?  No, but she had friends who lived close to it.
She mentioned the friend's names. It turns out it was Tony's brother and his family, who used to have an annual Fourth of July party that we'd both attended.  Who would have figured!

Friday, January 28, 2011


Back before Christmas my chiropractor sent me a coupon for a hydromassage for "Liking" them on Facebook. In an effort to clean the house before the holidays I stuck the coupon in my January tickler folder. When January came I took it out, then misplaced it in a stack of papers on my desk. I found the coupon again earlier in the week, and today I redeemed it.

I didn't even know what a hydromassage was, so I had no idea what to expect. The receptionist led me to the back of the office, where a corner of the room was blocked off with sheer curtains. Behind the curtains was a tall table covered with a sheet. Half of the table was firm, but the other half jiggled like a water bed. She instructed me to lie face up on the table with my head at the water-filled end. When I was settled she pushed a button; water jets inside turned on and the table began to get warm. After adjusting the strength of the jets, she left.

I was in heaven! I think the best part of using a hot tub is the pressure of the water jets against my back. That's what the table felt like, except the jets covered my entire back at once! They rotated and pulsed up and down. They were quite loud, but after a couple of minutes it became a nice white noise which drowned out the other office sounds.

 For a long time I lay flat with my arms at my side and let the jets do their thing, but .eventually I discovered that by moving around I could target different parts of my body. Putting my arms above my head sent water pulsing against my upper shoulders. Putting my feet flat on the table with my knees bent moved the pressure directly on my lower back.

 Way too soon the jets stopped and the table got cool.  My time was up. I gathered my things and left.

There were two minor issues with today's hydromassage experience. First, after a half hour of laying face up on a warm, moist surface the hair at the nape of my neck had developed a bit of a cowlick. That was easily solved with a spritz of water and a comb. The second? It's hard to jump back into my To Do list because I'm so relaxed!

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath, for the instinct to be half asleep all winter is so strong in me~~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Have Paint, Will Redecorate

Over the last few months I've painted the kitchen, and chosen a color scheme  for decorating the rest of the room.  Slowly but surely I'm making progress on the job.  With a bit of revamping, some of the artwork and knickknacks now fit the new look of the room.  All it took was some acrylic paint from the craft store.

This painting is one of my favorite pieces.  It's by Bro.Cletus Behlmann, a Marianist Brother who grew up here and went to college in the area. I bought the painting for a good price at a charity auction in the mid 1990s, probably because it was surrounded by an avocado-green mat that was't "in" at the time.

Back then my kitchen was country yellow and blue, so my first mat renovation was a medium blue which mirrored the color of the border.  Several years later when the walls became a soft peach, I repainted the mat the color you see here.  Doesn't it look out of place leaning against my new khaki walls?  It was time for another change.

Here's the same painting with a new mat color.  Ironically, now it's probably close to the original avocado!

The first step in picking a new shade was to take a photo of the painting with my cell phone camera.  At the craft store, I was able to compare that photo to the bottles of acrylic on the shelf.  Because the paint aisle was at the very back of the store, with no natural light available, I picked the two bottles that I thought were the closest in color.

Back home, I brushed out samples of both colors and chose the one that looked the best.  Carefully taking the picture out of the frame, I used a craft brush to apply a coat of paint to the mat.  After it dried I applied a second coat, let it dry again, and put everything back together.

Here's another example of what a difference a coat of paint can make.  The rattan mirror that Pepper is enjoying has also been in the kitchen for quite some time, leaning against the wall on top of the cabinets.   I believe it was white when I bought it at a garage sale. It got painted a bright blue, which really stood out against the light colored wall. In it's next incarnation, it changed to the light moss green color you see here.  Now that color is gone, too.

I think this basil color is much more sophisticated, don't you?  I used the bottle of acrylic paint that didn't make the cut for the mat project.  The frame was dirty from being above the cabinets, so I gave it a good wash and let it dry before I started painting. I didn't have to take anything apart for this job, but since I'm a messy painter I put a piece of blue painter's tape around the perimeter of the mirror to keep paint off of it.

Now that these projects are done, I can turn my attention to all the others that await.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Pie By Any Other Name

I heard on the radio this morning that today was National Pie Day. Created by the American Pie Council, the day is "dedicated to the celebration of pie".  The Pie Council recommends commemorating the day by eating, making, and sharing pies.

