Free! There is a Reason to Join.

I’m a joiner. If a store where I shop has a free club, I join it. The same is true for restaurants, fast food places, airlines…the list goes on and on.

Why join, you ask? Here’s why: June is my birthday month. Beginning around the last week of May, my email box begins to include emails from all these companies with “Birthday Special” offerings. In many cases it’s an extra discount on any purchase in June. For a couple of airlines, it’s more than just a few percentage points off or bonus miles for flights booked in June. Hawaiian Airlines is offering me $50 off AND 2500 bonus miles! For several stores, it’s free shipping AND a discount during June. The best birthday specials, though, are the freebies. Yep – you read that right – FREEBIES.

birthday swag 2017

 

I have coupons in my email for a free slice of pizza from Sbarro, a free panty from Victoria’s Secret, free popcorn at Regal Cinemas and a free snack at AMC, a free bagel from Bruegger’s Bagels, a free BOGO offer for ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, a free coffee and baked good from Au Bon Pain, a free cookie with a sandwich purchase at Potbelly, and a free glass of wine from my favorite winery – Narmada! That list doesn’t include the cash off a purchase offers from at least four stores!

Sure, I get a lot of “junk” email – ads from these companies – every day. Often the ads include some sort of click bait: “Free shipping today only!” “Special offer for valued customers” “20% off all online purchases TODAY ONLY.”  Every once in awhile I click on the ad just to see what’s on sale or to browse the new items. Those emails are deleted more often than they are opened.

So, the next time a cashier asks if you’re a club member, don’t say no! Say, “not yet” and sign up. Fill out the birthday block on the form then sit back and wait until your birthday rolls around and enjoy your gifts!

Happy birthday.

Disclaimer: Other than e-coupons, I have not received ANY compensation from any companies mentioned in this blog.

Diversions – Time Travel

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of time travel and love movies like “Back to the Future” and “The Final Countdown” that explore what would happen if someone were to go back in time and mess with the potential future.

But that’s not what this blog is all about.

No, this is about actual travel in the present day to explore a long-lost place, or to bring back memories from the past. This idea struck me a few nights ago when Judy and I watched “Xanadu” starring Olivia Newton John. While panned by critics and a box office flop, the roller disco fantasy movie also starred a place that brought back strong childhood memories … the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District.

Pan-Pacific_1956

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium in 1956

Built in 1935 in a Streamline Moderne architectural style, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium lived a long life hosting sports events like hockey and wrestling, radio shows, and political rallies. It pre-dated the much-larger Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. It was also the place that held the first sailboat show I ever went to with my father (we would attend later shows at the Long Beach Convention Center). My dad taught me how to sail and, along with building and flying model airplanes, this is where my dad and I “connected” at a time when his availability to spend time with me was limited. Going to the boat show was a special treat. As kids do, I dragged dad from model to model, firmly deciding that “this” boat was the one to buy so that we could race, cruise, or just hang out in the marina.

That first visit to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was also special because I was fascinated by the architecture. I still maintain a strong attraction to the Art Nouveau and Streamline Moderne styles of the 30s and 40s. So I wept when the evening news 30 years ago carried live aerial footage as the facility, long in disrepair, burned to the ground.

I want to go back to where the Auditorium once stood, now a park. I want to relive those moments in the past, explore the smaller re-creation of the auditorium built on the grounds as a reminder of its golden age. I want to eat at the famous Farmers Market across the street, bringing back the sights and smells of the food we ate after the show.

Judy and I have done this before, visiting places we’ve read about in history books, seen the old photographs and maps, or simply heard about … places like Gettysburg and Route 66. We’ve visited other places of my youth, like the site of Montreal’s Expo ’67. It was there as a lad of only six, I marveled at the unique cubist Habitat 67 apartments created for the show and which remain residences today. In each instance, I try to transport myself to the past in my mind, remembering what it once was, and what it has become.

They say you can’t go back, but with a healthy imagination, this time travel brings happy memories and a unique perspective, one that makes even day trips fascinating. So the next time you have a some time to kill, hit the road and go see something from the past.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it…and travel back in time.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Like a lot of travelers, I figured out a few years ago that the price of access to airport lounges is well worth the money. It shuts out some of the frustration and boredom with comfort and quiet and, often, a nice snack or drink to while away what could be a wait in uncomfortable chairs at your departure gate. So I was frustrated when Judy and I were denied entrance to a particular lounge because we were “too early.” Apparently, a new policy was instituted recently that prevented someone from entering more than three hours before their scheduled flight departure. Fortunately, we took that frustration elsewhere and ended up enjoying one of our more sublime airport experiences. When life gives you lemons…

We made our way down the terminal to Vino Volo. Located in several major airports, these wine bar/shops are a respite from the usual fast food and brewhouse fair. The one in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport was no different. We sat down in comfy (if a bit worn) leather chairs in a relatively quiet environment with a wide variety of rock and jazz playing softly in the background. The menu offered more than a dozen red wine flights…three generous tasting-sized portions equaling about a 6-ounce pour.wine flights

I enjoyed three Rhone-style reds from Washington State, the “Rhone Wonders” flight, while Judy enjoyed the “Washington Wonders” (a Cabernet France, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blend). We also ordered a perfectly flavored, melty prosciutto and brie sandwich. As we sipped and snacked, all the concerns about the lounge snub melted away. We were enjoying each others’ company and some really interesting local wines.

