Friday, June 28, 2013

A (Purposely) Different Michigan Vacation

After visiting amusement and water parks for the last five years in the summer, I was ready for something different.  Our first real vacation as a family was to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana when our kids were four and six.  I love Holiday World.  We've been back three times since.  It is very affordable, clean, and a reasonable driving distance from where we live.  Last year, however, as we waited in line for thirty minutes for a three minute water slide ride in over 100 degree weather, I realized we needed to branch out and try something new.  This was feeling too much like work - not a vacation. It occurred to me afterwards that the most relaxing part of our trip to Indiana last summer was the day we visited the buffalo farm restaurant and toured the arch abbey there - not the days we spent at Holiday World.

I decided I wanted to go north.  We always vacation in the summer.  As a teacher, it's when I have the most time to prepare for the trip beforehand and to stay wherever we are going.  We'd been to southern Indiana, Florida, and Tennessee - all south of Illinois - in the summer. Florida was the worst as far as heat. When someone in one of the Disney lines compared the heat that day to hell, my mother, who was there with us, responded deadpan, "I don't think it's this hot in hell."  The heat in Tennessee certainly was no picnic either, but the humidity was a nightmare.  My hair was triple its normal size the entire week we were there. 

I also wanted to do something where we weren't plopping down $50 every time we looked up and then were unsure what we had even spent money on at the end of the day. Disney World and Dollywood were both terrible about that.  I felt like the entire time at both parks I was constantly telling the kids, "No, we're not going to buy that." That does NOT make for an enjoyable time for anyone.  I'm all for a souvenir but $20 for a Mickey Mouse balloon?  Sure, they were cute.  Sure, the kids were delighted when they saw them.  Sure, it was all part of the magic that is Disney.  But I have two kids.  $40 for two balloons that wouldn't even make it home with us?  Didn't happen.

After some research, I settled on Grand Haven, Michigan.  I plan all of our trips.  My husband is extremely easygoing and agreeable.  (This is a large part of why we are so happily married.)  I'll usually say, "I'm thinking about [insert location] on these dates.  What do you think?"  And he'll always come back with, "Sounds good."  Although this is nice, it is also a bit of pressure sometimes. I'm solely responsible for the decisions of where we travel, what we do while we're there, and where we stay.  If any of those is facets is miserable, it's because it was something I chose.

The beach on Lake Michigan was in many ways like the ocean but with no salt in the water or fear of jellyfish or sharks.  There was a little apprehension on my part when we woke up to thunder and rain on the first day.  Spending time at the beach was our only planned activity.  Bad weather was not part of the plan.  Thankfully, it cleared up in the afternoon and stayed pleasant the rest of the time we were there.  There was even a small museum (free) downtown that had an Ice Age mammal exhibit we were able to visit while we waited for the rain to stop. 

This was the first evening when we arrived.
The kids were awed by the beach.

My kids thought the beach was fantastic.  They had been to the ocean when we visited Florida.  They enjoyed this more.  The sand wasn't as hot, and the waves weren't as knock-you-down powerful.  They swam for three hours the first afternoon on the beach.  I don't put much stock in astrology, but my daughter's sign is Pisces, the fish.  All I will say is that it's appropriate.

The water was cold, but it takes more than
that to deter my kids.

The downtown area is charming.  Think people walking their dogs on brick-paved streets, street musicians playing in front of locally owned stores, kids riding their bikes on the boardwalk.  There's a lighted fountain on the waterfront that puts on a show to music every night (free).  There's also a lighthouse that they're restoring that you can walk to and see.  Bonus! My kids had never seen a lighthouse in real life.  Any teacher knows the importance of experiences like this.

The first night there we wandered into a local bakery, The Baker's Wife.  They were handing out free samples of freshly baked pretzels.  We bought blueberry muffins, cinnamon scones, and, of course, pretzels (They knew what they were doing, handing out those free samples.)  We went back every night we stayed and bought breakfast for the following morning. This is one of my favorite things about visiting a different city- finding a great local place.  One of the lovely girls who worked there told us their other location, The Village Baker, (ten minutes away) made pizza for dinner each night.  You don't have to tell us twice.  We were there the next night for dinner. 

This blueberry muffin (yes, it does have a bite out of it,
my bad) was a thing of beauty.  It deserved a picture of
its own.

