The Worst of Times, The Best of People

Today, I want to share some thoughts in light of one of the most devastating storms to hit our country, Hurricane Harvey, because even though my area was not affected, it directly impacted many family members and friends of mine, including my best friend and her family and my dear cousins and their families that are scattered across the Houston and Beaumont areas.

The storm has brought the worst of times, but it has also brought out the very best in people, and I thank you for reading today, as I bear a bit of my heart.

It’s been a terrible roller coaster of emotions over the past two weeks, and now Hurricane Irma is posed to possibly do even more devastation to our beloved nation.

I teared up or cried more than once for my own loved ones and others devastated by the storm…

…in fear for the safety of my loved ones that I was powerless to help directly during the storm.
…as the rain unbelievably just kept coming down with no end in sight.
…at nearly every story of brave everyday people that showed up to help with no expectation of reward, often risking their own lives in the process.
…every time I heard a loved ones’ voice on the other end of the phone, just knowing they were safe and sound, at least for that moment.

I even discussed this storm-caused emotional roller coaster with a friend.  I’ve certainly waited with anticipation in the past as hurricanes and other storms have wreaked havoc on my loved ones in this area, but the extended time period of this storm made the waiting game almost intolerable at times.  And, I was far from the storm’s direct impact.  I cannot even fathom how bad it was for those in it’s midst.

Even though many of us aren’t really talking about it yet because of the dire situation at present, the bad news is still going to keep coming for quite some time.  I just can’t go there right now, but I know it’s not going anywhere.

The Worst of Times, The Unprecedented Storm(s)

Hurricane Harvey was an unprecedented storm.  Even though I live in the state, I’m still having trouble just comprehending the size and scope of the devastation.  I doubt any of us, except those on the ground in the affected areas, really know just how bad the devastation is, but I’ve had a little better idea, thanks to direct reports from those I know in the area.

The damage is now done, both physically and emotionally, to those in the area.  My family members and friends in the impacted areas thankfully had little damage, but they all know people that have been severely impacted.

Now, the long-term work recovery work is set to begin.  Of course, this is prime hurricane season, and everyone knows that seasonal rains and possible future storms are certainly not out of the realm of possibility at this point.  It’s just too much to consider right now, though, but Irma is certainly keeping us mindful of that possibility.

There’s been another sad storm over the past few days, too, a storm of negativity and division, often political in nature, like none I can remember with previous storms.

I was so shocked to see inappropriate, if not hateful, comments from the onset of the storm from some people, and I wonder if these people have ever known empathy at all, including the “keyboard warriors” that just cannot put “first things first” in a time of crisis.  These people also do not realize they are only hurting their chances of getting others to sympathize with their position at times like this when they spew their offensive or ill-timed comments, but one has to wonder if they even care.  Probably not.

“There are no politics in eight feet of water. There are human beings in eight feet of water.” — Sandra Bullock (donated 1 million dollars to the Red Cross)

However, I also noticed more people (who are typically quiet) come out against this negativity and division-sowing in light of Harvey’s devastation.  They are experiencing the truth first-hand, and they are calling out those that don’t speak it.  Maybe it’s time to do just that.

No doubt, most of these argument-prone, negative folks tend to be angry people.  These types of people are quite foreign to me, and honestly, I’m glad.  I don’t look for opportunities to read or hear their comments, but they are becoming almost unavoidable to see and hear at times, making this already bad situation truly “the worst of times” in an even bigger, and terribly sad, way.

There is supreme joy in helping and supporting someone in need, and I wonder if some are ever going to know that joy in their lifetimes.  It’s never too late to start being helpful, rather than hurtful, in both words and deeds.  That change can begin today, and it is a choice everyone can make right now.

Whew, thanks for letting me vent just a bit.  Like I said, it’s been a very emotional couple of weeks.

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Now, for the rest of the story, the stuff that has brought me to tears so many times over the past few days.

I want to document and remember when the “rainbow” appeared after the storm.

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The Best of People, The Resiliency of Victims and Everyday Heroes

My fellow Texans are a special kind of family.  I don’t know if people in other states feel this way or not, but I say with no hesitation whatsoever that I believe the majority of Texans feel this way.  If you’re a Texan, you’re family, and those of us not affected by the storm are going to be there for you as soon as possible in whatever way we can.  We’ve been with you in prayer even before this monster storm hit your areas, and we’re coming soon with everything we can possibly think of to help you get through this.

