Thursday, June 30, 2011

Insect Effects

Last month I told you about our periodical cicada infestation. I forgot to tell you that it's over.

Cicadas only live for a few weeks, mate, then die. However, when millions of the insects come out at the same time things get a little crazy. At its peak, their mating call hum was like your neighbors all cuting their lawns at the same time, all day long. Then as quickly as it started, the hum it stopped.

After the cicadas mate, the female scrapes a channel in small twigs or branches (anything up to the diameter of a pen) and deposits her eggs. Here's an example, with the scrapes circled in red.
 lorax /Wikipedia 
When I didn't see or hear the cicadas any more, I promptly forgot about them. Last week I had to pick up a couple of small branches from the red bud tree in the back yard, but that's not unusual; the tree has soft wood and loses branches all the time. Then we had some pretty strong storms and there were branches from the neighbor's ash tree in the yard, but I attributed that to the wind. However, I started noticing a lot of small branches (some with leaves still attached) when I walked around the neighborhood. I wondered what was going on.

Thanks to Saralynn at Yeah, but Houdini didn't have these hips., now I know. If too many female cicadas use the same branch, the twig gets weak and fall to the ground. The process is called flagging, and just like the cicadas, flagging is temporary and will be over soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ooh! Shiny!

Two weeks ago I painted the living room. The majority of things are back where they're supposed to be, but the light switchplate was still in a bag on the kitchen table. The switch is on a wall that can't be seen from the hall or family room, and we rarely use the room, so I figured I'd get around to putting it back on it when I had a chance.

Before:  Dirty Yucky.
Today is housecleaning catch-up day, so the project got added to my list of things to do. Why did it take so long to get to it? I thought the switchplate needed to be replaced. Several years ago I bought brass light switch covers for the living room and hall at an import store. They were beautiful, but soon started showing signs of tarnish and spots that looked like rust.

Assuming the switchplate was cheap brass plated, I thought things were hopeless and I'd have to buy new ones. This morning, though I decided to see if I could do anything to make it look acceptable. The first step was to figure out if I was working with solid brass or brass plated steel. The easiest way to check a piece is to put a magnet on it. If the magnet sticks, it's brass plated steel. If the magnet falls, the piece is solid brass. I was amazed to find out that my plate solid, and I moved on to researching cleaning methods. Since it seemed like it would be worth my time, I removed the cover in the hall and worked on it, too.

After: It's so shiny I can see my reflection!
There are a lot of homemade recipes for brass cleaners, but I decided to use salt and vinegar. The ingredients are cheap, and I had everything in the house. I started by soaking the plates in a bowl of vinegar, then combined equal parts salt, white flour, and vinegar to form a paste. With my fingers, I applied the paste and let it sit for thirty minutes, rinsed them thoroughly, then dried them. There were a couple of small spot that didn't come off, but the majority of the tarnish was gone; the covers were bright and shiny. To prevent more tarnish, I used a bit of car wax. and was pleasantly surprised to remove even more dirt.

I rehung both covers, then admired the way the looked on the walls. I also admired the extra half square foot of my kitchen table that's now empty.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My First Day

Yesterday I went to the first event, a team meeting, for my new job as a Customer Service representative at a mall. Including the supervisor, there are six people on the team. It's a mix of ages, but I'm one of the older ones. There's a few college students, and a couple people who also have full-time jobs. They all seem very nice.

Today was the first day of training--daytime for those available, and after work for the others. I had to be there at 9:30, and despite giving myself twice as much time as I though I needed, thanks to an ill-timed rainstorm and resulting traffic jam I was almost late. Fortunately, I didn't have trouble finding a parking spot that early in the morning and walked in with a couple of minutes to spare.

One of the things Customer Service does is sell mall gift certificates, so everyone had to be trained in the proper procedures. The training is computer-based, and there was only one computer available, so one person could do it at a time. I volunteered to go first, and they set the computer up in a back room.

I'm not sure if it was because of my location, but The. Program. Downloaded. Very. Slowly. I could have gone for coffee and come back before it was finished. Even after it had downloaded there were problems. Every few slides the program would freeze. Sometimes for a few seconds, and sometimes for a minute. It made for a very frustrating experience. Finally, I got though it and joined the rest of the group for a short HR presentation.

