According to Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” A homeowner’s fancy, on the other hand, turns to thoughts of outdoor spring clean-up. That’s what Ted and I have been doing for the past few weeks.

  • We had a new pool liner installed.
  • We had a new pool pump installed.
  • We drained and cleaned the hot tub.
  • We had the air conditioner inspected and cleaned.
  • We had the irrigation system turned on.
  • We bought a redbud tree to replace the maple tree that was removed last summer. The nursery planted it, but Ted and I removed grass from around the tree and replaced it with weed-resistant fabric and decorative rock.
  • We planted flowers. I shopped for and selected flowers while Ted ran other errands. I fell for a hibiscus tree (center, ahead of Ted). It won’t survive the Missouri winter, but it should be gorgeous all summer.
  • We hauled the lawn furniture out of the storage shed and washed it.
  • We took the covers off and chased the bugs out of the outdoor umbrellas.
  • I washed all the dirt off the concrete while Ted put things away.
  • We’re finished and ready to relax in our backyard resort while we let our fancy lightly turn to thoughts of something else.

We had a new pool liner installed a few weeks ago and we thought we were ready to swim. Then, one day while Ted and I were working in the pool area, we noticed that the pool surface had a lot of leaves on it. They should have been sent to the skimmer, but we discovered that hadn’t happened because the pump wasn’t running. I couldn’t get it started, so I called the pool company. The service manager (Jim) told me “That doesn’t make sense. I’ll come out and look at it.” He tried everything in his bag of tricks, but nothing started the pump. He told us he’d be back the next day with a new pump.

Jim and his daughter came back the following day and replaced the old pump in about 30 minutes. Now that we have a new liner and a new pump, we should be good for at least ten years.

The arrow points to the old pump. The new one is in the box on the right.

Three years ago, we planted an arborvitae hedge. The trees on each end are doing very well, but the trees in the middle don’t want to grow. One tree died in the first year and was replaced under the warranty, but now we have four trees in the center area that are failing. The difference in size between the trees on the ends and those in the middle is obvious. You can’t see between the end trees, but there’s lots of space between the stubby center ones–just where we want the privacy. The trees were all planted at the same time except for the totally brown one, which was replaced after the first year. The replacement lasted about 18 months. That spot in the ground has now killed two trees in three years. When we ordered this round of replacements, the landscaper suggested having the crew overdig the holes and put in new soil.

The landscaper’s suggestion made us think a soil test might be a good idea. I thought we’d have to go through the county extension service, or at least a nursery, to get an expert to perform a soil test. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when I searched online for someone to do a soil test, I discovered that soil test kits are available at–where else?–Wal-Mart.

This is the stuff included in the testing kit. As I set out the instructions, the soil samples, the test tubes, the chemistry tablets, the distilled water, and the color chart, I felt like Bill Nye the Science Guy. All I needed was safety goggles. It brought back memories of high school chemistry class when we did experiments on Fridays.

Soil testing isn’t hard, but it’s definitely time-consuming. It took me about four hours to test six soil samples. The results showed that our troubled center section of arborvitae trees could use some pH and a lot of nitrogen, and our magnolia trees could also benefit from some nitrogen. Ted bought some nitrogen and treated the magnolia trees. The landscaper’s plan to add new soil might solve the arborvitae problem, but I guess we’ll have to test the new soil to find out.

Last week, we needed to get our pool ready for the scheduled installation of a new liner. The first step was to remove the winter pool cover. Ted estimates the cover weighs about 80 pounds, not counting the water it picks up as we drag it over the pool to remove it. I think his estimate might be low. I had already washed the driveway so we could spread the cover out to hose it off before we pack it away until late fall. Our neighbor, Will, saw us washing the pool cover and said, “Oh, no! If you guys are opening your pool, it’s going to snow next week!” Hahaha.

While the cover lay drying in the sun, we started draining the pool. With the pump pulling the water out through a two-inch hose, that took about 5 hours. While waiting for the pool to drain, I power washed the winter dirt from the pool deck and the patio, and hosed off the sidewalks and the front porch. Ted brought out a few more pieces of lawn furniture for the nicer weather, then mowed the lawn.

With a new liner coming, we wanted the pool steps and the upper edge around the pool to be sparkling white. It’s much easier to clean the edge by standing in the pool than to kneel on the pool deck, leaning over the water to scrub it. Since the pool was empty, Ted got to work.

If you’re a long-term reader, you might be thinking, “Didn’t they just put in a new liner a few years ago?” You’re right; liners should last at least 10 years. Look at the top edge of the liner in the photo above. It looks like there’s a dark border, but that’s not a border; that’s how much the liner faded in 3 years. When the pool guy saw that, he said it should have lasted much longer (say, 10 years), so he activated the warranty to save us a chunk of money on the new liner and on the installation labor. A closer look at the liner in the photo below clearly shows the fading. It also shows why Ted is scrubbing dirt off the top white edge.

The pool crew arrived bright and early the next morning. They cut around the bottom edge of the liner and removed the bottom piece, then released the sides, and carted it all away. There was some clean-up to be done before dropping the new liner. Hard objects and / or deep depressions under the vinyl liner can result in puncture holes, so a complete and detailed vacuuming and some touch-up fill work were needed.

Two hours after the crew arrived, they had the new liner dropped and they were making some final adjustments before working out all the wrinkles and installing the jets, the light, and the drain covers.

