January 5 2017

Weekend Getaway

So, the hubby and I did something really cool this year over New Year’s weekend. We decided we wanted to get away from the city and we went to a cabin for the long weekend with no television, no WiFi, and sketchy cell coverage. It was great!
We ate at the local Pizza King on the way into town Friday night. It was the only thing open besides maybe a bar or two. Even the grocery store was closed already and it wasn’t nine o’clock yet. We brought a bit of food from home, but would need to visit the grocery store once it reopened on Saturday.
The cabin came equipped with two twin beds, a queen bed and a queen sofa sleeper, but you must bring your own sheets and blankets. It also has a coffee maker and filters, a two-slice toaster, a microwave, as well as a full-sized stove and refrigerator. Hey even supply the basic pots and pans, but you must bring your own food, drinks, plates, silverware and cooking utensils. We usually bring an electric teapot and at least a cookie sheet. When we grocery shop, we try to buy things that don’t require much in the way of seasoning or condiments so we don’t need to buy all that stuff and haul it back home or throw it out.
Now you might be asking why we would want to get away only to have to cook our own meals, and have nothing to entertain ourselves with. Well, the biggest reason is to get away from the stress of work and the idea that if we are home for the long weekend, we should be working on unfinished home improvement projects. So hubby and I have been to these particular cabins numerous times over the years so we know what we are getting into and how to pack for the trip. We keep plastic tubs stocked with the bedding needed for all the beds at the cabin, so when the time comes we just grab the tub and load it in the car. We have in years past, when the kids were much younger, brought along portable DVD player and several movies they wanted to watch. The problem with that is the screen was barely big enough for one person to watch at any given time. We both brought along our laptops, hubby so he could play games that didn’t require internet and me so I could write, though I barely go mine out and did no writing. Hubby brought along two Christmas themed jigsaw puzzles that have been in the family and traditionally get worked almost every year. We worked one on Saturday night, then hubby put it away before breakfast on Sunday morning. We, of course, brought a few books and magazines to read. I brought along my crochet basket and managed to get three hats made. I also took my bullet journal stuff so I could work on the spreads for the new year. We thought we might go hiking but never got around to it. It was very relaxing, nothing planned except make simple food when we got hungry. It was very quiet, nobody visiting, no extra people around to keep us from some much-needed rest. This is the first time we have gone to this particular park without at least our two kids, who are now adults, along for the fun. It was very different this time, but in a good way. I could see a bunch of writers getting together and renting one or more cabins for a weekend to just write. It would take some planning and cooperation if six writers were to all stay in one cabin, but it could really be fun. So, if you need a chance to just get a way and have never been to a state park cabin for a weekend, you really should give it a try.
Note: The photos below were taken at Whitewater Memorial Park in Liberty, Indiana.
 
