Today is a special day for me. (1) 🙂 (2) It’s the first day of spring (4:29 p.m. CDT), and (3) it’s a palindrome day: 32023.

The novel I’m currently reading is set in a fictional small lakeside town (population ±1,000) in New Hampshire. There are no hotels, resorts, boutique shops, or fancy restaurants in the area, so it’s not a tourist attraction. It is, however, a desirable place to live on the lakeshore because it has low taxes and is quiet, beautiful, etc., etc. The main character in the story is advocating for improving the school in the town to provide its resident youth with a top-notch education. This will, of course, increase the tax rate.

“You’ll never get that by the natives,” says our hero’s best friend.

“Well,” our hero responds, “they can either pay for education today or for welfare tomorrow.”

Absolutely! That’s a no-brainer.

Self-improvement. Can it become too much of a good thing?

Right now, I’m practicing on my (untouched for years) piano; learning Spanish; and working my way back into great physical shape after two months of minimal physical activity following foot surgery late last fall. I became involved in these three activities simultaneously in a variety of ways.

Piano. As Ted and were moving furniture from room to room for our interior house update and getting rid of things we no longer wanted to keep, I looked at my piano and made a decision: I would either get back to playing it regularly within the next six months, or I would get rid of it. There’s no point in keeping it just to have something to dust.

Spanish. I’ve always thought it would be great to speak a second language. I took German for three years in high school and in college, but there are few (if any) opportunities to use it in the middle of the U.S. When our older son decided to learn Spanish online, he invited family members to join him and to support each other as a group. Quite a few of us, including me, accepted his invitation. Maybe when Ted and I are in Barcelona later this year, I’ll have an opportunity to speak with someone and to say, “ÂĄHola! Mucho gusto. Yo hablos español.”

Exercise. Daily physical activity and exercise have always been a part of my life. After being off my feet for two months following my foot surgery, it was discouraging that I didn’t feel strong, and that my range of motion and flexibility were greatly reduced. Use it or lose it, right?

When I started these activities six weeks ago, my goals were 30 minutes of piano, 15 minutes of Spanish lessons, and 30 minutes of exercise daily. In reality, I’m spending about an hour each day on each of the three activities because I’m enjoying every one of them. That’s three hours of my day 6-7 days each week for self-improvement activities. Is that a good lifestyle or too much of a good thing? Either way, I’m having fun with all of them.

To keep your brain healthy, research says we need to keep trying new challenges. Our brains need exercise just as much as our muscles do. My exercise routine will take care of my muscles, and the Spanish and piano work will help my brain. To prove it, La sent me this.

Wow! Who (except La) knew that piano playing involved all of this?! If I add my Spanish lessons and my exercise routine, my brain and body are getting a total workout every day. Good for me!

Just so Ted and I could see the difference after we finished our interior update, I took “before” pictures around the house. Now that we have “after” pictures as well, it’s good to see that all the work was worth it.


When I was in grad school, I kept my textbooks and research materials on a bookshelf in the living room near our computer so that I could easily reference them. I’ve only occasionally looked at a few of those books since I finished my last advanced degree in 2005, so it seemed logical to move that bookshelf to the library where the other bookshelves live. Here’s the library before and after we made the update changes. The washstand originally belonged to my great-grandparents. Ted and I bought the rocking chair unfinished when we were expecting Jeff. I finished it and made cushions for it. The big clay lamp is no longer with us. “Before” is on the left; “after” is on the right.


Emptying the closets for the painters gave us a chance to throw things away, to give things to Goodwill, and to remove/reorganize some shelving. As a result, our closets have 17 fewer shelves and empty spaces on the remaining shelves. (We got rid of a lot of stuff!) You can see that the closet shelves on the left are pretty bare. That closet used to have three more filled shelves–one above the current shelf over the clothing rod, plus two additional shelves on the back wall. The closet on the right is in the project room. We removed the unneeded clothing rod and the six smaller shelves that were on the side wall (pictured) plus four shelves from the back wall. Then we filled the side wall with these five new, longer shelves. I love it! Now I can easily find everything I need when I work in that room.


The desk on the left has a new life–probably as firewood. I started shopping for a desk to replace it in January 2020. There isn’t room for a full-sized desk because of the extendable work table beside it, and I don’t need a full-sized desk anyway. I only need some shelf space (or a drawer) for a few office supplies (to make sketches and to calculate measurements for projects) and a surface large enough to hold my serger. It’s surprisingly difficult to find a desk in a 30-35″ size that includes a drawer or shelves, but I found one I liked at IKEA. Unfortunately, it was out of stock, like everything else in 2020. Every few months, I checked the website, but it was always out of stock. Two weeks ago, I checked the website for the umpteenth time, and there it was! Only 36 months later! Ted and I went to IKEA, picked it up, and retired the old desk.

We also replaced the futon in the project room, which doubles as a guest room when needed. The old futon served us well, but the mattress had become very hard over the years and the frame didn’t match any of our current furniture. The new mattress has inner springs, so it will be more comfortable for us to sit on and for guests to sleep on, and the frame matches the other furniture in the room.

After the contractors left, Dean and Dylan installed the bar light above my sewing machine. I just finished a sewing project and the bar light works well. It’s also much cooler than the 1980s pole lamp with its 300w halogen bulb.

In the photos below, you can see the project room before and after the new desk and desk lamp were added and after the ceiling lighting and ceiling fan were installed. Now I don’t need the box fan that’s hiding in the corner behind the table (left).


There’s a code for homeowners to use for professional painters: leave the nails in the walls if you’re going to re-use them and don’t want the holes filled. You can see place-saving nails in the photo on the left. That made it much easier to re-hang the 100+ photos in our gallery/upstairs hallway. In case you’re counting photos, there are two walls of photos that don’t show in the picture on the right.


The carpeted stairs are much safer than the slippery hardwood stairs were. We didn’t want to eliminate the look of hardwood completely, so the carpet folks suggested a cap-and-band style of carpeting on the stairs. We like it.


Here’s our bedroom with our old Wal-Mart bed lamps and with the new wired bed lamps. Ted and I extend our thanks to the professionals who installed the wiring and to Dean and Dylan who installed the lamps.

The master bathroom has always had a fluorescent light above the sink. We changed that to recessed halo lamps. They look a lot more modern, and that’s what an update is about, right?


Our last update (20+ years ago) included carpet art in the living room, dining room, foyer, and family room. We loved that look, but were ready for new colors and a different design. Here’s the new carpet art in the dining room (right).


We removed two of the blue leather chairs and footstools from the living room and replaced them with off-white chairs. Without all that footstool clutter, the new carpet art shows well. We bought a smaller desk chair and also replaced the bookshelf with a much smaller display unit. Lighter paint and chairs, fewer footstools, and smaller pieces of furniture opened up the room very nicely.


When we mentioned replacing the carpet art, our listeners always remarked that it didn’t look like it needed to be replaced. Closer inspection easily shows how faded the colors had become. Some of the peach-colored art in the foyer carpet (left) was nearly colorless from sunlight shining through the front door. It really was time for an update.


The photo on the left shows the laundry room ceiling light installed by our builders. I never liked it, but we don’t spend a lot of time in the laundry room, so we never bothered to replace it. Now it was time. Thanks again, Dean and Dylan, for helping Dylan gain experience for his future career.


The holes and gashes in the kitchen ceiling from installing the lighting, and the damage above the countertops from ripping off the ceramic tile backsplash gave the drywall repair man a chance to show off his camouflaging skills. The newly painted ceiling and the wall above the countertops look much better now. We’ll replace the backsplash after we have new cabinets installed.

Our kitchen originally had a fluorescent ceiling light in the work area (left). We replaced that with recessed halo lights. We always used warm fluorescent bulbs, so the kitchen didn’t have a blue glow, but the halo lights provide much better lighting–and they’re dimmable, if desired.

Ted and I have never come up with a reason why our builder wired the kitchen eating area ceiling light where he did. It’s not centered over the table (or anything else), so we always had to have a lamp with a chain to center the lighting over the table (left). We asked the electricians to center the electrical box for that lamp over the table. We shortened the chain and re-hung the lamp, but when we replace the lamp, a chain won’t be a requirement. Our interior designer said that removing the chair rail and painting the kitchen walls a single, lighter color would open up the room. She knows her stuff!


We have an 8-foot window wall on the near end of the family room, but that leaves the far end dark. In 2019, we had an electrician install an art light to highlight our 50th anniversary family picture. Without the art light, that end of the room would look even darker in the photo below (left). Our interior designer suggested limewashing the fireplace to lighten things up. We asked the painter about that and he, in turn, asked how often we use the fireplace. I told him that we burn more than a cord of wood each year. In that case, he said, the limewash would turn gray over time and there would be nothing to do about it. He suggested a light wall instead, and we like the row of eyeball lights the electricians installed. The designer was right about our old media center too. It was so big that it shut off the room from the doorway perspective and it didn’t match anything in the room. With a smaller media center, the room feels more spacious.


Ted and I still have a lot of finishing touches to add in every room: new valances for all the windows to match our new paint colors; new kitchen cabinets; some new pieces of furniture; some new pieces of wall art; and (my favorite) “more.” With all of this to be done, none of our rooms is completely updated at this point, and most of them have a somewhat stark look that will remain until we find replacements that we like. That stark look will keep us motivated to continue shopping, and to stick to our less talk and more action resolution.

While Ted and I were clearing the walls, emptying the closets, and moving the furniture around for our interior update, we found a lot of things that we either (1) never use, or (2) are simply tired of after so many years. When you have to actively pick up and put so many things into boxes, it makes you pause to wonder, “Do we really need to keep this?” During our interior update process, we donated and trashed a lot of now-useless (to us) stuff, as well as some long-time treasures that have become less treasured. The useless junk was easy to pitch; some of the other things–especially if they had sentimental value of any kind or of any degree–required more decisive thinking to give or throw away.

We bought this hanging wall lamp with trading stamps from the grocery store. Does that give you a clue about its age? Let’s say mid- to late 70s. When this was my sewing room, the light hung over my sewing machine. It was wonderful because I could adjust the weight (the black thing at the bottom of the cord) to drop the lamp closer to my work. It worked just fine and provided additional light in the room, but now, it’s gone.

We bought a pair of these lamps in the mid-1970s and set them on our matching teak end tables. We sold the other lamp and the end tables at a garage sale many years ago, but kept this one just because we needed a lamp. Now, it’s gone.

I started playing clarinet in sixth grade and played first chair clarinet in my high school band. I wanted to play in the University marching band, but in the old days, they didn’t allow women to do that because the drills were “too strenuous” for women. (Back in those days, we had to wear skirts for dinner in the dorms too. 👎) I’ve probably played my clarinet six times since high school. Each time, my embouchure was so bad, it wasn’t fun, so my clarinet has been sitting on a closet shelf for over 50 years. Now, it’s gone!

Ted bought a full set of The Encyclopedia Britannica when he was in college. Before the internet and Google, we and the kids occasionally used it for reference. We asked the kids what they remember about the encyclopedias and they all said the same thing Ted and I said: the transparent layered pages that showed the human anatomy. The first page had an illustration of a naked human; then you could peel back a transparent page at a time to see the nerves, the veins, the muscles, and the internal organs. It was fascinating–kind of like dissecting a body without the gore. At this point, however, we can’t remember the last time we used an encyclopedia for anything except as a weight (those books are heavy!). Now, they’re gone!

I bought this HP LaserJet 2300 printer c. 2000 for the heavy-duty printing required to provide chapter-by-chapter, and revision-by-revision copies of my doctoral dissertation to my four dissertation committee members. It’s a trusty machine, and it prints at a good speed, but it takes so long to warm up that I just press the button on my color printer and finish my print job in less time than it takes to wait for the LaserJet. Now, it’s gone!

