Before I dive into other stuff, I want to thank those of you who faithfully read this blog, send messages, and offer encouragement. If you’ve been reading from the beginning or checked out the “For My Baby Sister” tab, you know that this was started as a way to take my family along for the ride. Readership has expanded a bit with friends sharing and us meeting people on the path. In the last few months, I’ve even met a couple of people that I didn’t know, who recognized my name… holy smoke, that was amazing! There are three people, though, that I want to mention specifically: First, my editor, Mr. Wonderful (MW). He proofreads, lets me know if I’m being boring, and helps me remember things, especially if I get behind and am struggling. He never complains and puts up with my occasional (although he might say constant) oversharing. Second, my backup editor and biggest fan, Jo Winslette. I just call her Mom. She has three daughters and has been our biggest cheerleader in everything from day one. Although, reading has never been her passion, she faithfully peruses every post and lets me know if she sees any issues. A few weeks ago, she advised me that it had been too long since I posted, which surprised the crap out of me. I honestly thought she would be enjoying the break while I’m parked in Tennessee taking care of chores. (You’ll get an update on those soon, too.) Finally, my friend, Malcolm Caldwell. We first met at Sneedville First Baptist Church. In fact, one of our early visits was on the day of his baptism. A wonderful guy with a big heart, he is very involved there and works at the post office. I chat whenever I pop in, and the other day he asked what I’d been up to. I told him we just got back from visiting Boogers in New Jersey. His response was something to the effect of…well, I haven’t read about that! In my defense, I’ve been busy, but he said I needed to get back to it! I truly appreciate him reading all the time and goading me back to it. (This week I was met with “Nothing since the Covid Christmas?!” on my mail run. LOL) So here, Malcolm and Mom, is an update. When you see how long it is, you’ll be sorry you asked!!

Since arriving back in Sneedville near the end of October, we’ve enjoyed catching up with our church crowd, taken on a few projects, and watched the fall colors come and go. As always, the list of things we want to accomplish never actually gets completed, mostly because it is hard to get things scheduled in a very rural area, especially during a housing boom. We have done a bit of work, though, including some redecorating that I’ll share when all is complete. We enjoyed hanging out and having lunch with our daughter Amber in Knoxville for her birthday. (It’s so hard to believe my children are sliding rapidly down the back side of 30 towards 40! Seems like just yesterday we were dealing with growth spurts and the first day of school!) We also caught up on all of our doctor and dentist appointments so that we will be good to go when we hit the road again. And let’s not forget enjoying the animal parades through the field. Oh, and Petunia got a good wash and wax, cleaning off the 6 months worth of road dust from 24 states!

In November we headed down to my parent’s place in Georgia for a nice visit and our traditional Thanksgiving celebration. The drive down the Sunday before the holiday was horrendous! Traffic stopped just south of Chattanooga on I-75, and we crawled along for miles adding a couple of hours to the trip. We were exhausted when we finally arrived and got Petunia set up in the dark. That Monday, Mom and I had a nice blast from the past when we went to meet Marion Edwards for lunch. From 1973 to 1978, we lived across the street from each other in Winston, Georgia. He is just a little older than me, so we weren’t in the same classes, but he was the first person to show me how to hold a tennis racquet. That certainly came in handy later in life when I became tennis crazy. He also tried to teach me archery well before the power bow craze. As I recall, that thing snapped down my forearm once, which pretty much cured me of wanting to do that again. Marion, along with Milly Liles, Holly Dickenson, Tammy McGahee, and Jack Brannon, kept things lively on Robin Hood Lane, and we missed them when we moved to Kentucky. It was really nice to catch up, and I hope it won’t be the only time.

Our annual clan gathering has been as big as 40 people. However, thanks to the new, looming Covid variant, this year was small. In addition to Mom and Dad2, we visited with Kate (sister), Patrick, and Peyton; Tracy (step-sister) and Bo; and Bill (cousin) over turkey and ham and a LOT more fixins then we really needed. (Nothing new there.) While we missed the rest of the crowd, it was nice to all fit around the dining room table. Without our family photographer, Aunt Pat, though, we didn’t do too well on the pics. Mom did manage a few, some of which, as action shots often do, caught us with mouths full or eyes closed. There were a couple of good ones, though. My only contribution was catching MW in the middle of his food coma! LOL. As I write this, Mom’s house is under contract and they have found their downsized home, so this will end up being the last Thanksgiving in the castle they’ve been in for almost 29 years. They’ve been trying to sell it for quite a while, so we knew it was coming, but it is sad nonetheless.