After that I was free to leave. They were going to try to move the computer to a different location so another person could start their training. I wished them good luck as I walked away.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I Am The Luckiest Person In The World

Hurrah, whoopee, yay! Huzza, hurray! I have a job!

You might remember that a couple of weeks ago I went on an interview for a part time Customer Service position at one of the area malls. I left the interview with an application to fill out, faxed it back, and didn't think any more about it.

When the phone rang a week ago and someone asked for me with a mangled pronunciation of my name, I thought it was a phone solicitor. Turns out it was the HR office of the company, offering me a position contingent on passing their screenings.

I knew there wasn't anything that would cause me to fail, but I didn't tell people, not wanting to jinx things. Everything went well, though; today I have a meeting with my new supervisor, a team meet and greet tomorrow, and training starting Monday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Audio Walking

We're having a nice reprieve from our normal humid summer weather here. At 8:00 in the morning the temperature was 66°. It was sunny, and there was a light breeze blowing--too nice to go to the gym! I had to return some clothes I'd bought earlier in the week, so I decided to go to a park close to the store and walk there first.

The other day I found a CD a friend had made for me. It was a recording of a session she had led at a convention almost a year ago. When she gave it to me, I kept meaning to listen to it, but I wanted to do it in one session and never seemed to have the time. Then, it got misplaced in a pile of stuff until I unearthed it last week during a kitchen cleaning. If I'm walking by myself, I like to listen to something, so today I decided to pull out my old personal CD player and listen to the session while I walked.

I've had my "no name" CD player for quite a few years. It got a lot of use when I first got it, but I've since moved on to newer and nicer music delivery systems. The player was waiting for me in the coat closet, right where I thought it would be. Because it's too big to fit in a pocket, I usually carry it in a shoulder bag that Tony brought back from a business trip many years ago. The bag has a strap long enough that I can sling it over my chest, so my hands are free. I got the player out so I could check the batteries, and saw a sticker on the bottom that proudly proclaimed that the unit was manufactured in September 2004. The foam on the headphones (which were probably about the same vintage) was coming off, so I decided to substitute the ear buds I use with my MP3 player at the gym.

When I was using the player on a regular basis, I figured out that the buttons were easy to push...TOO easy. Inside a bag, the slightest bump would cause it to move to the next song, so I always used a case. Enclosed in a nylon and foam padded sheath, the player was bulkier, but protected.

I got to the park and got ready to go, putting the CD in the player, the player in the case, and the case in the bag. I reached in and hit the PLAY button, then started walking. This park has trails meandering all throughout it, as well as paths that veer off to nearby neighborhoods. There were a lot of people taking advantage of the nice weather: pairs of walkers, young mothers with baby strollers, and children were all using the park.

I walked and listened, not keeping track of the time, until I realized I was getting tired. When I checked the clock, I realized I'd been at it for a little over an hour! I went back to the car and got in, still listening to my CD, and drove the short distance to the store. When I got there, I sat in the parking lot until I'd reached the end.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hooray For Me!

It took me almost three and a half years, but today I'm celebrating a milestone.  I've written 1,000 blog posts!

I started on January 6, 2008 at Kathy at 49. As a way to get pumped up for turning 50, every day for a year I did something I've never done before and documented my progress. When I finished that Thing A Day project, I switched over to this blog. Six hundred twenty-seven posts later, here I am.

Shall I go for a thousand more?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Summer Solstice!

Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. However, if you want to get specific, the Solstice is the exact moment when the North Pole of the Earth is most inclined toward the Sun during its 365 day orbit (at an angle of 23° 26'). That moment happened at 12:16 PM in St. Louis.

What to do to celebrate the beginning of the summer season? I envisioned finding a beautiful sunny spot and raising a glass of iced tea in honor of the solstice. However, nature had other ideas. Today I woke up to lightening, thunder, and rain. An hour later, the precipitation was gone, but the sky was still gloomy, and I kept hearing severe thunderstorm warnings for different parts of the area.

