Friday, July 31, 2020

Meramec Caverns

Hubby Tony took a vacation day today so we could play. Early in the week we discussed possible day trips we could take, and decided on Meramec Caverns. It is only an hour away from the house, and despite driving past the exit on the highway too many times to count, neither of us had ever been there.

Meramec Caverns is the largest cave west of the Mississippi. French explorers were the first white men to experience the area. For more than 100 years it was a saltpeter mine, and the cavern was fought over during the Civil War.

After the war people started holding dances inside the cave. In the 1930s Lester Dill bought it to develop into a show cave. He was able to find unknown sections, including a room where artifacts from Jesse James and his gang were found. In the 1950s Dill had advertisements for the Caverns painted on barns in 14 states and it became "America's Cave".
Stalagtites and stalagmites in one of the rooms
Our tour lasted 90 minutes. The tour group included an extended family group with a lot of  children, and I was a little concerned they wouldn't remember to social distance, but both they and all the adults in the group did a good job. The cave's well-lit walkways were easy to navigate, but a bit slippery from all the humidity in the air.

When we got out of the car the temperature outside was 80 degrees, but as soon as we entered the cave area the temperature dropped, and I was glad to put on the jacket I brought with me. In the bathroom I saw a cute graphic over a mirror and stopped to take a selfie:

After the tour was over Tony and I drove to a cafe, where my sampler platter of egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad with vegetables, fruit, and crudites tasted as good as it looked.

When we came out of the restaurant large drops of rain were starting to come down. The rain got stronger and followed us all the way home, forcing us to scrap our plan to stop for more sightseeing and shopping.

Five years ago today: Distracticat

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Thought You Could Hide?

When I bought my laptop computer several years ago Windows 10 came pre-installed. I was familiar with the operating system from using it on my desktop system, but there were a couple of strange differences between the two I had trouble figuring out.

An example-for the past five years, one of my volunteer activities has been making slides to highlight things that are going on around my church. They run on electronic bulletin boards (large TV monitors) in the vestibule and multi-purpose building. I've gotten pretty good at putting slides together using the desktop and the Paint program.

When I looked for the program on the laptop I couldn't find it anywhere. Instead, there was something called Paint 3D. Its claim to fame was that you could create projects with 3D capabilities. I played around with the program a little bit, and it was very interesting, but in my mind it was a poor substitute for the program I knew backwards and forwards.

One night I was sitting in the family room with my laptop and needed a clip art for a blog post. I got fed up with what Paint 3D wouldn't do, and started searching the internet looking for a solution. When I found that the classic Paint was still there (and just hidden) I was so excited!

Now when I need to insert an image in a post from my laptop, I just need to type Paint in the search box on the taskbar, and then select it from the list of results.

Five years ago today: A "Snow Day" In July

Monday, July 27, 2020

Recent Randomness From My Phone

For the past few weeks, the mid-afternoon sun coming through the skylight in our condo has produced an arrow pointing the way to the stairwell.

I saw this artistic pile of rocks on the sewer cover close to a mysterious driveway that Google says leads to an interdenominational church and retreat center. I wonder why it wouldn't have signage?

I've heard of quite a few nut and seed butters, but this was a new one for me. It was quite expensive, or I would have brought it home to try.

For years I've seen the steeple of this building as I whizzed by in the car at 40 miles per hour. One day I rode by on my bike, and I was able to stop and figure out that it's an Orthodox church.

Five years ago today: Cooking In The Car

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Balloting And Bridges

Back in April I received requests for absentee ballots for the April, August, and November elections from the county. I mailed them all in, and actually voted that way in April.

Then the state put an end to that. Missouri law only has six allowable reasons for absentee voting. The one I took advantage of last time, "Incapacity or confinement due to illness or physical disability, including caring for a person who is incapacitated or confined due to illness or disability" was loosely interpreted by the county to include people 60 years or older. The law actually says 65, so I was out of luck.

However, last month the governor signed a bill into law to establish a temporary vote-by-mail system for the next two elections. I received my ballot in the mail a couple of weeks ago, with instructions that it had to be notarized unless I was in one of the at-risk categories. Fortunately the Missouri Secretary of State's website had a list of people who were volunteering to notarize ballots. This morning Hubby Tony pulled up the list and found a location that was open today. He is still working on resetting his car's computer, so the library branch he chose would allow him to do some driving. It was a half hour away, close to the university Tony attended.

