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What a lady

My grandma in Pompeii, 1980

I lived in Germany twice as a kid. The second time (ages 5-8), my grandma came to live with us after the first year. She became my backseat-mate on the many long trips we took in our teensy, weensy VW Rabbit. She was also my playmate, tent-mate when we camped—which was very, very often, maybe too often, Dad—and built-in babysitter.

Did I mention I was an only child?

Maybe it was because she’d once been a kindergarten teacher—or more likely it was why she became one—but my grandma had a youthful spirit that lasted until her death at age 93. She was playful, adventurous, and just plain fun.

One of our more memorable travel moments happened while riding a city bus—somewhere in Europe, I can’t remember quite where. We decided to pretend we were speaking a foreign language. So we just made up words on the spot, talking in complete nonsense to each other, but speaking English to my parents who were probably back there rolling their eyes (or maybe hiding their faces).

Finally after several minutes, the guy ahead of us turned around and asked us what language we were speaking. I must have blushed five shades of pink when we admitted we’d just been goofing around.

Me and Grandma in Bern, Switzerland, 1980

I’m not sure if he was honestly curious or just wanted us to shut up, but we recovered quickly and found a new game.

When I think back on our time overseas, my grandma was only there for a year-and-a-half of it, but she dominates my memories. Sledding in Switzerland, riding the loop-de-loop at the Oktoberfest in Munich, letting me “take her out” to dinner at the restaurant around the corner from our housing area in Heidelberg.

Leaning into each other in the back seat every time we went around a corner, listening to her stories about her prankster father and always-getting-into-some-mess sister.

If I have even half of her spark and sense of adventure, I’m a lucky woman. I know I’m lucky to have had such an amazing lady as my grandmother.

Who had a big influence on your life?

On impulse

I fancy myself spontaneous, but in reality, I’m not. I’m a planner by nature. I make lists. I categorize things.

I love adventure, and might plan a trip last minute, but I still don’t leave without hotel reservations confirmed, a route planned, and a loose budget in mind.

Snore.

Even when we decided to drive a couple of extra hours on our way back from Miami last month, we secured a new hotel room first. (Turned out to be a good idea, since they were booked up by the time we arrived.)

But one year in college, I came very close to total spontaneity. It was during my year of transition from California to Arizona when I was still establishing residency in Tucson, and not yet going to school full time.

I was driving home from the Phoenix airport after a spring ski trip in Telluride with my parents. As I passed the exit for I-8 to San Diego, I was really, really tempted to head west for an impromptu road trip to visit friends.

Really, really, really tempted.

Problem was, I had winter clothes in my suitcase, no money for a hotel, and no idea if any of my friends would be around.

Le sigh.

But for the next hour, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. It grew and grew until it took over, which is how I found myself calling people to see if they were up for a quick, unexpected visit from moi. Affirmatives received, I repacked, stashed some snacks and soda in my car, gassed up, and hit the road again.

Not exactly the spontaneous turn off of I-10 I had envisioned, but close enough for me. And I had a blast. I visited friends in San Diego, stopped by West Covina (near LA) to see my cousins, and sped up 101 to hang with a high school buddy at UC Santa Barbara.

I’ve never regretted that not-quite-impromptu road trip. Maybe one of these days I’ll do something truly spontaneous. You can be sure I’ll let you know.

What’s the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done? And I don’t mean choosing something different on the menu at lunch. 😉 Come on, spill.

Photo credit: ENDLESS ROAD © Verena Lüdemann | Dreamstime.com

Hot tropics

It was hot and sticky in Florida and the Bahamas last week, but we still managed to get around some during our Miami tour and cruise to the Bahamas and Key West. Here are some of the quirky and fun things I encountered along the way.

Cruisin’

Our ship docked in Nassau, Bahamas

Last week I went on my first cruise. As well traveled as I am, cruises are something I’ve avoided, mainly due to some preconceptions I had. But when my father-in-law suggested getting the whole family together, we couldn’t resist the opportunity for our boys to hang out with their far-flung cousins who are sandwiched between them in age.

Below, I’ve laid out my expectations, and the realities I encountered.

Expectation #1: Too much food.

This one proved true. It was far too easy to eat any time of day or night, but at least the food was good, with lots of variety, especially at meal times. I would have preferred more options for snacking besides pizza, and it would have been nice for refreshments to be available in more places, but in general I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and selection in both the buffets and main dining room.

