Category: Vacations

The Hawaii of Year’s Past

Ten days from now, I will arrive on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Palm trees are in my future

There will be sunshine and palm trees. A volcano will spew lava every day.

Kilauea erupting

Since I grew up in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens and survived the 1980 eruption, I’m excited about all that. It will be neat to see lava flow rather than the mud flow that decimated Washington all those years ago.

I’ve been to Hawaii before.

My first trip was to Honolulu in 1999. I went with a friend who had two aunts that lived on the island. We stayed in Waikiki. Very commercial, still we had a good time.

My second trip was for my 25th anniversary. Kind of.

Hubs and I went to Maui in October of 2013. I wrote some blogs from that visit.

Like this one about biking down a volcano.

It sounds like I have a thing for volcanoes, doesn’t it?

Mr. Wonderful also took me to Hawaii for my 50th birthday a couple years ago.

We stayed in a Hilton resort on Oahu. It happened to be a big Pearl Harbor anniversary while we were there and they held the reception at our resort. Very cool.


And it was 70 degrees.

I got to lay beside the pool and not really sweat but still get a sun tan.

Yeah, that’s my idea of vacation perfection.

This year it was supposed to be a family vacation with our kids and their wives.

But…then this happened.

They’re pretty happy with this news too!

Hawaii in December. I won’t complain about that. Besides, it’s my first trip to the Big Island.

Have you been there? What should we do (besides soak up Vitamin D and enjoy the tropical splendor?)

Two Sisters in the City

A visit to the Big Apple ranks prominently on many a bucket list. This author had never considered it because she’s a country girl at heart.

But when her older brother invited her and her sister to visit the city, the creative must perked up its head.
“Lots of stories in the big city,” it said.

The planning for the trip began more than a year in advance. This was because the calendars of three busy adults can be hard to coordinate.

What had been imagined as a springtime visit morphed into an end-of-summer visit. And boy did the difference in humidity make itself known. As soon as the travelers exited the air-conditioned airport and waited for New Jersey Transit.

We should be melting at the airport NJT station

Two sisters traveling the city with their older brother and his spouse should have the same experiences to share. Or not.

Enjoy the informal interview with these ladies about their six-day visit to New York City.

What were you most looking forward to?

Shari says: “In recent years, I’ve been traveling more, and I’ve decided that the place is about the people more than the scenery. In this case, I was most looking forward to spending time with my brother, who I hadn’t seen in five years and getting to know his husband better, but also hanging out with my sister who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like.”

Connie Says: “What I most looked forward to was spending 6 days with my sister and seeing our brother. I was excited to be going to a Broadway show or two and seeing the Statue of Liberty in person!”

Shari Responds: Uh-oh! Since our answers on this question are pretty similar, this might not be the discourse on diversity of opinion that I imagined. Whoops!

What food impressed you most?

 

YUM! I cleared my plate.

Shari says: “I knew my brother was a food snob, so I was expecting the best of the best. So I was a little surprised to enjoy the Napoli salad at Stella 34 (on an upper floor in Macy’s) as much as any of the other fancy meals. The best food? The lobster roll and extra crispy fries at Ed’s Lobster Bar, a literal hole-in-the-wall local joint.”

Connie says: “The food that impressed me the most – most memorable the luscious New York Cheese cake from Jimmy’s (I think she might mean Juniors).The Greek Dinner at Loi’s – it was tasty and beautifully plated! Brunch at the Met was a great experience, but my sister had the best item with her french toast. I did enjoy my eggs Benedict. I also really enjoyed the Spanish Tapas at Tia Pol (?) We ate a lot of new things so it was hard to decide between a few.”

Shari snorts. “I said FOOD. Not dessert. *Rolls her eyes.

What restaurant experience impressed you most?

 

Last day of the trip: Outside the MET

Shari says: “I expected high class dining at these pricey establishments. The meal that offered what meets my definition of that was the brunch we had in the dining room on the fourth floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). They offered a simple menu of three courses with gourmet dishes, amazing presentation and well-dressed staff waiting to whisk away your dirty dishes, refill your drinks and deliver the next course with a flourish.”

Connie says: “The restaurant experience that I enjoyed the most was the brunch at the Met. The food service was not rushed. There was plenty of space in the restaurant, a nice view, excellent service and the food was good and wonderfully plated.I loved that we ALL ordered different items and tasted each others!”

