Category Archives: life

Project Done by John E. Stack

Hi All.  It has been a while since I have been here, but I went through a rough time with lots of stuff on my mind and just not in the mood to write.  Anyway, I decided that it was time to once again try my hand at writing.

Last summer (2017), I undertook a remodeling project in our master bedroom and bathroom.  I waited all summer to build a door that would serve as the entrance to our master bathroom.   After everything else was complete I was able to start the door.  It took a while but since I was designing it as I went along that was okay.  The hardest part was getting the rail installed correctly since the instructions assumed that I knew a lot about installing barn doors.  Well, I finally completed the construction and finished the door with a paint wash (mix of 1/2 paint and 1/2 water).  It really allowed the grain in the door panels to pop.  I was pleased and Nana was pleased.

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Then, Suzanne (Nana) found a cabinet that she really liked.  It had a barn door covering half the front but was much larger and heavier than what we had room for.  Anyway, I had some time at the end of summer to start work on redesigning the cabinet and to start building.  I decided I would take their suggestion of using pocket screws and glue for assembly.  This would keep any of the screws from being visible and fewer holes to be plugged or filled.  Before the end of August, I was about 90% complete, but had to stop due to school starting.  Isn’t it funny how work really interferes with what you really want to do?  This is as far as I got…

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I knew that I needed to find time to work on it but with school going full force and life itself finding extra time was difficult.  Then we had a hurricane and our district decided to play it safe and close school on a Thursday and Friday.  Mostly, the weather was beautiful, so… I worked on my cabinet and finally completed it.  I did a paint wash on this one to match the original door, mounted the hardware and door and school started again.  This was as far as I got…

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Well, only a short time went by and I was able to get it hung in place.  I do need to replace the pully bolts with some a little longer, but it is now complete and being used.  The left side hides supplies behind the door like deodorant, TP, cleaner, etc.  Sooner or later the right side will be used for some type of decoration.  I’m happy with it and Nana really likes it.  So, it was worth the time taken to construct it.  I did cut some corners from the original plan.  Instead of using 3/4 inch plywood, I used 1/8 inch plywood which was a lot lighter (it was heavy without the back).

Instead of buying a hardware kit, I fabricated the hardware from two 1 inch iron bars and two clothes line pulleys.  I cut it to size and painted everything black.  It’s not fancy but it works.  Here is my finished product…

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I also designed it to be hung using a cleat so if we moved we could take it with us.  Sometimes you can’t leave all that hard work and creativity behind.  I hope you all have a great week.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure, and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

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Summer: Where did it go? by John E. Stack

After a pretty rough school year, I was looking forward to getting some things done around the house. During the school year, I had to learn a new subject area, Social Studies. As much as history does not change, I really do not remember something I studied 20/45+ years ago (college second time and high school). Anyway, most of my normal free-time during the school year did not exist. I even had very difficult time feeding my reading addiction.
Last summer, I was able to undertake a bedroom/bathroom renovation (still haven’t found the right bathroom light fixture). But, I didn’t get the bedroom furniture refinished or the shower door replaced. Those were on my list for this summer. I also wanted to build a couple of new cabinets for the bathroom.
After taking a few weeks for relaxation/vacation, I planned to get things done. We spent a week up in the mountains of North Carolina, visited Chattanooga, Tennessee and a quick day trip to Helen, Georgia.
While in Chattanooga, we visited this beautiful place called Ruby Falls. After waiting in line or a couple of hours, we took a elevator one hundred and twenty-some feet down into the earth. We walked for about forty-five minutes through a maze of tunnels to discover an underground waterfall. It was highlighted by various colored lights but was absolutely beautiful. It was well worth the time and trouble.
On the day before we were to leave to come home, we visited a small mountain town of Helen, Georgia, where we decided to go tubing. The water level was a little low, but we went anyway. About half way through, we got stuck on a rock. Before we could get dislodged we were hit by a large group of adults. Allie was shot out of her tube in into the river. I went in after her but luckily another set of tubers grabbed her and held on to her until I got there. She was okay, just a little shaken.  Walking back down the river to where my wife anchored our tubes, a rock rolled under my foot and down I went. Now, if I were a much smaller guy, I would probably have been okay. Needless to say, I’m not and my foot jammed into the river bed. Ended up with a broken little toe, a broken big toe and a boot. I’m just glad it was the last day of vacation and not the first.
That pretty much destroyed my work schedule. Since then, along with a few weeks of healing, I have been able to refinish all the bedroom furniture and replace the shower door. I may even get to complete one of the cabinets before school starts back in a couple of days.  May be I’ll post some pics when I get it done.

Oh yeah.  In regards to my habitual reading, I’ve completed at least three eBooks and  6 hardbacks.  Even though my foot is not fully healed, life is good.

