Monday, July 31, 2017

A Do Nothing Challenge

When I try to do too much on the computer I get grumpy and out of sorts.  That's when I know it's time to Do Nothing For Two Minutes.

The URL takes you to a screen with a photograph of the ocean at sunset and the sound of waves crashing on a beach. It asks you to relax and listen to waves for 2 minutes. The site's developer takes relaxation seriously.  If you touch your mouse or keyboard the time starts over.

If you try it, let me know how you did.

Five years ago today: Birthday Bash 2012

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Virtual Rack Woes

How was I supposed to make a word with these letters?

Hubby Tony and I are usually pretty well matched at Words With Friends.  This game, though, I had rotten luck the entire time and he ended up winning by more than 100 points. I was so glad to have it be over!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Concentated Banana Goodness

Yesterday at the store they had some bananas for fifty cents a bunch.  A bunch jumped into my bag.

My default need-to-eat banana recipe is bread or muffins, but when I got home I realized that it was really too hot to turn on the oven.  I started thinking creatively, and wondered if it was possible to dry the fruit for later.  A quick Google search revealed that not only was it possible, it was easy.

I started out by weighing the bananas to see what I had... a little over 3 1/2 pounds of gooness:

After I peeled and sliced the fruit, I tossed it with lemon juice and arranged the slices on dehydrator trays,

then started up the dehydrator and waited.

The process took longer than I anticipated.  At bed time the bananas were still moist.  Before I turned in I lowered the dehydrator thermostat as far as it would go (so the slices wouldn't finish in the middle of the night).  This morning things were still dampish, so I turned the thermostat back up.  Two hours later I had this:

These slices are chewier than banana chips (which are actually fried) and have an intense banana flavor.  I put them in a container in the pantry, but since I've already gotten into it several times I suspect it won't take long before the bananas are gone.

Five years ago today: The Same, But Different

Sunday, July 23, 2017

No Ice Cream For You!

This morning Hubby Tony and I put the bikes in the car and drove to an organized bike ride in Edwardsville, Illinois. The ride had four options (14 miles, 23 miles, 41 miles, and 50 miles).  They all started at the same place and ended up at an ice cream store.

Right after we checked in, a man standing next to the table asked if we would like to join a group that was riding together. Tony and I had planned on doing the 14 mile route.  This group was riding 23 miles, but we agreed. It's always nice to meet new people.  After everyone was ready we headed out.  Eventually some of the group decided they wanted to go faster and left, but Bill, the organizer, was nice enough to stay with me and Tony the entire way.  

Most of the ride was on nice, flat reclaimed rail lines.  The street riding in between the trails was on safe quiet streets. There were only a couple of hills, and they were doable. It should have been a very easy ride.  However, last night a strong storm had come through the area, and the trails were scattered with tree debris.  We had to dodge several large branches dangling over the trail, and carry our bikes over a pile of greenery that completely covered it.

However, very close to the end of the ride we came upon a pile of branches over the trail that was about three feet tall.  We stopped and looked at it, looked at each other, then decided to turn back.  Bill was familiar with the area, and told us about a different ice cream store we could drive to.  We thanked him for the information, but instead, on the way home we stopped at a cafe/donut store for lunch and a different kind of sweet.

Five years ago today: Don't Worry

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Worth Getting In The Car

I work as an Independent Contractor for multiple companies.  That means that if I want money to come into my bank account first I have to find the jobs to do.  Sometimes that's easier said than done.  Especially this week, when the extreme heat and excess humidity has sapped all my ambition:
Yesterday I saw an assignment that looked appealing.   However, it was halfway across town and didn't pay enough to justify the driving I'd have to do. Another company had a job just a couple of blocks away from the first, but (again) the pay wasn't enough to get me in the car.  This morning I sent an email to both, explaining that I would do the work if it could be assigned to me for tomorrow.  It took a couple of hours, but I eventually got responses from both companies that the jobs were mine.  Success!  I added another errand along the way and all of a sudden the day was looking productive.

