Many people are familiar with the saying, “slower than molasses in January” as a metaphor for taking a long time. And it really is true. Molasses pours very slowly when it’s cold, and when there isn’t very much left in the bottle. The scientific reason molasses pours slowly is that is has a high viscosity. The lower the temperature, the slower the molecules in the liquid slide past each, other making pouring slower.

I have witnessed this phenomenon first hand when I was mixing up a batch of gingerbread cookie dough recently. I wanted to test out a set of new cookie cutters I got for Christmas. Having just baked my famous  ningabread_men_sm Ningabread Men (last year’s cookie cutter gift set)  and my infamous Gingerdead Men, I had the recipe out and started the butter and brown sugar creaming in the mixer while I gathered the other ingredients.

photograph of gingerbread cookiesIt was then that I noticed I was down to my last half cup of blackstrap molasses. I needed that last half cup quickly since the mixer was already going. A brilliant idea flashed through my brain! If I heated the molasses, it would pour more quickly! Science, right?

I sealed the bottle so the molasses wouldn’t get diluted. I ran it under hot water. The molasses started to run down the sides of the bottle faster. Eureka! I held my measuring cup under the bottle and began to unscrew the top.

Pop!

photo of gingerbread cookies The cap flew out of my hand and I was covered with molasses, along with most of my counter, mixer, and sink. Of course, science! I laughed out loud. Not only did the heat make my molasses pour faster, it increased the air pressure in the bottle. When I opened the bottle, the air pressure equalized in a sweet mini explosion.

The cookies were deliciously ironic. Never forget science in the kitchen.

Gingerbread recipe


A frequent request I hear from new FreeToastHost webmasters is,”How can I post meeting summaries, newsletters, or minutes to our club website so that people can find them?”

I discovered there is not a simple or intuitive way to accomplish this goal. Although this is a very common workflow, you need to utilize two different functions of FreeToastHost in order to create a usable resource for your club members.

In this blog post I am going to show you how to set up a simple way for users to download meeting summaries, minutes, newsletters or other files from a custom web page in FreeToastHost.

Step One: Organize the File Manager

While there is no real way to create folders or sub-folders in FreeToastHost, you can set up the appearance of folders in the File Manager so you and your users can more easily locate documents. Although this is not a requirement for creating a custom page for finding documents, it is a best practice that helps you stay organized as you build out your website.

  1. Log in as Administrator and click launch admin console.
  2. Select File Manger from the drop-down menu.
  3. After you upload a file, click in the File Description field and type in a folder name followed by a colon and then a space before the file name. For example:
    Recaps: club_recap_July_16_2013.pdf
  4. file_description

    Click Save File Descriptions. You’ll get a success message at the top of the page. You can then close the window.

  5. Use the same folder name for all the files you want to save in the same place.
  6. Be sure to set the permissions of the files to public (unlocked icon) if your custom page will be available to everyone. The system defaults to private, so if your custom page is just for your members, no worries.

When your users click on Member Downloads, they will see a series of folders based on the names you set up. Users click on a folder to access the files inside.

FTH_folders

Step Two: Create a Custom Page

You can create a new blank HTML page to FreeToastHost where you can add links to the files in File Manager. By making a custom page, you can organize your document links in whatever way that makes the most sense for your users.

  1. Login as Administrator and click launch admin console.
  2. Select Custom Web Pages from the drop-down menu.
  3. Select Create New Page.
  4. Add your page content in the text editor. I recommend a brief paragraph stating what is on the page followed by a list of titles. The titles will become the links to the files in File Manager.
  5. Fill in the other fields.
  6. Select Members Only to keep this content private (only logged in club members can access) or Public Access to allow everyone to see the page.
    Note: If you select Members Only, the link to the page will appear in the Members Only menu. If you select Public Access, the link will appear in the Main Menu.
  7. Click Save. Your new page will appear in the appropriate navigation menu.

Step Three: Link Your Files to Your Custom Page

After you have uploaded your meeting summary files to File Manager and created a new custom page, it’s time to link the two together so your users can easily find what they want to read. I find it’s much easier to link files to a custom page by having two tabs or windows open, each going to a different location in FreeToastHost.