Texans don’t expect others to really understand who we are, but we love it when they get a glimpse of our true selves.  Right now, my fellow Texans are shining like bright lights in the darkness of Harvey’s aftermath, representing what the majority of us really and truly believe, and others are finally noticing some new things about us.

I’ve often wondered how others think we are not a diverse and loving people, when we are truly one of the most diverse and outwardly loving peoples anywhere.  We are too often stereotyped incorrectly to those elsewhere, but without a doubt, we know who we are.  That’s what matters most.

Love thy neighbor.  That pretty much sums it up, I think.

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Let me slightly digress for just a minute.

Texas can be hard… very hard.  Just look at the storms that hit us routinely.  We get everything from ice, deep snow, gale force winds, blowing dirt, huge dirt haboobs, frigid cold, blistering heat, huge wildfires, high humidify, flooding rains, tropical storms and massive hurricanes.  We also have the lovely privilege of having mosquitoes, love bugs (that are totally disgusting), rattlesnakes, alligators and other critters that keep us on our toes in many areas.

It’s just part of our Texas lifestyle.  We deal with it and keep going on with our lives, even if we let our frustration with these things be known, usually in a sarcastic or humorous manner.  Humor really helps.

But with all these routine challenges, most people elsewhere have no clue what some in our Texas family have endured this year, even before this storm hit.  National news outlets tend to overlook many stories that affect us, especially those of us in flyover country.

It’s been a tough year for many in my Texas family.  I’m especially thinking of the cowboys that lost their lives in a monster wildfire earlier this year in the Panhandle while trying to save their livestock.

Real cowboys still very much exist.  This was more than their job.  It was their life and their love.

Folks, these wonderful young people burned to death in a truly horrific way.

I teared up when I heard this story on the news and bawled longer than I care to admit when I read this excellent Texas Monthly feature about all of them.

If you haven’t read this story, you should, no matter who you are or where you live.  It’s long and detailed, and I’ll bet you will never be the same after reading it if you are an empathetic person at all.  Read that article and start to understand more about some of my nearby Texas family members.  This one hit especially close to home for me.

Sometimes we need to hear the difficult stories and cry the tears.

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Now, back to Harvey, and a look to the words of Luke in the book of Acts.

Acts 20:35  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the LORD Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Hero Texans have been first on the scene to help each other during and immediately after the hurricane.  I’ve heard just a few of the first-hand accounts from our best friends in one of the worst-hit areas south of Houston.  While they were still not completely out of harm’s way themselves, our friends were actively helping their neighbors in life-threatening situations, and they were just two among many doing the same thing.

Hero Texans took matters into their own hands to not only rescue their fellow Texans, but they went after their pets and their livestock, too.  If anyone knows the value of life of any kind, it’s a Texan, and that includes dogs, cats, cattle, deer, horses, pigs and even bats that were stranded.  I saw all these rescues on television and bawled more than once.  And while we just have to admire the resiliency of all those huge floating fire ant colonies that organized to survive on top of the flood waters, we probably won’t shed any tears if they don’t make it!

I had to laugh when I saw this quote that was sent to me by text by a friend as the small boat rescues were still going on.  Laughter’s been a short commodity lately, for sure.

I’m tellin’ you guys, Texas needs to erect a statue honoring “random average dude with a bass boat.”

These hero Texans are just some of the “best of people,” and if you’re only hearing these harrowing stories on the national news, you can’t even begin to know just how bad it’s really been and likely will be in the days to come.  I don’t think anyone can at this point.  For now, it’s all just one day at a time.

One of the stories I especially love is the story of Mattress Mack.  You’ll not regret watching this great story!  What an inspiration in words and deeds… and heart.  Honestly, I really don’t think he’s an exception either, but I’m glad he’s been featured right now.  I can name at least a dozen older men I know that are just like him, including my own father, who passed away in 1999.

Another “best of people” focus today is all the many volunteers and state and federal agencies coming like the cavalry to help from all over the nation and around the globe.  You are all hereby adopted as fellow Texans, and we love you!  That’s includes all you Cajun Navy volunteers and all you folks with big trucks filled to the brim with food, water, clothes, diapers, medicine and all manner of goods that are desperately needed.  So many people are in need of your help, and by the looks of things, this relief effort may set records… in a good way.