With time on our hands, we moved on to a couple of very high-end Washington Cabernets on the “Sommelier Series” and were blown away by the nose, texture and taste of these magnificent wines. We ordered some Burrata…one of our favorite noshes and continued to let the afternoon slip by.

Despite the buzz of the terminal just mere feet away, we were in our own cocoon, feeling a different kind of buzz, chatting about things important and not, and not really caring about the world outside. Deciding that we were staying put until boarding time, I ordered another glass of the Cabernet blend for Judy, and a “Daring and Different” flight of reds for me.

daring flight

It featured three decidedly unique wines from “across the pond.” One from Cote Roannaise, one from Jura, and one from Tenerife – the Canary Islands! – were placed in front of me. We were in awe. Our server, Julia, was a true font of knowledge about these magnificent wines. We dreamed and talked about doing wine-tasting excursions to France and Italy. And yet, in the span of a few hours, we had taken a wine tour of our own without leaving the airport.

This day reminded me, once again, of the ability of travel to take you places you never dreamed of. It also reminded that that success of any trip is your ability to find something positive when someone or something throws your plan out of whack. Merely stepping away from the usual and trying something new introduced us to a wonderfully positive experience.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … even if it’s just in the airport. Salud!

Travel is Personal

This headline may seem a little like a no-brainer to a lot of people, but I’m not sure most people take their travel personally. Here’s what I mean: I’ve been to Paris three times and I’ve never been up in the Eiffel Tower. Oh sure, I’ve been TO the Eiffel Tower, but not up in it. I didn’t want to go up. I also didn’t want to go to the Louvre. I’m not particularly an art lover, so why waste a day in a museum when I can stroll along the Seine or watch a street artist or simply sit in a café and people watch? All those things seem a lot more interesting to me than art.

I’ve spent enough time in European churches that they all start looking the same … stunning stained glass, astounding feats of architecture, majestic. Yes, admittedly, the cathedrals of Europe are gorgeous, but after awhile they just start looking the same to me. I’d rather find the hidden gems, sample the food, soak up the atmosphere of the town, not the tourist meccas.

That’s what I mean by travel is personal. Too many people cave to the recommendations of an author who writes about those things you “simply must see” in cities around the world. Those authors apparently don’t think, or live, like I do. I prefer to travel with a vague idea of where I’m going and leave much of my trip to chance. Usually in a week-long trip I only plan one or two things to see and leave the rest to chance.  If you’re the type who prefers a little guidance and direction, just keep in mind that these authors are writing about what they love. If you agree, their insight can be super helpful, but if you don’t agree, don’t feel like just because they are published authors means their suggestions are right for you.

That said, one of the things I typically plan is some sort of walking tour or half-day sightseeing tour. A really great travel agent who takes the time to get to know you before booking your trip can be the difference between finding the right “kick-off tour” for a vacation and spending a week touring sites that bore you to tears. My travel agent, Travel Planning for You!!, does just that. Micky knows the overview-style tours hit the highlights and point me in directions I might not have thought about. Tour guides are a wealth of information about their towns and can often suggest off-the-beaten-track sights that have shorter lines. Once on a walking tour in Prague, another couple was talking about a place called “Spa Beerland.” With a name like that, how could you not be interested? I asked about it, checked it out on the hotel lobby computer and made a reservation. It is still one of my favorite vacation memories.

When you’re planning your next vacation try to remember, travel is personal! After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it the way you want to!

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.)

Adventure Begins With an Idea

On New Year’s Day, if you had asked me how my life would be different halfway through the year, I might have responded, “It will be hotter?”

Looking back over the past seven months, I have to admit, it’s difficult to pinpoint any specific moment that caused the incredible changes that have taken place:

The mule seemed to laugh as if he knew what was about to happen.

It started in February with the end of a lifelong dream. I even wrote a blog about it. That led to an unplanned trip, which had Greg and I diverting to a new community near Phoenix, Arizona where our spur-of-the-moment side trip led to a house with a floor plan and a community that we both immediately fell in love with.

Next came a series of conversations that ended with a decision to turn our lives upside down and change our lives from a living-for-work-and-career mentality to making retirement a priority.

We snapped a picture in front of the model of our future home.

From that perspective, we decided to sell the home we had lovingly created together and spent thousands of dollars customizing and personalizing. We added a trip back to Phoenix in May, signed the papers to build our dream retirement home and put the ball in motion to sell and relocate.

Realtor pictures helped our house sell fast.

Our house sold with lightning speed and instead of moving at the end of the summer or perhaps early fall, we had less than a month to pack! We are already settled into a temporary home while our Arizona dream becomes a reality.

With the whirlwind of life-altering decisions in just the first half of the year, I can’t help but wonder, if someone asked me today, how I would answer, “What will your life be like on New Year’s Eve?”

It is astounding to look back and see the changes that have occurred. Our motives and pace have been questioned by friends and family. Through it all, the one thing that has kept us sane is our ability to talk about everything; to recognize when we are stressed and share the feelings and work through them together; the willingness to laugh through our struggles and comfort each other when the stress gets overwhelming; and the knowledge that no matter what happens, we are together and as a duo we can get through anything.

A cactus is a cheerful, constant reminder of where we are headed.

We ensured that our top priority was always each other and we worked to keep our eyes on the prize. We said goodbye to some things we loved and dreams we had and chose to focus on a new and exciting future with more than a few unknowns. We are opting for the adventure of creating new dreams and making them happen. After all, as Semisonic pointed out in their song, “Closing Time,” every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

 

 

There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored … and every exploration starts with an idea.