The National Aquarium at Union Station in St. Louis is providing a safe way for kids to talk and have their pictures taken with Santa. Seven inches of Plexiglass separates the kids from Santa, so everyone is safely socially distanced.

Presenting . . . Scuba Santa and his elf.

Last week, I received an Amazon catalog in the mail. I didn’t even know Amazon mailed catalogs! I’m not big on catalog shopping, so I quickly riffled through the pages before throwing it into the recycle bin.

During my riffle, I saw a Christmas tree maze. I couldn’t resist drawing my way through the maze. Then I saw another activity page. I finally checked the table of contents (yes, a table of contents, not an index like catalogs usually have), and found lots of fun activities. The promise on the catalog was true: It was “Joy Delivered” and it put an Amazon Prime smile on my face.

Here’s the catalog cover. With the “kid” appearance, it’s no surprise it was a toy catalog.

Here are the activity pages. There’s even a page of stickers (bottom right) to go with “A Winter’s tail Tale.”

The catalog included a page with a recipe for “sip, sip, hurray” hot chocolate and another page to “Make a list, check it twice” with the note that the list may include “anything, like hugs, hats, or talking mice.” Maybe I’ll use that page to make my Christmas list. Who do I know that wants a talking mouse for Christmas?

We scored today at Wal-Mart.

There was a limit of one each, but it wasn’t clear if a package of one roll of paper towels and a package of six rolls of paper towels were equally counted as one item. A small-size package of each item was sufficient for us.

P.S. I saw an article yesterday that many stores are already notifying customers that they will not give credit for critical items purchased during the COVID 19 crisis period. Those hoarders will be well-supplied with toilet paper and hand sanitizers for awhile.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Hint: Zoom in on the green sticker on the license plate.

By not renewing his license plate since 1992, this guy has saved about $1,500. Not to mention that he didn’t have to stand in line at the DMV office.

Shortages predicted to result from coronavirus-related production and shipping problems are causing people to horde supplies they think they will need. I’m not hoarding anything, but I get this, so I wasn’t surprised to see Wal-Mart’s shelves stripped of pain and fever-reducing medications, sterilizing mouthwash, and hand sanitizers. Yet, it seems like one product is being hoarded more than anything else.

That’s what Target’s toilet paper shelves looked like last night. Why are people hoarding toilet paper? One article I read suggested that buying lots of toilet paper might be making people feel like they have some control over the coronavirus, and therefore helps to calm them. If that’s true, there must be a lot of very calm people out there.

Ted and I made a Wal-Mart run and were surprised to see how many empty shelves there were in the store. Every department had gaping empty shelf spaces. Is the coronavirus affecting shipments and supplies? Are people buying and hoarding things faster than Wal-Mart can re-stock them? We don’t know, but it was a weird Wal-Mart shopping experience. Some of the empty shelves we saw were in groceries, . . .

kitchen utensils, . . .

pens and markers, . . .

pain-killing and fever-reducing medications, . . .

and germ-killing mouth washes.

As University of Wisconsin alumni, Ted and I receive the UW magazine. We each found an especially interesting article in the current edition. My “find” is a philanthropic educational initiative. I know a number of universities have similar programs, and I’m proud that my alma mater is one of them. (FYI, Bucky Badger is the UW mascot, thus “Bucky’s Tuition Promise.”)

Ted’s favorite article is cuter and more fun.

Recent pop-up ads on my tablet have shown “challenging” sudoku games. I like to do sudoku puzzles, so I took some screen shots and printed them just to see if the puzzles in the ads are actually solvable. Good news! They are.

A “normal” sudoku puzzle looks like this.

The rules are that each 9-square block must include the numerals 1-9. The same is true for each 9-square row and for each 9-square column. Within a 9-square block, row, or column, the numerals 1-9 cannot be repeated. The puzzles I printed from the online ads were structured a little differently, but the same rules applied.

This was one of the two puzzles. I added the colored lines to make the three puzzles obvious. It helped keep my eyes focused on the nine blocks I was solving. I quickly noticed that the center 9-square block is shared by all three puzzles, so the center puzzle must be solved first. After that, you solve the other two, but you cannot change any of the numbers entered in the center puzzle.

