Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy Herbs

This afternoon I was shopping at a small Middle Eastern market near my house.  After I gathered the things on my list I wandered over to the produce section to see what was there.  The only thing that caught my eye today was the cilantro.  This store always have the best price on the herb; the bunches are cheaper and twice as large as the ones at the grocery store down the block.  Even though I didn't have a specific use for it, two bunches jumped into my shopping bag...a whole dollar's worth!

 There's no way I'll use up all that cilantro before it goes bad, and I hate to waste food.  I chopped and froze one of the bunches to use in cooked dishes, but that still left one bunch.

Like most herbs, cilantro's really best when it's fresh.  I used to have a problem with fresh herbs going bad before someone told me they'd last much longer if I'd treat them like cut flowers. It sounded crazy, but I tried it and it really works!

It's easy to do. The first step is to snip off the bottom of the stems. (I throw them in my freezer stock bag.) Next, fill a glass with a couple of inches of water and place the stem ends of the herbs into the water in the jar. Cover them loosely with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Change the water after every couple of days or if the water starts to discolor.

Using this method, I've had fresh herbs last for more than a week.  That's plenty of time to make a Mexican dinner.  Or Indian.  Or maybe Vietnamese.  I wonder if I'll be making another trip to an ethnic grocery store?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Make It Easy

Following our family tradition, the extended family celebrated Christmas at our house.  I had to work on the morning of Christmas Eve, so I planned an easy dinner.  The main dish was a spiral-cut ham.  I asked Hubby Tony and each of the kids to be in charge of a dish--cole slaw, a veggie tray with two types of dips, a bread tray, and desserts.  I made pans of macaroni and cheese and Baked Brown Rice.  It was easy to put the pans in the oven; all I had to do is remember to take them out at the right time!

1 1/2 cups brown rice, medium or short grain
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish.

Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I received a call today at the mall Customer Service desk from an elderly woman asking for the number for our Discovery Channel store.  She explained she'd received one of their electronic chess games for a Christmas present and had a question about it.  I had to break the news to her that we don't have that store, nor does any other mall in town.

The woman started laughing and guessed that the person who'd given it to her must have had the game in their closet for a while or had received it and regifted it. I suggested that perhaps it had been ordered online (a process which seemed foreign to her), but she was positive she was correct. The woman was a good sport about the whole thing, and thanked me before she hung up.  Her biggest concern seemed to be how to write a thank you note that wouldn't reveal she knew the background of the present.

Later in the day I was curious, so I went to the Discovery Channel Website and searched for "chess". There were no matching results.  According to Wikipedia, the Discovery Channel closed all its retail stores in 2007.

The woman WAS right!

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Guess You're Never Too Old

Our church has two Masses on Christmas Eve--4:00 and 6:00.  Traditionally we've gone to the later one, but this year the kids had left on a road trip and were returning to the house mid-evening, so Hubby Tony and I decided to go at 4.

I knew the Mass was very popular.  On a normal Sunday we allow 15 minutes to get to church.  Today we doubled that, and still didn't get a seat.  Tony and I stood immediately behind the last pew in the center right section.  By the time the priest walked down the aisle there were people standing six and seven deep along the back wall, and lines snaked down the side aisles.   Right before Mass started a seat opened up immediately in front of me and I grabbed it.  Tony could have squeezed in, too, but he chose to continue standing.

During the opening hymn I observed the people in the pew in front of me, and decided it held several generations of one family.  There was an older woman (the matriarch) in the center of the group, surrounded by the family groups of her children, their spouses, and grandchildren ranging in age from teens to babies.  The youngest baby was being passed up and down the row, but she eventually ended up directly in front of me; I couldn't help but smile at her until I realized I was paying more attention to her than I was to the sermon and stopped.

Later, while the collection was being taken, most of the people in front of me were singing.  However, one of the adult children (who looked to be about my age) was holding an extended conversation with his spouse.  After several minutes,  his mom turned his way and gave him a withering stare.  At first he didn't notice, but when the stare continued she got his attention; he stopped talking and grabbed a hymnal.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Poem For The First Day Of Winter

Winter Dark

Winter dark comes early
mixing afternoon
and night.
there's a comma of a moon,

and each street light
along the
puts its period
to the end of day.

a neon sign
punctuates the
dark with a bright blinking
exclamation mark!

Lilian Moore

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Case

The past few days have been a flurry of activity because the Christmas holiday begins at our house tonight when the first of the boys arrives at the airport.  Between now and the big day they'll rotate in and out, spending time with the parentals and each other. While they're here every bedroom will be filled.

Last night I finished the last of the wrapping.  There will be a couple of bulky presents under our tree this year. I hate using massive amounts of wrapping paper for large boxes.  The past few years I've solved the problem by making bags out of fabric or using pillowcases from the thrift store. There was one present, though, that was the wrong size for anything I had on hand.  It only takes a few minutes to sew a bag if you have material that doesn't ravel.  I didn't.  I added "go to Goodwill and find pillowcase to hold big present" to my list of errands.

Goodwill didn't have much on the racks, and I didn't have time to check the other thrift stores in the area, so I settled on a warm brown-colored case, hoping I had some ribbon I could tie around it that would make it look Christmasy.

A couple of weeks ago when the weather got cold I got out the flannel sheets. However, I didn't have enough for all the beds.  Yesterday I purchased an inexpensive set, washed them, and this morning I put them on the bed.  I think they look appropriately masculine, don't you?

The only problem with twin sheet sets is they only come with one pillow case, and there are two pillows on the bed.  The extra pillow had been encased with a blue case which coordinated with the  bright green, yellow, and blue striped percale sheets.  Even by my low decorating standards it wouldn't work with the new set, but the case I'd bought earlier in the day would.  Problem solved.  (Can you see it peeking out from behind the flannel?)

So what did I wrap the gift in?  A pillowcase from the bottom of my linen drawer.  It doesn't look remotely holidayish, but as long as there's a present in there I don't think the recipient will mind too much.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Covers Allowed

My post at the mall Customer Service desk gives me a front row seat to a piped-in music Christmas concert, which starts the moment I come in from the parking garage and ends when I walk out at the end of the day.

I hear a lot of holiday tunes, but I NEVER get tired of this one.  (Only this original version, though.  No covers.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's On Us

On Friday Hubby Tony and I had made tentative plans to meet at the gym after he got off work. In the middle of the afternoon, though, I decided that there'd be no workout for me.  I had some vague cold-like symptoms and a nap sounded like a better plan.

I relayed the information to Tony, and encouraged him to go to the gym anyway.  His normal time to get home came and went, and I was pleased that he'd decided to take care of himself.  When he got home I asked him how his workout was.  He had a sheepish look on his face, and said he had a story to tell me.

Instead of going to the gym, he'd worked a little later and went to Kohl's to do some Christmas shopping.  He made his purchase, then ran into a friend and spent a few minutes talking.  On the way out of the store, he was stopped by an official-looking person who asked him a few questions, then told Tony "your purchase is on us today."


