WHAT MAKES A GOOD VACATION? by ELLIN CURLEY

My concept of a good vacation keeps changing with the years. When I was young, I felt a real vacation was one during which I had to experiences stuff  totally different than what happens in my everyday life. I wanted experiences that would take me out of my life and plop me down into a different one — at least for a while.

When I lived in an apartment building in New York City, a ‘real’ vacation could be anything from a cottage in the woods, to a tropical island, to sightseeing in a foreign country. I tried cruises. I took canal boat trips through the countryside of England. Over the years I drove through most of France. I loved to stay in B&B’s in people’s homes. That way I hoped to learn a little bit about how the locals lived their daily lives.

Block Island

Block Island

I think I confused the terms ‘trip’ and ‘traveling’ with the word ‘vacation’. Trips were often exhausting, especially with little kids. I came home exhilarated but never rested. I was recharged mentally but not physically. That’s fine – when you’re young.

Now, in my 60’s, I need to be physically as well as mentally rested. I want to come home feeling better able to maneuver through my life. I don’t want to return feeling like I need significant doses of R&R. Therefore, my concept of vacation today is much more specific than it used to be. I want a physical change of pace from my house in the woods in Connecticut. I want to spend my days doing things other than running errands, doing laundry, cooking, etc. I want time to sleep well and relax effectively, smell the roses and enjoy the scenery.

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I am now on this year’s vacation on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. We have a power boat which is like a mini condo that floats. When we travel by boat, we take our vacation home with us. Our home base is familiar but we get to enjoy it in a different place, with different vistas and different people. Living aboard is our form of camping out – like an RV but on the water. We love it.

We do much the same things to relax that we would do at home. Yet we return feeling totally re-energized and relaxed. It’s the polar opposite of my adventuresome, traveling days. My goals and expectations have changed.

On this kind of trip, I feel continents away from my house and my friends and family. Every day feels carefree and peaceful. I feel removed from the stresses of ‘real’ life. That’s my new definition of a good vacation!

HOW COME THINGS GET SO COMPLICATED?

We were supposed to be going away for a few days to visit friends in Connecticut. We started planning the little jaunt back in May. Each time the appointed day got close, someone had a problem — and we had to reschedule. One of us (me or Garry) was not feeling well. Garry’s shoulder was out, I had a stomach thing.  It’s one of the perils of aging, I guess, that the likelihood of one of us not feeling up to snuff will occur.

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And then, there are the dogs. They have dogs. We have dogs. Once, our dog sitter wasn’t available. Another time, their son was away on business. Then, there are unexpected visits. His brother. Garry’s brother. Friends.

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We began the process with our first scheduled date set for June. Delayed and I don’t remember why, but I think it was a dog sitting issue. We each canceled once in July, and between us, three times in August (them, us, them). We were supposed to go last week, but I wasn’t up to it. Today was our “rain date,” but our host is feeling poorly.

I said “Tell you what. I know you guys are going away next week for a couple of weeks. When you get back, if you see some time, give a call. We aren’t far away and after August, the calendar is wide open.”

“Yes,” he said. “And maybe by September it will have cooled down a bit.”

And that’s where we left it. He said “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

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It shouldn’t be this complicated. But there’s some malevolent Murphy’s Law operating in our universes. It makes simple plans into a Byzantine maze. Before Tom called, we were already grappling with an unexpected hit on Owen’s schedule which required him to be down on the Cape Monday. That would leave the dogs almost entirely alone  for close to 24 hours. I’m sure they’d survive as long as they have food, water, and the doggy door, but they are unused to being alone at all, much less for an extended period. Gibbs gets anxious when Garry is in the bathroom.

That’s the other problem. We only have two dogs now. Bonnie and Gibbs, the two black Scotties. Bonnie is fine with anyone who can hold a biscuit. She is a bright, happy, little girl. This is not necessarily typical of Scottish Terriers. As a breed, they can be quite stand-offish. And they are never “just anyone’s” dog. They like who they like … which is sometimes quite quirky.

Gibbs has a long history of being a kennel dog. In the past 4 months, he has bonded tightly to Garry and I. He has not accepted anyone else. Maybe if someone else was around more than a few hours at a time, he would begin to accept them but not necessarily. Even when friends were here for a week, he never warmed up. He stopped barking at them all the time, but he was still suspicious.

It’s possible he will never cotton to anyone but us. Scotties are often one or two-person dogs, not friendly to anyone outside a small family circle. Bonnie is outgoing, but that’s Bonnie, not Scotties in general. Gibbs is more like my first Scottie — Mac-A-Dog. He was wary of anyone who didn’t live in the house … and we’d raised him from pup.

That said, there is a limit to how much the dogs can run our lives. We spoil them. We indulge them. But we aren’t willing to be stuck in the house all the time, forever. Gibbs will have to cope with occasional absences and substitute humans coming by to feed, water, and provide companionship.