As the morning wore on, I still had hopes that the weather would miraculously clear up, but after lunch I gave up and decided to go shopping to update my summer wardrobe. I made three different stops. As I came out of the last store, I checked the time. It was 12:15--exactly one minute before the official start of summer. In honor of the event, I did a quick dance to the soft-pop music coming out of the speakers above the door, then looked around to make sure no one had seen me before I walked to the car.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dear Old Dad

The U.S. Census Bureau does more than just count the number of people who live in the country. They're a collector of all sorts of demographic information, and they share that information with everyone.  A couple of dozen times a year, they put together Facts for Features, collections of statistics from their demographic and economic subject areas. Father's Day is one of their observances; here are some of their interesting tidbits:
  • The estimated number of fathers in the United States is 70.1 million
  • In 2010 there were 1.8 million single fathers; 15 percent of single parents were men.
  • As of 2008, there were 8,111 men’s clothing stores, 16,010 hardware stores, and 22,116 sporting goods stores around the country
  • The estimated number of stay-at-home dads in 2010 was 154,000.
  • In spring 2005, the percentage of preschoolers regularly cared for by their father during their mother’s working hours was 16 percent.
  • The percentage of children younger than 6 who ate breakfast with their father every day in 2006 was 53 percent, and those who ate dinner together every day was 71 percent. (The corresponding percentages who ate with their mother were 58 percent and 80 percent.)
  • Six percent of children ages 3 to 5 were read to by their fathers each week in 2006.
  • Sixty-six percent of children younger than 6 were praised three or more times a day by their fathers.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tea For Way More Than Two

I'm attending an all-day meeting tomorrow for about 150 people. For lunch they're serving sandwiches, assorted side dishes and salads, iced tea, and lemonade. I volunteered to make the tea, because I figured it would be an easy job...I didn't stop to think how much I'd need for that many people!

After resolving a couple of issues, today was tea-making day. Eight gallons ready to go.

Years ago I used to make sun tea, filling an empty milk jug with water, adding tea bags, and then setting it on the deck for a couple of hours. However, somewhere along the line scientists proclaimed that sun tea is bad, because the sun doesn't get the water hot enough to kill any lurking bacterial nasties.

I had a problem coming up with containers to hold that much tea. When the boys all lived at home, we went through 4 or 5 gallons of milk every week, and it would have been easy to save enough, Since now it's just Tony and me, we drink substantially less. Fortunately Tony had four two-gallon jugs left over from a project. I washed them well and lined them up on the counter, waiting to be filled.

Since I couldn't use the sun's power, I had to make the tea with boiling water. My stock pot, which is the biggest one I have, would only hold two gallons of water. In order to keep the project from taking all night, I made each two-gallon batch double strength. After it had steeped, I poured it into two jugs, then added an equal amount of water. I let them cool a bit, then slid them into the refrigerator, where they took up all the extra room on the milk shelf.

I repeated the process a second time, emptying and removing a refrigerator shelf so the containers could fit. There are jugs of iced tea everywhere, but only till tomorrow morning. After breakfast they'll get moved to my car along with the other things I'm taking.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brush And Roll

Since I'm not working, I'm trying to tackle one big house project every week. This week's activity was painting the living room.

I can't remember when the living room was last painted, but it's been quite a few years. Back then, I coordinated the paint color with the existing couch, then purchased a harmonizing floral material for window treatments (board-mounted pennant three-point valances with tassels on the bottom of each point) and accent pillows.

I realized a couple of months ago that the walls were looking tired. However, I regularly get compliments on the valances, so I didn't want to change them. Back in the fall I painted the kitchen. Shortly after that I had a revelation--the khaki color I used there would coordinate with the living room! I bought a gallon of the paint and waited for time to do the job.

The project ended up taking chunks of four different days. Monday I cleaned the walls, then (since the new color was substantially different than the old) I primed them. Tuesday I painted. Wednesday and today I did the trim work (it needed two coats). I forgot to take a picture before things got taken out, but here's the room ready for its makeover:

Fortunately, it was nice enough that I could open up the windows to get rid of the paint smell. Pepper appointed himself my assistant. He was quite peeved when I asked him to move so I could work there:

Did you notice the room's crown moulding in the first picture? It's beautiful, but a pain to paint, because I'm not good at detail work. I went to the hardware store and bought a good trim brush, which made a difference. Even though I had to do two coats, I painted the crown moulding, door frames, and baseboards without getting any white semi-gloss paint on the wall which is huge for me.

