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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!

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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.

Granny Get your Gun

Now, I’ve never been an activist. I am somewhat apolitical, or at least laissez faire. I live by the Paul Simon credo: “I get all the news I need from the weather report.” Don’t be haters. There is room in this world for Simonites.

But my point is that all of that has changed. I have now taken up not only a cause, but arms to defend that cause. “Freedom of the press?” you may ask, since I have a journalism background. Nah, that will work itself out. Freedom of speech, since I am a communications major and a writer? Nope, I hear plenty of free speech going on. The right to bear arms? Well, yes, but only incidental to my main cause.

I was on the front porch this morning in the first rays of sunlight, actively fighting for the rights of birds to enjoy their feeders and their supply of gourmet, species-specific seeds unmolested by marauding bands of rogue squirrels. There are oak trees in the yard with a billion acorns, for heaven’s sake. The lawless rodents have no need to go seed rustling. It’s pure greed and a lack of regard for their fellow  – ah – phylum mates. It really comes down to a class war, kinda like the Clantons and the Cowboy Gang against innocent ranchers and townsfolk. On the battleground of my little Fairhope habitat, the Sciuridae Family has become the enemy.

So that is why I was on the porch in my PJs in the dim pre-dawn light, wild-eyed and tousle-headed, armed only with random shoes for throwing at the gang leader. I do have a BB gun somewhere, but no ammunition, and I have packed up most of my belongings for an impending move. What I DID have at hand was a collection of shoes taken off at the front door, and the first cobbled missile hurled from the porch sent Curly Bill Sciuridae scrambling up the nearest oak.

After seven more forays toward the feeders, all defeated with footwear, the Sciuridaes had turned back and an array of blue jays, cardinals, and chickadees were breakfasting peacefully on black-oil sunflower seeds and such. I had regathered my ammunition and had a cup of fresh-ground coffee in my hand. I brought my laptop out so I could work and still remain vigilant. I didn’t dare take time out for a shower, so I was still garbed in nightwear with my hair sticking up on one side and plastered down on the other. Peace reigned in my world, though, so I was content.

My attention turned from the birds to the young school children who were now making their way from the neighboring cul-de-sacs toward the bus stop near my house. I smiled and waved at the ones familiar to me, and at the parents who accompanied the youngest ones. Totally distracted by the morning ritual, I failed to see Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo sneaking in from the leafy cover of the overhead canopy. I sighed happily, then turned my head to gaze on my little flock, and there they were. The Sciuridae ring leaders were perched on top of the feeder nearest me, stuffing their nasty, greedy, furry little cheeks and staring at me in total defiance.

In my recovery of the shoes, I had discovered a cache of magnolia pods, and I quickly catapulted one of these toward the outlaws. They fled and I chased them from my yard to the neighboring trees. Maybe I was bleary eyed from doing battle before coffee, but I would almost swear Curly Bill had a red bandana tied around his hind leg. “Run, you lily livered gray coated fiends. RUN!” I yelled. Caught up in the moment, I continued, “Tell all the other curs the law’s comin’! You tell ‘em I’M coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear?” Then I nodded to the startled young man who was hastily moving his four small children to the other side of the road and hurried inside to unpack a big box of shoes.

 

 

I Had a Dream

How is it possible to have a dream come true and not even realize it at the time?

I was talking to a library group yesterday about writing and my novel, The Trouble with Grits, when it hit me. Let me explain.

You see, I have always loved words. I learned to talk early and to read early, and I just adored books. Somewhere along the way, I discovered I also loved to write.

In the fourth grade, I wrote a short story and decided it was pretty good and I just knew it deserved to be published. I set about finding a publisher, certain that I was about to become the world’s youngest rich and famous author. I sent my manuscript, handwritten in pencil, to the only publication I could come up with at that tender age, and awaited my coming fortune.

What actually came was my first rejection letter. The Times Picayune very gently and kindly informed me that they were a newspaper and did not publish fiction. Although they wished me well in my writing career, I took it hard. I was not discovered; I was rejected. So, I swore off writing.

After a bit a wallowing in abject misery, something a dramatic artsy-type child revels in, I rallied. You can’t keep a good nine-year-old down, after all.  To make my comeback, I sent a quarter and the back of a Kellogg’s corn flake box off in the mail to get a set of watercolor paints. I would be the world’s youngest rich and famous artist.

Well, that didn’t work out either, so I just accepted my fate as an average kid in elementary school and played Barbie dolls and climbed trees.

I did maintain my love of reading, however. One day, as a young teenager, I was in the Hattiesburg Public Library, where I spent a lot of time, and I looked over and noticed a volume of Mark Twain sitting on the library shelf. A light didn’t shine around it and a chorus of angels did not sing, but that book did somehow stand out. Something rose up in me and I thought, That is what I want. One day, I want a book of mine to be on a library shelf. I wasn’t dreaming about fame and fortune, I just wanted something I wrote to impact someone like Mark Twain’s writing impacted me. I wanted someone to read my writing and laugh, or cry, or smile, or just be provoked to thought.

Now, I was not writing anything at that time, and I didn’t pursue fiction writing for many years. In truth, I completely forgot that moment until I was talking to the group in the library at Mount Olive, Mississippi. As I was getting ready to read from my first novel, I realized that my dream from long ago had come true. I had a book on library shelves. And I hope someone reading it is moved to laugh, or cry, or smile, or think.

#ing,Tweeting and Posting? I just got comfortable with cut and paste!

Okay, the truth must come out. I am a bit of a technophobe. This is not new, just not something I freely divulge. In today’s digital, instant world, admitting to technophobia is akin to the Biblical leper running around yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”

I remember when microwave ovens began to become common place–yes, that is an age giveaway. After turning one dinner roll into a landscape stone because I thought I had to heat it a mere 10 minutes, not 10 seconds, I began to wonder if such potent laser beams could escape the oven and microwave my brain. Turns out I wasn’t so far off the mark, but back then I was just viewed as an old fashioned, lily livered anti-progressive.

A couple of years after that, I bought a word processor. Now that one I was all for because it meant the end of carbon paper, correction tape and endless do-overs when editing my writing. I do love cut and paste. Now, however, I approach the latest generation of computer with fear and trembling because it auto-corrects, auto-updates and auto-improves itself to the point I can no longer even use it, much less understand it.

Case in point: I am charged with maintaining a website for an economic honor society. That may sound made-up since I just confessed my lack of computer saavy, but it is true. That has gone reasonably well until now. NOW is when the distant webhost said he had to move the server. I am advanced enough to know he didn’t meant it would look better on the wall by the window, but “moving the server” could have meant transferring the files to a flash drive or to an intergalactic orb far far away.

Whether new computer or new galaxy, I was notified that the move went well and I could update the site at my leisure. Ha! None of my log-on credentials worked, so I emailed the webmaster. I was told I just needed to set up a new website connection with FTP. He might as well have said I just needed to jot over next door and perform a frontal lobotomy. At least I know what a frontal lobotomy is.
This came at a time when I had just learned at a writing conference that successful book marketing is done primarily online these days. The website is the new business card and marketing tools are blogs, Instagram, Facebook posts and Twitter. Last I knew, twitter meant the sound birds make. Although you could be excitable and get “all a twitter” over something. Pretty sure neither of those are the Twitter I have to get to know.

The upshot is that I, who have been known to turn off the electricity and read by the light of an oil lamp to protest the screeching rate of “progress,” must now learn not only to navigate FTP, but to do Facebook posts, post boosts, FB ads, hashtag stuff and tweet somewhere to promote my books.

Maybe I will light the oil lamp and then jot over next door and talk about that lobotomy instead.

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