Shari GAPES. “Wait a minute! We talked about this on the plane, and you said Loi’s was your favorite restaurant experience!”

What surprised you most?

Connie says: “The things that surprised me the most was the smell of New York and how HOT the Subway Stations were!Even tho I expected the city to be big, when you view the skyline and travel to the various parts of the city it can be overwhelming to a small town girl like me!
I expected the crowds, noise and rushing from one place to another.”

Shari says: “I expected stinky everything and everyone to be rude and self-involved. Not at all what happened. We got caught behind a few sanitation trucks and THAT was super-smelly, and there were a few token obnoxious people in many of the places we went (not as many as I expected on the subway and bus), but overall, it was just a city.”

What was your favorite show?

 

Were getting ready to laugh for two hours at the Lyceum Theater

Shari says: “I’d seen WICKED before at the Keller in Portland, OR, but it seemed like a different story here. Still, THE PLAY THAT WENT WRONG was full of antics and endless laughs. It was exactly the sort of thing I needed that night, and it made everything else bearable.”

Connie says: “My favorite show was “Wicked” – I love musicals. The play that we saw was HILARIOUS! We had two great experiences on Broadway! “My Fair Lady” could have been my favorite, but I was voted down…”

Shari shakes her head. “No. Chris was willing to see it. He even told me whatever my experience, it wouldn’t compare to Broadway. You AGREED the play none of us had soon was a good second choice. You even agreed to “Phantom” as the third choice if Sunday turned rainy.”

What was your favorite site?

 

It is SO brilliant in Times Square

Shari says: “I wanted more of Central Park. I wanted to see everything. Even this morning, I saw a spot on the Today show with the anchors meeting Jimmy Fallon by the amphitheater (which we did see) and blowing bubbles by the fountain (which we also saw). I was just so over-stimulated from the MET, that I didn’t get to enjoy the park like I’d hoped.”

Connie says: “ONE really? View from the Top of the Empire State Building at night – just amazing. 360* view of the skyline, bridges, river, all of the lights. Quite memorable! Well worth the price for a once in a lifetime event! Broadway, the set at Wicked – walking on Broadway, lining up to see a show, thrilling!
I also looked forward to seeing Times Square at night – the lights, billboards, signs are amazing. A city of lights! Maybe I was thrilled with the view of the skyline and lights, because I am a small town girl and don’t enjoy being in the big city typically!”

Shari says: HA! There’s the diversity I’m looking forward to. And I managed to pick ONE thing! This post would be a million words long if I didn’t draw the line somewhere.

What do you wish you could have seen/done?

 

Our guide treated us to WICKED the second night of our trip

Shari says: “I really wish our tour of the UN building would have worked out. It’s an important place for the fabric of international and cultural relationships. I plan to make sure to see it when I return with my husband in 2020.”

Connie says: “What I wish that I could have done was see at least one more Broadway Show! There were many great ones playing!!! I would like to see a ballet or go to a concert at the Lincoln Center, I wished that we could have toured the UN and seen the 9/11 Memorial. I understood why we weren’t going to the memorial, as our brother was showing us a good time in his city!”

What three things are a must see in NYC?

Connie says: “3 things!! WHAT???? Must see: at least one Broadway show!!! I believe that everyone should see the skyline from the top of the Empire State Building, plus the history is very interesting. Get views of the skyline from different vantage points – The Brooklyn Bridge, The Staten Island Ferry, The rooftop garden at the MET. I found Grand Central Station awe inspiring, I could have spent more time there definitely. I enjoyed walking across the Brooklyn Bridge after seeing it from the Ferry, walking over the traffic was neat. I would add the Statue of Liberty, but I think that goes with the next question.”

Roof Garden at the met

Shari says: “I think you can get the same overall perspective offered by the Empire State Building if you fly into the city in the day time. But you HAVE to see the Statue of Liberty. It’s an icon. You MUST see a show on Broadway. I would like to say make it a musical because no one knows how to make a musical shine (and I’ve seen MANY of them on MANY large stages) like Broadway. You also need to go through Grand Central Station and Central Park.”

It was Grand Central Station in there

 

What three things are a must DO in NYC?

