Posted in Home Leave, Iceland

Things You Miss in Transit

It’s been three months since we were in Arizona on home leave. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you probably caught my post about our visit to the Pima Air & Space Museum in late July and how I’d been inspired to visit there ever since watching one of my favorite ’80s teen movies, Can’t Buy Me Love.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I was clicking through an online article from Entertainment Weekly about the stars we’d lost in 2015…and I saw Amanda Peterson’s beautiful face shining out at me. Apparently she’d died of a drug overdose one short week before we’d arrived in Tucson, and I’d never even heard about it.

For some reason, her passing makes me incredibly sad. I’d loved her in that film and her other characters in movies like Annie, Explorers, and Listen to Me. She hadn’t acted since 1994, had two children and was twice divorced. When she died, she was only 43, receiving disability benefits and living alone in an apartment in Greeley, Colorado. That too makes me sad.

I guess I will have to agree with the statement that Patrick Dempsey made when he heard of her death. “In my memory, she will always be vibrant and young.”  I wish you much rest and peace, Amanda Peterson.

cant-buy-me-love
Amanda Peterson movie still 1987.
Posted in Home Leave

Friends & the Kitt Peak Observatory

We had three more great visits with people in the last couple weeks. One of my best friends from eighth and ninth grade in Alaska lives in Arizona, so we met up with her and her daughter for dinner at a nearby Cheesecake Factory. I hadn’t seen her since the mid-‘80s, so it was great to see her and do some catching up.

Another girlfriend that was my roommate the first two years that I lived in Florida is here in AZ with her family and lives near Phoenix. They were kind enough to load up the family and drive almost two hours to spend the day with us.

We’d only recently found each other on Facebook, so we also had lots of fun catching up to do and had a blast meeting each other’s families. She has two young kids, and one of them is a little boy about our son’s age, so we all had pizza for lunch, spent some time in the swimming pool, and watched the boys play Lego Marvels. Probably the most fun our son has had while on home leave.

My cousin DK also came out from California for a week. We hadn’t seen her since our wedding, and she hadn’t met A yet, so we all chilled and shopped and BBQ’d and swam…and even managed to get in a trip up to the Kitt Peak Observatory.

Kitt Peak is a little over an hour drive from northern Tucson. It was supposed to be 106F in town, so we were looking forward to some cooler temperatures up at 7,000 feet. I hadn’t thought about the sun though and got a nice sun burn on my chest that quickly welted into heat rash…ugh.

But we got to see a few of the telescopes, and caught the last 30 minutes available for solar viewing, which was really neat. I’d never viewed the sun through a telescope before. They had two different set ups…one to see the solar flares and one to see sun spots. It was pretty amazing. A fun final family adventure in Tucson…and with that…our home leave has ended. See you all in Reykjavik!!11822746_10153324960867891_2222049274617217006_n

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Posted in Home Leave

The Airplane Graveyard

…aka the Pima Air & Space Museum and the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The first time I heard of this place was while watching Can’t Buy Me Love with Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson back in 1987. That was one of my all-time favorite high school movies, and I’ve wanted to visit the Airplane Graveyard ever since.

Scene from "Can't Buy Me Love" - Sneaking over the wall (internet photo).
Scene from “Can’t Buy Me Love” – Sneaking over the wall (internet photo).
Admiring a plane salvaged from the sea (internet photo).
Admiring a plane supposedly salvaged from the sea (internet photo).
I believe this is a  Grumman F-4 Panther (internet photo).
I believe this is a Grumman F-4 Panther (internet photo).

Surprisingly, most of that date scene wasn’t actually shot at the Boneyard, it was filmed at what was then called Bob’s Air Park. “Bob” has since passed away, and most of the yard was purchased by K-Tech Aviation that continues to recycle old aircraft and sell them for parts.

The difference between the recycler and the Boneyard is that the recycler is completely private, and the Boneyard is run by the Air Force as official government storage. The planes are also in much better shape in the Boneyard.

The story Patrick Dempsey’s character tells about pilots reminiscing over salvaged planes from the bottom of the sea or gazing at charismatic aircraft riddled with bullet holes…those planes would probably not have been found in the gov’t storage but over at the recycler.

A T-37 Tweet on "Celebrity Row" with a bunch of Boeing C-135s in the background.
A T-37 Tweet on “Celebrity Row” with a bunch of Boeing C-135s in the background.
A few rows of the massive C-5 Galaxies.
A few rows of the massive C-5 Galaxies.
Driving by K-Tech on the way back from the Boneyard.
Driving by K-Tech on the way back from the Boneyard.

Not sure how you go about visiting K-Tech. But you can take a nice air-conditioned bus tour of the Boneyard if you book it through the Air & Space Museum, which we did. The prices weren’t bad at all…$7 for adults and $4 for kids.