The guys started filling the pool before they left and told us to turn off the water when it reached the bottom step. The next morning, they came back to adjust any remaining stubborn wrinkles that had been pushed ahead of the water. After that, we were “go” to fill it all the way. With two hoses running, it took 16 hours to fill the pool to the top. One of the pool crew guys came back the next day to install the ladder and the railings, to turn on the pump, and to check the equipment to make sure everything was running well. We are now ready for the 2021 swim season.

Meanwhile . . .

Having a new hot tub means having one more thing to clean up in the spring and in the fall. We’ve been enjoying the hot tub for almost six months, so it’s time to freshen it up. That job turned out to be a lot more time-consuming than we’d expected.

The obvious first step was to drain the hot tub. It sounds easy and there really isn’t anything to do except connect a garden hose to the hot tub drain. BUT, first you have to bring the water temperature down from that lovely, relaxing 104 degrees. The owner’s manual suggested 24 hours, but the overnight temperature dropped to the low 40s, so cooling the water wasn’t a problem–we just took the cover off and let the night air do its thing. The water was more than cool enough by morning, so while the pool was draining, we connected a garden hose to drain the hot tub. Draining it took a surprising 5 hours–the same amount of time it took to empty the pool, which has about 34 times more water than the hot tub. We did not see that coming! Talk about a setback in your schedule! The pool’s two big drains, its pump, and its two-inch drainage hose work a lot faster than a 5/8″ garden hose counting on gravity to do the work.

When the hot tub was (finally) drained, I started cleaning it while Ted cleaned up the pool. It sounds amazing when the literature and the salesman tell you that your hot tub has 6 gazillion jets. “Ooh, aah,” you say. “Is that the most we can get?” It’s a different story when you have to remove every jet to clean it. My sore fingertips felt like I unscrewed and pulled out about 6 gazillion jets, but I reasoned there probably weren’t more than 120. Hah! When I finished, I counted them and came up with only 62 jets–half of what my fingers “reasonably” felt like I had removed.

The jets had to be soaked in a vinegar/water mixture for 3 hours to remove any built-up residue in them. The two extra large jets that provide an awesome foot massage didn’t fit well in our pail and dishpan with the other jets, so we put them in the pail after the first load of jets was finished soaking. As a result, the total soak time was 6 hours. We opted for the extended time because we’d already used 1.5 gallons of vinegar and we didn’t feel like making another trip to the grocery store for more vinegar to do only two more jets.

While the jets soaked, I scrubbed. The pool store sold us some awesome non-sudsing cleaner for the tub surface. I just sprayed it on and wiped it off, and it left the surface as smooth and clean as if it had never been used. No hard scrubbing needed. I bet it would work great for cleaning the bathroom.

After removing and washing the headrests, I moved on to the exterior of the hot tub and wiped down the sides to get rid of the winter grit. The final cleaning task was to wash the cover and apply a coat of protectant to help prevent premature fading and weathering. That was pretty simple too–just time-consuming. Aren’t you impressed that Ted’s pictures show me smiling while I work? I feel like a TV ad. The truth is, the job wasn’t awful, but I’m good with only needing to do all of this twice a year, and we both feel that way about the pool too.

At last, I could put the garden hose inside the hot tub to fill it. It filled in about 45 minutes, but it wasn’t warm enough by evening to relax our sore muscles from all the work of cleaning the pool and the hot tub.

After spending two days getting our waterworks cleaned up for the summer season, there’s a change in the weather forecast. After a high temperature of 75 degrees today, tomorrow’s forecast includes falling temperatures, rain possibly mixed with up to one inch of snow, and an overnight low in the mid-20s. More of the same is predicted for the following day and night, except the temperatures might be a few degrees warmer. Will was right. It’s been a week since we opened the pool and we’ll probably see some snow tomorrow.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

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!

In early October, there was a lot of digging going on in our yard and the footprints indicated it was being done by a raccoon.

Ted bought a trap and we caught Ringo that same night (October 8), then released him into the Busch Wildlife Conservation Area the next day. Whew! That was easy!

A few days later, we saw more raccoon tracks. We decided Ringo must have a wife, so Ted set the trap again and we caught the little woman (didn’t actually identify gender-type) on October 13. Look at the pile of dirt “she” dug up through the holes in the trap.

Ted released Number 2 and put the trap away. But wait! There was fresh digging three days later. Ted set the trap again and Number 3 (one of the grown kids?) was sitting in it on October 16.

What is going on??!! Is our yard the neighborhood attraction for the wildlife community living in the woods across the street? Did Ringo pass the word somehow to tell all his friends that the Busch Wildlife Conservation Area is an awesome place and that the transport carrier is in our yard?

In a forward-thinking manner, we decided to keep setting the trap every night until we captured every critter that was digging up our lawn. Two days later (October 18), we apparently captured a friend of Ringo’s family–an opossum. Check out those teeth! He was asleep and woke up when we lifted the trap. He didn’t make a sound, so maybe this was just a yawn. Ted made another relocation deposit at Busch.

We kept the trap baited and sure enough, on October 21, there was another opossum sleeping in it and awaiting transfer.

That’s five critters trapped and relocated. It’s been a week since we trapped No. 5 and there’s no evidence of new digging in the yard, so our 2020 wildlife relocation program might be finished. At least for awhile.

It’s time to make applesauce again. I don’t especially like the job, but we love our homemade chunky-style applesauce, so-o-o-o, . . . .

We bought a bushel of apples–“The World’s Finest Apples,” according to the box. They were beautiful apples.

Ted’s main job is to operate the apple peeler/slicer. Why do they have to put a sticker on every. single. apple??