I didn’t think I’d want to eat in the formal dining room every night, but it was a nice break from buffet meals, and the portion sizes were not ridiculously large. However, our friendly main waiter took it personally if we didn't want to try an appetizer or dessert. He was also prone to bringing an extra for us to try if he thought we were missing out. That's how I ended up eating escargot!

Thankfully, the ship had a gym. There were no cross-trainers because the ceiling was too low, but I had a fabulous view from the treadmill during sunrise one morning. And I managed to only gain about a pound during the trip. For a combined nine days on the road and the sea, I call that a success.

Expectation #2: Seasickness

As a car passenger, I can’t read for more than 30 seconds without growing hot and feeling the pangs of nausea, and I’ve had a similar experience on some ferry rides, especially when the water was choppy.

So, I was pleasantly surprised during the first two days to find I had no problem with the ship’s motion. The last two nights—when our speed was up to 20 knots—I succumbed to the need for Dramamine, but got by with only a quarter of a pill.

Comedian and juggler Randy Cabral

Expectation #3: Party people

Oh yeah, the party people were out in full force. If you like gambling, karaoke, drinking around a pool, shopping, or hanging out in bars, a cruise is definitely for you. My husband and I didn’t take advantage of many of the shows, but we did enjoy a couple of comedy events.

We also sat through a round of mostly bad karaoke with some of the family, but if not for the company, we would have left early on.

Expectation #4: This would be great for the kids

For my 12 and 14 year old boys, this was the perfect trip. Not only could they hang out with their cousins, they could go off and do it without us always around. The ship had teen lounges, a rock wall, the pools, and 24-hour pizza. On Coco Cay–RCI's private island–they had a teen adventure excursion where the kids snorkeled and spent a couple hours on a water slide and inflatable playground out in the bay. What more could a kid want?

And it was a nice break for the parents not always having to entertain them, or drag them to our “boring” events.

Eep, there's a man in my bed!

Expectation #5: Small cabins

Yep, the rooms are small, though I’m sure we could have paid more for something larger. We opted for a mid-range room with a square window—which I was very glad to have. Basically, there was just enough space on either side of the queen bed to scoot in sideways.

Add a small desk/vanity, a little closet, and a miniscule RV-like bathroom and that’s it folks. I expected to spend less time in the room than we did, but for the most part we were either sleeping, napping, getting away from the crowd, or getting ready to go somewhere.

For a longer cruise–ours was four nights–I would want a larger room, but for the short time we were there, it was good enough, and it was nice not to have to pack/unpack for each stop like we did on the drive down to Miami and back.

Overall, I liked the cruise more than I expected to.

I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy being out at sea without any land in sight, but to my surprise it was just as pleasant as watching the water from the beach, with the added bonus of an amazing view of the stars at night.

Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, the ports were nice, and Royal Caribbean’s private island was more fun than I expected. And I added nother first: jet skiing! Probably the most fun I’ve ever had on the water.

Seriously. Ever.

So, would I cruise again? Maybe. Preferably on a similar trip with a port to dock in every day, or to a place where cruising would provide a unique perspective, like Alaska.

How about you? Any cruise experiences to share?

Undressed

© Darren Green | Dreamstime.com

I’m leaving for the RWA National Conference on Sunday, and I have this fear that I’m going to forget something important. Like my awards night dress.

Sounds silly, but unfortunately, it’s not unprecedented.

Back on 2002, we drove from Santa Maria (CA) to Phoenix to visit family and attend my childhood friend’s wedding reception in Tucson. We packed up the car for our overnight trip, left the kids with grandma, and hit the road with enough time to make the drive, check in to our hotel, change, and walk downstairs for the festivities.

Unfortunately, the kids weren’t the only thing we left in Phoenix. Hanging neatly on the closet door of our guest room were my dress and my husband’s shirt, slacks, and tie. When did we figure it out? As soon as we pulled into the hotel parking lot and grabbed our bags.

We looked at each other and asked, “Where are our clothes?” Followed by a few choice expletives.

Somewhat reminiscent of the frantic race to sell our van in Los Angeles just the year before, we checked in to the hotel—coincidentally, the one where we got married—and made a mad dash to the mall for suitable attire. Sadly, our shorts and flip flops just wouldn’t do.

I’m proud to say that after weeks spent looking for a dress in California, I found a new one in 45 minutes flat. The Engineer had equal success with his own threads and we were “only” about an hour late for the two-and-a-half-hour event.

At least we got new clothes and a night in a gorgeous hotel without the kids out of it. Too bad the stress probably took days off my life…