Monday, July 28, 2014

My Blog Is a 6-Year-Old!

I just realized that it was 6 years ago today that I began this blog with a short little post about my new red car. (Not so new anymore.) No one even realized I had a blog until weeks after that!
I never expected more than a few readers, maybe just a few of my closest family and friends, especially those who lived far from me and might like to keep up with what was going on in my life, as I did theirs. It was a pleasant surprise to see the number of visits to my page increase over the next few months. Even people I'd never met had become regular readers.
And now, here we are 6 years later. As of this evening, my Blogger dashboard tells me I've had 57,845 visits to my page during those short years! That's an average of 9,640 visits per year and 700 visits per month! (The counter on the front of my blog page was added just 8 months ago, after my original counter stopped working, so it lost all the numbers before that.)

As you can see, I also have two other blogs, which I started much later
and rarely post to anymore. Even so, "HCG and Me" still sees quite a bit of traffic.

In actuality, those numbers probably vary wildly from week to week and month to month, depending upon the topic of each post, how often I've posted over a period of time, and whether I put the link to a new post on Facebook. Regardless of the fluctuations, it makes me happy to know people I care about are sharing in my little blog.
Yes, I'm aware that there are amazingly popular blogs out there with thousands of followers and thousands of visits per day, but I'm so pleased that there are more people than I'd ever expected who enjoy reading my posts. I consider each one to be a blessing and a friend!
I hope our blogger/bloggee relationship will continue to be fun for many years to come!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Woods Canyon Lake

16 July 2014: The view from the top of the Mogollon Rim.

We enjoyed one other family outing just two days before we left for Tucson. The kids and I have been talking about doing a picnic at Woods Canyon Lake since March, for three reasons: 1) we have happy memories of camping, fishing, and picnicking there with their dad when the kids were small; 2) Jacob and Chris wanted to go fishing there; and 3) chapters 29-31 in the novel I'm writing will take place at or near Woods Canyon Lake, and I wanted to scout the area.
We did the same thing back in April, when we spent a day at Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. Several incidents in chapters 21-24 take place in the park, and seeing the area firsthand (it had been more than 10 years since my last visit there) inspired new ideas and helped me place exactly where and how these events would happen. I took a lot of pictures, too. It really brought the chapters to life, because I could see my characters in those settings as I wrote about them.

Pocket Stew assembly line.

It took a long time to get this outing together, because everyone wanted to go but their work schedules are so unmatched. In the end, Wednesday, July 16, was our last and only opportunity before school started back up. Jacob, Dylan, and I had the entire day off, but Danielle worked until 2:30 pm, Sarah worked until 3:00 pm, and Chris worked until 4:00 pm. Not ideal, but it was literally the only day during the summer that we could get a whole evening together.
So Jacob, Dylan, and I spent the day packing picnic and fishing supplies, loading the cars, and preparing foil packets for Pocket Stew to be cooked in the hot coals. We loaded them with precooked beef chunks and lots of vegetables, plus olive oil, butter, and seasonings. And ketchup, for Chris!

The guys, of course, always have to scare the gals
by getting as close to the edge as possible!

It was about 4:20 when we got on the road, with an hour-long drive ahead of us. We reached the turn-off at about 5:10, and then we made our first stop at one of the scenic viewpoints that look out over the highest point of the Mogollon Rim. It's a breathtaking view, standing right on the edge of a sheer drop hundreds of feet to the valley below. Those are clouds you see below us. And tiny ant-sized trucks on the 4-lane highway at the bottom.

The call of nature has been answered...

Something pretty exciting will happen right here at the edge of the Rim in chapter 29!

Before we left, Dylan pointed out a tree in which someone had carved a heart. Vandalism, yes, but cute vandalism. So I urged everyone to indulge me with some quick, romantic photo tomfoolery.

Sarah and Chris

Dylan photo-bombs Jacob and Danielle.

Jacob and Danielle

And a little brotherly love!

Sarah, Chris, Dylan, Jacob, and Danielle
in front of the  little store on the lake.

We bought some wood and fire-starter (oh yes, and a box of pecan fudge) at the little store in the marina, and then we headed up to the picnic area, where Jacob, Dylan, and Chris got a good fire going. Luckily, the fire restrictions in Arizona had been lifted a week or so earlier, after the monsoon rains finally came. In fact, the ground was damp and there were puddles all around from a nice shower earlier in the day. 