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure and Cody’s Almost Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

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Great Day Versus…

When I wake up and start my day and everything just follows along in a neutral way and nothing out of the ordinary happens, it just becomes another day, for which I’m grateful. If something doesn’t go well for enough of the day, I might classify it as a bad day. Or, if a lot of things do go well, it’s a good day. Do you judge your days like that? Do you even think about it?

The reason I ask is yesterday was a great day for me, and as I expressed it out loud to some friends, I was surprised, and I wanted to know why. I guess I don’t take time to analyze each day, one way or another, I just live it and go on. Does that make sense?

But for some reason, I felt it was important to tell my friends I was having a great day. I felt that I should let them know that great days happen. Maybe they had only had ordinary days or not so good days lately. Or perhaps they might have had a couple bad days even. They hadn’t said so, but I wanted to plant a “great day seed.” I have the feeling you may be convinced I’m bonkers. So now, I guess I need to explain what makes up a good or great day versus one not so good or bad, at least for me.

As I thought about it, I decided that generally my days are good days, not bad or great. I get a lot of satisfaction out of finishing projects and setting goals for myself, and I enjoy trying to do something or say something nice or inspiring to/for someone each day. I guess that gives me a sense of purpose and self-worth.

Lately, I’ve been battling with a seller over a merchandise return and refund that started in May. All I wanted to do was return the items and get a refund. Things were complicated by the fact that I was dealing with a foreign company and shipping dealt with customs and taxes. I had paid for the items through a mediator, who was trying to help me, but it was all online and somewhat confusing. I guess that issue weighed me down more than I realized. So when I was dealing with another company with online back orders and discontinued items, I thought more complications and disappointment were on their way.

Yesterday, the day started with an email stating all was settled with the foreign company,  items were returned and I was getting my refund. Another email informed me that the items I thought were back ordered and discontinued might not be and had shipped. I was a bit confused by that email, but the mailman arrived moments later and all items I’d ordered were in the package. I could hardly believe it. Oh, joy!

To top it off, a package arrived from a friend I hadn’t seen or spoken with for some time. He had called two nights ago saying it was on its way, but wouldn’t tell me what it was. It was a porcelain bell with delicate painted flowers and my name on it. He’d seen it and was reminded of me and decided to send it to me. I was so touched when I saw it.

Then to top it off, I was preparing to go to my monthly luncheon with three friends and when I offered to drive, one of the gals said she’d already planned to drive and would pick me up. We all spent a couple of hours relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. What’s not great about that?! So I shared my “great day” news with my friends and decided to share it with you, too, dear readers. A great day doesn’t have to be a spectacular or phenomenal or supernatural occasion, at least not for me. Just a day in which things go right and friends are strong. How’s your day?

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Oh Really!! Revisited by John E. Stack

Hi again, last month I wrote about some issues within the foster care system.  This month, I still find my self irritated, and I wanted to make a clarification.  I will start with the clarification first.  I made a statement that it costs the state around $1500 per month per child that is in foster care.  That is a true statement.

What might be misleading is people believing that the foster parents get this money.  We do not.  We do get a monthly stipend to help provide for the children that we have.  For newborn babies up to toddlers around 4 (it maybe older), foster parents receive less than $500 per month to buy clothing, diapers, wipes, and formula if they use over what WIC provides. Most months we are in the red.   We do not get paid to get up three or four times a night when the baby wakes up crying, we don’t get paid for colic, or taking time off work for doctor appointments.

I am thankful for social programs like WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and it may have different names in different states.  We normally have children who need special formulas.  WIC usually allows 8 – 10 cans per month.  One of our recent children needed a formula and the cost is $39 per can or around $390 per month.   Our daughter was on a formula that cost $49.95 per can and she went through a can every two days.  Thank you WIC because who can pay over $700 a month for formula.

What does it cost birth parents? (Remember, they are usually the reason their child is in foster care).  They get supervised visitation from 1 to 4 times a week at government expense.  They do not have to help provide for their child, not even diapers.  Some have to get counseling, take classes, get a diploma, get their license, get a job.  They do not have to get drug counseling, or parenting classes.

Why do we do foster parenting when there are so many problems with the system?  We look at this as a ministry.  We believe that this is a job that God wanted us to do and has provided us with the means to do so.  Most of the time it is hard work, but the blessings we receive make it worthwhile.

Sorry for the rant, but sometime you just have to get stuff out of your system. My wife had a mom ask how much we got paid to take care of the kids that were placed in foster care.  When my wife told her what we were paid, she could hardly believe it.  She had been told that we got several thousand a month.  Only in a perfect world…maybe there would be no need for foster parents.  What a concept.

Okay, off my rant.  Who knows what next month might hold in store.  May you be blessed in all you do.

