Inspiration Comes At the Strangest Times

Why does flying always make me want to write? It’s odd, but soaring over this great nation at 34,000 feet stirs something in my brain that gets my poetic juices flowing. 20170224_134821

Our co-pilot just welcomed us aboard and, uncharacteristically gave us the route with landmarks … between Cincinnati and Lexington … right over Louisville,  over St. Louis, just north of Albuquerque, then right over the Grand Canyon. I can’t help but dream of clear skies the whole way. Flying over the heartland, gazing down over the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before crossing the wintry gray Plains of the southern “amber waves of grain”.  They will be followed by the mysterious gray crevasses as we enter the west and peer into the depths of the Grand Canyon from our lofty aerie.

It’s all majestic and every bit “home.” Flying makes me feel American. It is hours over one great country. It is the epitome of freedom and adventure. It stirs my curiosity and reminds me how many things I still want to see. It is small towns, big cities and vast expanses of wilderness. It’s people headed to work, students off to classrooms everywhere, stay-at-home mom’s, the unemployed … every type of person imaginable.  It’s joy and sadness. It is everything and, somehow, up here in the air, it is nothing.

20170224_144103Greg dozes comfortably next to me as the flight crew offers movie-loaded tablets for rent before beginning the first beverage service. A five hour  flight means we will get two runs of the drink cart. Our upgraded seats mean we can look forward to a snack box.  But the major draw is the view.  We take turns in the window seat and it’s my turn this time around.

As the captain suggested, I’ll lean back and enjoy the flight, after all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored (or at least viewed).


Distractions: Is a Billion Dollars worth it?

Would you risk everything for a billion dollars?

A friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook about how he’s never bought a lottery ticket before and was wondering, with the jackpot over one BILLION dollars, should he go for it?  His reasons for asking really got me thinking.

He said that his life is incredibly blessed and wonderful. He was talking to his partner about the lottery and, like most of us, they got into a discussion about what would happen if they won. They realized they would have to move, get security, change their phone numbers and deal with all the attention that would come from a win.

As I read his post, I was struck by his wisdom and honesty. Excellent point, I thought. I mentioned it to Greg. We have a lot. Most importantly, we have each other, good jobs, the flexibility to travel to a lot of exciting places and more.

All of my friend’s points are true. If you win a billion dollars, your life … nearly every aspect of it … will change. Sure, you’ll be able to buy whatever you want, but your freedom will be restricted because you’ll be hounded by the media, at least for awhile. Some of the things that frustrate you won’t change: idiot drivers will still be idiots; stores will still be out of stock of certain items; clerks will still be rude … you won’t be able to control those things.

Is it worth the risk? I decided, for me, it is not! Then I went out and bought a couple of tickets anyway.  Good luck to you all!


Distractions — I’m No Poet, But…

I left my phone at home today. Oh, the delicious freedom!

To look around, to ponder the faces,
most strangers, but some familiar,
my Metrorail companions.

I wonder…

Col. Beggs…Your lips move to some earbud voice,
but no words are uttered.
Are you singing?  Or maybe practicing a language?

I wonder…

Mom, your five-year old is reading the newspaper.  How rare these days!
What will he grow up to be?

I wonder…

Mr. Sad Sack Bureaucrat…eyes down, a frown on your face,
stomach lapping over your belt. What makes you so miserable?
Just the mere thought of going to work?

I wonder…

And you, Mr. Starbucks man…don’t spill that Venti Chai no-whip Latte.
Rules aren’t just for other people, comprendi?

I wonder…

On the right, my eyes are drawn to the airport,
glistening under a bright sunrise sky.
I want to go! Anywhere!  As long as I get to fly!

Suit and tie businessmen jump out of black SUVs,
late again, running for the gate.
Where are you going in such a hurry?

I wonder…

Two cars back, lovers embrace,
longing for one last kiss before letting go.
When will you be back together?

I wonder…

We roll underground. My focus comes back inside.
The train car is quiet, save for a few muffled voices.
Heads are down, deep into devices.

And I wonder…

Rejoice people!  Get up and get out!  Smile and laugh!
Because whether going to work or play,
Every day is full of wonder!


Distractions – EAA Oshkosh

I am an aviation fanatic. I credit my Air Force dad for instilling in me a love of all things related to flying. Growing up on Air Force bases I fell asleep to the sound of jet engines.img057 One of the great, fun memories of my youth was mom packing up a picnic and driving to the end of the runway to watch planes take off and land.

When Greg found out he had the opportunity to spend a week at one of the biggest aviation events in the U.S. I knew I had to go with him. I just couldn’t miss out on this! I took vacation, booked my flights and tagged along to EAA Airventure 2015 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

20150721_120513Every year the Experimental Aircraft Association puts on a weeklong show with workshops for pilots building their own airplanes, private pilots and lovers of aviation. It’s mecca for flyers. I got the weeklong pass to the show and took advantage of Greg having a parking pass (since he worked everyday) to get up close in the morning and stay the whole day.

Day One: I was in complete AWE! There were acres of planes of all sizes parked everywhere. Many of the private pilots pitch small tents next to their crafts and sleep right there on the grassy space next to the runway.  20150721_154729_001The FAA brings in special air traffic controllers to keep a close eye on the busiest airspace in the nation for the week. Hundreds of planes fly in and out every day. Each afternoon there’s an airshow of acrobatics and flybys. You can wander four completely full hangars of aviation related vendors. All the big companies set up gigantic, store-sized tents to show off products. You simply cannot see it all in a day. As we wandered, Greg introduced me to a few people he ran into who he knew from previous jobs and contacts in the aviation world.

Day Two: OK, I had the lay of the land. I’d figured out the free tram that runs from one end of the event to the other. I’d sort of mapped out a strategy in my head. This day we’d walk through the small planes, just checking out the different types until Greg had to get to his booth. EAA OshKoshThis day was for dreaming: What kind of plane do we want to buy? Can we afford this one? Or that one? High-wing or low? Single engine or twin? At the end of the hundreds of planes we had a better idea – and aching feet. We were starving and it was HOT! We hopped on the tram and stopped for ice-cold water and lunch. For the rest of the day I was on my own. IMG_4486I found a nice spot in the shade and watched the airshow that kicked off with the scream of an F-22 flying by. The jet made a couple more passes over the field and made way for some classic WWII warbirds. A biplane left looping, spiraling contrails in the sky as it flipped and rolled and soared. More little aerobatic planes zipped and whizzed through the air showing off. I can only imagine the crazy grins on the pilots’ faces when they get to play around like that in the sky!

Day Three: I took a day off to connect with a friend and her family who drove up from outside Chicago. We popped into a local brew pub for lunch before wandering the town of Appleton and checking out several of the shops. (I even went back with Greg later in the week to pick up a few things.) We made our way to a cheese shop. We stopped at a Wisconsin fast food staple, Culvers, for ice cream. It was a nice break from the airshow, but I was ready to head back the next morning.

Day Four: With Greg working all day, my goal was to check out the warbirds and marketplace.  IMG_4618  WOW! The B-29 and the B-17 are inspiring aircraft. The T-38s, the F-4 … I could go on and on.
Many of these are the planes of the air shows of my youth. My memories danced in the sky like the aerobatic shows every afternoon. I spent a little time chatting with the pilots of a Beech King Air owned and operated by NOAA. IMG_4603I tried my hand in a Wright Flyer simulator. I snapped a few shots during the air show in the afternoon, but the fun didn’t end there. Oshkosh at night is also an experience you can’t miss. Friday night was a celebration of Viet Nam-era veterans and Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band brought down the house. As the crowds thinned, we worked our way to the edge of the stage…what a way to see a great performance by one of our generation’s best supporters of veterans.

Day Five: Saturday is the busiest day at Airventure. Much of the early part of the week is for the enthusiasts who are building their own planes and the pilots. Saturday is more like a traditional airshow – lots of families and people just looking at everything. I wonder how many of the kids I saw walking around are bitten by the aviation bug like I was. It’s amazing to watch the runway as many of the small planes take off on Saturday to head off to wherever they call home. It’s a constant flow of planes into the sky. The grassy edges of the tarmac become less crowded. The buzz changes from an aviation focus, to a curiosity one. You can almost feel the difference in the air. By the end of the day about half the small planes are gone. But the crowds stayed for the night airshow! Watching airplanes (and even a glider) loop, roll, and chandelle with fireworks attached to their wings is nothing short of spectacular. And the fireworks that capped the show were among the best I’ve ever seen!

Day Six: We get out to the airport about nine and the fields are mostly empty. It’s the last day. We’ve been told by noon almost everyone will be gone and the crowds will dwindle drastically. It happens as we walk out through the few remaining home-built planes. IMG_4664A line of four planes sit idling on the edge of the runway for their turn to taxi and take off. We take off just before two for our hotel. Our feet are aching from a week of walking and my eyes have taken in as much as I could see. It was a total blast. We meet up with the group from Greg’s work for an after-party now that the show is all packed up.

Airshows aren’t for everyone. I know that, but if you like planes and airshows and the buzz of aviation aerobatics, there is no better place than Oshkosh at the end of July every year. Next stop, our local small field near home – I’m going to fulfill a lifelong dream to be a pilot!


Distractions – Seven Oaks for Seven Senses

About an hour outside Washington, D.C., is Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in the little town of Catlett, Va. Far enough away from the hubbub of the big city, but close enough to make it a day trip, Seven Oaks is a feast for the senses.20150628_115128

After a week of heat and humidity and just a day after storms dropped flooding rains, the morning brought partly sunny skies and mild temperatures. We dropped the top on the roadster and headed out, avoiding the highways and sticking to two-lane roads that sometimes required us to pull slightly to the right when farm trucks passed. Our route even took us over a well-traveled gravel road. “Maleficent” (our aptly named 2009 Pontiac Solstice roadster) wasn’t too happy with that arrangement, but the road was only about a mile long, and we were soon pulling into Seven Oak’s grassy parking area. We paid the $6/each entrance fee and headed up the hill.

Judy decided she wanted to try out her crafting skills making a lavender wand. This required weaving ribbon between the folded-over stems of the lavender sprigs, such that the flowers were encased within the weave. Judy’s instructor, Monique, learned the art of lavender weaving at an early age in Belgium; she patiently worked with Judy, demonstrating the deft touch such weaving required.

the wand Monique shows Judy how to weave the ribbon between the lavender stalks. Once complete, you only have to squeeze the wand lightly to unleash the fresh scent of lavender. Monique say it can last as long as 30 years!

After snapping a few pics, I sat in the sun, mesmerized by the sight of an ever-changing tableaux of clouds…a palette of white, blue, and grey above the verdant earth with oaks, firs, and pines bordering fields of corn, sunflowers, and, of course, purple lavender.

Sitting there, the scent of lavender intermixed with the pungent smell of fresh manure, brought on the breeze from the dairy farm across the road. With Judy’s tasked completed, we sipped lavender infused ice tea and lemonade, the tastes tickling our taste buds as we walked the grounds, the sounds of laughter from young children bringing joy to our ears.

Stopping to take some pictures, we experienced some of the more non-traditional senses. Kneeling to take pictures of bees and butterflies on the new growth, we experienced the coolness of the rich earth, damp from the previous night’s rain.

We ended our visit experiencing what can only be described as the seventh sense…the sense of love being together, holding hands, smiling under the bright sky.20150628_124224 cropped

Alexandria, Distractions

Distractions – Old City Press & Co. Alexandria

20150619_181747     On a hot, steamy afternoon, just days before the official first day of summer, the last thing most people are thinking about is stepping inside a print shop. Let’s face it, if you know anything about printing, you know they can be hot, smelly places.  20150619_181656Yet, despite the heat, I found myself headed to Old City Press and Co.  The letterpress printing company is just one of many small businesses in Old Town Alexandria. These boutiques and businesses give Alexandria an intimate, small-town feel. It’s one of the many reasons we love living here.

     I was on my way there to watch how this classic printing company makes the beautiful invitations and posters displayed on walls and shelves around the shop, 20150619_181627and just about anything you else you want printed. The door was propped open with a sign stating, “Open by appointment only.” Lucky me, I had an appointment of sorts…I was meeting friends who are getting married in October and had decided Old City Press and Co. was the right place to meet all their wedding printing needs. 20150619_175513
     The bride (who asked me not to reveal her name) was already there, chatting with head designer, Elena. She was looking over a test run of her wedding invitations and trying to decide if the red was too “red.”  Elena was patiently cleaning off the rollers on the mid-century letterpress machine to try a slightly darker red. That’s the beauty of a custom shop; you can tweak colors and fonts and every other detail of whatever you’re getting printed. The groom was trying to figure out why the shade of red mattered.
20150619_181618     Once the rollers were cleaned, Elena had the bride and groom (and me) come over so she could demonstrate how the ink is applied to the machine and how the printing process works. It seemed pretty straight forward. There were lots of questions and clear, easy-to-understand answers. 20150619_175609Then, with a turn of the crank … another sample invitation. The bride was thrilled. “It’s perfect!” she beamed. Her groom compared the two and seemed to be a little clearer on the nuances of the reds, but was happy his bride was there making that final decision.
     20150619_180903Elena asked the happy couple if they wanted to try their hand at printing an invitation. “Of course,” was the quick and excited response. After loading in a sheet of card stock, our bride grabbed the crank and started to turn … getting a little stuck and grimacing as she pushed the crank past the spot in the turn that takes a little extra muscle, then smiled brightly as her finished product popped off the roller – a perfect print! She marveled at Elena’s apparent strength, asking if it was exhausting printing each page by hand crank.
     20150619_180428After a few more questions, and a chance for the groom to give the crank a turn, I browsed the shop with the couple, asking about options and what helped them choose Old City Press and Co. They pointed out the fun they had just had and the personalized attention they’d received from Elena and other staff members, who were always cheerful and professional. We touched on the cost. “Was it a lot more than other options?” I asked.
     Having just been married in December, I had gone through the process of seeking out a printer. My husband and I had opted to go with a less formal invitation and cut costs on the printing. This couple was looking for formal and special. They knew their choice of a more classic style also meant more money, but insisted this was more affordable than they thought it would be. They consulted with Elena again on envelope printing options, envelope liners, and a few other details. Elena let them know their final product would be ready for pick-up in time to meet their mailing deadline.
     All-in-all the visit took about an hour. The wedding couple left with actual copies of their wedding invitations and huge smiles on their faces, chatting merrily about the personal touch and attention they’d received.

Distractions – “Uber-iffic” Saturday

In German, “Über” is a preposition that means over, above or across and in popular abstracts it is sometimes used to mean superiority or excess.  Here in the States, it is quickly becoming a verb, as in, “We’ll just Uber there.”  In this regard, I’m talking about the popular car-sharing service. Based on superior experiences on a single recent Saturday, I believe they’ve chosen their brand name well!

Here’s the setup:  Judy has a knack for getting free stuff on her birthday, so we planned to walk to Bruegger’s Bagels in Old Town Alexandria Saturday morning to get her free bagel, then down the street to Market Square for the weekly Old Town Farmer’s Market.  As expected, we woke to heat and humidity.  We donned shorts and tank tops, grabbed a canvas shopping bag and an olive oil jug that needed refilling, and headed out.

The staff at Bruegger’s were delightful as they filled our order and we spent some time people-watching as I sipped and savored my coffee in the European manner.  We debated the wisdom of a young mother who seemed to carry every possible baby accoutrement in a shoulder bag the size of a suitcase, while admiring another who had merely a small bag of essentials in her baby’s stroller.

The Farmer’s Market was abuzz with buyers and merchants.  Old Town Farmers Market 2One of the latter was hawking his peaches as the sweetest ever, offering samples on toothpicks.  We tried them and couldn’t disagree with his claims, so we bought two. The vendor also offered some irresistible tomatoes the size of softballs in anticipation of a planned Sunday picnic and some bright, fresh broccoli for later in the week.  At the booth run by Dimitri Olive Farms, we refilled our jug with unfiltered olive oil, truly some of the finest olive oil we’ve ever tasted. It’s become a staple in our kitchen.  We tried some of their orange-infused Kalamata olives, and quickly bought a pint for the aforementioned picnic.  We rounded out our purchases with fresh mozzarella cheese from Blue Ridge Dairy Co., and a clump of fresh basil…the thought of caprese skewers as part of our picnic made our mouths water!

With the late morning heat approaching 90 and a full bag of groceries on the shoulder, the thought of walking home was appalling, so I pulled out my smartphone and clicked on the Uber app to get a car.  Within two minutes, Johnny arrived in a shiny black Lexus and chauffeured us home.  One of the beauties of Uber is that there is no cash involved.  When you sign-up, you attach a credit card to your account.  When Johnny dropped us off, there was no awkward exchange of cash or credit card, figuring out a tip, or any of that…we simply said thank you and went upstairs.  Within minutes, there was a receipt for the $7.34 fare in my email.  The app lets you rate the service; I rated Johnny highly for the cleanliness of the car, the prompt service, and his engaging personality!

But wait, there’s more!

That evening, we had plans to celebrate our six-month wedding anniversary with a dinner and dancing cruise on the Potomac River on Nina’s Dandy – we had won it at a charity silent auction a year earlier.  The boat would leave from Old Town waterfront for its three hour tour (bet you’re singing the theme from Gilligan’s Island right now!) We briefly debated driving and paying for parking down there.  We quickly put the kabash on that, in anticipation of the potential for drinking adult beverages in excess.

Around 5 p.m., we dressed in “casual cocktail” attire, pulled up the Uber app again and set our destination as Alexandria’s Market Square, this time for a visit to the Old Town Arts & Crafts Fair.  Essaid arrived within a few minutes and drove us to Old Town.  Inquiring about his accent, we learned that he was from Morocco, which led to much discussion about Judy’s travels there.

Strolling the stalls of the fair, we found lots to like and even bought a beautiful hand-crafted puzzle box.  We still had plenty of time before the boat was to board, so we stopped by our favorite Old Town watering hole for a cocktail and to check up on our favorite bartender, Bruce, who we hadn’t seen in months.

Appropriately lubricated, we boarded the boat and sat next to a wonderfully pleasant young couple, Joe and Gina.  Joe is a U.S. Army veteran who met Gina in Germany (Judy recognized her accent instantly).  Is it any wonder that we spoke with them almost the entire evening?  Nina's Dandy 2The food on Nina’s Dandy was excellent and the views of the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, Memorial and Key Bridges, the Watergate and Georgetown from the upper deck were spectacular.  As the sun went down, we took lots of pictures and descended below for a bit of dancing, then more pictures from the deck with the lights of Alexandria and National Harbor, Md., behind us as we docked.

A short nightcap followed and once again, we pulled up the Uber app for the ride home.  Ahmad was right at the corner when he accepted our ride.  Feeling the positive effects of a bit too much alcohol (which is to say, I had a good buzz on), I remarked to Judy that THIS was the reason we didn’t drive.  She agreed wholeheartedly.

The moral of this story is not about staying safe when not exactly sober…it’s about using new services and technology to make a great day even better.  Uber costs significantly less than taxis – our total fare over three trips was about $25 – and is incredibly convenient.  Our car stayed safely in the garage while we stayed cool.  Uber made our day of local distractions a truly “uber-iffic” day.