December 18 2016

​When you can’t find time to write…

Make a writing date with someone else who needs to write, go to Panera or some other writing-friendly place that doesn’t mind if you hang out for a couple of hours. Take out your notebook and pen, laptop, tablet or whatever your writing tools of choice are and do word sprints together. Mix it up, start with some short 5-10 minute sprints then do a longer one, maybe 25 minutes. Have a goal in mind. Maybe your goal is writing and editing an entire blog post, or writing your holiday newsletter, or a short story or article.
Have a goal and set aside some time to write with other writers. Make it a regular writing date.
We started a group after NaNo last year and we meet every Thursday night at a Panera (we rotate amongst a few local ones on an odd schedule) and we write. I get my dinner and eat it then I won’t let myself eat the 99 cent pastry I always let them talk me into until I have written at least 500 words for the night. Some Thursdays we have just 1 or 2 of us, sometimes we have as many as 8. It is sad when I am the only one to show up, but I have made the comittment to show up and write and I just do the writing sprints anyway, then maybe during the breaks between sprints, I grab a drink refill or read some in whatever book I am currently reading. When we have more people, we can chat and catch up between sprints, but during those sprints we write.
Our Thursday Nights Writing @ Panera Group has a closed Facebook group page just for us where we can post the events, let each other know which of several Paneras we are meeting at that week and also post who is going to be able to get there and who will be elsewhere that week.
Being part of the Thursday writers group has made all the difference in making me into a year-round writer instead of a November only writer. If you don’t have local friends, make a virtual date and meet via Skype, or Google Hangouts or FaceTime or whatever. Hold each other accountable, show up and write. It works. For me, writing is a group thing. I used to get really down after November because all the hype of NaNoWriMo was over and I needed that energy to write, having a regular writing date each week has made me keep writing in my life throughout the year. Make no mistake, I don’t write with the frenzy or frequency during the rest of the year that I write during November, but the meetings of fellow writers once a week means that no matter what else is going on in my life during the week, on Thursday, I will take the time to write.
Basically, everyone has time to write if they want to write. You may easily find excuses as to why you have no time, but they are just that…excuses. I have dragged my computer to work with me in November and written while I ate lunch during my 30 minute lunch break. Give an honest look at how you send your time. Do you watch tv? Are you on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube or Twitter? Do you check your emails. Chat on the phone, text back and forth with friends? Read the newspaper, magazines or books? You can choose to do these things or you can choose to write. Not writing is a choice you have been making, I guarantee if you REALLY want to write, you will find a way to do so just like you find a way to do other things you want to do. If you have to, carry a notebook and pen with you into the bathroom and multi-task for 10 minutes a day. Ok, you’re right, I shouldn’t have gone there. My point is you CAN find time to write, you just have to want to write.
The real question here is, what are you willing to give up or cut back on to MAKE time to write? Think of all the time you would have to write if you gave up making excuses and just do it!  
December 15 2016

Where is my Christmas Spirit?

I am normally very into Christmas. I used to enjoy the whole picking the perfect gift for each person on my list thing. But lately, my Christmas gift list just seems too long. I feel obligated to buy for everyone on the list and that turns it into a chore. The truth is, I rarely spend much time with any of the people on our gift list, so I don’t really know what the perfect gift for each of them would be any more. I’m not sure when this happened. Perhaps it was when the nieces and nephews began growing into adults and bringing dates to family gatherings. Then they get married or move in with their significant others. Sometime they married into ready-made families and the gift list grew exponentially. At any rate, it is somewhat overwhelming.
I love the way my sisters and I handle the holidays. We get together sometime near the holiday, well within a month of it usually. We each bring a wrapped gift valued at about ten dollars. The gift can be anything, but preferably some of them will be suitable for the men or teens and not just to one particular person. Sometimes we get a lot of gift cards, though they are wrapped creatively so it isn’t always obvious that is what is inside the wrapping. 
Once everyone is gathered in the designated location and the wrapped gifts are on the table, someone figures out how many of us there are and makes little slips of paper with that many numbers and folds each number up so they all look the same and puts them into a bowl. Someone volunteers to go around and have everyone select a folded slip of paper. The person who draws number one goes first. Number one gets to pick from all the wrapped gifts and open the gift they choose. They hold it up and show everyone. Number two then has the option to choose a wrapped gift from the table or take the gift from number one. This goes on until everyone has had a turn. When the numbers have all had their turn, anyone who had a gift taken from them gets to pick another one from the table and open it. If this happened a lot, they re-pick in the same order they picked in the first time around. When everyone has an unwrapped gift and the table is empty, number one gets the chance to take the gift from anyone else, and that person essentially ends up trading gifts with number one. After that is all over usually folks start asking others if they want to trade gifts. 
Sometimes the gifts are great, other times the gift is destined to become a white elephant gift offering or go into the donation bag. It doesn’t take hours like it does when a big family gets gifts for each and every other member and the group must sit around taking turns opening gifts so everyone can see every gift each person received. The point is spending time together and having fun, our little “Dirty Santa” game is how we have turned the holiday and a bunch of family members on very tight budgets into a fun and memorable experience. Sometimes, we learn a lot about each other by seeing what sort of gift each person contributes to the game. Some choose to bring a gift they would love to go home with themselves, sometimes it is more of a gag gift. Sometimes it is something edible like candy and the person opens it and passes it around to share with the group. We used to have separate groups for the kids and adults. Then the kids started growing to adulthood and wanted to be in the grown up group. We have a lot of fun and everyone seems to be relieved that they only need to come up with one gift per person in their own family unit. Sometimes, the person gets a great deal on a gift worth ten dollars and other times the person spends ten dollars on a gift worth much more. It doesn’t really matter. The gifts are just a fun way to get every one together in the same room to spend time together. 
I sometimes wish we could do this for the other side of the family too. There are just so many people and many of them are on tight budgets too. There are a few options, we can give a family gift, but that is difficult too as the kids are getting older. My family used to draw names about a month before the holiday, this used to be easy if we were all together for the Thanksgiving holiday as we could draw names then. We gave this up eventually because it didn’t really allow us to invite others to join us. I rarely managed to draw the name of the person I had found the perfect gift for, so that was a bit of a downer. 
All of this is to say that this year for whatever reason, I am having trouble getting into the Christmas mood. It has helped some to listen to Christmas music. It also helps when hubby is willing to help with the shopping and not just leave it all up to me to figure out. Of course it is too soon to talk about what sorts of gifts we chose for the various family members. You never know who might actually be reading this blog post. I keep thinking that eventually the mood will hit me and hopefully when it does it won’t be after the holiday season has ended and the new year has descended upon us.
So, what family holiday traditions do you have? Are you in the Christmas mood this year? Do you have any advice to share on what a body can do to enjoy the holiday season more and dread the gift shopping less? Any hints you can gift would be greatly appreciated.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
September 17 2016

