Dan and Hannah Can Be Fun

Saving money?  You wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing, would you?  After the financial meltdown of 2008, one of the problems we Americans had was spending beyond our means and not saving enough.  Well just let me say it’s not always a good thing either.  Hannah and I have taken frugality to a new sad and pathetic low today.  Our eyes grow wide as the greeter at the Key Largo visitor center mentions a $65 motel room in Islamorada.  Mesmerized, we are under her spell and the result is not pretty.

Our $65 room turns out to be a Debby Downer.  True we have a king-size bed and a shower with hot and cold water; but when I asked for ice, the day manager is dismissive saying they have none, as if only a fool would ask such a question.  This is southern Florida, my good man!  They claim to have Wi-Fi, but, if so, it doesn’t reach the outer edges of the motel complex where we are.  I wouldn’t say the room is small, but the TV cabinet angles in the corner of the room not six inches from our bed.  I get that art is not a prerequisite for a good night’s sleep, but there is not a single picture on the bare walls.  There are three askew wire hangers, the kind you’d get from a dry cleaners, in the door-less closet.  Two plastic chairs out by our door are green with age spots.  Landscaping was last done during the Bush Administration (Bush I) and the wire door to the pool is damaged.

Given our sad choice, we know the maid should not be penalized and we leave her a $5 tip.  Though not a fan of the anonymity of leaving money for a maid we never see, I would have no soul if we don’t leave some money for whoever cleans these rooms at the No-tell Motel.

As overnighters, we do not take the time to find the soul of Islamorada, a town of 6000, which is from all appearances a way station on the Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West.  This narrow highway town with motels (from $65 and up), sandals outlets, marinas, bait and tackle shops, salons and day spas, cigars from Cuban seeds, chocolate shoppes, and pet stores) caters to the traveler.  It’s not an island hideaway as we have hoped, just a tourist mecca.  Islamorada was once home to the baseball player and avid fisherman, Ted Williams, for 45 years.  Ted left in 1988 because it was too difficult to turn onto Route One when he wanted to.

On a predawn walk along the Overseas Highway in Islamorada, we have an apercu (a mini-epiphany) and realize that this experience is a godsend.  Let me underscore we are not going all Pollyanna on you.  Hitting us like a thunderbolt, we realize we are going to screw up five days on the Keys in a big way if we go cheap at every corner.  It’s vacation.  You can write this down and no need to footnote me: Vacation when on vacation.  It’s not home.  You saved for this trip, don’t ruin it.  Welcome to the Dan and Hannah Juice Bar, where we make lemonade from lemons.

With a change of attitude and five days of freedom ahead, we drive southwest on the Overseas Highway, a road to Key West which flows nicely at 45 to 55 miles per hour on this early January Tuesday morning.  Forty-two bridges connect Key Largo to Key West.

Seven Mile Bridge is to the left. To the right is the two mile section of 100 year old bridge used for walking and biking.

As Hannah drives us across the seven mile bridge just south of Marathon, Florida, I’m reminded how vulnerable the Keys are as global warming becomes a reality despite all the deniers and those who failed freshmen high school general science.  Flat as southern fried pancakes, the Keys will be inundated in a heartbeat when Super Storm Sandy’s big brother comes acalling.  Click on this link to  see how much of Florida remains as the oceans rise.  Interestingly, Key West has not been directly hit by a hurricane since 1919.

Eight miles from Nirvana (Key West) is the Visitor Center where we don’t flinch at $149 for a room at the Wicker Guesthouse.  Ouch!  But we have learned our lesson and put down a deposit to hold the room.  Key West is pricey.

Wicker Guesthouse from Duval Street

We’ve been to the Wick last year (our nickname, not theirs) and know that it has Keys ambiance, poolside breakfasts, plush queen beds, and bikes for rent at $15 per day, which means we don’t have to move our rented car for our two days in Key West.   It’s also where the action is on Duval Street.

KW pool at WickerWith our room not yet ready, we take to the streets on our seven speed cruisers.  There is an easy mixing of cars and bikes in this busy, but not crowded, yet easy going south seas town in early January.

