A Happy Choice

488When my husband planned a weekend getaway for my recent birthday, I was a little embarrassed to tell my friends and family exactly where we were going.  Not because there was anything embarrassing about our destination (Sanibel Island), but because whenever we get a chance to go on a vacation, our choice is usually Sanibel.  We are definitely in a bit of rut, travel-wise.

I want to explore new places and experience new cultures just as much as the next person, and I actually have a long list of places I hope to visit someday, both in the US and abroad.   We’ve been to France and  Ireland, and have had some great vacations in Charleston, Denver, Boston, Chicago, and Napa Valley.  So it’s not that we don’t enjoy vacationing anywhere but Sanibel, because we most certainly do.  It’s just that we only have a certain amount of time and money that can be devoted to travel, and Sanibel Island just happens to be our favorite destination.

Sanibel is a small barrier island of the gulf side of the Florida coast.  There’s nothing especially spectacular about it.  It doesn’t boast world-class resorts or nationally-known golf courses; it doesn’t have the sugar-white sand of the Gulf Shores area, or the exciting night life of Miami.  Most of the restaurants close by ten at night (at the latest), and although the beaches offer excellent shelling, they are also kept in their natural state.  That means the dead fish you stepped around on your first morning at the beach is still there on your last morning, only riper.

But we like the slow pace and natural beauty of the of the island.  There are no traffic lights or high-rise buildings allowed, but there are wonderful bike paths, abundant wildlife (we once saw an alligator on the beach), beautiful foliage, and friendly people.  When we cross over the causeway and catch our first sight of the island, we both feel as if we are coming home, and to a well-loved home at that.

Maybe it’s the memories of the vacations we’ve spent there with our kids that makes us love the island so much.  Or it could be the attraction of visiting somewhere so familiar that we know exactly which restaurants and stores we prefer, and which stretch of beach offers the best chance to find the shells we love to collect.  It might even be the way we feel when we sit on our balcony, watching the waves roll in and thinking, “It really doesn’t get much better than this.”

All I know is that whenever we get a few days off from our hectic schedules at home and have managed to accumulate enough Southwest Airline points for a free flight, my husband and I just naturally think, “Let’s go to Sanibel.”  That may mean we don’t ever make it to all the other places we’d like to visit, but that’s a trade-off we’re willing to make.  I think everyone needs a “happy place” in their lives, and Sanibel Island is ours.

Coming Home

I just returned from a wonderful family trip to Napa Valley to celebrate my daughter’s 30th birthday.  It was one of those rare trips where everything goes right:  the flights were hassle-free, our hotel rooms were clean and comfortable, and each winery we visited was nicer than the last.  More importantly, we had a terrific time hanging out with our son and daughter, as well as our son-in-law and our future daughter-in-law.  It was so nice to take a break from the hectic routine of our daily lives and to spend some quality time together.  It was even better to realize that, even though our “kids” are now adults, we are still close, and that the people they have chosen to spend their lives with not only fit in beautifully with our family unit, but they actually enrich it.

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On a scale of one to ten, I would have to give this family vacation a solid 9.5, and that’s only because the location of this particular trip meant that we had to spend a certain amount of time driving on elevated highways and bridges, which my  husband doesn’t handle well.  I’m proud to report that he rose to the occasion and soldiered on,  just getting buggy-eyed, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turned white, and doing the kind of breathing I remembered all too well from when I was enduring the contractions of childbirth.  Usually, he swears fluently, closes his eyes, and threatens to kill any of us who don’t maintain absolute silence until we are safely off the bridge.

Still, even after such a lovely trip in the company of the people I love most in the world, I have to admit that I was very happy to come back home.  When I was younger, I only felt that happiness at returning to my own house when I had been on a particularly difficult or challenging trip, such as one of our ill-fated attempts at camping (don’t let anyone tell you that tents are waterproof, because they’re not) or a business trip that was especially boring.  But lately, I have noticed that I feel a quiet joy at walking in my own front door no matter what trip I have gone on, or how much fun I have had on my travels.

