Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Different Baby News

baby bird on the way
The other day I went to water the hanging begonia in the backyard, and something flew out and hit my shoulder. I'm sure the neighbors heard my startled shout! When I peered in the plant, I saw the brown speckled egg inside. I haven't been able to determine whether there are any additional eggs in there or not as I don't want to disturb the nest. 

I've yet to get a close look at the momma bird. Looking at bird egg photos online, it looks like it could be a wren. But many birds lay eggs with brown spots. Hopefully I'll get a better look at the bird. Now when I water the plant I go to the opposite side of the pot and slowly water. She's flown out one other time, but at least I'm not in the line of fire when I do that.

In other bird news, this morning I was watering my planters out front and heard some blackbirds calling out. One flew to the top of the small street tree across from us. Just like that a mockingbird let out a cry and took on the blackbird. Apparently protecting a nest, she was quickly joined by her partner, and together they chased those blackbirds right out of their area. It was something to see!

Speaking of mornings, this was yesterday's sunrise. We are so blessed to live here.

sunrise over Mountain Island Lake

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Golden Oldies Pickleball

pickleball social
We play pickleball quite frequently, sometimes a couple times a week in our community and a day or two a week elsewhere in the Charlotte area. This game has changed a lot since becoming the fastest growing sport in America. Most notably is the number of younger players getting caught up in the game. While this is great for the sport, it is not also so good for the older folks when playing in leagues or tournaments. Even the "senior" divisions are listed as ages 50+.

Despite the fact that I am in good shape for my age and pretty fast on the court, I do not have the athleticism of someone a couple decades younger than me. I am not looking to make excuses, just stating a fact. After talking with some players that I met from another 55+ community, we decided to meet to see if we could do a joint social pickleball event between our two communities.

We pulled together a fun night of play, mixing our players with theirs in a round robin format. We held it at their community because they have six courts plus a restaurant and bar. We had 90 total players register, and it was a blast. While there was downtime between games, no one seemed bothered by this. They used the time to get to know they other players in their foursome. At the end of the evening, the two clubs purchased pizzas and cheesy bread for the players, and we hung out for a couple of hours swapping pickleball stories. It was a great experience, and one we hope to repeat!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

High Country Getaway

Blue Ridge Parkway
The Charlotte area had some record-breaking heat last week, so we decided to escape to the North Carolina high country for a couple of days. Encompassing seven counties in the northern part of the state, the high country is typically much cooler than the counties down south.

We left Thursday morning, driving straight to our first destination. Craggy Gardens, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway and part of the National Park Service, is known for its abundance of rhododendrons. Peak season at this altitude of 5,860 feet is mid-June, so our timing was perfect. While it was a bit overcast when we arrived, the cloud cover did clear as we hiked the area. The low 70s temperature was a delight after the high heat and humidity we had left behind.

Nearby the Craggy Gardens is Mount Mitchell. That was the next stop on our itinerary. At 6,684 feet, it is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Established in 1915, the 4,789-acres became the first state park in North Carolina. Unfortunately the peak was shrouded in clouds the day of our visit, so visibility was nil. 

We spent the night in the Linville Falls community at an old lodge. While it was quaint, clean and beautifully maintained, it had no WiFi to speak of and we had zero cell service. It also had no air conditioning in the rooms. While that might not be a problem normally, the humidity was extremely high and the room was sticky. With its location between two highways, leaving the windows open at night was not an option. Suffice it to say, neither one of us slept well that night.

The next morning we made the short drive down the highway to Linville Falls. While we have hiked in this park before, this time we practically had the place to ourselves. That was a refreshing change from our last hike where Covid brought everyone and their brother out into nature. It was a lovely way to spend the morning. We grabbed lunch in Morganton before heading home. It was a short but very nice change of pace for us.

Craggy Gardens, Blue Ridge Pkwy, Linville Falls

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

And Baby Makes Three

A dear cousin of mine and his wife just had their first baby a few months ago. I had been invited to a baby shower for them, and I had made a baby quilt as a gift. Unfortunately the shower had to be canceled due to Covid. They do not live anywhere near me, so I was holding on to the quilt, hoping we could meet up somewhere. I wanted to give the present in person, especially once the baby girl had been born. I was dying to see them, and get my hands on that sweet baby.

But the timing just didn't work out right, and I ended up putting the quilt in the mail to them. I didn't want the baby to outgrow the quilt before they even got it - ha! They seemed to appreciate the gift, and I am hoping they will email me a picture of the baby laying on the quilt. That will have to suffice for the moment.

