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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A Weekend with the Girls

Life speeds ahead and important elements like friendship might become little more than casualties along this racetrack. This is one of the reasons I have made a weekend with my best friend from high school a priority in my schedule.
If you’re a man, you might be able to relate if you go hunting with your friends. Or maybe you have tickets to a sporting event and share dinner before (or after) with a testosterone-heavy group. Good for you. Friendships enrich our lives.
And no, a girls-only getaway doesn’t me pillow fights in pajamas (regardless of what my husband likes to think). But it does involve the heart-to-heart talks that may have been left behind with those teenage slumber parties.


Many years ago, my best friend from high school and I began this tradition. Although we haven’t maintained an annual reunion since the inception, we’ve been faithful to it for the past three years.
City Escape
Two times we’ve traded our small-town existence for the big city. After all, spending time with friends isn’t about secluding ourselves from the world.
Our wide world begs us to experience its many faces. How better to see the bright lights and high rise shadows than with a friend?
We’ve visited San Francisco and Seattle. A trip to Sin City is brewing.
These destinations offer unique opportunities. Walking along Fisherman’s Wharf to the sound of barking sea lions? Sure and don’t forget the wax museum and Ghiradelli factory. If you’ve never been offered drugs at the entrance to Golden Gate Park, have you really lived?
Fish tossing at Pikes Place Market? We saw it. And sampled fresh-roasted coffee and nuts while perusing wares from dozens of artisans. When we wanted to be grossed out, we toured down Post Alley to the gum wall.


These are shared memories that fuel the midnight conversations in years to come.
Mountain Escape
One of our earliest weekends was at a condo near Mount Hood. It rained to greet our arrival, so we watched movies and snacked on popcorn.
While the clouds camped on the highest peak in Oregon, the sun shone on one trail that wove through evergreens to a small lake. There the mountain was reflected in all its glory.
This year, we took a longer drive to Leavenworth, Washington. We hiked two-and-a-half miles up the side of Icicle Ridge to enjoy amazing views of the river rushing through a rocky gorge on one side and calming to lap gently at several parks on the other.

Yes, that’s the river gorge nearly 2,000 feet below us

This little town offered plenty of other sights, too, with much more panache than the sleepy mountain towns of Rhododendron and Zig Zag (look them up if you don’t believe me).
Worth the Drive
While we flew to California, most years we hop in our respective vehicles and drive to the rendezvous point. The older I get, the more my body groans at being trapped behind the wheel for hours on end.
                                                            Yes, I’m not much for road trips.
But to spend a weekend laughing, sharing, crying and living with my girlfriends, I’ll suffer the butt-ache and stiff knees (all of which faded after the long hike anyway because my feet screamed much louder).
Even if we lived much closer, I think my friends and I would still like to “get away from it all” together. It’s therapeutic to bare our souls and drain our stress.
Sunday comes before we’re ready. There are hugs and goodbyes and then the promise of the future.
“See you same time next year.”
And it’s a date.
If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Reality Meets its Match and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.

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Reasons to Vacation at the World’s Longest Beach

The world’s longest beach is located on the West Coast of the United States? It seems like a stretch.


So…Google it.
You’ll discover that the 28-mile long peninsula in Washington State is indeed the longest “drivable” stretch of beach in the world. A beach in Bangladesh technically takes the title in distance of beach (but it isn’t vehicle accessible).
Two times in the past decade, we chose Long Beach, Washington as a March destination. Which probably isn’t the greatest choice weather-wise. The Evergreen State isn’t misnamed and in order to keep its verdant vegetation requires irrigation.
Nature obliges. In short, expect rain if you visit during a season other than summer. And don’t be surprised if precipitation accompanies your trip in June, July or August.
Since there is a Worldmark resort in Long Beach, and it’s located an easy drive from our home, it was an obvious choice for a “saving year” Spring Break when the kids lived at home.nd a mini-vacation when someone had “use it or lose it” vacation time.
Even without those tempting factors, it’s worth consideration if you’re looking for a beach destination for your next vacation.
Family Activities
An array of activities await all along the Long Beach Peninsula.
There is a family fun center (or three). Here you can find rides, like bumper cars and a carousel,, and games, maybe even Skee Ball, my favorite.
There are indoor AND outdoor miniature golf courses. This is entertaining for everyone, especially if you can’t make a single par.

What? Does he think my score is inaccurate?

