June’s Reading Challenge – The #Fae

I’m going to continue to be generally offline through the summer. I’ll still be posting the previously scheduled 5 Photos posts and my monthly Reading Challenge posts, and I’ll be sending out an author newsletter toward the end of the month, but that’s about it. Enjoy your summer! Hope it’s full of lots of reading and writing!!

June Reading Challenge Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.


When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death—a cryptic message on MacKayla Lane’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed—a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England–until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

What about my May choices?

I didn’t do as much reading last month as I wanted to. Karin A. suggested I read A KISS OF STEEL, so I started with that one. I’m enjoying it, although it’s more vampire romance than steampunk. I like the characters and the world. So far, it seems like a great start to a terrific PNR series. But I’ll need to find time to dig into my other steampunk choices at some point…

What about you?? Did you read anything interesting last month? Are you taking a vacation this summer? Where are you going? Any fictional worlds you wish you could visit?


Disney World Melange

Over the past two weeks I’ve shared pictures and reviews of Disney’s parks: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios and EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. Today’s post is an odd assortment of stuff: blurbs about the water parks, Old Key West, pictures of an amazing solar corona (or a 22 degree halo??), and my Top 5 Tips for those of you that might be headed there this summer. This is my “honorable mentions” post. 😀

Old Key West

We stayed at the Old Key West Resort, which was kind of ironic because Craig and I were just in Key West this past January. I loved the resort, although we didn’t spend much time there. Most of the time we were at the parks. But we did spend one half-day lounging around the pool. (Cats: give them anything and their favorite toy is the box it came in; kids: take them anywhere and their favorite place is the hotel pool 😉 ). There was a sandcastle water slide, an awesomely comfortable hammock, and a bar. Heck, it was *almost* my favorite place too!

Old Key West Hammock

If you're going to stay at Old Key West, the buildings in the back off Old Turtle Pond Road are quiet with beautiful views
If you’re going to stay at Old Key West, the buildings in the back off Old Turtle Pond Road are quiet with beautiful views

Other Thoughts

Water Parks: My kids loved them. I thought they were okay, but that’s probably just because I’m not a huge fan of water parks. Disney has two: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. BB has a one-acre wave pool. Basically, it’s a ginormous water mixer. TL has a wave pool with six-foot swells. Needless to say, that made TL the favorite. Hmm… what else? Lines for the slides are long. The line for the bar was shorter. Empty chairs are practically non-existent. Get there early!

Downtown Disney: I’d never been before this trip and was glad we were able to fit in a visit, however short. This is a waterfront area that has lots of restaurants and shopping. We had dinner at Raglan Road our first night there. What’s not to love about an Irish band and a flight of beer?


Where's Wally/Waldo/Archer? Here's me, strolling along Downtown Disney's boardwalk
Where’s Wally/Waldo/Archer?
Here’s me, strolling along Downtown Disney’s boardwalk

22 Degree Halo

This thing was one of the most amazing astronomical events I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it was just an “optical phenomenon.” I honestly have no idea. Who can help me out and tell me what this thing is? To us, it looked like a giant eye in the sky. Very Melancholia-ish. (If the world were ending, would Disney be the place you’d want to be? Debate.)

eye in the sky w palm tree and contrail
Does the contrail make it more or less surreal?
Does this look like a giant eye or what?
Does this look like a giant eye or what?

Top Five Tips

If you’re going, here are my top five tips:

Magic Bands1. Get the Magic Bands! Magic Bands are Disney’s newest way of making things more convenient for visitors. And are they! They are waterproof wristbands that work as a hotel key, credit card (linking purchases to your room), park admissions ticket, Fast Pass ticket, and PhotoPass. In other words, you can leave your room with just one thing: your Magic Band. (Well almost… for Magic Band 2.0, Disney needs to find a way to connect it to your cell phone… I heard they are working with Apple…. KIDDING! 😀 )

Two Musts: a hat and a magic band
Two Musts: a hat and a magic band

2. Use Fast Pass and make restaurant reservations! The ride lines for the popular rides are incredibly long. The only way we were able to ride so many of them is because we used Fast Pass. And if you want to actually sit down and eat a meal (versus just getting chicken fingers from a walk up window), you gotta make reservations. (Most on site restaurants won’t even take walk-ins). That said, we didn’t make many restaurant reservations. We didn’t want to be tied to both a Fast Pass schedule AND a restaurant schedule. Instead, we ate breakfast in our room and packed snacks in a backpack. Speaking of backpacks, what else was in there?

Florida rain storms3. Bring sunscreen and a rain jacket. You’ll need both! Two of the days it rained (torrential downpour type stuff) for about an hour in the afternoon. But then it was over. That’s Florida. (Floridians, do you agree? Very stormy in spring and summer but weather moves in and out quickly).

Sneakers4. Wear good walking shoes! Oh, the walking. Everywhere. All day. Good exercise but leave the flip-flops back at the hotel.