Connie says: “Ride the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue and another view of the city skyline. Definitely eat New York Cheesecake! Ride the Subway – interesting experience, plus the quickest way to get around!”
Shari says: “You have to take the subway. Everywhere! Really. To really “know” a place, you’ve got to immerse yourself in the culture, and there’s nothing that says New York City like the subway. Hail a cab. Really. It may feel foolish, but if I can do it, so can you. I really didn’t care about Times Square as we were planning the trip, but after going through it a couple times, you MUST walk through it. In the daytime to do some shopping and see the performers. At nighttime to be amazed (possibly made dizzy or even given a migraine) by the lights. Incredible!”

Any additional advice for those wishing to travel to NYC?

Shari says: “I hope you read the series of posts I wrote. There’s lots of tidbits for better travel hidden there. Plan for your plan to go awry. Get the Metro Pass and enjoy the microscopic cultural study on the trains and buses. If you can get a local guide, that’s the way to have an authentic experience, but decide what’s non-negotiable before you go, and create an itinerary with plenty of leeway for travel delays and time snags.”

Connie Says: “Buy a 7-day Subway pass and use it! Rent a bike if you are going to visit Central Park – you will be able to see more. If visiting the UN besides getting your tickets beforehand, arrive there at least an hour before your appointed tour time to get your ID picture taken and group’s bracelets. This happens across the street from the UN Building and doesn’t seem to be very well-known. Travel with someone and get a tour guide or travel with someone that is very familiar with New York. It makes the visit more enjoyable”!

Have you been to New York City? What advice would you offer?

Tripping through New York City Part Two: Like a Tourist

New York City beckons with bright lights and incredible historical significance. It’s a tourist destination…with plenty of traps to snare the unwary.

There are probably guide books. With the dawn of the digital age, information on the Internet could bury the unsuspecting in a maze without cheese at it’s center.

Now that I’ve toured the city, I can share a few tips to make the trip a tad less painful…although perhaps not less confusing.

The Largest Department Store in the World

Fifth Avenue is the shopping Mecca of New York City. And everyone in the world has heard of the Macy’s Parade.
Which centers around the largest department store in the world: Macy’s New York.

It’s ten floors tall and spans an entire city block. Yes, the short block (between 5th and 6th Avenue) and the LONG one between whatever streets it borders. I could Google that for you…but why rob you of the pleasure?

We were planning to shop here. Instead, we ate at Stella 34 for lunch and rode the lovely wooden escalators. Yes, I said wooden. Some of them even have the original wooden planks on the steps.

This place is a New York institution and you’ll walk past it on your way to the next destination.

The Empire State Building

No, it’s no longer the tallest building in the city, but it’s still one of the major landmarks. And it can become a tourist trap, but no need to get snagged.

Tickets to ride the elevator to the top can be purchased online. I recommend the express pass. It’s only $20 more and it kept us from waiting 45 minutes to ride the elevator up…and again to ride it down.

The best time for views is after dark. I know that seems contradictory, but there are so many lights. Many of the most prominent buildings have distinguishing lights, and you can appreciate all the bridges and the scope of the expanse.

Swooning over Miss Liberty

Life and Liberty, thank you France for donating this statuesque icon to our country.
Flying in to Newark Airport, you can easily pick out the Statue of Liberty, as well as the Empire State Building and other landmarks. For this reason, plan to arrive in the day time.

There’s a ferry to Liberty Island. We didn’t take it.

You can climb stairs. We didn’t do it.

Instead, we took the Staten Island Ferry (free) and took some great shots of Lady Liberty. I might have liked to set foot beside the icon and appreciate her immensity, but given our short time frame, driving by, er sailing past, worked well.

Trekking the Broadway Bridge

Maybe a hot and humid day isn’t best for this tour, but the trek is worth every dime it costs to get to Brooklyn Bridge.
Traffic hums beneath your feet. Wind buffets away the stifling stickiness. Steel cables confine on every side, and the skyline beckons.

There is both a pedestrian and bike path across the bridge. In fact, biking is an ideal way to see the bridges and the next destination.

Central Park

The park transports you from the bustle and rush of traffic into a green space worthy of the staunchest nature addict.
We visited on Sunday, and the park teemed with people. Lines for the rowing pond wrapped around the enclosure, but even with the crowds it didn’t feel crowded.

Yes, you could take a horse drawn carriage ride. That’s a real thing. The way so many of them had ribs showing, though? I wasn’t a fan. In fact, there was a group of people protesting the practice when we exited the park near the Plaza Hotel.

