I must have been the worst mother ever

I love cats. They fill crevices in my heart with warmth. But they’re animals. I’m not really their mother.

So why do I worry about them more than I remember worrying about my kids?

Case In Point

We planned our week away several months in advance. And I contracted someone to stay at the house with my three little fur babies.

When the sitter cancelled a month before our trip, my first response was, “I’m not going to be able to go on this trip.”

My husband looked at me like I’d grown an arm out of the middle of my forehead. “We’ll get someone else.”

But there’s no one.

Because I really want this person to adore cats as much as I do. And I want to be comfortable imagining them alone in my house.

Am I expecting too much?

Needless to say, I don’t recall ever thinking I would cancel a vacation to stay home with my kids. Maybe if they had been sick.
But one time, my youngest had a bad fall and got stitches two days before I was supposed to leave to join my husband in Washington, DC.

My mother was keeping our sons. She insisted that I go on the trip.

I’d like to say she really had to twist my arm. But she didn’t. I wanted to be convinced it was fine for me to leave my small children.

But these cats?

Plan B

“They do so much better when someone stays with them.”

It’s true.

I love cats for their independence. And my cats are as snooty as any Egyptian god or goddess.
But when we left them for a week and had my father-in-law check in on them daily, they pooped on the chair, destroyed a few items and sprayed my husband’s shoes.

It made coming home an instant relaxation reversal.

Another time, we had some neighbor kids come over and sit with them for a couple hours every day.

This time it was the bed that got used as a litter box. And the television and lights were left on. For how long we’ll never know.

So my husband’s plan to have the neighbor stop in daily to feed, water and clean their box wasn’t looking very pleasant.

Thankfully, my adult sons live nearby. Although they’d rather stay at their own place, they know and love the cats. It’s not too unreasonable for my youngest to commute from my house rather than his. He can even bring his cat (she loves playing with my cats).

As relief floods my chest when this plan comes together, I wonder, “What sort of person am I?”

Who worries more about leaving their cats alone than leaving their kids?

Although my kids were always with grandparents or other responsible adults.

Shouldn’t I want the same for my fur babies?

Maybe the relief I feel has more to do with coming home to no unwelcome presents.

That’s what I tell myself.

That and “You’re the best cat mother ever!”

What do you worry about when you go on 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.

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.

Monday Morning Post-Vacation Blahs

Yes, I have something worse than the Monday Morning Blues. A disease more distressing than Post-Vacation Lethargy. I have the “Blahs.”

Do you know what I mean?

The weather outside is gray and drizzly. Blah.

Piles of cat-scratchings mock me, clinging to my slippers when I walk anywhere near the dining room. Who cares?

Dishes are piled in the sink and my bullet journal schedule for the week is practically blank. Whatever.

Last night, I tried to convince my husband to call in sick so we could do something fun today. He laughed. (Although he agreed that he didn’t want to go to work today either.)

Working at home is a double-edged sword when I have the blahs. I mean, if I really don’t feel like it, I don’t have to head to the office. No one is staring at the empty desk wondering when I’ll show up.

But my mother taught me better than that.

It’s called self-discipline. And if it isn’t her voice chiding me about the filthy bathrooms and the piles on my desktop, it’s a drill sergeant blasting me with condemnation.

So even with the Monday Morning Post-Vacation Blahs, I’d better get myself in gear and go to work.

At least I can wear my new sweats. Ah, talk about comfy.

I can take breaks to crochet another granny square. Or play Words with Friends.

After all, I’ve only got to write the blog posts for the next two weeks. And I’ve come up with a fantastic idea for half of them.

Vacation is needful. It’s especially important for me to get away from home so I can inhale fresh adventures and map new settings. These are gold mines for future fiction tales.

Hemingway got a few things right. And this was one of them.

If I didn’t work as a substitute teacher, I could go days without ever leaving my house. I don’t count walking to the mailbox or picking up groceries as “living.” Sorry.

Many writers face the same sort of compulsion. To lock ourselves away with whatever we’re currently working on. Why bother even showering? No one’s going to see us.

And then the UPS guy rings the doorbell and waits for a signature.

It’s always best to plan for package delivery if nothing else.

I wonder what he thinks of the big smear of something above my left knee. He glances toward my hair and suddenly a platoon of itches marches through my unwashed hair.

Don’t scratch. Don’t scratch. Don’t scratch.

And then I return to my office and plunge back into my writing.

Did the doorbell ring? What time is it?

Apparently, I should be figuring out what to cook my husband for dinner. When he travels, I don’t have to deal with this problem.

As you can see, this post might have arrived a few hours later than usual. But it’s here.

The blahs didn’t win.

What constitutes the blahs to you?

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.

