Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play Ball!

Today is Opening Day of the 2011 baseball season.   In honor of the Cardinal's start for the year I wore a red shirt to work.  When I got there I found out that the lead teacher and the other assistant had the same idea, as did several of the students.  I completed my errands and housework in time to watch a bit of the pregame show, and I was sitting on the couch for the beginning of the game at 3:15.

Pepper the cat sensed I'd be there for a long time and arranged himself on my legs for a nap.  (He woke up enough to give me the evil eye each time I cheered too loudly.)  Tony wasn't around, so for dinner I heated up some untraditional baseball fare--Ethiopian-Style Chickpea Stew left over from last night.

When I read this recipe last week I knew I'd be making it.  I thought I had all the ingredients in the house, although after I started I realized there was only one can of chickpeas in the pantry.  Since I wasn't cooking for a crowd, I solved the problem by halving the recipe.  There was some celery in the vegetable drawer that needed to be used, so I chopped it and threw it in with the carrots and potatoes for an untraditional touch.

I used the higher amount of cayenne and the stew had quite a kick!  A big spoonful of yogurt took care of that problem, and turned the sauce a pretty light red color.  I ate the stew, then sopped up the last of that sauce with bread.  The Cardinals ended up losing 5-3, but my good dinner made the loss less painful.

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
1 quart low-sodium vegetable broth
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Preheat oven to 450°F. Stir together paprika, salt, allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cayenne, fenugreek (if using) and ginger in a small bowl; set spice mixture aside.

Toss chickpeas with a tablespoon of the oil on a large rimmed baking sheet and spread out in a single layer. Roast chickpeas, stirring occasionally, until somewhat dried out and just golden brown, 16 to 18 minutes; set aside.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and chopped ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in reserved spice mixture and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until spices are toasted and very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and cook 2 minutes more.

Stir in broth, potatoes, carrots and reserved chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until potatoes and carrots are just tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover pot and simmer until stew is thickened and potatoes and carrots are very tender, about 25 minutes more. Ladle stew into bowls and serve with flatbread on the side.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Let Me Check The Calendar...

It's March 30th.  Spring officially started last week. The baseball Cardinals have their opening day tomorrow. And it's snowing.  Ridiculous!

I understand there was some nice weather last week, but when I arrived home from my Spring Break trip on Thursday it was chilly.  Friday morning there was a dusting of snow (which melted by noon).  Saturday afternoon the white stuff started again, and by bedtime there was about five inches on the ground . It was substantially gone by Sunday afternoon.  We got a break on Monday, but when I was out last night my car was pelted by a cold mix of rain and snow.  This morning when I woke up the grass was covered with a light layer of snow, and there was enough on the deck that I didn't want to go outside to fill the bird feeder.

To put things in perspective, the average high at this time of year is 60°

According to the 10-day forecast today should be the last of the nasty stuff. (I can only hope.)  There's a chance of rain for the next few days, but that's to be expected. It's almost April, so I'll look forward to those showers bringing May flowers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cats And Dogs

Son Brian and daughter-in-law Nicole came into town this weekend.  For the first time ever their dog Yves, a cute little Chihuahua/Papillon mixture, visited too.

Our cats are almost eight years old and the closest they've been to a dog is in the waiting room at the vet's (and they weren't too thrilled).  However, I was hopeful that on their home territory things would work out well.  The cats and Yves are about the same size, and the house is big enough that "the boys" could run and hide if they needed to.

Friday afternoon I heard Nicole's car pull into the driveway a little after 3:00.  Brian was first into the house, followed a few seconds later by Nicole carrying the dog.  She put Yves down on the kitchen floor, where she started sniffing around.  Yves was curious about the cats, and I think she wanted to be friends.  However, the cats weren't too sure.  Pepper had been sitting on the desk in the kitchen, but when he heard the door open he jumped down and moved into the hallway.  From there he warily eyed the new four-legged creature.  Jackson was sleeping on the back of the couch in the family room; he leapt off and went into slinking mode against the wall.

