My thoughts coming off of a two-week vacation

I don’t have anything to write this week. It’s a first. I am sitting here staring at a blank page with nothing materializing. That’s rare when that happens. Usually, I’m brimming with ideas, stories that my heart seems it must reveal in my next column. This week? Nothing is coming to me, except just to be honest with my readers.
I was thinking about a few things while I was relaxing on a two-week vacation. Some ideas that seemed rather important to share, or rather lessons I am still learning myself.
I’ve been thinking that there are many signs in this world. I don’t think most us pay attention to the immediate ones, and we miss obvious moments that are ours to create. I’m not talking about road signs. I’m talking about signs from up above that validate our journey, or rather give us direction when we need it.
 Another thing I’ve been thinking about is have you ever noticed the more favors you give the more others expect from you in return? What is up with that? I am learning to be more sparing with my favors. I have learned to say “No.” If you can’t be there, just say no and don’t overextend yourself. I’m sure your calendar is already full. Take this advice from someone who usually commits herself with too many stories. Choose sparingly. Don’t become overwhelmed with a schedule when life is really meant to be simplified (do think Forrest Gump here).
Drink tea instead of espresso.
 I’ve also been thinking how much I just absolutely love life, and how blessed I am to be here with all of my friends and loved ones. I just have been so grateful lately for what I have instead of hoping for more. Guess what? I find there is less to complain about. We sometimes miss out on great moments because we are busy wanting more. “Be grateful for less and you won’t miss the rest.” I just coined that phrase even if it sounded a bit cliché.
The main thing is, take some time out of your life to watch “Seinfeld.” Yes, that’s right. Or your favorite comedy that just makes you belt out a really deep laugh. I hear that sort of laughter fights off cancer. I hear it heals just about everything. So make sure you take some time to laugh.
Loosen up a bit and stop taking everything so seriously. The world will survive if you do happen to make a mistake. Everything is not resting upon your shoulders. Be at one place at a time. Dare to inspect the beauty in a single blade of grass while you are in a rush to your next appointment.
Stop spending so much time on your cell phone. Learn to be with yourself alone and your idle thoughts in the car instead. Then listen to some amazing music that inspires your mood. We don’t always have to be hooked to our iPhone. Have the courage to be without the latest gadget.
And, I shall end with this: Don’t make yourself too available. Don’t always say yes. Learn to be quiet. Learn to smile. Learn to be nice. Learn to say the words, “I love you more,” and don’t forget to tell your parents they are the greatest in the world. After all, they did give you life. It’s nice to be back under the eucalyptus trees. I missed you, Rancho Santa Fe.
Out of town
(Please note, for the last two weeks I have been gone from Rancho Santa Fe and this Around Town is featured in Spirit Lake, Iowa).
On June 23, My husband, Jackson and I drove to the Amtrak station to catch my 6:45 a.m. train to Los Angeles. The night before, I suddenly wondered if it were actually possible to make the train, the shuttle to LAX and board the plane all on in one day. Then I realized, yes, trains are always on time. So you can just see my expression when  another passenger informed me that there had been a homicide on the train tracks only a few hours earlier. What a bad omen, I thought (I’m a little superstitious). I asked him, “You’re kidding right?” I envisioned a crew like the “CSI: Miami: forensic team somewhere down the tracks completing their investigation, while hundreds of travelers were stranded at the train stations. What ended up happening was I took Robin home, then jumped on the freeway, and drove to the airport. Later, it was determined that a man was just hit by a train and the homicide theory was ruled out.
If you are wondering, we did make the plane. An odd sense of relief came over me as I held my son’s hand, while we ascended and disappeared into the white clouds.
On June 24, I woke up at my parents’ house feeling quite pleased to be on vacation. I hadn’t been back to the Midwest during the summer in almost five years. Let me set the record straight on Iowa because I know what you are thinking. You are thinking miles of corn and how boring. Yes, normally that would be right, except where my family lives. Spirit Lake and Lake Okoboji is sort of like the “Aspen of Iowa,” but in reverse. Just like Aspen in the wintertime, Spirit Lake has more than 250,000 tourists a year visit its breathtaking natural lakes during the summer. After being a native Californian (Ha!) for 21 years, I still am proud to be from the Midwest. It’s quite pleasant to see natural green grass grow without the need of irrigation or a pack of gardeners attending to manicured lawns. It’s wonderful to breathe in fresh air, and enjoy natural beauty outside of a semi-arid desert. Think “Norman Rockwell” here. Spirit Lake has this pristine quality that leads you to believe maybe you don’t have a care in the world. I snapped a cute photo of my brother Billy and Jessica with their youngest son, Henry, on my first day. I love my brother!