And I think that’s probably a good thing.  Being glad to be home means that I have, somehow, managed to create a living space that gives me a sense of security and belonging, which is what a home should be.  I like sleeping in my own bed, with a mattress that has just the right degree of softness and the knowledge that some stranger has slept in it the night before.  I like being surrounded by a decor that I have chosen, with the help of my husband, to reflect our personal taste and that comfortably holds our most prized possessions.  I like knowing my neighbors, having my dog roaming freely about, and puttering around my yard, tending to the few hardy flowers that manage to survive my gardening skills.

Being glad to come home doesn’t mean that I have lost my taste for travel or for experiencing new things.  I hope I never lose the desire to go somewhere I have never been before and to experience different cultures, different climates and different environments.  It just means that after a certain amount of time, I begin to long for my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own town.  Because no matter where I go and no matter how much I enjoy my trips, one of the best parts of traveling is always coming home when it’s over.

Irish Travels

It always takes me a little while to “shift gears” when I return home even from a short trip, so it’s no surprise that I’ve been feeling a bit muddled since returning yesterday from my trip to Ireland.  I suspect I’ll be feeling the effects of jet lag for at least a couple more days, but I don’t mind.  The trip was more than worth it.

This was the first international trip my husband and I have been on that wasn’t organized by someone else, and we were a bit nervous about how everything would go.  (Even for domestic flights, we print multiple copies of our boarding passes and tend to show them to every airline staffer we see “just to make sure everything is okay.”  One of these days, someone is probably going to lose patience with us and reassign us to permanent seats in the lavatories.)  For our Ireland trip, we not only had a long international flight, but we were also traveling around the country by train and had made our own hotel reservations on-line.  That’s a huge step for a couple of “nervous travelers” (paranoid travelers) such as my husband and me.

IMG_0302Amazingly, everything went off without a hitch.  We visited Kilkenny, Dublin (where we stayed with a good friend who is temporarily living there) and Galway.  We used the Irish Rail system to get to each town, and since we stayed in the city centers of Kilkenny and Galway, we were able to walk to almost everything we wanted to see.  While in Galway, we booked a day trip to the Connemara area on one of those huge tour busses.  How the driver managed to maneuver it down the narrow country lanes, I’ll never know, but he did it expertly, stopping every now and then to let a sheep or two get safely across the road.

Almost everyone we ran in to was both pleasant and helpful, directing us when we made a wrong turn or answering our questions cheerfully.  The food in both the pubs and restaurants was delicious, although I was a little taken back when I first saw the baked beans on the breakfast buffet.  And after a long day of enjoying the sights, it was fun to sit  in a real Irish pub, sipping wine (I know, but I just don’t like beer, ale or lagers) and listening to music. The authentic Irish music was very good, but my favorite performer was the young man with a terrific voice who sang a huge variety of songs. Trust me, you haven’t really heard Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” until you’ve heard it sung in an Irish accent, with many of the locals singing along.

IMG_0223This trip was a first in many ways.  It was my first (but hopefully, not my last) trip to Ireland.  It was the first time I have depended on a train to travel from one city to another. It was the first time I saw sheep sporting big dabs of neon paint, used to distinguish which sheep belong to which farm.  It was the first time I rode a horse English style, which is something I have always wanted to do.  I don’t think I was particularly good at it, but the guide was helpful and the horse was patient, so it all worked out.  We even trotted through a rather busy roundabout on our way to the park, which was a definite first for me.

It may sound odd, but both my husband and I are feeling a bit proud of ourselves right now, having stepped out of our comfort zone and still managing to achieve a certain level of success.  And who knows?  Maybe the next time we fly somewhere, we’ll be daring and head to the airport with only one copy of our boarding passes.

 

Vacation Fun

480My husband and I are hoping to take a trip to Florida in a couple of weeks, as a way to celebrate his 60th birthday and to unwind from the whirlwind of our daughter’s recent wedding. Our plan is to spend the week doing exactly what we want to do, when we want to do it, which means we will probably spend lots of time walking the beach, collecting shells, and eating way too much food.  Once we get there, it should be very relaxing.  And that’s a good thing, because I know from long experience that getting there will be anything but relaxing.

We’re planning to fly to Florida, which is stressful enough all by itself.  I’m old enough to remember the days when flying was actually fun–a special treat for special occasions.  We even dressed up a bit before we went to the airport.  But these days, between the necessary security measures and the tiny seats on crowded planes, flying is more like visiting someone in jail and then boarding a Greyhound bus. And I swear I have seen some people in the airport wearing pajamas.

