Celebrating National Aviation Day

August 19, 2017 is National Aviation Day. For me, it’s a reason to celebrate.

I grew up around airplanes. I remember as a very little girl, going to pick my dad up at work at Griffiss Air Force Base and him letting me sit in the Link Trainers he worked on.

Airshow around 1968

From that base we moved to more Air Force bases … Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Germany … almost too many to count. The one thing that was an absolute constant in my life was the sound of airplanes. Propellers, jets … it didn’t matter what kind of plane to me. I was too young to really understand the difference between bombers, fighters and cargo planes. I knew that sound, though. It really is the sound of freedom.

Every base had an airshow in the summer. We always went to the airshow. The US Air Force Thunderbirds dazzled my sisters and me with their feats of acrobatics.

Touch a Thunderbird

Bombers and fighters showed off in the sky. The idea of flying was magical. My fascination with the Thunderbirds led me to an airshow a couple of years ago where I got to touch one! I met a Thunderbird pilot and got her (yes, HER) autograph.

I didn’t actually fly in a plane until I was in 7th grade. My dad had orders for Germany and he and mom wanted to make sure we would be able to tolerate flying since we had all experienced inner ear problems as kids. On the way home from a vacation, Dad dropped Mom, me and my sisters at the airport in Montgomery, Alabama, where we caught a short flight to Mobile. He drove down and met us when we landed. It was AMAZING! I was hooked!

We flew to Germany and back a couple of times then returned to the states. I was in high school, so I joined the Civil Air Patrol in the hopes of getting into a cockpit. It didn’t happen.

When I was in college, I enrolled in ground school.

City of Dover

I passed with flying colors (no pun intended) the day before the nation’s air traffic controllers went on strike. Flying lessons were no longer an option.

I enlisted in the Air Force and kept an eye out for opportunities to fly, but I was never at the controls. I managed to swing an assignment for the base paper when I was at Dover Air Force Base that landed me in the crew section of a C-5 for an extended mission.

I had a family. Kids, money, time commitments all played a role in slamming the door on my dream of flying a plane. I wrote off the dream and did what I could to travel by air just to be up there among the clouds.

Then I met Greg. A private pilot, he had let his license lapse. When I asked why, he only offered the typical excuses … not enough time, not enough money, blah, blah, blah. We made it a priority to get him back in the air. He introduced me to friends he had flown with years earlier. One even let me take the controls of the experimental aircraft he had built! I FLEW IT! Sure … it was only for a couple of minutes … but I actually FLEW IT! The dream came back to life!

We visited the nation’s largest airshow, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, three years in a row.

Log Book

We check out aviation museums, local airshows and just about any aviation event we can find.

When we got married, he gave me my own pilot log book and I took my first lesson. I’m headed towards making my first solo flight, but in the meantime, Greg got re-certified. We’ve climbed into a Cessna and taken a few short trips.

The HangarWe even created an aviation-themed bar in our home – complete with a replica wing for a bar and aviation nose art on the wall.

Recently, he got back into the cockpit of a Piper Arrow and the flying bug came back to life in him. We were off the ground. It’s a priority for both of us. From here – the sky’s the limit!Sky is the Limit

Friends, lists and going with the flow

A friend recently posted a blog about her lists. She’s one of those people whose incredible organizational skills mean she not only writes lists, but remembers where they are!

I write lists, too. In fact, I write lists all the time. My problem is I stick those lists somewhere then I either can’t find them when I need them, or I forget about them altogether.  Last week, my husband and I sat down and wrote out a list of all the friends we haven’t gotten together with in awhile. We stay in touch on Facebook and at work, but we never seem to connect in person when we are off work.

We put the list on the kitchen table and promptly shuffled it from one end of the table to the other, marking off names as we made plans.

The list is already out-of-date anyway. We’ve made new friends in the last two weeks and they need to be added to the list. Oh, shoot, I also need to add the friend who writes all those lists to my list.