These heroes are just now getting into the affected areas, and their stories will be told soon.  Texans strive to be self-sufficient, but we know that as much as we would like to not be a bother to others right now, this monster named “Harvey” was just too big and destructive, like no other storm in a very long time, if ever.  We welcome your charity, and we’ll make sure you know it, too.  Just watch how we come help you when it’s your turn in the storm.

Another “best of people” focus is a little surprising, as it’s all the fabulous people and groups harnessing the power of social media and newer technology, like Zello, to help those in the affected areas.  This is the first time I’ve witnessed just how the social media impact can be utilized to speed up both rescue and relief efforts.  No doubt, it helped save lives and is helping to get specific aid into needed areas.  We should all go download Zello on our phones now, too, just in case.

Social media now provides another way to channel assistance to some smaller groups that are closer to the devastation in a timely way.  Our first monetary donation was to one of these small groups that was on high ground in League City that was overwhelmed with the need to assist many people in surrounding areas that were severely flooded, a first for them.  They had a “donate” button on their Facebook page, making the donation process so easy for us and timely for them.

My final “best of people” spotlight is all the churches and local non-profit agencies in the area that continue to meet the most immediate needs of those that are hurting.  While many of them have suffered damage themselves, church members are selflessly out helping others.  Some have also suffered the loss of members of their communities, as is the case with our best friends, unfortunately.

Right now, there is an urgent need to get all the wet material out of homes before black mold begins to grow in the heat.  It is monumental and dangerous task, and the magnitude is almost incomprehensible.  Local churches have accepted the challenge to get this done in many, many areas, and I’m aware of two local churches that are working miracles right now in this area.

Seeing the “best of people” in full force over the past week has given me hope again that we as a nation are still comprised of mostly good, quiet, decent people, rather than the divisive minority that often seems to grab the spotlight.  I’ve honestly wondered if our country turned a sad corner, but today, I don’t feel that way.  The silent majority has shown its true colors once again.

Our Response, Date Night

Hubby and I enjoyed an impromptu date night that consisted of a tasty dinner at Costco, followed by purchasing supplies at both Costco and Wal-Mart for a nearby hurricane relief group.  We have decided to give more than we have in the past, hopefully helping several relief efforts, and we had a fun time together on our shopping trip, knowing that every single item was going to make a difference to someone that’s hurting.

Both clerks that checked us out asked if we were buying relief supplies, and I suspect the case of diapers at Costco was probably a dead give-away, given that we are not spring chickens by any stretch.  I got very teary, though, as I looked around at others in the checkout lines at Costco and saw that many of them had cases of diapers and other likely relief supplies in their baskets, too.

We also got some strange looks when we checked out at Wal-Mart with 20 bottles of bug spray, but it gave me the opportunity to explain what we were doing to man behind us in line, and he pulled out of the line to go buy his own supplies to take to the church nearby.

I also spent some time helping the group sort clothes that had been donated.  We sorted them into boxes by gender and size to assist the church in distributing them more efficiently upon arrival.  I enjoyed working with ladies that I’d never met, and we had a few laughs at some clothing items that were donated.  Seriously, folks, people in Houston do *not* need winter parkas right now.  In fact, they don’t *ever* need winter parkas!

Going Forward, The Challenge

The South Texas area is going need lots of assistance in the days, weeks and months to come.  Hubby and I want to be a part of the ongoing healing effort, and I hope you will also consider doing and giving what you can.  Look for reputable opportunities to make a quick and direct impact right now, if possible, and always be wary of scams that will no doubt pop up.

One more important need that I’m familiar with is the need for blood donations across the nation.  I donate regularly, but many others now need to step up and donate, too.  The need is critical right now and in the immediate days to come.  I can’t stress that enough.  Please spread the word.  It was critical prior to Irma, and it’s going to be even more so now as Irma heads toward Florida.

If You’ve Been Impacted

If you’re reading this today and you’ve been impacted by any of the current storms, including the horrible wildfires in other parts of the country, my heart goes out to you, as well as my prayers.  I cannot begin to fathom what you’ve been through and what you’ll be going through in the days ahead.  Ask for help when you need it because so many want to give it.  Allow others the blessing of blessing you.  You likely have no clue at the love and generosity that is headed your way very soon.

