We moved into our present house in July 1979. The following spring, we planted three trees in our yard: a sugar maple, a green ash, and a sweet gum. We purposely chose the sweet gum tree for its fall colors, but didn’t give a thought to the @#%&*! gum balls it would drop from late fall to early spring. Fortunately, we planted that tree on the far back corner of our lot where we had the vegetable garden and where we now have Ted’s “brush pile” area, so the gum balls aren’t as much of a problem as they’d be if they fell in a higher traffic area of the lawn.

Here’s a picture of Jeff (8) and Tommy (4) watering the sweet gum tree in October 1980, . . .

. . . and here’s a picture of the sweet gum tree today.

The tree has grown so much that I had to walk all the way to the other side of our neighbor’s back yard to fit the tree in my picture. Good work, boys.

We have an outdoor storage cabinet that holds a variety of pool toys and floats.

The white basket holds balls, snorkels, kickboards, etc.

Guess what Dylan and Teddy always choose to play with.

The bucket used to be bright red and unbroken, but heavy use in the pool took its toll.

The red bucket is the equivalent of the cardboard box on Christmas morning, and the kids have worn it out. In an act of generosity and mercy, Ted went to Home Depot and spent $3.00 on a new bucket. The boys were taking turns with it, so Ted went back and invested in another one. It’s amazing what can be done with a bucket in a pool. The boys have a variety of activities they do underwater with the buckets inverted over their heads, including talking with each other and trying to set underwater endurance records.

The most recent game required two people and two buckets. While Teddy was underwater with an inverted bucket over his head, Dylan (above the surface) prepared the second bucket by inverting it and pushing it underwater to Teddy. When Teddy ran out of air in bucket #1, he held his breath a few seconds and switched to bucket #2, remaining underwater. Then the process was repeated for this endurance test.

Teddy was underwater so long, Kari and I were a bit worried. Kari kept asking Dylan if Teddy was still ok and she eventually suggested it was time for Teddy to re-surface. Teddy’s first words were, “I could’ve stayed under longer.” He was underwater for 13 buckets of air. I have a hunch they’re going to try to break that record next time.

Getting ready to go underwater.
Dylan thought if he stretched the neckline of his shirt around the bucket, it might make a better seal, allowing him to stay underwater longer. It didn’t.
Relaxing before going back to bucket activity. Even with two new buckets, the red one was hauled out for more action.

Although selective information regarding educational budgets at the state and federal levels may indicate increased funding, those figures do not include adjustments for inflation.

Ted and I like having flowers around our patio–especially some marigolds to keep bugs away so we can sit outside and enjoy the summer weather.

We had our landscape mulch replaced with lava rocks and a heavy weed-resistant tarp. We didn’t want to move the rocks aside and cut holes in the tarp to plant flowers (and let the weeds through), so we looked for planters that would be low enough for the irrigation system to do the watering work for Ted. We had no luck, and decided to try storage boxes at the bargain price of two for $4.00 at Wal-Mart. We drilled some drainage holes in the bottoms, added potting soil and plants, and put the box covers underneath to catch excess water and escaping soil. The idea turned out very well. Now that we know it works, we’re going to build or buy more attractive frames next year and we might even drop the storage boxes into the frames.

The flowers are pretty enough that they attracted a butterfly that hovered over them for about 20 minutes while I watched it.

Our weather has been very hot and very humid, so we’re experiencing Ted’s favorite (i.e., easiest) forecast. He used to say he could use it nearly every day in July: highs in the upper 90s and lows in the mid-70s, with a chance of afternoon heat-induced thundershowers. Yesterday we had three thunderstorms–around 2:00, 4:00, and 9:00 p.m.–including some strong winds that left a lot of tree litter around the yard.