Historically Pepper is the first to make himself scarce when people come into the house, and Jackson tends to be more outgoing.  With Yves, though, their roles were reversed.  When the dog was around Jackson couldn't be found, but Pepper would come into the room and look in to see what was going on as long as he had a good escape route.  By Saturday night he even got within a couple of feet of Yves.  Friday I tried to carry Jackson past the dog to his traditional eating area in the laundry room to feed him, but got a long set of scratches for my efforts.  The rest of the weekend I brought Jackson's bowl to him in the master bedroom.

We tried to keep both the cats and the dog safe.  Over the course of the weekend we left several times.  When we weren't around to supervise the animals Yves went into her kennel in the bedroom and we closed the bedroom door so the cats couldn't bother her.  I also made a couple parts of the house "cats only".  Yves was not welcome in my bedroom or the basement, but pretty much made herself at home in the rest of the house.  She hopped on chairs and couches to snuggle with whoever was sitting there, and followed us around hoping for some attention.

As Brian and Nicole were leaving this afternoon we agreed this trial visit had been a success and they'd have to bring Yves back again another time.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Back in the old days getting home from vacation meant unpacking the suitcases, going through the mail and newspapers, and getting caught up on the laundry.  How things have changed.  I was only out of town for four days, but in addition to all those basic tasks, I get to:
  • Clean up two cat hairballs.  Fortunately, it was easy because they were on the vinyl kitchen floor and not the carpet.
  • Skim through 79 emails in my Inbox (most of which went straight into the Trash). 
  • Give a cursory glance to 158 Junk messages to make sure nothing important ended up there.
  • Dive into 137 blog posts that accumulated in my Reader.
  • Download the pictures from my camera to my computer and start organizing them. Recharge the camera batteries.
  • Email a couple of the pictures to the family.
  • Check in with my Facebook friends.
  • Sit on the couch so Pepper the cat can stretch himself out on my lap (and hope that his brother Jackson will curl up on the couch, too).
All that, and get the house ready for guests over the weekend!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How I Spent My Spring Break (Part 4--Back To Reality)

Every good thing has to come to an end, so yesterday I left Phoenix and flew back to St. Louis.  I had one last breakfast with Son Tony, then dropped him off at work.  I got on the Interstate one more time (fortunately it was after rush hour so the traffic wasn't too bad), and stopped at a gas station to give the car one last fill up.

Once I got to the car rental return facility everything worked like clockwork.  I dropped the car off without having to wait in a line.  There was an airport shuttle bus waiting right outside the door which took me directly to my terminal.  I had to stop at a self-serve kiosk to print out my boarding pass, but the security line was very short, and the TSA agents weren't crabby.

The flight was uneventful.  It always takes less time to fly to the east, and I arrived back in St. Louis three hours after I left Phoenix.

The balmy, spring-like weather that I'd had in Phoenix was replaced by St. Louis chill.  However, I noticed that while I was gone the Bradford Pears and redbud trees had bloomed, so I'm guessing the weather was nice part of the time.  After a quick stop at the grocery store for a gallon of milk and something for dinner I arrived home.  The cats were waiting to greet me, wanting to know just where I'd been.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How I Spent My Spring Break (Part 3--Take Me Out To The Ballgame)

The Cactus League consists of the fifteen Major League Baseball teams that do their Spring Training in Arizona.  When Son Tony moved to Phoenix last year, I knew I'd eventually be at one of them, and on Tuesday it happened.  I attended a game at the Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona.

Surprise Stadium is the one closest to Son Tony's house.  The facility is shared by the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, neither of which is the team I root for, but it didn't matter.  The crowd was quite mixed.  I saw a lot of people wearing clothes with the Rangers logo, and since the Diamondbacks play in Phoenix full-time there were a lot of "locals" sporting their team colors.  However, there were also a lot of people like me there, too.

The weather couldn't have been better!  The sun was shining, and the sky was clear blue.  I was glad I remembered the sunscreen.  We had great tickets in the first row on the Ranger's side, but when we arrived there was a big crowd of people standing there watching the warm up and waiting to get autographs, so we chose to sit in some empty seats about five rows back. When the game started, we just stayed there, and still had a great view:

The stadium was much smaller than a typical Major League venue. At this game there was a bit more than 7,000 people in attendance and the stands looked nicely filled. There were also a lot of people seated on blankets on the grass behind the outfield. The game started out quite defensively, but the Rangers scored 7 runs in the 3rd inning (and another in the 8th). The Diamondbacks got 4 in the 6th inning, 4 in the 7th, and another in the 9th to win the game.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How I Spent My Spring Break (Part 2--Flexibility)

Day 2 of my vacation in Phoenix with Son Tony, where we started out thinking we were going to do one thing, but ended up changing course.

