Route 66 Trip – Day 2

Day 2 on the road brought more rain, more photo ops and good food. The four of us love Guy Fieri’s Diners, Dives and Drive-In’s, and luckily, Route 66 is dotted with places he recommends.

We started our day at Charlie Parker’s in Springfield,IL for breakfast. Randy and Mike both ordered The Breakfast Shoe – full of eggs and hash browns and bacon – and they split their meals with Cathy and me. Pretty yum. Triple D never steers us wrong.

From there, we made a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. It comes as no surprise that this is one of the best Civil War libraries in the country, and I’ll have to remember that for future book research.

Driving through Mitchell,IL, Cathy read us a little tidbit about the Luna Cafe from one of our guidebooks. Frequented by Al Capone, the story goes that when the maraschino cherry in the martini glass of the sign was lit, there were “ladies” ready to make the evening more enjoyable…

Mike liked the “TV” sign at a very decrepit – but still in business – nearby no tell motel…

A kitschy roadside store with outdoor and indoor sculptures was our next stop, in Pacific, MO.

Cuba, MO brought a lot of pretty wall murals, a bakery that had no bakery (much to our dismay), an old gas station that was repurposed into a very cool restaurant – The Fourway (at a busy four way intersection), and a very cute stone cottage motel – The Wagon Wheel – that is still in operation. Unfortunately, it was too early for us to camp out for the night, so we didn’t stay there.

Our second Guy Fieri meal of the day was at Wilder’s Restaurant in Joplin – steak that was so good!

And we lucked out and found a true Route 66 vintage motel for the night – all of the rooms were restored to 1949. No TVs in the room – but neat old radios to lull us to sleep…

Route 66 Trip – Day 1

After a year of planning, our Route 66 trip is underway. Long a bucket-list trip for our friend Mike, we invested in lots of books and maps for the historic route, and Mike gladly spent lots of time plotting out the best attractions, what towns not to miss, etc. Randy and Mike are both 66 this year, so it’s the right year to make the trip. Cathy and I are just along as eye candy…

We decided to rent a car in Chicago, where Route 66 begins. We hoped to rent a vintage car, but that proved to be a challenge (and really, what vintage car could drive 2000+ miles and through the desert without breaking down?). So a 2019 Nissan Pathfinder it is! Mike was disappointed, so Randy and I bought him some vintage car tchotchkes to hang from the rear view mirror to help with the atmosphere…

After we picked up our Pathfinder and parked our personal car at a long-term lot, we were off to our first of a string of Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives restaurants – this one was Big & Little’s in downtown Chicago. Delicious.

After fueling up, it was time to find the OFFICIAL START of Route 66 in downtown Chicago.

As we drove along 66 out of Chicago (aka I-55?) we saw a sign for the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Could HE be buried there? Of course we know he is not buried there. But…we veered off the road anyway and found a beautiful Veteran’s Cemetery.

Next stop was Wilmington, IL – home of the Gemeni Giant (aka Rocket Man – cue Elton John…). We stopped in at The Launching Pad and had some ice cream and Cathy and I each bought a 2020 Route 66 calendar so we can relive the trip every month next year!

Down the road, we saw a beautifully restored Rambler’s Texaco in Dwight, IL (not currently in operation though).

Continuing our Route 66 journey, we came across a restored Standard Station in Odell – this one was open and served as a tourist and trinket shop for Route 66 fans. We also seemed to be stopping at the same places as a large group of French-speaking (France? Quebec Province?) motorcycle-riding couples were enjoying their own Route 66 trip.

Pontiac, IL is known as Mural City, and they had some really cool murals that we loved – also a huge Route 66 mural with a staging pad in front of it so you could park your car (or just stand there) for a photo op. Some people there ahead of us had vintage 1940’s pickup trucks and their photo op was awesome. But EVERYONE was in awe when we pulled in our Nissan Pathfinder for our photo op. Jealousy is SO unattractive, people…!

We tried to be true to the Route 66 road, but there are areas where it has not been maintained, and it fades into grass. Other times Route 66 closely parallels a bypass or state highway – you can see in the picture below that we are on 66, and the freeway is just to our left…

Did someone say they wanted to see another giant? Well, here is the Bunyan Giant in Atlanta, IL! And how about the size of that hot dog he’s holding!?!?

As the day turned to dusk, we visited one more giant – this time, Abe in a Wagon.

For dinner, a Guy Fieri-inspired corn dog and awesome fries at the Cozy Dog in Springfield.

A fun first day! Many more to come – we are still in Illinois, and we have to make it to LA by Friday, May 10 where we are catching a sleeper car train back to Chicago.

When I Retire…I (One)

One of the many things I told myself I would do WIR (When I Retire) is yeast baking. I have always had a conflicted history with yeast (and pie crusts, but that’s another WIR and blog entry…). So I signed up for a course on making croissants and cinnamon rolls (with croissant dough) at our local Lake Mills coffee shop and bakery – Water House Foods.

