It’s been over a year since our Pilates classes were cancelled due to the community college closing at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. That was our first sign that COVID was getting too close to us for comfort. Ted and I have been very careful to avoid becoming infected by this awful virus. We started wearing masks as soon as the CDC recommended that practice for prevention; we have practiced social distancing; and our hands are the cleanest they’ve ever been. We have a very small social bubble, and we get a little bit excited if we need to cross the line into St. Louis County for something–about 10 miles away.

The National Weather Service recognizes March 1 as the first day of meteorological spring. Therefore, spring has sprung! The sun is shining, and Ted and I just felt like we wanted to go out for lunch to celebrate. We haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March 16 last year–the day before the total lockdown started. (I had a lunch and a dinner coupon for free birthday meals and I didn’t want to waste them.) We ordered a take-out pizza once last summer, but the ambience of eating it in the car just didn’t measure up to sitting in the restaurant. I like to cook, so I’ve actually enjoyed preparing meals at home, but still, . . . . Did I say it’s been a year???

We decided that we’d celebrate the first day of spring by making something for lunch that we would have ordered in a restaurant. We (used to) like the grilled cheese sandwiches at Panera, so we made grilled cheese and French fries. Instead of our usual milk as a beverage, we blew our healthy diet and had Pepsi. To change things up a little, we decided to eat somewhere different from the kitchen table. It was only 52 degrees outside, so we chose the basement as our setting–someplace different than we’re accustomed to. We named our casual restaurant Unser Haus.

It wasn’t crowded, so social distancing was easy.

There were people chatting at the bar, so there was a little crowd noise.

We were seated in a booth, and the food was good.

Best of all, it’s the kind of restaurant that provides a chocolate after the meal.

Yes, it was a self-serve restaurant, but it was fun to do something different.

Yesterday, Hasbro announced that it is neutralizing Mr. Potato Head. Hasbro’s senior vice president and general manager announced, “The way the brand currently exists—with the ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’—is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

The outcry was loud:

Dr. D exclaimed, “For crying out loud–it’s a potato! It doesn’t have a gender!”

Media analyst Mark Dice tweeted, “It’s time for the Republican states to secede.”

Piers-Morgan tweeted, “Who was actually offended by Mr Potato Head being male? I want names. These woke imbeciles are destroying the world.”

Steven Colbert’s segment on Hasbro’s announcement asked, “What part of this do you see as gender-based?”

Sean Hannity tweeted, “MR POTATO HEAD 1953-2021, Hasbro: He Was ‘Limited When It Comes to Gender Identity’.” After Hasbro clarified that only the “Mr.” is being removed from the name and that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will be continue to be available as “just plain ‘Potato Head’,” Hannity responded, “Mr. Potato Head Lives!”

Long live non-gender potatoes!

Author’s note: When I was growing up, our Mr. Potato Head toy required actual potatoes; thus, the name of the toy. Complaints about rotten vegetables plus new government food safety rules prompted Hasbro to include a plastic potato body along with the facial parts in 1964.

English is a living language and freely adopts and adapts words from other languages. Kathy and I (fellow English majors) were talking today about some of the colorful, folksy terms we use to describe people, specifically words that are difficult to define, but that “we just know” what they mean. Examples include klutz, ditz, putz, doppich, frumpy, and schmuck.

Today, while I was reading The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, I came across a new descriptive term: “twee.” In the book, Mrs. Christie speaks of her husband, Archie, and says, “I toned down my natural exuberance and chatter, because Archie found it cloying and more than a little twee.” I had no idea what “twee” meant, so I looked it up.

I like the word. The problem? It’s British slang, so if I use it, it’s unlikely my listener will know what I mean and I’ll have to figure out a way to describe a word that “I just know.”

Here’s our winter doormat. Be careful what you wish for.

When our kids were little, it was normal for our area to have 6-8 snowfalls of 4-6 inches, as well as one or two snowfalls of 12-14 inches in a season. After 30 years of climate change, however, it has become more typical for us to have several snowfalls of 1-2 inches and maybe one or two snowfalls of 3-4 inches in a season. More snow than that in a single event is becoming unusual and, therefore, remarkable.

This winter has been a snowy one for a change. After a relatively warm November and December (we took our last bike ride on December 29), we had a few light snowfalls of an inch or less in January. Then the pattern changed. At one point last week, 46 states had snow cover on the ground. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Hawai’i were the exceptions.

January 27. We had four inches of snow. Whoopee! I love using my snowblower and this was enough snow to make a snowblower worthwhile. It wasn’t too cold, so I had a good time. Then Ted took a turn and used the snowblower to clear Jim’s driveway. Jim and his wife are 90 years old and they appreciate the help.

February 15. There’s a forecast for a major snowfall in our area. A big snowstorm always sounds exciting to me. There’s something magical about snow, and a heavy snowfall makes everything quiet and peaceful. It started snowing early in the day, but the flakes were tiny and didn’t accumulate much. By late afternoon, it started looking like serious snow. Our normal temperature at this time of year is in the mid-40s, but today we set a record for the lowest high temperature on February 15: 4 degrees. The previous record was 19 degrees in 1905. We didn’t just break that record–we smashed it! The wind chills were a vicious 25-30 degrees below zero. There went our dream of sitting in the hot tub while snowflakes romantically fell on us. It wasn’t a good day to go outside, but it was fun to watch the snow fall and to watch a movie with a fire blazing in our fireplace in the evening.

February 16. The snowfall ended, the sun came out, and we set another record low high temperature. This time, we made it to 5 degrees, probably because of the sunshine. The previous record was again set in 1905. Wind chills were still well below zero. It was so cold, the mailman didn’t even walk our package all the way to the door; he only went far enough to throw it to the porch. Luckily, it was a book and it didn’t break.

I bundled up in three layers of clothes and a sturdy pair of boots and headed outdoors, feeling like Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story.” My first task was to stick our trusty NWS “Snow? How much?” ruler into the snow to see how deep it was. Wow! Seven inches!

The weight of the snow made our pool cover sag, so pool water seeped through it and froze on the cover.

I took a few more pictures outside, but I could hear my snowblower calling my name, so I got to work. I always go up the middle of the driveway first so I can throw half of the snow to each side instead of having it all pile up ahead of my path on one side.

The sidewalks were a challenge. Because it was so cold and windy, the snow was light and the wind blew it across the lawn, making it impossible for me to see where the sidewalk ended and the grass began. The curves in our sidewalks added to the challenge of finding my way through the virgin snow.

The second pass was a little easier, but our snowblower is designed to work with a foot of snow or less, so 7 inches kept me going slowly to give my little machine a chance to blow a path for itself.

While I was using the snowblower, Ted was using a shovel to clear the places the snowblower can’t go–the back step, the front porch, and the corners. Two-and-a-half hours later, we had all of our concrete clear. Then we cleared Claudia’s driveway. Claudia’s husband died three weeks ago and we know she doesn’t have a snowblower. That was a lot of snow for her to have to shovel in a double driveway. Another neighbor with a snowblower cleared Jim’s driveway. Although it’s only 5 degrees, the sun is melting the snow residue on the concrete. Even a snowblower is hard work–especially with seven inches of snow to move. I was sweating by the time I went back indoors.