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Neighbors – These Days

I live in a deed restricted community of about 200 houses about 35 miles north of Tampa, FL, in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, built around 1990. The yearly fee we homeowners pay is partly used for a landscaping company’s grooming around several ponds and for maintenance of our two electrical entrance signage areas. Our fees are also supposed to go for any legal action needed to collect any tardy or non-paid yearly dues. A couple years ago our homeowners’ board and members voted to resurface a portion of road that had gotten too badly potholed, added a beautiful fountain in one of the larger ponds, planted crepe myrtle trees in some common areas, etc. We used to receive a newsletter each month letting us all know what the board had been up to since the last one and I always volunteered to deliver that newsletter on my street.

Unfortunately, our most active board member moved away and for some reason the board lost its oomph and kind of fell apart. Now we get a newsletter once a year along with a yearly member’s meeting. Enforcement of the bylaws that kept our neighborhood looking nice, like lawns mowed and edged, trees and bushes trimmed, houses painted and roofs cleaned of algae, etc., have gotten lax and rentals have been allowed.

What’s happened is big companies or small groups of people like the “flippers” you see on TV are buying up houses and renting them to people who have no direct interest in this community. There is a county law that disallows cars to park on the street or on the lawns, for instance. The renters don’t care, so they do it anyway. And many renters are not taking care of the properties they live in. Those of us who have purchased homes here risk becoming “bad” neighbors if we say something. Many of us old timers are concerned about lower property values. Our homes are already almost thirty years old and many of us have remodeled insides and re-sodded outsides in order to maintain healthy values.

Directly next door to me is a group of unrelated people living in a single family dwelling in what they term a “blended family.” The problem is, I don’t see the same people all the time coming or going and there are multiple cars parked in the street at night, which is not allowed. When these people first arrived, I went over and introduced myself and I got first names of some of them, but no full names. They were very vague. I told them if they needed anything or needed help in any way, I’d be glad to do what I could. Most neighbors on my street know one-another, so this secretive behavior from them confused me.

This “family’s” house is on a corner, so the front and one side are very visible. The property was immaculate when they moved in and since then it has gone very quickly downhill. They don’t mow the lawn, edge it, take any care of the lawn, trees, bushes, and have left bright white sandbags left over from hurricane Irma outside along my side of their house along with a kayak (strictly a no-no according to our by-laws). I tried to tell them nicely, but they don’t care and they ignore all the rules.

Finally at the request of some of my other neighbors, I resorted to reporting them to the homeowners’ association board so a letter of encouragement could be sent to them. I had given them a copy of the by-laws when they moved in since they told me they had not seen them. The president of the board told me to just call our county code enforcement office. What used to be handled by the board is now expected to be handled by the citizenry of the neighborhood. I was concerned about retribution problems, but I waited until I saw mold appearing on the outside of their sunroom and the grass was two feet high and I saw a rat. It was time I did something.

Luckily the county was swift in acting and the people mowed today and a truck came and cut up all the dead tree branches and cleaned up the flower beds these neighbors let die from lack of water and care. So it took almost a year for these people to realize that they had some rules they had to follow or else fines would have to be paid. I’m just praying it doesn’t take that long for them to mow and clean up again.

I spent $3,000 on new sod just two years ago and I have a monthly service that keeps it healthy. I also have a regular man who mows my lawn, and edges and blows the grass off the street. I really don’t want these neighbor’s weeds to spread into my yard. Other homeowners feel the same way. I can’t understand why people don’t want to live in a neighborhood that looks nice. The whole neighborhood used to be really friendly, too. Now many of the long time neighbors are not happy with the renters and that causes tensions.

Anyone have a suggestion or solution? I’d really like to hear!!! The most logical is to forbid rentals, but I don’t think that’s possible.

 

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Understanding My Epiphany

I was reading a book a couple of days ago when suddenly, in a clear flash of understanding; I became aware of what propels me most in making choices and decisions. I found that especially shocking since I’m seventy-five years old. One would imagine, by that age, one wouldn’t be surprised at all by anything they might choose or decide. Yet, I was blown away.

The book’s passage had to do with how different people relate to life. Some people are practical and stoic and are led by natural laws following virtue alone, or through reason, fear, boredom, led or indifferent to other’s opinions, passions or emotions. I’ve always considered myself a rather practical person, most of the time, weighing pros and cons to make good logical choices. So I thought.

Instead of reading on in this book, I found myself dwelling on the dialog of one character to the other when he said to her that she was the kind of person who had to have passion when she picked her friends, selected favorite music, decided what to eat, even when decorating her abode. Those choices were what made her, her. But, she thought, if she believed hard enough, could she choose to follow convention or settle for security and not incorporate her passion?

