Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blogger Comments Feedback

Thanks to everyone who voted in the recent Blog Comments poll! The question was:

What's your preferred method for responding to a visitor's comment on your own blog?

The Poll results were:

65%...I post a response in my own blog, below my visitor's comment.
24%...I visit my commenter's blog and leave a response in their most recent post.
12%...I like some other method; I'll leave a comment about it in your most recent post.

Comments about votes included:

Mouse Medicine: your sidebar question is a bit like intentions....although I might have a preferred method of responding to a visitor comment....I often get backed up and my responses to comments often go the same route as good intentions...unless of course a reader asks a direct question, then I do my darnest to reply and answer the question....often going to their blog or sending an email....

The Saltonstalls: I say leave them on both. We all like comments - so more is better right?

Alaskan Dave Down Under: I generally reply to comments on my blog(s). But if I find a new commenter then I'll go to their site and (if I like the site and content) then I'll leave comments there --but only about their post. I'll also see who's been visiting my blog(s) lately and how they got there. And again, if their site is interesting, I'll leave comments --but only "on topic".

Dudette in the Kitchenette: Both? I love getting comments too! So I like to comment on the other person's blog about one of their posts that I like or find interesting. Although, if someone comments on my blog and they've asked a question or I feel like I should respond, then I may write a comment on my own blog. There's no "right" answer, so I say, go with your gut! In general people usually appreciate a comment or a response!

Currently Purring: My rule of thumb is to keep the comments attached to the post they relate to. So I respond to comments on my own blog. When I get comments from someone who I don't recognize, I make a point to go to their blog to check it out. If I have comments on their content, I'll be sure to leave it there on their blog.

My overall takeaway from this exercise is:

  • If someone leaves a comment on one of my blog posts, I'll add a response to them on my own blog, below their note, as I've seen so many experienced bloggers do. This makes for a fun and interesting dialogue and the visitor will know that I appreciate them taking the time to both stop by AND to comment.
  • If I receive a comment from a new visitor, I'll take a minute to visit their blog in return, and leave a comment there, in addition to the response I make to them on my own blog.

There...that's settled. Thanks for your help, all you fabulous bloggers, you!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Alphabet of Daily Life - F

F is for the Fresh Air Fund.

For anyone not familiar with the Fresh Air Fund program, it's a way for inner city kids from lower-income families to enjoy a summer vacation in the country.

I'd heard about the FAF for several years, especially through news articles in our local paper, but had never done anything about it. Finally, one year I decided to just go for it and become a host family.

Hosting a Fresh Air child is an easy and low-cost way to help someone in need. There are no costs to apply or to host...the only money we spend are gifts we buy or events and activities we take part in. To get started, I just visited the Fresh Air Fund website, and submitted an online inquiry. Immediately, a local volunteer got back to me to help me learn more. In order to host, we went through a thorough screening, which included:

  • Criminal background check
  • Community references (as I recall, a personal friend, work supervisor, and school official or clergy person)
  • In-home visit, interview, and inspection

Once we made it through those steps, we were then asked about the child we'd like to have as a visitor. We could choose age and gender, and could also opt for a 2-week visit in July or a 1-week visit in August. Since my daughter is an only child, she thought it would be fun to have a "little sister" experience, so we chose a female in the 5 to 7 year range. And, our spunky, funny Fresh Air child came to visit!

Our first summer, we chose the 2-week visit, which we decided afterward was not the right option for us - it used up all of my summer vacation, and the kids tended to get on each other's nerves after the newness wore off. Our second summer, we chose the 1-week visit, which works well for us - I still get to take more time off for our "other" vacation, and everyone is still getting along by the time we say goodbye.

Our Fresh Air child will be coming again this summer, and we'll probably do many of the activities we've done before, including:

  • Lots of swimming at Plunkett Lake in Hinsdale - beautifully clean and quiet.
  • Lolling around at the luxurious Sand Springs Pool & Spa in Williamstown (they donate free admission to host families and children).
  • Picnics anywhere and everywhere.
  • Wading and exploring at Mount Hope Farm in Williamstown.
  • Going to the Hollywood Drive-in.
  • Hiking (nothing too strenuous!) nearby nature trails.
  • Cooking! She loves to cook and usually helps with anything going on in the kitchen. She especially likes banana pancakes (as she says..."it's not like; it's LOVE") and Beach Bunny Cake from my Retro Beach Bash cookbook.
Photo Info:

#1: The girls explore the pond near where the Fresh Air bus arrives in Bennington, VT. We have a picnic here (fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, cake, and lemonade) before we get onto the road back to our house. This is also the place where we share the Welcome Bag - full of funny and playful things. Popular items are the fart putty, feather boa, and squishy gel things.

#2: Getting the bacon ready to go under the broiler, while the banana pancakes are cooking on the griddle.

#3: The local Fresh Air kids got to march in the Williamstown 4th of July parade!

#4: The girls sitting on the Eyes on the lawn of the Williams College Museum of Art. (These eyes light up with purple lights at night - very cool!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Alphabet of Daily Life - E

E is for Electronics...

