Category: Travel

Four Things Disneyland Needs to Know about Lines

Unlike some couples who have cake and punch with friends, my husband and I headed to a couple theme parks for our wedding anniversary. Normally, I’m not even a fan of theme parks, but since the man offered…who am I to turn away a free trip to Anaheim?

Thursday, we went to Downtown Disney. It was early afternoon and there was basically no line through the check-point. You know, where they search your bags and then direct you through a metal detector? That’s the kind of country we live in *shakes head sadly*

The wonderful world of Harry Potter beckoned on Friday. At Universal Studios, they wrap the entrance line through those chains and ropes (like all the rides do), and you never actually stop moving. So even though it was a huge crowd, we didn’t wait too long to get into the park.

Disneyland on Saturday? It was a nightmare.

The line(s) stretched back to the main street and buses kept dropping people off. There was no clear direction for people, although Disney employees did come out and try to direct people into “people with bags” and “people without bags.”

If my husband, who had no bag, had left me, he probably could have ridden two rides before I ever got through the metal detectors. But he didn’t leave me to survive the disorganization alone.

The mayhem flabbergasted me. It’s not like Disney is new to crowds. Or long lines. How can they have such confusion in a process that Universal streamlined with a few ropes and chains?

Here’s my advice to Disneyland:

  1. Visit Universal Studios when the park first opens. Notice how they have 25 metal detectors spread across the plaza in front of their admissions gate.
  2. Invest in more metal detectors. It’s not like they don’t make enough cash to ease the lineup in this way ($200 for admission, $35 for a t-shirt, $20 for lunch).
  3. Paint some lanes on the ground. Okay, this might look tacky in the Google Earth shots, but when hoards of people circumvented the obvious line, I was thankful we were at the “happiest place on Earth.” Some patrons weren’t impressed with the line-cutters.
  4. Send more employees to direct the flow and organize lines.

We waited close to an hour just to get our bags searched. About the time we got to the front, they were waving people around the metal detector. Get your bags searched, but skip that next step.

If they’re seriously concerned about safety, this felt like a bad move. Someone planning to make the news by terrorizing the Happiest Place on Earth could easily work this system into their nefarious plans.

Once we were waved along without going through the red light/green light gate, we waited another fifteen or twenty minutes for entrance through the turnstiles. At least there were obvious lines here.

Now that Disney is taking photos of every ticket holder and printing out tickets that correspond with that image on their ticket readers, it takes a little longer to get through the gate. I hope that’s helping them catch people who are trying to avoid paying the exorbitant admission price.

Because it certainly isn’t smoothing the admission process.

Disney knows how to line people up so they can fit the most people in the least amount of space and trick them into believing the line is moving right along (regardless of signs warning the wait is 45 or 60 minutes). It’s time they applied that experiential know-how at the front gate.

What other tips might speed things along? Have you had a similar experience at Disney?

Same Friend, Different Weekend

Some things are worth a 500-mile drive in a weekend (and I’m not a fan of road trips). In this case, it was the same friend for another weekend.

My best friend from high school had to drive a similar distance and it didn’t make her bat an eyelash. She’s one of those people who loves to drive, and I’m happy to let her when we’re together.

A couple years ago, we went to Richland, Washington. That year, we had another high school friend with us. I blogged about it here.

We’ve since been to Seattle and Leavenworth.

I’m sensing a theme here: the state of Washington. As it happens, Washington is “middle ground” for us. She lives in Idaho and I’m in Oregon. Check your map and you’ll see what I mean by “middle ground.”

Why Her?

Unbreakable bonds are forged on cinder tracks. Okay, that didn’t sound as prophetic and epic as I hoped. It’s safe to say, Laurel and I became friends after a hurdle tried to take me out at the knees.

For many years, we were inseparable. But people grow up. At times, I feared we might be growing apart, but that’s not what happened at all.

Each time we saw each other, time fell away and we took up right where we left off. Except we were older and wiser (more gray-haired and wrinkled anyway).

When she went through an ugly divorce (yes, there are other kinds, but ugly seems to be the norm), I was a concerned yet distant ear. Most of the communiques came through email, but the weekend the divorce became final, we started our tradition.

Girlfriends’ Weekend.

And it started with hiking on Mt. Hood. Then it headed to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

It hasn’t happened every year, and what started as an autumnal tradition has migrated to springtime.

