Dan Turns 67 Today!

Here’s a few things I’ve learned over oh these many years.

Trust.  When I used to go to “authorities” for what to do, I now trust my inner voice.  I also trust that others know what is best for them.  And then there is Trust’s beautiful sister…

Faith.  There is more to know than what my five senses can take in. There is a metaphysical (beyond the five senses) world out there. I see miracles every day that are beyond my understanding.

Friendship.   It’s something other than friendship if it doesn’t go down two-way Mutual Street.  My friends and I actively show an interest in each other.

G9 D and H on shoreMarriage. There are many things that go into a good marriage. But one is that Hannah and I make time for each other.  Most nights we sit and have a glass of wine together.

Things happen in their time. I have fewer expectations that things will happen on my schedule or when it would be quote convenient for me. They will unfold when they unfold.

67 NYTThe Sunday New York Times rocks. It takes me all week to finish it. I start with the Sunday Sports, then the Sunday Styles. Sunday night in bed, I solve the 5×5 Ken Ken in the NY Times Magazine.

Retirement. When I first retired I wondered what I would do with all that free time.  I thought I needed to schedule myself up the wazoo.  No more. I have a rhythm of my day: my morning rituals, my writing and reading, daily exercise, time with amigos and amigas, and time for the unexpected.  I have the gift of time.  That said, I do waste a reasonable amount of time watching Sports Center.

Grandparenting.  It’s as amazing as everyone says.  Part of the reason is that different when we were growing our own three kids, we have more money (a lifetime with two jobs), more time (ah retirement), and more energy (we are not on 24-7 as young parents are).  Another big part is Molly and Tip’s parenting which makes Owen and Max delightful to be around.

Good fortune is all around me.

blog 15 family rawdingGood fortune I.  Molly and family move to New England. Now that Molly and her three guys have moved north to New England from Virginia, Hannah and I spend Tuesday afternoons and evenings with Owen and Max; and then we have a dinner with Molly and Tip that Hannah makes. It’s an LIB moment (Life is Beautiful).

When relationships go awry. When relationships are not going well, I know it’s not the other person’s fault.  Likely we are just not a good match.  It’s no one’s fault. But it is up to me to move on and languish not.

Our adult children are some of our best friends.

67 - generator 2An automatic standby generator is a Godsend. When the power goes out in the cold of Maine, within ten seconds our generator kicks on. It provides us peace o’ mind all year long.

Auntie Robyn and Owen

Auntie Robyn and her nephew Owen

Good fortune II.  Robyn is finding her way in Syracuse, NY; her visits home include helping us with the snow shoveling, going to the movies with me, and out for Chinese with her mom.

67 UnityUnity. I have been on a journey to find a church home. I grew up Lutheran. Hannah and I dabbled with the Quaker Church in Tempe, AZ and Dover, NH; we joined the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Portsmouth, NH when our kids were young. I was even a deacon at the Congregational Church in York, ME. I always felt that I was the round spiritual peg trying to fit into a square traditional hole. And then this year, we found Unity of the Seacoast – stunned that there was an interfaith global church that was founded on what we believed and were living for the past forty years.  Namaste.

Courage. I believe courage is having faith when doubting would be easier. In the past I’d jump to worst case scenario.  Instead I use my inner resources to move me forward.

Will and Laurel

Will and Laurel

Good fortune III. Will and Laurel will marry this spring in Virginia. Hannah and I welcome a third daughter to our family.

If I am not following my passion, I am wasting my time.

Living my passion I.  I love to write. I wake up and look forward to working on my blog throughout the morning. I love playing with the words til I get it as close to right as I am going to get it.

67 four agreementsDon Miguel I.  I don’t make assumptions. Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is a daily inspiration. I no longer assume I know why others do as they do or did as they did. I don’t waste my time making assumptions.

Saying “thank you” to every good thing and challenge that comes my way.   Daily I live with gratitude for all the good in my life.  Difficult people and challenging circumstances come into my life to teach me something if I am willing to listen and appreciate what I can learn.  Obstacles are opportunities.67 ping pong paddle

Living my passion II.  Thursday ping pong. Weekly I play with my buddy George.  Over three plus years, our games are improving and we are growing our friendship.