We saw some very threatening skies three days ago and had a thundershower that night too. The worst of those storms hit southeast of us. Two buildings were hit by lightning and went up in flames and four people were hit by lightning. They were playing soccer. One took a direct hit and is in critical condition; the other three were thrown to the ground by that strike. The following day, TV weathercasters reminded viewers that if you can hear the thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning. We were lucky to have only rain and thunder, but the skies were scary-looking. The clouds were very black and dark–even darker than the most distant cloud in the lower photo–but my camera self-corrected the lighting.

According to Country Time lemonade, kids’ lemonade stands across the nation are closed “due to social distancing guidelines.” To help the kids, Country Time launched the “Littlest Bailout Relief Fund” to help put a “little juice back into the economy.” It will send stimulus checks to kids who can’t operate their lemonade stands this summer. In a company news release, Country Time said it wants to ensure that even the smallest businesses can keep their dreams alive, “So when life gives you social distancing, make lemonade.”

Through August 12, parents of children 14 years old or younger can apply for a chance to win $100 in Visa gift cards and a commemorative check. (Interested? Go to www.countrytimebailout.com).

In 2018, Country Time had a “Legal Ade” promotion to help kids pay permit fees on their lemonade stands, due to outdated permit laws. This prompted several states to exclude lemonade stands from businesses that require a permit to operate.

Note: I’ve got a title theme going–15! 100! 800!

Since February, Ted and I have biked 436 miles. Tonight’s ride turned my odometer to 800.

It’s officially summer in St. Louis. We’re having daily temperatures in the upper 90s with lots of humidity. Today, we hit 100 for the first time.

A National Weather Service employee posted a suggestion on his Facebook page.

How do my grandchildren age so much faster than I do? We celebrated Dylan’s 15th birthday with him and enjoyed his traditional summer ice cream birthday cake. Dylan opted out of us singing “Happy Birthday” with the excuse that “You never know what to do while everyone is singing to you.”

I received a happy text message from Alex today.

Even better, I might share my birthday with my first great-grandchild.

Just a few months ago, our redbud tree bloomed with a spectacular display. Ted and I both commented on how pretty it looked this year and credited the good spring weather. After the big blossom show, the leaves on one branch began to yellow and die. We had an arborist look at the tree, but he couldn’t see any disease on it and advised us to give it a chance to come back.

Shortly afterward, the leaves on another branch began turning yellow. When they dried to a crispy brown, leaves on another branch started the same routine. We called the arborist to set a date to remove the tree, and today was the day we bid it farewell. Some of the tree is on the ground and the two men are ready to take down the main trunk. Ted planted the tree in 1990.

Note: “K-K-K Katy” was a popular World War I song and made a comeback during World War II. The first line of the song is “K-k-k-Katy, beautiful Katy, you’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore….” I know all the words because my dad used to sing it at home.

Yesterday was a perfect summer day–not too hot with low humidity. Ted and I thought it was a good day to bike a different section of the Katy Trail. This time, we entered the trail at the Defiance bike stop, less than a half mile from where we ended our July 4 ride, and went 13 miles west toward Augusta and Dutzow. We should have gone on to Dutzow, but we thought it was at least seven more miles (and back); had we known it was only a little over three miles, we’d have done it.

Most of the Katy between St. Charles and Defiance closely follows the Missouri River and is nicely shaded by trees. In other words, the view doesn’t change very much. It’s a beautiful bike ride and it’s very peaceful, but variety in scenery is limited. Our ride today was very different from that. The trail sometimes took us alongside the river and sometimes bordered MO Hwy. 94, which also follows the river. We crossed lots of bridges, and biked through farmland and through Missouri wine country in the Augusta wine district. Local pride note: The Augusta AVA was the first federally approved American Viticultural Area, becoming official eight months before California’s Napa Valley AVA.

The Katy Trail borders the MO River side of Defiance. At the trail entrance, there are restaurants and bars that were really hopping on a Sunday afternoon. One parking lot was filled with motorcycles (a biker bar?) and live music was provided in every venue. The first town we passed west of Defiance was Matson. Matson’s bike rest area looks like a little train depot. The trail is in the center of the picture and that’s Hwy. 94 on the right.

