Lessons Learned: One Way of Cruising

My husband and I recently came back from a cruise to the Western Caribbean. We absolutely loved it. This was our second cruise ever and our second cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). I’ve decided that I really like cruises. I like being able to:

  • Dine when and where I want to. We went with a group of friends, and we gathered every night to eat dinner together at one of their “included” restaurants. The last night on the ship, we had dinner with a show (that one we paid a little extra for). Since we weren’t eating until later on, Mike and I went down to the buffet for a small snack to hold us over. They were serving prime rib. Lean, juicy prime rib. How could we refuse? What a snack!


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Who knew? Sliced bananas with faces!


  • Have unlimited beverages. When you start drinking a few in the afternoon and then finish the evening with a few more (not to mention the drinks in between), those fun drinks can add up—if paying for them. At home, I normally drink beer. Not on these cruises. Give me beach drinks. I’ll worry about my weight later.
  • Attend the free entertainment. This last trip was awesome. In fact, the free entertainment was better than the two we paid for. Burn the Floor and Million Dollar Quartet were fantastic shows that had awesome dancers and singers. The comedians were funny and gave us a good laugh. Dueling pianos was fun as well. I had no problem watching one of the piano players. No problem at all…
  • Wear what I want. People wore all different kinds of outfits from fancy, sparkly, long gowns to shorts and tank. No one forced you to dress up. That made me happy because after a day in port, I liked wearing relaxed chic. I was on vacation. Comfort overruled.


Cool dude wearing Mike’s glasses.


There were a few disappointing things that happened, but I can’t say that the events wrecked my trip. They were minor. In fact, I was double charged for the paid entertainment on the ship. When I called to explain the issue, the guy couldn’t help me yet (I had to wait a few more days to see if the credit went through). In the meantime, I booked our next cruise. Oh yeah.



Rainy and cold days at this time of year can be good and bad. The bad part about it is that I want nice, warm weather. Isn’t this SPRING after all with sunny skies and flowers blooming? After the cold of winter, I long to soak up the sun and walk barefoot outside. I want to sit on the porch and enjoy a morning cup of coffee with my hubby. I want to listen to the birds sing and the neighborhood kids play ball in the park.

Spring fever takes its toll on me. I always think that April/May should have warmer weather than what it gives us. We get blasted with wind, rain, and sometimes snow. I have to be a little more patient before the winter chill leaves us and I can open the door to summer.

The good part about this time of year is that we get the rain to help turn everything green. It also keeps me indoors a while longer so I can focus on my writing. I don’t mind sitting up in my office at my desk. I don’t feel guilty because I can’t enjoy the beautiful warm day outside. Now is the time to focus and get The Calling – Book Two completed. I’m halfway there.

Lessons Learned: Appreciating Parents

Normally, you always look “up” to your parents and appreciate how they’ve raised you, what they’ve done for you, or know how much they loved you. Today, I have a renewed appreciation looking “downward” for parents. Instead of my parents, I’m appreciating my daughter and her husband as parents. We just had our daughter and 18 month old grandson over for the weekend. Zander has more energy and spunk than I remember my daughter having at that age. It’s fascinating to see our grandson ping pong from one interest to another.

Yesterday was his first visit to the zoo. He loved seeing the animals, except when we were on a boardwalk next to a parking lot. The cars, trucks, and a van were more interesting than the lions sleeping in their den below us. He liked watching the gorillas, but wouldn’t stand next to the gorilla statue. He loved watching the polar bear, seeing him swim in the water. He loved walking around and exploring all the new and exciting things around him. He ping-ponged from one area to the next.

We took him to work today, first to Mike’s work and then to mine. He went from cube to cube, walked down…no, ran down the halls. He tried pushing a big pillar (that was holding up the building) out of the way. He took a ride on a wheel cart and in a desk chair.

The only time he’s quiet is when we’re reading him a book. Otherwise, he is constantly on the move. The three nights they spent with us, Mike and I fell into bed exhausted. That one little guy wore us out.

Willow and Zander just left. Yes, we were ready. But were we? I’m already missing them.

Lessons Learned: Puzzles and Brains – Puzzles Part 2

Last week I talked about jigsaw puzzles and relating it to writing. Tonight, I’ll write how puzzles helped my mom. Along with my sisters, we consider puzzles as a crucial part to her recovering from a stroke.

Our mom had a massive stroke in October, 2010. She is obviously a tough spirit because she survived when the doctors didn’t think she’d make it. After the hospital, we placed her in transitional care, at a nursing home, where she stayed for 100 days to recover and learn simple tasks like walking, eating, and taking care of herself. We knew that being with her, supporting her, and helping with her recovery was important. We knew that “working” her brain was a way we could help. What better way than to teach her how to do something she loved: jigsaw puzzles.

Before the stroke our mom had been proficient at putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle. After the stroke, she couldn’t put two pieces together. I believe we started with a 10-piece puzzle. We showed her how to look at the different pieces, how one curve could fit into another. She had to feel each piece to figure out the shape and then feel the edges in the puzzle to determine where it should go. We taught her how to look at the picture and try matching the detail with another piece. We showed her how to turn her head to look to her right to find pieces waiting to be placed. At the time, she couldn’t see anything on her right side. As she put it, “It’s blank.”

Once she accomplished the 10-piece puzzle, we continued to move upward. Next were 25 pieces, 50 pieces, and then 100 pieces. All of this took time, but she did it. Today, four and a half years later, she spends her time working on 1,000-piece puzzles again. Those puzzles keep her occupied and sharpen her mind.

