Thursday, November 30, 2017

An Advent of Gratitude

Last week I came across the Facebook page for An Advent of Gratitude, which is "a 24 day challenge to shift the focus of the Advent season from consumption to gratitude...born out of an over-coffee conversation between three friends".  I thought it was a wonderful idea, and it didn't take me long to like the page to make sure it showed up on my own wall.

The page's guidelines say:
Most Advent Calendars present us with a gift each day leading up to Christmas. The purpose of this Advent of Gratitude is to remind us of the gifts we already have, what we often take for granted, what we can and should be grateful for. Each daily reminder includes a suggestion for payment, a small monetary gift that in 24 days will grow into a donation, payable to a charity of your choice. At the end of this challenge, please donate to a charity, preferably somewhere local, that serves those less fortunate than you.
My challenge starts tomorrow.  I've slightly changed the wording for Day 6 (which originally said "traveled outside of Canada"), Day 11 (they used the term "graduated from university"), and Day 21 (their reference was "more than 100 km", which I converted to miles and rounded up). 
  • Day 1- Pay .25 for each woman in your family who graduated from high school.
  • Day 2- If you rode in a car today, pay $1. Pay $2 if you drove the car.
  • Day 3- Count the light switches in your house. Pay .25 for each one.
  • Day 4- How many pairs of shoes and/or boots do you own? Pay .10 per pair.
  • Day 5-If you have never experienced having your electricity or heat shut off due to inability to pay the bill, pay $5.
  • Day 6-If you have traveled outside of the United States, pay $2. Pay an extra $2 if you have traveled within the past 6 months.
  • Day 7- Pay $2 if you’ve bought a gourmet coffee in the past month.
  • Day 8-If you went to work today and earned an income, pay $2.
  • Day 9- Pay $1 for every refrigerator/freezer in your home.
  • Day 10- Count every cell phone in your home. Pay $1 per phone.
  • Day 11- If you graduated from college, pay $1 per degree.
  • Day 12- How many televisions do you have? Pay $1 per TV. Pay $1extra if you subscribe to Netflix.
  • Day 13- Open your pantry. If there is more food than you can consume in 2 days, pay $2.
  • Day 14- Pay $2 if you have more than one bank account. Pay an extra $2 if you have investments that earn income.
  • Day 15- If you slept in a warm bed last night, pay $2.
  • Day 16- If you have visited your doctor this past year, for something relatively minor, pay $2.
  • Day 17- Count the faucets in your home. Pay .50 per faucet.
  • Day 18- If you’ve bought gifts for others this season, pay $1. If you added ‘a little something’ for yourself, pay an extra $1.
  • Day 19- If your home has more than 25 books, pay $1. If more than 50, $2.
  • Day 20- If your parents had a high school education, pay $1. If one attended college or university, pay $2. $3 if both attended.
  • Day 21- If you are traveling more than 65 miles for Christmas festivities, pay $1. Pay $2 if you are confident your vehicle will get you there.
  • Day 22- Count the coats in your closet. Pay .25 per coat or jacket.
  • Day 23-Pay $2 if you can name more than 5 people who love you.
  • Day 24- If you have a pet, pay $2. Pay an additional $2 if you have more than one.
Would you like to join me in this challenge?

Five years ago today: Modestly

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

It Was Nice While It Lasted

Weather Song (to the tune of "Oh My Darling")
What’s the weather?
What’s the weather?
What’s the weather, everyone?
Is it windy?
Is it cloudy?
Is there rain?
Or is there sun?
(Author Unknown)

The calendar says it's late November, but the temperatures here don't agree. Ever since last Friday the highs have been 10 to 20 degrees over our average 50° Fahrenheit, and a couple of days they've flirted with record-setting. 

This morning when I left the house for a work assignment all I needed was a light jacket.  By the time I was finished it was warm enough to ditch the jacket and walk around in my shirtsleeves.  I drove around doing some errands, and the sun beaming into my car made things downright toasty.  I really wanted to fritter the day away, but (sadly) had to get back home to do paperwork.

When I walked into the house I realized how stuffy it felt compared to the outside. It was all closed up and the furnace was on, because it hadn't occurred to me to turn it off.   So that's the first thing I did.  It felt delightfully decadent to open up some windows and let the fresh air in.  The cats weren't particularly impressed, waking up from their nap just long enough to notice that something was different before going back to sleep again.

I also pulled my flip flops out from the back of the closet, but stopped short of changing out of my jeans.  Things stayed nice until the sun went down, then the temperature started dropping enough that I regretfully closed the house back up and turned the furnace back on.  According to the forecast tomorrow's temperature will be close to normal and we'll need it.