Tonight is the first of our in-person connections. A friend whose birthday we missed is coming for dinner with her husband. I cleaned off the table and moved the list again. It’s now in a stack of papers I need to go through. I will probably lose it or throw it away accidentally when I’m going through the papers.

The good news is, we are so social it won’t take long to connect with everyone on the list. Besides, even if I lose that list, I can always write a new one. In any case, we have a lot of fun being spontaneous – going with the flow. As I mentioned to my friend, the most important thing to remember to take anywhere is a sense of humor (add in a good healthy dose and adventure and you’ve pretty much got everything you need).

Hotels, Motels and a Wigwam

Anyone who has ever gone on any kind of trip away from home can tell you there is a little twinge of trepidation about where you will lay your head at night. Going home to see Mom and Dad? Will the bed of your youth be as comfortable as you remember? Headed off on a camping trip? Will the ground be as hard as a rock? Reservations at a swank, spa hotel? Will the bed be as comfortable as you expect?

No matter where you sleep, the goal is a good night’s rest. In every case, it’s the little things that make the difference.

When you’re on a road trip, spending the night in a different bed every night for two weeks, you are sure to face a night or two of questionable conditions.

One our Route 66 trip, we stayed in several classic motels along the Mother Road. We made reservations at three different chain hotels along the way, using points for one of the stays. We opted for a bed and breakfast at one stop and treated ourselves to a couple of upscale hotels, too. It was our way of mitigating the risk of having a bad night’s sleep every night.

It was a good thing to do. As expected, the upscale options were certainly the nicest accommodations. When it comes to comfy beds and soft sheets, you really do get what you pay for.

20170401_084202At Kimpton hotels in Beverly Hills and Chicago, the beds were just right, the pillows nestled our heads and the surroundings were clean, new and stylish. The mini bars were not just stocked, but offered incredible choices. The concierge from the Kimpton Palomar sent a note a week before our stay. The note said, “We want you to feel as comfortable as possible, so we invite you to send us one photo and we will have it framed and waiting in your room…“ It was a really nice, personal touch.

20170413_184208At the Kimpton Grey in Chicago, we were greeted by name by nearly every member of the staff we encountered. At one point, we even commented to each other that it everyone seemed incredibly friendly and helpful. The only problem with the Kimpton properties is there was no coffee in the room. Sure, you could go down in the lobby for free coffee in the morning, but in-room coffee options have become pretty standard across the hotel industry (and no one wants to see our just-out-of-bed hair-dos). Of course, the free mini-massages in the lobby during the free wine happy hour was a really nice perk.

From the LaFonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, we received an actual package…in the mail!

IMG_7821 It included a welcome letter and a book about Santa Fe so we could plan our visit. When we arrived the parking and check-in were a breeze. Our room was incredible … it even had a working fireplace! The balcony afforded us a stunning view of the nearby cathedral. We watched the sunset colors reflected off the cathedral dome in a light breeze.

The chain hotels were, for the most part, just what you would expect. The rooms were clean. The amenities were simple. The beds were comfortable. It was a safe bet we would get what we expected and we did – three good nights’ sleep, three free breakfasts.

The real wild card was the classic motels. Frankly, I was excited about the adventure of it more than I was worried about what I would find.

20170402_182338First was the Route 66 Motel in Barstow, California. The room was small, the pillows were flat, but the place was clean. The coffee maker provided a steaming cup of Joe in the morning that offset the fact that the shower ran out of hot water before I was rinsed. Greg had showered first, so at least one of us got a hot shower. The owner was a great, fun, chatty guy full of stories and information.

On night three, we checked into the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It is, by far, one of the most famous of the Route 66 motels simply because of its unique architecture. These teepee-shaped cabins were spacious and funky. The furnishings were highly-polished log furniture. It was fun even though Greg did have to get up in the middle of the night to fiddle with the heater to get it to turn on. The chair in the room was a bit saggy, but the bed wasn’t and the shower was surprisingly great. Hot coffee was available in the office.

