What I Did On My (barely) Summer Vacation

You know how when you get home after being away for several days? You might think, ‘Gee, it’s good to be home.’ Yeah, well, I’m still waiting for that feeling.

“Relaxed” isn’t exactly my middle name, so when Jim suggested we go to the beach because he wanted to relax, I said I probably wouldn’t like that. I need to be busy to have fun. Hiking, sightseeing, shopping, going to a play. THAT’S fun. Sitting around doing nothing? Capital B boring.

Then I saw the ocean from the balcony of our 12th floor hotel room at North Myrtle Beach and I didn’t care if I did anything else all week but sit and stare at the ocean.

Of course I didn’t lose all my uptightness, at least not at first. There was the lesson of the wake versus the break. Jim was a bobbing in the wake while I stayed closer to shore where the waves were breaking. When a wave knocked me to my knees and handed me a mouthful of salt water, Jim told me to come out to where he was. I was afraid at first, but he showed me how to let the wake pick you up and put you down, and I thought how what is true in the ocean is true in life. Sometimes you have to go beyond your comfort zone to find peace/the answers/fill-in-your-own-truth.

I spent a lot of time under an umbrella by the dunes, too. Butterflies and dragonflies alighted on the tangled myrtle, and a Carolina anole stopped long enough for me to snap a photo before scurrying off into the underbrush.

Saw my first alligator in the wild.

We didn’t lie around the beach all the time. We did take a tour of the area, which included a visit to an All Saints Cemetery, complete with the ghost story of Alice Flagg, whose brother forbid her to marry outside her social class. She died of either consumption or malaria when she was 16, and when her brother found the engagement ring she wore tied to a ribbon around her neck, he ripped it off her and threw it in the marsh. She was originally buried on their estate, but she haunted her brother and so he had her moved to All Saints Cemetery, where she is said to appear wandering, looking for her ring.

I was fascinated yet creeped out by a lubber grasshopper at the cemetery. He was at least 5 inches long.

I took this photo of two women sitting at the pool while I was eating breakfast. They were having fun laughing together. I sent the photo to my friend Pam and told her this would be us one day.

I didn’t eat this, but Jim wishes he had. I ate some amazing food, including (don’t laugh) a pecan waffle at Waffle House. I’d never eaten there before.

The characters in my novel needed a vacation, too, because when I sat down to write (under that umbrella I told you about earlier), they had a LOT to say. I hope someday the people reading on the beach or poolside are reading my novel. Or maybe I will put a copy in their hands next time I’m there.

Jim relaxed.

I let my hair go native.

We took the back roads all the way to Myrtle and most of the way back. Talk about relaxing, even behind slow traffic on a two-lane highway. We saw some amazing landscapes, including the Blue Ridge Mountains. Of course I had to play “Country Roads” on our way through West Virginia.

So as I wait for that “good to be home” feeling to ascend, thank you for letting me share my vacation with you. Please post a comment and let me know about your vacation epiphanies.

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Minneapolis

To all my family and friends in Minneapolis, I want to say how sorry I am that my beautiful hometown is in the news this way and that I’m thinking of you, hoping and praying you are all safe.

I know everyone comes from somewhere and those somewheres are always described as having citizens who are "strong" and "unified in tragedy," etc. etc., but I KNOW Minnesotans and I know that despite our stoic natures, we are the kindest, most giving people I’ve ever known.

Thinking of all of you and wishing you peace and and praying your own friends and family members are safe.

Now I’m Blogging in Memphis

Actually, that’s a lie. I tried to blog in Memphis, but the hotel we stayed at, Heartbreak Hotel just outside Graceland, only provided internet service on two public computers in their lobby. I guess they figured if Elvis didn’t need internet access, neither do guests. 

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We were pressed for time and so we didn’t take the official tour of Graceland. My friend, Jenna, provided me with a popup book of Graceland, however, which in many ways is even better than the real thing. Here are two photos of me freezing my ass off at 8:30 a.m. yesterday in front of Graceland. It was about 35 degrees and the wind was blowing hard, but doggone it, there were pansies alive and well in the planter by the sign (mine in PA died weeks ago with the first frost) and I figure if they can stand the cold, so can I.

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I’m actually blogging from Bella Vista, Arkansas, this morning. We arrived last night and are staying with Larry’s sister. His other sister lives here, too, but the real reason for our visit is to see his mother, Lillian.

Lillian is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She hasn’t known anyone for years, but now she isn’t able to walk or speak. She can still swallow, which is often the last motor function to fail. This will not be an easy day for my husband. He tries to tell himself that he said goodbye to her when she didn’t recognize him anymore, but she is still alive, she’s still breathing and existing, and she’s still his mother. How do you say final goodbyes to the living?

The three-day drive out here reminds me of the geography book we studied in fifth grade. It chronicled a family on vacation, driving coast to coast in their big old station wagon in the 1960s. I remember making a topographical map of the United States using paper mache and markers. When Larry and I drove across the Cumberland Gap I about wet my pants I was so excited. “I read about this as a kid!” I told Larry. He looked at me like “How old are you?” He looked at me the same way when I exclaimed, “Hey, there’s a cotton field!” And, “Look! Rice!”

