Saturday, March 27, 2010

Contest: Name My Ride

I'm going on a road trip! I've decided to visit my sister in DC over Spring break. Since the trip is now less than a week away, I am busy making preparations. The first thing on the do-list is simple -- name the car.
Have you ever read Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck? It's a really great book about an extended tour of America that Steinbeck took with his dog Charley. The other major character in the book is the vehicle, who Steinbeck christens Rocinante (after Don Quixote's horse). Anyway, I think it would be fun to have a name for my car, but I'm not clever enough to come up with one. So, I'm asking for your help.
Please tell me what name you think I should use and why. I'll pick my favorite, and announce the winner on Wednesday morning. The winner will recieve a US Great Seal Keychain like the one shown below.

I can't wait to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let Him Eat Cake

Last week was Eliot's first birthday and we had a huge celebration. Everything went off without a hitch, but I think the best part was watching Eliot enjoy his cake.

A chocolate eclair cake is about the best thing in the world for someone who is new to solid foods. It's made with vanilla pudding, cool whip, graham crackers and chocolate frosting. All the chocolate eclair goodness while still being easy to eat. Eliot certainly seemed to approve.

Total Cost: $10 for all the ingredients. Happy birthday Mister Mister!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Irish Beef Stew

At school, I am fortunate enough to share space with the computer people. Fortunate in many ways. First, they're funny people. Second, there is always someone to help me when I have a computer question. Third, the computer guy (Jeff) is a great cook and often shares his culinary creations. Last week, for St. Patrick's Day, Irish beef stew was on the menu.
Have you ever had something that was so delicious it made you pause? Well, that's what happened to me. I had quickly taken a plate and run back to my desk to eat it -- eager to multitask my lunch away. Then I took a bite and it was so good that I had to close my eyes, take a breath and savor the "clean toasted taste."

Later, upon reading the recipe, I found out what made it so delicious -- Guinness Draught and bittersweet CHOCOLATE! Brilliant!

Total Cost: I don't know what he spent, but it was well worth the money. Kind of like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. (Recipe found here.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Price of Beauty

The other day I got a free makeover at Macy's and it cost me a fortune.

As I've mentioned earlier, I went on a field trip with the school choir last week. After the concert and a quick dinner, the students were free to go shopping for about an hour. I was hanging out with the moms and we voted to walk around in Macy's because it was too cold outside. As we sauntered past the cosmetics section, we were beset by makeup artists offering "free" make overs.

Now, I know how this works. You get a "free" make over, and possibly a "free" gift as long as you buy a certain amount of product. ... I decided to go for it. It would be worth the money to get a new foundation and give my students a good laugh. And how much could it cost? Maybe $20? No problem.

So I got powdered and puffed, shaded and glossed, bronzed and blushed and the final result was ... interesting. I chose my products and headed over to the register. The cashier made cheerful small talk while she scanned my items and wrapped them in tissue paper. Then she smiled and said, "Your total is $ &*!%#."

Total Cost: I'm too ashamed to tell you. But on the bright side, I look REALLY good.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring's Door Bell

Spring is almost here, and there are several unmistakable signs of it's impending arrival. The snow is melting and leaving hundreds of muddy lawns all around the city, I can ride with the windows slightly down and the "door-bell bird" has started singing again.

For years I wondered what kind of bird made that whistle-y call that sounded like a doorbell. Seriously. YEARS. And then last fall, I finally figured it out. I was at the Garden Room on the East side, and they had the complete line of Audubon Stuffed Birds. This is a collection of plush birds which, when you squeeze them, make their authentic sound. I tried all of them, in hopes of identifying the elusive "door-bell" bird.

Northern Cardinal? no.
Bald Eagle? no.
Swamp Sparrow? no.
Eastern Bluebird? no.
Snowy Owl? no.
Black Capped Chickadee? YES!

Finally, I had a name and a face to put with that most unique call. So, now that spring is coming and my little neighbors have returned, I feel like I know them -- and whenever I hear them whistle, I whistle back.

Total Cost: The stuffed birds cost $9 a piece, but I didn't buy one. The satisfaction of finally knowing was good enough for me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rachmaninov Plays Rachmaninov

I mentioned earlier about the field trip to the CSO. I forgot to mention what they played. It was Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto 2, and it was amazing. At the very beginning, the piano starts out with several bell like chords which break into a series of rolling notes that are finally accompanied by the violins -- I had chills. So beautiful! (Listen and watch here.)

During the tour of the stage we learned that the first person to play that piece in Symphony Hall was Rachmaninov himself. What would that have been like?! The day we were there, the pianist was Kirill Gerstein, and I'm sure he was just as good.

Total Cost: $0 for the live concert, $10 to download the entire piece from iTunes.

I Stood Where They Stood

One of the great things about being a teacher is that you occasionally get to go on a field trip -- or at least chaperon one. Last Friday I got to go with the school choir to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (at no cost to me). It was a great trip, and there were several highlights, one of which being the tour of Symphony Hall.

Shifra, our guide, showed us all the interesting nooks and crannies of the the building. We saw the room where all the pianos are kept and met a piano tuner who was too busy hammering and tightening to talk with us. We saw the dressing rooms and quiet rooms where performers can go to collect their thoughts and shake off the butterflies before a performance. We saw the back staircase that the orchestra members use to access the stage, all the railings being covered with thick padding in case someone accidentally bumps their 300-year old Stradivarius. Finally, we saw the stage.

Not only did we see the stage, but we stood on the stage and walked around a little bit. It's unbelievable the array of people that have stood right there. Some notables include Rachmaninov, Ravel, John Williams, Aaron Copland, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King jr., Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, Bertrand Russell, Orson Welles, Harry Houdini and Barack Obama. Pretty cool.

Total Cost: $0 for everybody. The tour was free.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Report: No Heat Challenge

Well, I did it ... sort of. Instead of doing the NO heat challenge, I opted for the LOW heat challenge instead. I would turn up the temperature in the early morning and right when I got home from work (just to take the edge off). Other than that, the heat stayed down, and never got above 58 degrees (which is still pretty low).

So how did I do it? How did I live in a refrigerator? How did I feel comfortable in a chilly apartment? How did I "live large" with low heat? A typical day went like this --
  • Wake up warm in my bed which was made up with a down comforter and two hot water bottles. (I was always impressed by how cold my nose was.)
  • Take a HOT shower.
  • Dress warmly and usually in layers -- long sleeve shirt, vest and scarf.
  • Turn up the heat two degrees.
  • Eat breakfast in front of the heating vent. (The heating vent is the closest thing I have to a crackling fire.)
  • Turn down the heat.
  • Leave for work.
  • Enjoy all the heated places I go to during the day.
  • Come home from work.
  • Turn up the heat two degrees.
  • Put on a sweater and a pair of fuzzy socks
  • Eat a hot dinner -- no salad.
  • Have a cup of warm herb tea.
  • Turn down the heat.
  • Put a blanket over my lap while I watch TV.
  • Boil the water for the hot water bottles and put them in the bed to warm up the sheets.
  • Put on my long-johns.
  • Read a book in bed.
  • Go to sleep.
So that's pretty much it, and it went so well the first week that I kept it up for the whole month of February. What do you think? Did I pass or fail?

Monday, March 8, 2010

I've Been Grading Papers

I know. It's been a while. I've been so busy making a living that I've hardly had time to live large, let alone write about it! But now I'm back with stories to tell and tips to dole out. Are you still with me?