Okay, now that I’m back on the posting horse, here is another chunk of “ketchup” (said with a Texas drawl):

First, I forgot something in the last post. It had been a while since I practiced my towing, so on the way back to Tennessee from Greensboro, I took the wheel. Everything was going well as we were headed west on I-74 out of Mount Airy, North Carolina. Then a vehicle pulled up beside me with a woman waving like crazy. I immediately pulled to the shoulder, which was unfortunately just wide enough for Petunia and had a big drop off to the dirt. Turned out, one of our sewage line storage tubes had come undone on one side, and we were dragging it down the highway. The quick solution was for MW to remove it completely and make the repair later. I put out the hazard triangles, and he went to work. (COOL NOTE: Those little triangles were not too expensive, and don’t take up a lot of room, but they do their job. More traffic changed lanes to pass us after I put them up than before. That makes them worth every penny!) After about 15 minutes or so, MW had the pipe stored in the truck bed, and we were rolling again. Unfortunately, the tube was damaged so badly that he would need to replace the sewer line that was inside, too. Bummer! On the plus side, although pretty darned cold, it was a beautiful day.

After the wedding trip, our next excitement was heading south on November 19th to Rome, Georgia, to hang out with my parents for Thanksgiving. Now that they’ve downsized, there are no more huge, 30-40-person holiday celebrations, but that is, and will always be, written in stone as the week I spend time with my Mommy. In my entire 60 years of life, I have not been able to go twice. The first was when my 22-year-old, VERY pregnant self was forbidden by the doctor to make the 6-hour drive to my grandparents in Brunswick, Georgia. (Everyone who knew me then was amazed that I didn’t go anyway. Taking orders has never been my strong suit!) Talk about traumatic! My ex and I had Thanksgiving dinner at a cafeteria, then my Mom, Grandma, and I had a nice little sob-fest on the phone. I didn’t miss again until 2014, and that was voluntary. My daughter, who lived in Texarkana, Texas, was due to have our sweet Madolyn Jane the week before Thanksgiving. She wanted me there for the event, and I wasn’t about to miss it. (I have been totally blessed to be at the hospital for the birth of all five of our Boogers, and in the delivery room for four!) I arrived on November 16th, and Missy Booger did not make her appearance until December 1, about 1-1/2 weeks late. While I missed the normal family gathering, I wouldn’t have traded being there for Amber and seeing that baby’s grand entrance for anything in the world. Mom certainly understood.

During our visit, we did some shopping, worked on a few things around their house, and of course, ate. My family’s social time usually centers around food! We were also able to catch up with Aunt Pat, Uncle Russ, and my cousin Bill Smith. It was a great visit, but then again, it always is. We stayed over at the Rocky Mountain PFA, which we reviewed on our last visit here. Oh, and I had a little cooking accident.

NEAT THING: Mom needed a new toilet seat, and accidentally bought this one that works for little and big butts. With a step stool, it would eliminate the training potty that requires constant cleaning. I’d certainly install one if the Boogers were still small. Too cool!

We headed back to the barn on November 26, and the following weekend went downtown for the Sneedville Christmas Parade. I’ll take a quaint, small-town parade over a big city one any day. Watching members of our community cheer each other on is wonderful. This year our Grand Marshall was Jeremy Lamb, a young man who has been battling Ewing Sarcoma for more than a year now. (The entire community has been supporting him and his family, and it was such a relief to see the reports from late December that he was disease free. Unfortunately, on March 11 they found a spot on one of his lungs, so put him in your prayers. He is an amazingly upbeat boy for all he has been through.) We enjoyed the cold evening watching decorated tractors, floats, local law enforcement, the high school cheerleaders, and entertainment by The Gibsons.

