Ted and I were part of the Barbenheimer crowd: we saw the movies “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie.” Technically, I think a true Barbenheimer watches the movies as a double feature on the same day; Ted and I watched them on two consecutive days. There is controversy over which film to watch first/second. We went to “Oppenheimer” first and saved “Barbie” for dessert to end the double feature on a lighthearted note.

Both films have received widespread acclaim and we enjoyed both of them. Neither film was what I expected to see. I expected “Oppenheimer” to be a World War II movie ending with the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I thought “Barbie” would be pure fluff. I was wrong about both movies.

“Oppenheimer” was indeed set during World War II, but its underlying message (to me, at least) was the two moral dilemmas scientists and decision-makers face: (1) When science makes new discoveries, how far should it go if the results can be used for either good (cancer cures, exploration of the solar system, energy production) or evil (total destruction of our planet); and (2) Is the greater good (ending World War II and saving thousands of lives) worth great sacrifice (dropping the atomic bomb and taking thousands of lives)? I found this a very thought-provoking movie and the three hours in the theater went by quickly.

My first “Barbie” surprise came before the movie even started: there was a nearly equal number of men and women in the theater. I’m pretty sure Ted only came along because I wanted to see the movie (I did not wear anything pink), but he enjoyed it too. Those two hours also passed quickly. Rather than being portrayed as a dumb blonde, Barbie had many identities including President Barbie, Writer Barbie, Physicist Barbie, Doctor Barbie, Lawyer Barbie, etc., etc. Ken, on the other hand, was “just Ken.” As the movie tagline put it: “She’s everything. He’s just Ken.” Ken, however, didn’t care and was content with himself and with being an appendage of Barbie. The movie definitely had a feminist dynamic. In the real world, as opposed to Barbie-land, women are taught that having everything is impossible without compromise, and the point of the movie was summed up in America Ferrara’s monologue (below) which can be found online.

It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.

You have to be thin but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.

But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line.

It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, than I don’t even know.

Oscars have been mentioned for both movies, and (again, in my opinion) both are Oscar nomination worthy.

Ted and I were amazed at the generosity of our children when they came to our house to celebrate Ted’s birthday. Due to the pandemic, we had to cancel our scheduled 2020 cruise to South America and we have not yet re-scheduled that trip. Imagine our surprise when Ted opened one of his birthday gifts and saw these vouchers for upgraded accommodations and for two of the excursions we were planning to take in South America. The photo was on one side of each voucher, and the text was on the reverse side.

There was a voucher for upgraded accommodations, . . .

. . . one for a national park in Patagonia, . . .

. . . and one for Machu Picchu.

Also included in the gift box was a personal letter from Pam, our travel agent.

Ted and I were nearly speechless. I remember saying something like “I guess we’re finally going to South America.” I think Ted said something brilliant like “Wow!” We couldn’t believe the generosity of our children. I mean, really! This is an over-the-top, high-end birthday gift! After a few minutes of our astonishment, Jeff said, “Ok, I think this has gone on long enough” and informed us that this was a gag gift. He had created the vouchers on his computer and printed them on very authentic-looking semi-rigid cardstock.

If Ted and/or I had read the very fine print at the bottom of each voucher, we would have known this was a gag. The three vouchers had a total of 99 different disclaimers! They were worth reading because they were so creative, but who reads the fine print when they’re so overwhelmed by the large print and the photo? Here are some of the disclaimers.

Penthouse Veranda: Warranty does not cover . . . typographical errors . . . nearby supernova . . . falling rocks . . . sonic boom vibrations . . . leaky roof . . . forest fire . . . missing or altered serial numbers . . . dropping the item . . .

Gateway to Patagonia: No animals were harmed during the production of this product . . . actual mileage may vary . . . one size fits all . . . at participating locations only . . . beware of dogs . . . some assembly required . . . no serviceable parts inside . . .

Best of Peru: Rent at your own risk . . . keep away from sunlight . . . may contain nuts . . . batteries not included . . . parental guidance advised . . . hand wash only . . . refrigerate after opening . . . do not puncture or incinerate . . .