5. HAVE FUN! Obvious, right? But Disney can be stressful sometimes too. The crowds, the lines, an over-packed schedule, the blatant commercialism. It can all be a bit much. But Disney’s commitment to its visitors is impossible to miss. When your Fast Pass time for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ends just five minutes before your Fast Pass time at Space Mountain begins (two attractions on opposite ends of a 100+ acre park filled with tens of thousands of people) and you find yourself corralled with the rest of the crowd watching a third Festival of Fantasy parade while your Fast Pass times dwindles down to nothing… well, it helps to remember that they really do want you to have a magical day. 😉 😀

And you will!

So how about you? Have you seen a 22 degree halo before? Have you been to Disney? Have any other thoughts or tips to share? Do you plan on going this summer? What are you most looking forward to? Lemme know in the comments! Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Have a great weekend, everyone!


Disney World: Beyond Movies and Magic

We went to Disney World this year for Spring Break. Typically, we stay local for SB so venturing south to stay in Lake Buena Vista was a real treat for us. Last week, I posted my thoughts about my two favorite parks: Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom. Today, I’m posting pics and thoughts about Epcot and the Animal Kingdom. Next week, I’ll wrap up my Disney posts with some final bits and pieces and advice for anyone who’s considering going.



I really enjoy visiting EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). Arguably, however, it’s the least popular park. The parking lot (especially compared to the Magic Kingdom!) was a ghost town. But in Disney parlance this just means there were gazillions of people instead of bazillions. One of the neatest areas for me is the World Showcase, which showcases the culture and cuisine from 11 different countries. It’s fun to eat there. (Germany’s Biergarten, where Oktoberfest is celebrated all year long, was a favorite of ours last time). Unfortunately, this time, we didn’t make it to the World Showcase part of the park. Instead, we stayed in the Future World part of the park.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that Epcot’s theme is “celebrating the human spirit” — a terrific theme. But the park’s execution of it seems odd. The two parts of the park, the World Showcase and Future World, seem disparate and unrelated. It’s as if the park’s attractions are the other parks’ outtakes. Each of the other parks can be summed up with a word (Hollywood Studios = MOVIES; Magic Kingdom = MAGIC; Animal Kingdom = ANIMALS). With Epcot, that word would be WORLD but since the world includes everything, the park feels a bit scattered in its mission. It offers world culture, future technology, and environmental/nature related exhibits. That’s a lot of ground to cover. But maybe I’m being unfair.

Regardless, the park is worth visiting. We didn’t do it this way, but if I could reschedule our visit to this park, I would do Future World first and then head over to the World Showcase in the afternoon and have dinner there. Okay, so that’s what we didn’t do. What did we do?


Some of you may be laughing. Who flies 900 miles to look at topiaries?! Well, I do. (Or at least, I will, if topiaries are part of a seasonal exhibit somewhere I’m visiting because, as the rest of you know, I think topiaries are really neat). I love the combination of nature, whimsy, art, and imagination.


Mission: SPACE

Ride Story: You’re an astronaut on a mission to Mars.

Ride Thrills: Depends on which level of intensity you choose.

My Take: An exercise in not tossing my cookies. I mentioned last week that simulator rides can be tough for me. Well, duh, I probably should have listened to the eighteen million different warnings Epcot gives riders about NOT choosing to be a part of the Orange Team for this ride if you suffer from occasional motion sickness. The ride has two levels of intensity: green and orange. The Green Team experiences a typical simulator ride. The Orange Team experiences a centrifuge that spins and tilts to simulate launch and re-entry speed and G-force. It’s supposed to be “authentic NASA-style” training. Uh… obviously I’ve never trained for NASA but it felt pretty authentic to me. I managed not to hurl but it took me about 90 minutes to regain my equilibrium and not feel as if my brains were scrambled after the ride. Lesson? If I weren’t already too old for astronaut training, I could probably rule that out as a career choice. Craig and the kids? Ha! They were ready for ice cream and another ride the minute they exited the building.

Chevrolet’s Test Track

Ride Story: Design your own concept vehicle and then test drive it.

Ride Thrills: There is a slight coaster feel to the last part of the test track when the car gains speed around some turns. Unless you suffer from back or neck trouble or are a small child, this ride is pretty tame.

My Take: A giant car commercial. In fact, there’s a fun interactive exhibit in the exit lobby where you really can make a car commercial based on the car you designed for the test track. I chose a deep, cowboy-type voice-over to go with my red oversized, overpowered truck. 😀 (Half the fun is designing something that’s completely opposite your vehicle type).

There are lots more attractions and things to do at Epcot. I wish we’d had more time. For my next visit, I’d love to see the Sea Base and the Land Pavilion (the fish farm and greenhouses), as well as a couple of shows (the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats and Serveur Amusant look pretty cool).


For me, Animal Kingdom can be broken down into two parts: Everest and Everything Else. Everest was my favorite ride this time. Maybe it’s because I’d never ridden it before. Maybe it’s because it featured yetis in a frozen wasteland, two things I’d been excessively thinking about over the past year because White Heart of Justice features both as well, albeit a bit differently. Or maybe it’s because the ride is just plain great.


EverestExpedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Ride Story: For years, the Royal Anandapur Tea Company shipped tea through the Forbidden Mountain deep in the Himalayas, but after a series of mysterious accidents possibly involving yetis, the rail line closed. Adventurers and yeti seekers, never fear! The rail line is open once again. Himalayan Escapes, Tours and Expeditions now offers a train ride through the icy peaks and passes.