  1. In the first tab, login as a member by clicking Member Login and entering your email address and password.
  2. Click Member Downloads.
  3. Click the folder where you added the file you want to link to and then click the file name.
  4. Copy the Direct URL link to your clipboard.
  5. In the second tab, click the menu link to your custom page.
  6. Click Edit This Page.
    Note: If you don’t see this link, you’ll have to click launch admin console, select Custom Web Pages, and then select the page you created.
  7. Select the title you typed in earlier and then click the link icon link-icon.
  8. Paste the URL you copied from the File Manager into the URL box. Make sure you copy the entire URL. It can be very long.
  9. Click OK.
  10. Click Save.

paste_url

Going Further

If you want to make a much more user-friendly experience, have the content of your file open directly in a new window. This way your users do not have to download the file in order to read it. The file will open in a new tab or window in their browser.

  1. Upload your files to Google Drive.
    Note: You’ll first need to create a Gmail account. I suggest creating an account for the club. Do not use your personal account.
  2. Create folders to organize your files just as you would in any other workspace.
  3. Upload your meeting recaps, minutes, or newsletters to your folders on Google Drive.
  4. Set the Share permissions to “Anyone who has a link can view“.
  5. Copy the “Link to share” URL to your clipboard.
  6. Edit your FreeToastHost custom page by selecting the text to link, clicking the link icon and pasting the Google Drive URL into to the URL box.
  7. Click OK and the click Save.

Conclusion

By following these instructions you can create a custom page where your users can easily locate and download meeting recaps, minutes, and newsletters without having to find files in the File Manager. You can make your page public or you can keep your page private so only club members have access. You can create a much more user-friendly experience by uploading your files to Google Drive and linking them to FreeToastHost so the files open directly in a browser with no need to download.

The Strawberry Project

May 25, 2013


I got a call Friday afternoon from my husband, who was at the lab working. “Hey Sweetie,” he said, “do you want a couple of strawberry plants? One of the professors thinned out her garden and brought them in to give away.”

“Sure,” I said, “bring a couple home and I’ll stick them in the ground.” Thinking the plants would be devoured by the deer or rabbits that visit nightly, I did not want to get too heavily invested.

photo of Beth Stinson, gardenerJeff came home with a flat of mature strawberry plants. He reported that no one took the plants and they would have died over the long weekend, so he just loaded them into the back of his car. Now I had a strawberry project.

I love to pick strawberries, eat them, and make jam out of them. I have never tried to grow them. I heard they were fussy and insect prone. A flat of them sitting in the back of my husband’s car was just too big a challenge to resist.

I read up about growing strawberries on the internet. The key seemed to be planting them in a raised bed. A raised bed lets me control the soil composition and it’s easier to protect from pests crawling, slithering, and nibbling. I got instructions for making a cheap raised bed and a recipe for what to fill it with from Raised Bed Gardening is Cheap and Productive.

strawberry1-smThen it was off to Home Depot. It’s crazy to go to Home Depot on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, with everyone else who decided to stay home and do projects. Jeff was a good sport. He helped me buy what I needed and get it out to the back yard.

Ripping up the sod was my decision. I could have put cardboard over it and filled in the bed, but the area was not level so I pulled up the grass. I was able to transplant it in bare places in the backyard, so it wasn’t wasted.photo of preparing my garden.

Jeff went to the lab to work so I continued the strawberry project alone. Building the frame for the bed was a bit challenging by myself (no photos of me holding the drill in one hand and holding the wood together with my feet). I knew I didn’t need to be terribly precise; the frame just had to fit in the space I dug out and hold the dirt.

strawberry5-smIt was a perfect day to work outside. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was in the high 60s. It was a bit breezy. The peat moss was wanted to swirl and dance, but I was able to keep it in place by quickly mixing the top soil and manure into it. There is nothing like running your hands though dirt, breaking up the clods, finding the earth worms, and inhaling the indescribable aroma of life in one of its most basic forms.strawberry6-sm

I worked on the strawberry project all afternoon. Jeff returned home in time to help me transplant the sod I ripped up. He helped me clean up too.

The last part of the strawberry project was to set up some protection from the critters who visit my yard nightly. I am not much of an engineer, so I am sure glad I married one! Jeff engineers tiny bits of RNA in the lab during the day, but at home he rigs up just about anything from left over wood and spare parts. It may not look pretty, but it works.

strawberry7-smI don’t know what kind of strawberry plants these are. I am hoping they are the type that fruit throughout the summer. If they are, I can expect to have some berries later this year. If not, I’ll have to wait until next spring for my strawberry project to bear fruit.