I vaguely remembered hearing about the Kohl's Dream Receipts Sweepstakes on the radio. They're picking one shopper at random every day in every Kohl’s store, and Tony was our local store's lucky winner for the day.  In addition to refunding the money he'd spent, the store also gave him a $10 gift card to give to someone else.  He chose me; I have a good idea what I'm going to do with my little bonus.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Five Star Day

I read my horoscope in the newspaper every day while I'm eating breakfast, but don't take it seriously. This morning, though, I was pleased to see that I was slated to have a five-star day!  The horoscope said:
"In the morning you could have a case of the lazies or seem a bit passive.  By midafternoon, you'll start acting like the Energizer bunny, and few can hop as fast as you.  What you initially had resisted doing becomes a piece of cake." (Jacqueline Bigar)
I needed that bit of positive information with my cup of coffee. This week the mall I work at started its extended holiday hours.  My alarm's been going off at 5:30, an hour earlier than normal.  I wake up, shower, and eat breakfast in the dark.  Because I'm getting up so early, every evening I'm exhausted and falling asleep on the couch before 9:00.

The day did begin slowly.  My shift today started at 8:30, which meant I was on the road in the thick of the morning rush hour.  When I got to the interstate I inched along.  The traffic was so annoying I got off one exit early and drove on surface streets until I got to the mall.  To add insult to injury, I had the sun in my eyes most of the trip.

I set the Customer Service desk up for the day, then spent the time before the mall opened walking around and seeing which stores had updated their displays since yesterday.  Some days I enjoy walking in the mall, but today wasn't one of them. My back ached, my feet hurt, and I had a headache.  I returned to the desk just in time to turn on the lights and wait for the first customer to arrive.

The regular pace of the Customer Service desk has been ramping up; in early November we'd sell three or four gift cards a day.  Now it's more like 60 or 70 each day, and rising. Although many orders are just for one or two cards, there are also the people who want to get eight, nine, or ten--one for each of their children's teachers, or everyone in their office.

I answered a few questions before the first person came and asked about gift cards, but after that there was a steady stream of orders.  I don't know if my horoscope was actually coming true or it had turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I was moving through the people with ease.  There's a rhythm to selling large quantities of gift cards.  Swipe the card in the reader, load it, then set it to one side.  Swipe the customer's charge card and while you're waiting for the receipt write the amount on the back of the card and the sleeve. Assemble everything while the receipt is being signed then hand the order to the customer.  All the while making small talk.

There's usually only one person working at the desk at a time, but during the holidays two people are scheduled.  My co-worker and I helped each other out, which made the time go even faster.  Before I knew it my shift was over and it was time to clock out.  I didn't exactly hop to my car, but since I don't have to work for a few days there was certainly a spring in my step as I left the mall.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Merry Christmas To Me

Our house rule has always been that you shouldn't buy yourself anything in December, but last week I splurged on some new seasonal dishes for the house.

Amazingly, it coordinates with every plate color

With all the extra eating we do around the holidays we never have enough plates (and I get tired of continually washing things up).  Several years ago I purchased some country-blue-and-maroon-snowflake-embellished salad plates that coordinated with the stoneware we had at the time. However, last Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a set of Fiestaware as a gift. We continued to use the snowflake plates for the rest of the holiday, but they didn't exactly match the new plates.  When I saw the Christmas Tree pattern Fiestaware I decided to upgrade.

I now have eight embellished salad plates and eight solid color larger ones.  Hopefully that's enough.  If not, we can always use the bread plates...

Sunday, December 9, 2012


When I picked up the co-op produce basket on Friday, it had one item I wasn't familiar with--persimmons.  The four squat fruits at the bottom of the basket had shiny skin and resembled orange tomatoes with large calyx leaves attached to the top.  Before we could eat it some research was in order.

There was lots of great information at the Websites and Foods. I found out that persimmons are native to China. They spread to Japan centuries ago and were introduced to California during the middle of nineteenth century.  The fruit is low in calories, and a good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, and antioxidants.  There are two types of persimmons:
  • Those with astringent fruit (hachiyas), which are high in tannins and extremely tart until they're fully ripe.  They are elongated and oval shaped, and are commonly peeled and pureed into a pulp to add to baked goods.
  • Those with non-astringent fruits (fuyus), which are lower in tannins, have flat bottoms and a squat shape. The skin of fuyus can be eaten or peeled.
Based on these descriptions, I decided I'd received fuyus.  Now that I knew what I had, I needed to figure out what to do with it.  I found a great article on WikiHow called How to Eat a Persimmon.

After dinner tonight we tried persimmon for dessert.  I figured the exotic fruit would take a lot of work to prepare, but it couldn't have been easier.  I washed it, cut off the top, sliced it into chunks, then served it.  Even though the peel is edible, we decided it was a little too tough, so we scraped the flesh off with our teeth and threw the skin on a plate.

With the first bite of persimmon I was hooked! The fruit tasted similar to a mango, but had a different consistency.  We finished off one, then cut up a second one.  Then a third.  When we were done there was a huge pile of skin on the plate and not much else.  Tony graciously offered me the one remaining persimmon, which should taste great in my morning yogurt.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Hubby Tony and I were close to the University City Loop at dinner time, so we made our way to Cheese-ology, St. Louis' gourmet macaroni and cheese restaurant.  Yep, a restaurant dedicated to mac and cheese.  They offer more than a dozen choices ranging from basic to sophisticated, along with a vegan option. Three salads, a couple of desserts, and drinks round out the menu.

It can be hard to find a parking place in The Loop on a Saturday night, but we were lucky and only had to walk a couple of blocks.  When we got up to the counter the friendly cashier answered our questions and took our order when we'd finally made up our minds.  I chose the Mediterranean (with mozzarella and goat cheese, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives). and Tony got The Hill (provel cheese, salsiccia, and a layer of marinara on top).  We also ordered a large spinach salad to share.  They asked if we wanted our mac and cheese with or without breadcrumbs on top, which I thought was a nice touch.   After we paid we got a number and took a seat at one of the metal tables in the small eating area

 It only took a couple of minutes for the salad to arrive. The combination of fresh baby spinach, dried cranberries, walnuts, and bleu cheese topped with raspberry vinaigrette dressing was tasty, and it didn't take long for us to polish it off.  Five minutes later the main courses were brought out in small cast iron skillets with red handle covers.  Thank goodness, because otherwise they would have been too hot to touch.

I thoroughly enjoyed my entree.  The large chunks of sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and olives were mixed in with the tasty cheeses.  It wasn't oozing with sauce, but there was enough.   The bread crumbs on top added a nice crunch.  As much as I liked my food, though, I liked Tony's even better.  It tasted just like a St. Louis-style pizza, with the distinctive taste of provel. His dish had more sauce in it, and when he was done I scraped the sides of his pan to get the last of the gooey sauce.

Nothing like a good meal of comfort food on a chilly almost-winter night!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Basket Of Produce

A while back Hubby Tony told me he overheard a couple of his coworkers talking about the food they get from a co-op.  It sounded like an interesting concept, so I asked him to get more information. He did.  Based on that information, last week I placed an order.  Today I picked it up.

The St. Louis Area Community Helpings Coop operates in St. Louis and the Metro East area over the river in Illinois.  They have a nice system; there are no contracts or long term commitments, and you only participate when it's convenient.  There's a delivery every 2 weeks at more than 60 different locations.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a location about two miles from the house.

All of the ordering is done online.  I chose their Produce Basket, which was advertised as "50% Fruits, 50% Vegetables, 100% healthy and delicious".  They use PayPal, so I was comfortable paying for it online.  Not long after I submitted my order I received a confirmation email, and the next day I got another email telling me what was going to be in the basket and giving me some recipe ideas.

All week I've been looking forward to the pickup.  At the appointed time I was at the delivery location with a laundry basket to carry my things home.  I wasn't sure where to go, but when I saw a large refrigerated truck in the parking lot I figured I was in the right place.  There were about a dozen other people there, many of them with school aged children.