Judge not. This is big. I have no idea what has gone on in another’s life or what issues another is dealing with. People are doing the best they can at the moment. They are on a journey.  Judging them hardly helps them and only makes me insufferably self-righteous.  And then there is Judge Not’s twin brother…

Forgive. No strings.  No conditions.  Just forgive.

Don Miguel II.  Don’t take it personally. Words and actions of others are all about where they are coming from and what is going on in their lives.   What others think of me is none of my business.

Living my passion III.  Coastal Fitness. Having run the 1981 Fiesta Bowl Marathon and hiked to Indian Gardens on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, I have loved to exercise forever.  Now when at home in Maine I take to the elliptical, the treadmill, and the recumbent bicycle at Coastal Fitness in Kittery to satisfy my chronic need to be active.

G 4 D and H on GSP bluff trailGood Fortune IV.  Hannah. When we met at 19, we were first year students at the College of Wooster in Ohio. We dated and didn’t; lived apart on opposite coasts. After five years, we married at 24. We grew together, had our challenges, were blessed with children, and have come out the other side better than ever.

If any of these sounds like I’m There.  I’m not.  The journey continues.

The Universe is Unfolding and it is Good – Hannah

Dan Learns ABC News Got the Same Vacation Offer!

The very same voucher that ABC received!

The very same voucher that ABC received!

Last night I was flipping between Sports Center and the Cowboys crushing the Indianapolis Colts, when I stumbled on ABC World News Tonight segment titled “ABC News. We Decided To Follow A ‘Free Vacation’ Mail Offer.”

Sounded familiar.  In fact the vouchers are the same ones we received and I wrote about in Saturday’s blog.

Click on this link below to see the ABC News report.


The opening text from the ABC News report:

Vacation clubs and timeshare companies are popular all over the country.

So when “Nightline” was contacted by a company promising two free airline tickets and a free hotel stay, we set out on a mission to track the anatomy of a “free vacation” runaround.

It all started when “Nightline’s” executive producer received a letter in the mail congratulating him on a free dream vacation, which included a two-night stay at any Marriott Hotel location. But when we Googled the phone number that the letter says to call to set up the trip, our search returned dozens of complaints from people who had received a similar letter.

“The problem is a lot of folks get taken in to believing something can be done simply, that they’re going to get a great deal and not understanding whenever you’re looking at timeshares or travel clubs, these are very serious real estate transactions,” said New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, speaking generally about the industry.

ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis and two ABC News producers called the number and scheduled an appointment with the mystery company to try to claim the free trip. The person on the phone told us we needed to attend a 90-minute presentation and we would have to pay the taxes and luggage fees the airlines charges for the airline tickets, but otherwise, we were told the vacation was free.


Dan and Hannah are going to Phoenix for the weekend!

SW postcard SouthwestThe post card arrives innocently enough Monday morning. The Happy Holidays message is bracketed by an airplane and Christmas palms. Beneath, it says SOUTHWEST “Getaway” – Air & Hotel Stay.  The back of the post card reads, “You are going to receive 2 round trip airfares to most major airports in the continental US. Call within 48 hours. You will also receive as a bonus 3 Day 2 Night Hotel Stay! Call 1-888-709-5786.”

SW SWAirlinesTypically I throw such junk mail away, but the Southwest Airlines gets me thinking. Wouldn’t it be cool to fly to Phoenix for the weekend and have the hotel paid for?  Hannah and I lived in Arizona for ten years ;  we’d have a warm desert weekend with some cool old friends.

When registering for the vacation planning presentation for 11A this coming Friday, we are promised that it will only last 90 minutes; and at the end of that time we will have our airline and hotel vouchers in hand. So what’s the risk?   I’m willing to trade 90 minutes of my time for what seems to be at least a $500 bonanza.

Earlier on Friday over coffee and muffins with Scott and Tree at the Crumb, we tell them of our upcoming windfall.   Tree’s face darkens as she shares an unpleasant, still vivid memory from 30 years ago when she was intimidated by a high pressure salesman pushing a condo on her with all his might.