On Saturday Bill came back over to meet Pat, Russ (uncle), Mom, Dad2, and us in Rockmart for lunch and a little more visiting. (Hometown Pizza…delicious calzones!) After a great meal, we all went over to the Rockmart Cultural Arts Center to check out the “Oh Holy Night” exhibit. Created by artist Susan D. Waters, it is a life-sized nativity made out of wire and paper mache. Seen around Rockmart and Cedartown for many years, including in the Christmas Parade, this was the last hurrah locally for the impressive pieces. At the exhibit’s end, they were transported to St. Simon’s Island’s Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum in Epworth by the Sea, their new, permanent home. After looking it over, we said our goodbyes and Mom, Dad2, MW, and I headed out.

On our drive down, MW and I saw a new Buc-ee’s in Adairsville. Since it was a beautiful day for a drive, we headed over there to give Mom and Dad2 the orientation. Oh my GOSH, it was CROWDED! The wall-to-wall bodies were a turnoff for them, but they were intrigued nonetheless. We promised that it is always busy but not crazy like that. Since then, they have gone back to try the barbecue, which they gave four thumbs up for taste and huge portions!

That Sunday we headed back to Tennessee, and thankfully, the drive was better than when we came down. On December 4, we spent the evening at the Sneedville Christmas Parade. There is just nothing like Christmas carols and children to make you smile. Then on the 8th we celebrated my birthday with lunch at Gondolier in Harrogate. I covered our bouts of Covid in the previous post, which limited activity for most of the next couple of weeks. Thankfully, it was really just mild cold symptoms for both of us, although MW did lose his sense of taste for a couple of days.

Before our positive tests, MW bought tickets to the light show over at Bristol Motor Speedway for December 21. By then, he was negative, but despite symptoms being gone, my test was still positive. We hemmed and hawed about what to do (the tickets were nonrefundable) and, in the end, decided to go. Now before the Covid Nazis get out of control…it is a drive-thru event except for the central village, and we did not stop there. The tickets were $25 per car for up to 8 people. You could also pay $50 for an express pass with a specific entrance time that took you around the main gate by a different route. Since it is more than 1-1/2 hours from Sneedville, we paid the extra, but don’t think it saved enough time to do it again. The lights were beautiful, though, and after being stuck inside for days, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Christmas Village looked like it had several things to do including a carousel, so that will be on our list for next year. Oh, and you actually drive on the drag strip and the speedway, so there’s that. It takes about 2 hours to get through the millions of lights, and we thought it was worth the trip. One thing I didn’t account for was a bathroom break. After going through the Pal’s drive-thru and sitting in a parking lot eating in the car, I had to figure something out. The grocery store didn’t look too busy, so MW went in to scope it out…bathroom in the front and not many people in the store. Great! I masked and sanitized, then headed in. It is amazing that, when you want people to stay away from you, they are drawn. Of the probably dozen or so people in the entire store, two were opposite direction in the front area. They both tried their best to get near me, but like Pacman, I avoided the ghosts and made my objective. Paranoid about spreading germs, I only touched stuff with a paper towel and got out of there in record time. The moral of the story…always factor in bathrooms!

Thankfully, we were both completely out of Covid jail by the 24th. Since the Christmas Eve Eve service at our church had been cancelled (too many out with Covid, including Pastor Jessee), we drove over to All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Morristown, Tennessee on Christmas morning. It was a lovely service in a beautiful church, and the Rector, Reverend J. Mark Holland, did a great job. He was very personable and made us feel welcome. MW was raised in the Episcopal church, and we do enjoy the formality and ritual sometimes. It can be a little daunting keeping up for newcomers, though.

The following Monday, we loaded up the car and headed north to visit two of the Boogers. After several years of taking all of our stuff with us, I’ll admit it was a little stressful packing. New Jersey is a LONG drive, and we didn’t want to be exhausted when we got there, so we stopped for the night in Winchester, Virginia. For dinner we found Cafe del Sol, where I had crab nachos and red rock bisque and Mr. Wonderful (MW) had a cuban panini. It was all REALLY good, although MW had to finish up the nachos for me…too much!

After an early start, our first stop the next morning was Big L’s Bagels in downtown Winchester. There is nothing I love more than a bagel with lox and cream cheese. On my first visit to New York City in my early 20s I became hooked. Since then, I keep an eye peeled for independent places to try. Here, however, I’ll admit to being a little put out from the start. It was a really cold morning, and there was a sign on the door saying “If you haven’t already ordered, don’t come in!” Really? I assumed it was a Covid thing, which would be excusable, but the guy sitting out front said that it was always like that because the owner just doesn’t like people in the shop. Honestly, I should have walked away then, but they did boast the best bagels EVER. I ordered online, then went in a few minutes later. The guy behind the counter said it had “not been 10 minutes yet”, appearing to note that we entered before we were allowed. I told him it was cold outside and asked if we could wait there. He said, “I guess so.” Seriously, a strange situation. In the end, the bagel was pretty expensive, fairly small, and not all that good. He also put capers on that I didn’t order, but I will say that there was a LOT of good quality smoked salmon. Wouldn’t go back, though.