We ordered three kinds of pizza for under $30. It was the
cheapest meal we had there and the best.
We will go back to the beach in Michigan.  The place we stayed was not the greatest, so I'll look to improve upon that next time.  The best thing about it was its location - directly across the street from the beach.

Amusement parks have their place.  I won't say we'll never go to one again, because I know we will.  But this type of vacation is just as good.  Sometimes, it's even better.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Unavoidable Truths

It's Friday.  I've done more writing in the past week than I've done in years.

I wanted to share a list  I started mentally preparing when I turned 40.  I tend to think of the items on it as "truisms".  If you look that word up in the dictionary it says "obvious truths".  They do seem obvious when written down, but it took me the better part of 40 years to realize some of them. It makes me feel pretty silly that it took me this many years to realize something that is supposed to be an "obvious" truth.  So I prefer to define them as unavoidable truths because no matter how hard I've tried to run from them, they've found me over and over again through the years. You keep getting the lesson until you learn it.   It's turned into a kind of top ten list at this point.

10. I will always hate to exercise.  There is no magic Zumba/Pilates/yoga/shake weight/ kickboxing  miracle that is going to make it delightful for me.  But it needs to be done.  Nike has it right.  Just do it.

9. Confrontation is uncomfortable but necessary.  Go into any confrontation with your dial set on one whether it be a confrontation that is face to face, an e-mail, or a phone call.  If you go in with it set on 10, you have nowhere else to go. There is no Spinal Tap amp you can set to 11.   People will stop taking anything you say seriously when you have your dial set on 10 all the time.  If need be, wait an hour or a day or a week, but don't postpone it indefinitely.  No matter what the outcome, you'll feel better after you've dealt with the issue.

8. Look for happy in the little.  You might occasionally get happy in the big form - the wedding, the birth, the award- but those are few and far between in a long life.  You'll spend a lot of time waiting for the happy if you don't find it in the little.  The little is what makes up the big picture.

7. I hate liars.  Nothing makes me angrier than being lied to.  If I say something, I need to mean it or I'm just as guilty.

6. There is a fine line between discerning what is right for yourself and being judgmental of others.  Stay on the discerning side of the line for yourself.  Don't cross over to judgment of others if you can manage it.

5. Pick your battles or you spend way too much time at war. 

4. Don't expect others to make you happy.  It's your job.

3. Let things go.  I still struggle with this all the time.  I know it to be true, and yet I still can't do it the majority of my waking hours.  I have to constantly remind myself that things are not worth staying mad about for years. Still lots of work to be done in this arena for me.

2.  Some people like talking more than walking.  Avoid these people.  They are very tiresome.  Whenever someone starts to go on about how hard they work or how much they do, I want to put my head down and go to sleep.  When I get tempted to start talking, I need to remember to shut up and recall my contempt for this.  Get back to walking.

1. Love is doing.  It's nice to feel it and say it, but without the action to back it up, it's not love.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ruby and Jack

About a month ago, I smiled to myself as I watched our pug, Jack, run full tilt through our backyard.  His running can be described as deer-like.  He prances more than runs.  Even our vet commented on this once.  His glossy black fur contrasted against the deep green spring rain grass.

I'm so glad we got this dog.  He makes me so happy.  Happy is good.  You have to look for happy and take it when you can.  Seems so simple and yet so many times we don't.

About a year ago, we had to put our pug, Ruby, to sleep.  She was fourteen and had gone blind about five years before.  She had chronic ear infections.  She moved about in a slow, stilted way that broke my heart a little every time I watched her.  She had developed painful skin rashes.  We had been running a pug hospice for about two years.  But it was when she started to scream at night that I knew I had to do it.

I'm ashamed to admit this, but I cried and mourned harder about this than the deaths of either of my grandmothers, both of whom passed away in the last couple of years. 

I loved both of my grandmothers and was especially close to my maternal grandmother "Nana", but I hadn't shared every day of the past fourteen years with them.

When we put Ruby to sleep, it was the hardest decision I've ever had to make.  I had three people offer to take her to the vet for me put her down, but I couldn't do that.  I owed it to her to be there.  Letting someone else do it would have been the coward's way out.


                                          My beloved Ruby with Anna while she was sleeping -
                                          one more reason I loved this dog.