The room is getting there:

Here's the finished product, sans artwork. I need to decide which pieces will make the grade:

When I was done I was glad to throw my painting clothes in the washer. After this project, I think it will be a while before I use them again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

Your Presence Is Requested

Back when I applied for unemployment, I was told I might be required to report in person every four weeks at a state Career Center (aka Unemployment Office).

I'd lost track of how long ago I started my claim, so I was surprised when I got a notice last Wednesday telling me to report sometime this week during business hours. I also got a second envelope containing a form letter telling me I had been "selected to receive special reemployment services to help you find work more quickly". The requirements for this were more stringent; they gave me a specific date (today) to show up at an office about a half hour from my house.

I thought I'd take care of my obligations in the morning, so I left the house after I thought rush hour was over. The radio was announcing there was a Severe Thunderstorm warning in effect for my city, but the storm was heading in a different direction than I was so I didn't worry about it. I brought a book to read while I waited and a list of errands for the way home.

The Career Center takes up one corner of a large strip mall. I parked the car, then followed a steady steam of people going in and got at the end of the registration line. When I reached the receptionist, she asked for my Social Security number, then pointed to a row of computers and told me to pick one, fill out the information on the screen, and wait. Within a few minutes an employee came and told me to have a seat at a table, where someone would be with me soon.

I barely had time to get out my book when I heard a woman calling my name. It was time for the Reemployment Services orientation. We walked back to her cube, where pictures of cute animals were plastered all over the walls. I asked her what criteria they used to select people for this program, and she told me I'd been "profiled" because of some key word in my work history. We chatted while she set me up in the system, then she printed out some paperwork for me to sign. She told me about the training seminars that are available, and asked if I had any questions before she sent me on my way.

I get to have one of these sessions every time I report to the Career Center. Lucky me!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You'll Never View Vacuuming The Same Way Again

Tony and I share the housekeeping jobs. According to the calendar, this week is my turn to vacuum. (He has bathroom duty.) When it's hot outside, I usually work up a sweat doing the chore, but today that wasn't a problem; our record-setting high temperatures broke yesterday, so we turned off the air conditioner and opened up the windows to air things out.

When I'm vacuuming, I do it the same way and follow the same route. I'm left handed, so I grab the vacuum handle in my left hand, and hold the cord out of the way with my right. I start in the family room, vacuum my way around the couches and tables, then move to the living room and clean it. Next, I get the stairs, ending up on the second floor. After doing the upstairs hall, I shift to the master bedroom to finish. Sometimes I vacuum the boys' empty bedrooms, sometimes I don't.

Today, though, when I got to the first table, I decided it was easier to switch my hands and push with my right arm than to walk around to the other side. Much to my surprise, the vacuum cleaner was hard to push! I didn't know I had a dominant arm. Once I realized that my left side must be stronger than my right, I decided to complete the job using my non-dominant hand.

At first it felt really awkward, but after a couple minutes I got a good rhythm going, using a back and forth motion to cover the entire room. The job took longer, but when I was finished, I felt like I'd had a workout.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


These G-rated gems came from a friend:
  • Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant looks at them and says, "I'm sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
  • Two boll weevils grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and never amounted to much. The second one, naturally, became known as the lesser of two weevils.
  • Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, but when they lit a fire in the craft, it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it, too.
  • A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to the bar and announces: "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."
  • Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? He wanted to transcend dental medication.
  • A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."
  • A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."
  • These friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.
  • Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him ....what? A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
  • And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Que Sera, Sera

At this point in my job hunting process, I'm being a little picky and only applying for things that sound interesting.  I must be doing something right, though, because last week I got a phone call from the HR department of a company, asking me if I'd like to schedule an interview for a part time position they were trying to fill.  Yesterday I went.

The job is working at the Customer Service desk at an area mall.  This mall isn't the one that's closest to my house, but it's a fun place to go to.  In addition to the chains you see everywhere, it has several "one of a kind" stores.  It also has several good restaurants, and a nice movie theater.  I pop in there every couple of months when I'm in the area.