And if you wanted to have someone else’s pedal power get you from one side of the expanse to another, that will cost you $5 per minute. Yes, as in $50 for a 10-minute ride. No, that is not a typo.
Extortion? Surely. Exorbitant? Definitely.

The Museum Mile

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) takes up an entire city block, too. Apparently, this doesn’t make it as large as the Louvre. Someday, I’ll be able to compare that for myself.

The dining room on the fourth floor offers a pricey, three-course Sunday brunch. The food was great, and it was nice to sit and take a break from the eyeball stimulation for 90 minutes and sit in a comfortable chair.

Lines for the women’s restroom are a half-mile long. Admission lines can stretch around the lovely fountain outside. I recommend going at opening (which we did) and still plan to stand in line (albeit a MUCH shorter one).

The collection of impressionist paintings is expansive. The Italian Renaissance masters I wanted to see were sorely underrepresented.

You could spend an entire day here and still not see it all. Choose your collections wisely, and plan to take a few breaks to spare yourself from the inevitable sensory overload.

What other must-see tourist attractions have you enjoyed in the Big Apple?

Tripping through New York City Part One: Getting Around

Cities can be a beast to navigate. New York City can be especially beastly, and I’m thankful I didn’t have to stumble around like a blind person in a foreign country.

Because believe me, the Big Apple is foreign soil for a West Coast country girl like me.

I intended this post to share the different methods of transportation used while in the city. But before you can trip through New York City, you have to get there.

Choosing which Airport (of Three) is Your Best Bet

You would expect the largest city in the United States to have several airports. The three international airports we considered for our trip to the Big Apple: LaGuardia, JFK and Newark.

Since my brother is the “native” New Yorker referred to in this series of posts, my sister and I checked with him about this issue. His answer was quick and succinct.

Newark.

For native New Yorkers, there’s a general disdain for “Jersey.” Thus, it seemed more than a tad surprising that he directed us to fly into New Jersey without any fore-prompting.

Navigating Newark

The airport is the east coast hub for United Airlines (one of two airlines I frequently fly). It has three terminals, and they’re laid out in an egg-shaped pattern and connected by AirTrain.

We texted Mr. Native when the plane touched down on Jersey soil. This was after an airborne “flyover tour” (quote from the pilot of our aircraft) of the scenic state of New Jersey. And it was pretty, with dozens of pockets of deciduous trees spotted with neatly laid out subdivisions and at least five high schools whose mascots and colors could be enjoyed from our lofty vantage point.

After disembarking the Boeing 737-800, we searched for a restroom. Those in Terminal A nearest our gate were under construction (or being remodeled), so we employed those in the baggage claim area.

The AirTrain took us to the New Jersey Transit stop, where we waited in sultry nine-five degree sunshine for about fifteen minutes.

The reason Mr. Native prefers Newark for air travel is because it is two train rides with one simple transfer away from his apartment. To keep us from having to lug our suitcases through the stifling New York subway, we hailed a taxi after getting off New Jersey Transit at Penn Station.

(Normally, he would grab the 1 line at Penn and ride it out to 145th Street. We did this multiple times during our five-day tour). It can be a tight fit at peak travel times, so we were thankful not to have to navigate it with luggage in tow.

Cab or Uber

In front of Penn Station the iconic yellow taxis lined up waiting for fares.


So our guide didn’t take us out the front exit. My directionally-challenged memory can’t say which of the four exits we used. Wherever it was, we had to pass a lineup of Ubers to reach a place where he could hail a cab.

I got the opportunity to hail a cab for myself. At 11:30 PM at night on Mott Blvd. Half-a-dozen went by in those few minutes. Zero of them had their “magic lights” on.
So, I didn’t wave them down.
Although the wine-encourage crowd were sure I just didn’t know what I was doing.

I was instructed to get two cabs (one for my party and one for another couple).

A cab dropped a fare across the street from us. He saw me and waved me over. I tried to give him to the other couple (since I still hadn’t “officially” hailed a ride yet), but they’d decided on an Uber.

Ah, Uber. They were everywhere in the city, but my brother is “old school” so he declared we would hail cabs the “old-fashioned” way, while his 20-something friends were all using the Uber app to get rides without raising their arms.