Then I fill the kettles and cook and mash the peeled/sliced apples.

The applesauce needs to cool before I put it into meal-size boxes for future use.

Ted carries the boxes to the freezer. . .

. . . and we always save a few apples so I can make an apple pie to celebrate the end of the applesauce-making process. The supply of applesauce and the pie reward make the work worth the effort.

We’ve had a raccoon digging up our yard every night after dark for more than two weeks. He likes digging in the sod Ted just laid down, in the thinner areas of the lawn, and in every single flower bed. When he finds something to eat, he stands on the first step in the swimming pool (about two inches of water) to wash his food. He leaves his muddy footprints all over our patio, pool deck, and pool steps. Here’s what his digging looks like. Daily. This has to stop!

Ringo shows no sign of planning to leave our yard to dig elsewhere, so Ted called the state conservation department and the animal control folks to get some ideas for dealing with a rogue raccoon. The agencies won’t do anything about the critter themselves “because of COVID,” but recommended a trap baited with cat food. Yesterday, Ted bought a trap and some cat food and set the trap in Ringo’s favorite spot: Ted’s new sod.

When we went to bed, we turned on the patio lights to see if the trap had been tripped. It wasn’t. During the night, I woke up and noticed it was brighter than usual in our bedroom, so I peeked outside to see if the moon was shining in. It wasn’t, but I saw that we had forgotten to turn off the patio lights, so I went to the kitchen to turn them off. As long as I was there, I checked the trap again and it was tripped. Apparently, the lights attracted Ringo. He couldn’t resist the yummy cat food, so he walked into the trap and locked himself inside.

In the morning, I watched him for awhile. He paced a lot and turned in circles, but he didn’t seem overly concerned about his confinement. Sometimes, he’d plant his feet and push against the sides or the top of the trap, trying to get out, and he spent a lot of time digging in the ground between the trap wires. Ha-ha, Ringo! Now you know what “trap” means–you can’t get out! Ted picked the right spot for the trap. Ringo apparently went directly to the trap because we didn’t see any damage or muddy footprints anywhere else in the yard this morning.

Before buying the trap, we had decided to release our captured critter in the Busch Wildlife Conservation Area–not too far away, but far enough that he shouldn’t be able to find his way back to our house–especially if he was riding in the dark in the trunk and couldn’t see where he was going. We loaded Ringo up for his first (and only?) car ride.

We picked a spot at the edge of the woods to release Ringo, and Ted carried him over.

While Ted worked to open the trap door, Ringo did some more pacing and circling. He might have looked busy, but he was paying attention. The instant the trap door opened, he shot out like a streak. I was ready for his escape photo with my finger on my camera button, but he was too fast for me. He’s not in the photo below. The dark area inside the trap is the dirt he dug up between the trap wires while he paced last night.

Here’s Ringo’s escape-attempt dirt pile in the trap. Past experience says he could have dug out a lot more if he hadn’t had to work within those little square spaces of the trap. Add this dirt to the dirt from the wide open spaces of the flower beds and other areas of the lawn where he’s been digging, and you’ll have an idea of how much damage he’s been doing to our yard every night. He’s definitely a master digger! Note: The Katy Trail can be accessed from this parking lot. The white gravel surface of the parking lot (below) is what they use on the Katy Trail. It’s very dusty and that’s why we have to clean our bikes after a long ride on the Katy.

I hope Ringo finds some friends in the conservation area and enjoys digging in the forest. Ted and I will be glad if we don’t have to tamp down the grass and clean the mud from the pool, the pool deck, and the patio tomorrow morning.

This sad story begins on July 29, 2020–the day I took the picture below.

Ted and I noticed lots of leaves dropping from our sugar maple tree in July. When we looked up, we saw that the leaves on some of the branches were turning brown–not something we expected during mid-summer, especially with all the rain we’ve had this year. If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see some of the leaves turning brown. I took a picture of the tree right away so I’d have a good memory of it before it got worse. So many leaves dropped so quickly (below), Ted had to rake the lawn before mowing it.

We called Russ, an arborist, who diagnosed the tree as fatally ill with a wilt disease and probably some weaknesses resulting from storm damage (ice, wind) several times over the years. While he was talking with us, leaves fell like large brown snowflakes. Russ said he’d never seen a tree deteriorate that fast. Because of all the tree removals he had already scheduled, Russ’s company couldn’t come until yesterday. I guess it isn’t my imagination that wherever I go this year, someone seems to be taking down mature trees.

The tree removal crew showed up right after 6:30 a.m. and got to work. They powered up the cherry-picker and Doug climbed in, took it up, and fastened pulleys in upper branches of the tree. Then he strung rope through the pulleys for the guys below to pull, guiding the branches safely down. (See the guy in the center of the picture.) Sometimes the guy pulling the rope would walk it around the tree’s trunk to wind it tighter and keep it from slipping when a large branch fell. Compare how the tree looks to only 35 days ago in the first picture.

Notice what a pretty color the leaves have turned (below). I called the arborist two days ago to ask if there’s a chance the tree will live because it’s so nicely colored. Unfortunately, he said, that’s a definite sign it’s dying because the other maples in the area are not even beginning to show fall colors. As cut branches fell, the dead leaves created colorful showers.

When the branches from the driveway side of the tree were stripped, one of the guys re-wound the rope in the rope-holder bucket. I wondered why he was doing that. Didn’t they need to use the rope to safely bring down the branches on the other two-thirds of the tree? They picked up some of the larger branches and laid them out as shown below. Ted suggested that maybe they were going to build a little fort. Instead, they sat on the branches and had a smoke break.

