Monday, May 30, 2011

Little Darling

Happy Memorial Day to my American friends. Hope you had a good first holiday of the summer season. Although Tony and I didn't do anything special here today, it was nice having an extra "weekend" day to sleep in and be lazy.

This morning, I read the comics with breakfast, like I always do, then opened up the section to read the advice columns and glance at our horoscopes. It's amazing how broadly they can be interpreted, but sometimes they're pretty specific. Today Tony's said, in part, "tonight, keep your head down. You can do it even while flipping burgers." I took that as a sure sign that he needed to be in charge of dinner! Mine was a bit less direct. It said, "tonight, let your inner child emerge."

Although we didn't have hamburgers, we did have some Apple Cinnamon sausages in the freezer that would be great barbecued. I told Tony if he took charge of the entrée I'd make a brown rice salad to go with it. I pressed a couple of cloves of garlic into the water with the cooking rice. After it was done I added sliced green olives and Italian dressing, then put it in the refrigerator to cool.

All afternoon I tried to enable my "inner child", with no success. I tried singing preschool songs, but that kept me from concentrating on the other things I was doing. While Tony was cooking, I tried to sneak up on him with a squirt bottle, but he saw me when I turned the corner into the back yard. Nothing I did was quite right.

For dessert we decided to get some shave ice at a stand not too far from the house. Nothing's better than fluffy bits of frozen water mixed with sugary syrup on a sticky day. Although we could walk, I decided it was too hot and offered to drive. When we arrived at the stand, I noticed that the shade tent that's usually out front wasn't there any more. Most of the picnic tables were in the sun, and that didn't appeal to me at all. After we got our cups of ice, we went back to my CR-V, opened the rear door, and sat in the trunk. My feet dangled over the edge, so I started swinging them and I realized that my inner child had emerged after all.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church--Baptism, Confession, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. Some, of course, are more common than others. I can now say I've participated in each one of them, because this morning Tony and I went an Ordination of Priests.

Four men were ordained today. We've known one of them for a long time time. He went to school with Son Tony, and they were in the same Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop. It was big news when he decided to join the seminary after he graduated from high school. Four years of college and another four years of seminary education had prepared him for this day.

The ceremony took place at the Cathedral Basilica. The church was quite full by time Tony and I found our seats shortly before 10:00. The choir finished up their prelude music, and switched over to the entrance hymn. Mass started out as usual with an entrance procession. Usual, that is, if your procession consists of dozens of seminarians, hundreds of priests and deacons, and the archbishop and his auxiliary bishops. It was quite an impressive sight.

The familiar Mass rituals continued through the Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word. After the Gospel the ordination itself took place. There were several parts:
  • The candidates were called forward, the president of the seminary they attended vouched for their worthiness, and the Archbishop accepted them (to a loud round of applause).
  • After a homily by the Archbishop, the candidates declared their willingness to undertake the responsibilities of a priest, and promised to respect and obey the Archbishop and his successors.
  • The candidates prostrated themselves while the choir led the congregation in a Litany of the Saints, praying for God's grace for the new priests.
  • Next, the Archbishop laid hands on each of the candidate, and each of the priests in attendance did the same. 
  • After a prayer of ordination, each of the candidates received stoles and chasubles, the priestly garments they'll wear at each Mass they celebrate, then the Archbishop anointed the hands of each.
  • The bread and wine were brought forward; they in turn presented the gifts to the Archbishop.  
  • Finally, the Archbishop shared the sign of peace with the newly ordained priests, followed by all of the priests.
After the ordination ceremony, the Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the concluding rites.  The ministers of the liturgy left the church in the same order they came in, but instead of being with the seminarians, now the newly ordained walked with the priests. They all had huge smiles on their faces; it was their big day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thirteen is Lucky...

...if you're a cicada, that is.

There are two types of periodical cicadas (13-year and 17-year, which refers to the length of their life cycle); both are cousins to the Dog Day cicadas that show up every year in late summer.  Our area is experiencing the appearance of a brood of millions of 13-year cicadas, which will be flying around in search of mates for the next month or so.

Yesterday I was outside pulling weeds when I noticed that a patch of spiderwort underneath the maple tree looked a little odd:

There were more than a dozen cicadas, or cicada exoskeletons, hanging on the plant's leaves!