The cost is fairly similar, if you have a cabbie who knows the best routes and isn’t trying to take you for a ride. (Yes, I mean that in the idiomic sense.)

I experimented with my Uber app, though. It was easy enough to book an Uber for our return to Newark airport. And cost about $20 less than a cab would have. Better yet, I scheduled it in advance and it showed up in front of our building.

No arm waving required.

Buy the Metro Pass

Although we were only using it for six days, my sister and I purchased the Metro Pass.

Our brother brought us two old cards and we recharged them. For a measly $32, we had a seven-day unlimited pass to ride the Metropolitan Transit System.

This meant we used the card a time or two for buses and multiple times daily to ride the nine different subway lines throughout his the city and boroughs.

Since it would have been $2.75 EACH time we re-entered the turnstile, by the second day, we’d used those 11.64 trips. Translation: even if you’re only spending a weekend in the city, if you’re going to use public transportation, purchase the seven-day unlimited pass.

Waterways ARE Roadways

Manhattan is an island. I think everyone knows this. It’s surrounded by tons of other islands.
The East River and Hudson River divided Manhattan from the Burroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. New York Harbor (home of Lady Liberty) divides the city from Staten Island and Long Island (among others).

There are bridges (too many to name). There are tunnels (not naming those either).

But there are also ferries and water taxis.


Our first day, we rode the Staten Island Ferry. This was our second big look at New York City. (The first look is discussed here.)

Thousands of people use this ferry to commute from the island into the city. No exaggeration here.

We’d planned to catch the 8:30 ferry (it departs every fifteen minutes from the island or the Manhattan terminal during weekday commuting hours).

We left the apartment ahead of schedule. Because who can sleep in a strange place? And who wants to sleep when there’s an amazing city to see?

But…once you’re over 50, you start to second-guess yourself. Our hosts could not recall if they’d turned off the gas beneath the tea kettle. And since they’d. Shown us the burned out shell of an apartment building that had caught fire a few months before, their minds were plagued with images of their flaming apartment devouring their beloved kitty.

One of them returned to verify the state of the kettle while the other continued with us. We waited through an hour’s worth of Staten Island commuters, and each ferry disgorged hundreds of them. The teeming lemming hordes flooded down the ramp, through the air-conditioned terminal and into the subway, onto a nearby bus or up into the nearby financial district.

It’s a fifteen-minute ride across the harbor to the island. The boat passes reasonably close to Liberty Island. We had photographic opportunities.


On Staten Island, we jogged through the (much nicer and more expansive) ferry terminal to catch the return ferry and avoid a fifteen-minute wait since we were already an hour behind our planned itinerary.

After traversing the Brooklyn Bridge (read more about that touristy trek tomorrow), we walked a few blocks through Dumbo (where? Read the answer in a couple weeks) and paid $2.75 each to catch a water taxi back up to 34th Street in Manhattan. We had lunch reservations at Stella 34 (details on that) inside Macy’s.

There was a bit of a walk for the Select bus that took us to 6th Avenue, but we made it within fifteen minutes of our reservation. And what a lovely window seat we had to enjoy our delightful Napoli salads and iced tea.
Have you traveled to and within New York City? What tips or advice would you add?

My Love-Hate Relationship with Travel

It’s been a mild winter. And except for the excess of gray days, I’m dealing with it rather than dreaming about escaping to a land of blue skies, tank tops and all natural Vitamin D. Still, there are travel plans in my winter.
This time, it’s a “work” trip. I’m attending my first ever writer’s retreat, and it just happens to be in Destin, Florida. (I know, how sad to travel to Florida in February).
A couple days before my departure, Old Man Winter decides to make a visit to the Pacific Northwest. That nice guy dumped several inches of snow on the ground after teasing us with the idea several times during January and February. This storm will blow over before my flights are affected.
Or an Arctic system will drop on top of the mass of moisture, depositing more snow on my front lawn.
My husband drove through sideways snowfall to take me to the airport. It wasn’t bad enough to cancel or delay my flight, was it?

Nope.

I arrived in San Francisco (I’m taking a circuitous route to the Emerald Coast, one of the things I don’t love about traveling) early. Excellent. Plenty of time to find breakfast and lunch to take on the next flight.
There’s a funny story here about a misplaced spoon for consuming the yogurt parfait I purchased for breakfast. Punch line: I found the plastic utensil in my purse after I’d finished eating the yogurt.
Everything’s on time as we travelers board the plane heading to Houston (this is the longest flight on my trip). “All systems are go,” says the pilot (okay, he didn’t say that but that’s what he meant).
Then we sit at the gate. Alas, the plane backs up. This false hope is followed by a brief respite a few feet away from the gate.