Entry to the museum was also $7 for adults and free for kids, and they had a huge selection of planes from all different eras and had some that the kids could crawl in. Obviously the ones on the base were only military, and we weren’t allowed to get off the bus. The museum also had a nice display on “Women in Aviation” and a hanger dedicated to space exploration.

Me by an F-4.
Me by an F-4.
Air Force One used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961-1965.
Air Force One used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961-1965.
NASA Super Guppy 1965-1995.
NASA Super Guppy 1965-1995.
A model display of the Space Shuttle.
A model display of the Space Shuttle.

I figured we’d be there for a couple hours in the morning. But we (me, hubby, son and grandma) arrived at 9am to avoid the worst of the heat, and the first Boneyard tour wasn’t till 11:30am, and it last for over an hour. A lost interest fairly early on and spent most of the time taking pictures of the imaginary zombies running alongside the bus.

After the tour we were a bit peckish, so we stopped into the museum café called the Flight Grill and had some of the best blue cheese burgers we’ve ever had. A even ate most of his slice of cheese pizza. We didn’t end up leaving until almost 3:00. But it was a day well spent!

N and A checking out the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
N and A checking out the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
A's favorite display...an interactive WWII cockpit.
A’s favorite display…an interactive WWII cockpit.
Cool tri-fin tail on a TWA Lockheed Constellation 1943-1958.
Cool tri-fin tail on a TWA Lockheed Constellation 1943-1958.
Posted in Home Leave

First Week of Home Leave

We arrived in Tucson on a Saturday afternoon…and the airline had already lost all four of our bags between DC and Phoenix. Technically they weren’t lost, they just missed the connection somehow. So they delivered them about 8:00 that night.

My mom picked us up at the airport and drove us to her little condo complex where we’d rented a three-bedroom unit. We figured we were probably gonna die in the 100F+ heat, but so far it hasn’t been too bad. The vacation rental was almost half price compared to their winter rates for obvious reasons, the AC works well, and there’s a pool, gym, and BBQ area, so we’re pretty happy with it so far.

Vacation rental complex with the Catalina Mtns in the background.
Vacation rental complex with the Catalina Mtns in the background.

My mom has been loaning us her car, so we’ve been able to get out and about. We’ve mostly been in chill mode this last week and have been visiting with grandma, relaxing from the trip, and enjoying the giant American grocery stores. Found a frozen yogurt place and visited three times.

On Friday, we had big excitement in the form of a visitor from California! My best friend since childhood, AF, popped out for a long weekend. So we did more of the same while she was here…visiting, BBQing, swimming, going to grocery stores, and eating frozen yogurt. 🙂 We also had a fun girls’ afternoon and had our tootsies painted. Alas, she had to get back to work. But it was so great to see her!

Pedicures from The Art of Nails.
Pedicures from The Art of Nails.

We do have a few touristy things planned while we’re here like the Pima Air & Space Museum, dinosaur museum, children’s museum, Old Tucson Studios and the Kitt Peak Observatory. I wouldn’t mind taking A to see Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest…but the idea of spending hours in the car is far from relaxing.

I also need to get my driver’s license renewed at some point, since I’ve hit my limit on annual overseas extensions, and it will finally expire this year. But for now it’s just nice to be on vacation. 🙂

Posted in Home Leave

Shopping with My Inner Child

Travel is obviously my favorite thing in the world, or I would probably find a nice quiet job somewhere in the States. I am ecstatic about us moving to Iceland, but I’m also aware that we will have fewer travel opportunities due to its isolation and how small the country is.

With that in mind, I’ve been prepping for three years at a small post and doing some online shopping while on home leave. Since we’ve practically reached our weight limit for shipping, we’ve forgone such things as multiple sets of winter tires for the car and will just have to buy them at post. The cheap craigslist patio furniture will now be purchased at Ikea in country, etc.

But there are a few things that I am still determined to get here and either stuff into our UAB or get into one tiny supplemental HHE shipment, even though we’ll probably have to pay for part of it.

There are three things in particular that I think will greatly improve our activity levels during both the summer and winter that also make my inner child giddy and happy. Because these are items that either I haven’t had since I was 12 years old…or I’ve wanted since then. 🙂

So here are my big purchases for home leave this year:

1. Bicycle

bike
Huffy Deluxe 26″ Ladies’ Cruiser Bike

2. Telescope

telescope
Celestron NexStar 130 SLT Computerized Telescope

3. Digital Piano

piano
Suzuki Classroom Digital Teaching Piano

And there you have it. I see lots of bike riding with the family on the long summer weekends. I can share and improve my amateur love of astronomy. And I can start teaching A how to play piano while getting back into practice myself. I think these will all be excellent investments!