Ride Thrills: Lots! I love that I have to give a SPOILER warning for a ride, but I do! Part of the fun of riding this ride for the first time is experiencing the unexpected. So if you don’t want to know what’s in store for you, skip down to Kilimanjaro Safaris. For those of you that want to know exactly what this ride offers: the usual high-speed turns and drops, including one 80 foot plunge and several corkscrews. But the ride also “ends” at one point when the track becomes impassable. Ahead the rail line is severed. All that remains are a few feet of twisted, mangled tracks hanging off the edge of a cliff. First time riders are left wondering what’s next. The brakes finally release and the ride is reversed. Bonus: Lots of yeti sightings!

My Take: If you go to Animal Kingdom and like coasters, this ride is a must. It wasn’t as intense as Hollywood Studios Rock-n-Roller Coaster, but was probably a bit more than Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain. It wasn’t as “jerky” feeling though and the story behind the ride is great. If your kid is tall enough to ride the ride, they’ll love it. We rode it twice.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

What’s the deal? One of Animal Kingdom’s attractions is a 110 acre wildlife sanctuary for native African animals such as wildebeests, warthogs, lions, gazelles, elephants, and antelope. Visitors can take a twenty-minute open air bus tour around the reserve.

What’s the thrill? For me, it was the giraffes. Yeah, I know they’re not as exotic as some of the other animals, but I think they’re neat. I wanna know why they couldn’t be domesticated. (Did anyone read Guns, Germs, and Steel? Are any of you biologists? What the deal with them? They look friendly enough…) 😉 😀

My take: I have mixed feelings about zoos, reserves, and sanctuaries. They’re unnatural. Florida isn’t Africa. How comfortable can an African lion really be living in Florida on 110 acres of land? On the other hand, there’s a lot of education going on in Animal Kingdom for those that want to take the time to learn. Some people don’t have the resources to take a real African safari. This tour gives visitors an opportunity to see the animals in their natural habitat (sort of). The sanctuary has also been a home for animals that are rare (okapi), endangered (white rhino), and even extinct in the wild (scimitar-horned oryx).

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

What’s the deal? Right beside Kilimanjaro Safaris is the Wildlife Express Train station, which will take you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This is an off site area where visitors can learn more about the care and feeding of the animals that live at the park.

What’s the thrill? Inside the Conservation Station, there’s a viewable on site research facility and wildlife tracking center (which gave the place a vague Jurassic Park feel), a vet treatment room (no patients while we were there — probably a good thing!), and an amphibian, reptile, and invertebrate display. Outside it, in the Affection Section, are various domesticated animals.

My take: I thought the Conservation Station was neat and I would have liked to have spent more time in there. But my youngest was on a beeline to the Affection Section. I kept telling her there wouldn’t be any cats but I don’t think she believed me until she saw the goats and pigs. No matter. If it has fur, she will love it and hug it and squeeze it… and it will try to eat her jeans, her shirt, her hair, her shoelaces…


Have you been to Epcot? Have I judged it unfairly? Maybe next time, with different places to explore, Epcot will end up being my favorite park. What about Animal Kingdom? Have you been there? What do you think about zoos, reserves, and sanctuaries? Have you ever been on a real safari? Lemme know in the comments! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West (a.k.a. the convergence of #cats and #books… pure bliss!)

Hemingway House

Last week, my husband and I went to Key West. I’d never been and it was terrific! Sort of “Hawaii meets New Orleans.” Duvall Street was as fun, crowded, colorful, and commercial as the French Quarter and the rest of the island was as beautiful, balmy, and restful as off-season Oahu.

My five favorite things: 1. Dinner at Louie’s Backyard (the back deck sits oceanfront, gorgeously lit with low lights at night; the menu and staff are equally impressive); 2. Breakfast at the Hot Tin Roof (the perfect spot for mimosas); 3. Ernest Hemingway’s house (pics below); 4. Biking/shopping on Duvall Street (mostly enjoyed the biking, but also loved peeking in the boutiques… the t-shirt shops I get enough of on the Jersey Shore); and 5. Watching the famous sunsets.

Flying into Key West... This wing's a bit bigger than the one I'm used to seeing out my window ;-)
Flying into Key West…
This wing’s a bit bigger than the one
I’m used to seeing out my window 😉
Hemingway Home and Museum
Hemingway Home and Museum

Ernest Hemingway, who wrote The Sun Also Rises, Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Old Man and the Sea, among many other novels, short stories, and poems, lived in the house from 1931 to 1940. The man (prolific writer, WWI ambulance driver, adventurer, ladies man, fisherman…), the house (built in 1851 on the second highest point in Key West by Asa Tift, a marine architect and salvage wrecker), and the cats (at least 45 of them were roaming around the grounds, all carrying the polydactyl gene) make this museum tour A MUST if you go to Key West.