Chris and Jacob get the fire started before they go fishing.

Later, Dylan built it up some more and got a nice blaze going.

Chris and Jacob get their fishing gear out of the cars.

By the time we had the fire going and the guys headed down to the lake for fishing, it was 6:00. We knew the picnic area closed at 8:00, so our time was growing short. Perhaps because we kept the fire so small and the area was so damp, the fire didn't begin to produce some good coals until after 7:30. We put the Pocket Stew packets in what coals we could, but they were clearly not going to be done in time.

Walking toward the lake.

Meanwhile, I decided to take a leisurely walk down to the lake for photos and to see how the fishing was going. It was beautiful and cool and refreshing. However, I soon found that I was still weak from my long bout with diverticulitis and the side effects of the harsh antibiotics I was still taking. The walk downhill to the lake wasn't so bad, but by the time I climbed back up to our picnic site, I was shaky and short of breath, and my heart was pounding. I sat out the rest of the picnic!

Some male bonding will happen here, at the edge of the lake,
in chapter 30. And then some sweet romance (finally!) in chapter 31!

In the end, Chris caught one small fish he had to put back, and one crawdad. Jacob caught nothing. They returned to the picnic area just as we were trying to get the Pocket Stews to sizzle in the coals.

The view, looking back up from the edge of the lake.
I love the flattened shape of these boulders, like a stack of flapjacks!

At 7:45, a fat, unpleasant man with an ugly scowl, driving a small unmarked car and not wearing a uniform, pulled up near our site and started chewing us out for not being packed up and ready to leave. He claimed to be a ranger, but I would hope a forest ranger would make camping more pleasant for nice families using the area. We tried to be pleasant and immediately pulled the Pocket Stews out of the fire, but apparently that wasn't good enough. He accused us of not moving fast enough and "just sitting on your butts." (I was the only one seated at that time.)

Anyone who knows me also knows that kind of rude talk is guaranteed to make me move even slower. The kids got the fire put out, everything packed up and reloaded into the cars, and then Jacob, Danielle, and Dylan drove out of the picnic area 5 full minutes before closing. There really hadn't been that much to pack up, so the Fat Man's abrasiveness was totally uncalled for.

The waters are so serene. The reflection of the trees was amazing.

Sarah, Chris, and I, on the other hand, slowly moseyed down to the car. When I got in I checked the weather on my phone, blew my nose, applied some Chapstick, adjusted the seatbelt, and took my time starting the car. Then I rolled slowly toward the exit of the picnic area, where the Fat Man waited beside his car.
As I approached him, I slowed down even further and picked up my phone to check the time. It was 7:58. When it hit 7:59, I rolled on by and gave the man my most bland smile. Yep, that's me, the Queen of Passive-Aggressive!
Then he followed us almost all the way out of the park. Speed limit: 20 MPH. My speed: 5 MPH. Take that, Fat Man!

Later, the kids suggested that I put the Fat Man in my book and have his character be killed gruesomely and painfully by the supernatural forces of evil my heroine is battling. Tempting, I won't give that rude man the glory of appearing in what may just be the next best-selling novel of all time!

Sunset from the Mogollon Rim.

We made one final stop at a different Rim overlook to admire the beautiful setting sun over distant California, and then we drove on home. We finished our Pocket Stews in the oven and had a very late dinner, after 10:00. Despite our short stay and it's unpleasant ending, we had a great time and we're glad we went!
The short video below gives a nice view of the lake and the guys working hard at fishing.

Just for fun, here's a picture from a long-ago trip to Woods Canyon Lake and the Mogollon Rim overlook! This was taken Sept. 16, 2000, when Sarah was still a month away from her 11th birthday, Jacob was 9, and Dylan was 3. I miss those days!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Back to Tucson

July 18-20, 2014: Back to the WorldMark Rancho Vistoso Resort

Here we are, poised at the end of another too-short summer. I worked loooong days every day this week except Tuesday, and now I have barely more than a day left until school starts on Monday. It's always sad to see summer vacation end.
So last weekend the kids and I had one last fling before Dylan and I plunge back into the wacky world of high school. They wanted to go see their dad in Tucson one more time, so I reserved a 2-bedroom condo at our usual resort in Oro Valley.

The door to our condo is just visible at the top.

This time we didn't go anywhere special. After getting through the wedding and all my health issues this summer, money is tight. We just wanted to spend a few days together and relax, and that's what we did!