At the library there was no line for the notary, and we were in and out in fifteen minutes. Instead of driving straight home Tony meandered around the area, reminiscing about different places. All of a sudden we were at Interstate 270, and needed to decide if we were going to head home or in the opposite direction.  Tony asked if I was interested in checking out the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which once carried Route 66 over the Mississippi River from Illinois. I was. It was time for an adventure.

Thanks to Google Maps we easily found the parking area for the bridge. We walked across the bridge over to the Missouri side (approximately a mile). At the end of the bridge there was a trailhead for a riverfront trail that went all the way downtown, but we just turned around and came back.

Observation bump out on the bridge
Instead of backtracking to go home, Tony took an Illinois state highway south until we saw the first downtown bridge over the Mississippi. We crossed back over into Missouri, and meandered our way to the condo. We made a slight detour to drop our ballots at the post office, so we could call the project completely finished.

Five years ago today: And Off Goes The Polish!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

50 Life Lessons

A friend sent me an email titled 50 Life Lessons. I appreciated their wisdom and wanted to share the inspiring thoughts to live by with you.

There was no author cited on the email, but I always want to give credit where it's due. Usually my search doesn't lead anywhere, but this time I had success. I learned that the list was written by Regina Brettin and published in The Plain Dealer in 2006. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.
1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.

16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.

35. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

36. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

42. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

45. The best is yet to come.

46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

48. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

49. Yield.

50. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Five years ago today: It's Always Good To Take A Chance

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Inquiring Minds Sometimes Ask Preposterous Questions

This week I've been part of a team of Enumerators doing Census work at a large university apartment complex, assisting my supervisor with the quality control portion of the job. So instead of walking from unit to unit contacting the residents I've been checking to make sure the forms turned in by the other team members doing the actual door knocking are filled out completely and accurately.

The temperatures each day have been in the low 90s with normal July humidity. My 'work station' was a beach towel spread out on the ground under a large oak tree. Even in the shade it was hot, though, and it didn't take long for my body to be covered in sweat. The occasional breezes were a real blessing.

During each day's four hour shift I drank plenty of water, and at the appropriate times ate the substantial lunch and snacks I brought with me. Even though I was much less active than usual, each day on the way home I was famished. Tonight I had a normal dinner, then twenty minutes later followed it up with a handful of almonds. Ten minutes after that I cut up a tomato and ate it, and followed that up with some baked squash!

Eventually Hubby Tony went out to run an errand. While he was gone I decided to see what Google had to say about my extra-large appetite. I searched for Need more calories sitting in the heat? The first hit said that yes, when your body has to work harder to cool itself it leads to increased calorie burn. The second and third hits disagreed. (Overall, half of them said yes and half said no.)

Right after the first result, in the 'People also ask' section I expanded some of the questions related to my original question to see what the answer was. I learned a little bit about Does temperature affect calories burned? Do you lose weight when it's hot? Do you burn more calories if you sweat more? Can you burn fat with heat?

Those made sense. But then evidently someone wanted to know Do you lose weight when you fart? I could have clicked over to a whole search based on that question, but I really had no desire to know the answer to that one.

Five years ago today:  Greased

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Just Like That The Day Was Filled Up

As I was telling you yesterday, thanks to a little luck I had today completely to myself. Before I went to bed I mulled over the plethora of options I had for filling up the day.

The one thing I knew I would do was leave the house, but that proved to be difficult. My work shift was cancelled due to the extreme heat advisory, so in my mind any outdoor activity was out. The indoor cultural facilities now have all limited visitor capacity. Those that offered a reservation system were already full, and I stood a chance of waiting for an opening outside at the ones that were operating on a first come first served system, which didn't sound particularly attractive. Nor did the idea of going to the mall, or a movie theater. So what did I do?
  • For the first time in three months I secretly shopped--two places, including a drive through fast food restaurant that provided lunch. In between the two stops I walked in a large store to get in some steps.
  • I came home and did paperwork, then checked the websites for the two churches I regularly attend mass at. Both have limited capacity. One requires an actual reservation, and the other one asks that you sign up ahead of time for contact tracing purposes. Both had openings for tonight, but I chose the one that started at 4:00 (the other one was an hour later) and added my name to the list.
  • Since my lunch hadn't been particularly healthy, before I left for church I put together a main-dish soup for dinner.
  • On the way home after church I stopped into a big box home decor store and walked the aisles for more exercise. I came home and heated up my dinner, then sat at the table and read a book while I ate.
  • Even though Sunday is Hubby Tony's night to cook dinner when I found an interesting-sounding recipe in the newspaper I decided to take care of it this week. That required a trip to the grocery store for a couple of things we didn't have on hand. While I was there I got the last of my steps in.
  • As the evening wore down I turned on the TV for some mindless background entertainment and fiddled on my laptop until Jackson the cat reminded me it was time for his last meal of the day...and my bedtime.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Just Me, Myself, And I

After much deliberation, about safety, Hubby Tony left last night for a silent retreat at a nearby Jesuit retreat center. He will be back Sunday after lunch.

