Monday, April 30, 2012

Zounds!

I made it!  I completed the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  It was a lot of fun overall, meeting new people via the blogosphere and reading lots of interesting posts.  The fact that I have any followers at all amazes me.

I fell behind in both work and household tasks this month, given the time I spent writing instead of attending to other responsibilities.  I enjoyed the structure of the alphabet letters driving the title and topic of the post.  I admire those of you who were able to work the alphabet across a given theme all month long; I was grateful to be using any available topic to meet the daily challenge.

Some of the posts I wrote a few days in advance just in case my life got too busy and that strategy did pay off on more than one day.  Other lettered posts came to me as I was going through my day.  I knew it would be a stretch to write something intelligible and get online and post it every day, and I’m feeling good that I did it.

I don’t know exactly what will happen to Musings With Dot in the coming months but I am sure that I’ll participate in the 2013 Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  Thanks to my sister for encouraging me to join in the fun; thanks to all who participated, and thank you to those of you who left comments to let me know you visited.  Blog on!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yikes!

I had arrived at the hotel, tired after arising early to post my letter for the day and get to the airport for an early flight to my destination.  The staff meeting didn’t start until 5:30 so I laid down for a nap around 3 PM.

I awoke to the sound of a message being left on my cell phone.  I looked at the room clock and saw it read 4:15 PM so I thought, “great, I have plenty of time to get ready for the meeting”.  I lazily reached over to the phone to see the message and to my horror the notification read:  1 message, 5:15 PM.  Holy smokes, the hotel room clock was an hour off and I hadn’t noticed.  I realized I had less than 10 minutes to make myself presentable and get over to the staff meeting.  Of course I arrived late—about 10 minutes.  The meeting had already started and everyone turned to look at me when I entered the room.  To add to the disruption, there were no more chairs available so I had to go find one before I could settle into the meeting….and I have no idea what information I missed.

I hate when this kind of thing happens—being jolted into action from a deep sleep, and knowing I’m going to be late. I end up not feeling rested at all, despite the nap.  I am pretty compulsive about being punctual.  When I was a kid I was grounded a day for every minute I was late with my curfew, so it didn’t take long to make arriving on time a priority.

Here’s hoping those “yikes!” moments are few and far between!

Friday, April 27, 2012

X-linked Inheritance

Everybody has a paired combination of X and Y chromosomes, with women being XX and men being XY.  Moms can only contribute an X chromosome, while dads can contribute either an X or Y, resulting in a girl or boy baby respectively.

The X chromosome can have dominant and recessive genes, and those manifest themselves in different ways between males and females.  A recessive gene (a) will manifest its characteristics in men since they have just one copy of the X chromosome.  Depending on whether a woman’s other X chromosome has a dominant or recessive version of that gene, the result is the woman is either a carrier of the characteristic (Aa combo) or manifests that characteristic (aa combo).

Dominant genes from a mom will manifest themselves in either her sons or daughters.  The boys will manifest the characteristic since there’s only one X chromosome in their genome.  Women will show the characteristic even if her accompanying chromosome has a recessive version of the gene since the dominant gene will ‘overrule’ the recessive gene…a woman would have either an AA or Aa gene combination, both of which will result in the appearance of the characteristic. 

There are lots of nuances with how strongly a recessive or dominant gene will influence the physical outcome, along with the complexities of blending with the dad’s version of the gene, so please forgive this simplified explanation of genetic inheritance for the purposes of this post.

X was a hard letter!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What Did You Think?

As the A-Z Challenge winds down, I want to thank all who visited my blog and left comments.  Your reactions and encouragement were so very much appreciated!  It was through your comments that I found your blogs, and have been enjoying reading yours, too.  I’ve bookmarked and/or am following many of them and intend to check in even after the Challenge ends.

I’m in the midst of deciding what I’ll do with my blog after the Challenge ends.  Given that I’m a newbie to this and didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t select a particular theme to my posts, although there were some common threads that ran throughout.  I’m wondering whether to keep the topics varied, or to give my blog more focus.