It involves late nights, good food and lots of laughter. In fact, we’ve considered trademarking the hysterical laughter method of ab-tightening.

Why There?

The original point of these getaways was to offer a retreat from regular life with someone who accepted you at face value. It might be a time of therapy-by-venting or relaxation through escapism.

As for destinations, there wasn’t any rhyme or reason to the selection. Not even in the beginning.

In recent years, we’ve chose destinations centrally located that we could drive to. This keeps the cost down, although I’d wager we could find another discounted airfare to a city further afield…if we wanted to be flexible and let it happen more spur-of-the-moment.

Richland, Washington is no tourist destination. Not one I’d pay money to attend anyway.

But it happens to be nearly halfway between the two cities of our residence. And it has pretty decent weather most of the year.

The hope for sunshine is what made me reject her suggestion we relocate this year’s meeting to a place much closer to me. A place in the once-scenic (and now burn victimized) Columbia River Gorge.
She’s bringing her brochures and planning to convince me it’s a decent location for the next meet-up. And since I’ve never “bathed” in natural hot springs, she can probably talk me into it without too much trouble.

Same friend next year, who knows where? Same time? Possibly. We tend to be creatures of habit.

Have you ever had a girls’ getaway (or a guys’ getaway)? What did you do? What was its purpose?

My Love-Hate Relationship with Travel

It’s been a mild winter. And except for the excess of gray days, I’m dealing with it rather than dreaming about escaping to a land of blue skies, tank tops and all natural Vitamin D. Still, there are travel plans in my winter.
This time, it’s a “work” trip. I’m attending my first ever writer’s retreat, and it just happens to be in Destin, Florida. (I know, how sad to travel to Florida in February).
A couple days before my departure, Old Man Winter decides to make a visit to the Pacific Northwest. That nice guy dumped several inches of snow on the ground after teasing us with the idea several times during January and February. This storm will blow over before my flights are affected.
Or an Arctic system will drop on top of the mass of moisture, depositing more snow on my front lawn.
My husband drove through sideways snowfall to take me to the airport. It wasn’t bad enough to cancel or delay my flight, was it?

Nope.

I arrived in San Francisco (I’m taking a circuitous route to the Emerald Coast, one of the things I don’t love about traveling) early. Excellent. Plenty of time to find breakfast and lunch to take on the next flight.
There’s a funny story here about a misplaced spoon for consuming the yogurt parfait I purchased for breakfast. Punch line: I found the plastic utensil in my purse after I’d finished eating the yogurt.
Everything’s on time as we travelers board the plane heading to Houston (this is the longest flight on my trip). “All systems are go,” says the pilot (okay, he didn’t say that but that’s what he meant).
Then we sit at the gate. Alas, the plane backs up. This false hope is followed by a brief respite a few feet away from the gate.

“Our runway assignment is changed,” the pilot informs us. (Yes, he actually said that.)

He taxis the 737 away from the gates. San Francisco Bay comes into view (I didn’t realize it was so large until we flew over it earlier) to the right of the plane. My window seat offers me an impressive view of flocks of waterbirds living large in the eddies along the edge of the runways.
Blue skies mean nothing. There are gusting winds in San Francisco, forcing the Air Travel Know-alls to require all flights into SFO to use the same runway as those departing.

For once I didn’t envision a mid-air crash. I have places to be.

At some point (about 40 minutes after the stated departure time), the plane picks up speed and we’re in the air.
I won’t bore you with the mundane details.
Suffice it to say that this flight landed at Houston about 30 minutes before my final flight was supposed to depart.
It landed in Terminal C. My next flight is on a small express shuttle, and those depart from Terminal B.
I’ve never been to Houston. I have no idea how near (or far) these terminals are. My husband is texting me with details about some Sky Tram, but I see no signs for it. I do see arrows pointing to Terminal B.
So I walk. Make that a power walk (which is about 1 mph faster than my normal walk, 4 mph. Let’s face it some people don’t even jog at 5 mph, so I’m rushing through the airport, dodging slow travelers, and trying not to bowl over those people who wander like sleepwalkers.)

When I make it to the B Terminal, they haven’t announced my flight. Whew!