Two go-kart tracks are an easy walk from the Worldmark resort where we stayed. If you’re unlucky, you might get the cart that has only one speed: putt, putt. You’ll put the pedal to the metal and eke along, slightly faster than a slug on slime.


Outdoor Fun
If you go to the coast, you’ll want to stop and see the lighthouses. There are two historic lighthouses on Cape Disappointment.
The Cape Disappointment light was build in 1856. Because of problems with the fog horn and light not reaching ships, the second lighthouse was built. Take a nice hike along the Cape Disappointment Trail. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

From our 2010 Spring Break trip…through the forest to the lighthouse

The North Head Lighthouse is on a rock headland in Cape Disappointment State Park and has been in service since 1897. If you’re fortunate, you might not get blown out to sea while visiting this site.


A paved trail offers a unique view of the peninsula. The Discover Trail runs 8.5 miles from Ilwaco to Long Beach. Mile markers track your progress, and side paths allow access to the beach. It’s perfect for walking, running or biking.
Horseback riding on the beach is another enjoyable way to pass the time on your vacation. A local rancher brings horses to a paddock adjacent to the Worldmark resort where we stayed, but there are other vendors, too.


Beach
Did I mention this is the longest stretch of beach in the United States?


Maybe you prefer a little sunshine with your beach outings. That’s fine. But you might be surprised to see the locals at the beach during slanting rain showers. They’ll be walking their dogs (without leashes), jogging, flying kites, windsurfing, parasailing or surfing.
In the evenings, cars will park in full view of the sinking sun. Trucks will have their beds facing the ocean while their occupants recline on camp chairs, eating and drinking.
People drove campers and motorhomes on to the beach. Talk about a drive-up ocean view for any meal! I wouldn’t recommend this when the sand is soft, but during the rainy season, even the dry sand doesn’t give way very easily.
What are your favorite beach activities?

If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Finding Focus and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.
Already read one or more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. Those reviews are the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

An Atypical Vacation

I can’t really do a stay vacation. So instead, we take a short road trip to our “home resort” near Bend, Oregon.
Stay vacations are for people who need to get some projects done at home. But since my office is at home, I have a heard time avoiding the tasks awaiting me. As long as I’m at home.
So, I look forward to even a slight change of location.
Even if I plan to do some work on vacation.

The Resort

Eagle Crest lies on a plateau in Central Oregon halfway between the yuppy city of Bend, the growing town of Redmond and the tourist site of Sisters.
Two decades ago, we visited there on a “free” pass from my parents. The caveat…we had to listen to a sixty-minute presentation of the vacation timeshare plan.
Since then, the resort was purchased by Trendwest, Worldmark and then Wyndham (or was the Worldmark/Wyndham more of a merger?) and our options have expanded twenty-fold.
Two short golf courses, paved walking trails, and a number of private subdivisions comprise the resort grounds. If the weather isn’t right for golf, there’s an indoor pool and two different recreation centers.
For a person with an unlimited budget, there’s a spa and salon.

The Work

I finished my first editing pass of ELEPHANT IN THE TEAROOM before we left for the vacation. That felt good.
No, that novel still isn’t ready for submission. It will get two more editing passes before I let a professional read it.
I carried the rough draft of my romance novella, the narrative portions of my grief memoir outline and an idea notebook over the mountains.

All of it hanging out on my computer hard drive or, more likely, in the virtual storage of One Drive.
My oldest son and his wife are coming down for the weekend. There is an anniversary event that we’re attending on Saturday, so I know I’ll be playing those days.
If I get two or three hours of quality work in on the five weekdays, I’ll be pretty pleased with myself.
Lord knows the change of scenery is sure to inspire my creativity. I know Ms. Muse loves sunshine, fresh air, outdoors and even a day of shopping.

The Plan

If you’ve followed me for long, you know I’m more of a “I have a vague idea what I want to do” vacation planner.
My husband suggested the High Desert Museum. Several friends asked if we were going to ski Mt. Bachelor because they’ve opened a few new runs there. Bend has an outlet mall, so my inner-shopaholic threw that hat in the ring.
We drive down Friday night after work, stopping at the Dairy Queen in Sandy for dinner. Our house guests plan to arrive an hour or so later. We talk and play some games.
On Saturday, we head to the anniversary celebration. The kids head in the same direction because her grandfather passed away, so there’s a ton of family around and she has an obituary to write. (I know, it doesn’t sound fun to me either.) We plan to rendezvous back at the condo for a burger dinner and more games.
The kids leave on Monday, but we fill our weekend with plenty of games. They even let me win. That’s a nice change of pace from the usual “Whoever gets Mom on their team will lose.”
The weekdays will be more relaxed. Since Monday is a holiday, I’m in favor of staying at the resort to avoid the craziness.
Then bring on the museum and shopping for the rest of the week.