We bought this futon in the mid-1990s. We liked the fold-out “tables” on the arms. Unfortunately, the mattress has become quite solid over the years (dry-rotted foam?) and the futon itself was extremely heavy, not to mention that we don’t have any other light-colored wood in the house. We decided to buy a new futon with a more comfortable mattress for our guests. Now, it’s gone!

I bought this desk at R-way Furniture in Sheboygan, WI in the mid-1980s when Kari and I took a trip to visit my Mom and Dad. The desk cost $30 and came in a box, to be assembled at home (IKEA probably got that idea from R-way). The price was so reasonable that I bought two desks: one for the girls’ bedroom, and one for the boys’ bedroom to give the kids a place to do their homework. I don’t remember what we did with the second desk, but when I need to use my serger, I set it on this desk. The leg on the right is no longer stable, so the desk has to be lifted carefully to move it, and cannot be dragged on the floor. The strip of laminate along the right side of the desktop has also peeled off. It’s long past time for a new desk. Now, it’s gone!

I bought this used sewing machine and cabinet for $100 in 1966. It was four years old when I bought it, and I used it a lot. I made all of my own clothes; dress pants and sport coats for Ted; heavy and light jackets for winter and summer for all of us; doll clothes for the girls’ dolls; etc., etc. It’s a Singer Slant-o-Matic (“The best sewing machine ever invented” according to the instruction book) and I still had all the original accessories. In all the time I had this sewing machine (56 years now), it never needed a repair.

In 2016, I bought a new electronic sewing machine and had the cabinet re-fitted for the new machine. After using the new sewing machine several times, I went back to my Singer because I missed the slanted needle. That’s when I realized that, although I loved that old sewing machine, the electronic one is much nicer to use and I will never choose to work with the Singer again. Even knowing that, it took me more than six years to get over my sentimental feelings for the Singer. As Ted and I were emptying closets for the upcoming painting and carpeting, I knew it was time to part ways with the past. Now, it’s gone! (With a tiny teardrop or two and a tiny tug on my heartstrings. I’ll always miss the slanted needle.)

Ted and I bought this media center 20+ years ago for two reasons: (1) We liked the display space; and (2) it was large enough for a 50-inch TV (huge, at that time). When our interior designer suggested that a smaller media center would “open up” the family room, we agreed. and decided to replace this one. It was assembled in place, and it was so large and so heavy that it took four people to take it apart and move it out of the room. Thanks, Jeff and La. Now, it’s gone!

Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and get rid of the things that no longer give you joy–even if they did in the past. Now, they’re gone!–but not forgotten, and still good for stories and happy memories.

By July, Ted and I had all of our planned outdoor work contracted. It was time to get moving on the house interior update–things that can be done in bad weather. We kept putting this off mostly because neither of us is good at design or color selection. I mentioned this to Jeff and La and they suggested we do what they did: hire an interior designer. Good idea!

The interior designer (not decorator–there’s a difference) had some very good ideas, and she was honest and tactful enough to guide us without offending us when she pointed out problems and made suggestions. We had never even thought about some of her ideas, but we definitely wanted to include them in our update. What we appreciated most, however, were the dozen paint color samples she gave us. Ted and I hate picking out paint colors. More than once, we’ve painted, then re-painted, a room because the color we chose didn’t look as good as we’d imagined it would. Having to choose from only 12 of the 1,700 Sherwin-Williams interior paint colors (I checked) eliminated 99.3 percent of the possible color decisions just like that! (I did the math, too.)

Although the interior designer narrowed our paint color selections to a dozen light, neutral colors, Ted and I still had to choose which of those colors to use and in which rooms to use them. I’m sure there are people in the world who can make this kind of color decision in a snap, but Ted and I are not among them. I painted multiple color swatches in every room on multiple walls in each room to see how different lighting affected the colors. I labeled each swatch with a piece of blue masking tape so we could remember which color it was. It still wasn’t easy for us to choose our colors. Before the painters arrived, I peeled 117 pieces of blue masking tape off the walls. The photos below show how much lighter our newly painted walls will be. Best of all, even though it took 117 wall swatches, we like the paint colors we chose for every room–on the first try!

With the designer’s ideas in mind and the paint colors selected, we were ready to schedule contractors. On an August afternoon, I called an electrician, a painter, and the carpet company, one after another. Shockingly, all three were immediately available. We had walk-throughs and bids from all of them within three days of my call and the electrical team was scheduled to arrive six days after my call. It was time for Ted and me to get to work!

The three electricians needed three days to do their work for us. We moved things out of their way in the six rooms where they needed space for ladders and tools. They installed recessed halo lights in the master bedroom and bath, the kitchen, and the project room. They also installed a light wall of eyeball lights in the family room, and they wired a bar light over my sewing machine in the project room and two bed lamps in the master bedroom. In addition, they moved the ceiling fan from the family room (where we never used it) to the project room (where it always gets warm while I’m working in it) and–43+ years after we bought this house–centered the kitchen table light over the table.

We already had an 18-day cruise planned, starting three days after the electricians finished, so we scheduled the drywall repairman to arrive the day after we returned from the cruise.

The interior designer suggested that we remove the chair rail from the kitchen. We’re planning to replace the kitchen cabinets, so as long as I was removing the chair rail, I pulled off the backsplash above the kitchen countertops too. We might as well have all the drywall repaired and painted at the same time, right? With that mess and all the electrical cuts and holes, the drywall repairman had plenty to do. I think it took him six hours the first day to repair all the damage and to apply the first coat of mud. The following days were shorter–only mud, then sanding.

While Mark was repairing the drywall damage indoors, our exterior doors (ordered in April) were installed. The day after the door installations and the drywall work were finished, Jeff and La arrived for a visit and Kathy, Annette, and Kari’s family joined us for the weekend. The painters and carpet installers were scheduled to begin their work the following week, so as soon as the kids left, Ted and I started packing things up and moving furniture to clear work areas for the painters and the carpet installers.

The painter said he’d be happy to have the walls cleared and everything else in the center of the room, allowing sufficient access to paint the walls; the carpet installers needed the floors cleared; and Ted and I wanted to have the work done one room at a time so that we’d only have to move everything in and out once. To make all of us happy, Ted and I had to clear every wall, floor, and closet in every room on a rotating basis to keep ahead of the painters and the carpet installers. It was like moving, only worse–taking everything (shelves, clothing rods, drapery rods, electrical switch plates, etc.) out/off, packing everything up, and moving all of it out of the room before reversing the process and putting it all back into place. Emptying the closets was the worst. There is a finite number of pieces of furniture in a given room, but there is a seemingly infinite number of items in a single closet! Because our bedroom was also stripped bare, we moved into our basement “guest suite” for the duration of this process. (Now we know what it’s like for the kids when they visit and sleep down there–it’s pretty comfortable with lots of space and a full bathroom.)

I knew it would be a big job, so I started packing the books first. The five movable bookshelves in the library, plus a sixth one in the living room, needed to be emptied to move them for painting and carpeting. (Note: When Dylan was very young, he was impressed by all the books in a single room. He said the room looked like a library, and we’ve called it that ever since.) Thankfully, I only had to empty the bottom shelf of the built-in bookshelf in the library. I handled every book six times: shelf to floor to box to other room to library to floor to shelf again. Out of curiosity, I weighed one box of books: 50 lb. Multiply 50 lb. x 13 boxes in the library = 650 lb. x 6 moves = 3,900 lb. of books lifted. Nearly 2 tons! The several boxes of books from the sixth bookshelf put the weight total over 2 tons. During this process, I discarded/recycled 106 books that I knew I’d never read again, and Ted decided to get rid of his set of The Encyclopedia Britannica. Now we have more space on the bookshelves, so we can buy more books. 🙂

Ted and I, the painters, and the carpet installers worked well together in a kind of (strenuous, for us) choreographed dance. Before the workmen arrived, Ted and I emptied rooms and put everything into other rooms. Then the painters painted the empty rooms and moved on to an empty, uncarpeted space while the carpet installers worked in the still-empty, already-painted rooms. When the workmen left for the day, Ted and I refilled the newly painted and carpeted rooms, then moved things from unfinished rooms to the newly painted/carpeted rooms, until everything was painted and the carpeting was installed in the bedrooms, hallway, and stairway. The contractors worked from 7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., then Ted and I worked from 3:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. and on weekends.

The painters came with a crew of three: one to paint the ceilings, one to do the cutting in, and one to roll paint on the walls. They averaged a completion rate of two rooms/day. When the painting was finished and we were putting things back into place, we discovered two closets that had not been painted. I contacted the painter on Friday (when we were refilling the closets) and he came back on Monday to paint them.

The workmen always arrived on schedule and Ted and I did a good (dare I say “great”?) job of having all the rooms empty and ready for them so they could come in and get to work immediately. Several pieces of furniture, however, were beyond my ability (i.e., strength) to move. I helped Ted move the 12- and 18-inch bookshelves (about 200-250 lb., respectively) out of the library, but we asked Dean and Dylan to help Ted with the 24-inch bookshelves. We guess-timated their weight at about 300-350 lb. each. The 36-inch and the corner bookshelves felt like 350-400 lb. each, so we left them in the room. The headboard for our bed has four connected pieces and is very difficult to get around corners (it was assembled in place), so we left that as well. By this time, we were getting tired of lifting heavy furniture and said, “Let the carpet installers move that stuff.” Well, surprise! They didn’t want to move it either–they just worked around those pieces in the library and in the master bedroom.

We had the hardwood stairs carpeted in a cap-and-band style. The photo on the right (below) shows one of the custom carpet art pieces we ordered. The carpet art was installed in the family room, living room, dining room, and foyer five weeks after the “plain” carpeting was installed. Those guys were great! They finished the family room carpet first and installed it on Dec.1 so that we could put up the Christmas tree before our kids arrived for a birthday/Christmas visit. The other three pieces of carpet art were delivered and installed a week later–just five days before the kids’ visit.

After the painters and the (plain) carpet installers finished their work, Dean and Dylan came to help put the heavy pieces of furniture back into place and to install some of our new lights. Dylan is learning to be an electrician, so installing our wired bed lamps, the bar light over my sewing machine, and a new ceiling light in the laundry room gave him an opportunity to practice some electrical skills. We thanked the family workers with a pizza dinner and we had a good time together–as usual.

After our Thanksgiving visit with Kathy and Annette, Ted and I combined update work with Christmas preparations and finished everything at 5:10 p.m. on December 12–less than 24 hours before Thom’s family arrived for our family birthday/Christmas celebration. That evening, Ted and I spent time in the hot tub, enjoyed a fire in the fireplace, and watched a movie on Netflix. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders, and it was an especially wonderful feeling because it wasn’t a break; it was finished!

We finally moved from talk to action, and we’re feeling good about that. We knew we’d be working hard on a tight schedule, but we didn’t think we’d be working that hard. We had contractors in the house for 30 days between August 29 and October 24, plus 2 days in December for the carpet art, but Ted and I started the preparations for the contractors on August 22 and didn’t finish putting everything back in place until December 12–92 working days after we first started this update (time out for the cruise, Jeff and La’s visit, and Thanksgiving with Kathy and Annette). Most of our work days were 8-10 hours; too many were 12-14 hours. It was brutal. I don’t remember ever being that tired in my entire life! By the time the contractors finished their work for us and moved on to their next jobs, I felt like I’d used every ounce of energy my body had to give. A side benefit was that Ted lost three pounds and I lost four from all the work we did. The day after the last contracted work was finished, we slept 11 hours and then I crashed again and took a 90-minute nap in the afternoon.