Tony has been going to this center with the same group of men for several years, and says he comes away refreshed and revitalized. And a silent retreat, by definition, doesn't involve a lot of people contact. At this one they offer presentations by the retreat director and a lot of time for reflection, along with mass and Catholic rituals. Tony told me that it sounded like the center was taking good actions to allow for social distancing, including capping attendance at 50%, requiring masks, checking temperatures before people could enter the building, and discontinuing the family-style serving in the dining room.

This is the first time I've been alone in the condo for an extended period of time since we moved in. It was a strange feeling to wake up this morning and know that no one would know or care what I did or how I did it. My day was pretty filled up...after breakfast I took a walk, then showered and attended a Zoom meeting. In the afternoon I met with a woman to go over some writing she had done, then left for a Census enumerating job that should have taken four hours. However, I arrived at the facility (a university housing complex) just as the skies opened up and a deluge fell out.

I sat in my car and exchanged texts with my supervisor, who was sitting in her car on the other side of the parking lot. After an hour the weather radar app showed that there was still a lot of rain coming through, and she decided we were done for the day. And, because of a heat advisory forecast for tomorrow she cancelled that shift too. The work will still be waiting on Monday, but all of a sudden my weekend was free.

What should I do tomorrow? What a nice problem to have.

Five years ago today: Happy Halfy

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Bifocal Blemish

Three weeks ago I made a long overdue trip to the ophthalmologist to get my eyes checked and pick out new glasses.

The office did a great job of incorporating safety precautions, starting with a large sign on the door telling people they could not come in without an appointment. At the front desk the receptionist checked my temperature and asked how I felt. A retinal photograph was mandatory so the doctor didn't have to reach in close to examine my eyes.

When it was time to pick out new frames, there were additional safety features. Only one customer could be in that area at a time. The chair I sat on had been sterilized, and a sign said they would do it again before the next person used it. Each frame I tried on and discarded went in a special tray so they could be disinfected before going back on the display.

When my glasses came in I couldn't just stop by at my convenience. I had to make an appointment to pick them up. That happened last Friday.

 Based on my past experience, I know there's a breaking in period for the no-line bifocal lenses I wear because differences in frame shape and size put the two portions of the lenses in a slightly different spot. However, this time things were even more distorted. The distance vision was fine, but when I got in the car to drive home the center portion of the speedometer visually stuck out like it was in 3D.  Hours later the issue had gotten better, but there was still a portion of the left lens that made things look wavy and fuzzy. The problem was subtle, though, and I couldn't really describe what was wrong. I just knew it wasn't right.

I called the office first thing Monday, but they couldn't get me in until today. When I arrived at the office the technician had me move the glasses around on my nose to make sure the near and far distance portions were in the correct places. (They were.) He escorted me to a room to wait for the doctor.  The doctor checked my prescription against his notes, and for comparison the old prescription too. He had me wear my glasses, held trial lenses in front of them, and asked me which looked better. In the end, he told me that he was stumped as to why I was having a problem, and suggested I try for a couple more days to see if things got better. I was pretty frustrated and angry, but didn't know what else I could do.

As I was getting up to leave I turned my head, which made the handle of the door fuzzy for a couple of seconds, and I pointed out the issue to the doctor. He asked to see my glasses, then spent 30 seconds looking through the left lens from different angles and finally agreed that something wasn't right. At the front desk he handed over the glasses to the technician and asked him to look through the lens. The technician said it was like looking into a fun house mirror...which was the perfect description of the problem!

They're going to send the glasses back and have the lens corrected. It will be worth the wait. In the meantime I'm temporarily back to wearing my old pair.

Five years ago today: Need A Cloth?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Purposeful Road Trip

Recently Hubby Tony got a postcard from the state reminding him it was time to renew his license plates. One of the requirements was to get required the biennial safety inspection and emissions tests, so this past week he took the car in to the shop.