February 17. Guess what. We had another two inches of snow overnight. We got out the snowblower–again–and cleared all of our concrete–again. It was easier this time because (1) there was a lot less snow, and (2) yesterday’s paths were visible. It was still mighty cold, however. We had 14 days in a row with temperatures below freezing, and 10 of those days never got above 20 degrees.

February 18. The skies dropped another inch of snow on us. The temperatures are warming up, however, and with the concrete warmed a little from the sun after we cleared it the last two days, we knew this last bit of snow would melt on its own.

February 23. Talk about extremes!!!! Eight days ago, it was 4 degrees; yesterday we warmed up to 58 degrees and today it was 71 degrees! You could almost literally watch the snow melt. By the end of the day, it was gone, except for a few places where the piles were deep or where there was shade.

February 24. Today, it was 62 degrees–a little cool to put the top down on my car, but warm enough for Ted and me to take our walk in long-sleeved shirts without wearing jackets. With the snow out of the way, I can smell spring in the air. The snow was fun while it lasted, but I like warm weather much better than cold. Think spring!

Author’s note: Ted and I know how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy this major (for our area) snowfall with the luxuries of heat, light, water, and food. We give thanks for our blessings and offer prayers for those who are suffering because of the storms across the country, especially in Texas.

A local TV reporter presented a human interest story about today’s cold weather and heavy snow. In addition to the cold, hard facts (pun intended), the reporter interviewed some local people. The first person said he wished he hadn’t moved here from the Alabama shore. The second person said he’s loving it and “if it has to be cold, it should be painful.” It is. The wind chills are low enough to cause frostbite in less than 30 minutes of exposure.

The reporter told us there was no one sledding on Art Hill today (wind chills are 20-25 degrees below zero) and neither his car nor his cat would start this morning (video of sleeping cat). Local grocery stores closed early.

To amuse himself, the reporter decided to freeze some clothing. After freezing a wet sock flat on its side on the sidewalk, he used it as a boomerang. He also froze his T-shirt and jeans, but topped his flat clothing with a video of a woman’s dress frozen in 3-D (for lack of a better description) and standing on a porch. It looked like a scarecrow without a head.

The reporter closed by informing us that today’s temperature in Dallas is lower than it’s been in Anchorage all winter. Dallas had a high of 13 degrees today; Anchorage had a high of 23 degrees. Our official high temperature of 4 degrees today broke another 116-year-old record high for the second day in a row. The previous record for the day was (again) 19 degrees in (again) 1905. This time, though, we smashed the record by 15 degrees, not a measly 11 degrees like yesterday.

Our area has had temperatures below freezing for 10 consecutive days and there are 4 more days forecast to remain below the freezing mark. If we’re lucky, we’ll get into the mid-30s after that. Our normal high temperature at this time of the year is in the mid-40s and the daffodils and crocus shoots are appearing in flower beds. They’re probably hibernating under the snow this year. Polar vortex, go home!

Yesterday, February 14, St. Louis set a record low high temperature for Valentine’s Day. If you aren’t married to a meteorologist, that means the lowest high temperature on record or, in other words, as warm as it got. Here are the stats:

Previous record low high: 19 degrees, set February 14, 1905.

New record low high: 8 degrees, set February 14, 2021.

We didn’t just break the record; we smashed it! I’ll just mention that the normal high temperature on Valentine’s Day in St. Louis is 45 degrees.

Today’s forecast: 4-8 inches of snow. We’re right on the line for the heavy snow, so we’ll see which way the storm tracks.

A few days ago, I received an invitation to attend a Zoom baby shower for Kaitlyn, the mother-to-be of Ted’s and my first great-grandchild–a boy.

Today was the big day. People who lived nearby attended the shower in person; those of us living farther away logged into Zoom. Eventually, we had five Zoom participants and ten people at the house. We started with Kaitlyn opening gifts.

After that, there were snacks. You can see members of the house group (upper left of the Zoom screen, below) leaning over the table to grab some food and a beverage. The woman with the long blonde hair in the house group is Kyra. Kaitlyn is on the far left, facing the camera. One of Kaitlyn’s grandmas, her mother, and her sister were present at the house. The lady on the right in the lower right of the Zoom screen below is Kaitlyn’s other grandma. While the house crowd filled plates and cups, the Zoom crowd imagined snacks. La called me later for an after-shower chat and we agreed the food was delicious.

Then it was time to play the obligatory shower game. It was a version of “The Price Is Right.” We guessed the prices of a variety of baby items purchased at Wal-Mart. The item was presented in a close-up view at the camera and each of us gave our best guess. La and Shelley had the most right answers. During our after-shower chat, La admitted that she wasn’t exactly guessing; she had pulled up on her computer screen and was looking up the items as they were presented. Checking Shelley’s line of vision (lower left of the Zoom screen above), she might have done the same. I admit that I thought of doing that, but I didn’t feel like going to the trouble.

As we were leaving the Zoom meeting, one of the house attendees told Kaitlyn to stand up so we could see her baby bump (below). Her baby boy is due just three days before my birthday. I will be thrilled if he is born on my birthday. If that doesn’t happen, I will be thrilled that I share my birthday month with my first great-grandchild.

I like seeing my family on Zoom better than just talking on the phone because it seems more like we’re really visiting each other. It was nice to be included in the baby shower, but it will be even nicer when this pandemic is history and we can get together in person again. I’m hoping that will be possible later this summer, so Ted and I can meet our first great-grandchild and our ninth grandchild before they’re all grown up.

While we waited 22 weeks for our replacement windows, Replacement by Anderson treated us to some delicious cookies “to help sweeten the wait.” After completing the installation, they sent us more cookies.

This time, the box clearly indicated the contents.

This time, they came in a nice cookie tin, not a simple plastic bag.

This time, we received a dozen cookies, five more than last time.

This time, they included the recipe. I’ll definitely be making more of these for us. Maybe you will too.

Bernie Sanders’ mittens were the talk of the Presidential inauguration and they’re old news now, but I saw this meme and couldn’t help smiling.

“Nobody puts Bernie in a corner.”

Will he dance with Patrick Swayze?

In 1959, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a plan to rid the world of smallpox. This was the beginning of a global eradication plan for the disease. As a result of aggressive vaccination efforts around the world, the last naturally-acquired case of smallpox was recorded in 1975. The last death from smallpox (acquired in a research setting) was recorded in 1978. In 1979, the WHO adopted this symbol to celebrate the eradication of smallpox.

Polio reached the worldwide epidemic level in the early 1900s. It was most active during the summer months and usually struck young children. Parents were more frightened of polio than of anything else threatening their children. I remember hearing the numbers of polio cases regularly announced on the radio, accompanied by swimming pool closings and cancellations of large gatherings. Polio infections peaked in the United States in 1957 with 57,000 people infected, 21,000 people paralyzed, and 3,000 people dying of the disease–mostly young children.

In 1955, the first polio vaccine became available in the United States. In the 1950s, the U.S. government played a limited role in public health, so it was the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later re-named the March of Dimes) that implemented a mass vaccination program to provide free polio vaccine for U.S. school children. As a result of polio vaccinations, the U.S. has been free of polio since 1979, and it has been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere since 1994. At this time, it is found only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 176 cases were reported in 2019.

