An American Author in Canada

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: “freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.” 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.

High Hopes

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.

Reality Rules

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?

Expectations Exceeded

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.

Priorities:

  1. Find a place to get coffee and breakfast (sorry, Marriott, I’m not paying $20 to eat breakfast)
  2. Scope out restaurants with great people-watching views for budget-friendly lunches
  3. 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.

Look! Canadian Geese in Canada.

 

Pedestrians on the left and bicycles to the right. Ingenius!

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?

Therapy or Obsession?

Everything in moderation. Even the Bible says so (well, not quite). Common sense (and maybe our mothers) tells us that a fine line exists between when something helpful becomes hurtful.

Dark chocolate has health benefits. What astonishing news this was to me! So of course I added a small serving to my diet.

Too much dark chocolate will pack the pounds on my mid-section. But what is too much? Who decides that?

As Therapy

Half-a -year ago, I picked up the crochet hook after a long hiatus. My mother and grandmother practiced old school child-rearing. They introduced my sister and me to all sorts of home crafting: embroidery, machine sewing, knitting, crocheting.
All those things were offered to me. I even tried three off the four options. But the only one I ever enjoyed was crocheting, and even that didn’t inspire my imagination the way writing stories did.

I picked up the crochet hook because the women in my church determined to make hats and scarfs for homeless families in our community. Such an awesome cause. I couldn’t exactly promote the activity if I didn’t participate.

One of the women gave me an extra set of crochet hooks and reminded me how to make a chain. My first scarf was hideously malformed.
Her items were smooth and appealing. I wanted to conquer this crochet thing so I could make scarves like that.

Something so pretty couldn’t be bad.

Once the scarves weren’t much of a challenge, she taught me about the magic ring. And I used the skill as a foundation for making hats for all the women on my Christmas list. Who doesn’t want a handmade gift?

I found crocheting in the evenings was a perfect way to unwind after work. Whether the work involved teaching students or writing stories, I’m not as young as I was last month. So, I get tired in the evening.

While my husband watches his silly sitcoms, I keep my hands busy with hook and yarn. Sometimes, I put my earbuds in and listen to an audiobook (since reading was my evening activity of choice before this crocheting craze).

It was sheer therapy. And I made slippers, headbands, cup warmers and more hats.

An Obsession

One day while I was struggling with a stitch, my church friend fired up her tablet. She logged onto her Pinterest boards and clicked through to a YouTube instructional video. It was amazing.

Pinterest dazzles me. If I start scrolling through kitten pictures, I can lose an hour without blinking.

There were so many crochet projects pictured. Sweaters, shrugs, blankets, baby booties, flip-flops, handbags and you name it.

Tons of the pins claimed to link to FREE patterns. Patterns that I could read and understand for stitches I knew how to do.

And you know what a sucker I am for anything free. Who isn’t?

In no time, the biggest board on my Pinterest page was the one I’d called “Crochet Project Ideas.” I found the easiest crochet heart pattern and whipped out half a dozen in various colors. I’ll glue those to a ribbon and make a bookmark.

Next, I saw these pretty coasters. Hadn’t I purchased coasters as a Christmas gift? Wouldn’t it be more fun and personalized if I made them instead? *nods head vigorously*

All remained therapeutic until I found a lovely granny square afghan. I whipped out some red, white and blue granny squares.

Then Pinterest showed me a different pattern for the crochet staple. And another. One with a daisy in the center got pinned to my project board. Once I found the starburst pattern, my evenings morphed into a granny square manufacturing line where I was the sole worker.
Soon enough, I was making one square before I did my morning chores. Another square on the back end of my lunch break.
Yes, my crochet habit began to affect my ability to concentrate on writerly pursuits, especially when they were tedious ones like line editing.
I surrounded my arm chair with the different starburst centers and the four skeins of yarn I was using. I surfed the web for the perfect way to join my granny squares into an afghan. You might be surprised at the number of YouTube videos on the subject.
Hours later, I’d found the winner.
Writing? What’s that? I’ve got to get these squares connected.
I dropped off the cliff into obsession.
But aren’t the fruits lovely?

A byproduct of my granny square obsession.

Do you struggle with hobbies turning into obsessions? What’s your Kryptonite?

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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?

What to Do on a Rainy Day

When it rains…He snores

I live in Oregon. I’m used to rain. I’m used to pouring rain that shivers a body to the bones.

And I know all about the old man snoring (which has nothing to do with being an Oregonian, does it?)

What does this have to do with a Caribbean cruise you wonder?

Maybe nothing. Maybe I just thought the title looked catchy.