But in my family, the stress begins long before we even get to the airport.  My husband and I are both terrific worriers, and I have come to realize that one of my husband’s main worries in life is missing his plane.  The night before we leave for a trip, we usually go to bed rather late, what with all the packing, last minute instructions for dog and house sitter, etc.  Throughout the night, we wake up at least once an hour from the worry that we might oversleep (because it really is possible that the alarm clock could pick that particular night to break down).

Then we get up bright and early, rush through our morning showers, throw our suitcases in the car and head for the airport.  On the drive there, my husband curses at every single red light and mutters dark comments under his breath about all the other people who are inconsiderate enough to be out driving on the streets when we have a plane to catch.  When we finally reach the airport, he drops me off at the curb to check in our two huge and heavy suitcases by myself while he parks the car, because “it’s quicker that way.”

We usually meet up again at the security line, where he spends the whole time trying to estimate how long it will take us to get through the security check point and whether or not we will have to run for our gate once we are through it.  He removes his belt, shoes, and watch while waiting in line just to save time.  And once we are finally through security, we anxiously check the departure time for our flight and realize we have at least two hours to kill before boarding time.  That’s when I buy a magazine and a Diet Coke and settle in for a nice long wait.  It’s our vacation routine, and I know better than to complain about it.

IMG_0703Because I know there is a reason for my husband’s madness.  Once we scheduled a vacation to Florida on January 1st, and our flight was supposed to leave at 8:45 in the morning.  That was the one time I actually tried to talk my husband into waiting a bit before we went to the airport, because I figured very few other people were going to be flying early on the morning after New Year’s Eve.  Luckily, I lost that argument, because when we arrived at the airport at 6:15 in the morning, we were greeted by the sight of a check-in line that stretched out the door, and a security line that snaked back and forth across the lobby three times.

As we stood in line, people all around us were complaining about how they were missing their flights, but we, for once, were calm.  We knew we had gotten there early enough to easily make our flight, despite the long lines.  My husband was vindicated, and I was confident that I would have time to buy my Diet Coke once we got through security.  Sometimes excessive worrying pays off.

Because You’ve Got To Take A Chance

IMG_3571Thirty years ago, my husband and I were deciding where to go for our annual vacation.  I was almost six months pregnant, so I was looking into places that would be within easy driving distance.  Then a friend mentioned that she had just returned from Sanibel Island in Florida, and said it was really very nice.  She said there were great beaches, beautiful bike paths and lots of unspoiled scenery.

That sounded great, but I wasn’t sold.  We’d have to fly, and I didn’t know how much that would cost or if my doctor would even allow it.  I had no idea where to stay on the island, didn’t own a maternity swimsuit, and weren’t there a lot of alligators in Florida?  I thought Lexington, Kentucky sounded like a safer bet.  But it did seem sort of silly to choose Kentucky over a beautiful barrier island, and after careful thought and with my doctor’s permission, we booked a condo on Sanibel Island and hoped for the best.

Our flight got in late, and we drove for a long time on a dark, unmarked highway, fairly sure we were lost as we tried to find the causeway to the island. We finally made it and located our condo, only to discover that they had put us in a two bedroom condo which was way more than we had budgeted for, but there was no manager on duty at that hour to switch us.  By that point, we were frustrated, exhausted, and quite sure we had made a terrible mistake by coming.  All we could do was go to bed and hope things would get better in the morning.

Luckily, they did. The morning light revealed that my friend had not exaggerated when she told us how beautiful the island was, and a friendly manager moved us to a nice one bedroom unit with a view of the ocean.  We had a great time, even if I did have to walk the beach wearing a swimsuit that looked like a tent.  Sanibel  is now our favorite vacation spot, and we have been back there too many times to count.  But we never would have discovered it if we hadn’t taken a chance and stepped out of our comfort zone all those years ago.

I need to remember that now, as I tend to want to stick with the comfortable and familiar with my middle-aged self.   But the truth is that almost every good thing in my life is a direct result of going out of my comfort zone and taking a chance on something new.  And almost all my regrets come from the times I wimped out and stuck with the comfortable and easy choice.  As I’m returning from another great week at Sanibel, I’m so glad I chose to come here instead of Kentucky thirty years ago.  And twenty years from now, I want to be just as glad about the choices I’m making now.