Shawn Rediske, owner and baker/chef extraordinaire, taught the class to 15 of us fledgling pastry chefs. He showed us how to make the intricate, buttery croissant dough, which layers an entire brick of butter within the yeast/flour dough – folded over several times – cooled to rise – then rolled out and folded again. Repeat 1-3 more times (depending on how much time you have – but the more you roll and rise and fold the dough, the flakier and buttery-er it will taste.)

Once the dough was prepared, we divided it into three sections, and Shawn demonstrated how to make crescent-shaped croissants (savory and plain) with one portion, almond bear claws with another portion of the buttery dough, and finally the showstopper – cinnamon rolls.

OMG, the SMELLS in that kitchen! Even a pinch of the yeasty dough smelled terrific (and yes, TASTED terrific, because of course we all sneaked a taste or two throughout the afternoon). We worked in teams of three, and we all got to take home the items we made. What a fun afternoon! If you live near Lake Mills, Wisconsin (conveniently situated between Madison and Milwaukee on the I94 corridor), I highly recommend one of the many cooking classes offered by Water House Foods!

Look Ma! I made these!!

A Life Well-Lived

The last few days in England have been a Celebration of Life for our friend Jonathan. He would have loved the daily gathering of friends and family at his Mum’s house. The family from Italy that spoke little English (but he had known since childhood). The couple he met in Morocco last summer with his Mum and sister, one of the last times he had the strength to travel (Jonathan and Harry bonded over their respective oxygen tanks). Childhood friends from Shackleford, where he grew up. Former flat mates of his sister, who loved him ferociously. Friends he made in America (several of us flew over, not just The Lake Mills, WI contingent). His brother and son; sister and daughters. Many aunts, uncles and cousins.

The weekend was filled with tributes to Jonathan, many funny stories, and toasts with never-ending bottles of Prosecco. His Mum entertained dozens in her flat Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A beautiful memorial service was offered on Saturday at St. James the Less in Pimlico, with the Salvation Army band playing beautiful music and various family members and friends doing readings or tributes, including a well-rehearsed and beautifully-delivered John:1-6 by his ten-year-old nephew, and the poem He is Gone, bravely and clearly read by his eight-year-old niece. I don’t think there was a dry eye at St. James the Less at that point.

Throughout these days of remembrance, Jonathan’s love for life, and really, his love for everyone he ever met, shone through. When you talked to Jonathan, he gave you his full attention. His eyes were on you, not darting around the room looking for the next distraction. You left a ten minute conversation feeling like you were best friends, even if you had truly only met ten minutes ago. His smile would light up a room, his dimples on full display; his eyes brimming with mischief, and you could only imagine the trouble his childhood self must have caused. Boundless energy and enthusiasm for new ideas. He was a magnet in every room he entered. How can he not be here with us anymore??

If These Walls Could Speak…

Day Two in London took us to the heart of the Parliament district. We hopped on our beloved Red Double-Decker #24 (beloved, most likely, because it stops about a half block from our hotel!), and enjoyed a partially sunny day with spring-like temperatures. We spent lots of time enjoying the Parliament and Westminster Abbey buildings, taking lots of photos like all good tourists do.

We got a glimpse of The Eye – London’s famous Ferris wheel – peaking from behind a building that intrigued us with its gothic-meets-modern-meets-industrial architecture. Eli was busy snapping photos with his “good camera” (a few steps up from my iPhone X), so I stopped to take a picture of the photographer as well!

Next stop was Borough Market, an open air market that Randy had visited with Jonathan’s sister last December. We could have spent hours there, visiting all of the vendors. Alas, because most of the wares were food, and our tiny hotel fridge does not hold much, we contented ourselves with samples, fragrant drinks (the wassail booth with several pots of simmering fragrant deliciousness pulled us to it like a strong magnet), and then, because we are from The Cheese State of Wisconsin, we sampled and bought some wonderful British cheese (don’t know what it was though…).

Did somebody say “beer?” Across the street from Borough Market to a pub we went, to slake our thirst with another trio of British IPAs…and then across the street again to The Black and Blue to enjoy another round and some much-needed food (to balance all of our beer consumption) from the outdoor patio (yes, the weather was that nice!).

Our trusty #24 did not go to Borough Market, so there were quite a few tube rides during our adventures. Thank goodness Eli thought to get international service for his phone for this trip, so he has been our lifesaver finding the right Tube lines and looking up directions.

At last, we found ourselves back in “our neighborhood” and had one final round at our favorite The Cask (sure to be a daily stop while we are here). I can honestly say that I have not had so much to drink on a daily basis since college! But with eating and miles of walking, it can be done with no ill effects!

Our evening was spent with Jonathan’s lovely family and some friends, and lots of laughing provided by the antics of nieces and nephews. Jonathan’s youngest niece insisted that Randy read her a bedtime story…but lost interest after Page 2…a blow to Randy’s performer heart!!

No Need for Tylenol PM

Yesterday, we left for a long-awaited trip to London. Our dear friend Jonathan, only 43, passed away unexpectedly in December, and this weekend is his memorial service, hosted by his British family in London, where he grew up.