The letter was written by Kaitlyn, our granddaughter-in-law. Jeff (and possibly others) taught her how to write in cursive so the letter would look authentic and so we wouldn’t recognize our kids’ handwriting. We’ve been making travel plans with Pam since 2015 and, after each trip, she sends us a personal, handwritten “welcome home” note. If Ted and I had not been so distracted by the extravagance of the “vouchers,” we would have immediately recognized that this was not Pam’s handwriting.

We recently had a meeting with Pam, so we took our “vouchers” to her and said we wanted to use them for a make-up trip to South America next year. She, too, was amazed at Viking’s generosity. Then we told her the birthday gift story and showed her the letter “she” wrote. In an astonished voice, she asked us, “Couldn’t you tell it wasn’t my handwriting?!” Again, the pictures and the large print overshadowed the details.

Pam asked if we were disappointed when we found out this was a joke and we said that no, we were actually relieved because it made us uncomfortable that our kids had spent that much money on us. After the “reality reveal” on Ted’s birthday, we had a good family laugh and looked forward to using the “vouchers” to fool Pam.

Well, played, kids. Well played. 🙂

In 1985, after the Sunday church service, one of our members spoke to the congregation about an upcoming ballot issue–establishing a community college in St. Charles County. I was surrounded by my four young children and not employed at that time, but I remember thinking, “By the time they get a college started, I’ll be ready to work there.”

At first, the college met in a variety of rented buildings loosely called “the east campus” and “the west campus” because of their relative locations to each other. On January 6, 1992, the first three buildings of the permanent college campus were dedicated, and Ted and I attended the dedication. I was one of three lucky people to win in the drawing for a college poster. It features the college logo, the date, and the artist’s signature–David O’Dell, a member of the fledgling college Marketing Department. My poster is numbered 25/145.

My dream came true and I worked at St. Charles Community College for 20 years. I had my poster framed and it hung first in my own office and then, as my Adult Education Program grew to more than a staff of one (me), in our Adult Education office suite. I took it home when I retired, but it’s not really a “home” kind of picture, so I called the current marketing director to ask if she’d like to hang it somewhere on the campus. She enthusiastically said “yes.” I delivered it to her and she and I had a nice catch-up visit. (We knew each other from before I retired.) She said my poster is in such good condition, she’s going to hang it in the Marketing Department office. That’s a perfect place for it, and much nicer than my basement.

Kari and I made our second annual joint trip to the library’s book fair last weekend. It was the second day of the three-day event and the books were already pretty well picked over. Next year, Kari and I plan to be at the fair on the first day, but we both had commitments for that day this year. Even so, I managed to find 40 new books at bargain prices–$2 for hardcover books and 50¢ for paperbacks. That’s less than the price of 3 new hardcover books–and the purchase price counts as a donation to the library, so it’s tax-deductible. What a deal!

Last year, I wasn’t adequately prepared. I brought a large tote bag and stuffed it with as many books as I could carry–15. This year, I brought a rolling cart and 3 large tote bags. I filled the cart, but didn’t need the bags.

My next problem was finding a place to put the books. We emptied a lot of shelves when we had our rooms painted and carpeted last fall, so I stashed my new-to-me books on some of those empty shelves.

I usually read one or two books every week. At one bargain book per week, I have enough to last almost until the August 2024 book fair. For me, that’s part of livin’ the good life.

My neighbor, Peggy, was 92 in July, so a few of us had a surprise birthday lunch for her. We all brought food and had a great time together. Only Claudia and I were brave enough to be photographed with the guest of honor.

Nearly all of Peggy’s family members, down to the great-grandchildren, live within a few miles of her house. They all took her out for a birthday lunch the next day.

Peggy insists she doesn’t want parties, but she always has fun. Visiting her the day after her family took her out to eat rewarded the guest with a piece of leftover chocolate birthday cake. Yum!

As a book lover, an avid reader, and an educator, if I started talking about these issues, I might never stop. I’ll just say two things: (1) The best way to get people to read a book is to ban it; and (2) Legislators, do your job and let teachers do theirs.

