Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grind Your Own

Hubby Tony and I are trying to eat healthier. As part of that commitment I'm taking a close look at everything in the pantry. For example, the store-brand peanut butter I buy tastes good, but the second ingredient (after peanuts) is sugar. It also has hydrogenated vegetable oils.  I've also recently learned that peanuts aren't as nutritious as other types of nuts, so I figured we could do better.

Last year I made almond butter, but it was a lot of work. We were doing the grocery shopping today, and one of our stops was Whole Foods. I remembered they had machines in the bulk department where you could make your own nut butters.  I've always walked past them, but today I stopped and ground my own.

There were three different grinders arranged in a row on a counter across from the bulk bins. Each had a clear reservoir that held nuts, a nozzle coming out of the bottom of the machine, and an on/off switch to the left of the nozzle. Underneath the machines was a shelf with plastic containers and lids.

I chose the center machine, which contained almonds.  It was a lot of fun to use. I turned it on, and a heavy stream of ground almonds came out of the nozzle like soft-serve ice cream. As it fell into the container, I noticed that the texture wasn't as smooth as my store-bought variety. I scooped up a little bit with my finger and tasted it.  It was a little grainy, and without ANY added ingredients, a little bland!

Over the last few months I've started eating my peanut butter without jelly.  Until I get used to this new nut butter I might have to add a smear of preserves or a little honey to my next few sandwiches.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rescue Plant

The mall I work at is landscaped, and serviced by, a professional plant company. They do wholesale changes of plants a couple of times a year (giving the areas a different "look"), and swap out individual plants when they get old-looking. Several months ago when the plants were last changed the company added colorful red, pink, and yellow bromeliads along with the basic greenery.

I've become friendly with a few of the people who care for the plants. Yesterday one of the woman came by the Customer Service desk and asked if I wanted one of the bromeliads she'd taken out.  It had a spent bloom, and she was just going to throw it away.  I'm already growing one bromeliad (a pineapple plant), so I decided I was up to the challenge of taking on this new plant.

According to the tag, my new plant was called Guzmania 'Marjan'.  The long, narrow, green leaves were arranged in a rosette that formed a reservoir, with a stalk rising from that. Originally the flower spike was a bright yellow color but now it was brown and dried-out looking.  A few of the leaves had seen better days, too.  I put the plant in the office, then carried it out to the car when my shift was over.  It was two feet tall, and top heavy. I had trouble keeping it upright on the passenger seat floor of my car.

When I got home I brought the plant inside, cut off the flower spike as close to the leaves as I could, then set the pot on the east-facing window seat in the kitchen next to the two orchids that don't spend the summer outside.  Of course the cats had to investigate, but it didn't take them long to pronounce it acceptable.

Technically, I won't be taking care of this plant for very long. Bromeliads only bloom once, and their sole purpose in life after blooming is to grow new plants, called pups, for the next year.  When the pups have developed a small rosette of leaves and are about half the size of the mother plant you can separate them and put each new plant in its own pot.

The tags says my Guzmania needs medium light, moist soil, and an average temperature of 55-80 degrees. That sounds like the requirements for all my plants. This new plant does have one unique care requirement, though. The center of the rosette is supposed to be kept filled with water (ideally  distilled).  I'll do my best to remember to do that. The plant will either thrive, or it can go in the compost pile.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


When Hubby Tony and I made our trip to Columbia Missouri last weekend, we left the house early on Friday so we could see something that's been on my list of attractions to visit for a long time. I can now say I've been to the National Churchill Museum on the campus of Westminster College in Fulton.

Churchill Museum
How, you might ask, did a museum honoring an British statesman come to be opened on the campus of a small liberal arts college in a small town in the middle of Missouri?  It's because in 1946, Winston Churchill delivered his "Sinews of Peace" (also known as the "Iron Curtain" speech) at Westminster, which marked the beginning of the Cold War.

The story of how Churchill came to Fulton is fascinating. He accepted the opportunity to speak because the college president passed the invitation on to a Westminster graduate who worked for President Truman (who was a native of Missouri). Truman added his personal note at the bottom of the invitation offering to introduce Churchill, and it was accepted.