As you might guess from the recent e-Addictions post, we looooooove our electronic gadgets. Here's a little ditty that could be considered our theme song:

The things we find we just can't go without are:
  • computer (mine)
  • laptop (my daughter's, although I wish it were mine)
  • digital cameras
  • cell phones
  • iPods
  • flash drives (we use our flash drives constantly and usually have them with us wherever we go).
Then, of course, there are all the individual chargers, car chargers, universal charger, adapters and transmitters (that's the basket full of tangled wires) that are part and parcel of keeping all of these things alive. And, the battery charger and rechargeable batteries (because digital cameras seem to eat batteries for breakfast).

Last but not least is access to the Internet. I know this may cause fainting, but we only switched from dial-up to cable wireless a few months ago! And, we only did that because my computer was out of commission and the laptop needed wireless. So, I bit the bullet and had wireless cable access set up. We're so glad we did...we feel like we came into this century and have such fast Internet speed, which makes blogging a possibility. Not to mention that we can also answer our land line now when we're online. Soooo 21st C.

Now, to make a decision about the TV (we only get one channel - abc - because we don't have cable). It has rabbit ears, and if it's raining or snowing or the neighbor is revving his engine, forget it - no TV for a while. But we'll save that decision for another post.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Night Recap

Yet another momentous night has come and gone.

The 81st Academy Awards show was so enjoyable this year. It was also different from any other we've watched because we participated in the live Twitterfeed as the event unfolded. This means that anyone watching the show, who also has a Twitter account, posted little snippets of their thoughts - 140 characters or less - as they occurred.

Watching this real-time commentary from people throughout the world added a different dimension to the experience. I don't know the final number of tweets posted during the show, but I do know they were coming in at a rate of hundreds per minute for a good deal of the event. The plus side of the Twitterfeed was hearing from such a large audience in real time; the down side was that I was often distracted from the show itself while reading the incredible volume of tweets, and sometimes missed important shots or comments.

On the food front, we've decided that this year's Oscar Night Menu was our favorite so far...we nibbled through the night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As far as liking or disliking the show, we really don't think in those terms. To us, the Oscars are fabulous no matter what - each year is just a little different depending on the host and a few other variables. But it's all good. A few highlights from the night included:
  • Ann Hathaway as Nixon.
  • Hugh Jackman channeling Fred Astaire...puttin' on his top hat.
  • Acknowledgement of Meryl Streep's record 15 career nominations.
  • Kate Winslet's dad whistling in the audience so she could spot him during her acceptance speech.
  • Heath Ledger's family accepting his award, and being allowed to talk as long as they wanted.
  • Jerry Lewis winning the Jean Hersholt award...I watched him through teary eyes, remembering all the hilarious movies of his that I watched when I was just a kid.
  • Phillipe Petit successfully balancing an Oscar on his chin when the documentary about his life, "Man on Wire," won the award.
As far as winners, I won't recap can find results on a million websites. According to my personal ballot, 46% of my predictions were correct. The only time I remember KNOWING someone would win an Oscar was the year I was watching Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman." I could just tell as I watched him perform that this was a big one for him - he was so formidable. Looks like I wasn't quite so sure of my choices this year.

By this time next year, I'm hoping we've found a mini statuette to grace the center of our feast table. If anyone knows where we can get one, let me know!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oscar Night Menu

Since Oscar Night is such a momentous and reverential night, we MUST have a special menu!

Some magazines and cookbooks offer full meal menus for this fabulous night, but we've always done "nibbles" - lots of delectable goodies that we can just graze on during the event. So, here are our nibbles for tomorrow night:

  • Sparkling Drinks
  • Cheese Tray: Sharp Cheddar, Port Salut, Havarti with Dill, and Herb Cheese Spread
  • Pate with Peppercorns & Pepperoni
  • Ciabatta Bread & Assorted Crackers
  • Condiments: Mango Chutney & Whole Grain Mustard
  • Hummus with Sea Salt Bagel Chips
  • Steamed Artichokes with Butter Dip
  • Grapes & Clementines
  • Assorted Olives & Pickles
  • Vanilla, Chocolate, and Cappucino Pizelles
  • Mini Chocolate Eclairs

My mouth is watering even as I write. I can't wait for tomorrow exciting!

Friday, February 20, 2009

LinkWithin Widget

Okay, I'm just tooooo excited to not post about this...

I happened to be checking out my "Blogs I Learn From" feed, to see the new posts fellow bloggers had put up. While I was visiting the fabulous A Beach Cottage, I noticed something below the most recent post.

At the end of each post, it read: "You may also like these stories:" followed by three mini photos, and the blog titles from past posts that go with them. Below the photos and titles was a link that read: "What is LinkWithin?"

I clicked the link to find out more, but was a little doubtful that I could use it because A Beach Cottage is created on typepad rather than blogger. I'm happy to report that I was wrong!

The LinkWithin widget has been created for fairly universal blog use - you simply select the platform you're using and the proper gadget/programming is selected for you...quite slick. If you want to try this for yourself, just click the link above (or below) and follow the prompts. It's that easy, and just looks so great! Plus, it helps keep past posts (which contain VERY important information!) from being forgotten.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I believe I have officially and unwittingly passed over some invisible threshold...and it happened so quietly and without warning.

We were at Wal-Mart recently, using the photo machine to scan prints that were taken the old-fashioned way, with a camera and film. I needed the photo to give as a gift and didn't have the negative (I know some people reading this may not know what a negative is, but believe me, we used them!).