Because this is a co-op, everyone pitched in to help sort and distribute the food.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but the process was easy.  Small cards containing numbers were laid on the sidewalk, and every order was assigned a number.  If the person was there they set their box or bag down, otherwise the items were piled on the sidewalk. Each person claimed an item (mine was a box of green peppers) and dropped the appropriate amount at each number.  It was a little chaotic, but 15 minutes later everything was distributed.  I picked up my overflowing basket and headed for the car.

For the next two weeks, we'll be eating our way through Braeburn apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple, persimmons, green peppers, romaine lettuce, baby carrots, Napa cabbage, broccoli, grape tomatoes, baby portabello mushrooms, and bi-color corn.  The original list had a couple of things that weren't delivered, but I know I'll find a use for the dozen brown eggs they substituted.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


This is the view from my kitchen window:

My tradition of putting Christmas lights on the deck goes back quite a few years.  While Hubby Tony is busy doing the front of the house, I take care of the back.  The colorful bulbs provide a bit of holiday cheer every night when I'm fixing dinner.

Over the years I've come up with a good system for putting up these lights.  I start at the farthest point from the deck door and wind them around the top rail until I reach the stairs at the other end.  Next, I attach an outdoor extension cord to the end of the lights, pass it under the deck and bring it up by the door, then nestle the cord in a gap in between two deck floor boards until it reached the outlet six feet away.

This year the weather was nice the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I got out the tub of lights and strung them up.  Took me fifteen minutes.  After I got done I realized I had a problem.  We had the deck replaced this summer and the large gap between the floorboards for the extension cord wasn't there any more.  Without that gap it was dangerous; someone could trip over the cord and get hurt.

I went away to ponder alternatives. While I was thinking Hubby Tony came to me with a suggestion.  What would happen if I took the lights down and put them up the opposite way (starting closest to the door and ending at the far end).  Then I could lay the cord on the deck right next to the house.  No one walks there so it wouldn't be in the way.

I decided to try his suggestion.  It took ten minutes to get the lights off, and another twenty to string them back up.  I ran the cord across the deck, then plugged the lights into the timer and the timer into the outlet.  The lights were ready for their big reveal on Thanksgiving.  That night (and every night since then) they've turned themselves on at dusk and off six hours later.

It's little things like this that make me happy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Don't Waste Any Of Your Seconds

Borrowed from my niece's Facebook wall:
You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don't know it, all of that doesn't even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It's not like you have forever, so don't waste any of your seconds, don't throw even one of your moments away.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

This afternoon Hubby Tony and I were coming home from an afternoon event and realized we hadn't figured out anything for dinner.

I started thinking about what was in the house.  There were some sweet potatoes that needed to be used, and I always have canned beans in the pantry.  Put those two together with onion, peppers, a can of tomatoes, and some spices and you have a wonderful pot 'o goodness (and one of my favorite dishes).

When we got home we sprung into action.  I chopped, Tony did the cooking.  Tonight we used proportionately more sweet potatoes (to get rid of them) and less beans.  We used green pepper, not red, and pickled jalapeno instead of fresh.  None of which mattered; this is a very forgiving recipe.  Forty five minutes later we were sitting down to eat.

And the best part?  Lots of leftovers.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili (From The Great American Detox Diet, by Alex Jamieson)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lime, zest and juice of
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained (or 6 cups freshly cooked)
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 lime, cut into wedges (optional -- for garnish)
1 cup chopped cilantro leaf, washed and dried (optional -- for garnish)

1.  Warm the oil in a large pan over medium heat and add the onion, red pepper, garlic, and salt. Saute until soft, about 4 minutes.

2.  Add the sweet potato and lime zest, cook 10-15 minutes more, continuing to stir occasionally.

3.  Add the tomatoes, black beans, jalapeno, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and cocoa; bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.

4.  OR omit the oil, throw everything in a crock pot, and cook on high for 6 hours.

5.  Serve over brown rice with lime wedges and cilantro.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Traditions

The Christmas event season is in full swing, and there's not enough time to do everything.  Today the calendar section of the newspaper's Website listed almost a dozen activities, but we narrowed it down to four; each in a different part of town.  After some discussion, this year Hubby Tony and I picked one that was new to us--the Historic St Charles Christmas Traditions Festival.

St. Charles is just across the Missouri River to the west of St. Louis. It was founded in 1765, and served as the state capitol from 1821-1826. Many of the buildings in the brick-paved historic district historic area date to that time.  The buildings have now been turned into shops and restaurants that attract people all year long, and large crowds come to the area for special events

The weather the past few days has been so unseasonable, it's hard to believe its almost the end of the year.  When we left the house after lunch it was 70 degrees.  I was wearing a tee shirt and jeans.  And Christmas socks, because it's the season.  I also brought along a Christmas applique fleece jacket, just in case it cooled off.  (I ended up carrying it.)

We made a couple of stops before we headed across the river to St. Charles.  The bridge across the Missouri river is down to one span, but traffic wasn't backed up too badly.  However, once we got off the highway traffic was stop and go, and looked like it was backed up all the way to the historic area.  Fortunately we're somewhat familiar with the area so instead of following the line of cars to the east, we drove north for about a mile and found a parking spot a couple of blocks from Main Street where all the action was.

Main Street was packed, and it was hard to walk down the sidewalk.  I wonder if the nice weather brought out extra people?  When I needed to use the bathroom I had to wait in line behind a dozen other ladies before I could take my turn.  I went into a spice shop to buy a couple of things; the shop was so full it was difficult to navigate.

After I finished in that shop we walked across the street and browsed in a bookstore.  When we came out  people were starting to line the streets for the Santa Parade.   We thought about doing the same thing but it would have taken the parade quite a while to reach us, so we set out in the opposite direction.  This area was quieter and the sidewalks were easy to navigate.  We stopped in the building where Santa was holding court, but he'd gone to be in the parade.  However, the storefront had a nice train display with multiple layouts that were fun to watch.

By this time the parade was over, and the sidewalks were getting crowded again.  Tony and I decided to leave.  On the way back to the car, though, we stopped at a church that had a display of gingerbread houses, and got to vote for our favorite.  And use the bathroom again; there was no line at this one.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


My area isn't exactly a melting pot, but it's not unusual to see Muslim women wearing modest dress and covering their hair with a hijab.  Usually when I see them they're shopping or running errands, but today on my way to work I saw a young Muslim woman literally running--jogging down the street.

I was getting ready to leave my subdivision, but I had to wait for several cars to pass by before I could make my turn.  While I waited I noticed the woman on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. Her outfit of a long black skirt, plain black headscarf, and navy hoodie didn't look particularly conducive to her type of exercise, but she was plugging along at a moderate pace covered up from head to toe.

Her skirt was flapping against her ankles as she ran, but it didn't look like she minded.  She was headed in the opposite direction as me, so I lost sight of her after I turned, but based on her rate of speed when she passed me it looked like she was in pretty good shape.  I suspect she kept on going.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Breaking News

News that Hostess products would soon disappear from grocery shelves, and the almost certain layoff of 18,500 employees, has had much of the nation in a tailspin. There has been a hue and cry from the general public, demanding that the government do something about the potential confectionery loss.

A source deep within the current administration has provided confidential information to this writer, requesting only that the name of the source, and the federal agency for which he or she works, will remain anonymous. I have agreed to those terms.