While we were visiting Jeff and La’s family, we all wanted to take some family photos. Kyra and I were not feeling our best, and we both needed an afternoon to rest and re-charge before having more group fun. We sent everyone else on their way to scout out photo shoot sites, and they did a great job selecting a nice park not too far away. We took pictures of just about every possible combination of our group members. Here are some of my favorites.

First, the entire family, . . .

. . . then, Jeff’s family (where’s Ollie?), . . .

. . . and then, Alex’s family (ahh, Ollie’s back).

Here’s a picture of Ted and me with three of our grandchildren and Kaitlyn, our granddaughter-in-law, as well as our great-grandson, Ollie.

Here are the grandkids. I love this picture!

We definitely needed a photo of great-grandma and great-grandpa with Ollie. Jeff said he took over 100 family photos during this photo shoot, and this is the only one for which Ollie smiled. He’s sitting on my lap, so I’m sure it’s Gigi magic.

A four-generation photo was another requirement.

The adult men wanted a photo of themselves.

Not to be outdone, so did the women. You can easily see that the women are more fun than the men. 🙂

Last, but not least, here’s a picture of Ted and me. Even after 54 years, he’s still The One.

In late April, Ted and I went to Utah to visit with Jeff and La’s family. This was our last opportunity to be with the entire family at one location now that Alex, Kaitlyn, and Kyra have all graduated from college. Alex and Kyra had already accepted full-time jobs in their chosen fields and were getting ready to move closer to their work places. This was a good opportunity to have a belated recognition of Ollie’s second birthday (March) and to congratulate the college graduates.

We started with some family time at Alex and Kaitlyn’s home. They were packing and preparing to move a week after our visit. You can see packing boxes in the picture below. They are very excited about moving from a small “married students” campus apartment to a real house, with lots of room. It’s a little weird for me to look at my first baby and realize that he is now Grandpa Jeff, holding his grandson, Ollie. Look at the puppy Ollie is holding. We bought one just like it for Hadley last Christmas and she liked it so much, we thought Ollie would enjoy having one as well. He did. Maybe he and Hadley can share puppy stories the next time they’re together.

The graduation card we bought for Alex played “Pomp and Circumstance” (the graduation march) and had wiggling cutouts inside. Grandpa Ted found it easy to entertain Ollie with the card.

A long time ago, I met a great-grandma in a restaurant. While chatting with her, she mentioned that her great-grandkids call her Gigi, as in G-G for Great-Grandma. I decided right then that, when the time came, I wanted Gigi for my great-grandma name too. Last summer, I bought this T-shirt in honor of Ollie, and I finally had a chance to wear it while I was with him.

Here’s a close-up so you can see what the shirt says. It’s so true! (We baby boomers will always be cool.)

During our visit, we all had time to visit with each other, to get outside in the beautiful weather, to play some games, and to have some good downtime together. Here’s one of the downtime moments. Like father, like son?

For dinner one evening, we made individual pizzas. What an easy and delicious way to customize what you want to eat!

One afternoon, we went to a nearby park to take family pictures. While we were there, we took some time to enjoy the park and the springtime weather. Here’s Ollie in a swing.

And here’s Zack, getting out of a swing.

Kyra actually graduated in December, but we recognized the event during our visit. She was our first grandchild to graduate from college. How can we be old enough for that?

Alex and Kaitlyn graduated in early May–a husband/wife achievement. That makes three college graduates and six high school graduates among our grandchildren at this point.

As always, it was wonderful to be together with our family–our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchild. Ted and I are definitely living the good life.

Our family has much to celebrate in a three-week period beginning in late April. We say “happy birthday” to Kathy, Thom, Dean, Theo, and Kari, and “happy Mother’s Day” to the moms. Kathy and Annette joined Ted and me and Kari’s family to share a day of happiness to honor these events. Thom lives too far away to join us, so we filled his place with Dylan’s high school graduation. It was a fun-filled day, and we ended it with dinner at Steak ‘n’ Shake.