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This latest snafu has delayed that fateful day, but it will come again. Owen thought maybe he could leave food out for Gibbs. That would probably be okay, assuming Bonnie doesn’t eat all of it. She doesn’t eat as much as she used to, so it would probably be okay. I should get one of those timed feeding things for this kind of situation. I’ll think about it.

Meanwhile, what originally was a simple three-day visit to friends who live a mere 75 miles away morphed into a wildly complex event that didn’t happen at all.

Why do things get this complicated? It was easier packing up and going to Arizona than driving a couple of hours to an adjacent state. Talk about the universe sending a message!

THE DAILY POST | COMPLICATED

COMING HOME: A SNARKY TRAVELOGUE

In summary, traveling to Arizona on JetBlue was like travelling first class, almost. Coming home via American Airlines was like being luggage. But less comfortable.

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It was a very long ride home, though shorter than flying westward. Eastbound, we had a tail wind that got us to Logan an hour early.

It seemed much longer. Not only were we starved — which I expected and for which I was prepared having brought a variety of semi-nutritious snack food (do salted peanuts and Fig Newtons count as nutritious?) and a large bottle of water. Bought at the airport because food for which you pay ten times the normal price is safe, while food bought in a grocery at normal prices will explode on impact.

I think we could have been dead in our seats on our return flight on American and only other passengers would notice. The flight attendants were in the back of the plane, playing cards. Having, as far as I can tell, a fine old time.

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There was no entertainment. No television. The WiFi was not free. They wanted $12 (each) for 60 minutes (each) — and the Patriots-Kansas City game was on. Which was more than an hour. They had whacked us with a $25/per bag luggage fee … and wanted another $12 from each of us to use their WiFi? For an hour? It wasn’t even unlimited WiFi. You had to watch one of their programs. Mean-spirited bastards run that airline.

As I told the attendant, “Your airline sucks.” She agreed. They probably treat her like luggage too. Don’t fly American Airlines.

We managed to get the score in real time on our smart phone. It somehow connected to the WiFi despite the firewall American Airlines erected. Let’s hear it for Google. When the game ended, Garry and I had books on our Kindles, so we survived without WiFi …and those salted peanuts helped too.

When we got home, it was obvious no one had cleaned since we left. Talk about filthy. Wow. Two weeks of dog hair, sand, and odeur de canine. The Christmas tree is still up (“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it and I’ll put the wrapping paper away, I promise”). Right. Sure. Uh huh.

I swept three times before unpacking anything and washed the floors twice this morning, but it’s going to take a lot more scrubbing before the place is habitable. I’m not a clean or neat freak, but I draw the line at genuine filth.

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The kid’s going to be 47 in May. You’d think he’d have a grip on “clean,” wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

We are home. No fresh food because we used it all before leaving. Today I threw away about five pounds of leftovers that had become lethal-looking science experiments during our absence. Garry made a very short trip to the grocery store. We needed half-and-half. That’s not groceries. That’s survival.

Tomorrow we’ll deal with The Rest of the Story. Today, it’s football and not being in transit. Sorry I missed your blogs today and yesterday. I’m surprised I’m awake and almost coherent.

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While we were away, someone won the $1.5 billion PowerBall. Even after taxes and fees, it’s still more money than I can imagine having. More money than Garry and I earned in our entire lives. Combined. Before taxes. More money than us and all our friends had or ever hope to have.

Someone won it. On a $1 lottery pick. Go figure.

NOTE: We have concluded that there is a secret interaction between hair gel and PowerZero so dangerous and explosive, it is banned from the air! That’s the only sense I can make of it. Who knows what hidden dangers lie in your luggage?

ME – FROM THE BLOOMING DESERT

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You know you are on vacation when you think of something you want to post, but when you get to the computer, you can’t remember what it was and that doesn’t really bother you. Much.

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I hear it’s snowing back home. That bothers me, a little. Because I don’t want to be greeted at the airport by snow. Or ice. Or cold. Or any form of New England winter.

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There are flowers blooming here. Flowers, blooming in January! It’s warm enough for shirtsleeves, at least in the middle of the day. It cools down a bit as evening approaches.

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They call this winter? Nah. This ain’t no winter, uh-uh. This is nice, balmy spring weather.

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We went out today and took a few pictures. Ate some Thai food. Bought more toothpaste. Garry thought I’d brought extra. I thought he had a spare, but as it turned out … well, for everything else, there’s Walgreen’s.

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I miss my dogs.

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I want to be transported home in my sleep and wake up in my bed, warm, snug, and well-rested.

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THE ANXIOUS TRAVELER

My husband and I take a lot of short trips on our boat throughout the summer. I love the trips, but I’m not a “good” traveler. Despite having traveled a lot in my life, going away for two nights still requires two suitcases and days of planning and organizing.

I envy spontaneous people who can decide on a whim to go away to some exotic place. Throw a few things into a suitcase and take off.

