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:
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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Authors take vacations, but sometimes they aren’t for avoiding the keyboard. This author travels occasionally with her engineer husband, and most of the time those are working vacations.
What? It’s not vacation if you’re working.
Maybe you’re right. Or not. The third definition for vacation at dictionary.com says: “freedomorreleasefromduty,business,oractivity.” In this case, I’m freed from my household duties and my regular activities for a specific purpose: to incite creativity.
Creativity and Canada are a decent mix, I’ve decided.
Sometimes I spend too much time inside my office. The lovely walls with all their inspirational sayings and plaques of my book covers move like a trash compactor (picturing a scene from Star Wars IV here).
Even when the sun pushes back the gray clouds, all I see are the words that need to be rewritten or revised or edited. The list of projects in mid-completion expands to block out everything else.
In short, the creative space I’ve slaved to build in my home office (and on my back patio) works against me.
This is when I need a change of scenery. Sometimes going to the coffee shop works. Or I’ve plugged in at the library.
But in light of the daunting tasks facing me in the months ahead, my muse begged for something bigger.
So when my husband told me he had a conference in Vancouver B.C. and asked, “Do you want to come with me?” I jumped on it.
All I was hoping for was a new view outside my window, a touch of sunshine and maybe a little magic in the air.
Several people gave me ideas of things to do while I visited this Canadian city. I smiled and nodded, listening but thinking, “I’m not going there for a relaxing vacation.”
No need to rain on their good advice. I even checked into a bicycle tour of the city because that’s something I’ve decided I will do if I go to Europe with my husband on a business trip. It’s a great way to breathe foreign air and glimpse the local sights, all while stretching the flabby muscles in my legs. Sounds like a win-win-win to me!
The weather app (who needs a weather man when you have a smart phone) advised me that it wouldn’t be sunny during my stay. But the first couple days wouldn’t bring precipitation either.
I could deal with that. I’d be able to get outside and walk along the harbor which is only a block from the hotel. Fresh foreign air: check.
Of course, spending time isolated in a hotel room to write isn’t the same as writing in my office. The maid wants to come in and clean. There isn’t food and water close by to keep me fed and hydrated.
And there are no cats to assist me by climbing in my lap and scrubbing their chin over my typing fingers.
The lobby in the hotel has a small area that would work for writing, but it’s pretty busy, and I’m a person who prefers silence during certain stages of writing.
Was this going to be a bust after all?
Here’s what I wanted to accomplish on this vacation: draft the third installment of my sweet contemporary romance series.
That meant 20,000 words in four days, which is about an average accomplishment for me when I’m in the drafting phase of a story. Five hours of writing per day equals 5,000 words.
Of course, I only had three days in Vancouver. The Monday and Friday of the week were travel days.
Monday was sunny and gorgeous when we arrived. Much better weather than in Portland when we left at 4:30 in the afternoon. My muse perked up her ears and gazed out the window on the cab ride from the airport to the hotel.
Find a place to get coffee and breakfast (sorry, Marriott, I’m not paying $20 to eat breakfast)
Scope out restaurants with great people-watching views for budget-friendly lunches
Set up a snack-stocked writing area at the desk in the hotel room
Oh, Starbucks, how do I love thee? I know plenty of people aren’t fans. Fine. But for less than half the price of the Marriott offering I get a mocha grande (non-fat, no whip) and a yogurt, fruit and granola parfait. Sounds like the perfect breakfast to me.
Better yet? It’s directly across the street from the hotel.
Three blocks down, I locate Waterfront Food Court. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a mecca of variety in eats and bountiful bodies to watch.
Day one, I enjoy falafel and Greek salad while reading on my iPhone and stealing glances at the people flooding through the seating area. Day two, should I eat salad or grab a slice of pizza?
I love having choices.
I packed healthy snacks in my suitcase, but my husband didn’t want me to starve. So he snagged a bag of pretzels and white cheddar popcorn from the offerings at his conference. (I’m pretty sure the popcorn is for him since I don’t like cheese on mine.)
All three priorities met. Better yet? The walkway along the harbor was better than I imagined. Check it out.
Yes, there are TWO lanes on the path. One of them is for foot traffic and the other is for bicycles (and a few in-line skaters whooshed by, too).
I wanted to share my thoughts on the city, but my post is getting long. Look! A topic for a future post. SCORE!
Is there such a thing as a working vacation for you? Or does it have to be about relaxing and sightseeing?
Some people go on vacation to “get away from work.” Or to experience some new and exciting place. Maybe they want to have once-in-a-lifetime adventures. While I might want a little of those things, sometimes I want to do nothing…and relax.
