Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Speed bump on Holiday Road

Rule # 43 – Always look on the bright side of life (Pythonism, not a Gibbsism) 

     Time shares… the only way, some years, our family even had a vacation. It’s great to get away, to fun places we would never have even considered visiting, unless we were staying close by. Plus, the room part is already bought and paid for. We can vacation as frugally or extravagantly as our current finances allow.

     We have a time share at Massanutten Resort and we really enjoy our unit and just the get-away from the day-to-day back home. We have timeshare too, with another company and are now able to get away to a number of different places each year.  We always look forward to these vacations. The trips get us to places we can explore for history. They are highlights of our years.

     One part of a time share vacation is the inevitable sales breakfast. When you check in, the sales people meet you and set you up for the “free” breakfast so they can “update you about the resort, and let you know how the timeshare industry has changed in the past year”. There’s always a freebee at the end of the presentation, too. But you have to sit through the whole thing to collect.

     We’ve refused to attend in the past. That wasn’t a problem. But this year we decided to sit through it to see what the new pitch would be. It is a game with Hub and me now. Let them throw anything at us and see what we will hit. We double dog dared them!

     The day started as expected. We are checked into the breakfast and met by our starting pitcher. She is a pleasant person, very conversational and not at all pressuring at this point. We start the process with a “survey” of our experiences at the resort. What did we like about it, what would we change? How long have we been coming here? You know, the basic stuff about our experiences so far.

     Then we head off – in her car – to the restaurant for the breakfast. The game strategy is to keep us there so we can’t walk out if things get uncomfortable. Nice going, sales manager. Things stay light for this part of the game. Conversation is about our time vacationing and what we like to do. We eat from the breakfast bar. Drink coffee. She pitches a few things and we knock them down. We finish up there with the fastball – “let me take you over to one of our properties and show you what we have that’s new”.

     The game starts getting intense now. Score is still sales – 0, us- 0. She drives us over to the newest, high-end resort property we’ve seen in a while. These things are real luxury – if that’s what you are after on a vacation. The view from the unit is spectacular. You don’t have to leave the house to enjoy your vacation. I could cook in a full kitchen for the whole vacation.

     Not leave the house and cook for a week – and this is a vacation? I can do that at home. Forget about it!

     We both agreed that the place was nice. We were on base now. We all headed back to sales center where the pitching continued. She talked to us about the high-end place we just saw. She tried to convince us that we wouldn’t get our weeks next year unless we switched to a new plan in a new place. We wouldn’t be able to trade since our week “floats” and is not a fixed week. Hub says, “When we trade we book and fix a week, then we deposit it. It is a fixed week when we trade.” He hit a curve ball and got a base hit. We have the bases loaded now. Things get tense. Sales brings in a middle reliever. The fellow is a nice, soon-to-be-retired fellow who focuses on me. He ignores the Hub totally and asks me where I want to stay – where I am or in the fancy place we just saw. He catches his breath as I say, “Where I am.”

     “What? I don’t understand how you can pass this up.” One run in… yeah!

     I explain that we don’t vacation to sit around. We tour; we enjoy off the resort. We just need a place for a quick meal and to hang our head at night.

     The pitcher tries again. “They can afford it,” he says to the starting pitcher who stayed beside him. “No, we can’t.” But none of that is anyone’s business, especially these sales people. The middle reliever took himself out of the game when he saw he wasn’t getting anywhere. The starting pitcher made one last lob. We kept saying, “No thanks”. Another hit and another run.

     Last stop was a quick closing pitch from the final check out sales person. He talked so fast that we just said “No” to everything he said. His leg kept going up and down like he was beyond hyper. Then we got handed off to another person to collect our end game prize. “We need names of people to contact for possible sales weekends.” We gave them one name and some bogus phone numbers. This was the icing on the cake. Enough already!

     We won this one. We only lost 3 hours of vacation time but we have some freebees to use for the rest of the week. We earned this win.

     Now we went into this breakfast knowing full well what was going to happen. We’ve been to others where the pitchers – all of them – have been rude, high pressure, strung out or all of the above. These sales people and the experiences they provide really do NOT represent the vacation property well, at least to those of us who are on vacation. I realize these people are only doing their job, but…. These experiences put a temporary damper on the concept of vacation.