Except, no. We believed them about a 30-minute owner update. Which we had to drive to Inn of the Seventh Mountain to attend.

Three hours later…

When will we ever learn?

We did manage to do a little shopping. But the museum was out. And my husband didn’t even bring his ski clothes (although we talked about packing them.)

I enjoyed a long overdue pedicure while he checked out a tool store.

The weather

I needed something other than gray skies.

The snow was beautiful. It stifled some of our outdoor activities, but most of the time, it melted by noon. And the sun peeked through the clouds.

Sometimes it was sunny, so  we’d head out for a walk. And then out of nowhere the wind picked up and rain, sleet or snow added a little adventure to an afternoon power walk.

As they say on the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”


Are you a fan of a stay-cation? What do you need before you consider time away from home a vacation?

If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Finding Focus and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.
Already read one or more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. Those reviews are the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

My Sunny Vacation Days

Let’s face it. I didn’t have a vacation in 2015, and after everything that befell me (mostly good), I deserve to have two in 2016. Come along with me on my second sunny vacation in three months.

I wrote a tad about how this vacation came about earlier.

In fact, my class reunion in July 2015 became the springboard for a jaunt to a resort we’ve been eyeing for ten years.

The Resort

Indio, California is about twenty miles south of the famed Palm Springs, vacation home to numerous celebrities.

The town proper includes everything you might want for a vacation. We bought groceries at a WinCo located a couple miles from our home base. There was also a pharmacy and numerous restaurants in that shopping center.

A few miles in the other direction, we found the rest of our supplies at a WalMart Supercenter.

Worldmark Indio is a gigantic place. Fifteen buildings, three or four stories tall, house various condominiums. There are two large pools situated at either end of the lovely green space on the back side of these stucco monsters.

Thirty-six greens and fairways circle most of the resort. Palms whisper overhead. Birds offer up early-morning catcalls. Duck families enjoy the central pond network.

Since it was Easter, bunnies even hopped around the place. (Actually, I’m sure they live there full-time.)

Two basketball courts and a double tennis court offer outdoor recreational opportunities. A large recreation center houses billiards, Ping Pong, air hockey and a dozen video games-even classics like Centipede and Space Invaders.

The pool nearest our room (which included two hot tubs, wading pool and swimming pool, also featured a lazy river. This is a winding path of water with its own current. You plop onto the provided tubes and let the river do the rest.

Joshua Tree National Park

Obviously, there was plenty to do at the resort. Especially if you’re like me and think the best vacation involves a lounge chair and a good book.

However, a number of national parks are nearby, and one of them features forests of Joshua Trees.

Don’t know what a Joshua Tree is? Let me help you out.

And it’s Spring, so the desert flowers are blooming. On our outlined plan of action for the week, a trip to Joshua Tree National Park was a must for three out of four of us.

This is what the itinerary looked like:
Monday: Hang out at Resort
Tuesday: Joshua Tree
Wednesday: Spa and 18 holes of golf
Thursday: Palm Springs
Friday: Pool Day

I planned to hike a few trails in the park, so I dressed in tennis shoes. My friends warned that it would be ten to fifteen degrees cooler in the park, so I should dress warmly or bring warm clothes.

We left at 9AM and returned around 7PM. Here are the photographic highlights of the day:

Laurel and me by the South entrance sign
Laurel and me by the South entrance sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

Us girls on the climb up Ryan Mountain
Us girls on the climb up Ryan Mountain
Proof I climbed the 1.5 miles and 1,000 feet
Proof I climbed the 1.5 miles and 1,000 feet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Living Desert I didn’t see

Come back on Thursday to hear the whole story, but the Thursday itinerary got an overhaul. Namely, only my friends went off to Palm Springs.

I’d been to The Living Desert-the local zoo-during our first trip to the area on our second honeymoon. I loved it and looked forward to a repeat.

After all, they had a baby giraffe now.

But I saw a real live desert on Tuesday and that was going to have to tide me over until my next trip this far south.