Five years ago today: Breaking News

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Roast Your Own

We are a house of coffee drinkers. During the week our ground of choice is Costco Colombian Dark Roast, but on the weekend we treat ourselves to whole beans, freshly ground immediately before brewing.  Often, we've roasted the beans ourselves.

It all started when Son Tony sent us some coffee he'd roasted for Mother's Day 2015. Later, he gifted us with the equipment to do it ourselves. (I was surprised to learn roasting can be done in some hot air popcorn makers, which is what we have). Tony's education had come from  the website Sweet Maria's, which sells a wide selection of green beans, roasting supplies, and brewing supplies.  The equipment gift included a personal roasting lesson.  Since that time Hubby Tony has been the main coffee producer, but I've been known to roast a bean or two myself.

My latest session was this weekend, to take advantage of the sunny, mid-60 degree weather. (Coffee roasting produces quite a bit of chaff and it's much easier to do outside.)  Before I started I gathered all the things I needed  for the project-the bag of green coffee beans, the popper, an extension cord, a measuring cup, a colander, a funnel with a large bottom opening, and jars to hold the roasted beans. 

After setting everything up on the table on the deck I got started.  Our popper holds a little over a half cup of beans.  After pouring in the beans I put the popper's plastic hood in place and turned it on.  A batch takes somewhere between seven and eight minutes.  After approximately three minutes the beans will 'crack', start smelling fragrant, and the chaff (dried husk) flies off. The darker roasts we like eventually do a second crack and get an oily exterior. 

I was using my phone's timer, but I still looked into the popper chamber to check on the color of the beans every once in a while to make sure there were no surprises.  When the beans were done I dumped them into the colander, agitated them until they were warm to the touch, then used the funnel to pour them into a glass jar. Freshly ground coffee gives off quite a bit of CO2, so I placed the jar lid on loosely and set it on the kitchen countertop overnight.  This morning I tightened the lid and stored the jar in the pantry.

In case you're interested, here's more information on the process:

Five years ago today: I Love A Challenge

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Random Pre-Thanksgiving Thoughts

Have you ever received a Thanksgiving card? A couple of days ago this showed up in my mailbox:

It came from my college alma mater. Inside, in addition to a pre-printed Happy Thanksgiving there was a handwritten note from a current student that said "Thank you for supporting my education" along with her name and graduation year.  I thought it was a nice thing for the school to do.


Today, in addition to all the normal chores and activities, I've been busy with pre-Thanksgiving meal cleaning and preparation.   Once again I'm hosting the extended family, but the majority of the food is being brought by other family members.  The house is in a bit of a shambles--the tablecloth is draped over chairs in the dining room, and a pile of napkins is set on a chair waiting for their once over with the iron.  I've made and cleaned up multiple cooking messes.  After dinner we'll start the dishwasher so it will be empty for the big load tomorrow.

The last dish I prepared was the pumpkin pies.  After I filled the two crusts I had extra custard, which I poured into a greased bowl ,microwaved, and ate.  Had to do something with it, right?


After dinner I was going through some paperwork when I realized I had volunteered to attend a meeting tonight.  I had ten minutes to change my clothes, throw my coat on, and get out of the house.  Now, all of the tasks I had planned on doing tonight are pushed back until tomorrow.  Good thing our big meal isn't until the evening.

Five years ago today: Turkey Time!

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Do you know about Uncyclopedia, otherwise known as "the content-free encyclopedia that anyone can edit"? The satirical website does a good job of parodying Wikipedia, and some Uncyclopedia articles actually contain a link to the corresponding Wikipedia article.  Some of the humor is too juvenile for my tastes, but many of the articles slyly lampoon the real thing.

Just like the original site, you can click the "Random Article" button. I've enjoyed "learning" more about:
  •  Puerto Rico ("The United States government refuses to recognize Puerto Rico as a state, solely for the reason that they don't feel like going around the world painting an extra star onto each and every American flag in existence ")
  • The Dictionary (Today, the “Dictionary” has become a key tool for parents and teachers alike when they are too embarrassed to admit they don’t know the spelling or meaning of a word. “Go look it up in a dictionary,” has become one of the most popular phrases in American schools.)
  • Mold ("Mold is a miraculous artificial life form. Without mold, society as we know it would not exist today. One can find mold in such environments as rotting produce, unmaintained apartments, Petri dishes, and Jell-O.")
Five years ago today: Tastes Like Chicken

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Conspicuously Concealed

Several weeks ago Hubby Tony and I 'cut the cord' and told the cable company bye-bye. We reactivated our lapsed Netflix subscription, and Tony bought an HD antenna, which lets us steam the local channels. However, because of the set up of our room the antenna did not work well positioned behind the TV. Instead, it's placed on an adjoining wall about a foot away.