     But I must confess a bit of evil glee from the sales process this year. You see, they use Chapter 1, 2 and 3 of the Marketing textbook I had in college. I know what they are going to do, and the order in which they will complete their mission. I know their end game. Yes, it gets me frosted when it happens, but it’s so much fun trying to beat them at their own game. It’s almost a challenge. And yes, we have pulled the ultimate marketing kiss-off by walking out on the sales person in the middle of a pitch. It really does help to “Know thine enemy” and the rules they are using, so you can beat them at their own game.

     Yes, I know that marketing course soured me on shopping forever. But I am not sorry at all. It’s made me a more aware consumer, who parts with her hard-earned bucks carefully. My purchases are my choices, and not because it’s the cool thing, the latest thing, the most dazzling thing… I either need it or can afford to want it. There was, is now, and ever more shall be the truth in the phrase, “Self, you can NOT afford this.” And guess what, kiddies? It’s NOT so bad… really!

     Well so much for the speed bump in the road of our Virginia vacation. I’m thinking to quest for more wine, visiting more wineries… sitting poolside for a bit…

     Ahhhh…… much better!

     Namaste`, y’all!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Sanity Cause! Part 3 - the Quest for Relaxation

Rule #38 – Seek balance

     You know how some days, you’re the pigeon? Some days, you’re the statue? And other days, you just fly? You never get the “fly” time for any length of time. At least I don’t. More often than not, I’ve got my share of “statue” days, where it seems that the whole world is just a-crappin’ all over me.

     Vacations are about finding some balance in your life… living like a pigeon for a bit. It’s a time to unwind some… or just fly and enjoy the view.

     The vacation resort at Massanutten – bless them! – has lots of planned activities for us big kids. One that both families like to take in is the weekly Craft Fair/Cocktail party. I know it sounds like an odd combination, but it works. Each Monday in the summer, the ski lodge deck is transformed with local crafts people selling their wares. Some of the trip vendors who operate from the resort set up shop and sign people up for the day trips. You may even find your local neighborhood author, available for sales and autographs!

     One of the biggest reasons to check out this event is the wine tasting (now there’s a surprise). This year, the resort added beer tasting to the event. For a flat fee, you get to sample Stone Mountain winery’s fruits and/or the brewery’s brews. Yes, there is cheese with the wine. Some great mini meatballs, too. It really becomes a cocktail party as you discuss your reactions to the tastings, how the rude Yankee fans cut in front of you in line, what you will taste next, who do you see about refilling the cheese tray…. You know all the important things in life. With each tasting of wine or beer, you can feel the stress evaporate from your soul.

     I got a chance to talk some “shop” too, with Anne Mullen. She’s the local author I mentioned above, a resident of nearby Standardsville VA. My daughter bought one of her books last year and had it read cover to cover before we checked out at the end of the week. She bought the next in the series, and I got the third. Now it’s swap time!!!  Yes, my professional writing goal is to write for kids. But I need to read adult books too, to become exposed to different writing styles. You can never learn too much in this biz. Hmmm, is a book review in my near blog future?

     Well, if you can’t relax at a cocktail party – even an outdoor one – you have a bit of a problem. After that cocktail party, the ladies had no problems at all….. yay-ah!

     Then, my sister-in-law, my daughter and I took our already chilled out selves to the Massanutten Spa for our massage and facial. We were going for the super chillax on this day.

     The Spa is housed in its own building now, near the Woodstone Recreation Center. They offer a variety of services from massages and facials, to manicures, pedicures, sports massages and more. It’s not just a chick thing, either. Men and women avail themselves of the therapeutic massages, individually and as couples.

     You enter the building to the sound of an indoor water feature. Relaxing music plays throughout the whole building. You can’t check in without starting to chill out.