Our medical challenge today is COVID-19. Vaccines have been developed rapidly through worldwide scientific co-operation made possible through private and public funding. There is a long way to go before we reach herd immunity to this pandemic, but vaccines are becoming increasingly available to the citizens of the world.

I have a scar on my upper left arm where I was vaccinated for smallpox to help eradicate that worldwide disease. I was one of those school children who received the polio vaccine in 1955 to help eradicate that worldwide disease.

Today, I had my first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as my contribution to help eradicate this worldwide disease. Ted has an upcoming appointment for his vaccination.

Ted and I signed contracts for four major home projects in 2020 and learned immediately–with our first contract–that nothing was going to be finished quickly.

Hot tub: 22 weeks. Signed contract June 13; installed November 13.

Replace fascia and paint shutters: 16 weeks. Signed contract August 26; finished December 14.

Update home media: 10 weeks. Signed contract November 4; installation complete January 14.

Replace kitchen bay window and basement windows: 22 weeks. Signed contract August 31; installation complete February 2.

Our 2020 house projects are finally finished. When we started, we had no idea it would take so long; by the time we finished, we’d come to accept long delays as the 2020 way things are done.

Ted and I checked off our final major home project of 2020 last week with the installation of seven replacement windows. We think our basement windows are at least 35 years old, and the seals have been broken for several years. We didn’t worry too much about them because–hey!–it’s the basement. But when the 20-year-old seals on the three kitchen bay windows began to loosen, we decided it’s time to replace windows.

Our family room window wall is an Anderson window. It’s 35 years old and still going strong, so we went with Replacement by Anderson for these windows. They are so precisely custom-made that a specific employee came to the house to take measurements and to verify that our bay window was properly hung from the header by cables so it wouldn’t collapse from the weight of the new, heavier windows. If it wasn’t properly built, we would have had to rip out the entire structure and replace it.

Five-and-a-half months after signing the contract and paying the deposit for the windows, John and Rob came to our house and got to work on the installation. They started with the bigger job: the three bay windows. Here’s how you replace a bay window:

First, you build a little plastic room to use as your work space. John told me this serves several purposes: (1) It provides a measure of safety during the COVID pandemic; (2) it helps contain the construction mess; and (3) it prevents the rest of the house from getting too cold. It was 15 degrees when the guys arrived and when they left, the temperature was just over 30 degrees. You can see Rob inside his plastic work space. Note: It was over 90 degrees on the day we ordered the windows. I’m just sayin’. 2020 and all.

Window removal began with John and his sawzall, cutting around the frame of each window. John was the boss-man of the job, so he did the cutting.

Rob’s job was to direct John to stay in the window lines and not cut the wood trim inside. You can see John’s sawdust on the window seat.

After cutting all the way around, Rob pushed and John pulled to remove the window.

After removing all three windows, the guys got to work and scraped out every tiny bit of old caulk. They even dug in the cracks between pieces of wood to remove caulk. John commented more than once that it was really strong caulk, so I think he had to work harder than usual to remove it.

Rob gets a little break while John unpacks a new window. You can see John’s reflection in the family room window.

Before putting the new window in place, John checked all four sides of the wood framing to see if they were level and square. He told me that in the 17 years he’s been installing windows, this is the first time he’s ever seen window frames that were perfectly square and level. Ted and I have always said that the contractor who remodeled our kitchen–including the change from two sash windows to a bay window–did a fantastic job. The structure was not only built for strength, but it was built level and square as well and fastened with caulk that wasn’t meant to let go. You’d think my dad had done the work! (My mom always said that my dad had everything so securely fastened that if a tornado ever picked up our house, it would fly away in a single piece.)

I was watching the guys push the new windows into place and was so impressed by the fit that I called Ted outside to look. I didn’t think he’d be able to imagine such a perfect fit if he didn’t see it for himself. The windows slid exactly into place on all four sides. The guys tapped them with their hands to push them all the way into the frames. Then John measured and measured and measured to make sure all the edges on all four sides of all three windows were properly positioned. If a measurement was off, the guys tapped that part into place and then John measured everything again. This took as long as scraping off all the caulk. Maybe longer.

The side panels open, but the center window is stationary, although it doesn’t look stationary in this photo. It conveniently hangs from the top before it’s fully installed, so John could screw the sides of the window frame into the wood structure. He told me that once he snaps that panel into place, it’s locked forever.

After deconstructing their plastic COVID/work room, Jason and Rob picked up their mess, swept the patio, and vacuumed the kitchen floor. Meanwhile, Jeremy (John’s brother) took over and installed the outside trim pieces around the windows.

John and Rob returned the following morning to do the basement windows. They didn’t have to saw around these windows to remove them (concrete walls, not wood), so the job was easier. It took over six hours to replace the three bay windows, but only about two hours to install the four basement windows.

First, the guys built another COVID-safe work area. See the plastic wall behind Rob? Again, John measured and measured the frames, but this time it was before he removed the old windows.

After removing the sliding glass panels, he hauled out his trusty crowbar and pried the old frames loose so he could easily remove the old window.

Then he pulled off the trim. Rob doesn’t have to work too hard, does he?

Unfortunately, the caulk on these windows was also very strong caulk, so scraping it all off kept John and Rob busy for awhile.

When our house was built, it came equipped with standard hopper-style basement windows. In the 1980s, we replaced those with sliding windows, but the steel window frame set in the concrete is designed for hopper windows. That meant John had to put a shim on the top edge of the frame so the sliding windows would fit properly. Our old sliding windows also needed a frame adjustment when they were installed.

After that, John could set the new window in the frame. Again, he had to measure, measure, measure to make sure the window was level and square and also perfectly centered in the steel frame.

After the window was properly positioned, John and Rob stuffed insulation around the edges.

The last part of the job was putting on the trim to cover all those open spaces. Then the guys de-constructed their plastic room, cleaned up the basement, and loaded their tools in the truck.

We chose window styles similar to our old windows, so there’s not a remarkable difference in the appearance of our new windows, but they are definitely very, very nice. The new windows provide such good insulation that they qualify for an energy tax deduction.

When we told our fascia contractor that we were going to replace the bay window, he suggested putting a shingle roof over it instead of the vinyl we currently had. We agreed, so he added it to his contract with us. His crew was here four days after the bay window was installed. It took a little over half an hour to put shingles on the little roof.

The shingle roof isn’t a big change, but we think it presents a more “finished” appearance than the previous vinyl roof.

There are some minor differences–definitely improvements–on the inside of the bay windows. (1) There is only one lock lever on each new side window, instead of the two we had on the old ones. (2) The handles to open the side windows (on the right) snap into the frame instead of sticking out (on the left). As I result, I needed to take the side blinds to the decorating center today to have them re-strung so they will drop all the way down to the window seat like the center blind instead of stopping at the protruding handles. (3) The new side windows open to about 140 degrees instead of 90 degrees, so we’ll be able to catch breezes from all directions. The new frames are a little wider too, so there is less wood trim around each window. I think that makes the new windows look a little bigger, even though the glass area is the same size as the old ones.

The new basement windows also have a nicer lock and a very smooth operation. Overall, though, the most noticeable difference is the absence of those ugly broken seals on the old windows (left).