Fulton was only 15 minutes off Interstate 70, and easy to find.  Once we got there I wasn't sure what to look for, but we followed the signs and found the museum complex tucked right into the college campus.  The first thing you see is the Church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, which has an interesting history.  It dates from the 12th century, was destroyed during the Great Fire of London, and redesigned by Christopher Wren.  That building was damaged during the London Blitz of World War II.  In the 1960s it was moved stone by stone and reconstructed on the Westminster campus.

The museum is located beneath the church, and tells the story of Churchill's life.  You walk from room to room, where the information is organized chronologically.  I especially enjoyed the  "Blitz" room; which had background sounds from a London air raid. When we were finished in the museum, we walked up a winding staircase to the church building, which now serves as the College’s chapel. The church's interior features had been beautifully restored.  There was also a nice collection of vestments and related items on display in the back.

When we left the building we stopped by the "Breakthrough" sculpture outside the church, which is formed from eight sections of the Berlin Wall by Edwina Sandys, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill.  In the plaza behind the sculpture there was a student event going on.  A band was setting up, and one of the tents featured life size cardboard cutouts of President Obama and Mitt Romney.  Somehow that seemed appropriate.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Music, Music, Music

Over the weekend we went to Columbia, Missouri for the Roots n Blues n BBQ festival. After we walked.on Saturday we went back to Son Brian and DIL Nicole's house to shower and rest.  After lunch we drove back downtown.  There was music to be listened to!

The festival had three stages, one of which was outside the ticketed area and free.  We concentrated on the bands at the other two stages, and still didn't get to see everything we wanted.  As always, I saw new-to-me bands that were great, but I was most excited to hear two legends perform on the main stage. John Mayall was the penultimate act, followed by Al Green.

Both lived up to my expectations. We were sitting far away from the stage so we couldn't see what was going on, but that didn't matter. The list of artists that John Mayall has performed with reads like a Who's Who of blues rock--Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, and many more. The set was over all too quickly, and we settled in for the main event

The weather was unseasonably cold, and as the sun went down I huddled against Hubby Tony for warmth. Instead of my fleece jacket, a light winter coat would have been more appropriate but that didn't matter once Al Green came on. Even from where I was sitting I could see he was dressed to the nines in a white tuxedo jacket. The stage was full with musicians, a horn section, backup singers and dancers.  Al Green is now in his 60s, but his voice (along with the beautiful falsetto) is still intact.  He sang some cover songs, but for the most part he rolled through his hits..."How Can You Mend a Broken Heart", "Here I Am", "I Can't Get Next to You", "Tired of Being Alone", "I'm Still in Love with You", "Let's Stay Together".

Before I knew it the show was over, but I was still humming a tune as I walked back to the car.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We Did It!

Yesterday was the 10k event that Hubby Tony and I have been working towards for months.  I'm happy  to say we started (and more importantly, finished!) in fine fashion.

We got into Columbia for dinner on Friday night, socialized with Son Brian and DIL Nicole, then turned in early because we had to be up long before the sun came up. Before I went to bed I got help from Nicole to made sure the race bib was attached to my shirt securely and the timing chip was on my shoe correctly.  One less unfamiliar thing to do in the morning!

It was still dark when we left for the race, but there was a little sunlight peeking over the horizon as we parked the car.  The half-marathon started 30 minutes before our 10k.  We watched the runners line up, and when the starting gun sounded the large group slowly worked its way towards the starting line, then disappeared into the distance.  Before I knew it they'd called for our group to line up. It was exciting standing in the middle of the pack, and when the gun went off I was more than ready.

Our goal was to walk at a 15 minute per mile pace (which meant we'd finish the 6.2 miles in a little over 90 minutes), but we'd never managed to do that on our practice walks. However, having other people around helped. We walked briskly, and even jogged a little, and come in right where we planned.

The day turned out so well we're already talking about next year.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Walk With Me

When Hubby Tony and I signed up in July to walk a 10k event in September, it seemed like a long way away. Now it's almost here.