This is the first baby quilt I have made since we moved to Charlotte. I've used my sewing machine for other projects such as face masks, a Christmas tree skirt and a table runner, but not for the more traditional quilts. I selected flannel as the fabric, and I had never worked with it before. It wasn't too bad to handle until I got ready to quilt the top to the bottom. I do that on my sewing machine, and the fabric gave me fits. I had used large squares of the fabric from the front on the back, so maybe you just don't want to have flannel on the back as well as the front of a quilt?

It kept sliding, creating a bit of a mess on the back of the quilt. That is not something you want to have happen, particularly on a gift. I was able to somewhat work around the issue, but that may be the first and last time I use flannel in a sewing project. Or at least one that will be quilted. It turned out pretty cute anyway, I think.

quilt front and back

Monday, June 13, 2022

Under Construction

front porch
We are halfway (maybe) through a construction project at our house. I never really thought that we would do so much work on a brand new home, but I guess there are always thing you wish were different. Going through a builder in a new development, we had very few options for customization.

Our screen porch off the living area had a footprint with both pros and cons. On the pro side, the porch was enclosed on three sides by the house. It was secluded and very private. However, it was not very large at all. If you had more than 4 or 5 people in the space, it felt crowded. Plus the design meant that the air did not circulate in the porch. We decided to extend the porch out to the end of our bedroom so that we would be able to accommodate more people as well as a bistro table and two chairs for dining while looking out at the lake. We also wanted to add porcelain tile over the concrete pad in the porch as well as the front porch to give those areas a more finished look.

At the same time, the contractor was to take out the two windows in the living room, replacing them with a sliding door opening to the porch. This would also allow us to see the lake from the living room while sitting on the sofa, and also let more light into the room. The screen porch was completed last Thursday, but unfortunately the sliding door has been delayed until late June. That is too bad because it would have been nice to get all the messy work done at the same time.

screen porch before and after

We are really pleased with how the front porch and the screen porch turned out. We are in the process of deciding what furniture arrangement works in the rear space, which is a little tricky since the sliding door is not in yet. We would like to keep the wicker furniture we have out there as it is Lloyd Flanders and is good quality. But we may order new cushions as the ones we have are 15 years old. Lots of decisions to make, but that's all part of the fun!

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Floating Away

Saturday ten of us from the neighborhood took our kayaks out on Mountain Island Lake for a few hours. The temperature was perfect, and there wasn't too much wind - at least when we set out. The water was high enough that we were able to go back into a little tributary off the main lake. Back in that area you can usually see a lot of different birds. We didn't see a great variety, but there were plenty of blue herons. I didn't have my big camera with me, so I wasn't able to capture them. There was one large water bird that I am still trying to identify. It was similar to a heron, but it was black and white and had a scruffier chest covering. Since I only have a cell phone photo of the bird, I am not having much success.

I call myself a piddler paddler since I like to take my time and really look for wildlife. I was happy that Saturday's group seemed to be of the same mind. It was a nice, relaxing trip on the water. When we got ready to head back in, the wind had picked up. It was a challenge to cross the main channel, especially with all the motorized boats out on the water. But we all made it back safe and sound. I love living here!

Mountain Island Lake

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Memorial Day 2022

Taps for the fallen
Yesterday was Memorial Day, and it always fascinates me how many Americans do not understand the significance of the day. Known as the unofficial start of summer, it is typically celebrated with barbecues and family gatherings. In some families it has been called Decoration Day, as that is when they went to decorate the graves of deceased relatives. 

In fact, it is a day set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. It is not to be confused with Veteran's Day, which honors all those who served in the military.

Our community held its second annual Memorial Day golf cart parade yesterday. As you can imagine, the golf carts are all decked out in patriotic themes. Last year the parade was led by a group of bicyclists, but since then Phases 2 and 3 of the community have been built out. It is very hilly, and this year's route was nearly 6 miles long. The Lifestyle Director decided to invite the e-bike riders to lead the parade this year. Seven of us signed up, and most of us put at least a little decoration on our bikes. I believe there were 14 golf carts who participated in the decoration contest, plus 4 more that were on loan from Carolina Carts, one of our community sponsors.

Before the parade, we gave thanks to those who have kept our country free through their bravery. As we rode through the community, with patriotic music sounding from the golf courts, neighbors waited on their front lawns to wave and cheer us on. I'm proud to be an American, and happy to call Imagery home.