The outside of Hemingway's writer's loft. Built above the garage and beside the pool. Wouldn't it be grand to write somewhere like this everyday?
The outside of Hemingway’s writer’s loft. Built above the garage and beside the pool. Wouldn’t it be grand to write somewhere like this every day?
The inside of the loft. The old fashioned typewriter and lack of air conditioning give me some comfort that I'm lucky enough with my little writing nook. :-)
The inside of the loft. The old-fashioned typewriter and lack of air conditioning give me some comfort that I’m lucky enough with my little writing nook. 🙂

Even if you’re not a cat lover, it’s hard not to be charmed by the cats. The whole herd of them is given free reign over the house and grounds. They are everywhere! They are looked after by a full-time staff and a vet visits them once a week to keep them on their toes. 😉

looks like he's wearing mittensPolydactyl CatSix Toed Cat

The Key West Lighthouse, which can be seen from the balcony outside of Hemingway's bedroom
The Key West Lighthouse, which can be seen from the balcony outside of Hemingway’s bedroom
Spent some time in the bookstore, of course, which is in the garage, right next to the pool.
Spent some time in the bookstore, of course, which is in the garage, right next to the pool.

What did I buy at the bookstore? Among other things, a book of cat poems.

In the beginning,
God created cats,
and then bugs.
Bugs grow up to be moths and butterflies,
which can be eaten.

From Kirby Congdon’s “The Cat’s Story”

The infamous $20,000 pool (the house cost $8,000).
The infamous $20,000 pool (the house cost $8,000).

Because my husband is an aviation enthusiast, we had to stop by Kelly’s — the bar located in the first Pan Am office building, which is named after former owner Kelly McGillis of TOP GUN fame — for a drink. Since it was happy hour, one drink turned into two… 😀

Sign outside of Kelly's Bar, Grill, and Brewery. Fun happy hour: Good beer! Great hot wings!
Sign outside of Kelly’s Bar, Grill, and Brewery. Fun happy hour: Good beer! Great hot wings!
Our bikes on Duvall Street I loved how accommodating the drivers were to cyclists. Despite the traffic, a very leisurely ride.
Our bikes on Duvall Street
I loved how accommodating the drivers were to cyclists. Despite the traffic, a very leisurely ride.
Goodbye, Casa Marina! I will miss your shakers full of skinny cucumber lemonade! :-D
Goodbye, Casa Marina! I will miss your shakers full of skinny cucumber lemonade! 😀

So what about you? Have you taken any winter breaks lately? If so, where did you go? Writers, do you have a favorite place for writer’s retreats? Key West offers lots of inspiration! I hope everyone is having a great January!

Beer! (and the Cape May Brewing Company)

Cape May, Cape May Brewing Company, beer, micro-brew, vacation, New Jersey, day trip, travel

Last week I was on the Jersey Shore. Most of the week I spent on the beach, reading during the day and visiting the boardwalk or watching the moonrise at night. But I visited two places that are very good day trip destinations: the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum and the Cape May Brewing Company. This is the last post in a three-part series I’m doing to say sayonara to summer. If you like beer or touring micro-breweries (come on, who doesn’t?) then read on!

Cape May, flying, aviation, pilot, Cessna, day trip
Ready for Take Off

Before visiting the brewery, we met some friends of ours for a flight around Cape May. It was cloudy and visibility was low, but otherwise it was a fun flight. The perfect precursor to a beer tasting!

Waiting for other traffic to land
Waiting for other traffic to land
Cape May, flying, aviation, pilot, Cessna, day trip
Garden State Parkway aerial view

beer, micro-brew, Cape May Brewing CompanyThe Cape May brewery started in 2010 with the plan “to open the first micro brewery at the Jersey Shore and put New Jersey on the map as a craft beer state.” They are located within walking distance of the Cape May airport. They now serve over 40 bars and restaurants in Cape May and serve up to 12 beers in their tap room.

Centennial IPA = Best IPA at the 2012 Atlantic City Beer Fest

Cape May, Cape May Brewing Company, beer, micro-brew, vacation, New Jersey, day trip, travel
People eating, drinking, and hanging out

We toured and tasted: I tried the Watermelon Wheat (I’d probably make a terrible sommelier. I couldn’t taste the watermelon at all), the Saison (IPA + Wheat + Belgium Double = my favorite), the Centennial IPA, and the Hitching Post (a bourbon stout). We left our kids in OC, but the place is kid-friendly. They serve root beer (for kids and pilots!) and, in reverse BYOB fashion, they allow you to bring in food and eat at their picnic tables while sampling the beer. I loved the feel of the place. It was warm, inviting, friendly, and fun. Very casual and laid back.

Cape May Brewing Company, beer, micro-brew
My husband, Craig, and me

Flying Back to Ocean City

Gray Skies
Gray Skies

My husband is a good pilot — very responsible. And he knows I sometimes get motion sickness… especially when flying after an afternoon of beer tasting! (check out my ridiculous selfies below) He has an IFR, which allows him to fly through clouds and low visibility weather, but when he saw thunderstorms closing in around the OC airport, he decided to turn back.