Tony had arranged for us to drive to Sedona, where we'd meet up with a tour company for a day trip to the Grand Canyon.  It takes almost two hours to get to Sedona and the van was leaving at 8:00, so we got up early, ate breakfast, and got on the road. It didn't take long to leave the metropolitan area, and soon the road was a ribbon cutting through the desert plants.

We arrived at our meetup spot at a coffee shop about fifteen minutes early, then sat inside and tried to figure out which of the other people would be joining us on the trip.  Eight o'clock came and went, and Tony called the tour company to find out if we were in the right place.  He came back with some disappointing news.

There had been snow in the mountains on Monday which closed the Interstate and caused our tour to be cancelled!  They had forgotten to call and let us know.  Tony explained that we only had one day in the area, and we had driven quite a ways to get there.  Could the company do anything for us?

Forty five minutes later a tour van pulled into the parking lot. A souvenir insulated lunch bag that contained a bag of granola and a stainless steel water bottle was waiting on each of our seats. For the next five hours, we had our our own private tour of the Sedona area along with a personal tour guide, who regaled us with stories of the area's geographic formations, history, and culture.

Sedona is noted for its stunning array of red sandstone formations, the Red Rocks.  They're everywhere!  We made several stops to see them close up, and saw some of them from more than one angle.  We also drove to Montezuma's Castle National Monument, where we saw some wonderful Indian ruins with "apartment type" ancient cliff dwellings, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the side of a rock.  The driver pointed out where all the good shopping areas were, and we stopped at a great restaurant for lunch.

After lunch we drove up the Scenic Oak Creek Canyon Drive (which was designated by Rand McNally as one of America's Top 5 Most Scenic Drives.)  When we got to the top, there was an overlook, but sadly it was closed because of the previous day's snow.  On the way down the driver stopped at an artesian spring that was right off the side of the road, where we filled our water bottles and sampled the cold, clear spring water.  We drove to the city airport, located on top of a mesa, where there was another wonderful view of the surrounding countryside, then through the Seven Canyons area with even more views.

Sadly, all good things have to come to an end, so the van drove back to the coffee shop and dropped us off.  As Tony and I started our drive back to Phoenix, I remarked I didn't know how I could have had a better day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

How I Spent My Spring Break (Part 1--The Beginning)

Day One of my vacation started with me driving to the airport to get on a plane for Phoenix.

I was using a new parking lot, so I left extra early.  I was glad I did, because the shuttle at this lot didn't run as often as the transportation at the lot I usually use, but I still ended up in the terminal in plenty of time.  Security went quickly, and then all I had to do was sit around at the gate.

As the boarding process started, we were told that TSA personnel would be checking our IDs before boarding. I'd never heard of this before, but sure enough, they came through the line of passengers and compared the name on the ID to the name on the boarding pass  before we got on the plane. My flight was uneventful.  Since I've been to Phoenix before, I knew where to go to find the shuttle for the Rental Car Center. (Every rental company is in the same building, which is really nice.)   Fifteen minutes after entering the Rental Center, I had my car and was ready to roll.

I had several hours to kill before Son Tony got off work.  When I asked him for suggestions on what to do, he suggested I go to the IKEA store, which I've never been to before (although I've seen lots of their ads).  The store was about 20 minutes east of the car rental facility, through a bit of early rush hour traffic.  When I got off the interstate, I didn't know how easy it would be to find the store, but there was an easy to see huge blue and yellow sign at the edge of the parking lot to show me where to go.

My shopping trip was quite an experience. You start on the top floor, where arrows on the floor help guide you through the two floors of displays.  (All the furniture at IKEA is modular and comes unassembled in boxes.  If you see something on the floor you'd like, you write down the number and pick it up on a different floor.)  Two and a half hours later I'd been through every department.  Living room, bedroom, dining room, office, and kitchen furniture.  Fabulous children's furniture department.  Closet, cabinet, and drawer organizers.  Linens, curtains, bedding, rugs, and pillows.  My feet hurt by time I made it to the ground floor, which is where you'd pick up the boxed things you wanted to buy.  Since I wasn't making a purchase, I walked by the warehouse-looking area, left the store, and found my car.