The Mississippi delta in all its flatness reminded me of growing up on the plains. I felt free and open as we drove through it. I could stretch out unconfined. In the hills of western Pennsylvania where I live and all through the Appalachians I feel claustrophobic. They are narrow, and even though they are much bigger than me, I feel my movement restricted, like I have to make myself smaller to move between them. On the plains and in the delta, I can take up as much space as I want to, stretch out between the sky and the ground with plenty of room to spare.

Vacation American Style

I highly recommend La Quinta Inn in Bristol, Virginia, if you’re ever passing through and need a place to stay. Clean, comfortable, and all the bulbs in the lamps work. The guy at the front desk had the cutest southern accent. Called me ma’am. So did the kid at the convenience store in Birch River, West Virginia. Of course he also spit chew in a cup as he handed my Visa card back to me.

We stopped at the New River Gorge visitor’s center just before crossing the second highest bridge in the United States – 876 feet! Larry already knew he’d be the one to drive across it since my fear of heights encompasses most bridges, too. On our last vacation, Larry wanted to show me the view from atop Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks, the 4,600-feet-above-sea-level view. I was exhilarated and terrified, my body buzzed from my gut to my shoulders as we rounded the last curve and we were on top, a parking lot to our left and the edge to the right. I felt dizzy, almost out of body, like a character in a Virginia Woolf novel and any minute I’d slip just under consciousness and walk over the edge. I dared myself to stay and was treated to a breathtaking view of Lake Placid, Lake Champlain, Vermont and even Canada. In no way did this “cure” my fear of heights, but it deepened my trust of my husband. That’s how I knew that I could keep my eyes open as we crossed this bridge in West Virginia. He always stays on the side of consciousness and wouldn’t drive us over the edge.

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So this agoraphobic is 490 miles from home and feeling fine. Tomorrow we’ll be in Memphis. We gain an hour crossing into the central time zone which means an extra hour walking Beale Street and eating barbecue. The next day we’ve decided rather than take the entire tour of Graceland that we’d hit the highlights and then head to Little Rock to have lunch with a friend and tour the Bill Clinton Library. Yes, I love BC and if  I could spend 10 minutes alone with him, he wouldn’t be able to say “I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman…”

But for now, we’re at La Quinta Inn in Bristol, Virginia, listening to classical music on Sirius radio through my laptop, eating the homemade chili we nuked in the microwave, and watching the Michigan-Ohio State game on mute. Vacation American style.

Two Days ‘Til Arkansas

I’ve forgotten how to travel. The last vacation my husband and I took was two years ago when we went to the Adirondacks for a week. Being slightly agoraphobic, this upcoming trip has taken lots of mental prep, but I think I’m ready to hit the road.

We’ve decided to spend Thanksgiving in Bella Vista, Arkansas, that quasi gated community of white folks near Bentonville, home of WalMart. My sister-in-law and her husband moved there from Houston and my aunt and uncle moved there from Des Moines so we thought we’d kill two birds with one stone and spend one holiday with both sides of the family.

Since I’ve not traveled further south than northern Virginia, we’re taking a few days to drive out instead of making a fast track through the Midwest and turning left in Missouri. On this trip I hope to add four new states to my travel history – Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Arkansas. If we’re feeling really adventurous we’ll hit a fifth state, Kansas, on the way home. Woohoo!

First stop is Bristol, Virginia – not by choice but for convenience. We want to see the New River Gorge in West Virginia and then put a few more hours in before settling down for the evening, which will take us to Bristol. We’ll wake up early and heading into Tennessee, crossing the state and landing in Memphis for the evening. Graceland, baby. We’re staying at Heartbreak Hotel and everything. Not that I’m a huge Elvis fan, but I do appreciate good American pop culture kitsch and what’s more kitschy than Graceland?

Before we continue on the next day, we’ll make a quick side trip into Mississippi. A friend of mine has a rule that she has to complete a transaction in a new state (buy gas, a candy bar, use the restroom) in order to claim it as an actual visit. So we’ll find a rest stop or gas station, buy some pork rinds or pickled okra, and ask someone to take our photo so we can at least say we were in Mississippi.

From Memphis we’ll head to Bella Vista. Maybe we can get in a short trip to Oklahoma since it’s right there. Then we’ll settle in to suburban bliss for a few days. I’ll post photos during the trip, so stop back next week if you get a chance.

So we’re two days away from leaving. I’ll overpack and bring too many clothes and books and more movies than I can possibly watch. I must have my own pillows and the “horsy blanket” in order to sleep in an unfamiliar bed. The horsy blanket is a throw with a large horse on either side. It was given to me by a friend of the family when I graduated from high school 25 years ago. I’ve been sleeping with it ever since. Comfort comes in all forms for us agoraphobes.

I bought a second satellite antenna so we can listen to Sirius radio on the way down. I don’t trust that we can find anything other than country music and conservative talk radio once we hit the Mason-Dixon Line. Besides, I can’t go a week without listening to Jay Thomas, even if it will probably be reruns next week. Something about that man….