No pilot would intentionally fly into this

We landed at Cape May again, tied the plane down, and decided to wait out the storm in the FBO (Flight Level Aviation). We weren’t the only ones stranded by the storm. There were also two BoatPix helicopter pilots there. For over an hour we huddled up in the FBO, keeping one eye on the storm and the other on the TV (SyFy channel was playing Sharknado, which was as impossibly hilarious as everyone said it was. In fact, some Sat when I have absolutely nothing else to do, I may watch it again. It was that horribly good.) (Also, as an aside, the FBO is new and they were awesome. Sarah kept the place open late just so we could all wait out the storm. Pilots: please gas up there if you land in Cape May! 😀 )

About twenty minutes earlier, we were sitting in those chairs watching the storm come in

By sunset the storm had passed and we were able to take off again and this time make it all the way into Ocean City… to find we’d left the sunroof of our car open… LOL. What a day!


Hard earned beer for the pilot Home at last!
Hard earned beer for the pilot
Home at last!

Other links you may be interested in:

Don’t forget to take my READER SURVEY and tell me what you most like to read here and/or want to see here.

Rosie the RiveterFinally, if you want a chance to win the Rosie the Riveter bag (can be used for books… or beer!) that I bought at the Cape May aviation museum, then comment below or send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com. US only.

Have you ever been to the Cape May Brewing Company? Do you like microbrews? How about beer? 😀 Have a fantastic Labor Day, everyone!

Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum

NASW, Naval Air Station Wildwood, Cape MayLast week, I visited the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, which is actually in Cape May, New Jersey (very close to Wildwood). If you are an aviation enthusiast, a fan of 1940’s memorabilia, and/or are interested in reading about interesting places that are great for day trips, then read on! This is the second post in a three-part series I’m doing to close out summer. Yesterday’s post was on Ocean City, New Jersey and tomorrow’s post will be on the Cape May brewery. While I was at the museum, I bought some things in their gift shop to support them. One of the items was a Rosie the Riveter tote bag (pictured below; perfect for carrying books!). If you’re interested in entering your name in my Rosie tote bag giveaway (US only due to mailing costs), comment below or just send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com.

Atlantic Ocean, Ocean City, Cape May, New Jersey
We took off from Ocean City and landed at Cape May. Both airports are small and un-towered. The flight was pretty and the ocean was the flattest I’ve ever seen it. Hard to believe this is the Atlantic, right? It looks like a backyard pond! 😀

The Cape May airport was built in 1943 as a naval air station for training pilots in WWII. It’s original name was the “Naval Air Station Rio Grande” but the story is that all of its mail kept getting delivered to Rio Grande, Texas so they changed the name to the “Naval Air Station Wildwood,” which is actually in Cape May. In October of 1944, the airport hit its peak of take offs and landings with 16,994 in that one month period! (Hard to believe since the airport has a small, almost sleepy feel to it now).

The big hanger is currently a 92,000 square foot “all wood truss hangar/aviation museum” that is listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places. The museum serves as a memorial for the 42 known airmen that lost their lives training there, as well as a site for community events and fundraisers. I flew in with three generations of aviation enthusiasts: my husband, father-in-law, and nephew. After watching an intro video in the old ready room, we started touring the museum.

Cape May, New Jersey, Naval Air Station Wildwood, museum, history, travel, vacation, day trip
The museum has the old Bader Field tower

Bader Field, near Atlantic City, opened in 1910 and was the first U.S. municipal airport to support both sea and land based planes. The Civil Air Patrol was founded there in 1941. In 2006, Bader Field was closed and the air traffic control tower was given to the Cape May aviation museum.

Cape May, New Jersey, Naval Air Station Wildwood, museum, history, travel, vacation, day trip
They have a great Coast Guard exhibit, including an HH-52 helicopter you can climb in
“Drink Coca-Cola”

The museum recently added a “1940’s Room,” which recreates a typical house during WWII. They also have tons of Coca-Cola memorabilia there!

1940's, WWII
Welcome to the 1940’s

My grandfather was a pilot in WWII. He never trained at the Naval Air base in Wildwood. Instead, he trained in California and was later stationed in Okinawa. I had thought the plane below might have been the type of plane he flew in.

1940's pilots, WWII, history, aircraft, aviation
OE-2 Bird Dog

But when I got back home and compared it to pictures I had from my grandfather (below), I don’t think so. The plane at the Cape May museum is an OE-2 Bird Dog, which wasn’t used until the 1950’s. I briefly considered but quickly rejected the low wing North American T-6 Texan, so I need more time to look into it… Anyone else know?

1940's, airplanes, aviation, history, WWII
Picture my grandfather took of the type of planes he used to fly

After our visit, we were hungry! So we had lunch at the Flight Deck Diner. We sat at the counter and ordered cheesesteaks and root beer floats. The waitress who worked there was super friendly and the food was great. I’m a huge fan of airport diners. They’re fun even if you don’t plan on flying anywhere that day.

airport diner, Cape May
Flight Deck Diner
Cape May air museum, aviation, history, 1940's, pilots
Naval Air Station Wildwood

Too soon, our afternoon was over and we were ready to fly back to Ocean City. We had a fantastic time! If you’re in the area, NASW is having its 17th Annual Air Fest THIS WEEKEND (Labor Day 2013). Stop by and check it out!

NASW, Cape May

Other links you may be interested in:

Don’t forget to take my READER SURVEY and tell me what you most like to read here and/or want to see here.