Although no one knows for sure what will happen in mediation, it is known that if mediation fails the case will be sent back to the courts for a judicial decision as to whether the Hostess Company can close its doors FOREVER in bankruptcy.

Should that occur, I am assured that the government will swiftly swing into action as follows:

1. The State Department stands ready to hire all the Twinkies.
2. The Secret Service will hire all of the Ho Hos.
3. The generals within the Department of Defense are already sleeping with the Cupcakes.
4. The voters recently sent all the Ding Dongs to Congress.

So there you go. Never let it be said that your government does not stand by fearlessly, ready to jump into the fray whenever the public demands that it should do so.

~Author Unknown

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I Love A Challenge

(I've kept this post purposefully vague--don't want the recipients to figure it out.)

On Friday we had carryout Chinese for dinner. The clerk didn't put enough fortune cookies in the bag, so Hubby Tony and I shared one.  We received this fortune:

Tony thought that sounded negative, but I figured it could be fun to turn "challenge" into "hunt" as we set out to do the first of the Christmas shopping.

Last week I figured out a great idea for a present; the idea was obscure and might be a challenge to find.  A Google search turned up several potential stores, and yesterday afternoon Tony and I headed towards one of them, a specialty department store.

Traffic was backed up at the light to turn into the parking lot, but once we pulled in it was easy to find a space.  As Tony locked up the car I looked across the parking lot and saw an interesting-looking small store dedicated to selling one type of merchandise.  We decided to check there first.  When we walked in the first thing we saw was an end cap holding a selection of goods for sale.  They didn't have exactly what we were looking for, but there was something that would work. I needed more than one and there weren't enough on the shelf, but the clerk told us he could check with other stores and get more.

I felt compelled to check the original store, but when they didn't have anything close to what we were looking for we walked back across the parking lot and I placed the order.  They'll call me when the it arrives in a week or so.

That challenge was so easy, I'm wondering if we should pick another one!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Early To Rise

I work at a mall.  Take a guess what I did for Black Friday.

By some miracle last year I was off the day after Thanksgiving, but this year we were advised that EVERY Customer Service desk associate would be working today.  The mall officially opened its doors at 6 AM, although many of the stores welcomed customers at midnight.  My shift started at 6:30, and was over five hours later.

When the alarm went off at 4:00 I was NOT ready to roll out of bed.  It hadn't been a restful night.  I had trouble getting to sleep, then woke up when Hubby Tony fed the cats at 10, when he came to bed an hour later,  and again when the kids got home from their Thanksgiving after-party.  In addition, I'd drank too much liquid later in the night, which led to the inevitable result of multiple trips to the bathroom.  Even Pepper the cat was part of the conspiracy. He's very antisocial and had made himself scarce as soon as our Thanksgiving company arrived.  But he decided at 3:00 that he'd like some attention, walking over me until I rolled over to the very edge of the mattress. 

It was cold and dark when I made it down to the kitchen, and so early the newspaper hadn't been delivered yet; there was nothing to read while I ate my breakfast.  I had to navigate a minefield of Thanksgiving leftovers in the refrigerator to get a container of yogurt from the back.  I added fruit and ground flax seed to the yogurt, ate the healthy dish, then followed it up with one of daughter-in-law Nicole's homemade sourdough cinnamon rolls.

I figured traffic wouldn't be a problem on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and I was right.  Getting into the mall's parking area was easy, and I was in the building with 20 minutes to spare.  I spent the time walking around looking at the store displays and watching the people who were crazy enough to come out shopping so early in the morning.

The mall was doing a Black Friday gift-with-purchase promotion, so I spent my shift handing out premiums to shoppers who'd met the requirements.  At first we had a rush of people who'd been waiting for us to open.  That was followed by a lot of dead time, punctuated by short bursts of activity.  About a half hour before the promotion ended people started lining up, and the remainder of the shift was a frenzy of activity.

When I left the mall parking was at a premium, and I had to stop for five different cars who were waiting for someone to vacate a parking space.  The line to get into the mall stretched a couple of blocks on the main street.  I was glad my shift was over and I could go home and take a nap.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Plan Of Attack

For more than 25 years the family has divided up the hosting of the holidays.  Our house is always in charge of Christmas, and all I have to do for Thanksgiving is prepare two dishes and show up.   However, this year is changing slightly.  Last week when I emailed my sister-in-law about the plans, I got this response:
How would you feel if we bring dinner to your house? 
Umm....sure.  The issue is that her house is just too small now that the kids are old enough to have significant others. The past few years we've gathered in the fellowship hall of her church, but that option wasn't available this year.  I talked to Hubby Tony about it, and he agreed.

When I found out I was hosting Thanksgiving I started thinking about the table.  I only have two tablecloths (white and ecru) long enough to cover the dining room table when the leaves are pulled out.  Since I always have the crowd at Christmas, my napkins and accessories are predominantly red and green, which aren't appropriate for a fall holiday.  However, the next day I remembered the rustic woven tablecloth Tony brought home from a business trip to South America in the mid-1980s.  The cream-colored cloth has stripes of brown, yellow, white, and red running down the length.  It's not long enough to cover the large-sized table, but it will look nice on top of the ecru tablecloth.  The family is too big to all fit around the dining room table, so we also need a card table in a corner of the dining room.  That table will get a square white cloth.

I spent last Wednesday morning visiting several thrift stores, looking for napkins.  Some of them are larger than others, but I don't think anyone will notice since Thanksgiving is all about the food. I may do without a centerpiece, or fill a large bowl with apples.  I haven't decided.  Yesterday I polished the silver with Betsy's tip, and discovered an everyday slotted spoon that's been missing since Christmas.  Today I'll pull out the china, do the last-minute cleaning, and prepare my dishes.  (I'm tempted to set the table, but I'm afraid the cats would think it's a great place to take a nap.)

We're not sure exactly how many people will be here.  My nephew's wife is pregnant and due any day, and a great niece has been having some health issues that may keep her and her mom away.  We're nothing if not flexible, though.  No matter what happens, it will be a GREAT Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Random Notes From The Mall Customer Service Desk‏

  • They've been doing maintenance on the parking structure for the last six weeks, blocking off different sections at a time.  The last two weeks have been particularly bad, and I never know where I'll have to park.  The other day I wasn't in my usual place, went out the wrong door, and nearly panicked when I couldn't find my car.  Today I set a reminder on my phone to help me remember.
  • Even though I usually work on Wednesdays, the boss was nice enough to leave me off the schedule for tomorrow without being asked.  How did he know I had a lot to do the day before Thanksgiving?  
  • Based on the piped-in music I heard today, the holiday season has officially started.  Today the tunes alternated between smooth jazz, recognizable instrumental Christmas melodies, and a few holiday tunes with lyrics.  I actually found myself singing along with a couple of them.  Wonder how long it will be before they start to get on my nerves?
  • In the middle of the afternoon a crestfallen-looking woman came up to the desk with her husband and three young children trailing behind. She told me they were from out of town and staying in a hotel with a pool.  She’d packed everyone else’s swim suit but forgotten her own. Since it wasn't exactly swimming season she knew it was a long shot, but could I recommend a store that might sell them? I sent her to Macy’s and told her I’d do a Google search; she could check back if she didn't have luck. Twenty minutes later she returned smiling, told me she’d found a suit, and said I’d saved the trip.
  • Later in the day I glanced over at the seating area next to the desk and noticed a man trying to sleep in one of the low-backed chairs.  His head was stretched back at a 90 degree angle and he looked extremely uncomfortable. Two minutes later when he gave up and came over to ask me what time it was I noticed he had on a uniform shirt from one of the mall’s restaurants. He went back to the chair and tried again, but this time his head kept rolling over to one side. After another five minutes he again asked me what time it was. I felt sorry for him and jokingly asked him if he’d like a wake up call. He said, yes could I make it in ten minutes, and I was awesome! At the appointed time I left the desk and walked over to him.  His eyes immediately popped open.  He got up and stretched, thanked me again, and was on his way.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tastes Like Chicken

Back in September I purchased a Groupon for a new-to-me butcher shop close to my house.  On Friday I finally got around to redeeming it.

