The Perfect Vacation

My husband and I just returned from a fun week spent vacationing with some good friends.  We rented a home in Florida that was within walking distance to the beach.  The weather was warm and mostly sunny, and we had great time just relaxing and exploring the area with our friends.  It was the sort of vacation that my husband and I will be talking about for a long time, and I’m sure my friends will be talking about it as well.   But the thing is, I strongly suspect that we won’t be saying exactly the same things.

IMG_2990My husband and I will talking about how nice it was to walk to the beach, how much we enjoyed getting a break from what has been an extremely cold winter and how much more relaxed we feel after a week away from everything.  I’m sure our friends would agree with all that, but I still think their conversation about the past week would go something more like this:

Him:  “Did you notice that they vacuumed the floors four times?”

Her:  “They also did a load of laundry every single day.  Who vacuums and does laundry on vacation?”

Him:  “Apparently, they do.  The way they kept the kitchen so spotless should have warned us.  I barely finished my coffee before they whisked the cup away and stuck it in the dishwasher.”

And the thing is, all of it would be true.  I remember pulling into the driveway of a vacation house one year and seeing my husband up on a ladder, washing the living room windows.  When I asked him about it, he said he didn’t want to spend his vacation looking out dirty windows.  Later that week, we were sitting in a beach bar chatting with some of the locals, and I mentioned the window cleaning story.  After a brief and stunned silence, several of them offered us their business cards, telling us that they had wonderful vacation properties that they were quite sure we would love to rent.

The simple fact of the matter is that my husband are the ideal renters.  When we check out of any kind of vacation rental, the condo or house is usually much cleaner than it was when we checked in.  And if something was broken when we checked in, you can bet that it’s been fixed when we check out.  Sometimes I think that the property owners should be paying us to stay in their properties, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  We’ve never even been offered a discount.  The world is still an unfair place in so many ways.

I know our habit of cleaning and tidying while on vacation is, to say the least, unusual.  (I’ve even been known to vacuum hotel rooms when I can talk the staff into lending me one.)  But vacationing is all about doing what makes us happy, and my husband and I are happiest when we are staying somewhere clean and tidy, even if that means we have to do a bit of that cleaning ourselves.  And if we happen to be vacationing with friends or family, it also gives them a vacation experience that they’ll be talking about for quite some time.

Letting Go

IMG_1116I am the first to admit that I am not particularly good at “going with the flow.”  I may not be fond of schedules (being over-scheduled actually makes me cranky), but I do like to know what to expect in any given situation.  And the reason I want to know what to expect is so that I can prepare for it, fully and meticulously.  Being prepared makes me feel as if I’m on top of things, and  secure in the knowledge that I’ll be able to handle whatever situation happens to arise.  Trust me, I would have made an amazing Boy Scout.

When I’m going to be spending the night at a hotel, I bring along a box fan, a pillow and a night light, just so I can be sure of getting a good night’s sleep.  (I can only sleep on a soft pillow, the night light helps me find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the box fan drowns out the sounds of my husband’s snoring.)  I don’t set foot on an airplane without a carry-on containing food and water (I was once stuck on a runway for five hours), a light sweater in case they turn up the AC, and a couple of crossword puzzles to pass the time.  The trunk of my car is packed with emergency essentials, including a pair of comfortable walking shoes just in case the car breaks down and I have to walk to the nearest gas station.  One way or another, I like to be prepared.

The problem is that there is so much in my life that I can’t possibly prepare for, and when that happens, I tend to get very anxious.  For example, I didn’t plan to spend last month dealing with complicated dental problems, but that’s exactly what happened.  And the situation was made even worse because I was never exactly sure what to expect at each office visit, which left me feeling completely unprepared and unsure of my ability to cope.  That meant I spent a lot of time and energy in these past few weeks worrying and fretting about dental procedures that weren’t even all that bad when I actually had them done.

I may be almost sixty, but there are still many things I hope to learn in this life.  And one of the biggest lessons I’m hoping to learn is how to let go of my belief that I can actually anticipate and prepare for all the problems that come my way.   Because I realize that my obsession with being prepared is really just a way of trying to stay in control, and there is always going to be a portion of my life that is absolutely beyond my control.   And just like everyone else in the world, I need to find a way to come to terms with that.

