Friday, January 1, 2021

The Best of 2020

2020 was a different kind of year, to put it kindly.  The coronavirus threw us off our normal game from mid-March and pre-Christmas December had both of us, fortunately at different times, on the couch fighting off the virus’s fever, chills, and congestion.  Like most people, we did a lot of home improvements this year and got a lot of “I’ll clean that out someday” projects off our list.  But it was also a year that featured our most beach time ever, great food, lots of sightseeing, and best of all, some exciting times for our children.  I’ve whittled down the list of forty-six experiences I captured throughout the year, and as I’ve done now for ten years running, picked and sorted the best ten to remind myself, now and in future years, that 2020 was a great year in my life.  Here we go. 

10. Laurie and Rodney Move to Charlotte, NC

It might seem strange to think that your daughter moving seven hours away (from 1.5 hours) would make this list, but I’m happy when she’s happy.  They bought a beautiful home outside of Charlotte where the average January temperature is 51 degrees.  It’s directly on the way to a few of our favorite places, including Hilton Head Island, Charleston, SC, and the east coast of Florida.  We also discovered this year that we can Facetime each other whenever we want.  Not that we didn’t know it before, but we never did it and it took the pandemic to realize that we can regularly chat.  

9.  Wine & Dine Roadster Tour in St. Augustine, FL

The most fun tour we took in St. Augustine was the Wine & Dine Roadster Tour.  Our driver Corley navigated the roadster, carrying ourselves and two other couples through lesser-known streets, introducing us to interesting nuggets of the cities’ deep history.  Along the way, we stopped at five places for food and drink, including the Old City House Inn & Restaurant, Carrera Wine Cellar, The Floridian, Athena Restaurant, and Peace Pie, indulging in tasty plates and yummy drinks, in all more than a meal’s worth.  The tour was interesting, intimate, and an awesome way to feel part of the local scene.

8.  A Great Crop of Tomatoes

After years of sacrificing our backyard tomatoes to squirrels, I finally invented a solution that would completely enclose the plants yet make it fairly easy to inspect and pick the ripe red fruits.  The solution was “stackable cages”, two per plant, each about a two-foot cube.  The lower cube did not have a wire mesh top, the top cube did.  I made each of the four sides out of 2”x2” lumber, then stapled wire mesh sides to them.  This made the cubes reasonably light enough so I could lift the top cube off, pick the ripened tomatoes, and put the top back on.  We harvested, from just two plants, many dozen delicious Better Boy and Beefsteak tomatoes.  After the season was over, I took this first version of the cages to the dump, looking to invent a new-and-improved version in 2021 that will be even easier to use and provide more room so the tomato plants can grow larger.  

7.  Frankie Bones in Hilton Head 

Staying with our friends Dan and Grace for a week, we ate and drank at several wonderful places, but the only one we requested a repeat performance was Frankie Bones.  The restaurant was the complete package, with their service, food, and drinks all being top-notch.  The decor was so visually compelling, portraying a 1960s “Rat Pack” theme complete with period furniture, outfits, and pictures.  Both the Lobster Mac-n-Cheese and Shrimp Scampi were delicious, but that left a couple dozen equally tasty-looking selections to explore on future visits.

6.  Ball State MAC Champions and First Bowl Game Since 2013

The Ball State football program was one of the first to cancel their season due to the coronavirus.  But after other programs, like the Big Ten, decided to reverse their decisions and play, Ball State changed course also, beginning a shortened, six-game, division-only schedule on November 4th.  Following an initial loss at Miami, Ohio, Ball State went on to win their final five games, making them the MAC-West champs and earning them their first trip to the MAC Championship game since 2008, a revenge match against the MAC-East champs Buffalo Bulls.  Ball State triumphed, 38–28, to become the MAC Champions for the first time since 1996.  They accepted an invitation to play the San Jose State Spartans, the Mountain West champions, in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve.  Ball State started strong, scoring 27 points in the first quarter, and went on to win the game 34-13 for the football team’s first-ever bowl game victory.  