The insects have an interesting life cycle. They spend the vast majority of their life underground. At the appointed time they emerge en masse, molt, and go off in search of a mate. The males attract females by produce their charismatic sound, which comes from contracting membranes called tymbals on either side of their abdomen. After mating, females lay hundreds of eggs in small gashes they tear in branches of trees and shrubs. The eggs hatch in midsummer, and the nymphs fall to the ground and burrow into the soil to start the process over again.

After I realized the cicadas were there,  I looked more closely, and saw them scattered on the mulch around the spiderwort and the grass under the tree. I also caught this cicada in the act of molting:

One cicada by itself doesn't make a whole lot of sound, but when you put a bunch of them together they can be deafening! Our neighborhood's relatively young, so last time the cicadas came around there weren't too many trees for them to use (and therefore not as large of a mass of mature insects this time), but yesterday I drove through an older subdivision and even with my car windows rolled up the sound was annoying.

In the South, cicadas emerge only once every 13 years. In the North, they stay underground for 17 years. Some places (like our area) are lucky enough to have both types. In 1998, the 13- and 17-year cicada's cycle coincided, which led to a huge mess. That year the boys' elementary school had their end of the year picnic at a city park. There were so many bugs flying through the sky some of the kids were shrieking in terror.

I don't know that I like cicadas, but I can live and let live.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


For Mother's Day, I got a spa gift certificate from my children.  Today I cashed it in.

It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to use the certificate for. The spa they chose has a complete range of services--massages, facials, face and body treatments, manicures, pedicures, and waxing. Finally I decided to get a facial (because I've never had one) and a pedicure (because for a couple of weeks I'd be able to look at my nice-looking polished toes).

When I arrived at the spa I checked in at the front desk, then the receptionist escorted me to a small waiting room.  I only had to wait for a couple of minutes before my aesthetician came in and introduced herself. Before she started, she asked me to fill out a form listing any medical issues or concerns I had about my skin, then we moved to the treatment room. I was instructed to take off my shirt and shoes, then lie on my back on the table and get comfortable.

The room was dimly lit and soothing music was playing. The aesthetician explained the steps of the facial: cleansing, skin analysis, exfoliation, extraction of blackheads (if necessary), facial massage, a mask targeted to my skin type, then applications of toner and protective cream. She took off my glasses and we got started.

I was soon lost in wonderfulness. The only uncomfortable part was when she extracted some little white little bumps on my forehead, which she explained were lumps of protein under my skin called milia. However, that part only lasted a few minutes, and the results were worth it--my forehead is now much smoother.

As the facial portion wound down, I got short scalp, shoulder, and hand massages, then I was done. It was time to put on my shirt and gather my things, so I could be escorted to the pedicure room for another awesome pampering session. I left the spa with a radiant face, bright coral toenails, and a fresh outlook on life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are You Suitable?

Right after I lost my job, Tony asked me if I was going to apply for unemployment. That hadn't occurred to me; because I though only full time workers could claim it (and I didn't put in 40 hours a week at the preschool) However, I found out I was wrong. After I filled out the easy online application, I learned that I'll be getting a percentage of the maximum benefit.

In order to receive unemployment, each week I have to search for work by contacting three employers. Last week my contacts were all online, from leads I found on state job search website or other career sites. I applied for four jobs, either by filling out an application or submitting my resume, but I didn't think anything would come of them. Friday afternoon I got home from running errands and there was a message from the HR department of one of the jobs I'd applied for (a temporary, part-time job working for a testing center). The message asked if I was available Monday morning for a phone interview. Of COURSE I was!

First thing Monday morning I made sure the phone was on the hook so the battery would be charged up. A half hour before the appointed time I had all my papers laid out on the kitchen table-my resume, the job posting, and information about the company I'd found on their Website. I felt hungry, so I ate a handful of nuts. Ten minutes before my appointment I used the bathroom, turned off the radio, and sat in front of my computer for some mindless game playing. I was ready when the phone rang right at the appointed time.

The interviewer was calling from the company's corporate office. After a bit of chit-chat, she got right to work. Why did I want this job? What computer programs was I familiar with? Could I lift 20 pounds if necessary? Next, she moved onto the dreaded behavioral questions. Fortunately I had thought about the answers to some of the more common ones, so I was able to articulate something suitable. After all the questions were asked and answered, the interviewer said she'd email me an application to fill out.