The second printout was a larger puzzle, apparently only solvable by “real sudoku master.” Again, I figured out that the center square needed to be solved first because it shares its corner squares with each of the other four puzzles. This puzzle was a more challenging level–harder than I enjoy doing–so it took me some time to solve the center puzzle. After that, the other four were pretty simple, maybe because I already had one corner of each already solved.

If the ads are to be believed, I’m a real sudoku master, since I solved both puzzles. Now, back to my real life.

It went viral on social media. Celebrities and sports teams got into it. The broom challenge was hot. It made the news in USA Today.

The broom challenge has actually been around since 2012 and claims that at the spring and fall equinox, it is possible to make a broom stand alone.

Too bad the broom challenge is based on pseudoscience and false claims. It’s a harmless social media hoax that can be done at any time of the day on any day of the year. The secret to success is the broom’s center of gravity, not the earth’s gravitational pull. Who has time to think up this stuff?

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks, is coming out in two days. Did you know that Tom Hanks is descended from Nancy Hanks Lincoln? (Third cousin, four times removed.) He is also a sixth cousin of Fred Rogers.

Really. Not just publicity.

I saw an article in USA Today that reported one-quarter of the West Antarctic ice sheet has been classified as “unstable.” According to the article, the ocean water in front of the glacier is too hot, causing the underside to melt where it grinds against the seabed. This allows the glacier to slide more quickly into the ocean and to become thinner.

My question is: How does anyone know where West Antarctica is? Every direction from the South Pole is north. Once you are north of the South Pole, moving in a clockwise direction around the pole will take you eastward, just like it does in the rest of the world; counterclockwise will take you westward. Where’s the starting point? Obviously, “West” Antarctica is an agreed-upon arbitrary area.

Jonathan Haidt developed 27 non-political questions that can help identify if your brain is more Republican or Democratic. If you want to discover your brain’s political stance, go to chartsme.com. Answer the questions truthfully, and don’t read the explanation at the end of this post until you’ve finished.

It’s very cold outside, so I’ll think about spring while you take the quiz. When you’re ready, scroll down past this photo.

As you might have guessed from the nature of the questions, Haidt developed a “disgust scale.” A scientific study showed that this trait (disgust) can help determine if you are politically more conservative or more liberal. Conservatives tend to be more prone to disgust.

Some scientists think disgust might be an ancestral reaction that protected more primitive people from contamination and disease. (Think drinking water vs. pond scum.) There are probably more accurate tests if you need a test to determine your political leanings, but this one was kind of fun.

Here are my results: 39% conservative and 61% liberal. I guess I’m less affected by disgusting things than I thought.

Ted and I were shopping at Von Maur and saw these holiday fashions for men.  I’m trying to picture Ted in the green suit and tie, but it’s not working for me.

Drawn like a moth to a flame.

I had this citronella candle burning while I sat on the patio under the party lights last night.  When I blew out the candle, I noticed the unfortunate moth.

Today’s Google doodle features William Henry Perkins, a British chemist and entrepreneur who accidentally discovered the first synthetic dye.  In 1856, when he was just 18 years old, Perkins was trying to synthesize quinine to treat malaria.  His experiment failed and, instead of quinine, his beakers were filled with a dirty brown sludge.  When he cleaned the beakers with alcohol, the sludge became a bright, rich purple dye that he called mauveine.  A long chain of chemical advances resulted in a bright, inexpensive synthetic color available to the masses.  Thanks to Perkins, we don’t have to smash roots and berries to have colorful clothing.

I saw this at Biltmore last spring.  Of course, every woman knows this is true, . . .

 

. . . but do you think Cinderella pictured shoes like these?  These pictures were part of an historical shoe exhibit at our Hawaiian resort.

The center shoe symbolizes Cinderella, who ran down the palace staircase and lost her glass slipper/shoe.  The 6″ high tiki head carved on the clog heel is pretty eye-catching too.  How long do you think the heel on the fish shoe will last?

The top sandal is called “Splendor in the Grass.”  The bottom one uses every part of a leek.  Check out its bulb toe.

