Thursday, September 28, 2017

Volunteering Vegetable

The other day I noticed the grass was getting long. With the days getting shorter Hubby Tony hasn't had a chance to get around to cutting it, so today after lunch I fired up the lawn mower and did the job. The weather was perfect for outdoor work; 75 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. I was outside for 45 minutes and barely broke a sweat.

Along one side of the back yard there's a bed that I've planted with a variety of perennial flowers and plants. However, even those low maintenance plants need attention, and I haven't taken care of the bed for weeks. Now it's a ragged-looking tangle of stems, blooms that should have been deadheaded, and annual weeds. Today as I walked by I took a good look at the bed and noticed some vines with large leaves and yellow flowers that looked an awful lot like squash plants. When I investigated, I found out that I was right.

There were two vines that wound their way past the peony bush and coneflowers and sprawled on top of the weeds.  When I moved the vine to the side, I noticed one small fruit hiding underneath the leaves.  The skin was completely ripe, so it came into the house with me.

Grown completely by Mother Nature

The squash is a little guy, weighing in at a little over a pound.  All afternoon I mulled over how the vines had gotten there, and eventually remembered dumping some compost in the bed when I redid the pile in the spring. I guess the compost included a couple of seeds that were still viable.  I've never tried to grow winter squash before, and I'm looking forward to cooking the one that grew all on its own.

Five years ago today: Rescue Plant

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Feels Like Fall


Overnight our hanging-on summer weather disappeared, replaced by temperatures that were 20 degrees cooler.  It wasn't exactly sweater weather, but I finally felt like I could put away my tank tops and white pants.

For dinner I made a sweet potato hash and baked it in the oven.  When I opened the door the heat coming out actually felt good.  After dinner I craved a cup of herbal tea, something I'd given up when the temperatures soared.

In honor of the newfound new season, here's my favorite version of the song "Autumn Leaves".  Enjoy!

Five years ago today: Churchillian

Monday, September 25, 2017

Monster Plant

This year's official 'garden' at my house consisted of one tomato plant and three pots of herbs, all purchased from a garden shop. Back in June the tomato got pruned by some type of critter, but after a short setback started growing again.  It never produced much fruit, though. (Or maybe the same critter had a taste for green tomatoes?)

When the weather turned steamy I started spending as little time outside as possible.  Even though the plant was in a bucket right next to the compost pile I barely glanced at it as I dumped the food scraps and scurried back inside.  At the beginning of August I noticed the plant had grown tall enough to lean on the pots hanging on a nearby shepherd's hook.  By that time, though, it was so entwined with the hanging plants I decided to leave it.

The beginning of September was so cool I thought about pulling out the plant.  After I harvested the first tomato of the season, thought, I decided to leave it in place. Then the weather got hot again, and the plant went into overdrive; it's now it's the monster of all tomato plants!  The stems that were leaning on the shepherd's hook are now poking though the deck rails onto the steps, and others are sprawled out on the ground, making it hard to walk in the area.

The plant is big, but I'm not complaining since I've been harvesting a ripe grape tomato or two every day for the past week.  I know that as soon as the weather cools off production will drop off to almost nothing.

Five years ago today: Music, Music, Music

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Food Court Goodness

Tonight Hubby Tony got together with his group of Guy friends for a night of poker playing.   I was all set to go with him and hang out with the Dolls (wives), who had their own plans, but at the last minute a horrible headache made me decide to stay home.

I knew that the women were going to be enjoying Chinese carryout food, followed by apple pie and ice cream for dessert, but now I was on my own. None of the healthy options in the refrigerator appealed, and I decided to get some carryout food. What, though?  We have a Chinese place just a half mile away, but if I drove a little further I could choose from hamburgers, pizza, sub sandwiches, Mexican, or Middle Eastern. I left the house not knowing where I was going, but before I got out of the subdivision I had an inspiration.  I headed in the direction of Costco.

I shop at Costco several times a month, but for the longest time I ignored the food court located just past the cash registers on the way to the exit. Eventually I tried it out, and now I'm a fan.  The prices are cheap (a hot dog and soda for $1.50, or piece of pizza for $1.99). However, my new favorite is the Chicken Caesar salad-a huge bowl of lettuce, juicy strips of chicken, cherry tomatoes, grated Parmesan cheese, croutons, and a container of Caesar dressing for $3.99.

The salad has enough high-calorie items that it can't be considered a health food, but it's a nice treat.  When I got home with my food I dumped the ingredients from the plastic carryout container into a large metal bowl, tossed them with the dressing, then poured myself a large glass of ice water and sat down to enjoy my meal.  And ate the whole thing.