                                                   And here she is again.  This was pre-marriage
                                                   and pre-babies for us.

Afterwards, I didn't think I'd ever want another pug.  But after a few months, I made some inquiries to shelters within a hundred miles that had pugs listed online, not certain why I was doing it.  I didn't entirely know how I felt about getting another pug.  I wasn't sure if I could do it even if one came along. I filled out some applications about who would be home with the dog and how we would train the dog.  I gave the names of references who would swear we would be responsible dog owners.  It seems a bit much, what some of these shelters expect from pet owners.  I get what they are trying to do, but really?  References?  (On a interesting side note, when we were adopting our other dog from a shelter three years earlier, my husband - who was supposed to dealing with our six year old and four year old - came up to me and announced in front of the shelter worker that he had misplaced our son for a couple of minutes.  He had apparently wandered into the store next door.  Surprisingly enough, they still let us take home a puppy.  Losing your child for a short period of time does not disqualify you from caring for a dog. But not having proper references will.)

Nothing worked out for months,  I was either a day late ("Sorry, but that pug was adopted two months ago.  I don't know why she's still on the website.")  or a dollar short ("Our minimum adoption fee is $500.") or shot down because we had another dog we had rescued (We really feel like Molly would do better in a one dog home.")

The stars just wouldn't align for us.

And then in November I saw Jack on a Facebook group my friend had added me to, knowing I was looking.  He was with a woman who had two pugs of her own.  She had rescued him from an older lady who couldn't handle looking after a dog.  She just wanted to find a good home for him.  She lived 20 miles away and wanted $50.

I was miserably sick with the flu, but I was not going to let this one get away.  We met them at a gas station halfway between our homes on a rainy, cold November night.  I was running a temp of 102, but I grabbed $50 of the Christmas cash I had.  We set out to meet them.

When she handed him to me through the car window I said, "We want him."  Done deal.

Once back home, I have to give my husband all the credit.  We had just brought this young, hyper pug into our home with two kids, two cats, and another dog.  Jack was not (and still is not) completely house trained.  He was lifting his leg everywhere.  The kids were squealing and running around.  The cats were taking off for parts unknown.  Amid this chaos, I promptly went back to bed.  I listened from our bedroom while the kids and the animals went nuts downstairs.  Danny dealt with all of it.

                                                  Don't I look great in this picture?  This is what
                                                  the flu looks like on me. And this is what a blue
                                                 sweater looks like on Jack.

After he got the kids to bed, he hoisted Jack up into bed with us.  This is one of the many reasons I love my husband.  He didn't even ask if this dog was going to sleep with us like Ruby had every night.  He just knew.  Jack bounced back and forth on the bed for a good five minutes, sniffling and snuffling as only a pug can do.  I moaned and rolled on over onto my side away from him.

Then he did something at that moment so familiar, it actually made me smile despite my wretched state.  He came to my side, circled three times, and plopped down wedged right into the small of my back.

It was something Ruby did every night except near the end when she was in too much pain to be close to me.  It was what she did while I read every night before going to sleep.  It was what she did when I was recovering from surgery in 2001.   It was what she had done the first night in the first house I had bought when I was single and we both had to sleep on the floor because the bed wasn't in the house yet.

After that first night, that's where Jack has been ever since.  If Dan is in bed before me, Jack will lay by him.  But when I get in bed, he abandons him and comes over to plop down next to me.  When Jack did this a few nights ago Dan said, "He is your dog, and he knows it."

When we put Ruby down, I went through a period when I thought I could not get another pug.  I'm glad I didn't go with that.  Jack makes me happy when I see him - his curly tail tucked over his hip and his fruit bat face.  How many things make you smile every day without fail?  He is a living reminder to me that you can't give up on happiness.  Take it when someone hands it to you through a car window. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thrifty Cinderella

I feel like I'm making a confession here.

I have recently become obsessed with a thrift store. 

I follow some blogs of women who frequent thrift stores. They were always finding these amazing deals and posting these dynamite outfits of brand name clothes.  Then they tell you they spent $7.50 for the entire outfit. Whaaa?  Okay, I thought, where do I sign up?  I love clothes. And shoes. And purses.  And jewelry.  But my budget is not what I'd like it to be (unlimited) , so I have always shopped clearance and sales.  After reading the blogs of these other women, I wondered if I wasn't missing out on something better in the thrift store.

