Monday, July 30, 2012

Birthday Bash 2012

Our family's completed another successful Birthday Bash, celebrating all our summer birthdays.  This one, though, had a twist.  Instead of having it at our house, the different parts of the family came together for two nights at a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks.  It was the best weekend I've had in a long time.

The Lake is about two hours from the St. Louis area, and 30 minutes from Columbia where Son Brian and DIL Nicole live.  Condo check in was 4:00 and our car (containing me, Hubby Tony, and Sons Tony and Donald) was there shortly after that.  By 4:30 everyone was together.  Over the course of the weekend we did lots of eating and talking, and a little shopping and Olympics viewing,   We also spent Saturday morning on the lake, playing on the pontoon boat Son Tony had rented.

We were at the boat rental facility at 10:00.  After signing waivers, the attendant walked us down the dock to our boat.  Tony took charge driving, and soon had the boat out in the main channel of the lake.  We sat on the comfy boat seats while he meandered in and out of arms of the lake.  Then it was time for activity, because Tony had also rented a tube.  We attached it to the pole on the back of the boat, and everyone got a couple of turns being pulled:

I'm ready for my ride!

At noon we stopped and ate the lunch we'd brought, then jumped for a swim. I found out that foam pool noodles work great in lakes, too:

All too soon our rental period was up and it was time to return the boat.  It sounds like everyone had a great time, and we may have started a new family tradition!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Whose Room Is It?

Tonight the family will begin assembling for our annual "Birthday Bash" weekend.  There are three birthdays in June and July, so a couple of years when the boys started moving out of the area and "home" was a long car ride or plane trip away we decided to celebrate them all together.  

Son Tony will arrive from Phoenix tonight and sleep in the room he grew up in. One problem, though.  Pepper the Cat now considers that bed his.  Every morning when I get up I find him sprawled out next to the pillows, and after he eats in the afternoon he goes back and stays there until he hears dinner being put on the table.

I know Son Tony likes the cats, but they make him sneeze.  We've had a cat in the house the whole time Tony was growing up.  He didn't have any problems as a youngster, but after his first semester of college he came back home and found he was allergic to cats. When he comes I make sure the room he sleeps in is de-haired as much as possible.  And make sure there's allergy medicine in the house.

Today when I got home from work I ran my hand over the part of the bed that Pepper likes to lay on.  When I was done the gray hair that had been spread in a smooth layer over the bed had turned into a large wad, which I threw away.  I removed the bedspread to carry it down to the laundry room.  Pepper was standing in the doorway waiting for me to get done so he could get on the bed and start his mid-afternoon nap.  He didn't understand why I nudged him out into the hallway and closed the door behind me.  He followed me down the stairs with a sad look in his eyes and took a post in the kitchen where he could watch what I was doing.

I put the spread into the washer, and moved it to the dryer when the washer stopped.  I stopped the drying cycle several times, both to untangle the large spread so it would dry evenly, but also to clean large quantities of lint and cat hair out the lint filter.

After dinner I carried the vacuum cleaner up to the second floor.  Pepper was sitting on the steps; he followed me up and tried to escape the vacuum (which he hates) by running into his room, but of course the door was closed so he doubled back down the steps and disappeared.  He was nowhere to be seen when I carried the freshly-cleaned spread back up to the bedroom.

Tony will keep the door closed while he's staying in the house.  Based on past experience, it won't take long after the room is vacated for Pepper to re-claim it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Same, But Different

Sometime last week I was walking though the yard barefoot and felt something stick in the bottom of my foot. When I got back inside I took a look at it, didn’t see anything, and promptly forgot all about it.

Monday night the bottom of my foot started hurting, but just occasionally. Yesterday the “occasionally” got more frequent so I took a look at the sole of my foot. Along the outside edge, halfway between the toes and heel was a small, red, callused spot with a black dot in the middle of it. I obviously had a thorn or tiny splinter there.  I tried to dig it out myself, but that didn't do anything but make it hurt more. I gave up and went to bed. When I got up this morning the area didn't hurt…until I walked on it. Rather than continue to walk around in pain, I decided to go to an urgent care center and have it looked at.

Our health insurance plan is pretty restrictive on in-network urgent care facilities. The one I decided to use was a good portion of the way to work, so even though I didn’t have to clock in at the mall Customer Service desk until after lunch I figured it wouldn’t be worth it to come back home afterwards. I left the house wearing my black work pants, but since the weather was already steamy and I wanted keep my work shirt fresh, I put on a tee and hung the dress shirt in the car.