IMG_7787The Sands Motel in Grants, New Mexico was a block off Route 66, but clearly still offered clean rooms at good prices judging by all the construction trucks in the parking lot. That’s a good sign, by the way. Workers who have to travel routinely often know the best options for a good night’s sleep on a budget. It was quiet, cozy and clean and the friendly dog in the office offered her belly for a scratch along with a welcoming tail wag as I checked in.

In Tucumcari, New Mexico. The Blue Swallow Motel is among Route 66’s most famous.  It’s neon lights brags of 100% refrigerated air for weary travelers who stop for the night. The original free-standing cabins were connected early-on in the motor court’s life with the addition of garages. Comfy chairs in front of each room offered the chance to enjoy the sunny late afternoon weather and chat with other motorists making their way along Route 66. Our two-room suite featured a clawfoot tub behind a screen, a very comfortable bed and a blissfully hot shower. The in-room fridge was a nice touch, but the working rotary dial phone was a stunning novelty. I called home just like I had done as a young girl.

IMG_8037The Route 66 Inn in Shamrock, Texas, wasn’t in any of the guidebooks we had read, but it got good marks on TripAdvisor and justifiably so. It offered clean rooms and hot showers, but the air conditioner was oddly placed high above the sink and required a chair to reach the controls.

The next stop was our B&B, The Rose Cottage in Baxter Springs, Kansas. We reserved a room in this historic midwestern, three-bedroom Victorian home in town. We were the only guests, so we had the whole house to ourselves. That was probably a good thing since every time we rolled over in bed, the old frame creaked and groaned. It was comfy, though, and our hostess, Jane, had left fresh, homemade cookies for a late-night snack and delicious apple-cinnamon muffins for breakfast.

In IMG_8141Lebanon, Missouri, we arrived at the Munger Moss Motel before dusk. The desk clerk was friendly, but clearly a heavy smoker as the office air was heavy with the odor of stale cigarettes. The room, however, was fresh and bright and lightly floral scented.
The furnishings were perfectly suited for a room in a Route 66 motel – mid-century modern. I remarked that they were either really good reproductions or must’ve been discovered tucked away in an unknown warehouse as they appeared new. IMG_8132

 

 

The bed was covered with a classic quilt and offered a delightfully restful night’s sleep. The only thing missing was the “Magic Fingers” box on the nightstand.

If you’re going to take a classic road trip, don’t cheat yourself out of the chance to stay in some of the historic motels that dot the roadways along your route. They are fun! The owners are usually in the office and always know the best places in town for dinner or breakfast. These little gems of Americana are a great way to remind yourself to slow down and enjoy the journey.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … but don’t forget, you have to sleep sometime, too.

Route 66 – By the Numbers

When our trip ended and we looked back on it, we were surprised to realize what we had accomplished. It was months in the planning and two full weeks on the road and, at least to us, an unqualified success.

Here’s what we managed to do – by the numbers:

2697 Total Miles Driven

We made a few diversions, added in a side trip or two, so we drove more than strictly Route 66

$262 Dollars in Gas

Yep, I kept track. We passed uncounted numbers of historic gas stations preserved for history, but I was curious to see how much we would spend on the one thing we couldn’t control (other than a few cents a gallon). You can stay in luxury hotels or pitch a tent. You can eat picnics, fast food or gourmet meals. But you must have gas. The most we paid was $2.91, the least was $2.09 a gallon.

28 Gift Shops20170411_145441.jpg

We probably drove past hundreds more, but stopped (and shopped) in more than two dozen. Some of these little shops are struggling to stay solvent and we wanted to do what we could to help. Bonus: we came away with some really cool and unique souvenirs of our trip.

9 Squished Pennies

I collect souvenir pennies…the kind you make in those machines that squash ‘em into a thin oval with an imprinted image. One day I plan to make a gigantic wind chime with all my pennies. One day.