The photo machine is great for making prints from prints, or for enlarging or printing in black & white or sepia. And, there's usually a long waiting line any time we go, even with 3 machines, so we're definitely not alone in our need for this service.

We scanned the image, printed the copy and took it to the cash register to pay. The young guy behind the counter said (and I'm not kidding), in the most pleasant and cheerful voice:

"Oh, cool, a vintage photo. Where and when was this taken?"


When did this happen to me? When did the photos from my younger days become vintage? I'm sure many others who have gone before me have had this experience already, but this was my first initiation into this new world called vintage. Well, I guess it's all downhill from here.

Unless vintage is a really cool thing?

The Photo is of my brother's wedding in about 1987, at the Lenox House, where EVERYONE had their wedding reception. Pictured in photo...
Front Row: my niece and flower girl Jessica, and Cindy, the bride and my soon-to-be sister-in-law.
Back Row: (all my siblings...only my brother Frank is missing; here's everyone including their birth order from 1 to 9) Lou (the youngest boy, #6), Garry (the oldest boy, #2), Eve (the wild baby, #9...I'm 10 years older than her), Sue (#8, our southern peach...lives in Georgia now), Sharon (#7, the fashion plate), me (the middle child, #5), Ruth (#1, the oldest of all of us...she took care of us so often that she was kind of like a mother to me), and my brother Bob, the groom (#4, the Harley Davidson rider).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

OMG - OSCAR Night!!

(I don't think I included enough exclamation points in the post title.)

Oscar Night is coming on February 22nd!!!!

I'm guessing that we approach this night the way many approach Superbowl Sunday parties (have only heard about Superbowl Sunday parties through folklore, but have never actually experienced one - sports just aren't our thang). For the momentous, stupendous, enthralling Oscar Night...

  • We need careful planning of the menu...choice nibbles and special treats, but nothing too stuffy, along with sparkling drinks. (Here's what Wolfgang Puck will be serving at the Governor's Ball...ours won't be quite that elaborate.)
  • We tune in for The Barbara Walter's Oscar Special at 7:oo (similar to the Superbowl pregame show?) and watch right on through to the end.
  • We comment liberally on clothing and personalities.
  • We check off our ballots to vote for our Oscar faves.
  • And then we settle in to listen to the chosen host, to see how the stars are at presenting, and to see if our selections are the winners.

It ends up being a pretty late night, but it is so worth it.

Some day, I would like to hold one of those gold statuettes in my own hands...preferably the one Vivien Leigh won for playing Scarlett O'Hara or the one Gone With the Wind won for Best Picture, one of the TEN awards it received way back in 1939.

Oscar Trivia: Did you know that the statuette is an art deco rendition of a knight? He's holding a crusader's sword and standing on a reel of film with 5 spokes, which represent the original branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS)...Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, & Technicians.

Bette Davis thought she was the one who first called him "Oscar," because she said he looked like her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What's in the Car?

We were out shopping yesterday, and happened to be moving things around in the car to make room for our bags. As we did that, we were struck by how the content of one's car, which is so personal, can tell us so much about the owners.

The photo at right is of our car picnic...we needed to eat while we were shopping, but were tired of fast food. We went into Stop & Shop and found a few goodies - french bread still warm from the oven, marinated mozzarella, roasted garlic, olives & feta, and fruit.

For example, here's what's in our car:

  • Atlas: this is always in the car, stuck between the front seat and the console. We wouldn't go anywhere without it and use it for reference often. (My daughter learned how to read one when she was the "Navigator" on our road trip to Wyoming a few years ago. I learned to read one long ago when my father taught me how, so I could drive myself to my various military posts around the US in my little VW "Lady Bug.")

  • Mapquest Directions: we have a folder next to the Atlas that contains Mapquest directions to our favorite spots - Holyoke Mall, World Food Market, Northampton and Albany spots.

  • Electronic Gear: we can't go very far or for very long without our electronics! We have an iPod radio transmitter which we use often, an iPod charger, a cell phone charger (do we even own that particular cell phone anymore?), and a universal charger (has a "regular" outlet so just about anything can be plugged into it and charged).

  • Dry Cleaning: we call this "the perpetual bag of dry cleaning" as it seems to sit in the car forever and get moved from seat to seat to make room for the next passenger. I just never seem to get around to dropping it off (or picking it up).

  • Cleanliness Items: we have a fetish about napkins and wet wipes, and can't be without them. (Helpful Hint: I learned the hard way with my first few cars - wet wipes are NOT good for cleaning interiors! The alcohol dries out the vinyl and it eventually cracks.)

  • Personal Items: aspirin and a brush. We don't go anywhere without aspirin - it can cure anything, and there is nothing so debilitating as a bad headache. (A clever folded-paper water cup that came with some aspirin we purchased at a rest area during our Inauguration trip is somehow still in the car.) And, my daughter usually needs a brush at some point during a drive.

  • Ice Skates: my daughter used my skates a few weeks ago and discovered that they need to be sharpened; I wonder if they'll stay in the car as long as the dry cleaning?

  • Netflix: the last DVD I watched is waiting to be returned to the post office - Sunrise, 1931. I'm in the midst of watching every Oscar-nominated movie and am currently in the 40s, but the older ones get mixed in now and then as they come off the waiting list.