 Towards that end, I’d welcome your feedback.  What posts did you enjoy the most?  The least?  What did you like / not like about the blog?  Once I’ve reached my decision about what to do, I’ll leave a post to let you know.

Thanks again for visiting.  8-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Violence Into Victory

One of our stops on our road trip to the Mid-West last year was to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.  What an amazing remembrance of the people who were killed in the April 19, 1995 bombing at the hands of a domestic terrorist, and a documentation of the activities that took place in the weeks and months afterwards.  If your travel plans take you anywhere close to Oklahoma, the Memorial and Museum are completely worth the drive and time.

There are too many poignant aspects to the memorial to list them all here.  The symbolism of the Memorial is haunting, with the field of empty chairs intentionally placed to show where people were when the bomb went off.  The gates at both ends of the reflecting pool are etched with 9:01 and 9:03 respectively, marking the transition from innocence to evil on that particular day. 

My most vivid memory from my visit was the room that was dedicated to those who lost their lives that day.  It’s set up so each of them has a 8x10 photo of themselves mounted on the wall with a small shelf in front of the picture.  Family members were contacted and asked to provide something that represented a part of their lost loved one to be placed on the shelf.  Some of the shelves were filled with memorabilia of lives filled with activity and accomplishments, other shelves summed up the person’s life with a simple object.  There was the shelf that contained just a small can of hair spray and as you looked at the photo you saw a young woman with really big hair.  On another shelf there was simply a baby’s pacifier for the months-old infant who died in the child care center, too young to have had a chance to develop an inventory of objects to choose from.  Perhaps saddest of all were the empty shelves, where family members either were too traumatized to participate, or perhaps no longer exist.  Amazing Grace plays softly as you walk your way around the room.

I didn’t want to title this post “Victims”, although by one definition of the word they were.  What the Memorial and Museum represents to me is the respectful remembrance of those who were killed that day and the documentation of the courage of survivors and first responders on that scene, even including stories of the dogs that assisted in the search.  The descriptions of how the community and beyond rallied to support survivors and family members of lost ones truly represents a victory over the violence of that terrible day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ukulele Music

I enjoy the music of many instruments, and one of my favorites is the ukulele.  It has such a bright and happy sound I just can’t help but smile when I hear it.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit Hawaii and enjoy ukulele music played live, and it never fails to brighten my mood.  My motivation to actually learn how to play the ukulele came while I was in Guitar Center, browsing while Ivan was looking at equipment.  I saw a songbook entitled “Christmas Carols for the Ukulele”, and since I enjoy Christmas music I thought that would be fun to do.  I bought the book and signed up for ukulele lessons offered by a local music store.

It was a lot harder to learn than I thought, despite my experience with a variety of other musical instruments.  I needed to learn how to strum as well as the fingering on the strings which are tuned differently than the violin, the other stringed instrument I used to hold in my hand and play.  I’m not proficient by any means but I can do a pretty decent version of “You Are My Sunshine”, “O Holy Night”, and “King of the Road”.   Even without lessons, Ivan is a much better player than I.

Locally, there’s an annual Ukulele Festival that provides inspiration to keep with my quest to learn the instrument.  It’s a day dedicated to celebrating the music of the islands, with many performers rotating through their opportunity to strum and sing on stage.  I sit in the audience, singing along softly to the songs I know and listening to the ones I don’t, all with a big smile on my face.

Monday, April 23, 2012

That Was Fun!

I had an excellent time at my stitching class yesterday!  The workshop was held at an EGA chapter member’s home, and she lives in a quiet cul-de-sac in the semi-rural part of town by a sizeable lake.  Bald eagles were nesting in the nearby trees, and we watched a floating island drift across the lake while we sat eating our lunch.

We needed the break!  Seven of us were learning the embroidery technique of Or Nue.  It’s not conceptually difficult but it sure is technically difficult.  Or Nue is pretty much created by laying rows of metallic thread covered up short upright stitches of silk, strategically placed to create the design.  To accomplish that, you work row by row, and for this project you’re carrying 8 separate needles with their respective threads as you move across each row.  Thread management is what is most challenging to me with the technique and I dealt with tangled threads and stubborn knots throughout the day.