If you love dry sunny days, you should plan a trip to Indio (or Palm Springs or Palm Desert). I highly recommend using the traditional Spring Break timing for this trip. (In fact, a teacher I work with has been going there for a decade during Spring Break.)

The desert was in bloom, giving color to the brown canvas. Breezes cooled the high temperatures of 90 degrees to feel like a balmy, Hawaiian 75.

In fact, my husband enjoyed the location so much, he’s trying to convince our kids to take a family vacation there with us next year.

A sunny vacation is my ideal. What about you? What’s your ideal vacation getaway?

On Vacation Again

Reason number ONE for attending a class reunion: it might lead to a vacation with your best friend.

Yep. This is what happened at my some-number year class reunion.

My BFF and I are both owners (with our loving husbands, of course) of the Worldmark by Wyndym Vacation Club.

For several years, we’ve been talking about taking a vacation together. Each time we get together to catch up on life, we say we’ll have to book at the same resort. Some day.

In July 2015, at the reunion, my friend’s husband said, “Where do you want to go?”

My husband and I have been checking out the resort in Indio, California for a few years. Him because it’s on a golf course. Me because and there is a HUGE pool and guaranteed sunshine.

Then her husband said, “We’ve been there. It’s nice. Pick a week.”

And so we decided to go on his Spring Break (he’s the principal of a school district in Idaho).

I made the reservations and texted her. She texted back that they reserved their condo. We were really going to do this thing.

Spring Break is here.

I’m sure I’ll have updates about the trip when I get back, but in honor of me being on vacation, I thought I’d share a few snapshots of me enjoying former vacations in sunny locations.

You know, to get you in the mood for your next trip.

The water really is that color off the coast of the West Indies
The water really is that color off the coast of the West Indies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because everyone's birthday should be like this
Because everyone’s birthday should be like this

Some things are worth losing sleep over

Some things are worth losing sleep over

 

 

Maui View
Talk about a room with a view. Find me on the lanai

 

The last time we were in Palm Springs
The last time we were in Palm Springs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man, I’m so ready for vacation now.

Wait! I’m already there. See you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Friendly Island Tour

Have you enjoyed cruising with me? I hope it has been entertaining. Better than a three-hour tour that gets you shipwrecked on a deserted island, anyway.

Our final port of call was Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten. Other than shopping for the last of our gifts and picking up our “free” charm, we had scheduled an island tour.

Cruise ships dock on the Dutch side of the island because the harbor there is larger, more accessible to the ships. Since our newest daughter loves France and all things French, I wanted an opportunity to shop in “France” for her.

In this case, that meant the larger side of the Friendly Island, and the best way to get there was on a tour bus.

Why the Friendly Island?

According to our tour guide, the island changed ownership several times over after being discovered by Christopher Columbus and claimed for Spain in 1493.

Even the natives of the island were transplants. They came from South America in about 800BC. The biggest claim of the island is its salt lake. In fact, salt mining was the major industry on the island until tourism took over.

The harbor as we're coming to port early in the morning
The harbor as we’re coming to port early in the morning

French settlers grew tobacco and the Dutch mined salt. Aside from the Spanish, the island was also occupied by the English at one time. Since the island was divided in 1648, there have been uprisings cause mostly from wars of the parent nations.

For example the French or British occupied the island during the different revolutionary wars to use it as a resupply station for troops making the trans-Atlantic trip to fight in the Americas.

Since the French monarchy returned the island to its nearly equal zones in 1816, the two nations have lived in relative peace.

The border between the two separate countries is unguarded and requires no stops to view identification. This freedom is one of the reasons why the islanders refer to themselves as the Friendly Island.

The open, unguarded border between Dutch and France on the island
The open, unguarded border between Dutch and France on the island

Tale Told by our Guide

But how did they divide the island?

Why would two countries even bother with this 34-square-mile hump of hilly volcanic rock?

The tale is told that when the early government decided both nations would peacefully occupy the island, they were unsure how to divide it. So they decided to have a race.

A Frenchman and Dutchman stood back to back and were told to walk the coastline. Where ever their feet touched, that would belong to their country.

Off they went.

If you saw the jagged coastline and the way the hills rise up along it in areas, you can imagine this wasn’t a peaceful stroll along the beach.

When the Dutchman came to the steepest part of the mountains (a hilltop measuring 1391 feet), his legs gave out. He sat down to rest and fell asleep.