Steak ‘n’ Shake has only recently opened for dining in. SnS used to advertise that other fast-food restaurants were “work”-aurants where the customers did all the work except cooking. SnS, on the other hand, offered a true “rest”-aurant experience and served its customers with real dishes at the table. That’s no longer true. We ordered at the kiosk, picked up our food when our party name was called, and cleared our table of the paper food wrappings. Even though SnS has become the work-aurant it used to belittle, the food and shakes were still good. One of the staff members took our picture to save the moment for us.

During our interior update, Ted and I replaced our old futon and wanted a new mattress cover for it too. We found one in an acceptable color for only $20 at a going-out-of-business futon store. Oops! When we unpacked it to put in on the mattress, I discovered that the zipper was hopelessly broken. There were no other identical covers at the store, and I didn’t see any other colors or patterns I wanted online, so I decided to replace the zipper.

Nylon zippers can be “repaired” by simply sliding the zipper pull downward on the zipper. Problem #1: In this case, the zipper teeth were so far out of alignment that the zipper pull wouldn’t move. Problem #2: All along the length of the zipper, the nylon coils were so badly bent that the zipper could not possibly move smoothly in either direction. Problem #3: The bottom end of the zipper was completely separated, making it impossible to ever match the teeth again.

This is what might have happened to cause such extreme zipper damage. (1) In the factory folding/packaging process, the zipper was sharply folded in a variety of places. (2) Someone bought the mattress cover and unzipped it to put in on their futon mattress. Because of all the sharp bends in the zipper teeth, the movement of the zipper head caused the teeth to separate. (3) The buyer returned the mattress cover to the store without mentioning the damage. (4) The store re-sold the mattress cover–to us. Luckily, and thanks to my mother, I’m an expert seamstress.

I bought some black zipper-by-the-yard (color choices were white, brown, and black), ripped out the damaged zipper, and replaced it with my new zipper yardage. I don’t think I’ve used the zipper foot on my sewing machine since I bought it. All zipper feet are based on the same design principle, but this one is awesome. It’s the best zipper foot I’ve ever used! It sits very comfortably on the fabric and effortlessly guides itself along the zipper teeth. I wish I had another zipper-style project to sew because it would be fun to use the zipper foot again.

It didn’t take long to finish putting in the zipper. Then it was time to put the mattress cover on the mattress. Voilà! We now have a new futon with a new mattress cover.

As part of our interior house update, Ted and I decided to replace our many-years-old baker’s shelf in the kitchen with a nicer piece of furniture. We shopped, and we shopped some more before we finally selected a cabinet that we liked and that would fit in the corner. Then we eagerly looked forward to its delivery.

Included with the delivered cabinet was a duly checked and signed checklist–for bed parts. Huh?

The delivery men brought the cabinet in, removed the protective bubble wrap, laid out the parts (shelves, doors, legs, etc.), and discovered that the 12 screws needed to attach the legs had not been included. “Hardware” was checked on the list, but “Legs” does not appear. We had the unmentioned legs, but not the checked-off hardware. Go figure! Here’s the cabinet, standing on the floor with the legs waiting to be attached.

One of the men called the boss man, explained the problem, and told us they would send someone out within the next two weeks to attach the legs. Okay, things happen. Everything will be fine in two more weeks. Or will it?

As promised and scheduled, two more delivery men arrived–without screws. I offered to let them select screws from our collection, and I made the alternate suggestion that they could go to Home Depot to purchase new screws. “No,” they said, “we can’t do that.” Apparently, the screws have to be the manufacturer-provided screws or the store’s responsibility for assembly becomes null and void. I would have attached the legs myself, but Crate & Barrel would not allow us to pick up the cabinet to save the delivery cost. Instead, they charged us $250 to deliver and assemble it. For that, I decided they could work this out themselves.

Ted followed up with a call to our salesperson to explain the situation and to express our disappointment that we’d had two delivery/assembly appointments and neither one had the screws needed to complete the assembly. Ted mentioned that we were disappointed at receiving this kind of service from a reputable store. To make up for the problem, the salesman sent us a $200 Crate & Barrel gift certificate. That made us feel a little better while we waited another two weeks for the next two delivery men, who arrived with a surprise.

