Ted and I met Kathy and Annette in Columbia to celebrate Kathy’s birthday. We had a wonderful time together, beginning with a long brunch at Bob Evans, and then heading downtown. We walked around for a little while and browsed in some stores. It was sunny and near 70 degrees, but there was a strong, cold wind, gusting to at least 30 mph, so we soon headed for The Candy Factory–our last downtown stop.

After we were all well-supplied with chocolate, we went to the food court at the Columbia Mall and snagged a table. We bought some refreshing beverages and settled in for a birthday party with presents, cookies, candy, and Mahjong.

The time flew by and, at one point, so did Annette. “Oh, gosh!” she exclaimed as she bolted from her chair and ran out the door. We all thought she’d seen someone who was hurt and we turned to look for the problem. When Annette returned, she was holding a $1 bill that she had seen blowing past the window. That was good for a laugh from the rest of us and it was just enough to cover our parking cost in the downtown garage.

When the food court vendors turned off their lights at 7:00 p.m., we realized we were all hungry for dinner. We unanimously agreed we’d rather have pizza than anything else, so we headed for Kathy’s and my favorite pizza place in Columbia: Shakespeare’s. It was Saturday night and we didn’t want to wait in line to join the noisy college crowd at the downtown restaurant. We decided to live on edge and try one of Shakespeare’s other locations. Everything was the same, except that the crowd was smaller and less noisy, allowing us to have a dinner conversation without shouting. We noticed that the clocks indicate the time in a variety of Missouri cities, apparently without logic.

Too soon, it was time to go our separate ways and make the 90-minute drives to our homes. We had a wonderful time together and we’re looking forward to our next visit with each other. Happy birthday, Kathy!

Kathy–7 months old

It’s spring, so Ted made his usual appointment to have our air conditioner inspected to make sure we’re ready for the hot July days. Unfortunately, the technician identified a bad leak in the AC unit. The AC is 19 years old and we already repaired a leak in it four years ago, so we bit the bullet and ordered a new one. The furnace was installed at the same time as the air conditioner and is also showing signs of aging, so we ordered a new furnace too. We should be comfortably warm and cool for the next 20 years.

Before the installer arrived, we received a text from the company identifying the technician who would be coming to our house. Other companies have given us the name of the technician we should expect, but this is the first time we’ve received a picture and a brief bio.

Rick brought a helper with him. The helper set up the air conditioner outside while Rick replaced the furnace and all the indoor conduits, wiring, accessories, etc. There were a lot of boxes and pieces.

It took the guys a little more than six hours to complete their work, When they finished, we had a new AC unit, a new furnace, a new humidifier, a new air scrubber, and a new smart thermostat. They’re not glamourous, but we wouldn’t want to be without them.

You’d think the story would end here, but a few days later, we had a surprise package on our front porch. When we opened it up, we found . . . cookies! We received a dozen chocolate chip cookies and a large insulated water bottle from the HVAC company in appreciation of our business.

We weren’t expecting this, but we remembered the cookies we received from the window company in 2021. Those cookies were so good, I saved the recipe that was included with them. Surprise! Both companies sent the same cookies. This cookie company (in Kansas City, MO) must be successfully targeting businesses to promote customer appreciation. It’s that little added touch that makes you want to call the company for service next time, right? Yum.

I celebrated my birthday. Again. This is getting old (pun intended), but it’s still fun. My annual birthday season continued with Kari’s family and with Kathy and Annette. We did the usual stuff, but the best part was being together. My gifts were everything I’d asked for, including the games we recently played with Jeff’s family–the classic version of Catch Phrase (trust Kathy to find an old version in excellent condition), Skull King, and Mahjong. Kari applied her newly-acquired sewing skills and made a re-usable gift bag to conceal Skull King and a pair of socks with books on them in recognition of my love of reading. Sky’s girlfriend thoughtfully gave me a plant she’d recently propagated.

Ted buys me a pot of spring bulbs every year in late winter so that I can get an early start enjoying my favorite season. He gave me some daffodils in February and then, for my birthday, he gave me a pot of tulips. This is the first time I’ve had two sets of spring flowers to enjoy before they start blooming outdoors. Thank you, Ted.

My birthday dinner was simple: a buffet of carry-out pizza. It was a perfect meal with no cooking and minimal clean-up.

There was time to relax in the hot tub, time to play some of my new games, and time for my traditional Vienna Torte birthday cake.

It was so much fun to celebrate my birthday with friends in early March, with Jeff’s family in mid-March, and with our daughters in late March, that I’ve decided to have lots more birthdays.

April 1 was the 45th anniversary of the day my oldest brother died in the crash of a B-52 in Upper Michigan. Denny was stationed at Sawyer AFB, Marquette, MI and was a substitute crew member on a routine training flight because the assigned navigator had an ear infection and was not cleared to fly. My family experienced two weeks of shock and stress while we waited for the bodies to be released so that we and the other families could schedule funerals. I remember my mother saying that she always thought funerals were rushed too much and that, if you were only given a little more time, that final step would be easier to bear. We all learned that was not true.

Denny’s remaining family included his wife and two children, ages 3 and 5. This is a picture of Denny with his son, Eric. Before Eric was old enough to sit (and barely able to hold his head up), Denny and he could perform this balancing act. It’s a good memory to hold in my heart.

Today is a day to celebrate our families. I usually post a single photo of my siblings and me to mark the day, but this year, I’ve decided to pay tribute to six generations of siblings in my family.

I only have one photo of a grandparent with siblings. My Grandma S. is on the right, standing beside her brother, Phil and her sister, Gladys. The seated lady is Grandma’s mother, my Great-grandma D.

Ted’s and my parents and their siblings are the next generation. It’s unfortunate that the only picture I have of Ted’s dad with his siblings was taken on a day that Paul was enjoying a home visit from the hospital. I always think of him in that chair, but never in a reclining position. His siblings are Cella, Bob, and John. The picture of Ted’s mother with her older sisters, Verna and Leona, was taken before her younger brother was born.

My dad is the blonde standing in the center back. His youngest brother, Ken, wasn’t born yet. The other siblings are Gerry, Arch, Lynn, and Bob. My mom is on the left of her siblings, Gibby, Shirley, and Ruth. Two of her brothers had already died when this photo was taken.

In generational order, Ted and I are next. The only picture I have of him with all of his siblings is the one below: Gary, Ted, Mutzie, and Dan. I’m eleven in the photo with my siblings. Left to right, it’s Russ, Tom, Steve, Denny, and me.

After Ted and me, our children are the next generation. We took this picture at the zoo in 1979.

Our kids have grown up, so now we have sibling grandchildren as well. On the left is a 2021 photo of Thom and Katie’s family: Julian, Sefton, and Hadley. The top right is Jeff and La’s family in 2010: Alex, Kyra, and Zack. Dean and Kari’s family is in the lower right in 2017: Sky, Dylan, and Teddy.

And the beat goes on. Our first great-grandchild, Alex and Kaitlyn’s son, just celebrated his first birthday. So far, he doesn’t have any siblings, but I’m including him here as the first member of his future sibling group. Here’s Ollie.

I learned today that April 7 (tomorrow) is National Beer Day, a beer-specific holiday in the United States. It follows that tonight is (this is true) designated as New Beer’s Eve. National Beer Day was first celebrated in Virginia in 2009 after Justin Smith, at the urging of a friend, posted the idea on his Facebook page. The holiday was officially recognized in the Congressional Record by Rep. Dave Bath (R-VA 7th Congressional District) in 2017.

The Volstead Act enforced the 18th Amendment (prohibition) by prohibiting more than 0.5% alcohol in beverages. It was widely thought that ratifying the 21st Amendment to repeal national prohibition might take years, in spite of strong support to legalize alcoholic beverages. To circumvent this problem, the Cullen-Harrison Act legalized the sale of beer with an alcohol content of 3.2% by weight–higher than allowed by the Vostead Act, but still believed to be too low to be intoxicating.  The Cullen-Harrison Act became effective April 7, 1933. After signing the legislation, FDR quipped, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” And so it began.