If we hadn’t taught her how to put the pieces together, I don’t think our mom would be able to work on puzzles today or do other things that require detail. So keep in mind, when a person you know is recovering from a brain injury, like a stroke, find something they had enjoyed doing. Teach them how to do it once again. Start with basics and then advance in difficulty. You’ll be amazed at what the mind can do. We were amazed, seeing her progress and working on those puzzles once again.

Lessons Learned: Writing and Puzzles – Puzzles Part 1

One of my favorite hobbies is working on jigsaw puzzles (1,000+ pieces). When we were little, my parents would set up the folding card table or clear off the dining room table so we could put one or two puzzles together. I always liked getting into the detail, seeing the picture come to life, and letting my mind wander while working on the puzzle. I remember saying (and still say) “Just one more piece” as I’d get hooked and not want to quit. However, there have been times when I couldn’t find any pieces, I was stuck, and forced myself to walk away. This is the same with writing.

You need patience with puzzles. Taking a thousand pieces and putting them together to create one picture takes time. Each piece has its place. Sometimes I’d place a piece in the wrong spot and later have to move it. Sometimes starting a section, like a piece of the sky or the meadow with lots of green and flowers, is hard to get started. But after looking at the detail, knowing what colors go where, I begin to link them together and soon that sky or meadow is done. This is the same as writing a story. Each scene takes time. Each scene pieced together creates the story. At times I have to move the scenes around in order for the story to flow in the right direction. I also step back to see how much is finished, how far I’ve come.

Most puzzles take a few days to finish. At times, I can sit at the table, stare at the pieces, try to fit them together, but nothing works. I’ve learned that when I haven’t found a piece in a while it’s best to take a break. Even if it’s an hour or so, sometimes it’s enough to re-look at the puzzle, the pieces, and try again. Writing a story is the same way. Sometimes when the words don’t flow or I’m continually deleting a sentence or paragraph, then it’s time for me to walk away. I’ll come back later and usually I’m back on track. This happened to me the other night. While editing, I was struggling with my sentences on how my character, Jessie, saw the scars on her back. I tried for an hour to think of the right words on how she felt. Finally, I gave up. The next morning, before work, I opened the document and started typing. Within five minutes I had written what I had wanted to say. I needed that break to clear my head.

And, getting lost in a puzzle has always helped me unwind. I will wear my comfortable clothes, maybe have a cup of coffee or a beer to drink, listen to music, and start in. I’ll also think. When I’m zoned into the puzzle, I’ll think about the story I’m writing or the plot for a future story. Since I’m not in the midst of typing a scene, I can think of different ways to help the story flow, including finding new characters. I’ll figure out how to write that action scene or how to get my character from one scene to the next. This is how I found Rex, my favorite side character, in “Gitana – Life Plan.” He popped in my head when I was toying with a scene. As I put the puzzle pieces in place, I also created a character that readers love.

Lessons Learned: Grief in Stages

The common stages to grief include denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. Going through grief doesn’t apply only to losing a loved one. The stages also apply to those with a terminal illness, losing a job (even when retiring), ending a marriage or partnership, or any other loss that affects our lives.

Each person handles grief in different ways based on the circumstance. Each person handles grief different than how another person may handle it. With this in mind, I thought about my brother passing away 3 ½ years ago and my dad passing away a year ago today.

I remember when my brother’s girlfriend told me that he had stage 4 lung cancer. I began the grieving process at that time. First words that came out of my mouth were, “What? You’re kidding me.” At the time, the doctors guessed he had about three to four months to live. You hear the words, but you don’t put two and two together on what it means. We were dealing with my mom having her stroke, wondering if she was going to make it through, and then this came as a double whammy. I had to research stage 4 lung cancer to realize how serious his condition was at the time.

The anger that came next wasn’t the physical or shouting anger but more on how it wasn’t fair. He was only in his mid-fifties and too young to die. The anger and the bargaining stages were close together for me. I wished he had gone to the doctor sooner. I wished that I would’ve pressed him to go in, knowing that he was having pain in his shoulder. Depression came next. The sadness in knowing that I would never see him again had me burst in tears without warning. When he went into hospice, I was depressed, but I was accepting of the outcome as well. No one wants to see someone you love go through the pain. Even when medicated, he was miserable.  

On the other side, my brother was going through all four stages of grief right until the end. He was angry. He knew he’d been around Agent Orange. He knew he’d been on a Navy ship that had asbestos. He wasn’t ready to die. He thought he could beat the cancer even up until the very end. My sister was able to get my mom and dad out to see him a couple days before he died. My mom asked him if he was ready to die. He said, “No. Maybe tomorrow.” The morning he died, his friend was there to see him. The day started as it normally did. His friend greeted him and then went to get a cup of coffee. On his return to the room, my brother had died. It was quick, and I wonder if that’s when he accepted the inevitable.  

When my dad died, we knew for a while his health was failing. He had chronic kidney failure, a bad heart, and we guessed that he may have had cancer as well. After he died, I didn’t go through all the stages of grief. I went through two stages: depression and acceptance. Acceptance came first. I was relieved when he passed. Again, like my brother, it’s miserable seeing someone you love being in so much pain. At least now, he wasn’t suffering. The depression came later. In late summer, I was feeling in a funk. I was having a hard time writing. I wasn’t my normal self. I couldn’t pinpoint why until one day when it dawned on me that I was depressed. I was missing my dad.  

For me, my stages of grief were different between brother and father. They were two different scenarios yet still the same. I had lost two members of my family. I think what helps, for anyone going through a major loss is knowing that no matter what, it’s okay to go through the different stages. Grief may only take a few days, while at other times it could take a year or longer. Life always changes. It’s okay. Just remember to keep your memories. The time you had the person can stay in your heart.

Grief flowers