Sunday, September 30, 2007

Despite Its Excellent Furniture Prices, I Have Yet to Visit Pluto

One of the things I found charming and bemusing and bizarre when I first moved to Peoria was that every so often, you walk into a local business and sitting in the foyer or hanging from the ceiling or stuck on a wall is a gorgeous model of a planet.

It took me a little while to figure out what the heck was going on, but it turns out that Peoria has the world's largest scale model of the solar system. I was thinking about this today because for the second time in a week I was reading a commentary complaining about the difficult of teaching the solar system because it's "impossible" to do an accurate scale model.

Well, Peoria has one, and it's sort-of incomparably neat-o. It begins at the Lakeview Museum, with the dome of the planetarium, 36 feet high, serving as the sun. (There's a 36-foot-high sun painted on the outside of the building as well, since the planetarium dome is protected by the building, which means you mostly can only see the sun from the inside, which is a fairly neat trick.) Radiating out from there, the planets are located at local businesses or other establishments, accurate scale models beautifully rendered. So Earth's located a titch down the road at a BP station, while Neptune's way out at Roanoke Motors some 24 miles from Peoria.

Bradley, which has Jupiter, has a nice page with pictures and driving directions and all the rest. Discover had an article about it 12 years ago, but like the real planets, the planets in Peoria's solar system move from time to time, so many of them are not where they were when Discover's article was published. I know none of this is news to native Peorians, but for out-of-towners and newcomers like me, this is really cool.

There are comets and asteroids for this thing all over the world. (I keep thinking they should shoot something to the moon or put it on the ISS, like maybe the moon would be the right distance away in scale to be a very nearby star or something? But sending something 36ish feet in diameter would probably be tricky and expensive. Or maybe (since distances between stars are almost incomprehensibly vast) the moon is much too close. I'm too lazy to do the math.) If you're of a mind, you can bike the entire solar system every summer -- lazy people do the inner planets; hard-core bikers ride all the way to Pluto. Either way, you get to say you've biked several billion miles.

Tiny little Pluto is about an hour away by car, at Good's Furniture in Kewanee (if you've ever been in Central Illinois for more than 10 minutes, you've seen a commercial for Good's on television). I haven't been there yet, but the combination of low furniture prices and going 3 billion scale miles away to visit poor little rejected-planet Pluto is definitely tempting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Template Update

All right, so I took the plunge and updated my template. I lost lots of pretty fontage in the move, too, so argh about that. I also typed only about 1/4 of my blogroll before I got very bored of entering every one by hand, so I'll be updating those things as time allows over the next few days.

I will also be adding my "local businesses that don't suck" list sometime soon (I hope!) and I think I'm going to do a linky list (now that lists are so easy on new blogger) with books I've been reading and stuff. Because, well, I can.

I'm going to try adsense ads. Don't know how I feel about them, but again, new toys demand to be played with!

PS - I also lost my RSS button, that'll take me a while to figure out!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bread!

So my KitchenAid stand mixer (which I got cheap at Tuesday Morning because I couldn't decide on a color when I got married but which you should definitely register for when you get married if you're not already married) came with a dough hook. I actually had a certain amount of trouble adjusting to my KitchenAid because it came with just ONE beater, or rather, one place to ATTACH the one beater (it actually came with three beaters: a mixing beater, a whipping beater, and a dough hook). I grew up using my mom's KitchenAid, which had two beaters, and I was initially suspicious of the change. But the moral of this story really is, my mother has been married 32 years and her KitchenAid still works like new. My grandma Irene was still on her first KitchenAid until quite recently. KitchenAid is one of the last companies in the world making high-quality, sturdy-ass appliances that last until kingdom come*, and according to the internet, if you call them because it's "making a funny noise" or "I can smell something burning-y" they basically just send you a new one.

But the second moral of the "KitchenAid stand mixers last forever" story is that they come in colors and while Harvest Gold was awesome in 1965, it's still with you in 2007, so I wouldn't pick a trendy color, because the KitchenAid you get in 2007 is still going to be mixing cakes in 2057. Just so you know. (I got white.)

Anyway, my KitchenAid came with a dough hook and I am constitutionally incapable of not playing with toys, so eventually the temptation became too great and I had to try the dough hook. I like to bake (and I do it pretty well, although I'm not that great a cook generally), but I'd always been afraid of bread because it was supposed to be hard. But eventually temptation overcame me and I tried one of the bread recipes that came with the mixer. (Yes, the mixer comes with a cookbook, including this totally Katamari Damacy cheeseball thing.)

So I sort-of want to tell a story where the bread was really hard and catastrophic, but in point of fact I didn't even fling flour all over the kitchen with the mixer (which does occasionally happen). The bread, an herbed baguette, worked exactly like the recipe said. It was a little denser than I would have liked, but it was bread, and it was tasty, and we ate it all. Then I made French bread, which, again, worked just like the recipe said.