Key West is a place for bicycles.  Though the streets are busy and traffic has cars going 15 mph at best, we ride down Duval Street to the sea for an afternoon of pedaling along the beach.  All of the sand on the beaches of Key West has been shipped in on barges from the Caribbean.  Hannah’s left leg is functioning at 90% after her July water skiing fractured tibia; she bikes and walks easily now.   Though, descending on steps from our second floor room is slow going.

KW Hannah Butterfly

Hannah grabs her Vitamin D by the pool while I read the Sunday Review section of the Sunday New York Times that I brought from home.

KW Hannah at Wicker pool

After our late afternoon two person happy hour by the pool, we stroll (hey we are on vacation) to the west end of Duval just before six PM to get to the pier where tourists gather at sunset.  We are making the scene and getting into this vacation of ours.

KW sunset

As we walk after sunset on Duval Street, we see a sign: Happy Hour 7-9P and 2-4A.  Whoa.  Key West has more bars per capita than any other place in the country.  Checking out the pub singers singing Bill Joel cover songs from the sidewalk, we mingle with the evening revelers.   Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville is just down from the Wicker Guesthouse.  The Duval Street buzz of tourists is music to the Keys.  Restaurants and bars are busy on this Tuesday night in early January before the school kids’ winter vacation and the college kids’ spring break.

We’ll sleep well, having have gone from the outhouse to the penthouse in one day.   Despite rumors to the contrary, Dan and Hannah can be fun.

KW Heads on Bodies 2

Dan and Hannah Deal with their Love/Hate Relationship with the Sunshine State

Truth be told, I struggle with the Sunshine State.  Like every state, Florida has much to offer.  Hannah and I are drawn to its warmth each winter, but cringe at its crowds and traffic congestion.  Florida offers water sports, beaches, restaurants, and night life.  It’s not Maine, but it’s fine.  This year we have chosen the Florida Keys as perhaps an anti-Florida Florida place to visit.           

It’s a given that we are not city folks.  That’s not Florida’s fault.  We live in Maine for many reasons, one being the slower pace and fewer people.  This week southern Florida promises 80s so we are giving Florida one more shot by flying from Boston to Miami for five days.

And by the way, why do people hate flying?  Could it be the lack of control when one is in a plane?  Perhaps they dislike the inflexible deadlines of airlines with set departure times?  Crashing?  Or is it really that they just dislike traveling at all?  Driving the 1710 miles in 26 hours from York, Maine to Key West, Florida (Google maps estimate) to spend five days of vacation on the Keys is not exactly practical for us.  Statistics are funny.  Check out this link for the different statistics to support whatever your opinion is about safe travel.  Cars are safer than airplanes on a per trip basis.  It makes sense; car trips are typically shorter than plane trips.  Now, if you go by miles traveled, airlines are safer.  I like to fly because it saves me time and I’m not thrilled with the tedium of long distance miles and metropolitan traffic.

Even though we awake at 415A this Monday morning in January, we are off to an auspicious start as we are stuck in Monday morning Boston commuter traffic on I-93 heading to Logan Airport.  Who knew that we’d be going 15 miles an hour at 630A on a Monday morning?  Perhaps anyone who ventures out of his cloistered little life living in small town Maine, Danny Boy!

Once we hit the HOV lane, our son Will, our driver, is cruising at 50 mph and soon has us through the Ted Williams Tunnel, which then puts us at Terminal B.  Though it’s 30 minutes after I thought we’d get there, it’s 715A and ours is an 8A flight.  We certainly have a good shot at making our flight.  Having forgotten to print boarding passes at home, we go to the kiosk and confirm two seats in row 28 of American Airlines flight 439.  Hurrying to the TSA baggage screening area, I do the pathetic and sad, really pitiable husband thing and walk ten feet ahead of Hannah in my need/zeal/angst to make the flight, as if ten feet of hurry will make the difference. This morning the TSA checkpoint has few in line and we sail through.