The promise of camaraderie was fulfilled as we each struggled with some aspect of the class project and made small talk while working away.  We shared our “oops” and offered suggestions of how to resolve them.  We talked of our excitement of the upcoming regional stitching seminar.  We talked about current events.  The time flew by.

So here’s the progress I made so far.  I’m pleased with the results so far; I really like how this embroidery style looks.  I wonder if I could figure out the design of a dog breed profile in Or Nue…..



Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stitching Class

Today I’m headed to a stitching workshop to learn an embroidery technique called Or Nue.  Or Nue is also called “shaded gold” and is a type of goldwork embroidery using couching where different colored silk threads are stitched over the metallic base of gold threads to form patterns or designs, often figures or narrative scenes. The finished product is a definite pattern, deliberately stitched so that the metal shows through.  The technique was used extensively in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Italy in the Middle Ages.  The design for today’s class is an owl.

I’ve not done Or Nue before, let alone much couching, so this will be a day of learning for me. I’ve been anticipating this workshop for many weeks and today has finally arrived and I’m feeling excited.  I’m also anticipating the camaraderie of spending a day with other like-minded women who can talk about embroidery techniques, projects, and supplies for hours on end and not get bored.  There’s always plenty of non-stitching talk as well, with stories and laughter to share throughout the day as we work away on our class project.

Workshops such as this are one of many educational opportunities offered through the Embroiderers’ Guild of America, hosted by local chapters.  Today’s class is sponsored by a chapter about 100 miles away from where I live, so another plus of the day will be to meet and make some new friends connected by our love of stitching.  It’s going to be a great day!


Friday, April 20, 2012

Road Trip!

We love road trips.  There are so many interesting sights to see on and alongside the roads as we traverse the miles.  Many of them are borne of nature—scenic views of mountains or coastlines or desert, filled with the local flowers, birds, and animals that inhabit the different environments.  There are memorable man-made sights too, including towns and monuments and humorous signs.  Changing seasons and weather will produce dramatically different sights even if we follow the same route to our destination.  

Samantha loves road trips, too, and she’s an excellent traveling dog.  When she sees us putting on a jacket or hears us picking the car keys up off the table, she’s dashing over to us, jumping up and down, unable to contain her excitement.  As soon as the leash gets snapped onto her collar, she strains to pull us over to the front door to start this next adventure.

Once in the car, Sam sits tall in the back seat and looks out the window, taking in everything going by.  I think part of the excitement is that she knows a walk in a new place with all kinds of new smells awaits either along the way or when we arrive at our destination.  She rides with us much of the time, so she’s made countless day trips to neighboring counties; perhaps the most memorable road trip was the one to the Mid-West last year.  

Her enthusiasm and excitement exemplifies the Confucius quote:  “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”.



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q Without U

As we were learning the alphabet and spelling, there were certain sayings which served as rules that provided guidance.  “I” before “E” except after “C” was really helpful in remembering how to spell “niece”, “piece” and numerous other words.  Until one day I realized that “neighbor” and “sleigh” didn’t follow the rule and hence learned the corollary to the rule:  and when the word has a “nay” sound.  I find myself still occasionally muttering the rhyme as I’m writing.

Another rule was “Q” is always followed by “U”, so it was clear how to spell lots of “Q” words such as “quiet”, “quotes”, “quorum” …any “Q” word you picked for today’s A to Z Challenge letter would likely have a “U” following it.

As it turns out, however, not all words with “Q” have “U” immediately following them.  Scrabble has a list of legal words that use “Q” without “U”, which is welcome indeed if you’ve pulled the consonant without the vowel.  Such words include “QADI” (an Islamic judge); “FAQIR” (a Muslim or Hindu monk); and “QWERTY” (the configuration of typewriter and computer keys).

