Yesterday, Hasbro announced that it is neutralizing Mr. Potato Head. Hasbro’s senior vice president and general manager announced, “The way the brand currently exists—with the ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’—is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

The outcry was loud:

Dr. D exclaimed, “For crying out loud–it’s a potato! It doesn’t have a gender!”

Media analyst Mark Dice tweeted, “It’s time for the Republican states to secede.”

Piers-Morgan tweeted, “Who was actually offended by Mr Potato Head being male? I want names. These woke imbeciles are destroying the world.”

Steven Colbert’s segment on Hasbro’s announcement asked, “What part of this do you see as gender-based?”

Sean Hannity tweeted, “MR POTATO HEAD 1953-2021, Hasbro: He Was ‘Limited When It Comes to Gender Identity’.” After Hasbro clarified that only the “Mr.” is being removed from the name and that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will be continue to be available as “just plain ‘Potato Head’,” Hannity responded, “Mr. Potato Head Lives!”

Long live non-gender potatoes!

Author’s note: When I was growing up, our Mr. Potato Head toy required actual potatoes; thus, the name of the toy. Complaints about rotten vegetables plus new government food safety rules prompted Hasbro to include a plastic potato body along with the facial parts in 1964.

English is a living language and freely adopts and adapts words from other languages. Kathy and I (fellow English majors) were talking today about some of the colorful, folksy terms we use to describe people, specifically words that are difficult to define, but that “we just know” what they mean. Examples include klutz, ditz, putz, doppich, frumpy, and schmuck.

Today, while I was reading The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, I came across a new descriptive term: “twee.” In the book, Mrs. Christie speaks of her husband, Archie, and says, “I toned down my natural exuberance and chatter, because Archie found it cloying and more than a little twee.” I had no idea what “twee” meant, so I looked it up.

I like the word. The problem? It’s British slang, so if I use it, it’s unlikely my listener will know what I mean and I’ll have to figure out a way to describe a word that “I just know.”

Here’s our winter doormat. Be careful what you wish for.

When our kids were little, it was normal for our area to have 6-8 snowfalls of 4-6 inches, as well as one or two snowfalls of 12-14 inches in a season. After 30 years of climate change, however, it has become more typical for us to have several snowfalls of 1-2 inches and maybe one or two snowfalls of 3-4 inches in a season. More snow than that in a single event is becoming unusual and, therefore, remarkable.

This winter has been a snowy one for a change. After a relatively warm November and December (we took our last bike ride on December 29), we had a few light snowfalls of an inch or less in January. Then the pattern changed. At one point last week, 46 states had snow cover on the ground. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Hawai’i were the exceptions.

January 27. We had four inches of snow. Whoopee! I love using my snowblower and this was enough snow to make a snowblower worthwhile. It wasn’t too cold, so I had a good time. Then Ted took a turn and used the snowblower to clear Jim’s driveway. Jim and his wife are 90 years old and they appreciate the help.

February 15. There’s a forecast for a major snowfall in our area. A big snowstorm always sounds exciting to me. There’s something magical about snow, and a heavy snowfall makes everything quiet and peaceful. It started snowing early in the day, but the flakes were tiny and didn’t accumulate much. By late afternoon, it started looking like serious snow. Our normal temperature at this time of year is in the mid-40s, but today we set a record for the lowest high temperature on February 15: 4 degrees. The previous record was 19 degrees in 1905. We didn’t just break that record–we smashed it! The wind chills were a vicious 25-30 degrees below zero. There went our dream of sitting in the hot tub while snowflakes romantically fell on us. It wasn’t a good day to go outside, but it was fun to watch the snow fall and to watch a movie with a fire blazing in our fireplace in the evening.

February 16. The snowfall ended, the sun came out, and we set another record low high temperature. This time, we made it to 5 degrees, probably because of the sunshine. The previous record was again set in 1905. Wind chills were still well below zero. It was so cold, the mailman didn’t even walk our package all the way to the door; he only went far enough to throw it to the porch. Luckily, it was a book and it didn’t break.