8 States20170410_190836

California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois (plus Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Maryland when we bombed back home to Virginia via the Interstates.  Ugh.)

6 Classic MotelsIMG_7673

In some places, there just weren’t classic options. In others, we opted for something a little more modern…or luxurious. I’ll discuss our stays in a future blog. They included hotels, motels and even a bed and breakfast.

3 Wrong Turns

Yeah, only 3. We had a great guide book and managed to stay on track (almost) the whole way.

3 State Capitols

Route 66 only goes through three state capitols. We hit ‘em all. It was interesting to see the difference in state buildings in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Illinois.

2 Road Construction DetoursIMG_7479

April is early for a lot of road projects and we got lucky. One diversion was partly due to construction and partly to washed out bridges from heavy spring rains in the Arizona desert. The other was in the border town of Needles, California, and took us a mere three blocks out of the way.

1 Musical Road

You read that right. Just outside Tijeras, New Mexico, there is a short stretch of road that has been grooved in such a way that it plays “America, the Beautiful” if you drive over it at exactly 45 mph. It took us two tries, but once we got it right, it was very cool!

1 Operational Rotary Phone20170407_184856

One of my favorite stories from the road was the working rotary dial phone at The Blue Swallow Motel. We learned that the motel got a grant to find and refurbish the phones for each of its guest rooms and the phone company came in and ran the wiring and provided the technology to ensure the phones would work. We called our moms the old-fashioned way!

Countless Memories

The people we met. The conversations we had.  The vistas we saw.  The history we relived.  The local “delicacies” we enjoyed. The time we spent together. These are the things that make travel so exciting…and so difficult to quantify.  There’s a whole world (just one!) out there waiting to be explored.  Go see it!

Route 66: Sunsets and Optimism

For many people I know, missing the sunset on Santa Monica pier would have been a sad start to a vacation. I know people who are so attached to their plans, that a missed event throws their moods into a tail spin. I am NOT one of those people.

I find it easy to spot the silver lining in almost every situation. Yep, I’m an optimist.
Before we headed out on our Route 66 Adventure, I had spent months researching the route, choosing the perfect book with the best directions, deciding what sites were essential and which we could bypass if we ran out of time, and many more details. 20170430_142441

I had lists sorted by states and further sorted by our schedule. The EZ 66 Guide was safely packed in my suitcase before I even loaded my clothes. A folder I had created with day-by-day guides was also packed in a safe place.

We arrived in California, got everything done we needed to do to set off on our adventure and, horror of horrors – NO lists of sites to see. NO day-by-day tips! OH NO! I had taken out some of the information to add some last-minute updates and forgot to repack them.

IMG_7386.JPGI discovered this on the morning we were due to set out on our cross-country odyssey. The night before I had missed the sunset and now I was missing a whole slew of pages of stuff I had spent months researching. It’s enough to throw everything off kilter – or not. We still had the EZ 66 Guide. We still had additional maps.

We decided to make the most of it and make the whole trip more spontaneous. In fact, we could turn it around. We created a new plan as we drove east. We would try to catch some sunsets along the way to make up for missing the one off the California coast. We would ask people we encountered along the way for their favorite spots. We would be even more adventurous!

In the end, we spent two weeks having a blast. We stopped when we saw anything that caught our eye. We managed to take in sunsets in the rear view in Arizona, from our hotel room in New Mexico, across fields in Texas and Kansas. We met loads of new “friends” from the road.

Adventure demands flexibility and adaptation.  There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … join us as we share this little piece of it.

Route 66: Santa Monica Pier

IMG_7382
We travel to California several times a year to see family. The trips are usually too short and packed with visits, family meals and essential stops at food places for treats we can’t get on the East Coast.

I have been asking to see a California sunset for about three years, but there always seems to be something on the schedule that stops us from driving to a spot for a great view of the sun dipping below the horizon. Besides, we both reason, we’ll be back. There is always next time. It has actually become something of a joke each time we miss it.

