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.

This summer, Ted and I noticed that, on one of the subdivision common grounds near our house, an opening has been cut in the woods and a trail is visible. We assumed kids had made a path from our subdivision down to the creek and up the hill on the other side to another subdivision in order to save about a half-mile getting to their friends’ houses.

We had a lot of rain over the summer and weren’t too interested in exploring a muddy path, but we were walking by a few days ago and, since the ground was dry, we decided to see where the trail leads.

Here’s the opening. The trail is clearly visible. And intriguing.

Within a few feet, the trail forks. This was more complicated than we’d expected.

First, we walked down the right fork. After about 20 feet, it ended in a puddle–I mean a small pond–that might connect to the creek, but we couldn’t tell.

We turned around, walked the 20 feet back, and went down the left trail. That leg goes far enough to see the creek (about 50 feet), but the area is very overgrown and covered with brush, so we didn’t go all the way to the creek.

We couldn’t see any place that the trail crosses the creek, nor were there piles of litter (cigarettes, bottles, cans, etc.) to indicate that kids gather here–unless they’re very neat kids. I guess there are some people who just walk around in the woods looking for a quiet place to get away. All in all, it was an anti-climatic end to weeks of curiosity.

Last week, Ted and I decided to bike the Busch Greenway, which starts in the Busch Wildlife Conservation Area (recently re-populated with raccoons and opossums) and passes through the MO Research Park (where Ted used to work) before connecting with the Katy Trail. Although we’ve biked this trail before, we always see new things. This time is was wild turkey nests and an odd tree.

Our bike rides are always interesting.

The hot tub is just as nice at night. Maybe nicer. The sky was clear and there was no moon, so lots of stars were visible. Mars was beautiful–huge (relative to the other stars) and very red. It’s obvious Mars is unusually close to Earth right now.

The blue light bar on the left lights the “tranquility fall” feature of our hot tub. Do we look tranquil? Tranquilized? Maybe just happy and relaxed.

June 13, 2020. Ted and I bought a hot tub for our anniversary. Oo-la-la, this will be great! Of course, it’s 2020 and the COVID-delayed supply chain has become part of the new normal, so the expected delivery / installation date for our hot tub was August 28. Well, it’s too hot for a hot tub in the summer anyway, and late August will be just in time for the fall weather. Happy anniversary to us!

June 23, 2020. The hot tub salesman told us the concrete company and the electrician will co-ordinate their installation dates with the hot tub delivery date so everything can move forward as soon as the hot tub arrives. We contacted both contractors within a week after our purchase. Since they could be coming soon and the weather was nice (not overbearingly hot or humid July weather), we decided to get the hot tub area ready for the concrete. We picked up the decorative landscaping rock, removed the underlying growth-resistant fabric, and moved the small bush that’s still present in the photo below so everything will be ready for the concrete guys to get to work.

June 25, 2020. The electrician came to our house to determine what he needs to do to wire the hot tub. Of course, we need the maximum amount of wiring. Because the hot tub runs on 240-volt current, it not only requires its own circuit, but the wiring has to be run through conduit. Naturally, the junction box is on one end of the house and the hot tub is on the other end. Running the conduit outside the house is problematic whether it runs along the roofline or along the ground, so it needs to run the length of the house above the drop ceiling in the basement (ground level), then outside through the brick exterior, up to the top of the pergola, across the pergola / patio, back down to the ground, and then about 18 inches over to the hot tub. We signed the contract.

July 15, 2020. All home contractors are super busy this year because people, including us, are staying home and using their travel money for home projects. The concrete contractor finally had time today for a site visit to provide us with a job estimate and a contract. Unbelievable! The concrete pad for our storage shed was poured in 2007 and cost $800 for 80 sq. ft. of 6-inch deep concrete; 13 years later, the hot tub pad cost $2,500 for 64 sq. ft. of 6-inch deep concrete–a 400 percent increase per sq. ft.! We signed the contract. Doug promised to have the concrete poured in time for it to cure before our August 28 expected delivery date.

August 10, 2020. Chad called to let us know, that, due to COVID-related difficulties in obtaining materials and parts, our hot tub delivery date has been re-scheduled for September 19. He said we are lucky because the tub we chose is manufactured in Las Vegas, where COVID isn’t too bad (yet). The manufacturer in Washington state has already closed down for several weeks due to COVID and has no expected delivery dates before early 2021. We decided to continue with our plans to have the concrete poured. Doug has it on his schedule and at least it will be ready in plenty of time for our hot tub delivery.

August 24, 2020. Doug and Tim arrived to pour the concrete. They had to dig down 8 inches–2 inches for a gravel base and 6 inches for concrete strong enough to support the weight of the hot tub (947 lb.) plus 475 gallons of water.

