A Visit to the Briar Patch & Time With Family

MONDAY: The Drive “Home”

Monday was all about the 770 mile drive back “home” to Reading, Pennsylvania.  Reading is my official “home of record” in that I was born in the Reading Hospital, as were both of my sisters, my mother, my father and my uncles and aunts on my father’s side of the family. My first home was actually in Wyomissing, the bedroom community next to Reading where we lived across the alley from my father’s mother — noting Dr. Louis Livingood, my grandfather, passed 10 months before I was born — and just down the street from my mother’s parents, Hazel & Jimmy.  We moved to New Jersey in 1964, and then to Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 1974, after which I moved around the country with the Air Force for a few years, but through it all Reading has always been home.

Interestingly enough — and this is the stuff of Reader’s Digest stories — my mother ended up back home after my father passed in 1979 when she was reunited with her “other” high school sweetheart, Bill around 1985 who still lived in Reading, PA.  My mother moved back to PA while they were still dating and they’ve been in the Reading area ever since.  Anyway, more than you want to know, but this is why Reading is still home!

The drive itself began at 6:00am and ended at 5:45pm, with several stops for gas, leg stretching, lunch and a little shopping along the way.  I took a conference call at 7:30am and was also doing a little light work throughout the day via my iPhone.  Vacations have clearly been replaced by “work-cations” where every stop is consumed by checking and answering Emails, texts or returning calls.  I think our first stop was a splash-and-go near Sevierville, Tennessee, after my conference call with the next stop at Wytheville, Virginia, where we had lunch at a Subway, bought a padded mattress pad at Walmart for the bed we’d be sleeping in at my parents and put another splash of fuel in the trusty Tundra. Speaking of the Tundra, the front end work was a welcome thing as the truck handled better than it had in the past 5 years on this trip!  We made another splash and go stop in Winchester, Virginia, and then hit our only traffic of the journey just east of Harrisburg, PA, on Interstate 81.  I will say, drivers continue to become more and more annoying on this trip, where people who are trying to make up time just don’t grasp the concept of risk vs. reward. They make dumb-ass decisions and cut you off to try and pass from the right and then end up stuck behind the same dumb-ass short-haul semi-trucks blocking both lanes for reasons that defy logic on I81.  Even if they “get ahead” at some point, we’ll invariably come upon them again a few hours later after we’ve all made stops and gotten back on the road again. Again, short-term instant gratification at the expense of putting others at risk for zero reward.  That’s probably the worst part of this drive and honestly, I’m starting to think we’d be better off heading out at 7:00pm at night and arriving at 6:00am if only to be rid of the really bad drivers.

Once we arrived at my parents it was cocktail hour, which was a good thing: I certainly needed a good stiff drink and they did not disappoint: I was presented with a lovely bottle of Don Julio Blanco when I arrived: whoo hoo!  Say goodnight Gracey!

Here’s Debbie with my mother and stepdad, Bill, just after we arrived. As I mentioned on Facebook when I posted these photos for a while, Debbie and my mother are more like best friends or close sisters than they are mother and daughter-in-law. In fact, its a bit amazing how much a like they are in so many ways.  My step-dad Bill is the only “my dad” Debbie has known and they too have a very special and fond relationship.  Well, OK… my entire family loves Debbie; it’s hard not to love her!  Lucky me!!!!

Anyway, my mother outdid herself and had the various refrigerators filled with all kinds of meal fixings for the four nights we’d be there.  We did what we could to help out and I was drafted as the cook for three of the four nights,  grilling chicken for our dinner on Monday while Debbie did her best to help with table setting, clearing the table and cleaning up afterwards.  Despite enjoying the Don Julio Blanco, I was in pretty good spirits and quite functional for most of the evening.

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However, by around 9:00pm I was done.  It was a great evening visiting with my folks on our first day of a 4.5 day stay. I think it was around 2:00am when I woke up on the couch and moved down to our bedroom for the night.  And boy-oh-boy did thatquilted Serta mattress pad make a difference!  Debbie and I both had a great night’s sleep.

