I'm back from vacation, and even though I don't have a normal office job, it's still hard to be back in reality. Having a major sneezing/allergy attack yesterday didn't help either. That put me out of commission for the majority of the day and this morning.
But I feel like I learned a few things on this trip. First off, it was a 25-person family reunion of my in-laws. This is the fourth time we've done this since 2000, not including our wedding, which did reunite everyone, but Andrew and I didn't get to relax and hang out with everyone. The goal was to do this every other year, and we did pretty well by that, just this time we were a year late (after the wedding 3 years ago). We returned to the Outer Banks, NC, as we had done in 2000 and 2002. But this year we upgraded the house, and it made a huge difference.
25 people - even though we're all family - still need to be able to have their own space when you're talking about being in the same house for a week, and with 6 kids running around. Having a pool, 3 hot tubs, 3 levels of wrap-around porches, and the ocean 400 yards away doesn't hurt either. So even though this house was a little more money than previously, it totally paid for itself with the large rooms, enough beds for everyone, and the large upstairs kitchen/dining room/TV area where everyone could spend time without feeling like they were on top of each other. Plus, the additional TV/pool table area on the bottom level, where the kids could play away from the adults, didn't hurt either.
The house and location were way too easy to get used to. You had to drive on the beach to get there (yes, 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive were absolutely necessary), which had the benefit of guaranteeing a quiet, more secluded area. The downfall was that not everyone could drive out there, and trips into town had to be planned in advance. And the beach was not as calming as you would normally think since people drive their cars there, park in the middle, and there are constantly cars driving on the high side and low side (near the water). And mind you, these cars have very limited control over steering and stopping (especially when half of them are tourists in cars that probably shouldn't be out on the sand in the first place). So I was very glad the kids in our group were older so we didn't have to stress over watching them so much.
The views were still spectacular, although at the time they didn't strike me as much as looking at the pictures do now. The wildlife was fantastic - pelicans constantly flying over the sand dunes and ocean when they wanted to feed; other birds like gulls and terns and many others I didn't know the names of since I didn't bring my birdbook; pods of dolphins offshore close enough to see their dorsal fins rolling along the water; the "wild" horses which decided to visit us many mornings, often spending hours outside our porches - 2 mares, 2 stallions, and a colt most of the time. We had glimpses of deer and fox, lizard tracks, and thankfully the bug count was pretty low. I'm a huge draw for mosquitos, and I only got a few bites on my feet and knees.
So what do we have so far that I learned?
- with 25 family members, ensure a happy week with lots of space and entertainment options (did I mention the TVs in every room and the Wii and 2 XBoxes we brought?)
- enjoy the views, quiet, and wildlife while you're there. It's easy to take forgranted - until you get home and the difference is almost overwhelming
Now let's add to that list:
- adults and alcohol + no driving = happy times (until the beligerent drunks emerge, when you just ignore them and hope they pass out soon)
- waking up, putting on a bathing suit, and staying in it all day makes me happy. Especially when large quantities of sunscreen are used and massive sunburn is avoided. There is something wonderful about sitting in the sun, reading a book, till you're hot and cool off in the pool or ocean (even when they're 80 degrees!), and then continuing that cycle all day. Then shower and relax before dinner, hang out with the family/read/whatever till you fall asleep, and do it all over again the next day.
- I love the Pacific Ocean, but I would love it even more if it got as warm as the Atlantic. Wetsuits may be made for all sizes, but they're not really appropriate or comfortable for all sizes.
- I love flip-flops (growing up we called them thongs, but now that has a different connotation). I love it even more when I can go barefoot most of the time and only put on my flip-flops when crossing hot sand or going into town. And thusly when told I should wear a hard-soled shoe (flip-flops don't count) to help heal my bruised/sprained foot, I decided it could wait until I went to the airport/got home. It was a shock to my foot to have a sock and a real shoe on! My foot is still not healed completely, but I still prefer to be barefoot around the house and put on flip-flops when needed.
- fruit is a wonderful thing. Especially when sitting in the sun all day. Add chips and dip, and I'm a happy camper. Only problem is the detox period, when those cravings start midway through the day - and the weight gained. And that is the one downfall of the vacation lifestyle - mixing eating whatever you want, whenever you want, with wearing limited/bathing clothing all day. And that's why you vacation with family or people who love you for who you are, not what you look like!
- in a pinch, you can cook marshmallows for s'mores on foil on a charcoal grill. It's not the same as having your own stick, but they still taste pretty damn good!
- fireworks are always fun, but even more entertaining with few lights around and right over your head!
- family drama can be overwhelming, especially when 25 people who aren't used to living together have to share the same space for a week. And this is when we refer back to having enough space to retreat and recoup, as well as the ignoring skill. This is yet another reason to carry a book with you at all times. "What? I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention. I'm engrossed in my book."
- also along these lines, remember that you're fitting 2 years of family time into 1 week. So even though your family drives you nuts, you'll be glad later that you spent as much time with them as you could stand
- the iPhone is a wonderful thing. So much so that it deserves its own post.
- lastly, packing at 2am when you leave at 7am is not a good option, especially when you're already stressed. you will forget things, and when trips in to town are few and far between, and there's only tourist shops around, you will miss having things like bug spray, a beach towel, sweatpants, and a bathing suit cover-up. All of which are happily sitting at home in a pile, just waiting to be used.
Even with all the stress of flying, driving, coordinating, and family drama, I wish our vacation could have lasted longer. Hopefully we can keep doing this every other year. And to those of you who never take vacations or stay at home, let me just say that it's not the same. It's worth a little stress to get away from the norm and force yourself to relax. Recharge the battery so when you do come back you're more focused, able, and happy (well, the grumpiness to no longer be on vacation may last a while, but the recharge is still worth it). I hope you all are able to schedule some family/friend/recharge time in the near future.