I hate waiting in rooms full of sick people, so when I arrived at the urgent care and saw there were no cars out front I was optimistic, and thrilled when I got inside and there was no one else in the waiting area. Fifteen minutes after I walked in I was chatting with the doctor. To get the best view of my foot he had me lay face-down on the examination table. He scraped away the callus, then squeezed the offending area until a tiny piece of thorn came out. After he showed it to me he cleaned the wound, put a bandage on it, and told me to sit in the waiting area while he completed the paperwork. Forty minutes after I pulled into the parking lot I was getting into my car to leave.

Because I got out of the urgent care so fast I had almost two hours to kill before my shift started. I didn’t feel like running errands because I’d have to get in and out of my car in the heat, so I decided to drive to a close-by mall that wasn't the one I work at and mall walk.

I had to fit in lunch before my shift, so by time got to the mall and parked I only had a half-hour. I walked from one end to the other on the top floor, then took the escalator downstairs to repeat the process. In the center of the first floor I saw the Customer Service desk, and stopped to talk to my counterpart. I told her who I was and we had a nice chat comparing our two malls…we have stores they don’t, and they have a couple of places that I get a lot of requests for. I left when another customer came up, because when I'm on the inside of the desk I don't like to chit-chat when someone is waiting for an answer to a question.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pardon My French...

The temperatures of 98 on Sunday, 106 on Monday, and 105 today have made me quite crabby.  All I can say is... - The heat index is somewhere between OMG and WTF

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Scent-sational Garlic

Last week I got an email from Saleem's West (a Lebanese restaurant I've eaten at several times) telling me that tonight a crew from the Travel Channel would be there filming for an episode of Food Paradise about garlic.  I've never watched that particular show, but thought it would be fun to eat dinner at Saleem's tonight and check out the action.

Hubby Tony and I arrived at the restaurant a little after six, and there was a big sign on the door stating that if we didn't want to be filmed we should NOT enter. The bar area was filled with people, but I was pleasantly surprised that we didn't have to wait for a table. We were seated in the center of the main room, right behind where Simon Hanna (the restaurant's chef) was being interviewed. His back was to us, and an operator was behind a large camera on a tripod facing him.

The hostess placed our menus at two of the four seats at the table and we sat down. Five minutes later one of the video crew came over apologetically and asked me to move to the other side of the table;  I was blocking the view of the dining room behind me.

I'm sure the restaurant was expecting a big crowd for the special event, so they were only serving a limited menu.  There were a few appetizers available (in addition to roasted garlic heads with pita bread, which were on the house), a couple of salads, and a choice of four entrees.

Tony and I both ordered a “Bloody Miracle”, basically a Bloody Mary with fresh-pressed garlic on top, and heads of roasted garlic. Both were very good.

For dinner I chose the Falafel-Tabouli Combo. One side of my plate contained five small falafel patties on a bed of lettuce with tahini sauce, the other side held the tabouli salad, and there was a large serving of rice in the middle. Tony ordered Chicken Sharwarma. His char-broiled chicken was topped with onion, parsley, lettuce, tomato, and tahini dressing and came with a scoop of the same rice.  For dessert we shared a small square of baklava (the only option available, but the one I probably would have chosen anyway.)

Halfway through dinner another one of the the camera crew came to our table and asked us to sign a release form.  At the bottom, he'd hand-written a description of what we were wearing (I guess so he could match up the paperwork with the faces on the video).

As we were waiting for our check Middle Eastern music began playing over the speakers and a belly dancer came out from the bar area. She worked the dining room, using finger cymbals, a sheer veil, and a sword balanced on top of her head.  The entire performance was captured on video.  We left before the advertised garlic eating contest, but I'm sure that got shot, too.

The Garlic show will air sometime in October.  I'll definitely be looking for it!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It Might Be...It Could Be...

We haven't had any precipitation for weeks, and the area is EXTREMELY dry.  For farming purposes, the entire state has been declared a disaster area. The weather forecast has included a chance of pop-up showers for the past few days, but we never got lucky. Until last night, when we won the rain lottery.

Shortly after 9:00 I heard a strange sound outside. When it happened a second, then third time, I realized it was thunder in the distance. Nothing came of it.  A short time later I heard another clap of thunder, and then rain hitting the roof. The shower only lasted a few minutes, and stopped as quickly as it started. Later in the evening as I was getting into bed I heard more thunder, and intense rain started coming down. This time it lasted for about ten minutes. According to the official record we got .75".

