Dan and Hannah are Snowbirds (Yikes)

When Hannah and I were twenty-somethings living in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix metropolitan area), each December we braced for the snowbirds – those retirees, often from Minne-snow-ta, Io-where?, and Nebraska to descend like a plague of locusts, like the Black Death, like 35 pickleballers for three courts!  They would nest and swarm across the Valley.

sum-phoenix

Valley of the Sun with Phoenix at its center

And, was I ever self-righteous!  Silently mocking their clothes, their shapes, and their leisure while I was busting my butt teaching elementary school students.  I was Smug with a capital S.   I’m not proud of that now; in fact, embarrassed.  Can you tell that I’m trying to cleanse my soul with these admissions?

And then, what do you know?  Now that Hannah and I have retired, we are sheepishly thinking of joining the flock of our white-feathered brethren somewhere warm ourselves.   Order me a big slice of humble pie (with four and twenty black and snow white birds).

For the past three years to prepare to join the pasty flock from the North, we’ve traveled to California each January for a fortnight of hiking.   Last year we also spent some of February in southern Utah as well as a few days back in Arizona.

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Jasmine Cottage

Doing the VRBO (i.e., Vacation Rental by Owner) thing in California, we have rented the three-bedroom Jasmine Cottage in Summerland, 400 yards up the hillside above the Pacific Ocean; it’s just south of Santa Barbara and 85 miles north of Los Angeles.  California offers me an alternative to the indoor winter routine and its punishing cold and dark.

With pickleball in nearby Santa Barbara, we have the local coastal Santa Ynez Mountains for hiking.  San Luis Obispo is just a hundred miles to the north, with hiking at nearby Montana de Oro State Park.  With the state parks of Big Sur three to four hours away, we are living the snowbirds’ dream.

For me, this whole “California” thing had its roots during my high school years in the mid-60s in New Jersey.  Who was cooler than the Beach Boys for surfing wannabes like myself?

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In time, megabands like California’s Spanky and Our Gang and the Mamas and Papas rose to the top of my hit parade.  The Mamas and Papas classic California Dreamin’ worked its way into my heart, my soul, and my belief that there was something better than New Jersey.  No offense, Garden Staters.   When times were tough for me, I could always escape to California in my mind.  And once I conceive an idea, action soon follows full speed ahead.  After college, I took my first teaching job in Anaheim, California.

Three years ago, Summerland was where we first started hiking in California.    Thanks to Hannah’s friend Rose, we walked the beach at Summerland to warm up our hiking muscles.   Who knew three years later we’d been spending a month overlooking that very beach?  Click here for that Summerland Beach blog.

summerland-painting

Summerland is a hillside community of less than 1500 where there is no mail delivery (i.e., just general delivery at the local post office).   With no super markets, we can drive to Trader Joe’s five miles up The 101 highway to Santa Barbara. On coastal bluffs, Summerland has an average high temperature of 65F in January, the same for February, and 66F for March.   Is it any wonder that this temperate climate draws snowbirds aplenty to the “American Rivera?”

In the 1880s, Real estate speculator H.L. Williams founded the town of Summerland, divided the land into 25’ x 60’ plots (i.e., postage stamps) for his fellow Spiritualists. (Spiritualists believe that the spirits of the dead can communicate with living people.)  The spiritual center of the town was a Spiritualist Church, with a séance room, later demolished when The 101 was constructed in the 1950s; Summerland was once referred to as “Spookville.”

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Our first night, a Summerland sunset

In the 1890s, oil development began in Summerland with wooden oil derricks constructed on the beach and on piers stretching into the ocean.  In January 1969, a blowout at an offshore oil field platform caused the infamous Santa Barbara Oil Spill.  Unfortunately, a recent spill from an oil pipeline is currently fouling the local beach.  Fortunately, we have sandy alternatives nearby in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

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Along the one mile Ortega Hill Loop in Summerland

During our first week here, we walk each morning.  One morning we happen upon the Ortega Hill Loop overlooking the pacific not ten minutes walk from our cottage. Along the trail are workout stations.   Can you guess what this one to the right is for?  (Answer below.)

sum-sum-cafe

And one more thing from the Handbook of Snowbirds – Never complain about the days when it rains or when there is a nip in the morning air.  The sympathy meter will point to zero by your family and friends up North who have two more months of roof raking, snowy roads, and cabin fever, while you are California Dreamin’.

