Staying Sane (In a Time of Insanity)

Staying sane.

It’s May 6. We are deep into the stay-at-home orders all over the country. It appears our state, North Carolina, will move into the first phase of “opening the economy” this Friday, May 8, if all goes as planned.

Finally!

I’m sure there are some who would say I’m not particularly sane during “normal” times, but wow…if they could see me now! For the past however-many-weeks, I’ve been doing everything I can just to keep from falling into the abyss. And so far, my silly strategies have worked, but you might think the “strategies” themselves are crazy.

When we were first “locked in,” it never occurred to me it would last this long. If someone had told you even one year ago that our country would basically shut down for this long, would you have believed them? I would have told them they’d lost their minds. But here we are. I have been doing a lot of reading in the sunshine (we’ve been lucky with the weather) since this whole thing started. If you need some light reading, I highly recommend Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It. You know Mike Rowe…from the TV show, Dirty Jobs…also a good way to spend your time. He’s funny and entertaining (and easy on the eyes!).IMG_5897

When the isolation first started, I binge watched some shows and movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I’m not one to sit around watching TV all day, but I needed to kill some time. Just like half the country, I reluctantly watched every episode of Tiger King on Netflix. When people say “truth is stranger than fiction,” they mean it. I am a “live and let live” kind of person, but wow…Joe Exotic is another level of strange to me. And Carole Baskin? Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t feed her first husband to the tigers.

Upon recommendations from friends, I started watching Ozark on Netflix. It’s good, but it stressed me out. I’ll return to it, I’m sure, simply because I love Jason Bateman. I’ve loved him since Silver Spoons. Cue the theme song: Here we are, face to face, a couple of Silver Spoons. Hopin’ to find we’re two of a kind… Yeah, I’ll return to Ozark, for sure. I’ve also rewatched some old favorite movies…Clueless, Troop Beverly Hills, Sliding Doors…nothing too deep. There are a few more series I’ve never seen that I’d still like to watch; Downton Abbey is at the top of the list.

But I’ve done way more than just stare at screens. My garden is in place way earlier than ever before! I got my seeds started back in April (or maybe late March!), and for a while, I had way too many seedlings in my dining room. I had started them in the little poolhouse we have out back, but when my husband kept stepping on them, I moved them to the dining room. Then, he  wished he had been more careful in the poolhouse, because I had planted some of them in Cow Pots. If you’re not familiar with Cow Pots, they are seeding pots made of dehydrated cow manure. (They’re great…you can order them here.) I had seen Mike Rowe visit the manufacturing facility on Dirty Jobs (there it is again!). They are actually good for plants, and when your seedlings are ready, you just drop the whole thing in the ground. Surprisingly, dehydrated cow manure has no smell! What Mike Rowe didn’t tell me on the show is that, after it’s rehydrated by watering the plants, cow manure in the form of Cow Pots…well, it smells a little. It’s not overwhelming, but let’s just say my husband was happy to see me get those out of the dining room and into the garden. I should probably mention it’s the largest garden I’ve ever had…various types of sunflowers, lots of zinnias, sweet corn, lots of tomato plants, brussel sprouts, various types of cucumbers, and even watermelons! So far, everything’s looking great, but we have a late frost coming up this week. Fingers crossed.

I even watched what I think was a mole burrowing through the soil in my backyard. At least I hope it was a mole. I was walking past the garden one day and noticed cracks in the soil, and it looked like the ground was “breathing.” At first, I thought it might have been some sort of alien that was going burst of the ground, but then I decided it had to be a mole burrowing blindly through the soil. I’ve spent even more time banging a trowel against the fence to scare away a woodpecker from my neighbor’s house, and I’ve been frightened by owls who flew way too closely past me on the patio at night. All this wildlife!

But that’s not all. Here’s where my insanity really starts to show. I’ve been walking every day. I can’t just be in this house. I’m not one to stay home all the time, so I’ve had to adjust. But here’s the thing…I’m walking miles a day…on my patio. No, the patio is not particularly large. OK, well, it’s not a small patio. But yes, I’m walking miles every day around the pool. When I need a break or if I get a phone call, I just walk outside and walk in circles around the pool…anywhere from four to six miles a day. I had been walking through the neighborhood with my husband, but there were a lot of people out! And social distancing is difficult. Also, there’s one couple that will not cross the street for anyone. I got tired of always crossing instead of them. Doesn’t it seem we should take turns crossing? Yep…my crazy is showing.