Rosie the RiveterFinally, if you want a chance to win the Rosie the Riviter bag that I bought at the museum, then comment below or send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com. US only.

Have you ever been to the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum? Have you ever been to Cape May? Are you interested in the 1940’s? WWII? Aviation? Do you even like to fly?!? 😀 Hope everyone is having a terrific Friday!

Ocean City, New Jersey

Ocean City Beach PatrolLast week, I was at the Jersey Shore. I’ve never watched the “Jersey Shore” reality TV show, but I’m betting the Jersey Shore I know and love is very different from the MTV version. If you’re interested in seeing a few pics and reading about a classic Jersey Shore family vacation, then read on! This is the first post in a three-part series I’m doing to close out summer. The next two posts will be on the Cape May Aviation Museum and the Cape May Brewery. While I was at the museum, I bought some things in their gift shop to support them. One of the items was a Rosie the Riveter tote bag (pictured below; perfect for carrying books!). If you’re interested in entering your name in my Rosie tote bag giveaway (US only due to mailing costs), comment below or just send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com.

Ocean City, New Jersey, travel, beach, east coast, vacation
Ocean City, New Jersey, boardwalk, beach, vacation, travel, east coast

Every year we hit the same places: Manco and Manco’s Pizza (which we still call “Mack and Manco’s” even though all traces of Mack have been scrubbed), Playland’s Castaway Cove (the Hurricane and Double Shot are old favorites but the park recently installed some neat new rides like Air Race), Johnson’s Popcorn and Fralinger’s for salt water taffy. And, of course, my kids take every opportunity to replenish their depleted hoard of plastic shovels and beaded jewelry.

Blue Moon, Ocean City, beach
“The day, water, sun, moon, night…
I do not have to purchase these things with money.”

There was a blue moon while we were there this year. A blue moon is the third of four full moons in a season, although a blue moon can also be the second of two full moons in a month. Blue moons are rare and explains where the “once in a blue moon” phrase originated. Regardless of the scientific or seasonal explanations for the blue moon — seeing a full moon rise over the ocean was pretty spectacular and something I’d never seen before. (I took a lot of pictures, but none of them effectively convey the experience. Walking along the beach in the moonlight is about a lot more than one snapped shot, and besides, my cell phone takes crappy nighttime pics 🙂 ). In any case, we took more evening walks on the beach than usual this year.

Ocean City New Jersey, beach, travel, vacation

The sunsets were almost as neat as the blue moon. Bayside, you can see the sun set over Peck Bay or Great Egg Harbor, but we stay within a few blocks of the Atlantic so it’s easier to lug all our stuff down each morning. So the sun sets over dunes and houses for us. Still pretty though…

Ocean City sunset, sand dunes, beaches, east cost, travel, vacation

We took our little Cessna down so that we could enjoy some afternoon and sunset flights (more on those flights in the next two posts!).Ocean City New Jersey Airport, aviation, flying

New 9th Street Bridge and Visitor's Center OCNJ
Aerial View of New 9th Street Bridge and Visitor’s Center

I drove in on the new 9th street bridge before flying over it. Even though I’ll admit that the new bridge is much improved, I couldn’t help feeling sentimental about all the times I’d crossed the old drawbridge on the way into town. I’m not the only one. Check out this 2011 post by Douglas Bergen in the Ocean City Patch where he bid farewell to the old bridge with a brief bit of wonderfully written nostalgia:

“What child didn’t get goosebumps hearing the telltale hum of car tires rolling over the metal grates of the closed drawbridge? The sound signaled that the beach and Boardwalk were near.

And like record albums, encyclopedias and other quaint notions we have to explain to our children, will they look at us funny when we explain how a little mechanical arm dropped down, and the whole roadway cleaved and lifted up to let boats pass by?”

East Coast Beaches, aviation, travel, flying, vacation, beach

Ghost crab
“Sandy” the ghost crab

Ghost crabs (or sand crabs) aren’t as easy to see and catch on the Jersey Shore as they are in the Outer Banks, but we still managed to capture this little guy (long enough for him to be dubbed “Sandy” — after the hurricane — and then we let him go).

Ghost crab

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination
Shrimp, clams, and mussels
My husband made this tasty dish and served it with linguine. Other nights, we steamed snow crab legs or fried fish. By the end of the week, even I was ready for some red meat!
When I first attempted to make this drink, it looked like the concoction on the cover of THE MAD SCIENTIST’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION (see above). I realize purists will likely scoff at the martini glass but that’s the beauty of *my* Jersey Shore. Presentation is irrelevant. 😀
Ocean City Airport
Ocean City FBO

Rosie the Riveter

Here’s a picture of the tote bag I bought at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. I think it looks perfect for carting around books and all sorts of other stuff. Even though summer is over, who can’t use another beach bag? 😀 Leave a comment or send me an e-mail to enter to win it. US only. And stay tuned for parts 2 and 3… the Cape May museum and brewery!

What did you do this summer? What’s your favorite part about going to the shore? Do you like Rosie the Riveter? Have you ever made mojitos? Are you from Ocean City? What do you think of the new 9th street bridge?

Review: Dollywood Amusement Park

Mystery Mine: modern coaster with 85 foot vertical drop
Mystery Mine: modern coaster with inverted loop and 85 foot vertical drop

Winter blues, blech! Who needs ’em? If you’re like me, you’ve been suffering from the short, gray, cold days of winter. Let’s face it, the post-holiday season isn’t much fun, especially when there’s only bitter cold instead of snow. There are only so many ways to beat the mid-winter doldrums: you can build a backyard ice rink (more on that later), your team can miraculously make it into the Super Bowl (nothing more on that later; I’m happy for the Ravens and their fans, but am not much into football myself) –or– you can start planning your summer vacation. So I thought it would be fun to review one of the places we went last summer: DOLLYWOOD! Who knows? You might decide to add it to your list for this summer.

Dollywood, a fun, mountain theme park
Dollywood, a fun, mountain theme park

Dollywood is an amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. My dad and step-mom moved to Tennessee from New Orleans post-Katrina so we take a road trip south (making sure to log a few miles on either Skyline Drive and/or the Blueridge Parkway) every summer. We’ve been to Dollywood for the last three years straight. My kids love it. In a nutshell, it is an Appalachian themed, less expensive, smaller “Disney World” type park. (Instead of the princesses, you get Dolly Parton. She owns the park and has redeveloped the entire area, which is where she’s from. I’m as much of a country music fan as I am a football fan, but it’s hard not to like a woman who puts so much back into her own community.) I joke that every ride has to have water, ropes, or both as part of its design. Check out our pictures below and tell me what you think!

Thunderhead, a classic wooden roller coaster: clangy, clacky, whiplash inducing, nostalgic thrill ride
Thunderhead, a classic wooden roller coaster: clangy, clacky, whiplash inducing, nostalgic thrill ride

Lumberjack Lifts is a “ride” but really, it’s a race. You strap yourself into a seat and then race the other “riders” to the top by pulling yourself up via rope and pulley. I usually race paired with my youngest, who weighs less and has great arm strength (she’s a gymnast). But my husband and oldest usually beat us anyway. (That ride is rigged! ;-))

Lumberjack Lifts
Lumberjack Lifts

If you’re hungry there’s PLENTY to eat. Portions are excessive so be prepared and don’t over order! 🙂

American Amusement Park FoodLumberjack's PizzaGiant Pizza Slice!

More water rides… Daredevil Falls and River Battle!

Log flumes = Rx for youth

River BattleRiver Battle 3River Battle 2

One of our favorite parts of the park was a place called Adventure Mountain. It’s a manmade mountain with three ropes challenge courses. You and your family are put into climbing harnesses with a lead that attaches to a frame (so there’s no real risk of falling) and then you are able to navigate ropes courses with spouting water geysers, mountainside cliffs, tightropes, and all sorts of different swaying wooden bridges.

Adventure MountainAdventure Mountain 2Adventure Mountain 3

And for us science fiction lovers, there were even aliens — at Dollywood!

Spot the aliens :-)
Spot the aliens 🙂

Aliens like piggy-backs too

Who knew aliens would make it easier to meet fellow earthlings? Chatting with other alien owners in line made waiting easier.
Who knew aliens would make it easier to meet fellow earthlings? Chatting with other alien owners in line made waiting easier.
Monkey in the Middle
Monkey in the Middle

The best roller coaster is the Wild Eagle, which was America’s first wing coaster. It just opened last summer. I wish I had a picture, but I had to put my camera away before we got close enough. This coaster was well worth riding (and when we went, there was almost no line for it). Smooth and fast, you really did feel like you were soaring. The only caution I have is if you don’t like feeling confined, think twice. I have to admit, I was thankful for the harness (obviously you can’t ride without it) but it must adjust automatically as you move. By the end of the ride it was so tight, I almost couldn’t breathe!

There are a lot of other things to do in the area. (Last year I reviewed the Titanic Museum. If you missed that, click here). Bottom line: I love Dollywood and I’m sure my family will continue to go every summer. We love amusement parks and Dollywood is clean, fun, and reasonably priced. Everyone was nice and the rides were unique enough to be memorable.

Have you been to Dollywood? Are you thinking about going? What’s your favorite amusement park? Have you started planning your summer vacation yet?

#Writing: The Importance of Taking Time Off (and Hanging With Your Husband)

writing life, boardwalk, south beach
South Beach Boardwalk: Great for a morning stroll

If you are a writer just starting out, my advice is: write, write, write! 😀 But if you are an author who has been writing for years (possibly squeezing it in between another career and the obligations of raising a family), then my message of holiday cheer to you is: Make sure to take some time off!

I recently had the great fortune to attend a business trip with my husband to South Beach in Miami. When he first suggested I come, I balked. My youngest daughter had an out-of-town gymnastics meet that weekend, I was in the middle of doing revisions for my second book, I have family coming in for the holidays, and I had zero presents, no tree, and a house devoid of red, green, and gold trim. But my husband pointed out I’d missed last year’s trip for similar reasons and it would always be like that. Unless I made a conscious decision to take a weekend off for the sole purpose of hanging out with him, I never would. If I waited for the “right time” (i.e. when nothing else was scheduled), I might not go away with him again until my kids were in college, which is ludicrous. Because you should make time to get away – with your husband, your friends, other family members, or just yourself – for short breaks from both your creative project and the natural stresses of every day life.