My shoulder throbs from the pressure of my laptop bag. My feet flame like the friction of walking ignited them.
The flight is announced. We head down stairs into another tunnel of gates. Then we stand in our respective boarding group lines for close to 30 minutes.
Waiting on a crew.
I ran through the airport for this? I’m panicking about missing my shuttle to the retreat and the CREW OF ONE meant to serve us a drink and hand us a pack of ten mini pretzels hasn’t arrived?
There are a few bags that haven’t made it either. Other people’s connecting flights arrived late. As a woman on my previous flight informed me, “If you have checked luggage, they won’t leave without it.”
Eventually, I made it to my destination. I didn’t miss the shuttle. There were four other women waiting to catch it too.


But all this heart-pounding had me thinking about my love-hate relationship with travel. What do I love about it? What do I not like?

Things I love about traveling:

  • Seeing new places
  • Escaping rain to find sunshine
  • An excuse to eat trail mix
  • Trying new food
  • Experiencing new cultures

A list of hateful travel possibilities:

  • Crowds of people
  • Late flights
  • Traffic
  • Delayed flights
  • Screaming babies and small children
  • Chatty seat mates
  • Airplane restrooms

Don’t judge me for these short lists. I really do enjoy traveling. But I’m not a huge fan of traveling by myself.
This is why I’m married to Mr. World Traveler (aka Mr. Wonderful) because he always takes care of the headache-inducing aspects of travel. And if that isn’t wonderful, I don’t know what is.
Do you like to travel? What’s your favorite mode of travel? What don’t you like about that mode?

Deep Thinking at the Writer’s Retreat

My Muse is extroverted in every imagined scenario. My actual body and mind are introverted enough to happily stay home every weekend reading a book.
While Musie celebrated the idea of the Deep Thinker’s Writing Retreat, my mind shriveled into the fetal position and begged to visit a library instead. Preferably the one on my iPad which wouldn’t involve moving away from my couch.
Since the retreat was in Florida, my body argued with my feeble mind. “There will be sunshine and blue skies. We can get our daily dose of Vitamin D without taking that soft gel.”


The part of my brain that knows I need a writing tribe and that my writing is falling short—somehow, since I can’t get an agent to jump on it—also slapped the curled mound of quivering gray matter. After all, 2018 is a year for metamorphosis, and the biggest part of that is with my writing.
The battlefield inside didn’t stop me from packing a bag or waking up at 3AM. On waged the upheaval between mind, soul and Musie, while I kissed hubby goodbye and boarded a plane for the first of three legs of the journey to Destin, Florida.

My Expectations

It was a writing retreat. I expected to write.

In fact, I set myself a goal of completing 5,000 new words for the third Sweet Grove Romance. I figured, that’s five hours. I’ll be there six DAYS, surely there will be at least five hours to write.
Not if I expected to sleep.

Not if I hoped to glean the lessons I needed for character development.

I know this is my weak area, and the retreat organizers gave us three days to work on our characters. In fact, we spent hours brainstorming the hero and shero of every retreat attendee.
This after the entire group tossed out ideas for characters of the “group” story we were brainstorming.

Brainstormers Extraordinaire headed by Susan May Warren

Brainstorming is my super power. No less than six people told me that at the group. One woman (a former managing editor for Zondervan) told me to expect an email from her every time she got stuck.
Oh-kay.
But the only time I got to write anything was on the final day of the retreat. Then I was expected to craft the first scene we had brainstormed earlier and share it with my group mentor, Susan May Warren.
She wanted me to share a rough draft scene with her? Was she honestly expecting to see my best work?
Enough of that. Even if the retreat wasn’t what I expected, it was an incredible experience.

A Day in the Life

I don’t sleep in. The fact I was in a different time zone didn’t matter.
I woke up around 5:30 AM (3:30 my time). My roomie woke up, too, and we headed down to the beach for a walk. This became our normal morning routine for the next four days.
Breakfast was meant to be served at 7:30. The oven wasn’t cooperating, so that didn’t happen the first several days. (Eventually the maintenance man arrived and determined that the convection setting was the default, so the retreat hostess had been using that instead of a regular bake setting.)
At 8:45, Rachel Hauck led the group in devotions. She’d recently taught a class on the Song of Solomon at her church, so we got some condensed thoughts from that.
Enlightening, for sure. I was considering the intimacy of my relationship with Christ…and finding it sadly lacking.
Then the morning sessions began. These were the topics:

  • Stories that matter
  • Characters that matter
  • Lindy Hop MEGA
  • 4-Act Plot
  • Plot your bookends
  • Scenes that matter
  • Building your premise