In the scheme of things our "win" was like getting a dollar on a scratcher ticket, but even the little bit of water was nice. This morning the plants on the deck and in the garden glistened with droplets, and the grass looked just a little bit greener. There's another chance of rain in the area today, and I'm selfish enough to hope that it hits my neighborhood again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is It Hot In Here, Or Is It Just Me?

A middle-aged woman in the middle of a hot flash is the perfect setup for a joke.  Until you're the butt of the joke.

For the past six months I've been having occasional problem with hot flashes, but the last two weeks they've kicked into high gear and I'm miserable!  If you're a woman of a certain age, you know the drill. You're minding your own business, and suddenly there's a wave of heat rushing through you.  Your face feels like it's on fire, and the sweating causes your clothes to stick to your body. As quickly as it comes, the feeling passes. Until the next time.

I know the flashes will eventually go away, but that could be months or years from now.  In  the meantime, I researched what I could do to help alleviate them.  Some suggestions:
  • Cut back on coffee.  I only drink one with breakfast, and very occasionally a second in the afternoon. Don't know if I want to decrease that.
  • Make dietary changes.  My diet already has lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The only thing I might want to do is add soy-rich foods; some Websites said that's helpful.
  • Make wardrobe changes.  Friends who have been through this have told me that clothes that don't constrict are good, and loose cotton clothes are the best because they absorb moisture. I can't do much about my work uniform (long sleeved white shirt, black pants, and closed-toe shoes), but at home I'm all about the t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.
  • Avoid "heated” situations.  I keep the temperature comfortably cool in the house, and run the ceiling fan in the bedroom at night.  At home, I could take a cool shower for instant relief. If I'm not at home, I should try to avoid hot places. (This made me laugh.  That would be impossible during a normal St. Louis summer, let alone the record-breaking hot one we've been having!  I guess it could be a goal, though.)
  • Use vitamins and herbal remedies.  There are multiple suggestions on the Internet, all saying they're the "best". When I was at the grocery store this morning I perused their pharmacy section. They had several products on the shelf, but they weren't cheap.  If I could find the right remedy I wouldn't  mind spending the money, but I don't want to buy something that isn't going to work
That's where you, dear reader, come in.  If you've been through hot flashes and lived to tell (or know someone who has and have an idea) please leave me a comment and let me know what worked for you.  PLEASE?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Art By Day, Magic By Night"

Over Memorial Day weekend the Missouri Botanical Garden opened a temporary exhibit called Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night.  It's been on our calendar since then, but yesterday Hubby Tony and I finally got around to going.

After seeing it, all I can say is Wow!

When I think of a Chinese lantern, it's small, round, hanging, and paper. The 26 elaborate, larger than life Festival lanterns were works of art which took a team of Chinese artisans two months to construct from silk and steel rods.  They were installed throughout the front half of the garden and wired so they'd glow at night.

We arrived while the sun was still out, which gave us a chance to see most of the lanterns in their "natural" state.  Each portrays an aspect of Chinese culture, history and tradition.  Here's one of the pandas (nestled into a grove of bamboo) from the Panda Paradise:

At 8:00, after everything was lit, we revisited the lanterns.  The change was astounding:

There's no way I could pick a favorite display, but I loved these 10-foot-tall Terracotta Army warriors that stood outside one of the entrances...

and the three-story-tall Heavenly Temple was breathtaking! 

Several lanterns were composed of creatively materials with silk accents. Tiny glass medicine bottles filled with colored water were tied together to create the Qilin, a mythical part dragon, part lion hoofed creature.

Approximately 4,600 recycled plastic water bottles formed the Sail Boat installation.  (They'll be appropriately recycled after the Festival is over.)

The Porcelain Dragons were created from 40,000 individual blue-and-white pieces of porcelain dishware, which were hand-tied together with kite string.

Tony and I had a great time.  There was only one problem with the display--it was very crowded. It was hard to walk from place to place, and hard to get up close.  By the end of the night people were getting a little crabby, but the tiny negatives were far outweighed by the fabulousness of the event.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Course Of Action

The last few Septembers Hubby Tony and I have made a road trip to Columbia Missouri for the Roots n Blues n BBQ festival.  We've always attended half of the two-day festival, leaving our house early Saturday morning, and dropping our things at Son Brian and DIL Nicole's house when we get into town.  After watching a good chunk of the music (alternating between the multiple stages) at the end of the night we go back to their house to sleep. Sunday morning we eat breakfast, then leave.