Productive, but not filled up.  I'm going to continue to look; you never know when opportunities could present themselves.

Five years ago today: It Might Be...It Could Be...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Deals And Steals

What do you do when you find a pair of Clarks sandals at a thrift store for six dollars?

You buy them, come home, and do a happy dance in your very comfortable new shoes.

Friday, July 14, 2017

I Remember You! Do You Remember Me?

My high school years were a very long time ago.  How long?  Last weekend I attended my 40th high school reunion.  It was an interesting experience.

Our class has had reunions every ten years. I went to the first two, but skipped the 30th.This one has been in the works for a while.  A year ago the planning committee created a Facebook page and website to share reunion information.  Eventually I found out the activities would stretch out over two days...a mixer on Friday, a group photo and tour of the school Saturday morning, and the main event Saturday night. In late June I sent in my registration (Hubby Tony didn't go).  Then I waited.

The week before the event the committee published a list of attendees. There were about 800 students in the graduating class, and approximately 100 of them planned on being there. There were just a few people I knew well, and large handful that I would consider acquaintances.  The rest of the names meant nothing to me, and I started second guessing my decision to go.  But then I decided this would be a good time to practice stepping out of my comfort zone.  I looked in my closet, planned my outfits, and got mentally ready.

On Friday night I walked into the very crowded event room of a local bar and saw a bunch of faces I didn't know.  Then some of them started looking familiar.  When I looked at people's name tags some of the names started to ring a bell.  I chatted with classmates I hadn't seen in decades.  Several people were nice enough to tell me I looked the same as I did forty years ago.

The group photo and school tours on Saturday were interesting, and helped me to talk with even more people.  By the time I entered the restaurant banquet room where the reunion was being held Saturday night I felt pretty comfortable. There was no way I could get around to everyone, but I was proud of the fact that I didn't spend the whole night just talking to people I knew. I even had conversations with people I had never crossed paths with in high school.  There was little discussion of jobs or accomplishments.  Instead, we chatted about if we still lived in the area (and if so, where) and if we had kids or grand kids.

At the end of the night the head of the organizing committee announced that from now on there are going to be yearly informal get togethers.  I think if my schedule permits I will attend.

Five years ago today: Course Of Action

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Forward And Backward Or Backward And Forward

It was brought to my attention today that this week every date (if you write them as month/day/year) are palindromes and read the same forwards and backwards

Five years ago today: Pain In The Neck

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Garden Beauty (The Great Pacific Northwest Adventure of 2017)

The last port of call before our Alaskan cruise finished was Victoria, British Columbia.  However, since the ship didn't  arrive until 7 PM (and departed at 11:59 PM) we  had another full day at sea.  In the morning Hubby Tony and I took a galley tour through one of the kitchens.  We got to see some of the staff working on menu items for that night's dinner and some impressive fruit carvings.

After lunch we packed our suitcases in preparation for the next day's debarkation.   Fortunately, all of the souvenirs fit easily into the bags, although we did have to expand the to their maximums.

The dining room opened early for dinner so people could eat and move on to their evening's activities.  Tony and I signed up for a bus trip to Butchart Gardens. I was really looking forward to my visit. We tried to go the gardens when we were in Vancouver in 2010, but at the last minute decided it was too far away.

When the boat docked, we left the ship and joined the stream of people heading off the dock.

There were a lot of people taking the same tour we were, and they filled several buses.  As each bus filled they left the parking lot.  Ours was the last in the caravan. The drive to the gardens was approximately an hour.  Along the way the driver told us a little bit about the history of the city. She promised that on the way back she would drive through the Chinatown area, where she would share more history.

At the garden the driver got out and picked up our tickets and garden brochures.  She handed them out as we exited the bus, and we followed the stream of people to the entrance.  Once in, we followed the suggested walking route through the beds.  Over the course of the night it got dark, but there was adequate lighting along the paths and the lights set among the plants gave the areas an exotic feel.