     The massage therapists tailor the massage to your needs at the moment. If you are having trouble with a joint, or you pulled something pitching your golf clubs at a woodchuck, the therapists at the Spa will work to loosen up and relieve as much pain as possible. My therapist focused on my neck, shoulders and upper back, since she found they were extremely tight. (All hail, computer work!) She also worked a sports cream into my arthritic knee. During the facial, she also went back to the shoulders and neck. I must have been wound up tight! But after that one-hour session, I felt like I could take on the world and all the pigeons in it. I could fly!

     The saddest part of this event is the cold towel… the signal that the facial and massage are about over. Oh well, all good things have to come to an end… even massages. But you couldn’t help but feel relaxed, at peace with the world.

     Check it all out at  http://www.massresort.com/v.php?pg=471.

     How long that peaceful, easy feeling lasts is up to you. For me, it was mission accomplished today on the quest for relaxation. Now to keep this feeling going…


Friday, August 17, 2012

My Sanity Cause! - Part 2

Rule # 24 – Practice all types of writing

     It’s only a short, 15-minute drive down a 2-lane country road. You drive past farms where the corn is looking high and sweet for a hot August day. You drive past pastures of dairy cattle lazing in the fields in the hot sun. You turn off this country road onto a smaller one that rolls further into the valley. On the top of one of the swells of hills sits your destination for a wonderful adult afternoon – Cross Keys Vineyard in Mt. Crawford, Virginia.

     As you turn into the vineyard’s long drive, you see the main house sitting high on another hill, a vision reminiscent of Tuscany. Drive past the ripening grapes, to the main lot, and prepare for an adventure to satisfy any wine palate. Stand on one of the outdoor patios, and look off into the distance, into the Virginia hillside. This vineyard is nestled between two ridges of the Shenandoah. On a clear day, you can see the Shenandoah Park forest to the east and the start of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. The vista includes a patchwork of fields, farms and forests as far as the eye can see.

     Cross Keys Vineyards run winery tours daily. Step into their Tasting Room and store, and relax. Tours run regularly throughout the afternoons. Take the “Grapes to Glass” tour and you’ll find a winery that will still age wine in barrels, not just in stainless steel casks. The busy season is almost upon them too. Harvest time tours will show you how the grape sorting happens and how that delicious beverage gets its start. Visit at harvest time and watch the grape presses in action.

     After your tour, enjoy a wine tasting. Sample the fruits of the vineyard to suit yourself. Go for a sampling of either just reds or just whites for $5. Sample them all for $8. Treat yourself to lunch in the Tasting Room or on the patio. Make a full day of your visit. Don’t forget to bring home a “souvenir” bottle or two.

     Now, I’m no sommelier, by any stretch. But I know what wines I like and will return to those wines over and over. At Cross Keys, of the few white wines they produce, I found their Joy White to be outstanding. This time, however, I could taste the oak barrel ageing in the Chardonnay. The red wines from this vineyard are spectacular. Four varieties – Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Meritage – all got the highest personal rating during the taste test. The Meritage is a blend of the other reds and is so smooth in the mouth… like buttah! The vineyard offers one port wine, Tavern. For those who enjoy a red wine with incredible body, this one is for you. Devout chocoholics can pair this wine with their favorite food for the ultimate epicureal experience.

      Visiting this winery is an excellent way to begin a vacation… or to end a vacation. Visiting is also not just a summertime thing. While the hours of operation change with the colder weather, they do not close. Cross Keys Vineyards continue to host wine tasting events, and is available for private events, like weddings. It’s a wonderful, picturesque backdrop to any event in your life.

     Mt. Crawford is outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia, just off Interstate 81. The winery is only 3 hours south of Washington DC. Now, folks in the DC metro area, that’s a day trip for us. You have no excuse to get out and enjoy Cross Keys Vineyards. If you are looking for more information on the winery events and hours, check out the website http://www.crosskeysvineyards.com. This gem is off the beaten path, but well worth the trip.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Sanity Cause!

Rule # 37 – Everything is better with friends and family

     Vacation! Just the word rolling off the tip of the tongue causes joy in my heart. The fact that I can get away from the house, to another place…. Ahhhh, such peace and comfort, I need it bad.