Everything that needs to be done is checked off the list.  Now . . . Let there be peace on earth.

I had surgery to correct three hammer toes on my right foot in March 2016.  Although the swelling went down, shoes are often a little too tight on my right foot, so I decided to have Aaron, the shoe repair man, stretch the toe boxes of several right shoes a little wider.  I was surprised to see that Aaron has a new lamp in his shop window.  It’s wearing a right shoe.

Over the years, we’ve lost some trees to weather damage and needed to have them cut down.  We simply had the tree company cut them down, grind them into mulch, and take the mess away.  People living in one of the subdivisions adjacent to ours were more creative when they had two large trees removed from their front yard.

The long shot.

This was the tree on the left in the long shot photo, above.

And this used to be the tree on the right.

For the first time in quite awhile, I spent some time browsing in a bookstore.  While I was looking for some bargain-priced summer reads, Ted meandered elsewhere and came back with a suggestion for me.

The King lives, but maybe not so much through his favorite recipes.  I didn’t buy it.

Last week, Ted and I went out to lunch.  While we were eating, one of the waitresses went around the room and gave each woman a small box of candy.  Was the candy left over from Mother’s Day?  Of course it was, but every woman who received the little gift was smiling.

Today, as Ted drove us through an underpass on I-70, I spotted a couple of State Patrol cars on the merging ramp to​ our right.  Since traffic slowed markedly at that point, I assumed there was an accident ahead and the officers were heading to the scene.

As Ted drove forward, I noticed those squad cars were part of a string:  there were actually ten squad cars and a State Patrol motorcycle lined up on the shoulder of the ramp!!  In addition, another official motorcycle was parked on the shoulder just ahead of the ramp after pulling a driver over, presumably for speeding.  Obviously, a sting operation was in progress as people started leaving town for the holiday weekend.

I think we can conclude that enforcement​ is up.

 

Last night, Ted and I were at Wal-Mart and we saw happiness that lit up the entire store.

Mom, Dad, and their four daughters were heading for the checkout lane and each of the girls had a brand new bicycle!  The bikes were in assorted sizes–one small, two medium, and one large–to fit the owners.  The girls’ smiles couldn’t have been any bigger, and their eyes were shining with excitement as they each rolled a bike past the checker and then out to their van.  Lots of heads were turning to watch (it was like a bicycle parade) and people were commenting on how happy and excited the girls were.

It was already dark outside (about 8:30 pm), but I’m pretty sure there was going to be some bike riding in the driveway before bedtime.

A few days ago, the forecast for today on Hilton Head Island predicted a high temperature in the low 60s with sunny skies.  The reality when today arrived was a high temperature in the mid-50s, cloudy with a few peeks of sunshine, and a 25-30 mph cold west wind.  In short, a blustery day.

It was too cold to swim or to sit on the beach, so we drove around the island to see what we could see.  A realtor’s sign told us we could own part of the foot.  We looked at the map and noticed that the island is shaped remarkably like a foot.  (So why is it named Hilton Head?)

The pink area is HH Island.

At the toe of the island is a lighthouse and a small specialty shopping district, so we took a look around.

The Harbourtown lighthouse.

The trees along the roads we traveled definitely had a Southern look.

Y’all come in and have some sweet tea now, y’heah?

After exploring the island, we went back to the hotel and explored the resort at which we are staying.  It has indoor and outdoor swimming pools.  Two women were sunbathing in swimsuits at the outdoor pool.  On a nearby chair, a man reading a book was bundled up in a jacket and a pool blanket.  Someone was wearing the wrong clothing.  Given the weather, methinks it was the two women.

The view from our hotel room balcony.

Part of the hotel’s beachside backyard.

We took a walk along the beach and then spent some time relaxing outside on the lee/beach side of the hotel protected from the cold west wind.

The beach was pretty deserted on this blustery day, but it was still a beach.  Yes!  We’re at the beach!

It’s a tough life.  I had to wear a jacket to be comfortable in a hammock at the beach.

Ted said this is the first time he’s ever been in a hammock.

Obligatory foot shot of Ted and me taking life easy and watching the ocean waves.