Answer: Body stretcher for your back

Dan and Hannah are Taking a Bite Out of Winter in California

Are you looking for the bathroom? the young flight attendant asks me.  It is just the kind of question that I could expect on any airline, but I quickly gather her subtext.

FD VA plane

Let me back up.  For a third January in a row, Hannah and I are taking to the airways for California to escape Maine’s single digit morning lows, the dark that comes with 415P sunsets, and the snow without end Amen.

Flying from Logan Airport in Boston, we have a six hour non-stop flight to LAX (Los Angeles) for our nearly two weeks in the Golden State.  Packed into a tight space on our Virgin America flight, we are in the air for about the time it will take to play today’s two NFL wild card games.

FD inflight bathroom

Before we take off, the head flight attendant informs us that the front bathroom is for first class (two rows with eight people total) and the two back bathrooms are for those in coach (eighteen rows x six across equaling 108 people).  A crimson velvet theater rope protects first class passengers from the unwashed behind them.

From seat 18C

From seat 18C

Some people wear compression stockings to improve their circulation when flying cross-country.  Others pay the $100 extra for seats with more leg room.  Hannah and I always get aisle seats across from each other so we can stretch out our legs.  Another cost saving, leg saving measure is that I walk the aisles of the plane each hour.  Hence it is during one such walk heading towards first class that the flight attendant discreetly and sweetly asks her question.

Oh no, I’m just walking the aisle, I say as a relieved expression comes to her face.  Whoa.  I just think how important it is to maintain the sanctity of first class on Richard Branson’s Virgin America Airlines. That said, they are paying $610 per flight more than we are!

BOS to LAX

BOS to LAX

When we fly cross country from East to West we like to leave early in the morning so we land before noon Pacific Time and have the afternoon in the Golden State’s sunshine.  That way, non-larcenously, we steal an afternoon of vacation on this travel day.  To do all this, we awoke at 230A for our 720A flight from Boston, a 62 mile drive to our south.  My friend Bill emails that that “sounds awful.”   Maybe so, but what sounds awful to us is driving 3000 miles in winter to get to California from the East Coast.

Hannah's loft sign in snow

On this still very dark Saturday, light snow falls as we head out Chases Pond Road.

Arriving at Park, Ride, and Fly in Revere, MA, three miles from the airport we park my Hyundai Elantra and wait, and then wait some more for their shuttle to the airport.  One couple grows restless as 5A turns into 525A and no shuttle appears for their 615A flight to the Caribbean.  Hannah and I still have two hours to our Virgin America flight but do wonder where the shuttle is.

FD park ride and fly

Among the ten of us waiting, a thirty-something professional woman says, I’m getting a Uber ride if anyone wants to join me.  I jump at the chance and think I’ve got to get with it and get my Uber on.  While we wait for her Uber the eleven person shuttle arrives with its driver, a wise-cracking combination Matt Damon/Ben Affleck (think Good Will Hunting) Southie driver.  He takes nothing personally about the delays, encourages us all, and good-naturedly jokes.  Though we had to wait, I tip him enthusiastically in my little effort to support the joyful among us.

FD D and H with DD

With two hours til flight time, Hannah and I celebrate in the predawn Terminal B thanks to Molly and Tip and our friend Mandy.  You see Molly and Tip bought us a $5 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card while Mandy dropped off morning glory muffins from Beach Pea in Kittery, Maine.  In the predawn dark we munch and sip regally.

FD VA tv

Once seated in row 18, I have a first world problem.  No ESPN on the seat back TV.  A true soldier of the sky, I somehow survive.  We love us our non-stop flights.   In the past, we have “saved” money flying flights with connections and ended up in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport for hours!  Though drinks are all they offer for free, my orange juice goes well with my homemade peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiches.