Five years ago today: We Did It!

Friday, September 22, 2017

There's Always More Than One Way To Do Things

Wednesday morning I came downstairs and noticed that the computer monitor on the kitchen desk was dark.  As in not working.  Thinking that maybe there had been a quick power outage that turned the computer off, I pressed the On button a few times.  Nothing.  Next I tried resetting the surge protector, and heard the motor inside the tower make some noises.  After a few seconds it stopped.  Not good!

Those were all the solutions I could think of before coffee, so after breakfast I took up the project again.  I pulled the tower out from its spot underneath the desk and dislodged a large cat hair dust bunny.   Thinking the problem might be dust inside the case, I took off the cover and cleaned everything out with compressed air.  When that didn't do anything I admitted defeat.

Our computer guy is a personal friend, so I emailed him with an SOS.  Fifteen minutes later I got a text telling me to bring it by his house so he could take a look at it.  As he took the tower out of my car, he told me that based on my description of the symptoms it sounded like an easily fixable power issue.  He could probably have it fixed by time he and Hubby Tony got together on Saturday night.

Between my laptop, tablet, and phone it's not like I have a lack of ways to access the Internet, but as I drove away I realized there was a slight problem. You may remember that each week I put together a weekly slide show for electronic bulletin boards at my church.  I change them on Thursday night or Friday afternoon, and everything I needed to do the update was on my now non-working computer!

At first I thought that perhaps I could just leave the old set of slides in place, but my records indicated that one of them would be out of date after Saturday. I needed to come up with a creative solution.

I use the Microsoft Paint program to produce the slides.  I can navigate the program on the kitchen computer easily, but the laptop I bought several months ago uses a newer version.  Each time I work with it I figure out a little bit more, but this week I didn't have the time to wrestle with its complexities.  Instead, I made a generic "Welcome" slide and saved it on the laptop. 

On a normal week all I carry with me on the trip to the church are three flash drives.  Today I brought the laptop, which I used to remove the slide for the obsolete event and add the new one. Problem solved.

Simple background.  One word.  Done!
Five years ago today: Happy First Day Of Autumn

Thursday, September 21, 2017

We'll Contact You (Maybe)

I enjoy doing my independent consulting jobs.  However, sometimes the available jobs are few and far between and at the end of the month my bank account isn't as large as I'd like it to be. Last night I saw an ad for a grocery delivery service that's getting ready to start operations here. They were looking for people to apply ahead of time so they'd have a pool of applicants to choose from when they launch.  I did a little research and decided it wouldn't hurt to put in an application.

The application process was all done online. They wanted to know my name, address, phone number, and which part of the area I wanted to work in. Thirty seconds after I submitted the application I got a text inviting me to participate in a virtual interview.

Yikes!   In 2009 I had a job interview that was videoed, but for that one I had a real person to talk to.  This time it would just be me and my tablet's camera.

When I received the email my hair was still damp from the shower. I went upstairs and tried to tame it with the blow dryer, then put on a dab of makeup and mascara'd my lashes. Since I would only be seen from the waist up I figured I could leave my shorts on, but I traded in my tank top for a more professional-looking shirt. 

Semi-satisfied with the way I looked, I came downstairs and sat at the kitchen table.  The first step was to do a practice interview, in which I had to answer generic questions (What would my ideal job look like?  What activities do I do for fun?)  I thought the results were cringe-worthy.  Despite my best efforts my hair was frizzy, and without an obvious person to look at I felt like my gaze was all over the place.  However, in the interest of moving on I went ahead and started the real interview. 

I was surprised to find out that it wasn't all video questions; there were also multiple choice and short answers too.  For questions that required an oral response I had thirty seconds to compose my thoughts and three minutes to answer.  The other questions were timed, with a counter ticking down at the top of the screen.

When I finished all the questions I got a message that the company had received my answers and my submission was on file  The company did not say when they would be starting their operations, so I have no idea when they would contact me even if I was selected.  I'm not stressing out over it, though.  They'll either want me or they won't.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

September Summer

At this time of year the average high temperature here is 76 degrees Fahrenheit. The record high is 96 degrees.  It looks like today we'll either break the record or come close:

Just last week it was lovely and fall-like. Hubby Tony and I opened the windows, and each night we fell asleep listening to the nighttime sounds. Over the weekend the temperatures started inching up (but the humidity was low, which made things bearable).  However, last night an hour before bedtime it was 84 degrees and sticky.  We reluctantly turned the air conditioner back on.  Instead of crickets and cicadas, I fell asleep to the mechanical hum of the air conditioner motor.