No, we didn’t do ALL those the first day. There were two morning sessions and these were the topics for those sessions (ten planned sessions in all, although it ended up only being eight).
After lunch, the larger group broke into two smaller brainstorming groups of six attendees, one mentor and one scribe (the Administrative Assistant for My Book Therapy was our scribe and the retreat hostess was the scribe for the other group. Both of these ladies are published authors).
Here’s what the afternoon brainstorming sessions were supposed to look like:

  • SEQ Brainstorming (four sessions)
  • Plot Brainstorming (two sessions)
  • Black Moment Brainstorming (one session)
  • Scene One Brainstorming (one session)
  • One session of writing time
  • Two sessions for one-to-one meetings with mentors

Note how I said “supposed to” in the preceding sentence? Yeah, the brainstorming of the hero and shero took the first three days of the retreat for the six authors in our group. A full hour or more per character.

This is what a character SEQ looks like

This left no time for scene brainstorming because the rest of the sessions were needed to brainstorm six plot outlines (LINDY Hop four-act plot diagram).
I will say that we brainstormed the black moments and first scenes as we went, so all the bases were covered.

The Lindy Hop plot for my novella

The first three nights, we watched a movie from 7 to 9 PM. Each person was assigned something from that day’s lesson to find in the movie and we discussed it after the film.

  • We used THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY to discuss characterization on Friday night.
  • On Saturday, we talked about the major plot points with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.
  • They made us cry on Sunday with THE IMPOSSIBLE. We talked about why that movie “worked” when the story was not action-packed. How did they build the emotional tension?

Not surprisingly, the emotion building still fit into the LINDY Hop structure we’d been learning.
Using movies is a great way to solidify the importance of characterization and plot. Everyone has the same frame of reference, so the question of subjectiveness is alleviated.

The spot where phone calls home happened

For the most part. There were varying themes for TARZAN that could be determined by naming different things as the “man in the mirror” moment or “black moment.”
The Deep Thinkers Retreat might not have been what I was expecting. (Notice I didn’t call it a writing retreat there. I think it’s meant to be a writer’s retreat rather than a retreat for writing.) Still, I learned so much that my brain overloaded on the flight home.

The perfect place for writing

My next Sweet Grove romance was written using these methods. In July, you can judge for yourself if this retreat made me a better storyteller.
What makes something a retreat? Have you ever when to a retreat with one set of expectations only to discover it would deliver a different set?

The Road to Blogging is Paved with Grand Intentions

I intended to post at least twice last week while I was on vacation in Branson, MO. Really. Here’s a little proof from my blog about what I was hoping for from the vacation.

And then vacation mindset settled in. And grand intentions went the way of New Year’s resolutions.

It happens when you’re having a fine time relaxing and seeing the sights and eating too much rich food.

So how about if I synopsize it for you now? Will that make up for failing to post in the heat of vacation’s finer moments?

I’d rather seek forgiveness than ask permission.

The First Weekend

Fights were unremarkable with the exception that we arrived 30 minutes early in Oklahoma City. It stressed my cousin’s wife out not to be there to meet us. But the timing worked out so that we claimed our bags, stepped into the pickup area and they pulled up a minute later.

Smoother than Dole whip. Although not as tasty.

They took us to a pizza joint where their son worked. We were waited on by the owner’s daughter (said son’s best friend) and then off to their house for football.

There was entirely too much college football viewed during these first couple days. But I was in Sooner territory and the championship games were being played.

Enough said.

My aunt (the reason for the side trip into OKC rather than flying directly to MO) and uncle took us to Cattleman’s Cafe at the Stockyards on Saturday. Best steak I’ve had in a LONG time and not as pricey as the last memorable one from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

We did some emergency laundry (no, I don’t want to talk about it) and packed for a semi-early start for the extensive road trip through the flatlands and into the “mountains.” (Yes, there’s a story here, but I’m not telling it at this juncture.)

A Typical Monday

My cousin’s wife had to work. She wasn’t the only one. My cousin spent plenty of time on the phone with a troubled client and hubs got a call about a computer network issue.

Even I ended up working. I wrote a blog post and played around with the stylus and my photo editing app. If you missed it, you can check it out now.

So we stayed at the condo. Mostly.

We agreed to a “15-minute survey” from the Wyndham rep for a $25 American Express card. And that went fine (although longer than 15 minutes but it took place in our condo, so no biggie).