The new lighting is much brighter than what we had, and the new paint and carpets make everything look fresh. Now we can add the finishing touches at our own pace, one thing at a time. Would we do it this way again? Absolutely! Having all the electrical updates, the painting, and the carpeting completed in just over three months was great. Are we glad it’s finished? Even more absolutely!

For a number of years, Ted and I have talked about updating our house and yard. It’s been over 20 years since our last major update, and we’re getting tired of looking at the same old stuff–not to mention that it’s all aging. We decided that 2022 would be the year we’d actually make the update happen. As the song goes, it was time for a little less talk and a lot more action. We decided that, since it was spring, we’d start outdoors so those jobs could be done in nicer weather.

We began by shopping for exterior doors in April. Ours were installed in the mid-1990s and they showed all those years of weathering. We shopped and made our selections, then ordered doors on April 29. The doors arrived only (?) five months later, in time to be installed September 26-27. We planned to re-install our old screen/storm doors because they seemed fine and they fit the new doors. When we saw the new doors being installed, however, it was immediately obvious that the old storm doors would present a very bad look. Check the before (left) and after (right) photos below and you’ll see what I mean. We ordered new storm/screen doors and they were installed on November 29–six months to the day after we ordered the first doors. The pandemic really messed up the supply chains, didn’t it? Not to mention “the Great Retirement” and all the other people (like us) using their “we can’t go anywhere anyway” money to update their homes.

Next, we contacted a company to re-stain our pergola. We’ve stained it ourselves several times in the past and it’s not fun. Now we can afford to have someone else do that crummy (to us) job. We signed a contract for the work in April and, two months later, on June 15, a crew member spent two days pressure washing the pergola. Two more months later, on August 11, a crew of two men spent two more days staining the pergola. It took (again) only (?) four months from the time we signed the contract until the job was finished. The bad news: all summer we sat under the faded pergola. The good news: now it looks fresh instead of faded and we didn’t have to do the crummy (to us) job.

Our final outdoor project was landscaping. We’ve had some struggling bushes for several years. They don’t quite die, but they don’t look good. We decided to meet with a landscape designer to get some better suggestions for hardier plants. For five years, we’ve watched our red-leaved plum bushes struggle to screen our pool (left). The landscape designer suggested fuller, faster-growing viburnum bushes for that area (right).

We had three flowering bushes in front of the house for 13 years, and they started to fail as well. Last year, we pulled the worst-looking bush out; this year, the remaining two bushes looked so bad, we cut them off at the base (left). The landscape designer suggested three English laurel bushes for that location. The arborvitae tree at the left corner of the house doesn’t look bad from the front (left), but the entire back half was dead. That tree has now been replaced with a columnar Norway spruce, complemented by the three new English laurel bushes (right).

For about 35 years, we had a privet hedge for privacy in our back yard. We think it aged out, but whatever the reason, it reached a point where it wasn’t filling out any more and it looked like it was dying. We replaced the privet bushes with arborvitae trees and were pretty satisfied until the middle ones died for the third year in a row (left) and several others were beginning to die. The designer said that arborvitaes aren’t very hardy and that perhaps poor water drainage was contributing to a problem in the middle of the hedge. He suggested raising the bed of the hedge and replacing the arborvitaes with hardier boxwoods, so we did (right).

None of the new bushes/trees looks great yet–or even much different than their dying/dead predecessors. Why? Because we contracted with the nursery for the new plants in mid-July, and they didn’t have time to plant them until December 8-9–five months later. All of the new plants were put into the ground in their dormant state, and we’re looking forward to them greening up in a few months.

The talk is finished and the action has begun.

The holidays are over and my Aunt Ruth is back on the internet. She sent a few goodies recently.

Ted and I went to the library a few weeks ago and parked beside this car. I think it’s the nicest message I’ve ever seen on a car.

BLFC stands for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The contest began in 1982 as the “misbegotten brainchild” of a professor at San Jose State University who was “sentenced” to write a seminar paper on a minor Victorian novelist. Contest entrants are challenged to compose “an atrocious opening sentence to the worst novel never written.” The sentence must be original and previously unpublished. There is no limit to the length of the sentence, but the panel of “undistinguised judges” suggests 50-60 words. Entries (usually on postcards) are accepted every day of the year and the winners (grand prize, winner, dishonorable mention) are announced in mid-August. The results are made public on national and international media. Here are some of the winners I enjoyed.

The Grand Prize winner receives an “absolute pittance–and bragging rights.”

This is a Children’s Literature winner.

This was a winner in the Romance category.

Here’s a Dishonorable Mention in the Adventure category, probably written by an English major.

This is another Adventure Dishonorable Mention.

And, finally, a Children’s Literature Dishonorable Mention.

You can find winning entries as far back as 1996 at–where “www” means “wretched writers welcome.”

I love to read cartoons, especially political cartoons. I’m always amazed at what broad messages cartoonists can present in a single frame with minimal words.

Here are some cartoons I recently saw related to the controversy of banning books, especially in schools. The targeted books include full smudged pictures of our country’s history rather than only the rose-tinted versions. As an educator and a book lover, these cartoons struck a strong chord for me. I’ve read at least 17 of the banned books listed in the cartoon below, have seen movies of several others, and will probably read more of these in the future.

The cartoon below makes me wish I were a warrior librarian. Instead, I fight the “Let’s ban these books” culture war by getting a special thrill out of reading books on subjects that are currently under political attack in too many places. My current controversial read is The1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones. It’s well-told history, but it’s a deep and heavy read, so I’m doing it a chapter at a time.

Queen Elizabeth II died on September 30, 2022; Loretta Lynn died four days later on October 4, 2022. This cartoonist created a beautiful tribute to two strong women.

The media has recently presented numerous documentaries about the collapse of crypto, and I’ve watched several of them. This cartoonist has summarized all of those detailed documentaries in a single drawing and six words.

In August 2022, a Nebraska man rode down the Missouri River for 38 miles in an 846-pound pumpkin. He did it the day after his 60th birthday, and described it as “just like riding on a cork.” His goal was to be in the Guiness World Book of Records for the longest journey in a pumpkin boat, and Guiness verified his record. Surprisingly, this has been done before. The previous record was 25.5 miles.

. . . and all through the house, things looked pretty clean and festive. All four of our kids (and their families) were coming home on December 13 so that we could celebrate Ted’s birthday and Christmas together. The early celebrations turned out to be a good thing, given the horrible weather across the country and the Southwest Airlines meltdown the following week. Ted and I were really busy for about 10 days ahead of time, putting things in order and cleaning up after the contractors left our house, (more on that another time). We managed to get all the beds made up for the eight kids and grandkids who were staying with us; we arranged catered meals for our crowd of fifteen people so that we’d have time for fun instead doing the cooking and cleanup; we decorated the house and the yard; we bought and wrapped gifts; and we made Christmas candy and cookies. Here’s Ted helping with the cookie-making.

One day, our family activity was a visit to the Science Center to have some fun. Everyone always likes to build the arches. They don’t stand alone until a tall-enough person puts the keystone block into place.

Hadley was fascinated by the planets and solar system features that appeared when she stepped in the right places on this mat.

I enjoyed the history of games exhibit. I’m old enough to remember all those boxed games in the photo below–in those boxes.

We selected another day to celebrate Ted’s birthday, starting with a visit to Historic Main Street in St. Charles. All the stores (and most of the shopkeepers) were decorated and dressed in holiday fashion and, just like us, there were lots of people enjoying the festive atmosphere.

Grandma’s Cookies is a favorite stop for warm cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee. You can see the line of people across the street, all waiting for a warm cookie. The line was actually three times longer than what you see in the photo below, but the cookies are worth the wait.

There were so many people downtown that we had to park quite far away. That gave our group a chance to walk back to our cars along the Missouri Riverfront and past the Katy train station.

On the way to our cars, we saw the Grinch biking on the Katy Trail, which runs along the Missouri River. It looks like he’s bringing Christmas, not stealing it. Check out the reindeer pulling his bike/sleigh.

Ted chose Fratelli’s Italian Restaurant for his birthday dinner–a gift from the kids, who included my meal as well. (We have great kids!) We were all so busy having a good time together that we didn’t think about taking birthday pictures, so here’s a picture of Ted on his 40th birthday. Except for the hair color and the huge 80s glasses, he doesn’t look much different all these years later. ♄♄

Another day was designated as our early Christmas Day together. We opened gifts, enjoyed Christmas cookies and candy, did a lot of talking, and played some games.

Thom helped Hadley get started with her pile of gifts.

She got a soft puppy from Grandma and Grandpa and immediately said “puppy” with a big smile. She has quite a large vocabulary for an 18-month-old.

We gave Sefton The Book With No Pictures. He could read the story himself and giggled at the nonsense words. While Sefton giggled, Hadley found a local newspaper in the magazine rack and decided to check out what’s happening in our area.

Ted and Annette have a reputation among family members for becoming a little ant-sy if the after-meal chatter continues too long and the dishes haven’t been started. At the first indication that it won’t be impolite to get up from the table to start loading the dishwasher, they are hard at work. In recognition of their efforts, Kathy and I designed and made buttons for them that read “#1 DISHES TEAM.” Here they are, wearing their buttons and doing what they do well.

You can tell by Annette’s and Hadley’s smiles in the photo above that, once again, we were having so much fun together, no one remembered to take a group photo to prove we were all together at the same time. Here’s a “half of the group” photo that Kari took at Ted’s birthday dinner at Fratelli’s. Like everyone else, she was having so much fun, she forgot to take a picture of the other half of the group at our second table.

And here’s a substitute Christmas family photo from 1994–an earlier Christmas when all the kids were home.

Katie found Thom and Hadley like this after all the celebrating.

And, just like that, it was over. The kids and grandkids headed back to their own homes. It was great to have them all here, and yes, it was a rush to be ready fifteen days before Christmas, but it left us with nothing to be done for the entire week preceding December 25. We had lots of time to relax and to remember and talk about how nice it was for all of us to be together.

On Christmas Day, Kari’s family came over so that our families could be together on the real holiday. She and I decided to serve finger foods only–minimal prep and minimal clean-up–before we all watched the new Elvis movie. It was another good day with our family.

With a little bit of furniture re-arrangement, we could all see Elvis on the TV screen around the Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas, happy new year, and peace on earth, goodwill to all.

For the first time in a number of years, we spent Thanksgiving with Kathy and Annette at their home. Countless other people were also using Travel Wednesday to reach their destinations. With all those other travelers and two minor traffic accidents as well, our drive took us an hour longer than usual. When we arrived, the table was set, the burning candles were scenting the air, and dinner was ready–good, warm baked potato soup with freshly-baked coffee cake. Perfect after a long drive. After dinner, we baked an apple and a pumpkin pie. They smelled so good, we thought it would be best to taste them while they were still at their peak: warm from baking. Awesome!

On Thanksgiving Day, we were treated to a delicious brunch in Kathy and Annette’s newly refinished dining room. The stripped, stained, and varnished hardwood floor, the newly painted walls, and the crown molding turned out beautifully.

After lunch, it was time for a walk for everyone except me–I’m still limited in the amount of time I can spend on my repaired right foot. I was content with some quiet time and the others were refreshed by a walk in the beautiful weather.

Thanksgiving dinner was easy. Literally. We had Easy Chicken. I’ve never been fond of turkey, and I heard that turkey is quite expensive this year. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but I know a lot of people who shared non-traditional Thanksgiving dinners this year–including one that featured all Italian food. If that’s a new trend, Ted and I were way ahead of the times with our family. I’ve never made a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but for as long as we’ve been married, I’ve cooked what we call a “thankful” meal that gives everyone an opportunity to choose a food for which they are thankful. Some foods were the same every year, and some changed.

Before leaving home, Ted and I were shopping and I saw this sign.