On Pearl Harbor Day, we took a drive down to Bristol to meet up with friends Barry and Kelly Frisbee. (Barry and I were ‘trollers together at Dekalb Peachtree Airport in Atlanta many moons ago.) The plan was to have dinner, then take in the Christmas lights at Bristol Motor Speedway. You may remember that we planned to do that last year with them, but had to cancel because I had Covid. MW and I went to the show anyway (without getting out of the car), but did not get to see our friends. This time, we headed out to meet them at the Mad Greek Restaurant not too far from the speedway. There was a LOT of traffic as we approached and a 3-car wreck blocking lanes, but we walked in right on time. As we were being seated, I got a call from Barry. They were in THE WRECK! Apparently the woman in front of them stopped suddenly to turn left. Barry was able to stop, but the guy behind him creamed into them and pushed their truck into the other car. After finishing up with the police, they came on over to eat. It didn’t appear that he or Kelly were too banged up…a miracle considering Barry was already recovering from recent back surgery. Understandably, they weren’t feeling too much like doing Christmas lights, so we cancelled out on that. Although his truck was drivable, it had issues front and back. As I write this (months later), Kelly is still dealing with neck issues, so prayers are appreciated.

The next day we took a ride over to Morristown, Tennessee, for my birthday, and stopped in at the Parkway Market for breakfast biscuits on the way. The weather was grey and drizzly, but it didn’t impact us too much walking around downtown and browsing in the shops. We checked out 1907 Brewing Company, a pretty nice place. They don’t serve food, but there was a diner nearby that you could order from. It was a perfect stop to warm up and have an afternoon drink. The day was finished out with dinner at the Woodlake Golf & Country Club in Tazewell. Yum!

I was really looking forward to Christmas. It is my favorite time, and I LOVE all of the carols and hymns. For two years Covid messed up the choir and Christmas music at Sneedville First Baptist Church, and I know many, including myself, hoped everything would “get back to normal” this year. Alas, it was not to be. Things have been a little chaotic with the pastor search and schedules, so there was no Christmas cantata. I’ll admit, I was bummed. They did have a Christmas Day service, but MW and I were already headed south by then.

A conversation with family in Huntsville spurred a last-minute decision to spend Christmas there. In addition to sharing the holiday, it gave us the opportunity to catch up before the next big expedition. As always, the time was filled with laughter, food, and fun. There was lunch on Christmas Eve with Peg, brother Scott, and sister-in-law Michelle; church services at Peg & Colin’s church on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning; brunch at Scott and Michelle’s place on Christmas day; and dinner at Peg & Colin’s later that night. You can’t go wrong with a holiday weekend filled with family, Christmas songs, a good sermon, laughter, and love.

On Christmas Day after brunch, we headed across the mountain to visit with niece Jamie and Josh and their NINE children (including one foster). Their home is best described as happy chaos, for which they are both well-suited. (There are also a couple of bull mastiffs thrown in the mix. They don’t do anything small! LOL) On the way over to their place, Colin received a call about a sudden water fountain in the front yard back at their house. We cut our visit short, and hustled back over the mountain to avert the creation of an ice rink. Turned out that, despite preventive measures, the very COLD temps took out the spigot. Thankfully, it was on a separate system than the house, so a simple shut-off valve stopped the flow. Isn’t it nice when there is an easy fix?

On December 26, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Tennessee. It was a very cold, grey, and snowy drive, but otherwise uneventful.

After only a couple of nights, we headed off on December 28 for an old-fashioned road trip sans Petunia. For the second year, we went to New Jersey to surprise the Bell Boogers while they were on Christmas vacation. On the way up we spent the night at the Comfort Inn in Greencastle, Pennsylvania. When we made the reservation, they said they were “doing some renovation”. Okay, we can live with that. What we found would not really fall into that category. Our entire floor in the hallways looked like a demolition zone. It was really far too much to keep the floor open. The room was fine, though, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset as we had supper at Brother’s Pizza next door.

SIDE NOTE: Long before we had our first travel trailer, Penelope, we were road-trippers. We’d take 2-3 weeks off of work and drive all over the place. When we exhausted nearby destinations, we would fly to a starting point, like Dallas or Seattle, rent a car, and make a big loop. A travel tip that I learned a long time ago is to get a free hotel rewards membership and stick to hotels within that group. All of them have chains at varying levels, and all offer some type of point system plus member discounts. We are members of Choice Privileges (Ascend, Cambria, Comfort, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion, EconoLodge, and Roadway Inn) and Hilton Honors (Waldorf Astoria, LXR, Conrad, Canopy, Tempo, Motto, Hilton, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, Home Suites 2, Hampton, Tru, and Spark). We mostly stick with Choice brands, and the rewards add up fast, especially during their frequent, two-for-one specials. Points don’t expire, either. If you travel much at all, it is totally worth it.