Dylan, Danielle, Jacob, and Sarah relax in the living room after our arrival.
Chris works in a group home on weekends, so he rarely gets to join us.

The trickiest part was having all three of my Walmart-employed children get off work for not only three days in a row, but the same three days in a row. That's not a request that thrills their supervisors. If it were the first of the month or a holiday weekend, it wouldn't have been allowed, but they were finally able to manage it for this trip.

Dining Room

I've posted so many pictures of this resort over the years, my readers would probably know exactly where they were if a spaceship beamed them up in the middle of the night and dropped them off in one of these condos! Each separate WorldMark resort's decor is unique (such as Oceanside, CA, as opposed to Branson, MO), but all the condos in any one specific WorldMark resort look pretty much alike.


Thus, I made an effort to capture some photos of this trip from different perspectives than usual. I hope you'll find them fun!

View of the Santa Catalina Mountains from our balcony. Awesome!

Our fully stocked fridge.

As usual, our first stop after check-in was Walmart for supplies. Jacob and I each paid for the gas in our own vehicle for the drive, and Sarah purchased all our food for the weekend.

Dinner on Friday night: bean burritos. But we forgot the sour cream!

My OCD really manifests itself when I plan a trip, and it's really hard for me not to take over every little detail. That includes planning every meal. But this time I told the kids, "You're all adults now. You know what we all like and what we'll need. Go get whatever you want." I was curious what they'd all decide upon.

Saturday morning breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, English muffins, and milk.
Saturday's lunch came from the vending machines at the prison visitation room.

They did me proud! They planned a menu of seriously yummy meals for the length of our stay. The only ones who ate out were the newlyweds. Jacob and Danielle went out to Olive Garden for a date night on Friday, so they didn't join us for burritos.

Saturday night dinner: grilled chicken thighs, Spanish rice, and green salad.

The kids also took over most of the cooking so I could take it easy. Sarah prepared all the burrito fixin's on Friday. I made scrambled eggs and bacon the next morning while she toasted all the English muffins. On Saturday night, Jacob grilled the chicken and made the Spanish rice while Danielle made a vegetable-rich green salad.

Sunday morning breakfast: homemade Egg McMuffins!

And Sarah singlehandedly made the Egg McMuffins on Sunday while I started packing and doing laundry, and the newlyweds slept in. Dylan handled beverages and the sweeping and vacuuming details throughout the weekend.

Dylan, Jacob, Danielle, and Sarah at the kitchen table on Saturday night.
I love family dinners!

Mary, Jacob, Danielle, and Sarah at the kitchen table on Saturday night.
19 July 2014

If you want to get a funny portrait, just tell everyone to say,
To view the original post from May 2010 warning about the dangers of saying "Schuster" during a photo shoot, click:

Along the path from our unit to the pool.

Our fun activity for this trip was an evening at the pool behind the resort's Club House, which was located just a short walk from our unit. Even though Oro Valley's climate is desert-ish (the temperature was between 85 and 102 degrees during our stay), the landscaping of the grounds is really rather lush and beautiful.

Lovely Landscaping

The front of the Club House/Recreation Center.

The back of the Club House/Recreation Center.

Swimmers: Jacob, Danielle, Dylan, and Sarah.

Dylan dumps Jacob off his shoulders and into the water.

Jacob prepares to dump Dylan next.

Sarah is about to get flipped into the water!

I sat on the edge of the pool with my feet dabbling in the water.
Should I take the plunge and go all the way in? 
Most of the time, now that my kids are grown, I stay in the condo while they go swimming. It gives me some quiet time to relax and read or blog or nap. This time, though, I decided to join them.

Yes! I plunged my feet all the way under!

It was fun and refreshing, and I'm glad I went. I keep thinking that I never know how many more of these family trips we'll have as the kids move on with their lives.

When we returned to the condo, we broke out all the stuff for S'mores. We thought about roasting the marshmallows over the grill on the balcony, but ended up melting them in the microwave instead. Did you know they make special flattened marshmallows just for S'mores these days!?

Dylan and his yummy S'mores.

Jacob and Danielle were worn out after their swim and
retired to their room as soon as they ate their S'mores.

It was a great trip and a good way to end summer. We also had a great visit with the kids' dad, Mark. It's probably the last one we'll have for quite a long time, so that made it an especially worthwhile visit!