Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wikis Everywhere

Last night I was sitting on the couch with my computer on my lap and a cat stretched out on my lower legs.  With no desire to move, I was spending my time surfing the Web.  Eventually I ended up at Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, figuring I'd read some random articles and perhaps even learn something.

I often use Wikipedia to research things, but I always go straight to the information I'm looking for.  Since I didn't have a destination this time, I started at the main page, where I found all kinds of interesting stuff: a featured article and picture, some current events, links to some of the newest articles, and a list of "on this day" anniversaries.  Wow!  Just reading all this information could keep me busy for hours.

Down at the bottom of the page were links to Wikipedia's sister projects, other online collaboratives. I had no idea there was so many user-edited projects bundled together.  The content of some of them were pretty easy to figure out by their name: Wiktionary is a dictionary, Wikinews is a news source that anyone can write for, and Wikiquote is a collection of quotations.

However, some of the projects were a bit harder to figure out by their title. Wikisource is a free library.  Wikiversity gathers educational materials and activities.  Wikimedia Commons is a repository of images, sounds, and videos.  Wikibooks collects free educational textbooks and learning materials. Wikispecies is a directory of species.  There's even a Meta-Wiki which is devoted to the coordination of all the Wikimedia projects.

Now that I know all this content is out there, when I have time to kill 'llI know where I can go for some interesting reading.

Monday, February 21, 2011


When I cleaned out some drawers in the kitchen over the weekend, I was left with a bunch of gadgets I didn't want to keep.  Some of them I could identify, but others had me stumped. Do you think you could figure them out?

Here are some easy ones.  Clockwise from the top:

  • Round ravioli cutter
  • Donut cutter.  See the little circle inside to cut out the hole?
  • Tupperware canapé cutter
  • A Pampered Chef device called a Cut'N'Seal that makes crustless, pocket type sandwiches. I don't think I ever used this impulse purchase!

How did you do?  Here are some harder items.  I had to do some Internet searching to figure out what they were.  Clockwise from the right:

  • Wire whisk spatula. I've never seen the two tools put together like this.
  • Egg topper to cut the tops off soft boiled eggs.  When you squeeze the handle, tiny teeth come out from inside the ring!  
  • Tomato or egg slicer.  The frame has 10 serrated blades to slice delicate items into even-sized pieces

I adding all these things to my Goodwill bag.  I wonder if I should include an explanation of the items for the benefit of the workers?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Operation Clean Drawer

It started with an innocent question....did Tony know what happened to my wooden spatula? It had been missing for a few days.  He hadn't, but thinking the spatula might have fallen behind the drawers, Tony took out the bottom one.  The wooden spatula was NOT there, but a regular spatula, slotted spoon, and rubber scraper we'd been missing were.  This discovery made me decide it was time to do a big drawer cleaning.

(Our kitchen has banks of upper and lower cabinets. Set into the bottom section of cabinets, next to the stove, is a column of drawers. The one on top has the cooking utensils and serving pieces I use the most, the next is devoted to silverware, and the third is a catchall of utensil overflow and miscellaneous kitchen items.  There's a fourth that we used to keep bread in, but it's currently empty.)

I got two box lids from the basement, dumped one drawer into each lid, and found the offending wooden spatula that started the whole project wedged along the back of the top drawer.  Even laid out on the counter top, the mess on the left from the catchall drawer is unruly.  The Rubbermaid drawer organizers were long past their prime, so I tossed them in the trash, along with the crumbs and debris that had accumulated in the back corners of the drawers, then went to the store and bought nice new mesh organizers so everything would be neat and clean.

Once everything was out in the open, I took a good look at what was there.  The vast majority of the items in the top drawer get used on a daily or weekly basis.  The handful that don't got demoted to the lower drawer. Some of the tools from the lower drawer, like the garlic press, meat thermometer, and kitchen scissors get used on a regular basis.  Some items don't get regular use, but are essential at times.  The corn on the cob holders, cherry pitter, candy thermometer, and melon baller would fall into this category.  However, there was a lot that never get used, like an egg slicer, a donut cutter, and a too-small pot strainer.  These went in the donation bag.  I threw a dozen popsicle sticks into the compost pile, along with a couple of pairs of wooden carryout chopsticks.