It was there the Frenchman found him. And because the Frenchman walked further, the French side of the island is about 60 percent of the total area.

Shopping in France

St. Martin (the French spelling) is the only duty-free shopping destination in the French West Indies. Maybe that’s one of the things that makes is so friendly.

There was an impressive mall where our tour bus dropped us off. West Indies Mall is on the Marigot waterfront and contained recognizable brands from major retailers.

That’s not the type of shopping I wanted. So I turned left and headed to the colorful street market.

I practiced my bartering skills in this Marigot street market
I practiced my bartering skills in this Marigot street market

I could have dropped a wad of cash here. Everyone wanted to sell me something. Some people were even willing to barter with me.

I wasn’t in the mood to get fleeced. Nor was I looking for custom, hand-designed jewelry. That ship had sailed. (If you read this post, you know what I’m talking about).

I found a sun dress and jewelry to wear for the last night aboard ship. I could have purchased some interesting masks for my newest daughter, but I’d already found her an adorable turtle figurine.

What stands out

The thing that sticks out in my mind:

1. The gigantic colorful iguanas reclining in every tree. (I wasn’t about to walk beneath another tree without checking the branches first after seeing that.)

The picture does not do justice to the sight, I assure you.
The picture does not do justice to the sight, I assure you.

2. The tour guide singing her National Anthem to us during the last few minutes of the tour.

It really was a friendly island. Taking the tour was the best way to experience both sides of the friendliness claim-to-fame.

When having dinner with strangers isn’t strange

Don’t talk to strangers. We’ve heard it all our lives. So having dinner with strangers would be even an even bigger faux pas.

Wouldn’t it?

Not if you’re on a cruise ship. In fact, the fancy dining room setup using cozy tables for six or eight added the perfect touch to our cruising experience.

By the end of the trip, these dinners marked in the top three of things I enjoyed most about the cruise overall.

Top three? She must be crazy!

The Company

I talked about the dining room seatings in an earlier post. For a refresher, click here.

Sunday night (the first night of the cruise), my husband and I were both feeling a little nauseous, and I had a headache. I didn’t feel up to making polite conversation. In fact, I only went to dinner because I hoped putting some food into my stomach might convince it to behave.

(Side note: we both took Dramamine after setting sail. After taking it, I felt WORSE than I did before. We didn’t take it the rest of the trip and felt no ill effects from the motion of the sea.)

But I had built the dining experience up to incredible levels in my mind and since I wasn’t feeling especially pleased with everything else (it’s hard to be happy when you feel sick), I wanted to experience the high class dining environment.

Before dessert on the last night, all of our servers serenaded us
Before dessert on the last night, all of our servers serenaded us

I wasn’t disappointed.

Your table number is on your sea pass (the card that works as room key, passport aboard ship and credit card). We had scoped out the location earlier when we’d been exploring the ship.

sea pass

It was a round table set for six people. We arrived first (every night except for one).

A pair of ladies, petite and older than we are, joined us. We introduced ourselves with handshakes.

Catherine had a lovely British accent. So I was quick to point that out and ask where she was from.

“Houston.”

My eyes widened. For a second I thought maybe she was mispronouncing our last name (had we mentioned it?), but then she laughed and waved her hand.

“I live there now. I’m originally from England.”

Obviously.

She was a dear woman who wasn’t shy about expressing her opinions about everything from the indecorous comments of people at a nearby table to inappropriate sanitation. (It’s dinnertime, so I won’t elaborate on how THAT subject came up.)

She was a seasoned cruiser, but her companion was a newbie (like us). Apparently, Catherine and her mother were scheduled to take the cruise but since her mam’s health wasn’t cooperating, she invited her sister-in-law.

Margaret reminded me of a silver-speckled sparrow. She was tiny and thin with doe eyes. Her home was in Ohio, but she’d been spending the winter with her brother (Catherine’s husband) and sister-in-law to escape the cold.

I could go on and on with tales about these two lovelies. But that’s not the point. The point is at that moment at 8:05 pm on the first night of a week-long cruise, they were strangers.

And we were being forced to have dinner with them.

The Service

I mentioned the amazing service we received in Isaac’s Dining Room in an earlier post. I’m sure I gushed about our servers, Shirlynn and Tyronne.

Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne
Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne

As soon as they handed us the menu that first night, Catherine began to expound on her earlier cruises. We discussed each of the starter items and entrees listed on the lovely, custom list of offerings.