It seems as though there are always exceptions to the rule…

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

People Watching

Disneyland is a great place to people watch as you might imagine!

I see sun seekers, baring lots of skin in the hot sunny weather.  I see sun avoiders, arms and legs and faces covered from the sun’s rays.  I see T-shirts with odd juxtaposition:  a toddler wearing a shirt that says “Stay Away From Gangs”; “Too Bad Ladies, I’m Taken” faded and stretched over a prominent beer belly.  Lots of sports fans wearing their teams’ colors and logos.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears are everywhere, of course.  The best pair I saw were on the bride and groom—hers were white satiny ears with a shoulder-length veil attached; his were black with a top hat positioned between the ears.

I watched one guest check in.  She was pushing a huge stroller and the accompanying luggage cart was completely loaded.  How much stuff did she need?  Turns out the stroller contained quadruplets—two boys and two girls—and the cart was loaded mostly with portable cribs and packages of diapers.  What a brave woman!

The animated Disney cast members are fun to watch, too.  Goofy, Cinderella and one of the Disney princesses were walking around the hotel grounds, smiling and waving to guests.  It brings a smile to my face to see the youngsters’ faces light up when the Disney characters approach them.  

There is a magic to this place…


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Orangies—Meet DJ

You’ve met Nina and Samantha, so here’s DJ, another successful shelter adoption story.  He’s an orange tabby who joined our family about 18 months ago.

‘Orangies’ is a term of endearment for orange tabbies.   Some folks claim they have unique traits and personality, though I don’t think he has any more or less personality than any of my other cats have had.  He is quite personable, gregarious, and simply a delightful addition to the family.

We went to the animal shelter looking to find a black and white tuxedo cat, but the ones that were there didn’t seem interested in us—didn’t want to be pet or handled.  We went out on the catio (patio for cats) and while I was checking out the black and whiters out there, this young orange tabby climbed into Ivan’s arms and settled right in.

Ivan got my attention and when I came over to him, that orange tabby climbed over into my arms, settled into the crook of my arm and then started chewing on my hair.  And it was in that moment we all knew a match had been found.

He tested out as dog-friendly and after filling out the required paperwork we were able to take him home with us.  We were astounded to learn that he’d been at the shelter for two and a half months…how could such a friendly, affectionate, and cool cat not have been grabbed up immediately?  He must have been flying under the radar.

I suppose the answer is that our connection was meant to be.  He was there, waiting for us to just come along and find him. DJ delights us with his antics, his playfulness, and especially that rumbling purr.  We’re looking forward to many years together.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Now Here’s Mickey!

Business travel has brought me to the Happiest Place In The World.  At least that’s what it says on the Disneyland marquee  8-)

When we were growing up, each summer Mom and Dad piled the 3 kids into the station wagon and drove to Southern California for the family vacation.  Disneyland was a given each year, and I remember trips to other Southern California adventure and theme parks and festivals. 

Disneyland was the highlight.  I loved the E rides.  Autopia, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Tom Sawyer’s Island, It’s A Small World, and later, Pirates of the Caribbean were among my favorites.  Jungle Ride and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride were also fun.  I have no recollection of how long the waits were to get on the rides when we were kids.

I don’t have kids, so I’ve pretty much missed a generation of Disney characters.  I get it that Disneyland caters to a newer generation of young people these days, and the electronic gadgets are ever present.  

Today, the Disneyland Hotel is newly renovated.  While pockets of the property pay homage to the Disneyland of the 60s, it’s thoroughly modernized.  Great for business travel.  Great as a family vacation destination.  

I hope the young at heart are enjoying the world of dreams and imagination that I experienced here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mister B

A new neighbor moved in and soon thereafter a Maine Coon cat was cautiously on the scene at our house.  Our cats gave him a hard time at first, but he persisted and eventually became a member of our animal family.  His given name was Buddy, though we called him Mister B.

Despite the neighbor living close by, Mister B chose to live with us. He just never left.  It wasn’t too long before he was getting meals.  That cold night when we saw him huddled on the porch we invited him in, and he was at home inside and outside the house from that point forward.