Memorial Day 2022

Friday, May 20, 2022

One Million Dead, and Counting

The U.S. has now recorded over a million deaths due to Covid. Many experts feel that is an undercount due to lack of tests/testing and reporting. At the beginning of Covid the press speculated that perhaps 200,000 Americans would die from Covid. We were appalled, and thought that couldn't possibly happen. Yet now look at the number! And where is the outrage? Are we just so numb to the numbers due to the amount of time we have been battling this virus? While it may be true that Covid will never really go away, similar to the flu, I hope it can be controlled to the point that we aren't looking at this number of deaths in the future. Too many people have not lived to see another sunrise.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

sign at winery last week
It's been awhile since I have written a post exclusively about Covid-19. But nearly 1 million Americans have now died from Covid. A million!!! Never did anyone imagine that we would lose so many people in our country due to this virus. And we are far from being out of the woods.

Unfortunately, signs everywhere are pointing towards an uptick in Covid cases. This is predominantly due to the mutation of this virus. The current variant, Omicron (BA.1), now has a subvariant called BA.2. Each new variant seems to be more transmissible than the previous one. The good news is that the new one does not seem to cause more severe disease in patients than the previous one. However having vaccines and boosters does not seem to prevent one from getting Omicron, though symptoms, hospitalizations and deaths seem to be less in those who are vaccinated.

Current thinking by the experts is that the coronavirus will never go away. It will continue to mutate, and will be somewhat controlled by vaccinations. Most people have gone back to their pre-covid routines, filling stadiums, concert halls, churches, etc. It is rare to now see anyone with a mask on. Though we have had our vaccines and the two boosters, we still wear a mask in places we feel we are susceptible to exposure. We are not going to large venues, or traveling outside the country yet. It's not perfect, but we also need to live our lives as safely as we can.

Here is where things supposedly stand: North Carolina has had 2.69 million cases and 124,598 deaths. In the United States there have been 82.6 million cases and 999,000 deaths. Worldwide there have been over 522 million cases and 6.3 million deaths. I say "supposedly" because most people believe the numbers are under-reported. Many requirements for reporting have been dropped, and with the availability of home testing there is no way to know how many people have tested positive.

Will I still be writing about covid at the end of 2022? I would like to think that I won't, but we are a long way from this being over. The supply chain in our country is still a mess, businesses cannot find people who want to work, inflation, fuel prices and interest rates are up. The airlines are a mess with staffing shortages and higher fuel prices, so even country-wide travel may be off the table for us. At least those involving planes. We tried to book tickets to Denver from Charlotte for June, and the cost (even with flexible dates) was nearly $1,900 per round trip ticket! It's just crazy. Fortunately there is nowhere we have to be, so we will plan more regional trips where we can drive the new car. And staying here and enjoying Mother Nature is no hardship. Below was yesterday's sunrise. We are blessed beyond measure.

Good morning, sunshine

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The PPA Comes Our Way

Last week the PPA North Carolina Open was held at LifeTime Charlotte. PPA stands for the Professional Pickleball Association, so that meant that many of the leading pros in the sport would be coming to Charlotte. Jim and I decided to volunteer on Sunday, since it was Mother's Day and we figured they would have a hard time fining volunteers on that day. We also offered to host one or two pros at our house.

Collin Johns & Patrick Smith
Because we have two extra bedrooms and bathrooms, Collin Johns and Patrick Smith took us up on our offer. Both are in the top ten of male pickleball players in the world, and had partnered up for men's doubles in this tournament. They also each played in mixed doubles.

As volunteers we could come on any or all of the days to watch play. Our guys had no games on Thursday, so Jim made them a nice breakfast while I went to my women's league play. Then they practiced on our courts here before heading to the venue to get some practice in on the indoor courts. Friday they played mixed doubles, and we went on a wine bus tour with our neighborhood. This event had been rescheduled from May of last year due to Covid.

Saturday the guys had their men's doubles games, so we spent the day at LifeTime watching. Someone ended up giving us wrist bands to sit in the VIP section, which was a slightly elevated seating area above the championship court. It was amazing to watch the pros play.

some of the winning pros

Our guys did not advance to the finals on Sunday, but we still had to work so we left them slumbering at 7:00 in the morning. As luck would have it, Jim got assigned to the championship court to check that guests had the correct wrist bands on, and I was assigned to the VIP section. Both of us had great opportunities to watch the gold medal matches of singles, men's, mixed doubles and women's play. It is totally different to watch the games live as opposed to on television or a computer. And to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd was so fun! I definitely would volunteer to help out again, and Collin and Patrick are more than welcome to stay with us in the future. They were a delight to host. I learned a lot from picking their brains, and watching them play. Paddles up!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

North Carolina Pickle Festival

With our new wheels we decided to head to Mount Olive, North Carolina for the Pickle Festival. Mt. Olive pickles happen to be my favorites, so what could be better than a pickle festival in the town where they are made? After a two year hiatus due to Covid-19, the festival was able to resume it's 35 year history.