     This has been quite a summer for Hub and me. Through the spring, we made plans to do a major renovation of our kitchen and dining room, got Bay Kitchens in Baltimore to handle the design project, picked out all the elements for the renovation, and started parting with some hard saved-up greenbacks. Then our fuzz-buddy, Rusty, died. We had to move past the grief to get the two rooms ready to get crashed. Throw in a few visits from family members and friends during the crash time. The craziness started on June 11. It’s now August 11 and the two rooms look pretty darn good. Bills are paid off. We can get back to normal – whatever that is.

     So when this vacation came up, we both jumped at it. We needed to get away from paint fumes and spackle dust. So off we go to Massanutten Resort in Virginia. We have a time share week there. So does one of my brothers. Both families plan to vacation there at the same time every year. We invite others to join us for one big, week-long party.

     Massanutten is in the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia. The resort is a Four Seasons resort, since it’s home to several ski trails as well as plenty of summer activities. The location is smack dab in the middle of Virginia wine country too. They offer day trips by coach bus from the resort to a number of places. It’s a place where there’s lots to do in the summer, besides the usual swimming and golf. And you can use the place as a starting point for other day trips in the western part of Virginia.

     My brother’s unit is a Friday to Friday use. He usually shows up late on Friday evening. We are right on his tail, to squeeze an extra day or two out of the vacation time. Our unit use is Sunday to Sunday. We check into our place on Sunday after bunking with the bro for a night or two. When he checks out on Friday, he becomes our guest until Sunday. This way we both get a 10 day vaca!

     The units there are fully furnished with well-equipped kitchens. We can spend as little or as much time in the unit as we want. We can eat in, or eat out. The resort is near Harrisonburg, Virginia, and James Madison University. So with a college town, comes college eateries… and drinkeries. Lots of choices and all close by.

     My brother has a fantastic view of the mountain side from his unit. He gets a cool breeze even on hot days. Our unit is in the valley, but also has a great view. We get the cool breezes too. And we get a chance to see some of the local wild life up close and personal. You can’t go anywhere on the resort grounds without seeing deer crossing the roads. Our buddy, “Chuck”, came right up to the back deck to say hey! By the way, “Chuck” is one of the several woodchucks who routinely give the golf course groundskeepers reasons to go a bit postal, a lot like Bill Murray’s character in “Caddyshack”.

     Now that we are checked in, the first thing to do is a bit of planning. My brother is a golfer. My husband is a history buff. My nephew and his friend are both game for anything. My sister-in-law and I are game for anything, too, but we also want to spend some serious money. We all enjoy swimming. We’ve even tubed down the Shenandoah River together. The adults really enjoy visiting wineries and sampling the wares. Oh yeah…. we really enjoy the wineries.

Step 1 in planning – when do we schedule our massage? Our daughter will be there at the same time, so plan for 3 massages with facials. Check!

Step 2 – do we want to do a bus trip this year? They run a day trip to Washington D.C. But we live outside of D.C. Why take a bus to come half way home again? Not doing that one.

Step 3 – what wineries haven’t we toured or tasted at? We want to return to Cross Keys Vineyard for specific purchases. Oh, and do they have a chocolate wine, do you remember? Better visit and check it out. If Cross Keys doesn’t have one, somebody must. We must find chocolate wine.

Step 4 – how much history do we really want to do? We’ve seen Montecello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, several times. We’ve eaten at Michie Tavern several times. We’ve toured New Market Battlefield and museum several times too. What haven’t we seen yet? Ahhhh, a quest for newness this trip!

Step 5 – who is cooking what evening? Where will we eat when we are not at home? And what DVD’s did you bring for the after dinner movie?

Step 6 – do we really have to do the sales breakfast? Is it worth it? Hmmm…..

Step 7 – with all this planned, now the bro can schedule tee times, Hub can schedule naps, and the rest of us can schedule pool time.

     Hoo, boy! After a week away, I should have lots of blog ammunition courtesy of Massanutten Resort. There’s plenty to write about, enough for several blog entries here alone. And, I can practice travel writing. Vacations… not just for fun anymore!