Son Tony's car was in the shop, so he asked me to pick him up at work, which was to the west through a bit of late rush hour traffic.  After we said our greetings, he suggested we try a Mexican restaurant that was purported to have the best carnitas in town.  Tony ordered it on tacos, and let me try a bite. It was very good, but so was my torta al pastor, and the salsa was just right.

We drove to his house, watched a bit of TV,  then went to bed.  The next day's adventure required getting up early!.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Bags Are Packed...

...I'm ready to go.  I'm leaving tomorrow for a trip to Phoenix to see Son Tony!

It's Spring Break at work, so I have the whole week free. Hubby Tony has work commitments that kept him from coming with me, so I'm on my own.  I've made a lot of solo road trips over the years, but plane flights-not so many.  After breakfast I'll do the last of the laundry, finish straightening the house, start the dishwasher, then put my suitcase in the car and drive to the airport.

When I arrive in Phoenix, I get to rent a car (believe it or not, the first time I've gotten one out of town just for me).  I'll have a couple of hours to kill before Tony gets off work, so I'll find something to do before I meet him at his house.  It sounds like he has some great activities planned for Tuesday and Wednesday.  Thursday I'll be heading back to the airport and coming home.

I'm can't wait!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bag It

A couple of weeks ago I felted wool sweaters for the first time.  At the end of the process, they looked like this:

I've been slowly working to transform them into completed projects.  Here's the first, a black purse with dotted Swiss lining and handles:

Isn't it cool?  I'd worked out the details of the project in my head, but it took me a while to get started. Even though I was pretty sure the wool had turned into felt, I was scared to make the first cut in case I was wrong!  However, there were no problems; the knitting had transformed into a very thick solid layer that didn't ravel at all.

At twelve inches square, the bag isn't very big.  In the process of felting, the sweater shrunk substantially. I  cut the largest pieces I could from the front and back body sections:

To give the plain black a pop of color, I searched through my fabric stash and found a  partially-constructed blouse that was in a box of material I got from a friend.  I took the seams apart, but left the interfacing in:

I cut a lining out of the large piece, and strips from the interfacing-stiffened edges to make handles.  I sewed the raw edges of the strips together, turned them, then attached one to each square of felt.  The next step was to join the pieces of felt together.  Because the felt doesn't ravel, I sewed around the outside edges (which alleviated the problem of too-thick turned seams).  I pinned the lining in, then hand-sewed it around the top of the bag.

Voilà!  Finished project.

What am I going to use the bag for?  I'm not sure. After I finished I set it on the island, and later Tony found one of the cats laying on it, but I'm not ready to relinquish it to them.  I wonder if they'd like a throw made from the second sweater?

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's Better Than The Alternative!

Today I had several precancerous lesions burned off with liquid nitrogen.

I have fair skin, blonde hair, and freckles, which gives me a relatively high risk for skin cancer.  On top of that, when I was young there was no such thing as sunscreen, so my skin's had many unprotected years. Two years ago there was a suspicious spot on my shoulder, so now I've been making time for yearly visits with the dermatologist.

The last month or so I've had a couple of places on my back that were always itchy.  Even though I couldn't see them, I wondered if they required attention, so I called the office and scheduled an appointment.  Two days ago I noticed a skin-colored rough spot right in the middle of my forehead up against the hairline.  I suspect most people wouldn't notice it, but I did every time I looked in the mirror.  Since I was going anyway, I decided to have it looked at too.

Traffic was light this morning, and I arrived at the office with plenty of time to spare.  After I checked in at the front desk, the nurse escorted me to an examination room, gave me a paper top, and told me the doctor would be there in a bit. When the doctor arrived, he asked me what I was there for, and examined my spots with a small magnifying glass.  I found out the technical name for my growths is solar keratosis (plural keratoses), and they're common in people over 50. They're due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation and harmless, but they can be uncomfortable and unsightly and a small percentage of them can  become cancerous.  The doctor recommended removing them with cryotherapy.