Re-bar had to be laid to prevent the pad from splitting apart if any future cracks develop.

It took a lot of wheelbarrow trips from the truck to the back yard to fill 64 sq. ft. with 6 inches of concrete.

After moving the concrete into place and roughly leveling it, I counted 7 different tools Doug and Tim used to make the surface increasingly smooth. Here’s the last step of smoothing. Tim is checking to make sure Doug doesn’t miss an uneven spot.

September 5, 2020. After waiting for the concrete to cure according to Doug’s instructions, I painted it so it will look nice around the edges of our hot tub. We took paint samples to the hot tub dealer to match paint to the hot tub siding color. There’s plenty of time for the paint to cure before our September 19 delivery date.

September 14, 2020. Chad called to say our hot tub manufacturing date has been delayed until late October or early November. By the time it’s manufactured (about a week), delivered from Las Vegas to St. Louis (another week), and scheduled for installation at our house (another week), we’re probably looking at delivery and installation between November 12 (earliest) and November 19 (latest). Patience is a virtue, right?

November 9, 2020. Chad called to tell us our hot tub has arrived at the dealership and can be delivered November 13. He will contact the electrician so the hot tub can be set up and wired on the same day. Hallelujah!

November 13, 2020. Five months to the day after we ordered it, our hot tub was the first delivery of the day and arrived at its new home around 9:00 a.m.

I was proud of Kevin and his team. They work like me. After unwrapping the hot tub and turning it in the direction we wanted (controls and steps facing the house, captain’s seats facing the pool), they measured both ends of each of the four sides to make sure the tub was centered and square on the concrete. Great job, guys! Looking at an angled, off-center tub for many years would have irritated me every day. This crew was finished after about two hours and moved on to their next delivery / set-up.

Meanwhile, . . . Marcus and Kevin, the electricians, were here an hour before the hot tub delivery to get started on the extensive wiring project. There was a lot of outside measuring, etc. to be done before they started serious work, and it was 33 degrees. Cold! At least it wasn’t cloudy and windy too.

When the delivery crew left, we started filling the tub so Marcus and Kevin could check the electrical hook-ups when they finished. It took them about six hours from start to finish to do the electrical work. They left just as the sunshine came around to the patio and the temperature reached 50 degrees. Reality is starting to sink in: we finally have our hot tub.

Ted and I had cleared a path from one end of the basement to the other so the electrical team could work. We also removed ceiling tiles along the wiring path. We thought that’s what we were supposed to do. When I saw Kevin replacing the ceiling tiles after they finished fishing the conduit and wire across the ceiling, I thanked him and said I hadn’t expected him to do that. “You guys already did a lot more than most people do,” he told me. “Most people just leave everything for us to move.”

Marcus did a brave thing. True, he and Kevin checked and double-checked in the basement and outside before he did the brave thing, but still, . . . He drilled a nearly 1½-inch hole through the outside brick and the concrete basement wall. Of course, it was in exactly the right place on his first try, because he’s a pro. He later admitted that, being no dummy, he drilled a smaller “test” hole just to be sure of his placement before going for the big hole. He works my way too. He said he likes everything to look neat and clean, not just connected, when he’s finished. (The building inspector complimented the electrical work and said it was very “clean.”)

When the interior (flexible) conduit was in place, Kevin starting fishing the wire into the house from the patio and Marcus pulled it across the basement ceiling. There were no hitches. It was “we’re ready” and then the wire went all the way through more than 50 feet of conduit with at least two right-angle turns. Why doesn’t it work that well when Ted and I try to do something similar, but much simpler?

Then came the most interesting part (to me) of the electrical work. I was inside the house and saw Kevin aiming a flaming torch at the rigid exterior conduit. (Some conduit pieces are partially visible at the foot of the ladder in the photo below.) I was curious, so I went outside and asked what he was doing. He was warming the conduit so it would bend to make the 7 turns needed to get from the house to the hot tub. When it was warm enough, the conduit swung and moved as flexibly as a rope. Marcus told me they could also use a hot box, but the torches were better today.

After the conduit became floppy, the two guys moved quickly to put it in place because there was little time to spare before it re-hardened. If more than one bend was needed on the same piece, they usually had to re-warm the area for the second bend. In the second picture below, Marcus is bending the conduit around the pergola post and Kevin is ready to attach the strap to hold it in place. They told me the conduit is paintable, but I’m going to save that project for warmer weather.