We arrived on the 22nd so we could have some time to visit the town of Mount Olive before all the crowds arriving the next day. I'm glad we did as we were able to view the downtown area and the murals unobstructed. That would not have been possible the next day.

Mount Olive, North Carolina
After spending the night in nearby Goldsboro, we drove back to Mount Olive early in the morning as we knew parking was going to be a challenge. We had to park at the University of Mount Olive, where they were providing shuttle buses to take festival-goers to and from the downtown area. That actually worked out pretty well. 

The festival consisted of pickle packing and eating contests, a small carnival, a tractor show as well as a car show, and free pickle samples. Rows upon rows of vendors tempted attendees with all kinds of food, beverages, art, and trinkets. By the time noon arrived, it was incredibly packed in the area. (I read later that it was the largest attendance in the history of the festival!) We lasted until around 1:00, and then took a bus back to our car.
North Carolina Pickle Festival

From Mount Olive we drove to New Bern, North Carolina for a few days. To the left is a beautiful field we passed along the way. I had said once we retired that my motto is "Make the U-turn". When I passed this scene, I made a u-turn so we could go back and photograph it. It was worth it!

We had heard a lot about the colorful little town of New Bern, which was settled by Swiss immigrants in 1710. They named the town after the capital of Switzerland. New Bern is the second-oldest European-Colonial town in North Carolina, and was once the state's capital. It is also the birthplace of Pepsi Cola. Invented in 1893 by Caleb Brandham at his drug store in town, it was originally called Brad's Drink. He renamed it Pepsi-Cola in 1898. In 1902, the Pepsi-Cola Company was formed with Brandham serving as the first president. 

We stayed at a wonderful VRBO condo, which was located on a harbor along the Neuse River. It was perfect for us with a great water view (as seen below), indoor and outdoor pools, and tennis courts which were striped for pickleball. The little duck family outside our unit were an added bonus, as was the ability to catch the sunsets from the dock.
views by our unit

We very much enjoyed New Bern. It's very historical and well-maintained. The downtown streets contained a lot of unique shops and restaurants, and the old churches and cemeteries were interesting to explore. If you are so inclined, you can seek out the more than 50 fiberglass bears which were installed in 2010 for the town's 300th birthday. Hand-painted by local artists, they are scattered throughout the area. It reminded me a lot of the painted cakes put out in St. Louis as a celebration for the city's 250th birthday. These types of installations are a great way to not only get people excited about learning the history of the area, but also encouraging them to visit sites they might not otherwise think to go and see. We did not go bear hunting, but did photograph the ones we came across.

New Bern, North Carolina
Pickles and bears - a winning combination!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The New Car Experience

Marriott Greenville pool area
One cool thing about buying a new car from BMW is that they offer the Ultimate Delivery Experience. If you order a new car from one of their dealerships, you can pick it up at their Performance Center in Spartanburg, SC. This was definitely something we wanted to do. Our dealership sent a driver to pick us up on April 13th, and he took us to the Marriott in Greenville, SC, where BMW put us up for the night. We also received dinner that night, as well as breakfast the next morning. The hotel was lovely, and all of the employees treated us like royalty as they knew we were picking up a new car.

Following breakfast the next morning, the Marriott shuttle took the sixteen of us who were involved in the experience to the BMW Performance Center. There we learned about what would go on that day. First each couple got into the type of vehicle that they had purchased, so for us an X3. We were able to put the car through its paces while driving on the test track, making quick accelerations followed by slamming on the brakes, and driving quickly through turns and weaving in and out of cones. After that we took the car on a couple of off road tracks.

BMW performance track

Next you had the option of driving one of their performance cars on a wet track. One of their professional drivers was in the car with you as you accelerated and them slammed on the brakes to make the car spin out. Lastly you could accompany one of the professional drivers as he took you on a hot lap around the track.

Our group then split, and half of us drove to the plant where we could watch the assembly of X3s while the other half received the orientation of their new cars. The plant tour was very fascinating! We had not done an automobile tour since we bought a Ford Aerostar in St. Louis in 1988. The difference that technology, automation and robotics makes is astounding.