Maybe this won’t be so neat and clean as I think. But I can put up with a little crap for 90 minutes for two tickets to Phoenix and two nights at a Marriott.

SW Village by the SeaArriving at the Village By The Sea resort in nearby Wells, Maine on an overcast, near freezing December morning, I wonder what form of seduction they will use. As we enter, Hannah reads the brochure and says to me, It doesn’t say anything about Southwest Airlines; it just says a Southwest Getaway. Oooooo. My bad.

As one of five over-60s couples, we are welcomed by Rick, our salesman du jour. With slick backed black hair and a mohair sweater, Rick is energized without being manic. Promising that this will be low key, I relax and start the count down til it’s over.

SW las vegasHe introduces us to Netrate Concepts, a travel services company that wholesales vacations by cutting out the middlemen. Rick asks how much we think a week in Vegas would cost. $1200 is one guess. Rick agrees that that’s reasonable, then shows us one of their contracts for only $199 for the same seven days in Las Vegas. Bringing up many more examples from Sedona, AZ, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Florida, he and his company have saved his members 70 to 80 per cent.

Promising that we can travel more and travel better, he tells us they have 250,000 satisfied customers.   At the forty minute mark, he unveils the price for lifetime memberships – silver ($5995), gold ($6995), and platinum ($8995). Whoa!  I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t that much. Still with 50 minutes to sell us on the value of membership, he shrewdly plans the flow of the presentation so we won’t be surprised with these figures at the end of his spiel.

SW math word problem 1An hour in, he’s losing me and I’m doing the math word problem.  Dan spends 90 minutes listening to get two tickets to Phoenix and two nights at a Marriott.  Is Dan missing something?

William Shatner

William Shatner

We learn that Expedia is owned by the airlines and that William Shatner has made $350 million promoting Priceline.com. Rhetorically Rick asks who is really paying his salary. We learn that there is a $199 annual fee, but we can make it and the membership fee back in the discounts we’ll earn in just two or three trips. An added hook is we can, at no cost, add up to eight family and friends to our membership.

SW $1000 bill

In conclusion, Rick says that the first couple that signs up will get a free upgrade (e.g., silver to gold). No one bites. He then holds up a $1000 bill and says he will take $1000 off the cost for the first couple who commits. Still no takers.

SW gold membershipAnd now 100 minutes in, we still have to meet with Peter, our personal agent, who is there to close the deal. We talk and then I say, I’d like to talk privately with Hannah. Hannah seems hopeful, but I’m leery.  Just give me our vouchers and set me free!  Peter returns five minutes later with an offer for a gold membership for just $3500. Okay.  Could we travel enough to make it worth it? He leaves, and Hannah and I talk more. She thinks we could save Will and Laurel on the cost of their honeymoon. I’m leery about the whole process – the entangled contract, what we will really get, the pressure to act immediately, and the cost of $3500 built on the wobbly foundation of faith in Rick and his company after knowing him for less than two hours.

California coast

California bluff trail

Peter returns. We wonder about a month in Florida. He hems, we haw. He then writes down one more offer for the Platinum membership for five years for $1500. It finally dawns on me that they are selling “resorts.”  We are not resort people. We are travel-and-hike-in-the-States people – Appalachian Trail, California’s bluff trails, the Mountain West, and Oregon.

I tell Peter that this is just not a match for us; without rancor, Peter hands us two glossy 8×11” sheets with our airline tickets and hotel vouchers.  It’s been a long two and a half hours, but now we can start planning our sweet flight to Phoenix and a weekend at a Marriott.

Hotel voucher (strings attached)

Hotel voucher (strings attached)

As Hannah drives home, I read the fine print on the hotel voucher. We each must send in a $25 activation fee in addition to submitting $50 with the registration form. We are responsible for all taxes and must send a $50 refundable security deposit. There is no explanation of what kind of motel we will get. Phoenix is not even mentioned as one of their destinations.

Oh, it gets better.