We left Lake Mills, WI (home) around 4pm, picked up our friend Eli and headed to Chicago O’Hare airport for a 9pm flight. Poor Eli had been up since 2am that morning. He was visiting family in Arizona – had an early morning flight to Wisconsin, and had one hour after finally getting to his home in Lake Mills to unpack from Arizona and repack for London before we picked him up.

We joked that Eli would have no problem sleeping through most of the seven hour flight to London, being as sleep-deprived as he already was.

Of course, sleeping on a transatlantic flight is never as easy as it seems. The three of us had fitful 20-minute naps on and off, but we hardly felt that we had had a “good night’s sleep” once we landed at Gatwick.

But, we had arrived at last!! Since our plans were to see Jonathan’s family the second day of our arrival, we spent the first day taking the Gatwick Express (train) to Victoria Station and then trying to walk to our hotel with all of our luggage from there. Billed as a “short 9-minute walk from Victoria Station to the Melita,” we realized that didn’t account for being encumbered with suitcases whose wheels grabbed and settled into every crack in the pavement, leaving Victoria Station from the wrong exit and having to walk around the complex to find “Start,” and a general silliness that only a lack of sleep will provide. We made sure to take note of which buses seemed to follow our path to the Melita (London red double-decker Line 24!) so that when we make our way back to Victoria Station and the Gatwick Express to start our journey home to the states on Monday, it will be by bus and not on foot!

Eventually, we found our way to the Melita and brought our luggage up a few flights of narrow Victorian stairs to our room, with the help of one of the hotel staffers. The beds looked VERY inviting to these sleep-deprived travelers, but NO!! We were not going to waste our first of only four days in London by napping off our jet lag! So we set out to explore our temporary neighborhood (restaurants and shops everywhere!) and ended up eating at The Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico, where we proceeded to have several beers to wash down our lunch.

Next, we hopped on that magical Route 24 red double-decker London bus and commandeered the top deck front window seats to see a bit of London from our high perch (something Randy had done with Jonathan when he visited him in early December). They kicked us off of #24 at the end of the line, but luckily we were stopped across from a lovely wine bar, so in we went for a few more beverages and some almond-encrusted goat cheese balls.

Upon emerging from the wine bar, we saw an old friend from the states – yes, her name was STARBUCKS – and since Eli and I can never say no to her…another beverage was enjoyed (albeit non-alcoholic this time!).

We hopped back on #24 for the return trip to the Melita. It was dusk by then, and the lights of the city were beautiful. Back past Parliament, past the Savoy, and Westminster Abbey we traveled – again perched in the front row of the top of the double decker. Beautiful. Magical. London.

At 8:30pm, we arrived close to the hotel. What should we do next? Back to The Cask for more of their expansive offerings of beer? Some nightlife? WE ARE IN LONDON!

Nah. We opted to head back to the Melita and rest our weary heads for the night, so that we would be a bit fresher for the next day. But after all of that beer and wine (WAY more than this girl normally drinks in a day!), no one was in need of Tylenol PM to sleep!

The Start of the Next Round

What do you think of when you imagine retirement? Sleeping in – tackling that to-list – getting to all of those things “when I retire…” Golfing, traveling, quilting, volunteering. The sky is the limit. It’s going to be SO GREAT! I can’t WAIT to retire! I worked all of these years and now it’s RETIREMENT!!!!!

Well, the reality of retirement – at least at first – is not quite as ideally perfect as we imagined it would be for the last 20 years of working. You feel a bit aimless. Purposeless. Not very productive. Sure, you have a to-do list. But the deadlines are pretty iffy on most of those projects – not like at work, where deadlines meant business. After retirement, the garage SHOULD be cleaned today. But it COULD be cleaned tomorrow. And no one would be the worse if it got cleaned next week, or…

So – I guess this is my way of presenting to you that I am finally retired! And a bit adrift. It’s only been a little over a month, and in that time I did some traveling with my husband (he’s an actor and a financial advisor – yes, they are two separate things!) We went to the East Coast for four shows he was performing in – Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Living in Wisconsin, we couldn’t wait to get to the east coast and have some CHOWDER!

Clam chowder on our first night in Massachusetts. It was delicious!

Halfway through that trip, Randy walked off the front of the stage during a performance and broke seven ribs and his shoulder. Randy performs a one-man show on Winston Churchill. He’s fantastic in this role, and over the years, he has “grown” into a pretty close physical likeness of Mr. Churchill. More on life with Winston Churchill in a later post…

Needless to say, the remaining shows were canceled and the next few days were spent in the hospital (Randy) and an extended stay at the Holiday Inn Downtown in Concord, NH (me). And so, the first few weeks of retirement have been spent traveling, coming home sooner than expected, and ferrying Randy to the doctor and PT once we got home. He’s ok – feeling better each day – but broken ribs are no fun.

So…about that sleeping in part… Retirement is not yet overly productive, but it sure is nice to sleep in!