I checked out a couple of local church stores and all I can say is - scary.  I donate items to these stores regularly and did not see anything that was even near the quality of things I was giving them. It actually made me feel like I needed to go home, go through my closet, and donate some more things to them.  I was discouraged but not ready to give up. 

Then I looked into a store I had heard about in Springfield.  I made a trip over to browse one day when I was on spring break, but my kids were in school.  All they had was clothing that looked like it was for 14 year olds.  And it looked worn out and old.

But did I give up?  Well, yes, actually I did.  That is UNTIL my teaching assistant (who is one of the most wonderful people I know) told me about a newer store in town that was "high end" resale when I complimented her on a dress she was wearing from there.  I didn't go until about two weeks later when school was out for the summer.  I am a teacher.  This is when I actually have a life and can start doing things for fun.

The first time I went, I was a little hesitant.  Thrift stores, even nice ones, all have a smell.  I am a person who is sensitive to smell.  When we were looking for houses several years ago, there were many I walked into, took one whiff, and said, "No." and walked right back out the front door.  Anyway, this store had a smell, albeit, not a bad one.  It smelled like someone's house.  You know how everyone's house has a smell.  Again, it didn't smell bad.  It just smelled like someone lived there. Department stores don't have that smell.  Why is that?  I squared my shoulders and lifted my nose and tentatively began to look around.  About five minutes in, I found a pair of black leather with patent trim Sofft heels.  They were peep toe with a MaryJane strap.  I fell in love.  I just had  never seen anything cuter.  I took off my sandal right there in the middle of the store and slipped one on.  It was a Cinderella moment.  They were my size (a nine) and adorable. The bottoms weren't even scuffed up.  They looked brand new.

I know how much Sofft shoes cost.  Like I said, I love shoes.  I turned them over and saw they still had the price tag from Von Maur on them - $99!  They were marked down several times with the last, lowest price being $24.

But wait, that's not even the best part.  They had an orange tag on them. Do you know what that means???? (I did because the lady at the counter told me when I came in. Thank you, nice lady.) That meant they were half off the lowest price.  $12 for these shoes! 

I looked around a bit more, clutching my Precious, and even tried three items on.  I also purchased a green Anne Klein cardigan.  No surprise there to anyone who knows me. I am the queen of the cardigan.  I probably own at least 30 of them.  It was $4.50. Even on clearance, I don't think I've ever bought a cardigan at that low of a price.

So, to paraphrase Shawn Colvin, this is my new thing now.  I have been back every week, sometimes more than once in the same week.  They put out new items every day.  And if something is there for more than a week, it goes to half price off the already thrifted price!

I've already worn them to church.  No, they are not the most comfortable shoes.  They are high heels.  They aren't supposed to be.   They're the kind you wear when you want to look great but know you'll only be in them for a few hours.  I have no problem with spending $12 on these shoes even though they won't be "all day" shoes. What I CAN'T do is spend $99 on a shoe like that.  But $12?  Yes, please.  Get me to the ball. I've got to be home at midnight.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Finding My Way Back


I am starting this blog with the hope of sharing my writing.  I have been a writer since I was old enough to write. It is what defined me in high school and what sustained me through college.  However, I've lost my way as a writer in my adult years mostly because I was no longer in an environment where there was a scheduled time to write and share it with someone.  This blog is my attempt to find my way back to the writing path.

I will be sharing the joy and frustration of mundane things: the ice cream cone, the incredible bargain, the broken transmission, the color of my dog's fur, the smiles of my children, the fresh baked bread, the sweet gestures of my husband.  I often find happiness in the ordinary.  If you don't look for that happiness in the little things, life will swallow you whole.

I am a wife, mother, teacher, and writer.  I am an introvert, thus the title of my blog.  I have arrived late to the ball as far as the blog world is concerned, but it seems it was made for someone like me.  I have only recently started to follow a few blogs.  It's funny, but in some ways, I feel I know the creators of the blogs I follow better than most of my co-workers and some of my relatives.  I know what they are reading and what they are making for dinner.  I know when they have dirty dishes in the sink stressing them out or are lamenting a broken engagement.  This is the miracle of writing to me.  It is a way to share the little things.  For an antisocial butterfly like me, it is a way to know people and to be known.