I bundled up in three layers of clothes and a sturdy pair of boots and headed outdoors, feeling like Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story.” My first task was to stick our trusty NWS “Snow? How much?” ruler into the snow to see how deep it was. Wow! Seven inches!

The weight of the snow made our pool cover sag, so pool water seeped through it and froze on the cover.

I took a few more pictures outside, but I could hear my snowblower calling my name, so I got to work. I always go up the middle of the driveway first so I can throw half of the snow to each side instead of having it all pile up ahead of my path on one side.

The sidewalks were a challenge. Because it was so cold and windy, the snow was light and the wind blew it across the lawn, making it impossible for me to see where the sidewalk ended and the grass began. The curves in our sidewalks added to the challenge of finding my way through the virgin snow.

The second pass was a little easier, but our snowblower is designed to work with a foot of snow or less, so 7 inches kept me going slowly to give my little machine a chance to blow a path for itself.

While I was using the snowblower, Ted was using a shovel to clear the places the snowblower can’t go–the back step, the front porch, and the corners. Two-and-a-half hours later, we had all of our concrete clear. Then we cleared Claudia’s driveway. Claudia’s husband died three weeks ago and we know she doesn’t have a snowblower. That was a lot of snow for her to have to shovel in a double driveway. Another neighbor with a snowblower cleared Jim’s driveway. Although it’s only 5 degrees, the sun is melting the snow residue on the concrete. Even a snowblower is hard work–especially with seven inches of snow to move. I was sweating by the time I went back indoors.

February 17. Guess what. We had another two inches of snow overnight. We got out the snowblower–again–and cleared all of our concrete–again. It was easier this time because (1) there was a lot less snow, and (2) yesterday’s paths were visible. It was still mighty cold, however. We had 14 days in a row with temperatures below freezing, and 10 of those days never got above 20 degrees.

February 18. The skies dropped another inch of snow on us. The temperatures are warming up, however, and with the concrete warmed a little from the sun after we cleared it the last two days, we knew this last bit of snow would melt on its own.

February 23. Talk about extremes!!!! Eight days ago, it was 4 degrees; yesterday we warmed up to 58 degrees and today it was 71 degrees! You could almost literally watch the snow melt. By the end of the day, it was gone, except for a few places where the piles were deep or where there was shade.

February 24. Today, it was 62 degrees–a little cool to put the top down on my car, but warm enough for Ted and me to take our walk in long-sleeved shirts without wearing jackets. With the snow out of the way, I can smell spring in the air. The snow was fun while it lasted, but I like warm weather much better than cold. Think spring!

Author’s note: Ted and I know how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy this major (for our area) snowfall with the luxuries of heat, light, water, and food. We give thanks for our blessings and offer prayers for those who are suffering because of the storms across the country, especially in Texas.

A local TV reporter presented a human interest story about today’s cold weather and heavy snow. In addition to the cold, hard facts (pun intended), the reporter interviewed some local people. The first person said he wished he hadn’t moved here from the Alabama shore. The second person said he’s loving it and “if it has to be cold, it should be painful.” It is. The wind chills are low enough to cause frostbite in less than 30 minutes of exposure.

The reporter told us there was no one sledding on Art Hill today (wind chills are 20-25 degrees below zero) and neither his car nor his cat would start this morning (video of sleeping cat). Local grocery stores closed early.

To amuse himself, the reporter decided to freeze some clothing. After freezing a wet sock flat on its side on the sidewalk, he used it as a boomerang. He also froze his T-shirt and jeans, but topped his flat clothing with a video of a woman’s dress frozen in 3-D (for lack of a better description) and standing on a porch. It looked like a scarecrow without a head.

The reporter closed by informing us that today’s temperature in Dallas is lower than it’s been in Anchorage all winter. Dallas had a high of 13 degrees today; Anchorage had a high of 23 degrees. Our official high temperature of 4 degrees today broke another 116-year-old record high for the second day in a row. The previous record for the day was (again) 19 degrees in (again) 1905. This time, though, we smashed the record by 15 degrees, not a measly 11 degrees like yesterday.