  • Book on CD: the case for my current commuting book on CD - John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" - still has 4 CDs to be listened to, and isn't due back to the library for a week or so.

  • Neck Pillow: we bought inflatable neck pillows at an airport shop during one of our trips - was it to Chicago or San Francisco? They're great for getting comfortable to nap on a plane, but also work well in a car.

  • Freezer Pack: this was forgotten in the car by my daughter - she used it on a bumped knee. This particular pack came in an order of smoked rambole cheese that we purchased from Amazon's gourmet shop online as a gift for a friend - it shipped in an adorable miniature cooler with these disposable freezer packs, which we reuse.

  • Games: just in case we need to pass the time, we have a few games in the car...sudoku, Chat Pack (asks random questions to spark conversation), and "52 Things to do in the Car" (like the alphabet or license plate games).

  • Blanket: we keep a royal blue fleece blanket in the trunk, for just in case it's ever needed. I was given it as a thank you gift from our local United Way after I trained their volunteers in public speaking, which I've done for a few years.

  • Goodwill: we usually have a bag "going" in the trunk, with items we're giving to Goodwill (usually clothes). We keep adding to the bag, and then drop it off some time as we're driving by their donation center.

  • Reusable Shopping Bags: we found these at one of our favorite bargain haunts - Family Dollar. For $10, we were able to buy 10 bags, of a decent weight, to keep in the trunk for use whenever we shop.

  • The "Usual" Stuff: does everyone keep this in their car? Car paperwork (registration, service bills, manual, copies of past "warnings"), pens, a dying flashlight, an umbrella, an ice scaper, wiper fluid.

It's interesting to think about how the various items we collect in our vehicles are so personal to our lives. They give a glimpse into personalities and lifestyles. Just curious...what's in your car?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

4,000 Questions - #7: Unrequited Love

Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts.

Question #7: Who was your unrequited love?

This one is in honor of Valentine's Day!

Are you out there Eddie Evjan? I first met Eddie, and his friend Ronnie Richardson, when I was at my 91C phase one training as a Medic in the Army. We were at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas and I had just turned 18.

Eddie and Ronnie were in my unit, and we usually ended up near each other in formation. Units like ours were often "assigned" to military ceremonies at the parade grounds. We seldom knew what the ceremony was for or who was being honored, but a show of troops, well trained in drill & ceremony and looking spiffy, was needed for effect. As we stood through these ceremonies, standing ramrod straight and listening to the drone of the speakers, we would often chat in quiet voices, moving only our lips.

During these chats, Eddie, Ronnie and I became fast friends and often hung around together in our off-time. At this point in my life, I had to wear black "Clark Kents" - military issue glasses; personal frames were not permitted. I also had a short and unflattering haircut and didn't know too much about makeup. And I was thin and wiry. Eddie and Ronnie liked our three-musketeer friendship, but I don't think Eddie ever felt anything more than that for me.

For me, it was a different story. Eddie was in my dreams and he was all I thought about as I learned how to fill syringes, give shots, and create and maintain a sterile field. He had black spiky hair and a mustache, and as I recall, he was Norwegian. He was a little older, maybe in his 20s. To most of us, he was an "older guy."

In my naivete, I began to display signs of liking him as more than a friend - unskilled flirtatiousness, "accidentally" bumping into him or brushing against him, constantly trying to be around him. The poor guy. I was just so smitten.

One night, we were walking back to the barracks together on a cool November Texas evening - the sky was wide and dark and full of stars that time of year. He was gently explaining to me that he really thought of me as a friend, but not more than that. My heart was broken, even as I knew this moment would have to come - I had sensed that my love was unrequited.

We stopped for a moment, standing on the sidewalk outside our buildings in the chilly darkness, with only a few street lamps for light and no one around. Somehow - I really can't recall how it was initiated - Eddie agreed to give me just one kiss. My god, he gave me the kiss of my life. It was long and soft and the world went away. I think he took care to make it extra special for me. Then we went our separate ways, and we didn't hang around as buddies anymore - I think he didn't want to lead me on.

I remember Eddie every now and then, and think of that kiss...that kiss...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vacation Planning

It's interesting how vacation planning really gets me through the year. I like everything about it...choosing a location, planning itineraries, budgeting, searching for restaurants to try...everything. In fact, thinking about this week that we go away is what I daydream about whenever things get really stressful and it calms me right down.

We try to spend one summer at the Cape and then the following summer somewhere else that we haven't been before. However, with the advent of our Fresh Air Child visiting for a week, this has modified our plans for the last couple of years.

Last summer was our week at the Cape. We usually go to an adorable little cottage in Dennisport, which we've stayed in for years. The nearby beach is Inman, where it's quiet and friendly, and the water is calm. We've enjoyed ourselves there and know our way around fairly well.

One of our day trips this past year was to White Crest Beach, along the national seashore. We happened to get there just when waves were at their peak, and the beach was packed with surfers. We spent the day boogie boarding. We were exhausted at the end of the day (especially when we had to climb back up that sand MOUNTAIN to get from the beach to the parking lot), but had the best time ever. We've used boogie boards at Inman Beach, but we usually just float on them or use them to keep our collected shells while we wade around in the water. But our experience at White Crest Beach was "real" boogie boarding. An exhilerating eye-opener.

