Join Me on Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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.

Merry May with Sharon Hughson

Time for a Merry-go-round of fun and prizes.

Yes, there are free books. Romance is in the air.

There’s also a bit of historical fiction up for grabs here on my site.

I recently released Reflections from a Pondering Heart. Check out this blurb:

In the beginning, I herded goats on father’s farm when Jehovah’s messenger visited me. He claimed “Blessed art thou among women.”

Blessed? The speculation about my untimely pregnancy turned to shunning and isolation. Caesar’s decree forced a grueling trip to Bethlehem during my final weeks of pregnancy.  And then, under cover of darkness, I fled Herod’s murderous wrath. Is it any wonder I questioned the angel’s claim?

Yahweh blessed me with a quiver full of children. But love brings sorrow. Torn between two sons, my heart bled. Like old Simeon said, a sword pierced my soul – again and again. And the killing blow was yet to come…

If you would be interested in winning an eBook of this title, please leave a comment below. Tell me your favorite thing about the month of May and make sure your linking profile has an email address where I can contact you.

*Congratulations to Lissa (first to comment below) whose number was selected by random.org to receive the eBook.

Now check out the rest of the blogs and have a hopping-good time!

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reflections from a Pondering Heart by S.L. Hughson

Reflections from a Pondering Heart

by S.L. Hughson

Giveaway ends May 15, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Mexico in Pictures

We took several hundred photos while in Mexico. Some I will share with you when I do a series of posts about some of our experiences (come back next year to see these).

Hope you enjoy this brief tour!

I want to wake up to this view every morning
I want to wake up to this view every morning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruise ships made regular stops to the harbor by our resort
Cruise ships made regular stops to the harbor by our resort
Fun and games after the sun has set
Fun and games after the sun has set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes strangers lead you to the best places
Sometimes strangers lead you to the best places
Our family saying "Adios" to Mexico
Our family saying “Adios” to Mexico

 

Merry Christmas, friends!

Friday – Your Favorite Day of the Week

It’s almost cruel to post about Friday on Monday. There are many Garfields in the world who hate Monday and wake up asking, “Is it Friday yet?” Why is Friday a favorite to so many people?

Last Day

Most people love Fridays because it’s the last day of their work week. This means it’s the last day for plenty of things:

  • Getting up early
  • Going to bed at a regular time
  • Driving to the office
  • Dealing with ugly traffic
  • Slogging through the stack of stuff on the desk

It’s only the last day for a very short time before the cycle begins again.

I’m self-employed. I’m wearing sweats and slipper socks as I type this post. That’s my “go to work” uniform. I still show up for six or more hours Monday through Friday. Someday, I might even collect a paycheck.

First Day

If you’re a “glass half full” sort of person (like me), you love Friday because it is the first day of your weekend. When you walk out of work at closing time, you answer to no schedule but one you choose.

Many times, Friday is the first day of:

  • Vacation
  • A three-day weekend
  • Rest & relaxation
  • Forgetting the stress associated with work

I freely admit that Friday is not the first day I must share my quiet work space with another individual. My oldest son works from home on both Wednesday and Friday (this telecommuting thing is great for some people). Friday brings both my son and my husband to their telecommuting office space.

Fortunately, we all have our own desk in three separate rooms. Most of the time the WiFi can even keep up with all the data we’re spewing around Internet-tionally. But when it’s lunch time, my space is invaded, and the quiet ends.

Fun Day

Friday night is date night for many people. Restaurants with open seating on Monday through Thursday require reservations on Friday. Why is this?

People are ready to celebrate the end of the work week. Maybe heading out on the town is the way they relax.

I’m not much of a late night person, so I’ve noticed that most forms of entertainment I might enjoy begin between 7 and 8 p.m. Whether we’re heading to a Blazer game or a Murder Mystery Dinner, things don’t get started until 7 or later.

Which is fine since most people aren’t getting up at their regular time the next morning. It’s Saturday. They’re sleeping in, cooking a lovely brunch to enjoy while leisurely scrolling through their Facebook feed. After that, they’ll tackle that wonderful thing called a “to do” list.

What do you like about Friday? If Friday isn’t your favorite day of the week, why not? What is your favorite day and what makes it so great?

The Death of Summer and its Final Barbecue

Image from hooverwebdesign.com

Labor Day marks the official end of summer. The Tuesday following kids head back to school.