On Thursday, December 29, we were up and out early to pick up Angel Booger (Aiden) and Missy Booger (Madolyn) from their home in Pine Hill, New Jersey. Since the adults kept it a secret, there was a lot of excitement when we walked in.

After checking out their rooms in their new house and getting everything packed, we were off to our surprise destination. At Mannheim, Pennsylvania, we stopped for lunch at the Kountry Kitchen, then continued over to Harrisburg. There our first stop was Kohl’s for some bathing suit shopping, which is a little hard to do in December in Pennsylvania. Luckily, the clearance racks held what we needed and we were on our way to the grocery store, then to check in at the Central Hotel & Conference Center (no Choice option available). Starving by that time, we ran out to nearby Fiesta Mexico for a quick bite. Back at the hotel, we all pretty much collapsed after that, exhausted.

Friday morning started early with a bit of work while the kiddos were still asleep. Then it was up and out for a day of fun. First stop…Echo Dell Indian Echo Caverns in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. Neither of the kids had ever been in a cave, so they were pretty excited. Long before Europeans came to North America, Native Americans from a variety of tribes used these huge caverns for shelter and storage. In the early 1800s, a hermit named Wilson made it his home for the better part of 20 years. Then later, vandals and mischievous kids crawled all through the chambers, leaving their indelible marks carved in a variety of places. Around 1929, the property was purchased, and the caverns opened for tours. That was short-lived as the depression killed the business. It then went unused until 1942, when another family purchased it and tours started again. The same family owns it to this day, and the 45-minute tours are available every day, year-round, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. In addition to the caverns, the property also has a gift shop, playground, gem mill, and a few animals, including a white peacock. For me, the amazing colors in the caverns were the best part.

One scary thing did happen while we were down in the caverns. A pair of sisters, along with one’s boyfriend, were a part of our tour group. While we were at the deepest part of the cave, one of them suddenly collapsed and hit the floor. The guide stepped in and MW headed to the top to summon an ambulance. The young lady came to a minute or so after he left, and with a little juice and the assistance of her companions, she was able to make it back out into the sunshine. According to the sister, she had the same thing happen a couple of weeks prior and had not gone to a doctor. Seriously??!! Folks, totally passing out is NEVER a good thing and should ALWAYS be checked out!!

As we finished up at the caves, we all decided it was time for lunch, and Five Guys was conveniently on the way to our next stop. Yum!! Everyone was satisfied there, and we had enough energy to do a little more walking at ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Although not a huge zoo, this place does have some neat exhibits. The weather was cool, but nice and pretty perfect for checking it all out.

After about 4 miles of walking for the day, I was totally exhausted. We headed back to the hotel so I could sit a bit and let the kids take a dip in the pool. THEY still had plenty of energy!! I also took the opportunity to do a little work before a little charcuterie board supper in our room. After dark we headed out for the last attraction of the day…Hershey Sweet Lights. This is a drive-thru Christmas light show just outside of Hershey, and the kids LOVED it. After the slow, 45-ish minute drive through, it was time for BED, though.

Saturday morning we took our time getting up and out, heading first to Bass Pro Shop in Harrisburg to look around. I don’t know who does their taxidermy, but it’s amazing. Next was a quick lunch at Red Robin before heading off to our first attraction for the day…the Hershey Antique Auto Museum. Any car buff would enjoy this place. The coolest part for me was the Cammack Tucker Collection, a pretty extensive display on a vehicle I had never seen in person. (Sadly, the pics from my camera somehow disappeared. I’m sure I did something. These two were the only ones left.)