This year is going to be different, though.  We'll be getting into town late Friday night and getting up early Saturday morning.  I think every festival/fair/community celebration now has an opportunity to be active, and the Roots n Blues  is no exception. Saturday morning they're offering a half-marathon run and a 10K. Last month Nicole said that she and Brian were doing the longer route, and she pointed out that anyone who participated got a free ticket to the festival. Might Tony and I want to join in and tackle the shorter one?

I didn't agree immediately, but also didn't say no.  Neither Tony or I run, but Nicole assured us that there were people who walked the route. We thought about it for several days, discussed whether we could do it (10K is a little over 6 miles), and decided to give it a try.  We're all registered; now I just have to get ready for it.

I used to be more active, going to the gym for an hour a day four or five days a week, but over the past three years my work schedule and inertia have gotten me out of the habit. Tony and I do walk several times a week, but our regular route is a little over two miles. If I tried to triple that overnight I don't think I'd be able to move the next day!

This month I'm trying to walk four miles on a regular basis. Next month I'll aim for five, and by late September (I hope) I'll be managing the complete amount with ease.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pain In The Neck

I have a variety of annoying body aches that stay under control if I see the chiropractor to get adjusted on a regular basis, so this morning I had an appointment for a "tune up". However, today I had a more pressing reason to go in. My neck hurts. I suspect it might be related to the fact that for the last week I've woken up in the middle of the night and found Pepper the cat sharing my pillow.

This is a new position for him. His usual spot is at the foot of the bed by Hubby Tony's legs, so I was surprised. And annoyed. Each night has followed a similar pattern-I get up and go to the bathroom and when I come back I move around enough that Pepper gets annoyed and leaves.

Last night was different, though; I woke up as he was settling himself down around me, but was too tired to do much about it. I did push him out of the way before I rolled over and went back to sleep. Some time later I got up for the trip to the bathroom. When I came back I noticed Pepper was stretched out across the top of my pillow with his front legs and back legs perpendicular to his body. My head must have been resting completely within those legs. No WONDER my neck hurts! I picked Pepper up, moved him to the foot of the bed, and told him to leave me along. As far as I know, he did.

The chiropractor suggested my neck ache might have more to do with the lower back pain I've had for two weeks than the cat and his new sleeping place,but I'm not completely convinced. Over the years I've learned that the cats start doing something new for no apparent reason and then stop just as randomly as they started. Even if Pepper's not part of my muscular problems, I hope he finds somewhere else to sleep soon. This new habit of his is getting old!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

With A Banjo On My Knee

The other day I turned on the radio in the middle of a song and when I heard the distinctive voice I immediately knew the singer was Neil Young.

The song was Oh! Susanna. Yes, the Stephen Foster standard performed like I've never heard it before

I think I have a new favorite song of the month.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Add A Little Irish To Your Game--UPDATED

Yesterday I told you about my efforts to keep my ripe tomatoes away from the squirrels and harvest them myself. I cut up a bar of Irish Spring-style soap and threw it on the ground around the plants.

Tonight after dinner I harvested five cherry tomatoes, which doubles what I've gotten all season.  One was perfectly ripe, and the others were close enough; they'll be ready tomorrow. (I also saw two green fruits laying on the ground where something knocked them off, but I'm preferring to look on the positive side.) My guess is that the soap will work just as well as any of the other measures I've tried. Maybe I should swap the remedies out on a regular basis, and keep the critters guessing.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Add A Little Irish To Your Game

It's tomato season. Or at least it should be.

I've harvested a fair number of cherry tomatoes, and I've been keeping an eye on several full-sized fruits. Last week I harvested one of them, but over the past few days the still quite green tomatoes have been mysteriously disappearing from the vine.

The other day I saw a squirrel scampering off with a suspicious-looking green orb in it's mouth, so I think I know where they're going. Since the weather's been record setting here (yesterday it was 108º, and the 10th consecutive day with a high temperature over 100º). I almost felt sorry for the squirrel. Almost. Then I got angry.

I've tried quite a few homemade animal deterrents in the garden, with mixed success. Yesterday when I was out running errands there was a garden show on the radio. The host mentioned the smell of Irish Spring soap puts off a lot of animals. Hubby Tony uses generic Irish Spring. I came home, cut up a bar of soap, and threw it around the tomato and pepper plants. We got a nice rain last night and this morning when I checked some of the smaller slivers had melted, but there were still quite a few chunks laying on the ground.

I HOPE this works. It doesn't seem fair that I'm doing all the work and not reaping any of the benefits, does it?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sew It Then Throw It

Last month I replaced the duvet cover and pillow shams in my bedroom.  The finished product looked nice, but I knew I wanted some throw pillow to accent it.