But…timeshare salesmen have no boundaries.

We borrowed my cousin’s Jeep to get some “important and essential” information from the sales center. Not. As soon as they realized we had meant it when we said we didn’t want to buy more points (“But the pricing was incredible. I figured you must have misunderstood the offer.” Yes, we’re idiots. Thanks for saying so, but no, it doesn’t make us want to spend $15,000 dollars).

Since we were out and about, we went to the Dixie Stampede grounds and picked up our tickets for the dinner show on Friday The smell of horseflesh assaulted me when I stepped from the car. Lovely.

It was finally a good day.

Shopping, Sightseeing and Shows

Tuesday, we went shopping at the Landing and the Tanger Outlets.

Wednesday was our afternoon show at the Sight and Sound Theater.

If you’ve never been to one, you should add it to your bucket list. The barnyard scent in the fancy auditorium was the first clue that this would be a show like no other.

A musical with live animals and incredible lighting effects followed.

Afterward, we took the cousins out for dinner since it was their third wedding anniversary.

I recommend Dobyns at the College of the Ozarks (aka Hard Work U).

Friday night was the big dinner show at Dixie Stampede. It was an incredible assortment of trick riding and showmanship. And if you only wanted food, the WHOLE chicken was sure to satisfy.

Road Tripping

The trip from OKC to Branson was a dual-sided road trip.

But that wasn’t enough for my cousins. Nope. They had been married in a “town that survives solely on tourism.” And they wanted to show it to us.

We were game. After all, it was only about fifty miles from Branson. Just a hop, skip and a jump of about an hour in the car.

Or not.

Because we were in the “hills” and the roads were winding through small towns, beside lakes, past chicken farms and at less than 55 miles per hour most of the time.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, has more to claim its fame than artists and odd-shaped buildings and old store fronts.

For one thing, it boasts the Christ of the Ozarks. This 64-foot statue was our first stop on the chilly winter Thursday we road tripped across the state line.

The town itself was “quaint” if not oddly situated on the side of a hill with narrow streets.

The B&B where they got married was charming. They drove up the steep and narrow drive (explaining how their wedding guests had to park thither and yon) and hopped out to chat with the landlady.

Who was on vacation.

But we saw plenty of locally made art pieces. One of the most unique and memorable pieces was at Zarks Gallery. I must say I wasn’t in the market for art of this caliber. Mostly because I couldn’t afford the $5,000 price tag.

One of Many Nano Lopez sculptures in Zarks Gallery

Eventually, we were headed back to Branson for the condo-grilled dinner. And I ascribed to one of my favorite ways to spend a road trip.

Share your vacation memories. I’d love to hear about the strangest discoveries you made.

A Different Sort of Family Vacation

For several decades, family vacations were defined in a certain way. But as with all of life, things change.

My most recent vacation to the South was a different sort of family vacation for me. However, that means next to nothing if the “norm” of family vacations remains undefined.

Welcome to the earlier definitions of “family vacation.”

The Childhood Definition

A vacation in my childhood involved a canvas tent, sleeping bags, a cooler and camp stove and public forest camping.

And I didn’t complain because I can count on one hand the number of times my father, mother, sister and I went on a trip together. The most memorable one involved a road trip from Oregon to Oklahoma in 1976 for a family reunion.

I wanted to become an Okie after that trip. But that could have been because I did NOT want to get back in the car for three days of solid driving through hot Kansas without air conditioning, no bathroom breaks, sleeping in the cramped back seat with my sister…and the switch.

Because there would be NO fighting. And Dad wouldn’t have to pull the car over thanks to the switch he cut and could handily whip between my sister and my’s bare legs with Indiana Jones precision.

So, I didn’t really know what a family vacation was all about.

The Definition I Adored

And then I married Mr. Wonderful whose family went to campgrounds with neighborhood friends and relatives every summer with regularity. And they slept in RVs. And girls showered and fixed their hair and applied makeup.

So that was a huge culture shock for the girl who caught her dinner in the creek, went to the bathroom in a bucket and washed her face upstream (if you get my meaning).

But once we had kids, we began our own traditions. And when the kids were old enough, we planned a fantastic Spring Break trip…just the four of us. Sometimes we asked friends to tag along, but when you’re jetting across the country that’s not always possible.

Most memorable to me: Washington DC and Disney Orlando

During our RV years, there were plenty of summer trips too. Of course, these were road trips. And the large-bladdered men in my family jibed me for too many bathroom breaks, but no one ever said I had to hold it for another two hours.