What suddenly hit me was, the choices and decisions that have made me the happiest and most satisfied in my life have been the ones made with passion first, and not necessarily with thoughts of security or convention or so-called common sense. And I’d never really thoroughly thought this out before.

Not long ago, I attended my 55th high school reunion and our former class president asked several of us to each tell the group what we were passionate about now. One classmate said he wasn’t passionate about anything in particular. He was the only one of us who had not retired and when asked about that, he wasn’t sure what he would do when he did retire.

I remember feeling immensely sad for him when he said that. Here was a well-educated man, nice looking, healthy, very comfortable financially, with potentially lots of years left to him. The former class president asked him what he liked to do and the answer was, sail. Later I found out he’d bought a sailboat and I was so happy for him until I learned he was in the process of selling it. Too much trouble keeping it up was his reason why. He was divorced and didn’t have anyone to care about except two grown children. I kept in touch for a while, but the last time I spoke with him on the phone, he told me he wouldn’t want to live if something ever happened to his kids. Gosh!

I have a son, daughter-in-law, grandson and a sister and her family and I look forward to talking on the phone with them and visiting whenever possible. I don’t think about negative things that might happen to them or me. I just enjoy them and look forward to sharing my life with them and vice versa, now and in the future. There still are so many things I want to do, experience and share.

Although I’ve tried to be sensible, passion has made my life more rewarding and fulfilling. My mother taught me to be a “Save for a rainy day, but also enjoy each and every day to the fullest” kind of gal. But, for me, the special ingredient of passion has made “fullest even fuller.”

How about you, have you ever analyzed what drives you in life? I’d love to hear.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Words & Coco-Words

For some reason or other, many times I’ve failed to find a dictionary word that would work for me, so I guess I’ve always made up words to better explain what I‘ve wanted to say or do, and I figure, at my age, why change. So, I’m still doing it.

My son, Rob, and his wife, Florence, recently married and shortly after the return from their Hawaiian honeymoon, their employer moved them to a new location two and a half hours south of me. They had been only forty minutes away. I was sad to see them go, but I was also happy for them, because the opportunities in the new location are better. I also knew that it would take a while to unpack and get settled in their new home, all the while working full time and learning the ropes of the new job and location.

The three of us are close, but I figured there would be less phone calls and visits at least for a while, so I’ve busied myself with all sorts of projects to keep my mind occupied. But to be honest, I’ve really been missing them! I called them a couple of times, but I didn’t want to bug them. Nothing worse than a “Needy” mama.

So, a couple of nights ago, I was in my kitchen whipping up my evening meal and the phone rang. My caller ID said it was my son. Yeaaaaaay! So I danced on over to the phone and answered with my most cheerful, “Hi!”

Rob said, “Hi, Mom, how are you doing? What have you been up to?” After we caught up a bit, I told him in great detail all about the projects that had been occupying my time; the cleaned gutters, new backyard privacy fence, the Solar skylights I had put in my living room, and said I’d even had my regular check-up with my doctor and all was fine, except I had been suffering from symptoms of Flob withdrawal. At this point I stopped talking and there was dead “pin-drop” silence on the other end of the phone. Finally about four seconds later, Rob burst into laughter which went on and on. Well, you know how contagious laughter is. I started laughing, too. Pretty soon all three of were laughing.

Rob told me that when I said “Flob” withdrawal, he was frantically trying to figure out what the heck I was talking about. During his thought process he turned and looked at Florence and she had this subtle, deadpan smile on her face. He suddenly realized what I meant. FLOB was a combination of her name and his. I’m usually better as an audience participant, but every now and then, I come up with a perfect zinger. The three of us enjoyed another few seconds of laughter and when we eventually hung up, my heart was cured. At least until next time.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Examining My Own Mortality by John E. Stack

Something happened to me a few weeks ago that I’ve seldom gone through.  I read the name of a friend from long ago in the local obits.  It really threw me off since it was a person that had helped change the direction of my life.  It also from a time over thirty years ago and two thousand miles away on the far side of this United States.  He was distant kin and I was almost half way around the world when I chanced to meet him. Out of respect, I called him “Chief” due to military rank, and he called me “Cuz”.  Often times when old friends pass, particularly when they are not that much older, it sets your mind off on an excursion to rediscover the things that you went through, especially those things that may have had an impact on the lives of others.

I was about halfway through my Air Force career, stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. I would have been described as an arrogant and self-centered young sergeant.  I worked on the high side of construction and design.  We often went on temporary assignments and completed construction projects, such as buildings, roads and utility systems.

Not long after I was stationed in Las Vegas, I came across a brass, cigar-smoking chief master sergeant who had the same last name as my mom’s maiden name “Whitlow”.  A short while later I asked if he was kin to the Whitlow’s from North Carolina.  To my surprise he said he was.  He also said that my grandfather was his uncle.  What a coincidence!  It always gave us something to talk about.