Instead of bringing 12 screws and a screwdriver, they brought a replacement cabinet. Again: Huh? There was nothing wrong with the first cabinet; it simply needed screws to attach the legs. However, Team #3 not only had the replacement cabinet, but the screws as well. Whoopee! They attached the replacement legs to the replacement cabinet and, three delivery appointments after we bought the first cabinet, we have a cabinet standing on its legs.

Insert happy ending here.

Scrolling through photos on Ted’s phone, we found these good memories.

It was fun to celebrate Hadley’s first birthday with her in 2022. It was even more fun to spend time with her and her big brother.

Sefton decorated his waffle. Creativity abounds!

For his graduation dinner, Maggiano’s presented Sky with a complimentary dessert sampler. It’s pretty obvious that Sky enjoyed the treat.

Our grandchildren are growing up so fast! Dylan, our sixth grandchild, graduated from high school in June. During his junior and senior years, Dylan spent part of each school day at the Lewis & Clark Career Center preparing to become an electrician after graduation. The photo below shows the 2023 graduating electricians-to-be. Dylan is standing on the right (green shirt).

Typical of Dylan, he chose a low-key celebration. For years, he made it clear that he didn’t want a big party–he only wanted the family to go to Dairy Queen to celebrate with a large dip cone. So that’s what we did, and here we are, waiting for our DQ treats.

After his graduation, Dylan was hired by a local electrical contractor as an apprentice and has started working in his chosen field. Of course, he needed a car to go to work. He used his savings to buy this new-to-him Honda Civic. Wow! He’s a graduate, he has wheels, and he has a career-path full-time job! Yes, our grandchildren are growing up.

Congratulations, Dylan. Grandpa and I are very proud of you.

Today, we are again under an air quality alert due to drifting smoke from the Canadian wildfires. Visibility at its worst was less than three miles. Our air quality is rated “poor,” indicating that everyone, not only people with special health issues, should avoid outdoor activities. Given the current conditions, is it necessary to ask . . .

As part of our house update, Ted and I ordered a new fireplace screen in February, and it was installed this week. Our fireplace has a curved arch, so it requires a custom-made screen. Our old screen has served us for 40+ years, and it was time for a new look. The old screen had folding doors, and obvious signs of use along the lower edge.

The new screen is similar, but in a different color, with one-piece doors, and a vent on the lower edge. The doors also seal more tightly than the old doors.

The fireplace season is over, but we’ll be using the new screen next fall.

The older I get, the more of a feminist I’m becoming. As I heard one commentator say a few days ago, “There seem to be a lot of old men telling women what they can do with their bodies.”

I’ve been very sick for nearly three weeks. As a result, I’ve also been very inactive, and my self-improvement goals have been set aside. I haven’t exercised or played my piano since I started feeling ill. I’d been doing almost an hour a day toward each goal: exercising, playing piano, and studying Spanish with other family members on the Duolingo app.

I didn’t have enough energy to play piano or to exercise, but I was close to a 100-day streak on Duolingo, and I wanted to make it to the 100-day mark. No matter how badly I felt, I did one Spanish lesson each day (5-10 minutes), just to keep my streak alive. I didn’t learn much. I felt so awful, it was hard to concentrate, and sometimes I lost three or four hearts on a single 10-12 question lesson. (Each error costs one heart. If you lose five hearts, you’re locked out until the hearts refill over a period of hours.) I’ll have to re-do that entire unit when I feel better so I can learn the new vocabulary words, but I kept my streak alive.

My weekly report from Duolingo noted my decreased activity on the app over the first two weeks of my illness.

Duolingo wasn’t happy about that, and the app took action. I was close to promotion to the next league, but I lost that opportunity and was demoted to a lower league.

The cheerful (?) “Better luck next time” wasn’t exactly heartwarming. Is this what I get for working to keep my streak alive, even when no me siento bien (I don’t feel well)?