Aside from keeping us sane, stopping overnight afforded us the opportunity to check out a battlefield we’d never been to, so that was our next destination. While most civil war battles were fought in the Confederate states, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was the site of a 3-day fight in July, 1863, that was the most destructive of the entire war. In excess of 166,000 soldiers from both sides fought, and more than 51,000 were left on the field. This pivotal encounter was the first major defeat for General Robert E. Lee, who would thereafter be on the defensive. (Incidentally, one of MW’s ancestors, Giles Buckner Cooke, was the last living officer to have served on General Lee’s staff, dying in 1937 at the age of 99. He did not begin his service with Lee until 1864, though.) Gettysburg National Military Park has a large Visitor’s Center that includes a gift shop, museum, movie theater, and cyclorama. The latter is an amazing painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux displayed in the round and depicting the third day of the battle, known as Pickett’s Charge. The painting is seamlessly merged with a diorama that includes relics from the battle, making it feel very real. Painted almost 140 years ago, the canvas is 377′ long, 42′ high, and weighs an astounding 25,000 pounds! It was fascinating, and reminded me of visiting the Cyclorama in Atlanta as a child. In addition to the Visitor’s Center, you can take a hike on one of several trails or go on a self-guided tour through this beautiful park. For a more in-depth experience, you can choose to take along a docent. Both President Eisenhower’s farm next door and the town of Gettysburg offer more to explore. Judging by the number of hotels nearby, I would assume summers are packed. Except for a lingering feeling of reverence, this beautiful landscape offers no hint of the sights, sounds, and smells of those long ago summer days. It must have been horrendous!

Back on the road, we continued northeast, stopping in York at Famous Hot Weiner for late lunch. Their special is topped with chili sauce, mustard, and a wad of chopped onions…too much for me. The sausage also had a very thick casing, which made it odd to bite, but the flavor was good. I ended up scraping most of the topping and bread off and eating it with a knife and fork.

We finally arrived at the Comfort Inn in Voorhees, New Jersey, at around 4:15 PM, and had just enough time to unload and relax a minute before heading over to pick up the Boogers. They didn’t know we were coming, and Missy Booger was blown away when she answered the door. (I tried to get a picture, but the Christmas lights around the door frame messed it up.) After they got their things together, we headed out to grab some dinner at Passariello’s (delicious!), then back to the hotel for a little swimming before bedtime.

The next morning we were up and out, stopping at Panera for breakfast on our way to Atlantic City. It was another grey day, but fun was on the agenda. In December, the boardwalk is mostly empty and lots of the stores are closed. That’s not a bad thing, though, because there are also no crowds or lines. Our first stop was Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Although we had seen their museums before, we had never been. It had some pretty neat stuff, and the kids absolutely loved it. One of the funniest things was a trunk sitting on the floor. It had a sign that said something like “open if you dare” and 10-year-old Angel Booger just couldn’t resist. When the lid was lifted just slightly, it made a loud bang and air shot out the sides. That boy screamed and leapt backwards faster than a Nascar driver on the final stretch at Daytona! He came right out of his shoe! Missy Booger screamed, too, and I’ll admit that I jumped pretty high. We all had a good laugh. After finishing up there, we combed the beach for a little bit looking for sea shells and running from the waves. (Winter, with no crowds, is the only time I actually enjoy beaches.)

Later, we walked down the boardwalk a bit to check out our options, then went to lunch at LandShark Bar & Grill. (My recommendation…just don’t. A seafood joint sitting right on the beach should not be serving low grade frozen food, period.) We finished out the afternoon with a visit to the Central Pier Arcade where they did a little simulated driving and riding motorcycles and had some paintball target practice. We were all pretty tired when we made it back to the car, but before hitting the road, we drove by the Absecon Lighthouse, New Jersey’s tallest. Back in Voorhees, we checked out the Original Hot Dog Factory for a quick bite. (The place is not much to look at, but man, the dogs are good!) Finally we watched a little TV and hit the sack, exhausted.