It was easy to find the store on the south side of Manchester Road in Ellisville.  I learned that C&C Butcher had opened in July.  The small store had a nice selection of beef, pork, and chicken in display cases (both full service and self serve) and small displays of salads and side dishes, produce, sausage, and cheese. Another display case was devoted to Boar’s Head deli meats and cheeses, and a free standing shelf in the middle of the store held jerky, dried meat sticks, and condiments.

I felt like a kid in a candy shop. It was hard to figure out what to get, but when I saw the large tubs of marinated chicken breasts behind the counter inspiration hit.  I decided to get one of each type (House, Caribbean, Buffalo, and Teriyaki) and suggest that Hubby Tony and Son Donald cook them for dinner on Sunday.

They were agreeable to that plan.

When Donald arrived after lunch today he and his dad got busy planning.  Since the weather was nice they decided to barbecue the chicken and serve it with brown rice and sauteed kale.  The only thing I did was de-stem and chop the kale for Donald when he realized he was running short on time.

I've heard of tastings of wine, coffee, tea, cheese, olive oil, beer, and chocolate, but never chicken.  However, ours tasting turned out to be a hit.  The perfectly barbecued breasts were juicy; the marinade permeated every bite.  As much as I tried, I couldn't pick out a favorite flavor.  Fortunately, there were plenty of leftovers so I'll get to taste everything again.

In addition to chicken breasts, the store also had tubs of marinated steak tips.  I might just have to find out if those are as good as the poultry!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Have Coat Will Walk

If you're a regular reader, you know that over the past few months I've been doing a lot of walking, which has helped me get back in shape.  Now I can walk faster, for longer distances, without feeling tired.  Clothes that were tight are fitting better, and when I bought jeans last week I was able to get a size smaller.

However, now that the weather's turned cold I'm finding excuses not to be outside.  It doesn't help that we're back on Standard Time, so it's dark shortly after dinner.  When I woke up this morning I knew I had a very busy day planned, but I wanted to make sure I got some exercise in.  I figured the best way to do that was to make it the FIRST activity of the day. Even before coffee!

Before I left the bedroom I threw on yesterday's shirt, a pair of lined wind pants, and walking shoes.  I stopped by the kitchen long enough to get a drink of water and my cell phone, then grabbed my winter coat (with gloves already in the pockets), a headband for my ears, and a neck scarf from the hall closet.  When I walked out the door a little before 7 AM it was 30 degrees.

In the morning I'm a real creature of habit, so the change in my morning schedule was just enough to make me feel like I was pulling a fast one.  There weren't many people out, but I did see several cars getting ready to leave, and I had to stop a few times and wait for someone to pull out of a driveway.  When I got to the main street I noticed that rush hour was in full swing, with a long line of cars waiting to turn at a stop light.  I was glad I wasn't one of them.

Fifteen minutes into the walk I got warm enough to loosen the scarf around my neck.  Five minutes later I took it off and put it in the coat pocket.  By the time I got back to the house I was unzipping my coat halfway and pulling off my headband.  Inside, I noticed that I'd worked up a sweat.

In the hot weather it took me a long time to cool off after a walk.  Not today.  I was ready for a shower by the time I hung up all my outerwear and walked upstairs.  Afterward my shower, the rumblings of my stomach made me remember I still needed to eat breakfast and have that cup of coffee.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Bittersweet Song For the Veteran's Day Holiday

This year we have TWO days to honor  veterans.  Yesterday was the actual day, but today is the Federal holiday celebrating Veteran's Day.  Today the banks, stock markets, and government offices will all be closed.

I like the idea of extending the celebration.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Emergency Or Scam?

Have you ever been approached by a stranger who told you they needed money for an emergency? What would you do?

Last week I got an email from the city's police department letting me know about several recent cases of panhandling in the area.  Although each incident varied somewhat in the details, the basic story was always the same--a city resident is in a retail parking lot when a young person approaches him/her crying and states that they need money for an emergency, such as an ill child or needing gas to drive home.

The email stated that if you were approached there's an easy way to deal with the situation without giving the person money. All you have to do is say something like, "I can't help you, but I'll call the police for you." If it's a legitimate emergency they'll welcome police assistance and stick around, but if it's a scam they'll will argue that police are not needed and leave.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Die, Leaves, Die!

Outdoor yard season is almost over for the year, but yesterday I fired up the lawn mower again.  Not for the grass, though; since the weather's been cool it hadn't grown much in a week, but it was time to mulch some leaves!

The trees in our 25-year old subdivision are growing and producing more leaves every year. Our yard has a maple in the strip between the sidewalk and the street.  The neighbors on one side have a maple, and the others a locust.  Our back yard has a redbud tree and a sugar maple.  The hot, dry summer caused the redbud to drop its leaves early, but everything else produced the normal amount, and large sections of the yard were covered with a smooth, even layer of leaves.

Getting rid of the leaves is good for the lawn; if you don't remove the layer of dead matter the lawn will suffocate.  I could take care of that by raking and bagging them, but I mulch them with the lawn mower because I think it's MUCH easier and quicker than raking. And, it's satisfying to watch the dead leaves get cut into tiny pieces, which eventually disappear with no additional work on my part.

I stared in the front yard, mowing across in straight rows.  When I was finished there was a clear demarcation line between our yard and the neighbor's, which was very satisfying. After I finished the front I took care of the small strip to the left between the two houses (where there were no leaves) and moved to the back.

The leaves here were thicker, and mainly concentrated  in an eight foot ring around the maple tree.  The first pass of the mower didn't cut up the leaves completely, so I went back over that part of the lawn again.  The last step was to finish with the strip on the opposite side of the house (which again had no leaves).  I got to the front of the house, turned the mower off, and wheeled it to the garage.

There's still quite a few leaves on the trees so the mowing ins't over yet.  As a matter of fact, when I was putting the lawn mower away I noticed the next layer of leaves had already started to fall.  I'm ready, though.  Bring them on!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Can Never Have Too Much Garlic

Over the summer Hubby Tony and I went to the taping of a Travel Channel show at Saleem's West restaurant. We were told the episode would air this fall, so I kept expecting to hear about the date. However, last week I received an email, which said in part:
Travel Channel is at it AGAIN! They are coming out to re-film. One of the cameras they were using had a malfunction when they uploaded it to the server.
The re-filming was tonight.  Guess where we ate dinner?

Traffic was bad on the way home from work tonight, and it was almost 7:00 by time we got to the restaurant.  Just like last time, there was a sign on the door stating that if you didn't want to be filmed you shouldn't enter--which we ignored.  It was fun to watch the film crew at work while we ate our way through appetizers of roasted garlic and garlic potato dip, entrees of Chicken Safina and Falafel-Tabouli Combo, and Lebanese Ice Cream for dessert.