Relaxation takes many different forms depending on the person.
There are some people who run five miles to relax. Others want to chiropractor to adjust their joints and then they’ll suck down a gallon of water and hang out in a hammock.
In fact, I find many things can be relaxing. For example, I might relax while: getting a pedicure, getting a facial, having a massage, sitting by the pool, reading a book, walking on the beach (or pier or a trail) and even riding horseback. But do I have to do any of those things in order to relax?
Let me phrase this another way: can I kick my stress to the curb without doing anything special?
Like so many other things in life, de-stressing (isn’t that the essence of relaxation?) is all about mind over matter.
As a creative person, my mind is a hive of activity. There are many memes I’ve seen that illustrate this fact, but this is my favorite one:
Because most of the time, if I appear to be staring into space, I’m likely in an alternate universe. One I’m creating and populating with people I’ve dreamed up to face all sorts of situations I’ll never face.
Often my eyes will be closed but my mind will be spinning at a million electric charges per nanosecond. Yep, this old brain is one speedy computer.
Which means it rarely shuts down.
Many authors will tell you they’ve vividly dreamed many of their best stories. They wake up and try to regurgitate the brilliance onto a page before it dissipates with the morning mists.
Yes, even when I’m asleep, mental gymnastics continue.
So how can I ever relax? Where’s the shut-off switch for this thing?
Can I truly rid myself of stress if my thoughts continually roller coaster?
Mind over matter, my friend.
For me, it’s all about WHAT I’m thinking about that determines the quality of my anxiety.
It Doesn’t Matter
In order to dump my stress, I have to actively convince myself that the things hammering away in my brain like an overzealous woodpecker, aren’t important enough to think about. AT THIS MOMENT.
In effect, I convince my mind to reschedule contemplating the stressful items to a later date. Say, Thursday morning…when I’m vacuuming the house.
My query packet for my women’s fiction isn’t ready to submit on June 1. It doesn’t matter. You can think about it May 30th.
Are those sample pages from my nonfiction book enough to convince those agents to request all three chapters? Will they contract me to write the book? Am I ready to delve into the depths of my grief to pen those pages? It doesn’t matter today. I’ll find out in August.
How about creating something new? Maybe just a short piece that you don’t intend to publish? Or the opening scene for the short story you imagined during your girls’ weekend last month.
The cats could be tearing apart the house while I’m staring at the misty horizon at the western edge of the earth.
Look at the shades of blue in the Pacific Ocean and the sky stretching above it. Feel the pounding of the waves against my tattered soul.
The projects and deadlines and considerations for my author world will still be waiting in my office when I get home from this short retreat to the Oregon Coast.
Today, those things don’t matter.
What matters is the taste of the salty breeze, the scattering of seagulls in the surf and the sting of sand blown against my bare calves.
That’s the way I use my mind to subdue the thoughts that would infuse stress into a day meant for relaxation. Does mind over matter work for you? What is your picture of true 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.
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.
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?
Underneath the veneer of this Paradise, the surf thrums. Its regularity relaxes me. The steadiness acts as the heartbeat of my vacation.
Blue water, reflecting sunlight and mirroring the azure sky above, swells against the reddish sand. With this pulse, life continues.
Images included with this post display the Paradise I view upon awaking and the last thing seen at night. In fact, I have spent many wee morning, pre-sun, hours on the lanai staring at the midnight waters rolling ashore.
The only plan for the day is a luau this evening. The Royal Lahaina Luau takes place about 10 minutes (via the rented Tahoe) south of my temporary home. A manicure may compel me to shower and dress this morning. Or I might just put on my bathing suit and stretch out beside the pool until lunch.
Thus, my definition of vacation becomes clear.
I sat by the pool in a rain shower yesterday. Most of the tourists fled the pool deck. I held my towel over my head (trying to preserve my hair) and let the warm beads refresh my skin. My husband plunged into the water.
Within three minutes, the rain tapered into a mist and the sun smiled on us again.
My definition of Paradise used to be a sunny place where it only rains at night. Now I know better. Paradise and Maui are synonymous.
If you think I’m squandering this week in Paradise by lounging by the pool instead of taking in the sights, never fear. Tomorrow is a snorkeling trip to nearby Lana’i with a 95 percent chance of catching sight of dolphins.
Wednesday morning is the sunrise on Haleakala followed by an 18 mile downhill bike ride. I hope to share pictures from said excursion in my Wordless Wednesday posting.
We have been shopping and will go shopping some more. After all, both Jeff and I had half-empty suitcases when we left home. It would be a crime not to remedy such a travesty.
What is your definition of Paradise?