Next: new valances for the new kitchen windows. I’ve already ordered the fabric. Stay tuned if you want to see them.

Ted brought me another batch of old family photos. Some pictures had information on the back identifying the people, the date, and the activity. Ted did his best to identify people and guess at dates for the others. If any of my readers can contribute better information, please let me know. The photos and memories below are in chronological order, to the best of Ted’s knowledge.

This is one of only two pictures we have of Ted’s mom as a child. The picture noted that it was taken at the farmhouse in June 1918, when she was ten years old. Check out the water pump. Ted thinks the pump was removed and capped when he was in high school.

This is Grandpa Theodore, for whom Ted is named. It was his farm where Ted’s mom grew up, where Ted’s dad was the hired hand before marrying Ted’s mom, and where Ted and his siblings grew up. Ted’s mom lived in this house her entire life until after his dad died. Grandpa Theodore had a heart attack and died in the barn when Ted was six years old. For a long time after that, Ted said he was afraid to go into the barn.

This photo specifies that it was taken on February 23, 1930. The lady is Ted’s mom and we think the man must be her fiancé, Gerhart, who died in a motorcycle accident two weeks before their wedding. Ted thinks Gerhart has a suitcase because he’s going somewhere. (Duh!)

The information on the back of this picture said it was taken at the Port Wellar Bridge in Wellar, Ontario on August 13, 1930. Ted identified the people (L>R) as Loella, her sister Leona, and her brother Clinton. We think this picture was probably taken on the trip Loella took to Niagara Falls with Louis and Leona, her sister and brother-in-law, and that Clinton was also invited to come along.

This picture of Paul and Loella was taken at the farm on July 26, 1931. They were 23 and 24 years old at that time.

Loella always had a big garden. She told me once that “the farmer takes care of the land and the farmer’s wife takes care of the garden.” She froze and canned a lot of food every year. She was still gardening and “putting up” food through her 70s. We are guess-timating this picture was taken around 1931.

Snow! There was no information on the back of this picture, but we think the people are Loella and a man. Her dad? Ted’s dad? We have no idea. We’re going with 1936 because my mom repeatedly told me stories of how much snow there was in the winter of 1936.

Introducing Baby Teddy. Maybe the family was having a “fry-out” (as we called it in Wisconsin), so they brought Teddy’s high chair outside. This is probably the summer of 1943 because it doesn’t look like Ted is wearing walking shoes yet.

It looks like Baby Teddy is happy to ride his tricycle and to help his mom with the laundry.

Here’s Ted holding one of the barn cats. He thinks he might be seven or eight years old.

When Ted was ten years old, he joined the local Busy Bees 4-H Club. One of his club projects was to raise a calf. He showed this calf at the county fair.

This is Ted’s sixth grade picture.

Ted’s dad often attended agricultural classes at the University of Wisconsin Extension Center. Here’s a picture of him (center back) and his classmates one year. Ted’s best guess is mid-1950s. We suspect the man on the right was the teacher, trying to look as if he just handed the certificate to the man beside him.

Every year, the high school FFA Club (Future Farmers of America) selected a local Farmer of the Year. One year (maybe late 1950s?), Ted’s dad received the honor and his picture was printed in the local newspaper. The picture was taken in front of the corncrib on his farm.

This is Ted’s high school graduation photo.

After high school, Ted wasn’t sure which career path he wanted to follow. There was a draft at the time, so he decided to meet his obligation to Uncle Sam for three years and give himself time to think about his future. In the early 1960s, lots of U.S. soldiers were being sent to Germany (including Elvis), but Ted got unlucky and was sent to South Korea. One of his buddies took this picture of Ted washing his feet in a mountain stream in 1962. The picture says “The water was real cold and really felt good in the terrific heat.”

Note: Ted did find a career path in the Army. One of his duties in South Korea was to launch weather balloons. The balloons sent radio signals with information about the upper level winds so that if it became necessary to launch an Honest John missile at North Korea, the missile launchers could adjust their aim as needed. Fortunately, there was no need to launch a missile while Ted was serving in South Korea. As a result of his weather-related duties, however, Ted later attended the University of Wisconsin and graduated with a degree in meteorology, then became a forecaster for the National Weather Service.

After serving 13 months in South Korea, Ted’s next assignment was at Fort Benning, GA. One of his duties on base was to serve as the chaplain’s assistant. The picture notes that Chaplain Kelly took this picture Ted sent home. The back of the picture also informs his parents that he bought a tripod with the money they sent him and that he was looking forward to using it.

Ted also served in the Color Guard at Fort Benning. Here he is in his uniform. All he needs is a flag. It’s 1963, and he’s almost ready to be discharged from the U.S. Army.

Meanwhile, on the home front, here are Ted’s grandparents (Paul’s parents, Elizabeth and John) with Ted’s nieces, Lisa (the younger one) and Cindy.

There is no information on the back of this picture, but we both think it was taken in 1972 during the weekend celebration of Paul and Loella’s 40th wedding anniversary. Check out the men in the family: (L>R) Dan, Ted, Paul, and Gary. Note that they all have the same nose and they all have their right leg crossed over the left. I have another picture of them somewhere. They are standing together outside in the family stance: they are all roughly the same height and they all have their legs spread the same way and their left arm crossed over the right arm. It must be bred into them!

The last picture we have in this pile of old photos celebrates a happy time. It’s cherry-picking time in Door County in 1983. From left to right, that’s Helen, Cella, and Loella. Those are some fantastic-looking cherries! And look how much fruit the tree is bearing! My guess is they started on the right where the tree branches look more bare and filled those four buckets without even going to another tree. Good times!

P.S. Is that car on the left a woodie?

For many years, I’ve been experimenting with ways to view Ted’s and my vacation pictures on our big TV screen instead of crowding around my PC or looking at them on a tablet or phone. Over time, Jeff engineered several ways to access my PC to show the files on the TV, but I always had trouble duplicating what Jeff did to make it work. He’s far more intuitive about which key to click than I am, so the menus became mysteries to me and nothing seemed to work after Jeff went home.

One of my requirements for our new entertainment system was the ability to view my computer files on the new TV. Of course, it’s much simpler with a smart TV than with our 20+-year-old plasma TV. We have a new, more modern universal remote for the entertainment system and the installation team programmed the new remote to access my laptop. They named it “PC” on the menu–it’s shorter than “laptop.” I was told that when I scroll down and select “View PC,” five different things happen among the TV, the sound system, and my laptop, enabling my laptop screen to be duplicated on the TV with sound. Great!

The installer walked me through the buttons on the remote and the steps to access everything before he left. Hours later, when Ted and I decided to try looking at vacation pictures, everything worked on the first try. The sound system is the hub of our new set-up, so I had to (1) connect the laptop to the sound system, then (2) click on “View PC” on the remote. And there we are–ready to leave home and head to the Southwestern U.S. in 2017.

I can operate my laptop with a nifty mini keyboard (2″ x 6″) that Jeff gave me for Christmas many years ago. Jeff’s intent at the time was to allow me to control the pictures on the TV from the comfort of the sofa. The keyboard requires two-finger typing because the keys are so tiny, but I only need to use the mouse pad and the arrow keys to change pictures or picture files or to select the “slide show” mode. It works great and does everything a full-size keyboard can do–just as Jeff intended when he gave it to me. The installer said he’s never seen such a small keyboard. Thanks, Jeff.