He left the room for a minute, and came back with a flask of liquid nitrogen.  He took the lid off, dipped a large cotton swab in, and applied it to the first spot.  I could feel my skin burning as the nitrogen froze the offending skin cells. He left it there for what seemed like a very long time (although it probably wasn't more than 30 seconds).  When he lifted the swab up I thought he was done, but he repeated the process a second time, twirling the swab around in a circle. Both of the other spots received the same treatment.  When he was done, he checked out the skin on the rest of my body, gave it a clean bill of health, and told me to come back in a year.

When it was all over I couldn't tell which spot hurt the worst...there were burning pains on both sides of my back and my forehead  The procedure causes the damaged skin to blister, scab, then peel, and should take about a week.. Before I left the medical building, I stepped into the bathroom to check out the spot on my forehead.  NOW it was visible, an angry-looking red blister a quarter-inch in diameter.  I couldn't see the ones under my shirt, but they really hurt, so I suspected they'd look the same way.

Now, a couple of hours later, the redness has subsided but it still looks like I have a large zit at the top of my face. I wonder if it would look better or worse if I put a bandage over it when I go out in public?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

God's Power To Guide Me

I arise today 
Through a mighty strength:
God's power to guide me, 
God's might to uphold me, 
God's wisdom to teach me, 
God's eye to watch over me, 
God's ear to hear me, 
God's word to give me speech, 
God's hand to guide me
God's way to lie before me
God's shield to shelter me
God's host to secure me
Against the snares of devils
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who shall wish me ill,
Whether far or near, many or few

~~~~St. Patrick of Ireland~~~~

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Character Counts

A while back I heard about the Via Institute on Character, an organization founded to advance the science and practice of character development.  They've produced several assessments that help people figure out their positive strengths. Yesterday I took their Survey of Character and learned what my Signature Strengths are.

Via's Survey of Character test measures 24 characteristics that define what’s best about people in the broad categories of Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity,  Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence. The easy assessment had 240 questions, and took about a half hour.  I had to figure out how each statement described what I was like on a five point scale, from Very Much Like Me to Very Much Unlike Me, and the directions reminded me that the results would only be useful if I answered the questions truthfully.  It seemed like some of the questions showed up more than once, restated in a slightly different way each time.

When I was finished with the test, I received a report that described my character strengths in order from strongest to weakest.  The top five strengths are characterized as Signature Strengths, the ones that are most dominant in my life, but the report noted that my lower strengths were only lesser in comparison. Each strength was accompanied by a brief sketch of the meaning of each strength. For example:
Appreciation of beauty and excellence--You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
I was a bit surprised (but pleased) by the results. They helped me understand why I feel certain ways and do certain things.  Tony also took the test, and it was interesting to see the similarities and differences in our reports.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Amazing Orange

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article about surprising things you can use around the house, one of which was orange peels.  I learned that the peels contain oil which can be turned into a natural cleaning product. After finishing the article,  I decided to try making my own cleanser with orange peels and vinegar.

We eat a lot of oranges at this time of year, so coming up with the peels was easy.  I crammed as many as I could into an empty peanut butter jar, added vinegar, and let it sit on the counter for a couple of weeks, shaking it a couple of times every day. The jar looked quite colorful setting next to the sink.

This morning I decided to test out my orange oil cleaner on the vinyl kitchen floor. I usually sponge mop it with vinegar and water, but today I grabbed the orange oil-laced brew. After I removed the peels, I was left with half a jar of beautiful orange-colored liquid with a faint citrus smell.  I have a big kitchen floor, though, and there wasn't enough to do the job, so I added plain vinegar from the jug in the pantry to fill the jar, then poured it into the bucket of water and got to work.

The floor was quite dirty, and when I was in the middle of the job I wasn't sure that the orange oil was doing anything, but when the floor dried it was clean and had a nice shine.  It also passed the "walk barefoot across the room" cleanliness test, so I'd say my experiment was a success.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Last month Tony and I were looking forward to attending a show by the Amazing Acro-Cats, but it got snowed out.  Tonight the cats returned, and we were there.

We arrived early, and got a seat in the front row on the left side of the stage, where we watched the final setup for the show.  There were nine cat carriers-some on each side of the stage.  We were able to see the faces of the cats on the far side, and occasionally a paw would poke out.  By the time the show started at 7:00 it was standing-room only.