In the photo of our Thanksgiving dinner, you can see that, in addition to Easy Chicken, we had lots of side dishes–including freshly-baked rolls. At the square dining table, everyone had a seat “next to the rolls.”

On Friday, we drove downtown and did a little shopping (only short stretches in each of three businesses in deference to my healing foot). Our last stop was a small gallery featuring local artists.

This sculpture caught my eye.

After another delicious dinner (pizza!), we played Mahjong and, too soon, it was time for Ted and me to go home. Our visits with our family are always too short, but we have several contractors coming to our house next week to make more progress on our interior update, and we need to begin our Christmas preparations. All of our children will be with us in mid-December to celebrate Ted’s birthday. While we’re together, we’ll also celebrate Christmas, but that means we all have to be ready for Christmas earlier than usual.

When we left for home, the weather was clear and cold. There was no wind at all, flags were hanging limply on their poles, and the moon had already set. It was a perfect night for star-gazing. On our way home, Ted and I pulled off the highway, parked on a country road, and looked upward. Wow! The Milky Way was huge and bright and seemed to fill most of the sky. Orion was low in the southern sky. (It was odd to see Orion in the northern sky when we were in Australia in December 2019.) The view was so breathtaking, we hated to get back into the car, but it was cold, and we had miles to go before we slept. It was a beautiful end to a wonderful visit. We’ll see you again in a few weeks, Kathy and Annette.

quan·da·ry /ˈkwĂ€nd(ə)rē/ noun

  1. a state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.

What to do? Shall I save my health or shall I save my money?

We’ve had wonderful fall weather. It’s been clear and sunny with lots of days in the 70s and 80s. One day, I managed to get a short break from my “Keeping Up with the Contractors” to-do list, so I sat on the patio to read for a little while. I felt fortunate to have such great weather and such a pretty view in our back yard.

Biking and driving gave me lots of opportunities to enjoy all the fall colors–orange, red, and yellow everywhere.

One day, it was very windy, and that was the end of the fall colors. The leaves shifted from the trees to the ground. Oddly, the wind formed a pile of leaves under some of our lawn chairs, but swept the surrounding patio clean.

Ted raked all the leaves and sent them through his chipper. As the weather cooled, he moved most of the outdoor furniture into the storage shed. While we were in the yard, we noticed a fat woolly worm. Ted put his finger next to it for scale and I took a picture. Does this mean a bad winter? It’s hard to tell, because when Ted picked up the woolly worm to throw it into the grass, we discovered it was dead.

Fall was wonderful but, woolly worm or not, it’s time to get ready for winter.

I was shopping in Office Depot and saw this display.

When our kids were little, they each had a cardboard house similar to this one (maybe a bit larger), and they set up a little village in the basement. They furnished their “homes” with toys, dolls (“children”), and a few furnishings–maybe a blanket or a throw rug–and made their houses uniquely their own. They parked their Big Wheels beside their houses and rode them across the room to visit each other. Our kids’ houses were nicer–they came already colored–but this plain house brought back happy memories. Until today, I hadn’t seen a cardboard house like this since our kids had them in the early 1980s.

This has been a great year for seeing Jeff and La, and it helps make up for lost time during the pandemic shutdowns when we saw them only on Zoom calls. We spent Christmas 2021 with them in Provo, UT, then went back to celebrate our great-grandson’s first birthday in March 2022. In Summer 2022, we went to Flathead Lake in MT to see them. This time, they came to Missouri to see us, and they will be back in December to celebrate Ted’s birthday and Christmas with us and all of our children. That’s five visits with each other in twelve months, and might be a record since Jeff left home in 1990.

We returned from our Canadian cruise four days before Jeff and La arrived. We are in the midst of updating the interior of our house, so the drywall repairman was here each of the four days between our homecoming from the cruise and Jeff and La’s arrival. He needed to repair the damage the electricians left behind so the walls would be ready for painting after Jeff and La leave. The drywall guy left by mid-morning, and Jeff and La were here for lunch. Ted and I needed to keep things simple because of our tight schedule, so we went to First Watch (one of La’s favorite restaurants) for lunch, then took advantage of the beautiful weather to walk down Historic Main Street in St. Charles and through Riverside Park along the Missouri River before heading to Dewey’s for a pizza dinner.

Jeff and La said they had spent a lot of time on their road trip sitting in the car and in friends’ homes. They told us they wanted to bike and hike while they were here, so that’s what we did. We borrowed Kari’s and Dylan’s bikes and took Jeff and La on one of our favorite trails: the Dardenne Greenway. It’s a beautiful 10-mile trail. Here we are, ready to get on the bikes and pedal.

After the bike ride, Ted and I asked Jeff and La for a big favor. As part of our interior update, we purchased a new (much smaller) media center, and we needed help taking the old one apart. We have great kids, so they said “yes” without hesitation.

Here’s what we started with:

The media center is made up of five pieces, not including the glass shelves on the left and the four posts that hold the display shelf to the top piece. Ted and I had the display cases and the drawers emptied. Jeff and Ted moved the TV without any problem. After that, the job was much harder. Every piece is heavy and it was a good thing there were four of us so that two (sometimes three) could hold the weight while another held two pieces together and another removed the screws. I had to take this photo quickly, so I could get back in place before La’s and Ted’s arms got too tired. It would have been much harder for three people and impossible for two people to do this. I think three guys came to deliver and assemble it when we bought it many years ago.

After we got the whole thing taken apart, we moved it to the garage. Habitat for Humanity will pick it up and sell it to a new owner. I included a photo so the new owner will know how the pieces fit together.

Our temporary media center is the coffee table; the new (much smaller) one will be here next week.

As a reward for their hard work, Ted and I took Jeff and La to Maggiano’s for dinner–a favorite restaurant for all of us. I kept the meals at home simple, but there was plenty of food for everyone at lunch the next day. (You can see sample paint swatches on the wall to the right.)

After fueling up, we headed to the Katy Trail for another bike ride. Jeff and La said they were good to go 20 miles, so we biked from the MO Research Park to a little bit past Defiance–and then back, of course. As always, the views were beautiful.

Kari joined us for lunch the next day before heading for work, and Kathy and Annette arrived in the evening. Ted and I had taken Jeff and La walking for 2+ miles after they arrived and biking for 43 miles the next two days, so it was time to hike again. We all headed for Cuivre River State Park and hiked about 4 miles on the Lakeside Trail.

Here we are, ready to go. There were eleven of us. We have some camera-shy family members. Annette avoided being in the picture by acting as the photographer, and Dean shadowed Kari.

Like the Katy, the park views were beautiful and so was the weather.

When we got home, we had Pizza Hut pizza for dinner with an ice cream sundae bar. It was easy on the cook again. I’m not sure why Theo is giving me the evil eye–I made sure to have his favorite sundae toppings: hot fudge, Reddi Wip, and m&ms.

We relaxed our biking and hiking muscles in the pool and the hot tub and played some board games. All too soon, it was time for Kathy and Annette to go home and for Jeff and La to head westward again.

I once read a book in which the main character was a professional pianist. After a concert, he played an encore, but the audience kept clapping and wanted more. He refused and told his assistant that “you always leave your audience wanting more.” That’s how I feel whenever we have time with our family–I always want more–but the pianist was right: it makes the next visit sweeter. So long kids, we’ll see you all again in December–and Thom’s family too.

This morning, we transferred from the cruise ship to our hotel. We checked in and checked our luggage because it would be five hours before we’d have access to our room. During those five hours, we walked eight miles carrying our twelve-pound backpacks in the heat (80+ degrees).

After a quick pass through Times Square for lunch (about two blocks from our hotel), we headed in the opposite direction to Central Park, where we spent most of the afternoon. We entered the park at Columbus Circle and walked past a playground on our way to the carousel. I thought I took a picture of the carousel, which is just to the left of this picture, but I guess I didn’t. The park has nice, wide walkways and also bike paths if you want to ride your bike instead of walking it like the couple in the center of the photo. I’m not sure we’d have found our way out of the park without our park map.

This is the Central Park Sheep Meadow where, yes, sheep used to graze. See those rocks sticking up out of the grass? Ted watches a lot of nature shows and told me that NYC used to be part of Pangea, with a mountain range as high as the Alps. Today, 450 million years later, the continents have shifted and the mountain range has been eroded by glaciers, etc. The mountain range now forms the bedrock on which Manhattan is built, and these rocks are the former mountain tops.

We also walked to the strawberry fields (forever), and the volleyball courts. I think we covered at least two-thirds of the park. Walking all those miles with our backpacks was making us hot and tired. so we walked back to the hotel where our room was finally available and we took a nap before going out to dinner: New York-style pizza and New York-style cheesecake.

Times Square was packed with people. It was pretty much “go with the flow or get out of the way.” Look at the photo to see how many people were waiting for a “walk” light at one of the four corners of this intersection.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the top of the hotel with a great view of the city. A 1916 NYC zoning law demanded that architects create setbacks on tall buildings so that skyscrapers could still be tall, but would appear to be less bulky. The Chrysler Building (center, in the photo below) is an example of this. It rises more than 1,000 feet, but thanks to its slender tower (which gets progressively more narrow as it rises), it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Also, a more narrow top contributed to a more stable building. New zoning laws allow for more modern architectural styles, but if you look closely at the buildings in the two photos below and in the city, you’ll see that many of them have setbacks.

After breakfast, we walked around our hotel area. The hotel is within two blocks of Times Square and the theater district and just a little bit farther from the Empire State Building. We bought some deli food at Whole Foods and ate lunch in Bryant Park with a great view of the Empire State Building.

When we finished lunch, it started to rain, so we went back to the hotel and waited out the brief shower. Then it was back to walking around outside. We only walked five miles today instead of eight and we didn’t need to carry our backpacks, which made it more enjoyable. We started in the theater district. This street is a pedestrian street and has food courts. Times Square and the theater district really give your eyes a workout.

We found a little sidewalk park with a Shake Shack and had dinner there–after we dried the rain-wet table and chairs with napkins.

As we headed back to our hotel, we saw the Empire State Building lighted in the night sky. That’s Bryant Park again in the foreground.

We walked through Times Square to get back to the hotel. Talk about light pollution! Not only are there countless lights, but they’re very bright and most of them include motion and constantly changing colors.

Here’s the icon of Times Square. At the top of the tower in the center, you can see “2022.” Above the numbers is a red ball. That’s the ball that drops on New Year’s Eve. The lights on the ball change color every few seconds, and so do all the pictures and colors on the tower.

There is definitely a unique energy in New York City and it’s an exciting place to be. Like the first time Ted and I were here (October 1971), we decided that, for us, New York City is the premier example of “It’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” It was fun, but we’re looking forward to going home tomorrow.

Author’s note: Our cruise ship is scheduled to leave New York City tomorrow for its return trip to Montreal. This will put it in Halifax, GaspĂ©, and Saguenay at the same time that Hurricane Fiona is expected to arrive in those cities. We assume the cruise will be cancelled and passengers will receive refunds. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather for our cruise.

It’s always a thrill for me to come back from an international trip and to hear the U.S. customs agent say, “Welcome home.” I hoped that, sometime, I could sail home through New York Harbor and pass the Statue of Liberty as a “welcome home” sign. Today, it happened. Bucket list check-off. It’s only mid-morning, but there’s already a long line of people visiting this New York City highlight.

Sailing through the harbor is a pretty approach to New York City. There are interesting buildings, . . .

. . . a variety of watercraft sailing everywhere in the harbor . . .

. . . and of course, the New York City skyline, featuring the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

The cruise-included free tour of the city was a four-hour bus tour called “Manhattan Highlights.” The man who sat across from us on the bus had an interesting shirt, so I asked him if I could take a picture of it. He said “yes” and confessed that he doesn’t read music, so he doesn’t really get it. I do read music, and the shirt is right: those are difficult times.