After the first pass there were still a lot of grey area items that I didn't know what to do with, like a set of lacquered chopsticks, some fondue forks, and a marinade injector.  I decided to put them in a box and take them out if and when the need arises. After a few months, I'll look at what's still in the box and decide if I really need what's still in there.

I'm looking forward to opening up my newly-neat drawers.

Friday, February 18, 2011


A phonetic alphabet assigns code words to the letters of the English alphabet.  Using the code words helps prevent verbal confusion between letters with similar sounds, such as "b" and "d".  This week I've had several Facebook friends post a message on their wall using the code words of the military phonetic alphabet; it looks bizarre, but once you figure out what's going on it's easy (but time consuming) to read and interpret.  The posts made me wonder how much free time someone would have to actually write out all that phonetic alphabet.

I found out, though, that it's not necessary to do all the work yourself.  There's a Website for it. has a form that converts text to the phontetic alphabet used by the U.S. Military.  To try it out, I typed in the first two lines of the song "Taps":
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
This is what I got back:
DELTA - alpha - yankee - space india - sierra - space delta - oscar - november - echo - comma - space golf - oscar - november - echo - space tango - hotel - echo - space sierra - uniform - november - - -
FOXTROT - romeo - oscar - mike - space tango - hotel - echo - space lima - alpha - kilo - echo - sierra - comma - space foxtrot - romeo - oscar - mike - space tango - hotel - echo - space hotel - india - lima - lima - sierra - comma - space foxtrot - romeo - oscar - mike - space tango - hotel - echo - space sierra - kilo - yankee
You never know when something like this might come in handy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Last night I went to bed with a scratchy throat.  In the middle of the night I woke up with a horrible headache and body aches.  I got up and took some ibuprofen but it didn't do any good; I spent the rest of the night sleeping fitfully and feeling miserable, so I suspected I'd be staying home today.  Sure enough, when the alarm went off I still had all my symptoms, so I crawled out of bed and padded downstairs to notify work.  I felt so cruddy that I forgot to put on my glasses.

(I got my first pair of glasses for nearsightedness when I was in second grade.  I wore them until my teens, then switched over to contact lenses. About a decade ago, some eye problems caused me to go back to glasses. Without correction I'm blind as a bat.)

I wasn't sure if the preschool's office manager checked her phone messages or email first, so I decided to contact her both ways.  That way she could start working on finding a sub as soon as she got in.  Making the call was easy, because I have the school's number in my phone contact list--all I had to do is pull it up and hit "call". Without  glasses I just had to hold the phone really close to my face to see it.  After that was done I sat in front of the computer, opened up the Internet browser, and realized I had a problem.

The screen was nothing but a blur.

Fortunately, I knew what to do.  Holding down the "Control" key and the "+" key, I used the Zoom shortcut to make my browser screen larger.   Without my glasses once wasn't enough, though, so I did it again.  And again.  And again.  After four magnifications, only a third of the webpage was visible, but I could see what I was doing.

I typed my email, sent it, then went back to bed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oh, What A Beautiful Day!

Last Sunday everything was covered with ice and snow.  Today, the above-freezing weather is making things melt quickly.  The only white that's left on the front lawn are the piles where we tossed snow as we shoveled. I'm hopeful they will soon be gone, too.

Son Donald came for a visit after lunch.  Mid-afternoon he stepped outside to take some things to his car.  When he came in, he told us to go look at the sky.  This is what we saw:

Isn't it interesting?  I don't think I've ever seen this many airplane condensation trails in one place at once!  We don't usually have many planes passing overhead, but there's several small airports in the area where private pilots can keep their crafts.  I wonder if the nice weather brought them out.