We had Max, our German Shepherd Dog, at that time.  Mister B would tease Max, rubbing up against him and flitting his tail across Max’s face.  He was there when Max crossed over to the Rainbow Bridge, and was an enormous source of comfort to us as we grieved.

Eventually, we adopted Samantha and Mister B taught her how to behave around cats with one swift whack.  That was the one and only time he drew blood, and Sam quickly learned about boundaries.  They became friends, sitting next to each other on the top step of the back porch, waiting for the sun to reach the staircase. 

Then one day, the neighbor moved away, and quick as Mister B had come into our lives, he was gone.  The neighbor came over one afternoon while I was at work and scooped him off the front porch where he was taking his nap.  I haven’t seen him since.  It broke my heart to see Sam search the house looking for her friend. I like to think Mister B missed us, too.

He lived with us for four years.  I believe he came into our lives for a purpose—to be there for us when Max died, and to help the new puppy successfully co-exist with cats.  He is a remarkably adaptable cat and I hope wherever he is these days, he’s happy and working his magic with his next family.

We’ll never forget you, Mister B.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lice

I know, nobody wants to talk about lice, but I’m going to blog about lice anyway.  Pediculosis, or head lice infestation, is a significant public health issue, and the best way to deal with it is to talk about it.

Would it surprise you to know that lice infestations increase dramatically after spring break?  Anecdotal reports from salons tell us their appointments for lice removal jump to as many as 20 per day in the weeks after spring break.

That’s because lice infestations are not about hygiene, they’re about proximity.  When kids and young adults get together for sleepovers and camps and sports and any other variety of rough and tumble togetherness, the environment is prime for lice transfer and spread.

Eliminating an infestation is not a fun process which is partly why folks don’t want to talk about it.  But the combing and shampooing are important, and there are lots of resources available to illustrate what’s needed.

So please keep checking your kids’ scalps and hair….

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Keeping the Momentum

We’re up to Day 11 in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and I’m feeling, well, a little challenged!   It seems as though it was easy to identify topics for the early letters and harder for the letters we are currently working our way through. I think this is a temporary state of mind for me as I do fully intend to post every day and complete this Challenge.  Just yesterday the “J” blog on http://spontaneoussputterings.blogspot.com) spoke of losing writing momentum with a changing schedule and getting her writing (and spiritual) batteries recharged…a very timely post for me to read!

Momentum increases when either mass or velocity increases.  Think that’s true for writing, too?  Once I’ve blogged my way through 20 letters of the alphabet, will the last 6 come that much more easily? 

It’ll be an interesting week ahead.  I’ll be traveling on business which means even less time available to write, yet being in different surroundings might well provide a rich source of inspiration for topics relevant to the letters N, O, P, Q. 

Momentum is the transition of that initial burst of energy and enthusiasm to the point where your goal has been reached.  It’s making it from A to Z.  Always keep moving.  Some days that’ll be easier than others, but every step forward is taking you closer to your goal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jewelry Making

After years of being awestruck at the beautiful handmade jewelry I’d see at arts and crafts festivals, I decided I would learn how to make jewelry.  I took my first class through community adult education, and then discovered the world of classes offered through the local bead store.

Once you’ve learned the basics of earring and necklace construction—how to wrap wire and anchor clasps—you can pretty much create whatever designs you can imagine.  Experimenting with different sizes and colors of beads, gemstones, crystals, and metals is all part of the fun. Our local bead store (http://www.beadinspirations.com) held a Customer Design Challenge in February to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  The challenge was to create a piece of jewelry that embodies “Love Is in the Air”.   The pieces would be posted on the website and the public could vote for 5 days and then the winner would be announced.  I pulled out my tools and supplies and made a pair of earrings for the design challenge.  It was a fun exercise and it really didn’t even bother me that my design received the fewest votes of the challenge—at least someone out there besides my family had voted for my design!