I settle into flipping between MSNBC, CNN, and TBS with Seinfeld reruns.  Two hours into our flight I check the video map of the flight.  We are flying at 450 mph over Michigan at 36,000’ at -78 degrees.  Thanks to the prevailing Westerlies, we will fly 582 mph when coming from West to East at the end of our trip.

Heading to southern California, we will have 50 more minutes of daylight than we do on a comparable winter day in Maine.

At the local Summerland, CA gas station

At the local Summerland, CA gas station

Our plan once we arrive at LAX near 11A PT is to get our Fox Rent-A-Car and drive 100 miles north on the coast on the 101 to our first night’s lodging at the Quality Inn in Santa Barbara.  Immediately we notice the difference in gas prices from the East Coast.  This morning in Maine gas cost $1.97/gallon.  With gas prices often a dollar more in California we learn that the refinery in California that produces the less polluting gas California requires is working at less than full capacity.  Hence the higher prices.  You go California!

Jasmine Cottage 200 yards above the Pacific Ocean

The VRBO Jasmine Cottage 200 yards above the Pacific Ocean in Summerland, CA

But there is more than bluff hiking and winter escaping on our minds.  We are looking to see if renting a house through VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) in nearby Summerland, CA (four miles south of Santa Barbara) for the month of February in 2017 is in the cards.  Our plan is to rent a home so family and friends can visit for a long weekend or a school vacation week.

After two previous January trips to California, we are hooked on its bluff trails, its mountains, and its sunshine as we start a fortnight of California Dreamin’.

Dan and Hannah Fly West to do some California Dreamin’

ah california dreamin mamas and papas

The winter of 2013-2014 in New England has been a nasty cold one, specifically on the coast of Maine.  We’ve shoveled more snow and endured more days with wind chills below zero than we would choose.  You got to be thinking, For crying out loud, you live in Maine, Mr. and Mrs. Wimp!  True, but…

Our backyard in York, Maine

Our backyard in York, Maine

One cold December morning while I am having coffee and a bran muffin at the Crumb, our local cafe, with our friends Scott and Tree, they mention that they are leaving town for three months.  Wanting to be outside more than they can be in the frozen tundra of York, Maine, they are renting a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) house on the northern coast of California; they ask Hannah and me to be their guests.

With the seed planted, I start exploring the solar system of cost.  I find that Jet Blue has little penalty for flying from Boston to Los Angeles and then home from San Francisco to Boston.  In fact, we two can go non-stop cross country for around $630.  You must notice that the planets are beginning to align.

planets 2

Then Venus steps into view when I learn that Fox Rent-A-Car charges one third what every other national chain charges.  Can you believe we can rent a compact car for $136 with unlimited miles for nine days to drive the coast of California!

Finally Mars appears as we can park Hannah’s Honda Civic at the Park, Ride, and Fly lot in Revere, MA, just three miles from Logan Airport for just $100 for nine days.    The round trip from Portsmouth to Boston and back on a C and J Trailways bus costs $46 for each of us!

Awake at 4A on Tuesday, off to the airport by 5A, we are ready for our six hour flight to Los Angeles that, with the time change, will make ours a 27 hour day.

plane at logan

Jet Blue is my airline of choice because of the mini-TVs that face each seat.  As an insufferable channel surfer, I get six hours of The Dan Patrick Show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, How I Met Your Mother, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.  TV Dan is flying high!

The Dan Patrick Show

The Dan Patrick Show

Do you know what the modern airline gives you to eat for a six hour flight in 2014?  Not much.  Some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and about eight mini-chocolate chip cookies.  C’est toute.  Knowing this we bring half of last night’s Subway subs for our lunch.  I eat mine at 830A!

dunkin coffee and cookies

It’s cramped; it’s long; but for $315 Hannah and I will be in Los Angeles before noon.  Our friends Scott and Tree rocked a road trip for six days to cross the country.

