Odd Man Out

I did something this year that I have never done in my entire adult life. I took a vacation with my sisters – just my sisters. For five days, we cruised the Caribbean, skirting around Cuba as we explored Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Key West, FL. We group text all the time. We update each other with long emails sent while the kids are all at school. But this was new. Being alone together, talking, laughing and catching up… that was new for us. It was good for us.

I learned a lot on this cruise, like how those two can out drink me any day of the week. I learned we all had different experiences growing up that we had, for whatever reason, never shared with each other. I learned what it was like for each of them, caring for our mother as cancer slowly took over her body and mind (I was in my third trimester, and unable to travel to be there and help out.). I learned that even though we weren’t as close as sisters should be, the awkwardness of being trapped on a ship together never came to pass. Conversation came easily. Laughter, even easier. It was a really great time.

I learned something else though. I learned how similar my sisters are… and how different I was. Jill talked about work and life up at camp. All the people she meets and how she craves someone to talk to. Julie is a bank teller and likened the people she encountered on a daily basis as almost a second family. They needed that contact. It was second nature to start up a conversation with a stranger and come out with a new friend. On the cruise, we would be in an elevator with a group of strangers and one or both of them would reach out and connect with a fellow traveler. Without even thinking about it.

Then there is me. I work from home every day and rarely get out to talk with people – and I like that. Conversations make me nervous. Am I saying something stupid? Boring? Do I sound like I’m rambling? When can this be done, so I can go back home and be alone with my books. Hide on Facebook and talk to people from the safety of my computer. Call me an introvert. A slave to social anxiety. The complete opposite of my sisters. I tried to explain this to them, but they couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around it. Their need for social interaction was so great that they felt sorry for me, alone in my writing cave all day.

Low eighties and sunny every day — in January. Couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Another thing that was different was that, as we approached the end of our vacation, I was anxious to see my family again. I couldn’t wait to get back to my desk and submit my next manuscript. I looked forward to getting back to my routine. They would have gladly stayed on the ship and sailed off for a second voyage. And when we got home, they pined for the sunshine and warm weather. Like, really, really missed it. They both suffer from seasonal affective disorder. I live in Seattle, where it’s grey about 75% of the year… and yet it doesn’t seem to bother me like living through winter in New England affects them. Just another thing that sets us apart.

They said we needed to retake this one because I wasn’t making a silly face.

But I gave this some thought and realized that my sisters resemble our mother. She was the life of the party, loved having all the attention on her. She always had a joke ready that would have the whole room laughing. I, on the other hand, am just like my dad. He was so shy, he wouldn’t even answer the telephone if he were the only one home at the time. Parties and visits to out-of-town family were difficult for him. He had a handful of guys he could call friends. But they were good friends. But, hey, opposite attract. And if it weren’t for the wallflower meeting the social butterfly, my sisters and I wouldn’t be here. Variety is a good thing. If we were all alike, life would be extremely dull.

I miss my parents every single day. But I still have my sisters. And I so happy we finally took this trip and got to know each other as women, not just the door-slamming, tattling kids and bathroom-hogging teens we once were. Next year we are bringing our families along. Now THAT is going to get crazy. 😉

Home Away From Home

PhotoPass_Visiting_Magic_Kingdom_Park_7655151673We’re a Disney family. Fanatics. Junkies. Addicts. Hubby and I honeymooned at Walt Disney World. In fact, we bought ourselves the most generous (and yet practical) wedding gift ever – we bought in to the Disney Vacation Club. We wanted to give our children the same love of the magic and wonder that we feel whenever we visit the parks.

welcomehomeNow here’s the thing. We get people who ask us all the time, “You’re going to Disney World… again? Didn’t you just go last year?” Yes and yes. Sure, we switch it up a little. One year we surprised the kids with a Valentine’s trip to Disneyland. Twice now, we’ve vacationed at Aulani in Hawaii. And pre-kids, hubby and I stayed at Disneyland Paris, taking the train into the city each day. Talk about amazing!

wdwJust because we visit Disney World over and over doesn’t mean it’s the same experience every time. We try out different times of the year. We never do the parks in the same order. We always try to do at least one thing we’ve never done before. And there are things we could never anticipate, that make it that much more special.

One memorable year hubby and I visited the ER in Celebration, FL, Disney’s own town (and nearest hospital) when stubborn baby #1 gave us a scare in utero. Turns out I was severely dehydrated. Fast forward 18 months and the same baby is now an entertaining toddler, drawing a crowd at a jumping fountain in Animal Kingdom. She’s since grown quite shy, and hates it when we point out her “spot”, though the dancers at Raglan Road did manage to get her up on stage for a quick lesson in Irish step dancing.

Down for the count.  He held out much longer than expected.

Down for the count. He held out much longer than expected.

I remember every bench, ride and occasional restaurant where I held a napping child. I remember the scraped knee in front of the Great Movie Ride. I remember the Mickey topiary at the Wilderness Lodge that our oldest had to say goodbye to before we could depart. I remember getting the flu and hubby running to the park entrance for a wheelchair for me to get me back to Boardwalk. (Yeah, I yakked somewhere along the way.) I remember my first visit back after weigh loss surgery made it possible to walk through the ride turnstiles without getting stuck.