Preston Tucker had an amazing mind for design. Prior to building family vehicles, he built race cars and a machine-gun mount used in World War II called, of course, the Tucker Turret. During the 1940s, when auto makers were focused on ramping back up sales after the war using tired, pre-war designs, Tucker started from scratch. He didn’t follow the pat formulas, designing a car that looked as futuristic as the Lunar Lander. Long before safety became the country’s focus, his sleek machines were filled with innovations like disc brakes, three headlights that swiveled to light up turns, and windshields that popped out in a crash to protect passengers. Sadly, the futuristic, dream cars were never to be mass produced, thanks mostly to the existing auto manufactures’ fears of losing market share. As investors and the public began to show interest in the upstart’s Tucker Torpedo and orders started coming in, they put the pressure on suppliers to stifle deliveries of steel and other necessary components…something along the lines of if you sell to Tucker, you won’t sell to us. They weren’t solely to blame, though. As brilliant as he was at design, Tucker wasn’t as good on the business side. He was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and tried for fraud for raising funds by selling dealership rights for a car that didn’t exist. Although acquitted, he would financially never recover, and his beautiful dream remained just that. Well, except to the people/collections who own the 47 of the original 50 that survive. Now THAT would be a cool car to have! MW and I were both a little surprised that the kids enjoyed the museum as much as they did. We spent a couple of hours looking at the various cars and buses, and Aiden has the makings of a future car guy. He asked all kinds of questions and had definite ideas about the ones he thought were the coolest. (Clip below of Tucker 48 from the museum’s website.)

For our evening entertainment, we did something I haven’t done in about 20 years…attend a hockey game. My first and only other hockey game was the Greensboro Generals back in 2004. After moving to town, we only made it to one game, then the team disbanded. Was it us??!! I really liked hockey, though.) We headed over to Giant Center to watch the Hershey Bears. Despite a 3-4 loss, we all enjoyed the action, and of course, MW’s favorite, the arena food for dinner.

Sunday morning began with breakfast at Panera Bread on the way to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We hadn’t been to an Episcopal church in a while, and MW enjoyed the familiarity. I enjoyed their printing of the responses in the bulletin to keep me from being totally confused. It was a lovely service, though, and even the kids enjoyed it.

After a quick change back at the hotel, we headed to our final attraction in Hershey, Hershey’s Chocolate World. This place was too cool. We checked out the “Unwrapped” show where the kids learned a little about chocolate and got to sample a few different types, then rode the train ride. Of course, everything starts and ends at the huge Hershey’s store, so there was plenty to see and drool over there.

Next we took the trolley tour around town with a guide who was once a student at the Milton Hershey School in town. He was a delight and a wealth of information about the town and the company.

The final bit of fun was everyone’s favorite…Create Your Own Candy Bar. After suiting up appropriately, we headed in to the candy lab where we first designed our box on a computer. At the next station we selected the items we wanted to include in our bar…pretzel chips, toffee chips, white chocolate chips, crispy bits. Then we made our way to the assembly line where we could see our bars being put together. After all of the toppings had been added, a layer of chocolate sealed them in and then they proceeded through the long dryer. Finally they were wrapped and boxed and popped out of the other end. We were all impressed, and the kids couldn’t wait to give theirs a try. We held them off until after supper at Texas Roadhouse, though. For our final night at the hotel, we hung out at the pool for a little bit, too.