I chose the chicken, a standard dish that was on the menu every night. I didn’t want to tempt my uneasy stomach to rebel in a violent manner.

Conversation ranged abroad. What were our the plans for the cruise? How we had settled on this ship with these destinations. It was all very surface, stranger-friendly conversation.

By the time dessert and coffee (decaf for me, I wanted to sleep) came, we were laughing, everyone much more relaxed and open.

I’d like to say it was my bubbly persona that won them over, but I think Catherine is the type of person who’s never met a stranger.

In retrospect, I think the fine service -and how we all noticed and complimented it-played the largest part. Our servers treated us like family and friends, so it was easy to step into those roles.

From Stranger to Friend

Margaret, Catherine and us at our table aboard Freedom of the Seas
Margaret, Catherine and us at our table aboard Freedom of the Seas

No, we didn’t exchange personal information. These two lovely ladies who enjoy reading as much as I do took my business card. They claimed a desire to read my books.

We’ll see.

Whether or not they become a fan of my writing, they will be considered friends.

Why not? There are a multitude of people I’ve never even met face-to-face on my Facebook “friends” list. Shouldn’t someone I spent quality time with during a week-long vacation earn the same status?

The word friend is loosely defined these days. I would say a friend is someone you know and enjoy talking with about some subjects. In this case, whether social media or socializing on a cruise, my list of friends has grown longer.

The fact: Catherine and Margaret are no longer strangers. If they aren’t strangers, they must be acquaintances. Having shared a unique experience with them, I promote them to the level above acquaintance-ship.

Having dinner with strangers is only strange if you don’t convert them into friends by the time dessert is served.

Thanks for making me your friend, Catherine and Margaret.

Have you ever shared a unique experience with a person you only met that one time and yet you consider them a friend?

Shopping – Caribbean Style

On our recent cruise, we went shopping.

Apparently, this is something everyone does in the Caribbean. And, according to the shopping expert for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (yes, they have a crew member whose only job is to tell you how to shop), people go to the Caribbean to buy one thing.

Diamonds.

I never did fully grasp WHY the Caribbean was such an awesome place to purchase diamonds. After all, they don’t mine them there. Maybe they cut and finish them on those pretty little islands.

In any case, the cruise line has some sort of agreement with a large diamond wholesaler (and retailer), Diamonds International. They promoted them at every turn, to the extent that cruisers get a free, unique charm at the DI store on each island.

“Don’t forget to get your charms” one of my friends told me as I prepared for the cruise.

I was a noob. I had no clue what she was talking about.

Now I do.

Ignorance is bliss, they say. Well, for sure it is CHEAPER at times.

Diamonds are Forever

You know this old saying, right? I think it was probably a marketing slogan for a jeweler at some point in the past.

We know it was the title of a James Bond movie. It may have originated before that time, but it’s been around since 1971 (pretty much my whole life).

Question: if diamonds are forever, why do people get new diamond jewelry?

Silly me.

Because they need a pendant and earrings to complement their stunning wedding ring.

Or they need bigger earrings. Or a larger diamond carat weight on their finger. After all, who will notice that little chip their husband could afford back in the day, when they were both poor college graduates.

Diamonds are hard. They won’t lose their value (much- depending on the jeweler you try to pawn them to).

Not only do they sparkle in sunlight and glitter under bright lights, diamonds are the traditional stone for wedding and anniversary rings.

Because diamonds are forever. Like love should be. Like marriage is supposed to be. A perfect symbol for those enduring institutions.

Diamond Rings

I’ve had three different wedding rings in my life. I never planned it that way. In fact, I never thought much about a wedding ring at all.

Until I got engaged.

Here’s the rundown on my rings:

Ring #1: An heirloom wedding set from my grandmother. I wore this on my wedding day and for several months because my husband wanted to get me the “perfect” ring I wanted.

Ring #2: A custom made ring wrapping the diamond solitaire with a flower of rubies and diamonds.

Ring #3: Another ring, similar to ring two, with the one difference being a larger (half-carat) marquis cut diamond as the centerpiece.

In the Caribbean, my husband bought me wedding ring number four, and I won’t be looking for anything different for another 27 years (or more).

Diamond Love

I didn’t go to the Caribbean to buy a diamond – regardless of what the cruise line tried to tell me. My planned purchases: gifts for my kids and parents, a few souvenirs to help me remember the trip.