At the appointed time we headed back to the bus and took our seats.  Right on time the driver headed back to the dock.  However, by time we got to the Chinatown area it was dark and the stores were all closed.  That was OK, though.  I was tired and ready for my bed.

Five years ago today: Add A Little Irish To Your Game

Friday, July 7, 2017

All Aboard! (The Great Pacific Northwest Adventure of 2017)

On Thursday, our Alaskan cruise ship docked in Skagway, where Hubby Tony and I took an awesome train trip through old gold rush territory on the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad.

Train depot as we were pulling away
Our tour bus was waiting for us when we got off the ship. After everyone was aboard, the driver (a gentleman who looked to be in his late 70s who told us he had been coming to the area for the past five summers to be a seasonal driver) who took us to the train depot where we boarded a restored passenger coach and settled in for the almost five-hour ride. 

Before the train got started the narrator gave us some directions and safety instructions, including how to access the platform of the rail car..  Then we were off!  We quickly gained altitude as the train wound up the mountain. The scenery was spectacular. 

Lake Bennett

Along the way the narrator told us about the history of the area.  He also alerted us to things to look for out of the windows.  I learned that the railroad began construction in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. It stopped operations in 1982, but reopened for tourists in 1988.

The train made a stop at Bennett, British Columbia, which was a thriving town back in the gold rush days. Now there's an interpretive center,and a short self-guided walking tour.  Shortly after we got back on the train lunch arrived--turkey sandwiches, chips, fruit, and a blondie.

Because we were crossing into Canada, at the border the train stopped to let Customs agents board and check passports.  (On the return trip the bus driver also stopped at the border, but the officials only wanted to see his paperwork.)

Our trip ended at Carcross, Yukon, another gold rush town. The small area around the train depot had a handful of tourist stores mixed in among the historical buildings.  At the appointed time we found our bus driver, who had driven up to meet us, and began the trip back.  When we got back to Skagway the driver offered to drop us off so we could see a little bit of the city.  I enjoyed walking around the vintage Skagway business district.  We stopped in a couple of stores and bought souvenirs before walking back to the ship.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

At Sea And On Land (The Great Pacific Northwest Adventure of 2017)

The Wednesday of our Alaska cruise was unique. In the morning we sailed through a fjord. Later in the day, we docked in Juno, Alaska, where Hubby Tony and I went on a whale-watching adventure (complete with a salmon dinner) and got to see a glacier up close.

View from our balcony when I woke up
We didn't want to miss anything, so we ate breakfast early.  After breakfast we did a few laps on the ship's Promenade Deck, multitasking by getting exercise while watching the scenery go by. This was the only time I used my winter coat, but I was glad I did.  The wind was brisk, and it was cold enough for icebergs.

Iceberg calf
Originally the plan was to sail into Tracy Arm Fjord. However, several weeks before the cruise that changed because Tracy Arm had too much floating ice.  Instead, the ship was diverted to Endicott Arm. I just wanted to see the area up close, so the specific fjord didn't matter to me (and I doubt I would have been able to tell the difference).  While we sailed into the fjord the naturalist was on the ship's bridge, talking about what we were seeing.  You could hear her remarks from the speakers on several decks, but  they were also broadcast over the ship's TV.  Because we were fortunate to have a balcony, we saved the open decks for those without one, turned up the TV volume, and left the door open so we could hear.

The ship sailed in as close as it could get to the Dawes Glacier, where it turned around for the trip back out.  However, before it did the passengers who signed up for a glacier tour got off onto tender boats and we watched them sail away.  The naturalist had promised the ship would do a 360 degree turn so everyone could see everything.  However, it was a 540 degree turn to get the ship bow pointed in the right direction.