Thursday dawned grey, but would become partly cloudy and windy by the afternoon. Our plan was to head into Philadelphia, and I was excited to get a gander at something on my bucket list…the Liberty Bell! We waited a little later to leave in order to miss rush hour traffic heading into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After a quick breakfast at Chick-fil-A, we zipped over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge without any real trouble. Finding parking was another matter altogether, but we finally made it. I was impressed with all of the colorful murals along the way. We also passed the United States Mint, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Federal Detention Center.

A bell for the Pennsylvania State House tower was ordered in 1751 from Whitechapel Foundry in London. After being shipped over and installed, it cracked on its first test ring. That’s not this bell, though. Two local metalworkers, John Pass and John Stow, melted that one down and re-cast the 2,080 pounds of bronze. Although not known as such then, our Liberty Bell, inscribed with “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof” (a quote from Leviticus), was born. Once installed, it rang loudly for almost 90 years, including during the American Revolution and while Philadelphia was the capitol of the United States and Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived there. No one knows exactly when she cracked, but in 1846, metal workers attempted to prevent further damage by widening the narrow split to protect it from vibration. Shortly after, as the bell rang out for George Washington’s Birthday celebration, the original crack lengthened, and the bell was silenced forever. Our wait to see this fabulous bit of history was about 30 minutes. Thankfully, the weather was chilly, but not too bad. The bell is housed in a building and now roped off, so it can’t be touched. (One of my daughter-in-law’s favorite memories is actually touching it as a kid.) If you didn’t care about getting a closer view, you could actually see it through windows at the rear of the building, too. Once inside, we passed through several history displays as well. I managed to tick the guard off when I had the kids pull down their masks for a picture in front of the bell. He immediately jumped in and said they needed to be pulled up. Seriously?! No one was within 6′ of them, and they only pulled them down long enough to smile. Where in the world has common sense gone? Next we wandered around at the Independence Visitor’s Center before heading back across the river. If you plan to visit, be sure to make a reservation for Independence Hall. We didn’t do our due diligence and were unable to go in. Also, there are several other things to see right in the vicinity, including the Benjamin Franklin Museum and his grave in the Christ Church Burial Ground.

After crossing back into New Jersey, we hit our second stop for the day, Adventure Aquarium on the Delaware River in Camden. Let me start by saying this place was EXPENSIVE, and the ticket pricing structure is a bit crazy. If you plan to go, the best option is to check online and buy in advance. They do seem to offer quite a few discount opportunities, though, including military and occasional BOGO offers. That said, it is a flippin’ awesome facility! In addition to cool fish, turtle, and touch displays, there were a few surprises. One was a rope walkway over the shark tank, which Missy Booger did NOT enjoy at all. The coolest, though, was a pair of hippopotami…no kidding! They are the only aquarium in the world to have them. All-in-all, I would go again, but only with a good deal!

Our final tourist stop of the trip, and the one that MW and Angel Booger were both really looking forward to, was just down the river walk…the USS New Jersey (BB-62). This ship is the second of three to carry the name. The first served as a WWI battleship and was sunk by the Army in 1923. Twenty years later, the ship we toured was one of four Iowa-class battleships that were the largest, longest, and fastest ever made. It served for half a century in conflicts from World War II to the Middle East. Launched on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, she is the most decorated battleship and the second-most decorated ship of any type in Navy history. The self-guided tour is great, showing you the guns, deck, work areas, crew and officers quarters, galley, mess, and even the latrines. You can see the size of the chain needed to heft her two 30,000 lb anchors and lay on a sailor’s bunk to feel what it was like to be stacked in. There are also plenty of sporadic first person stories and interactive displays about life on the ship. History exhibits show her various battles, including the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the two largest battles of the Pacific War. The only battleship ever commissioned by a sitting President, in 1982 Ronald Reagan said she was “still in the prime of her life, a Gallant Lady”. Her final decommissioning was in 1999. Just think of the history this ship saw! Her sailors, from the Greatest Generation to my children’s peers, must be proud, indeed! Oh yes, I almost forgot…a little more than 6 weeks prior to our visit to this beautiful battleship, the third USS New Jersey was commissioned. This time she is a nuclear-powered, Virginia class, attack submarine! Maybe the Boogers will someday tour that one, too.

By the time we finished that tour, we were all TOTALLY exhausted and hungry. We stopped in at Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner (yummy), then reluctantly took the Boogers back to their Dad’s. Overall it was a great visit, with only a few tears shed as it came to an end. I’m already looking forward to the next one! While I love getting to see the country, I sure do miss having the kids and Boogers all in the same town.

That’s it for now. Next up…What HAVE we been up to in Tennessee?! LOL. See you on the path!


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