Unlike my first interview, I didn't spend a whole lot of time researching for this one...whatever will be, will be.  After lunch I started to get ready.  I only have one good interview outfit: a black suit, red silk shirt, and fake diamond studs, but since I'm meeting different people every time, it doesn't matter.  As soon as I put on the pantyhose I started sweating, so I treated myself first class and turned the air conditioner down a couple of degrees. I t wouldn't be good to show up smelling of BO!

The dress shoes I bought at Easter were completely comfortable in the store, but after a few wearings they've stretched out and I have trouble keeping them on.  But as long as I walk slow I can make it work.  My hair always knows when I want it to look good, so right on cue it went haywire.  When I pulled the crown section back, the right side flipped up strangely, and I couldn't get the top to lay smooth.  After I did my best to make myself presentable, I said goodbye to the cats and got in the car.

I thought a little mall reconnaissance might be in order for this interview, so I left the house extra early.   It was harder than I thought to find a parking spot on a Wednesday afternoon.  Maybe a lot of people were beating the heat by shopping?  I spent my extra time strolling around both levels of the mall, and stopping in a few stores to browse.   I felt way overdressed compared to the other shoppers I saw.

The people doing the hiring for this job were from out of town, so the interview took place at a seating area outside one of the mall stores.  My directions were to call the interviewer shortly before my appointment to get more precise directions.  However, I hadn't realized that the store had two openings into the mall, so I wasn't sure which one to be at. I picked the wrong one to call from, but it only took me a a couple of minutes to get to the right place.  I found the interviewer and her assistant tucked underneath a flight of stairs in the mall's center court.

After introductions we sat down and she pulled my resume off the top of an inch-thick pile to refer to.   It was a very quick interview.  She asked me about my people and computer technology skills, but not much about my previous experience.  I felt good that I was able to use some of the information I'd gathered during my mall walking during the interview.

The job sounds like it could be fun, and the pay is decent, so I was happy when she handed me an application at the end of the interview and asked me to fill it out and fax it back to her office.  The stack of applications was almost as big as the stack of resumes, though, so I'm not getting my hopes up just yet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

This Is Why I'm Spending All My Time Inside...

We're having a double-barreled combination of record breaking high temperatures and a massive cicada invasion.

(Make sure you turn up the volume so you can appreciate what we've been hearing for the last few days!)

Monday, June 6, 2011


Every week it seems like there's a story on the news about some company that's had their computer system hacked, and recently several Facebook friends have had their email accounts compromised. They had to walk away from them and set up new ones. Not something I want to deal with!

I have a couple of passwords (and variations on them) that I regularly use for computer stuff. One is for less-important things, like corporate Websites, and another is for places that need more security, like email accounts. However, I suspected all of them could be improved, so today I checked mine with the Microsoft Password Checker. They failed big time, but I've improved them by following some suggestions about creating strong passwords.

Did you know that effective passwords should be at least 14 characters? They should also use a variety of character types and should not be a word found in a dictionary. A password needs to be long and complicated enough to protect you, but not so complicated that you'll forget it.

The article I used had a handy chart that listed one way to create strong passwords, along with examples which I found very helpful:
  • To start, think of something meaningful to you, and put it into a sentence or two--about ten words total. They used Long and complex passwords are safest.
  • Turn the sentence into a row of letters, using the first letter of each word--lacpasikms (10 characters)
  • To add complexity, make half of the letters uppercase--lACpAsIKMs (10 characters), then add length with numbers by putting two numbers that are meaningful to you in the middle--lACpAs56IKMs (12 characters).
  • Last, add length with punctuation and symbols--?lACpAs56IKMs" (14 characters)
After a bit of experimentation I came up with a strange-looking password combination that looked like it would be quite secure, but I was afraid to use it. What if I forgot what it was? However, I practiced it a couple of times and I think I'm starting to remember it. Just in case, though, I'm going to change things over gradually. The old ones have lasted this long, so I don't think a couple more days are going to matter.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Climb High

When I was a kid I lived in a subdivision that didn't have any big trees, so I never got the chance to climb, but after today I can cross the activity off my list. I participated in a beginning recreational tree climbing course, and got to ascend into the canopy of a white oak that was more than 100 years old!

The class was organized by Jon Richards with Vertical Voyages, coordinated with Ginkgo Adventures, a local outfitting company that we've backpacked with before. When I got the invitation I quickly signed up and put it on the calendar, then forgot about it until I got a reminder email a couple of days ago telling me to wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and bring water and an open mind.