Ten minutes after I hung up the phone it rang again. I heard the same friendly voice of my interviewer, offering me a chance to come into the test center today for a face-to-face interview!

This morning I went to the gym, then came home and tried to make myself presentable. After all the gardening I've been doing my fingernails needed attention, and my hair was unruly because of all the humidity in the air. I also stewed over my interview outfit. If an office is described as "business casual", do you wear your interview suit, or something else?

Although the office is only 25 minutes from my house, I gave myself twice that much time to get there. Of course nothing out of the ordinary happened and I arrived much too early, but killed the extra time by browsing at a store across the street from the building. Five minutes before my appointment I gathered my things, took one last look in the mirror, and went in.

I think the interview went well, but as the old saying goes Don't call us, we'll call you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ice Up

Yesterday when I talked about some signs of impending summer I mentioned freezing watermelon. I thought everyone knew about that, but based on some of the comments I found out I was wrong.

The "recipe" for Frozen Watermelon couldn't be easier:  Cut the fruit into small chunks, place them on a cookie sheet, and freeze.  Store in a plastic bag.   To serve, pour some chunks into a bowl.  Eat them before they thaw; if you don't they're mushy and awful.

They can also be pureed in a blender for a frozen slushy drink  (With optional alcohol for an adult version)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Signs of the Season

Summer's almost here. How do I know?

  • During my last shopping trip I bought the first watermelon of the season (and)

  • then I came home and made the first frozen watermelon

  • The linen closet door outside the master bedroom doesn't close properly from the humidity

  • Today we opened all the windows on the main floor so we can get a cross-breeze through the house

  • I turned on the ceiling fan in the family room for the first time in months

  • Yesterday I got my first mosquito bite

  • I wore a skirt without hose when I went to a graduation party

  • We can't take a walk at night without passing by the smell of BBQ grills

  • There are parking cones everywhere on the streets where they're fixing potholes and replacing concrete

  • Last night there was a longer wait for patio seating than inside seating at a restaurant 

Saturday, May 21, 2011


The other day I was browsing through the StatCounter statistics for my blog, seeing who's been visiting here, when I noticed that someone had come from Google Translate.  I wanted to see what they'd been looking for, so I followed the link.  This is what I saw:

Things look a bit different in Russian!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Play Your Cards Right

I'm looking for a new job.  But you knew that, right?

My last few positions came because I was in the right place at the right time, but I don't know that I want to  rely just on luck this time.  I'm also identifying companies to research and people to meet with.  When I talk with someone, I want to be able to give them something with my contact information, so today I ordered networking business cards.

Vista Print
I got them from Vista Print, a company I've used before.  You can pay for premium cards, but I chose to get their free ones. They're free because the back of the card has a barely noticeable logo and company ad. The card stock they use isn't the heaviest, but the quality suits my purposes, and the price is right.

There were almost four dozen free designs to choose from. Since I don't have a job title or company name to use, some of them lent themselves to my purposes better than others.  I scrolled through the pages of designs till I found just the right one, then input my personal information--name, home and email addresses, and phone numbers.  After a few seconds lag time, each bit showed up on the screen so I could see what the finished product would look like.  I proofed my typing several times, then hit the "order" button.  The cards are free, but I had to pay the shipping costs. There were several options, depending on how soon I wanted the finished product.  I also had to run through an online gauntlet of upsells and other offers before my order was complete.

Soon a small package will show up in my mailbox, and I'll be able to put a supply of cards in my wallet, my car, and anywhere else I think I might run into someone.  Even after I don't need the cards for job networking, I'll be able to use them as  an easy way of sharing my personal contact information.  Much better than scribbling it on a scrap of paper!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vim And Vinegar

Last month when we had the air conditioner serviced, the technician noticed that a canvas connector between the furnace and the ductwork was covered with a layer of mold. He said it would be a simple job to have it replaced and told me to call the office if I wanted it done.

Several days later I called to schedule the work. After playing phone tag with the correct person for a few days, I finally talked to him and told him we wanted the work completed. He indicated that this was their busy time of year, but they'd plan to do our job at the end of a day when they happened to be in the area. That sounded good to me, so I put the project in their court and moved it down to the bottom of my mental To Do list.