Our area has had temperatures below freezing for 10 consecutive days and there are 4 more days forecast to remain below the freezing mark. If we’re lucky, we’ll get into the mid-30s after that. Our normal high temperature at this time of the year is in the mid-40s and the daffodils and crocus shoots are appearing in flower beds. They’re probably hibernating under the snow this year. Polar vortex, go home!

Yesterday, February 14, St. Louis set a record low high temperature for Valentine’s Day. If you aren’t married to a meteorologist, that means the lowest high temperature on record or, in other words, as warm as it got. Here are the stats:

Previous record low high: 19 degrees, set February 14, 1905.

New record low high: 8 degrees, set February 14, 2021.

We didn’t just break the record; we smashed it! I’ll just mention that the normal high temperature on Valentine’s Day in St. Louis is 45 degrees.

Today’s forecast: 4-8 inches of snow. We’re right on the line for the heavy snow, so we’ll see which way the storm tracks.

A few days ago, I received an invitation to attend a Zoom baby shower for Kaitlyn, the mother-to-be of Ted’s and my first great-grandchild–a boy.

Today was the big day. People who lived nearby attended the shower in person; those of us living farther away logged into Zoom. Eventually, we had five Zoom participants and ten people at the house. We started with Kaitlyn opening gifts.

After that, there were snacks. You can see members of the house group (upper left of the Zoom screen, below) leaning over the table to grab some food and a beverage. The woman with the long blonde hair in the house group is Kyra. Kaitlyn is on the far left, facing the camera. One of Kaitlyn’s grandmas, her mother, and her sister were present at the house. The lady on the right in the lower right of the Zoom screen below is Kaitlyn’s other grandma. While the house crowd filled plates and cups, the Zoom crowd imagined snacks. La called me later for an after-shower chat and we agreed the food was delicious.

Then it was time to play the obligatory shower game. It was a version of “The Price Is Right.” We guessed the prices of a variety of baby items purchased at Wal-Mart. The item was presented in a close-up view at the camera and each of us gave our best guess. La and Shelley had the most right answers. During our after-shower chat, La admitted that she wasn’t exactly guessing; she had pulled up on her computer screen and was looking up the items as they were presented. Checking Shelley’s line of vision (lower left of the Zoom screen above), she might have done the same. I admit that I thought of doing that, but I didn’t feel like going to the trouble.

As we were leaving the Zoom meeting, one of the house attendees told Kaitlyn to stand up so we could see her baby bump (below). Her baby boy is due just three days before my birthday. I will be thrilled if he is born on my birthday. If that doesn’t happen, I will be thrilled that I share my birthday month with my first great-grandchild.

I like seeing my family on Zoom better than just talking on the phone because it seems more like we’re really visiting each other. It was nice to be included in the baby shower, but it will be even nicer when this pandemic is history and we can get together in person again. I’m hoping that will be possible later this summer, so Ted and I can meet our first great-grandchild and our ninth grandchild before they’re all grown up.

While we waited 22 weeks for our replacement windows, Replacement by Anderson treated us to some delicious cookies “to help sweeten the wait.” After completing the installation, they sent us more cookies.

This time, the box clearly indicated the contents.

This time, they came in a nice cookie tin, not a simple plastic bag.

This time, we received a dozen cookies, five more than last time.

This time, they included the recipe. I’ll definitely be making more of these for us. Maybe you will too.

Bernie Sanders’ mittens were the talk of the Presidential inauguration and they’re old news now, but I saw this meme and couldn’t help smiling.

“Nobody puts Bernie in a corner.”

Will he dance with Patrick Swayze?

In 1959, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a plan to rid the world of smallpox. This was the beginning of a global eradication plan for the disease. As a result of aggressive vaccination efforts around the world, the last naturally-acquired case of smallpox was recorded in 1975. The last death from smallpox (acquired in a research setting) was recorded in 1978. In 1979, the WHO adopted this symbol to celebrate the eradication of smallpox.