The tour covered a lot of ground in Manhattan, including Greenwich Village, Wall Street, and Tribeca, as well as stops at Battery Park and the World Trade Center Memorial. Our tour guide was a native New York City resident and told us he has never driven a car. Why should he, he asked us, if he could take the subway anywhere he wants to go? Not to mention (although he mentioned it) that there are only 38 gas stations in all of Manhattan. Public transportation is obviously a hit. Our guide also clued us in to some city abbreviations: Tribeca is the tri-angle be-neath Ca-nal Street. Houston Street (pronounced HOW-ston) is a major east-west thoroughfare that separates NoHo (north of Houston) from SoHo (south of Houston). Broadway is the only straight north-south street that extends the entire 13-mile length of Manhattan Island. As we passed near the High Line Park, our guide mentioned that the High Line and the Staten Island Ferry are both still free.

As the bus drove through the city, I was amazed to see the number of bike lanes and the number of bikers using them. It was also surprising to me to see so many little parks between buildings. I always pictured Manhattan as closely-packed skyscrapers surrounding Central Park. Travel broadens the mind, right?

Like Boston, outdoor dining has continued in New York City since the COVID pandemic, and we saw a lot of little cafes like this one.

At one corner, we saw a pedicab. Our guide gave us a “tourist beware” warning that pedicab operators charge by the minute and that, since they do the pedaling, they control the number of minutes the ride will take.

We went past the original Macy’s store, which is 12 stories high with a footprint that covers an entire city block. We also passed the Woolworth Building (below), which has beautiful architectural decorations. The old joke is that the structure was built with nickels and dimes. Ha ha ha!

I love libraries and bookstores, and I wanted to applaud when I saw this sign on The New York City Public Library. A great way to make people want to read a book is to ban it. I would have loved to spend some time inside.

We saw an unusual space-saving parking lot. Our guide said this kind of lot actually gets the cars in and out very quickly.

Of course, the biggest Manhattan Highlight on this tour was the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero and we had a very long stop there so that we could take time to absorb everything. The new World Trade Center Building is 1776 feet tall (104 stories) to signify American independence. It’s a beautiful building.

Ladder and Engine Companies #10–the first company to respond to the attacks on the Twin Towers–are located kitty-corner from the 9/11 Memorial.

343 firemen died attempting to rescue people from the World Trade Center, so there are 343 trees in the memorial park. Each tree has a tag with the name of a fireman on it.

Only one tree survived the attack. It was moved and nurtured until the park was built, then replanted. It’s called the Survivor Tree. It is the first tree in the park to leaf out in the spring and the last tree in the park to lose its leaves in the fall.

One of the highlights of the park is the waterfall. The water flows into the center void as a metaphor of absence made visible. The void–like the absence–is never filled.

The names of the 9/11 casualties are engraved around the waterfall. Many names have flags, photos, flowers, and messages of love and remembrance.

The parkland around the memorial is beautiful and peaceful, making it conducive to reflection.

St. Paul’s Chapel is located directly across the street from the memorial. It is the only building in the devastated area that survived the blast with no damage.

At dinner tonight, we sat at a table with a man who worked six blocks away from the World Trade Center on 9/11. He said he didn’t realize the impact of the attack until he got home from work and saw the television footage.

Today’s bus tour was very interesting and the 9/11 Memorial is a very moving must-see. Tonight we’ll be packing our things to leave the ship and transfer to our Manhattan hotel in the morning.

It’s easy to walk Boston’s Freedom Trail: just follow the red brick line.

I walked the Freedom Trail with three friends when I was in college, but it was better walking with a guide who had stories to tell about everything along the way–for example, the Boston Massacre. The words “Boston Massacre” bring to mind a picture of British soldiers mercilessly slaughtering at least dozens of innocent American revolutionaries for no particular reason. Here’s the marker that indicates where the massacre took place.

Unlike my college friends and me, our guide had a copy of the leaflet printed after the massacre. The guide also knew the truth about the massacre, which my college friends and I did not. Basically, it was a beer brawl between some (mostly drunken) freedom fighters and some (also mostly drunken) British soldiers. Somebody pushed or shoved or said the wrong thing and guns went off. Five freedom fighters died. Tragic, but hardly a massacre.

Samuel Adams liked to incite political action, thrived on pandemonium and controversy, and didn’t mind making up an alternate truth for a more colorful effect. In addition, he especially liked to cast himself in the starring role of that action to advocate for his own political purposes and benefit. It was Samuel Adams who “suggested” that a leaflet about the “massacre” be printed, and he also “suggested” the text to be written on it. According to our guide, good old Sam maneuvered many other political actions in a similar way for his own benefit. Here’s a copy of the leaflet. No wonder people think it was an act of merciless aggression.

Our four-hour walk took us to many of the well-known historical sights in Boston. Here’s Paul Revere’s house; . . .

. . . this is the Old North Church; . . .

. . . and here’s Faneuil Hall. We walked through a cemetery near Faneuil Hall where lots of the famous Revolutionary era Americans are buried. (Check out the guy in the bright blue jacket. ♄)

This is the state capitol building. The dome was originally built of wood. Paul Revere plated it with copper, and later, it was covered in 24-karat gold. Boston has many buildings with gold domes and trim.

It was interesting to see so many Early American-style buildings in Boston and I enjoyed looking at the architecture along the Freedom Trail.

Just for fun, along the Freedom Trail, our guide pointed out two taverns with unique names. The first was called The 21st Amendment (repealed prohibition); the second was named Carrie Nation (a temperance advocate). When the guide asked the significance of the taverns’ names, everyone knew The 21st Amendment, but I was the only one who knew Carrie Nation. It wasn’t like Jeopardy!–there was no cash award–so on with the walk.

It was interesting to note how many Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks shops are in downtown Boston. They seemed to be on every corner and always near each other. On one street, we saw two Starbucks stores within 100 feet of each other! Is there a competition to see who can have the most restaurants?

Speaking of restaurants, like many cities, Boston offered outdoor dining during the COVID pandemic. It was so popular, that many of the restaurants have continued to offer it. Outdoor dining is one of my favorite things about Europe and I’m happy to see more of it at home. Note the Freedom Trail in the left photo below.

We left Boston in the late afternoon and cruised through the Cape Cod Canal. It’s a shortcut from Boston to New York City across the neck of Cape Cod. The homes and greenery were beautiful and there was a walking/biking trail along the shoreline, complete with walkers and bikers. Sometimes, people on the shore would call out a “hello” to us (everyone on the ship standing at their veranda railings) and we’d return their greetings. Maybe our passage through the canal seemed so idyllic because the air was quiet and still and the water was calm as the sun was setting.

In this photo, you can see the walking/biking trail.

We sailed under a railroad draw bridge. I made up that name–it doesn’t really draw apart; it rises. The tracks across the canal are raised for ships to pass and then lowered to the level of the railroad track that crosses the canal.

The houses and their settings are beautiful. The parking lot is at the end of the walking/biking trail.

This was my favorite house. I love all those windows. (If I could afford the house, I could afford to have someone else wash all the windows.)

The canal was a lovely end to a wonderful day. Tomorrow: a bucket list check-off.

Before leaving Halifax, customs agents came on board to verify all of our passports so that we could enter the U.S. again in Boston, our next port stop. On our way to Boston, I saw this pretty lighthouse on an island. I’m not sure where we are, but it’s safe to say it’s the Atlantic coast.

With the Viking cruise line, a city tour at each port of call is included with the cruise fare, so Ted and I usually take the tour. Today, it was an afternoon bus tour called “Panoramic Boston.” The weather was beautiful again, but my pictures are limited because we didn’t get off the bus very often. It’s hard to take pictures out of the bus windows or of things on the other side of the bus, but here goes.

Downtown Boston has a lovely street park called the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. Rose Kennedy is a big name in Boston. The Greenway is 1.5 miles long and runs down the center of the street. It is reminiscent of the Avenue des Champs d’ElysĂ©e in Paris. Within the Greenway, there are fountains, playgrounds, flower gardens, and a carousel. One of the flower gardens in the Greenway is a rose garden with 104 rose bushes–one for every year of Rose Kennedy’s life. I wish I could have taken more photos of the Greenway, but the only thing I captured was this piece of street art.

As we were riding through the city, I saw this restaurant and took a picture while the bus was stopped at a red light. Read the sign at the top, then check out the sign at street level. You have arrived at your destination. Cute, huh?

Trinity Episcopal Church, a National Historic Landmark, is the only church included on the American Institute of Architects list of the Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States.* Like Montreal and Québec City, a significant percentage of Boston is built on land that was originally water. In addition, Boston is built on a swamp. To keep buildings from sinking, pilings are driven 30 feet into the ground below the water level where they stay wet and where bugs and air cannot rot them. Trinity Church is built on 4,500 such pilings. (Query: If cities keep taking dirt from the continents and putting it into the rivers and oceans, will the continents become low enough for the rivers and oceans to relocate inland, thus creating new, smaller continents?)

The church is built on a street corner. The Hancock Building, the tallest building in Boston, is across the street on the right side of the above picture. It reflects Trinity Church to create a metaphor of the old and the new in Boston. (You can see our tour bus in the lower left of the photo.)

Along our bus route, we had a quick stop at the start/finish line of the Boston Marathon where there are bronze sculptures of a hare and a tortoise to honor those who run in the marathon. The pillars, wall, and water feature behind the hare and the tortoise are a memorial to the casualties of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Today, we had an easy bus tour; tomorrow, we’re going to walk the Freedom Trail for four hours.

*The Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States are: (1) Falling Waters (Allegheny Mtns., Frank Lloyd Wright); (2) the White House; (3) the Lincoln Memorial; (4) the U.S. Capitol; (5) the Guggenheim Museum (NYC, also Frank Lloyd Wright); (6) the Glass House (CT–also called the Johnson House by Philip Johnson); (7) Trinity Episcopal Church (Boston); (8) the Pentagon; (9) the Milwaukee Art Museum; and (10) the Smithsonian.

Yesterday, we had another sea day, cruising from Gaspé to Halifax. There was an unexpected five-hour delay in reaching Halifax because a passenger onboard had a medical emergency and needed to be taken to the nearest hospital along the way.

Today’s seven-hour shore excursion was a trip to Peggy’s Cove. I was unable to go, so Ted took pictures and told me the story. The tour bus passed a colorful Canadian village on the way to the cove.

Peggy’s Cove has the oldest lighthouse in North America. It is set on a scenic, but very rocky, shoreline.

Those rocks are dangerous, and this sign duly warns visitors of that fact. The message is pretty clear when it plainly states that “rescue here is unlikely” and encourages you to “leave here alive.” It reminded me of a danger sign we saw in Iceland.

While walking around on the rocks, Ted took a pretty picture of some Adirondack chairs and he saw a man playing a very low-toned horn of some kind.

Halifax was the nearest port to take the casualties of the 1912 Titanic disaster. The bodies of 250 Titanic passengers are buried here.

The Citadel is the highest point in Halifax, and is the site of Halifax Fort. The city of Halifax literally owes its existence to the Citadel, a large hill overlooking the easily defended harbor. Halifax Fort has defended the city since 1749, and continued to do so through World War I and World War II.

The tour bus continued to the Halifax Botanical Gardens. Sadly, the park was damaged in Spring 2022. Vandals climbed over the six-foot high fence surrounding the park and girdled 29 trees, which are now in danger of dying. Park workers have treated the trees, hoping to help them withstand the coming winter and to perhaps survive. Note that, in my absence on this tour, Ted took a picture of the statue of Diana. I can’t help loving that guy!