The forecast says it's going to be really hot again tomorrow, too.  Then it will inch down from the low 90s into the high 80s, and finally back to normal by this time next week.  I can't wait!

Five years ago today: Walk With Me

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tree Away

Shortly after we moved into our house 25 years ago I planted dwarf spruce trees on either side of the driveway. They grew well, and eventually got about five feet tall.

Last fall I noticed that the tree on the left had large patches of brown needles. A garden center diagnosed the problem as spider mites, and recommended a miticide. After a couple of applications some portions of the tree seemed to snap back, but the branches on the bottom completely lost their needles. This summer the tree continued to decline.  When I looked at it with a fresh eye last month I realized it was probably time to get rid of it.

I was going to get Son Donald to do the job when he was home from college during the break in between the summer and fall semester, but he was getting significant hours at his paying job to fatten his bank account. The tree was a manageable size, so I was pretty sure I could do it myself, but I wasn't excited to do strenuous work in the summer heat and the job kept getting put off. However, Hubby Tony recently mentioned how shabby it made the front of the house look and I realized it was time to put on my big girl panties and get to work. Tomorrow is trash day and yard waste pick up, so this morning after breakfast I put on some old clothes and my yard shoes and got ready to 'detree'.

The first step was to gather my equipment--garden gloves, a pruning saw, long handled shovel, hand trowel, compost fork, large plastic flowerpot, plastic tarp, and the green waste recycling bins.  I started by sawing off the branches from the bottom up.  The lowest were only a foot above the surface of the garden bed, so I had to stoop down to get to them, being careful not to kneel on the crunchy brown needles that flew off as I jostled the trunk.  Halfway up to the tree's top I found two tiny abandoned bird's nests nestled in the crooks where the branches met the trunk, signs that critters had enjoyed the shelter the tree provided.

When all the branches were removed the six inch diameter trunk stuck up like a mutant totem pole. I cut it off in three pieces, and tossed each to the side.  Finally, when there was nothing left but a stump I started digging around it with the shovel and compost fork, removing the dirt to the tarp by the flower pot full and exposing the roots underneath. I pulled up the roots when I could, but used the saw to cut through the bigger ones. Several roots extended beyond the tree's planting area; I left them in place, figuring they'd disintegrate over time.

Every so often I'd try to wedge the fork underneath the stump and lever it to see how much progress I was making. It was very satisfying to feel the stump start to wiggle, and finally topple over. One good tug later it was out of the ground!  It wasn't surprising that the small tree had a small root system, and I was able to add it to one of the yard waste bins.

There was too much dirt on the tarp for me to move it all at once, so I repeated the bucket filling process in reverse, dumping the dirt back where it came from. My original plan was to add compost to the area, but by this time I was too hot and tired (the entire job took me an hour and twenty minutes, and I considered it my workout for the day). After the ground settles I'll go back and do the enriching.

Now, with a tree on only one side the garage looks lopsided.  The second tree is in better shape, but it's still showing signs of age.  Tony and I will have to decide if we want to keep it or take it out too and start fresh.

Five years ago today: Bell Ringer

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Demonstration And Dissent

Back in the beginning of August a trial began for Jason Stockley, a white police officer accused of killing Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Stockley had waived his right to a jury trial in favor of a bench trial, so after the trial ended the entire city waited for the judge to issue his verdict. On Friday it was announced...Not Guilty.

The judge also issued a 30 page ruling that described his reasons for the judgment.  I read it, and thought it seemed logical and reasonable. However, not everyone thought so.  There had already been rumblings of protests if there was an acquittal. Sure enough, within a couple of hours of the verdict a group assembled downtown. Things started off peacefully, but later in the day the demonstrators smashed the windshield of a police vehicle and threw rocks, water bottles and other items. The police responded by using tear gas to disperse the crowds. All weekend groups of protesters have popped up in different neighborhoods, malls, and festivals.  So far there hasn't been any major violence, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it stays that way.

With the entire metropolitan area on edge, events started being cancelled right and left. Tonight Hubby Tony and I were going to attend the Moonlight Ramble, a nighttime bike ride through the city. By lunchtime on Friday we received emails that it was a no-go. Just about every venue downtown or close to downtown (including the Symphony and concerts by U2 and Ed Sheeran), followed suit, citing the fact that the police department wasn't in a position to provide the standard amount of protection.