Of course I was going to participate!  I love pie, but it can be calorie-laden and doesn't fit into my eating plan right now. Since a good portion of the calories comes from the pie crust, I figured that with a tiny modification I could indulge. What's another name for a crustless pumpkin pie?  A custard!

I beat eggs, sugar, and spices in a large bowl, added pumpkin puree and milk, then poured the mixture into greased custard cups arranged in a large baking dish. Next, I put the dish in the oven and poured boiling water in the dish to make a water bath and baked the custards until they were set (which took about 40 minutes).  When the custard was done, I removed the cups from the water bath, set them on a rack to cool, then chilled them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

Hubby Tony was in charge of dinner tonight, with Son Donald as sous chef.  After the table was cleared I brought out dessert.  Sadly, there wasn't any whipped cream in the house to top the custard with, but it was still cold, creamy, and wonderful.  And the best part?  There's plenty of leftovers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Made Me Smile!

When I'm writing, I use to to find just the right word.  Yesterday's post about weather and snow days had me searching for synonyms for meteorologist.  The site is usually pretty straightforward, but my search turned up some strange results.  This was the first:
Main Entry: prophet 
Part of Speech: noun 
Definition: person, thing that predicts future 
Synonyms: astrologer, augur, auspex, bard, clairvoyant, diviner, druid, evocator, forecaster, fortuneteller, haruspex, horoscopist, magus, medium, meteorologist, oracle, ovate, palmist, predictor, prognosticator, prophesier, reader, seer, seeress, sibyl, soothsayer, sorcerer, tea-leaf reader, witch, wizard
The other entries were in the same vein, listing words like nostradamus, prophetess, and vaticinator.  At they mustn't be crazy about the people that forecast the weather!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It Might Be....

                          It Could Be.....

                                                   It Is!


Last week when our areas got a couple of inches of snow, the school where I work was one of the few in my part of the county not to close. So when the meteorologists started calling for a big storm for this week, I was cautiously optimistic.  However, I think by going public with my desire last time I jinxed things; the first rule of Snow Day is: you do not talk about Snow Day.

Last night the news was gleefully full of gloom and doom stories, predicting six inches of snow for the area.  We started getting a bit of white stuff shortly after dinner last night, and I went to bed with visions of snow blankets and drifts.  This morning I had to get up and check the Internet to see what the school's status was.  I scrolled past all the other updates, and there it was in black and white.  Yippee!

The day is especially sweet since it came on a Thursday (which is the last day of our school week), giving me a four-day weekend.  I tried to go back to bed, but I was hungry so I got up and started the day, putting on my "wear around the house" jeans, an old shirt that's not acceptable for public anymore, and a pair of fluffy socks.

Tony shoveled the driveway before he left for work and reported there was between five and six inches of snow on the ground.  Since I didn't have anywhere to go today, I dawdled over breakfast with the newspaper, then let the dishes sit in the sink while I read everything waiting for me in my Inbox and Blogland instead of just skimming though them.  I'm looking forward to a day full of lounging round, reading, and TV watching.  If I get ambitious, I'll go out and shovel the new snow that's fallen and call that my exercise for the day.

Now if you'll excuse me, the couch in the family room is waiting for me...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Keeping Warm

Back in the fall I made yogurt using a crock pot.  Although it turned out runny, it was quite tasty.  I made the recipe a couple more times.  Each batch turned out a little bit better, but after a month or so my yogurt making fell by the wayside.

The hardest part of the process was keeping the milk mixture warm so it could ferment properly.  The first time I wrapped the crock pot in beach towels, which worked well, but at that time the weather was still balmy.  When the temperature started to drop outside the kitchen got chilly. It was hard to keep the crock warm; the last time I made yogurt I had to drag out my largest cooler, line it with towels, and put in several jars of hot water along with the crock.  Too much work!

I thought about buying a yogurt maker, but none of the stores around here carried them. The project got put on the back burner until I found this in my local Goodwill over the weekend:

For the princely sum of nine dollars I'm now the proud owner of a Family Size Yogurt Maker!

The ratty-looking box contained a pristine thermostat-controlled heater base, plastic cover, six 12-ounce glass jars with sturdy-looking plastic lids, and a thermometer stirrer. The only thing missing was the user manual.  I thought it would be easy to find one on the Internet, but when I couldn't find one for my model I settled for a similar one from the same company, and hoped the directions were close enough.