So, it goes without saying that we didn’t intend to purchase a new ring when we walked into DI to pick up our “free” charm. (You see how this is a huge marketing trap now, right? Consider yourself warned.)

In fact, I wanted to look at upgrading my diamond stud earrings. Not because I needed bigger stones. The posts make my ears break out. Since I leave them in my second piercing all the time, this creates problems.

Painful ones.

crown of lightHowever, the shopping guru on the ship had dazzled me with her engagement ring. It was a special cut called Crown of Light. The diamond has 90 facets to showcase all the brilliance hidden in its depths.

It’s unique to DI. They even have a website dedicated to it. Don’t believe me? Click here.

Innocent me walked into the den of diamonds.

What happened next?

Read about this epic shopping adventure in the next post.

Playing Tour Guide to a couple of Okies

Nothing like two tourists pretending to be tour guides. Seriously, doesn’t the Bible say something about the blind leading the blind and both of them falling in the ditch?

The good news is that no one ended up in the ditch on the recent jaunt north to Seattle. In fact, thanks to modern technology, we didn’t even get lost. Not in the dark. Not when streets were closed in the direction we were heading.

Why Seattle

My cousin was visiting for the dreaded family reunion I wrote about last week. His new wife hadn’t been to the West Coast in many years. She wanted to see three things: Mt. Hood, the Pacific Ocean and Seattle.

Like the good hostess I am, I delivered her wishes. (What does that look mean, Darrin?)

I’ve been to Seattle exactly three times in my life (after this trip). Both times it was an overnight venture to attend a company Christmas party. I worked in the Portland office of a brokerage and the main office was in Seattle.

I ate breakfast in the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle (only because the salesman I worked with was buying – otherwise OUCH). We had a fancy dinner at Canlis.

Seattle has an interesting culture. The marketplace along the waterfront (it abuts the Puget Sound) has been included in popular novels and movies.

I walked its streets after dark and didn’t feel threatened. Of course, I was in the ten blocks between the Space Needle and the Hilton hotel. And I had two men with me.

Where in Seattle

We arrived on Sunday night. After we checked into the hotel, the handy GPS mapping app told us we could walk to the Space Needle in 23 minutes.

So we did. It may have taken more than 23 minutes. We had to stop along the way for selfies. There were a few closed sidewalks, causing us to weave across the street like headless chickens.

And there was a crush of people going up the Space Needle.

Fortunately, we’d purchased our tickets online so we didn’t have to wait in the Disney-esque line of tourists.

Have you noticed that everywhere you go they take pictures of you? “Care to have a free photograph taken?” was the line used during the Space Needle trip.

No charge to take it, sure. If we wanted to leave with a copy in our hands? A different price tag applied.

It takes 41 seconds to get to the viewing deck of the needle in the elevator. The elevator man told us this.

The views as the sun sank on the horizon improved as the city lit beneath us. It was worth the walk, wait and money.

Afterward we headed to a nearby pizza place and ate a wonderful Greek salad and delicious pizza. It was handcrafted and the sauce was the perfect amount of sweet and spicy.

Hubby and Me with the peninsula in the background
Hubby and Me with the peninsula in the background

On Monday morning, our handy mapping app informed us it was an eleven minute walk to Pikes Place Market. So off we went.

First, we headed onto the waterfront for a ride on the Seattle Wheel (think London Eye). Nice views and some good photo ops here.

We wandered through some shops, burning time. My cousin’s wife had heard Ivar’s had the best seafood in Seattle, and it was located near the wheel.

Truthfully, I’ve had better fish and chips on the Oregon coast. Since our server got sidetracked, we got free dessert. Chocolate cake and cheesecake – both get As.

It was an uphill trek to the alley where we witnessed a disgusting landmark – the Gum Wall. My artistic side appreciated the finesse with which some people had left their mark there. The rest of me? Shivered in revulsion at the thought of all that chewed gum in one location.

We spent time at the fish market. It’s here that whole fish are tossed around when they’re purchased. It’s pretty entertaining. Those guys have to be showmen – as well as strong enough to heft a sizable sturgeon.

More shop browsing. A casual walk back to our hotel, where we’d left our car safely ensconced in the $42 overnight parking garage (gotta love those downtown parking rates).

Have you been to Seattle? What sites would you recommend for our next round of tourist-as-tour-guide?