It was too cold to be outside without a jacket, so after admiring the contrails for a few minutes we went back inside. I kept looking out the window to check on them every few minutes, though.   It took almost an hour for all of them to disappear.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


When we bought our buttons on New Year's Eve for First Night, we also got a flyer that listed discounts at other arts venues in Grand Center. Today we took advantage of one of them when we went on a trip to the Contemporary Art Museum St Louis.

There was a lot of traffic in the Grand Center area, since a couple of the theaters had matinée shows, but after a bit of driving we found a parking spot on the street close to the modern-looking concrete Contemporary building.  We were greeted by a volunteer right inside the front door, who informed us we didn't need to show our buttons.  Today was a Free Family Day and there was no admission charge!  She pointed us toward the galleries and told us to have a good time.

The museum has concrete floors and high-ceilinged rooms.  One of the rooms was filled with children doing activities. We could hear them from the other rooms, which was nice because it made the building less "museum-like". The small Front Room gallery was filled with two- and three-dimensional works by John Opera and Matt Sheridan Smith, and the Main Gallery featured an exhibition called Richard Aldrich and the 19th Century French Painting.

The walls in the Main Gallery were lined with works.  Most of them were by the featured artist, but on one wall there were four 19th century French paintings from the Art Museum.  All of Aldrich's pieces were large.  Some were abstract, some included text, and some were of objects.  I don't pretend to know the first thing about this type of art, but I enjoyed everything in the gallery.

After we finished studying the art in the Main Gallery we walked around the rest of the museum, stopping every now and then to look at something that caught our attention.  It was a great way to spend the afternoon.  As we left, the volunteer at the door offered us candy from a large bowl, which made the adventure even sweeter!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Different Is Good

Ugh!  I hate mid-February.  Winter has completely outstayed its welcome.  I haven't seen the sun for days, and it's too cold to spend any time outside.  I'm in a complete rut, and need something to shake things up.

My boredom is even extending to my eating habits. This morning when I came downstairs and started to think about breakfast,  I surveyed the pantry: muffins, oatmeal, toast, or cereal.   The same choices I've had every day this week. (YAWN!).  Then I opened the refrigerator and saw the big bowl of Tuscan Bean and Kale soup from last night's dinner.  Would it be completely crazy if I had some for breakfast?

I spooned out a bowl, heated it in the microwave, then squeezed in hot sauce.  I microwaved some bread and poured a cup of coffee, then ate while I read the newspaper comics.

Afterwards I felt great. The weird meal was enough to change my attitude for the whole day.  Work was wonderful.  The gloom didn't get to me, and I was able to smile at the dusting of snow that fell during the afternoon.  It was still bone-chillingly cold, but I enjoyed my after work errands.  When I got home I was able to complete several projects and cross them off my list.

Tonight, since I'd already eaten dinner once, I decided to serve breakfast at the evening meal.  I fried eggs, heated waffles in the toaster, and mixed together some yogurt sauce to serve on top of blueberries.  Why not?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Saints Alive!

A patron saint is one who is regarded as the special guardian of a person, place, group, trade, or activity.  Some of them are well known, like St. Anthony for lost items, St. Valentine for love, and St. Patrick for engineers.

However, some are less apparent.  For example, a tongue-in-cheek patron saint for....
.....shoppers might be St. Francis de Sales
.....lawyers might be Our Lady of Good Council
.....firefighters might be St. Blase
.....anglers might be St. John Fisher or St. Polycarp
.....chocolate milk drinkers might be St. John Bosco
.....bald people might be St. Hedwig
.....candy makers might be Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
.....weight watchers might be St. Josaphat
.....highway users might be St. Bridget
.....campers might be St. Colman
.....police might be St. Procop agents might be St. Martin of Tours
.....knitters might be St. Casimir makers might be St. Anthony Claret
.....horticulturists might be St. Therese, the Little Flower
.....wimps might be St. Francis of Assisi
.....necklace makers might be St. Bede
.....boaters might be St. Joan of Arc 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cats Everywhere

While we're waiting for the Super Bowl kickoff, we're eating pizza and watching the cuteness of the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.  I enjoy watching the dogs, but I'm a cat lover and I have a real weakness for the Kitty Halftime Show.