Just a click of a right arrow brings up the next picture. This is one of the venues at the Polynesian Culture Center (PCC) on our 2018 trip to Hawai’i.

It was really nice to sit comfortably on the sofa to view the large pictures. We enjoyed it so much that we scrolled through three trips last night. Wishes do come true; sometimes, it just takes a few years.

While I sorted through pictures of my family last spring, I told Ted he should sort through photos of his family. My sorting system was based on (1) pictures I liked in (2) chronological order. Ted’s classification system was more detailed and was based on photos by (I assume) the main character in the photo. He had a separate pile for each person.

Today, I picked out an envelope of Ted’s photos of his parents to share on this blog, and they struck me as a love story. My photo love story begins with young Paul. Here he is, working at his job on a freighter on the Great Lakes. The “M” on his sweater is for Milwaukee Teachers College, where he was a history education major.

Here’s another picture of Paul on a Great Lakes freighter. I’m thinking there was some real work to be done, so he ditched the fancy BMOC college sweater and put on his working clothes.

While Paul sailed the Great Lakes, a young woman named Loella traveled to Niagara Falls with her sister and brother-in-law, Louis and Leona.

Loella liked this new coat so much, she had her picture taken in it.

This picture was taken when Loella became engaged to marry Gerhard. Two weeks before the wedding, Gerhard died. He was riding his motorcycle and was hit by a car.

Paul was the hired man on Loella’s father’s farm. Here’s Paul at the farmhouse. I’m not sure what he’s holding, but he looks proud of it. An award or trophy of some kind?

Paul and Loella fell in love and were married. Ted identified (to the best of his knowledge) most of the people in this wedding day photo. Left to right for the adults, we have: Theodore and Clara, Loella’s parents; an unknown man and woman; John, Paul’s brother and best man; John’s wife, Helen; Paul, the groom; Marcella, Paul’s sister and a bridesmaid; Loella, the bride; two more unknown people; Dorothy, a cousin of Loella and the maid of honor; Grace, a cousin of Loella; Bob, a brother of Paul’s; and Elizabeth and John (face not included in the photo), Paul’s parents. Ted recognized two of his cousins among the children. Myron is on the left in the front row and Jeanette is the third from the left in the back row of children.

Here we have the wedding party. Left to right are Dorothy, the maid of honor; John, the best man; Paul and Loella, the bride and groom, and Marcella, a bridesmaid.

Paul and Loella visited Keshena Falls, WI on their honeymoon. Keshena is about 45 miles northwest of Green Bay. I assume Paul was the photographer for this picture of his new wife.

Time moved on, and Paul and Loella had a family. Left to right are Mutzie (Ted’s sister), Gene (a cousin), Dan (Ted’s brother), and Karen (a cousin). The baby in the front row is little Teddy when he was seven months old.

This family picture was taken at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Manitowoc, WI. Ted looks like he’s between one and two years old.

Jumping far into the future, this photo is the most recent one Ted has of himself with all three of his siblings. Left to right are Gary, Ted, Mutzie, and Dan. Their families include 8 children, 14 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. In addition, Ted and I are expecting a great-grandchild in March and a grandchild in June. The beat goes on, and so does the love story.

Reassurance for the squeamish: gory details have been omitted.

The tools: One of Ted’s and my wedding gifts was a beautifully engraved knife and a honing steel.

The task: For the 51+ years I’ve had it, I’ve used the honing steel to keep my knives sharp and I taught Ted and the kids how to hone our kitchen knives. Here’s Ted, demonstrating what I was doing with the knife I was honing. (Are you getting a hint of where this is going?)

The tragedy: After 51+ years, I have never even scratched myself honing a knife, but last night I sliced myself across the wrist.

I have a history of fainting at the sight of blood and at the thought of surgical needles piercing my skin, but I’ve always managed to remain conscious until the medical personnel took over. This was no exception. I saw the injury and slammed a wad of paper towel over it. When I quickly needed a second wad of paper towel, I directed Ted to tie a handkerchief around my forearm and to tie a pencil into it to form a tourniquet. (I learned that in first aid class in grade school and I finally had a chance to use my knowledge.) I kept my arm elevated while Ted drove me to the ER. So much for our plan to sit in our hot tub when we finished doing the dishes.

I was seen quickly and the wound was described as “suture worthy” and probably not a candidate for medical glue because of wrist movement. The first nurse I saw said the bleeding had nearly stopped, so Ted and I did a good job. She put a pressure bandage over my wrist and I kept my arm elevated while waiting for my turn with the doctor.

Because of strict COVID policies, the lobby was restricted to patients only, so Ted had to wait in the car until I was in a private ER room. While I was waiting my turn, I heard myself referred to as “the laceration.” Three different caregivers asked me at three different times if the injury was intentional. I assume a slashed wrist indicates possible suicidal thoughts. One nurse specifically asked if I’ve been thinking of suicide. No, I was mostly thinking about not fainting and wondering how on earth I managed to do this after 51+ years of honing knives almost daily. I said it wasn’t intentional; I cut myself while honing a knife. None of them knew what “honing” was. This gave me three opportunities to be a teacher again.

Nearly three hours later (obviously, my injury was not life-threatening), I was ushered into a room and Ted joined me. That nurse told me the cut was a little more than two inches long and definitely needed sutures. After another half-hour, the doctor arrived, examined the wound, cleaned it, and told me the bleeding had stopped and the tissue was already beginning to bond. She said nothing major was injured (artery, nerves, tendons) and that if I was willing to wear a splint and keep my wrist immobile for several days, it looked like the wound would heal satisfactorily if she closed it with steri-strips. I need to wear the splint 3-4 days, and the steri-strips will gradually peel off and be gone in a week or so.

Well, there goes my hot tub time for the next week! The splint is going to be inconvenient, but it’s a minor thing compared to how bad my injury could have been. It looks like I need another 51 years of practice with my honing steel.

I like to do handwork and I’ll do anything except needlepoint and patchwork quilting. I hated needlepoint so much, I didn’t even finish a small piece I tried and I quit my patchwork quilt project before I finished the first square. I enjoy sewing, knitting, tatting, crocheting, embroidering, and counted cross-stitching. I like to do kits too, like paint-by-number and the Diamond Art kit Kathy and Annette gave me for my birthday last spring. When our kids were little, I made a lot of Christmas tree ornament kits; I sewed quilt kits for Thom and Kari as well as an original DJS design quilt for Teddy; and I made three 15-piece ceramic nativity scenes–one for myself, one for my parents, and one for Ted’s parents. I especially enjoy challenging projects and I have a very challenging project in progress right now. More on that when I finish it–hopefully by my goal of late February.

Thanks to COVID, I had time on my hands this year and decided to give some handmade items as Christmas gifts. I always have at least one handwork project in progress, but I often choose to engage in other activities, so it takes awhile for me to finish a project. With a Christmas deadline and the world in lockdown, I dedicated my spare time to gift-making.