Our flight is three quarters full on this day of the college national championship game in Miami between Notre Dame v Alabama.   This American Airlines plane seems so old school compared to Jet Blue and Southwest.  There are TVs in the aisle every five rows (if you are 6’ 1” and taller you’ll smack your head on them).  The TVs are of the 1950s, cream colored, boxy twelve inch squares.  You do get a free movie, in this case the weak Premium Rush, about couriers solving crime in New York City.  With borderline ADD, I last twenty minutes and take to my refuge when I fly: Sudoku puzzles and crosswords in the in-flight magazine.

In three plus hours we’ve gone from below freezing in Maine to amazingly warm 80 degrees in January Miami.  If you’ve never been to the Miami Airport, it is monstrous.  We walk at least a mile on people movers just to get to the high speed shuttle that takes us to the Rental Car center.  Since we have found a cheap (and it turns out reliable) car rental (Fox Rent a Car), we then take a shuttle van a mile to the Fox center.  When you pay $139 for five days for a car, you pay in other ways.  We wait 30 minutes, but we are in Florida, it’s 80F.  Small sacrifice indeed.

Renting the smallest, least expensive car we can, a Chevy Aveo, we are instead shown to a Chrysler 200 Convertible.

Chrysler ConvertibleBelieving that going to Key West will get us far from Florida cities, traffic, and congestion, we scurry south on Florida’s Turnpike (a toll road where scanners read each car’s license plate) and eventually to Route One South.  The transition to the Overseas Highway on the Keys takes us away.

Stopping at the visitor’s center in Key Largo, we ask about a room in Islamorada, the village of islands.  We pronounce it Islam-o-rada giving a Moslem emphasis to the first two syllables.  Sweetly, she says it’s pronounced Aisle-ma-rada and the locals call it El-ma-rada.  We must look like people who want a room for under $100 because the woman says, “I have rooms for under $100.”  We are such bumpkins.  She has a $65 room fifteen miles away in Islamorada on the way to Key West. We are ready to get out of the car and just cool our jets and settle in for the night.

Twenty-five minutes later, we arrive and check in into the last $65 room.  We unpack, check out renting bicycles for tomorrow, and later sit poolside hoping for Florida’s best.

I Dan at poolAs we sit by the pool I find solace in thinking about getting my teeth cleaned.  (Stick with me, there is a connection.)  As I lay back in the dentist chair I can see a poster above my head that has 20 reasons for happiness#1 – Choose your spouse well.  95% of your happiness depends on that one decision.

Hem on path

Dan and Hannah take to the Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park on the Maine coast

Are you looking for an active September getaway in New England with temperatures in the 60s and 70s, with very few touristos?  Do we have the place for you!  A mere 3-4 hours north of York on the coast of Maine lies Acadia National Park.  (Truly, stop by and see Dan and Hannah on your way up.  I’m cereal.)

Traveling to Acadia National Park during the off-season is a kick for Hannah and me.  This weekend after Labor Day we find two double beds for $55 at the Edenbrook Motel across the street from the College of Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

Main classroom building at COA

The College of the Atlantic has 349 students and 41 faculty.  It’s the kind of college boomer parents would now love to attend, especially those who went to large state universities (e.g, Dan graduated from Arizona State (72,000 in 2011).  If Plato were to return and take a professorship, I would bet my copy of The Republic that he would settle into teach at the College of the Atlantic.  – Colman McCarthy, Washington Post

At the Edenbrook motel, the 1950s retro-look with metal rocking chairs outside each room adds to its charm.  We have packed our hybrid Trek bikes for a day of biking along some of the 45 miles of carriage roads in the national park.

Driving into Bar Harbor from Ellsworth, we take Route 3, which is no friend to bicyclists.  Once within three miles or so of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island, the fingernail thin white lines mark the edge of the highway and leave no margin for error for bicyclists or motorists.  Thankfully J. D. Rockefeller, Jr., the force behind the Carriage Roads, came to the rescue in the early part of the last century.

Above the Edenbrook Motel, we easily bike up Highbrook Road to the Park Loop Road, which takes us downhill about three miles to the Visitor Center.  Flashing our senior citizens lifetime National Park pass ($10 for those 62 and older!) we hit the steep climb of the access bike path (crushed, packed gravel like the real Carriage Road).  A low gear and a strong set of thighs make this a sweet climb.  Genetically advantaged, Hannah and I relentlessly pedal to the Carriage Road by Witch Hole Pond.