This year our cat Pepper joined us in watching.  He usually ignores the TV, but tonight something caught his attention, and he spent a good portion of the halftime show standing on his hind legs and pawing the screen.  Cuteness both live and recorded.

For your viewing pleasure, here's a taste of last year's halftime extravaganza:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Orchestra Of Voices

That's what Tony and I heard last night when we went to a Chanticleer concert at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis (AKA the New Cathedral).

They've been hosting concerts at the Cathedral Basilica since the early 1980s, but I've never attended one. Befitting the space, the concerts tend to be classically-based music, and I only have a passing knowledge of the genre.  However, I was excited to see Chanticleer,  an 12-member, all-male vocal ensemble.  The San Francisco a capella group has been around since 1978, and sings music from the last five centuries.  They've won several Grammy awards, so I figured we were in for a nice show.

For the concert the church was divided into three sections. Within each section there was open seating, so we got there early to get a good spot.  The doors opened at 7:00; since we weren't sure how long it would take to find a parking space we allowed plenty of time. We ended up getting there ten minutes early, so we waited in a short line in the church narthex (right inside the front door).  While I was waiting I got to look at the fabulous mosaics that surrounded me.  The Basilica has one of the largest collection of mosaics in the world, and the narthex is completely covered with scenes depicting the life of Saint Louis. I go to Mass at the Basilica a couple of times a year, but I always head straight into the church so this is the first time I've noticed them.

About the time I got done rubbernecking, the doors opened. We entered the church and took seats in a pew close to the front of our section, then I read the program while I waited for the show to start at 8:00.  I learned that the show was divided into six sections, with an intermission after the first four.  I didn't recognize any of the selections or composers, but the program notes were considerate enough to provide information about both.  Right on time, the lights in the church dimmed and the group members came out and arranged themselves in a semicircle at the top of the chancel steps.  Each singer carried a black portfolio, which they opened in unison. One of the men struck a pitch, and after a few seconds their voices melded in beautiful harmony.

There were a dozen singers, divided equally by vocal ranges.  There were three baritones, three tenors, three altos, and three sopranos.  (I was amazed that a male voice could go so high!)  Although I enjoyed hearing the blended voices, it was also fun to figure out which singers were performing the different tones.  As the evening went on, it didn't matter that I'm a novice of classical music, or that I wasn't fluent in Latin or Old English.  The fusion of the voices blew me away!

The first half of the program was predominantly music from the 1500s.  After each song was over, the group members simultaneously  closed their portfolios, then bowed in unison.  Before I knew it the first half of the evening was over, and the church lights came up for the intermission. During the break, I was able to stand up and look thoroughly around the church, seeing more of the wonderful mosaics.

The next two sections were selections from the twentieth century.  Again, the blending of the singers' voices was divine. After the first section was finished, the singers put away their music portfolios and performed three gospel music selections.  These were less serious than the other musical pieces, and it looked like the men were having fun.

All too soon the house lights came up to the end of the concert.  I couldn't believe almost two hours had passed.  What a great night!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hop To It

Happy Chinese New Year!  It's 4708, and  the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese calendar

My preschool held sessions today, after being closed for two days due to snow.  I felt pretty good when I woke up, but as the day wore on the ice chopping and snow shoveling I did yesterday on the driveway led to sore muscles in places I didn't even know I had!  By time I left work for the day all I wanted to do was come home, sit on the couch, and read the newspaper.

I wanted to celebrate the Chinese New Year in some way, but cooking sounded like too much work when there were leftovers from last night's dinner that I could reheat--baked salmon with dill sauce on the side, brown rice, and steamed broccoli.  Rather than starting from scratch with a new meal, I decided to try to put an Oriental spin on the one I had.

I didn't have a lot of ingredients to work with, but I think I managed to do an acceptable job. I cut the broccoli (green symbolizes luck and harmony in China) into small pieces, tossed in a can of bamboo shoots (for strength and longevity), and marinated both in a soy sauce-based vinaigrette. Instead of last night's dill sauce, I made a quick sweet and sour one to spoon over the fish  (a symbol of prosperity if it's whole, but I'm not sure what our serving size chunks would stand for).  For dessert I sliced  oranges (which are a symbol of good luck) and arranged them in a bowl. When Tony got home from work, I heated the rice and fish in the microwave and put everything on the table.