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Maybe they don’t have dogs, kids, or plants. Maybe they don’t have as many cosmetics, skin care products, hair equipment, vitamins, and medications, as I do. (Plus the bite plate that I regularly forget).

Maybe they their summer beach clothes are readily accessible in the dead of winter. Maybe they have husbands who can pack for themselves without leaving half their essentials behind.

Whatever the reasons, I am not that person.

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When I travel, my lists have lists. Footnotes, too. I feel like I’m planning the invasion of a small country. “You – feed the dogs and don’t forget their medicines”; “You – water the plants and collect the mail”; “You – handle the UPS delivery on Friday”. The list of all emergency contacts is on the refrigerator, highlighted in three colors!

Packing is a trauma. I try to take the smallest amount of clothes and jewelry, but that just adds to the stress. I always end up packing a large amount anyway. I do loads of laundry to make sure that everything I could possibly want to take is clean. Then I try to find the minimum number of tops that go with the minimum number of pants and skirts.

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I suck at math so this becomes a very stressful exercise as well. Jewelry selection is another major operation. I try to limit my color palette so I can also limit the amount of jewelry and accessories I take, but then I have to make sure that they will be able to mix and match with all the clothes. I also have to make sure that my wardrobe covers everything from poolside casual to dressy evening as well as unseasonal weather, which has caught me off guard many times. You can see that the complexity can be overwhelming.

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Coming home is also stressful. There’s always a lot of laundry in addition to unpacking and catching up on phone calls and errands. If I haven’t been away for at least a week, it feels like deja vu. Wasn’t I just packing all this shit? I usually manage to relax and have a good time when I’m away, especially when I’m on our boat. Only someone with serious issues would have trouble relaxing there. But when the next trip comes up, my first reaction is still, “Oh no! Not again”.

Then I take a deep breath and start making lists.

HERE AND NOW. AND THEN.

Here and now. And then. I’m pooped. Garry and I were just talking about how WBZ didn’t cover the First Night New Year’s stuff in Boston this year, but Boston didn’t do as much for First Night as it has in the past.

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I said that New Year’s is dropping out of the top five of Big Holidays. Why? I think it’s simply too much. Halloween has gotten bigger and Thanksgiving has always been huge. Then, up roars Christmas and by the time everyone is done with the last of the pies and leftovers, oh my god it’s New Year’s.

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Holiday exhaustion has overwhelmed the population. We’ve been partying, shopping, cooking, entertaining, wrapping, decorating and overeating since October and no has the energy or money for one more big bang holiday. Thus we all more or less sleep through New Years.

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And so, here I am. Still in my flannel granny gown and robe with no intention of getting any more dressed than this. Oh, I’ll get to the shower eventually. Probably.

It was a long, busy year and the last two months have been monumentally overloaded in every way. Now, we are about to pack up and go on holiday for real and all I can think about it how much i want to just sleep for a month.

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We are up, up, and away the day after tomorrow for two weeks. I’ve prepared posts for at least the first week and I’m hoping that photography and holiday updates will take care of the rest, but if I seem to disappear, you can assume any of the following:

  1. We went to the Grand Canyon and I fell in, camera and all.
  2. We went hiking and I was eaten by something huge and furry and hungry, thus completing the circle of life.
  3. I discovered the joy of not blogging for a whole week or two!

Take you pick of any or all of the above. I will be back, hopefully energized and with stories to tell.

DESTINATIONS?

What are my top five dream destinations? You mean … like … where do I want to travel? Farther than Uxbridge? Beyond Boston? Me?

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There was a time when traveling was fun. With all the lost luggage, canceled connecting flights, long delays at airports due to engine problems, missing 747s, passengers who fell into comas (really) while sitting on the tarmac for three hours, day-long delays due to weather. Yet, it was fun.

pixies-playingDespite everything, people were in a good mood. They were off on holiday or other trips. No one was clenched in terror of what some moron in security was going to do to us or our belongings. Remember when the worst thing you thought might happen at an airport was for them to lose your luggage? Those were the good old days.

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We’re flying to Phoenix early in January. We need wheelchairs and other assistance. No one at Expedia could confirm if this request will be met … or if someone will decide to charge us some ridiculous fee for help I believe is required under law. What do airlines know about law?

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As I write this, I’m on hold.

“No more than 19 minutes … ” said the recorded voice at JetBlue. No more than 19 minutes to confirm they are going to provide the service they promised when I booked the flight. And I have to do this again, with American Airlines for the trip home. That can wait.

Oh, and I have to call TSA to find out what I need to do to avoid metal detectors (which use magnets) because I have a pacemaker. Call me paranoid, but I would prefer my pacemaker keep pacing … and keep reminding my heart to beat.

Are we having fun yet?

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Where did I want to go before I stopped wanting to travel anywhere? India, Japan, China, Kenya, Greece, Italy, Paris. And maybe Hawaii or Tahiti. Aside from not having the price of all that airfare, the idea of that much traveling is daunting to say the least. Too much for me.

In the meantime, I would like to survive Phoenix.