We finished the day with a delicious steak dinner and some very good wine at a nearby restaurant.  The restaurant was described as “swanky.”  The food and prices were swanky, but it’s a beach town filled with resort visitors, so diners were in very casual clothes.  Can a restaurant be “swanky” if the diners are wearing flip-flops and shorts or jeans?

Tomorrow we head farther south in our continuing search for warmer weather.

Why, yes, it is.

We saw this Mini Cooper in a parking lot.  Check the outside mirror. . .

. . . and the roof.

Yesterday we received New Year’s greetings from our (apparent) friends, Ron and Sarah.

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We’ve never seen or heard of these people!  They know us well enough to spell our last name correctly, and they included the S in the address so the card wouldn’t go to the folks who live at N.  They even got the ZIP code right, but they goofed on the city.   Maybe some day we’ll meet this nice-looking family.

Tonight, we completed our final pre-Christmas ritual:  we attended the Bach Society’s Candlelight Concert at Powell Hall.

All dressed up with someplace special to go

All dressed up with someplace special to go

This concert is the most popular Christmas concert in the St. Louis area and has been a tradition since 1951.  The concert includes the Bach Society orchestra and a 55-voice chorus.  It is beautiful, special, and inspiring.  This year, the highlighted musical selection was the Magnificat, Mary’s response to the news that she would be the mother of the Christ Child.  The orchestra director pointed out that it would be more appropriate to play this in March but, over the years, it has become associated with Christmas and the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

Powell Hall lobby decorated for Christmas

Powell Hall lobby decorated for Christmas

Powell Hall stage with orchestra and chorus getting ready to perform

Powell Hall stage with orchestra and chorus getting ready to perform

The second half of the program is comprised of well-known religious Christmas carols.  The stage lights dim and the chorus–each member holding a candle–enters the darkened auditorium from the back and walks down the aisles and around the seating sections of the auditorium until they have encircled the audience.  They sing all the while, so the music is all around us.  The adult chorus exits through the rear doors and the youth chorus (high school age kids) comes onstage in red robes, sings several carols, and exits.  Then the audience sings two carols with the accompaniment of the orchestra.  For the closing performance selection, both choruses enter from the rear and walk down all the aisles as they sing and re-group in a single line (150+ choristers) beginning on the stage and extending down along the outer walls of the auditorium.

The final carol of the evening, sung by the choristers and the audience, is Silent Night, during which both choruses walk into the aisles and again, surround the audience with music and candlelight.  When they finish Silent Night, the concert is over and the chorus members are in the auditorium.  They greet concert attendees as the attendees leave their seats and wish them a merry Christmas.  It’s a beautiful evening and puts us in the holiday spirit.

Just like Mary, we now anticipate the birth of the Christ Child.  Let Christmas begin (and end) with peace in our hearts.

May the peace of the Lord be with you.

May the peace of the Lord be with you.

In a previous post, I mentioned that they breed Packer fans in Wisconsin.  Today, my cousin proved my point when he posted a picture of his new granddaughter on Facebook.

Barely a month old and already dressed in Packer green and gold from head to toes.

Eleven weeks old and dressed in Packer green and gold from head to toes.

I was shopping on November 26 and found two long-sleeved shirts I liked.  Unfortunately, the store did not have them in my size, but was willing to send them to my home via free shipping.  I was told they have to say it will take 7-9 business days, but it usually arrives much sooner.  My past experience has shown this to be true.  Except this time.

I tracked my package and saw that the package was at the FedEx location in Groveport, Ohio on November 28 and arrived in Earth City, MO via Champaign, IL on November 29–a distance of 441 miles in about 14.5 hours.  It left the Earth City location November 30, and my tracking record showed an expected delivery date from the Post Office on December 1.  On December 2, Ted and I were near the local FedEx store (across the street from the St. Peters Post Office), so we stopped in to ask what was taking so long to get a package from Earth City to the St. Peters Post Office–a distance of 12.6 miles, according to Google Maps.  The lady told me it was probably put in the wrong place on the truck and she’d have the driver look for it.

I was still waiting for the package on December 5, so I called FedEx Customer Service to see what was taking so long to get the package from Earth City to St. Peters.  (Note that I remained very polite throughout the following telephone conversation.)