“Our runway assignment is changed,” the pilot informs us. (Yes, he actually said that.)

He taxis the 737 away from the gates. San Francisco Bay comes into view (I didn’t realize it was so large until we flew over it earlier) to the right of the plane. My window seat offers me an impressive view of flocks of waterbirds living large in the eddies along the edge of the runways.
Blue skies mean nothing. There are gusting winds in San Francisco, forcing the Air Travel Know-alls to require all flights into SFO to use the same runway as those departing.

For once I didn’t envision a mid-air crash. I have places to be.

At some point (about 40 minutes after the stated departure time), the plane picks up speed and we’re in the air.
I won’t bore you with the mundane details.
Suffice it to say that this flight landed at Houston about 30 minutes before my final flight was supposed to depart.
It landed in Terminal C. My next flight is on a small express shuttle, and those depart from Terminal B.
I’ve never been to Houston. I have no idea how near (or far) these terminals are. My husband is texting me with details about some Sky Tram, but I see no signs for it. I do see arrows pointing to Terminal B.
So I walk. Make that a power walk (which is about 1 mph faster than my normal walk, 4 mph. Let’s face it some people don’t even jog at 5 mph, so I’m rushing through the airport, dodging slow travelers, and trying not to bowl over those people who wander like sleepwalkers.)

When I make it to the B Terminal, they haven’t announced my flight. Whew!

My shoulder throbs from the pressure of my laptop bag. My feet flame like the friction of walking ignited them.
The flight is announced. We head down stairs into another tunnel of gates. Then we stand in our respective boarding group lines for close to 30 minutes.
Waiting on a crew.
I ran through the airport for this? I’m panicking about missing my shuttle to the retreat and the CREW OF ONE meant to serve us a drink and hand us a pack of ten mini pretzels hasn’t arrived?
There are a few bags that haven’t made it either. Other people’s connecting flights arrived late. As a woman on my previous flight informed me, “If you have checked luggage, they won’t leave without it.”
Eventually, I made it to my destination. I didn’t miss the shuttle. There were four other women waiting to catch it too.


But all this heart-pounding had me thinking about my love-hate relationship with travel. What do I love about it? What do I not like?

Things I love about traveling:

  • Seeing new places
  • Escaping rain to find sunshine
  • An excuse to eat trail mix
  • Trying new food
  • Experiencing new cultures

A list of hateful travel possibilities:

  • Crowds of people
  • Late flights
  • Traffic
  • Delayed flights
  • Screaming babies and small children
  • Chatty seat mates
  • Airplane restrooms

Don’t judge me for these short lists. I really do enjoy traveling. But I’m not a huge fan of traveling by myself.
This is why I’m married to Mr. World Traveler (aka Mr. Wonderful) because he always takes care of the headache-inducing aspects of travel. And if that isn’t wonderful, I don’t know what is.
Do you like to travel? What’s your favorite mode of travel? What don’t you like about that mode?

Florida in February

Who wouldn’t want to go to Florida in the middle of winter? (Okay, winter is only a month from being “officially” over, but still.)

What writer wouldn’t want to attend a five-day writing retreat with two best-selling authors? Maybe someone, but not this author.

I wish I could tell you more about it, but at the moment, I’m in transit. Since the retreat is held at a house in Destin, Florida, I’m having to zig and zag all over the place to get there from the Pacific Northwest.

I left before 7 am this morning from Portland to fly to San Francisco. From there, I’m heading off to Houston, which appears to be the only major airport on the west side of Destin with flights to the little airport.


I arrive at 6 pm, exactly one hour before the shuttle leaves from the airport to take a bunch of us writers to the retreat.

Bright and early (okay, not really early in my book) on Friday morning, the retreat begins with breakfast and devotions led by Rachel Hauck. Not sure who that is? One of the best-selling authors. She writes Christian historical romances and historical fiction, so if those aren’t your genres…you’re forgiven.
There will be classes in the morning. Group sessions for brainstorming and applying the lessons.
In the afternoon, I’ll be writing my next Sweet Grove romance novella. That’s the entire focus of this retreat for me. I hope to come back with 5-10 thousand new words. If nothing else, I’ll have an incredible hooking scene and complete understanding of my characters’ motivations.