I hope our meal was an auspicious beginning to the Chinese year.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Take Me Away

Our area lucked out on yesterday's storm (we only got a couple inches of snow on top of three inches of sleet instead of the blizzard they were predicting), but the streets were still a mess and I had another snow day today. Tony's office was open, but he decided to work from home today. By time I rolled downstairs at 8:00, he already had everything set up in the dining room "office", and he was laboring away.

My project for today was shoveling the driveway.  After breakfast I put on warm clothes, opened the garage door, and grabbed the snow shovel.  The other times this winter we've gotten snow it was light, fluffy, and easy to push to the side of the driveway.  Not today.  This thick layer of ice needed to be chipped away, and it was very slow going.  After 15 minutes, all I had to show for my work was a two foot section across the top of the concrete slab.

Fortunately Tony decided to take a break from work and come outside.  We quickly figured out that our plastic snow shovel wasn't effective on the ice at all, but a straight bottomed shovel worked well as a scraper. After the ice was broken up, the snow shovel came in handy to move it to the grassy area.  Tony and I took turns scraping and shoveling. Two hours later the job was done, and Tony sprinkled ice melt on the surface.  I decided the walkway to the front door and the sidewalks could wait for another day!

After all my exertion my lower back hurt and my chest muscles were tight, so I decided to take a bath.  I ran a tubful of water, added a splash of Tahitian Jasmine oil and some bubble bath, and got in.  Ahhhh....heavenly.

The tub in our master bath is situated at the far corner of the room, with counter-height ledges at either end where I keep plants. One of them is a large mother-in law's tongue, which is on the ledge farthest from the bathtub faucet. As I got in the tub it was behind me, but after a couple of minutes of soaking I had an inspiration. I got up and moved the pot to the other ledge so I could look at the tropical plant while I relaxed in the tropical-scented warm water and pretend I was far away from cold, ice, and snow.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The winter storm they were forecasting Sunday took an extra 12 hours to get here, but when it did it arrived with a vengeance...rain changing to sleet then to snow, which will continue until tomorrow.  Nasty stuff!

In our area Interstate 44 is the dividing line between big ice and big snow.  We're less than five miles from that line, so I'm not exactly sure what we'll get.  At mid-afternoon there's still sleet bouncing off the skylight in the kitchen.  I went out to the garage to put some cans in the recycling bin. When I stuck my finger in the white icy stuff, it came up past my first knuckle

Last night I went to bed knowing that my school was cancelled for the day.  Tony's office is closed today (which only happens about once every decade)!  If it hadn't, he was planning on working from home. However, with no work commitments this morning, he got busy in the kitchen.  When I came downstairs I was treated to the smell of freshly-made pancakes, and the bottle of real maple syrup was already on the table.

Since I'm housebound, I decided today would be a good time to tackle a project of two.  First up was the decrepit cat scratching post in the family room, which looks like this:

We have three posts scattered throughout the house, but I think this is the cats' favorite.  As you can see, there's been a lot of scratching done on it.

Last time I was at the pet store buying food, I checked out their inventory of scratching posts. All they had were huge pieces which wouldn't fit into my available area.  However, I saw that many of them had uprights wrapped in rope, which made me wonder if I could use rope to rejuvenate my old post.

Next time I was at the hardware store I bought a 50 foot package of sisal rope.  This morning I opened the package and got ready to do some serious wrapping.  After attaching the rope to the base with hot glue, I wound it up the pole, stopping every few turns to push it down tightly.  Here's the finished product:

I underestimated the amount of rope I needed; the top three inches of the post still have exposed carpet, but since the cats don't scratch up there it was still in good shape.  The pole is now back in its corner of the family room,  waiting to be put to the test by Jackson and Pepper's nails.