New Neighbors

May 19, 2013


We have new neighbors! A young couple, anticipating the arrival of a baby (or babies) is busy establishing a comfy home nearby.

In our garage.

Two Carolina Wrens have built a nest in a set of fruit baskets on a shelf in the garage. This couple is determined to make their new home as comfortable as possible, no matter that large machines move in and out of their front yard several times a day. They have been working diligently to weave a secure nest out of grass, straw, and feathers.

I have to admit, it takes a while to get used to having new neighbors. At first we seem to run into each other at awkward moments. This morning I was trying to get into my car to go to the gym and the wrens were trying to enter their nest with material for their home improvement project. We met face-to-face, startling one another; I in my workout gear, they hauling in straw.

And the new neighbors are loud. The male whistles “teakettle teakettle” over and over again. You can listen to his calls on the Cornell Ornithology Lab website. I suppose they don’t enjoy my musical tastes either. Me belting out “Sympathy for the Devil” in the driver’s seat is not a delightful experience, I grant you.

We did talk about moving the wrens to a nearby location. Hanging the baskets off the gutter on the side of the house would prevent them from becoming trapped inside or outside the garage at night when we closed the door. Parents cannot be separated from their children after all. But our new neighbors picked this location after much consideration. It was safe, dry, and 4 feet off the ground – ideal for the wrens. They love nooks and crannies. In fact, this pair had been in and out of our woodpile, grill, and flower pots all winter.Photo of Carolina Wren

Like all new neighbors, getting to know one another and making compromises is key to living happily together in close proximity. Rather then move the nest, we decided to keep the garage door open a crack at night. This will let the birds go in and out while keeping our home secure. In return, the wrens will eat spiders, beetles, and other nasty bugs in the garage and in the yard.

We are not sure whether the wrens will raise their family in our garage; often they make several nests before settling on just the right one. If our comings and goings become too much of a distraction, they may decide to go elsewhere. We do hope they’ll stay though. It’s been so long since we’ve had little ones under foot, or should I say testing their wings?

Little Miss Muffet 2.0

February 1, 2013


Little Beth Stinsonspider
Sat on a cushion
Typing away on her mac

Along came a spider
And crawled up beside her
Making her grab her phone.

Yesterday morning I was sitting in my office tapping away on my keyboard. It being a work from home day, I had on my favorite flannel PJs and a big fluffy robe. There is just something about working in your PJs that is so decadent. You are just daring the world to ring your doorbell or your boss to Skype video call you.

I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw a huge hairy spider crawling up the wall beside my desk. Normally, I would have let out a scream and run up the stairs in my best girly-girl fashion. My adrenalin would have been pumping. I would have been afraid to return to my desk.

Instead I reached for my phone to take a picture. This picture would gain me all sorts of notoriety among my friends on Facebook and Twitter. They’d marvel at my bravery. I wondered how many likes I’d get.

But drat! My phone was not on. I quickly pressed the on button and waited. The spider inched its way closer to me. I waited. The spider inched. I waited. The spider was going to escape between the wall and my desk! Normally, this would have sent wave of relief through me. But not this time. I wanted that picture.

I took a piece of paper and gently nudged the giant hairy brown spider back towards the white wall – it giving the best contrast for the picture. The phone was still not on.

The spider did not take kindly to being herded toward the best light for its portrait. It made a leap towards my throat, landing on the floor and scurried towards me. Normally, I would have screamed and ran up the stairs like a girly-girl. Instead I slapped the piece of paper on top of that arachnid and squished it.

My phone still was not on.

A Sign From the Universe

January 3, 2013


Two of my favorite TV characters, Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother (one of my favorite TV shows and not just because my last name really is Stinson), look for signs from the universe when they are confronted with making a major life decision. Jeff (my husband) and I received a sign from the universe laPhoto of Lily and Marshallst night, but I am not sure how to interpret it.

After reading for a little while last night, we turned the light off to go to sleep. Wouldn’t you know at that moment my bladder decided it was time to be emptied. Rather than jump out from under my warm flannel sheets and walk three-quarters of the way around the bed, shivering all the way, to reach the bathroom, I decided to climb over Jeff. I’d stay warmer that way, and I could steal a little kiss on the way by. As I was passing over him, and right before I could steal that smooch, the bed COLLAPSED.

After the initial panicked millisecond, I burst out laughing. Instinctively, we rolled to the other side of the bed. The mattress shot up in the air! My first thought was, “Did we wake up Matthew?” (My 16-year-old.) My second thought was…(better off not included in this post).