When Doug moved the traffic cones to block the street in front of the tree and then cut out a wedge at the base of the tree on the street side, the light dawned on me: they were planning to drop the rest of the tree across the street. They only cut off the other branches to avoid damage to our driveway and other plantings. Notice the split down the trunk where the tree twisted from wind storms and from the weight of ice storms over the years. In the picture below, Doug’s chainsaw is nearly all the way through the base of the trunk. Going . . . going . . . going . . .


And it’s over. The log “fort” was a bridge to cushion the blow of the tree hitting the ground. I have to admit that I got a little bit choked up when the tree fell. This was one of the first of three trees we planted in our yard in 1980. At one point, for some unremembered reason, we talked about removing it, but Jeff pleaded with us to keep it because it was his favorite tree. Doug estimated the height of the tree at 50-55 feet. So sad.

The tree also landed right on the wedge Doug cut. He told me that was unintentional.

The guys got to work, cutting the fallen tree into manageable pieces, then hauling them to the mulcher. Doug, on the left, is the senior member of the team; the guy on the right is the junior member. He wasn’t allowed to use a chainsaw and was limited to picking up branches, feeding them into the mulcher, re-winding the rope, raking leaves, etc. The guy in the middle helped with everything except getting into the cherry picker bucket.

Things were going well until they weren’t. Doug smelled diesel fuel and found a leak in the pump line. The guys shut down the mulcher and had a little conference. Turning off the motor stopped the leak. It also stopped the work. The crew quickly covered the leaked fuel with sawdust and leaves to absorb it. The two junior members of the crew took the mulcher back to home base to exchange it for a working model. That took about 90 minutes. Doug had to stay with the tree because it was still blocking the road and wasn’t completely cleaned up. (Safety and liability, I assume.) You can see the pile of leaves and sawdust in the road. It looks inert, but it’s busily absorbing diesel fuel.

Break time while we wait for a different mulcher.

Our lilac tree also died this year and Ted recently uprooted it. I asked Doug if he’d mind running the lilac tree through his mulcher. He told us to bring it out. It looks so small compared to the sugar maple.

While waiting for the replacement mulcher, Doug got to work on the magnolia tree. Because it grew in the shadow of the sugar maple, the side next to the sugar maple didn’t fill out as well as the side next to the driveway. Doug evened it out. He took the cherry picker up for a bird’s eye view of the tree’s shape and then he went to work.

The tree is smaller now and Doug said it won’t bloom next year, but it should grow faster and more evenly since it now stands alone.

The clean-up work resumed when the guys came back with a working mulcher. They totally cleaned up our lawn and the street and even went across the street to clean up Jim’s lawn and driveway where a lot of leaves had fallen.

When they left, this is all we had of the tree. They told us the crew with the forklift would probably arrive later today, and definitely this week. They were here in less than 30 minutes.

The tree company has a good thing going. Their trucks advertise they they also sell firewood and mulch. They charged us to take down the tree, then they took away a truckload of mulch from shredding all the branches, and now they’re taking away big logs that will make firewood for them to sell. It’s kind of a commercial version of The Giving Tree. Hopefully, this contributes to reducing the cost of tree removal.

Here goes some of the firewood-to-be on the forklift. Up on the fork, then down into the truck.

The guys cut the stump lower for grinding (stump grinder approaching from the left) and that’s when I saw what an interesting shape the tree trunk had.

The stump grinder guy needs lots of patience. The equipment moves very slowly into position. The blade is speedy, but he has to move it slowly over the upper edge of the trunk, then slowly back, then drop it a bit, and then repeat–over and over until he gets all the way through the stump. It took him about 30 minutes to grind our stump. It looked like a boring, but dangerous job. When he finished, he very slowly directed the machine back to his truck.

The forklift returned to the scene of the damage to pick up the piles of mulch created by the stump grinder. From the stump, into the truck, and then for sale as mulch.

The guys raked everything smooth before they left. You can see our neighbor, Jim, watching the fun from his garage.

When the yard, the street, and the neighbors’ yards were clean, the crews left this for us.

Here’s our new look.

While the tree crews were working, Ted and I were sitting in the driveway watching them. Neighbors and strangers stopped to tell us how sorry they were to see this tree go. Several mentioned what a beautiful tree it was and how much they’ve enjoyed it every fall. One lady even said she always thought the fall colors of the tree perfectly complemented our house. After 40 years of watching our sugar maple grow and turn color, we’ll never see it again. I’m glad I took this October picture last year.

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.

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.

Ted and I have decided “Backyard.”

Last winter, we started talking about installing a hot tub in the spring. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and we decided that was too many contractors at the house–ground prep, concrete, electric, tub delivery, installation, etc.–so we put it off. Today we ordered our hot tub.

Hot tubs are in high demand, like bicycles and toilet paper, so we have to wait for the manufacturer to build our tub. If all goes well, the installation should be complete by late August or early September–just in time for cooler weather. We’re looking forward to the features we selected: two captain’s chairs (with individualized controls) plus four other seats (room for guests), lots and lots of jets, several motors to enable selection of specific jets, controls to adjust the intensity of the jets, a hydraulic-assisted cover that folds itself over the outer edge of the tub, a waterfall feature (lower corner of the photo) that’s part of the cleaning system, and a rainbow selection of lights that we were told “make the water glow in the dark.”

Fall has always been my least favorite season, but with a hot tub, I might have to adjust my opinion.

