It’s February. We are a few weeks into the new year. By now most people have gone through their time of retrospection; of looking back to see what could have been done differently; of finding the lessons to take away from 2019; of resolving to make changes for the good. In the past I’ve done the same, but this year I chose not to go down that particular rabbit hole. There was just too much bad stuff in 2019 to wade through. That mistakes were made and lessons there to learn is not in doubt. But I chose to firmly close the door and march into 2020 while attempting to leave some of the heaviness of my heart on the other side. So with a sincere prayer for lightness and grace in the coming year, onward and upward, as they say.

Work continues at the barndominium. Our builder has completed almost all but a few minor bits of his part, although we are currently trying to solve a septic issue. (Between our adding the apartment, the extreme rainfall in Tennessee, and some re-grading, it isn’t functioning as needed.) Thankfully we have a very good septic guy named Laymon Burke who will soon have everything back on track. In the mean time, MW (Mr. Wonderful) and I have been working hard in the apartment upstairs. We have installed countertops, cabinets, microwave, stove and fridge in the kitchen, toilet and vanity in the bathroom, shelving in the closet, and cellular shades, flooring and baseboards throughout. We’ve already taken most of the furniture upstairs, so it won’t be long before we have an actual apartment. Yay! Our first visitors came a couple of weeks ago, friends from Greensboro. We told them it wasn’t complete, so they showed up with sleeping bags. LOL. We did have a bed ready for them, though.

At the beginning of January we managed to unpack our winter clothes – particularly helpful when the temperatures have been alternating between low 20s and 40s! Up to then we had both been living with a jacket and a couple of long-sleeve t-shirts each!

Early in January we made a trip to Alabama. On the way down, we made a cool stop in Athens, Tennessee, which is about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga on I-75. After years of passing the tour sign and saying “we should go”, we took a break from the drive and popped in. If you are from the south, you have to be familiar with Mayfield. In 1910, T.B. Mayfield Jr. bought a herd of 45 Jersey cows. Why Jersey? Because in his opinion their milk just tasted better, and he began bottling and delivering it in Athens. In the 110 years since, that venture has grown into an empire, bottling several types of milk including that in the familiar yellow cartons and TruMoo chocolate. The addition of the ice cream freezer in 1923 paved the way for all of the wonderful flavors of that delectable frozen concoction available today. I have a love/hate relationship with Mayfield ice cream. I love to eat it, and hate what it does to the size of my butt. It is truly an addiction, but I’m in a 12-step program now to get it under control. We took a tour of the bottling and ice cream packaging plants with a grandmother who had been with Mayfield since she was a teenager. Alas, I cannot remember her name, but her enthusiasm for the company and her job were unforgettable! I learned several interesting things: 1) Mayfield bottles milk for several smaller outlets like Dollar General. That milk does not have the same additives and is in white cartons. 2) Mayfield bottles a variety of juices. 3) In 1955, Mayfield invented a system that removes unwanted flavors from milk, which made the flavor consistent. (I remember drinking milk from the local dairy as a child, and you could occasionally taste wild onions or whatever else the cows had been eating. Blech!) 4) Mayfield uses a flash-freeze system on their ice cream, which cuts down on ice crystals and makes it creamier. 5) They make their own milk jugs as part of the processing line. That was pretty cool. A blob of yellow plastic is blown into a mold. The system checks the finished jugs automatically and spits the ones that are not correct into a bin to melt and try again. 6) Time Magazine once named them the “World’s Best Ice Cream”. 7) There are flavors of Mayfield ice cream that are only shipped in 3 gallon bulk containers. That means you need to check out ice cream parlors that have Mayfield to try them. 8) All that deliciousness is only enjoyed by southerners and visitors to our fair corner of the country. They currently distribute in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and parts of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Why the limited distribution? To control freshness, all of their products leave the plant in their own trucks with strict delivery timetables. I’m sure I learned more, but you just need to go visit. As added incentive, the tour costs less than $5 per person and includes ice cream at the end, including the restricted flavors!