Although they asked us to sign a release form, I think that if we show up on TV it will just be as part of the background.  I'll still be looking forward to watching the show, though...when it finally airs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Can Get Used To It

Change is always hard.

About a month ago I tried to turn on my computer in the kitchen, and nothing happened. We took it to Bill, our computer guy; his diagnosis was a dead mother board. The computer had been built quite a few years ago (although we'd had it updated and refurbished a couple of times).  In computer terms it was geriatric, and the Windows software was several generations behind, so we decided to get a new computer.

Bill ordered the parts and built the tower for us.  He brought it to the house over the weekend and set it up.  I'm still trying to get used to it.

I was very familiar with the old programs.  The departed computer had the XP versions of Word, Excel, and Outlook. The new system has Office 2010.  My laptop has 2007 versions of some of the software, so I'm not completely unfamiliar with it, but the new Microsoft Outlook is messing with my mind!

The files from the old computer all got transferred but some of the programs did not   Every day I look for something I need and it's not there.  I've already added iTunes and a couple of time-wasting games, but the Quicken and photo software is still MIA.  I'm sure I'll find more.

Learning new things can be stressful, but I'm confident that I'll master this!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Meaning Of Life

On the first day, God created the dog and said, "Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past.  For this I will give you a life span of twenty years."

The dog said, "That's a long time to be barking.  How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?"

And God said that it was good.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said, "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh.  For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span."

The monkey said, "Monkey tricks for twenty years?  That's a pretty long time to perform.  How about I give you back ten like the dog did?"

And God again said that it was good.

On the third day, God created the cow and said, "You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years."

The cow said, "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years.  How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?"

And God agreed it was good.

On the fourth day, God created humans and said, "Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years."

But the human said, "Only twenty years?  Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back?  That makes eighty."

"Okay," said God, "You asked for it."

So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves.  For the next forty years, we slave to support our family.  For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren.  And for the last ten years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

Life has now been explained to you.  There is no need to thank me for this valuable information;  I'm just doing it as a public service.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Customer Is NOT Always Right!

The other day I had an older woman come up to me at the Customer Service desk. She had one of those faces that was hard to date, but she was probably in her late 60s or early 70s, with dull skin that hadn't seen the sun in quite some time and dishwater blonde hair with a few streaks of grey.

She asked me about a particular store. I answered her question. She said it was good that I was here, then leaned in conspiratorially.  I expected her to say something about how nice it was to have the desk available, or how helpful I was, or even how well I knew the mall. But I was flabbergasted when she stated it was BECAUSE I WAS WHITE. Otherwise she wouldn't have stopped.

Although I try to treat everyone with respect, the woman lost mine with her statement.  I wasn't sure what to say, but I guess she didn't need a response. She simply turned around and headed in the direction I’d pointed her.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Whistle A Happy Tune

Keep this surefire solution in mind if you're confronted by Halloween monsters tonight!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mama Needs A New Pair Of Shoes

Last week I retired the work shoes I've worn since I started working at my current job almost 15 months ago.  The black Mary Janes with comfy stretch microfiber tops, removable insoles, and Velcro straps that went with my 'uniform' white shirt and black pants were starting to hurt my feet.  The leather sides didn't look good even after they'd been polished, and the heels were pretty run down.

I was sad to see them go; I have trouble finding shoes that fit and these were some of the most comfortable I've ever worn.  I went to several stores looking for something I liked as well but didn't have any luck.  Last Thursday on my way home from work I stopped at the store where I bought the first pair and got another pair just like them.

The task took less than five minutes.  I didn't have to wait for assistance, and since I knew what style and size I needed the clerk only had to find one shoe box in the back.  I would have been OK just taking them without trying them on, but she insisted, so after I sat down and let her remove my old shoes she slid the new ones on my feet and tightened the straps, then told me to stand up.  When I did I was surprised how much support the new pair had.  The old ones really had worn out.

This pair of shoes was pricy, but I figured comfort is important.  Since I wore the original ones so much I decided to figure out what their "cost per wear" was.  It was hard to remember my schedule from so long ago, but I believe the first few months I worked three shifts a week. Sometime about the beginning of November 2011 my hours changed and I started working four shifts.  Last winter I sometimes swapped out my regular shoes for something that could stand up to sloppy winter weather (so I took a couple of wearings off), but I wore the shoes to a few dressy casual events and took them on vacation (so I added those wearings back on).  By my very rough calculations, those shoes had been on my feet 230 times.

Dividing the price (approximately $110 with tax) by the wearings I discovered the shoe cost per use was 48 cents. At my current rate of pay, in well less than five minutes of work I've made enough to pay for my footwear for the day.

I get a lot of value out of the shoes!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Willow Manor Ball 2012

Today is the fifth annual Willow Manor Ball.  This cyber event of the year always draws a crowd.

When I heard it was a masked ball this year, I knew just who to invite as my date, as he's quite comfortable behind a mask. However, at the last minute he stood me up...something about fighting crime.  He did promise to swing by if he got done early, though.

Without an escort I thought about staying home, but I knew quite a few of my blog friends would be there.  Besides, I already had my dress picked out.  Don't you think the dark red jersey of this Donna Karan gown coordinates well with my escort's mask?

I don't think a dress like this needs a whole lot of bling. In lieu of jewelry, I'm showcasing this gold-plated Harlequin mask covered with Swarovski crystals.

If you've never been to the Willow Manor Ball before, why don't you stop by?  Everyone is invited, and the event lasts for an entire 24 hours.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Signs Of The Season?

 I know some stores set up their Christmas departments last month, but last week a mall walker told me she'd seen trees with white lights in one of the store windows, and she started complaining about how early the decorations were coming out.  I had to agree.

Even though long sleeved shirts, fall sweaters, and coats still fill the majority of the mall's windows, there are signs that the holidays will be here soon.  Some of them are subtle...
  • The mall just announced the hours for the holiday season, starting with Black Friday and going through the end of the year.
  • A few of the women's stores have window displays of glittery festive wear.  
  • A children's store has a prominent arrangement of party dresses right as you walk in. 
  • That white-light tree, which turned out to be more like a spray than a tree, and made out of fiber optics.  (Could be holiday, could not.)
Some of the signs are more explicit...
  • The Hallmark store has nicely-piled stacks of Christmas decorations visible all across the front of the store.
  • One of the anchor stores has large decorated trees adorning the area right inside the entrance from the mall.
  • A second anchor store sports a massive decorated garland around the top of the escalator area.
 I despise the "Christmas Creep", but I know Mall Management won't consult with me.  I know that when I come into work one day after Halloween they'll be starting to put up the mall decorations.  I guess that WILL be the real sign...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Eye In The Sky

On the days that I have to be at work at 9:30 in the morning I’m a creature of habit.  I leave the house at the same time (give or take five minutes). Unless I hear about a traffic problem on the radio I take the same route, and when I get to the mall I wind my way up to the top of the parking garage and park on the right side in the first empty space.

This morning I got there with fifteen minutes to spare. I drove past three other vehicles to get to my space, and noticed there were five cars on the other side of the aisle.  All were empty; in all the months I've been parking there I've never seen any other drivers.