Today, we’re docked in the port of GaspĂ© (GAS-pay), QuĂ©bec and we were up early for an all-day shore excursion to Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-PercĂ© (PER-see) National Park. (FYI, if your high school French is rusty, rocher-percĂ© means “pierced rock.”)

There are four major cities along the St. Lawrence River: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and QuĂ©bec City. Our cruise began in Montreal, downstream from Toronto and Ottawa, so after seeing Montreal and QuĂ©bec City, our remaining ports are small towns. Each small-town port has a claim to fame. Saguenay has a fjord; GaspĂ© has a rock. Small towns do not, however, have large tour buses, so today’s sightseeing began on a school bus. Our group of retirees joked about singing “The Wheels on the Bus” and other high school memories we had of riding school buses, but we all agreed that, at our age, a school bus is a hard, cramped, and uncomfortable ride for 90 minutes each way. We were good sports, though, and we had a very nice boat tour of the national park. (The boat was more comfortable than the school bus.)

On our way to the National Park (it’s actually a provincial park), we passed tiny, rural Canadian villages like this one. It looks scenic and peaceful, , doesn’t it?

As we were driving to the national park, our tour guide pointed out this rock formation. I had trouble identifying the facial profile of the First Nation chief until I zoomed in on it.

PercĂ© Rock is at the tip of the GaspĂ© peninsula. Here’s a picture of the GaspĂ© harbor where we boarded our tour boat to see the national park, which consists of Bonaventure Island and PercĂ© Rock. PercĂ© Rock is 1,400 feet long, 300 feet wide, and 390 feet high. It weighs 5 million tons and is one of the world’s largest natural arches located in water. It loses about 300 tons of rock annually, due to wind and water erosion, and will disappear in approximately 16,000 years, so hurry if you want to see it. The two rock formations on the right are what’s left of PercĂ© Rock.

Only one of PercĂ© Rock’s arches remains. There were at least two arches, and some historical accounts mention three. The second arch collapsed “boisterously” in 1845. At low tide, it’s possible to access PercĂ© Rock on foot for about four hours each day. Caution is advised because the rock has a tendency to collapse, dropping large segments into the water. At high tide, it’s possible for a small boat (e.g., canoe, kayak) to pass through the arch.

As we circled Bonaventure Island, we saw seals at play.

The park is a migratory bird sanctuary, and there are approximately 250,000 wild birds in the park. We saw thousands of these white birds and one bald eagle on Bonaventure Island.

There are about fifty houses on Bonaventure Island within the park, but only ten are inhabited.

Returning to the harbor provided a pretty view of the village. I wonder what it’s like to drive up and down that road (center of photo) from the lower houses to the upper ones during the Canadian winter.

Before leaving Gaspé, we had lunch at a local restaurant. Ted had salmon and I had fettucini. The portions were huge, including the piece of chocolate cake we had for dessert. Then, just because we were here, we did the same thing as everyone else and had our picture taken with Percé Rock in the background.

We’ve had beautiful weather so far on this cruise–sunny with temperatures in the 70s every day. Today was described as a “scenic sailing” day to view the beautiful fall colors along the St. Lawrence River. When we woke up and looked out of our window, this is what we saw. Since the trees aren’t showing much fall color yet, at least we didn’t miss that highlight of the cruise.

There’s no shoreline in sight, . . .

. . . we can barely see the water beneath us, . . .

. . . and it’s chilly outside.

The heavy fog continued all day and into the evening, and the outdoor temperature remained cool. It was a good day to relax onboard with coffee (Ted) and hot chocolate (me). While we were reading in the “living room” of the ship, servers brought champagne for everyone. It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed a glass of champagne while I read a book. Ted went to a lecture titled “Canada: The 51st State.” We tend to think that Canada and the U.S. are very similar to each other, but the speaker talked about the ways in which the two countries are different. Ted said the lecture was interesting and funny. After all the work we’ve been doing at home, it was great to have a day without planned activities, and we topped it off with chateaubriand and cherry strudel for dinner. Mmm, mmm good!

fjord [fee’ ĂŽrd] noun

A long (65 miles), narrow (1.2-2.5 miles), deep (690 feet) inlet of the sea (St. Lawrence River) between high cliffs (490-1,150 feet), typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley.

That describes the Saguenay (SAG-en-ay) Fjord in QuĂ©bec, Canada, one of the most southerly fjords in North America. Ted and I had so much fun on the jet boat tour of the Waimakariri Gorge in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, that we signed up for the three-hour jet boat tour of the Saguenay Fjord without giving it a second thought. The Canadian fjord boat was jet-propelled, but far less exciting than the New Zealand ride. I think that might have been in deference to the marine life in the Saguenay Fjord. Instead of 50 mph, the fjord boat went about 10-20 mph and the pilot didn’t do a single 360-degree spin. Still, it was a very pretty ride.

At the beginning of our fjord tour, we sailed around a high bluff, on which the pilot pointed out a rock climber. This is a popular place for rock climbers, and the pilot told us it usually takes about three days to make the climb. The arrow in the photo below indicates the climber, about halfway up. I guess he has another day-and-a-half to climb before he reaches the top. I took the first picture on the way into the fjord and the second on the way back to the dock. The climber made some progress (check his position relative to the notch in the rock) while we spent our time in the fjord.

Part of the boat tour took us through a relatively open area. The pilot explained that, in this area of Canada, gravity moved the ancient glaciers from west to east toward the Atlantic Ocean. The direction of the glacier’s movement determined the positions of the high and the low bluffs along the fjord, so the east side of the fjord is sloped and the west side is steep. It’s interesting that, although the Saguenay fjord flows into the St. Lawrence River, salt water from the St. Lawrence River flows beneath the fresh water of the fjord. Ninety-three percent of the water volume inside the fjord is salt water.

The pilot took us right up to the face of this bluff. The arrow points to a cave at the water line.

It was a pretty boat ride, weaving our way around the bluffs and, eventually, back to the dock at the end of the tour. The fjord is a sanctuary for perigrine falcons. Now we’ve toured a Canadian fjord and a Norwegian fjord. They are equally scenic, but Canada was warmer than Norway.

Author’s note: Saguenay has a population of about 150,000. Ninety-five percent of the population speaks only French.

QuĂ©bec City is one of only two walled cities in North America; the other is Campeche, Mexico. Although QuĂ©bec City used to be known for its large number of banks and insurance companies, today there are no banks at all within the walled city–only ATMs. Neither are there any grocery stores within the old city walls–only convenience stores. QuĂ©bec is the only Canadian province that uses French as its official language. More English is spoken in Montreal than anywhere else in the province, but there are laws in place to protect the French language within the province. Fluency in French is a requirement for getting a job in QuĂ©bec. Under Bill 96, which became effective September 1, 2022, government agencies will have to use French exclusively in their written and oral communications, with few exceptions, and businesses will have to ensure the “net predominance” of French on signs that include more than one language. Ted and I took a four-hour walking tour of the old walled city–Vieux-QuĂ©bec–and, thankfully, our guide spoke English.

QuĂ©bec City is very steep. Stairs are everywhere to take pedestrians from one street up–or down–to the next. The shortest stairway in the city is 7 steps; the longest is 368 steps. The funicular provides an alternative to climbing those 368 steps. We started our walking tour by taking the funicular to the top of the bluff. From there, our tour went downhill–literally, not figuratively.

The funicular stops at the boardwalk, near the top of the bluff. Festivals and other events are held on the boardwalk. You can see a Canadian flag over the gazebo in the center of the photo and another higher flag to the right of that one.

From the boardwalk, we went up several short stairways to reach the ChĂąteau Frontenac, one of the Canada’s grand railway hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. As we were climbing the stairs, we noticed that the flag was at half-staff. Queen Elizabeth II had just died. I was very young when she became Queen, but I remember watching her coronation on television. My family didn’t have a TV yet, but one of my mom’s friends did. That friend also had a daughter my age, and she and I were friends, just like our mothers. We had a ladies’ day, watching the pomp of the coronation. Like so many people today, Queen Elizabeth II was the only British monarch I remembered, and it was sad to see the flag at half-staff in memory of her.

The ChĂąteau Frontenac at the top of the bluff is massive. The first photo shows the side of the ChĂąteau that faces the “new” city; the second photo is a side view of the ChĂąteau. In the second photo, you can see that the ground slopes upward at least four stories from one end of the ChĂąteau to the other. Ted and I thought Montreal was hilly, but we hadn’t seen real city hills until we got to QuĂ©bec! The third photo shows the floral butterflies in front of the ChĂąteau.

We walked from the ChĂąteau Frontenac past the Ursuline convent. Actually, we had to take our guide’s word for that. The Ursulines value their privacy and the convent is well-hidden behind other buildings, trees, etc. so we didn’t actually see it. The Ursulines were the first nuns to come to Canada and founded their convent in 1639. The sisters studied the native languages and then taught native children reading and writing as well as needlework, embroidery, drawing, and domestic arts. The Ursuline convent in QuĂ©bec City is the oldest educational institution for women in North America.

We walked across the top of the bluff to the Citadel fort and arrived at a stone wall that was about three feet high. It didn’t look like much of a defense against enemies unless you looked over the edge. Here’s a photo of an apartment building at the base of the bluff below that low wall. The entrance on the right is at the level of the street on that side of the building; the entrance on the left is at the eighth floor of the building and has a short stairway up to the next street. Access to the inside elevator is for residents only; everyone else has to climb the stairs. The top of the bluff is higher than this building, so the three-foot-high wall at the top was probably sufficient for defense.

Much like our walking tour of Montreal, our Québec tour guide made comparisons between Montreal and Québec, but this time, Québec was always a little bit better than Montreal. I definitely sense some city rivalry going on.

We worked our way down the slope of the bluff and past some shops where I noticed railings along the sidewalk. Our guide told us that in spring and fall (wet, freezing), the sidewalks can be dangerously slippery for walking uphill and downhill, so the railings help prevent falls.

A little farther down this hill, our guide told us about tomorrow’s Grand Prix Cycliste de QuĂ©bec–a bicycle race. The race is not point-to-point, but instead, requires 16 laps of 12.6 km (7.8 mi.) each for a total of 201.6 km (124.8 mi.). There are 4 climbs in rapid succession on each lap: the first climb is a distance of 375 m at a 10% average grade; the second is 420 m at a 9% average grade; the third is 190 m at a 7% average grade; and the last is 1,000 m at a 4% average grade. Repeat these 4 climbs 16 times. The finish is uphill. Here’s a view from the corner of one climb. It continues downhill to the right of the photo at an even steeper grade. Approximately 400 (crazy) racers are expected to participate tomorrow.

On our walking tour, we saw some pretty streets and plazas. And lots of stairways.

In the early days of British settlement in Canada, timber was a major export to Europe. It was difficult to sail an empty ship across the Atlantic to Canada, so the Scottish ships used yellow bricks for ballast, dumped them at the port when they arrived, and replaced them with timber for the return voyage. The Canadian settlers called the discarded ballast “Scottish yellow brick” and used it for buildings that still exist today, like the one in the center of the photo below.

When buildings are built of stone rubble, rounded corners add strength to the structure.

For centuries, Québec City residents filled in the St. Lawrence River to make more land. The wavy lines in this plaza and elsewhere in the city indicate areas that used to be river water.

The painting below looks very realistic in person; it has less depth in a photograph. When we saw it across the plaza, it was difficult to believe that the scene was flat. I took a picture of it from the side to prove it. You can tell by the second photo that the sidewalk I stood on to take the second picture was at the third floor of the building where the two men are standing on the balcony in the picture. Yes, steep hills and stairs.

At the end of our tour, there was a group stop at a pub for a much-needed snack. The snack included a glass of wine, sausage, shallots, and mustard caviar on some cracker-like bread. It was all good.