Just a little farther beyond Matson, we entered Augusta. Of course there was a winery right beside the trail. The trail is still following Hwy. 94 (left).

Sometimes the trail was a long way from the Missouri River as we passed through farmland. The trail is somewhere beyond the blue horizon (I couldn’t help it–another song reference). The corn was as high as an elephant’s eye (cf Oklahoma!–I’m apparently feeling musical) and we’re looking forward to fresh local corn in the next week or two.

We crossed lots of trail bridges over creeks that feed that Missouri River.

In many places along the river, we’ve biked beside tall, limestone bluffs. This one was different from the ones that go straight up and are shadowed with vegetation. It also added a new word to our vocabularies when we read the sign that said “Riparian restoration in progress.” Now I know that riparian means “of, on, or relating to the banks of a natural course of water.” Or, in simpler terms, a riverbank. It was a pretty impressive block of stone.

We frequently rode beside Hwy. 94. The portion of trail we rode today crossed the highway several times. In case you’re wondering, the path with the yellow center line is the highway; the other is the bike trail.

Are we still having fun? You bet!

There were lots of visual treats as we biked through the farmland areas. Below are a white stone wall/levee bordering a country road; a white barn set off by the summer green trees; an aluminum silo and granary; and an old Ford tractor parked inside a shed.

There are lots of park benches along the Katy Trail. This one stands out because it looks so lonely. Most of the benches are surrounded by woods and have a scenic view. This one gets a dead tree, a fallen sign, and nothing but flat fields to look at.

The river views are always pretty. I took this picture near a boat launch. There were a lot of cars with boat trailers in the parking lot. It was a good day for boating, too.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky, the clouds began to turn pink.

The Katy Trail is paved with hard-packed gravel. The weather has been dry. As we rode, our back wheels created little plumes of dust behind our bikes. After riding 25+ miles, the bikes were pretty dirty. I ran my finger over a spot on Ted’s navy blue chainstay and over his black tire and rim. You can see how dusty they are. Our bare legs (and feet and shoes) were also coated with a thick layer of white dust. Our clothes had a thinner layer, but felt gritty. When we got home, we washed the bikes, cleaned the chains, and vacuumed our bike bags. Compare the clean bag to the dirty one.

After the bikes were clean, it was our turn: a shower, a change of clothes, and a load of laundry, then dinner. Twenty-five miles of biking is hungry work, but it was fun. When we got back to our car and were loading up our bikes, Ted said, “I’m kind of sorry we’re finished.” I was too. Next time: Dutzow and farther west.

To celebrate Independence Day, Zaque’s group of missionaries decided to re-create photos of family members who had served in the U.S. armed forces. Here’s Zaque, re-creating a picture of his Great-Grandpa Pete. He’s not really a look-alike for my dad, but I think the family genes are visible. (Raised left eyebrow, jaw line.)

If I’d known what Zaque was planning to do when he requested a military photo, I’d have sent this one.

Picture it: It’s the Fourth of July, but Ted and I have no plans to do more than watch the neighborhood fireworks (legal in our jurisdiction). So dull. With fireworks being launched in the streets throughout the nearby subdivisions, taking a walk or a bike ride was out of the question. We’d spend far too much time waiting for a launch before we could pass and dodging falling bottle rockets, etc.

By 5:30 p.m., I was going crazy and wanted to do something. Aha! Brainstorm! I suggested to Ted that we load up our bikes and head for the Katy Trail. I listed reasons this would be a good idea: (1) We’d get out of our yard and the subdivision; (2) it was still several hours until sunset; (3) the trail would probably be deserted because everyone else had most likely already gone home for dinner and fireworks; and (4) the trail is not near subdivisions, so we wouldn’t have to listen to or dodge popping fireworks while we rode.