Today the termite company was here for the annual house examination. As the inspector worked his way around the perimeter of the basement, I walked in front of him turning on lights. When I got to the furnace area, I noticed that not only was the connector still moldy, but now two backpacks (one for schoolbooks, the other a large, pricey, backpacking model with detachable daysack) that were hanging on a hook nearby also sported white spots. Something needed to be done!

This afternoon I called the heating company and told them I wanted the job done ASAP, then started searching the Internet for mold cleanup solutions.  There were quite a few. I wanted a treatment that would be effective, but also cheap and ecologically safe. I found the answer at Every Fact About Mold Removal. According to the site, the natural acidity of vinegar kills about 80% of mold species.

It was worth a try. Grabbing the gallon jug of white vinegar from the pantry, I took everything out to the front porch. Using a rag, I saturated the packs with straight vinegar, then left them there while I fed the cats. The next step was to wash the items.  The Website suggested the washing machine. However, my things were too big, so I filled the bathtub with hot water, added more vinegar and a scoop of laundry detergent, and let them soak.

After the water cooled off a bit, I did my best to agitate the backpacks, then drained the tub and rinsed the backpacks several times to remove all the soap. I carried the sopping packs to the deck in a cooler, where I hung them from the deck railing to dry.  The directions said to dry the items in the sun to destroy any possible trace of mold on the fabric. Sadly, our forecast for the next few days is for cloudy skies. However, I know it will eventually get sunny, and I plan to take advantage of the heat to kill any remaining spores. Then I'll have to find a place to store the clean backpacks other than the basement.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fresh And Clean

Who knew that being between jobs could be so satisfying?

It's only been a couple of days since I've been pink slipped, but I've been busy. Yesterday I went to the gym, cut the grass, then used the clippings (along with a layer of newspaper) to mulch the garden. I also did some cooking and baking.  I was really tired when I went to bed.

When I woke up today I decided to pass on the gym. Instead, I spruced up two metal shelves in the garage that were overdue for a cleaning.  This is what they looked like before I started:

and after my work:

Much better, don't you think?

I took everything off the shelves and made piles of things to donate, recycle, and dispose of.  When I was finished the garage floor had things strewed from one side to the other.  The next step was to wash years worth of crud off the shelves. After they were dry I started putting things back on, grouping them by category.

After lunch I started getting rid of the discards. I dropped off dozens of plastic pots at a garden center for recycling, and took two boxes of things at Goodwill.  The auto repair shop we use will properly dispose of the half-used bottles and jugs of car fluids that are getting tossed, so I'll take those with me next time I'm headed in that direction.

Even though the shelves look better, there's still work to be done.  There are several things I put back that will ultimately find a new home somewhere else, but after several hours of work I was tired!  There's also some garden chemicals that need to be disposed of properly; they went back on the shelf until I find out where to take them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Day of Adventure

When I heard earlier in the week about a special event they were having at Bellefontaine Cemetery today, Tony and I planned our day around it. I'm glad I did!

Bellefontaine Cemetery was established in 1850 as part of a rural cemetery movement, which created burial grounds in park-like settings outside of urban centers. Over the years I've driven past it on my way to Calvary (an adjoining Catholic cemetery where many of Tony's and my relatives are buried) but I've never been inside its gates before today.

Because this was a day of adventure, our first task was finding a Mass. We decided on St. Francis Xavier (College) Church, which is located next to St. Louis University. It took us longer to get there then we'd thought, and finding a place to park was a bit of a challenge, but we were entering our pew 30 seconds before the priest started walking down the aisle. The church's friendly parishioners, great choir, and beautiful Gothic Revival architecture made for a wonderful service.

After Mass it was time for lunch. We'd decided to go to an Old North St. Louis institution that I haven't eaten at in years, Crown Candy Kitchen, which was just a fifteen minute drive away. Crown Candy was opened in 1913, and now it's being run by the third and fourth generation of the family. In addition to candy, it's known for its shakes, malts, and ice cream treats.  We arrived about 11:30 and stood in a short line for a table (there were two groups ahead of us), but soon the line stretched out the door.