Some places we went in the summer: Yellowstone, Redwoods and Disneyland (we even got to fly to this destination-yay!)

Most memorable road trip during this phase: to Colorado.

This was the trip of the Piggyback Hike and the Boot Removal of Death. I’m pretty sure any man in my family can recall exact (and exaggerated) details of those events.

But, kids grow up. And now our “family” has grown to six and our vacations together are more sporadic and occur in December near Christmas. Generally to tropical climates.

A New Dictionary Entry

This past week, I visited family. That’s the new sort of “family” vacation. Rather than going somewhere with “my boys,” I planned an entire ten days around a special someone: my Aunt Betty.

Aunt Betty is an amazing lady. A real Renaissance Woman (and if there isn’t such a thing, now there is). She pursued a career when women were “expected” to marry young and fill a house with babies.

When a man didn’t deserve her faithfulness, she divorced him. Yes, in the Bible Belt in the 1950s. Unheard of. And highly unpopular.

She’s a true survivor. At the moment, she’s surviving her third diagnosis of breast cancer. And she’s over 80, so she knows she’s living on “blessed time” (see Psalms if you don’t know what I’m referring to here).

I tried to plan a trip in May to the College World Series in Oklahoma City (where Aunt B lives), but the ticket prices…stunned me. When I could take a Caribbean cruise for less money, I had to pass.

But we have a condo in Branson, MO. And they have great shows there and amazing Christmas light displays. So, I planned our vacation around visiting Aunt Betty in OKC and then taking her on a road trip to Branson.

And we all know how I feel about road trips.

What’s your idea of a “family vacation”? Am I all wrong with my three definitions?

Join Me on Vacation

It’s that time of year. No, not the one where we stress ourselves by chasing our tail to parties and shopping for gifts. Vacation time!

This year, my husband and I are heading to the South to visit family…and experience the joys of the holiday season in Branson, Missouri. Maybe while I’m gone, some angels will drop by my house and wrap all the gifts and spruce up the decorations.

I know I’ve been pretty quiet the past month, and it’s probably that December will be another “one post per week” time her at Sharon Lee Hughson, Author’s blog. I’ll try to jump online while I’m away (for ten days) and give you a sample of my trip to “Nashville of the Ozarks.” But I’m not making any promises.

To whet your appetite for the trip, here’s a brief itinerary:

  • Today: Fly to OKC
  • Tomorrow: Spend the day with my Aunt Betty
  • Sunday: Travel to Branson and see THIS
  • Monday: Vacate…yes, that’s the verb for what you do on vacation. I know you think it means something else, but right here and right now, it means I’m vacationing.
  • Tuesday: Watch the Miracle of Christmas
  • Wednesday & Thursday: Cruise the town, see some sights, sample some goodies, more vacating
  • Friday: Check out the Dixie Stampede
  • Saturday: Squeeze in any last minute “must see” action
  • Sunday: Return to OKC and fly home

No, that’s not all we’re going to do. But if you’ve read any of my other posts on vacation (like this one or this one), then you know I’m NOT a fan of booking every day with activities.

In short, that’s a key to stress for me…and I vacate to relax. (Notice what I did there? Using my new definition in a sentence. Oh, yeah. Oxford will be adding that definition to their dictionary soon.)

Christmas is first about Christ and second about the twinkling lights. While we’re in Branson, we also plan to check out the glory of the lights. Lights in the square and in one (two or even all three) of the drive through light shows they have in Nashville of the Ozarks.

Have you been to Branson? What would you suggest is a “must see”?

For all the latest from Sharon, sign up for Hero Delivery and get a FREE story.

An American Author in Canada

Authors take vacations, but sometimes they aren’t for avoiding the keyboard. This author travels occasionally with her engineer husband, and most of the time those are working vacations.

What? It’s not vacation if you’re working.

Maybe you’re right. Or not. The third definition for vacation at dictionary.com says: “freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.” In this case, I’m freed from my household duties and my regular activities for a specific purpose: to incite creativity.

Creativity and Canada are a decent mix, I’ve decided.

High Hopes

Sometimes I spend too much time inside my office. The lovely walls with all their inspirational sayings and plaques of my book covers move like a trash compactor (picturing a scene from Star Wars IV here).

Even when the sun pushes back the gray clouds, all I see are the words that need to be rewritten or revised or edited. The list of projects in mid-completion expands to block out everything else.

In short, the creative space I’ve slaved to build in my home office (and on my back patio) works against me.

This is when I need a change of scenery. Sometimes going to the coffee shop works. Or I’ve plugged in at the library.

But in light of the daunting tasks facing me in the months ahead, my muse begged for something bigger.

So when my husband told me he had a conference in Vancouver B.C. and asked, “Do you want to come with me?” I jumped on it.

All I was hoping for was a new view outside my window, a touch of sunshine and maybe a little magic in the air.

Reality Rules

Several people gave me ideas of things to do while I visited this Canadian city. I smiled and nodded, listening but thinking, “I’m not going there for a relaxing vacation.”

No need to rain on their good advice. I even checked into a bicycle tour of the city because that’s something I’ve decided I will do if I go to Europe with my husband on a business trip. It’s a great way to breathe foreign air and glimpse the local sights, all while stretching the flabby muscles in my legs. Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

The weather app (who needs a weather man when you have a smart phone) advised me that it wouldn’t be sunny during my stay. But the first couple days wouldn’t bring precipitation either.

I could deal with that. I’d be able to get outside and walk along the harbor which is only a block from the hotel. Fresh foreign air: check.

Of course, spending time isolated in a hotel room to write isn’t the same as writing in my office. The maid wants to come in and clean. There isn’t food and water close by to keep me fed and hydrated.

And there are no cats to assist me by climbing in my lap and scrubbing their chin over my typing fingers.

The lobby in the hotel has a small area that would work for writing, but it’s pretty busy, and I’m a person who prefers silence during certain stages of writing.

Was this going to be a bust after all?

Expectations Exceeded

Here’s what I wanted to accomplish on this vacation: draft the third installment of my sweet contemporary romance series.

That meant 20,000 words in four days, which is about an average accomplishment for me when I’m in the drafting phase of a story. Five hours of writing per day equals 5,000 words.

Of course, I only had three days in Vancouver. The Monday and Friday of the week were travel days.

Monday was sunny and gorgeous when we arrived. Much better weather than in Portland when we left at 4:30 in the afternoon. My muse perked up her ears and gazed out the window on the cab ride from the airport to the hotel.

Priorities:

  1. Find a place to get coffee and breakfast (sorry, Marriott, I’m not paying $20 to eat breakfast)
  2. Scope out restaurants with great people-watching views for budget-friendly lunches
  3. Set up a snack-stocked writing area at the desk in the hotel room

Oh, Starbucks, how do I love thee? I know plenty of people aren’t fans. Fine. But for less than half the price of the Marriott offering I get a mocha grande (non-fat, no whip) and a yogurt, fruit and granola parfait. Sounds like the perfect breakfast to me.

Better yet? It’s directly across the street from the hotel.

Three blocks down, I locate Waterfront Food Court. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a mecca of variety in eats and bountiful bodies to watch.

Day one, I enjoy falafel and Greek salad while reading on my iPhone and stealing glances at the people flooding through the seating area. Day two, should I eat salad or grab a slice of pizza?

I love having choices.

I packed healthy snacks in my suitcase, but my husband didn’t want me to starve. So he snagged a bag of pretzels and white cheddar popcorn from the offerings at his conference. (I’m pretty sure the popcorn is for him since I don’t like cheese on mine.)

All three priorities met. Better yet? The walkway along the harbor was better than I imagined. Check it out.

Look! Canadian Geese in Canada.

 

Pedestrians on the left and bicycles to the right. Ingenius!

Yes, there are TWO lanes on the path. One of them is for foot traffic and the other is for bicycles (and a few in-line skaters whooshed by, too).

I wanted to share my thoughts on the city, but my post is getting long. Look! A topic for a future post. SCORE!

Is there such a thing as a working vacation for you? Or does it have to be about relaxing and sightseeing?

In Honor of My Trip to the Beach

My sister lives at the beach. It gives me the perfect excuse to make the two-hour drive.

Breathing salty air, walking sandy shores and listening to soothing surf is only a side benefit. Really. My sister is my number one fan, so I’m taking the trip to see her.

I’m a nice person, though. So I figured I’d share some of the sights with you, too.

 

Mist isn’t always for the morning at the Oregon Coast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you hear the shush? Smell the salinity?
Sand between your toes, wind at your back and sun on your face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moon setting in Lincoln City

It was only two days and two nights. My sister had to work, but we did get a few hours together.

My husband and I spend quality time together too. He didn’t even mind that my lover (Mr. Pacific Ocean) was present for most of it.

Do you like the beach? What is your favorite beach? Why that beach?

Experience Bavaria in Leavenworth Washington

If you’ve never traveled to Bavaria (a region in Germany in case you checked your map app and nothing showed up), you might not have to travel overseas to do it. There’s a quaint village in the Cascade Mountains called Leavenworth, WA, that promises you a sample.


I might have visited Leavenworth first, but I’ve also traveled to authentic Bavarian mountain villages. The similarity is striking. If you’re a resident of the Pacific Northwest and have never made the trip over the mountains to Leavenworth, please reconsider. It’s the closest thing to Germany on the West Coast.
It’s All About the Setting
Several mountain passes provide access to the Bavaria-of-the-Cascades (no idea if that’s a real moniker, but I like the sound of it). I drove through Blewetr Pass via I-90. Highway 2 takes you through the center of the village.
As you descend out of the mountains, the road flattens into a narrow valley. The Wenatchee River wends its way through, wide and sluggish from the spring rains. Fruit orchards and shuttered fruit stands pepper the sides of the road.
Then you drive around a curve and blue mountains rise up in front of you. My friend says they look that color because of the blue spruce trees. All I know is that the Cascades where I’m from are green or gray, never blue.


In the early spring, it’s a vista of blue with white peaks. My breath caught in my throat. I was here in the fall before and there hadn’t been snowy jags like this.
A grin tugs my lips and I forget the ache in my rear from sitting in the car for five hours. On the right, there’s a Safeway that looks nothing like any other Safeway in my experience. It’s painted with mountain scenes on its stucco-like sides. It’s roofline mimics the A-frame architecture of an Alpine village.
Every building that lines the highway takes its structural cue from the same guidebook.
I’m reminded how amazed I felt when we visited a mountain village in Bavaria and realized I’d seen buildings painted with murals and windows framed by dark wood shutters. Here. In Leavenworth.
And There’s Shopping
You could make the drive to Leavenworth just to appreciate the beauty. And it would be worth it. Because, believe me, it’s not on the way to anywhere. You’ll have to decide to visit.
However, if you’re there, you might as well park the car and stroll through the blocks of shops that nestle between the highway and the Wenatchee River.


The assortment is unique to this place with artisans alongside Cheesemongers and gift shops beside pubs and restaurants. Live music is featured in many of the eateries, and it’s supplied by a man in Swiss attire pressing out tunes on an accordion at King Ludwig’s.
I’ve never sampled Swiss chocolates (because I haven’t been to Switzerland), but the stuff handmade in the SChocolat shop in Leavenworth are melt-in-the-mouth delicacies. Without the waxy texture of most American-made chocolates, which is similar to the authentic Belgian chocolates I’ve eaten.
There’s a Danish bakery (the pralinas and cherry streusel are scrumptious) and a nutcracker shop. A photo gallery, metal artisan shop and a Christmas store called Kringle’s. On further exploration, you’ll discover a comic book shop, tea shop, smoke shop and a peddler of knives.
Perhaps it sounds like the same-old stuff to you.
The buildings painted to resemble a variety of Alpine structures and the cobbled streets beneath your feet might change your mind. If not, perhaps the horse-drawn carriage or the gazebo lit with a million white twinkling lights.
Still unconvinced? Turn your eyes upward and gasp at the blue and white mountains standing sentinel, close enough to touch it seems.
These Might not be The Alps
Okay, it’s an Alpine village look-alike. There’s a Bavarian feel to the majority of the commercial buildings in the shopping district.

Image from wildwater-river

But the elevation isn’t even a mile above sea level. Most of the spiking peaks rise a mere 2,000 feet more. In the shadow of the mighty Rockies, this is nothing.
                                            Take a hike, my friend.
Trails for inexperienced and advanced hikers surround and abound. Let the wind sing through the pines and the nip of winter tingle across your cheekbones. Inhale the freshness of the wilderness.
You need to spend at least five hours in nature per month to reap the mental health benefits it provides. Why not let the Wenatchee National Forest be your therapist?
Have you traveled to Leavenworth? An actual Alpine village? What was your reaction? What distinctive sights have I neglected to mention?
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