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I have found it — my perfect cruise

 

 

 

A cruise. That’s the ticket. It’s been a difficult year and, while I can’t actually GO on a cruise right now, PLANNING a cruise sounds terrific.

What spurred this magnificent idea was a television commercial. I don’t watch much television and when I do it’s usually no-commercial streaming, so this was like the Heavens telling me I was meant to do this thing.

A distant shot of a huge multi-level shiny white ship slowly zoomed in to a happy couple relaxing in a hot tub on an otherwise deserted deck. The scene switched to an off-ship excursion and there was my couple, walking hand in hand down a sparsely populated old European street. Then they were in chairs on an empty beach watching the waves and sipping umbrella drinks as the sun began to set.

Ahhhhh. The peace, the beauty.

No time to waste. (Actually, there was plenty of time to waste as I can’t go on any vacation in the immediate future, but I needed to hurry up and get to planning.) I went to my research library – commonly called Google – and looked up cruises. I saw some special deals that brought hope. I just might be able to afford to cruise in this lifetime.

The websites depicted spacious cabins with balconies overlooking calm sparkling waters. Well-appointed dining rooms served gourmet meals accompanied by glasses of wine, red and white. Small theaters featured big name entertainers in an intimate setting. Yes.

More in-depth research revealed that the deals that fit my budget did NOT include spacious cabins with balconies, but miniscule rooms that were more like berths in the bowels of the ship with bathrooms that were airplane facilities with the world’s tiniest showers added.

Yes, there are luxury ships that resemble the ideas that had grown in my head, propagated by the commercials and the copious post-Google-search in-ternet ads. But the even semi-accessible cruises were in huge vessels with 5,000 other passengers jammed onto the decks waiting for space in a chair by the pool or a spot in a hot tub touching knees with strangers.

Adventurous extroverted people-loving folks might not see any negatives in this description. But I am an introvert. Five people I am not related to constitutes a crowd, a mob, in my mind. More than one other person in a hot tub with me is unthinkable. And that one other person better be related to me, or at least be a long-time friend.

As for the entertainment – more likely to be karaoke and shuffleboard in throngs than a quiet table listening to a popular musician. I would likely end-up in my berth reading a book the entire cruise trying to avoid the 5,000 other people. Even so, I would have to come out for meals. There is purportedly food a-plenty, but the reality of the luxurious dining room on a (for me) affordable cruise is a large cafeteria where 3,000 of those passengers decided to

eat at the exact same time I did. As for my red and white wine – not included in the “all-inclusive” package.

And the excursions? I had pictured a stroll down a picturesque street alone or with a friend.  Leisurely visits to historic sites. A tiny bit of shopping in a local open market. The pictures I saw more closely resembled a lynch mob, or Black Friday shoppers. Potato, poTAHto.

Now, before cruise lovers and angry cruise lines beat me up over this, I DO allow that there could be – Lord, help us, there MUST be – small luxury cruise lines that offer a more intimate experience. And I acknowledge that what I’ve described is not abhorrent to a segment of folks. I am just not in that segment.

What is needed, in my opinion, is a dedicated cruise line for introverts. Happily, my searching finally provided the answer. I hope to set sail this summer on a small vessel with a short passenger list. The amenities are limited, but are tailored to my specific likes and needs. Yes, indeed, I and some of my kids with some of their kids and a picnic cooler are gonna spend a whole day on a pontoon boat.  And disembark at the end of the day happier, kinder people for it.

Now, what were we talking about?

 

 

I may be a little bit distracted.  I went into the kitchen to make a quick cup of coffee while I pondered the most recent in a series of unfortunate events.  When I heard the plunk of a K-cup instead of the hiss of brewed coffee landing in my cup, I brought my full attention to the task at hand.

“Not really paying attention, are we?” I asked.  We being just me,  I answered.  “Nope, afraid not.”

I looked at the situation from the point of view of someone who did not know me well, really well.  “Early onset Alzheimer’s?” they might ask.  (Not that early if truth be told.)  No, I didn’t forget how to make coffee, I just went kind of autopilot, but sent the K-cup in the wrong direction.

Going in the wrong way is definitely not a new thing.  For one, I was born devoid of a sense of direction. Case in point:  Once, at a restaurant, I walked out of the ladies’ room straight into the men’s room because it seemed like that was the right direction.  The inhabitants quickly assured me it was not.

More pertinent, though, is the fact that if I am distracted, my body takes over and does things without consulting my mind.  To illustrate this, I will mention some of the many places I have visited –accidentally.  My sister and I and our kids used to go on vacation together.  We once went to Arkansas to see Graceland.  Another time, we were headed to Trenton, N. J. to see the Liberty Bell.  We spent a long time on the loop around Washington, D.C., calling out, “Kids, Washington Monument,” each time was passed that venerable edifice.  (Think Chevy Chase in “European Vacation. ” If you haven’t seen it, watch it so you will understand.)  We regularly missed exits because we were talking and, thus, distracted.  We did eventually see the Liberty Bell and Graceland, but we saw more of the country in route than we intended.