Our "training" plan was to increase our walking distance each month until we were routinely covering six miles at a time. We stuck to that plan through August (when we managed to walk five miles on a regular basis), but plateaued there. The biggest issue was the lack of time; it takes a lot of it to walk six miles, and with the days getting shorter there wasn't enough daylight after dinner. I've settled for walking briskly for an hour at a time; I hope that will get me in good enough shape that the extra mileage will take care of itself.

Today I didn't have to be at work until 12:30, and it looked like a great day for a walk.  Instead of the blistering heat we had all summer, I woke up to a brisk almost-fall morning.  With the shift in temperature I wasn't sure what to wear, but it turns out a pair of capris and a tee (covered by a sweatshirt, which came off halfway through the walk) and walking shoes were just right.

My first stop was the hardware store, where I needed to have a key made.  At the store I parked my car at the far edge of the lot, close to the street. It took longer to walk to the key-making department than it did to have the key made, and I was quickly on my way. I stopped at my car to drop off my purse and pick up my mp3 player, then walked to a nearby gas station and used the restroom before I started my trek.

I started down a major residential street that ran perpendicular from Manchester Road (a state highway). I turned right at the first subdivision, and as I walked I stayed to the right whenever possible.  Every couple of months I drive down the major street, but I've never paid attention to the details as I passed by at 30 mph. It's amazing what you can see when you're on foot. The neighborhoods looked like they'd been around since the 1950s. With a couple of exceptions, they were filled with small bungalows and long ranches, all on large lots with mature landscaping and big trees.

While I walked I listened to last week’s podcast of This American Life. Soon I was caught up in the story, and the blocks passed by. I turned onto another major residential street, and meandered my way up and down the streets off of it. When I reached Manchester again, rather than walk along the road I cut through the strip mall parking lots until I arrived back at my car. I was pleasantly sweaty and could tell I’d exercised, but unlike a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t a puddle of sweat.

The weather is supposed to be nice for the foreseeable future.  I wonder how many more walks I'll be able to get in before the big event?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bell Ringer

A church's bell ringer passed away, and they began looking for a new one.  One day a man with no arms showed up to apply.  The priest wasn't sure the man could do the job, but he convinced the priest to let him try.  The man climbed the bell tower, got a running start, and charged face-first into the bell, producing the most beautiful melody. He got the job.

For several years, the man rang the bell successfully. Then one day he slipped, missed the bell, and fell off the tower, plunging to his death.  A large crowd gathered around the motionless man.  A police officer asked, "Does anyone know this man?"  Someone yelled back, "No, but his face rings a bell."

Several months later, the dead bell ringer's twin brother, who also had no arms, came in and applied for the bell ringer position. He explained he'd learned all he knew about bell ringing from his brother. The priest hired him on the spot. The new bell ringer did his job flawlessly for several years, but one day he also slipped and fell off the tower, plunging to his death.

Again, a group gathered, and a police officer asked, "Does anyone know this man?" From the back of the crowd, someone responded, "No, but he's a dead ringer for the last one."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Basement Memories

This afternoon we spent some time cleaning the basement.  Hubby Tony worked in the office, and Son Donald and I tackled the clutter in the unfinished area.  After storing bags of out-of-season clothes, moving piles of recyclables to the bin, and going through several containers of trinkets, Donald started shuffling things around on the shelves.  He pulled out two milk crates and asked me what they were.  I took a look, and was transported back in time.

From 2005 until 2008 I was employed by, and then took over, a tutoring center for teenagers who were enrolled in a correspondence school. The students worked at their own pace, and mailed off the tests as they were completed. The purpose of my center was to provide encouragement and assistance to the students as they did the work.

Even though many of my students had credits transfer from their previous schools, the correspondence school still allowed four years to complete their program.  Some of my students completed all the requirements with me and received their high school diploma.  A few of them left to go back to traditional school, and a few others decided to sit for the GED test.  Some of them, though, stopped coming and didn't continue their education on their own.

I got rid of much paper when the center closed, but I held on to everything from the "AWOL" students.  If they'd decided to start working on their high school program and needed any of their papers, I wanted to make sure I could provide them.  I put the papers in a milk crate, set them on the shelf, and forgot all about them.   One of the crates Donald pulled down today held those papers, and the other contained a selection of textbooks.