The class was held at a camp about a half hour from my house. I thought I was going to be early, but some road construction and a detour left me scrambling, and I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes late. The rest of the group, a dozen people of varying ages, was already there. Jon led us back into the wooded area, where he'd laid out his equipment on a picnic table. After everyone signed the necessary waivers, he explained what we'd be doing, then everyone got their equipment (an arborist saddle with leg loops and a band that attached around the waist all hooked together with a carabiner, and a hard hat) and we moved over to the tree.

Jon explained we would be using a doubled-rope technique. He had already looped ropes over branches in the tree canopy, using a rope sleeve called a cambium saver to protect the tree. He demonstrated the climbing system, then everyone moved to a rope and waited to get attached. However, Jon had miscalculated and hadn't set up enough; I didn't have a rope! He solved the problem by letting me use "his" rope, which had a slightly different single-rope system. Soon my saddle was attached to the rope. Jon pulled all the slack out, and I was sitting slightly off the ground, feet dangling in the air. I learned that climbing a tree this way takes a combination of arm and leg strength. There's an ascender that's attached to the saddle, and a long loop of rope for a foot loop. First you stand in the footloop while advancing the rope attached to the saddle, then sit in the saddle and advance the foot loop.

I soon got in rhythm of climbing, and I was able to chat with the people that were close to me. As I worked on ascending, I looked up and noticed that my rope was on the highest branch. There was no way I was going to get up there! I stopped for a while and sat in my saddle just looking around. However, from the ground Jon pointed out that there was a branch jutting out two thirds of the way up that I could get to, and I decided to make that my goal. When I got close to the branch things got challenging. It was in the way of my rope, and I had to push away from the trunk with my feet so I could manipulate the ascender. The last few feet were really tough, but I made it! I swung my leg over the branch, then sat for a few minutes admiring the view.

When it was time to come down, I took the rope out of the ascender, pulled the handle up, and slowly rappelled to the ground. As he did for everyone, Jon was below me guiding the rope and making sure everything went well. When my feet hit the ground, I realized just how hard I'd been working; it took me a few minutes to unhook myself because my arms were shaking. I had a tiny cut on my knee from scrambling up on the branch, and when I took off my hard hat my hair was matted from the heat.

I wore my badges proudly as I walked back to my car. I earned them.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Clear Choice

This morning I'd planned to mow the lawn instead of going to the gym, but when I woke up the grass was wet, and the forecast called for clouds and a chance of rain. Instead of being disappointed, I took advantage of the gloomy weather to wash the windows, a job that was long past due.

We have a LOT of windows in the house...31 to be exact. There are six in the kitchen, five in the family room, and two each in the living and dining room. Upstairs, there are five in the master bedroom, two in the master bath, two in each of the bigger bedrooms, and one in the fourth. Then there's the decorative window on the second story that looks into the foyer, two in the finished part of the basement and two typical basement windows in the office. There's also some glass that isn't in windows. Several of the doors have glass inserts, and the front entrance has sidelight windows on either side. Oh, and there's the skylight in the kitchen ceiling.

Our house is a typical two story, but since it has a walkout basement, the back windows are in effect on the third floor. Some of the windows are easy to get to--you can stand on the deck and wash the kitchen windows or walk out to the front porch to do the living room and dining room ones. A few of the windows take a bit more work--if you climb out a front bedroom window you can stand on the porch roof and clean. (The roof has a slight slope, but as long as you pay attention to what you're doing it's ok.) The rest of the windows? It takes a ladder bigger than anything we have, or the ability to sit on the windowsill with your legs inside and your body outside. Not a job for wimps!

I cleaned the main level windows back in the fall, but the others hadn't been touched in more than a year. The first step was to assemble my tools: a bucket of water with glass cleaner, a rag to wash with, a stack of old newspaper for drying, a trash can to hold the used newspaper, and a step stool. I find the best glass cleaner has a splash of ammonia in it, so I probably lost a bit of "green" cred, but following the recipe on the ammonia bottle my mixture also included alcohol and a squirt of dish soap.