Our bedroom is tiny (vintage early ’70s). Our queen size bed and the wooden frame takes up a disproportionate amount of space. The head and foot boards are a decent size, and heavy. We struggled to pull the mattress off without hitting the ceiling fan, breaking lamps, or swiping pictures off the walls. We had to figure out what happened and if it could be fixed. With the mattress propped up across the foot board and the box spring askew across a bookshelf, Jeff was able to inspect the damage. I was still giggling.

Nothing could be done at 1:00 AM except collect up some major, and I mean zombie, dust bunnies. zombie dustbunny by Christoph NiemannJeff went down stairs to get a screw driver to separate the headboard from the side rails so we could move the frame out of the way and sleep on the mattress and box spring resting on the floor. While he was gone, I decided I could move the mattress myself to give him more room to work.

I was wrong.

The mattress fell down on top of me, throwing me onto the box spring and trapping me between the two. I was as helpless as a turtle on its back. I started laughing all over again. Jeff saved me from becoming the filling of a mattress sandwich, which would have probably been consumed by the still rampant zombie dust bunnies.

At 1:30 AM, we had things sorted enough to try to sleep. My giggling had subsided, for the most part. The slats were stored in the closet. The headboard in the guest room. The foot board with attached side rails remained in our room, looming up out of the dark like twin pillars of Hercules.

What was the universe trying to tell us? We should stick to our diet? We should vacuum under the bed more often? 16 year olds can sleep through anything?

As Jeff was drifting off to sleep he whispered to me, “Well at least you’ll have something to blog about tomorrow.” The universe had spoken. Our bed collapsing in the middle of the night is a funny story made to be shared with friends.

Welcome 2013

January 1, 2013


Dear 2013,

I have high hopes for you! There is nothing like a fresh start to get me feeling energized. Here is a list of my goals for the year:Image

  • Blog more. I have let this personal outlet of expression lag woefully. Instead of trying to create longer stories, this year I want to create shorter more spontaneous posts. At least one post a week.
  • Inspire others. I want to help more people reach their potential by taking initiative and leading. I belong to a non-profit organization called Toastmasters International. We teach people communication and leadership skills. I will inspire my group to work towards their personal goals as I work towards mine:
    • Finishing 3 speeches before June 1, 2013
    • Applying to be a presenter at the 2013 Toastmasters International Conference
  • Teach. I have lots of experience in many different subjects. I want to find more teachable moments with my family, friends, colleagues, and community.
  • Be healthier. Yes, I have been eating too many cookies! I want to get back to more greens and more movement and shed a few extra pounds. I will be tracking my progress using my fitbit pedometer.

Goals are more achievable when they are specific, and there is accountability and sharing. You can read all about SMART goals many places on the web. I invite anyone with similar goals to share them with me. Look out 2013, here I come!

Adventures in Gardening

September 16, 2012


Garter Snake in the garden

It wasn’t Snakes on a Plane, or Fairies Living in the Bottom of the Garden, but it was a close encounter of the reptilian kind. I was taking down the summer garden yesterday, always a little sad, though I had a great harvest of lettuce, tomatoes and herbs. Some years I can make the tomato plants last through October, but not this year. The plants all  succumbed to late blight.

It was perfect to work outside. The sun was bright. The air dry. The temperature in the low 70s. A slight breeze carried the sounds of kids playing in the park out back. I worked slowly,  pulling up the last plants, taking down the deer fencing, folding the bird netting, and stacking the cages.

After I finished up those tasks, I started re-establishing the edging and pulling up weeds. I was trimming some low branches of an azalea when a garter snake darted out. I had glimpsed him Two garter snakes int eh gardenonce before. Unlike most people, I am happy to observe snakes around the yard. They keep the mice and cricket populations in check. We have had in the yard at one time or another, rat snakes, ring neck snakes, and garter snakes. All harmless to humans but not to garden pests!

Although I do admire snakes, I jumped at the sudden movement. (If it had been a big bug, I would have run screaming like a little girl.) He did not go away, but kept circling around me. I kept weeding and trimming. Imaging my surprise when a second snake popped up. They circled around the area I was working in. I held still and let them get close. I think they were very curious, and certainly not afraid of me. This was not my usual experience with garden reptiles, but I allowed the encounter to continue.