But this goes deeper than missing an exit.  I can remember losing an entire cup of fresh coffee when I was attending college, a single mom in my early 30s.  After looking in every room, I finally gave up and went on to class, completely perplexed and with no coffee.  A month later, I found the cup — now topped with a green furry layer of yuck – on a shelf in the coat closet.  I immediately remembered exactly what had happened.  I  had taken a sip of coffee, then thought about my camera for photography class, went in the closet, absentmindedly set the cup down, got the camera, walked out to put it with my books, then went to finish getting ready for the day.  Sometime in that process, I thought about my coffee and started the search.

Long before that, as a teenager, I would do things like forget I was making a sandwich and start sweeping the kitchen.  Of course, I was in the throes of puppy love at the time, which is almost the definition of distracted.

Looking at all this, I realized that with my history, we really won’t know when or if to worry about Alzheimer’s.  One coffee pod dropped into a cup instead of the Keurig machine is really no indication of trouble on the horizon.

I went to take a shower, pondering this, but with no great concern.  As I was rinsing, I noted the peppermint smell in the air and realized I had just taken my entire shower with shampoo instead of body wash.  Distracted?  Alzheimer’s?  Oh well, either way, I’ll probably be the best smelling resident of the home!

Victoria Dickens Twain, homesteader extroidinaire

 

One of my many incarnations (or personalities, as mentioned in a recent post here) is as a farmer.  Not just any farmer, mind you, a homesteader — self sufficient, living off grid,  growing and preserving my own crops, and raising livestock.  This dream has been around almost as long as my vision of being an acclaimed novelist.

The writing dream was born one summer Saturday morning as I was sitting at a long heavy table in my local library.  As I breathed in the heady aroma– exhaled by paper, leather, and cloth bindings; old wood; and possibly furniture wax– I looked at the shelves filled with the work of writers ranging from

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long ago to the newest best-sellers.  I dreamed of one day being right up there among them, my work hanging out with the likes of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Victoria Holt.  Even then, before I ever even hit my teenage years, I was a complex being.

My grandparents and great-grandparents had farms.  A city kid, I loved the trips to the country, the fresh food, the barnyards, the animals.  I would ride around on an imaginary horse and dream of a life like that.  Years later, while living in Alaska, I met homesteaders. This tough breed built their own log cabins and lived an independent lifestyle.  They hunted, trapped, raised livestock, and gardened in the short but intense growing season.  They had huge stacks of firewood for stoves that provided both heat and the means to cook.  It was a dream life.  Of course, they had no indoor plumbing and their showers were homemade cubicles in the front yard rigged to a bucket and a 55-gallon drum.  But that was a small matter, easy to minimize when I lived in an apartment with an electric stove, central heat, and a fully functioning bathroom.

I presented my case to my military spouse.  It would be an adventure, I said.  A great life in an unspoiled environment.  My spouse did not agree.  Instead of getting a bit of inexpensive land and researching cold weather chicken breeds, he completed his enlistment, got his discharge from the Army, and took us back to the lower 48.  He went into sales and I wrote short stories about raising chickens in the snow.

When we later went our separate ways, I went into journalism instead of farming.  I do, however, watch Homestead Rescue frequently, and I once wrote about a goat farm.

Nowadays, I am retired and I find myself still mentally switching between homesteader and literary giant (all those other personalities take a back seat to these two).  I look at ads for small-holdings (that’s what we homesteaders call small pieces of acreage), then get a cup of coffee and sit down to write that best-selling novel that will one day be taught in literature classes.  I did write a novel, but so far no literature classes – or big publishing houses – have begun clamoring at my feet.

I am a die-hard optimist, however, so I am promoting my novel and writing another.  And I just got done feeding the chickens, goats, cows, cats, guineas, dogs, and chinchillas.  Now, I am going to take an allergy pill, leave my son’s farm, and go back to my own house where the only other living things are a philodendron and a peace lily.  I may stop by the library on the way and visit my good friends, Mark, Charles – and Vicky.

A Flatlander in the Hills of North Carolina

 

 

 

 

Is it just me or does it scream “RECENT TRANSPLANT” if you fall out of your own yard three time while trying to mow the grass?

My prior lawn mowing escapades have included running a new Zero Turn mower over two of my prize blueberry bushes before I got the hang of the thing, but I’ve never fallen out of the yard before.  Granted, I was in the deep South where a fire ant mound constitutes undulating topography.  Now I am in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and my front lawn slopes steeply from my porch to the road.  A few weeks ago I was using the apparently ancient riding lawnmower I had bought after attempting to coerce a push mower around Mount Phyllis.  And it was self-propelled—the lawn mower, not the mount.  (Note to self.  Disengage the self-propel function when going DOWN the incline.)