Just like the storm that was Hurricane Harvey, I hope the love and help coming your way is totally unprecedented!

#PrayForTexas

#TexasStrong

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday – A Helping Hand

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Well, it’s not quite “wordless” after all today, but the events and the emotions of the past couple of weeks have just been awful.  Thankfully, all my people in the affected areas are safe with only a little damage, but everyone’s nerves and emotions are shot, including mine, and I’m not close to the devastated areas.  They are still overwhelmed and short on supplies, and I can hear the frustration and fear when I talk to some of them.  Their stories are just unbelievable.  Our friends know a man that died in the storm, too.

I’m glad I’ve been able to actively participate in a local relief effort.  Our supplies arrived yesterday at a church in Friendswood, three charter bus loads full.  I want to do more.

Please continue to pray for Texas.

Texas is now praying for everyone in Irma’s path.

 

 

Wordless Wednesday – Antelope Horns and Bees

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TTO Thursday

The TTO Show was a popular radio show in my area when I was growing up.  It was a hodgepodge of happenings and interesting topics, and it was always fun and informative, as the hosts had a great sense of humor.  Sadly, the show has been off the air for decades now, but I’ve decided to go with that theme in today’s post.

In case you’re wondering, TTO stands for “This, That and the Other.”  Today’s focus will be “Words of the Week.”

“I think I re-injured it again.”

I recently shared these words with my hubby.  Back in September 2010, I took a nasty fall in our yard and injured my rotator cuff in my right shoulder, and it seems that once again, I’ve reinjured it while lifting heavy boxes during my sister and brother-in-law’s recent move to their new home on the farm.  Unfortunately, I am right-handed, so this is just not good.  There are times in my life that I don’t have all that much that needs to be done, but this is not such a time.  Once again, I’m relying on prescription Naproxen and my little arm sling for relief while trying to get the things done that must still be done.

“I’m a country girl now!”

That’s what she said.  (lol)  Well, that’s what my sister said to me on the evening after we helped move them to their new home on their oldest son’s farm last week.  Yes, I lifted way too many heavy things, but it’s done now.

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Sis’s new house

I’m laying low for the next two weeks while her boys get things ready for the estate sale at their former home.  Parting with most of her possessions is going to be hard on her.

The trustee wants the keys to the house by the end of this month to start some repairs and get it ready to list with a realtor to get those funds back into my sister’s trust.  The trustee had some hard words with my sister’s middle son about how all this works, and that’s unfortunate.  Her son wanted to take a couple of months to get things ready, but that is just not remotely reasonable in this situation.  I will be so glad when the estate sale is over and all this stuff can finally start settling down, especially since the move was especially hard on my brother-in-law, who has Parkinson’s Disease.

“It has to be done, hun.”

These were my words to my hubby as the time to start our spring yard work was upon us last weekend.  With all the activity from the move, we were behind on doing yardwork, and I wasn’t able to help due to my shoulder.  Over breakfast on Saturday, as we discussed what all needed to be done and whether we should try to just hire someone to do it all this year, I uttered these words to him to bring him back to reality on the situation.  Bless his heart, he worked his tail off scalping the yard, too.  The worst is behind us with that task completed, and hopefully we will have some good spring rains to help get the yard off to a good start soon.

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I’m so happy to see our tree survived the borer attack last fall!

I’m glad to report that our tree in the backyard is once again blooming in full after a nasty attack by borers last September while we were gone to New Mexico for a week.  From now on, we will treat that tree every Spring (and maybe every Fall, too) to prevent this from happening again.

“I miss you so much!”

On Monday, I enjoyed a nice lunch with my dear friend who now lives in Utah while she was back on a quick visit to see family here.  I shared these words with her, and it is the absolute truth.  She is such a dear friend, and I miss having her nearby.  We had a good lunch visit with another mutual friend, and it refreshed my soul once again, as well as my tummy as we dined on wonderful Mexican food.  I need to plan a trip to go see her up there some time this year, preferably when it’s miserably hot here this summer.

Oh wait, it’s already hot!

“It’s 96 degrees right now at our house!  I’m ready to move to Alaska.”

