Tag: Dining room

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?

A Photo Tour of the New Place

Today is my first official day working from my new office. Isn’t it amazing?

That's an L-shaped desk with room for writing and editing.
That’s an L-shaped desk with room for writing and editing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d love to take you on a tour of the whole house. Maybe I’ll figure out how after we get everything unpacked, all the furniture in place and the mega Styrofoam explosion cleaned off the floors.

This is the new kitchen.NewKitchen

Not as many cupboards as the old one – and yes, I’ve almost completely filled the lovely pantry in the corner to bursting.

 

 

 

We ate most of our meals at the bar in our old house.

You can see the bar in the foreground here.
You can see the bar in the foreground here.

Now we have even more room at the new bar, but we don’t eat there. It isn’t because of the clutter. Aside from scarfing down pizza on the first night – in between hauling boxes galore – this place has been lonely.

Pull up a seat on one of those fancy new stools
Pull up a seat on one of those fancy new stools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t she lovely?

The beautiful new dining area - only steps from the kitchen and the great room
The beautiful new dining area – only steps from the kitchen and the great room.

Can you see why we would rather eat in the lovely room at this cozy table? Tonight will be the first “solo” meal for hubby and I without the kids, so maybe the bar will feel intimate enough for the two of us.

The move is finished. I can’t use that as an excuse for the lack of words flowing onto the page.

 

 

Time to do what writers do…play with imaginary friends all day.

One Good thing about Moving

Moving isn’t all bad news. In fact, there are a few things I’ve enjoyed about the whole “getting a new house” ordeal.

            In a word: shopping.

Not the usual kind – groceries to keep us fed or toilet paper to…you know. I’m talking about decorating a new living space from the ground up.

Maybe not the ground. I’m not buying floor covering. Unless bath mats count. No? I didn’t think so.

            Online Stores

I am a reason that Amazon is super successful. They should pay me for my dedication to searching their store and making purchases.

As an introvert, the idea of strangers pushing past me while I’m checking out towels and window coverings at Target holds zero appeal. Especially when I’ve had success shopping from the Brylane Home catalog for such things.

In this case: beautiful teal and nautical blue cotton towel sets for the master bath. And an eight-piece comforter set for the master bedroom. Don’t forget a new comforter and sheets for the “guest” bedroom.

All of this spurred me toward a smiley face. Even when the total surpassed $200. It’s only money, right?

Blinds for the windows in the bedrooms and living room are essential. After all, our nearest neighbor is twenty feet away (thankfully, there are no windows into bedrooms on that side of the house).

After comparing several sites, I ordered samples from justblinds.com. A few days later, they arrived. I held the three inch ultra-mini blinds up to the window. How much light would they block? How transparent could they be under the right circumstances?

Heading to my computer, I placed my order. Another $450 on the Discover card. Think about all the cash back I’m earning for using this account to decorate my new home!

            Online “Window” Shopping

Some things need to be seen in order to invest in them. Namely: furniture.

The World Wide Web offers a unique opportunity to narrow the field, however.

In my new home, I’ll need a new dining set, living room seating and a desk for my office. (Yes! I’m going to have a real writing haven in this new place.)

Surfing the net, I found a general idea for the dining room. I know I want a counter-height table. Most of them are square, with legs at the corners only. This also appeals to me. Now if I can find a color and chair styles to suit me…

Couches, chairs and sectionals require in-person shopping. Seriously. Do people actually buy furniture without sitting in it to see if the cushions act like hungry beasts or solid rocks?

I’m still debating about the leather issue. Leather makes me hot. It doesn’t breathe. I envision myself slicked up in the summer by my own perspiration, sliding onto the floor like some sort of cartoon character.

No thank you. I like the way leather looks, though. I haven’t been completely impressed with the durability of microfiber fabric. (And I’m not talking about the claw marks. That will be handled before a certain feline is admitted to the new house.)

I’ve had the most fun frustration searching online for a desk. I know exactly what I want. If you think this is a plus, you haven’t been shopping with me.

When I say I know EXACTLY what I want, I mean I have a picture in my head that I expect to find replicated in real life.

            Now you see the issue.

 

Lovely, right? Only $1,768 and this desk could be yours.

Isn’t there a huge market for computer desks with keyboard trays and a set of drawers connected to a five-foot work surface to run perpendicular to it? They call them L-shaped workstations or desks.

The selection of styles and sellers boggles even the Google search engine.

Sadly, my mental image has yet to find its perfect match. Sigh

This means I will end up settling. Because I refuse to pay $1,300 for the set-up. We all realize my annual income since becoming a professional writer has been in the – $600 range. This year – even with a contract – it looks like it will be closer to -$2,000.

I can’t justify decking my office out with solid maple furnishings.

Should I settle for a $250 flim-flam setup courtesy of Staples? That remains to be seen.

            Beating the Pavement

Eventually, the search heads for the street. The number of furniture stores pales when compared to the frequency of drive-thru coffee klatches.

No, that doesn’t mean it is easy to narrow down the search. Or maybe it is. If you just choose the place nearest to the Barnes and Noble bookstore where you worked while leaving your house empty for an inspector.

I love shopping. Especially when I know what I want and I have the money in hand to purchase it.

What is your experience with online shopping? Share your nightmare stories – or amazing finds – in the comments so we all can be warned.

Staging isn’t just for theater any more

My true debut into theater might have been as a nameless nun in The Sound of Music when I was 15. I prefer to see my staging as Mr. Tumnus, the helpful faun in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (at 16).