We're going back to the Cape again this year, and want to spend most of our time at or near White Crest Beach. So, we're in the midst of trying to find a reasonably priced cottage somewhere nearby. I've seen a few, and am juggling various options - close to the beach, wifi availability, size, the adorableness factor, the setting, and, of course, within our budget.

If anyone knows of a fabulous and affordable cottage near White Crest Beach off of Ocean View Drive, please let me know!

Monday, February 9, 2009

4,000 Questions - #6: Supermarket

Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts...

Question #6: Tell about an incident with a child in a supermarket or store.

We really never suffered through some of the tough-parenting-situations-in-grocery-stores that I've seen so often on "Super Nanny," thankfully. I really don't know how I would have handled such monstrous ordeals. I've been blessed with a well-behaved girl. We've been grocery shopping together for many, many years, and here's how we've handled it during various stages of her childhood:

  1. Toddler: when my daughter was under 3, she rode around the grocery store buckled into the front basket of the grocery cart, where I could see her and talk to her. Our first stop was always to the produce section, where we immediately grabbed her a packet of freshly sliced raw mushrooms or pea pods. These were her special favorites; she would munch away as we shopped, and then we'd just put the empty packet on the checkout belt and pay for the container. She's horrified now, to think that she ate raw mushrooms, but she loved them then.

  2. Youngster: when she was a little older, my daughter LOVED to ride in the grocery cart that looked like a car from The Flintsones. We'd head directly to the book section, she'd choose a book or two to read as we shopped, and then off we'd head to get our groceries. She quietly and studiously read to herself as I filled the front of the cart. Then she could buy the books at the checkout, so she was always adding to her home library. (This photo isn't exactly like the one in our Stop N Shop, but it's pretty darn close.)

  3. Child: when she was 10 or so, Mrs. Claus gave her walkie talkies for Christmas! Such a great gift for a girl this age. She would take her walkie talkie to the next aisle over and look for the item I had "assigned" her. She was just so funny, really. She would ask me detailed questions on her walkie talkie, taking extra care to make sure she chose just the right product. She doesn't know that I was so often rolling with laughter, even as my eyes were tearing with love over her precious earnestness as she whispered her questions to me into her walkie talkie.

  4. Teenager: now she is often with a friend when we shop. I usually "assign" her the items that she'll be eating herself - granola bars, juice, and other snack foods. It's interesting to help her understand about unit prices and help her learn how things "work" in a grocery store so she'll be able to do this herself one day. I think she'll be a little more interested when she is actually shopping for herself and learning to make weekly meal menus and stay within a budget (although she IS a really good budget shopper).

Well that's our story of my daughter coming of age in the grocery store. Your answer...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Alphabet of Daily Life - D

D is for...DDR

For those who are as yet uninitiated into the wonder that is DDR, this acronym stands for Dance Dance Revolution. It's an active video game that we run on Playstation. And, it's FUN!

This game first entered my consciousness a few years ago when a friend and I passed by an arcade in the mall and saw people playing DDR inside. It just looked like such an interactive and exciting game. As arrows move by on the display screen, players move their feet about the dancepad, and try to hit the arrows. Hitting the arrows scores points. We bravely tried it ourselves, but didn't do so well (extreme understatement). Still, I had the DDR bug after that.

Seeking to know more, my Internet research revealed many articles about using DDR as an exercise tool. In fact, it seems that some of the more forward-thinking school systems in various parts of the US are actually using DDR in gym class, to the great delight of students.

Based on what I was reading online, I learned that a usable setup would include:

  • Playstation or XBox to run the game (shockingly enough, we didn't already own one of these!)
  • A TV for video display (we were able to use an old one we had lying around)
  • The DDR game disc (there are quite a few game versions to choose from, though not always readily available in local stores)
  • At least one dancepad

It took some budgeting, but we eventually got all of these items and set them up in my daughter's area of the basement. We started with one dancepad, but quickly upped it to two. This allows us to do synchronized dancing and have a little friendly competition. One of the pads is thick, which my daughter likes because it cushions her legs during the movements, and one is the flat and uncushioned version which I like, because I can feel the floor beneath my feet and feel more capable on it. For games, we chose DDR Extreme II and SuperNova (our favorite of the two).

When we first got everything set up, and learned how to play, we used it almost daily. Now that I have a Planet Fitness membership, I don't use it as often, but still like it quite a bit. And, when my daughter has a group of friends over, they invariably end up doing a little DDR together.

To push myself to improve, I usually try a dance on Level II a few times until I get a "rainbow bar" and AA* score, then up it to Level III. (We don't even bother with Level 1/Beginner because the slower the song, the harder it is to get it right; faster is actually easier.) By learning the moves at a Level II, I can usually stumble my way through the next higher level. This seems to be the only way to learn how to manage the blur of arrows coming at you as you progress in difficulty.

My daughter is very good at DDR, but I can definitely beat her on several of the games (which I consider to be one of my major accomplishments). Our favorite thing to do though, is the synchronized's just so cool to be doing all of the steps together.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Twitter for Newbies

I first signed up for Twitter when we were heading to the Inauguration.