Because the first draft WILL be written before the second book releases on March 13.

Yes, here’s the pretty cover, in case you missed my post about the series. (You did? Here’s the link.)


Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let you know how well the retreat worked out for me. Maybe even this time next week.

Or maybe not since I’ve scheduled March 1 as an official “recovery” day from all the travel and lack of sleep.

Where is your ideal winter vacation spot?

The Road to Blogging is Paved with Grand Intentions

I intended to post at least twice last week while I was on vacation in Branson, MO. Really. Here’s a little proof from my blog about what I was hoping for from the vacation.

And then vacation mindset settled in. And grand intentions went the way of New Year’s resolutions.

It happens when you’re having a fine time relaxing and seeing the sights and eating too much rich food.

So how about if I synopsize it for you now? Will that make up for failing to post in the heat of vacation’s finer moments?

I’d rather seek forgiveness than ask permission.

The First Weekend

Fights were unremarkable with the exception that we arrived 30 minutes early in Oklahoma City. It stressed my cousin’s wife out not to be there to meet us. But the timing worked out so that we claimed our bags, stepped into the pickup area and they pulled up a minute later.

Smoother than Dole whip. Although not as tasty.

They took us to a pizza joint where their son worked. We were waited on by the owner’s daughter (said son’s best friend) and then off to their house for football.

There was entirely too much college football viewed during these first couple days. But I was in Sooner territory and the championship games were being played.

Enough said.

My aunt (the reason for the side trip into OKC rather than flying directly to MO) and uncle took us to Cattleman’s Cafe at the Stockyards on Saturday. Best steak I’ve had in a LONG time and not as pricey as the last memorable one from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

We did some emergency laundry (no, I don’t want to talk about it) and packed for a semi-early start for the extensive road trip through the flatlands and into the “mountains.” (Yes, there’s a story here, but I’m not telling it at this juncture.)

A Typical Monday

My cousin’s wife had to work. She wasn’t the only one. My cousin spent plenty of time on the phone with a troubled client and hubs got a call about a computer network issue.

Even I ended up working. I wrote a blog post and played around with the stylus and my photo editing app. If you missed it, you can check it out now.

So we stayed at the condo. Mostly.

We agreed to a “15-minute survey” from the Wyndham rep for a $25 American Express card. And that went fine (although longer than 15 minutes but it took place in our condo, so no biggie).

But…timeshare salesmen have no boundaries.

We borrowed my cousin’s Jeep to get some “important and essential” information from the sales center. Not. As soon as they realized we had meant it when we said we didn’t want to buy more points (“But the pricing was incredible. I figured you must have misunderstood the offer.” Yes, we’re idiots. Thanks for saying so, but no, it doesn’t make us want to spend $15,000 dollars).

Since we were out and about, we went to the Dixie Stampede grounds and picked up our tickets for the dinner show on Friday The smell of horseflesh assaulted me when I stepped from the car. Lovely.

It was finally a good day.

Shopping, Sightseeing and Shows

Tuesday, we went shopping at the Landing and the Tanger Outlets.

Wednesday was our afternoon show at the Sight and Sound Theater.

If you’ve never been to one, you should add it to your bucket list. The barnyard scent in the fancy auditorium was the first clue that this would be a show like no other.

A musical with live animals and incredible lighting effects followed.

Afterward, we took the cousins out for dinner since it was their third wedding anniversary.

I recommend Dobyns at the College of the Ozarks (aka Hard Work U).

Friday night was the big dinner show at Dixie Stampede. It was an incredible assortment of trick riding and showmanship. And if you only wanted food, the WHOLE chicken was sure to satisfy.

Road Tripping

The trip from OKC to Branson was a dual-sided road trip.

But that wasn’t enough for my cousins. Nope. They had been married in a “town that survives solely on tourism.” And they wanted to show it to us.

We were game. After all, it was only about fifty miles from Branson. Just a hop, skip and a jump of about an hour in the car.

Or not.

Because we were in the “hills” and the roads were winding through small towns, beside lakes, past chicken farms and at less than 55 miles per hour most of the time.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, has more to claim its fame than artists and odd-shaped buildings and old store fronts.