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We were taking a sit break in the Italy pavilion when I checked my email and learned that my publisher wanted to buy Wynter’s Journey. One year we celebrated hubby’s birthday by doing the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween. How blown away was I when they handed the adults trick or treat bags too? And they gave out the GOOD stuff! Reeses, Milky Ways, M&M’s. We saw our first (and probably only) armadillo at Wilderness Lodge one year. So freaking cool! Seriously, every year brings an entirely unique experience.

sundaeThis year was a milestone for our youngest. He was tall enough to go on ALL the rides. He was brave enough to try out Space Mountain (hated it), Rockin’ Rollercoaster (loved it) and Kali River Rapids (went on once w/o us). We spent a down day at Typhoon Lagoon, a first for us as a family. OMG, the sand pail sundae! It’s early spring, so we spotted dozens of baby ducks. Oh, the feels! Youngest tried so hard to catch one of the speedy lizards that are so plentiful. And I cannot say enough about the Flower and Garden Festival.rollercoaster

Will we go next year? Well that’s a big “duh”! Because guess what? RWA Nationals is being held at the Swan and Dolphin. Score! Way to mix business with pleasure. (Can you say tax write-off?)

Are you a huge Disney fan? Do you go year after year? What do you tell folks when they ask why? And last of all – do you have any favorite vacation photos that you’d like to share in the comments? I LOVE seeing families enjoying Disney World as much as my family does.

Unplugging & Reconnecting

WP_20150704_001Our 4th of July routine usually involves staking out a spot on the parade route a day or so early, then lighting off fireworks and sparklers once it gets dark. But this year people started putting their chairs out along the town’s main street on June 26th. Seriously. Am I the only one who finds that obnoxious? It used to be the night before. And then it was the entire day before. But now… Nope. I’ll pass, thanks.

WP_20150704_003This year we decided to do something different. We packed a backpack with water and snacks, headed out the door bright and early and spent the day exploring Mt. Rainier. You guys — THIS is how you spend the 4th. The views are phenomenal. The crowds were minimal (compared to what we would have encountered at the parade). The air was fresh and clean. And the temperature was blessedly cooler than the heat wave we were going through in Seattle.

WP_20150704_013I was so excited to take pictures and hopefully find a little inspiration for my next series, set in the Pacific Northwest. But the best photo ops happen when you are unprepared, as I discovered when a deer came out to stand in front of our car less than five minutes from the park entrance. It was like she was saying “Welcome to the mountain, DeCuir family. Enjoy your visit.” By the time I was through gawking, hubby had honked his horn to get her to move along and I couldn’t scramble to grab my phone to take a picture fast enough.

WP_20150704_064Oh yeah, did I mention that my phone became a camera only, that day? There was no cell service up there, no wifi to tap into. I thought I’d get the shakes. I was taking some fantastic pictures, but I couldn’t upload them to Facebook. I had no access to my email or texting. I had no choice but to live in the moment. And I’m so glad I did.

We took the easy trails. The kids ran on ahead, searching for cougars and black bears. Hubby used the gnarled walking stick he bought a couple of years ago for hikes that we’d promised we would take but never did. Everyone had a favorite wildflower out of the varieties that grew so prolifically. We realized that we could take the exact same route at different times of the year and have an entirely different experience, depending on the season.

By the time we piled into the car at the end of the day, we were all covered head to toe in dust and dirt. We were exhausted and achy. But we were smiling and talking and, most importantly, happy. I thought the kids would grab their DS games and lose themselves in technology, once we got on the road. But they didn’t even touch them. We talked the whole ride home, about the day we’d had, the things we’d seen, the things we didn’t get to see but would like to go back for, the things we’d like to do over the rest of the summer…

It wasn’t the way we usually spend the 4th of July. It was better. We made memories that I hope the kids will be able to share with their own children some day.

What did you do for the 4th? Are you hardcore traditional, or do you like to mix it up? We need some ideas for next year. 😀

Blogger’s note: I uploaded a TON of pictures to wordpress. Either half of them came out sideways (and refused to let me turn them) or they were too big to insert in my post. Sigh. Apparently they are just not meant to be shared with the world. lol If you’d like to see more, I’ve added some to a Pinterest folder: https://www.pinterest.com/mzdecuir/research-photos/

A Writer Mom’s Best Friend

A weekly staple -- at least.

A weekly staple — at least.

I hate to cook. Always have. I am an expert on shortcut meals. Uncle Ben’s microwaveable rice? Been using it since it came out on the market. So you know what is awesome that I just haven’t made better use of until recently? My crock pot.

French toast in the crock pot. Holy yum!

French toast in the crock pot. Holy yum!

Yes, I am home all day writing. Yes, with a little forethought I’d have time to plan out and execute nutritious, nourishing meals for my family. But I am not a ‘follow the recipe’ kind of person. If it’s not easy, I don’t do it. Period.

So imagine my delight when I discover that a few ingredients thrown into a crock pot on simmer all day can result in food my family will actually eat? And I didn’t have to slave over it all day. My handy dandy little crock pot did it for me.

In the hopes that I’m not the only mom out there who is allergic to her kitchen, I am posting a few of our family favs.

The French toast recipe from the picture posted above is here: http://todayscreativeblog.net/crockpot-french-toast/

Shredded chicken for tacos

Shredded chicken for tacos

Another favorite we like to make for Taco Tuesdays is here:

http://www.twohealthykitchens.com/2014/01/08/3-ingredient-crock-pot-chicken-tacos/

I’ve done potato dishes, pork tenderloin, sliced apples (okay, that one took a lot of prep time on my part), Korean BBQ Beef, Coke and soy sauce drumsticks, lots of fun things. And the smells wafting through the house while it’s cooking? Bonus! People walk in and think I’m the real deal. Ha! I’ve fooled them. 🙂

What are your favorite crock pot recipes? Am I missing something really delicious? Let me know in the comments.

Happy lazy cooking!