So, anyway, being low on funds, I searched for an affordable riding mower.  Being low on mechanical saavy . . . I bought one.  The first time I tried to use it, I thought I would surely either topple over going sideways across a mini mountain or rush headlong to a spectacular death speeding down said mountain.  But by the time I finished the front yard—and a bottle of cheap red wine—it wasn’t so bad.  I had learned when to go sideways, when to go up the incline and when and how fast to go down the incline.  (Otherwise, you either fall out of the yard or slide backwards into the road.)  I had also learned the intricacies of self-propel, as I still had to push mow the scariest places.

Unfortunately, each time I used the riding mower, it worked less well.  It slid around and backwards on the hills unless the ground was very dry and the grass was very short—in which case it didn’t need mowing anyway.  Add to that, the cutting deck apparently became unlevel (maybe when I got stuck on the little tree trunk), as it scalped on one side of the cut and was long on the other, requiring a second pass.

When I got done, I called my son – who MAY be wishing I would go back to undulating ant hill territory – to witness the lawn mowing fiasco.  My front yard looked like it had been attacked by a horde of mutant land-dwelling vegetarian piranhas.  As my neighbors all keep their lawns immaculately manicured, this dilemma may resolve itself when I am run out of the neighborhood on a rail—or on my own ancient, inefficient, limping riding mower.

My son looked at the yard in wonder, or was that dismay, then went into the garage to check out the lawnmower.  After a brief inspection he said, “Uh, Mom, did you know your back tires are flat?”  I looked. The left one was low and went flat when weight was applied, but the right one was undeniably flat as a pancake. (We say flat as a flitter down in flatlander country, but what the heck is a flitter?  Could it be a fritter and I’ve been saying it wrong for decades?  But I digress.)

Well that explained the piranhas and also corroborated the reason there is a petition in at least two states to prevent me from handling any kind of tools, yard or otherwise.  Said son aired up the tires, which promptly went flat, and then had tubes put in them and I was back in business.  The yard is neatly mowed, but there was still the matter of the edging.  I’ve just ignored it all summer, except for the one time I tried to weed eat with a pair of scissors.

There was only one thing to do, so I went to the Agricultural Warfare Armaments Division HQ (commonly known as Lowes Garden Department) and purchased an electric weed eater – and a hedge trimmer for good measure.  I came home, and I have suited up and am going in. Lord have mercy, Baby’s got her power tools on!

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Be Careful What You Wish For — or a Practical Lesson in the Law of Attraction

I learned some important things during my recent trip to North Carolina –the truth of the law of attraction (also understood as the power of positive/negative thinking) and the veracity of the premise that you learn who you are and what is important to you in an emergency. This latter can be understood as “When you are in a squeeze, what is deep inside you comes out.”

Now, I found out in a serious car accident some years ago, that when I am squeezed, I am apparently full, not of wisdom or depth of spiritual understanding, but of punch lines.

This recent trip taught me that if you precede every vacation for years on end with a marathon of Chevy Chase vacation movies, you will inevitably get some degree of  Griswoldian adventures. Ergo, the law of attraction in action.

Scott and I went to North Carolina to see two of my children and their families and exult in the fall foliage. Growing up in south Mississippi, I didn’t really get seasons–just swelter with a few days of freeze thrown in for variety. I remember once welcoming what I considered fall color only to be told by a good friend, “Phyllis, brown is not a color; it is just dead.” So for years I have been wanting to be where there is an actual fall. I moved from Mississippi, but only went further south into Alabama. Now, Fairhope, Ala. is a wonderful place, but fall there only means you tripped on the sidewalk.

So back to this vacation. We planned for October so we could glory in nature– and also take advantage of my composer son’s home studio to record The Trouble with Grits as an audio book. Michael and his family live in a charming old farm house in the heart of tobacco country, complete with a tobacco drying barn out back. It has interesting architecture and the personality and eccentricities of a historic structure. One of those original, eccentric features is a brass doorknob on the bathroom door with a unique locking system.

The first day of my visit, my son and daughter-in-law had to work, so I planned to visit Pages book store in Mt. Airy and take them more copies of the book. When I woke up, I made my way blearily to said bathroom, but when trying to make my exit, the charming knob just turned fruitlessly to the left, to the right, back to the left. It wasn’t locked, but neither was it willing to open. I surveyed my terrain. Okay, there was a window I could climb out if necessary. I opened the blinds and looked out. The window opened into the garage, which was a long way down on this historic structure. If I managed to jump down onto the cement, I would likely break or sprain something and not only still be trapped but be in pain to go with it. I looked around again. There was a toilet and there was water, both good things. The kids weren’t expected back before 7 or so that evening, so I began thinking food. Toothpaste was about the only thing on the menu, so I figured a water fast wouldn’t hurt me a bit.