In the spring, I made about 125 face masks for the family. In the summer, I saw an online pattern for table runners and napkins and decided to try another sewing project. I made three sets (in order below): one for Ted and me, another for Kathy and Annette, and a third for Kari’s family.

Then I switched to knitting and made dishcloths for Kathy and Annette, Kari, and my friend, Liz. Here are some of the dishcloths.

In the early 1980s, I made an advent calendar for our family. We hung it every year and the kids liked to take the ornaments out of the pockets and hang them on the Christmas tree.

At some point (college, her St. Charles apartment?), Kari wanted an advent calendar of her own and mine was looking worn, so we worked together and made one for each of us. Thom wanted one too, so I made one for him. This Christmas, Katie sent me a picture of Sefton continuing the advent calendar tradition, hanging the ornaments on the calendar I made for Thom. The DIY Christmas tradition lives on.

For many years, I’ve done little sewing beyond an occasional minor mending job. This year, however, was different and I used my sewing machine a lot. As a result, I discovered I need some new things in my project room: (1) a decent chair for my sewing machine; and (2) a plastic mat so I can get in and out of the chair without having to come to a half-stand to lift it out of the carpet pile. It was time to shop.

The box informed me that this is not an ordinary chair–it’s a “task chair .” It has “delicate curves,” an “inset” seat design, a “sculpted base,” and (wow!) matching “mobility casters.” Wouldn’t it look odd if the casters didn’t match? Without mobility, would they cast?

I started by taking the parts out of the box. (Duh!)

An hour later, I had a comfortable chair ready to roll on my new plastic mat.

Beach towels are nice for the beach (or pool) in the summer, but Ted and I have found ours to be kind of flimsy for drying off when we get out of the hot tub in cold weather. We went shopping for some nice big bath sheets with a little more substance to them than a beach towel from Target.

I was reading the tags as I removed them from the towels and it made me wonder if I should be concerned about washing the towels.

If three washings will make these towels “bloom” that much, how long will they keep blooming and how thick will they get? Will they become so absorbent that they just attract the water and remove it from our skin? I guess these are questions we’ll answer in the coming months.

The first of a series of predicted winter weather systems brought us freezing rain overnight. Luckily, we had only about 0.2 inches of ice and MoDOT treated the roads in advance, so they were only wet.

Our arborvitae trees felt the weight of the ice. . .

. . . and we had some pretty views from the front porch.

The ice melted before lunch and then the rain showers moved in. Light snow is forecast for tonight and tomorrow. 2021 wants us to know it’s winter.

Lots of things are different in 2020 and Christmas is one of those things. We celebrated with Kari’s family on Christmas Day, but it seemed incomplete because we were missing Kathy and Annette, who usually join us. They chose not to travel this year because of the pandemic.

Last year, Ted and I were in Brisbane, Australia on Christmas, so we didn’t decorate indoors, bake cookies, or make special Christmas candies. This year, we did it all. Here’s our decorated family room.

Ever since Thom was old enough to buy gifts for the family, he and I have exchanged a Lego Christmas set. Most of my Christmas Lego from Thom is on the display shelf above the TV; the overflow is in front of the TV. This year, my Christmas Lego set from Thom was a pretty Christmas tree that spins on its stand.

We had a wonderful Christmas Day with Kari’s family. They arrived in the early afternoon. Before we started opening our gifts, we took a family photo. I took one, then Dean took one, so one of us appears in each picture. Sky’s girlfriend, June, joined us.

After some settling-in time, we opened our gifts. This year, several of us chose to give a variety of smaller gifts to others instead of a single large item, so there were a lot of gifts to open.

There was only one minor glitch. Dylan included the book Red Mars on his wish list, and it was one of the things Ted and I bought for him. Or so we thought. When he opened it up, Kari asked if that was the book he wanted. His tactful response was, “It’s close.” It was Red Moon, by the same author. Yikes! I told him I’d get it exchanged, and Ted and I puzzled over how we got the wrong book. We double-checked our online order which clearly stated Red Mars and included a picture of the book. I ordered it online for curbside pickup and I think the employee who brought it to the car grabbed the wrong book. Neither Ted nor I noticed the error while we were wrapping it. I took Red Moon back to the store the next day. The clerk verified my order and the error, gave me the correct book, and thanked me for bringing Red Moon back–maybe because it cost nearly twice as much as Red Mars and I’d only paid the price of Red Mars. Here’s the book Dylan wanted. It looks like a good story. I might have to ask him to lend it to me when he’s finished reading it.

Opening all those gifts was exhausting, so when we finished, the activity level dropped while I and my helpers prepared dinner.

I made the main course and Kari brought the salad and the dessert. Everything was delicious and I made the tables look Christmas-y. Check out my Christmas tree-folded napkins.

After dinner, we were too full for dessert, so it was hot tub time. With an outdoor temperature of 19 degrees, we had to hustle in our swimsuits from the kitchen door to the warm water. After that, the cold air wasn’t a problem and we were warm enough to move more slowly on our way back into the house. The water we dribbled on the patio from our wet feet turned almost instantly to ice on the chilled concrete.

After we were all dressed again, it was time to eat the cheesecake Kari brought and to visit with each other a little bit more before Kari’s family left to go home. Dean played Uber driver and took June home–with Sky’s help, of course.

Our Christmas celebration continued virtually. We visited with Kathy and Annette via Zoom on December 26.

Jeff and La spent a few days with Kyra in Provo, UT for Christmas, so we visited with them via Google Meet on December 28.

Thom and Katie visited her family after Christmas, so we celebrated with them today, giving us a week-long holiday celebration with our family.

It was a different kind of holiday for us, but it was good. It took a week, and it gave us the opportunity to celebrate Christmas four times–once with each of our children’s families. Happy new year to all!

We spent thousands of dollars this year to spruce up the exterior of our house and what did we get? A fresh-looking house.

We spent thousands of dollars this year to install a hot tub and what did we get? An awesome hot tub.

We spent thousands of dollars this year to update our home media and what did we get? Great sound and a sharp picture on a big screen.

We spent thousands of dollars this year to replace windows with broken seals and what did we get? Cookies! We’re still waiting for the windows, but the cookies are really good! Happy new year!

Ted and I decided to update our home entertainment as a Christmas gift to ourselves this year. Everything was scheduled for installation on December 16, but we all know how the COVID supply chain works. Our Christmas gift was delivered and installed today, just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve tomorrow night.

Step 1: Cut the cable and change from AT&T’s slow (24 mbps) internet to Spectrum’s 400 mbps internet so that we can stream more quickly on our new TV.

Step 2: Install an eero mesh WiFi extender system to improve WiFi reception in the family room, on the patio, and upstairs. Our modem is at my desk on one end of the front of the house. As a result, WiFi is often noticeably slower in the family room, on the patio, and in my upstairs project room–all of which are on the back side at the other end of the house. Here’s a picture of one of the eero units.

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Step 3: Replace our old (18-20 years) sound system and plasma TV with a new sound system and a larger, smart TV. That happened today.

Our installation team included Mike, Chris, and Eric. They work together every day and have their jobs down to a system. Chris worked on the TV installation while Mike and Eric focused on the sound system. In the end, everything was correctly integrated. In the photo below, Eric (left) and Chris are unpacking the TV. It’s standing in the styrofoam packing on the right side of the box. Look how slim it is!