I made my first batch of yogurt with the Yogurt Maker last night.  The process was quite easy. First I heated milk in a saucepan, checking it occasionally with the thermometer stirrer.  When it reached the correct temperature I stirred in dry milk powder and a cup of store-bought active culture yogurt.  I poured the mixture into the cups, snapped the lids on tight, put the cups into the base, and plugged in the machine. This morning I had five containers of yogurt waiting for me.

One of the five containers is already gone.  I had half of it for breakfast and the rest with my lunch.  I'm not exactly sure how I'll use the rest, but I suspect it won't be around too long!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Winter Zoo

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In honor of the holiday my preschool didn't hold classes, and Tony had the day off work, although he went in for a half day to get caught up on paperwork and got home right before lunch.

I knew I wanted to do something special today.  After lunch a headache that had been present all morning kicked into full gear, making it hard to think.  Thankfully Tony was there to help me figure things out.  After a bit of discussion, we decided to get bundled up and go to the St. Louis Zoo.

St. Louis has one of the best zoos in the world, and there's no admission charge!  We pay taxes to support it and several other cultural institutions, so it's not completely free, but it sure feels like it when you don't have to get out your wallet to walk inside.  I've been to the Zoo in the winter once, many years ago, and had fond memories of that visit.  It was great to see everything without a lot of people in the way.

When we got to Forest Park, where the zoo is located, we parked on the street on the south side of the zoo complex. I was surprised to see quite a few cars there, but when we got inside the gates those other people were nowhere to be found.  The lack of people was a real advantage; we were able to walk around easily and see things up close.  Many of the outdoor enclosures were empty, or the animals were hiding and couldn't be found, but quite a few could be seen in indoor viewing areas.  I enjoyed my entire visit, but the highlights were watching the orangutans and penguins, and visiting the Insectarium.

The orangutans, along with the chimpanzees and gorillas, winter in the same building.  Each group had its own large environment, separated from observers by floor to ceiling windows.  When we were there two of the zoo's three orangutans were out. One of them seemed to know there was a crowd; he (she?) tossed a ball up a slight incline several times and watched it roll back while everyone oohed and aahed.

The penguins share a building with the puffins not too far from the apes.  In the summer, this area is very popular but today we were able to walk right up. Our first stop was the outside home area of the Humboldt  penguins.  They were very much enjoying the brisk weather!  Inside the building there were two large penguin exhibits and one for puffins.  Again, we were able to get quite close; Tony even got splashed by a swimming penguin!

Even though it's been open for more than a decade, I had never been to the  Insectarium before.  The whole building is devoted to bugs!  There were dozens of insects on display, along with spiders and scorpions.  I stood mesmerized watching a colony of leaf cutting ants walking along a aerial walkway made of bamboo, cutting and carrying pieces of leaves and flowers back to their nest area.

Tony and I spent more than an hour walking around the Zoo before our feet started to get cold and we decided it was time to go. Although we didn't make it to all of the sections, we saw everything we wanted to see and we had a great time.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Second Hand Bags

One of the joys of working in a preschool with two year olds is doing diaper duty.  We have eight or nine students each day, and only one of them is potty trained.  I'm one of two assistants in the room, and we take turns by day doing the diapering. After snack, each child goes into the bathroom for a diaper change.  ("Dirty" ones, of course, are done on an as-needed basis.)

Per the school's staff manual, each diaper is deposited in a plastic bag, then put into a trash can which is emptied nightly by the cleaning lady.  Many of the employees and volunteers recycle their plastic bags by bringing them in to use for diapering, but we still go through more than we can collect. I'm no help; instead of plastic I use cloth bags.

Last month when our classroom bag stash was empty, I went across the hall to borrow some bags from another classroom.  I asked the assistant how her room kept on top of the situation, and she said when their inventory gets low she goes to a grocery store and takes some from the bag recycling bin. What a concept!  I didn't know you could do that.

Yesterday I used the last of the bags in our bathroom, so I decided to gather some today as I was running errands. My last stop was at a store that has a large collection container outside their lesser-used door.  I made my purchase, then left using the door close to the bag bin, feeling a bit apprehensive.  Was I doing something wrong?  What if someone yelled at me for taking the bags?