Back at the Performance Center we were treated to lunch, and then we finally got to see our new baby. It was located in a separate showroom all by itself, and a young woman joined us to takes us through the options on the car. Needless to say, technology has advanced quite a bit since our 2017 X3. Once we were comfortable with the set up, we drove to the BMW Museum for some photo ops with the car, and enjoyed the museum as well. Since we had decided to stay an additional night, we drove back to the Marriott where they had special parking spots for the new car owners.

First impressions of the car - it is beautiful, though we wish the blue would come through a little more. Most of the time, it looks like it is black. The drive and ride are very nice, and the added safety features are great. The large in-dash navigation screen is amazing, and the fact that the driving directions also appear in front of you on the dash adds to the safety of operating the vehicle. We have been able to set it up for two drivers, and the car recognizes which one by the key fob that is used to open the door. The seats, mirrors, and any other personalizations are then activated for the correct driver.

The next morning we drove into downtown Greenville as we had heard they have a cool downtown. That was no lie. The natural rock waterfall in the city center is amazing, and the town was smart in developing it into an area that people want to congregate. After touring the town we made our way north to Campbell's Covered Bridge, the last remaining covered bridge in South Carolina. That was followed by a visit to Poinsett Bridge, the oldest bridge in South Carolina. It was built in 1820 on the road from Greenville to Asheville. 

Then it was time to make our way back to our home. What a trip!

Greenville and the bridges

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Covid Car

our BMW X3
Our "newest" car is a BMW X3 that was purchased in 2015. While it stills runs great and is in pretty good condition inside and out, we are closing in on 90,000 miles on it. We like to take driving vacations, and a reliable car is a necessity for that. More importantly, the GPS system is way out of date, and is costly to update. And while our car does have some safety features, it lacks the latest innovations designed to keep us safer on the roads.

A few months ago we decided to trade it in on the purchase of a new BMW X3. A big plus of going this direction is that these cars are built in South Carolina. As you have no doubt read, it is not a buyers market right now. Due to Covid, there is a shortage of parts as well as labor. Many dealerships are charging above the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) just because they can. The best thing you have going for you is a trade-in, because if people can't get a new car they at least want a car that is new to them.

Auto shopping is a challenge right now. You are definitely not going to buy a 2022 vehicle right off the lot. They just don't exist. The moment an unclaimed new vehicle arrives at the dealership, it is immediately snapped up. While we didn't mind ordering a car to get our exact specifications, it was critical that we be able to test drive the same make and model first. As a vertically-challenged person, the seat fit is the most important feature on a car for me. 

We went to our local BMW dealership to begin the shopping process. It is hard to assess car colors when there are none on the lot to view. Added to that are the interior trim packages, which are also not available. We finally settled for looking at a used X3 to get a semblance of the look we were trying to put together. 

Finally one day we got a call from our salesman letting us know that a 2022 X3 was arriving that day if we wanted to test drive it. But we needed to hurry before it was sold. So we dropped everything to get to the dealership. While it was not an all wheel drive model, it was close enough for me to see how the seat fit and to test the acceleration on the highway. 

We sat down with our guy and built out the car online. After negotiation, we were able to come to a bottom line price with trade-in that was acceptable to us and the dealership. The car will be ready next week, and we are super excited about it. We hope the exterior car color and interior trim packages are what we are expecting them to be. Our Covid Car - what could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, March 31, 2022

March Madness

No, my title does not refer to college basketball, though it was fun while the ISU Cyclones lasted in the tournaments. Instead, I am talking about our decision to drive to Florida for vacation during Spring Break Madness. Some friends of ours purchased a condo on the west side of Florida, and invited us to come and visit them. 

We thought if we were going to make the trip, why not drive and see some sights along the way? While our stops were not necessarily ones that spring breakers would frequent, we did not take into account the traffic getting there. Or coming home, for that matter, as the snow birds were heading back to their northern homes. Wow! There were many stretches that were stop and go, making a long drive even that much longer. Live and learn - we won't do that again.

On the way down we stayed in Jacksonville for a few days, which enabled us to visit local forts, preserves and plantations. One of the highlights was a store called Jax Pickleball, which sold everything you need for this sport. I picked up some new pickleball shoes (which are hard to find and harder yet to be able to try on), and Jim got a new paddle. We also drove down to St. Augustine, which was packed! I think we got the last parking spot in a 3 mile radius, so we left the car for the day and walked everywhere instead. I certainly did not think that town would be a spring break destination, but boy was I wrong.

Vero Beach

From Jacksonville we traveled to Vero Beach where some friends of ours have a boat that they winter on. It was fun to be able to see it, and them. While it was too choppy to take it out, we enjoyed sitting outside on the boat enjoying drinks and snacks with them. The next morning we drove to Jupiter, where our beloved St. Louis Cardinals have their spring training games. How great it was to take in a Cardinals game for the first time since we moved away from St. Louis!

