Thursday, February 28, 2013

Adopt A Cardinal

I suspect everyone reading this knows that Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the Roman Catholic church, is leaving the papal office. On February 11th he announced his resignation, which was effective today.

The process of electing a new pope is quite detailed.  Any member of the College of Cardinals under the age of 80 years old is eligible to take part in a papal conclave and vote for the new leader. The Cardinals are sequestered in Vatican City so they have no contact with the outside world, and they can't leave until their job is done.  If things go well, there should be a new Pope by Easter.

That sounds like a daunting job, so when a friend sent me a link to the Website Adopt a Cardinal, which lets you register to pray for a specific Cardinal as he goes through the conclave process, I had to check it out and adopt a Cardinal of my own.  The process was easy-I just had to fill out my name, email address, and captcha. A few seconds later I learned I was praying for Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany.

When I first looked at the Website this morning almost 100,000 people have registered, but several hours later the number was closer to 130,000.  That's a lot of prayer!

Five years ago today: New Thing #49--Belly Up To The Bar

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Medicine Cabinet In A Bottle

Earlier in the summer I had a burning sensation between two of the toes on my right foot. I couldn't see anything, but it sure felt like athlete's foot. When I researched natural remedies, tea tree oil was on many of the lists.  I decided to give it a try; several years ago I used a shampoo that contained the ingredient, and liked its eucalyptus smell and the tingly sensation it left on my scalp.   The next time I was at Whole Foods I bought a tiny brown bottle of tea tree essential oil. I applied a drop on the painful places between my toes twice a day. It took about a week, but eventually the problem went away.

Tea tree oil is a nearly colorless essential oil that has antiviral and antibacterial properties. The aboriginal people of Australia have used the oil and leaves of tea trees for centuries. Now, it's touted as a remedy for all types of bacterial and fungal skin ailments.  After my foot healed I had most of the bottle left, so I started dabbing a little tea tree oil on cuts, scrapes, and the occasional pimple.  It seemed like it worked at least as well as other first aid products.

Last Saturday night I noticed the middle of my upper lip was puffy and tingling, and I suspected I was getting a cold sore. Sure enough, when I woke up Sunday morning I had a cluster of three tiny blisters right in the middle of my lip which were surrounded by a red swollen area.

I decided to try tea tree oil, applying it to the outbreak every few hours. When I woke up on Monday the blisters seemed to be drying up and my lip was less puffy. Encouraged, I took the bottle to work with me and continued to dab it on the area.   By bedtime the only evidence of blisters was a patch of dry skin.  Today my lip still felt a little strange, but it looked completely normal.  The only negative side effect was that the tea tree oil dried out my lips.  Applications of lip balm took care of that.

I think the last time I had a cold sore it took more than a week to heal.  This one took two days.  Tea tree oil is amazing!

Five years ago today: New Thing #46--Can You Reconcile That?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What Do You Call A Group Of...?


Yesterday's Post-Dispatch newspaper had an interesting article about crow levels returning to normal after a big die-off from West Nile virus.  Not everyone is happy about it, though. Halfway down the page I read:
Few people are crowing about the return of crows. The birds have an image problem. A flock of jays is called a “party,” a group of sparrows is a “host.” But a flock of crows is a “murder.”
I've heard of herds, prides, and flocks to describe groups of animals. ;But parties, hosts, and murders? Quite curious. I decided to do some research to see if there were any other unusual animal assemblages. It didn't take me long to find an awesome Website from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center that had a very thorough list naming animal congregations, which were divided into Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Fish, and Invertebrates.

Some of them are really offbeat. Did you know that groups of:
  • Cockroaches are intrusions
  • Flies are businesses
  • Eagles are convocations
  • Ferrets are businesses
  • Frogs are armies and toads are knots
  • Giraffes are towers
  • Hippopotami are bloats
  • Kangaroos are troops
  • Kittens can be litters, kindles, or intrigues, but adult cats are clowders or pounces.
  • Moles are labors
  • Otters are romps
  • Peacocks are musters or ostentations

Five years ago today: New Thing #44--Nice to Meet You

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Truly Trivial

Earlier in the week Kay at Musings (who lives in Hawaii) had a post about the University of Hawaii sports teams, the Rainbow Warriors.  Several years ago they changed their athletic logo and let each team pick its own team name.  This summer they're renaming teams again; all the men's squads will have one name and all the women's another.