The other things we often had opportunities to talk about was my mouth and attitude.  Both were horrible.  Not a time I’m proud of.  I often wonder now how my wife could stand to be around me back then. I won’t go into everything, but after the second time I lost my temper and said some very unprofessional, rude things to a young lieutenant he came to my rescue.  The lieutenant was extremely angry because of the name I called him and threatened to put me up on charges.  Chief saw (heard) what was going on and moseyed over to where we were having our conversation. He said that I was needed back on the job site right away because there was a problem. I think I was the problem.  As I walked away, I heard, “Excuse me sir, could I speak to you for a moment?”

I don’t know what was said in their conversation, but I do know that after I apologized to the Lieutenant, he agreed not to file charges.  After the butt-chewing I received from Chief, all I could say was thank-you.  I still remember some of the words he told me.  He said, “Stack“, I knew I was in it deep. “This is the last time I save your ass.  You are the best at what you do.  You don’t have to tell people, they can see it in the quality of your work.  You need to grow-up and make sure that you want to make the Air Force a career, because if you keep on this path you won’t last.”  I was surprised that he cared enough to call me out, and I’ve never forgotten.  It was more than just being family.  Even though I lost track of him, I never lost respect.

I often wonder if I have touched people in this way (the caring part, not the rude part).  I started to turn my life around and eventually I became a Christian.  After retirement, I went back to school and became a middle school teacher.  I felt that God pulled me in this direction and now I’m completing my twentieth year.  I’ve taught hundreds of middle-schoolers.  When I think back I question whether my old-school ways had positive effects on these students or was I too tough?  Did I care enough?  I like to think I did but often felt that my standards were a lot higher than the parent’s or kid’s expectations.

And then I think about the children that have lived in our home.  God provided us with a house way too large for just my wife and I, and then asked “what are you going to do with all these rooms?” (no, God did not speak directly to us but as we talked this was what we felt.)  We became foster parents about eleven years ago and have had twenty-two babies get their start from our arms.  I hope these beginnings have been positive.  I often ask myself, “have my fallings and failures affected these babies?”

As a teacher we are supposed to reflect on what we do.  Self-examination is much more difficult, and I hate them both.  I don’t like the feelings of inadequacy that I have when I question myself.  Will I get past this before I’m called to account that final time?  I know that I can’t please everyone, but will I meet my own standards for me?

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and co-authored with his daughter Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Leprechaun Gold by John E. Stack

For years we have been chasing that lucrative pot of gold.  Who?  My daughter, Allie, and I.  For the past several years we have been trying to catch that little green guy and gain access to his gold without chasing to find the end of a rainbow.  He trashed our daughter’s bathroom for the last two years.  Rainbows and shamrocks on her mirror, green foot-prints on the counter and on the toilet seat. and he somehow turned the toilet water green.

This year Allie decided that we were going to build a Leprechaun trap.  Suzanne did some research.  We used an oatmeal  box, cut a hole in the top, and camouflaged the hole.  Then we painted everything green.  We built a ladder from popsicle sticks and baited it with green M &Ms.

We even stuffed the bottom of the trap with tissues, so he wouldn’t get hurt if he fell.  We set the trap on the bathroom counter.

This morning, the tissue paper was torn and most of the M &M’s were gone.  We checked inside the trap and it was empty.  This time he left some stuff on the counter.

He also left her a note…

And some gold coins.

Well, it didn’t work out this year, but there is always next time.  We are always looking for a bigger and better Leprechaun Trap.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody and the Great Zoo Adventure, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

 

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I Think I Got the Lividity and How Perceptions Differ by LV Gaudet

Anyone who has ever experienced the family vacation knows the family vacation experience starts weeks before and ends weeks after the actual vacation.

 

This is about a family vacation experience, and about different perceptions.  Writing a story is all about the use of perception.  Twisting and focusing the reader’s perceptions, utilizing opposing perceptions, and even tricking the reader into thinking you are following a certain line of perception before revealing your true intentions.  What you do with this depends on your story and its goal.

 

Real life is drama.  Don’t shortchange your readers by forgetting that in your stories.

 

Feel free to skip to the parts that actually interest you.  I am also sick again as I write this, so please bear with me.

 

BEFORE THE VACATION

 

Of course, there are the “pre weeks” aka “the months you can’t get back”; the weeks where one of you spends a painful amount of time researching vacation possibilities (because travel agents are for wusses, people less cheap than you, and people with a different type of common sense).  They endlessly read opposing reviews, getting excited and then woefully disappointed by the same resorts, before finally taking a great intake of air, holding it indefinitely, scrunching their eyes tightly closed, and hitting send.  The vacation is booked.