The Bose sound system we selected is a brand new model. Eric had to read the manual and direct Mike to do the assembly. The system is similar to previous models, but a few things have changed. The guys made sure they did everything right the first time.

It took all three guys to verify exactly how the sound system needed to be connected to the TV.

Author’s note: After this conference, I was pretty sure Mike’s pants were going to drop when he stood up. Thankfully, they didn’t, but I’ve noticed this year that worker men (as Thom used to call them) have new underwear that doesn’t slide down when they bend over. Thank you!

Moving on, Chris finished the TV hookups while Mike and Eric installed the speakers. It was a symphony in job coordination. That’s probably a bit of hyperbole, but the work was very well done in a clearly team-based manner.

When the installation was finished, the guys (mostly Mike) went through every set-up menu so that all Ted and I have to do is press the power button and choose what we want to watch or listen to. That took some time, but it was included in the service contract. When everything was working, they showed us which buttons to press and how to operate the entire system. They even showed me how to connect my laptop to the system so that I can access my files from the TV. After many years and many different ways of trying, we can finally sit in the family room to view our photos easily on a big screen. If I want to, I can even do computer work on this system because the new TV acts like a large (63-inch) monitor. I don’t want to. This is my space for relaxing and computer work takes place at my desk.

Check out the visible changes in our family room. The guys told us Bose likes to give you a lot of cable. Our previous sound system was also a Bose, and it had a lot of cable. I’m going to cover the bottom portion of the glass in the display case door to hide the cables in the new setup.

The sound system and DVD player yesterday:

The sound system and 4K UHD Blu-ray player today:

Behind the TV yesterday:

Behind the TV today:

The speakers yesterday:

The speakers today:

The 50-inch Panasonic plasma TV yesterday:

The 65-inch Sony OLED 4K smart TV today:

It feels good to be technologically up-to-date. What will we watch tonight?

This was a year to stay home. Because of the COVID pandemic, Ted and I have not spent a night away from home since we returned from Australia on January 15. With the world in lockdown mode during the first months of the year, there wasn’t much to do. Like many people, Ted and I hit the streets–walking and biking. It gave us a chance to get out of the house.

We love our ebikes and spent a lot of time on them all year. We found routes through the neighboring subdivisions that provided long and short rides. I think our longest neighborhood ride was just over 20 miles. We also tried out a number of greenways and bike trails in the area. Our longest trail ride was 40 miles. We rode the trails so frequently that Ted finally decided to leave the bike carrier on the car instead of putting it on and taking it off every few days.

Bicycling produces a wind chill. When the temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, that feels good; in the 40s, an extra layer of clothing keeps us comfortable. We biked so much that I set a personal goal to bike 1,000 miles in a year–from August 28, 2019 (when we got our new bikes) through August 28, 2020. I achieved that goal on August 20, so I set a new goal to ride 1,000 miles in 2020.

Our weather forecast for the next two days is rain mixed with snow, so it’s safe to say that the mileage after our last bike ride on December 27 is the final number for this year. At the end of 2019, my odometer read 364 miles. This is what my odometer shows now.

I bicycled 1,234 miles this year. Good for me! I love biking, so it was one of my joys in a year of challenges.

Not too long ago, Thom sent me a picture of a magazine with Thom and Katie in the cover picture. The photo was taken in the North Cascades by a man who used to work with Thom.

On that same trip, Thom took a picture of the other guy and Katie. Thom’s picture was the cover photo on a book Thom gave us for Christmas a few years ago.

Here’s a close-up of Thom’s friend and Katie in the picture. I’m sure they thoroughly enjoyed that trip, but I’m not a camper and, while the view is an experience in itself, that doesn’t look like a comfortable place to pitch a tent and sleep. Where’s the nearest hotel?

Tonight’s edition of CBS Evening News included a report about a Georgia artist who is making custom masks for his community. Here are some of his masks that were featured on the news report. The first two pictures are the artist.

It would be hard not to smile while talking with these two people.

During his interview with the CBS reporter, the artist offered the reporter a custom mask. Here is the reporter–before and after. The after is definitely more fun.

Google celebrated the December 21 winter solstice and the 600-year close conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter with a Google doodle. The next not-as-close conjunction of these two planets will be 60 years from now.

Reporters told me to get outside by sunset to see the conjunction because the viewing timeline was brief, so my watch time started with a beautiful sunset in a clear sky, followed by 30 minutes of waiting for the sky to become dark enough for starlight to show. At that point, it was easy to see the conjunction.

The TV weather guy said Saturn and Jupiter are so close to Earth right now that, even with a small telescope, it would be possible to see Saturn’s rings and the the bands of Jupiter. I don’t have a telescope, but I looked through some strong binoculars. I couldn’t distinguish rings on Saturn, but I could see that Saturn’s shape was oval, not round. When I compared my view to the Science Center’s telescopic photo of the conjunction, the oval I saw was in the direction of Saturn’s rings–in kind of a 10 o’clock/4 o’clock line. The binoculars weren’t strong enough for me to see Jupiter’s bands.

I took some pictures with my cell phone zoomed in on the conjunction and it’s possible to see the two planets very close together. Not Science Center quality, but not bad for a cell phone photo.

You get used to how your house looks and don’t pay much attention to it over the 25-year period of time since you installed new siding and shutters. It looks like your house and there are no broken windows, missing shingles, or large pieces of anything hanging from it, so it’s fine. One day last July, however, I came home and looked at the house from the car window. “Ugh!” I thought. “I didn’t realize the dark brown trim had faded this much!” I dragged Ted outside to verify the fading.

A few pieces of roofline fascia blew off in various windstorms over the years and we had it replaced. The color match was good when it was new, but after a number of years, you can’t get exactly what you installed, so the new pieces faded to different shades of brown than the original fascia. The arrows point to the replacement pieces.

We immediately made appointments with three companies and, in August, we signed a contract to update the fascia and the shutters. We opted to have the shutters repainted rather than replaced because they are in good shape except for the fading. When Jerry started removing the shutters, I asked if he minded if I took a picture. He said, “No, but wait a second. Get the back of my shirt in the picture,” so I did. Call JB Exteriors if you need them. The name and phone number are on the shirt.

After 25 years, there were a lot of vacant mud wasp nests behind the first-floor shutters and there was a lot of dirt behind the upstairs shutters. I power washed the mud off the bricks and Ted went up on the roof to wash the siding. The arrow points to some remaining dirt Ted is heading for.

Our name made it to the top of Jerry’s work list by November–only three months after we hired him. Jerry is the boss, so Don got tagged to do the job. He set up his equipment beside the driveway, put his ladders in place, and went to work.

The painter was backlogged, so the shutters were installed last week–five weeks after the fascia work was finished. Now our house looks fresh again and all the fascia and shutters are the same color. It took from July until December to go from meeting the contractor to finishing this relatively small job. It sounds like 2020, doesn’t it?

A few weeks ago, while Ted and I were doing some Christmas shopping, we saw this seasonally decorated vehicle at Best Buy–wreaths (one on each side), elves on the top and over the spare tire, window decorations, and some kind of stick-on lights all over the vehicle. Let the Christmas season begin!