I’m also working on a project for our daughter’s school, even though school is not in session. Our school has a fabulous sports awards show every year, and this year, I’m working on it. It’s going to be virtual, so it’s tricky, but things are coming together. But when I need to take a break from that, I either do my walking around the patio, or I go to Instagram and find Twitch…you know, from Ellen…he’s the DJ. We’ll, he’s a dancer, and he’s married to a dancer, Allison Holker, and they have teamed up with the American Heart Association. They’re doing workouts on Instagram to keep people moving, and they’re fun! You can do any variation of them…low impact or high impact…and it is quite the mood booster! I highly recommend! Find Twitch on Instagram at Sir_Twitch_alot.

At night, my husband and I often sit outside on the patio, having a cocktail and looking at the stars. I’ve mentioned the Sky Guide app before. It helps locate and identify planets, constellations, and satellites passing by! We also enjoy the color-changing light balls we ordered to float in the pool and hang from the eave of the poolhouse. They really make it feel happier out there!IMG_5894

We have celebrated friends’ birthdays with drive by parades…nobody loves making a birthday sign more than I do! And for me, it’s totally relaxing! A couple of times, I’ve sat down with my teenage daughter to make lots of signs to display in friends’ yards…relaxes me and surprises them!IMG_5898

And when I have a little quiet time, I drop a letter or postcard in the mail to a friend or family member far away. It boosts my mood, and I can only hope it brings them a little sunshine when they receive it.

For now, I’m on my way out to the patio for a few trips around the pool. Stay sane!

 

 

Happy-Up the House

Happy-up the house.

Everybody’s sick of being home right now. It’s not just me. It’s not just you. It’s everybody.  I’ve said before that every day, I wake up wondering if this is all a bad dream. It’s not. It’s reality.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be terrible.

I spend a lot of time trying to think of ways to make things a little happier around here. We’re playing music throughout the house on a regular basis. We’re spending a lot of time out in the sun on the patio on warmer days. My daughter and I strung some LED lights around her bedroom doors and windows…she can change the colors with a remote…pink, blue, violet, red…all kinds of colors. We’ve been baking. I’m constantly looking online for different ideas to brighten up things around our house. What can I do to make it seem a little more festive around here?

Last week, it was Krispy Kreme doughnuts all the time. Looking for somewhere…anywhere…to go, I would leave after dark and drive to the nearest Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and my daughter would gladly go with me. The last time we went, we got a dozen of their spring mini doughnuts. Yum. That added a little happiness for a while. I’ve ordered cupcakes, cookies…you name it.

And then, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a picture of someone’s pool, and it had floating light balls in it! Immediately, I knew I had to have them! I went straight to Amazon and typed in “floating light balls.” Wow! There were lots of them to choose from, so I set about reading every review I could possibly read in a reasonable amount of time.

Within an hour or so, I had found the solar-powered color changing floating light balls I wanted, and I placed an order for four. You can order here. What makes a swimming pool more festive at night than color-changing light balls? In placing my order, I also discovered that not only can you use them in the pool, but you can also hang them! Each ball has a loop on top, so you can hang them from trees, eaves, posts…anywhere! I could hardly wait for them to arrive! I knew my husband would think I was absolutely nuts, but when have I ever let that stop me before?

A few days later, they were delivered to our home. The next morning, I woke up, and started opening the box. My husband asked me what it was, and when I said, “You’re going to think I’m crazy. It’s something for the pool.” When I told him the box contained floating light balls,  interestingly, he didn’t think I was crazy at all! He also didn’t help me blow them up. Each one is about 15 inches in diameter, and I blew them up while we watched the morning news. He did look at me several times and say, “You’re going to get a headache.” But I didn’t. Once I had them all inflated, I hurried outside to put them in the pool. Since they are solar powered, I wanted them out there all day to absorb as much sunlight as possible so we could enjoy them in the evening.

And guess what? We’ve sat outside on the patio having cocktails every night since, and those balls of light are glorious! And happy! It adds an element of happiness to our backyard! I’m so glad I ordered them, and secretly, I think my husband is too! Our daughter loves them, and she and I agreed I need to order more to hang from the front eaves of the poolhouse, so I ordered more to hang from the eave. They should arrive in a few days, and they will add a little more happiness. And when summer is over, and we aren’t using the patio as much, maybe I will use them as Christmas decor in the trees in the front yard!

I’m still thinking about other inexpensive ways to brighten things up around here while we’re stuck at home. If you have any ideas, please send them my way!

What Makes A Good Hotel Stay?

What makes a good hotel stay? Lots of things. Summer is almost here, and since we are hoping places are opening up more, travel is on lots of people’s minds…including mine. I’m always researching hotels.

