One of my dad's Christmas gifts to my mom was a surprise trip to Shell. (I'm also calling it a gift from me because it required me driving there and back, something I have previously refused to consider doing because I hate windy, one-lane roads and thoroughly appreciate Nate's willingness to navigate them but with 10 people we needed two cars.) My mom is the perfect person to surprise because she rarely notices clues ... even when one of my friends asks her directly about the trip not realizing it's a surprise.

Shell is 4 hours away but we decided to just do a quick overnight. We drove to Banos, which is a small, touristy town along the way. And it's good that we had planned to stop because the brake's on the car Nate was driving had gone out. There we ate lunch at a new coffee shop that had good italian foccaccia sandwiches and local coffee that my sister loved and bought a bag of. We toured the town square and the church and watched the taffy pullers do their magic. We popped back in cars and did the final hour to Shell, arriving in humid sprinkles exactly as one would expect. I appreciated having my mom and dad in my car because my dad kept up a running narrative of facts and memories for the whole trip. (Meanwhile my mom has yet to figure out how to work a kids car dvd player :)

We unpacked our things at the Nate Saint house and were thoroughly impressed with the renovation and the nice guest space they have upstairs. It accomodated all of us nicely. We immediately headed to the hangar where we talked to our pilot and watched planes land. My dad's other surprise was a flight for the grandkids but once we were at the hangar the pilot cajoled my dad into getting us all up in the new Kodiak at price. FP scored when Eden's teacher and family ended up being the flight before us and having an extra seat available so he spent the next 2 hours flying into Palm Beach where Nate Saint and crew landed. Meanwhile the rest of us toured Shell, walking by our old house and now molded over jacuzzi, the Nate Saint Memorial School, the HCJB compound and onto the swinging bridge. Canaan was amazed at all the places I was allowed to explore and play on my own by the time I was his age. It sprinkled for a bit as we went and we grabbed big, jungle tree leaves to act as umbrellas. We introduced the kids to "indian chewing gum," a sponge-like inside of a tree branch but none of them were impressed. We crossed the bridge which made a few of the littles nervous and walked a few blocks to the yellow airplane and town square before walking back to the hangar. That's the kind of place Shell is ... you can walk anywhere.

The flight was fantastic, so fun to all be together up there with Nate sitting co-pilot since he was the only one who never has. Dan, our pilot, asked if we were okay with tricks and we all gave a resounding "yes," having grown up with a Dad who liked to cut the engine mid-air. We did our first trick and I immediately turned around, having an inkling Canaan might get scared. He immediately started crying but I couldn't get my dad's attention right next to him for a minute. Once Canaan realized we weren't falling, that this was on purpose and that none of the adults were scared he enjoyed it. For me it was a highlight to go up in a little prop plane just as we did so many times as kids. Of course the new Kodiaks with all their navigation are quite a bit more advanced!

Dinner was over at Chet and Katie's house, whom we've known since we were little girls. Enchiladas around the table while their teenage kids graciously hosted our littles on the roof with quesadillas. We drove home with tired kids to find that the welcome party for my parents had gathered early so we rushed the kids upstairs to bed, changed into slightly more appropriate clothes than the sweaty shorts we'd been in and went down for a very typical, formal open house. There was a big circle of about 30 locals gathered, all who had kind words to say about things they remembered or were influenced by with my mom and dad. Humitas, chips and gingerbread pudding were served before people headed home and we headed upstairs to sleep. We slept just as so many nights of our childhood. No glass in the windows, just screens to keep the bugs out and the sound of pounding rain on the tin roof right over our heads.

In the morning we grabbed breakfast, spent some time at the airplane park and then got back onto the road to Banos. The plan was to stop at the swing at the end of the world and enjoy time in Banos again but within 15 minutes of being in the car Jordan was pretty miserable. We had to pull over for him to throw up but the poor little guy had a rough time, switching back to his parents car. We did get out and stretch in Banos and walk around a bit, going into some shops but Jordan threw up again and we knew we should probably just get him home so we did.





MAF airplane



Watching the planes





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