I shared these words with the hubby yesterday when he inquired as to what the weather was at home.  It was pretty incredible to have such heat in mid-March yesterday, and I was totally unprepared for it in my jeans and long-sleeved shirt.  While the official high temperature here was only 92, we frequently register a few degrees warmer at our house than what’s registered at the official site.  I’m not sure I want to know what’s ahead for us as far as summer heat this year, but I hope and pray it’s not another 2011 again because I really don’t think I can handle another summer like that one right now.

“I can’t believe we have to buy this thing.”

I said this to an employee at Best Buy earlier this week.  A few days ago, Uverse and our local NBC affiliate failed to reach an agreement on the continuation of services between the two, and we lost our ability to watch that station on our televisions at home, since we are Uverse subscribers.

We hoped the disagreement would be quickly resolved, but it now seems that it is going to be a permanent thing.  I hear of these types of disagreements more and more these days and not just with our cable provider.  So, after some discussion, we decided to just go to Best Buy and purchase HD antennas to get our local stations going forward.

If it had been any other local station, we probably wouldn’t have bothered to take this step right now.  But our local NBC affiliate is everyone’s “go-to” news station for local news and weather, and with severe weather season soon to be upon us, maybe even later this week, we didn’t want to be without that resource.

The big winner in all this is anyone who sells HD antennas.  $75 later (for three of these things), we are good to go once again.  I’m not all that displeased that we opted to go this route either because we now have a little backup in case we lose cable signal.  We’ve lost signal on a few occasions when the weather was pretty bad, although not nearly as often as when we had satellite cable service years ago.

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Our new HD antennas

“This is sooo good!”

One of my favorite foods right now is Firecracker Shrimp, and I recently made tacos with them, similar to a dish served by our favorite Mexican food restaurant.  I’m pleased to share that I got really close to what the restaurant serves, and the words above were pretty much what we thought of this tasty dish.  I’ve already made it a second time because it’s a quick, easy and tasty dish that works well on my low carb plan, since I bought Mission tortillas that are only 4 net carbs each.

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My take on Firecracker Shrimp Tacos with fresh mango pico de gallo purchased at a local grocery store, cole slaw mix, cherry tomatoes and a low carb tortilla was so good!

“I’m ready to go again!”

When driving down a nearby neighborhood street a few days ago, we saw an RV in a driveway with people loading supplies in it, probably for a spring break week vacation.  It made me realize just how ready I am to go camping in our RV once again, although it looks like we won’t be going anywhere until sometime in April now.  Hubby is slammed at work and probably needs to just stay put until things slow down a bit.  We agreed that we are both ready to go again, too.

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Sunrise at Fort Richardson during our February camping trip

Well, that’s about it for this episode of TTO!  Who knows what the next week will bring.

 

Catching Up – Lightning Round

Time to play catch up here.

I’ve been quite busy lately, so in an effort to catch up here a bit, I will just play a little lightning round question and answer game.

Question:  “What has kept you so busy lately?”

Answer:  Helping my oldest nephew get my sister and brother-in-law (his mother and father) moved to a new mobile home on his property.. and a very nice one at that.  Let’s just say we have all learned *a lot* about mobile homes over the past few weeks!  Interesting stuff, and I’m glad to know a lot more about them now.

2017-02-10-13-37-11smQuestion:  “Why the rush to move them?”

Answer:  My brother-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few months ago, and my sister’s health (both physical and mental) continues to decline, not improve.  She has fallen twice recently and broke her elbow and a toe.  Neither of them can adequately care for the other now, it seems, and moving them to a home on their oldest son’s farm will make it easier for him and his large family to care for them when needed.

My nephew and his family are going to earn lots of gold stars in their Heavenly crowns for taking this responsibility on, too.  I’ve been trying to help where I can to make this happen as quickly as possible because it’s been a huge task, and other family members aren’t helping much, if at all.

Question:  “Have you been anywhere in the RV lately?”

Yes, we went on a great little five day trip to Lake Mineral Wells State Park (Prairies and Lakes region) and Fort Richardson State Park (Panhandle-Plains region) a couple of weeks ago to use Hubby’s last three vacation days before they expired the first week of March.  It was our first time to visit these two state parks, and we really liked both of them and the lovely RV sites.

Fort Richardson was a nice surprise and nicer than we thought it would be, too.  The fort site itself was so interesting to see, and our campsite sat right on a little spring-fed creek that was just delightful.  The spring was only about 50 yards upstream, so the water was crystal clear.