I ordered a Chili Tamale--one tamale smothered with beanless chili and topped with cheese and onions. Tony ordered the largest BLT I've ever seen. His heaping plate contained a sandwich made with two pieces of white toast slathered with Miracle Whip and topped with lettuce, tomato and a mountain of bacon. There was so much he couldn't finish all of it, so I helped him out and ate a couple of slices.

I briefly thought about having a shake with my meal, but decided to save all the sweetness for dessert. I ordered a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and whole pecans. Tony got a Crown Sundae, which was like mine with the addition of caramel sauce. The ice cream is made with 14% butterfat, and the hot fudge sauce was so thick and chewy that the menu warned that it was not for people with dentures! After I finished, my hands were so sticky that a trip to the bathroom was in order.

After lunch it was a quick ten minute drive to Bellefontaine Cemetery for the day's main event. Today's program was called Bellefontaine in Bloom. They had walking, horse-drawn carriage, and golf cart tours to the grave sites of many of the notables buried there. Today visitors could step inside the usually closed mausoleums of the Lemp and Wainwright families.  There was a food tent with finger foods made from recipes in Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking (she's buried in the cemetery), and a jazz group playing New Orleans style music.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the best day for outdoor activities. The temperature was downright chilly, and a fine misty rain kept starting and stopping. I wore a jacket topped with a raincoat, and had to keep putting the hood up and taking it off. We took a carriage and a walking tour, both of which were led by knowledgeable docents. Some of the notable gravesites we saw: William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame), beer barons Adolphus Busch and the Lemp family, the Wainwrights (he planned the Wainwright Building, one of the first skyscrapers in the world; the tomb was designed by architect Louis Sullivan), and the poet Sara Teasdale. Even though I was stuffed from lunch, I sampled some of the treats in the food tent.

The cemetery contains over 14 miles of winding roads. We only saw a small percentage; I picked up brochures for cemetery walking tours of notable people and Civil War graves. I think I'll be returning sometime!

Friday, May 13, 2011

War On Wabbits

This is the weed purslane, which grows in our tree yard and in the driveway expansion joints every summer:

 photo by ZooFari
When I was at the garden shop last weekend picking out flowers for the front yard I was surprised to see a cultivated type of purslane for sale.  This one had thicker stems, larger leaves, and came with bright pink, salmon, or yellow flowers.  The plant tag touted "vibrant flowers on ground-hugging plants with thick, succulent foliage".  I talked to a fellow flower buyer who said last year this variety had done really well in her garden.  I'm always willing to try something new, so I bought two yellow and one pink plant, brought them home, and planted them. If they grow half as well as their wild cousins, they'll have earned their place in my garden.

However, yesterday I was doing some weeding and saw that my purslane plants seemed a bit less dense than they had been on Saturday. I took a closer look, and saw that some of the leaves had been nibbled down to stubs. SOMETHING was eating on them! I suspected it was the rabbit I saw hopping across the yard yesterday.  I decided to try making a natural rabbit repellent, and based my concoction on the eHow article Homemade Rabbit Control in Gardens. They suggested pureeing jalapeño peppers and water, letting the liquid drip out, then adding other ingredients for use in a spray bottle.

However, I changed the recipe a bit.  I went to the grocery store and bought two habanero peppers, the hottest I could find. When I got home I cut them into pieces and put them in a jar with a bit of water. I microwaved the peppers until they were soft, reduced them to a puree with my immersion blender, then added olive oil, a drop of glue and a drop of dish detergent. The mixture smelled quite toxic, and burned my finger when some splashed on it!

I didn't have a squirt bottle available, so I used a teaspoon to dribble the mixture on the leaves of each plant. There was some left over, so I walked around the corner to the side yard to pour it on the hostas, another bunny favorite. On my way back, I stopped to pull a couple of weeds from the driveway expansion joints, and saw some tiny wild purslane plants starting to grow.

Should I direct the rabbits to them?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leaving the Nest

A while back a friend suggested I might enjoy pursuing an alternate career path, but I balked, because I had a job that kept me busy.  How quickly things can change!