Ted and I built our firewood rack in 1980. We used treated pine, and the wood is still good, but was looking a little faded. (No surprise, since it’s probably been 20+ years since we last stained it.) A few weeks ago, I went to a lumberyard to buy stain. I wasn’t allowed inside, but the employee brought the stain and a handheld credit card machine to the door and I went home happy. The weather was warm and without rain in the forecast, so I decided to stain the firewood rack. It looks much better and fresher now.

We waited a few days to allow the stain to thoroughly dry, and then Ted re-loaded our leftover winter firewood onto the rack. We’re set for another 20+ years.

We’ve lived in this house for 40+ years and I’ve always thought the steps to the upstairs seemed steeper than the steps to the basement. I chalked it up to the carpeting on the upstairs stairway, but things didn’t change when we swapped out the carpeting for hardwood. Last week, I finally decided to verify the steepness of both stairways. (It was obviously a slow day in lockdown.)

I measured everything I could think of. Both stairways have 13 steps. Both span the same horizontal distance, so the upstairs stairway wasn’t cut short to make room for the hallway and the closet beyond it. The upstairs stair treads are actually 0.75 inches deeper than the basement stairs, so it’s not an illusion of wider steps, but the upstairs risers are also 0.75 inches taller than the basement ones and the angle of ascent is seven degrees steeper, proving that the upstairs stairway is definitely steeper than the basement stairway. Why, why, why???

After a few seconds, I had the Eureka! moment. The basement ceiling (to the bottom of the joists, not to the dropped ceiling tiles) is 6.5 inches lower than the main floor ceiling, so the upstairs steps need to climb 6.5 more inches in the same horizontal distance. Problem solved. Now, what shall I do for the next 15 minutes?

Next question: Is this true in other houses?

I’m so glad I worked in education and not in big business. Today, I had to deal with the corporate sector, something I always dread.

Last week, I received an email from our gas company informing me that they are changing to a different computer system. To continue my autopay payments, I was instructed to go into my gas company account, unenroll from autopay, then re-enroll in it so that my account will be switched to the new system. What a pain, but ok, I went into my account to do that, but I was unable to re-enroll. Error message: We were unable to enroll your account in paperless billing at this time. Please try again later. I did. Same result.

I called to speak with a live person and was told to call back during regular business hours–which were not specified. Before calling back the next day, I tried to set up an account myself once more. Still no luck after 20 minutes. I was becoming frustrated, so Ted suggested I try scr** you as a password to see if that works. I tried calling again instead.

Luckily, early afternoon apparently falls within the regular (but unspecified) business hours, and I was able to speak with Keith. According to him, there is no record of my autopay account in the company’s system. Since I’ve been using autopay for years and have not had the gas shut off, I find it hard to believe that there is no record of my account. Keith, however, insisted it doesn’t exist in the records and advised me to set up a new account. I tried, but I couldn’t get past the “enter your password” screen.

Switch to Rob. Rob informed me that he is working from home, sitting on the sofa in his pjs beside his wife and petting his cat. (Professional? I think not.) Rob told me I’m having trouble because there’s a dot in the first part of my email address and the system doesn’t recognize that format. I’ve been getting emails from the gas company at that address for years, but . . . . After working with me for a few minutes, Rob decided to contact an IT specialist, so he put me on hold while he sent a message. The voice on the wait-time recording asked, “Have you signed up for paperless billing? It’s easy! Just go to to see how effortless this is.” We English majors call this “irony.”

For twenty-five minutes, while Rob and I–and his wife and cat–waited to hear back from the IT guy, Rob and I chatted about places we’ve been and how good the beignets are at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. His wife and I both played clarinet in school, yet she never heard of Pete Fountain, a reknowned Dixieland clarinetist. After more trivial exchanges, the IT guy finally sent Rob a message saying he had set up the account for me and there was nothing else I needed to do. If my May gas bill gets paid automatically, he’s right.

This process was so “easy” and so “effortless,” it only took 45 minutes of unsuccessful attempts on my part and a little more than an hour of phone time with Keith and Rob to set this up! Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!

Yesterday afternoon, I left the house around 4:00 p.m. to run a few errands. When I returned at 5:30, the knob on the door between the garage and the house wouldn’t turn. I knocked, thinking the door was locked, but Ted couldn’t turn the knob from the inside either. I took my bags around to the back door, then took the door knob apart to see if I could fix it. Both knobs came off, exposing the inner workings of the latch, but nothing moved and the door refused to open.

The locksmith (Kevin) who came to the house this afternoon said he rarely sees jammed latches, but this was his second one today. What are the odds? He did the same thing I had done: removed both knobs and tried to wiggle the innards. Nothing moved for him either. Luckily, he had some other tricks of the trade.

Kevin inserted flat bladders between the door and the frame, above and below the door knob. Inflating the bladders shifted the door toward the hinges, making it possible for Kevin to insert a screwdriver into the latch hole in the door frame to release the latch. I asked what he would have done if that hadn’t worked and he said, “Saw off the latch bolt. I always get them open.” I like confidence in a professional.

As he was leaving, Kevin said he was going to examine the latch because he wanted to know what jammed it so tightly. I asked him to let me know what he found, because I was curious why it worked fine at 4:00 and wouldn’t budge ninety minutes later.

In the photo below, you can see a flat gray piece of metal in the opening of the cylinder. When he took everything apart, Kevin discovered that the flat gray metal piece had broken in half. Closing the door at 4:00 p.m. yesterday apparently jiggled one of the broken pieces just enough to tip it a little inside the cylinder, preventing it from sliding back through the opening to release the latch. The unanswered question is: What broke it inside the cylinder?