TUESDAY: Getting Down to Business

Our mattress pad did the trick and gave us both a very comfortable night’s rest on our usual downstairs guest room bed.  I’m not sure why it’s taken us 20 years to address what has always been a too-hard-to-get-comfortable mattress, but better late than never!  I was up around 5:30am and delayed getting up until 6:45am when I had to dial-in for a daily 7:00am conference call.  It was a busy day from a work standpoint so I had my laptop fired-up after the conference call until around 10:00am handling a variety of requests and doing some research.  I’d grabbed a little breakfast along the way — my usual steak on an English muffin having brought all of the fixings from home — and headed out to the Home Depot at 10:30am to pick up a hedge trimmer and some Italian sandwiches at the V&S for lunch.

Once I was back at the house we quickly devoured the V&S Italian sandwiches before I changed into my work clothes and began doing some yard work my mother needed taken care of for the balance of the afternoon.  I should probably note, “The Briar Patch” is my parents retirement home outside of Reading, PA.  They purchased the 1st 3 acres back in the mid-80’s and it gained its nickname from the thickly overgrown ivy, thorny briars and other woodland growth that covered the heavily wooded lot.  Bills’ son Mark is an architect and he designed the home for the somewhat unusual landscape of the lot such that the front of the house with the garage and main entrance faces away from the road so what you see coming up the driveway is the back.  What we thought would be a low-maintenance home tucked away in the woods quickly became a property that could have easily been featured in Home & Gardens with its long winding driveway flanked by a lush green lawn on one side and lush shrubs and plantings on the other, with an amazing collection of flowers up closer to the house.  There are meandering trails that jut out from what is now a 9 acre property that has seen two grape vineyards come and go over the years.  It’s simply breath-taking, but it’s also a huge pile of work to maintain since its natural state — being covered with vines, ivy and briars — is where it tries to return at every chance.

   

As expected, the battery-powered hedge trimmer made short work of the largest job — trimming back a very large wall of bushes behind their home — and then clean-up was made a bit easier as my step-dad Bill and his friend Jim took care of most of that.  That freed me up to do some surgery on a Wisteria vine that had overtaken a pergola next to the side porch.  The yard work took up the better part of the afternoon, but it felt good to get out and do some work and to know it was work my parents wouldn’t have to deal with down the road for quite some time.  I had to flip on my work laptop around 3:00pm to do some work for the next hour or so, but after that I put the phone down for a few hours.

Cocktail hour came around 6:00pm, a bit later than normal, and was our traditional Margarita celebration.  I spun up the Maggies in the blender for Debbie and my parents but opted to stick with my Don Julio Blanco!  For dinner I was once again drafted to man the outdoor grill and cook up some burgers while my mother & Debbie prepared some corn on the cobb, salads and other light sides.  It was a lovely dinner-in and everyone retired to the livingroom shortly thereafter to attend to books or, for me, catching up on Email, etc. via my laptop, and then doing a little catch-up email/messaging on my work phone.

WEDNESDAY: Breakfast with Sister Anne & More Yard Work

My sister Anne, who lives about 15 minutes away from my folks over in Womelsdorf — the Livingood family homestead — was anxious to take everyone to a new little breakfast place in Sinking Springs called Tom Cat Cafe. Words cannot describe this place, as the menu is more complex than a C-130 flight manual and a single portion of any entrée can feed a family of four.  Here’s a link to the menu.   As an example of just how generous the portions are, the pancakes which come two-to-an-order are 12″ in diameter!  Yes, the are larger than the dinner plates they are served-on. The 4-egg omelettes are equally monstrous as you can see below….

 