Last, it was time to install a dedicated electric box (a dedicated shut-off is required for a hot tub) and fish the wire from the box to the hot tub. The building inspector will be here November 17 to verify that everything is safe. We had to take down our party lights to meet the electrical code because they were within 10 feet of the hot tub. One of the contractors told us (wink, wink) we can re-hang them after the inspector leaves. We promise not to grab the party lights while standing on the hot tub in our wet swimsuits.

By the time all the installation, set-up, and electrical work was finished, the sun was shining warmly on the patio. Ted was busy raking and chipping leaves, and mowing and trimming the lawn for the last time this season, so I checked out how everything works and set up the control panel. The water temperature was 60 degrees. I set it for 104–what Chad told me most people use. It’s possible to set it as low as 50 degrees. Brrrr!–why??? We’ll probably drop it to the pool temperature in the summer so we can go from the pool to the hot tub for a massage and then maybe back to the pool. Fun, fun, fun! Everything is ready to go as soon as the water warms up.

November 15, 2020. The water in the hot tub didn’t warm up in time to enjoy our new toy on its first day at our house, and thunderstorms most of the next day made sitting in a hot tub a risky thing. Probably riskier than grabbing the party lights. Between the showers, however, we balanced the chemical levels of the water, so it wasn’t really a wasted day. Today, Day 3, was a different story. We had a delayed anniversary celebration in our new hot tub.

Note: The white surface in the lower left is the inside of the folded-back hot tub cover. We didn’t slide it all the way off because it provided a nice “table” for our wine glasses.

Today I saw this meme that referenced Kamala Harris as the United States Vice President-elect. It was followed by the statement “All it takes is one woman to crack open the door, and the crowd behind her can come barging through.” (Nancy Armour, USA Today) Of course, other countries have had women heads of state for many years, but the United States is still largely a patriarchy.

My daughters and their peers might not realize how far women have come in the past 50-60 years, but I’ve seen a lot of change in attitudes toward women in my lifetime.

My elementary school had three classrooms and three teachers–one man and two women. Of course, the man was the principal. Good for our school board, though. When the man retired, they hired another woman and selected the senior woman teacher to be the principal. When the single woman teacher got married, she was allowed to keep teaching, but when she became pregnant, she had to resign. It was considered inappropriate for young children to have a pregnant teacher, even though we saw our pregnant moms at home.

When I was in high school, the “obvious” career choices for women were secretary, airline stewardess, or teacher. Of course, when you got married, you would probably quit your job to raise your family. I didn’t want to be a secretary and I wasn’t pretty enough to be an airline stewardess. At that time, you had to be a single female, look like Barbie, and not wear glasses. Very sexist by today’s standards. I’ve always loved school, so I probably would have chosen an educational path anyway, no matter how many choices I had, but my college roommate was one of a very few women in the School of Business at UW-Madison.

When I was in college, women were allowed to wear pants to classes. After all, it was a huge campus with 15-minute walks between classes, and it was Wisconsin in the winter before global warming was noticeable. For dinner, however, we were required to wear skirts. I’m proud to say I was part of the protest movement in my dorm to allow pants for dinner attire. We won. Another college memory of mine is avoiding construction sites (there was always a new building going up on campus) because it was uncomfortable for me to have to walk by and ignore the comments and wolf whistles from construction workers. It wasn’t flattering then, and it’s sexual harassment now.

When I got married, I was not allowed to get a credit card in my name. Ted and I still use the VISA card we took out when we got married because it has no annual fees. One card has my name on it, but the account is in Ted’s name and the card number is the same on both cards. I now have an additional credit card in my own name–something I qualified for many years later.

When Ted and I bought a house, the utilities had to be in Ted’s name because a woman could not be the head of the household and only the head of the household (i.e., the man) could be counted on to be financially responsible. We haven’t moved in 41 years, so our utilities are still in Ted’s name but it’s not worth changing. I simply pay the bills out of our joint checking account.

Like millions of women around the world, I’m still waiting to be judged first for qualities other than my gender. I think Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate and the vote to elect Joe and Kamala as President and Vice President has been a big step toward equality for women in the United States. Let’s see how far it goes.

We are in the middle of an eight-day string of absolutely beautiful fall weather–sunny, with high temperatures ranging from the upper 70s to the upper 80s. It’s November, so this won’t last, and we have to bike while we can.

Ted’s and my favorite bike trail / greenway is the Dardenne Greenway. We like it for two reasons: (1) it is quiet and always provides a peaceful ride; and (2) the scenery is varied, so it is interesting. If we connect to the St. Peters bike trails and the Cottleville bike trails as well, we bike about 20 miles. We decided to enjoy this Indian summer day by biking this route one more time this season.

We usually begin this bike ride at St. Charles Community College because it’s close to our house and because the greenway runs along two sides of the campus. As a result, we start our ride by biking around the campus, which is beautifully landscaped and is like riding through a park.