The Acro-Cats are trained by Samantha Martin.   She and her assistant really knew their stuff.  The cats performed a wide variety of tricks on cue.  However, being cats, they didn't always perform as planned, which was funny.  They jumped through hoops and over fences, rode on skateboards, and walked on a tightrope.  At times they were joined by performing rats and a chicken.

At the end of the show the Rock Cats band performed.  The kitties "played" guitars, drums, keyboards, and cowbell.  The only problem was that their stage was at ground level on the far right side, so it was hard for me to see what was going on.  However, I have no doubt that it was cute.  The evening ended with the house lights coming up so the audience could take pictures of the band.

Here's a compilation of some of what we saw:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Too Much!

This is quite a busy week for me.  In addition to my work commitments, I have an activity every night (and sometimes more than one).  Tonight I'm attending a Fat Tuesday dinner with a group of women from church. In the spirit of eating to excess before the beginning of Lent tomorrow, we're dining at a Chinese buffet.  Not exactly traditional, but good!

For your Fat Tuesday listening pleasure, here's one of my favorite Mardi Gras songs:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Resume For Parents


JOB DESCRIPTION: Long-term team players needed for challenging permanent work in an often chaotic environment. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work various hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call. Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in faraway cities. Travel expenses not reimbursed. Extensive courier duties also required.

RESPONSIBILITIES: This is for the rest of your life. Must be willing to be hated at least temporarily, until someone needs $5 to go skating. Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly. Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf. Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers. Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects. Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks. Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next. Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys and battery operated devices. Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product. Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

POSSIBILITY FOR ADVANCEMENT AND PROMOTION: Virtually none. Your objective is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills so those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: None required, unfortunately. On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION: You pay them, offering frequent raises and bonuses. A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent. When you die, you give them whatever is left. The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.

BENEFITS: While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered, job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life if you play your cards right.

Author unknown

Friday, March 4, 2011


One of the things that's been on my List of Things To Do for quite some time is to make felt.  According to a friend, it's quite easy-all it takes is an old wool sweater.  I don't have any old wool sweaters, so I figured I'd get one from the thrift store.  However, the project never rose to the top of my list at quite the right time...I'd usually think about it in the middle of the summer, when cool weather clothes were non-existent.  Last week when I went into the local St. Vincent de Paul store, where they were clearancing all their cold-weather clothes. I did a bit of digging through the racks, and found a black 100% wool sweater and an argyle wool blend for two dollars each.

When you felt an animal-fiber knit garment, the fibers mesh together until the weave of the sweater disappears. The felting occurs when hot water and agitation shrink the fibers,. and the resulting fabric will not unravel when cut.  Only animal fibers will felt, but sometimes garments with a bit of synthetics will work; sometimes they won't.

Here's a BEFORE picture of my two sweaters.  They're both extra large-the one on the left is a men's, and the other is a women's:

Because all of the information I'd gathered on the project was oral, my first step was to do a Google search for felting wool. I was excited to start the project, so I took my information from the first result.  According to that Website, I needed to run the sweater through my washer with soap and hot water, and then dry it on the hottest setting of the dryer.  I started the process, then browsed through some other Websites on the topic. I learned that it could take multiple passes through the washer to have an effect, and that wool sheds off quite a bit of fiber while it's felting (which could mess up the washer), so it was a good idea to put the sweaters in an old pillowcase.  Whoops!

Sure enough, the process wasn't done after the first round, so I put each sweater in an old pillowcase and closed them with a knot for a second cycle.   When the washer stopped again, I opened the cases to see how things stood.  There was a lot of fuzz clinging to the inside of the pillowcase.  The black sweater looked like one solid piece of material, but the stitches of the argyle one were only partially fused.  Thinking that the heat of the dryer might help, I put both back in their pillowcases and threw them in on a long cycle with high heat.