Image result for beer in a stein

When I want to group photos for my blog, I typically do it with Power Point and I usually know what I want to do with the photos. Even so, once I place more than one photo on a slide, PP offers design ideas for at least one or two dozen different ways I might want to shape, group, or arrange the photos. For the first time, I stumped Power Point. The words inside the blue oval say “Sorry, no design ideas for this slide.” I guess the number of photos I’d already grouped exhausted PP’s creative abilities.

Without the computer telling me what to do (gasp!), I had to figure out something on my own. Oh, the trauma, right? I resized the photos all by myself. Mission accomplished.

I included a small snack bag of Hershey’s kisses in my backpack for our trip to Provo for Ollie’s first birthday party. After boarding the plane to go home, I dug into my backpack and pulled out the bag of kisses. I offered some to Ted and to the man on my left as well. Choc-a-holic Ted said “yes” and took a few kisses; the other man said, “No, thank you.” As I was returning the snack bag to my backpack, one of the kisses fell to the floor. The man on my left reached down to pick it up, laughed, and said, “Ok, I guess I’ll have one.” I still had the snack bag in my hand, so I gave him another and told him we all know it’s true that if you eat one, you wish you had one more. He accepted and we all had a nice flight home.

After landing in St. Louis, Ted and I were heading out of the airport when the man hurried to catch up to us. “Thank you so much for the candy treat,” he said. “That was the best part of the whole flight.” What a nice guy and what an easy way to spread a little joy.

When Alex and Kaitlyn told me they were expecting a baby–Ted’s and my first great-grandchild–in “mid-March,” I hoped the baby would be born on my birthday. Of course, we all know that babies come when they come, and Ollie was born two days before my birthday. That’s fine. It means we can share a birthday month instead of only one day. To celebrate Ollie’s first birthday, Ted and I decided to go to Provo to be with the family for the Big Day. What a great decision!

Kaitlyn’s family took full responsibility for the party preparations. Three of their children (including Alex and Kaitlyn) are attending BYU and live in Provo, but the rest of the family lives elsewhere, so Jeff and La offered their Provo home as a venue for the birthday gala. I’m telling you, those women had their ducks in a row. Their entire family–including the supportive men–marched into the house carrying food, folding tables and chairs, gifts, and everything else needed for a party. They took over the kitchen and went right to work. That’s Kaitlyn’s mom and dad working behind the kitchen island. At one point, I counted five of their family members working simultaneously back there.

Kaitlyn’s job was cake decorating. The photos below show Ollie’s smash cake with a little Mickey Mouse in the center; the flat cake in the background is a similar, larger “cake in progress” for the rest of us.

When the food was ready and the tables and chairs were set up, all twenty members of the party crowd headed for the buffet and filled their plates with delicious food. I took the picture below after I finished eating, in case you’re wondering about the absence of great quantities of food on the tables.

To give our delicious dinner some time to settle, we trooped downstairs to take a family picture. Two of Kaitlyn’s sisters had already left for another engagement. Fortunately, her other sister brought a friend to the party. The friend graciously offered to take pictures on everyone’s cameras so we could all be in the photo. This is an unusual photo in my experience. Ollie is celebrating his first birthday with three sets of great-grandparents, as well as two sets of grandparents.

After the photo op, it was time to watch Ollie open his gifts. The ball pit was fun. Ollie was pretty happy to be surrounded by balls, and only crawled through the tunnel into the castle once.

In spite of all the new toys he received, Ollie proved himself to be a typical kid. He picked up a box and carried it around with him, occasionally putting a smaller toy into the box. Jeff and La give him an elaborate labyrinthine tower with tracks for cars to run downhill. That’s Jeff on the right reading the assembly instructions.

The quilt I made for Ollie was less captivating to him than the ball pit and the cardboard box, but he looked at it carefully, pointed, and said one of the three words in his vocabulary–“dog.” Way to go, Ollie!

After all the gifts were opened and examined by Ollie (and everyone else), it was time for Ollie to attack his smash cake. What fun! Notice that he even shared some of the cake with his mom. When Ollie felt sufficiently stuffed with cake, the rest of us enjoyed some birthday cake in a less messy manner.

Here’s Ollie in his Mickey Mouse birthday outfit–before he ate his cake. He wasn’t the slightest bit interested in having the headband with the mouse ears on his head. I think I can speak for everyone present and say that Ollie’s first birthday party was a big success.

While I was working on my second quilt for Ollie’s birthday gift, I said to Ted that, given shipping costs, we could probably deliver the quilt in person for what it cost to make two quilts. I was kidding, but after a second or two, we looked at each other and said, “We should do that.” We texted Jeff and La right away to ask if it would work for them to have us visit for Ollie’s first birthday. They said, “Absolutely,” so we immediately bought plane tickets. (Much cheaper than shipping, right?)

The weather on the first day of our visit was perfect for a walk to check out the neighborhood. Ollie loves to go outside, so he was excited. Alex tried to make him look cool with a pair of sunglasses, but either Ollie’s not the cool type, or he just doesn’t like glasses, because he took them off immediately.

Provo is in the Utah Valley and is surrounded by mountains. From anywhere in the city, it looks like you can walk in any direction and run into a towering mountain. The mountain in this view from Jeff and La’s townhouse complex looks farther away than the one that stood behind the Airbnb where we stayed for our Christmas visit.

Our walk took us to the pool area. Safety is obviously important, as indicated by the warning beside the baby pool.

From there, we went to the clubhouse exercise room. Ollie was fascinated by the treadmill. Alex set it at the slowest speed–0.5 mph–and put Ollie on it. The little guy crawled like crazy to reach the other end, but every time he stopped crawling to reach for the frame, the belt took him back again. Then he tried walking. That worked better, but he still couldn’t get to his goal. He finally noticed that the side rails didn’t move, so he planted his right knee and hand on a rail. Unfortunately, his left hand and knee still kept going backward, forcing him to “half” crawl. Alex took pity on him and put him fully back on the treadmill. By the time we decided Ollie had enough exercise, he’d done a 20-minute workout.

After all that exercise, it was time to rest a bit. We went into the playroom where Alex and Ollie got comfortable on a toddler-size sofa.

Then it was time to eat. Just like his Grandma La, Ollie loves mashed potatoes. Not every bite made it into his mouth.

It only took a little while for Ollie to feel comfortable with Gigi and Grandpa Ted.

Of course, we played games. This time it was Mahjong, sheephead, Catch Phrase, and Skull King.

The big attraction was Jeff’s new VR headset and his new game, Beat Saber. Jeff and Kyra excelled at the game; the rest of us had a great time with lower scores. Jeff cast the game to the TV screen so we could all see what the player was doing. In the photo below, Kyra is leaning to the side to avoid being hit by the white rectangle coming at her. If it hits you, a message bluntly tells you that you failed. You don’t get loving support or encouragement from a video game.

I found Zack, Kyra, and Alex sitting together on the sofa and got a nice picture of them–except for the lights reflecting on Zack’s glasses.

All good things come to an end, and so did our visit. We can’t wait to see the family again, so until next time, lots of love to all of you.

Ted’s sister, Mutzie, (aka the Quilting Queen) gave Kari a small quilt when Kari was a toddler, and she also gave Kari a baby quilt for each of Kari’s three boys. Kari loves those quilts (she wore hers down to rags) and thought making a quilt for a baby gift would be a good idea for our next sewing project. Since Ollie’s birthday was coming up and since I’d be working with Kari on her quilt project, it seemed like a good idea for me to make a gift quilt for Ollie.

The last time I worked with a sewing partner was during the years my mom taught me how to sew. Now that Kari has decided it’s time for her to learn to sew, I have a sewing partner again and I’m really enjoying it. We start our mutual sewing projects by shopping for fabric and supplies together, a subset of sewing that’s also more fun to do with a partner. Kari chose fabrics in blues and yellows. She wanted to make a simple quilt for her first effort, so she planned to sew the edges together (wrong sides out) and turn the quilt through, then topstitch a “binding” edge and quilt it. She bought calico for the top fabric and fleece for the bottom because some of the quilts Mutzie made for the boys have a fleece backing and Kari loves the softness of it.