On the safety side, the car only needed a new bulb in a tail light. He wasn't quite so lucky with the emissions. The technician couldn't pull up the required information from the computer, so it failed that portion. They told Tony he would need to reset the computer by driving 60 miles at a combination of stop-and-go and highway speeds, then he could come back and have the test run again.

Thanks to COVID we haven't been anywhere in months, and as annoying as the failure was, the idea of a road trip made Mr. I Love To Drive very happy. He started researching possible destinations days ago, and finally decided the trip would have two parts. The first would be a trip to Kimmswick, a little town along the Mississippi River about a half hour south of our house for shopping and lunch. Then we would drive home using an indirect route.

When we arrived in Kimmswick shortly after 10 am only some of the stores were opened, and things looked like a ghost town, but it didn't take long for the parking lots to fill up. We popped in and out of stores that felt safe (i.e., not too crowded). Since the city relies heavily on visitors for revenue, we made sure to help them out by buying things at a couple of places.

A half hour before we were ready for lunch we stopped in and made a reservation at the city's most well known restaurant, The Blue Owl Bakery and Restaurant. It's an institution that's been featured on The Food Network, The Travel Channel, The Today Show and O Magazine. They serve good food, but they're really famous for their desserts. We each ordered from "The Terrific Trio" section of the menu, which allowed you to pick three items from a selection of salads, soups, quiches, sandwiches, or desserts. I ordered white chili, a turkey club, and carrot cake. Tony chose vegetable soup, a reuben, and pecan pie with chocolate chips. When the food arrived we traded bites so we could both sample everything. There were no leftovers.

After lunch we got back in the car and meandered home via the interstate, state roads, and arterial roads. It was a beautiful day for a drive; a bright blue sky held just a few puffy white clouds. The temperature was in the mid-80s, but the humidity was low, which made all the difference.

Tony has an appointment on Wednesday to have his car checked again. I hope our fun adventure does the trick for him.

Five years ago today: Bicycling And Bygone Times

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Not So Traditionally Chinese

Like we do most Saturdays, tonight Hubby Tony and I went to church. Before we left the parking lot Tony called a Chinese restaurant close to the house and ordered (and paid for) dinner. By the time we drove there the food was ready to be picked up. This restaurant has transformed itself from eat-in to carryout only. You call when you arrive on the parking lot and the bring the order out to you. It only took a minute until we were back on the road, and five more till we were home.

I got out plates and bowls while Tony prepared drinks. When everything was on the table I took the food out of the bag. The Hot and Sour soup came in a Styrofoam container with a lid, and the order of Moo Shu Vegetables was in a typical takeout container. There was a small lidded container of plum sauce. And a clear plastic bag of something that looked more like tortillas than the Chinese pancakes I was expecting.

Ready to sauce, fold, and eat
Even if the wrapping wasn't what I expected, the combination of mixed vegetables, wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, cabbage, green onion, and sweet sweet plum sauce was darn good.

Five years ago today: It’s About Watching Cat Videos Together

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Working Up A Sweat, Literally And Figuratively

During my training for the 2020 Census one of the first things that I found out was that group quarters are places where people live or stay in a group living arrangement. There are dozens of varieties, but around my house the most predominant ones would be skilled nursing facilities, group homes, residential treatment centers, and college student housing. Those are the types of places I will be Enumerating.

One of the goals of the Census is to make sure that every person living in the United States is counted. There are several ways that group quarters could do that--either by electronically sending in the information, having an Enumerator drop off individual packets and pick them up after they're completed, or having an Enumerator do in-person interviews of the residents. Today I went to a nursing home to prepare and drop off packets for the approximately 90 residents.

The first step was to get a list of everyone who lived there on April 1st (Census Day) from my contact person.  In the pre-COVID world I would ask the facility for a place to sit and do my work. But now doing the work onsite is impossible, as nursing homes are still (rightly) pretty locked down.

My first thought was to go sit in a nearby fast food restaurant, but that would require me carrying in my large box of paperwork and also wearing a mask for a couple of hours. I thought about going home and worked on my dining room table, but I was far enough away that I couldn't justify the commuting time.

The last option was to do the work in my car, which is the one I chose. I drove around until I found a nice-sized tree to park under. Even in the shade, and with the car windows rolled down to catch any stray breezes it wasn't exactly conducive for sitting outside (my phone app said it was 90 degrees, which didn't factor in the humidity). Every once in a while I felt a drop of sweat roll down my nose; fortunately it didn't fall on any of my paperwork. 