 

And then once the vacation is booked it is the stressful “vacation time coordination”. Anyone with differing vacation in-house work rules will find this more difficult.  We are lucky in this.  Unlike some, we don’t have to definitively and un-irrevocably book vacation time all at once for the year and not be able to change plans.  Still, you have at least two people with different work vacation booking rules, plus kids/others, to try to book everyone off for the same week and it can be a juggling act.

 

Then it’s the preparation time.  You have to make sure you pack all of your stuff, that everyone else has theirs, and plan for every possible contingency and buy a pharmacy.

 

How you think it will go aka “the boring story” or “what your character wants” – You make your list, pack and purchase, and everything is packed nicely and easily.  Stress free.  And you happily and contentedly go to sleep looking forward to your vacation.  Your vacation is flawless. You do stuff, relax, enjoy, and come home refreshed.

 

How it really goes aka “insert drama here” – Ugh.  Let us not forget how real life can get.  You have a job, kids, dogs, and a house.  So, in between looking after all of that, you have to find the time for packing, lists, shopping, re-packing, and cleaning.  And, if your dogs are lucky enough that you have someone willing to house sit/dog sit so they don’t have to spend the week stressed and panicked in a boarding kennel, you also want the house clean when you leave.

 

Starting with the dogs, the husky, Roxy aka The Big Dumb Bunny, decides to pick that time right before your vacation to start blowing out her coat.  In the middle of winter and -30 to -45 wind chills.  How a dog can shed more than her weight in hair every hour is beyond me. Cue the endless vacuuming.  We call the other dog, Meeka, the “good dog”.  She does not blow out her coat, steal all your socks, or make you put her out every five minutes.

 

20180210_173118.jpgThe kids.  Anyone with kids can tell you that you really need to plan a week off kid free to clean the house for anything upcoming of importance.  This still applies when they are teens.  As fast as you try to clean, the place is unraveled around you into a bedlam of chaos and mess.  And, the virtual extra large dogs aka the Big Dumb Hair Bunnies you need to vacuum up endlessly.  You are also trying to get all the laundry done, and make futile attempts to pack your own stuff.

 

Just a quick interject – naturally, pre-vacation week you get sick (cough cough). You feel like Bill the cat from Bloom County looks. If you don’t know, look it up.  But you still must be up before six every morning, go to work, and deal with the kids, dogs, family, house, etc. every evening, plus vacation preparation.

 

Three days prior to vacation you announce to the entire household (repeatedly), “Tomorrow night I have to pack my stuff for the trip.  All my stuff.  I have nothing packed.  So let me do that or I won’t have any clothes to wear.  After I pack all my stuff, I can help you with yours.”

 

Two days prior to vacation, the “I MUST PACK ALL MY STUFF” evening, …guess what. Yes, you guessed it. Kids.  One, who is old enough to handle it in my opinion, absolutely needs your help to figure out and fill out the grade 10 course registration for next year that ABSOLUTELY MUST BE DONE THAT NIGHT OR THE WORLD WILL END.  Because it has to be handed in tomorrow, since it is due when you are gone on vacation.

 

The other kid has a mountain of homework that she absolutely cannot figure out on her own, even though she is the one going to school to learn it and knows it better than you do.  Seriously, some of these math word problems I am sure are written in some archaic ancient dead language from a planet in a far away galaxy.  Mostly I repeated the questions on the page until she started actually thinking about them and solved them herself.

 

Now, it is past bedtime for everyone, you still have laundry and cleaning to do, and have not packed a single sock.  Or maybe you did pack a sock, but the Big Dumb Bunny stole it.  At this point you are too tired and sick to know or care.

 

The Nightmare before Christmas, I mean (um), the night before vacation.  Okay, now you really need to pack.  You start your morning with slopping an entire cup of coffee on yourself minutes before you have to leave for work.  Nice.  Now you have to do laundry again because you had to pull clothes out of the stuff you washed to pack, because you don’t have enough clothes that fit.  You bust your butt at work all day making sure everything is done. You half expect at this point that your car will break down on the way home.  Somehow the stars and planets align and it does not.

 

However, and, I should have put that in all caps.  Let’s try that again.

 

HOWEVER, you get home and while you were at work the good dog puked, the toilet upstairs plugged and overflowed, and the house is a complete disaster.  The panicked teen tries to resolve the overflowing toilet by staring moodily at the toilet bowl, water flowing over its sides to flood the bathroom floor, glares at it, and starts throwing all the towels on the floor in an effort to make it all stop without asking for help, and the water continues to flood over the toilet bowl.

 

Meanwhile, on the downside, aka the kitchen, water has begun to flow from the ceiling light fixture located directly below the offending toilet.  Cue the sudden discovery by your spouse that something is wrong upstairs.  This, by the way, is next to the brown spot in the kitchen ceiling from the other kid previously trying to fill water balloons by placing them over the entire tap end, forcing the water to wash back up the space between the water pipe and the tap covering until it wets and stains the ceiling below.