Over the course of my 53 years of life, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels. When I was a kid, a couple of things were important for me at hotels: a swimming pool and good vending machines. But times change. My wish list is different now. If you ever visit a city I’ve visited in recent years, I’m happy to give you my own review of hotels where I’ve stayed, and here are some of the things I will mention:

  • Friendly Staff. I love outstanding customer service. Our favorite hotel in the Los Angeles area knows how to do it, and I love it. A hotel can have beautiful facilities, but if the staff isn’t friendly and helpful, I don’t want to return. There’s a reason I listed this first…because it is important to me. When I visit a hotel, I like for the staff to smile and look like they enjoy being there. I like to feel like they are my friends. If I get that vibe in a hotel, I’m likely to remember it, and I’m going to return. I write dozens of complimentary letters a year, because I appreciate great service, and I love when someone gives me a reason to write one.
  • Large rooms. I simply like to feel comfortable. I don’t want to feel like I’m living in a closet for days. When I’m booking hotel rooms, I always look at the square footage. Unless the hotel has something special to offer, the size of the rooms is very important to me. For example, if I’m looking at two hotels in New York, and they have similar pricing and quality, the size of the rooms can be the tie-breaker. One is 350 square feet and the other is 550 square feet? You know which one I pick.
  • Air Conditioning. In the United States, most hotels are air conditioned, but they don’t all have good air conditioning. For me, it means the difference in a fabulous stay and a terrible stay. I need air conditioning to sleep at night, and that’s a fact…and it needs to be good air conditioning that actually keeps me cool. Preferably, it needs to be a relatively quiet air conditioner, but I can always cover that noise with white noise from my smartphone. So if a hotel room can’t reach a nighttime temperature of 67 degrees, I don’t want to stay there…and I won’t return. I also carry a small, folding fan in my luggage. I put it directly on my face. You can purchase one here.
  • Room Service (preferably 24 hours). Nobody loves room service more than I do. If I’m traveling for my daughter’s sports, I can suffer through a night or two with no room service, but traveling for pleasure? I want room service. It makes a big difference. I love to wake up to delivery of a pot of hot coffee and sometimes, a light breakfast. And if I’m going to have late nights, I like to know I can order a late night snack delivered to my room. When we are at hotels for my daughter’s sports teams, though, the hotels are rarely luxurious. But all the Marriott properties (Fairfield Inn and Suites, Towne Place Suites, Springhill Suites, etc.) have had market shops near the front desk, so we can get snacks or necessities 24/7. That helps. See the Marriott website here.
  • Location, location, location. In bigger cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the location of the hotel is crucial. I like to be where I feel safe. I like to be close to the places I want to visit…or centrally located between them. In New York, I prefer to be near Central Park. In the LA area, I prefer Beverly Hills, and in Chicago, I prefer the Magnificent Mile. In addition to location, if the hotel offers a courtesy car for nearby restaurants/shops/attractions, that’s a big plus. On islands or in beachy resort areas, unless a hotel is in a remote area for a reason, I prefer to book hotels/resorts that are relatively easy to get to. I don’t want to waste two or three hours on the front end or back end of the trip getting to and from the resort and airport. It ruins it for me. 
  • Good restaurant(s). Ideally, a hotel has a restaurant where I want to eat, and ideally, the people who work there are friendly. I love knowing I can walk right down the hall to enjoy a great meal or snack. And I love knowing I will feel comfortable there.
  • Good bar. This mostly refers to vacation hotels for me. I don’t really care about a bar when I’m traveling with my daughter’s sports teams, but when I’m on vacation, I want my hotel to have a good bar. I want some people-watching. I want good drinks and friendly servers. I want a bar menu. I want a place to relax with friends over a cocktail…or two. I want to want to spend an afternoon there, and I want to have a nightcap after dinner.
  • Private Outdoor Space. No one loves private outdoor space at a hotel more than I do, and it’s likely no one uses it more than I do. Of course, in some cities, it’s not as feasible, but in places where the climate is mild, it’s a fabulous addition to a hotel room. I love ordering room service and having breakfast on a patio or balcony first thing in the morning. Coffee tastes better outdoors. Am I right? For me, a private patio or balcony is just an extension of the room. And cocktails on the patio in late afternoon are pretty great too! When we went to Cancun for spring break last year, I loved sitting on our gigantic patio overlooking the water, watching the people on the beach and the clouds in the distance.
  • Comfortable beds. We’ve all stayed in hotels with uncomfortable mattresses. We suffer through it and pay for it the next day. If a hotel has comfortable beds, I remember. I love to wake up thinking, “I slept better than I sleep at home!”

These are just a few things I look for in a hotel. Like I said, some hotels we stay in for sports tournaments are purely functional, but if they have the extras, well, that’s a bonus. But when I’m on vacation, I look for the extras. And a friendly staff might mean I’ll overlook imperfections in a hotel. A few years ago, in Chicago, we stayed in a hotel (in a great location) that was in need of a facelift. The rooms were comfortable, but they looked tired…as did the public areas. But you know what? From the moment we arrived, we were greeted warmly. The bellman rushed out in the rain to help us with our bags…and he was smiling! The front desk staff chatted us up at check in, and when we had some questions for them later that evening, they acted like old friends! Everyone there was so friendly, and though I haven’t had the opportunity to stay there again, I wrote a complimentary letter to the manager. I also gave a glowing review on TripAdvisor, and I’ve told friends to stay there when they were traveling.