We knew people would be keeping up with our blog posts about what we were experiencing during this important and historical event, but also knew we'd be away from the computer for much of the time. Which meant our web updates wouldn't be that frequent or current. A fellow blogger, Currently Purring, had a "Follow Me On Twitter" section on her blog, and I could see updates she'd posted throughout the day. This seemed like just the tool we needed to keep our Inaugural posts updated.

I Googled Twitter and went through the easy Sign Up process, and now have my own account. I was able to easily set up my cell phone on Twitter, so I could post messages at any time from any place. And, I added the Twitter updates in the blog sidebar. This allowed me to update our blog about what we were doing during Inauguration (that is, until all cell service just stopped when the circuits were overloaded from the activity! That's me in the photo, Tweeting easily on the day before Inauguration.). I continue to use this sidebar update as a tool to keep at least a little fresh content always visible on my blog.

I've also learned a few things about Twitter along the way that I thought I'd share in my Tech Tips:

once you sign up for Twitter, you can customize your home page in so many ways...change the background, add a photo, update the color scheme, modify text. There is really a lot of leeway in how you make your page look, and you can even make it kind of match your blog, if you have one. To make changes, just click on "Settings," then on "Design." The options to add photos or modify colors are at the bottom of the page, below the template designs, which you can also choose from.

  • A comment on Twitter is a "Tweet."
  • To tell others about something someone else has Tweeted, you "Retweet."
  • If you take all of your Tweets and enlarge the words you write most often, those words make up your "Tweet Cloud" - the bigger the word, the more often you use it.
  • "Followers" are fellow Tweeters who want to see your comments.

FOLLOWERS: These can be people you know or just strangers who feel the desire to connect with you based on where you live, what you comment about, or some other compelling reason. It's okay if a stranger follows you; I generally take a look at a new Follower's profile to read it and review their past Tweets before I begin following them, but it's considered polite to Follow in return. On rare occasions, I'll get a truly undesirable Follower, which I just ignore and they usually stop following after a few days; there's a "Block" option, which I've never used, as it seems a bit extreme.

TOPICS: so what do people Tweet about? I've seen such a variety that I don't think there is a right or wrong topic or reason for using Twitter. The comments I've seen so far are: quick updates of what someone is doing "right now" so friends on Twitter or blog viewers are kept in the know; direct responses to comments from other Tweeters; sharing of information or tech tips to inform the Twitter world; and advertising or promoting a blog, website, product, news article, video, etc. (Be sure not to Tweet toooo often though, because that's kind of like spamming in the Twitter world and you may lose a few Followers.)

FIX A TWEET: CAUTION...there is NO Fix a Tweet tool (yet). Whatever you write will be posted as-is for all the world to see, so make sure it's written and formatted the way you want it before you click "update." You can, however, delete a Tweet once it's been posted; just click on the little trash can that highlights when you scroll over the right side of the Tweet when you're on your Profile page.

RETWEEETING: if you like a website or other info that a fellow Tweeter has shared, you can Retweet it to your own group of followers. The correct netiquette for doing this is to be sure to credit the original sender. Here's the format you use: "Retweet (or RT) @(insert Tweet Name here) (insert link or info you liked here) (insert why you liked it here)" and click Update. So here's a sample Retweet... "RT@loveanewidea Love the Inauguration stories - thanks!" (Note: you're limited to 140 characters per Tweet, so you sometimes have to simplify what you're trying to write. Using all 140 available characters is called a Twoosh.)

TWEET LABELS: if you're Tweeting about a popular topic, many Tweeters label their comments so they can easily be processed by search and statistics tools. These labels are called Hashtags. To label a Tweet, just write #(insert name of label here). So, if a current hot topic in the world of Twitter is road sign hacking (which currently IS a hot topic on Twitter), you would probably see a label such as "#signhacking" on Tweets, and would want to use that same label at the end of your comment on that topic.

REPLIES: Tweeters often respond to one another's comments. There are two ways to do this. "Reply" is the public method, and allows the recipient and others to view your response. To "Reply," just move your cursor over to the right side of the sender's comment; there is an invisible star and arrow next to each message, and these icons highlight when you scroll over them. Highlight and click on the curved arrow, which opens up a new dialog box for your response to the sender. "Direct Message" sends a Tweet to only the selected recipient, and no others can view it. To "Direct Message," just click on this option in your right panel; on the page that opens, you simply choose your recipient from the drop-down menu of all your Followers.

FAVORITES: if you especially like a Tweet you've viewed, or want to keep the info in a Tweet for future reference, you can Favorite it. Just scroll over the star to the right of the comment until it highlights, and click on it. This automatically moves the comment to your "Favorites" which you can view any time.

TWITTER STATS: Just paste this URL into your web browser: and enter your Twitter Username to get stats on your own username. To find out how you rank, paste this into your browser: or; you can check your own rank or anyone else's (warning: this can be very sad at first because your rank will be pretty low compared to seasoned Tweeters). You can also find out if anyone is Tweeting about a topic you're interested in with this nifty Search tool.

TWITTER HELP: if you STILL want more info about Twitter, you can find it at Twitter Help. You can also learn shortcuts to do many of the things I've explained above if you want to learn them.

I'm sure I've just skimmed the surface, but the info in this post is what I've been able to figure out about Twitter in the past couple of weeks. I also know I average 6 Tweets a day and my Twitter rank is currently 13.62. I'm predicted to have 47 Followers in 30 days. And, today the top 5 words in my Tweet Cloud are: blog, Twitter, DC, dinner, and inauguration.