Or, it could have something to do with nap time on the ship.

One way to alleviate disappointment is to sleep it off. Seriously. Like a migraine or a hangover (not that I would know about those). Sleep is the best medicine.

And it helps a person stay awake for evening activities like karaoke, Love and Marriage and The Quest.

When it rains, he snores. In fact, she snores too.

Actually, neither of us snored, but we did sleep. In the twin beds magically joined to make a not-quite King-sized bed that took up the whole width of the stateroom.

First formal dinner. Yes, the bed takes up the whole room.
First formal dinner. Yes, the bed takes up the whole room.

And naps are good.

At first, I was irritated with myself. After all, I’m on a living ship chock full of interesting activities. Shouldn’t I be off enjoying them?

My reasonable self argued, “Isn’t this vacation?”

On vacation, a body should do what feels right at the moment. You know I’m a proponent of reading rather than running around. So why not go horizontal and let the brain do all the work?

And if it’s spitting rain? What else is there to do that’s half as relaxing?

So, yes, I’m guilty. While the Freedom of the Seas cut its way south and east across the Atlantic Ocean, my husband and I snoozed in our cabin. Even when the sun was shining.

After all, Oregon winter white skin can only take so many hours of exposure to tropical sunlight. After that, it’s begging for a nap.

Rain or shine, naps do a body good.

Missing a Deadline

 

 

While traveling away from home, deadlines are left behind not packed in the suitcase. If only I could have avoided the electronic age of mishaps while in Las Vegas this past week.

Murphy’s Law:

“Anything that can go wrong will do wrong.”

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. The house could have burned down or been robbed. My cats could have been slain in the street by a speeding car.

Instead, the electronic age crucified my cozy bubble of retreat with three nails.

Nail One: Un-synced Data

About halfway to the airport, I realized this first one. I had not synced my iPad files with my computer.

Not a big deal, right? Sure, as long as I didn’t make any changes to existing documents on my iPad while on vacation. If I did, the software would notice and give me some crazy error message.

Is it perfectly fine to make changes on the computer but not the iPad? Actually, if you make changes to either of them without re-syncing the devices, Mr. Error Message flashes the red exclamation point.

Did I need any other excuse not to work on my writing projects while on vacation? I’m pretty sure you can surmise the answer.

Nail Two: Lost Files

Imagine sitting by the pool, warm sunshine kisses your skin and a desert wind ruffles your hair. Even with sunglasses on, you’re squinting against the brightness. After all, you may as well be a mole; the sun hasn’t made much of an appearance for six weeks or more.

“I’ll check my email before I settle in to read that Brandon Sanderson novel,” you think. Your index finger taps the mail icon and you begin the process of deleting emails.

A mail from the agent you submitted a query and five pages to surprises you. Yes, you paid good money for a critique, but the agent has six more days before their self-imposed deadline.

A quick scan of the mail is not enough. Clouds settle over the sun and a tight fist clenches your stomach. You read it again – hoping it doesn’t say what your brain understood during the speed glance.

She didn’t get the pages. Perhaps they were lost in cyberspace. Could you please resend them?

I would love to. Small problem: I’m a thousand miles away from my computer and those saved files. I took care of all that before I left. Blood pressure rises. Pounding begins behind the squinting eyes.

Thankfully, I sent this using my gmail account and the outgoing mail is automatically saved. With the help of my husband (since some features refuse to work on my iPad, don’t ask me why), I find the previously sent mail, copy and paste it into the reply.

Crisis diverted. (In unrelated news, my credit card was also on hold until I logged in and authorized my recent shopping trip. The fraud department is watching my back again.)

Nail Three: Missed Payments a.k.a. What’s My Password?

At least I was just chilling in the hotel room when I checked my email for the final bad news alert. No need to jinx the poolside, you know?

This message was syrupy and chipper. My gag reflex kicked in before I could stop it. “We know things come up and your payment slipped your mind.”

Sallie Mae. She’s such a Pollyanna.

Yes ma’am, I thought about scheduling my student loan payment several times. At my age, my brain equates that to completing the task. Apparently, I still don’t have those telekinetic skills I requested.

I try to log in. I don’t even know my user name and therefore can’t request my password. The handy cheat sheet containing this information my brain locks away in an inaccessible location? At home.

Not helpful. I guess Sallie will wait a few more days for the missed payment.

All these electronic shortcuts to make life easier added two cups of stress to my four days of rest and relaxation. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

Have you had any similar events in your life? What sort of unexpected news stalked you on vacation?

Paradise: Found

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?

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