My choice of fabrics was calico in light and dark blues. Kaitlyn told me that Ollie looks good in blue and he loves his Mickey Mouse toy, so I decided to put some Mickey Mouse appliqués on his quilt. I planned to use a bias-cut binding around the edges. Kari’s quilt gift will stay in Missouri; mine is going to Utah. We chose a medium-weight batting for hers because more than that would be too much with the fleece backing; I went with a heavy-weight batting for Utah’s cold winters.

Things were looking good. We worked together on Kari’s quilt when she had time to come over for an afternoon and I worked on mine between our mother-daughter sessions. I’m not an artist, but I found a clipart Mickey Mouse-like outline online, zoomed the PC screen to my appliqué size, and traced a pattern.

I cut out the appliqués, fused them to the quilt top with HeatnBond, stitched around the edges, and admired my work. It looked good.

If this quilt ever becomes valuable (hah!), “Antiques Road Show” will raise its value with the provenance of a signature, so I decided to put my signature in a corner of the quilt. I estimated where the signature would fit without being covered by the binding and I stitched it. So far, so good.

Then I pinned the top fabric, the batting, and the bottom fabric together, basted them, and marked my quilting lines. I was pondering how to draw long straight lines when I remembered that we have a spare 7-foot piece of finished oak baseboard in the basement. I checked to make sure it wasn’t warped, then washed it off and used it as a long straightedge. It worked great for marking the quilting lines.

As I was marking the lines, I discovered a problem or, in Bob Ross terms, a happy accident. One of the lines went right through the signature. With my seam ripper in hand, I ripped out the signature and repositioned it. After that, it was exciting to start sewing quilting lines to make my project look more like a quilt than like two pieces of fabric with a filling. I laid the quilted quilt on the table, examined the lines for straightness, and saw another happy accident. There were so many crooked places in the lines that I wasn’t pleased at all. I got out my seam ripper (again) and sewed the lines (again), then checked how everything looked (again). There were still some areas that needed adjusting, so I repeated the ripping and the re-sewing (again). 😢 Bob R’s happy accident thing is wearing thin.

After the third round of stitching lines, the quilt looked ok–not great, but passable–so I moved on to the binding. I started pinning the binding near the signature and guess what . . . the binding covered the bottom edge of the signature. Dang it! How many happy accidents can one project have??? I ripped out the signature (again) and stitched it (again). Then I sewed the binding to the top of the quilt, mitered all the corners, folded it over and pinned it to the bottom, making sure I caught the bottom edge with my top pins. I was ready to “stitch in the ditch” to attach the back of the binding and finish the quilt.

But, . . . when I finished that job and turned the quilt over, almost half of my stitches in the ditches had failed to catch the edge of the binding, in spite of how carefully I’d pinned it. I’d been pretty patient about all the do-overs so far, but this was the last straw. I’d already clocked 43+ hours on this quilt because I’d ripped out so much of what I’d done and re-sewed it at least twice and sometimes three times. I’d had it! Good-bye, Bob Ross, and take your happy accidents with you!

I was tired of the way this quilt was behaving and I told Ted I sincerely believed it was cursed and the universe was giving me a message. I was not happy with how my (almost) finished quilt looked and I felt like I’d have to make excuses for all the things that were not up to my standards. I definitely didn’t want another seamstress to see it up close and I did not want to give work of this quality to Ollie. “Despondent” perfectly described my mindset at that moment. I think the heavy-weight batting was the problem. It was too thick for my sewing machine to do its best work and it definitely made the quilt heavy. Not warm and cozy heavy, but “take this thing off of me” heavy. I decided (with Ted’s full support) to start over, and this is what I did with the Mickey Mouse quilt.

I bought some lighter batting, chose a blue fabric with a puppy print (remember, Ollie looks good in blue), and a brown fabric for the backing. The print I chose won’t remind Ollie of his Mickey Mouse toy, but what little kid doesn’t like puppies? I decided to stay with my original basic idea–appliqués and a binding–but instead of messing with a bias binding, I chose to do a self-binding.

To complement the puppy-patterned fabric, I chose puppy paw prints for my appliqués. The Mickey Mouse appliqués were a single piece of fabric; the paw prints had five pattern pieces each. I printed copies of my pattern and cut the pattern pieces out of one of the sheets to create a template. It was so easy to place the template on the quilt fabric, fit the adhesive-bonded pieces into it, and iron them in place.

Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes. This time, I drew my quilting lines before sewing the signature in the corner. I knew exactly where to place it and it was in the right place the first time.

I put the three layers together, basted them, and sewed the quilting lines. Every single line was straight the first time! The heavy batting was definitely the problem. Folding over the edge for the self-binding was easy. I attached it with a decorative stitch, and that turned out very nicely. A feather stitch closed the open miters at the corners.

Voilà! In less than half the time I spent on the Mickey Mouse quilt, I had a quilt that I think is even cuter and that I was excited to give to Ollie. Anyone who wants to examine it–seamstress or not–is welcome to do so, because I’m proud of this work, not embarrassed by it. The trash can was the right place for the Mickey Mouse quilt and this one is for you, Ollie.

The trials and tribulations I experienced with the Mickey Mouse quilt were happy accidents after all. The puppy quilt turned out beautifully and, when Ollie saw it, he pointed at the puppies and said one of the three words in his current vocabulary–“dog.” Happy first birthday, Ollie.

The high temperature of 85 degrees today broke the old record of 79 degrees. It’s time to get outside and play. First order of business: hit the road on our bikes. We spent an hour on a 14-mile bike ride around the neighboring subdivisions. Yippee!

Second order of business: Sit outside to enjoy the sunshine. Check!

Third order of business: a happy surprise. Ted knows how much I enjoy spring, so every year he buys me a pot of spring bulbs. This year, it was yellow tulips. Happy spring!

George Carlin had a routine he called “Syllable Inflation.” George’s example began with the first World War. At that time, “shell shock” (two syllables) was the designation for soldiers whose combat conditions stressed their nervous systems to the maximum extent, even reaching a point at which the soldiers “snapped.” As George Carlin said, it was a simple, honest, and direct term. During World War II, “shell shock” evolved to “battle fatigue”–now four syllables. “Battle fatigue,” said George, “didn’t seem to hurt as much.” Soldiers’ stress levels after the Korean conflict were referred to as “operational exhaustion”–eight syllables and now, according to George, “It sounds sterile”–not even like a human affliction. Soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War suffered from “post-traumatic stress syndrome.” That’s a decrease to seven syllables, but George pointed out that “there’s a hyphen to bury the pain under the jargon.” George closed this bit with a comment that, if the condition had remained as clear and direct as “shell shock,” many veterans might have received treatment in a far more timely manner. It’s been a long time since I heard that George Carlin routine (he died in 2008), but because of it, I’ve always been attuned to useless syllable inflation.

Like George Carlin’s syllable inflation, in Errors & Expectations (a book I read for my doctoral research), Mina Shaughnessy wrote that someone who has not learned the word “dregs” (one syllable) must say “what is left in the cup after you finish drinking” (twelve syllables, but Mina didn’t include the syllable count). When I hear an inflated word phrase like “wine bottle opener” (six syllables), like Mina, I want to teach vocabulary lessons and tell the speaker/author that we already have a word for that and it’s “corkscrew” (two syllables).

A long time ago, I started making a list of syllable-inflated words that I’ve heard and read, usually in newscasts and newspapers. (The list part won’t surprise people who know me well.) Here are some of the words from my list.