Airline voucher

Airline voucher

The Airfare Vacation registration has small print as well.  In this one, we each must send $49 to activate the vouchers in addition to submitting $98 with the registration card.   There is a $59 to $89 9/11 security surcharge. We pay all taxes and we cannot travel during major holidays.

As Hannah drives, I just look at her and smile; then I shake my head and my smile grows.  This is beautiful.  I have just had a two and a half hour reminder that there is no free lunch. What was I thinking? I did a lot of jumping; jumping to the conclusion about Southwest Airlines, being able to fly to Phoenix, staying at a Marriott, and there would be no gotcha.

What I thought would be at least $500 worth of travel for 90 minutes of our time turns out to be an upfront cost of $400.  What other costs lie ahead?  Can I really trust a company that never mentions the fine print?  I just can’t stop smiling and shake my head at my naiveté.  Oh, did I ever get what I deserved.

I text Tree and Scott about the experience. It was amazing! I am smiling from ear to ear. I may be the biggest douche bag you know. Let’s talk.

PS We never get to Phoenix or stay in the Marriott, but I am a whole lot wiser. I hope you are, too.

Dan and Hannah Experience Richmond at its Fall Best

V richmond mapTo many New Englanders (well, really just me), Richmond is known for two things: Coach Shaka Smart of VCU basketball and Civil War history.  Now that our son Will and his fiancée Laurel live in nearby Bon Air and work at Virginia Commonwealth University, we can easily fly from Boston to the River City on Delta or JetBlue to experience the South and its warmth.

Retirement is great if…

if  you have your good health and if you have enough money.  Currently we can check off yes and yes, so we are on the move.

Stuart Siegel Center with its 2M big screen TV

Stuart Siegel Center with its 2M big screen TV

Flying Tuesday afternoon from Logan Airport, we arrive two hours later at Richmond International Airport. Curbside, Will whisks us off to the Stuart Siegel Center for tonight’s 6P game, VCU v Toledo University.

Tommy J West Club at the Stuart Siegel Center

Tommy J West Club at the Stuart Siegel Center

Arriving a little after five, Will arranges for us to dine at the buffet for the big shots at the Tommy J West club high above the hardwood. Overlooking the court, we feast on sweet potatoes, green beans in mushroom sauce, and tossed salad; honey baked ham is there for the taking for the meat eaters. As we sit in luxury, we think how this club would be a fantastic venue for a rockin’ family party.

Will, Laurel, and her future in-laws

Will, Laurel, and her future in-laws

Kenyon College grad, Shaka Smart

Kenyon College grad, Shaka Smart

Shaka Smart has made VCU basketball the “what’s happening” place to be in Richmond on game nights.  Tonight will be the 51st straight sell out in this nearly 8000 fan arena.  A graduate of Kenyon College in Ohio like my Brother Richard and Uncle Bill, Shaka is named after a Zulu warrior.  Always entertaining, his team’s style is to press for 40 minutes and fast break on every possession.

Tip off of VCU v Toledo

Tip off of VCU v Toledo

With not a bad seat in the house, we sit 15 rows up from the foul line for the tonight’s game televised by ESPN against Toledo, a team that won 27 games last year and returns 7 of its 8 top players.  The crowd is electric and plugs into the high paced offense and defense of the VCU Rams.  Smart has branded their style of play as “Havoc,” which when rocking, truly befuddles opposing teams.

VCU's Melvin Johnson driving to the basket

VCU’s Melvin Johnson driving to the basket

Early on, the game is tight and tense.  Last year VCU went undefeated on its home court, but tonight they are meeting their match as the Rockets shoot well and break the press without much trouble.

Last year's NCAA leader in steals, Briante Weber, floating one above the Toledo defender

Last year’s NCAA leader in steals, Briante Weber, floating one above the Toledo defender

At halftime VCU is lucky to be down only three points, as Toledo shoots 90% from the foul line. “Havoc” defense is meant to eventually wear teams down; and on schedule in the second half, it starts to take its toll on the Rockets. They turn the ball over for an easy two at the rim and three more from downtown.



The 87-78 VCU victory reflects the team’s #15 ranking in the country. This close game is all a fan could want: fast-paced action, drama, and ultimately a W.