In Huntsville, Alabama, the big event was the wedding. Yes, the knot was finally tied. Oh…not our knot! That was cinched a LONG time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This knot belonged to a sweet lady that we all love, and on January 11th we gathered with our Jones family to celebrate her big day. Finally, some figurative sunshine (not literal though, it was pouring…LOL)! Over the past several months this woman has been the nervous girlfriend letting us know she was “seeing someone” and later that he proposed, the giddy fiancé whose face lit up every time she caught sight of her soon to be or mentioned his name, and the blushing bride counting her “something old, something new…” while anxiously awaiting the appointed time. It was a joy to witness and something of a revelation. There is a song by the Judds with the following chorus: “Young love, strong love, true love, it’s a new love. They’re gonna make it through the hard times, walk those lines. Yeah, these ties will bind young love.”

It’s by far not the only song or poem that tends to make us think giddy love is for starry-eyed teenagers and 20-somethings. Romeo and Juliet are often held up as the ultimate symbols of passionate love (although I fail to see how ending up dead is very romantic), and they were 15 and 13. (Think about that and look at the kids around you that age! Wow!!) Television and movies have been a little better in recent years, but romantic comedies are still mostly filled with the young. I think that needs to change. This bride taught me that you are never too old for pulse-raising, breathless love; that holding onto another as you walk through life is a gift at any age; and that joy and hope go hand in hand. You see, this bride was my mother-in-law, Peg, and she is 83 years old. Her handsome groom, Colin, is 78. (Yes, she’s a cougar!) As they walked towards each other at the front of First Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, they both had tears in their eyes and ear-to-ear grins, and in a short few minutes became Mr. and Mrs. Colin Bagwell. After the wedding and reception, the family gathered at a local restaurant for dinner. Then the newlyweds headed off to begin their walk together…starting with a road trip to Florida. So maybe the song needs to say “love at any age, strong love, true love…” The flow isn’t as poetic, but it is more accurate. No matter where you are on your life line, keep your heart open and never say never. NOTE: I was so busy enjoying myself that I only took two pics, and neither include the groom! This pic is a couple of months ago.

As we headed back to Tennessee, we decided to stop for a couple of nights at Fall Creek Falls State Park, where we enjoyed some quiet relaxation. The park has several different camping loops and can accommodate 222 tent/rv campers. (Some of the sites were on the shorter side, so big rigs definitely need to consider length when making reservations.) Everything was well-maintained, including the bath houses. At almost 30,000 acres, this park has a lot to offer: Over 50 miles of hiking trails; bike trails; waterfalls; gorges; canopy challenge; amphitheater; cabins; fishing; boating; a pool; golf course; nature center; gift shop…the list is long. The namesake waterfall at 256 feet is one of the highest in the eastern United States. Alas, it was raining for our visit, so we will have to go back to take it all in! Once voted the best state park in the southeast by Southern Living Magazine, this one definitely gets two thumbs up.

The wedding trip was the first time we took Petunia out since my knee surgery in December, and that is waaaayyyyy too long to sit still! Chores at the barndominium have been keeping us busy, but the road is what we prefer most of the time. I’m afraid we have at least a few more weeks of work before we can head out on a long sojourn, though. In the mean time we must be content with occasional short trips and visitors in Tennessee.

The final week of January saw us again heading west. We left Petunia in Tennessee and flew back to Seattle to attend Buddy’s memorial service and spread his ashes out on Puget Sound. What a week of mixed emotions! Sadness, for sure, at the hole left in our lives by that big teddy bear, but also happiness at spending time with family and friends and sharing Buddy stories with people (some of whom flew across the country to be there). The service was sad, funny, enlightening, and beautiful. What more could you ask for? There is a song by Kenny Chesney called “The Good Stuff”. In it he talks about the first kiss, the things we do for those we love, etc. As the family gathered on the Kingston Ferry to release Buddy’s ashes into the wind, it struck me that that is also the good stuff…honoring the memories of those lost. There is no great sadness without great love. There is no beautiful flower without rain. My life has been made better by those who have gone before. I guess we could skip the pain and loss by choosing not to love, but that would be truly sad. Maybe I need to rethink the 2019 retrospection.

See you on the road!


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