Hands-on learning (4) . . . kinesthetic learning (6)

Humidity (4) . . . environmental moisture (7)

Diarrhea (4) . . . gastrointestinal upset (8)

Coroner (3) . . . medical examiner (7)

Fire chief (2) . . . incident commander (6)

Warehouse (2) . . . fulfillment center (5); also distribution center (6)

Crop duster (3) . . . aerial applicator (7)

Heart attack (3) . . . cardiovascular event (8)

Fire (1) . . . rapid oxidation (6)

Study hall (3) . . . academic instructional period (11)

Stroke (1) . . . cerebral vascular accident (9)

Firings (2) . . . involuntary eliminations (10)

Layoff (2) . . . involuntary staffing reduction (10)

Affair (2) . . . inappropriate personal relationship (12)

Dishonorable discharge (7) . . . involuntary administrative separation proceedings (17)

The moral of the story: Keep it simple!

I was cleaning out computer files and found these. I assume they’re from my Aunt Ruth, my usual source of humor. I have no idea how old or recent these signs are. The Indian Hills Community Center in Colorado apparently changes the sign regularly, since some pictures have grass and some have snow. Enjoy!

Dire forecasts for February 2, Groundhog Day, and February 3 included huge (for our area) amounts of snow ranging from 6-13 inches, sleet up to 3 inches, and ice up to 0.2 inches, depending on where the freezing line fell. As we listened to the forecasts, it was a sunny 62 degrees and it seemed impossible that a major storm was brewing.

We, and apparently everyone else, chose to believe the forecasts. On January 31, the warm, sunny day, we went grocery shopping (packed store, empty shelves), we filled the cars’ gas tanks, gassed up the snowblower and started it to make sure it was working, and moved the chairs off the patio and into the pool area to make clearing snow from the patio easier. Schools announced cancellations of in-person classes in advance for February 2-3; businesses announced closings in advance; and grocery stores announced greatly reduced hours of operation for those two days. Forget the “Neither snow nor rain, . . .” adage. We haven’t had (junk) mail delivery for three days.

The forecasts were spot-on, so kudos to the NWS team and the TV meteorologists. The rain started after midnight on February 2, temperatures dropped far enough to produce a little ice, the ice changed to sleet overnight, and then the system dumped 4 inches of snow on us.

Ted and I both had doctor’s appointments on February 2. His doctor called on February 1 to say they would be closed and he needed to re-schedule. My doctor said he’d be open, so I hit the road. With so many things closed and the weather so bad, traffic was very light. Surprisingly, there was one bicyclist pedaling uphill on a snow-covered road. Only one traffic lane was usable, and the ice beneath the snow made driving tricky. I had to stay between 10-15 mph to avoid skidding, but I had no problems.

The Groundhog Day snow ended around 3:00 p.m., but another, larger accumulation was forecast for overnight into February 3, so Ted and I decided to go outside and clear the driveway, patio, and sidewalks. It’s easier to clear 4 inches than 8-12 inches. Then we made soup for dinner, lit a fire in the fireplace, and settled in for a cozy night with a movie.

February 3 brought more snow, lower temperatures, and 35 mph wind gusts. Thanks to the wind and drifting, when the snow finally ended around 4:00 p.m., I couldn’t see the snowbanks created by the snowblower the day before. Finding the edges of the concrete would be a challenge again. Can you find the driveway? It’s somewhere in the middle of that big, blank area.

At least the snowbanks around the patio showed me where the edges of the concrete were. See the icicles from the freezing rain? We only had about 0.1 inches of ice, but around an inch of sleet.

Finding the curves of the two front sidewalks (again) won’t be easy.

Before firing up the snowblower, I measured the snowfall. I measured a few hard, flat areas and they all showed 4 inches on Groundhog Day and 5 more inches on Groundhog Day 2. This spot on the pool deck shows that we had 8 inches total, but you can see that the snow dips toward the light in this area. With the wind, there was a lot of drifting, so some places were 5 inches deep and others were over a foot, depending on how sheltered they were. Isn’t the peaked snow cap on the solar light cute? The lawn chairs against the house look well padded.

Here’s a look at our patio chairs and some of the bushes. Also more solar lights with peaked snow caps.

It’s time to get to work. Again. I like using the snowblower, so I usually clear the large areas and Ted uses a shovel to clean up the corners the snowblower can’t get into. When I finished my snowblower work, Ted used it to clear two neighbors’ driveways for them.

It took an hour to clear the first 4 inches of snow, but nearly two hours to clear the next 5 inches the following day because of the drifting. Here, along the sidewalk beside the house, the snow was 13 inches deep–a real challenge for our small snowblower.

We have a layer of sleet on our back doorstep. Imagine sleet like this under the snow on the roads. MoDOT is short 400 drivers statewide, so the plows have been focusing on the highways. They just started plowing subdivision streets today. Roads could not be treated for ice in advance because of the rain that preceded the freezing temperatures, so driving is hazardous.

The snow didn’t end until about 4:00 p.m. on February 3. By the time we finished clearing it around 6:00 p.m., it was too dark for pictures. Today, the storm has moved eastward and we’re enjoying blue skies, bright sunshine, and a single-digit wind chill, with temperatures expected to drop to around 0 degrees tonight.

Here’s a picture of the pool. The weight of the snow is really stretching the pool cover springs! The ridges in the snow that cross the pool are the straps that hold the cover in place. We can’t identify the inner ridge going around the inside of the pool. The straps are anchored to the pool deck and only extend 12-18 inches beyond the outer edge of the pool, so that ridge is not the edge of the pool. You can see the lowered winter water level where the cover dipped below it, so it’s not frozen edges of the water either. Maybe we’ll find out when it warms up. Supposedly, the pool cover is strong enough for an elephant to walk across it. This isn’t an elephant, but wet snow is definitely heavy.

There’s the driveway! I found the edges.

See the white car camouflaged by the snow in front of our house? Ted asked the driver if she needed help and she said she couldn’t make it up the steep hill of the road beside our house, so she was going to walk home. Ted suggested that she turn around, go the opposite direction from where she’s parked (this upward slope is far less steep), and go around the loop to come down the hill to her house. She said no, she lives halfway up the hill. Huh? So she can only get to the middle by going up???

Yesterday, while we were clearing the snow, a different woman got stuck trying to make a left turn at the corner behind our house. I know she doesn’t know how to drive in snow because she kept spinning her wheels on the ice under the snow, trying to go forward instead of simply backing down the hill (there was no traffic) and (1) getting a faster running start to make it up to the corner, or (2) going around the loop like Ted suggested to the lady today and coming down the hill to the corner. Luckily, our neighbor, Super Steve (a carpenter), has a tool for everything, so he got out his towing straps and his pickup truck. Yes, he has real towing straps that he uses with his commercial-size riding lawnmower to bring his jet ski trailer from behind his house to his pickup on the street. He towed the lady around the corner and then preceded her to her house to make sure she had no further problems. Mission accomplished, so Steve continued around the loop, and returned to his house by going down the hill. Apparently, you can get to the middle of the hill from the top as well as from the bottom.

We used to get regular 8-12 inch snowfalls, but for many years, we’ve rarely had more than 4 inches at a time. This 9-inch snowfall was an Event for our area and it’s kind of exciting. As usual, I expect that within a week, the streets will be clear and dry and, except for the snowbanks, the lawns will be bare of snow again. That’s what I like about living here: snow, but not for weeks or months at a time. Now it’s only 45 days until the spring equinox, and we’ll be seeing forsythia and daffodils before that. Think spring!

About 15 years ago (I don’t remember exactly), I got tired of having our multitude of family portraits in boxes where no one could see them. To get them out of the boxes, I decided to make our upstairs hallway a portrait gallery because: (1) there was nothing hanging on any of those walls; and (2) I didn’t have room for this many portraits anywhere else. I went through the boxes, selected the best pictures, measured and counted them, and bought hundreds of dollars worth of frames ($400+ I think). I framed them and printed identifying labels to attach to the backs of the frames–names, dates, etc. Then I needed a plan to arrange the portraits on the walls.

When Kathy came for a weekend visit, she and I stayed up very late one night, sorting and arranging the framed portraits. We could have quit earlier and gone to bed, but we were really into the project. We measured the hallway walls and laid everything out to scale on the bedroom floors in a variety of ways to construct a pleasing presentation.