20170401_215534As we finalized our plans for our Route 66 trip, we added a sunset stop at the Santa Monica pier to grab some shots of that end of the road. It’s the traditional “end” of the road since Route 66 was created to help people get from Chicago to the California coast. We wanted to take the time to sit and enjoy the sunset, so we made our way to the Saturday-evening-crowd-packed pier. We intended to hit the road early Sunday morning so we could take advantage of quiet time on the roads to get out of the busy Los Angeles area.

IMG_7364We actually had three things on the agenda for our visit to the pier:

  1. Catch the sunset
  2. Snap pics of the pier, the “end of the road” sign, and the neon arch over the pier’s entrance
  3. Pay a visit to the kiosk that sells Route 66 merchandise and visit with its owner

It was a good half hour before twilight when we walked onto the pier amid families, tourists and hand-holding couples. The mood was pleasant. The weather was Southern California perfect. Very near the entrance to the pier is the kiosk. It was easy to spot, located just steps from the “End of the Road” sign. Customers browsed the merchandise and made purchases as we stood back, waiting for a slow moment so we could introduce ourselves and chat.

While we waited, we kept our eyes on the sun, trying to time the sunset. We snapped a few pics.

20170401_223945A break in the action at the kiosk gave us an opening and we met Ian, the on-duty salesperson and friend of the kiosk’s owner. For a moment, I was saddened to learn the owner was not there, then, as we chatted with Ian, we learned he is a fixture on the Mother Road. In fact, there is a bit of a community of those who travel it regularly. They know each other, stay in contact, and are friends.

Ian was fascinating! He shared his personal photo album and gave us names of people to “say hi from me.” He pointed out some “must-see” locations and directed us around some construction spots. We told him our plans and he confirmed our choices. The conversation was exciting, information-packed and easy. Suddenly we looked up to notice it was dark. We had missed the sunset! We had been so wrapped up in the conversation, we had let the sky turn dark without even noticing. We laughed out loud and repeated our phrase, “there’s always next time.”20170401_230735
It was an upbeat, fun way to kick off our trip. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. We were about to set off on another great exploration.

Getting Ready to Drive The Mother Road

We’re getting ready to drive the “Mother Road.” We are picking up something big in Los Angeles (too big to ship home) and are using it as a reason to take a classic road trip.

As children of the 60s, some of our earliest memories are of family long-distance road trips and this is a chance to recreate a vacation from our youths. What better route than Route 66?

There are dozens of books about Route 66: historical perspectives, turn-by-turn tutorials, tourism guides, etc. There are websites devoted to everything about the “Mother Road” and its attractions. It’s a veritable cornucopia of research material to make the most of the trip. I’ve spent three months digging into everything I can find to plan the trip and decide what we can’t miss, where we should stay and where we should eat.

As the trip draws closer, we’re both getting down to the nitty gritty of what to pack. That list now includes some items we need to buy once we get to LA. We’re flying out and driving back, after all, and some of what we want to have in the car is just too bulky to carry on a plane.

Maps and a camera are essential. Turn-by-turn instructions are crucial so we don’t miss any of the old road sections as they wind through towns of the west and Midwest. A picnic basket is a key piece of recapturing the “good old days” that we hope to relive. We want to be able to stop for lunch and pull out a sandwich and a drink like when we were kids.

We plan to blog the whole trip and capture images of our nation’s towns and cities. We will continue our typical style of chatting with everyone we meet along the way. We hope to enjoy foods native to every region from Santa Monica to Chicago.

Hitting the road is a great way to see things, especially when you stay off the interstate and stick to local highways. Route 66 will take us through ghost towns, struggling towns and places seeing a surge in tourism as more people opt to take a slower pace to enjoy their travels.

There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. This time, we’re taking back roads to do it. Stay tuned.