This was a bit of a landmark trip for us.  By finally visiting Fort Richardson State Park, we’ve now visited every state park in the Panhandle-Plains region except one, Possum Kingdom, since we started traveling by RV 5 1/2 years ago.  When you look at how large this region is geographically, I think that’s a decent milestone because we only vacation by RV.  (We probably won’t go to Possum Kingdom anytime soon, unfortunately, because a terrible fire struck there a few years ago, but maybe we can just make a day visit there to sometime to check it off our list.)

Of course, we’ve visited other parks outside the region, including state parks in the Big Bend region, the Hill Country region and the Prairies and Lakes region.  But, it’s great that we’ve finally made it to all the parks in our home region now that we want to see at this time.  Lake Mineral Wells is in the Prairies and Lakes Region, and we certainly enjoyed our beautiful lakeside campsite.  Hubby also caught a catfish but threw it back.  I enjoyed just sitting by the lake while he fished, and the dogs joined us lakeside a few times, too.

We both needed a nice, relaxing trip, and this whole trip was great for us for that very reason.

 

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What a great, lakefront site we had at Lake Mineral Wells State Park!

 

Some day, we hope to actually visit every state park in Texas, so this is a good start for now.

2017-02-28-22-49-52Question:  “How’s the weather been lately?”

Pretty good, nice actually, except for two wild and windy West Texas dust storms that were just hideous.  We had to come home early from our stay at Lake Mineral Wells State Park to avoid driving the next day in one of those two wind storms, too.  When the weather alert mentions “Flaming Tumbleweeds” in the forecast, it’s best to just avoid traveling in a high profile vehicle, I think!

Question:  “Have you been doing anything else?”

Yes, cleaning out *that* closet in the back bedroom.  I got interrupted in the middle of that big project to help move my sister, so everything is just a disaster back there right now.  Ugh.

Question:  “Anything else of interest you want to share before you get back to your urgent tasks?”

Yes, one more thing.  Since my sister is downsizing her home, I worked a trade with her.  I bought them a new bed set for their new home in exchange for all of china and crystal she had from both of our grandmothers.  If I didn’t do that, she was going to sell it off to strangers, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her doing that.  I absolutely did not need any of this, but I wanted to keep it in the family.2017-03-06-08-59-10

I now have FIVE SETS OF CHINA.  Five of them.  Cinco conjuntos de.  My husband just rolled his eyes when I shared this tidbit with him.  Bless his heart.  But when I get *that* closet cleaned out, we will have plenty of room to store all of them for awhile.  At some point, I will have to decide who gets what between immediate and extended family members, but not anytime soon.

I also have a set of Christmas dishes, too… in addition to the four smaller sets of dishes we use regularly.  And what about a few of those interesting depression glass pieces?  Lead crystal bowls?  (Thankfully, I only have one little set of cute Corelle dishes in the RV.)

I may or may not have a dish problem.

I may need to even write a post soon with photos of all the dishes in my life, as well as the crystal sets, three nice sets of stainless and one very nice set of silver.  Oh yes, I have silver service pieces, too, all pieces that belonged to family members, and I’m determined to make sure they all stay with family members that will not sell them off, if possible. And speaking of those silver pieces, it’s time for a good polish.

Yes, as one dear friend put it, I am now the family museum.  I know these treasures will only be mine for a little while, so I will enjoy them while I can and do my best to keep them safe in the process.  They are just stuff, but they all bring such special memories with them, and that’s what is most important to me.

That’s it for today’s lightning round!  It’s time to get busy again on this Monday when the wind is supposed to once again roar with flaming tumbleweeds!

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Ugh.

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Planning for a New Year

Proper planning is important in many things, including vacations.

It’s that time of year again for me to put some thought and effort into travel planning for the coming vacation year that begins again for us on March 1.  As always, I feel so blessed that Hubby has four weeks of paid vacation each year, and that we are both healthy enough to travel regularly.

In years past, prior to the time we purchased our first RV five years ago, I must confess that travel planning was not something we focused on in our lives to a large extent.  We have always been blessed to take at least one lovely vacation each year for the most part, but we mostly planned our time away more at the last minute and certainly never considered trying to plan on a larger scale… a full year at a time.  Our lack of planning caused us to actually lose some vacation days each year because we did not find a way to take them in the twelve month period when Hubby was permitted to use them… a sad situation, to be sure.