Polio reached the worldwide epidemic level in the early 1900s. It was most active during the summer months and usually struck young children. Parents were more frightened of polio than of anything else threatening their children. I remember hearing the numbers of polio cases regularly announced on the radio, accompanied by swimming pool closings and cancellations of large gatherings. Polio infections peaked in the United States in 1957 with 57,000 people infected, 21,000 people paralyzed, and 3,000 people dying of the disease–mostly young children.

In 1955, the first polio vaccine became available in the United States. In the 1950s, the U.S. government played a limited role in public health, so it was the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later re-named the March of Dimes) that implemented a mass vaccination program to provide free polio vaccine for U.S. school children. As a result of polio vaccinations, the U.S. has been free of polio since 1979, and it has been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere since 1994. At this time, it is found only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 176 cases were reported in 2019.

Our medical challenge today is COVID-19. Vaccines have been developed rapidly through worldwide scientific co-operation made possible through private and public funding. There is a long way to go before we reach herd immunity to this pandemic, but vaccines are becoming increasingly available to the citizens of the world.

I have a scar on my upper left arm where I was vaccinated for smallpox to help eradicate that worldwide disease. I was one of those school children who received the polio vaccine in 1955 to help eradicate that worldwide disease.

Today, I had my first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as my contribution to help eradicate this worldwide disease. Ted has an upcoming appointment for his vaccination.

Ted and I signed contracts for four major home projects in 2020 and learned immediately–with our first contract–that nothing was going to be finished quickly.

Hot tub: 22 weeks. Signed contract June 13; installed November 13.

Replace fascia and paint shutters: 16 weeks. Signed contract August 26; finished December 14.

Update home media: 10 weeks. Signed contract November 4; installation complete January 14.

Replace kitchen bay window and basement windows: 22 weeks. Signed contract August 31; installation complete February 2.

Our 2020 house projects are finally finished. When we started, we had no idea it would take so long; by the time we finished, we’d come to accept long delays as the 2020 way things are done.

Ted and I checked off our final major home project of 2020 last week with the installation of seven replacement windows. We think our basement windows are at least 35 years old, and the seals have been broken for several years. We didn’t worry too much about them because–hey!–it’s the basement. But when the 20-year-old seals on the three kitchen bay windows began to loosen, we decided it’s time to replace windows.

Our family room window wall is an Anderson window. It’s 35 years old and still going strong, so we went with Replacement by Anderson for these windows. They are so precisely custom-made that a specific employee came to the house to take measurements and to verify that our bay window was properly hung from the header by cables so it wouldn’t collapse from the weight of the new, heavier windows. If it wasn’t properly built, we would have had to rip out the entire structure and replace it.

Five-and-a-half months after signing the contract and paying the deposit for the windows, John and Rob came to our house and got to work on the installation. They started with the bigger job: the three bay windows. Here’s how you replace a bay window:

First, you build a little plastic room to use as your work space. John told me this serves several purposes: (1) It provides a measure of safety during the COVID pandemic; (2) it helps contain the construction mess; and (3) it prevents the rest of the house from getting too cold. It was 15 degrees when the guys arrived and when they left, the temperature was just over 30 degrees. You can see Rob inside his plastic work space. Note: It was over 90 degrees on the day we ordered the windows. I’m just sayin’. 2020 and all.

Window removal began with John and his sawzall, cutting around the frame of each window. John was the boss-man of the job, so he did the cutting.

Rob’s job was to direct John to stay in the window lines and not cut the wood trim inside. You can see John’s sawdust on the window seat.

After cutting all the way around, Rob pushed and John pulled to remove the window.

After removing all three windows, the guys got to work and scraped out every tiny bit of old caulk. They even dug in the cracks between pieces of wood to remove caulk. John commented more than once that it was really strong caulk, so I think he had to work harder than usual to remove it.

Rob gets a little break while John unpacks a new window. You can see John’s reflection in the family room window.