I started hunting in the thrift shops for decorative pillows to recover.  It took me a couple of weeks to find what I was looking for, but I finally hit the jackpot; two perfectly new pillow forms.  My find was a win all around.  Since they were just forms with no "pretty" cover they cost less, and because the form was covered with a cheap poly/cotton material, I didn't have to worry about any background colors bleeding though.

I made my covers from part of a vintage white cotton sheet I found last time I cleaned out the linen closet.  The old material was sturdy, and soft from years of use.  Since I'd cut the original king-sized cover down to fit my full-sized bed there were scraps of leftover material, which I used to cut strips.  I folded in the raw edges and formed the finished strips into squares, which I sewed onto the pillows like a frame.

I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out.

Jackson had to get in on the action

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sweltering Stroll

I normally work on Wednesday, but since today was the Fourth of July the boss scheduled someone else for my shift. However, I forgot to turn off the alarm, so this morning it still went off at 6:30.  At first I was irritated, but by the time I woke up enough to tell Tony to hit the off button (the clock's on his side of the bed) I figured out if I got up I could get an early start on the day.

We're still in the middle of a heat wave. The forecast today was for a high of 103°, so I decided the first thing I was going to do was take a walk while it was still "only" 80°.  Since I knew I'd be a puddle of sweat when I got done, I put on yesterday's shorts and shirt, then found my shoes and socks.  Tony decided to join me, and fifteen minutes after we were groaning about the alarm's buzzing we were walking out the front door.

In this weather, there's no way to completely avoid the heat. The air was already sticky, and after just a couple of blocks my shirt was sticking to my back and I was wiping sweat off my face.  The last thing I'd done before leaving was grab the (already filled) water bottle from my car.  After being in the garage the water was quite tepid, but it was better than nothing. Tony and I shared swigs as we went along.

It hasn't rained here in weeks, and that's taking a toll on the vegetation.  As I walked by yards I could tell which had irrigation systems on timers, because they looked fresh, green, and wet. Other yards had sprinklers going, and I took the opportunity to walk through all of them.  I also changed sides of the street a couple of times to take advantage of the shade.

We walked for three miles and got back to the house almost an hour after we left.  I was hot, tired, and ready for coffee.  And the air conditioner.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Long Term Happiness

It was too hot to go outside so I sat on the family room couch and browsed the Internet, jumping randomly from page to page.  After a while I ended up at Paul's Tips, subtitled What I've learned about life and how it can help you!

The site was a fascinating collection of articles about how to live better, such as "The Meaning of Life", "Understand the True Nature of Reality", and the one that really struck me tonight "Six Things Likely to Make You Happier in the Long-Term".

According to Paul, building up these areas in our life will increase our general satisfaction:
  • Being involved in a loving relationship
  • Being in good health
  • Having satisfying employment
  • Being financially independent
  • Having a good social life, and
  • Having a sense of purpose
None of these are earth-shattering concepts, but it was nice to have a reminder.  I found Paul's Website tonight by happenstance, but I suspect I'll be headed back soon, and the next time it won't be by accident.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Feeding Finches Revisited

A little over a month ago I retired my big bird feeder and purchased a nyjer sack feeder, which was nothing more than a mesh bag with a drawstring top.  I wanted to get a nicer, more substantial feeder, but didn't see what I was looking for at the first store and wanted to look around.

In the meantime, I was optimistic that the birds would find the new feeder after a couple of days.  It didn't happen.  Day after day the sack hung from the shepherd's hook on the deck. After a couple of weeks I found the sack ripped off the drawstring and lying on the ground. (Squirrels aren't supposed to like nyjer seed, but I wonder...)

Even after the feeder broke it took a while for this project to get to the top of the To Do list again, but last Saturday Hubby Tony and I went to Sappington Garden Shop and purchased a "Mini Magnum Nyjer Screen Feeder".  I liked the fact that it was made out of metal and the oversized top cover would help keep the seed fresh and dry.

The feeder looks big in the picture, but it's only about twelve inches high and five inches in diameter.  I brought it home, filled it halfway with seed, and waited for the birds to come.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Yesterday morning, a week after I'd hung it, I saw something moving by the feeder.  I looked more closely, and there was a small brown bird sitting in the tray, picking seeds out of the mesh cylinder.  I think it was a finch, but it flew away before I could get a good look at it.

Since then I've seen birds at the feeder a couple of times, so I hope the word is getting out that there's a new source of food in the neighborhood!