 

20180210_075200.jpgIt is your last evening to pack, and you are overtired, still sick, and trying to clean, do laundry (again), deal with dramas, back up all your life’s work so you don’t risk losing it if anything happens to your laptop (because you stupidly think will all that spare time while you are up hours before everyone else every morning on vacation you will have time for writing), and attempt to pack your stuff, finally.  Only, the evening is gone before you know it, you have accomplished little if anything, the house is still a mess, you are still doing laundry, and EVERYONE HAS GONE TO BED WITHOUT YOU.

 

Oh yeah, and you still have to pack all your stuff for the week, but you can’t because everyone went to bed.

 

Vacation day!  You are not sure what time you went to bed.  Eleven?  Eleven-thirty?  You are up at two am because you are supposed to be ready to leave the house by 4 am.  Showered, dressed, and dolled up.  Your brain is mush.  You know you are forgetting a thousand things.  You have half an hour to pack.  You are constantly being interrupted despite your pleas of, “Let me pack!”  Your spouse is trying their best to help.  You gather stuff, set it down, turn, and it is gone. Your spouse packed it in their bag.  At this point you are now packing without knowing what you actually packed.  You can’t find anything because your brain is mush.  You will take stock of everything you are missing when you get there.

 

20180208_194931You will get there to find that you are missing basic essentials like deodorant, hair brush, and a toothbrush.  You will spend an exorbitant amount of money buying two of the three at the little resort store, only to find halfway through the vacation it was packed in your spouse’s suitcase.

 

After arrival and after going through the customs security screening and passing through the door of “Thou Shall Not Go Back”, the thirteen-year-old discovers she left her phone in the bathroom on the other side.  Being stupid Canadian tourists they let us through and watch in confusion as I scurry with her to retrieve the lost phone.  Later we learned how terrified our handler was that we committed such serious a faux pas, and we speculated was possibly shocked we were not arrested for it.

 

20180210_112138.jpgThe vacation.  Day one, everyone wakes up cranky.  Everyone is moody, miserable, and fighting.  The beds and pillows actually inflict pain; they are so bad.  But, once settled in, each person has the time to start living the moment instead of only reacting to a fast paced series of reactionary moments.

 

While on the drive from the airport to the resort the previous evening, you are taking in the world the local people live in through the bus window, your kids, who are sitting much closer to the front of the bus, are noticing how rude, insensitive, and disrespectful they feel some of our fellow vacationers are being towards the travel guide whose job it is to get everyone to their hotels.

 

20180209_153704.jpgWe are in a place where the local population is predominantly dark skinned.  You notice how kind and friendly all of the people working there are, how some struggle with the language barriers between them and their guests, but they still do their best to help.  Your kids, however, whose sole experience with different people in your other raced neighborhood is what they learned in school about the history of black slavery, are feeling weird and at odds over watching all these dark-skinned staff serving the predominantly white guests.  They question the appropriateness of it, not understanding it is so only because of the nature of the local population’s demographics.

 

20180210_103428(0).jpgDuring one dinner, while you are observing the strange behavior at the next table, your spouse is observing a very different scene behind you.  The table next to you, a larger group, are taking turns politely clapping each person as if each is taking a turn quietly sharing some life affirming moment.  The moment feels almost cultish to you, and you wonder if this is some sort of retreat for some group.  Your spouse reaches across the table, touches your hand to get your attention, and looks you in the eyes.

“Get ready to move fast, there is going to be a fight behind you and I think it will be ugly.”

You glance quickly at your teen sitting next to you and then at the couple quietly arguing being hind you, just at the moment the whispered argument gets louder.  The wife was very inebriated, and the husband not.

We each had a very different memory of that dinner.

 

Naturally, being a vacation of the sort we have not been on in years and may not again for years to come, everyone has to take a turn being sick.  Another wrench thrown into that perfect vacation.  Another drama, another obstacle to overcome.  I have to say, I don’t know when I felt a sickness like that.  After the vomiting the large ball of discomfort settles in to take up permanent residence in your stomach.  You are cold and hot.  Every inch of your muscles and skin hurts.  The weight of your body against the mattress is agony.  Even the feather weight of the light sheets is pain.  Luckily we packed a pharmacy.

At one point, as I lay there, my spouse thought he saw bruising.  It was only shadow.  I said I had the lividity.  That now I know what dying feels like and it hurts like hell. That I am now The Walking Dead and if I didn’t feel like such crap I would probably be eating everyone.  My spouse called me a dork.