Anyway, we’d made plans to meet her and my nephew Levi there at 8:30am which was no problem for me as I was up and on my conference call at 7:00am anyway.  After grabbing a quick shower we joined my parents upstairs and made the short, 25 minute drive over to Sinking Springs.  Anne & Levi were just walking up to Tomcat Cafe’s entrance as we arrived so our timing was perfect. The Cafe was an interesting place with a New York vibe, lots of Elvis Presley memorabilia and loud music mixing with the heavy din of the small diner that started off life as someone’s home.  As advertised, the portions were HUGE. Debbie and I should have shared an entrée as is our norm, but we got sucked into the moment and the massive menu selection and ended up ordering our own meals: I had something called the Gypsy Child: Pastrami, tavern ham, turkey pastrami, pickles, cherry pepper relish, herbed Boursin and scrambled eggs in a grilled tortilla wrap – served with home fries.  It had to weigh 2 lbs!  Debbie ordered the four-egg Willie Omelette: Sausage, pesto, mushroom, spinach, and extra sharp provolone with home fries.  Anne also had a massive omelette, Levi had the strawberry topped, creme brûlée-stuffed French Toast, my mother had two of the aforementioned 12″ pancakes and Bill had some eggs and home fries.  There was enough food on our table to feed a family of 10 with leftovers!  It was all over-the-top in terms of flavor, but also with more sodium and calories than either Debbie or I eat in a week!  Debbie and I took 1/2 of our meals home, even though I doubt we’ll touch them and I didn’t have to eat again until dinner!  But, it was a great time and so good to visit with my sister and her son Levi.

Once we were back at home I switched back into my work clothes and picked up where I left off on Tuesday with the hedge trimmers around 10:00am and didn’t finish up until around 3:00pm.  I got a lot done and even got to wrestle with some briars, but I could honestly spend 6 hours a day working on the yard for the next four weeks as there is just so much of it and nature + a lot of rain has caused the greenery to explode this year.  Anyway, my mother was appreciative for what we’ve done and that’s all that matters.  I’ve got one more full day to spend working around the house tomorrow and will try to make the best of it.

As mentioned, I knocked-off and came in around 3:00pm, grabbed a shower and then headed off to the store to pick up some soft drinks, Margarita mix and a few things at the Ace Hardware store for the yard.  It was Margarita time back at the house when I returned and I grilled up some salmon for dinner to go with the lovely assortment of veggies and some of the left over home-fries from breakfast as our dinner.  Once again, just a great time visiting with the family over dinner.

The evening was a fairly quiet time with Debbie back to reading, mother and Bill back in their enclave reading and watching the news of the day and me sitting here tapping out my recollections of the day, intermixed with watching videos from the Goodwood Festival of Speed (FOS) from Goodwood House in Sussex, England.  Goodwood FOS is definitely something on my bucket list.  Attendance is capped at 150,000 per day for what is perhaps the greatest annual meeting of motoring enthusiasts, historic racing cars, motorcycles and world-class drivers and the owners of the various cars.  The videos that come from the FOS are simply amazing to watch as 90-year-old race cars worth millions are thrashed about along with every other significant vehicle produced and raced since then in a variety of class-specific races and the epic hill climb event.

THURSDAY: Bush-hogging & Company Arrives

For some reason I had a very hard time sleeping and was up well ahead of my 7:00am conference call.  I worked on some reports until around 9:00am, had a little breakfast and then was joined by Debbie who’d slept in a bit.  My mother and Bill were both up around 7:30am and 8:00am respectively.

After getting to a stopping point on my work I the next order of business was to determine if I had successfully shut-down a Yellow Jacket nest that had been created in a wood pile next to the garage.  I’d hit it pretty hard around 9:00pm on Wednesday night when the Jackets were most likely all in the nest and dormant.  However, I saw a few Jackets still coming out of the nest when I checked it at 9:00am so I decided to hit it again with the injection straw stuffed well into the nest.  That seems to be a lot more effective than just having it at the opening and other than a few Jackets that had been out of the nest returning, then turning away once they detected the insecticide, the nest was done-in.

Looking ahead to our 3 day tandem rally in Manheim which I’ll cover in a separate blog that picks up where this one leaves off, I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather.  It’s gone from good to awful and is now so-so for Friday, with pretty good weather on Saturday and Sunday. The rain on Friday had been scored as high as 90% as of last night, so we’re hopeful the rain moving through the area does so swiftly and gives us dry roads for the 2:30pm “warm up ride” on Friday afternoon.

Sadly, I didn’t even think to bring along the SKS mudguards that click-on to our tandem.  I’m usually pretty good about packing for various contingencies with spare rims, mudguards and the like.  Well, not so this time.  Oh well, we’ll make the best of whatever comes our way!