After dinner tonight, we thought it would be fun to drive our neighborhood bike route to look at the holiday decorations at night. It was a pretty way to spend some time. Most houses had a modest to medium display of lights, but some folks went all out.

This scene includes a lake for the blow-up penguins standing beside it.

Luckily, this house is on a corner, so they could decorate two sides for public viewing.

These folks also did a good job of covering the front yard with lights.

This is one unit of an apartment building. They don’t have much space for lawn decorations, but they put as many lighted objects as possible in their limited area. They might win for most objects per square foot of space.

Without question, Ted and I voted this house the winner. Our guess is that it took two people four or five days to set up this display. They didn’t stop with outlining the entire structure of their house, stringing lights in most of a mature tree, and filling the front yard; they also completely decorated their backyard storage shed (visible in the center left) and everything else (swing set, fence, etc.) in the back yard. The lighted arches over the driveway don’t show very well with all the other lights competing for attention, but if you look closely, you can see them over the car in the driveway. Compare to Clark Griswold’s house in Christmas Vacation.

In contrast, Ted and I have a simpler holiday light display. Including some lights on the pool fence, it took me a little more than an hour. Merry Christmas!

The National Aquarium at Union Station in St. Louis is providing a safe way for kids to talk and have their pictures taken with Santa. Seven inches of Plexiglass separates the kids from Santa, so everyone is safely socially distanced.

Presenting . . . Scuba Santa and his elf.

This year, I am thankful for many, many things and one of them is Zoom. Only Kari’s family joined us for Thanksgiving dinner, but through the magic of the internet and the Zoom app, we were joined by all of our children’s families for a nice chat before dinner. It’s not the same as being together in person, but it’s the next best thing.

Some people (Laralee) say it’s not Thanksgiving without turkey. Most people have a traditional turkey with stuffing as the entreé; we were non-traditional and had turkey as an after-dinner snack. Ted and I saw this at a local chocolatier’s shop and decided to support local business. It’s a three-pound chocolate turkey. Teddy’s eyes (figuratively) popped out of his head when he saw it and realized it was made of his favorite food group.

Before Kari’s family arrived, Ted and I had the tables set. For some social distance, we put the adults at one table and those under 18 at another. The adult table got the turkey centerpiece.

Dylan brought some board games to play, so the gang headed to the basement for that. The kitchen table Ted and I bought with wedding gift money 51+ years ago lives on.

After dinner and pie (Kari’s signature pumpkin pie made with homemade pumpkin filling and my signature apple pie made with locally-grown apples), it was time for some turkey. Dylan broke off the first piece, and then we all took turns. There was a lot of turkey to break so everyone had at least two turns at destruction.

At this point, the kids suggested we “stuff” this turkey with m&ms. We didn’t have that many m&ms handy, so we kept breaking it instead.

Kari wondered if it was possible to break off the head like a chocolate Easter bunny.

The answer is “yes.” The head was solid, not hollow like the rest of the turkey.

After everyone tried a piece of chocolate to verify that it was edible, it was time to put on swimsuits and head for the hot tub. I divided the chocolate into two bags–one for Kari’s family and one for Ted and me–and then Dean and I did the dishes while the others sat in the hot tub. I was busy with the dishes and enjoying some one-on-one time with Dean, so I didn’t think of taking a picture of the hot tub crowd. Imagine six people sitting here in swirling 102-degree water.

2020 has presented all of us with many challenges, but it has also provided us with many blessings. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

I had my eyes examined in October and ordered new glasses and new contacts. The glasses and a year’s supply of contacts for my left eye arrived in less than a week. I’m still waiting for the contacts for my right eye.

If purchased between October 1 and December 1, my contacts include a $200 rebate, but I have to submit a photo of the boxed contacts with the UPC visible and readable. December 1 is not far away and I’m still waiting for half my boxes so I can take the required picture. I’ve been calling my eye doctor every few days to see if they have good news for me, and I finally got an answer yesterday.

The office manager talked to a live person at the source and learned that, due to COVID and widespread mask-wearing, large numbers of people who have never worn, or even considered, contact lenses now want to wear them. As a result, contact lens production is running about six weeks behind former delivery parameters. My contacts might arrive around December 13. The office manager said the company representative for their office has promised to make sure that customers get their $200 rebate, even with the delayed delivery time. Trial packages of contacts, however, are available, so the office manager ordered a month’s worth of trials (complimentary) for me. They should arrive in four days. We’ll see. (Pun.)

Masked man with steamed-up glasses who recently ordered contacts

On a related subject, I went to Target yesterday and involuntarily let out a whispered “Oh, no, not again!” when I saw the toilet paper shelves.

I recently read a report describing “super agers” and found it very interesting. Several years ago, a Harvard study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital examined people in their 70s and 80s with the physical or mental capacity of their decades-younger counterparts.

Physically, as people age, their oxygen intake typically decreases by approximately 10 percent every decade after the 30s. Super agers in their 80s, however, who exercise at a high intensity 20-40 minutes per day 3-5 days per week have the aerobic capacity of people 30 years younger. The long-term effect of exercise depends on the intensity, duration, and regularity of the activity. A measure of high intensity exercise is that you can’t talk easily while you are exercising.

Mentally, those who practice intense mental activity have better-preserved areas of the brain that involve memory and reasoning. Super agers tend to move out of their comfort zones to gain new areas of cognitive expertise. They are also willing to endure discomfort (e.g., embarrassment or physical discomfort) to master a new skill. An informal measure of mental age is the answer to the question “Could you do the job you did 30 years ago at the same level?”

A surprising finding about super agers is that, after they reach 105 years of age, their death rate actually decreases. They still die, of course, but at a slower rate than people younger than themselves.

At least five years ago, Sixty Minutes reported on the over-90 population living in Sun City, AZ, a 55+ community. The interviewees were all very active individuals who danced, swam, power-walked, joined clubs, etc. After seeing that report, I made it my goal to be a power-walker in my 90s.

Change this to power walking and it could be me in the 2040s.

At this point, Ted and I have the qualities of super agers. We are both physically and mentally active; we both read constantly for pleasure and for learning; we’re not afraid to try new things (although Ted passed on the purple poi dinner rolls in Hawai’i); we exercise, on average, more than an hour every day (although we’re sometimes active for several hours on a single day and do nothing aerobic on another day); and we both believe we could do our previous jobs as effectively as we did 30 years ago. We know we’d have to catch up on new developments in our fields, but as super agers, we aren’t afraid of the challenge to learn new things. Will we go back to work? Hahahahaha! (But we could.)

Do we qualify as super agers? We’ll let you know when we hit 105.

I was reading an article in my news feed about Trump supporters who gathered in Washington, D.C. to show their support for President Trump after the election. The speaker might have known what she meant, but the reporter, proofreader, and editor are all apparently unfamiliar with the difference between a ringer and a wringer. Or maybe all of the aforementioned people actually meant that the President has been treated like a bell.

Alex sent me a happy text last week.

We have eight grandchildren–seven boys and one girl. Alex is the oldest grandchild and it looks like he and Kaitlyn will carry on our tradition of boys. I hope this COVID thing ends so Ted and I can travel to see our first great-grandchild before his high school graduation. That’s a bit of hyperbole, but you know what I mean.