Before putting the new window in place, John checked all four sides of the wood framing to see if they were level and square. He told me that in the 17 years he’s been installing windows, this is the first time he’s ever seen window frames that were perfectly square and level. Ted and I have always said that the contractor who remodeled our kitchen–including the change from two sash windows to a bay window–did a fantastic job. The structure was not only built for strength, but it was built level and square as well and fastened with caulk that wasn’t meant to let go. You’d think my dad had done the work! (My mom always said that my dad had everything so securely fastened that if a tornado ever picked up our house, it would fly away in a single piece.)

I was watching the guys push the new windows into place and was so impressed by the fit that I called Ted outside to look. I didn’t think he’d be able to imagine such a perfect fit if he didn’t see it for himself. The windows slid exactly into place on all four sides. The guys tapped them with their hands to push them all the way into the frames. Then John measured and measured and measured to make sure all the edges on all four sides of all three windows were properly positioned. If a measurement was off, the guys tapped that part into place and then John measured everything again. This took as long as scraping off all the caulk. Maybe longer.

The side panels open, but the center window is stationary, although it doesn’t look stationary in this photo. It conveniently hangs from the top before it’s fully installed, so John could screw the sides of the window frame into the wood structure. He told me that once he snaps that panel into place, it’s locked forever.

After deconstructing their plastic COVID/work room, Jason and Rob picked up their mess, swept the patio, and vacuumed the kitchen floor. Meanwhile, Jeremy (John’s brother) took over and installed the outside trim pieces around the windows.

John and Rob returned the following morning to do the basement windows. They didn’t have to saw around these windows to remove them (concrete walls, not wood), so the job was easier. It took over six hours to replace the three bay windows, but only about two hours to install the four basement windows.

First, the guys built another COVID-safe work area. See the plastic wall behind Rob? Again, John measured and measured the frames, but this time it was before he removed the old windows.

After removing the sliding glass panels, he hauled out his trusty crowbar and pried the old frames loose so he could easily remove the old window.

Then he pulled off the trim. Rob doesn’t have to work too hard, does he?

Unfortunately, the caulk on these windows was also very strong caulk, so scraping it all off kept John and Rob busy for awhile.

When our house was built, it came equipped with standard hopper-style basement windows. In the 1980s, we replaced those with sliding windows, but the steel window frame set in the concrete is designed for hopper windows. That meant John had to put a shim on the top edge of the frame so the sliding windows would fit properly. Our old sliding windows also needed a frame adjustment when they were installed.

After that, John could set the new window in the frame. Again, he had to measure, measure, measure to make sure the window was level and square and also perfectly centered in the steel frame.

After the window was properly positioned, John and Rob stuffed insulation around the edges.

The last part of the job was putting on the trim to cover all those open spaces. Then the guys de-constructed their plastic room, cleaned up the basement, and loaded their tools in the truck.

We chose window styles similar to our old windows, so there’s not a remarkable difference in the appearance of our new windows, but they are definitely very, very nice. The new windows provide such good insulation that they qualify for an energy tax deduction.

When we told our fascia contractor that we were going to replace the bay window, he suggested putting a shingle roof over it instead of the vinyl we currently had. We agreed, so he added it to his contract with us. His crew was here four days after the bay window was installed. It took a little over half an hour to put shingles on the little roof.

The shingle roof isn’t a big change, but we think it presents a more “finished” appearance than the previous vinyl roof.

There are some minor differences–definitely improvements–on the inside of the bay windows. (1) There is only one lock lever on each new side window, instead of the two we had on the old ones. (2) The handles to open the side windows (on the right) snap into the frame instead of sticking out (on the left). As I result, I needed to take the side blinds to the decorating center today to have them re-strung so they will drop all the way down to the window seat like the center blind instead of stopping at the protruding handles. (3) The new side windows open to about 140 degrees instead of 90 degrees, so we’ll be able to catch breezes from all directions. The new frames are a little wider too, so there is less wood trim around each window. I think that makes the new windows look a little bigger, even though the glass area is the same size as the old ones.

The new basement windows also have a nicer lock and a very smooth operation. Overall, though, the most noticeable difference is the absence of those ugly broken seals on the old windows (left).

Next: new valances for the new kitchen windows. I’ve already ordered the fabric. Stay tuned if you want to see them.