Carriage Road near Witch Hole Pond

On this cool, overcast mid-September late morning, we whip off our sweatshirts and riding tights and head for Jordan Pond at a leisurely pace, gabbing most of the way.  The gentle grades make this an exercise experience for all kinds of bicyclists.  The splendor of the surrounding trees and lakes is only matched by the beauty that nary a vehicle is in sight.  The moderate grades allow for steady pedaling and easy conversation.  We pedal the ascending grade to the East of Jordan Pond, but that workout just prepares us for lunch.  On this blustery and chilly day, we are the only ones on the Jordan Pond House lawn, which on a warm day is filled with tourists feasting on their famous baked popovers.

Lawn at Jordan Pond House

After roughly seven miles of biking, we take to the Day Mountain summit.  We pass two horse-drawn carriages similar to what must have been popular in the 1930s.  It turns out this is our most difficult biking as the weight of the wheels of the carriages and the hoofs of the horses have compromised the integrity of the gravel road and made it mushy and sand-like.  Even so, it is very doable pedaling.  Do remember to always pass on the left of the carriage so as not to spook the horses.

The summit provides views of Seal Harbor.

The descent is rapid and a little squishy, but just slow down and you’ll be fine.  It’s a good work out and one that our hearts and lungs appreciate.

Though I have affection for the hiking warriors of the Appalachian Trail (AT), I much prefer day rides or hikes that end with a shower, clean sheets, and a well-deserved afternoon nap, which we do this late summer day.  Having done some 20+ miles on the Carriage Roads, our goal is to do all 45 some day.  Nothing like “bagging” the entire Carriage Road to feel the AT spirit.

Horse drawn carriages on the Carriage Roads of Acadia NP

Dan and Hannah Have an Owen Christmas

Owen Daniel Rawding

Owen Daniel Rawding

For me, there are few things better than cradling our five-month old grandson Owen in the crook of my arm while he contentedly sucks on a warmed bottle of milk, eyes closing.  I’m afraid I have gone over the grandparent cliff, and I’m loving it.  I have to admit I’m close to being an embarrassment how proud I am of Owen.  Watch out.  Get within ten feet of me and I’ll whip out my phone and show you the latest pictures of our grandson.  But I digress.  Let me start at the beginning with a question, which is, as Sister Maria von Delco has told us, a very good place to spark.

Happy Owen 2

When do young families begin to have Christmas at their homes, not at the homes of their parents?  What’s an appropriate age for such families to establish their own holiday traditions?  When do they create memories of their own children who are unable to sleep and want to see what’s under the tree before dawn?  Thankfully for us, it isn’t this year.  Molly and Tip have come north to spend the Christmas holidays with Owen’s grandparents in York and in Rye, NH.  Owen is but five months young, so coming over the river (Piscataqua) and through the woods (all up and down Chases Pond Road) makes a lot of sense this year.

Driven north from Virginia to New England by his parents, Owen has been the focus of their life since his birth in July.  Though he doesn’t walk, doesn’t quite crawl, though he pushes the blanket on the floor with his legs, he is the center of attention wherever he goes.  Whenever Hannah and I are with him, we want to be at the front of the line to hold him, sway with him, and listen to him “talk” to us.

Owen and his Mama

Owen and his Mama

Three weeks ago, when we were Skyping with Molly, Tip, and Owen, Molly said with that pleading look that all new mothers and fathers know, You can return all the presents you bought us for Christmas because what we really would like is for you to take Owen overnight so we can sleep.  Remembering how Hannah and I were rescued when my own Mom and Dad took our kids so we had some time on our own, we jump at the chance to spend the night with our grandson.  I’ve told friends that retirement would be even better if one day a week I took care of Owen from morning til night.  Now, on Christmas night I can start putting my money where my mouth is.  By the way, we didn’t return a single present.