I took the list of nursing home residents, transferred the information to a listing sheet, and assigned each person a number. The next step was to take the listing sheet and prepare individual packets, each including a Census form and a personalized envelope containing the person's name, who they needed to return the form to, and the deadline for getting it in. For quality control purposes, the number I assigned to each person was written on each part of the packet, and I stuck a bar code sticker to the census form.

The car's steering wheel was in my way, so I adjusted it up and pushed my seat back as far as it would go. I had a stack of papers on my lap, another on the passenger seat, and a third on the passenger seat floor. During the two hours it took for me to complete everything the sun shifted directly overhead and I lost all the tree shade, so I drove back to the facility and found a shaded spot on their lot to finish up. I finally bundled up the packets, then stood at the facility front door until someone opened it. I handed the bundle over and explained who to give it to.

Next week I'll go back to pick up the packets. There's another detailed procedure for checking to make sure everything is returned and completed correctly. Once again I will be doing the job not in the facility, and probably in my car. I certainly hope it's cooler by then!

Five years ago today: Webbing

Monday, July 6, 2020

[Not] Great Customer Service

When I bought my car last year the dealership threw in a free oil change. In the real world I don't drive a whole lot of miles, and in the COVID world has been even less. The dashboard has an Oil Life indicator that counts down the time until the oil needs to be changed. It took 14 months, but when I saw that the indicator was at 10% I called the dealer and made an appointment to bring the car in.

This dealer is not as convenient now that I've moved, and I didn't want to make two trips to drop the car off and pick it up. For that reason I chose an 8 AM appointment (thinking they would be more likely to be running on time first thing in the morning), and told the scheduler I would wait for the work to be done. Last Thursday was Oil Day. I moved much faster than I'm used to, and left the house with a book to read, the things I needed to run several errands, and my lunch.

I pulled into the dealer lot right on time. The service department has a system where you pull into a covered area to drop off the car, then check in at one of the desks that line the side. The service advisor told me I would get my oil change, they would also rotate the tires for no charge, and do a "multi-point inspection". He said the whole thing would take about an hour.

There was no problem keeping a social distance in the almost-empty waiting area. After 70 minutes I started wondering when my car would be done. I waited another ten minutes, then packed up my things and walked outside. My advisor was at his desk talking to another advisor, but they broke up the conversation as I approached. I asked about my car, and learned that it was "five minutes away from being ready". Rather than go back inside, I decided to stand by the advisor's desk. He printed out my paperwork, told me all the systems were in good shape, then told me where I could find the car.

I was less than five miles away, headed towards my first errand, when the tire pressure light came on. I suspected that the technician hadn't reset it after rotating the tires, but I didn't have time to go back to the dealer and complain. I made all my stops, and when I got home I called the advisor. He didn't answer the phone, so I left a message. He never called me back, but Hubby Tony said he received a missed call from the dealer's number. The person didn't leave a message.

The next day I got a survey email from the dealer. In part, it said they were "dedicated to the overall satisfaction of our customers and their experience". I was very interested in telling them how they did, so I clicked the link.
It was broken, giving me nothing but a blank page. So I laid the whole thing out via email and sent it back. I'm still waiting for an answer.

Five years ago today: (Kind Of A) Pain In The Butt

Saturday, July 4, 2020

A Song For The Fourth Of July

There are a lot of renditions of the National Anthem; in my opinion this is one of the best.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Financial Freedom

Because of bad timing, we purchased our condo a month before we sold our house. Hubby Tony and I originally planned to roll the proceeds from one residence to another. That didn't work, so we had to take out a short term loan.

When the sale was finalized back in January our checking account had its (by far!) largest influx of money ever. Most of the money was quickly transferred to investments. Because the loan paperwork we signed said it had to be active for at least six months or penalties would apply we made monthly payments to the loan company.

Last week we reached the magic six month mark. Hubby Tony quickly completed the paperwork to have enough money moved back into our checking account to pay it off and then wired from the bank. Yesterday he received an email that the money had been applied and the loan was cancelled. 

Tonight we went out for a celebration dinner at a white-tablecloth restaurant. For the first time in months we had a reason to get a little dressed up. At the restaurant, many of the tables had been removed to make sure the remaining ones were at least six feet apart. Our masked waiter stayed as far away from the table as possible, and had to talk loudly to make sure we heard him from his social distance.

We ended up having our most elaborate dinner in months...a starter of lavosh and cheese, then salads and entrees, followed by coffee and dessert. It was a nice celebration of our new financial freedom.