My wedding dress has been stored in the basement (and other storage places) since Ted and I were married. The dress is 50 years old, and I never had the dry cleaners do whatever they do to preserve wedding dresses, so it has yellowed with age. My mom and I designed and made my dress. I sewed on all that lace trim and all those lace appliqués by hand! Mom and I were both pleased with the results.

As I walked down the church aisle, I heard my Grandma make a little “aaahh” sound (she told me later I looked that beautiful), and that made every stitch worthwhile. Ted, on the other hand, didn’t even glance at me while I came down the aisle. He said he thought he wasn’t supposed to see me until I got to the altar.

About ten years ago, my friend Liz’s daughter was getting married, and Liz wanted to make a handkerchief for Janelle to carry on her wedding day. The plan was to use some of the lace appliqués from Liz’s wedding dress to decorate the handkerchief. Liz wanted my help because she doesn’t know how to sew. Working with Liz’s wedding dress prompted me to get mine out so we could admire both of them. We had a wonderful and memorable evening, talking about our wedding memories while we worked on the handkerchief for Janelle.

Cutting into Liz’s dress was a little emotional, but she said she can’t wear it again unless she puts a big panel down the back to make it wider. We had a good laugh over that and decided neither of us wants to wear our wedding dresses again, whether they fit or not. We agreed that if either of us ever marries again, we’re going to get a new dress for the event. After being married to Ted for 50 years, I think it’s safe to say we’re going to stick together.

When I came across my wedding dress and veil as we were cleaning out our storage room, I told Ted I’m ready to pitch the dress. I remember my mom telling me when she decided to do the same. She burned hers in a small wood-burning stove she had for warmth in her basement. Lacking that, I stuffed mine into the trash bag we were filling as we cleaned. I had no qualms about getting rid of the dress, but I asked Ted to take some final pictures of it, just for the memories.

Our storage room shelves in the basement are full. We made a step toward getting rid of things last Christmas when we went through all of our Christmas decorations and kept only our favorites. Then we cleaned out some more stuff before the kids and grandkids arrived for our 50th anniversary party last June. Major discards at that time were toys for young children, pictures and wall hangings we’ll never put on our walls again, and surplus luggage.

This week, we got serious and went through the room shelf by shelf. When we finished, the trash can was overflowing, with four more days to wait until the trash pick-up. There was a recycle bin and another box of paper plus a box of cardboard for the recycle center. Better quality items went to Goodwill in two overflowing boxes. Ted said we don’t need two large ice chests, and I said I don’t need to keep my canning jars any longer, so they left our house too.

There’s space on the storage shelves now, and it feels good to have this job checked off the list–until next time. Still to be faced: three four-drawer file cabinets.

The fireplace end of our family room is dark because the eight-foot window wall is at the opposite end of the room, beside the kitchen. As a result, our family portrait tends to be shadowed, especially in the evening. Today, we had an art light installed in the family room to highlight the portrait of our wonderful family so we can enjoy it when we sit in the family room.

Before (in daylight):

After (in the evening) :

We have cable for our family room TV, but still use a rooftop antenna for the kitchen TV. We watch very little TV, but we caved and subscribed to cable for the family room because we couldn’t always watch our favorite programs. Rainy and windy weather affected the signal strength, and we always seemed to lose the signal just when we were getting interested in the program.

Lately, we’ve had a lot of rainy weather but, even on calm, dry days, the local TV stations haven’t been coming in on the non-cable kitchen TV. Now we know why.

We had high winds one day last week, and we assume the winds toppled our antenna because today we noticed it resting comfortably on the roof. When we get it fixed or replaced on Friday (depending on its condition), we should get better reception on the kitchen TV again.

This has been a busy week for Ted and me. We’ve been working hard to welcome spring to our yard.


We went to our Pilates class this morning to get some exercise. In retrospect, we’d have had plenty of exercise without the class today. The pool crew is coming tomorrow to open our pool for the season, so we needed to take off the cover, clean it, and pack it away until the crew puts it back on in the fall.

We tried something new with our pool last fall. We had a different pool crew last spring and, when they saw all the algae in our pool, they told us algae doesn’t grow in water colder than 60 degrees. (Why didn’t anybody tell us that ten years ago when we installed the pool?!) To test this theory, we waited an extra month to close the pool last fall, and are opening it a month earlier than usual this spring so that the water temperature was below 60 degrees all the while it was covered.

This is what the pool water looked like last year—and every other year—when we opened it. It usually took us 5-6 days to get it cleaned up for swimming.
This is how the pool water looked when we removed the cover this week. The pool crew told us sunlight filtering through the pool cover stimulated this minor algae growth.

With the cover off the pool, it was time for me to fire up the pressure washer to clean the winter dirt off our concrete. Bad news. Our two-year-old power washer leaked water out of every orifice–even where it didn’t look like there should be water. The only place it didn’t send water was through the hose, so we diagnosed a faulty pump–which we already replaced once under the warranty. We’ve had nothing but problems every time we tried to use this power washer, so we threw up our hands, then got in the car and bought a new one–a different brand.

We got the new power washer set up and then I finally got to work in the driveway. That was our first priority because we needed a large, clean surface to spread out the pool cover for cleaning.

I power wash the winter dirt off the driveway. Then Ted and I spread out the pool cover, wash one side, let it dry, flip it, wash the other side, let it dry, and pack it up. It’s heavy enough and awkward enough to require two people to handle it.