 On June 25, I attended my sister’s bachelorette party with my niece Lauren Chapman and my soon-to-be-step-niece Mia Howard. We all went to Barefoot Bar to meet my sister with her other close friends to help celebrate her betrothal to J.D. Howard. Before we left, I captured a photo of the bachelor party guys, Steven and J.D. Howard, with my uncle Timothy and my brother Billy Penn. We had so much fun that evening. However, while my sister unwrapped her lingerie and naught presents, something wicked was brewing up just on the other side of the lake. Can you say tornado? After leaving the Midwest at the age of 18, I still have a tremendous fear of those deadly twisters. This truly had my heart racing. We had to relocate to a Mexican restaurant because the dark front was moving fast across the lake with bolts of lightening flashing across the sky. Once I was with tequila in hand, I felt somewhat more relaxed. That was, until the lights went out there, too. OK, I have to admit, I did scream out loud in the brief moment of terror. After huddling inside the restroom, the party resumed. Let’s just say when the hail and the wind and lightening subsided, we rushed home as fast as we could. Well, I had them take me home, and their party continued on, without me.
On June 26, I woke up and realized today my sister is getting married … and I must wear a salmon-colored dress. Yes, that’s right, salmon, but sort of rosy salmon. I must say the color was better than I thought. And, quite honestly, I would wear a gunny-sack for Tracy. She rocks. First thing my sister and I did was make the floral arrangements. I helped her in the restroom downstairs strip all of the thorns from the roses. Two
sisters together, what fun! We tied them together with beautiful ribbon, and made the most beautiful bouquets. A few hours later, I drove to the most beautiful B&B. There we relaxed together in her big suite as we waited for time to trickle away. At 5:35 p.m., my sister Tracy married J.D. Howard on the Lake of Okoboj. And, luckily for all of us, there were clear skies. I have included a few photos from that day here.
 Later that evening, the reception took place at my parents’ home. For awhile, the weather felt wonderful. Tracy and J.D. danced. The in-laws did, too. Everything was going smoothly until, yes, you guessed it, another tornado was spotted only five miles away. Everyone took cover in the basement. Luckily, it’s a tri-level house where the basement is really quite luxurious. So imagine everyone in comfort. Think carpet, not concrete floors. I ended up rushing upstairs with my camera to document these wild new developments on the front porch. How could I resist? The video captured the ominous dark clouds passing over the lake. No worries, the storm moved over Spirit Lake. And, the reception turned into a night to remember for all of us. I have included a gorgeous photo of Micky Kay and William Ray Penn (my parents). They graciously hosted the reception and were just beaming with pride for their eldest daughter that day. There is also a photo here of myself with my two siblings with their significant others just after the storm had passed. 
 On June 28, I baked my first cake! I have made cookies, and other sweet breads and brownies and pies, too. But never in my life have I baked a cake. It’s funny how you can learn new things on vacation. I discovered I love to bake. I ended up baking seven cakes, plus my sister’s birthday cake later that week, too. Let’s just say it was a week of celebrating of my sister, which she truly deserved. Later, I will write a feature on some wonderful substitutes I discovered, to help reduce the fat and calories.
 On July 3, I returned home. I boarded my plane, said goodbye to my family. My mother stood at the security checkout and waved goodbye, while Jackson and I disappeared as we headed to our gate, back into our regular lives in California. Did I mention yet that I love my family? Thanks for reading my “Around Town” that just happened to be out of town for just one issue.
 
If you have a fun event you would like Machel to cover, please e-mail her at mpenn@coastnewsgroup.com.

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  1. anonymous says:

    love you sister…thanks
    for coming out to iowa
    for your vacation….missing
    you tons….

  2. MKayP says:

    Loved your column, Machel. It brought back precious memories.

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