I could have gone inside and played with my phone, or joined the mall walkers, but the weather was nice and I decided to stay outside, figuring if I walked on the top level of the garage no one would see me. After locking my purse in the car I turned to the left and started walking. I stayed next to the chest-high perimeter walls, where I could look down and see the surrounding area from a new angle. Behind the mall was a row of large trees I’d never noticed before, and on the concrete underneath the trees a thick carpet of leaves had fallen. As I walked, I found parking alcoves tucked away in the far corners that I didn't even know were there.

A couple of minutes into my walk I was surprised to see a truck driving towards me.  I figured no one would notice, but hadn't counted on Security.  The mall has vehicles that slowly cruise the parking areas, looking for things and people that are out of place. Since I've NEVER seen the vehicle on the top of the garage in the morning. I suspect they’d detected something on their cameras and were investigating.

I wasn't concerned, because I know all the officers and they know me. When the truck got close enough for me to see who was in there I waved. The officer waved back, and continued on his way.   I'd lost my ambition for walking, though, and decided it was time to go inside.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eating My Way Home

On Tuesday I get off work at five, right in the middle of rush hour.  It doesn't bother me to drive home in the mess, though, because I know Hubby Tony's gotten home first and put dinner (usually leftovers or something that just has to be microwaved) on the table.  This week, though, Tony is away on business, so I could do whatever I wanted.  After I clocked out from the Customer Service desk I went to Macy's and did some shopping, then decided to get something to eat.

When I left the mall parking lot, traffic on the Interstate was still heavy and I decided that instead of fighting it I'd stop at a nearby Whole Foods.  After checking out the options in the Prepared Foods department and salad bar, I decided to treat myself to pizza.  They had a nice selection of regular pies, but in the end I got a miniature pepperoni deep dish one.

On my way out of the store I grabbed a couple of free magazines, then sat in my car with windows rolled down and the radio on and ate.  The pizza was great...good crust, lots of pepperoni, and a nice thick layer of cheese.  It was just enough.  When I was finished I put the pizza box in a trash bag and set the bag on the floor of the passenger seat.

After the pizza was gone I read magazines for a while, then decided it was time to get back on the road.  Instead of using the highway (which would mean turning left out of the parking lot) I decided to go the other way and take Manchester Road for variety.

The traffic was light, but I was driving west and the setting sun was right at eye level;  I started thinking about where I could stop until it went down a little.  And, I was still hungry!  When I was deciding what would complement the pizza I'd had, I recalled a phone call that had come in at work yesterday.  The woman was asking about the mall's restaurants, and asked if we had a Pasta House.  (We don't).   I guess that idea had smoldered in my mind since then, because when I drove past a Pasta House my car automatically turned in.

The Pasta House Co. is a St. Louis restaurant chain that's been around since the 1970s.  They have a lot of great dishes on the menu, but no trip to Pasta House is complete without a bowl of their Special Salad.  If someone tells you they had a "Pasta House" salad you know exactly what they're talking  about...its a tasty combination of iceberg and romaine lettuce, red onion, pimientos, artichoke hearts, and Parmesan tossed in a red wine vinaigrette.

I walked up to the carryout counter and ordered a small salad to go, then asked the cashier how many people came in and ordered just one thing.  She smiled, and said it happened all the time.  It took about five minutes for my order to be ready.  I carried it out to the car, took the lid off the salad, and dug in.  The lettuce was nicely chilled, and there was just enough dressing to coat all the ingredients.  It really hit the spot!  There was also a small brown paper bag that held two dinner rolls, which I saved for tomorrow.  The carryout container and fork joined the pizza box in the trash bag.

By time I polished off the salad it was almost dark.  Again I headed west.  Since I'd already had two courses of a meal, I decided I should finish it off with dessert.  I drove past big box stores and strip malls, but I couldn't find anything that sounded good.  I was almost all the way home before I saw a FroYo frozen yogurt store.  Bingo!

 FroYo is a "by the ounce" store.  You fill a container, add toppings, then take it up to the counter where they weigh the container and tell you how much you owe.  They had a nice selection of flavors, some of which had cute Halloween names,like pomegranate bloodberry sorbert and pumpkin pie potion.  I sampled a few flavors, then chose a sorbet and a traditional yogurt.

For the third time tonight I carried my food out to the car and ate it there.  However, this time it was completely dark.  In order to have enough light to eat by I had to move my car from the spot right in front of the store to a spot halfway down the parking lot next to a street light.  I parked the car, turned off the motor, and dug into my cold, creamy goodness.

When I finished,  I crumbled up the container and threw it in the bag with the remains of my other food.  My trip home had taken three times as long as it usually does, but since there was no one waiting for me that was OK.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Not Traditional, But Still Good!

Earlier in the month I pulled out my tomato plants and was left with a large quantity of bite-sized green tomatoes.  I put them in a bowl on top of the refrigerator, and every couple of days I've been removing the fruits as they turn red.  They make a great addition to my lunch.

There was more than five pounds of green fruit, though, so I also investigated options for cooking with them. Fried green tomatoes are always tasty, but I couldn't figure out a way to do it with my tiny ones.  A Google search turned up recipes for various types of salsa, pickles, and relish, as well as sauces, soups, cakes, and pies sweet and savory.  One interesting idea was to substitute green tomatoes for tomatillos in a stew dish.  The fruits are different species, and have a slightly different texture and taste, but several Websites offered suggestions for minimizing the differences.  I decided to give it a try.

Son Donald was coming today for a Sunday visit. He usually cooks dinner with Hubby Tony, but this morning I sent him a message letting him know he was teaming up with me today to make Chile Verde. We came up with our own recipe, which incorporated the best parts of four different ones. It started with a Boston Butt roast cut into chunks, browned in olive oil, then simmered for two hours in a sauce containing green tomatoes, onions, two types of hot peppers, lots of garlic, cilantro, oregano, and chicken broth.

The finished product, which we served with tortillas, Spanish rice, succotash, and steamed zucchini:

This dish turned out to be a keeper!  We ate until we were full, and there was plenty for leftovers.   As an added bonus, the recipe called for 2 pounds of tomatoes, which turned out to be all the green ones in the bowl (and a couple that were a quarter of the way to ripe). Mission Use Up Green Tomatoes accomplished!

Saturday, October 20, 2012


When I did my original "new thing a day" project in 2008 I kept a spreadsheet with the things I'd done and ideas for others I wanted to do. I completed a good portion of the list before the year was over, but some of the activities had to wait until the time was right. Like today, when Hubby Tony and I navigated our way through a corn maze.

A corn maze is just what it sounds like--a maze cut out of a corn field. Several weeks ago I bought a Groupon for Brookdale Farms that gave us admission to their maze and a couple of launches with a pumpkin slingshot.  Our plan was to go today, but when we woke up in the morning it was gloomy and we second guessed our decision. At lunchtime, though, the sun came out and the sky turned blue. A perfect day for an outdoor adventure.

The farm was in Eureka, about 25 minutes from the house; we took a scenic route and enjoyed the stunning fall colors along the winding roads.  Even though the parking lot was jammed there was no line at the admission booth.  It didn't take us long to turn the Groupon in for wristbands and tickets for the slingshot.

We decided to tackle the maze first.  According to their Website, the corn maze is the largest in St. Louis.  We walked up to the path that had been cut in the middle of the large expanse of corn plants and started our adventure.

It didn't take me long to feel lost.  As we navigated through the maze we turned right every chance we got, but a lot of the turns ended up as dead ends and we had to double back.  There were signs tucked in here and there that helped break the monotony of the corn stalks-and let us know we hadn't walked by that place before.  Some of the signs had educational facts about corn and some of them featured "corn-y" jokes.  We passed quite a few groups of people (several of them more than once). Everyone looked like they were having a good time.