This afternoon Tony and I discussed what we wanted to do with the now-open evening. We tentatively settled on a jazz festival in an area we were pretty sure protesters wouldn't come to, but first we wanted to attend Mass and a reception for one of our priests who is leaving. We got busy talking at the reception and by time we got home all thoughts of going out again had disappeared.  Probably just as well.

More than likely some sort of protests will take place again tomorrow.  I hope with the start of the work week on Monday things will start getting back to normal.

Five years ago today: Basement Memories

Friday, September 15, 2017

Travel Jewelry Roll

On my summer vacation I brought more jewelry than I usually do for a ten day trip.  I needed a way to store the necklaces.  Wanting to save my money for shore excursions and souvenirs, I started rooting around in my jewelry box for a solution. At the very bottom of the box I found a set of gold plated chain necklaces presented in a thin flannel jewelry roll I received at least a decade ago.  The  chains were no longer shiny or wearable, so I took them out and repurposed the jewelry roll. It kept things from getting tangled up, but it was really too short; the longer necklaces hung out of the bottom.

When I returned home I knew I needed a different solution before my next big vacation.  The project bounced around in my head for a while, then inspiration hit. I decided it would be easy to make a new one.  Here's the result:

Opened up
The big problem with the original roll was that it was too short, so I decided that the new one should have a pocket at the bottom to hold longer necklaces.  I still wasn't looking to spend a lot of money, so I used a piece of floral upholstery material from my fabric stash, which I thought also lent a vintage touch.

The steps:
  • Cut two large rectangles and one small one for the pocket. 
  • Lay pieces of ribbon (for the holding straps) across one of the large rectangles.  Pin them at the edges.
  • Lay other pieces of ribbon (for the ties) across the same rectangle.  Pin them on one side, and roll the loose ends up in a ball and pin to the center so I don't inadvertently sew over them.
  • Hem the top of the pocket piece.
  • Put the large rectangles right sides together.  Sandwich the pocket between them. Pin everything securely.
  • Sew everything together, leaving a gap for turning. Trim the corners. Turn right side out and hand-sew the gap closed.
  • Pin the strips of holding ribbon into place across the width of the roll.  Sew several rows from top to bottom, making channels to hold each necklace.
  • Put jewelry in and admire the result!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

No Seeds For Me

Hubby Tony did something really out of his comfort zone at work.  To celebrate I told him I'd take him out for a nice dinner. He chose a nearby steak and seafood restaurant, and this evening I met him there.

The restaurant's menu was extensive, but what really caught my eye was the early evening specials, which offered choices of select starters, entrees, side dishes, desserts, and drinks for a set price.  I chose a Caesar salad and Salmon Dijon with a baked potato. Tony ordered a house salad, filet Mignon, and potato.

It didn't take long for the waiter to bring our drinks.  A couple of minutes later the busser set bread and butter on the table, and our first course came out shortly after that.  Based on the traditional menu items I didn't expect any surprises with the salads, and I was correct.  Both were as expected-fresh greens lightly tossed with dressing and garnished appropriately.  The waiter offered freshly ground pepper before he left us to enjoy our food.

After the salad plates were taken away we sat and talked until the entrees came.  My large salmon filet (which covered half of the plate) was topped with a lightly toasted mixture of bread crumbs and Dijon mustard.  The other half of the plate held a perfectly-cooked baked potato.  Nestled in between the two items was half of a lemon.  At first I thought its rind had been cut decoratively, but when I looked closer I discovered the fruit end was covered by a small mesh net. The edges of the net were elasticized, making it look like a very small shower cap.

I was still puzzled about the reason for the net until I picked up the lemon to squeeze juice over my fish, and realized it kept the seeds from falling out onto my food .  What a great idea!

Both of us polished off all our food.  When the waiter came back for our dessert orders I asked for raspberry sorbet, and Tony ordered creme brulee. The sweets came and we ate all of them, too.  I can't speak for Tony, but when I left the restaurant I felt like I was waddling.

Five years ago today: Blink And You'll Miss It

Monday, September 11, 2017

Did You Know?