The FedEx customer service lady told me that if the tracking record says my package is in transit, it is on a truck, but since my shipper only paid for 7-9 day delivery, I shouldn’t expect it for 7-9 business days.  I pointed out that if this is true, my package had already spent 4-5 business days on the truck (does FedEx do 7-9 day deliveries on Saturdays?), and that it seemed like a long time to drive it 12.6 miles, when I could have walked the distance in less than a day.  I asked if it might have been put on the wrong truck or in an incorrect place on the right truck, and I was told again that since my shipper only paid for 7-9 day delivery, it would take 7-9 business days for my package to arrive.  I asked if the driver was just going to leave my package on the truck until the 7-9 days were up, and if so, wouldn’t it make more business sense for FedEx to fill the truck with one-day deliveries than to use the gas to drive my package around for a week instead of unloading it?  I was told that since my shipper only paid for 7-9 day delivery . . . (you get the drift).

Today, 8 business days later (if Saturday is a FedEx business day), using 6 business days to travel the final 12.6 miles, my package arrived–right on schedule.

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You bet! Only six business days to drive my package 12.6 miles.

Two long-sleeved shirts for me.

Two long-sleeved shirts, safely (and slowly) delivered.

Today was a rainy day and the mall is always deserted on Mondays, so Ted and I decided to walk in the mall and get our three miles in.  We arrived just in time for the sun to break through the clouds at sunset.  The back edge of the rain clouds picked up the beautiful sunset colors.

One of the NWS forecasters once wrote a forecast that included the prediction “sunny by dark.”  That’s what we had today.

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Kathy and I enjoy meeting in Columbia to spend an occasional one-on-one day together.  We live three hours apart, and Columbia is the halfway point–about 90 minutes of driving each way for both of us.  There are enough shops, restaurants, and points of interest in the city to let us do something while we talk.

Yesterday, we met in Columbia for the first time since February.  (It’s been a busy year!)  We did most of our favorite things, beginning with a long lunch.  When we were tired of sitting in the restaurant, we went downtown and browsed in the shopping area.

The only place we spent money downtown was at the chocolate store on Cherry Street.  The owners melt and make their own chocolate, and it’s delicious.  We each selected a few pieces of our favorite varieties and then headed for the Columbia Mall for a sit-down break.  A frosty beverage, a table in the food court beside the calliope, and our chocolate, and we were set until dinner time.  When we finally felt hungry enough to eat dinner, we decided to try the “new” Shakespeare’s Pizza.

About a year ago, Shakespeare’s tore down their entire building across the street from the MU campus and re-built a newer version of it.  Most of the main floor is the restaurant; the remainder is rental space for small shops or offices.  The upper four floors of what used to be a one-story building are dedicated to “deluxe” student apartments.  The restaurant expanded into its previous parking lots, so the kitchen is larger and there’s more seating, as well as a new full-service bar.  A (literally) yellow brick path on the floor leads patrons from the seating areas to the rest rooms.

Shakespeare’s is family-owned and is always very busy, attracting people of all ages.  It’s also very user-friendly, and you’re welcome to sit at your table as long as you like.  Kathy and I had cheese garlic bread, pizza, and a beer plus two more hours of talking before we decided it was about 90 minutes from when we wanted to be home.  We went back to our starting point to pick up her car and, after hugs and good wishes, we headed home, looking forward to our next Columbia Day.

The “new” Shakespeare’s Pizza, all the way across the first floor, including two more sets of windows on the right that didn’t fit in my picture.

Still the same plentiful supply of tp in the rest Rollins, bit now it's on a new varnished wooden rod instead of hanging from a long heavy chain.

Still the same plentiful supply of t.p. in the new rest rooms, but now it’s on a new varnished wooden rod instead of hanging from a long heavy chain.Kathy and I don't know if the lights and buzzer really flash and ring, but we always wash our hands, just in case.

This sign is at the rest room doors. Kathy and I don’t know if the lights and buzzer really flash and ring, but we always wash our hands, just in case.