When they came out of the dryer, they looked like this:

I made felt. Now what?  I'm not sure, but stay tuned and I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Other Way Around

You may know that the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel--aka Dr. Seuss--was yesterday (March 2).  Every classroom in the preschool commemorated the day in some way.  Our class actually spread out the celebration over two days, because quite a few of our students don't come on Wednesday.  The theme for the days was "backwards and upside down".  When the lead teacher emailed out the lesson plan to the parents, she encouraged everyone to dress backwards so we could talk about it.

Yesterday I tried to wear one of my logoed work shirts turned around, but it didn't fit correctly and was extremely uncomfortable. I ended up not doing anything, which turned out to be OK. Our classroom had several students out sick and I moved to one of the other rooms, where they weren't observing backwards day.

However, today I was determined to find some way to go along with the lesson plan.  The solution turned out to be folded up in my work bag.  At Christmas one of my coworkers gave me an apron appliquéd with the school logo.  I put the apron on like a cape and tied the strings around my waist in front.  To keep the neck strings from riding up on my neck, I wore a collared shirt and tucked the strings underneath the collar.

My backwards apron was surprising comfortable.  It didn't do a whole lot to keep the front of my shirt clean, but when I sat on the floor, my jeans were protected!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Offer Without Obligation

We've donated money to our local food pantry for many years.  They do a great job; in addition to food, families serviced by the pantry can take advantage of programs during the holiday season and at back-to-school time. They can also receive financial assistance, college scholarships, and summertime camperships.  I've been thinking about volunteering there for some time, and tonight I went to a volunteer orientation.

There were six other people in tonight's session.  Some of them looked old enough to be retired, but I suspect the younger ones might be between jobs and have extra time on their hands.  The volunteer coordinator did a great job of explaining things.

I learned the pantry only has three paid employees, but 200 volunteers that do most of the day to day work.  It surprised me to hear that the pantry area has all the help it can use, and actually has a waiting list for potential volunteers!  However, they need help in the office area with receptionist chores and taking data from clients.

Sadly, the open shifts won't fit around my work schedule, so I can't sign up for a regular time slot.  I will add my name to the Special Events list, and wait for them to call me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1, 2011

February, with its nasty weather, had overstayed its welcome; it was wonderful to turn over the calendar to a new month today.  The official start of spring is still a few weeks away (and I suspect there'll be a few more snowflakes before it's all said and done), but I'm looking forward to the nice weather.

 While I'm waiting, I'm trying to appreciate all the signs of the season.  The days are getting longer.  In the morning I can find my clothes without turning on a light, and I don't have to use one in the kitchen when I cook dinner.  When I opened up the March tickler file, I saw articles about organic lawn care and gardening, and my calendar had reminders about buying plant seeds and sunscreen, and starting the herb grow kits I got for Christmas.  It also informed me I need to take the lawn mower in for a tuneup and see to the flat wheel on the wheelbarrow before the growing season starts.

All the prompts put me in a great mood, and the weather today didn't hurt.  When I left work all I needed was a jacket, so I bagged my plan to go to the gym. It was much too nice to be inside on a treadmill.  Time to get out into the real world!  First, though, I had to pick up the sunscreen I'll  need to start using.  It took me a while to figure out exactly where to find it in the store, but I enjoyed walking by the signs of nicer days to come; in the ladies department a collection of pastel-colored shirts were displayed on an end cap, and lightweight pants hung next to them.  I made my purchase, then started thinking about a place to walk.

We've had a lot of rain recently, so using an unpaved trail wasn't an option.  I decided to stop at a municipal park that's on my way home.  The park itself is small, but its trail connects with the adjoining subdivisions. There were a handful of cars in the parking lot when I pulled in, and a few children on the playground.  I made my way towards the pond at the bottom of the hill, where I saw ducks and geese enjoying the nice weather. They didn't seem to mind when I took a seat on a bench near them for a few minutes.

I walked halfway around the pond, then followed the trail toward the street.  There weren't many people out in the middle of the afternoon, but I did pass a pair of joggers and a woman walking her dog.  I heard birds chirping, and saw quite a few squirrels scampering around.  I walked for about 30 minutes before I realized I needed to use the restroom, so I headed back towards the park.  Unfortunately, their facilities were still closed up for the winter, so I got back in my car to drive home.

That didn't bother me, though, because I'm looking forward to taking advantage of many more nice March days.