The result of Kathy’s and my planning is that Wall #1, at the head of the stairs, is dedicated to our immediate family–Ted, me, and our four children. These are portraits of all six of us as babies, in first grade, and at high school graduation, as well as a few miscellaneous related portraits of our family and Ted’s and my “entire elementary school” pictures. We went to small rural schools, so there was room for everyone in a single picture.

Wall #2, the shortest wall, has just enough room for the two oversized frames in my collection. One is from my Grandma S. and includes the senior pictures of her 1911 high school graduating class of 12 students with three teachers. The other is from Ted’s mom and has the high school graduation pictures of her four children, and the six grandchildren she had at the time she assembled the collage.

Wall #3, the longest, is the wedding and history wall. I have wedding portraits of Ted’s and my parents, our grandparents, ourselves, and our married children. I also have a number of portraits and historically interesting pictures of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and a few other relatives.

Wall #4, the last remaining space in the hallway, is the grandchildren wall. We already had a few grandchildren at the time Kathy and I designed the gallery and I thought there would be plenty of room for all the grandchildren’s pictures on that wall. That wasn’t true. With nine grandchildren, and multiple pictures of some at different ages, I was doing ok until 2021, when Hadley (grandchild) and Ollie (great-grandchild) were born. We already have one grandchild who is married and had a baby, and several others are at a marriageable age and are likely to present us with more great-grandchildren. To make room for Hadley, Ollie, and future additions to the family, Ted and I spent the afternoon today re-arranging the grandchildren wall. We think we left enough space for at least six additional babies before we have to worry about a future adjustment.

Walls #1, 2, and 3 don’t change much over time because they’re all past history. Wall #4 was good for a long time and has now been compressed to make more space. As our grandchildren began graduating from high school, however, Ted and I realized we needed more gallery space. We decided to start Wall #5 along the stairway. We began with some portraits of ourselves that we didn’t have room for on Wall #3 and then transitioned to graduation pictures. When Alex got married in 2019, we had to find space for the wedding portraits of our grandchildren too, so we decided that, because the stairway wall is pretty long, we can call it the “growing up” family wall. This wall has lots of room for expansion and it gives us something to look at as we go up and down the stairs.

USA Today must hire writers who graduate at the bottom of their English classes because, whenever I read it, I find a plethora of errors. I was skimming that newspaper today and found three glaring errors that should never have made it through the first proofreading. Here’s the first of two errors in an article about yesterday’s bridge collapse near Pittsburgh. The error is highlighted.

Since “latter” is an adjective indicating something is nearer to the end than to the beginning, the word makes no sense at all in this context. A noun, such as “ladder” (a thing, an object) is needed to pull victims out of the debris. “Latter” and “ladder” were words my ESL teachers practiced with their students so the students could learn to distinguish between them. Maybe this USA Today reporter should come to one of our local ESL classes. Next, . . .

“Obtain” means to acquire; “sustain” means to undergo. Did the hospitalized people actually go to the hospital in search of injuries? You’ve got to wonder. And now last, but not least, and on a lighter note, . . .

If Minnie Mouse changed her clothes, you might expect her to “don” (put on clothing) her new outfit, but USA Today sees her change of clothing as a “dawn” (the beginning of an event or occurrence, such as sunrise).

I’m sure my childhood friends and I would have used the correct words in all three of these examples when we were in elementary school. If we hadn’t, our teachers would certainly have corrected us. We definitely wouldn’t make these mistakes as adults reporting for a national newspaper!

I was looking for a picture frame in our storage room and found a box labeled “family photos.” I couldn’t resist opening the box to see which photos were in there. I was surprised to find most of the formal portraits and Christmas pictures we had taken through the 70s, 80s, and 90s while our kids lived at home.

The words “family picture” were not what our kids wanted to hear. It seemed like every time I wanted to take a family photo of a special event or a celebration, I had to listen to the kids’ gripes and groans before telling them that we were going to do it anyway. Period. When it was time to take the pictures, the kids put on their good sportsmanship faces and smiled for the camera, and they all lived through those horrific (sarcasm here) experiences. As a result, we have some nice family pictures that Ted and I (and maybe even the kids) enjoy looking at as we remember those times.

Get comfortable, because here come my favorite family photos from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Part 1: The pretty nice pictures

1970: Ted and I had our portrait taken at a department store photo studio. We’ve always liked the picture, but my parents insisted that it didn’t really look like us. ???

1974: Ted came home from work with the news that he would be attending a training in Washington, D.C. and ended that sentence with the suggestion that I join him after the training for a few days. Here we are at the Tidal Basin with the cherry blossoms in bloom–one of the most beautiful sights of the D.C. spring. We moved from D.C. to MO almost 49 years ago, but I still miss the spring flowers in D.C.

1978: This is one of my favorite pictures of our kids. I took it in the family room of our previous house.

1979: New house, new family picture. We took this picture during the first spring in the house where we still live.

1980: I think Ted and I set up a tripod and set the camera timer to take this picture in front of our fireplace.

1982: On a visit to see our parents, I took this picture of the kids climbing one of Grandpa Schroeder’s apple trees. Ok, so these weren’t their climbing positions. I asked them to crowd together for the picture.

1983: We took the following two pictures in Neenah, WI when we attended Russ and Betsy’s wedding. There was a playground in the churchyard (maybe a parochial school?), and it looked like a good setting for the 1983 Christmas pictures.

1988: I think I did a decent job of staging some of our home photos. It seems like a lot of professional photographers include a drapery and a plant, so I did the same. It looks like I should have offset the plant behind Kathy so it wouldn’t look like she’s growing leaves, but this was the time of film, so we had to wait until the pictures were developed to see our mistakes.

1989: We went to Blanchette Park and let the kids pile on the Mazda RX-7. The weather and the fall colors made it a good picture. We felt a little bit naughty driving the car off the roadway and onto the grass to take the picture.

1990: The kids are growing up. We took our Christmas picture on the Lindenwood College campus in the summer because Jeff would be leaving for college in the fall. It looks like the dress code was white shorts.

1994: Ted’s and my 25th anniversary. We had a big party, bought corsages for ourselves (pink carnations, like our wedding flowers), and took pictures in “nice” clothes. When we changed into more comfortable clothes, we didn’t want to waste the corsages, so we pinned them on our T-shirts.

1994: This might be my #1 favorite set of two pictures. We went to Forest Park in St. Louis for the photo shoot. The family group looks very nice, but I especially like the picture of the kids.

1995: I have no idea where we took this picture, but it’s another of my favorite kids’ pictures–maybe my #2 favorite. Don’t the boys look cool with their sunglasses?

Part 2: The slightly “off” photos

1973: Here’s our first professional family photo with our first child, Jeff, and yes, that’s a maternity dress I’m wearing in anticipation of Kathy’s arrival. Oops! There’s baby drool on the shoulder of my dress.

1973: New baby, new family photo. This might be a church directory photo.

1974: The kids are a year older, so it’s time for an updated portrait. Oops! I wore the same dress and the same necklace as I did the year before.

1976: Thom was born, so an updated family photo was on the agenda. This was probably another department store studio photo. Neither Ted nor I remembers why he isn’t in the picture. Weird.

1988: The kids were especially cranky while I set up this picture–maybe because we’d already attended church and Sunday School and they wanted to change clothes and start making lunch. Still, they all smiled nicely. After we took the first picture below, I suggested we take a backwards shot to lighten the group’s mood. It actually worked!

1989: It’s Ted’s and my 20th anniversary, so we had one of the kids take our picture against our default outdoor background: the privet hedge. It was definitely the 80s: big glasses, big hair, and big shoulder pads.

1994: Another oops! picture. It’s our 25th anniversary and we’re wearing the same clothes we did five years ago, except that Ted put on a different tie and we added the corsages. What can I say? I obviously buy clothes I like and I get a lot of wear out of them before I get rid of them.

1993: Here’s another picture taken at Forest Park in a different year than those above. Jeff and Kathy were home for Thanksgiving break so, in spite of the cold and the snow, we had to get the Christmas picture taken. To keep our clothes dry while sitting on the snow, we brought white plastic trash bags with us. If you look closely, you can see the bags underneath the kids.