After a 430A wakeup call this morning in Maine, we sleep well in Virginia after a VCU victory.

The All Access Man with his Sweet Mama

The All Access Man with his Sweet Mama

With a layover day Wednesday before another VCU game Thursday night, Hannah and I plan to take in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Dropped off in the downtown by Laurel, we easily find it and talk to the museum guide about what lies within.  At $13 for seniors, we want multi-media and interactive exhibits. We get neither and decide to invest our $26 of disposable income in another way.

Let’s be fair. The museum didn’t really have much of a chance. You wouldn’t call us museum people. We like doing rather than looking.  It’s just in our DNA.  But not going to the museum today is win/win. The museum is not subjected to our feigned interest and we can walk and hike in Richmond this mid-November day.

Along the Canal Walk in Richmond, Virginia

Along the Canal Walk in Richmond, Virginia

Just down the hill to the James River, Richmond’s Canal Walk meanders along the shoreline for a mile and a quarter. It’s a winter coat and mittens day here in the South, but our steady pace keeps us warm. Normally in warmer weather the bistros and restaurants along the canal are buzzing while the park on Brown’s Island is filled with families, joggers, and Frisbee players.

The walking suspension bridge beneath the Robert E Lee Highway into Richmond

The walking suspension bridge beneath the Robert E Lee Highway into Richmond

Soon finding our way to the suspension bridge across the James River to Belle Isle, we enter a network of trails. Belle Isle was first explored by the Captain John Smith in 1607.  Later the island served as a prison for 30,000 Union soldiers during the American Civil War.

Bundled up for Belle Isle hiking

Bundled up for Belle Isle hiking

In warmer weather, Belle Isle is a great place for trail walking, swimming and kayaking in the James River, rock jumping, sunbathing, and boulder-top picnicking, just feet away from white water rapids.

Another victory for the Rams!

Another victory for the Rams!

Exercise-satisfied, we await Thursday’s VCU game at the Siegel Center.

Thursday, the Rams hit their first 8 shots and lead 18-0 over University of Maryland Eastern Shore. With the game well in hand from the outset, Shaka substitutes liberally and gets his freshman some valuable collegiate playing time.

Richmond in November is just the antidote for the coming deep freeze in New England.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Smithsburg, Maryland

The crash has nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail

The crash has nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail

We love hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Maryland.  When here in the Oyster State, we have had sublime ridgeline hiking; those easy going trails that make the day feel like a walk in the park.  As we wrap up our week of AT hiking in the South, we come to Smithsburg in northern Maryland in mid-October. During the Civil War, Smithsburg was a hospital town, treating soldiers from the nearby Battle of Antietam.

We’ve come north from Richmond, VA through the I-95 logjam of northern Virginia, west on the I-495 beltway to I-270 to Frederick, MD. Lunching on Subway subs at a local park, we know we have just three hours and change to hike before our dinner plans. We, who think happy hour nachos and margaritas at Ruby’s are a big deal, have dinner plans.

Wolfsville Road in October

Wolfsville Road in October

Turning east towards the mountains from Smithsburg, we head up Wolfsville Road to trailhead parking for 12 cars. A blue blaze trail to the AT takes us into the Maryland woods on this October day at 60 degrees (blue blaze trails are side trails leading to the white blaze main trail).

Blue blaze side trail to the Appalachian Trail

Blue blaze side trail to the Appalachian Trail

Immediately as we head north on the AT we pass the Ensign Cowell Shelter. I’d have to lose a large bet or be held at gun point to stay overnight in a shelter. Lying on a thin pad in a sleeping bag on pine floors, wedged shoulder to shoulder with another of God’s smelliest human beings?  I think not. Snoring!  NASA still hasn’t developed earplugs with enough sound-proofing to give a hiker a good night’s sleep in AT shelters; and don’t get me started on the mice that scurry over and around and, yes through, sleeping bags.  Okay, I admit it, I’m soft.

Check out the Ensign Cowell Shelter.