You might also like this terrific Intro to Twitter video.
And, here are a few Twitter applications you might find useful.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Blogger Help Needed!

Being fairly new to blogging, I'm still learning "The Rules."

As any blogger knows, one of the especially fun aspects of publishing posts is receiving positive comments from visitors from throughout the world. Likewise, it's nice to be the one leaving the comment too. So, here's where blogger help is needed.

What is the proper netiquette for responding to comments?

So far, I've seen it handled in two different ways:

  1. The blogger who received the comment responds on their own blog, below the visitors comment (this is the method I usually use).
  2. The blogger visits the blog of the commenter and leaves a comment there (I don't normally use this method, but it is really nice to have the commentee visit and leave a note on my site).

So, is there a generally accepted or preferred method?

I only ask because I want to be sure I'm not inadvertently breaching the rules of netiquette. I'm posting a poll in the sidebar and I hope you'll vote on your preference. I'll publish poll results after the 30-day voting period is done. Thank you in advance for helping me "get it right."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

Like so many people, we love to find a good bargain. For us, the definition of a good bargain is high quality at a low price, and not just a low price. We’ve been living in our local area long enough to know where many of the great deals can be found. Our favorites shopping stops include:
  • TJ Maxx / Home Goods / Marshalls – these three sister stores are tops on our list of bargain emporiums.

    TJ Maxx is really our only store for any type of clothing, shoe or outerwear purchase. We find great fabrics, excellent cuts, and low prices. So we get to be stylish, our clothes last longer and look better on, and we spend less money that we might have in a “regular” store. What’s not to like? I must admit that I’m totally perplexed when people tell me that they have either never shopped there, or don’t like to shop there. What??? Come with us some time, and we’ll show you how it’s done.

    Home Goods is our store for towels, linens, rugs, lamps, cookware, and gifts, all at fantastic prices for high-quality items. I found my most beloved furniture pieces there – matching faux leopard-upholstered living room chairs with curvy carved arms and legs - a luxury I would never have purchased at full price.

    And Marshalls is a kind of cross between the two. We go there when we have some time to spend in Lenox, and sometimes find something. Since it’s not our regular store, we don’t do quite as well there.

  • Big Lots – this store had been in our community for a couple of years before I actually went inside. I really didn’t know what it was or what was sold there…it just wasn’t on my radar. Then, when shopping in Allendale one day, my daughter asked if we could stop in. She had been there with someone else and loved the bargains. I went in skeptically, and wasn’t won over immediately. But after perusing the aisles on different stops for my daughter, it’s become one of the regulars on my own shopping forays. We find all kinds of odds and ends there, all at great prices. I routinely get $5 sheers for the living room (our sheers have to be replaced frequently, because of the cats, so this low-cost option is a life-saver). We find great holiday items, household products at cut-rate prices, and unusual Pier 1-style home goods for just a few dollars. There are also bargains to be had in the food aisles – jams, sparkling water, pasta, cooking oils, etc.

  • Dollar Tree – this is our first stop whenever we have a party. We find the requisite disposable wine glasses, all paper goods, decorations, and even some unexpected themed items we can use. This store is also great for toiletries – all for $1 – toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc.

  • Second Hand Shops – so many people already know that there are bargains to be had at any local second-hand shop. And, in today’s green environment, buying “recycled” is actually trendy. In addition to clothing, you can also find tons of books and cookbooks, and sometimes cooking paraphernalia or dinnerware.

Besides saving us money, the hunt for an incredible bargain is just plain fun. And, we get a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget. (Well, a sparkling wine lifestyle, anyway.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

25 Random Things

You've probably seen this meme on other blogs...posts containing 25 random tidbits about the blog author.

If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged, and come up with your own 25 items. In the Comments at the end of this post, just paste a link to your blog so we can read YOUR 25 Things. Or, if you don't have a blog, feel free to write your 25 Things right in the Comment box.

My 25 Random Things:

  1. I was a Sergeant by the time I was discharged from the Army; I was very proud of those "hard stripes."
  2. Out of the 9 children in my family, I'm smack dab in the middle.
  3. I've been to 49 out of 50 states...still need to get to Alaska. When I'm there, I want to try the Sailor Boy Pilot Bread.
  4. As an art major, I used to be able to draw and paint fairly well; I haven't tried it in quite some time, so I'm not sure if I still have the ability?
  5. I painted the outside of my house myself, even as my knees were trembling while I climbed the aluminum extension ladder up to the peak - it's higher up than one might think!
  6. I collect cookbooks, but they MUST have pictures. Really love my Patio Daddy-O cookbook...a gift from my daughter, who knows me well!
  7. I would like to write a book (or 2 or 3).
  8. I love techie things, like hardware, software, killer apps, gadgets, widgets, and other geek t-shirts that light up when they detect a wireless signal.
  9. I actually enjoy public speaking. My biggest audience was around 800, and I loved it!
  10. There's nothing quite so exciting as a good booming thunderstorm; they're especially memorable down South.
  11. I've never been to a foreign country (shocking, I know).
  12. It would be fun to live in a little apartment above a store in San Francisco's Chinatown.
  13. I'm not bad at DDR, for a mom. Supernova: "Heaven is a Place on Earth" or "Turn on the Music"...yeah!
  14. I like visiting other people whose houses are not absolutely spic and span - seems like there's a little less pressure to be perfect there.
  15. Warner Oland was the BEST Charlie Chan; the others that came after were just interlopers.
  16. I can proudly say "I was there" about Obama's historic Inauguration.
  17. Public transportation systems in big cities seem rather intimidating, which is odd for me since I tend to be a risk taker.
  18. Aspirin and aloe vera can cure just about any ailment.
  19. I don't mind talking with strangers at all, and often strike up conversations when I'm some place new. Usually, they'll talk right back.
  20. I love making and eating good food. When dining on something too divine (like the Lobster Tiffany at The Ebb Tide Restaurant in Dennisport), I've been known to emit quite audible and absolutely involuntary sighs of bliss, so I usually warn my dining companions in advance so they won't be put off by it.
  21. There's nothing quite so comforting as the taste, smell, and feel of a cup of hot tea in a white buffalo china mug with a slice of lemon floating on top and steam rising up.
  22. Beets, asparagus, and brussels sprouts are FAN-tastic.
  23. I love ultra-soft fabrics in shirts, socks, blankets, sheets - you name it.
  24. Making lists is such a reasonable way to organize life...I wonder why EVERYONE doesn't do it?
  25. I've tried skeet shooting, and actually hit my targets. Pull!

What are your 25 Random Things?

Can't think of what to write? Try this idea-generator...
You may also find this
NY Times article about the 25 Random Things craze interesting...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dining for Women

I was invited to a Dining for Women event, but had never heard of it before. Once I discovered just what it was, I was absolutely thrilled to take part in it. For anyone not familiar with DFW, here's what it is:

Dining for Women (DFW) is a dinner giving circle. We "dine in" together, each bringing a dish to share, and our "dining out" dollars are sent to international programs empowering women (we give what we might have spent to eat dinner out that night). Plenty of useful resources are provided to anyone who wants to hold their own event. Our dollars for this event are being sent to The Hunger Project.

According to the DFW website, the Mission of The Hunger Project is: the sustainable end of world hunger and poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America, by empowering people at the grassroots level to lead lives of self-reliance, meet their own basic needs and build better futures for their children.

Because we're all adventurous and like to experience other cultures, our dinner theme was Indian, which is the country where our donation dollars will be used. Here was our covered dish menu:
  • Indian-style Chicken with Rice
  • Samosas with Chutney dipping sauce (my contribution)
  • Cilantro Rice
  • Chickpea & Tomato Curry
  • Saag Panir (that terrific spinach dish w/ Indian cheese)
  • Naan
  • Chili Lime Brownies
  • There were also a few non-Indian dishes for those who were feeling less rambunctious

Making the Samosa's was definitely an adventure...

Chutney Dipping Sauce

The key ingredient in this delectable dip is tamarind, which I've never used before. It comes in a squishy, dark (almost black), flat brick; I pulled a little taste off the brick when I opened the package, and discovered that it has a tangy, sweet, sour flavor. The tamarind cooks for about an hour along with a pound of whole dates, sugar and water. When everything is good and gooey, and the tamarind has dissolved, the mixture goes into the food processor to be thoroughly chopped up.

Then comes the straining to remove the skins - for me, this was the messiest part of the process. It's difficult to work the thick mixture through a strainer and the goo seems to get on everything. I suppose when you've been making it a while, you develop a smooth process, but I was a very messy newbie. I was literally wiping this off the walls - the simple act of tapping the rubber spatula against the edge of the bowl sends dark blobs everywhere!

Finally, the strained thick mixture goes back on the stove along with more sugar and water and simmers for a few hours until nicely thickened.


The basis of these little bundles is baked potato! Additional ingredients, all sauteed in ghee (pungent clarified butter), are peas, onions, garlic, jalapeno (I reduced the amount by 1/2 - not a fan of really spicy), and cilantro, along with the aromatic spices.

Next, the potato mixture gets folded up into little wonton wrappers. The wrappers are made and packaged so nicely - each perfect piece is floured so none of them stick to each other. A spoonful of potato mix goes in the center and the edges are brushed with an egg mixture and everything is folded up. I was supposed to make a cone shape but found this next to impossible! I settled for an envelope fold, which seemed to work just fine. Then, they're fried in hot oil - each one takes only a few minutes to turn nicely brown.

And there we have it - a heaping platter of samosas and a LARGE bowl of dipping sauce (the sauce recipe could easily be cut in 1/2 and there would still be plenty.) They were a huge hit, and made a nice addition to our delicious dinner. In fact, some people ended up eating the sauce all by itself by the spoonful - it's that tasty.

All in all, we raised nearly $200 to send to The Hunger Project and enjoyed a pleasant evening of socializing and eating. Everyone wins with the Dining for Women concept.

Photo Key:
#1 - photo courtesy of the DFW website (I forgot to take pictures until the night was almost over! So, no shots of our actual loaded buffet table.)
#2 - a box of spice mix I found at the World Food Market, made just for Samosas.
#3 - trying not to make too much of a mess as I strain the Chutney dipping sauce
#4 - the Samosa stuffing mix
#5 - trying to make neat little bundles; absolutely love the wonton wrappers
#6 - frying the Samosas


LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs