Same Road, Different Season

saguaro-cactus_2705774

A recent drive across a short stretch of desert in Arizona has me wondering about a classic desert plant, the Saguaro cactus. These tall, prickly plants with their outstretched arms and stand-up-straight trunks, almost human-like, dot the landscape like guardians of the sand. This particular stretch of road west of Phoenix, will soon be a regular drive for us, but for now it’s still rare enough to notice seasonal changes in the landscape.

We drove it in February when the winter was full of cool breezes and the desert landscape was in a seasonal resting mode. Everything looked a little sleepy somehow. The Saguaro were green and healthy then but didn’t seem to reach for the sky.

We drove it again in May. It was unseasonably hot for spring and had been very dry for a long time. Those same Saguaro were looking almost gaunt. The trunks showed signs of drought – a little shriveled. The branches were short, thin and often falling off.

We were back last week in the heat of the summer. The monsoon season is a little more robust than normal. It’s clear the Saguaro love the bright summer sun and the recent thirst-quenching rains. The trunks are fat and green. The branches reach proudly for the blue sky.

I’m excited to see what fall brings to the Saguaro. Will they retain their fat, water-filled bellies? Will the stubby, new branches grow into thick upstretched arms like concert-goers cheering on the band?

Sometimes, going back to the same place can really change your outlook. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go see it in different seasons.

Diversions – The Lonesome Road*

“In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”
—  A Horse With No Name by America

 

The road before us stretches for miles, this oft-traveled section of Route 66 in California, near the Arizona border. Top down, the air cool in the February sun, we smile and sing along to the Eagles “Hotel California.”

The road is ours and ours alone. Most have foregone what was once America’s highway for the Interstates. Today, hurried minivan moms and dads choose to keep their kids entertained with DVDs and tablets, instead of joining in the Alphabet Game and looking outside the window to see the desert for what it is … vast expanses of nothingness … an  American West tamed by cowboys, miners and early settlers, yet teeming with life that can be seen by those who slow down and take a look.IMG_0222

A freight train looms in the distance on the tracks paralleling the road, its single headlight growing larger on the horizon. As the big diesel nears, we wave at the engineer. He signals back with a long blast of his harmonious horn. He rumbles by, tank cars filled with oil or some other chemicals; containers filled with consumable products destined for long, low warehouses built on cheap desert land, only to be transferred to trucks bound for your house and mine, ready to be used and thrown away, feeding our lifestyles.

I think about the engineer, and what he sees and thinks as he crosses this great land, day after day. Do others in passing cars wave hello? Or do they whiz by, oblivious to the train’s massive presence. Does he see the beauty of the desert? Or is it just another route on his way home?

For him and us, it is a lonesome road, but in its starkness, there is beauty and serenity that can only be found when you avoid the beaten path.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it.

 

(*Inspired, as they say, by true events.)

Diversions – There’s Something About a Train

There’s something about a train …

I started a new routine this morning that involves commuting from a town 50 miles from my office in the Washington, DC metro area. On the well-appointed Virginia Railway Express train, I felt a bit like Don Draper or any other of the executives who made their way from their homes in Scarsdale or Ossining to Manhattan, minus the blue pall of cigarette smoke. This seemed appropriate given that the house where we moved was built in 1958 and has a decidedly mid-century feel.

As I sat back and viewed the rising sun over the Potomac and beyond the overgrown trees and vines of Northern Virginia, I was reminded about the joys of train travel both on this continent and in Europe. From a comfortable seat, you speed by traffic while viewing the sights.

Potomac Sunrise

Sunrise over the Potomac River near Quantico

You hear the wail of the horn as the train approaches a station or grade crossing over the muted conversations of families and friends (or the silence of early morning commuters).

Trains have been a staple of our travels. We booked a sleeper on the overnight Amtrak Auto Train from DC to Florida so that we could have a car with us when we were married in Key West and for the honeymoon return trip. Fall colors dazzled along the Hudson River and Lake Champlain on our journey to Montreal.

In Europe, we’ve taken commuter trains from Frankfurt to Wiesbaden, high speed ICE trains from Munich to Nuremberg, and walked from the train station to the ski slopes in Switzerland. In Venice, we boarded the Frecciarossa for a day trip to Florence. In an earlier life, an English girlfriend and I took the Eurostar from London to Paris … a must-do trip for any train aficionado.

Train travel is not without its pitfalls. In the states, much of the track is owned by the freight lines which can cause some delays as you wait on a side track for a long-running freight to pass. In Europe, drunk passengers can get a bit unruly, but we usually book first class (which isn’t all that much more expensive), which helps keep you away from the riff-raff.

But the benefits certainly outweigh the cons, especially in Germany and Switzerland where timetables are strictly adhered to, and particularly over shorter distances. When you consider suggested check-in times and commutes to and from airports, it is almost faster to take a train from DC to New York than to fly.

Union Station 2

Washington Union Station’s Soaring Great Hall

My morning train entered sprawling Union Station, with its soaring Great Hall and the hustle and bustle of commuters scurrying to grab a cab, Uber, or a Metro ride to their offices. Some waited in line for the many Amtrak Northeast Regional and Acela trains headed north. Once again, my mind drifted to scenes from the heyday of the passenger diesels, such as when Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint met and made small talk over Diner-car coffee in “North by Northwest” only to later marry and embrace as the the train suggestively entered a tunnel.

Yep, there’s something about a train.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it … by train.

Union Station 1

Passengers disembark one of VRE’s morning trains

 

From Exes to Ohs

Greg and I make no secret of the fact that we are each other’s third wife/husband. One of the things we say is that it took three tries to get it right. It’s only half in jest. We both recognize that with age comes a self-awareness and comfort that makes it easier to know what you want … but more importantly, what you won’t put up with anymore.

Our exes didn’t travel, not like we do. Neither of them craved it. When we realized the intensity of our love of travel and experiences, it deepened our attraction for each other and our wanderlust. We went from camping and destination-based driving slogs to exploring downtowns and wandering on backroads. — from Friday and Saturday nights spent swatting bugs by a campfire to toasting friends at our local bar and snacking on brick-oven pizzas.

Pin Map

We mark the places we’ve been together, where we want to go, and where our friends hope to travel.

In my quest to see the world alphabetically, I went from being primarily focused on Europe because it’s the only place my ex would consider, to eyeing locations I’d never even imagined. As we look ahead to this year’s trip (we’re up to “O” in the ABC The World plan), we are excited to be taking our first cruise.

It’s a river cruise on the Danube. Yes, it’s back to Europe, but to the Eastern side. I have a map with pins of the places we’ve been; Eastern Europe is sadly almost entirely pin-less. (Colored pins on the map show where friends want to travel).

Europe map close up

Yellow pins are where we’ve been together. Colored pins represent our friends’ bucket list trips. The letters mark our “See the World A to Z” trips.

But we are not sitting around waiting for the cruise date in the fall. We continue to plan and explore and be amazed by our world. We have trips planned to Pittsburgh and its foodie scene, Arizona where our winter visit left us wanting more, and Minneapolis to check out the biggest mall in the US.

I joke that the only reason I have a job is to pay for my next trip, but it’s more truth than jest. I love that moment you see, taste, hear or feel something new. It’s an “Oh” moment for me. “Oh, wow, that’s beautiful!” “Oh, wow, that is delicious!” We’ve both gone from exes to ohs and we aren’t interested in slowing down. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go find your “Oh” moment.

Excitement and Travel Go Hand-In-Hand

It doesn’t matter where I’m going, I get excited about travel, I mean REALLY excited. I let excitement take over like a kid on Christmas Eve. I giggle. I jump up and down. I can’t sleep. For some trips, the excitement is worse than others.

I barely get any sleep at all before bucket list trips, for instance. Most recently, that happened before the Grand Canyon trip. I bring up that one because I know, as an adult who’s had a share of disappointments in her life, not all trips are going to end the way I want them to, even dream about. The potential for disappointment doesn’t get in the way of my unbridled enthusiasm, though.

So what? You may be wondering. Well, I bring it up because once again I had a sleepless night. Today, we are off to Hershey Park to spend the weekend celebrating my oldest granddaughter’s seventh birthday. While I am excited to spend the day with her (and her brother, sister and mom), that’s only a small part of what kept me awake.

Last night Greg gave up trying to keep my birthday trip a secret and told me where we are going. Before you ask, yes, we go somewhere for our birthdays every year. We love to travel so trips are our gifts to each other and we try (and usually fail) to keep them a secret.

This year, he’s taking me to the Mall of America. I know there are people who prefer high adventure, art museums, spas and so many other things. I like those things, too. But shopping has always been fun for me. I love the adventure of finding new things. I love the visual stimulation and creativity of window and store displays. I love the buzz of other shoppers seeking their own treasures. In other countries, I find stores to be a true and honest snapshot of the culture and sense of style. I don’t BUY a lot, but I love looking … and I’ve never been to the Mall of America.

Excitement meterIn addition, he said we should check another bucket list item off on the same trip – go to the airport with nothing but a toothbrush and an ID. It is, he pointed out, a trip to a mall. If we can’t get what we need there, then we probably don’t really need it. With that little added extra, my excitement level meter hit overdrive – and I spent the night tossing and turning.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I often say happiness is a choice. Excitement and happiness go together for me. Anticipation of something you’ve been looking forward to is a powerful mood booster. Whether it’s a stay-cation, a weekend jaunt to see family or a bucket list trip, let yourself feel youthful excitement. Call a friend with giddiness in your voice and share your joy. Put a huge smile on your face and ride the crest of happiness.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … see it enthusiastically.

Diversion – Our Own Winery!

Romano signOkay, it’s not really ours, but it’s kinda cool to have a winery nearby that shares your last name. There’s nothing like having personalized wineglasses and wine bottles in the cellar to make your guests wonder!

Romano Vineyard and Winery is in Brandywine, Maryland, in southern Prince George’s County. PG County, as the locals know it, is mostly urban and suburban; home to the likes of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Cente, NOAA’s National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Joint Base Andrews; and, according to U.S. Census data, the most affluent county in the country with a primarily African-American population. But this area of PG County is decidedly rural…former tobacco farms now yield lots of corn, soybeans, and more importantly, vineyards.  It’s a stone’s throw from historic St. Mary’s and Charles counties…even the infamous Dr. Mudd House, where Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth had his broken leg set, is nearby.

I’d like to say that Judy and I stumbled on this gem of a winery as one of our regular diversions, but this story is a bit different. When the winery opened in 2011, I lived just a few miles away with my previous wife and saw the “bootleg” signs announcing its opening and wine-tasting availability along the rural roads I regularly took to work. I vowed to visit and introduce myself to the proprietors.

That never happened. In 2012, I moved out, filed for divorce, and moved to much more urban Northern Virginia. When Judy and I got together, we discovered a shared passion for good wine and often enjoy visiting wineries as a regular weekend activity. Romano vineyardVirginia’s wines have become world-class and there is no shortage of wineries to visit. Our neighbors even gave us a Virginia Wine Pass to enjoy regular discounts!  But I still harbored the desire to visit the winery that shares my family name, so when a trip to Annapolis offered an opportunity for a Southern PG County diversion, we jumped at the chance.

We weren’t disappointed. Unlike many of the Virginia wineries, the Romano winery has a very casual, rural farm feel. Owners Jo-Ann and curiousities sidebar 2Joseph Romano were delightful. We quickly figured out we weren’t related, but then, we Romanos are like the “Smiths” of Italy…many in number, not related, but all happy to meet one another.

The wines were excellent, too, so naturally, we joined the Romano Wine Club. We received our membership materials a couple of weeks ago, including our card for two free glasses of wine each month.

Today, we found ourselves in the area once again, top-down on the Fiat spider enjoying the spring weather with temps in the low ‘60s – a nice break from recent freezes. Naturally, we stopped at “our” winery.  Jo-Ann instantly recognized us. We sat outside, each enjoying a glass of merlot.  We chatted with several ladies who were enjoying a similar fine day.  With other errands to run, we didn’t stay long, but for a brief respite, Judy and I reveled in the joy of each other’s company, a fine glass of wine, and the peace and quiet that only a rural atmosphere can bring.

We have long held that part of the fun of traveling is getting off the beaten path to find hidden gems like Romano Vineyard and Winery.  Stop in and say hello, even for a just few minutes.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.  Go see it.

Fiat at Romano

 

 

What do a Kiss and Exploring the World Have in Common?

Five years ago today I was on a trip for work. It involved a trip (by TRAIN!) to Stamford, Connecticut, a short walk to the hotel and a meet-and-greet style evening where coworkers from the northeast and mid-Atlantic would connect and spend some social time over dinner and drinks before a full-day event kicking off the next morning.

There were maybe two dozen of us chatting amiably over dinner at a nearby Italian place before wandering back to the hotel to linger in the hotel bar over wine and cocktails.

As is typical at this type of event, we talked about life and work and work and life. It was a back-and-forth conversation filled with laughter and easy banter. One-by-one, coworkers headed back to their rooms to “say goodnight to the kids” or “check in with my wife” or simply because it had been a long day.

Somewhere around 1:30 am, the bartender came over and informed Greg and I that it was last call. It wasn’t until then that we noticed we were the only two coworkers left. At that moment, we were deeply ensconced in a conversation about the tasks that needed to be accomplished “in the morning” at the jobs event we were attending. Neither of us was ready to declare the conversation over, so we tossed a coin to decide whose room we would go to so we could finish making our plans.

About an hour later, when the work planning was done, the conversation wandered to the past as we discussed the things we missed about being young.

I said, “kissing,” explaining how, as a high school student, kissing was everything. It was a time when the farthest a couple would go was maybe “second base” and the duo could spend hours just kissing. Yep, I admitted, “I miss kissing.”

Greg rose from the hotel chair and walked over to me, leaning down and kissing me. It was one of those tentative, first date kisses. There were fireworks. I saw lightning and felt the Earth move. We broke the kiss and gave each other that “uh-oh-I-wasn’t-expecting-THAT” look. We were, after all, coworkers.

It was just a kiss … but it was life altering. Nothing else happened that night, but it was enough to put into motion a series of conversations and chain of events that helped us both realize that we did have options other than staying in unhappy relationships and living sad, unfulfilling lives.

Since that day, we moved in together, got engaged, got married and regularly remind each other how important communication is to a healthy, happy, thrilling relationship. We laugh about that kiss and how we had no idea then how many dreams and hopes we had in common – and still do.

It’s been five years and thousands of kisses. Sometimes the best trips don’t involve even getting out of your chair. When we say there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored, we mean so much more than travel. We mean exploring each other, people in your lives, yourself … everything. So get out there – explore! The world is calling.