Yesterday I made whole wheat bread, which is supposed to be super-hard because you don't get nearly as much rise out of whole wheat flour as white flour. I was eager to attempt it because I don't recall actually eating white bread (other than French bread) until I was in high school and had it at a friend's house; we always had wheat bread growing up and we basically only buy whole grains in my house. I find white bread horribly creepy in texture and totally tasteless. But again, when I made the whole wheat bread, it worked just like the recipe said. I didn't get quite as much rise as I might have liked, but it's quite tasty and the texture is fine.

I have to confess that as pleased as I am with the bread, I'm a little disappointed with the smoothness of the undertaking, because most of my stories (blogged or otherwise) revolve around me being a complete klutz and making a catastrophe of everything in sight, which is generally how my first attempt (or first dozen attempts) at everything goes. It happens so often that it's a meme in our house; when Mr. McGee calls from another room, "What are you doing?" I often reply, "Making a catastrophe, stay there!" Or sometimes, plaintively, "I made a catastrophe, I need help!"

Really the only downside to the entire enterprise is that when you mix up the yeast, sugar, and warm water, it smells like a friggin' brewery -- and not in a good way!



*We should also take a moment to note that KitchenAid mixers are still made in America -- in Ohio -- and assembled by hand. They cost it, too, but they are SOOOOOOO worth every penny.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why Is My Blogroll So Behind?

Well, first, because my skill at html is totally rudimentary and changing my template scares me because sometimes I screw up the entire thing, and second, because my friend who helps me with my html just went and had her first baby and is all busy, you know, BEING A MOM. So if I screw it up she can't fix me!

Anyway, I have a loooooong list of blogs to add since I haven't updated my blogroll in probably 8 months, so I don't have Brad Carter, East Bluff Barbie, Scott Janz (who I totally thought I did have but probably I managed to screw it up), Peoria Rocks!, Peoria in Pictures, Notes from the Trailerhood, Pointlessly Hypertechnical, Jenjw4's blog, Peoria Anti-Pundit, Omphaloskepsis, and SEVERAL OTHERS.

So if I haven't added your blog and you'd like me to add you, please let me know via e-mail. (Link's in the upper left there.) I am going to gird up my proverbial loins and take a stab at my html sometime in the coming week. And if I screw it up, I'll do what everyone else who's bad at html in the Peoria blogging community tells me to do: Whine to PeoriaIllinoisian.

(Why is my posting so behind? A combination of grading papers and insomnia leaves me too brain-drained to be interesting.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Character Matters, Keep Youth Educators Funded

As part of the ongoing Blagojevich Budget Fiasco, he would like to strike from the Illinois Department of Agriculture's budget Article 165, Section 25, an amount of $1,659,400, eliminating 29 4-H Youth Educators serving 47 counties through Illinois, working with 135,500 youth and 12,000+ volunteers every year.

Here in Peoria we are lucky to have Virginia Kuo, whom I've known only a short time but who is awesome. Twelve kinds of awesome, really. If this line item is cut, Virginia's job will disappear.

What do 4-H Youth Educators do? In addition to "traditional" 4-H-y things (four-aitch-ey?), it's one of the last bastions of character education in the state. Last year Virginia ran a character and leadership education program with 1200 students in 5 Peoria County schools, teaching 6 different life skills. The students showed marked improvements in skills like respect, fairness, responsibility, and citizenship. (Okay, seriously, when was the last time you saw citizenship taught? Are there any schools that even still have civics classes?)

This all sounds terribly dry when I try to explain it on the blog, but read Virginia's reports or talk to her in person and I promise you will get fired up about it. These are neat programs reaching a huge variety of children. 4-H Youth Educators do drug prevention, youth nutrition, food drives, obesity prevention, technology training, and, yes, 4-H fairs; they train teachers and other youth professionals in character education, bullying prevention, experiential education, emotional learning, etc. Students who participate in 4-H do better in school and are more willing to try new activities. 4-H Youth Educators work with students in the juvenile detention system. They work with farm kids. They work with inner-city kids. They develop lifelong habits of volunteerism in children.

More than 10,000 students in Peoria County alone were direct beneficiaries of 4-H programming in 2006.

These things matter. You need to call your state reps and senators and tell them that cutting this line item is not acceptable! You can look up your state legislators by your home address here if you don't know. (Frankly I think you should tell them the entire way Blagojevich is running the budget process is not acceptable, and that they should tie him down and MAKE him stay in Springfield, but that's another blog entry for another day. The total funding for all Youth Educators across the state is only 286 round-trip Blagojevich flights from Chicago to Springfield so he can avoid being contaminated by having to sleep south of I-80! For less than a year of travel costs enabling half-assed work by the Sound Bite Governor, your tax dollars can reach 135,500 students across the state!)

Please call. Please e-mail. Please pass this information on. It's important.

(Full disclosure: I sit on the Peoria County Extension Council. Why do I do that? Because I seriously think this stuff is important.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's a Woman's Prerogative

I frequently get exasperated with Mr. McGee because I like to think about certain kinds of things for a really long time before making a decision, like decorating a room or laying out a garden or whatever. I typically come up with a thousand interim plans before finally settling on the one I actually want to do. But Mr. McGee always sticks with the first thing I say and gets aggravated when he discovers I've changed my mind about what he thought was "the plan." This happens so often, to our mutual irritation, that I'm to the point where when he asks, "What color do you think we should paint the living room?" I respond, "Now, this is only my PRELIMINARY thought so DON'T YOU GO DECIDING IT'S A PLAN ...."

