We hope we can help send you into the new year with a smile on your face. That’s why we compiled a list with some of the most uplifting, amusing, and inspiring stories of the week. It works well as a complement to the Saturday offbeat list.
Unsurprisingly, this week’s list is particularly festive. We wanted to showcase people who got into the Christmas spirit. Of course, that’s not all. There’s also talk of an Antarctic explorer, a conservation project to save one of the world’s rarest birds, and the luckiest man in recent memory.
The United States government was partially shut down last week, but one very important service remained operational—the Santa tracker operated by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
NORAD tracks Santa is an annual Christmas tradition which has existed since 1955. It started due to a newspaper typo in an advertisement for Sears. The department store gave out a phone number for children who wanted to talk to Santa Claus.
However, the misprinted telephone number actually dialed the secret hotline of Colonel Harry Shoup at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. Although annoyed when children started calling him up, Shoup instructed his staff to man the lines and pretend to be Santa.
This year, military personnel from an air force base in Colorado have been assisted by over 1,500 volunteers who answered calls, letters, and emails from children all over the world. They provided updates regarding Santa’s progress and anything else that kids might have wanted to know about Christmas.
In the Mexican town of Nogales, an eight-year-old girl named Dayami wrote her Christmas list and attached it to a balloon, hoping it would reach Santa Claus. It didn’t quite make it all the way to the North Pole, but the balloon did cross the border into Arizona. Luckily, it was found by Randy Heiss who decided to make Dayami’s Christmas wishes come true.
Heiss came upon the letter while hiking. Although his Spanish was rusty, he could tell it was a Christmas list and had his wife translate it. Dayami asked for things like slime, art supplies, a doll, and a dollhouse. The couple decided they wanted to fulfill the girl’s wish list but didn’t know how to get in touch since she left no contact information.
Eventually, Heiss worked out that nearby Nogales was the most likely source of the balloon, so he reached out to local station Radio XENY. They posted the story on their Facebook page and found Dayami within the hour.
Radio XENY arranged a meeting between Randy and his wife and Dayami’s family where the girl and her younger sister, Ximena, received all the toys they were dreaming about for Christmas. Heiss described the experience as a “healing joy.”
Two sailors who were stranded at sea for almost three weeks were saved by a passing cruise ship.
The Empress of the Seas, a vessel operated by Royal Caribbean, was headed to Jamaica when it came upon two men adrift in a small boat last Friday. The cruise ship retrieved the stranded sailors and gave them medical attention and water. One of them was so weak that he could no longer walk. But by the time they reached Ochos Rios in Jamaica, both had recovered their strength.
The men were fishermen from Costa Rica. They had launched on December 1, and strong winds had carried them away from their nets while they were sleeping. Then they used all their remaining fuel in an attempt to get back to their gear. They had been adrift ever since. The fishermen only had enough food and water for seven days but floated on the Caribbean for 20 days before being saved.
Their rescue turned out to be a minor Christmas miracle or a serendipitous sequence of events, depending on your viewpoint. The Empress of the Seas was not originally intended to take that route. The ship was destined for Cienfuegos, Cuba. However, bad weather made it alter its course to Jamaica.
Last week was a pretty good week for 85-year-old Harold McDowell of Lakewood, New Jersey. On Friday, his wife was declared cancer-free. On Saturday, he won a million dollars.
The pensioner walked into the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City and turned a $5 bet into a million-dollar jackpot. McDowell made the “6 Card Bonus” bet playing three-card poker.
The cards on the table were the nine, jack, and king of diamonds. The cards in his hand were the 10, queen, and ace of diamonds. He hit a royal straight flush which came with a giant payout, even on his meager bet. It was a first for the Borgata Casino as well, which never had this 1-in-20-million bet happen before.
The money was just the cherry on the cake for Harold, though. He had received the best news the previous day when his wife left the hospital cancer-free following multiple surgeries. In fact, she was next to him when he hit the big jackpot. Harold turned around and told her he had just won a million dollars. She replied, “You’re full of c—p.”
We have heard a lot of stories in recent times about how damaged the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is. Here’s a bit of good news as the reef has a potentially new and powerful ally on its side—LarvalBot.
LarvalBot is an underwater robot about the size of a briefcase which can prowl the damaged sections of the reef and seed them with tiny baby corals. It was recently dispatched on its trial run in Vlasoff Reef along Australia’s northeastern coast where it successfully dispersed 100,000 microscopic specimens derived from corals which are more resistant to the region’s warmer temperatures. It will soon go on another test run in the Philippines.
The problem is that we are not sure yet just how effective LarvalBot is. Everything went smoothly during the trial, but we have to wait for six to nine months until the corals take hold and start growing to accurately gauge how fruitful the experiment will be.