St. Louis Cardinals game

After that we crossed the state to go to the Punta Gorda area of Florida. We spent four nights with our friends at their condo, and we can certainly see why they jumped on the opportunity to purchase a condo there. The birding in their community is great, and all the flowering trees, shrubs and flowers really made me miss our gardens back in St. Louis. The Charlotte area is sadly lacking in blooms, especially our community as it is only a couple years old.

Punta Gorda area

The last part of our journey was spent in St. Simon, Georgia. I picked this location because it was about halfway home, and also we had never been to this part of Georgia. It did not disappoint. There was a lot to explore in the area, and we enjoyed our time there. 

St. Simon area

Overall, we had a wonderful trip. We just won't make the mistake of taking another one down south in March. Otherwise I might have to switch vehicles with this woman.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Two Years of Covid Fears

Two years ago yesterday the coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Covid has been a world-wide event that has caused pain, suffering, death - and at times panic - to millions of people. In the early days we had no idea how our lives would be impacted, and certainly never dreamed the effects would still be felt two years later.

Here are the latest Covid statistics: North Carolina has had 2.61 million cases and 22,932 deaths. In the United States there have been 79.4 million cases and 966,000 deaths. Worldwide there have been over 455 million cases and over 6 million deaths. The United States is at a 65.7% full vaccination rate. Worldwide that number is a discouraging 57.3%.

As health restrictions eased, many US citizens have gone back to resuming their lives as if the virus has been eradicated. While it is certainly true that the number of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths has been on the decline, there are over 42,000 people in the US testing positive on a daily basis. Though many mask mandates have been dropped, the US government has extended the one that applies to flights, buses, ferries and subways until at least April 18th. This is no doubt an attempt to try and limit exposures during the spring break season.

But just as people were beginning to think it would be safe to travel outside the country again, last month Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, ordered the largest full-scale invasion of a nation since WWII as he tries to regain control of Ukraine. Obviously a devastating turn of events for the citizens of Ukraine, the economic implications of this war will be felt globally.

It appears 2022 will be another year unlike any other. And there's nowhere to run.

safe statues

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Spring Sighting

March can be a somewhat gloomy month here as we eagerly await spring and all the colors it brings. My next door neighbor and I went to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Botanical Gardens earlier this week to see what was in bloom. My husband and I are still trying to get a handle on plant materials that do well here as this is a different planting zone than St. Louis. We haven't done any plant installation at our new house other than annuals in the 2 1/2 years we have lived here. We have been watching to see what our neighbors put in, and what has survived and thrived.

We will be expanding our screen porch this spring, as well as extending our back patio. We are working with a landscape contractor for the hardscape, and will pick his brain on plants that will work well with the design. But until then, it was wonderful to go to the botanical garden and see some early signs of spring.

UNC-Charlotte Botanical Gardens

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Marching Along

March Madness
The first week of March was an eventful one. My husband had his second cataract removed on the 1st. Both of his surgeries went well, and he is able to see without glasses for the first time since he was a boy. The next day was his birthday, so after taking him for his follow up appointment with the eye doctor, we went to one of our favorite local restaurants for dinner. We saw another couple from our community there, so we joined them at their table and had great food and conversation.

Friday night we went out to eat with our next door neighbors as one of them was having a birthday on Saturday. We celebrated the two birthdays with a nice meal, followed by dessert at our house. I was told one of my neighbor's favorite desserts was Bumbleberry Pie. Needless to say, I was intrigued. What in the world is a bumbleberry? As it turn out, there is no such thing and it's just a fun name Canadians put on a mixed fruit pie. I decided to make one, and it is a lovely pie. Not too sweet, but not too tart either. I served it with vanilla ice cream, and we all enjoyed it.

Bumbleberry Pie

Saturday afternoon I played in my fist Queen City Pickleball League game. My husband and I are both on the team, though neither of us was scheduled to play yesterday. One of the women needed a sub, so I said I could come. Each team had 6 players, consisting of three men and three women. I played a game with each of the women on our team as well as one with each of the men, for a total of 5 games. It was outside, and the wind was definitely a factor. It was a lot of fun, and our team ended up winning 8 of the 15 games. Not too bad for our first time playing together. Jim and I both play next Saturday against a different team.

Today we were supposed to go kayaking with a group of people in our neighborhood. But the wind gusts are up to 25 mph, so I think we are going to pass despite the nice temperature. I think I will take my electric bike out for a ride instead. I've been trying to ride 6-7 miles each day, and I have been pretty successful in doing that. Ride on...