This route includes a variety of pathways. There’s a boulevard, . . .

. . . curves, . . .

. . . and what I call a wiggle-waggle stretch of trailway.

There are a number of sports fields along the way for a variety of sports. Here are two of them.

There are also several playgrounds. Again, here are two.

Like all the greenways and bike trails in the area, there are frequent benches to rest, to snack, or to just enjoy the peace and quiet while admiring the views.

The Dardenne Greenway and the Cottleville bike trails follow Dardenne Creek, so there are pretty creek views all along the way.

The Dardenne Creek drains a lot of area and can be counted on to flood during heavy rain. There are some signs along the greenway warning pedestrians and bikers that the trail may be under water after a “rain event.” The picture below shows the sports fields (on the right) in Rabbit Run Park, which is set beside Dardenne Creek. That’s a levee along the right side of the trail to keep the water from flooding the trail. When our kids played soccer, the games at Rabbit Run were always cancelled if there was rain, because Dardenne Creek always flooded the playing fields.

Because there’s a creek along the greenway, there are bridges to cross . . .

. . . and one bridge to bike beneath. This bridge allows the traffic on Mexico Road to cross the greenway. At this point, there’s a connecting trail up to Mexico Road leading to the St. Peters bike trail network.

There are meadows. This one has tall grass in the fall, but in the spring, it is covered with Queen Anne’s lace.

This meadow is being developed as a natural prairie.

There are five lakes along the route . . .

. . . and there are wooded areas.

I always think of Robert Frost when we get to this intersection in the woods. In “The Road Not Taken,” Frost writes “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I– / I took the one less traveled by.” Well, here’s a yellow wood with two roads diverging and the road less traveled by is the one that goes to the right. Why? It overlooks a lake, but it dead ends just around the curve. Ted and I took the more traveled by road to the left so we could continue our bike ride.

There is even wildlife along the trail–ducks, geese, birds, squirrels, and bugs, for example. (And once we smelled a skunk.) On this ride, for the first time, we saw seven deer. Most walked (not ran) into the woods when we stopped to look at them, but you can see three in the photo below. The third one is in the woods between the big tree in the middle and the deer on the right. (Zoom the picture for a better view.)

The Dardenne Greenway is part of the Great Rivers Greenway project (GRG). The goal of the GRG is to connect all the parks in the St. Louis Metro area. The Dardenne Greenway makes a lot of park connections.

When we got home, Ted and I relaxed with a cup of hot chocolate beside our fire bowl. It was another good day in The Life of Ted and Diane.

We had above-average rainfall all year through September. To comfort us, the experts told us we’d have beautiful fall foliage as a result of all the rain. They were right. The fall colors this year are stunning! The reds are brilliant and the yellows are bright. It’s been a delight to see so much gorgeous color wherever we go.

From our back yard, we can admire these colors in the yards of the three neighbors behind us.

Biking through the neighboring subdivisions, we saw these.

And this red, red, red, display was in a nearby restaurant parking lot.

When we went to Pilates at the community college last week, we saw “Camelot trees.” One of the songs from Camelot includes the words:

Well, here’s how it looks when the leaves fall in neat little piles. They will probably blow away tonight.

P.S. When the redbuds were gloriously blooming one spring, I mentioned that I think nearly everyone in the metro area planted at least one redbud tree in their yard. With the burning bushes so obviously red this year, I’d like to add that I think everyone in the metro area planted at least one redbud tree and at least two burning bushes in their yard.

One of the things voters feared in the 2020 Presidential election is Biden’s plan to raise taxes. Not everyone continued to read or listen to the details clarifying that Biden’s proposed tax hike would only affect those whose annual income exceeds $400,000. Today, while scrolling through my news feed, I found a string of social media comments about Biden’s plan.

And finally, . . .

Summer is officially over at our house. The golden leaves on the ground crackle under our feet, the pool is winterized, the umbrella is covered, and the patio furniture is packed away in the storage shed. Firewood will be delivered this week, just in time for some fall fire bowl time.

We left two lawn chairs on the pool deck for nights at the fire bowl and for days when it’s warm enough to sit outside in the afternoon sunshine. There are two additional lawn chairs on the patio (visible through the fence) because . . .

. . . our hot tub is finally at the dealer, waiting to be delivered to our house. It will be placed on the concrete pad visible in the center left, off the patio and left of the pool. We’ll need some lawn chairs beside the hot tub to hold our towels and robes while we luxuriate in the nice warm water, enjoying the relaxing water jets. We ordered the hot tub on June 13, almost exactly five months ago. You’ve gotta love the COVID supply chain issues!

Update coming when the hot tub is installed. I can’t wait!