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This is so very true, including planning our personal times together!

We planned for so many things in our lives… retirement planning, meal planning, budget planning and health planning (doctor appointments, etc.).  So, why didn’t we put a little more emphasis on our special time away together?  I have a feeling we were/are not the only ones that have come to this realization at the empty nest stage of life, but I’m grateful we realized how this could change for the better before too many years went by.

At this stage of life as we approach our 60th birthdays, I consider travel planning to be one of my jobs, but it is a labor of love to be sure.  Hubby works (and travels) hard throughout the year to earn his time away from work, and he does not have time to spend on travel planning.  He even has a travel agent that books his work travels, so my job is to plan our vacation days to use them all and use them in ways we would like to do within our budget.  And if I say so, I think I do a pretty good job now.

I’m also challenged to be creative in our travel plans each year.  Five years ago, I would have never dreamed that my little family would spend Christmas in our RV, but we just loved it!  I enjoy the challenge of creative RV camping a lot, something that might be a good topic for another post sometime.

These days, it is necessary for us to plan our personal trips ahead of time so Hubby will know when he can travel for work without any conflicts.  A few years ago, we had to find a way to “be on the same page” as far as overall travel planning, so I created a shared Google calendar for travel planning purposes.  I take care of updating the shared calendar in a timely manner so Hubby can see both his own business travel dates and our personal vacation dates and a few other events all in one place.

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Before we had this shared online calendar as a reference, we encountered some issues with date conflicts.  The shared calendar has helped to largely alleviate those issues, as long as he sends me his business travel dates in a timely manner.  I highly recommend this shared calendar solution if this is an issue for anyone else.  How to share a Google Calendar

Purchasing our first RV five years ago was our first deliberate effort to try to change the status quo and to keep from losing vacation days each year, which happened all too regularly because we did not actually plan our time away like we do now.  We stepped out of our comfort zone just a bit, mostly with our RV financial investment, but we both knew RV travel might actually be something we would love, making it an investment in ourselves and our time together.  We always enjoyed camping in the early years of our marriage, and we were ready to start camping again.

Our desire to travel more conveniently and affordably was another reason for our RV purchase, and yet another reason was Hubby’s desire to not travel by plane for some of our vacations, since he has to do so regularly on business.  Our reasons all proved to be good reasons to make the change, and we are most definitely happy with our decision and plan to continue traveling by RV for years to come.  We both enjoy a nice trip by plane now, too, since we have another great option to do something different.  Those trips are now a little more special for us.

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Just one of our fun and memorable RV trips in 2016 with friends

I ran the numbers last week, and we actually spent 60 days away from home in our RV in 2016, something we certainly couldn’t reasonably afford to do without the RV.  We did not take any non-RV trips last year, which was a little unusual for us but something we chose to do since we upgraded to a newer and larger RV back in May.  We didn’t even miss a non-RV trip either.

Hubby was quite surprised to learn that we spent 60 days out in the RV last year… pleasantly surprised… just as I was after running the numbers.  We had some great times alone and with family and friends, and we are once again grateful for the freedom the RV has given us to get away more often in such a comfortable and convenient way.  We love having our sweet pups along for the fun, and it almost feels at times like we are semi-retired and enjoying life in ways some retired folks do on a regular basis, even though Hubby is still very much employed full-time.

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Getting out-of-town once a month continues to be one of our travel goals, even if it is just for a quick weekend away nearby, and we also strive to have two full-week vacations each year.  Getting away regularly to some beautiful state parks has helped both of us to “recharge our batteries” regularly and has also helped to keep us healthier, since we do a lot of walking and hiking when we are out.  We have always loved camping together, and having a few nice amenities now just makes it all the more enjoyable for us, especially sleeping on our custom mattress that is so comfy!

Having planned travels for a full year in advance for five years now, we have found a basic travel schedule that works well for us.  Planning our travels each year now actually requires a little less effort on my part, since I have a basic template to use as a starting point.

We tend to travel in the non-summer months to avoid the extreme heat of summer, even though we still venture out a bit in those months at times, too.  We’ve also learned how far in advance we need to reserve most of the places we like to visit because without a site reservation for our RV these days, chances are we won’t be able to secure one closer to our date of travel because more people are traveling by RV, even more than what we saw five years ago.  I continue to be amazed at how many of our friends have hopped on the RV bandwagon now, too.