I read the post, moved on to the next item in my reader, and didn't think anything about it. Tonight the information came in handy.  We were at a Trivia Night at church.  One of the categories was Team Names; the MC read the name of a school and we had to come up with the name of the team.  My table was amazed when I knew the answer to the first question...the University of Hawaii.

(Don't know what a trivia night is?  Urban Dictionary describes it this way:
A trivia night is a large group event, usually staged to benefit a charitable cause or organization.

During a trivia night, a master of ceremonies reads trivia questions split up into different categories or rounds. The questions are then answered by different groups of people in an audience. These groups, also known as "teams" or "tables," typically consist of six to 12 people who have paid an admission fee to participate. At the end of each round, a representative from each team turns in its answers to a panel of judges who then calculate the scores for each team. The teams compete against one another with the top two or three teams receiving prizes.)
Thanks, Kay!

Five years ago today: New Thing #43--Make Mine Manga

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winter Weather Assault

National Weather Service
In weather speak, the symbols mean:
Continuous fall of snowflakes (heavy)
Ice pellets (sleet)
Rain, freezing, slight

The winter weather they've been predicting since Monday-a mixture of snow, sleet, and freezing rain-made its way into the area today.  I was ready.

This morning I had to be at work at 9:30 (which means leaving the house at 8:50).  The snow was supposed to start about 9:00. Based on what I'd heard, it was going to be a rough commute home, and I decided to make the morning commute easy on myself.  I spent less time in blogland after breakfast and got on the road a half hour earlier than usual in case the storm started sooner than predicted.

There was absolutely no precipitation on my drive to the mall, and I pulled into the parking lot a little bit before 9.  I decided to ignore the rule that says employees are supposed to park on the top level of the garage or on the far corners of the surface lot.  Instead, I left my car in the covered section of the parking garage; I didn't think there'd be too many customers coming out in this weather and jockeying for the spaces

To pass the time, I locked my coat and purse in the Customer Service desk office, then walked the mall until it was time to clock in.  After I set everything up at the desk (which took 10 minutes), I spent another 15 minutes walking.  On the last leg I went past a doorway and saw the first fluffy white flakes coming down.  The desk lights went on right at 10 when the mall opened, and I waited for the customers I didn't think would come.

Over the course of my five hour shift there weren't many customers.  However, I was very busy.  Every few minutes the phone rang and the person on the other end wanted to know if (A) the mall was open or (B) if the mall was closing early.   The calls were evenly mixed between customers and store employees wanting to know if they should come into work.

When I'm at the desk I can't see the outside world, so I had to go on the information that was coming to me.   One caller told me the roads "were turning into parking lots".  Another said cars were going off the road "everywhere".  I tend to take comments like these with a grain of salt, so I wasn't overly concerned.  My standard answer to the closing early question was that I didn't know, but if the management office decided they'd post a notification on the mall Website.

My shift was over at 2:30.  After my replacement clocked in I clocked out, and got ready for the journey home by using the restroom. The first driving challenge happened just a block from the mall, when I encountered cars sliding on the highway entrance ramp.  I managed to drive around them and get on the highway but then sat, barely moving, for a half hour.  When I heard the highway was closed several miles up ahead because of stalled vehicles I took the next exit.  So did a lot of other cars.  It took 10 minutes to get to the end of the exit ramp, and then another 20 minutes to get through a stoplight less than a mile away.  However, once I got past the light there wasn't much traffic, and  I pulled into my driveway a little over two hours after I left the mall, happy to be home.

It's supposed to get above freezing tomorrow afternoon.  Between the snowplows and the warmer weather I hope the roads are in good shape before the next time I have to leave the house.

Five years ago today: New Thing #41--Can You Teach a Cat a Trick?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Are You Ready?

I'm tired of cold weather and SO ready for winter to be over, but it's determined not to leave just yet. For the past few days the weather forecasters have been forecasting (with a gleam in their eye) a big storm heading our way. Tomorrow we're supposed to get snow, sleet, or freezing rain. Maybe all three.  Since we've had very little inclement weather this winter, it's all anyone wants to talk about.

In advance of the nasty stuff, the temperature's plummeted.  On Monday I wore a light jacket.  When I woke up this morning it was 19°F, with a wind chill that made it feel even colder. It would have been easy to stay inside until I had to leave for work at 11:30, but after breakfast I made myself go to the gym. My body won't get in shape by lazing around the house!  I was lucky enough to get a parking space close to the gym door, so I left my coat in the car and hustled into the building.  Even with the short trip I was cold by time I got inside.