Miami, South Beach
Miami’s South Beach
parrots, The Palms, South Beach
The Palms Hotel Parrots: Cheerful and exotic.
writing life, winter break, The Palms Hotel
Ocean view from The Palms Hotel

Bottom Line: I had a wonderful weekend jam-packed with poolside drinks, walks on the beach, a short but relaxing spa visit, a little shopping (in a local bookstore, of course), fantastic food, great company, and a vibrant sampling of Miami’s night life at a nearby club that Saturday night. When I returned home, I was pleased (and, truth be told, not surprised) to find out that all was calm on the domestic front. My youngest did well at her meet and my daughters and MIL (who watched them) had a terrific time together. My revisions are finished and turned in to my editor. We have a tree now and there are ornaments on it. The rest of my house is sufficiently trimmed with red, green, and gold. So what if I still haven’t finished shopping, let alone wrapping? There’s still time and that weekend away was worth it!

Miami, South Beach, Lincoln RoadMiami South Beach OceanBooks & Books on Lincoln Road

So how about you? Have you gone away recently? If so, where did you go? If not, what’s holding you back? You don’t have to go far. Sometimes, being a tourist in your town can be just as much fun as visiting somewhere else. If you haven’t taken some time off in a while, make it a resolution for 2013 and then come back and tell us where you went! Wherever you go – Enjoy! 😀

The Chesapeake Bay is a 4,480 Acre “Water Park”

St. Michael’s Lighthouse

Usually when you think of water parks, you think of slippery slides, wave pools, and raging man-made rivers. Those kind of parks are fun, but there are natural water parks all over — ya know, they’re called lakes, rivers, and bays. 😉 My favorite? Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.

My in-laws keep a small motor boat docked on the Eastern Shore. Earlier this summer, we took a boat ride from Kent Narrows to St. Michael’s. It’s a ride we’ve taken many times, but it’s easy and enjoyable — an almost straight shot south across Eastern Bay that allows you to enjoy both the bay and the quaint and utterly charming town of St. Michael’s, Maryland.

Chesapeake Bay is a Boat Lovers Paradise

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the area, the Chesapeake Bay offers some of the best boating in America. It’s the largest estuary in the U.S. Two hundred miles long and, at its widest, 30 miles across — the bay’s total shoreline (including tributaries) is over 11,600 miles! You could spend every weekend for the rest of your life exploring each of its nooks and crannies and I still don’t think you’d find them all. Luckily, you only need a day to have fun on the bay.

Kent Narrows & Dock Bars

The Bay Bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay from just outside Annapolis to Kent Island, a large island that is separated from the Delmarva Peninsula by no more than the narrowest strip of water — a continuously dredged channel that connects the Chester River to Eastern Bay. “The Narrows” is full of boats and bars (okay, there’s food and fuel too :-)). When we were younger, my husband and I spent a considerable portion of many of our weekends at those bars. The music was loud, the drinks plentiful, and you could always walk “home” — to your boat! 😀 (We’ve now settled into calmer weekend rhythms, but I sometimes miss those late nights out!)

Red Eyes Dock Bar in Kent Narrows
This is what we miss when we fly into Bay Bridge Airport (a tiny, un-towered strip to the right of Bay Bridge as you cross onto the Eastern Shore) — TRAFFIC! This traffic isn’t even that bad. As any Marylander can tell you, the Bay Bridge can be bumper-to-bumper during summer weekends!

St. Michael’s, Maryland

Patriotic View from the Town Dock

St. Michael’s is a historic town dating back to colonial times. The place is full of charming cottages, beautiful boats, churches, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and lots of great restaurants. We ate lunch at the Town Dock. I spontaneously and sentimentally ordered a Pimm’s Cup (thinking of the ones I used to drink at the Napoleon House in New Orleans), but either my palate has changed or adding lemonade really does make a difference. (Anyone else a fan of the Pimm’s Cup? Have any tips on how to make a good one?) In any case, the Town Dock’s waterfront deck views were sunny and sparkling and it was nice to just sit in the shade, watching the boats in the harbor. Later, we took a leisurely stroll through town.

The Crab Claw in St. Michael’s is another great place to eat. Crabs, beer, and boats… What could be better?

Want to know what else to do in St. Michael’s? Here’s a list of 50 Free Things!

Other Chesapeake Bay Options

If you’re not up for docking and eating, another option is to pack a picnic and beach your boat on a sandy spot. My kids love jumping off the boat into the water and playing in the sand. I usually opt for lounging with a book.

Nice sandy spots are popular!
On the way back, you can look for osprey nests…
Watch the sunset…
Or just blow bubbles at the marina…

Want to know more about the Chesapeake Bay (as well as where I got my facts from)? Click here and here.

So readers, how about you? Have you ever been on the Chesapeake Bay? If so, what’s your favorite thing to do there? Do you like to go boating? Where’s your favorite place? Have you visited the Eastern Shore? Would you like to? Do you still blow bubbles? Watch the sunset? Eat crabs? Love a good Pimm’s Cup? Whatever your plans are for the weekend — Enjoy!