Noontime temperature in the City of Angels

Noontime temperature in the City of Angels

We are Saturning it (stick with me with the planets are aligned metaphor) at LAX.  The shuttle for the Fox Rent A Car arrives as we approach.  At Fox, there are six attendants and we get a Toyota Corolla in ten minutes!  Heading 30 miles north on I-405 to The 101 for Agoura Hills, we are two hours before the 3P rush hour begins.  If the planets are not aligned and this isn’t the Age of Aquarius, I don’t know what is!

LA traffic

With, for California, manageable traffic, we arrive at Rose and Mike’s by 115P.  You do the math.  We leave York in the predawn on the East coast and in the early afternoon we are ready to hike in the hills near Los Angeles.

Not ten miles from their place, off The 101  Rose and Mike take us on an hour hike in the drought ravaged hills in the LA basin.  This winter the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada is just 12% of normal.  Trouble with a capital T lies ahead.

D and H at Cheeseboro trail sign

Pairing off in twos, we hike on the Cheeseboro Palo Canyon Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area that we share with mountain bikers.

cheese trail 1

Rose goes back 20 years with Hannah when they worked together for the Visiting Nurses Association in Portsmouth, NH.  For two years, they laughed together, cried together, and had the best time any employees could have.  They pick up like old friends, like sisters would.

Hannah and Rose leading the way

Hannah and Rose leading the way

The steady climb of the Cheeseboro Trail

The steady climb of the Cheeseboro Palo Canyon Trail

The face of drought in California

The face of drought in California

Back at their place at the end of the day, we look over the canyon from their deck with a glass of wine.  I swear I see Jupiter rising above the horizon!

canyon view

I have known Rose as Hannah’s friend, but until hiking today I never had really spent any time just talking to Mike.  Married later in life, Rose and Mike have to come to California and made a fine life for themselves.  But today I get the underlying reason why Rose digs Mike.

Mike and Rose

Mike and Rose

Though Mike is energetic and passionate in everything that he does…  Though he has a childlike joy of life and an adventurous spirit…  Today I see that it is his kindness and his genuine caring of her that carries the day.

The planets truly are aligning.

Dan and Hannah Discover Killington, VT Thanks to Groupon

Ever been a little bit skeptical about Internet deals?  We’ve been.

VRBO

VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) was one such deal.  But we gave it a shot and rented a house in Virginia for a weekend family reunion.   There was no catch and no gotcha.  The Family Rothermel had a fabulous weekend in large part due to the home where we stayed.

Groupon

Groupon?  Its website offers daily specials, often vacations, for a discount.  Our daughter Molly has successful weekended through Groupon so we decide to give it a shot.

Killington, Vermont

Killington, Vermont

Offered two nights at the North Star Lodge in Killington, VT in October or November, before the ski season, we find that sounds perfect for our plans for a couple’s retreat.  Focusing on our marriage by journaling and talking together in a setting away from home, we think this an ideal “getaway.”  With rain in the forecast, we won’t be able to hike and will have plenty of time inside to journal and talk as a couple.

Couples Retreat

Couples Retreat

At $109, our North Star room seems just a little pricey until we see what they throw in to sweeten the deal.

North Star Lodge with Killington Mountain in the background

North Star Lodge with Killington Mountain in the background

We get a $40 voucher each night towards any meal we would like or two lobster dinners.  Now, you may wonder as we did, maybe the meal is $100 and the $40 is a mere token.   A family member told us of a time when he and his wife went on a Groupon and their voucher paid for basically two-thirds of one meal.   But we’ll never know, will we? until we try it out.

And that’s not all.   We get breakfast vouchers for each of us each morning.   Easily worth $40 total ($10 per breakfast), which makes it quite a $109 package per night, wouldn’t you say?

G VT sign

Ever been to Killington, VT?  Coming from our daughter Robyn’s in Cazenovia, NY, we drive through Rutland, VT on Route 4; ten miles later the Killington Road is there on our right.

G North Star entrance

From the outside, the North Star Lodge looks like condos quickly built during the 1980s building boom.   Our room has a queen bed, room to walk around in, a two section bathroom (small sink in one area, shower and toilet in the other), and believe it or not a 15” bulldog of a TV from, you guessed it, the 1980s.

