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!