A little more about the town and the man. Hershey, Pennsylvania is pretty much ALL about chocolate! Well, and Milton. (MW and I visited on a road trip years ago and the hotel we stayed in piped the smell of chocolate all through the common areas. Certainly didn’t help with my sweet consumption for that stay!!) Our hotel this time did not do that, thank goodness, but there are plenty of other nods to the delicious brown stuff, both subtle and in your face. The street lamps in town are even shaped like Hershey’s Kisses. This is also the only place I’ve ever seen offices for the Chocolate Workers union. Of course, that all started with Hershey, the man. You know that thing your parents always tell you about getting back on the horse after you fall off and trying again. Milton S. Hershey had that down. He apprenticed as a printer, and got fired. After apprenticing with a candy maker, he spent many years on two failed attempts as a confectioner. After traveling west to Denver and learning how to make caramel with fresh milk, he tried again in Chicago and New York, but failed. Down but not out, he returned to Lancaster and started the Lancaster Caramel Company. In a relatively short period of time, he was shipping caramels around the world. Then in 1893 he attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and got a gander at the art of making chocolate. He was hooked, and the Hershey Chocolate Company was born. By mass-producing milk chocolate, Milton brought what was once an expensive, European luxury to the masses. Thank goodness for that!! In 1900 he sold the caramel company for a whopping $1 million and focused his attention on milk chocolate. You’d think that world-altering bit of information would be the pinnacle for Mr. Hershey, but he was just beginning. As his wealth grew, he and his wife Catherine turned their focus to the community, building schools, parks, churches, recreational facilities, housing, and a trolly system for his workers. Not able to have children, they enjoyed causes that affected kids. In 1909 they opened the Hershey Industrial School for orphaned boys. The school, now for girls, too, is still open today as the Milton Hershey School. In 1918 Catherine died suddenly, and Milton transferred much of his wealth, including his ownership stake in the Hershey Chocolate Company, to the Hershey Trust, which continues to fund the school and provide a solid education to 1900 students each year. Even near the end of his life, he helped his community. During the Great Depression, he ordered construction of a large hotel, a community building, and new offices for the Hershey Company to keep men working. In 1935, he created the M. S. Hershey Foundation to fund educational and cultural activities for Hershey residents. During WWII, he supplied the military with both Ration D and Tropical Chocolate Bars. This quiet, unobtrusive little man, a failure many times over, created a company that has touched all of our lives (mine a little too much) and changed his part of the world for the good. Another interesting note: Milton and Catherine were booked on the ill-fated cruise of the Titanic. Last-minute business issues caused a cancellation. I wonder if Catherine ever complained about work emergencies after that?

Monday it was time to head back towards New Jersey. We had to make one final stop to absorb a little history, though, at Valley Forge National Historical Park. Over the winter of 1777-78, the Continental Army under General George Washington encamped at this location. The party included around 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children. During their stay, two thousand log structures were built to protect the troops from the harsh weather. While it has often been depicted that the cold and a lack of provisions caused most of the deaths, the real suffering came at the hands of disease. Nearly 2,000 died from smallpox, influenza, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery. Despite the hardships, the time at Valley Forge was very important to the American Revolution. It gave Washington and his Generals time to train and mold the militias into disciplined units ready to fight the superior British forces. Open year-round, this 3,500 acre park is filled with historic buildings and monuments. There are also about 35 miles of trails, plenty of places to ride bikes, and a driving tour. We watched the movie at the Visitor Center, checked out the museum exhibits, and drove the tour route. Despite it being cold and a fairly grey day, we all enjoyed the stop.

Continuing the trek to New Jersey, we stopped in Philadelphia at Chick-fil-A for lunch. Then it was finally and sadly time to drop off Angel Booger and Missy Booger. The trip had been lots of fun, and we were all sad to part. Truth be told, though…Papa and I were EXHAUSTED!! We drove south for just an hour or so to Grasonville, Maryland, and stopped at the Quality Inn. After checking in, we grabbed a quick bite at nearby La Piazza, then crashed.

Tuesday morning we had time to wallow a bit and take it easy. After checking out of the hotel, the day started with breakfast at the Rams Head Shorehouse in Stevensville, Maryland. Then, our relatively short drive took us through Annapolis, Maryland, across the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. We checked into the Comfort Inn & Suites early in the afternoon, then ran a few errands. I even got in a little browsing time at DSW, one of my favorite stores. Later we got a call from the reason for our stop, nephew Alex Jones. He is now stationed at Joint Base Andrews flying helicopters and lives in Alexandria. There was just no sense in passing through the area without checking out his new abode and visiting a bit. We spent a few hours catching up and had an excellent dinner at the The Wharf…awesome! Since it was a work night for the rotorhead, we left him at his place fairly early and turned in ourselves. Us old people were still catching up on our rest!

On Wednesday morning, we were up early and on the road. Once the car was pointed towards the barn, it was just time to get home. This outing, our first road trip in years, proved that I don’t miss the bed-hopping of this type of travel AT ALL. It took my body the better part of a week to recover! It was wonderful to spend time with the NJ Boogers and to see Alex, though. As always, there was lots of laughter and great conversation. Love all of these kids so much!!

That’s it for this one. Whew! There are still a couple of catch-up posts, and the great northern trek has begun. Keep an eye out for rapid updates! See you on the path.


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