Getting back to our stay in PA with my folks, the mission of the day was doing more yard work for my mother so I had only one thing I “had” to do before I started working on the yard and that was to run over to Classic Harley-Davidson to pick up a replacement T-shirt for the one that no longer fit. Amazingly, they had only one small-size T-shirt in the store and it had the exact same artwork on the back as the T-shirt it was replacing, so one was better than none!

Back at the house I grabbed the last half of Debbie’s left-over V&S sandwich from Tuesday as my lunch at 11:30am before heading out in on old reliable, Bill’s 17-year old Scott’s 20 hp lawn tractor with the dump trailer carrying the hedge trimmer, a bush-hog, blower, rake and extra can of gas to attack a large 100′ long berm and several hedges that still needed to be trimmed.  I think I soaked 3 shirts with sweat as I weeded and bush-hogged my way through the yard work over the next 5 hours with just a few short breaks to fire up my work laptop and take care of some business.

My Uncle Rae and Aunt Flossie arrived about 2 hours into the yard work and took my mother and Debbie out for lunch as I continued to work on the yard with afternoon thunderstorms looming.  My Uncle Rae came down and helped me with clearing all of the debris piles from the driveway after they returned from lunch, which was very much appreciated.  It turned a 40-minute job into a 25 minute job which saw us finishing up and pulling the tractor into the garage with all of the lawn care equipment in the trailer just as the skies began to open up at 4:30pm.  Talk about perfect timing!

Back in the house I had to attend to about 30 more minutes of work before powering down my work computer and then headed down to get showered for cocktail hour and dinner.  We had a grand time visiting with everyone throughout the early evening and dinner and my step-nephew Lyle arrived just as we were finishing up with dinner.  He’d driven up from North Carolina where he’s attending college on the G.I. bill, having served a 4-year enlistment in the U.S. Air Force.  It had been quite some time since I’d seen Lyle and he’s grown into quite a fine young man. He’ll do well in whatever he decides to do, that’s for certain.

I think Debbie and I were the last two standing around 10:30pm when we called it a night. It was a full house with five guests and of course my mother was back to doing what she does: being the hostess with the most-ess running around and tending to laundry, meals, cleaning-up, and the like.  Just what she really doesn’t need to be doing as she’s still nursing a fractured pelvis injury from a couple of months back.

FRIDAY: Heading to Manheim for the Rally

Well, I think I can best sum-up the look ahead for today’s 2:30 warm-up ride down in Manheim: most likely a non-starter!  Here’s what I woke up to this morning in terms of what was going on outside. The pointer is sitting on our host hotel in Manheim, PA, and the weather is as of 8:00am.  The strong storm cell is just about to arrive at my folks house west of Reading, PA, so we’ll have yet another strong rain spell ahead of us.

Looking at the hour-by-hour outlook for Manheim, there’s a 50/50 chance we’ll get thunder showers during the afternoon ride time so at this point we’re looking forward to visiting with friends at the hotel and having a nice dinner before we get on the tandem Saturday morning.

Thankfully, the weather is looking like it will be lovely on Saturday and Sunday once the rain passes through, so that should give us two good days on the bike for our rides in and around Lancaster County.

I’ll close out this blog entry and pick-up with a new one that will “air” on The TandemGeek’s Blog since the rest of our trip will be related to the Tandems East Tandem Weekend.

All-in-all, one of our best visits yet to my folks.  I actually felt like I was able to do a few things for my mother and Bill that would make their lives a bit easier and/or take care of things they couldn’t really do for themselves… and they still like to do everything they can themselves which is probably why their easily mistaken for a couple in their mid-70’s and not their respective 89 years!  It was also great being able to visit with my Uncle Rae and Aunt Flossie and an extra special treat to see Lyle during his visit.

We’re still trying to decide if we’ll return to my folks place on Sunday afternoon following the tandem weekend to spend one more afternoon and evening with them before spending Monday driving back home with a 6:00am departure that would hopefully get us home by 6:00pm.  The alternative is to head home from Manheim which would put us at home around 11:00pm at night and give us all day Monday for getting caught up with yard work, etc. before I return to work on Tuesday.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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One Response to A Visit to the Briar Patch & Time With Family

  1. DeDe says:

    I loved the story!

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