Wednesday, February 23, 2022


As anticipated. Mecklenburg County voted to lift its mask mandate effective February 26th despite the fact that none of the the criteria for unmasking has been met. The Covid positivity rate is still at 15%, nowhere near the 5% they said would be required to remove the mask mandate. My observation has been that Mecklenburg County businesses have already removed their "Masks Required" signs. Most people thought it went into effect last Saturday anyway. 

Time will tell if this is a premature decision or not. The last time everyone removed their masks, Covid cases sky rocketed. As people return to venues with 60,000 plus attendees, all unmasked, what will happen? Everyone has to make their own decisions about what feels right to them. I'm still going to avoid large crowds, and wear my mask indoors. I'd still rather be safe than sorry for awhile yet. My booster shot was five months ago, and I have no idea what my immunity is at this point. Keeping a mask on seems an easy precaution to take at this point.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Is Covid Over?

heart and sole
Walk into any store, restaurant or building around here and you will be hard pressed to find anyone wearing a mask. Unless I happen to be there, because I STILL don't want to get covid. The greater Charlotte area is in Mecklenburg County, which has had a mask mandate in place since August 31, 2021 because Covid cases continued to rise. When that mask mandate was put into place, the ruling said that the Covid test positivity rate must reach 5% or less for four straight months before the mandate would be lifted. In November, 2021 the ruling was revised to state that the mandate would be lifted when a 5% or less positivity rate existed for seven days straight.

To date, we have not reached that benchmark. In January the positivity rate was around 32%. By last week it had dropped to 20.8%. The latest number from February 13th shows the rate at 15.7%. The numbers are definitely trending in the right direction, but how much of this is due to a decrease in Covid cases versus the fact that many people are utilizing home tests? The home test numbers are not often reported to officials.

Tomorrow the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners will vote on whether or not to keep the mask mandate in place. They are getting a lot of pressure from employers, schools and businesses to drop the mandate. The states of California and Oregon have already dropped their mask mandates. I suspect Mecklenburg will do the same.

Does anyone else see the irony of our federal government paying for and distributing 400 million N95 masks right before we are all told we don't need to wear one anymore?

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Bicycle Built for One

Our new neighborhood has many hills, which makes it great exercise while walking but a real bear when on a bicycle. I finally got to the point where I could ride my bike to the pickleball courts without having to get off and walk the bike. But going anywhere beyond that in the community was not happening. There is a bike club here, but I could never join in the fun because I wouldn't be able to keep up.

So for Christmas my husband got me an electric bike. There are probably a couple dozen people here who have one, so I was able to see different models and even ride a few. I listened closely to what they liked and didn't like about their bikes. We have a Trek store nearby, so we went there in December to see what they had. I really liked the look of the Townie 7D, which was redesigned for 2022. But they didn't have any that I could ride. They did, however, have a 2021 available. I took that one out for a spin, and rode a different style bike as well, and I really liked the Townie. It is pedal assist, so you must be pedaling to use the power.

We put a deposit down on a Tahiti Blue bike that was supposed to arrive in mid January. Like many other things during Covid, that didn't happen. They finally got the bike in last weekend and assembled it, and I was going to pick it up on Monday. But Monday was a rainy day, and I knew I would want to take it for a spin to make sure everything worked fine and didn't want to do that on wet pavement. Tuesday was sunny so we got to the store shortly after it opened. 

By borrowing the neighbors bike rack we were able to take my old Trek in to be evaluated as a trade in. When the sales guy looked at the rack, he said there was no way we could put the Townie on that to get it home. It just wasn't substantial enough for a 45 pound bike. Fortunately the front tire on the new bike is a quick release, so we were easily able to get it in the back of our car.

I've taken the bike out three days in a row, and I absolutely love it! I mostly have the power off, just engaging it when I'm going up a hill. I can ride with Jim now, so I know we will motivate each other to get out and get fit. I'm also eager to join the bike club and meet some new people. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

February - What's Not to Love?

It's the first of February, and we are at the threshold of going into the third year of Covid-19. The omicron variant has had at least two mutations of its own, and while they appear to be less deadly they are also seemingly easier to transmit. Hospitals are again near capacity, and the beds are filled with mostly unvaccinated people. The vaccines and boosters do not protect as well against the omicron variant, but vaccinated people are less likely to get as sick and/or hospitalized as unvaccinated people. There is a growing sense that we are all going to get covid at some point. When this pandemic is looked back on in the future, historians may well be examining who DIDN'T get covid - and why?

free Covid-19 test kits

The U.S. government is offering two covid test kits free of charge to each household. We ordered ours through the government-provided link, and they arrived in a couple of weeks via the postal service. I had previously ordered some from Amazon just to have on hand, so we are set with tests for the moment. Too bad I can't get reimbursed for those as they are costly at $19 per box.