With an ambitious goal to hike the five miles to and from the Raven Rock Shelter in three to four hours, we have a tight window to make our dinner plans in nearby Ijamsville (the j is silent).  Today is another golden day in the South and the last one before we head home to winter in Maine. (That’s not as appealing as it sounds.) Our trail guidebook says we will be hiking between 1100’ and 1400’ to the Raven Rock Shelter.  We love our mellow Maryland hills.

Rocks aplenty on the AT in Maryland

Rocks aplenty on the AT in northern Maryland

Stepping along the AT of yellow and brown fall leaves, we find the trail well-marked with white blazes. Truth be told the leaves are hiding a rocky terrain similar to ones we found on the boot-shredding AT in Pennsylvania. Still, the trails here in the Terrapin State allow us to talk easily without the huffing and puffing that we do when climbing the mountains of the AT in North Carolina.

From forest to fields to forest

From forest to fields to forest

Soon we are crossing fields, passing other hikers with backpacks who are out for a few days on the trail before the winter snows. When hiking in the South, I travel back in my mind to Civil War times. Surveying the hills, farmland, and valleys as we hike, I wonder what it was like for soldiers as well as the townsfolk trying to survive the ravages and uncertainty of war.  What must have been the terror and hope of slaves traveling the Underground Railroad through this part of the country?

MD 3 Han on ATWondering how far it is to the shelter, we meet up with a young couple from nearby Hood College. They let on that they lost the trail and are turning back. Undeterred, we have no doubt we’ll find the trail and carry on. And we do.

MD 7 trailAfter 90 minutes of hiking and no Raven Rock Shelter in view, we wonder, considering our dinner plans, do we go on or do we turn back?   Four teenage boys out for a first time backpacking adventure, going in the opposite direction, say the shelter is 2-3 hours away. We dismiss their youthful wild guess and hike on.

MD 4 rocky trailSoon thereafter we meet up with a 40-something male hiker, who tells us we are a mile away from the shelter as he points upward to the mountain before us.  We weigh another hour of mountain climbing versus our dinner plans?  With never a doubt, we head back to the trailhead.  for out “don’t miss” dinner plans.

VCU Rams are everywhere on the AT

VCU Rams are everywhere on the AT

Hiking back to the Wolfsville Road trailhead, we meet Bubble Gum (his trail name). Wanting to get to the Raven Rock Shelter before dark, he is understandably distracted talking to day-hiking dilettantes (i.e. dabblers) like us. We do learn that his trail name comes from giving bubble gum to other hikers.  Sadly, he never offers us any.  Such can be the dismissive approach to us day hikers.

Maryland's Appalachian Trail

Maryland’s Appalachian Trail

Heading for the trailhead, we soak in every last bit of our fifth of five hikes on the AT over the last week. After thirty years of running on streets and biking country roads, we have found gold in hiking the trails of the Appalachian Mountains.

MD 5 white blaze trailHeading for dinner, we see the teenagers on the trail ahead. They hear us and pick up the pace!  Kids!  A fool’s errand. We have dinner plans, fanny packs, and years of hiking experience; they have heavy backpacks, youthful bravado, and mistaken notions of their own fitness.  It’s no contest as they finally relent, step aside, and let us pass. We smile graciously as they look beaten and stunned that we two, who are probably older than their grandparents, go sailing by.

Packing up off Wolfsville Road, we navigate the modest 5P traffic through Frederick and Ijamsville, Maryland for our dinner plans.

Wendy and Hannah, 1970 grads of the College of Wooster, Ohio

Wendy and Hannah, 1970 grads of the College of Wooster, Ohio

Arriving at the home of Hannah’s College of Wooster classmate, Wendy and her husband Bill, we are welcomed like long lost friends.  Wendy and Hannah find the forty plus years since they were last together melt away. (While they graduated from this liberal arts college in Ohio, I lasted just three years there and graduated from the Harvard of the West – Arizona State.).  Treated like old friends, we reconnect over wine and cheese, down home dinner, and a mutual interest that allows our stories and theirs to emerge in a soul-satisfying confluence.

We’ll be back again. To both the AT in Maryland and Wendy and Bill’s, you can count on that.