On the west coast anyway. Elsewhere in the US, kids have been back to school for a week or two already. It’s hard for those on this coast to let go of summer.

Isn’t it a given that the preferred cooking method after Memorial Day is the barbeque? Gas, propane, wood or charcoal may fuel it, but it’s the way beef is done – in July.

Sometimes a handful of family members might recline on the deck at our house. Other years, we’ve loaded up the essentials and taken our Farewell to Summer Party to a park.

So it was this year. Since our youngest son is already in class at college (that Quaker school he attends does things a little “other coastal,” if you get my meaning), it was a gathering with friends. Specifically friends from our church.

Hot dogs and hamburgers might make the grade during the summer, but at the last barbecue, a few other dishes are required.

First of all, fresh corn on the cob is essential. Roasted directly in the coals wearing its own husk makes it downright delicious. Grilling it on the barbie will satisfy, but if you bring out the boiling water, we will cry.

September is corn harvest season on the left coast. You can see overloaded semi-trucks with the golden delicacy. Come back in October for the largest corn maze this side of the Rockies.

Another staple on Labor Day is watermelon. The best watermelons in the world are grown in Hermiston, Oregon. I can eat the heart out of one of these juicy red mamas.

In fact, one of my worst memories from tweenhood centers around my ability to do just that. Apparently, it’s okay to eat your own heart out, but it’s a heinous act of selfishness to eat the heart out of a watermelon.

So said the blistering tongue-lashing my father gave me when I at the heart out of that melon. It sat covered and minding its own business atop the washing machine. It even had black seeds in it. Actually, they marked the edges of the succulent heart.

Back to the last barbeque…it’s nice to recline in the camp chairs around a fire pit roasting corn. It’s even more glorious when the sun agrees to drive the clouds away and spill a golden spotlight on the gathering.

Games you might enjoy at summer’s goodbye bash: volleyball, badminton, softball or horseshoes. Regardless of the choice, there will be lots of ribbing for the losers (as if losing wasn’t its own form of ridicule). My mom liked to call this “Love talk.” You only tease those you love, she said. The worse the taunting, the deeper the love.

Love flows at both ends of the horseshoe pits. Camp chairs line the sides (a safe distance away) and love talk sails with more regularity than ringers.

Alas, summer gives up the ghost for another nine months. The red, yellow and brown leaves already announce autumn’s arrival.

Best of all, school starts. But for the second time since 1997, that means nothing to me. The Tuesday after Labor Day is just another day pulled up to my desk letting my fingers find the right way to spill words on a page.

Summer may have ended, but my novel has a few more chapters before it makes way for a new season.

What traditions do you have for Labor Day?

My Vicarious Vacation: Gone Scrapbooking

Remember those old photo albums with some sort of strange clear glue and the plastic pages that screamed when you placed a photo behind them? You know, the ones from which all the pictures fell after a few months. So much for that awesome glue.

Now, there are photo boxes and photo sleeves to help you organize your photographs. Who wants them organized? Not me. I want them somewhere accessible so I can pull them out and stroll down memory lane.

Enter scrapbooking. Don’t ask my sister about this. She will spill some story about how I grumbled and complained when she first asked me to scrapbook pages for an album she was making for our mom.

Scrapbooking makes my back ache. I need more tools to make cooler pages. It would be cheaper and less painful to throw all the photos in a cute box somewhere.

Yep, but I love to put those pages together. It gives me a chance to relive those moments vicariously. As a fiction writer, living vicariously is something I adore. This is why I highly recommend reading.

Lest I ramble on about two of my favorite subjects, let me get to the point. Behold: my process for  preserving memories and my ponderings while scrapping two different family vacations.

Pick out pictures

A tedious aspect for me is selecting pictures. Not because I don’t like shuffling through the photos on my computer. I adore making the fingernails size extra-large and scrolling through to find the best ones.

I despise clicking on the plethora of numbered folders on our hard drive. This is how my photographer husband set them up when he downloaded them from his camera.

What do you think? Does folder 584 sound like it might be the trip to Washington D.C.? Oh, you mean you can’t tell by a number! Hmmm.

Just look at the date, you say? What an excellent idea! Except most of the file dates are meaningless and less than helpful.  Why? Anything taken before 2008 has the same date. That would be the date he created this directory on the external server.

Very helpful. I know.

Decide on paper and accessories

Once I have finally printed the 8 – 12 photos out, the real fun begins.