1994: Jeff, Kathy, and Thom were home from college for Christmas and I wanted a family picture while we were all together. In return for co-operation, I suggested a second photo in which we set our Santa hats to point upward for a touch of humor.

I had fun reviewing the box of family photos and I’m glad I didn’t let all those gripes and groans stop me from taking them.

We took a lot of pictures in 1982, and I posted some of them recently. Here are some others from that photo album that I thought were fun to look at.

One summer day, for no particular reason, Ted took a picture of me as I was sitting on the swing, relaxing on the patio. It turned out pretty nice. Ted gave me that necklace for Valentine’s Day one year.

We celebrated Christmas with our parents in 1982 and have some nice photos of them. Here are Ted’s parents.

I like this picture of my mom with our younger daughter. Mom is holding one of Kari’s many stuffed cats that needed to be included in the picture.

My dad looks pretty happy. This photo was taken in Mom and Dad’s living room. The pine cone wreath on the wall above Dad’s right shoulder was a gift from me one year when I made pine cone wreaths for us, for our parents, and for a few other people as Christmas gifts.

1982 was the year I decided I wanted a ceramic nativity set. I had never done any work with ceramics, but I knew I didn’t want to start with an ashtray or a mug–typical starter projects. I jumped into the deep end of the pool and bought three 15-piece nativity sets: one for us and one for each of our parents as Christmas gifts. I enjoyed making them and I finished all three sets with time to spare, but I’ve never worked with ceramics again.

Here’s my finished nativity. It’s sitting on a bookcase Ted and I bought for $50 the first year we were married. It moved with us three times and was gradually demoted from storing Ted’s and my books in the family room, to storing children’s books in the dining room (before we bought a dining room set), and then to the basement. We finally replaced it in 2012 after 43 years. (Note: I still put out this nativity set every Christmas. When Ted’s parents died, I was given their nativity set and I think I gave it to one of our kids.)

For several years, Thom’s dream was to drive a big rig. He knew everything about big trucks and he had a number of books about them. As we drove on highways, he would name the maker of the truck (Kenworth, Mack, White, Peterson, etc.) from behind by identifying the smokestack. A friend of ours, Mr. Siress, worked as an accountant at a trucking firm in St. Louis. He invited Thom to go with him to his workplace one day. Thom had a chance to sit in the cab of a big truck, and I think he was treated to a short ride around the lot as well. He pretty much floated on air for the following weeks. After the trucking experience, Mr. Siress took Thom to Lion’s Choice for lunch. From that day forward, Mr. Siress walked on water in Thom’s opinion. Here’s Thom, looking at a calendar with Mr. Siress. They’re probably admiring a big truck, judging by the calendar cover. The woman on the left is Mrs. Siress; the woman on the right is Mary M., a neighbor.

Ted turned 40 in 1982, so I planned a big party for him. A friend of mine made a bikini cake for the event. This is also the year I gave him the “Forecasters do it . . . ” shirt. That’s me on the left and Lindell T. on the right.

And that’s it for my selected scanned photos from 1982.

Kathy and Annette weren’t able to join Ted and me and Kari’s family for Christmas between the holidays in December, so we scheduled another Christmas celebration for the MLK weekend. Unfortunately, one of their cats was very ill and had to be hospitalized. The cat was scheduled to be released to return home, but Kathy and Annette weren’t going to be at home. The compromise was that Kathy came to our house for the “Christmas” weekend and Annette stayed home to pick up the cat to avoid the $100/day fees if they’d left him at the vet all weekend. When families get together, you can always feel the absence of those who aren’t present, so it seemed odd to have Kathy with us, but not Annette.

After being with Jeff’s family in Utah for Christmas, then celebrating with Kari’s family, our time with Kathy was Ted’s and my third Christmas get-together. It’s been a true holiday season for us. Kari’s family joined us on Saturday for our Christmas gift exchange. Here’s most of the group, and more gifts to open–some in hand-sewn gift bags made by Kari and me.

The first gift I unwrapped was a lost memory that I was thrilled to recall. In the evenings, I like to shower and then put on something comfortable (more loungewear than pj style) and I have several sets (top and bottom) of fleece Cuddl Duds (not a misspelling) that are nice and cozy in winter. When the weather turned cold, I put away my lighter weight loungewear and headed for the Cuddl Duds, but I couldn’t find the pants for my favorite set. I looked everywhere. Several times. When I removed the gift wrap, there they were! I had totally forgotten that when Kathy and Annette visited us in May 2021, the weather turned unseasonably cold and Annette had only brought shorts with her. I lent her the Cuddl Duds pants to keep her warm on her trip home. I was so glad to see them again! When I couldn’t find them, I considered throwing the top away. It’s a good thing I didn’t.

Ted had a surprise gag gift from Kari. I gave him this shirt for his 40th birthday. At that time, every profession seemed to have a meme about where or how its practitioners “do it.” I came up with this meme for Ted. The shirt was originally sky blue (get it?) and the “rain or shine” letters were in rainbow tones (get it?). I’m not sure how the shirt got to Kari, but she’s been wearing it for yard work, etc. and it’s pretty thin and faded now. She admitted that, for years, she thought “do it” meant “prepare a forecast.” (Note: She was 12 when I gave Ted the shirt.)

I had a gag gift from Kari’s family too. When Sefton was just beginning to talk, he couldn’t say “Grandma.” (I’m pretty sure there are no babies who can clearly pronounce “Grandma.”) Thom thought Sefton’s version of the word sounded like “Meemaw” and he suggested to me that maybe I could be designated as Sefton’s “Meemaw.” I said absolutely not! I know there are women who are happy to be called Meemaw, but I’m not one of them. To me, the word conjures up an image of a frumpy, stooped-over, out-of-shape woman who dropped out of high school, has bad teeth, bad hair, and can barely utter a grammatically correct sentence. I was willing to wait for Sefton’s speech skills to improve to the “Grandma” level. The rest of the family knows this story, so when she saw this shirt online, Kari said she couldn’t resist ordering it for me.

Our weekend together wasn’t exciting, but it was fun. Teddy brought some new games with him and we had a good time playing them together. We also had some hot tub time and, with temperatures in the 30s, that felt really good. As usual, the time passed too quickly and all too soon, Kathy was loading her car to go home. She’s planning a return trip–with Annette–in March.

I think Ted and I are now finished celebrating Christmas 2021. Good times!

We bought this Whirlpool microwave in February 2017.

It was a replacement for the Maytag microwave in the photo below. There was nothing mechanically wrong with the Maytag, but it was 24+ years old and outdated. It was only 1.1 cu. ft. in size, had only 850 watts of power, and the plastic parts were yellowing with age. A newer, larger, more powerful microwave sounded like a good idea. Note: I’d like to add that my Maytag washer and dryer are now 26 years old and are still going strong. Go, Maytag!

Unfortunately, we either bought a Whirlpool lemon or they really don’t make them like they used to, since the Whirlpool unit only lasted a little more than four years. Last fall, it started working sporadically. We could re-boot it by unplugging it, then plugging it back in, but by November, we were doing that trick nearly every day, so we decided it was time to replace the unit. “Supply chain” is becoming a phrase we’d all like to erase from the lexicon, but it’s a fact of life these days. We ordered a new microwave on November 27, 2021 (naturally, it wasn’t in stock) and it finally arrived, ready for installation on January 14, 2022–seven weeks later.

After they removed the old microwave, the installation guys commented on my notations on the wall behind it. When we moved into this house in 1979, microwaves were new and not everyone had one. We updated the kitchen in 1993 and replaced our original 14-year-old microwave with a new model–the white Maytag pictured above. That workhorse was still going 24 years later when we (mistakenly?) retired it in 2017. I noted on the wall that the 1993 Maytag was “not broken” but “replaced to update.” You can see what I thought of the one we replaced it with–the Whirlpool that only lasted a little more than four years. Does “dud” clearly convey my opinion?