My favorite resource for researching hotels is TripAdvisor. I can weed through the reviews that are “outliers”..like the ones someone wrote when they were angry about something. I also look at the profiles of the people who write the reviews and try to get a feel for the person who wrote them.  I look at where they have stayed before to see if we have similar taste. My own profile on TripAdvisor tells my story…I’m a 50+ mom who often travels with my teenage daughter…sometimes we take luxury vacations, and sometimes we have to travel with sports teams. I give a lot of outstanding reviews, because I do my homework before I travel, so I know what to expect. I recommend TripAdvisor to everyone I know. See it here.

Happy travels!

 

Mom On Vacation

For the next week, I’m not just a mom. I’m a mom on vacation.

It’s impossible to take a vacation from everything moms have to do. I can’t (and don’t want to) ignore or abandon my teenage daughter. I can’t say, “I’m on vacation. Don’t expect me to make sure you have food, and don’t expect me to talk with you or help you with anything.” That’s not even what I would want to do. My very favorite role in life…ever…is my role as Mom. I love being a mom. Is it work? Yes. Do I want to get as far away from my daughter as possible on vacation? Heck no! I love being with her…but I do have some things I don’t do on vacation…and some things I love to do.

One thing I do on vacation is unthinkable to lots of people: I don’t check email. I know! In 2019, I don’t check email when I’m on vacation. Irresponsible? Yes, but I don’t want to see the email about summer reading requirements. I don’t want to think about school. I don’t want to think about things that need to be done. I just want to enjoy some time away. I enjoy it with my child, but I don’t want to think about all the other essential stuff like school, what needs to be done at home, and all those other things moms do.

The older she gets, the more time I want to spend talking with our daughter on vacation. When she was younger, she was constantly asking questions…all the time…and especially on vacation. Now that she is 15, I don’t get many questions, except, “Can we go shopping?” Or “Where are we eating tonight?” But we have lots of great conversations about life in general. Vacation is a great time for us to sit down together and just talk…and I love it.

On this vacation, I’ve been getting coffee delivered to the room when I wake up, and I sit out on our balcony and enjoy it. The mornings are just a little cool, so the caffeine and cool air make for a good wake up. My daughter and her friend will come out and chat for a little while. The hummingbirds don’t impress them as much as they impress me, so they don’t sit outside as long as I do, but we make a nice connection first thing in the morning.

And while shopping with two teenage girls can be torture, on vacation it’s more fun, because the stores are different. The people are different. The surroundings are different. And all that makes for more great conversation. Meals are the different too…new restaurants, new foods, new beverages, new experiences…all make for fun conversations.

But I will tell you what else I try not to do on vacation. I try not to nag. Yes, moms can nag…even me. Heck, especially me. My nagging is in the form of “reminders” most of the time at home. I remind her she has three pairs of shoes that need to be put away. Or I remind her that she has less than 30 minutes to be ready to go. On vacation, I try really hard not to do all the reminders. I try to just let life happen…happily. If we have a dinner reservation, I just tell a little white lie about the time of the reservation, and then I don’t get annoyed when she is 15 minutes late getting ready. Reservation at 8:30? I tell her it’s at 8:15 or even 8:00. It’s barely a lie, right? Instead of staying in the hotel room while she gets ready, I go to the hotel bar and enjoy a cocktail while I wait for her to get dressed. When it’s time to leave, she usually shows up right on cue…thinking, of course, that we are about to miss our reservation! But we’re not going to miss it…because of that little white lie.

Also, as part of vacation, I do things I don’t get to do at home. Swim with dolphins? Check. Climb a waterfall? Check. Hike through a rainforest? Check. Swim in pitch black water so I can observe bioluminescence up close and personal? Check. On this vacation, because it’s a city vacation, I’m not doing those things, but I’m trying new foods. I’m spending lots of time outdoors relaxing. I’m just enjoying life without thinking about things that need to be done around our house.

My friend, Angela, will be joining us today. She arrives in a couple of hours, and she will be doing a mom vacation in a different way, because her daughter won’t be here. Her daughter is on a trip of her own. Angela will bring even more conversation. My daughter loves chatting her up, so the conversations will get even better. They’re conversations that don’t always take place at home. And with Angela, I will enjoy people watching on a whole new level, because it’s vacation.

We still have another week left of vacation, and I plan to enjoy it without emails and without nagging. I plan to enjoy being a mom on vacation with my daughter and friends. And I will continue telling the little white lie about the reservation time…just to keep the peace.