5.  BlockBuster Fitness Equipment

While everyone was impacted by the government-ordered lockdowns that largely failed to halt the coronavirus spread in any obvious way, my son’s personal training business was closed for several months, lumped into the category of “gym”, which it’s not.  While that was a complete loss of income, to both himself and his employees and contractors, fortunately, he had started a second business, BlockBuster Fitness Equipment, a couple of years ago that buys out large quantities of treadmills, ellipticals, weights, etc., which he refurbishes and resells.  Since lots of people wanted to keep up their workouts, demand was very healthy and this business took off.  2020 will end up being his best year so far.

4.  Like Brand-New Fireplace

The last piece of the living room that needed upgrading was the fireplace, its large gray stones looking more outdated as, over the last ten years, the flooring was upgraded, the walls painted, and literally everything else replaced.  We first considered having it ripped out and a new one installed but decided to first try to cover it using white, chalk paint.  That achieved a stunning makeover!  We then sprayed the brass doors with high-temperature black paint, replaced the screens, and completed the project by painting the stone hearth with a hammered white paint.  We continued this unplanned project, replacing the couch, loveseat, chair, and ottoman with much-needed upgrades, then added new paintings, accent paint, area rug, and curtains.  Best of all, for the first time in my life, I have an awesome La-Z-Boy rocker/recliner.    

3.  Lots of Pool and Golf

The summer of 2020 was hot, dry, and full of sunshine, and thankfully when it became apparent that flu season is never a big summertime concern, the pool at Walnut Grove Country Club was allowed to open, with capacity, distancing, and other restrictions like everywhere else.  We enjoyed many hours of basking in the sun, getting our best suntans ever, and cooling off when the kids had to exit the pool for fifteen minutes every hour.  We also took much advantage of the golf course, playing lots of nine-hole rounds, with a golf cart, and each consuming about a half-gallon of water to keep hydrated.  Being out on the golf course, often feeling that we were the only people there, and enjoying the scenery made the world feel normal for a couple of hours.  One change we hope they keep is everyone had to make a tee time every day and time of the week, instead of the previous requirement being only during the peek Saturday and Sunday morning/early afternoon.  Took any concern about how long it might take to get started, we could just show up on time and go immediately.

2.  February in St. Augustine Beach, FL

Our first attempt at being “snowbirds” was spent in St. Augustine Beach, Florida, where we rented a two-bedroom, oceanside condo for the month of February.  The weather was a mixture of nice warmer days, lots of mostly seasonal days somewhere in the sixties, and a few on the chillier side.  We took a relaxing four days to drive there, visiting friends outside Atlanta one night and not driving too much on any given day.  Adjusting to the smaller confines of the condo, finding the best places to shop, and generally being outside our comfort zone took three days to overcome.  We enjoyed numerous trips into St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, taking tours, visiting shops, going to church, and eating at one great restaurant after another.  We hosted family and by the end could recite the history of the city as well as the tour guides.  The trip home included a night in Charleston, SC, dinner at Husk, and an over-the-top brunch with friends at Jasmine Porch on Kiawah Island.  The final leg, Charlotte to home, was the longest at seven hours, but we were happy to be back in the comfort of our home, not knowing yet that February would be the last normal month of 2020.  The timing was perfect.

1.  Griffin Patrick Dougherty

I know all grandparents think their grandchildren are the cutest on the planet, but we have lots of pictures to prove that our first grandchild, Griffin, truly deserves that title.  He was born three weeks early, on May 13th, after a difficult pregnancy, which was undoubtedly made even more difficult due to coronavirus restrictions on if and when daddy Pat was allowed to accompany mommy Emma to medical appointments and some really scary trips to the emergency room.  Imagine all the jitters that come with a first child, then amplify that with having to sit in your car waiting to be told what you can and cannot do.  After many weeks of praying to get him a few weeks closer to full term, that beautiful baby boy arrived and jumped right into our hearts.  Since daddy, like many daddies around the world, worked from home most of the summer and fall, he had the unexpected opportunity to fully participate and watch Griffin as he gained weight, outgrew outfits, found his hands, kicked his legs, rolled over, and best of all, developed that cutest smile.   

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