Anyway, we had a winner of these conversations today when speculating on possible future cars.

"I kind of want a Mazda."
"A Miata?"
"No, a Mazda 5."
"I thought you wanted a scooter."
"Well, I do, but [various practical concerns]."
"Then I thought you wanted a Prius."
"You don't do a very good job keeping up with my whims, do you?"

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Secret Astrological Disappointment

My husband and I have the same astrological sign (Pisces) and I find it terribly depressing. Seriously. Not because I put any stock in astrology, but because I've been in the habit for years and years of reading my horoscope (it's on the comics page in the Trib, and I've been starting my day with the Tribune comics since I was about five) to my family/roommate/whomever and informing them what exactly they have to do to conform with it.

"My horoscope says I'm fascinating today. Be fascinated."

"My horoscope says today people will be particularly nice to me. When are you starting?"

A close second is gloating over it when their horoscopes are really bad and inventing all the horrors that go with the prediction. "Ooooooh -- something goes wrong for you at work today. Maybe the flourescent fixture will fall on your head! Maybe you'll get a papercut that develops gangrene and you'll have to have the finger amputated!"

But this DOESN'T WORK because Mr. McGee and I have the same sign. So I can't be like, "My horoscope says you have to be nice to me" or "Your horoscope sucks today." For years I've been saying I'm going to assign him an arbitrary astrological sign just so we can have different ones, but that sort-of defeats the fun of the game.

So what I actually do sometimes is invent him an entirely different horoscope and tell him his says he has to obey my every command today, while mine says I'm a beacon of shining glory.

Mostly he just ignores me. But every now and then he's like, "Wait, what?"

Friday, September 07, 2007

Keeper of the Keys

It is a simple truth of life that the more complicated your life is, the more keys you have.

When I started college I had exactly two keys on my keyring: Parents' house and dorm room.

As time went by, they expanded: Car keys, when a car came to campus with me after a couple semesters. Office keys for the newspaper. Locked bulletin board key when I ran a student organization that had the high holy honor of a locked bulletin board. (Woot!) And so on. When I got near the end of my senior year and started handing over all my responsibilities to younger folks, my key ring shrank back down.

When we moved to Peoria, I again had very few keys: House keys, car keys, and a Kroger tag. Then last year my life started getting abruptly more complicated, and I noticed the other day when I was putting the super-gigantic medieval-sized key to the adjunct office at ICC on my keychain that my keys were back to being out of control.

House keys. Car keys. Parents' house keys. Junior League HQ key. Adjunct office key. Business PO Box key. Some combination of file cabinet, gym locker lock, and bike lock keys, but they all look pretty similar so I always have to guess which goes with what. Scanny tags for Kroger, the library, Discount Shoe Warehouse (in Skokie), Men's Wearhouse, Hancock Fabrics (that just closed, I should take it off), Borders Rewards, and PetSmart. (Why doesn't Blockbuster have key tags? I'd spend way less time losing my card if they did.) And then there's a mini flashlight and a couple other things that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever.

The key-chain and all its components are now as large as my fist, and that's without the leash. (I keep my keys on a leash because otherwise I have a tendency to lock them in the car when doing things like loading groceries.)

Incidentally, the reason that my bike lock and gym locker lock are key rather than combo locks is that my brain has simply run out of space for passwords. It's so full now that I frequently go to type in a password to some site and find myself typing my sixth-grade locker combination or the register log-on from the job I had when I was 16 or something. As I had probably seven or eight different combo locks in junior high and high school alone, whenever I try to use a combo lock I find myself running through every combination I've ever had, plus my best friend's various high school locker combos, before I strike on whatever the current one is. I can't use an ATM card anymore for the same reason: I just can't remember the PIN.

How much crap is on your key chain? Does it shrink and grow in direct relation to the complication level of your life?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Note to Self: Do Not Fly Nepal Airlines

Nepal Airlines sacrifices goat to fix electrical problem.

Youch.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

3 Things about ICC

Writing from the adjunct office today, so musing on my location:

1) The new carpets in East Peoria Academic have math symbols all over them. Seriously. It's cute.

2) Students and staff/faculty park in the same lots. In my opinion, this should suggest to students they do a little less CUTTING PEOPLE OFF since they could be cutting off their professors. Oh well.

3) Every door has a sign that say "Do not smoke in entryway" or something along those lines. Every door also has an ashcan right there in the entryway. I get the problem, because you don't want people coming into the building with a cigarette and tossing it in the trashcan because they didn't see the ashcan on the way in, but it's still funny.

My only real problem is that Firefox is not universally available on ICC computers, and after using Firefox for years now, going back to IE is EXCRUCIATING, if only for the lack of tabbed browsing.