I tried the door again. Nope, still eccentric. Assessing my options calmly again, I took what I considered reasonable action. I banged on the door frantically and yelled, “I am trapped in the bathroom. Anybody home?” After the third round of banging and yelling, Gizmo, their Jack Russell terrier came to my aid and began barking. On my sixth round, Gizmo’s third, I heard creaking on the stairs. Michael had not left yet–hallelujah!!!–and Gizmo’s barking had awakened him. Salvation! However, the doorknobs – and the doors—of bygone eras are very substantial and neither would budge. The screws were on the inside and the only tool I had was a toothbrush. However, there was still the window, and Michael managed to get a screwdriver through the window, enabling me to loosen the knob enough that he could forcibly remove it. Voila! When I came out of the bathroom, heady with my freedom, I noticed a note by the door, apparently taped there early in the morning by my daughter-in-law. “The bathroom doorknob is being finicky.” it read. “Please just pull the door to the jamb and don’t close it completely. Otherwise, you might get trapped in there!”

I made my ablutions and went off to Mt. Airy to fulfill my plan for the day, which included eating at the iconic Snappy Lunch made famous both by Andy Griffith’s references to it as the place to eat in Mayberry, and by their pork chop sandwich. Seated in Snappy Lunch, I learned that without the pancake batter coating, the deep frying, the bun, and any other possible wheat offenders (to which I have an intolerance), the famous pork chop sandwich deconstructs into a pork cutlet with cole slaw. But, at least I could mark it off the bucket list. No matter, there was still the glorious foliage in the mountains, although the Piedmont area was till surprisingly green. I drove north. I did not find color, but I did drive right into hairpin curves, fog, and heavy rain. At Fancy Gap, I gave it up, turned around, and went back to Pfafftown to read a book on my iPad and enjoy the rainy cool day on the porch.

The next day, Michel got the recording equipment set and sent me up to start the audiobook. I–who have been longing for pens and stationery rather than email, and landline phones with answering machines instead of cell phones and texts – was given a crash course in mute this, unarm that, set this track, now unmute, arm, and start recording. If you mess up, stop do it over, or delete if you hate the whole thing. Right! I will remember that. I finally got the first chapter exactly how I wanted it. The second chapter didn’t go so well, so I decided to delete. The delete worked just as it was supposed to, except that I deleted the perfect first chapter instead of the faulty second. An optimist, I didn’t let it upset me. I just went back and did it all over. About halfway into the fifth chapter, with my voice beginning to hoarsen, the power went out. Michael, the hurricane not Michael my son, had come to join us. I went downstairs and Michael, my son not Michael the hurricane, said, “Did you save it at all?” Save? Nobody ever said anything about save.

Again that law of attraction went into action. For two days, I got to experience life without cell phones, computers, or those pesky old electric lights. When the battery ran out on the iPad, I borrowed a paperback and read until it got too dark to see the words by candlelight. Then we turned to actual conversation, with much reminiscing and laughter. Dinner morphed from a baked chicken dish to burgers and hotdogs on the grill. Bedtime came early, but a good time was had by all.

After Michael, the hurricane not Michael my son, moved on out of the way, it was apparent there was no fall foliage as yet and time had run out on my opportunity to record. Everywhere I went I heard people talking about all the unaccustomed green in mid October. A few disgruntled serious leaf lookers were complaining to management at hotels and RV parks about the disappointment and demanding their money back. I figured that complaint should be addressed to God, and I, for one, did not want to be around when that happened. Remember the Israelites?

There was still no electricity, so we booked a very nice hotel in downtown Winston-Salem. Formerly the RJ Reynolds building, The Klimpton is a beautiful building with a delightful mix of décor. We had a lovely dinner and a glass of wine, then retired to rest up for the next part of our trip. The bed was luxurious, which translated to too soft for my spine, so I awoke often, the last time about 7 a.m., to hear an alarm going off, followed by, “Attention. Attention. An emergency has been reported in this building. Please stop operations and follow evacuation routes outside the building. Do not use elevators.” They might as well have prefaced the announcement with, “Griswolds, listen up.”

I am pleased to say that we did not panic. Neither, apparently did anyone else. We got dressed and grabbed essentials. This is where the premise of understanding what is really important to you comes in. Outside on the sidewalk, I looked around and saw a woman with a great deal of jewelry on and carrying a large purse. One man had taken the time to pack a suitcase. I saw someone with their computer bag. What did I grab? The paperback book I had started at Michael’s. I could do without my suitcase, my cell phone, and even my computer, but I HAD to know how the story ended. I am apparently not terribly deep, but at least it is easy to make me happy.

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