Yesterday as I was leaving work, the preschool director asked if we could talk for a couple of minutes.  She started the conversation by saying "I have some bad news".  The word on the street was that preschool enrollment for next year was down, so I braced myself, figuring that she was going to tell me I wouldn't have a job after the end of this year.  However, when she told me that they didn't need me any more as of today, I was shocked!  I wasn't the only one getting a pink slip.  Every classroom that had two assistants was losing one, and several non-classroom positions were being eliminated.  Even the after-hours cleaning lady was going!

I managed to hold it together during our brief conversation, but the rest of the day I alternated between being angry, sad, and even a bit excited.  I'm fortunate that we don't have to rely on my earnings for everyday living expenses, so I can take my time and figure out what type of job I want.  Just like the mother bird who practices tough love so her babies will learn how to fly,  this might be a much-needed positive kick in the pants.

The last time I was laid off from a job was 30 ago, when I was in college. The place I worked was bought by a new company, whose first order of business was replacing the entire staff.  However, that dismissal set off a chain of events that led to meeting Hubby Tony.  I know something good will happen this time too.  I just have to wait and find out what it is.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Clean Cut

I had a lovely Mother's Day. Son Donald made his usual Sunday appearance, Son Brian and Nicole came in from Columbia with their dog Yves, and Son Tony called from Phoenix.

Hubby Tony organized lunch. To make it easy, yesterday he'd gone to the grocery store and picked up half-baked pizzas from a local restaurant. Today I got to sit and watch as my men put together a salad and finished the pizzas in the oven. After a wonderful meal we took a break before it was time for dessert--a decorated heart-shaped pan of brownies and a container of ice cream.

Because it was "my" day, I got to serve. I got a knife out of the drawer and started to cut the brownies, which were so fudgy the edges crumbled and stuck to the knife. Before I made the next cut, I remembered a tip I'd recently heard, and went back to the drawer for a plastic knife. I was doubtful that the different utensil would make much of a difference, but it worked perfectly; the brownies cut into perfect pieces!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's Baaack!

If you were reading here last January, you may remember I was trying to decide whether to harvest or overwinter the ginger plant I grew from a piece of grocery-store ginger root.  After deciding to keep it to see if it would regrow,  I set the pot on top of the freezer downstairs and made myself a reminder to water it monthly.

A couple of weeks ago I brought the pot upstairs and put it in the master bathroom.  Yesterday I was delighted to see this:

Right now the plant only has three shoots, but when I brushed aside the soil from another part of the root I could see some growing buds starting to swell.  Last year the planter box was full by the end of the summer.  I hope it does that well again this year.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Yesterday the bright red Netflix envelope delivered the movie  Temple Grandin, and tonight Tony and I watched it.  The movie, produced by HBO in 2010, is a biopic of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who has become one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry.  She's also an advocate for autism advocacy.

Temple has designed humane methods of treating cattle in processing plants, winning an award from PETA for her efforts.  She's also noted for creating the 'hug box', a deep pressure device designed to calm hyper-sensitive people, which is recognized today as a way of relieving stress.

I've already seen the movie once (at a work inservice day), but that time the enviornment was less than perfect.  The "screen" was two large pieces of paper taped to the wall, and the obvious seam was quite annoying.  There weren't enough chairs for all the staff, and I ended up sitting on the floor. Tonight's viewing was much better, with a clear HD TV screen and surround sound.  I even had a cat on my lap to keep me warm.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

NIMH-Not In My House!

Each spring sugar ants try to set up house in my kitchen. This year they haven't been too bad (yet). When I see the first ant line, I pull out my arsenal of organic deterrents...lemon juice and peel, or red pepper, or cinnamon, sprinkled where they're coming in does the trick.

One of the places I usually find ants is on the window seat in the kitchen. It's underneath a bay window, so there's lots of cracks for the insects to come in. During the winter the seat is full of plants that would die if left out in the cold. However, right now the seat's not as full as usual.

My four-foot tall schefflera bush started dropping most of its leaves right after the holidays. Soon it was a mess of bare stems with tufts of leaves at the top of each stem.  A little Internet research told me that there was some type of pathogen at work. Hoping the plant would re-grow, I cut the stems back to stubs, removing all the leaves. It was so ugly I banished it to the master bathroom tub, where it would get some sunlight.

Today I wanted to give all the plants in the bathroom a good soak from the the bottom by putting a couple inches of water in the tub. When I lifted the schefflera up to make room for more plants in the tub, dozens of ants started running every which way. They'd taken up residence under the pot! Working quickly, I closed the drain, turned the water on, and grabbed the cup next to the sink.