Owen and his Daddy Tip

Owen and his Daddy

On Christmas Eve, Molly, Tip, and Owen came to York for the First Parish Church Family Mitten Tree Service.  Arriving thirty minutes ahead of time at the sanctuary, we barely found seats together at this service designed for families.  Called the “Mitten Service,” it is where the offering is mittens, gloves, hats, and scarves for families far less fortunate than ours.  Owen rocked throughout the service and never cried.  His mom always has a bottle of pumped breast milk ready at a moment’s notice.

Owen and his aunt Robyn

Owen and his aunt Robyn

The Virginia Family Rawding returned to Rye for the night; they would begin their Christmas Day early with the extended Rawding Family which makes sense since there are two boys under the age of seven.  Arriving in York at 11A for the Rothermel Family Christmas, we (including our daughter Robyn and son Will) begin with stockings and conclude with the generosity the Rothermel kids are known for.

Owen and his unky Will

Owen and his unky Will

At the end of the day, this Christmas evening is to be our night with Owen while his parents are in Rye.  The timing can’t be better for, you see, our young master Owen woke repeatedly last night.  It appears Owen couldn’t wait for Santa Claus and awoke at 1030P, 11P, 1145P, and pretty much every hour til dawn.  We think, even if he is up all night, that we, as retired (Dan) and semi-retired (Hannah) can nap any time we want the next day and go to bed at 7P tomorrow.  This truly is not a sacrifice, however he sleeps.

Owen and his Omi and Papa

Owen and his Omi and Papa

Placing the playpen to the side of our dining room table just twenty feet from our bedroom.  We have our fingers crossed that he will sleep through the night.  Ten days ago he slept for eleven and a half hours, which must be a state of Virginia record.  Molly has left pumped breast milk and with added formula to his bottle, we are set for Owen.  Bring it on O Man!

Owen and Omi

Owen and Omi

With Hannah handling diaper detail, I feed him his bottle of two ounces of breast milk and two of formula.  Life is good as I hold my chunk of a grandson (17 pounds now) as he rhythmically sucks on his bottle while his eyelids get heavier and heavier.  Asleep, Owen lies on my chest with his head on the diaper/burp cloth on my shoulder.  Placing him in the baby reclining seat in the playpen, I can’t help taking in this beautiful child. (Owen has had a cold for two months and the angle of the seat allows him to breathe easier and sleep better, we are told.)  It’s eight-thirty and the young lad is already sawing logs, calling it a night Irene, hitting the sack, and getting some serious shut eye.  Now we wait in bed.  No matter how he sleeps, Hannah and I are ready for anything, we think.  Owen may be up in a matter of hours.

Owen and Papa

Owen and Papa

Not knowing what time it is, I awake in the middle of the night, tiptoe from the bedroom past his crib into the room with the darkened Christmas tree, and see 1238 AM on the microwave clock.  Sweet.  He’s four hours into a beautiful sleep.  Tiptoeing back to bed, I thank the gods of slumber and nestle in our to bed.  And then again I awake, and it’s 450A; I think, is he okay?  I check and he is.  It’s 640 AM before he stirs and calls out, not a cry, but a wakeup call that begins his day and ours.

Owen on blanky

Ten hours!  He did it!  Owen, Owen, Owen. That’s our grandson!  Taking him to our bed and laying him on his back, I listen to Owen for twenty-five minutes do his happy baby talk.  Molly will arrive within the hour and life is good.  We text Molly and Tip the good news and know Owen has given us all a special Christmas present.

Owen in hood

Molly arrives, pleased, and tells us that Paula, his grandmother Rawding, has offered to take Owen the Thursday night before they leave on Friday morning to go back to Virginia; she asks, could you take him again tonight (Wednesday)? We know the peace and quiet it will bring Molly and Tip.  We know Owen will be in Virginia in a matter of days for all of January and February.  Yes, we’ll take him.  And we’ll see if we and he can work our magic for one more night.  (Read below this picture to learn how Owen did on his own with Dan and Hannah for their second night together.)

Owen and named spelled out

Nine hours of sleeping without a peep!  And only nine because we woke him to get him to Molly in Rye by 7 AM.  There’s nothing better than our grandson!