Posted in Home Leave

Good Morning USA

After my slightly whiny last post, we have officially wrapped up our two-year tour in London and returned to the US for training and home leave. The last couple of weeks were really lovely, and I’m happy that I got to spend some quality time with our best local friends and some great ladies in my office outside of work. We’ve had lunches, dinners, a BBQ and one last summer picnic in Hyde Park.

Our embassy driver picked us up four hours before our flight to compensate for Monday morning rush-hour traffic. So we got to Heathrow in plenty of time and didn’t have to rush. The flight over was an American Airlines code share operated by British Airways, so that was awesome. BA is so much nicer than AA, if I do say so. And we were on an Airbus 380-800, which is the massive two-story number that also happens to be the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft.

Here’s a shot of the THREE jetways leading to our plane…

British Airways Airbus 380.
British Airways Airbus 380.

Our son was a little restless now and then, but he didn’t have any screaming meltdowns on the eight-hour flight or at any other part of the day. And I also got to watch three WHOLE movies because BA lets you start your in-flight entertainment the minute you sit down and continues it until 20 minutes after landing. So that and a couple complimentary glasses of wine made for a very pleasant trip.

AND we actually managed to get a two-bedroom apartment in corporate housing! So it was a pretty great day overall. It’s funny being back in the States though, DC in particular, with the big cars and the American Colonial architecture that looks like something out of a theme-park to me at the moment.

But it’s nice to be “home” where things are just a tiny bit easier and you can plug your appliances directly into the wall without an adapter. So I will sign off and leave you with this song that I’ve had stuck in my head for the last two days.

Posted in Home Leave, WashingtonDC

End of Home Leave and Beginning of Training

The last two weeks of vacation in Florida flew by. We finally went to Disney World, but we skipped Magic Kingdom in favor of Animal Kingdom. We went on a bus safari and saw lions and elephants and a baby giraffe. We played in fountains, rode on flying dinosaurs, and played in a dino-themed playground. I even won a stuffed turtle for our son at the retro carnival section, and I haven’t won anything at one of those since I got a goldfish at a county fair in Jr. High.

We were even able to cap it all off with family character photos with Goofy, Pluto, Mickey and Minnie. It was a lot of fun (even though A missed his nap and was a monster that evening), and I was really impressed by the amount of detail they put into the décor. But that’s one of the reasons I always liked the country pavilions at Epcot Center. They were so realistic.

Safari vehicle at Animal Kingdom.
Safari vehicle at Animal Kingdom.
Baby giraffe and family.
Baby giraffe and family.
Elephant and tree.
Elephant and tree.
Wall detail in the Asian deer enclosure.
Wall detail in the Asian deer enclosure.

We also spent a few hours at Old Town in Kissimmee. My hubby went on both the Vomitron and the largest sling shot in the world (over 200 feet high). I, on the other hand, got motion sick on the teacups and had to get off the ride.

We met up with my awesome previously-mentioned girlfriend and wandered around the little shops, including the candy store where we had chocolate-covered bacon (yes, it was nasty), rootbeer floats and cotton candy…all of them firsts for our son. I was very sad to say good-bye to her at the end of the day. I hadn’t seen her since 2005, and I really hope it won’t be another seven years before we see her again. I’d almost forgotten how wonderful and what a great friend she was. I miss her already!

Chocolate-covered bacon...blech.
Chocolate-covered bacon…blech.

We also managed to get to the beach one more time and follow that up with Kennedy Space Center. I was super excited to see the shuttle Atlantis on display. Our son, on the other hand, is currently obsessed with Angry Birds and only had eyes for Angry Birds Space. But we still got some great photos.

Kennedy Space Center.
Kennedy Space Center.
Throwing birds in Angry Birds Space!
Throwing birds in Angry Birds Space!
Future astronaut.
Future astronaut.
Shuttle Atlantis!
Shuttle Atlantis!

Our departure from Orlando was fairly painless. I dropped my hubby off at the curb in front of the check-in counters with 500 bags and the cat and drove around to drop off the rental car with our son. We’d given ourselves two and a half hours so that we wouldn’t panic at any point, and it really came in handy…especially when the cat crapped in her carrier in the security line.

But the flight to DC was short, and my hubby’s parents and sister picked us up at the airport and drove us to our temporary accommodation at Oakwood. Unfortunately, they still didn’t have any two-bedrooms (we’d been on a waiting list for a few months), so our son is sleeping in a crib in the living room. I was going to put him on a trundle bed since he’s almost three and has been sleeping in a big-boy bed since January. But we didn’t want him roaming the living room/dining room/kitchen area at night by himself. And he didn’t fight the crib, so there it is.

And I do love being at FSI, you meet the most interesting people. The instructor of my current OMS class was in the Air Force for 22 years and was a flight attendant on Air Force One. How amazing is that? I’ve also run into two girls from a previous class and one person from our embassy in Belize. The Foreign Service really is such a small world.