At the back of the gym there's a white board where one of the trainers writes inspirational notes. Before I got on my treadmill I went to use the bathroom and took a look at the board as I walked by.  It said:

97 days to swimsuit season

I can't wait!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dead Presidents

Today is Washington's Birthday and the Federal holiday of President's Day. In their honor, here's blues musician Little Walter performing "Dead Presidents"

Five years ago today: New Thing #38--Fluffy Footwear

Sunday, February 17, 2013

THAT Was Easy!

Last week I tried to keep Pepper the cat from his new habit of dumping the kitchen trash by spritzing cologne on the bag.  It didn't work, so I had to think of another solution.

We store the trash can in the cabinet under the sink, which is in a corner of the kitchen under two nice large windows.  The arrangement of the sink pipes and garbage disposal in the cabinet take up a lot of room; many cans won't fit in the space in front of the pipes. Thinking that a can with a locking lid might do the trick, I went to Bed Bath and Beyond to look at their selection of trash cans.  The cheapest one that would fit in the cabinet was close to $50.  I didn't want to spend that much, so I came home to do some divergent thinking.

The stone in the can
As I pulled into the garage I realized there were a few leftover landscaping bricks of different styles piled in the corner next to the recycling bin.  One of them might work to make the trashcan untippable.  The bullet-nosed edger was too long to fit in the bottom of the can, but a square paver was perfect.  It was a little larger than five inches on each side (and two inches deep), so it didn't take up a lot of room.  It weighed almost 5 1/2 pounds, and I was pretty sure that was more weight than Pepper could handle.  And the best part?  My cost was zero.

The next morning the trashcan was upright.  I think Pepper looked a little sad that he couldn't play his new tipping game, but he quickly got over it.  As the week wore on, there were no cleaning up trash reports from Hubby Tony, so on Friday I tried the ultimate experiment.  When I baked some chicken I threw the foam tray and absorbent pad in the trash, then left for a few hours.

When I came home nothing had happened.  I'm going to call this project a success.

Five years ago today: New Thing #37--Mix it Up

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Orange You Glad?

Today, of course, is Valentine's Day.  If people have a sweetie, they usually want to give them some type of present.  Every day this week at the Customer Service desk I've answered questions about the candy, perfume, lingerie, and jewelry stores in the mall. Today the questions reached a crescendo; over the lunch hour I talked to several frantic-looking people who barely waited for the answer to their question before walking away.

I understand where they were coming from. Although I didn't wait until the last minute, this year it took me a long time to figure out what to get Hubby Tony. Have you ever noticed that most of the fancy Valentine's Day gifts go to women? At least in my social circles, men's gifts are practical; they don't get flowers or fancy jewelry.

That doesn't mean they can't be fun (or even goofy).

My inspiration for a present struck the other day when My Last-Minute Valentine, a blog post from the Whole Foods blog showed up in my Reader. It offered suggestions for items you could buy in their store, and had a link to some "punny" downloadable cards which caught my attention.

Their cards were solid red with white lettering. Our printer is telling us the color cartridges are getting low, so I didn't think we had enough red left to print a card for my hubby. However, taking one of their models as an inspiration I put this together using Word:

I cut the heart out and signed my name to the bottom.  Last night I bought a bag of "Cuties" clementines to go with the card. After work today I assembled a basket with the fruit and an additional gift-a new mouse for Tony's laptop.  The basket will be waiting on the kitchen table when he gets home from work

Five years ago today: New Thing #34--A Heart-y Meal

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. People who practice the Catholic religion go to Mass and receive ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance.  Last year I pondered whether I should leave the black cross on my forehead or wash it off when I went to work.  In the end I left it, and I saw no reason not to do the same thing today.

This morning the sun was shining and I decided to walk to church.  A half-hour before the start of 8:30 Mass I changed my pants and put on my tennis shoes. According to the forecast the day was going to warm up nicely, so instead of my winter coat I grabbed a heavy jacket.  Because the top of the jacket is loose-fitting, I also wrapped a long silk scarf around my neck to keep the breeze out.  I was glad I did; there was still a brisk nip in the air.  However, except for my fingers and ears I was OK.

The walk took 20 minutes, and I made a stop by the bathroom before I found a seat, but I still had a few minutes to meditate before the opening hymn.  This was an all-school mass, so all the students from the parish elementary school were there.  The service ran a bit long, so I had to hustle on the way home.  It was warmer now, and at the halfway point I unbuttoned my jacket.  A couple of minutes later I loosened the scarf around my neck.  As I was turning into my subdivision, I actually felt a tiny bit of perspiration forming on my forehead. I used my hand to wipe it off, and when I saw my black fingers I realized I'd wiped the ashes off, too.

When I got home I looked at myself in the mirror.  There was an inch-wide black streak that extended completely across my forehead.  I went ahead and wiped the rest off.  We'll see what next year brings.

Five years ago today: New Thing #33--Fueled by Ramen

Monday, February 11, 2013

Trash Can Cat

Our cats are ten years old.  Over the years they've gotten into their share of mischief-nibbling on the plants, sticking a paw into a glass of water left on the coffee table, and climbing into open dresser drawers.  Occasionally  they kick the naughtiness up a notch, doing things like running across the counter or clawing on the back of a chair.  However, in the last week Pepper the Cat has developed a horrible habit. He's figured out how to open the cabinet under the sink and tip over the trash can we store there.

I'm not sure why he started, but the practice has to stop.  When I researched ways to put an end to the behavior, my Google search led me to a great article from the Humane Society of the United States called Just Say No: Aversive Training for Your Cat.

I learned that an aversive is something that your cat finds unpleasant.  It could be a texture (things that doesn't feel good), a taste (hot sauce or a spray specially designed for taste aversion), a smell (citrus scents or cologne), a sound (a whistle, a shaker, a book dropped on the floor, or hand clapping), or a surprise (a squirt from a water bottle, a blast of canned air).

Using an aversive sounded like a great idea.  But which one?  Noises and surprises work best when you're around to catch your kitty in the act.  Pepper likes to perform his new trick when we're not around, so I scratched those off the list. I couldn't figure out a way to add a disagreeable texture to the cabinet door or trash can, so I decided to try using an unpleasant smell.  I dug around in the master bathroom and found a spray bottle of "Belmont Extreme eau de toilette" in the back of the cabinet under Hubby Tony's sink.  Judging by the layer of dust on the cap, I think it had been there for years.  I used the cologne to give the trash can liner a good spritz, then put the can back under the sink.

Every time I opened the cabinet to throw something away the cologne's woodsy scent wafted out.  I didn't see Pepper anywhere near the cabinet all day, and was hopeful I'd taken care of the problem.  However, this morning there was a note from Tony which read:
I am sorry to have to report the trash experiment did not work.  I was pretty sure it had failed when Pepper came into the bathroom while I was shaving and his head smelled of cologne.
When I came down to the kitchen the trash was all cleaned up, and Pepper was asleep on the couch until I left for work.  Later in the day he was up to his shenanigans again; Son Donald's text to me said:
So perfume doesn't work :-( 
I guess it's back to the drawing board...

Five years ago today: New Thing #31--The Spin

Friday, February 8, 2013

Just Another Day

A co-worker turned a milestone age yesterday. He'd told me he wasn't happy to be getting there, so I didn't want to make a big deal out of the day. On the other hand, it felt rude to completely ignore it.

After a lot of thought, I decided to get him a decadent bite of something sweet.  On Wednesday I swung by a thrift store and found a cute little plate for only a quarter. Before I went to work yesterday I stopped at the bakery department of a nearby Whole Foods.  All of their bite-sized confections are fabulous, but I decided on this bite-sized fresh fruit tart.  I've had it before, and it's a wonderful combination of flaky crust, pastry cream, and glazed fruit. Because I was buying just one, the clerk slid the tart into a small gelato cup with a lid and stuck the price tag on the bottom.  When I got to work I turned the pastry out onto the plate and put it in the refrigerator in the office.

Shortly before my co-worker was scheduled to clock in I removed the plate from the refrigerator and set it on the counter with no birthday card or other hoopla.  I did, however, write his name on a Post-It and put it next to the plate.

When he arrived he went into the office to take off his coat.  He came out and asked if I'd brought the treat.  I said I had, and he disappeared back into the office.  The next time he came out he was wiping off his mouth.  He thanked me profusely, and got busy with work.

The word "birthday" was never mentioned.

Five years ago today: New Thing #28--Storytime

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Shake It Up

When you think of earthquakes, the Midwest isn't the first part of the United States that comes to mind.  However, small earthquakes and tremors occur frequently in Missouri, and in 1811–12 the area was rocked by three large earthquakes along the New Madrid fault.  The quakes were so strong that they altered the course of the Mississippi River. Even though New Madrid is about 160 miles southeast of St. Louis many buildings here were severely damaged.

The New Madrid fault is the nation's most active seismic zone east of the Rocky Mountains, so seismologists predict that one day there will be another "Big One".  We should know what to do when it happens, and today there was a chance to practice; it was the 2013 Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, which was billed as the largest earthquake drill in Central U.S. history.

The ShakeOut Website had a long list of entities that were participating in the drill-individuals, schools, government offices, healthcare facilities, preparedness organizations, and even animal shelters.  The mall I work at wasn't on the list, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to do my own private exercise this morning. As I was setting up the Customer Service desk I looked around for ways to protect myself in an earthquake.

According to ShakeOut, there are three steps to protection: Drop, Cover, and Hold On.

  • DROP to the ground 
  • Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table (or cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building if you're not close to something sturdy), and
  • HOLD ON until the shaking stops.  

The Customer Service desk is made of laminate with a front panel that reaches all the way to the floor and topped with a heavy-duty work surface. There are several cabinets and drawers underneath the work surface, but there's also a large kneehole close to one end that would be just big enough to wedge into.  That looked like the safest place to be if the floor started heaving, but if I wasn't at that end of the desk I decided I'd press myself against one of the cabinets and hope for the best.

I know the chances of an earthquake happening while I'm at work are pretty slim, but now I feel like I'm prepared if it does.

Five years ago today: New Thing #27--Say What?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Suck It Up

One Sunday back in December I was in the middle of vacuuming when the vacuum cleaner made a loud noise, spewed a cloud of dust in the air, then stopped working.

The mainly-plastic model was at least ten years old.  I suppose we got our money's worth out of it, but right before Christmas was NOT the time to think about getting a vacuum!  Later that week I looked at the nearest Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul stores hoping to get a used one that would tide us over.  No luck, but the next weekend Hubby Tony found one at a different Goodwill branch.  The lightweight, light-duty vacuum sucked up the big dirt.  When it took me three passes to pick up a piece of lint off the carpet, though, so I knew I'd have to eventually get something else.

Shortly before Christmas I was shopping at the mall, where I snagged a prime parking space close to Sears.  As I was walking through the store on the way to my destination, I went right by the vacuum cleaner department.  Seeing them reminded me of my project, so on my way home I popped into the library to make a copy of the Consumer Reports review of vacuums.  Much to my surprise one of their Best Buys was an inexpensive Kenmore upright model from Sears.

I didn't feel like backtracking that day, so I brought the Consumer Reports article home and stuck it in the basket on my desk.  We continued to use the somewhat-effective vacuum.  Last Saturday I was looking at the newspaper store ads for this week and noticed that Sears had "my" vacuum cleaner on sale...for half price!  It was time to make a purchase.

Right after church yesterday I drove to the mall.  Since I knew exactly what I wanted it only took me ten minutes to make my purchase. I ran to a couple of other mall stores before I returned to the Customer Pickup area, where they brought out the large vacuum cleaner box and loaded it into my car.  I drove away from the mall thirty five minutes after I got there.

When I got home I read the instruction manual, put the new machine together, then plugged it in and hit the ON button.  Oh, my; this new vacuum cleaner has power!  It also has a HEPA filter, and a special attachment for pet hair.  And an agitator shut-off for bare floor cleaning.

I don't particularly like vacuuming, but I think this new machine may make it a little less annoying.

Five years ago today: New Thing #24--Facebook

Friday, February 1, 2013

Read Here, There, And Everywhere

A few weeks ago I received a lovely present from Hubby Tony--a Kindle.  The simplest one they make.  No keyboard, built in light, or extra bells and whistles.  I love it!
I used to read a lot of books, but the past few years I've substituted blog reading and Web browsing for the real thing.  With my new toy, though, I've gone through more books in the last three weeks than I did the previous six months.

The Kindle is very lightweight (less than less than 6 ounces).  I can hold it in one hand and as long as I position my thumb next to the page turning button it doesn't matter if I'm sitting up, slouched over, or laying on my back.  The screen is easy to read, although I haven't used it in very bright or very dim areas yet.

This device will hold over 1,000 books, probably more than I'll ever need.  The first thing I did was "buy" some free public domain books that will stay in my library forever.  However, I usually borrow books from the library instead of buying them.  That's still an option!  My library's Website has an e-media page where you can browse the "stacks" for something that looks good. Once you find something it only takes a few minutes to download it (if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network), and at the end of the borrowing period it disappears.

I've already used the device in the house, while waiting for my car oil to be changed, in the doctor's office, and in the car when I get somewhere early and have time to kill.  I'm trying to figure if there's a way I can use it at work.

Five years ago today: New Thing #21--More Fun With Snow