Ted and I installed the Whirlpool, but the new Bosch came with free installation (Total Tech benefits from Best Buy), so we let the pros do the work this time. They finished in 30 minutes–much faster than Ted and I did four years ago. It helped that: (1) they knew what to do without reading the step-by-step installation instructions; and (2) there were two of them to hold the weight of the unit while the third one screwed it in place, compared to only Ted and me working.

Frankly, Ted and I didn’t realize how much we use the microwave until it went completely dead about a month before the new one arrived. Without a microwave, we had to adjust menus to avoid needing the microwave, and we became adept at heating some foods in a double boiler to keep them from drying out in a pot or a fry pan. (A double boiler takes a lot longer than a microwave!) The Bosch looks very similar to the Whirlpool, but everything about it feels more substantial. We’re happy to have a working microwave again and we hope this Bosch model will be good for the long haul.

Jeff recently shared this photo. Can you see what’s wrong with the picture?

The photo shows King Faisal of Saudi Arabia signing the United Nations charter in San Francisco in 1945. It’s an important and historically significant picture. Just for fun, a 26-year-old Saudi Arabian student “edited” the photo. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education mistakenly used the edited photo in Saudi Arabian social studies textbooks in 2017. The Ministry later apologized for its error.

Today we took down our holiday decorations. It’s a good thing we “minimized” decorating this year because of our Christmas trip to Utah. It still took almost three hours to put everything away.

Because we spent Christmas in Utah with Jeff’s family, we had a delayed Christmas / Ted’s birthday celebration at home with Kari’s family. Ted’s choice for his family birthday dinner was pizza and ice cream sundaes. The cooking was easy: pick up the pizzas and put out a make-your-own sundae bar. Kari’s sundae looked the most Christmas-like with mint chocolate chip ice cream, but I think Ted showed the most zest in his application of Reddi-Wip. (That thing over Ted’s head is a holiday ornament hanging from the ceiling light.)

After Ted lit a fire in the fireplace, we took some family pictures.

We minimized our holiday decorations because we’d be in Utah over Christmas. We set some things out and strung a few outdoor lights, but skipped the Christmas tree. I admit that I missed having the tree lights twinkling in the evenings. In the absence of a Christmas tree, we put our Christmas gifts to each other on the coffee table instead of under the tree. Note that some of the gift bags were sewn by Kari and me.

Of course, Thom and I continued our exchange of Christmas Lego. This year, Sky joined in by giving Ted and me Lego Christmas ornaments. He said we can add them to my “infinite collection of Christmas Legos.” That collection keeps growing, and I love it!

After opening our gifts, it was time to relax in the hot tub. The outdoor temperature was in the 30s, so the hot tub felt really good. We closed the evening with a good game of Michigan Rummy. No one ran out of chips, so everyone was a winner. Having the family of one of our children living nearby is the best gift of this Christmas celebration. It means we have lots of good times together throughout the year.

It wasn’t a Holiday Inn, like the Christmas movie, but Jeff and La rented an Airbnb house in Provo, UT for a Christmas get-together. All three of their children (our grandchildren) live in Provo, as does their grandson (our great-grandson), so it was a good place for the family to gather.

Ted and I had an uneventful flight to Utah, but a long travel day–up at 4:00 a.m. CST and arriving in Salt Lake City around 2:00 p.m. MST with barely time to gulp down a sandwich on our layover in Phoenix. It was exciting to see snow on the ground when we arrived. The cold weather was less thrilling. Zack offered to pick us up at the airport to take us to Provo and was at the curb right after we exited the terminal. Ted and I were very hungry, so our first stop was at an IHOP. It was a great opportunity for some one-on-one time with Zack before joining the rest of the family.

When we arrived in Provo, we went to Alex and Kaitlyn’s house and had a nice visit with them. It’s been nine months since our first great-grandchild was born, and we hadn’t seen him in person yet. Photo op, first thing. He looks like Alex did as a baby.

Ted and I wanted to see our grandchildren’s homes so we could picture them when we talk with the kids and hear about what they’re doing, so we also stopped at Zack’s apartment. Zack rooms with five other young men. He claims that cereal is a staple in his menu plan. What can I say? It’s a bachelor pad, right? Kyra spent the past week in Montana, so she arrived at dinner time with Jeff and La and Papa Murphy’s pizzas for dinner. With the entire group present, we let the good times roll!

Alex and Kaitlyn brought over a small Christmas tree to create some Christmas spirit.

Jeff and La planned the entire visit and brought lots of food, games, gifts, etc. from home. We needed some additional items though, so the four women–La, Kyra, Kaitlyn, and I–went grocery shopping in the morning. The planning committee did a great job. We ate well and had fun every day. Christmas dinner was baked ham with mashed potatoes and gravy. Ollie loves mashed potatoes (he got that Idaho gene from his Grandma La), so Grandpa Jeff helped Ollie meet his potato needs. I love the tie on Ollie’s bib! He looks like a junior executive at the head of the table.

On Christmas morning, La made a traditional family treat–cinnamon rolls. The smell and the taste were irresistible! And then there were presents for everyone. (Thanks for the photo, Jeff. Your view of the gift display was better than mine.)

We arranged ourselves on the large sectional sofa prior to distributing and opening gifts. The array of holiday socks called for a picture. Alex had “Spocks.”

Jeff got creative with his gift tags.

He also got creative with his gifts. Ted and I requested gifts that would fit in our luggage on our homeward flight, so Jeff found ways to make gift cards more interesting. One of ours was packed with Idaho potatoes; another was accompanied by an assortment of rocks from Flathead Lake.

This is Ollie’s first Christmas, so he’s still learning the ropes, but he caught on quickly and seemed to enjoy all of his gifts.

After our evening meal, we went downtown to see the holiday lights in Pioneer Park and Temple Square.

When we got back home, Jeff read How Murray Saved Christmas to all of us, and then we watched “Klaus” on Netflix. It was a perfect Christmas Day.

When I looked out the window the next morning, there was fresh snow on the ground. Again, the snow was exciting; the cold temperatures in the 20s, not so much. We bundled up, though, and walked about a mile to Kyra’s house so we could see where she lives with two other young women. On another day, we walked to the BYU campus where Alex and Kyra pointed out their classroom buildings and where Alex works in the IT department.

With all of Jeff’s family present, group photos were a must. I think we have pictures of every possible combination of our group members. Here are the photos of the entire group and of four generations of the family men: Ted, Jeff, Alex, and Ollie.

We had dinner at Outback one evening. Kaitlyn, La, and I left early to shop at Barnes & Noble before dinner. Both venues were in the same shopping center and B&N was selling all hardcover books for 50 percent off. Who can resist that?! Not Kaitlyn, who left the store with two full bags of books. I struggled to select only two books to carry home in my luggage, but I took pictures of 18 others that I would have liked to buy. I’ll use my B&N Christmas gift cards for some and I’ll get some from the library. After book browsing, it was time to meet the rest of the group for dinner.

Naturally, there was time to play with Ollie during our visit. He did really well with a house full of people for several days. He got overtired because he didn’t want to miss any of the fun, but he was never crabby. I’m sure he enjoyed all the attention–part of being the first child for Alex and Kaitlyn, the first grandchild for Jeff and La, and the first great-grandchild for Ted and me. Get used to lots of attention, Ollie.

This was a visit with Jeff’s family, so it’s a given that there were lots of games to play–Sheephead, Skull King, “Zahjong,” and Catch Phrase. They were all fun. “Zahjong” is Mahjong with adaptations and scoring developed by Zack. I was hesitant to try it at first, but after watching a few rounds, I bit the bullet and joined in. Surprise! I even won three times!

We played several games on our last evening together, and ended with Catch Phrase. We had two teams of four sitting in a circle in the living room. It was the older people (Jeff and La, Ted and me) vs. the younger people (Alex, Kaitlyn, Kyra, Zack). We sat alternately in our circle–old, young, old, young–and the game got crazy. I can’t describe what happened because it was a “be there” moment, but it was so much fun that, even when we were tired and knew we had to go to bed so we could all get up early in the morning, we decided to play “one more game” before quitting. Unfortunately, that game tied the score, so we decided to play one more to break the tie. As a result, we all went to bed very late, but it was worth every minute of lost sleep. It was a joyous ending to our time together and spending this holiday with family we haven’t seen for over two years was the best Christmas gift of all.