See the glacier in front of the mountains?
After the ship turned around we went back inside, and the rest of the morning and early afternoon was more 'at sea' time.  We docked at Juno mid-afternoon.  Tony and I had signed up for a tour that included a salmon dinner, whale watching, and a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier.  We left the ship and did some shopping before it was time to get on the shuttle bus for our tour. 

The bus drove us to a dock where we boarded a whale watching ship large enough to hold several dozen people.  Our first stop was Orca Point Lodge, where we had a lovely grilled salmon dinner.  Then we got back on the boat and headed out to find some whales.  The tour guaranteed we would see some, and offered a refund if they couldn't find any. At first it was slow going (and I was afraid we would be receiving the refund), but all of a sudden we came upon a pod.  The first indication was seeing a spout of exhaled air from the whale's blowhole, followed by its arching back, and then the fluking, where the tail rises up out of the water as the whale dives.  The whole procedure is awe-inspiring.  I was sad that I wasn't quick enough to get a good photo of the event.

After we returned to the dock it was time for the third part of our adventure.  Because of changes to the ship's schedule, we knew that by the time we arrived at the Mendenhall Glacier the visitor center would be closed, but we were still able to walk down to an observation point for some photos.  I have never seen a glacier in person, but now I can cross that off my bucket list.

Glacier selfie
Five years ago today: Sew It Then Throw It

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ketchikan (The Great Pacific Northwest Adventure of 2017)

The first port of call on our Alaskan cruise was Ketchikan, the south-easternmost city in the state.  The city is known as the 'Salmon Capital of the World', for its many Native American totem poles, and for the Creek Street area, which in the first half of the 20th century was a red-light district.  Now it's an arts and crafts shopping area. The buildings are built on stilts over a beautiful creek.

Creek Street buildings
This may be the only time we get to Alaska, so to make the most of our time in the ports Hubby Tony and I purchased tours through the cruise line. In Ketchikan the tour was a walk at a rain forest sanctuary.

This was the only day we got rain--a fine mist.  I left the ship wearing a rain coat, but when we got off the bus at the sanctuary I was a little concerned that if the rain started coming down harder the phone and camera in my purse would get wet.  Before we started our walk the guide offered plastic ponchos.  Tony and I took advantage of them.

Stylish, right?
After we got off the bus we divided into groups of approximately a dozen.  Each group went with a different guide.  The walk on the gravel trail was less than a mile, but took almost an hour.  I was surprised to learn that this area of Alaska was a coastal temperate (as opposed to tropical) rain forest. The guide pointed out the different trees and plants. We saw banana slugs and evidence of large mammals.  Eventually the trail left the forest and ran through an elevated boardwalk over an area of grassy wetlands.  The area contained a salmon hatchery; I learned that salmon born there are imprinted to return to the same place to spawn.  We saw several eagles, and an aerie.

The sanctuary used to be a logging area, and some of the sawmill buildings are still in place.  One of them held a small raptor center, where we got to see several birds up close.  In another building a Native totem pole carver was hard at work. Examples of his finished poles were on display outside the sanctuary's gift shop.

Totem poles

Officially, the tour bus was supposed to drive us back to the ship.  However, when the driver asked if anyone would like to get off on the edge of Creek Street (several blocks away from the dock) most of the people took advantage of the offer.  Tony and I browsed through some shops, bought some salmon to bring home, then walked back to the ship for lunch.

This was a great way to start the trip to Alaska.

public art outside the port

Five years ago today: Sweltering Stroll

Monday, July 3, 2017

Asea (The Great Pacific Northwest Adventure of 2017)

Our Alaska cruise on the Emerald Princess started at Seattle, then headed north to the Inside Passage. Along the way we stopped at Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway (the northernmost point). After that the ship came back south. The last port before returning to Seattle was Victoria, British Columbia.

