Family Vacation

I still remember the first time my husband and I took a beach vacation together.  I was pregnant with my daughter, and we wanted to go on a final trip as a couple before we started our family.   We flew to Sanibel Island in Florida, where we rented a beachfront condo and spent the week relaxing in the sun and basically falling in love with Sanibel.  In the years to come, we returned to Florida as often as we could, bringing our children with us.  I honestly think that one of the reasons we like Florida so much is simply because we have so many happy memories of our family vacations there.

IMG_0022Last week, my husband and I spent yet another week in Florida, sharing a vacation home on Marco Island with my daughter, son-in-law and our baby grandson.  We walked the nearby beach, swam in the pool and even went on a sight-seeing cruise.  It was our first  family vacation that included our grandson, which made it even more fun and special.  Especially when I walked the beach with him and thought of all the time that had passed since I had walked a Florida beach when I was pregnant with his mother.

Sometimes I have a hard time believing that I am actually a grandmother now.  It doesn’t seem so very long ago when I was a young mother myself, and when a family vacation entailed a whole lot of planning and preparation.  I remember making “busy bags” to keep the kids occupied on the long car rides and spending so much time making sure their suitcases were properly packed that I usually forgot stuff I wanted to put in my own suitcase.   And what I forgot was usually something that I really needed, like a swimsuit.  Or underwear.  Vacations back then were fun, but they were also a lot of work.

And yet here I am, a sixty-year old grandmother whose own two “kids” are all grown up now, one of them with a baby of her own.  And I’m gradually getting used to this new season of my life, and realizing that it brings its own gifts.  It truly was a joy to have our grandson along on this trip, and to be in the position of simply helping as his parents took good care of him.

IMG_4094If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to enjoy more vacations with my children and their families, and I look forward to that possibility.  But even if that doesn’t happen, even if this is our last family trip to Florida, I’ll be content.  Because I already have enough good memories to last a lifetime.

Paradise Lost

DSC00112Sanibel Island is, hands down, my favorite place to vacation.  It’s a beautiful little island which has no high-rise buildings or traffic lights, with stunning tropical vegetation and tons of small-town charm.  I can always count on seeing lots of natural wildlife, possibly due to the nature preserve that takes up about a quarter of the island.  My husband and I first visited the island almost thirty years ago, when I was six months pregnant with my daughter, and despite having to wear a maternity swim suit that looked like a circus tent, I fell in love with Sanibel.

I have so many great memories of our family vacations on the island, where we walked the beach, collected shells, rode the miles of bike trails, and lounged by the swimming pool together.  Once, I was sitting on the screened-in patio of our condo, reading a book and sipping on my wine, when my young son came up from the pool and stood in the doorway, dripping wet and calling out for me to bring him his camera.  I asked him why, and he said there was an alligator on the beach, and he wanted to get a picture.  I told him alligators don’t go on the beach, but he assured me that some people at the pool had told him there really was an alligator down there, and could I please hurry with the camera.

So I fetched his camera and wandered back out to the patio.  I had actually picked up both my book and my glass of wine before the full implication of our conversation sunk in; that’s how relaxed I am when I’m on Sanibel.  And then of course, I ran down to beach as fast as my chubby little legs would carry me, frantically yelling “Stay away from that alligator!”   Which was a good thing, because as it turned out, there really was an alligator on the beach.

IMG_1112Even though our kids are grown up, my husband and I still enjoy Sanibel, and we just returned from a week-long visit there.  We had a wonderful time, right up to the very last day, when we noticed what looked like a thin brown line on the eastern horizon, right where the ocean meets the sky.  As we watched, the line of dark, murky water grew larger and larger, spreading across the bay toward the Sanibel beaches.

It turned out to be the result of the release of flood waters (Florida has been hit with record rainfalls recently) that had been “back pumped” into Lake Okeechobee and which were now being redirected into the Caloosahatchee River and carried into the Gulf of Mexico.  When the massive amounts of fresh water, polluted with flood debris, meets the ocean water, it causes all kinds of environmental problems such as killing fish and marine life, increasing red tide, and  temporarily turning miles and miles of beautiful ocean water a dark, oily brown.

IMG_1119I know that this has been a problem for many years, and that environmentalists and the government agencies who authorize the massive release of the lake water into the rivers and ocean are at odds with each other.  As a rule, I try not to take sides in a dispute when I don’t know all the facts, and I definitely do not know all the facts about this issue.  I am not a Florida resident and I know almost nothing about marine biology or water resource management.

But I know what I saw, and what I saw was ugly and unnatural, and deeply disturbing. I know that the destruction of the Earth’s natural beauty and delicate ecosystem is a wide-spread problem, and that we need to do a better job of caring for our fragile planet.   And nothing brought that home to me more than witnessing first-hand the pollution of the waters of my beloved Sanibel Island.

Gotta Have That

IMG_0815One of my family’s favorite vacation destinations is Sanibel Island, a beautiful spot on the gulf coast of Florida that is well-known for its beaches teeming with sea shells.  I still remember our first visit to the island, when my husband and I could barely believe the number of shells we saw on the beach and were literally scooping them up by the handful.  In later years, we became more particular about our “shelling,” ignoring the piles of plain white clam shells and scallops as we searched for the more colorful and harder to find alphabet cones, nutmegs, tulips, fighting conchs, etc.  Even so, we have brought home countless bags of shells as souvenirs of our beach vacations.  And we have reached the point where we absolutely do not need any more shells, no matter how pretty they are.

IMG_0813We have shells displayed all over our house, in jars, vases and even in a lamp.  We have given shells, and crafts made from shells, to almost everyone we know, and yet we still have several bagfuls of them sitting in a storage bin in our basement.  This means that for the last several vacations to Florida, we made the promise to ourselves that we absolutely will NOT collect shells this time.  We will “just look” at the shells as we walk the beach, but not actually pick them up.  That vow usually lasts for no more than the first twenty minutes after our feet hit the sand.  And although we have gotten better at returning many of the shells we find to the beach at the end of our vacation, we always, always, have a bag of shells that we wind up bringing home with us.

Why do we keep collecting shells that we don’t even want anymore?  I’m not exactly sure, but I’m beginning to suspect that it has something to do with the thrill of finding a “treasure,” not unlike finding a valuable antique at a garage sale.  Once my husband and I became more experienced shellers and learned how to find the rarer types of shells, each one we found became, I think, a small victory.  We would congratulate each other on finding a king’s crown or an oversized angel wing, and then eagerly go back to the search for an even nicer shell.  And of course the “good” shells we were finding had to be kept and admired, or so we believed as we were combing the beach in search of the next “shelling score.”  It wasn’t until later, after we were back home, that we would look at all our shells and wonder what in the world had come over us.

IMG_0803I believe that the desire to acquire things runs deeper in most of us than we want to believe, and possibly dates back from the days when humans were primarily hunters and gatherers. I may not have the stomach for hunting, but I’m realizing that I do have a rather strong gathering instinct, particularly when I’m naively convinced that what I’m searching for is both rare and valuable.  I may hate clutter, and I may not be comfortable owning lots of stuff, but I can get swept up in the “gotta have that” craze just the same as everybody else.  And if I’m ever silly enough to doubt that, all I have to do is go down in my basement and check out the bin holding all those bags of shells.  Which is stored right next to the bins holding the couple of hundred Beanie Babies we’ve had since the kids were little…..

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.