For one thing, it boasts the Christ of the Ozarks. This 64-foot statue was our first stop on the chilly winter Thursday we road tripped across the state line.

The town itself was “quaint” if not oddly situated on the side of a hill with narrow streets.

The B&B where they got married was charming. They drove up the steep and narrow drive (explaining how their wedding guests had to park thither and yon) and hopped out to chat with the landlady.

Who was on vacation.

But we saw plenty of locally made art pieces. One of the most unique and memorable pieces was at Zarks Gallery. I must say I wasn’t in the market for art of this caliber. Mostly because I couldn’t afford the $5,000 price tag.

One of Many Nano Lopez sculptures in Zarks Gallery

Eventually, we were headed back to Branson for the condo-grilled dinner. And I ascribed to one of my favorite ways to spend a road trip.

Share your vacation memories. I’d love to hear about the strangest discoveries you made.

A Different Sort of Family Vacation

For several decades, family vacations were defined in a certain way. But as with all of life, things change.

My most recent vacation to the South was a different sort of family vacation for me. However, that means next to nothing if the “norm” of family vacations remains undefined.

Welcome to the earlier definitions of “family vacation.”

The Childhood Definition

A vacation in my childhood involved a canvas tent, sleeping bags, a cooler and camp stove and public forest camping.

And I didn’t complain because I can count on one hand the number of times my father, mother, sister and I went on a trip together. The most memorable one involved a road trip from Oregon to Oklahoma in 1976 for a family reunion.

I wanted to become an Okie after that trip. But that could have been because I did NOT want to get back in the car for three days of solid driving through hot Kansas without air conditioning, no bathroom breaks, sleeping in the cramped back seat with my sister…and the switch.

Because there would be NO fighting. And Dad wouldn’t have to pull the car over thanks to the switch he cut and could handily whip between my sister and my’s bare legs with Indiana Jones precision.

So, I didn’t really know what a family vacation was all about.

The Definition I Adored

And then I married Mr. Wonderful whose family went to campgrounds with neighborhood friends and relatives every summer with regularity. And they slept in RVs. And girls showered and fixed their hair and applied makeup.

So that was a huge culture shock for the girl who caught her dinner in the creek, went to the bathroom in a bucket and washed her face upstream (if you get my meaning).

But once we had kids, we began our own traditions. And when the kids were old enough, we planned a fantastic Spring Break trip…just the four of us. Sometimes we asked friends to tag along, but when you’re jetting across the country that’s not always possible.

Most memorable to me: Washington DC and Disney Orlando

During our RV years, there were plenty of summer trips too. Of course, these were road trips. And the large-bladdered men in my family jibed me for too many bathroom breaks, but no one ever said I had to hold it for another two hours.

Some places we went in the summer: Yellowstone, Redwoods and Disneyland (we even got to fly to this destination-yay!)

Most memorable road trip during this phase: to Colorado.

This was the trip of the Piggyback Hike and the Boot Removal of Death. I’m pretty sure any man in my family can recall exact (and exaggerated) details of those events.

But, kids grow up. And now our “family” has grown to six and our vacations together are more sporadic and occur in December near Christmas. Generally to tropical climates.

A New Dictionary Entry

This past week, I visited family. That’s the new sort of “family” vacation. Rather than going somewhere with “my boys,” I planned an entire ten days around a special someone: my Aunt Betty.

Aunt Betty is an amazing lady. A real Renaissance Woman (and if there isn’t such a thing, now there is). She pursued a career when women were “expected” to marry young and fill a house with babies.

When a man didn’t deserve her faithfulness, she divorced him. Yes, in the Bible Belt in the 1950s. Unheard of. And highly unpopular.

She’s a true survivor. At the moment, she’s surviving her third diagnosis of breast cancer. And she’s over 80, so she knows she’s living on “blessed time” (see Psalms if you don’t know what I’m referring to here).

I tried to plan a trip in May to the College World Series in Oklahoma City (where Aunt B lives), but the ticket prices…stunned me. When I could take a Caribbean cruise for less money, I had to pass.

But we have a condo in Branson, MO. And they have great shows there and amazing Christmas light displays. So, I planned our vacation around visiting Aunt Betty in OKC and then taking her on a road trip to Branson.

And we all know how I feel about road trips.

What’s your idea of a “family vacation”? Am I all wrong with my three definitions?

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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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?