At sunset, our ship left port, heading toward our next stop: Saguenay. The Chùteau Frontenac dominates the Québec City skyline.

Yesterday, we checked out of the hotel and moved into our stateroom on the cruise ship. The hotel lobby was a madhouse and the lines were long, but lunch was ready when we boarded the ship. The best thing about cruising: we unpacked our suitcases, put everything into drawers and on hangers, and won’t have to re-pack until we leave the ship 12 days from now.

We met three other couples at dinner and had a good time. The hostess who seated us asked me, “How are you?” “I’m fine,” I replied. “You look tired,” she said. “I am,” I responded. She smiled at me and said, “Check with me at the end of the cruise.” Her comment might not have been tactful, but it was true. Ted and I have been working 10-12 hours every day for the past three weeks to get ready for the interior house contractors, the exterior door contractor, the landscape designer, and the cruise! Yes, we’re exhausted, and we’re ready to get away and relax. “Respect,” the biopic movie about Aretha Franklin, was playing in the onboard theater after dinner, so we watched that and enjoyed the free popcorn before going to bed.

We slept in this morning and then took a three-hour walking tour of Old Montreal after lunch. The tour guide mentioned a number of things that are similar about Montreal and Quebec City. Not surprisingly, Montreal’s claim to fame was always a little bit better than Quebec City’s. For example, although Quebec’s total provincial population is about 8 million, the city of Montreal within the province has 4 million of those people, compared to Quebec City’s population of just over a half million people. City pride and friendly (I hope) rivalry was hard at work throughout the tour.

Montreal is on an island and, with those millions of people, there’s a scarcity of parking places. To make up for that shortage, the city has great public transportation and 700 km of bike trails. There are lots of underground walking tunnels as well, which I’m sure are a good thing in the winter. Our first stop was Notre Dame, a cathedral that is built entirely of wood (inside and out), but has been painted to look like the stone European cathedrals. It has a pipe organ with 7,000 pipes and 4 keyboards; seating for 3,000 worshippers; and a ceiling painted Virgin Mary Blue with 24k gold stars.

We took an elevator to the observation deck at the top of the Museum of Archeology and History and had a nice overview of the city and of the Crooked Bridge. The bridge’s real name is the Champlain Bridge, but it has three curves, so everyone calls it the Crooked Bridge. Within the museum, I saw an interesting early pencil sharpener. (The overhead light reflections were unavoidable.)

In the summer, pianos are placed in many places around the city. We saw at least a half dozen and there was someone playing every one of them. (The man in the left picture had just finished playing.)

We visited a huge business complex that is built underground and has two levels of multi-story stores and offices as well as three levels of subway tracks. Here’s a reflecting pool and a sculpture within the complex (upper photo, below). The lower photo faces the open (downhill) end of the building. There are subway tracks on each end of the complex and the guide told us the tracks on the other end (uphill) were underground but above this level of the building.

A lot of dirt had to be moved to build this structure and the excess dirt was used to fill the river and create an artificial island. The 1967 Montreal Expo/World’s Fair was built on that island. Most of the buildings were built as temporary structures for use only during the Expo, but the French and U.S. pavilions are still in use. The U.S. pavilion for space exploration now houses agencies focused on green energy and includes a biosphere. On another artificial island (also built with fill dirt), there is a Formula 1 racetrack. When there are no races, the track is used for skating, running, biking, track events, and even cars.

After our walking tour, Ted and I had some time on our own. It was hot, so we grabbed some more Cherry Garcia ice cream at another Ben & Jerry’s shop before re-boarding the ship to leave Montreal. On our way downriver, we saw Habitat 67, or what is called the “Cubes.” They were designed by a young architect in a competition to promote a “new” Montreal. His first model of the structure was built with Lego bricks. In 2012, Habitat 67 won the design competition to be Lego’s architectural set of the year. In general, four cubes make up a living unit. They are luxuriously furnished and can be rented for about $2,900 CD per month or purchased for roughly $1 million CD for a 1,000-1,200 square foot section. I found the first photo on the internet. The second photo is mine, taken as we left Montreal and headed for Quebec City, tomorrow’s destination.

Refreshed from a long night’s sleep, Ted and I explored Montreal today. We spent most of the afternoon walking around the Golden Square Mile–an area of older, elegant homes built at the foot and up the slope of Mount Royal. Today is the Labor Day holiday in Canada as well as in the U.S., so museums and other places were closed, but the weather was beautiful and so was our walk. We quickly discovered that Montreal is all about hills. We started at the foot of Mount Royal, where our hotel was located, looked at the mountain, and said we had no desire to climb to the top. The photo below is a view of Mount Royal from Old Montreal on the opposite side of the city from our hotel.

As we walked, we kept going up a block and over a block and eventually found ourselves at the foot of the final path that led to the park at the top of the mountain. We decided not to go for the summit, because we’d already been walking for about two hours and still had to walk all that way back to the hotel. The hills in Montreal are so steep that the foundation of one house was often higher than the rooftop of the house behind it.

Here are some of the beautiful houses we saw and one of the less steep streets we climbed.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts promotes street art in the city and we saw lots of it.

The colorful three-dimensional construction wall in the background of the left photo above is lighted at night (right photo below).

The artificial trees on the street and the artwork on the building in the photo on the right are tributes to curing breast cancer.

This lady looks like she wants to be an integral part of street art. (Or maybe she’s their mom, waiting to take them home.)

We saw these in an art gallery window. They’re two-dimensional paintings, not three-dimensional bookshelves.

All of our walking (another 5.5 miles) made us hungry, so when we saw a Ben & Jerry’s (it’s not far from Vermont to Montreal), we stopped for some Cherry Garcia ice cream–my favorite flavor. I don’t know if all the Ben & Jerry’s restaurants offer this, but the menu included a “Vermonster”: 4 scoops each of 5 flavors of ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream, and cherries for $69.95 CD. It serves 4 or more people. With 20 scoops of ice cream, I would guess that more than 4 people usually share this treat. Ted and I each had less ice cream than the Vermonter offered.

We enjoyed spending the afternoon within the Golden Square Mile of “old” Montreal. Tomorrow, we’ll check out of the hotel and into our stateroom on the ship. The day after that, we’re going to take an organized walking tour of “new” Montreal.

The electrical work for our interior house update is finished. There are several large holes in the ceilings and walls for the drywall repair guy to fix, but the wiring is in and we have most of the new light fixtures. The others will arrive during the painting process and will be ready to install when the paint is dry. After the electrical team left the house, we had two full days (insert sarcasm here) to prepare for our 18-day cruise from Montreal Canada, down the St. Lawrence River, then down the eastern Canadian/U.S. coastline, and into New York City.

We had an early start for the cruise–we had to be at the airport by 5:00 a.m. for our flight to Charlotte, then to Montreal. That wasn’t the shortest route, but the airlines didn’t ask us for input when they planned their routes.

We were expecting something like the cartoon above, but our STL->CLT flight was called on time. We learned quickly that we shouldn’t be too confident. During the CLT->YUL boarding process, an oxygen mask dropped from its overhead storage for no apparent reason. A mechanic was called, but the mask wouldn’t retract and required a major repair. The plane was only half full, so the solution was to move the passenger from that seat to another seat with a properly working (and retracted) oxygen mask. That was a 30-minute delay and made our flight more typical of air travel these days. With the ArriveCAN app, passing through Canadian customs was a breeze. We collected our baggage and joined the Viking cruise folks, who took our group to our hotel. After checking in, Ted and I immediately took a three-hour nap, then hit the streets to explore Montreal and to look for some dinner.

We didn’t see a lot of restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, and we were only a few blocks from McGill University, so we asked some of the hundreds of always-hungry college students milling around where we could eat. A wonderful couple said they were just heading for the 3 Brasseurs, and invited us to go with them. What a place! In English, that’s the 3 Brewers and it was a brewpub. I think everything on the menu had beer in it somewhere: beer-battered fries, blueberry beer pie, beer buns (made with what’s left of the malt after brewing the beer), etc. We had such good burgers (“smothered in maple beer sauce”) and such a good dessert (caramel sauce-covered cinnamon rolls made with beer butter in the sauce), that we went back for a lunch pizza the next day. You might drool as you look at the photos of our caramel sauce cinnamon rolls and our pizza.

The Brasseurs also serve beer in a five-liter “Triton,” but only to groups of five or more people.

After dinner, we walked around for awhile (five miles clocked on my pedometer today) and then crashed in our room and slept for more than ten hours. We’ll be more alert tomorrow.

The second monthly lunch in our neighborhood group of ladies was beautiful. Kelly hosted the group and said she enjoys using nice things. How do you spell “understatement”? Here’s a picture of the table we saw when we arrived. Each place setting had a charger, a dinner plate, a salad plate, and a dessert plate. Kelly described her decorating theme as “French country,” and each chair had a little gift for its occupant–a zippered bag with a screenprint of something French. (You can see one of the bags hanging on the center chair.) There were also small bottles of wine and a fruit punch with a bit of a kick for those who wanted something more than water or iced tea to drink.

Like last month, we all brought more than one food item. Each item was large enough to allow everyone to try everything and to take a serving or two home for family members who are not ladies and, therefore, were not invited to the luncheon. The take-aways are great for dinner after we go home. Kelly was prepared and had restaurant take-away boxes for each of us. Main courses are in the first photo, then there’s a quiche, followed by desserts. The oatmeal raisin cookies were Kelly’s contribution. She used brandy-soaked raisins. Guess who brought the scotcheroos. As usual, they all disappeared. They’re simple to make, but everyone loves them.

The lunch gathering is expanding. Last time, we gathered, ate, split the leftovers, and went home after two hours. This time, we did all of the above and then went out on the deck to play games and talk with each other for another two hours. We played a version of dominoes, Catch-Phrase, and St. Louis trivia. A good time was had by all and we now have a tradition that’s been ongoing for two months. It’s been so much fun to get together as a group rather than one-by-one as we see each other, that I have a feeling this will go on for awhile. What a great idea!

P.S. Last month’s lunch was served on paper plates, take-aways left the hostess’ house on paper plates, and there were no adult beverages (or cookies). The rest of us conceded that Kelly wins the hostess prize, but she should expect paper plates again next month! No pressure allowed for the hostesses.

Ted was fertilizing the backyard flowers today and thought they were so pretty, he took some pictures. These firecrackers have bushed out nicely and fill this flower bed.

The hibiscus tree produces fresh blooms every day. They open as the sun rises, close as the sun sets, then drop to the ground overnight. We’ve had as many as ten and as few as one bloom on a single day. Three to five new flowers daily is typical. The marigolds are great for keeping the bugs away while we sit around the pool.

These crepe myrtle bushes used to provide a privacy hedge around one end of the pool. Then we had a hard winter and most of the bushes died. These two survived, but they die back every winter and no longer grow tall enough to provide privacy. Ted didn’t want to throw them away, so he stuck them in the ground behind the storage shed where he keeps his brush pile until he has time to chip the brush into mulch. The bushes bloom every year, but the only way to view them in our yard is to walk behind the storage shed. I’m sure that chipping brush is a nicer task for Ted with some pretty flowers to look at while he works.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Ted and I decided it’s time to give the interior of our house a fresh look. The interior designer we hired gave us some very good ideas, and we’ve been following up on them. If all the stars aligned, we hoped we could have at least 90 percent of the work finished before the kids and grandkids come for a December visit.

My assignment today was to call the carpet lady, the electrician, and the painter to set up appointments for walk-throughs and bids on the work. These are post-pandemic times and contractors have been unusually busy for the past three years, not to mention all the labor shortages we keep hearing about. I crossed my fingers and picked up my phone. Here’s how it went.