It’s time for Dillard’s to empty the trash can.  One helpful person attached a plastic bag to a straw in the trash can opening to accommodate additional trash.  Yuck!

Trash

There were lots of festivals in the St. Louis metro area this weekend.  Among them:

–The Great Forest Park Balloon Race was held in the soggy Central Field in Forest Park this afternoon.  Balloon Glow was cancelled last night, due to heavy rain (2-5 inches across the area), but the race was on today.  Update:  The ground was too soggy for the balloons to take off. 

–Schlafly Beer sponsored the “Hop in the City” festival.  For $30 advance tickets or $35 on-site tickets, attendees could taste 51 different beers and enjoy outdoor music and entertainment.

–St. Peters sponsored “Celebrate St. Peters” at the 370 Lakeside Park.  That’s the same festival where “Elvis” called me to the stage and put a scarf around my neck.

And the list goes on, but perhaps the most unusual outdoor event today was the wife-carrying contest in Eureka, a suburb of St. Louis.  Here’s all the information.  According to the report on the evening news, the winner of the contest gets the woman’s weight in beer.  Yahoo!

According to the evening news, the winning team is awarded the woman's weight in beer. Yahoo!

Back in early March, our health insurance company sent me a free Fitbit Flex ($99.99 value or $79.99 on sale) for completing a health lifestyle survey.  Yesterday, I tried it out in conjunction with my simple ($19.95) pedometer to compare data.

  Fitbit Pedometer
Steps 2,300 2,477
Calories 1,146 105
Distance 0.97 mi 1.09 mi
Time 22 min 21 min

Considering that I was standing still in the same place when I put both devices on my body and when I took them off, the variations in data require some analysis.

The action of taking a step rattles something and makes a “click” sound in the pedometer.  Each click counts as a step (observable on the display screen).  Given my stride length and doing the math says I take 2,263 steps in one mile, assuming my stride length never varies.  Does the wrist-worn Fitbit track arm motion?  If it does, there should be an arm swing for every step.  I don’t know, and there’s no screen to attempt an observation.  Whatever the mechanism, and allowing for a varying stride length, score:  Fitbit–1, pedometer–1.

I’ve checked the route with the car and it’s 1.1 miles on the odometer, so the pedometer appears to be slightly more accurate for measuring distance.  Still, given a possible variance in distance due to the timing of the car’s odometer turning over, score:  Fitbit–1, pedometer–1.

I checked the time on the digital clock on the stove when I left home and when I returned.  Since I didn’t count seconds on the three involved digital clocks, that could explain the timing difference.  Score:  Fitbit–1, pedometer–1.

The Fitbit calorie counter might be its most motivating feature.  Since an average-size woman burns roughly 100 calories per mile running or walking, the Fitbit must suck calories out of my body while I wear it for me to burn eleven times that many.  That was nearly a whole day’s food burned in a one-mile walk!  Three miles and I’d be down a full pound at 3,500 calories per pound.  Not to mention that the Fitbit has been lying on my dresser since I finished walking yesterday and shows 821 calories burned so far today–without even moving it.  That’s a weight loss dream come true!  Score:  Fitbit–0, pedometer–1.

For me, convenience is a big plus.  To see the data on my pedometer, I look at the display.  All four categories of information are right there on a single screen.  With the Fitbit, however, there is no screen, so I can’t get my data unless I sync it with the Fitbit app on a bluetooth device.  Compared to the pedometer, it’s very inconvenient to need a second device to examine the Fitbit data.  Convenience score:  Fitbit–0, pedometer–1.

Total score:  Fitbit–3, pedometer–5.

Granted, my pedometer doesn’t track my food log, my goals, or the intensity of my activities, nor does it track my sleep patterns, but why would I want a device to tell me how many times I woke up during the night?  It’s bad enough just knowing I didn’t sleep well without having it documented!  All in all, I’m glad I had a chance to try a Fitbit without spending any money, but I’ll stick with my trusty, inexpensive, and easy-to-use pedometer.

After 60+ degrees on Thursday, the cold front has arrived and the next few days will be very cold.  We had a cozy evening with a fire in the fireplace while we worked on a 1000-piece puzzle.  125 pieces connected; 875 to go.

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