After we finished the maze we took a shuttle bus to the pumpkin slingshot area.  We turned our tickets in and picked our ammunition from a large box of softball-sized pumpkins.   There were two slingshots, and each had several people waiting in line, but I used my waiting time to figure out the most effective way to send the pumpkin flying.  When we got to the front of the line, Tony and I took turns fitting a pumpkin into the pocket, then pulling it back and letting go.  It was very satisfying to watch the small pumpkin arc up and away.  One of the pumpkins we picked had seen better days, and it was cool to watch it break into pieces as it hit the ground.

After we finished shooting our pumpkins we caught the shuttle bus back to the main area.  We got in line for a short hayride, but passed on the pony rides and hay jump.  On the way back to the car we walked through the small petting zoo  where I scratched an inquisitive goat between its horns and crouched down to admire a large rooster.

As we drove out of the parking lot I realized that there are only a few perfect fall days each year, and I was glad I spent this one the way I did.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Turn Left, Turn Right

On my day off today I went to pick up the first of the fundraising calendars for a group I belong to.  The printer we're using is just two miles away from to the mall where I work, and it would have been nice to take care of it yesterday after my shift.  However, you can't do it until the printer says they're ready, so today it was.

After taking care of my morning commitments and meeting Hubby Tony for lunch, I got on the Interstate, drove east, and exited at the same place I always do.  However, at the bottom of the ramp instead of turning left to go to the mall I turned right.  I felt like I was playing hooky--instead of the business casual clothes I wear to work, I had on jeans, tennis shoes, and no makeup.  The skies were predominantly gray, but there were a few patches of sunshine peeking through.  Traffic moved smoothly.  I made every stop light.  There was a series of great songs on the radio, and I sang along as I drove.

At the printers I picked up two boxes of calendars; the group has a meeting tomorrow, and I wanted to have some to distribute.  Next, I drove to a nearby grocery store to get some meat from dinner.  When I was deciding which pork roast to buy my phone buzzed, indicating I had a text.

It was from my boss.  Because of a scheduling snafu the person who was supposed to be there at noon hadn't shown up.  Was I available to come in?  I called his phone, got the voice mail, and told him to call me.  Ten seconds later the call came in.  He repeated his request.

I explained I'd just bought meat that needed to be cooked, so I'd have to decline.  After I hung up, though, I started feeling guilty.  Without backup, he'd be working more than eight hours by himself, with no way to leave the Customer Service desk for lunch or a break.  What if the tables were turned, and I was stuck there?   Besides, it never hurts to beef up the good boss karma.  As I was mulling my decision over, another text came in, this time sent to the entire staff.  Anyone who could get there by 2:00 (effectively working four hours) would be paid for the entire six hour shift.  After a little more thought I decided to save the cooking for the weekend.  I sent a text back to the boss and told him I'd do it.

I drove home, quickly changed my clothes and fed the cats, and retraced my route back towards the mall.  This time, though, the skies were dreary and a sporadic drizzle fell.  I got stuck behind  one slow car after another, and there was nothing good on the radio.  When I got off the highway, I automatically got in the left turn lane and turned towards the mall.  Just like a normal day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Out Of The Gutter

Fall weather is always interesting.  Two weeks ago we turned on the furnace.  Late last week things warmed up and we turned it off, and yesterday it was nice enough to open a few windows.  This afternoon we're supposed to get rain and cooler weather.  Before the inclement weather hit, I decided a little outdoor maintenance was in order.  The main task was the seasonal cleaning of the gutters.

Our neighbors have a locust tree planted outside their front door, and several more surrounding the deck in the back.  After many years, they're now much taller than their two story house. The trees turn a lovely golden yellow at the end of the season, but their compound leaves are a pain to deal with.  When they fall off the tree the tiny leaflets come off the stalk and end up everywhere. For the past few weeks we've been tracking them into the house. They also end up in the gutters, so  every spring and fall I give the easy-to-access gutters a good cleaning.

Our house is a typical two story,  and because of the architecture it's possible to get to the front gutters by climbing out a front bedroom window and sitting down on the porch roof. The roof has a slight slope, but as long as you pay attention to what you're doing it's OK   The gutters on the north side can be accessed by climbing out another bedroom window and using the kitchen roof.  (The back of the house has a walkout basement, so the gutters are effectively three stories up.  I tend to ignore them.)

After breakfast I gathered my supplies...a large plastic kitchen spoon to scoop the leaves into piles and a bucket to hold them.  First stop was the front porch.  I took out the screen from the window, carefully crawled through, then cautiously shuffled over to the edge and squatted down to survey the downspout area.  As I suspected, it was clogged with a large pile of leaflets and a few stalks. Since it hasn't rained in a while the pile was dry and easy to scoop up. I threw the debris into a bucket.

I could see a fine layer of leaves scattered along the length of the gutter, so I stood up and shuffled over to the far end where I carefully used the spoon to gather the leaves into piles for easier removal.   The shingles that overhang the gutters have rough edges and are hard on your hands, but I always forget to bring gloves until I'm up on the roof and it's too late.  I was able to clean about two feet of gutter at a time, then had to scoot over to a new section.  The project took about fifteen minutes, and when I was done the bucket was half full of debris.  I climbed back through the window, closed everything up, and moved to the next area.

The section section of roof isn't as steep, but it's harder to climb out the window.  This bedroom has a casement window with a crank-out sash that's higher and smaller then the other rooms.  I've done it many times before, though, so it only took a couple of minutes before I was outside.  I repeated the cleaning process from one end of the roof to the other, then went inside.  My bucket was now three quarters of the way full.

Even if I wanted to clean the last set of gutters we don't have a ladder tall enough, so all I could do is hope they weren't too dirty.  When I started my job the sun was in and out of the clouds, but by time I finished the wind was picking up and sky was looking pretty grey. I'm glad I remembered to do this project now, and not after it gets cold.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pillow Inspiration

Several months ago I made a new duvet cover for the master bedroom by reducing a King sized one down to to fit my Full bed.  I like the way it turned out, but the light, airy pattern and clear colors didn't look right as the days got shorter and the temperature started dropping.  It was time to find another cover for the bed.

Besides, I always look forward to getting out the silk throw pillow covers we brought home from our trip to China in 2005. They coordinated with the old, departed winter duvet cover; the current one didn't go with them.

The pillow covers became the foundation for a color scheme for the new bedding, which complicated the search.  It was hard enough finding something I liked the first time, but that time my options were wide open.  This second time was really a challenge.  However I enjoy a good hunt so I was up to it.

It took several weeks, but one day I was at the St. Vincent de Paul store and hit the jackpot...a bag containing a duvet cover, shams, and a pair of valences for $10.  Everything had been handmade from a heavy toile fabric (Waverly "Sunset Boulevard", according to the information on the selvidge) and looked like it was in great shape.

I didn't know if Hubby Tony would think the pattern was too feminine.  It had a rosy taupe background with accents of green, dark pink, and brown, and a pattern of pen and ink palm trees, flower bushes, and images of Old Hollywood along with the names of cities in the area.  However, since the green matched the color of the pillow and he'd actually been to many of the cities, he pronounced it acceptable.

According to the label on the bag, the duvet cover was king-sized, so I expected another sewing project.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out they'd mislabeled things, and the cover was the perfect size.

The finished product (along with cat accessory):