No, I wasn’t being sarcastic. Sometimes I even start with this step.

I mean, what girl doesn’t love to accessorize? There are stickers, borders, letters, words and all manner of shapes that could make a ho-hum layout into WOWZA.

Those big books of 12×12 sheets that have 50 or more different types of paper are incredible. When they’re on sale, I literally want to purchase one of each. You’ll be proud to hear I avoided buying any the last time I was at the craft store. They were even half price.

It’s best to make a list of what you want to scrapbook before you decide on purchasing stickers. I will use the entire sheet of Disney Orlando stickers when I make those pages. In fact, I used a couple when I scrapped our Disney 2000 vacation.

The boys were so little: 9 and 6. Tanner’s “muscle” shirt showed off half his chest. The scar on Thaddeus’ cheek, still pretty new, crinkled like a dimple in nearly every picture. *sigh*

Time flies when you’re roaming through memories this way.

Place the photos in a dozen different locations

The most tedious and time consuming step is planning the exact layouts. I use the two-page spread, lying the blank sheets next to each other as they’ll appear in the album, and try to make the pages balance each other out. Or not. Sometimes imbalance suits me the project better.

This is the step I generally enjoy taking at a friend’s house. It can be a hassle to transport everything. I recommend a large plastic tub or a totally cute bag from Thirty-one.

Once the date is set and the menu planned, we bring our projects and tools and spread out on the huge dining room table (a major requirement for scrapbooking of any sort). This way,  I lay out my plans and my crafty friends tweak them so they look a hundred times better. Side benny: they have great tools and paper they’re happy to share with me.

Cut, glue and admire

Once I’ve nailed down the layout (figuratively speaking, of course), I start cutting all the pictures, background paper, borders and frames I’ll need for the pages. Right now, I think my cutter might need a new blade. The edges are looking a little raggedy and the cuts don’t always go through.

Once everything is the perfect size, I use glue strips to affix photos. A couple of these tiny tabs in each corner of the picture does the trick. Much less messy than glue, too.

Of course, for the heavy cardstock frames, borders and background accents, only glue will do. I use a fat glue stick made especially for paper to paper bonding. Speaking of bonding, isn’t that what family vacations are all about? Oh, and hanging with friends to scrapbook is another way to promote bonding.

What was I talking about? Oh, yes. Accessorizing my pages until they take on the personality of the trip they depict. That means it’s time to place the stickers, accents and photo tags. Presto! Your glamour girl is ready to go.

Stand back and admire your handiwork. My hands massage my lower back during this step and I try to stretch my shoulders without groaning. Usually, I need to down a glass of water. Who knew this was such a thirsty and back-wrenching hobby?

Coffee-for-Your-Heart-150

Whoever said scrapbooking was easy must use a different method. Claims of fun and the offer of something rewarding in the end? Those are spot on.

 

What is your preferred method of preserving photographic memories?

 

My Spring Break

Spring break spent on a sunny beach in Florida plagues the dreams of college coeds everywhere. Doesn’t it? Or is that so 1990s?

Not that it matters. I didn’t get an entire week there, anyway, only four days. Did I mention that I’ve been dipping into the sunless tanning lotion again?

Sometimes I love my husband’s job. Right now is one of those times. When his cell phone goes off at midnight – not so much. Thanks to his employer, my husband will be in Orlando for a conference on the Monday – Thursday before spring break (from my job, I don’t actually get any break from my college classes.)

Thanks to budget constraints, the Friday before break happens to be one of the eight days cut from my work schedule. Consequently, I flew out of Portland on Thursday evening and  awoke to a Florida sunrise.

I told myself: “If I spend every waking hour beside the pool, it will be a dream vacation.” Unfortunately, the weather was feeling fickle. Apparently, that’s a Floridian quality, not just one reserved for Oregon. I spent two hours by the pool on two days, but the sky was partly sunny at best.

On the last day, an enormous storm blew in. It’s quite the adrenaline rush when the “Emergency Broadcasting System” tone comes on and is follwed by a tornado warning.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see any funnel clouds. The wind reached 86 mph. Rain in the amount of nearly two inches was dumped within one hour. Thunder and lightning accompanied the ferocious weather. We sat inside an ice cream parlor, next to the huge glass windows, and watched it all unfold. Awesome!

What’s your idea of a dream vacation? What’s your most memorable spring break?