 

20180210_075334.jpgOf course, the vacation was not all bad.  Kids and teens, being who they are, were in a constant flux between getting along and annoying each other.  Anyone with teens knows how little you see them when they start hiding in their rooms.  And, with work and kids, how little time a couple actually has together.  We had eight full days, including travel both ways, of all four of us being together 24/7, getting reacquainted with each other.  That was through good and bad, sickness (literally, with us taking turns being up all night vomiting), and health.  We still like each other.

 

20180211_144645.jpgThe trip home.  The plan was to have everything packed and cleaned up the night before and ready to go.  Everyone is up, showered, dressed, and last bit packed with lots of time to haul our stuff to the front lobby, get lunch, and hop on the bus to the airport.  Easy.  No fuss, no muss.

The reality; okay that actually did sort of work out for us.  Not so much for the other family with two small boys who were on the wrong time zone.  They missed the mandatory check out time, thus incurring the wrath of the forewarned late checkout surcharges.  The bus did wait for them while they hurriedly put their two small boys on the bus and scurried off to hastily pack all their belongings and race back to the bus.

It also presumably did not work out so well for the others who our vacation company on-site liaison, bus driver, and hotel staff were unable to locate.  They missed the bus.  All but one eventually made it to the airport, where we all looked at each other wondering what fate befell the mysterious man they kept paging over the intercom to make his way immediately to our boarding gate.

 

20180211_105331.jpgGoing through customs is its own experience.  Leaving Canada, the fourteen-year-old was randomly selected for the “sniff test”.  Yes, apparently they had to make sure a fourteen-year-old girl was not carrying or recently in contact with cocaine.  I, being the concerned parent, laughed at her plight.  The Canadian customs staff were typically Canadian, indulgent and kind about it.

And then there was the phone in the bathroom incident on arrival, which we teased the thirteen-year-old about and told her that her father would have had to contact the Canadian embassy or consular service or whatever they have there to have our government try to negotiate our release from a foreign country prison.

Coming home, we learned while in line to check our luggage that the rules for carrying going the opposite way are different.  We hastily shifted items from our carry on to our checked luggage.  On the way to security I ended up having to throw out my chapped lip stick because that apparently is illegal.  Every man woman and child went through a cursory pat down.  The Dominican customs people were all very understanding and kind while processing all of us.

On arrival in Canada, and after a slightly bumpy landing, it is time to breathe a sigh of relief.  It is over.  You are home.  Cue laughter.

We are in the back quarter of the plane.  Naturally, disembarking is done from the front to the back.  Everyone is collecting their stuff from the overhead compartments and beneath the seat in front of them, committing incredible acts of acrobatics trying to squeeze through the ten-inch aisle with their stuff to the front of the plane, and stumbling numbly down the tunnel ramp on legs and buttocks that are no longer functional after a more than six-hour flight trapped in tiny uncomfortable seats with their legs pressed to their chins.

20180211_144010.jpgLiterally, with the last of the rest of the plane passengers passing through the door at the end before us into the great terminal beyond, an airport worker hurriedly rushes to the door and closes it in our faces.  We, and our fellow back of the plane passengers, are left staring dumbly at him as he motions us to stay and runs off through the secondary set of doors.  We look at each other.  There are a few nervous chuckles.  We are literally in a dry aquarium.  A glass-walled prison with no way out except to race back to the plane, whose door is presumably closed by now, and no place to shelter.  Is there some sort of airport security event?  Should we be afraid?  But, this is Canada, so the worst it might be is that someone forgot to say please and thank you.

After some moments of the same man who locked us in and another worker looking around in confusion, the other trying his swipe card on some random card swiper at a desk through doors the rest of the plane did not disembark through, a third airport worker came along and let us through.

20180211_143714.jpgAt last, we are home.  Or at least on the last leg of home, driving home with a slight detour that involved going in completely the opposite direction of home for some distance before realizing we are going the wrong way, and made it home.

The vacation, naturally, does not end there.  Because now you have to catch up at work and do all the other post-vacation stuff.  But the real story has already ended and that stuff happens after you cut to end story.

 

And that, my friends, is how an unexciting vacation story becomes filled with obstacles and drama.  Real life throws a wrench in things and so must you when you write your story.

 

While we were all in this together through various stages, every person would have had their own unique perspective and experience.

 

There is more to the story, of course.  The monkey on the beach, the walk off-resort through a possibly sketchy area, and the salami taxi.  But that is the fine details you flesh out later in your story.

 

Now, if I were to re-write this from each person’s perspective, each would tell a very different story.

 

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The Intangible World of the Literary Mind

This blog is about writing, being an author, and life.

 

LV Gaudet, author

This blog is for the fans of dark fiction, those stories that slither softly into your dreams in the night to turn them dark and foul.

 

 

Published with Indigo Sea Press:
where the bodies are

 

He can’t stop killing.

 

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Learn the secret behind the bodies in Where the Bodies Are.

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