The black wire draped across the space looked unsightly, and my first thought was to somehow camouflage it. However, after a lot of thought I decided to hide it in plain sight.

First I ran the wire tautly across the wall, and used a staple behind the entertainment center to keep it in place.  Next, I poked around on the internet until I found a bird silhouette, then bought a piece of heavyweight felt at the craft store. I printed out the bird shape, attached it to the felt, and cut two shapes out.  The last step was to use some adhesive putty to stick them in place so it looks like the birds are roosting.

Five years ago today: Gratitude

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Why Rake When You Can Mulch

We've lived in our house for 25 years. When we moved in friends gave us a housewarming gift of a six foot tall maple tree. Hubby Tony and I figured out the tree's mature width, and planted it in the back yard appropriately close to the north side of the lot line. The small specimen took a lot of knocks from the three young boys that ran around the yard on a daily basis, serving as second base for baseball games, and home for games of tag.

But the tree grew. And so did the trees our neighbors planted. Now we're surrounded by mature leafy specimens.  And, at the end of the growing season those leaves turn beautiful colors.  Then they fall off.  The other day the lawn was nearly covered. In the front yard the leaves were red from the neighbor's tree. In the back yard they were yellow from our maple.

There was rain in the forecast, so I wanted to get the leaves off the grass before they turned into a wet, clumping mess. Instead of pulling out the rake, I reached for the lawn mower. 

It only took a couple of swipes before its mulching function turned the leaves into bits of colored leaf confetti.  Based on past experience, I know those chopped up bits will disintegrate and decompose into the ground.  When I was done my side of the grass was neat and clean.  There was a clear delineation between our yard and the neighbor's

Here's a Before and After shot of the areas:

Front yard----------------------------------Back yard
I put the mower away knowing that my work was just a temporary fix.  Both trees still have a substantial number of leaves left on the branches. Based on past experience we'll have  to repeat the process two or three more times before we can call it done.

Five years ago today: A Bittersweet Song For the Veteran's Day Holiday

Saturday, November 11, 2017

More Than Just Veteran's Day

Today is, of course, Veteran's Day (or Armistice Day/Remembrance Day, depending on what country you live in) which commemorates the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

However, today is also the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, one of the patron saints of soldiers.  On Facebook today uCatholic, one of the pages I've Liked, posted a link to an interesting article called The Catholic Origins of Veterans Day.

 From the article I learned that:
Advent, like Lent, used to be a 40-day period of fasting called “Quadragesima Sancti Martini” (Saint Martin’s Lent). Because Saint Martin’s day fell the day before this fasting would begin, like Fat Tuesday for Lent, “Martinmas” as the day was commonly known, was a great day of feasting after the fall harvest and before Advent, and was a marked with major celebrations, traditionally starting at the 11th hour.
As was a centuries-old tradition in Europe, warring nations and parties who sought to end conflicts would sign their treaties on his feast day November 11 in Saint Martin’s honor and in preparation for Advent.  In accordance with this tradition, the official armistice that ended “The Great War” or World War I, was signed on the feast of Saint Martin during the 11th hour.

Friday, November 10, 2017

By The Light Of The Exit Sign

Yesterday before dinner Hubby Tony and I walked up to church, where I installed the week's slide show of activities on the three monitors placed around the campus. I realized that I had gotten one of the slides wrong, so after dinner I drove back up to correct the mistake.

Thanks to the time change it was already dark at 6:30 pm.  Although the parking lot was half full from a soccer game going on, there was no volleyball practice in the parish center gym.  The building was dark and the door was locked. I let myself in with my limited access key and had started messing with the TV screen in the lobby when I heard a tap on the door.  When I looked up I saw a man who looked to be in his late 60s or early 70s motioning at me to let him in. Although we live in a safe area I momentarily hesitated, but that seemed rude. After a couple of seconds I decided he looked harmless and opened the door a crack.

The man explained that 'they' had talked to someone in the parish office who directed them to this building.  He said they were getting married in the church this weekend, and wanted to practice their dance for the reception in the multipurpose room tonight.  Could they?

I was torn about what to do.  On the one hand I'd be leaving in just a couple of minutes and the couple would be alone in the building.  On the other hand he didn't look like he could cause any problems, most of the building was behind a locked door, and there would be some evening meetings starting at 7:00.  I told him I though it was a beautifully romantic idea.  The man stuck his head out of the door and yelled over to his fiancee to come in. Several minutes later the woman (who looked to be about the same age as the man) arrived carrying a small boom box.