Since the pool guys are coming tomorrow, the pool deck was next on my power washing list.

Here I am, working hard while the pool cover is drying.
It’s easy to see where I’ve cleaned and where I need to clean.
At least you can tell I’m making a difference.

While I was busy doing all of the above, Ted took my car to the dealership for my airbag replacement. When he got home, he kept the power washer filled with gas for me, hung the party lights and the wind chimes over the patio, hand-washed every one of our two dozen solar lights, replaced the two dozen batteries in the lights, and re-set them around the pool and the patio. By then it was 7:00 p.m. and we were hungry.

Squeet! (Wisconsinese for “Let’s go eat.”)


Today I finished power washing the rest of our concrete while Ted took the spring things out of the storage shed, cleaned the inside and outside of the shed, and made room for the winter things. When he had all the lawn furniture on my newly-washed patio, we worked together to wash off the furniture and put it in place.

It’s beginning to look and feel like spring in our back yard.

After I was finished spattering dirty water over everything, Ted wiped down the pool fence and put the winter things in the storage shed. We finished just in time to sit poolside in the clean lawn chairs on the clean pool deck for about 15 minutes before the 7:38 p.m. sunset.

The pool, outdoor lights, and furniture are ready for the weekend.


You’d think we retired people worked enough this week to get a day off, but it’s going to rain tomorrow, so that didn’t happen.

Ted’s list of jobs today included mowing the lawn, washing the back windows that got spattered by my power washing yesterday, planting grass seed in the bare spots to catch tomorrow’s rain, replacing the storm doors with the screen doors, and cleaning up the fireplace.

Ted is finished mowing.

The pool guys swept the pool yesterday to loosen the algae so the pump could remove it. My job today was to vacuum the debris that settled on the pool floor. After that, I swept the pool once more to loosen the remaining bits of stubborn algae so they will get pumped out. I’ll have to vacuum again tomorrow to pick up the remaining minor debris.

One more vacuuming tomorrow should finish cleaning the pool. That will be only two days’ work instead of the usual 5-7 days to get it clean. We’ll stick with our new system of covering and opening the pool in cooler weather.

My other jobs today were to trim back the roses (we should have done that in February), to take the flannel sheets off our bed, and to make a batch of Scotcheroos for the weekend. We finished early today: 6:00 p.m.

Yes, it’s beginning to look like spring in our yard.


It rained all day today, so we didn’t get the pool vacuumed. Instead, we vacuumed in the house. Kathy and Annette are coming this weekend to celebrate Kathy’s (April 26) and my (March 20) birthdays. Kari’s family will join us.

It was a good day to clean and do laundry, since we couldn’t work outside anyway. There was a lot of cleaning and a lot of laundry to do, so it wasn’t a day off, but it was less physically demanding than the last three days have been.

Tomorrow, Ted is going to vacuum the pool while I make birthday cakes–funfetti angel food cake for Kathy; Vienna Torte (again! whoopee!) for me. After that, I think Ted and I get a break–just in time for weekend fun with the girls and their families.


All finished.

The pool is vacuumed and the birthday cakes are ready to eat.

Tomorrow: Party time!

Yesterday, Ted took the leaf blower in hand and cleared the front yard while I raked the leaves in the back yard.  Ted hauled all the leaf piles to our brush pile area to be chipped and bagged.

Here’s my favorite guy cleaning up the front yard.

Look at all the leaves!  And our trees aren’t even half bare yet!  (Check out the trees in these pictures.)


Last year, Ted and I jumped into our leaf pile; this year, we weren’t even tempted.  We’ve had so much rain in the last few days, there were more wet than dry leaves in the pile.  We can both attest that wet leaves are heavier to move around than dry ones.  While I was raking, I found a giant leaf.

My hand, giant leaf, and regular leaf.  I have no idea which tree in the area produces the giant-sized leaf.


Today, Ted put all those leaves through his chipper, which grinds them into pieces that range from dust to one inch.  Then he bagged them up for the lawn waste pickup tomorrow.

Ted and eight bags full.  I hate to think how many bags it would have taken if the leaves weren’t chipped.


A job well done. . . . And a job to be repeated at least once, maybe twice more before our trees are finished dropping leaves.

I suspect we had our last near-80º day of the season earlier this week (78º).  When November 1 arrived, the weather turned gray and cool, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way.  We had the furnace checked, the irrigation system turned off, and the pool winterized and covered a few days ago, so Ted and I decided it was time to put the lawn furniture away as well.  Ted had already cleaned out the storage shed and washed it down, inside and out, so it was ready for a seasonal change of contents.  Everything looks so bare now.  I guess I’ll start counting down the days until spring returns.

We always leave a few lawn chairs out all winter for firebowl seating and for the few days of 50- and 60-degree weather we get each month when it’s nice enough to sit outside in the afternoon.  Everything else is in storage.

We were planning to rake/blow leaves as well, but we had nearly two inches of rain in the past two days, so the leaves and ground were too wet for that job.  Now we have something to do when things dry out after the next two days of forecast rain.

I love the centerpiece Kathy created for me, using my favorite flower pot, and the table runner Kari made is a perfect backdrop for it.  At this time of year, however, both look out of place (or out of time) on the table–too much like spring.  Ted and I went shopping and found some pretty fall things for our November table.