Animal Adventures

Yesterday we started a two week stint of cat sitting. We have been a cat-less household for many years now and I actually find I like it that way. Earlier in the summer, our daughter cat sat for a friend of hers from college who was getting married and needed someone to take care of the cat while they were on their honeymoon. The whole idea made me nervous. Sounds silly, I know because we had cats for over twenty years and that was mostly fine. Having had a variety of cats during our years as a cat-owning household, I know for a fact that while most cats are wonderful pets, not all are. You never know, until it is too late, and you have made the commitment, whether you have an angel cat or a cat hellion on your hands. 

The cat we had here in the early summer was a cute little tiger cat named Moxie. She was a sweety and quickly put me at ease. She was very quiet and usually came quickly when we called for her. She got along great with Bruce, the black bunny, who has been part of our household for the last five years. We often found her in the master bedroom by choice hanging out with Bruce. Yes, the bunny has the master bedroom all to himself at our house, but that is a story for another day. 

The cat who came to stay yesterday came to us in a bad mood because he didn’t like being caught and put into a cat-carrier apparently. So he came in howling, which reminded me of every single time we ever had to take any of our cats to the vet. They seemed to know that they would not like where we were taking them and howled the entire time they were in the carrier and the car. This is why we always had a vet very close to home.

He settled down finally and the howling stopped. As the two of us were alone in the house, I realized that the cat, Pope, was a very vocal cat. He meowed almost constantly. I’m not used to that. In my experience a cat meows when it is in distress, so a happy cat is a quiet cat. That was reinforced by our great experience with Moxie sitting earlier, so it must be true, right? 

I don’t know this cat well at all yet, but I had to chase him off my desk three times last night while I was trying to work, then found he had jumped up on furniture in my bedroom this morning. I don’t like having cats walking on anything I wouldn’t be sitting my butt on, you know? I’m ok with cats being on chairs, sofas and beds, but stay off the dressers, desks, counters and tables please. In my experience, cats who jump up on desks, dressers and such will also jump up on kitchen counters and dinner tables. I realized that I don’t miss having to worry about closing the toilet lids so the cat can’t drink the blue water or keeping the basement door closed to cut down on the trouble the cat could get into. I don’t miss worrying about whether there is a cat getting into food left on the kitchen counters while we are eating in the dining room. I like knowing that if I wipe the counters they are still clean when I come back to them and nothing has been walking across them while I wasn’t looking. 

So, we will have to see how it goes having this cat in the house for the next couple of weeks while his owners are on an out-of-the-country honeymoon.