They thanked me profusely.  I left the building as they were headed towards the multipurpose room, and I said a quick prayer that I had done the right thing.  As I drove away I realized that the room would be pretty dark.  Its overhead lights are controlled by a timer, although there are a couple of dim emergency lights and two large plate glass windows on the north side of the building that would let in some light from the parking lot. 

I had another errand to run, and after I finished it my curiosity got the better of me.  I had to see what was going on, so I drove through the church parking lot, stopping at one of the large windows. Sure enough, I could see the couple dancing in the middle of the room.

Five years ago today: Emergency Or Scam?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Figure Of Scrutiny

Several years ago a self-storage facility popped up about a half mile from my house. The two story building has rows of large windows on the wall that faces the road, which showcase the bright red doors of the interior storage rooms on the second floor.

The speed limit on the road is 40 miles per hour, fast enough to drive by the building without seeing all the details.  It wasn't until I was out walking one day earlier this summer that I noticed a security guard standing on the second floor next to one of the storage room doors.  When I took a second look I realized it wasn't a real person.  Instead, it was a cardboard cutout of a security guard.

After that I started being more observant whenever I passed the building.  It's always fun to see what the 'guard' is up to. At night the corridor is brightly lit, and the figure really stands out.  During the day it's less visible, but definitely there if you know what to look for.  The cutout shows up in different areas on the floor.  Sometimes there are two identical models, each looking over half of the area.   

We live in a safe neighborhood, and I'm sure the building has a good traditional security and surveillance system in place.  To the casual observer it also looks like the facility has a 24 hour lookout, too.  And just the sight of a guard, real or not, is probably a enough to deter people who have the wrong idea.

Five years ago today: You Can Never Have Too Much Garlic

Monday, November 6, 2017

National Saxophone Day

According to Wikipedia Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone (and other 'sax' instruments), was born on this day in 1814. Somewhere along the line an unknown person designated today as National Saxophone Day in his honor.

In honor of the day, here's one of my favorite pop songs featuring the instrument:

Five years ago today: I Can Get Used To It

Friday, November 3, 2017

Who's Your Cat Daddy?

Last night Hubby Tony and I went to a book discussion and signing by Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist and host of the Animal Planet show My Cat from Hell.   He was promoting Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat!

Left Bank Books
If you've ever seen the show you know that Jackson is a colorful character with two full-sleeve tattoos, a shaved head, sculpted sideburns, and facial hair that changes on a regular basis who carries his cat toys around in a guitar case.  He helps families who have misbehaving cats, teaching them techniques so they can coexist with their pets.

The price to attend the event was only a couple of dollars more than the price of the book itself, so I put it on the calendar and Tony bought the tickets. We received an email on Tuesday indicating the event was sold out, and encouraging us to carpool to the venue. The event began at 7 PM, but the doors opened at 6 PM, allowing time for everyone to get their books and a signing line number. Tony and I figured we'd be there on the early side. When we pulled into the parking lot a couple of minutes before 6, there was already a line of people (we guessed about 150) in front of the building who had gotten there even earlier.  However, the doors opened right on time the the event was well organized. 

We were in our seats 30 minutes after we arrived.  I spent the time leafing through the book, which seemed to have a wealth of information about cat behavior and provided lots of practical tips.  The room filled up, and  when the author came out on the stage about 400 people were waiting expectantly.  He spoke for about 45 minutes, answered questions for another 10, then left the stage and got ready for the signing portion.

The line signing tickets were divided into groups, which was a civilized way to handle the large amount of people.  We were in Group 3, so we waited in our seats until it was time to line up.  When it was our turn the line was escorted out of the auditorium, down a short hall, and through the lobby where the signing table was set up.  Halfway through the line there was a person who asked us if we wanted the book personalized. He wrote the information on a Post-It note and attached it inside the front cover.  When we reached the top of the line another person took the book and opened it to the correct page.  Jackson signed the book, gave us a short personal comment, then moved on to the next person.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Last night I was in a meeting. My phone was on silent, but I still have it set to vibrate when a call or text comes in. Halfway through the meeting I sensed a series of three tones, one after the other.  Normally I don't check my phone when I'm otherwise occupied, but the rapid succession had me somewhat concerned. Even though I knew it was rude I pulled my phone out of my purse and held it under the table to see what was up.

All of the texts were from Son Tony to our family group.  The first one started off by saying that he and his girlfriend Ie had exciting news to share.  The next one contained this photo:

There were a couple of additional photos, and then a flurry of messages from others in the family. I lost all interest in the meeting's topics.  I wanted to share my congratulations, but decided to wait until the meeting was over. The next 45 minutes were the longest of my life.

Five years ago today: The Customer Is NOT Always Right!