Ted was an easy sell for the idea. It took us very little time to put on shoes, fill some water bottles, and load the bikes on the car. We headed for the MO Research Park access point to the Katy Trail and found fewer than a half dozen cars in the parking lot. Yes! The last time we biked the Katy was the last beautiful day of October, and every trail was packed.

Everything we hoped for came true: the trail was beautiful, quiet, and deserted. The plan was to bike 20 miles, but we stopped at 18 because just past our nine-mile point, MO Hwy 94 crosses the Katy, and we had less than a mile to go to reach our ten-mile turnaround. After more than an hour-and-a-half of biking, we were filled with endorphins and looking forward to dinner.

We arrived at home around 8:00 p.m. and the locals were already launching their fireworks, even though the sun hadn’t yet set.

Here’s a closer look at our neighbor across the street–Will and Karen. Check out the table beside the driveway. It’s well-stocked with fireworks.

At 8:00 p.m., after biking 18 miles and with the sun still shining, Ted and I were more interested in dinner than fireworks. We cleaned the trail dust off our bikes and put together a quick meal. By the time we finished, the fireworks pops and bangs were so frequent, we decided to go outside to take a look at what was going on. This was not the usual neighborhood fireworks celebration. After standing in awe for about 15 minutes, we pulled up some lawn chairs and watched the show for two hours. It finally wound down after 10:30, and silence reigned by midnight.

From our driveway, with a 180-degree range of vision (the house was behind us), we could see at least ten sites where people were constantly launching fireworks, plus other occasional shots, where the residents had a smaller budget for the event. In our immediate neighborhood, four houses were providing a display for us. The orange arrow is our house; the four green arrows are the active neighbors’ sites. The side street at our house was also parked full of cars.

I can’t imagine how many thousands of dollars went up in smoke within our sight distance alone. There was no such thing as hearing an individual bang for those two hours–the noise was constant, differentiated only by louder bangs for bigger fireworks. Litter and ash fell from the sky and landed on us as we watched. Normally, there are some nice, big fireworks in the neighborhood shows but, as Kari said, you could tell that everyone was at home this year. I think folks spent their unusable travel budgets on fireworks, because there was one big explosion of color after another.

Ted and I have traveled frequently over the Fourth of July holiday because I always had the day off from work. We’ve seen fireworks in many major U.S. cities (Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New Orleans, others), as well as overseas for Bastille Day and Swiss National Day, but none of those places offered a two-hour show with a sky full of color everywhere we looked. This was definitely among the best fireworks displays we’ve ever seen, and Will and Karen might have had the best display in the subdivision–about 150 feet away from our VIP driveway seating. The fireworks in the photos below were launched by Will and Karen. They had two launching sites, so something was always going off, and it was obviously choreographed to present different types of explosions in pleasing series. Will told me they made some notes to improve it next year.

There was no wind, so smoke lingered.

In the morning, even though we hadn’t purchased or launched any fireworks, Ted and I had a clean-up job to do. Our lawn, concrete, and pool were littered with debris. The litter was mostly cardboard-like pieces and doesn’t show well in the picture below, but I don’t think there was a square foot without litter. It looks very bio-degradable, so will probably decompose quickly, but we needed to sweep and use the leaf-blower to clear the concrete and the outdoor furniture. I hosed off the furniture and the concrete to remove the ash. Ted vacuumed the pool twice, but neither of us could keep ahead of the debris. We assumed there was litter in the trees that kept falling on our (we thought) cleaned-up areas.

If Will and Karen’s show is going to be even better next year, you might want to join us July 4, 2021.

I made a Wal-Mart run for some essential items (wire for face mask nose pieces) and saw a robot at work. It was silently cruising up and down the aisles in an orderly manner. I asked a nearby employee what the robot does. He was puzzled and I had to point out the robot to him. He didn’t know what it was doing–or that it was even a few feet away from him–but he guessed it might be scanning for empty shelves that needed re-stocking. Note: I can’t believe his lack of curiosity! If a robot cruised by while I was at work, I’d ask someone what it does, just because it’s interesting.