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If we can travel to certain locations at non-peak times, we can benefit by enjoying less crowded conditions.  Such was the case in northern New Mexico in early September.

This year, we are adding one non-RV trip… a special one indeed!

Over the next three years, we have three big celebrations that are worthy of commemorating in a memorable way….

…Hubby’s 60th birthday later this year,

…my 60th birthday next year, and

…our 40th wedding anniversary in 2019.

I hope we can make each of these occasions special and memorable, so I spent some time last week planning Hubby’s big bad birthday celebration… a non-RV trip that we will take in October.  How blessed we are to have airline miles and hotel points to use for a special trip such as this, putting the total cost of the airfare and hotel with a full breakfast each morning at only $260 for six days and five nights.

I’m excited to finally take Hubby to a special place that I have visited three times in my lifetime but one that he has never visited.  We may also be joined by some long-time friends, if they can arrange their work schedules to do so.   In fact, this trip should be so special and so much fun that I may be fine calling it my 60th birthday celebration, too, allowing us to save up a bit for a special anniversary trip in mid-2019.

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Our last trip by plane was in May 2015, when we traveled west to beautiful Maui.  This year, our special trip by plane will take us east, not west, to celebrate Hubby’s 60th birthday.

If our present travel plans hold for 2017, we will spend about 65 days away from home, with most of those days spent in our RV.  Hubby has ten paid holidays this year, a few more paid days off than in previous years, bringing his total paid days off each year to 30 days.  We certainly plan to schedule those new paid days off into our trips, too.

I’m ready to get this show on the road again… literally!  😀  Hopefully our advance planning will once again help to make this yet another memorable and fun travel year.

 

Melancholy

Grief knows no calendar.

I guess I will always feel a little melancholy in January.

I lost my mom two years ago this month, and I continue to be surprised at just how much harder it is to move on from her death than what I’ve experienced after losing our other parents.  I don’t know if it was the fact that she was our last living parent, if it is because I was closer to her than any of our other parents, or if it’s something else.  Without a doubt, though, grief is taking it’s sweet time with me, it seems.

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I think most people tend to give a lot of leeway to family members and friends in the first year after the loss of a close loved one.  Tackling all those “firsts” can be so, so hard, and I certainly found that to be true after losing my mother, just as it was after we lost our other parents.  I had quite a bit of support, especially from my closest friends, and I’m grateful for the love shown that truly helped me through that first year.

Grief didn’t care about that calendar, though.  Not one bit.

Last year was my second full year without Mom, and I swear it was just as hard on many occasions as it was in year one.  Understandably, most people assume that after that first year, all is fine… or at least better, so I started to just keep my feelings to myself and not burden others with my continuing feelings.  Friends have other interests in their lives and suffer their own heartaches.

Life moves on for all of us.

But, as Shelby’s mom said in Steel Magnolias after the graveside service for her sweet Shelby…

“I’ll tell you what I wish. … That’s what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart.”  (Steel Magnolias… 1989)

Oh, how very true that statement is.  So, so true.  (I’m not sure a movie ever truly captured such a true manifestation of grief as this particular scene at the cemetery.)

I have no sage wisdom to share today, except to simply acknowledge that grief doesn’t stick to a one-year calendar, despite that conventional viewpoint these days.  Acknowledging the ongoing grief helps a bit, and that’s why I’m writing today.  Simple acknowledgement.

I hope this lesson sticks with me and reminds me to have a tender heart toward others in the future, perhaps by simply marking my calendar and letting them know that I’m thinking of them and offering a heart-felt, sympathetic prayer for them on their own hard anniversaries.

I want to make it count, this often hard path I continue to find myself on without my Mom in my life.  (The article linked is absolutely fabulous.)

During this anniversary month of Mom’s passing, I’m reading The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, and so far, it is quietly speaking to my broken heart.  Ann’s writings are best savored slowly and deliberately, and every day, I’m slowly “getting it.”  Perhaps if you find yourself with a broken heart right now, this book might offer some insight to you, too.  If not right now, perhaps make a note of this great book for a time you might need it in the future?

Ann is “explaining it to my heart,” and I am grateful.