However, it's now more than four years past the time any of those students started.  Even if they came back to me looking for papers they wouldn't be good.  I had no use for the textbooks, either.  Time for them to go!  I put the books in a pile to donate, and the papers went in a pile to shred.  The only thing I kept was my business paperwork.  Now instead of two milk crates' worth, my things fit in part of one.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cat Hair Magnet

When I come home, I toss my purse on the end of the kitchen island closest to the door.  That way I'm more likely to hear my cell phone (which I keep in a front pocket of the purse) if it rings.  Having the purse right there also makes it easier to organize for the next time I leave, because my “system” for remembering to take things with me is to pile them on top of the purse.

Over the summer I've used a Vera Bradley purse with a bright pink background and accents of light blue, lime green, white, brown, and black. Pepper the cat likes to rub his face on it; it's cute to watch him at work.  I'm not sure if the quilted cotton material feels good to him, he's making himself comfortable, or he's marking his territory, but sometimes he'll rub so hard he pushes the purse pretty close to the counter edge.

Today when I left for work I was wearing my standard outfit of white shirt and black pants.  I grabbed my purse, lunchbox, after-work snack, and assorted papers and carried everything out to the car.  I put the purse between the seats and everything else on the passenger seat, started up the car, and drove away.

When I was getting out of the car I looked down, and was horrified to see  that the lap of my black pants was covered with cat hair!  Thinking back, I’d picked the purse up and put it on my lap at a stoplight to get out a chap stick. Unfortunately, the cotton material of my purse is a great cat hair magnet.

I tried to make it through the mall and to the Customer Service desk without anyone noticing my mess. Unfortunately before I got there I ran into a couple of mall walkers that I chat with on a regular basis. Embarrassed, I showed them my pants but they laughed and said it happened to them all the time with hair from their dog.  That didn't make me feel any better.  I HAD to get rid of the hair!

When I got to the desk, I quickly opened up the office, found a rag, and attempted to wipe the cat hair off.  I didn't think my pants could look any worse, but someone must have used the rag for dusting, because now I had a layer of hair and dust running down both legs.  I did the only thing I could think of that would take care of the problem...I locked myself into the office area, took my pants off, and shook them until they were clean.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blink And You'll Miss It

This morning was all about knocking out errands.  I left the house at 8:30 with my list and returned an hour and a half later with most of the items crossed off. Halfway through the trip, I happened to look down at the dashboard.  At first I thought the LCD odometer had malfunctioned, but then I realized I was seeing something special:

Glad I could pull over
 My Honda CR-V had traveled 111,111 miles! I turned into a strip mall  parking lot and used my cell phone to take a picture.   The car's 12 years old, and I've had it for about half that time. We've been on many adventures together, and I was happy that  I could capture this one.

Monday, September 10, 2012

MIdwest Special

As they usually do on Sundays, yesterday Hubby Tony and Son Donald cooked dinner.  This week's meal was a casual frankfurter bar with all the fixings (ketchup, several types of mustard, sweet pickle relish, dill pickle spears, saurkraut, chopped onions, and shredded cheese).  To add to the choices they also made chili, and set out two ladles-a large one to dish out a bowl and a small one to put some on the sandwich.

At the end of the meal the franks were gone, but there was enough chili for leftovers.  I knew Tony had dinner plans for tonight, so I figured leftover chili would make a good evening meal.  I put mine in a bowl, then dumped the last of the chopped onions and cheddar cheese on top.  However, when I came down to the kitchen this morning the chili was calling my name, and I decided it would make an equally good breakfast. While the chili was heating in the microwave I fried an egg over medium, then set it on top of the chili.  The dish looked good, and tasted even better.  I finished the meal with a sliced kiwi and coffee.

Later in the day, I was relating my meal to someone, and described it as "halfway to a slinger".  I thought everyone knew what a slinger was, but from the blank look on their face I knew they had no idea what I was talking about. I did some Wikipedia research, and learned:
The Slinger is a Midwestern diner specialty typically consisting of two eggs, hash browns, and a hamburger patty (or any other meat) all covered in chili (with or without beans) and generously topped with cheese (cheddar or American) and onions. The eggs can be any style. The Slinger is considered to be a St. Louis late-night culinary original.
I've had my share of late-night slingers, but in my opinion the dish is good at any time of day...whether you use all the ingredients or just what you have in the house.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Sign--complete with "tag". 