Goodbye Paradise

It’s easy to beat the sun awake in the tropics. Or anywhere in the winter. Is this balmy breeze stirring palm leaves to dance and sing a sign of winter?

December afternoon sky
December afternoon sky

Today’s the day. It’s time to say goodbye to Paradise and return to the reality of home.

For whatever reason, that reality involves a winter storm advisory. Because after enjoying shorts weather for five days, it’s only fir to return to sub-freezing temperatures, icy roads and the wintry mix the Pacific NW is famous for–when the regular deluge gives way to colder weather.

Every morning we enjoyed a walk, either along the beach or through the quieter, sleepy streets. There won’t be any of this once we get back to the mainland. Who wants to get drenched in the name of walking outside?

shadow

What Makes it Paradise

Perhaps everyone has a different concept of Paradise.

In the Bible, it could be the Garden of Eden or a place in the center of the Earth where souls waited for release.

In my world, it’s a place where the days are sunny but not hot. Where the only thing on my schedule is whatever sounds good. Where I don’t have to wear socks and shoes.

This is how much I get in the ocean
This is how much I get in the ocean

And the pace of the day reflects my mood.

There are palm trees. The sky is a crystalline aquamarine, the color of my Caribbean blue diamond. Maybe it’s a blue topaz sky since it’s December.

Waves lap against the soft shores. The briny smell of the sea underwrites a sweet aroma of baked goods.

in_the_ocean

And there are no calories. At least in my mind.

What Makes it Goodbye

Is there any song so mournful as “Taps” when a bugle plays the cadence?

It suits the mood. It’s the perfect way to say farewell.

There’s an end, so we say goodbye.

Which also means there’s a beginning. It’s an ocean away in a colder place. Pine trees will carpet millions of homes with their needles.

Because it’s nearly Christmas.

The voices of Andy Williams and Bing Crosby have even reminding us of the season when the flush of sweaty beneath sunny rays lent to amnesia.

Seats are reserved on a flight. Cats wait our arrival thousands of miles away.

There will be a hello.

But first we must say “Aloha Hawaiian vacation.”

My birthday dinner: but I'll stick with tails after this
My birthday dinner: but I’ll stick with tails after this

Those Hawaiians knew what they were doing. Aloha means hello and goodbye.

Because in this temperate land of sweet pineapple and aromatic coffee, they’re really the same thing.

Aloha.

Trifecta of Relaxation

What’s a vacation at a resort with at spa without a few spa treatments? Let me recommend a particular trifecta in the recipe for relaxation.

Worldmark at Indio has a plethora of activities for people of all ages. For women who think being pampered is a must on vacation, there is The Spa at Indio.

Usually, I’m tight with my money. After all, if I was trying to feed myself on those four “royalties only” writing contracts and that substitute teaching salary, I’d be lucky to get one meal each day.

But this is vacation.

It still took me an entire day to convince myself to splurge on some treatments.

In the end, I built a package of three treatments so I could get a ten percent discount on all of them. See? Frugal to the end.

Balancing Massage

I began my two-and-one-half hours of pampering with a therapeutic Swedish massage called “The Balance” in the spa’s brochure.

My esthetician, Lydia, lead me into a cozy room and told me to “undress to my level of comfort” but “less clothing” is best to receive maximum results from the treatments.

Before you could sing a verse of “Happy Birthday,” me and my birthday suit were lying face down on the massage table, covered in a fresh-smelling sheet and fluffy towel.

Lydia set the microwave to work. Soon weighted, heated packs were covering my shoulders, lower back and butt. She moved to my feet and began the manipulation.

Massage therapists and chiropractors are the only people authorized to manipulate me.

“Relax,” she says.

And I tried. I really did. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Lovely Lydia decided my neck and shoulders were made of steel cables. No matter how often she applied heat and pressure, nothing was converting them to molten lava.

It felt wonderful-even when my body screamed for mercy-and I was more relaxed in the end.

Elixir Hair Treatment

The second step in my trifecta of wonder was the one I was anticipating the most. If you’ve never had a thorough scalp massage, you don’t know what you’re missing.

She worked some sort of oil into my scalp and the back of my neck. The softening treatment she combed through my hair smelled of aloe and sage.

I was nearly asleep by the time this thirty minutes had passed.

Was it really that long? It seemed like it ended much too soon.

Renewing Facial

It’s been several years since I’ve had a facial. I used to get at least one per year, but then my regular income stopped, and the facials went the way of my monthly pedicures.

This was one of the best facials I’ve ever had.

The cleanser and exfoliation scrub brought me to a mango tree and suspended me in gleeful rapture. Citrus scents are among my favorite for body washes-and now facial cleansers.