It’s fun to know that other family members are also learning Spanish with Duolingo, and I generally enjoy the app, but I would prefer learning with in-person classmates and a classroom teacher. My Duolingo goal is not to have the longest streak, the most extra points, or the highest rank. My goal is to learn a lot of vocabulary and then to take a continuing education Spanish class next fall or winter to work on grammatical constructions and to practice speaking with a group of like-minded students.

I’m not heartbroken about my Duolingo demotion, but after I reach 100 consecutive days of using Duolingo (four to go), I’m not going to worry about another streak. I have a life, and even God took a day off! 🙂

We’ve had weekly abrupt and extreme weather changes in April, and that’s never a good thing for my allergies. Temperature changes of 30+ degrees within 24 hours tend to trigger laryngitis for me, so I’m very diligent about taking my allergy medications when that happens. Sometimes, though, diligence isn’t enough.

On March 26, my throat started getting sore. “Uh-oh!” I thought. “I’m going to get laryngitis.” I was wrong. My throat kept getting worse until it felt like ground glass, and I couldn’t stop coughing. Ted took me to Urgent Care, where I was diagnosed with strep throat and bronchitis. I was treated with a steroid injection, a breathing treatment, and prescriptions for prednisone and amoxicillin.

I felt a little better the next day, but by evening, I coughed so hard for over an hour that it was difficult to catch my breath. It was late at night (of course), so Ted took me to the ER. The diagnosis was the same, with the hypothesis that the strep throat germs had migrated from my throat to my lungs, triggering the bronchitis. I was given a breathing treatment and sent home with a prescription for a nebulizer so that I could do breathing treatments at home to open my airways and, hopefully, calm the coughing.

Again, I felt a little better in the morning, but over the next three days, I kept getting worse and the coughing just wouldn’t stop, in spite of the nebulizer treatments. For the third time in five days, Ted took me for treatment. It was past midnight, so we went to the ER again. Looking at my previous treatments over the last few days, as well as my current condition, the ER staff decided to get aggressive. This time, they gave me an hour-long breathing treatment with five medications in it, including one to calm my lungs and another to reduce the swelling in my bronchial tubes. Simultaneously, they gave me five other medications through an IV, including two different antibiotics and a stronger version of prednisone. There was talk of admitting me to the hospital but, instead, they just kept us there for several more hours to see if the medications stabilized me. At 6:30 a.m., they sent me home with five prescriptions for more prednisone, two more antibiotics, a cough suppressant, and a painkiller because my ribs were so sore from coughing for six days.

The ER staff told me my coughing would be less painful if I held a pillow against my ribs when I coughed. That really helped and I found the perfect pillow at home. It fit under my arm and I could hold it tightly over my ribs. My mom made this pillow a long time ago (1980s?), which just goes to show that your mom keeps looking after you, even when she’s no longer physically present. Thanks, Mom.

I followed up the ER treatments with a visit to my allergist two days later because the coughing was not improving. He looked over my reports from Urgent Care and from the ER, reviewed the test and x-ray results, and looked at all the medications, treatments and prescriptions I’d been given. Then he turned to me and said, “With all of this in you, you will get better,” although he admitted it’s going to take some time. His prescription (yes, another medication) was a game-changer: an inhaler with three ingredients. He said my lungs had become so sensitive from the bronchitis that I was coughing spontaneously from the irritation. The inhaler would calm my lungs and reduce the bronchial swelling. My coughing improved after the first dose of the inhaler. For the first time in eleven days, I had an evening without a 60-90 minute coughing spell. What a relief!

Even though the coughing was finally under control, I continued to feel worse every day for another three days–14 days of feeling worse each day–before I started to feel as though the medications were finally winning the fight. For eleven consecutive nights, I hadn’t slept more than 3-5 hours because of the coughing. The lack of sleep, the constant coughing, and the rib pain left me totally exhausted. There were many times when I just sat still because I didn’t have enough energy to read a book or to watch TV.