There are many other types of jewelry making techniques besides basic earring and necklace construction.  I’ve enjoyed taking a pile of jump rings and turning them into chain maille bracelets of varying complexity.  With the aid of magnification and bright lighting I’ve woven tiny seed beads into larger beads which then are strung or wrapped as embellishments.  I haven’t yet tackled soldering or metal stamping or a variety of other jewelry-making techniques—maybe I’ll take those classes next.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Indecision

I consider myself to be, generally, a pretty decisive person.  When faced with a decision, I investigate and identify different options, put them through a pros/cons comparison, and make up my mind about how to proceed.  Most of the time, I can live with the decisions I’ve made and work through the bumps that arise that I may not have considered.  I made pretty straightforward decisions about my life partner, the purchase of my house and other plans that require a sustained level of commitment over time.

Other times, though, I stall out as I hit a wall of indecision.  What surprises me are the issues where indecision seems overwhelming.  In the big scheme of things, they really are pretty inconsequential.  For example,  I’m surprised at how much time I spent trying to decide about the topic to use for today’s blog post….I  went back and forth over this or that topic before realizing what the topic should obviously be!  It happens with my stitching, too.  I have many, many needlework projects in progress…how hard could it be to pick one out to stitch on for the evening?  Yet, in my mind, I’ll debate which project to work on and get so consumed with the debate that the day draws to a close and I haven’t stitched one stitch all evening.

Such is the way with analysis paralysis…in order to avoid drawing a conclusion and making a decision, one instead looks at other ways to slice and dice the information and the decision gets delayed.  I have no idea why some decisions come easily and others are so hard.  I’m reminded of a line in the song “Damaged Goods” by my favorite folk singer/songwriter, Christine Lavin:  “…she’s always second-guessing, look at her hesitate, the littlest decisions are the hardest to make….”   

Whew!  Made it through today’s post.  I sure hope tomorrow’s topic comes to me a little more easily!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Haiku

H is for Haiku, poetry written in 5-7-5 syllable meter.  Here are a few to consider.  Please comment on your favorite, perhaps phrased as a haiku?

A to Z Challenge:
disciplined dedication.
Enjoying the stretch.

---or---

Completely relaxed
with belly fully exposed
Sam sleeps without fear.

---or---

Cherry tree in bloom
casts pink hue to light and air.
I stop to enjoy.

---or---

They used to be pets,
now animal companions.
The love is the same.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

German Shepherd Dog Hospice

Our previous German Shepherd Dog, Max, lived for 13 and a half years.  As he aged, his snout turned silver and his joints grew stiffer with arthritis but it was an inoperable cancer that eventually brought him down.  One day he let us know it was time for him to cross the Rainbow Bridge.

We knew of a vet who would come to the house to administer euthanasia and gave him a call.  We were able to sit with Max on his mat outdoors in the sunshine next to the pool and in the yard he had guarded so well for so many years.  He was in our arms as we hand fed him freshly cooked chicken, distracting him from the vet’s needle as he slipped into unconsciousness and beyond.  Max left this life unafraid and in the arms of people who loved him.  We are eternally grateful to the vet who was willing to come to the house and allow Max to die amid familiar surroundings.

Shortly after that, I learned about the Thulani Program associated with the German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California.  The Thulani Program provides hospice services for GSD who have limited life expectancy due to age or infirmary, but still have quality life left.  It is powered by very special people who have the emotional courage to foster a German Shepherd Dog, providing love, comfort, and care, all the while knowing that grief will soon be following.  I don’t have that fortitude myself, though I support the program in ways that I can.  [If you haven’t yet clicked on the Thulani Program link on my blog, please check it out at http://thulanidogs.wordpress.com ]

Hospice and palliative care services are available for our species, too, though largely misunderstood by the public and underutilized by health care professionals.  End of life issues are difficult to consider and discuss.  We all deserve compassion and comfort as we leave this life; learn what services are available to help.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Favorite Saying

It was right before Christmas, and my calico cat Apache died unexpectedly,  I was devastated.  A friend at work bought a sympathy card and passed it around for my colleagues to sign.  The card stated this Inuit legend:  “Perhaps they are not the stars but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy”.