Health experts are now saying that the medical paper masks that most people wear, as well as cloth masks, are not sufficient in protecting you against the spread of omicron. They recommend wearing an N95 mask (normally only used in hospital settings) instead. Those were in really short supply earlier in the pandemic, and we were all asked to save those for health care professionals. Somehow our government is now distributing 400 million N95 masks to citizens at no charge. Where did these come from? Who knows. It looks like you have to go to a pharmacy to get the masks, and each person can have three. 

I think it's important to note that these mask are not washable and aren't meant to be reusable, so I'm not sure how that's going to work. In the meantime, I'll keep wearing my washable cloth mask - the one I made with a pocket to insert a filter. It's fitted, has a nose piece, and gives me four layers of protection, so I think I'm good as long as I continue to socially distance and stay away from crowded venues.

layered face mask

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Snow Day

snow day
We are in our third winter at our new home in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. We experienced our first snow on Sunday. Or maybe I should say our first snice storm. It began as snow and then turned into freezing rain and sleet. I was hoping we had left this weather behind in St. Louis, but apparently not. I would rather have a bunch of snow than ice, that's for sure. We didn't have anywhere to go and our freezer and pantry were well-stocked, so we just prayed that the ice wouldn't cause a limb to fall on a transformer.

We dodged a bullet this time, but more rain followed by snow are on tap for Thursday and Friday. Yippee!

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A Cold January

I have been sick for the past week. It began with a slight sore throat, which went into a runny nose and coughing. With Covid on everyone's mind, of course that is where my mind went. But I didn't have any other Covid symptoms - no headache, body aches, loss of taste and/or smell, or fever. It has been pretty much classic cold symptoms. But the weird thing is that I have not been around anyone besides the people in my house since December 28th. (With the exception of being with five neighbors in the back yard socially distanced on New Year's Eve.) And none of them are sick. It didn't seem possible that I could have caught a cold much less Covid. 

Despite that fact I tried to schedule a Covid test as our daughter was flying back home today and obviously had been exposed if I was positive. Home tests are pretty much unavailable, though I have some on order through Amazon. But none of the testing sites had appointments available for the next four days. One of my neighbors offered me a test this morning, so I gladly took it. As expected, I am negative for Covid. That was a relief to all of us.

But we are in a bad situation in this country when people who have some symptoms cannot get a Covid test so they don't expose others around them. Across the country people are waiting in lines for 5 hours or more to do the drive-thru testing. It's ridiculous! The government has had over two years to get this figured out. No wonder the virus is still spreading at an unparalleled rate. We are in for another rough winter in more ways than one.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

What Will 2022 Bring?

We rang in 2022 with a drink in the back yard with five neighbors, followed by the three of us in our household working on a jigsaw puzzle. We haven't celebrated New Year's Eve in a big way since long before the pandemic arrived, but with Covid-19 our options were quite limited. We are choosing to try and remain safe from the virus.

Covid continues to be the story of the day. Omicron is now the most prevalent variant being seen among the new cases in the US. Omicron seems to be affecting the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated, though vaccinated people tend to have milder symptoms and usually don't end up in the hospital unless they have underlying health conditions.

On December 31, 2021 North Carolina had its largest recording of new cases in one day reported - 19,174. It is difficult to find a place where you can get tested, and even harder to find the at-home tests that can be taken. Our state is not alone in seeing skyrocketing numbers. Here is where things stand: North Carolina has had 1.69 million cases and 19,436 deaths. In the United States there have been 54.9 million cases and 824,000 deaths. Worldwide there have been over 289 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. 

North Carolina has only achieved a 57% full vaccination rate, close to the the United States rate of 58.3%. Worldwide that number is only 48%. Despite the huge rise in cases, governments seem reluctant to reimpose restrictions to limit exposure, such as banning large events, limiting indoor numbers in restaurants and other public spaces, and reinstating mask mandates. 

Normally as we begin a new year we sit down and plan out what activities we want to do in the upcoming year. Covid has been around for over two years now, and there is no end in sight. We are not making plans, and instead are taking a wait and see attitude. It's a delicate balance in trying to live our lives while being safe and still having a life to live.

blue heron on Mountain Island Lake December 31, 2021