It’s been 25 days since I first noticed my sore throat, and I’m still not back to normal. Although I no longer feel sick, my energy level is very low (nearly nonexistent) and, even though I’m sleeping 7-8 hours at night now, I still take a long nap every day. My allergist wants me to continue taking the inhaler for two more weeks, and I think it will probably be at least another week (hopefully not two weeks) before I feel more like my normal self. This is getting old, and I choose to interpret that feeling as a sign that I’m getting well.

Guess what: there’s another big temperature change coming tomorrow. Today’s high was 88 degrees, tomorrow will be around 80 degrees, and after the cold front comes through tomorrow night (with possible severe storms), there’s a frost advisory in our forecast. I’ll be staying indoors.

I posted this little bit of trivia in late 2019 on this blog and found it again while I was searching for something else. In summary, it says that, in 2019, everyone in the world is in the same age group–2019, the current year at the time. Simply add your age to your birth year to prove it. The description makes this little calculation sound really special by telling us that such a world-wide coincidence will not happen again for 1,000 years.

Just for fun, I wondered what number I’d get if I added my age and birth year today, four years later. Surprise! The total was 2023–the current year. As I briefly pondered this minor conundrum, my mind was almost immediately struck by a (figuratively) brightly-flashing light bulb and filled with a (figuratively) giant-size “duh!” For everyone in the world, the year you were born plus your current age always equals the current year. That’s how the math works.

Who would ever have dreamed you can’t believe everything you see on Facebook??!! The good news (?) is that we don’t have to wait 1,000 years for this coincidence to reoccur. I feel like I should check to see if gullible is still in the dictionary.

The April election is coming up next week and there is some neighborhood disagreement regarding who should be elected to our district school board. Will was the first to put up his campaign booster signs–six of them, visible upon approaching the corner from either side.

Not to be outdone, Paul’s signs appeared across the street a few days later for three different candidates–only half as many signs as Will has, but one is much bigger than any of Will’s. Paul’s signs face two directions so they can be seen from all three approaches at the 3-way stop “T” intersection.

Paul apparently feels very strongly about his candidates. The large sign is lit from both sides at night and includes the promise of “Academics NOT Agendas.” There are seven candidates running for the school board (vote for three). Neither of our neighbors is supporting Candidate #7. Does that mean s/he’s a very bad choice or a very good one?

P.S. Paul and Will are good friends, as are all of our neighbors–they just have different political points of view.

Ted and I both attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison (lucky for us, because that’s where we met), and for an unknown and mysterious reason, I was recently thinking about our college school songs. During half-time at every football game, the UW band and cheerleaders led the sell-out crowd (±23,000 more seats than the GB Packers’ Lambeau Field at that time*) to sing “On Wisconsin,” the fight song (also the state song); “If You Want to Be a Badger,” an up-beat song; and “Varsity,” a hymn-like song of praise to UW. The internet knows everything, so I looked up the songs to find the lyrics and put my curious mind at ease.

Of course, “On, Wisconsin” is kind of obligatory–after all, it’s the University of Wisconsin in Wisconsin–but it has a good march tempo for a school song.

“If You Want to Be a Badger” is a peppy song and fun to sing. It revs up the crowd. There are four or five verses, which we usually didn’t sing at the games. Only the line–“If you want to be a Badger, just…da da da da da” changes with each verse.

The history of “Varsity” surprised me. I never heard or thought about it while I was in college, but it’s something to be appreciated.

It was a sight to behold 76,000 fans singing with the arm movements, and I do fondly remember these lyrics. The “famous arm swinging” refers to everyone raising their right arm to the left at the start of each line, then slowly moving it to the right for the last half of the first line, then slowly back to the left to begin the next line, and so on, keeping it in constant motion. The tempo is slow, and it’s actually a kind of moving thing to be there and to participate.** After that, however, it’s on with the game.

Ah, those were good days!

*Since our college days, both stadiums have been renovated to include more seating and both are still sell-outs for every football game. Lambeau Field now seats 80,978 fans, and Camp Randall now has seating for 80,321 fans.

**You can find videos of fans singing “Varsity” on YouTube, but you won’t get the in-person emotional experience of actually participating.