A friend who knows I'm a sucker for trivia sent me a link to a fun article called "29 Interesting Facts About The Internet You Really Need To Know"

Some of my favorite facts: 
  • Approximately 3.2 billion people use the internet. Of those, 1.7 billion are Asians.
  • China has treatment camps for internet addicts.
  • 30,000 websites are hacked every day.
  • The first webcam was created at the University Of Cambridge to monitor the Trojan coffee pot.
  • ”Gangnam Style ” by PSY is still the most viewed videos of all time (with more than 2,840,000,000 views).
  • The first tweet was sent by Jack Dorsey on March 21, 2006, and the first YouTube video (“Meet At Zoo”) was uploaded by Jawed Karim at 8:27 p.m. on April 23, 2005.
  • Approximately 9 Million adults in Britain and one-third of Italians have never used the internet.
  • The term ‘surfing’ the internet originated in 1992, courtesy of a New York librarian whose name was Jean Armour Polly.
  • In 2010 Finland became the first country to make the internet access a legal right.
  • Almost half of the world’s population are internet users, and nearly half of them have Facebook accounts.
  • Every minute 72 hours of YouTube video content is being uploaded.
Five years ago today: Midwest Special

Thursday, September 7, 2017

It's All In The Presentation

Just a couple of days ago it felt like summer. Then, on Monday night when a cold front came through we turned the air conditioner off and opened up the windows. It's been wonderful to fall asleep to the sounds of the crickets at night and wake up to the birds chirping in the coolness of the early morning.

This weekend I will be attending an event that includes a basket raffle fundraiser.  A group of us decided to donate a gift card and collected money to buy a certificate to a local grocery store.  However, by itself the card looked boring and I was afraid it would be overlooked. 

I went shopping at the craft store, where I found a cute scarecrow.  I brought it home, tucked the gift card under its arm, and secured it with a couple of pins.  I think it has more 'oomph' now, don't you?

Monday, September 4, 2017

The End Of Another Season

Non Sequitur
Labor Day is considered the ceremonial end of the summer season.  Hubby Tony and I had several commitments that kept us in town this weekend, but we managed to fit in a nice combination of 'have tos' and 'want tos' that made it feel like a holiday.

On Saturday, we ate lunch at Blues Fired Pizza, a new-to-us food truck with a drive-through brick and mortar location  not far from where Sons Brian and Donald went to high school. (The building used to be a coffee stand.)  As we arrived, we saw the truck backed up to one end of the building. We walked up to the window, placed our order, then had a seat at one of the nicely-shaded tables. Several minutes later we smelled our pizza cooking.  Less than five minutes later our pizzas and salads were ready.  The pizzas were single serving sized, and there were no leftovers to take home.

On Sunday we went to the Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. This is the 100th Annual festival, and it's always well attended. Tony and I toured the church and the gift shop, then went through the dinner line. We each got a salad, and shared a plate of pork kebabs with rice pilaf so there would be room for dessert. It was tempting to get one of every pastry they had for sale, but we controlled ourselves and bought a piece of baklava and a kataifi (a shredded filo roll with chopped nuts and honey). We brought them home, brewed some tea, and shared them halfies. Both were excellent.

Today we purchased a new mattress and box spring set for one of the spare bedrooms. Rather than have it delivered, we tied the pieces securely to the roof of my car, then took a scenic route home that kept us on residential streets 95 percent of the time. Every time I went over 20 miles an hour the plastic wrapping on the mattress started flapping in the breeze and I was convinced the pieces were going to slide off; I was really glad to pull into the driveway. For dinner Tony cooked bratwurst and corn on the cob and I contributed braised red cabbage. We finished off the meal, and ended summer with perfectly ripened seasonal fruit.

Five years ago today: It's Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Happy Brthday, Eugene Field

Children’s poet Eugene Field was born in St. Louis on September 2,1850. In honor of the day, here's a version of his poem "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" that combines the original Walt Disney Silly Symphony animation with the music of Donovan.

Five years ago today: Weed Through

Friday, September 1, 2017

Stairwell Inspiration

I had a doctor's appointment this afternoon. From past experience I knew that parking for the building can be an issue, so I left the house plenty early. As it turns out it was no problem to find an open space, and I walked into the lobby with ten minutes to spare.  With my extra time I decided to work on my step count for the day and walk up the stairs to the fourth floor doctor's office.  When I entered the stairwell I saw a laminated motivational poster on the back of the door.

I guess I wasn't the first one to think using the stairs was a good idea!  The motivation continued as I climbed.  At the top of every flight of stairs there was another poster on the door, and sometimes an additional one hanging on the wall next to the door.  The sayings drew from many genres.  My favorites were:
  • One good wish changes nothing, one good decision changes everything.  (Anonymous)
  • You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. (Wayne Gretzky)
  • Eighty percent of success is showing up. (Woody Allen)
  • If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else. (Yogi Berra)