The good thing about cat-sitting is it gets the hubby and adult daughter a cat fix without having the long-term commitment actually owning a cat would entail. The pets we currently own, a bunny, a snapping turtle and numerous tropical fish, can be left alone for a week to ten days without having to have someone come in and look after them, and as we get older and want to travel, that is a definite bonus. (710 words)

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August 18 2016

A Different Kind of Vacation

Back in April, hubby and I went on a different kind of vacation. Why was it so different? Well, we didn’t have either of the kids along. Now don’t get me wrong, we love traveling with our kids and took them with us all the time when they were children. Now that the kids are grown and graduated from college, we don’t feel the need to take them along on trips as much anymore. It would be fun to do a group trip again sometime though. We should find a time when all four of us can get away from work at the same time and just go.

Another reason it was different is because we didn’t get to leave when we had planned because of an emergency at hubby’s work. Instead of Friday early morning, we finally got to leave town at 7:30pm on Sunday night. Our trip was supposed to be extended on the other end because he couldn’t get away on time, but we still only had the condo from Saturday to Saturday, so we were planning where we would go once we checked out of the condo. Just before noon on Friday of our trip, my boss called, not sure how I missed the call, but it went to voice mail without showing a missed call. She left a voice mail telling me I was needed back to work by Monday morning at 8am because she had an emergency. We were planning on going back to work on Wednesday, not Monday. Not a happy time for either of us, but really didn’t see as we had a choice. It was the first time both of our works interfered with our vacation time. I REALLY don’t like having my vacation time taken from me that way.

This is the first long trip we have taken where I did all the driving and hubby sat in the passenger seat. He refuses to drive with me in the car because, when he terrifies me with his driving, I can’t help reacting with a gasp or a squeal, maybe even a shriek. I mean, the man thinks the speeds posted on curves are merely suggestions and that they can always be at least doubled safely. I was taught in driver’s education, a million years ago, that for every ten miles and hour you are driving there should be a car length between you and the car in front of you. So on the interstate, I try to keep a minimum of five or six can lengths between my car and the one in front of me. I also try to make sure there are about three car lengths for me to slide into when switching lanes. Hubby does not observe these rules. I don’t think it is just a matter of the car length he is using being Smart Car verses Cadillac either. So anyway, his driving terrifies me. I would rather not have driven the 800 miles each way, but really what choice did I have. When we got home he was lamenting the fact that he missed doing the highway driving. I told him I missed being the passenger too, but since he didn’t go for the deal I offered where I react half as often if he drives half as scary, it may not be the last time I do the driving on a long trip. Hubby did all the driving on the island while we were there, so that was something.

The most unusual thing about the trip was that we only ate out two nights while we were at the condo from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning. One of those dinners was to celebrate my birthday. We went to the grocery and bought food to get us through the rest of our meals and snacks. We almost didn’t never the condo except for a walk to the beach a time or two. The rest of the time I was either, reading, writing, crocheting, surfing the net or we were working together to make a meal. That is NOT normal for us on a vacation. We usually would plan to eat out at least one or two meals a day and visit several museums or tourist attractions. Hubby did some reading, worked some Sudoku puzzles on his Nook, or played one of his computer games. The condo had a wall mounted TV, but we never even turned it on. I made the comment that I felt guilty that we spent the money for the gas and condo and the time to drive there to basically do what we could have done at home. He reminded me that the most important part of getting away was that we were a twelve hour drive from work. Point taken, well worth the cost.

We especially liked sitting out on our little patio/balcony to watch the goings-on around us. We had a few meals out there, did some reading too. My favorite thing to do out on the balcony, which was only about four to six feet off the parking lot level was to crochet. I would go out after eating breakfast and do a row or two on the shawl I was making. It was a very relaxing time while we were at the condo. While I was driving, not so much, but then I don’t particularly enjoy driving the way hubby does. 

The best part is that we decided before we left the condo that we were booking another trip next April and that this would be our relaxing escape from work vacation. We will have a fall trip that is more the typical tourist type vacation, but the spring trip is planned specifically as a get away to relax. I can really embrace that plan. (976 words)