A good first step, I suppose, is focusing on the things that I can control (I will always travel with at least a fan and a pillow) and trying hard not to think so much about the things I can’t control.  An even better step might be to remind myself that I am stronger and more resilient than I think I am, and that I am also resourceful enough to find solutions to problems when and if they present themselves.   Because if I can remember that, then it’s so much easier to just let go of all the rest.

Where The Heart Is

IMG_3566I admit that I spend way too much time watching HGTV’s “House Hunters International.”  I think there’s something so intriguing about the idea of moving to a whole new country and getting to change my life in such a dramatic and profound way.  Leaving the Midwest behind to live near a Caribbean beach, in a charming apartment in Paris, or in a house among the vineyards of Tuscany sounds like a wonderful way to jolt me out of my middle-age routine.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to wake up each morning to a view of the Mediterranean Sea or the Swiss Alps?

But no matter how attractive it sounds,  I’ll never actually make the move.  As much as I would like to live somewhere new and exotic, I know I am far too attached to the life I have created for myself in St. Louis to be able to pick up and leave it all behind.  My husband’s job is here, my kids have both settled in this area and most of my relatives (on both sides of our family) live within a five-hour’s drive.  Almost all of my friends are here, or at least close enough to visit easily without having to hop on a plane.  The simple truth is that I have put down roots here that are so deep that they can’t be pulled up without a profound sense of loss and more than a little pain.

And I’m not complaining, because I know that this is a situation that I’ve created by the choices I’ve made in my life up to this point.  When I was growing up, my family moved every few years, which meant that I was lucky enough to experience living in several different types of communities, from large cities to small towns.  But the downside was that I also didn’t have one place that ever truly felt like home.  I don’t think it was an accident that right after graduating from college, I moved back to St. Louis, the community in which I was born.  I think I wanted to have that sense of living in my “home town,” and the chance to feel that I really belonged somewhere.  My husband and I have lived here ever since, and honestly, we don’t have any regrets about it.

I think that we each have to choose what kind of life suits us best, and there is no right or wrong in either the choice to move to different places and get the chance to experience different cultures first-hand, or the choice to stay put in the community that feels the most like home.  For me, I like knowing that most of the people I love are close by, and living in a city that I know so well.  So I think I will just have to keep “living vicariously” through the people who do have the ability to pull up stakes and move to another continent, and a small part of me will always understand why they want to do that.

But if I ever win the lottery, you can bet that I’m buying a vacation home in the English countryside.  Or Provence. Or maybe even somewhere along the Spanish coast……IMG_5619

The Middle Age “Must Have”

A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to France to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary.  Although I prepared for the trip by studying guidebooks and memorizing as many French words as I could, there were times when being in a foreign country just overwhelmed me.  While trying to buy an apple tart at a small bakery, I finally gave up trying to find the correct change and simply held out a handful of coins, letting the clerk take what she needed.  She was very nice about it, but I still felt like a clueless idiot.

Sadly, there are still times when I feel that way, and the reason is that I can no longer read regular print.  Fading eyesight, combined with dim lights in many public places, has made me completely dependent on my reading glasses.  The problems start when I don’t have a pair handy.   If I go out to dinner and forget my glasses, I have to either have someone read the menu to me, or simply point at something when the waiter comes and hope I’ll like what I’ve ordered.  Ditto for trying to read a text on my cell phone, the expiration date on a carton of eggs, or the price tag on a sweater I’m thinking about buying.  It’s no fun to get into the brightly-lit dressing room and discover that the sweater I thought was $49 is actually $149.  Especially if it fits and hides my back fat.

I’ve accepted that I need reading glasses, and keep several pairs scattered around the house and carry a pair in my purse.  But there are times when I don’t carry a purse (walking dogs at the humane society, for instance), and also many times when I reach in my purse only to find that the glasses aren’t there.  And then I am just as vulnerable as I was in that French bakery, only I don’t have the foreign accent that makes people more willing to help.

But it’s no use complaining, so like middle-aged people everywhere, I just muddle along as best I can.  I’ve been known to simply hand a receipt or pamphlet to the nearest young person and say, “Your eyes are still good.  Can you tell me what that says?” And they usually do.   I have a friend who is more creative:  when she couldn’t read the small print on a parking meter, she simply whipped out her cell phone, took a picture of it, and then expanded the picture until she could read the words.  I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m in a dimly-lit restaurant without my reading glasses…..

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.