Last night a cold front moved through the area, bringing a lot of rain.  When it left it took the hot, humid weather with it.  Today was a great day to be outside--sunny, with temperatures in the mid-70s.  After we ran our errands, Hubby Tony and I tried a new-to-us walking route, the St. Louis Riverfront Trail.

The southernmost trailhead, where we parked, wasn't too far from the Gateway Arch. From there, the trail followed the Mississippi River to the north. The portion we walked on hugged the flood wall, except for a detour around the construction area where they're building a new bridge across the river to Illinois.  Then we were on the other side of the flood wall, and the trail seemed to be in various states of repair/disrepair.

I was expecting nice river views, but instead the section we walked was more of a “working riverfront” of industrial and shipping facilities, interspersed with green strips along the river bank.  On the other side of the trail, we passed a scrap metal processing plant, grain elevators, and a water treatment facility.  Definitely urban.  However, it was quite a pleasant way to spend part of a day; the company was good and the trail wasn't crowded (we saw several people on bikes, but only one other walker).

The complete trail  is almost 12 miles.  We covered a little over two miles, then turned around. When we got to the parking lot we kept going for several more blocks, to Laclede's Landing, because it was lunchtime and I had a gift certificate to one of the restaurants there.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Teeny Tiny

Aren’t they cute?

This was the day's tomato harvest, next to a penny for size comparison.

The larger one is close to full sized, but I've never seen any as small as the other two.  I suspect their size has something to do with the heat and lack of water this summer.  However, when I ate those tiny fruits, their flavor was incredible!  The tomato-y sweetness was condensed into the much smaller package, almost like it had been dehydrated.

I wonder if there will be any more tiny tomato prizes waiting for me in the garden tomorrow?

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Today is Labor Day, but the mall was open. I normally work the 9:30-3:00 Monday shift, and today was no different. There were a lot of shoppers, and quite a few of them stopped by the Customer Service desk to ask a question. There were even more phone calls, all but a handful of which wanted to know what our hours for the day were.

After answering the question for the tenth time, I decided to get creative with my response. For the rest of the day, I used different combination of these words and phrases:
We're [open/keeping/closed] [regular, everyday, standard, usual, customary, typical] hours
I felt like a walking thesaurus, but I enjoyed thinking of unique ways to say the same thing over and over.  When my replacement arrived, I cued him in on what to expect.  I know repetitive questions really annoy him, so I figured it was the least I could do.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Weed Through

The rain (remnants of Hurricane Isaac) started Friday morning. It lasted all day yesterday and a good chunk of today. We got between four and five inches; most of it came down as the good, soaking rain we hadn't had for months.

This summer's hot weather and drought did a number on our lawn. Now there are vast sections of dead turf with clumps of grass. And weeds. When the temperature was close to 100 degrees I didn't venture outside to remove any of the little green aliens. Our two days worth of rain sent them into a growing frenzy. The biggest offenders, spread out like carpets, were crab grass, spurge, and oxalis, but there were also dandelions and nut sedge poking up into the air.

This afternoon I grabbed a bucket and a trowel and started pulling and digging my way across the yard.

I think weeding by hand is gratifying. You grab the stem close to the soil and pull. If you're lucky the whole thing pulls out easily. Nothing's better than a clump of dirt and roots hanging off the bottom of a weed. If that doesn't work, a quick thrust of the trowel takes care of the root. The remains go in the trash, and you're on to the next one.

I filled up the gallon-sized bucket with weeds from the front yard (and probably could have done two more, but the sun came out from behind the clouds and made it uncomfortable), dumped it in the yard waste trash can, and moved to the back yard. The house's shadow covered much of the area, making it much cooler. There was only one problem... mosquitoes! In ten minutes I was covered in bites, so even though I hadn't made a dent in the weeds I quit. I counted nine bites, all on my left arm and left leg, which might be a new record. I guess they liked the rain, too!