     Now the biggest thing to remember is to not need a vacation from our vacation. We have to get some rest this week. Let’s see, there are a few hours on Friday afternoon…. Ah, what the heck, let’s just enjoy the week and pack in as much stuff as we can. We can sleep when we get back to work.

     Wait a minute… I’m retired…. Sort of…

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Retail "Therapy"?

Rule # 22 – Question everything

     I never really got what was so great about shopping. I’m not talking about those procurement missions where you are out for specific reasons. I’m talking about the sport of shopping – those who have nothing better to do than to walk around a mall and buy stuff.

     “Come on, Martha. Let’s go see what they got at the local WalMart (or mall) this week.” Buddy, it’s the same old stuff that was there last week. The only thing that changes is where they put it.

     “But this is ‘on sale’. We gotta take advantage of the sale. I mean it’s 20% (or 30% or 40%) off!” Buddy, EVERYTHING is “on sale”. Some prices are just higher than others on a regular basis. By the way, if things are marked down so drastically, how much profit was the store making BEFORE the sale. Don’t know of too many companies willing to “take a hit” in this economy.

     I have to admit, that if you are a sincere people watcher like I am, a trip to the mall or the store is great entertainment. You see some of the craziest people there. Some pictures of the more bizarre outfits have been circulating on the internet. And they have been doozies, too. I’ve seen more body parts in those pictures than I did in college semesters of biology and anatomy and physiology. Many of the subjects still need to be able to say “no” to crack… and not the drug, either.

     I guess people really don’t know how bad they look in some of the latest fashions. It’s hard to deal with people who wear spandex over obesity. These people have more rolls than a bakery, and they have them shrink wrapped in leggings, sweat pants, spaghetti strapped tops, cleavage-displaying tops and “wife beater” tee shirts. Mental eraser!!! Mental eraser!!!!

     This penchant for perusing retail establishments begs the answers to a few philosophical questions:

  1. How much stuff can you really have?
  2. Are you replacing stuff or adding to the collection?
  3. When it’s a gorgeous day, why are you inside a store and not outside enjoying life?
Like I said before, I just don’t get it. Why do people just shop?

     Now I do remember spending time at the mall as a teen. My first job was at the Woolworth’s in Moorestown. The mall was a great place to meet other teens. In Philly, it was the street corner. In Jersey, it was the mall. We hung out, walked around, maybe looked at stuff in the windows, but usually we were too busy trying to look cool, and attractive to care what stores were around. We’d visit the food court just to sit down and look cool and attractive. It was a place to meet people that didn't go my school.

      Now as an adult, the mall is the last place I want to be in a spirit of fun. I find those same teens (like I was) who are slowly strolling – or parading- very irritating. I want to get my stuff and get out. And the stroller people… I know you have to have a place to wheel your little ones, but please treat the stroller as a wheeled vehicle. Drive it and pay attention please! I’m tired of getting my ankles bruised by people not watching where they are going.

     More questions for mall peeps:

     Is your neighborhood so bad that you need to have your kids play all day at the mall playground? Ok, once in a while, but I know some people who make the mall a regular destination.

     Must you be on the phone in any store? I can understand a quick “Honey, is this really what you want?” But I’ve been privy to some wild and crazy conversations at high volume that take place on the cell in the produce section of a grocery store. And while choosing cucumbers too… (use your imagination!)

     And please, when conversing in any tone, be careful what you say to others. Profanity does not become anyone, regardless of race, creed or orientation. So please stop dropping the F-bomb. Have a little more respect for the mouth that feeds you than to speak such garbage.

     Gee, as I read this over, I keep looking over my shoulder for Jeff Dunham. I’m sounding more and more like Walter with every sentence. “Hi! Welcome to WalMart! Get you sh.. and get out!”

     Or maybe Walter is on to something…

     I know I was raised in a different time and place. Or was it really so different? Or is it just people who are different now? Or society as a whole? Where is courtesy?


      It’s nice sometimes to vent in the form of philosophical questioning. It helps to solve some of the overarching questions of life, at least in my own mind. I have a strange feeling I’m not alone in my thoughts, either. We all talk about it, but what do we do about it?

     Some people go shopping.

     I come here…and write....