All four of our children and their minor children were with us to celebrate Ted’s birthday, so the event was not ignored, but with all the things we had going on from August-December 2022, Ted and I didn’t have time for our me-and-you birthday celebration for him.

Ted’s and my birthday gift to each other every year is a special dinner at a special restaurant. This year, Ted chose Annie Gunn’s–a restaurant that’s near our home, has been in business for 150 years, and where, for the 50+ years we’ve lived here, we have repeatedly said “We should go there sometime.” Wow! The food was so well-prepared and so delicious that the restaurant was immediately added to our “Top 5 Restaurants list.” (We couldn’t decide which of the five we should delete, so we decided to work toward a “Top 10 Restaurants” list.) We’ll be back at Annie Gunn’s sooner than 50 years from now!

The meal started with a complimentary glass of champagne . . .

. . . and ended with a complimentary piece of warm apple pie topped with a scoop of cinnamon-flavored ice cream beside a birthday candle. Between the pie and the champagne, there was an outstanding steak dinner with the most tender steaks we’ve ever had. If we had chosen the Kobe beef option, I can’t imagine how the meat could have been more tender.

Although Ted’s and my birthdays are three months apart, we celebrated my birthday shortly after his Annie Gunn’s evening. Ted’s family birthday party took place a week early to accommodate the kids’ availability, and mine took place a week late for the same reason. Our daughters and their families were with us for my birthday and we had a great time.

Because of the shipping costs and work schedules, we celebrated Kathy’s April birthday as well, with gifts for both of us.

And, of course, we had my traditional Vienne Torte for dessert.

For my me-and-you birthday dinner with Ted, I’ve selected Bentley’s at the Lake of the Ozarks–another of our “Top now-10 Restaurants,” but we have to wait a few weeks to go there. It’s a beautiful spring drive when the pink redbuds and the white dogwoods are blooming, but both trees are still only at the budding stage. It’s all good, though. It just means that Ted and I both have a nice, extended birthday season. Happiness abounds.

Back in January, Jeff was struggling with structuring a particular sentence to describe the rules of a new game he was developing, so he contacted me–the family English guru. It was a tricky question, but the issue was quickly solved by diagramming the sentence.

I don’t think English teachers teach sentence diagramming any more, and I doubt if many of them even know how to do it. It’s a useful lost skill that my elementary school teacher (another English guru) taught us. Diagramming provides a place for every grammatical category–parts of speech as well as sentence components–for any sentence. The most complicated sentence I ever diagrammed was the thesis for my master’s degree in Educational Administration. I was allowed one sentence to describe the entire thesis, but diagramming helped me make that long sentence clear.

Here’s the sentence I diagrammed for Jeff. See if you can read it as it should be written.

It says, “Each of your cities produces, in addition to its normal production, one metal.” The interrupting phrase could also be placed at the beginning or at the end of the sentence to read, “In addition to its normal production, each of your cities produces one metal,” or “Each of your cities produces one metal, in addition to its normal production.” In any of these variations, the diagram would be identical because of the modifiers to the subject, the verb, and the direct object.

Can you spell better than the Office Depot staff? If so, you’ll find the error.

Ted knows how much I love spring. I love it so much, that I count December 22 as the first day of spring. It’s the day after the winter solstice when the days begin getting longer.

Ted loves me so much that, to help me celebrate spring, he buys me a pot of spring bulbs as soon as they are available. He’s picky in his selection–he looks for the pot with the most closed buds so that my joy in watching them open will last as long as possible. This year, he brought me pink tulips.

❤❤❤

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, “¡Hola! 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.

LIBRARY

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.

CLOSETS

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.

PROJECT 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).

GALLERY

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.

STAIRS

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.

MASTER BEDROOM AND BATHROOM

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?

DINING ROOM

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).

LIVING ROOM

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.

FOYER

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.

LAUNDRY ROOM

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.

KITCHEN

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!

FAMILY ROOM

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.

MORE TO COME

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 www.bulwerlytton.com–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.