The steam that accompanies a facial can become suffocating or borderline scalding. Not so at this spa. The constant infusion of warm air did nothing more than open my pores and carry the delicious fruit scent into my olfactory memory banks.

I was surprised when the extractions began. I didn’t think my 50 minute facial included them. Sometimes this process yanks me from floating on clouds and sends me to the stretching rack. As in torture (opposite of relaxation in every way).

Not this time. Yes, there were twinges on my forehead, brow line and nose when Lydia did her digging. They didn’t lift me from my fog of relaxation, though.

The only drawback to this service was that the mask that I had to wear for the last twenty minutes of the treatment wasn’t citrus flavored. In fact, it didn’t smell pleasant in the least. Heavy perfume smothered me.

If it wasn’t for the pleasant hand and foot massage occurring at the same time, this would have left a sour taste in my mouth. The stench was carefully massaged away, though, and the soft, suppleness of my glowing skin made me ignore the insult to my sensory fiesta.

In the end, I left a gratuity in the same amount as my discount.

Why not? The expense lost when weighed on the scales of price verses value. Money or positive attitude and physical benefits?

Somehow, I managed to wear the hair treatment until the following morning. Even with sunscreen and a hat, my tender nose managed to get reddened during my two-hour stint beside the pool.

Ah well. With such a trifecta of perfection, there had to be some negative side effects, right?

What is your ideal way to relax? Have you been to a spa? What’s your favorite treatment?

Vacation Days are NOT supposed to become Sick Leave

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take a week off from your job and only have positive memories? That’s what a vacation is supposed to be, right? Even if your company says all Paid Time Off is the same, you never equate vacation days to sick leave.

Unless you’re my husband.

I love the man, truly I do. You’ve heard me extol his virtues. He’s nicknamed Mr. Wonderful because he is indeed amazing.

However, he gets sick at the most inopportune moments.

Like his twenty-first birthday – before he had anything alcoholic to drink.

Or maybe when you’re in the car driving for five hours.

Even when you’re experiencing Sea World for the first time, the man is likely to get a turbulent tummy or woozy skull.

How about spending two days of a seven-day vacation flat on his back with flu-like symptoms? Sounds fun, right? Add to that the cherry of another day of inability to leave the room, and you have our Indio vacation.

It’s Vacation

Our friends suggested that perhaps hubby’s body was finally at rest enough to rebel for the constant travel of the past few months.

Maybe they exposed him to the flu-like virus that had plagued their local schools.

Airplanes are a hotbed of germiness, what with only recirculated air to breathe for hours on end.

We’ll never know why my spouse took sick on the vacation when his body could have used actual sick days if it had waited five more days.

It’s probably the fault of his employer. After all, they consider anything Paid Time Off-be it vacation or sick leave.

Sick Leave away from Home

Our Worldmark ownership provides us a home away from home. We’re not renting those condominiums we stay it, we own them. Sort of.

So, being sick at Worldmark Indio should have been tantamount to suffering illness at home. Right?

Wrong.

We didn’t have any medicine with us. The mini-market at the resort provided single doses of cold and flu meds for $2. And even though it was obvious he was burning with fever, I had no thermometer with which to measure the severity.

Even the water tasted wrong. Everyone knows you need to drink gallons of it when you’re sick. Flush out the virus and all that.

As much as we loved this resort, it wasn’t the place to experience severe illness.

Nurse or Playmate?

I was on vacation, too. Who did that leave to take care of the sick man?

“Go to the park,” my feverish husband whispered. The crud stole his voice along with his vitality. “I’m going to sleep all day. I’ll be fine.”

So I went.

One among many: a Joshua Tree in the park
One among many: a Joshua Tree in the park

Off to Joshua Tree National Park in the back seat of my friends’ rental car.

I was the worst nurse in history.

Of course, I’m not much better when I stay around to offer up medicine, liquids and bites of food.

The second day, he didn’t even pretend to feel like taking a shower. This was my spa day. But his eighteen holes of golf weren’t going to happen.

I’m an evil person. I didn’t think about him tossing and turning, drenched in the soft sheets on our king-sized bed once while enjoying my pampering.

I did offer to make him lunch and brought him medicine. I’d rushed out to the pharmacy to stock up on cough and cold medicine before I went to the spa. I happily doled out the doses now, doubling up on the amount of cough medicine because his wracking cough hurt me.

Then I went to the pool with my book.

Can't you feel the relaxation already?
Can’t you feel the relaxation already?

Now you know what sort of person I really am. The kind of person who attempts to stay on vacation when a twist of fate turns it into sick leave.

What would you have done? Stayed locked inside the condo when you chose the location so you could soak in the Vitamin D?

Consider this my official protest against PTO days that trick a vacation into becoming sick leave.

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?