The carpet lady. She and her design partner will be here on Friday to get a feel for what kind of designs they should plan for us and to measure all the rooms for carpeting. They can install the master bedroom carpet and all the second floor carpeting next week. Yikes! I wasn’t ready for that. Ted and I are fully booked for the entire month of September and we have plenty to do in the remaining days of August. We scheduled carpet installation for early October.

The electrician. He can do a walk-through tomorrow, submit a bid within 24 hours, and finish the work by the end of next week. Yikes! again. It turns out that I called at a serendipitous time. The company had two electricians assigned to a total house gut and remodel–a job that took a year–and they finished it last week. Four other electricians were working on a huge commercial project which also took a year and also ended last week. This means that six electricians are available for new work. We need the electrical work completed before the painter can start, so Ted and I decided to drop everything we’d planned to do in August that wasn’t necessary to keep the world turning, and we scheduled the electrician for a walk-through and a bid tomorrow, with work to begin ASAP after that.

The painter. No problem. He can fit us in around other jobs and finish ours by next week. Now my jaw is dropping, my head is spinning, and I’m feeling a little giddy. The painter is happy to work with the carpet people so that we only need to move the furniture in and out of each room once while the carpeting and the painting are being done. He’ll be here tomorrow for a walk-through and will give us a bid on the spot. We scheduled him for early October with the carpet crew.

After three years of delays, delays, delays on outdoor house work and yard jobs, if we didn’t already have September completely filled, we could have had the entire interior of our house freshened up with new lighting, new carpeting, and new paint by the end of next week. This time, it’s the customer (us), not the contractor, who is delaying two-thirds of the project until October.

Unbelievably, all the stars aligned. 1-2-3, hat trick!

Today was a perfect day to be outdoors. The temperature was around 90 degrees, but the humidity was low, the sun was bright, and the clouds were pretty. Ted and I picked up Dylan and Theo (Teddy is growing up) and headed for the Boat House in Forest Park. A lot of other people had the same idea, judging by the number of parked cars and the number of people we saw. The Boat House rents paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks. We opted for kayaks and paddled from the dock into Post-Dispatch Lake. Here’s the path we took for our one-hour adventure.

I took a picture of Dylan and Theo as we approached a pedestrian bridge and an oncoming paddle boat. Notice how synchronized their paddles are. What a team!

Here are the boys at the Lagoon Drive end of the Grand Basin.

Facing the opposite direction in the Grand Basin, Dylan took a picture of Ted and me heading back toward Art Hill and the Art Museum. The fountains all around the Grand Basin were really pretty.

This is another of Dylan’s pictures, also facing Art Hill. Theo’s smile shows how much fun we were having.

On our way back to the Boat House, we passed a family of ducks.

At the next bend in the canal, we spotted two herons. The one on the right is harder to see–look at the center right in the water beside the dying weeping willow tree.

This bridge made a pretty reflection in the water.

After an hour of kayaking in the sun, we were all in the mood for ice cream. The Boat House cafĂ© told us the closest thing they have to ice cream is a vodka smoothie, but we had two underage people in our group, although Theo joked that he might be able to handle a vodka smoothie. We all voted for Dairy Queen instead, and we splurged and ordered medium-sized cones. The dip cone is Dylan’s and my DQ favorite. Theo went for a dip cone too (no vodka) and Ted, the individualist in our group, chose a twist cone. Yummy!

We all had a good time. None of us had kayaked in Forest Park before, but we’d all enjoy doing it again. According to the boys, our next get-together should include swimming in our pool and playing sheephead. That works for Ted and me. Our grandchildren are the greatest. They share their photos, their smiles, and their time with us. ♄♄

It’s been nearly 25 years since Ted and I re-furbed/freshened our house and we’re getting tired of the same old look. It’s time for a change. We both lack decorating skills, so we hired an interior designer to help us make some decisions. I mentioned to the designer that we have very little display space. Her suggestion was to get rid of some of the books and use those shelves as display space. “Gasp!” thought I. “Blasphemy!”

Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.

Henry Ward Beecher

I cannot get rid of my books, but if I add up all the empty space on my shelves, I might be able to clear two shelves in the family room for display and still have space to add new books. We’ll see. Or I can forget about displaying things and stick with the books. With that said, when Kari called to ask if I’d like to go to the library book fair with her and Teddy, I immediately said “yes.”

I cannot live without books.

Thomas Jefferson

The library has not had one of its three-day book fairs since 2019 (before COVID), and they had so many books, they had to move the event from the Convention Center to the Family Arena. Professional sporting events and medium-name concerts take place in the arena, so it’s huge. There are four different gates to accommodate four simultaneous indoor events and the library used only one venue space. The parking lot was nearly half-full and it looked like Elvis might be in the building. (Or maybe someone else–Elvis would have filled the entire building.)

I came prepared with my largest carry-all bag, but I saw immediately that I was an amateur. A number of folks brought wagons or rolling file boxes. I might do that next year.

But that was still only medium level prep for book purchasing. These two came with dollies and four large packing cartons each. I won’t do that next year.

The Book Fair opened at 9:00 a.m. for a limited group of library friends and members; after 12:00 p.m., entry was free and open to everyone. Kari, Teddy, and I met at the gate at 12:30 p.m. and were given maps to guide our browsing. Hardbacks were $2.00, over-sized paperbacks were $1.00, and paperbacks were $0.50. What a deal!

The floor space within the outlined area on the map below was large enough for an official indoor soccer, football, hockey, etc. game (audience seating is outside that area) and the entire floor was covered with tables that were, in turn, completely covered with books. Under all the tables were boxes containing just as many more books. Volunteers patrolled the tables, and when the books started to lean over because people had removed some for purchase, the volunteers reached into the boxes below and pulled out more books to fill the empty spaces. Other volunteers continued to bring in boxes of books from the dock area to replace the empty boxes beneath the tables.

We browsed for nearly an hour before Teddy noticed how long the check-out line was. I had another appointment and had to leave in about 40 minutes, and Kari and Teddy were finished browsing, so we got in line. Keep in mind that the oblong outline in the above map is the size of an indoor sports field. The end of the line was at the red arrow and, from that point forward, moved clockwise around the floor. The exit to the cashier was at the green arrow, so we needed to move nearly all the way around the floor. Yikes! The good news was that the line was never stationary. I tried to look through some of the children’s books (green tables) as we passed them because I didn’t get to those tables before we got in line, but when I paused to extract a book, Kari and Teddy moved forward 4-6 feet before I even had a chance to examine the book.

Checking out was fast: Several staff members were available to count books for customers. They did the simple math to calculate the cost, and wrote the total on a piece of paper. Customers then took the piece of paper to the next available cashier and handed her their money–cash only, no tax to calculate. We made it from the back of the line to outside the front door in about 30 minutes. Not bad at all!

For the price of one new book, I now have 15 new-to-me books. There goes some of that display space the designer thinks I have.

I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most.

Margaret Atwood

A week ago, the St. Louis area made the national news for the prodigious amount of rain we had in a 24-hour period. We weren’t really excited about breaking the 24-hour rainfall record by over 2 inches, but it happened. State and federal disaster aid is available to flood victims.

River floods are a result of heavy rain or rapidly melting snow upstream and affect areas along the riverbanks. Rainfall events are different: the rain falls faster than the ground and drainage systems can handle it, forcing it to accumulate in any low-lying area at the bottom of any hill. Unfortunately, we had three heavy rainfalls over short periods of time in fewer than seven days, severely affecting many homes and businesses. The owner of one business said his ground floor was covered by water three times in a week. Countless cars were completely submerged by flood waters. Because of the power of the moving water, rescue teams had to exchange smaller boats for larger ones.

Our rain gauge overflows at 5 inches, but the official reading for our area was 12 inches. Ted and I looked at the TV meteorologist’s map showing contour lines representing rainfall totals on a map of the metro area. We estimated that we fell in the 9-10 inch range. The following two rain events brought lesser amounts–around 2-3 inches each time, according to our rain gauge. After the St. Louis “practice session,” the storms moved into Kentucky and that state had far more flood damage than we did. Ted and I were fortunate. We had nothing worse than a very soggy lawn.

A few days after the last rainfall, Ted and I decided the Katy Trail was probably dry enough to bike. We headed for the Greens Bottom trail head and planned to bike westward to Weldon Spring–about 11 miles one way. We hadn’t thought about the fact that the rail trail on which the Katy is built runs along the Missouri River (low ground) and that it might have flooded, so we were surprised when we entered the trail and saw a sign announcing it was closed for flood damage repair.

The trail looked ok and there was plenty of room to bike past the warning fence, so we decided to try it. If it was washed out or blocked, we could always turn around. The first 2 miles were rough, but the trail rises gently in elevation from its eastern to its western terminus, so all was well after the first two miles.

The trail was badly rutted in several places. Obviously, the water was running from the trail into the creek.

There was a lot of accumulated debris on the upstream side of this bridge. The grader is ready to go.

Our first street crossing required dismounting and walking our bikes across. The ruts were 4-6 inches deep all the way across the trail.

This might have been a huge source of water runoff. The Katy runs along a limestone river bluff at Greens Bottom. The standing water at the bottom of this point of the rock wall led Ted and me to think that the rainfall from the top of the bluff tumbled down these rocks like a giant waterfall, then ran over the trail.

Our assumption about the water running down this bluff was supported by the piles of silt the bobcat piled up when workers cleared the trail. The arrow points to the base of the “waterfall” point in the above photo.

As we biked westward, we noticed a lot of trees that had been washed out by the heavy rain and the powerful flood waters. The Park Service has already been hard at work clearing the trail.

Along the way, we saw a volleyball that apparently floated away from its home and became stuck on a fencepost. Given its beat-up condition and the brand name facing us, we couldn’t help thinking “Castaway” and “Tom Hanks.”

We had to slow our biking speed for the first two miles in order to navigate around the ruts in the road, but the rest of our ride was smooth. It was another good 22-mile ride on the Katy with a flood adventure for added interest.

When I went outside a few days ago, I noticed a mushroom fairy ring growing in our neighbor’s yard. Then I saw another one in a nearby subdivision when I took a bike ride.

Fairy rings are sometimes seen as hazardous or dangerous, linked to witches or the Devil. On the other hand, they are also linked with good fortune. Take your pick. The rings can be 30 or more feet in diameter and can become stable over time as they grow and find food underground. I don’t think that will happen to this one. The lawn service mowers demolished it the following day.

It’s amazing to hear the creative ideas people come up with to pass the time. Guinness World Records was approached by Fire & Smoke, a restaurant sponsor of the Jacksonville Jaguars, to document a world record for throwing a hot dog into a bun. To set the record: (1) the hot dog had to be thrown a minimum of 20 meters (65.62 feet); (2) the hot dog could not be tampered with in any way to aid its projection; and (3) the bun had to be pre-sliced.

The challenge took place on November 27, 2018. (Why didn’t we hear about this sooner?) Mark Brunell, the quarterback for the Jaguars at that time, was the thrower. “Everyone can throw a football,” he said, “and everyone can throw a hot dog.” The catcher was Ryan Moore, a British flat racing jockey. This photo–presumably taken from the catcher’s position–gives some perspective of the throwing distance. Note the cheerleaders and the team mascot on the left.

Here’s the throw . . .

. . . and the catch. Author’s query: There’s a hot dog on the ground. Was a previous throw a miss?

You can see the Guinness World Records stamp of approval in the lower right corner of the photo below. The distance thrown was 20.96 meters (68.76 feet). “It took just about everything I had to throw it that far,” said Brunell. “It’s a pretty big deal and I’m very proud of that.”

According to Guinness World Records, record challengers have the option of adding condiments to the hot dog. Go on, give it a try.

P.S. You can see a video of this awesome event on YouTube.