Having our outdoor landscaping updated gave Ted and me some additional ideas for our yard.  We like the paving stones the landscaper installed to shortcut through our privacy hedge.  We’d been walking through there since 1981, and never thought of adding paving stones to the mulch.  The stones are so nice, we thought they’d be good leading up to our front yard outdoor faucet as well, so we took care of that today.

This will be nicer than walking over the mulch to turn the water on or off–in my case, usually with bare feet.  (The dying cedar bush is on the list to disappear.)

Paving stones all the way to the faucet.


All the edging the landscaper put around the mulch and stones in our yard made us want to contain the mulch in our brush area behind the storage shed too.  (It’s called the brush area because it’s where we put trimmed branches and raked leaves until Ted and his chipper turn them into mulch.)  We did that job right after finishing the paving stones.

Mark a line with string to remove the grass and install the edging.

Find a good installer.

Voilà!  Contained mulch in the brush area.

We’ve lived here long enough to have mature trees (39 years) and they can get overgrown.  Our pretty redbud tree behind the storage shed is getting stomped on by the big sweet gum tree behind it.


We thought removing one big branch (the one growing laterally in the photo above) from the sweet gum tree would give the redbud some room to grow, so we called “our” tree company.  They know us so well, the head cutter usually spends some time reminiscing with us about other work they’ve done in our yard.  For $35, the tree company will run our brush pile through their big mulcher, so we made sure to trim all of our trees and bushes before they came.  This saved Ted a lot of time putting all the brush through his not-for-commercial-use chipper.

Here’s half the brush pile on its way to the mulching machine.


The first step is to put ropes in place in the tree so the team can control the fall of the branch.

Here’s Sean stringing his ropes.

After Sean makes his cut, the two guys holding the ropes bring the branch down slowly . . .

. . . and it lands exactly where they want it to land.


We thought one branch would do it, but when that one was removed, the one above it looked like it needed to go as well.  In the end, the team took out four good-sized branches and five smaller ones.  The sweet gum tree looked less overgrown and better-shaped when they finished.

I think I heard the redbud tree take a deep breath now that it has room to grow.

With all the updating Ted and I have done to our yard this summer (a new pool liner, all new outdoor chairs and a glider, party lights, and landscaping), I thought it would be interesting to look at our house over the years.  Here we go . . . .

1979, when we bought the house


1998, nineteen years later


2018, twenty more years later.

Many years ago, Ted and I hired a landscaping company to install weed barrier fabric, mulch, and decorative rock in our yard.  Over the years, the fabric has deteriorated and Ted said he now spends the bulk of his outdoor work time pulling weeds.  Not fun!  It was time for an update, so we called a landscaping company and had them do all the work for us:  remove the current mulch and gravel, dig a spade edge around all of our trees and landscaping areas, lay heavy-duty weed barrier fabric in those areas, and add new mulch and gravel.  We also contracted with them to remove and replace our dying privet hedge.  The results look fresh and beautiful and Ted hasn’t pulled a weed for weeks.

We changed two beds from mulch to lava rock.


The gravel walkways provide drainage from the patio and give us a route (or two) to the back yard.


Paving stones provide a nice shortcut between the new hedge and the burning bushes.


The landscaper suggested borders around the mulch and rock in the pool area and we really like the new look.  These borders and the spade edges help keep the mulch and rock where we want it.


Our mission–and we choose to accept it–is to sit outside and enjoy the new look that required no hard labor on our part.  We love it!

Once upon a time (1979), a couple named Ted and Diane bought a house on a corner lot.  To provide some back yard privacy, Ted and Diane planted sticks of privet bushes (1980), and those bushes grew.  Here’s what Ted and Diane’s privet hedge looked like in 1982.


The privet hedge continued to flourish and provided lots of back yard privacy, as well as a backdrop for special occasion family pictures like Ted and Diane’s 25th wedding anniversary in 1994.


But, as time went on, the hedge got older and wasn’t as resilient as in its younger days.  In 2013, 14 inches of heavy, wet March snow fell in the area overnight.  The following morning, Ted and Diane went outside to brush the snow off their snow-weighted, bent-over bushes.  The younger bushes recovered and grew upward that spring, but the aging privet hedge lacked the resiliency of its youth and remained permanently deformed.  In spite of regular watering and fertilizing, the privet hedge continued to weaken until it could only produce a few leaves each year.


In 2018, Ted and Diane sadly decided to send the nearly 40-year-old privet hedge to the Brush Pile for Aging Bushes, and replaced it with younger, more vigorous trees.


Within two to three years, the new trees will provide more back yard privacy and perhaps a new backdrop for Ted and Diane’s special occasion family pictures.

The End

With the pool getting updated, Ted and I decided that a glider would be a nice replacement for our old patio furniture.  We were surprised to learn that we had to select the fabric we wanted, thus making the purchase a special order, but we were assured it would arrive no later than early June.  This would give us a delivery date well before the kids were coming home for their summer visit, so we placed the order.

Just as predicted, the glider arrived in early June.  Unfortunately, it was damaged and had to be re-ordered.  It was disappointing not to have it for the kids’ visit, but we didn’t want a damaged glider, so we waited.  It finally arrived a few weeks ago, and it’s really nice to glide gently on these summer evenings under our new patio party lights.

The mat inside our front door was being mysteriously moved out of place, and Ted and I were wondering if there was a ghost in our house.  Some minor investigative work on our part revealed the identity of the ghost.

Dylan, an artist, thought the mat looked better centered, so he moved it for artistic balance.


Thanks for looking out for us, Dylan.  We’d much rather have you in our house than a ghost.