The room is fine, not luxurious.  We don’t need luxurious for our couple’s retreat on this Wednesday and Thursday in mid-October.  It’s serviceable and not 1950s depressing.  It’s not depressing at all, just not fancy.

So far so good and no gotcha.

Killington loves their hay bale art.  These are everywhere.

Escargot

Escargot

I have gone to the Internet to find couples retreat questions to write about as we think about our marriage.

  1. Do you have enough quality and quantity time?
  2. What are we most proud of in our marriage?
  3. What two things would improve your marriage?
  4. What should we do more together?
  5. What do you enjoy most about me as a spouse?
  6. How can we deepen our physical relationship?
  7. What three romantic dates can we plan for the coming year?

But our retreat is for tomorrow and now it’s on to our Groupon dinner.

Charity’s is the restaurant where we can use our dinner voucher, and it is a mile down the Killington Road toward the mountain.  It’s off season now in October and the restaurant is half-filled.

G Charity's

It’s a classic ski pub.  Young, shaggy, athletic dudes at the bar, some with dates, some not.  It has a dark interior with a log cabin feel with many booths.   Tonight is pasta night.  Specials starting at $12.95.  Two times that is well below our allotted $40.

My chicken parmesan (fine) and Hannah’s shrimp dijonaisse over bowtie pasta (superb) mean we have $14 still to blow.  I with a side salad and Hannah with carrot cake get us close to our $ limit.

Two things with these Groupons.  One, we must pay the state meals tax (no biggie) and two, what is left over on the voucher does not go to the waitress.   Tips are paid separately (understandable).

But that’s not the best part.  As we are being led to our table, I notice the couple in the next booth who are the ones who arrived just before us at the North Star Lodge.

As we pass their table and notice they are just finishing their meals, I comment Aren’t you the folks with the Jersey plates we saw at the North Star?  I explain my Bergen County (northeast Jersey) roots and we hit it off.  They are Grouponers, too.

Bergen County, New Jersey

Bergen County, New Jersey

We plan to meet tomorrow for a meal

And the next morning we breakfast together.  Meeting Len and Joyce breaks down the isolation that motels can foster; in contrast, B and Bs have us interacting like we love to do.

G D at Butternut Inn

Breakfasting and dining with Len and Joyce, we find them both interested and interesting.  Lives in Jersey are the focus of our conversation.

It’s funny the turnaround Jersey has made.  When I was growing up in the 1960s, New Jersey was the butt of late night TV jokes.  The smells from oil refineries and hog farms in Newark when driving on the Jersey Turnpike became what the rest of the country thought of as New Jersey.

Now it’s a badge of honor to be a Jersey Boy or Jersey Girl.

Queen Latifah, Jersey Girl

Queen Latifah, Jersey Girl

Bruce Springsteen, Jersey Boy

Bruce Springsteen, Jersey Boy

I’m sure Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Queen Latifah, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Jack Nicholson, Dan and Jean Rothermel, Dionne Warwick, Victor Cruz, Danny DeVito, Michael Douglas, and Meryl Streep have something to do with it.

Breakfasts at the Buttermilk Inn are $12 to $14.  Seem expensive?  Not for us Groupon holders.   Again, the meal is huge and there are no catches.  Our skepticism of Groupons has faded away.

Hannah Knows Breakfast

Hannah Knows Breakfast

For $12 we get a meal skiers would love: two eggs, two pancakes (blueberry if you want and good size), two pieces of bacon, two pieces of sausage, orange juice, and coffee or tea.  If not that, their omelets are loaded with meat or veggies and a mound of home fries.

King Arthur's Camelot

King Arthur’s Camelot

It turns out Killington is Camelot (i.e., it only rains at night, or at least when we are here.)  So rather than journaling in the lodge this Thursday, we succumb to our trail DNA and are off to hike the Appalachian Trail to Thundering Falls.  Instead of journaling, we’ll talk about our marriage on the trail.

Playing Hooky on the Appalachian Trail

Playing Hooky on the Appalachian Trail

Flexibility!  One hallmark of a good marriage.