When I wash windows, I usually complete both sides in one room before I move on. However, with the chance of rain today I decided to change things up and do all the outsides first. I removed the screens and stacked them to one side, then washed the windows and dried them with newspaper. Yesterday I skinned the knuckle of my left thumb, and I wasn't looking forward to dunking it in glass cleaner all morning. I solved the problem by cleaning with the wet rag in my right hand, and using a sheet of newspaper in my left hand to dry. My hands soon looked like this:

It took me about 90 minutes to do the exterior of all the windows. After a lunch break it was time to start on the inside panes. All of our windows have faux plastic muntins to make them look like they have several panes. They're a pain to get off and on, but the easiest way to wash the windows is to remove the muntins. It didn't take long before stacks of plastic muntins stood next to the screens.

The window interiors only took an hour. The only gymnastics involved in this part are at the windows over the sink in the kitchen, where you have to be careful not to step in the sink or hit your head on the light that's hanging overhead. While I was cleaning the insides of the windows, I got a chance to look out. I noticed that my neighbor across the street has a beautiful swath of yellow day lilies in her back yard, and the cicadas were really flying around the tops of our trees.

Soon every one of the windows (and the glass in all the doors) was shiny clean. I even climbed out the master bathroom window and dumped some soapy water on the kitchen skylight. But I couldn't put dirty muntins on the clean windows! I filled up the bathtub with soapy water, dumped the muntins in and swished them around, then carried the dripping pieces to the shower and rinsed them off. After they dried a bit, I moved them to stacks in the master bedroom according to their size.

You know how one cleaning project leads to another...everything else was pristine, so I decided the screens needed to be cleaned, too. I followed the same bathtub and shower procedure. The screens were bigger, though, and I ended up splashing water all over myself. By the time the job was finished I was damp from top to bottom, but everything was done.

I reassembled everything, then looked at the clock and realized my gym-substitute project had taken almost seven hours. My legs were tired, my back was sore, and I needed a shower. I think tomorrow I'll find a nice sedentary project to do.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cook, Eat, Freeze

Today was Big Cooking day at Casa Kathy.

The cooking actually began last night, when I started some pulled pork in the crock pot before I went to bed. I've used the original recipe (which came from Joe Bonwich at the Post-Dispatch) before, but this time I tweaked it a bit. I added two cloves of garlic along with the other ingredients, and instead of following the recipe's cooking directions I cooked it on low all night. When I came downstairs this morning, I was greeted by the wonderful smell of cooked pork. After breakfast I took the meat out of the crock pot, removed the fat, then shredded it and threw the meat into the refrigerator. For tonight's dinner, all I have to do is heat it up with barbecue sauce. The roast was almost four pounds, so I'll be able to freeze the leftovers in meal-sized portions for easy eats down the road.

Before I left to run errands and go to the gym, I started a loaf of bread in the bread machine to go with the meat. Thirty minutes after I got home the bread machine beeped, telling me that a perfect loaf was ready. Bread's easier to slice after it's cooled for a few hours, so I'll do that right before we eat. Of course two people will only eat a portion of the bread, so I'll throw the rest in the freezer for later on.

After lunch, I made a double batch of carrot-ginger muffins. Halfway through the job, I realized that turning on the oven on a hot day was a mistake. It heated up the entire kitchen, but after I sampled one of the muffins I realized it was worth it. Now we'll have a week's worth of breakfasts and snacks waiting for us in the freezer.

My last project was to make stock. I put the pork juices (along with vegetable peelings I've been accumulating in the freezer) in a stock pot and simmered them for a couple of hours. I strained the juice and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Later tonight I'll skim off the fat, then pour the liquid into several containers that I can store in the freezer to use down the line.

One dishwasher load, three sinks of hand washables, and several dishtowels later the work was done. I think I deserve a rest, don't you?
Make-ahead roast pork (serves 12-16)

Pork shoulder or Boston pork roast, approximately 4 pounds
3 cups water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 medium onions, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/2 t black pepper
BBQ sauce to taste (I used an 18-oz bottle, and served more at the table)

Add all ingredients to crock pot. Cook on High for 4 hours, then reduce the heat to Low and cook for 3-4 more hours (or cook on Low for 9-10 hours). When meat is tender, take roast out of crock pot. Remove fat and shred with forks, or chop into small pieces. Reheat in BBQ sauce of your choice.