I absolutely love that idea.  I think about it often when I’m looking up at the night sky and see the sparkle of planets and stars.  One evening I saw the Big Dipper constellation, and had the inspiration to create the saying in needlework, add a Big Dipper and name the anchor stars after animal companions of mine that had passed.

Two years later, I finished it.  It’s my first attempt at creating a design of my own, and I’m pleased with how it turned out.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Egads!

 It’s a special event and you and your spouse head to a favorite restaurant to celebrate.  You get a great booth next to the window with the scenic view.  The menu is filled with tantalizing items---you each order an entrĂ©e and the salad bar.

When you’re at the salad bar, you’re impressed with all the choices available---from cut vegetables and fruits, to nuts and toppings, and several different salad dressing choices.  You load up your plate and head back to your table to enjoy your meal. 

And you do enjoy your meal.  The food tastes good; there’s lots of laughter and good feelings going on around the table and you both enjoy the celebration.

However, later that evening, your spouse starts complaining about a stomach ache.  You’re not feeling too well yourself.  And within the hour, you’re both experiencing projectile vomiting and worse and your evening is now ruined. 

You were just poisoned by the food in your favorite restaurant.  Not intentionally, of course, but from this point forward, you’re never going to feel quite the same about the place. 

Does it surprise you to hear that the biggest food safety problem we consumers face is at the salad bar?  Even though the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, 76 million people get sick, more than 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 Americans die from foodborne illness. Preventing foodborne illness and death remains a major public health challenge. 

The culprit in most foodborne illnesses is bacteria.  Bacteria are everywhere and they grow on food, doubling every 20 minutes!  They do particularly well in foods that are high in protein such as milk, meat, fish, or eggs and food with high water content such as fruit and melons.  Freezing, refrigerating, and drying foods do not kill the bacteria—it just keeps them in a dormant state.  When you thaw the food or remove it from the refrigerator, the bacteria continue to grow and reproduce.

Cooking food products to their required temperatures will kill the bacteria and render it harmless.  However, when the bacteria grow, they produce toxins and you cannot inactivate the toxins with heat or cold.  That means that any food that smells off or feels slimy cannot be fixed under any circumstance and needs to be thrown out!  If in doubt, throw it out. 

Safe food handling practices, cooking temperatures, proper refrigeration, and proper hygiene are all key to avoiding foodborne illness.  The website http://www.foodsafety.gov  is a good resource for consumer advice on food safety.   
 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dandie Dinmont Terriers

I’d never heard of the Dandie Dinmont Terrier breed until I was watching a Dogs 101 episode on Animal Planet, and saw a dog that looked exactly like our Samantha, a dog we adopted from the animal shelter several months previously.  We’d been told she was a Cairn Terrier mix, however the descriptions of temperament and physical attributes were spot on with what we see in Sam.

Sam is mixed with something, perhaps a lab, as she is heftier than a purebred Dandie looks in pictures, without being overweight.  She has the distinctive stature (longer than tall), a scimitar-shaped tail, and the dark nose, ears, and eye rims associated with the breed.

From our experience, Dandies are wonderful companions.  Sam has the sweetest disposition.  She loves being with her people and maneuvering snuggles from us.  Other times she is positively impish, teasing us with various games she’s invented.  She’s an excellent guard dog, alerting us whenever someone comes to the door and the size of her bark suggests a much larger dog is protecting the premises.

Sam had been at the shelter for 11 days after being picked up off the streets---an underweight, untrained puppy of approximately 10 months of age.  We knew the instant we saw that sweet face that she’d be the one coming home with us.  We had visited the shelter, finally ready to get another dog after months without one, and she was the one.  She absolutely rescued us from the emptiness we felt in our lives every bit as much as we rescued her.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Counting Threads

I enjoy doing many types of needlework, though I’ve done counted cross stitch most extensively. It find it relaxing, as I get into the rhythm of poking the fabric with the needle and pulling the thread to form the cross.   I can stitch for hours on end, either watching—ok, mostly listening—to television or listening to music. 