While the tub was filling with water, I used the cup to pour water on top of the plants. A few of the ants ran up the side of the tub, but most of them got caught in the flow. I let the plants soak for about 20 minutes, then pulled the plug and let them drain. When I cleaned out the tub, the lifeless ant bodies washed down the drain.

I moved all the other plants back to their regular places in the bathroom, but I propped the schefflera up on a plant saucer so the ants wouldn't have a nice damp spot to congregate underneath it. I also added a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon over the soil on top. However, it's just for the short term; the plant will be going out on the deck soon!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Suite Life

I'm the representative for a chapter of an organization that has twice-yearly statewide assemblies. Each chapter sends a representative to the meeting to learn what's going on in the organization and bring the information back to their group. A couple of weeks ago during a gathering of my area's representatives, the leader mentioned that they didn't have anyone to host the Hospitality Room for the upcoming assembly. I thought the job didn't sound too difficult, so a friend and I volunteered to be in charge of the project.

After we volunteered, we found out that there were some perks of the job. Instead of having to pay for our hotel room, the organization provided one. But not just any room. The Hospitality people got a suite right next to the Hospitality Room, and across the hall from the main meeting room.

The meeting took place this past weekend.  It was a busy, but satisfying, couple of days.

I left Friday after lunch, stopping to pick up my friend and two other women who were also attending. It took a bit over three hours to make the drive to the Lake of the Ozarks, where the assembly was being held. We checked in, then rendezvoused back at the car to go to the grocery store.

The hardest part of my job was figuring out how much food to buy for the 120 people that were expected to attend. I had emailed the person who'd done the job before and had some information, but it was still a bit of guesswork. (We ended up buying too many baby carrots and not enough cookies).When we arrived at the grocery store I pulled out my shopping list and everyone else got a cart. Fortunately, the store wasn't busy, because our parade of three grocery carts took up a lot of room when we stopped to get something.  The checkout process was interesting. Each cart went through, and I was at the end to pay for everything. I think the cashier was glad to be finished with us!

We joined several other people for dinner at a nearby restaurant, then went back to the hotel to set up the Hospitality Room for the next day. We arranged baskets of fruit, bowls of vegetables and chips, and platters of cookies. My friend set up the coffee station with two large coffee pots and a smaller pot for hot water, all ready to plug in. Satisfied that we'd done all we could, we called it a night and went to our room.

The suite was connected to the Hospitality Room by a door that could be locked and had two rooms, one with a bed and the other with chairs and a pull-out couch. My friend offered me the bedroom, and set up shop in the "living" area. Both areas had a bathroom, but my part also had a jacuzzi tub, which I didn't have time to use. (However, it came in handy when I washed produce for more than 100 people.)

Saturday morning I had time to relax before the meeting started, because The Hospitality Room didn't open until noon. In the middle of the first meeting session my friend and I stepped across the hall to give the room a final once-over and start the coffee pots. It wasn't supposed to take more than a couple of minutes, but when we found out the electrical outlet we'd plugged the coffee into wasn't working my friend called the Front Desk. They sent someone who solved the problem by running an extension cord to another outlet.

When the meeting broke for lunch I hurried across the hall and opened the Hospitality Room. There were a steady stream of people who stopped by for a snack, or to eat their lunch at one of the tables in the room. Right before the afternoon session started we closed up the room, but for the rest of the day the room got opened each time there was a break.

I ate dinner in the hotel's restaurant, then went back to check on things. After the dinner break there was more meeting activity. When the official business was over for the day my friend and I set things up for Sunday's breakfast--fruit, bagels, donuts, toast, and instant oatmeal, coffee, and juice. After my long day, my bed felt really good.

We had more coffee pot issues Sunday morning, but managed to make it through breakfast without running out. However, I was glad when the meeting room opened, because the hotel had drinks there, too. There were several items on the morning's agenda. When the meeting was over my friend and I packed things up in the Hospitality Room, found the other women coming home with us, and got ready to leave.

Doing all the extra work definitely made for a busy weekend.  I really earned that free room, but figuring the job would be easier a second time, my friend and I signed up to do it again in the fall.