Thankfully, I didn't have any problems.  When I got to the bin, I was able to reach inside and pull out a bag that had been stuffed full of bags.  Nobody even noticed what I was doing.  Because of my ingenuity, our classroom now has enough bags for a couple of days worth of diapers.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

To Keep or Harvest?

Last year in March I planted ginger.  We had a cool spring, and the plant was slow to start, but once the heat of the summer hit it started growing like crazy.  In mid-summer I  repotted the plant into a 10-inch pot.  It kept growing; when the weather cooled off and I brought  the houseplants inside for the winter a dozen two-foot tall stems filled the pot.

It was a challenge to find a space for the plant, but it ended up on a ledge next to the tub in the master bathroom, in front of  two windows.  My houseplants usually don't thrive inside, but I figured if I could nurse the ginger through the winter it could go out to the deck again in the spring.  Several weeks later I noticed that the leaves were starting to shrivel, and some of the stems were drooping.  I know ginger is a tropical plant and in the tropics it dies back as the weather cools down, but surely the inside of my house wasn't that cold? As stem after stem started deteriorating I started to think it was.

It was time to go back to the Internet for more information. about overwintering my plant.  I found Sara at The Herb Gardener, who had just what I was looking for.  According to her, once the tops of the plant yellowed, I should put the pot somewhere where the temperature stays above freezing, moisten the soil once a month to keep the roots viable, then put it out again in the spring and watch for new  shoots.  However, she also offered another option I hadn't thought of.  I could harvest the ginger and use the root for cooking, then start from scratch next spring with a new store-bought root.

Now I have a decision to make.  Try and keep the root alive until next spring and put the plant back out on the deck, or dig it up and use it? It took quite some time for the plant to grow big, so I'd be getting a jump start by beginning with a larger root.  However, I DO love the taste of ginger in my food.

Decisions, decisions.  What would you do?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Ones

Today is January 11, 2011, which can also be written as 1-11-11.  It a special day for a couple of reasons. First, you gotta love such a unique number combination. Second, my birthday just happens to be today!

The snow day I was hoping for last night didn't appear today, although all the surrounding school districts were closed.  I left for work early, and was pleasantly surprised when I didn't have any trouble on the roads.  Our classroom had six students in attendance (out of nine), but there were some rooms with only two or three students.   The office manager put my picture up on the "birthday easel" outside the front door;  I had quite a few people, both staff and parents, wish me a great day.

 I've already had one celebration over the weekend when Son Brian and Nicole were in town.  Tonight I'm looking forward to the nice relaxing evening.  For dinner Tony is picking up pizza and making a salad. Son Donald will come over to eat, and we'll probably end up playing cards or games.

Monday, January 10, 2011

White Magic?

According to the weather people, we're supposed to get three to six inches of snow tonight.  The forecast, and potential snow day, was a popular topic in the preschool staff room today.  Everyone had an opinion of a surefire way to insure one:
  • Wear your pajamas inside out
  • Stand on your head and sing "Frosty the Snowman"
  • Sleep with a spoon under your pillow
  • Put ice cubes in the toilet
  • Throw ice cubes at a tree outside
  • Put an orange in the freezer
  • Put a white crayon in the freezer
  • Put a white stuffed animal on your windowsill
  • Open the fridge and scream “SNOW DAY” into it as loud as you can
  • Jump up and down saying “snow day snow day snow day” in the bathroom.
If we do get significant snow it will come overnight, so tomorrow I'll get up at the normal time and check the Website of one of the local TV stations before I shower and get dressed. I'm prepared to go to work tomorrow, but I'm hoping for the best. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Big Fat Greek Wedding

Photo by Jessica G

Yesterday I attended my first Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony when my nephew Paul married Jennifer, a beautiful woman who grew up in that faith.  I know there are quite a few commonalities between the Orthodox church and the Catholic church I attend, but yesterday's ceremony was unlike anything I've ever experienced!

The uniqueness was apparent from the moment we walked into the nave (the area where the congregation sits).  Since we were close relatives of the groom, we got a prime pew close to the front, and I got to look around while waiting for the ceremony to start.  Every inch of the room was decorated in some way. The sanctuary area looked like one I'd see in an older Catholic church: it was raised, had a draped table in the middle of it, and a lectern off to one side.  I assumed the table was the altar, so I was surprised when the center section of the back wall turned out to be a door that opened to reveal an ornate altar.  However, the table was where most of the wedding took place.

The wedding began in the normal matter.  The bridesmaids processed in, followed by a flower girl and ring bearer.  However, there was one additional person in the wedding party, a woman who was serving as the couple's sponsor and had a small part in the ceremony.  There were two priest celebrants (who were not part of the procession), and two cantors at a lectern off to the right.

The couple had made a special request to have their service in English; the default language for weddings in that church is Greek.  Thank goodness they did!  The ceremony itself began with the priest reading a series of petitions, with responses given by the cantors.  Then he blessed the rings--three times for the groom, then three times for the bride.  (That turned out to be a pattern; there were many instances where rituals were repeated three times.)  The priest gave the couple candles to hold, and read more petitions.  After the couple joined hands, the priest blessed crowns (white satin-covered circles decorated with white silk flowers connected in the back by a long white ribbon) and placed them on their heads.  Standing behind them, the sponsor exchanged the crowns three times.

Next came two Scripture passages. The first, from the Letter to the Ephesians, was read by the cantor. (This was actually read two times, once in English then again in Greek.) The second, the account of the Wedding at Cana, was read by the priest.  After a couple more prayers, the whole congregation recited the Lord's Prayer.

The priest blessed a cup of wine, then he offered the cup to the couple. After that, the priest, the couple, and their sponsor processed three times around the table. After the procession, the priest read a couple more prayers, then removed the crowns.  He introduced the couple as husband and wife.  The  ceremony was over, and it was time for the recessional.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Colorful Course Of Action

Now that the Christmas decorations are put away, I'm working on updating some of the everyday decorations in the house.  First up is the kitchen.  Back in November I painted it a fresh new color.  When the job was done, I put up enough decorations to keep the room from looking bland, but the rest of them stayed in the basement through the holidays.  Today after work I retrieved a crate of items and started going through it.

Sadly, many of the things no longer fit my new color scheme. How do I know what that is?  I'm using two different sources: the paint chip strip from the hardware store (which has my wall color and two other coordinating colors) and the Kuler Website, which lets you create color themes.

Son Brian introduced me to the site, which he uses at work.  He showed me how to do it when he was home for Thanksgiving. The process looked pretty easy.  First Brian took a picture of the wall and uploaded it to the site.  A few clicks later, he had results:

This is a compound theme, which combines colors from multiple hues. The middle swatch is the wall color.  The complimentary colors include dark khaki, yellowed green, and two blue shades.

Now that I have an idea of the colors I'm looking for in the room, I've divided the old decorations into three piles.  The first contains the things that I can still use.  The second includes items that are completely wrong; they'll be going to Goodwill later in the week.  The third holds the things I'll hang on to until I find something better to replace them with.

I'll be keeping an eye out at home decor stores and thrift stores for things that strike my fancy.  Based on past experience, it will take me months to get things "just right" in the room, but I enjoy the challenge.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

All Good Things Must End

I love the Christmas season, but every good thing has to end sometime.

I go back to work tomorrow, and after work I'll take Son Tony to the airport so he can fly back home. In the Catholic church, the Christmas season starts Christmas Day.  It ends on Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.  The traditional day of the feast is January 6th (12 days after Christmas), but it's now transferred to the closest Sunday.  That was today.  When we went to Mass we got to sing songs like "We Three Kings" and "What Child Is This".  Next week the familiar carols will be gone.

I was planning of taking down the tree tomorrow night, but when Son Donald came for a visit and asked if he could help us with anything, I couldn't turn him down.  I left to run some errands.  While I was gone, Hubby Tony and the boys went to town. When I got home the tree was undecorated, disassembled, and returned to its box under the basement stairs. The lights in the front yard and deck had also been removed and boxed up.  After dinner Tony started the dishwasher, making sure all the Christmas cups and dishes were included. I stocked the cup cabinet with everyday coffee cups, and when the dishes were done, I piled up the holiday things so they could get put away.

Tonight for the first time in a month we don't have a lit tree in the living room, or the glow of the outside lights.  Tomorrow I'll work on taking down all the other decorations and returning the house to its normal state.  It will be back to reality.

Until next year....