Counted cross stitch involves creating a picture with small crosses of threads on fabric, often by following a printed grid.  Beginners usually find Aida cloth easiest to learn on, since the holes to place the needle are readily apparent in the fabric.  Other stitchers prefer stitching on linen or evenweave fabrics, where one needs to count the fabric threads to help with placement of the stitches.  Fabrics are labeled by the number of threads in an inch of fabric, e.g., 32-count linen has 32 threads per inch.  The higher the number, the smaller the grid, and the final design is smaller than the same design stitched on a lower count fabric.  In my case, stronger eye magnification and natural lighting are also needed!

At first it was difficult to follow the pattern grid and translate it onto the fabric.  I’d lose my place on the chart and do a few rows from the entirely wrong area of the pattern.  Or instead of stitching 14 stitches in a row, I’d accidentally do 13 or 15, thus throwing off the pattern.  It took discipline to remove the erroneous stitches immediately upon discovery and to count and recount when starting a new section of the design.

However, once the initial pattern is laid down, one can place subsequent rows without having to count every single stitch, but rather by working off the relationships between the rows.  For example, after stitching a row of 14 crosses, I can see from the pattern that the next row below is one stitch longer on both ends and so I can stitch that row without counting but rather by the spatial relationship between the first row and the subsequent row.  This style of stitching allows my thoughts to drift to other topics, which adds to the enjoyment of the activity.  It works best with less complex designs than ones with lots of detail, shading, and color changes.

I have greatly expanded my stitching skills via the resources available through both the Embroidery Guild of America [http://www.egausa.org/ ] and the American Needlepoint Guild [http://www.needlepoint.org/index.php ].  If you’re so inclined, please take a look at their websites. 

I’m sure I’ll use other stitching stories as part of this Blogging From A – Z Challenge.  I hope to hear from other stitchers participating in the Challenge!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Being Observant

Nina is an 8 month-old German Shepherd Dog puppy in the midst of learning her socialization and obedience skills.  She sits with us on the front porch at different times of day and night and in all kinds of weather.  She takes in everything like a sponge.

Her nose quivers as the breeze carries the neighborhood smells to her.  Her ears stand erect and alert.  A car or a bicycle goes by and her eyes follow it across her field of vision.  She sits obediently on the top step, staring intently as she watches a nanny buckle a child into their car seat.  The boys across the street are skateboarding and she watches their maneuvers closely.  Many dogs with their people walk by and Nina practices restraint, resisting the urge to go investigate.  She’s using all her senses to experience the world in front of her, and that information adds to her confidence as she grows into a good canine citizen.

These porch sitting sessions give me a chance to be observant too.  My senses aren’t as acute as hers, of course, and smells and noises from faraway are lost to me.  Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed hours of watching nature, observing a pair of turtledoves build their nest in the sycamore tree in the front yard through successfully hatching their young.  More than once, we’ve seen deer walk down the street in the early morning hours.  There are skunks, opossums, and raccoons…a reminder that wildlife also shares this urban neighborhood with us.

Nina never seems to tire of watching the coming and goings in the neighborhood and alerts attentively whenever we approach the front door.  What will she see and learn about next?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Introduction

Hello out there….thank you for visiting my blog.  May you find something here that encourages your return.

I’m brand new to this.  I’m still figuring out how to set up my blog.  Yes, eventually there’ll be photos and links.  Keep checking back!

I’m keeping my blog content wide open for this Challenge.  Given my passion for animals in general, animal companions in particular, various needlework styles and techniques, nature, and science my blog stories will tap into these topics.

My sister encouraged me to join the A – Z Challenge, and most importantly—to HAVE FUN with it.  [You can follow her blog “A Heart 4 Heaven” at http://aheart4heaven.blogspot.com ].  Thanks, Lanie!

I’m stretching my wings by doing something new and different.  Feedback is welcome.

Thanks for reading, and keep coming back!