Monday and Friday were days at sea. In my experience you can be as busy or as lazy as you want to on a cruise. Hubby Tony and I are in the first group. Each day we received a list of all the activities taking place on board the ship. In years past it was all on paper; this time there was also a phone app you could access via the ship's wi-fi. Each morning we'd go through the list and pick out the things that appealed to us. (Most of the time they were the same.) Then we just had to remember to be at the right place at the right time.

This cruise had a naturalist on board, who gave several presentations during the week on the flora and fauna of the area. She also broadcast live from the bridge the day we sailed up the fjord.  Otherwise many of the activities were similar to our last cruise.  Tony and I didn't play anything in the casino, but we participated in several trivia contests.  Each night there were shows in the theater and music in the lounges.  The dancing in the disco started about the time I was turning in for the night and I could never make the Zumba and ballroom dancing classes fit into my schedule, but I did do some line dancing.  For the most part Tony and I stayed out of the on-board shops.

On the balcony
But would you be surprised if I told you that one of our biggest activities was eating? 

I've found that over the years cruise ship dining options have changed. In 1980, when we took our first cruise, you could go to dinner at the formal dining room at a specific time, grab lunch in a sit-down dining room, get hamburgers and hot dogs on the deck at lunch time, hit up the buffet, or order in room service. Now, in addition to those options, there's anytime dining (where you show up in the dining room when it fits your schedule), specialty restaurants (which require an additional fee), a 24-hour small-bites cafe, and a pizza and ice cream bar. There was also a very popular specialty coffee bar where (for a price) you could get espresso-based coffee and iced tea fusion drinks.

On this cruise we signed up for the early dinner seating, and shared a table with two longtime women friends in their 80s, a young lady who had just graduated from high school and her aunt, and a couple about our age.  It was great getting to know them over the course of the week. For eating in the casual areas there were very few two-tops, but we took that as an opportunity to sit down and already-occupied tables and talk with other people.  Because we purchased our cruise so early, one of the promotions was two vouchers to a specialty restaurant.  We chose the steakhouse, where I ate the best hunk of beef  I've had in a long time.

The at-sea days were also formal dinner nights. On different cruises I've had different interpretations of the term. At my age I'm not particularly trying to impress anyone. so this time I brought two knee-length dresses and one pair of shoes. The dresses were sleeveless, so the black shrug I threw in at the list minute came in handy. 

Five years ago today: Let It Wave

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The East St. Louis Riots of 1917

One hundred years ago today a fascinating (and gruesome) event took place in East St. Louis Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis.  The East St. Louis riots have been described as one of the worst race riots in U.S. history.

Today the city is a high-crime, high-poverty area, but in the early 20th century it had a strong industrial economy.   Between 1900 and 1920 more than 100 manufacturing plants opened in and around East St. Louis. Companies began to recruit black workers from Southern states in an effort to flood the labor market, keep wages low, and weaken unionization efforts.  As a result, racial tensions began to increase.

In May, 1917 white workers attacked several blacks; the black residents organized to defend their neighborhoods.  Resentment on both sides continued to grow.  On July 1, a black man attacked a white man.  In retaliation a group of whites fired randomly into black homes from a speeding car. An angry crowd of black residents gathered. When two detectives arrived to investigate, the crowd mistook them for the gunmen, opened fire, and killed them.

Thousands of whites went on a rampage the next day. They mobbed the black section of town, burned entire sections of the city, and shot or lynched black people as they escaped the flames. The police and National Guard stood by and did nothing (and several accounts say the Guard even joined in the rioting). Thousands of blacks fled across the  Mississippi River bridges to St. Louis.  The violence lasted for three days.  Officially, 39 blacks and nine whites died in the riots (but the toll may have been much higher).  Some news accounts at the time say as many as 250 blacks died.

This week there have been newspaper and magazine articles, television and radio programs, and ceremonies commemorating the event.  Hopefully all the publicity will help educate people so this important event isn't forgotten.

Five years ago today: Feeding Finches Revisited