To celebrate his birthday, Ted and I made our usual trip to the Lake of the Ozarks to have dinner at Bentley’s, our favorite restaurant. Tonight, to continue his birthday celebration, we had dinner at Dewey’s, our favorite pizza restaurant.

Dewey’s has a great customer appreciation program. For every $150 we spend (about 5 meals for us), we receive a $10 gift certificate for our next meal. After several $10 gifts, we receive a big appreciation gift. It usually includes some Dewey’s glasses, some kind of Dewey’s apparel, and a gift certificate. Tonight was our big gift night. When the manager brought the gift bag to our table, I kidded her by asking, “How did you know it was Ted’s birthday?” “Is it?” she responded. A minute later, she delivered carrot cake for two as a free dessert.

We would eat at Dewey’s anyway, because we like the pizza, but the gifts make it an even nicer place to go. Here’s what we received tonight: two glasses, two pair of warm holiday socks, and a $50 gift certificate. Naturally, the socks say “Dewey’s” on the bottoms. The snowman figurine is one of our holiday decorations.

After learning a variety of sewing skills while making drapes for Teddy’s and Dylan’s bedrooms, Kari said she wanted to learn some additional skills by making re-usable Christmas gift bags. We worked together one afternoon and completed one bag for her. She took notes as we went along and has been working on her own, making additional bags at home. That’s a teacher’s dream: the student who transitions through learning and practicing to independence.

As long as I was going to teach Kari how to sew gift bags, I decided to make some for myself. Rectangular gifts are easy to wrap with paper; the gift bags are great for oddly-shaped items and for soft items (usually clothing) that don’t come in a box.

I made a variety of bag styles: sacks with handles, sacks with drawstrings and top ruffles, and rectangular-bottomed bags (like shopping bags). The finished products present a colorful display.

One of Willie Nelson’s fans described him as (I’m paraphrasing) “a wonderful blanket, crocheted by your favorite relative, that you’ve had for 30 years–tattered corners, mended holes, and faded colors, . . . but all soft in the right places.”

Sort like a Muppet.

In my humble opinion, I have the privilege of (temporarily) owning one of the world’s great rolling pins.

My great-grandpa took this piece of hard rock maple, shaped it on his lathe, and gave it to his daughter, my grandma, when she was newly married in 1921. When Grandma stopped making pies, she gave it to my mom, her oldest daughter. What a treat for my dad! He loved pie! If it had been awhile since Mom made a pie, Dad would casually say something like, “I remember pie. It’s round, . . . it has fruit inside, . . .” and that was Mom’s cue to get out the rolling pin.

Given my Dad’s penchant for pie, I was surprised when Mom said she was finished making pies and handed the rolling pin down to me. It’s a single piece of wood, so I can roll it smoothly and evenly with open palms. The handles have a wonderful fit under my hands. This rolling pin has been seasoned by use for 100 years by Grandma, Mom, and me, so dough never sticks to it.

I love this rolling pin and I think about Great-grandpa shaping it and Grandma and Mom using it every time I get it out. Today, I used it to make two apple pies: one for a neighbor who had minor surgery this morning and, as long as I was baking, one for Ted and me.

Many years ago, Kari asked me to pass this “heritage” rolling pin on to her. I’m still making pies, so she’s still waiting for it, but someday, Kari, you’ll be the fourth generation to use the rolling pin made by your great-great-grandpa. Which of your boys will you give it to when you’re finished making pies?

There’s a family in our subdivision that apparently admires the Clark Griswold style of outdoor Christmas lighting.

Here’s the front. That large tree overhangs most of the width of the street, so driving past the house provides a small taste of what it’s like to drive through one of those commercial “winter wonderlands.”

The back yard is also fully decorated. This is the visible portion of the back yard when viewed between the two houses behind the “Griswolds.” Not visible: the decorated above-ground pool and playset on the left, and the decorated storage shed on the right.

Can you say “jolly and bright”?

Today’s date is a rarity. The date, 12/02/2021, is an 8-digit palindrome, just like 02/02/2020, which occurs only 12 times this century. You’ll have to wait until 03/02/2030 for the next 8-digit date palindrome.

Today’s date is unique in another way. If you drop the slash marks from the date and enter it into an analog calculator, it reads the same upside down.

The year 2021 has 22 palindrome dates of at least four digits, a phenomenon that occurs only twice in each century, during the years ending in 11 and 21. It won’t happen again until 2111, 90 years from now.

Today’s rare palindrome kicks off a string of nine consecutive palindrome dates in December, beginning with 12/1/21 and ending with 12/9/21. There were ten palindrome dates in January 2021, running from 1/20/21 through 1/29/21. For the first time in history, Inauguration Day fell on a palindrome date: 1/20/21. That won’t happen again until 1/20/3021, 1,000 years from now.

It happens only twice in a century and we’re here to enjoy it. Life is good, isn’t it?

I recently saw a list of the AFI’s (American Film Institute) 100 all-time best movie quotes. The movies listed are from 1931 (Dracula)-2002 (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). I’m not sure how often the list is updated to include new movies. My personal all-time favorite (and powerful) movie quote is from the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind. The line? “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The AFI also ranks this as the #1 best movie quote. Here are 20 more of Ted’s and my favorite movie quotes.

The November 19 lunar eclipse was billed as a partial eclipse. According to NASA, 99.1 percent of the moon was shrouded by the earth’s umbra (the darkest shadow) during mid-eclipse, making it very close to a total lunar eclipse. It was the longest partial eclipse of the century–between 2001 and 2100–lasting 3 hours and 28 minutes, and the longest eclipse in the past 580 years, according to the Holcomb Observatory. Lunar eclipses usually last about an hour, but this time, the moon was farther from the earth, so the earth cast a wider shadow and it took the moon longer to pass through that shadow. The peak of the eclipse occurred at 3:03 a.m. our time.

Ted and I are night owls (and we’re retired), so we stayed up for the eclipse and slept in the next morning. We went outside around 2:30 a.m. to watch the peak of the eclipse and planned to go back into the house by 3:04 a.m. That’s not what happened. The sky was so beautiful, we stayed outside for over an hour. With the moon in shadow and a crystal-clear night sky, we could see far more stars than we normally do. The moon was beautiful, the stars were beautiful, and the night was perfectly calm. It was, however, only 24 degrees and we were dressed in our pj’s and bathrobes with Crocs on our feet. After an hour, we admitted that, although it was still a beautiful sight, we were getting cold, so we went back into the house.

I love looking at stars and finding constellations. With the moon darkened, the stars were unusually bright, but they weren’t bright enough to see them well in the few photos I took. Only Orion and the dog star, Sirius, were strong enough to show in the black sky. In the photo below, that’s the fully eclipsed moon on the right (my cell phone camera picked up all of the moon’s radiant light, so it looks full), and Sirius is in the left center. Orion is in the middle. A few of the stars show well; all of them are visible if you zoom in on the photo–or maybe if you look at the photo in a dark room.

In the opposite direction, we could see every star in the Big Dipper. Usually, there are at least two stars that can’t outshine the city light pollution. I don’t recall ever seeing the Big Dipper in a vertical position, but I don’t often check the night sky at 3:00 a.m. At this time of night, the handle rose directly upward from the horizon and the dipper was above it. It was easy to find the North Star to locate the Little Dipper, but even with the moon dark, I couldn’t see all seven stars in that constellation. I found Cassiopeia, but couldn’t see the Seven Sisters (aka the Pleiades), my favorite constellation. They might have been lower in the sky, behind a tree or a house.

This was a stunning lunar eclipse and a perfect night for viewing it. Theresa Massony, the author of an article I read about this eclipse wrote, “This lunar eclipse is not to be missed, unless you have time to wait a whole century for the next one.” So true! Ted and I took the time to watch this one. If we’re still around in 2100, we’ll catch that one too.