In either case, staging means “the performance of a play on a stage.” If it isn’t that, it is “a temporary raised platform that a person can sit or stand on while working.” So says Merriam-Webster.

My husband and I recently made the decision to list our home with a professional real estate brokerage. We’ve decided it’s time to get serious about selling. It’s time to move on to the next phase of our life – which includes a one-level structure for our aging knees and backs (and the rest of our bodies, as well).

One of the services provided by the firm we chose is a professional staging. As you can see, this could be quite confusing if you don’t excel at decoding word meanings from context clues.

She wants to put a play on in our house? We can’t lift the house up and put a platform under it, can we?

In reality, she wanted to set the stage in our home so it looked neutral and uncluttered. When this is the case, people who view the home have an easier time envisioning their own things occupying the space.

Here are a few before and after photos of our house:

Dining Room before the staging
Dining Room before the staging
Dining Room as a blank slate
Dining Room as a blank slate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lovely lived-in master bedroom
A lovely lived-in master bedroom
A master bedroom anyone can mentally redecorate
A master bedroom anyone can mentally redecorate

Can you guess what staging involved in the Hughson household? Too much painting requiring a work-filled weekend. Furniture removal that makes the garage look like it did before our garage sale last summer.

Decluttering was another time-eating requirement. My word processor doesn’t even believe that is a word, but I can tell you it is WORK.

The end results are amazing. Anyone who can’t picture their furniture in these sparsely decorated rooms has visualization issues. You can even see the walls in my master bedroom closet (which apparently makes it seem larger).

Anyone who thinks selling a house is as simple as creating an ad on Craig’s List needs to rethink it. Even with my decades-old background in the business, I didn’t know half of what real estate professionals advise these days.

What do you think about staging a house before you sell it? If it required a few hundred dollars and 40 hours of labor, would you do it?

Life is Like a Dining Room Table

Life - waiting to happen
Life – waiting to happen

I freely admit I’m no Forrest Gump, but I must say that dragging a solid oak table and ten chairs in and out of the house a few times makes me think. And once you get a writer thinking – look out – an analogy is on the way.

When reflecting on uses of this table, it occurred to me that our daily life and the seasons of our life can be seen in the variety known by our dining room tables.

Daily Life Reflections

Unlike many families in our eat-and-run culture, I ate dinner at the dining room (or kitchen) table. When we were kids, my sister and I also wolfed down our Captain Crunch and Apple Jacks at the kitchen table before walking to the bus stop.

A dining room table is a place for family togetherness. In our home, dinnertime serves as a moment for the four (or three or even two) of us to sit together and discuss daily events.

“How was your day?” The dining room table might reply, “I sat in a dark room staring out the front window. It was lonely until the cat came and scratched one of my chair legs and then curled up on a seat for a nap.” Have you had such a day?

“What did you learn at school today?” “What happened in your world today?” “Are we having chicken again?” It might not be a deep, philosophical exchange but it keeps us in touch with each other.

If you’re like my family, the dining room table is in the dining room and gets used for everything except mealtime. That’s a statement about our daily life, too. What we expect occasionally happens, but most of the time we live in the flux of the unexpected.

Our dining room table:

  • Collects an assortment of junk – mail, books, games and a quick look at my recent garage sale woes reminds you our life resembles this
  • Can be about fun and games – this is where the two, four or more of us gather with cards, Apples to Apples, Monopoly, etc. – life has some fun times, too
  • Invites friends and family to sit and stay awhile – have you ever noticed how everyone lingers even after the food is gone? Some moments of life should be savored
  • Can be covered or bare – some occasions merit a formal tablecloth, while others are happy to see the oak finish. Depending on where we are and who is around us, we might choose to cover our hurts or expose them

Seasonal Comparisons

Needing refinishing: When the boys were little, we had a booster chair that you hung off the side of the table. Needless to say, bowls, spoons and cups became drumsticks on the drum of the tabletop. It didn’t take long until the varnish peeled away.

When our kids are little, time is an elusive imp. There are never enough hours in a day to accomplish our to-do list, not if we want to sleep anyway. This season of life stretched like eternity when I was in it.

Using all the leaves: Whether for birthday parties, game days, dinners, or a hang-out for the neighborhood kids, we needed a table with more than one expansion. This was a joy to me because I wanted to know who my boys hung out with.

This season stretched, like the table with all the leaves inserted, through all the school years. It meant extra trips to the grocery store and a house more cluttered than clean, but it kept the mama table content.

Adding more chairs: Even as our kids aged, we needed more chairs at the dinner table and for holiday dinners. Friends from college or old high school buddies spent time around the table – mostly for D and D or LAN parties. Good thing we had those ten chairs.

Inevitable fact of life: kids grow up. They go to college and move away. They find a special someone to join with, starting the seasons anew. Our table has yet to see brides for our handsome princes, but both of them have serious attachments and those girls have a place at our table.

Storing the leaves: If you pull this beautiful oak table all the way open, there’s room to store one of the heavy leaves. The other one generally leans against the wall in the entry closet. They’re close at hand, ready to host a gathering of family or friends, but most of the time, a more intimate arrangement prevails.

I’ve spent a few posts mourning and delighting in this phase of empty nesting. I’m reminded anew that even though that table is solid oak, it requires attention to stay beautiful. The same can be said for marriage.

Too often we focus our time and energy on the children and our spouse becomes that stranger in the bed beside us. If that’s the case, the close quarters brought on when the table size is reduced can feel uncomfortable.

What sort of dining room table are you sitting at? Think of a benefit for your current stage, it will be gone soon enough (unless you’re an empty nester – we hope that one stretches for another 40 years).