The leader of the project is Peter Harrison, director of the Marine Ecology Research Center at Southern Cross University. He is hopeful that multiple LarvalBots will be deployed in the future to disperse millions of corals and help repopulate the damaged reefs.
The submersible is the creation of robotics professor Matthew Dunbabin from Queensland University of Technology. It was actually repurposed from RangerBot, a robot which prowled the waters and killed a certain species of starfish which fed on corals.
A father booked six flights for himself over Christmas so he could spend the holiday with his flight attendant daughter.
Many people want to be with their family at Christmas, but at the same time, not everyone gets off work for the holiday. Spending time with loved ones can be tricky but not impossible if you are truly dedicated. One father from Ohio named Hal proved that point by booking himself on airplane flights that his daughter was working on as a flight attendant.
The story was shared online by Mike Levy, a man who happened to sit next to Hal on a Christmas Eve flight from Fort Myers to Detroit. It seems that many other people agreed with Mike when he called Hal a “fantastic father.” In a later interview, Hal admitted that the experience was “challenging” but claimed to have had a great time spending Christmas with his daughter.
A school bus driver from Dallas got into the Christmas spirit and bought gifts for all 70 children on his route.
Curtis Jenkins works as a bus driver for Lake Highlands Elementary School. Initially, he thought it would be a nice idea to schedule a gift exchange. However, his wife pointed out that he might be putting some families currently strapped for cash in an awkward situation. Therefore, Curtis decided to play Santa Claus to all the kids.
Jenkins planned this for months. He put aside something with every paycheck and was able to buy 70 gifts, including games, puzzles, and small electronics. He received some help from a few other people who heard about his intentions and wanted to help out. He presented the gifts to the students on the last day of school in front of a few emotional parents who were touched by his act of kindness.
On Christmas morning, millions of children all over the world have eagerly unwrapped their gifts, excited to see what Santa brought them. And many parents filmed them and posted the videos online to share with friends and family. We could have filled the list talking about such videos, but instead, we’ll focus on just one. A young boy named Sawyer was over the Moon when he received exactly what he wanted for Christmas—ketchup.
Sometimes, kids just want weird things. We don’t know why Sawyer desired condiments more than toys or video games or a puppy. But that’s what he asked his aunt Morgan Deichert to get him, and that’s what she got.
In a video which has been seen over five million times, Sawyer is ecstatic as he unboxes a giant bottle of Heinz ketchup. Viewers appeared enthralled with his genuine, joyous reaction, including Heinz which promised to throw the young condiment aficionado a ketchup-themed birthday party.
A conservation project 10 years in the making started in an effort to save one of the rarest birds on the planet.
The animal is called the Madagascar pochard, and it is a type of duck. It was thought to have gone extinct during the 1990s. However, in 2006, a small group of 25 birds was found on one remote lake and they were believed to be the last Madagascar pochards in the world.
There was a problem, though. Conservationists believed that the animals had been driven to that untouched lake as a last resort as the rest of their habitat had been damaged or contaminated with invasive species. The environment was not suited to them, and the species had no hope of thriving there.
An international team of wildlife groups worked with the government of Madagascar to save the duck by rescuing a clutch of eggs and raising them in captivity. Now, after over a decade of work, conservationists have released 21 pochards back into the wild in an area that best suited their needs.
That area is Lake Sofia in the north of Madagascar. Wildlife experts studied the region to ensure that it is optimal for the bird. They also installed floating aviaries on the lake and worked with the local community to ensure that both animals and humans can thrive together. Only time will tell if their efforts were a success.
American explorer Colin O’Brady became the first person to complete an unaided solo trek across Antarctica.
The 33-year-old endurance athlete took 54 days to journey 1,500 kilometers (932 mi) across the icy continent. During this time, he wasn’t allowed to accept any kind of assistance or use kites to harness the power of the wind. Others explorers had completed the same trek, but they either stopped at research stations or collected food reserves along the way.
O’Brady’s unaided expedition meant he had to carry all his supplies from the get-go. Initially, his sled weighed around 170 kilograms (375 lb). He consumed around 10,000 calories a day, so his diet needed to be efficient to minimize the load he had to transport.
Half of his daily eating regimen consisted of “Colin bars,” custom energy bars made especially for him by a nutrition company. They packed over 1,100 calories each. Even so, O’Brady said he lost so much weight that his watch no longer fitted around his wrist and his belt was too large.
The American set off on his adventure at the same time as a British explorer named Louis Rudd. This is reminiscent of the original race to reach the South Pole over 100 years ago between Roald Amundsen and the ill-fated expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. O’Brady announced that he plans to wait for Rudd before the two men will fly out together.