I called my son Matt to bring my camera. I am not a wildlife photographer, and fumbling in the bright light with sunglasses and gardening gloves didn’t help. I got off a couple of shots. It was a wild life encounter I’ll not soon forget! Snakes in my garden changed a melancholy chore into a mini-adventure. Thank goodness I don’t grow apples.

Crowdsourcing My Vacation

September 12, 2012


I need your help! Due to a change in company policy, I am no longer able to carry vacation days over into the new year. So I am stuck with ten days of vacation time I must use by the end of the year or lose them. Everyone should have my problem, right?

That’s where you come in. I am crowdsourcing my vacation days. There are a few stipulations:

  • Christmas and Thanksgiving are booked already so don’t take that into consideration
  • I have no disposable income to travel anywhere by plane or train or stay in hotels
  • My family will not be able to accompany me
  • I want to be active, out of the house or at least away from my keyboard

I do have a car to travel locally. I have access to the metro. I have a little money to spend on admission, meals, gas, or other modest fees.

So what would you like me to do and when would you like me to do it? Do you have any volunteer projects I could help you with? Suggestions for museums, galleries, or hikes? Ideas for cooking, gardening, or home improvement? History tour? Arts and crafts? A book I must read? A movie I must see? Music I must hear?

Post your ideas in the comments section below. I will pick the most creative and economical ideas to use up my vacation days and then share my experiences with you! I can’t wait to read your ideas!


I am in the “sandwich generation.” I have elderly parents who need some looking after and a school aged child at home. Both sides of my sandwich are due for a driver’s license discussion. My 16-year-old son is chaffing for a learner’s permit and my 74-year-old father who has lost his ability to drive safely. Neither conversation will be easy. Both are fraught with emotion, and I am the heavy.

Having a driver’s license is a ticket to independence and freedom. It’s a right of passage in our society. You can come and go as you please (as long as you have gas money). You do not have to wait for a bus, a taxi, or a subway. You do not have to schedule your dates around your mom’s schedule, or your doctor’s appointments around your daughter’s schedule.

Blue Mustang Fastback Mach1I remember being thrilled to pass my drivers test at 16 and 1/2. My mom was happy too because now she had someone who could share the driving. I’d be running errands and picking up my brothers from ball practice. Times have changed. As a mom, I am not thrilled, I am afraid, to have my 16-year-old driving. There wasn’t road rage when I got my license. It didn’t take an hour to go 12 miles, even at rush hour. People signaled before they made turns. There were no cell phones, no dashboard computers, DVD players, or cup holders in cars. 

As the child of an elderly parent, I’m not thrilled, I’m terrified having my dad on the road. Over the past two years he has twice hit his garage pulling in. He has run through a stop sign. He has gotten lost on a local trip to my sister’s apartment. Last week he hit something (not someone) at an intersection; he doesn’t remember what and didn’t stop. He continued to his office, and when he arrived he was shaky and confused, but thankfully not hurt*.

According to U. S. Census data and data from U.S. National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, males are much more prone to traffic accidents of any kind. Very young drivers and elderly drivers have fewer total accidents than 25 – 54 year olds (who are much more likely to have alcohol involved). However, the likelihood of severe injury or death for both the very young and old is higher. There are many reasons for this, distracted driving, going too fast or too slow. Young people who have less experience misjudge driving conditions and cannot predict other drivers’ behavior. Elderly people have slower reactions to sudden changes like a car pulling out in front of them or debris in the road. They can be medicated or have early undiagnosed symptoms of dementia or  physical ailment.

Although anxious, I do want my son to earn his freedom and independence by attaining his driver’s license. It’s a celebrated milestone on his road to adulthood (yes, pun intended).  It will take him longer and he’ll have limitations I did not have back in my day. He has so much more to learn about cars, driving, and responsibility than I did.

On the other side of my sandwich, I am saddened by the imminent loss of my father’s freedom and independence. The strong vibrant man who gave me the keys to his Mustang, who drove us on every family vacation, college visit, and holiday adventure will not be able to go where he pleases when he please. This milestone signals the beginning of the end of the race. 

Being sandwiched between schooled aged children and elderly parents is difficult. It does, however give me a fuller picture of life’s milestones, and that in turn gives me perspective. Someday my sons will contemplate how to say, “Hey Mom, have you thought about selling your car?” I hope I will smile and say, “Yes, I’m so glad you asked.”

* Dad has been evaluated by his doctor and did not suffer a seizure or stroke and he’ll be having more tests this coming week. Results may make the discussion easier.

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