Vacation—half the fun is surviving

Our son and his family sent a classic snippet while they are on vacation. It is a short video that opens with the sun beaming streaks of apricot behind a bank of dark scalloped clouds hugging the horizon. Majestic. The camera pans a barn, a windmill, beautiful wide-open prairies and wheat fields with perfect right-angle corners. Breathtaking. And then in the background you hear one of the kids yelling, “Stop it, John!”

It’s family vacation time. Who hasn’t had the pleasure? You plan, you map, you pack, you estimate travel time, you pack some more, you count down the days, the kids are excited, you’re excited, but there are always those moments that no family vacation is without.

No vacation is complete without some fighting in the backseat.

No vacation is complete without at least one brief moment wishing you’d never left home.

No vacation is complete without, “I have to go and I have to go now!” Just as no vacation is complete without at least one, “I don’t feel so good,” or “What’s this rash on my arms?”

Somewhere along the line you can plan on someone copping an attitude. Someone will touch someone else’s leg and that will trigger an all out battle. One of your points-of-interest won’t quite match the description on the Internet. There were no tour buses in the photo online, no long wait for a dirty restroom, no bees circling the overflowing trashcan.

Our son sent another email from where they are camping for the night. They are at the Ingalls homestead (as in “Little House on the Prairie”) in De Smet, South Dakota. The picture is the view from their tent and around their tent. It is flat prairie nothingness. There’s no pump, spigot, small creek bed or water drop in sight. No outhouse or port-a-potty can be seen. There is one lonely picnic table, but no grill or fire pit.

There is not another human being in sight. Coyotes and wolves are probably lurking in that tree line in the distance, waiting for nightfall. The skies are clear. You can feel the scorching heat.

It is a still picture with no sound. Probably just as well. Some memories are better left on mute.

Still, they are making the best kind of memories. They are learning to be family, to get along, to iron out differences, to endure one another and love another. Even a vacation is a mixed bag of ease and challenge. Life always is.

To those of you traveling great distances or vacationing with small children this year, two things: God speed, and remember—a family vacation is two parts relaxation and one part “Survivor.”

Furniture logs frequent family miles

We have a family history of moving furniture from one family member to another. We have a bedroom suite in an upstairs bedroom that traveled from a great-aunt to my brother and his wife, who then gave it to one of our daughters.

When the bed, dresser and vanity moved in here, I thought the set finally had a permanent home. A year later it moved out to an apartment. A year after that it came back. We figure it must be one of the Boomerang generation.

We have a piano that has logged nearly 5,000 miles in moves. If it had a dashboard, it would tell us it’s due for an oil change. Yep, just roll your little cart right there under Middle C, Mr. Mechanic.

There is a crib in the family that has been in three different states, six different homes and slept five different babies. It might sound like we are cheap; we prefer to call it practical.

When I visit my brother’s place, I always have a furniture déjà vu. I recognize the sofa in his basement as once having been in Mom and Dad’s basement, but it should be against a wall not in the middle of the room. He probably feels the same about a church pew I have that sits at the top of the stairs. It really should be under a window.

The furniture and goods not only keep recycling, sometimes they even multiply. We bought a small portable blue cot several years ago for when grandkids spend the night and now we have two little blue cots. I don’t know who the second one belongs to or how it got here, but I do know possession is nine-tenths of the law.

When our oldest daughter’s family moved back to the area, they made the mistake of buying a house with a large basement. I immediately offered a carpet shampooer and plastic tubs full of wedding centerpieces someone may want someday, so that their basement didn’t look so empty. Always doing what I can to help.

Her sister donated a table and six chairs that don’t fit in the place where she lives now. And an old saddle. Who doesn’t need a saddle in the basement?

In our most recent round of moves and rotations of household goods, we seem to have lost the dinner plates to my mother’s china. I searched my house and don’t have them. The youngest daughter searched her house and doesn’t have them, and the oldest daughter searched her house and doesn’t have them. Our son says China isn’t lost. It’s where it has always been in East Asia.

How do you lose a box with 16 dinner plates? I don’t think you do. You just keep them moving so fast nobody can catch them.

Humidity got you steamed?

There are beautiful summer days when you feel blessed to live in the Midwest. You wonder why you’d ever leave this part of the country to travel anywhere else. The sky is blue, the air is crisp, the fields are green and birds serenade outside very window. Yes, there are days like that. This is not one of them.

Today is the umpteenth consecutive morning the outdoor thermometer has said the humidity is 98 percent. The only time the humidity drops is when it is actually raining. The air is steamy and muggy. Nearly claustrophobic. When the legislature reconvenes, I’m going to propose a new state motto: “Indiana: Tropics of the Midwest”

The air is so “close” as my father-in-law used to call it, that you could walk outside and shower on your front lawn. Not that I’d advise it. Plus, the shampooing part probably wouldn’t turn out well.

Our 4-year-old grandson likes to sticks his head out a door every morning and report on the weather. “It’s a little bit breezy and a little bit chilly,” he tells me.

“Good to know,” I say.

Minutes later, the husband walks into the kitchen. “Tell Grandpa what the weather is like today.”

“It’s a little bit hot and a little bit cold.”

He’s living the cliché every city claims: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.”

If only.

Last year, when we had a long, miserable run of hot and humid, I was checking out at a store and the clerk said she was from the South and absolutely loved the humidity. I thought about shaking some sense into her, but I didn’t. One, because it would have been the wrong thing to do, and two, I was too weakened by the humidity.

For those of you unfamiliar with claustrophobic, oppressive humidity, there are actually three types of humidity. There is plain old humidity, which refers to the amount of water in the air as measured by women with naturally curly hair. A friend claims it has been so humid that her hair has been curled like a poodle’s since early June. She says when she needs a trim, she’ll probably have to book an appointment at Pet Smart.

Relative humidity refers to the percentage of people that make you feel claustrophobic and closed-in at a family gathering.

Specific humidity refers to the specific point in time you resolve to do something about the humidity by googling “U.S. cities with lowest humidity.”

The top four answers are Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Denver.

Each and every one is a long way to travel to enjoy a bout of fresh air and a morning cup of coffee on a stranger’s patio. I’m not ruling it out.

On this tour make like a tree and leave

One of my greatest temptations is stealing flowers from other people’s gardens. I don’t particularly know why; it’s not like I can’t grow my own plants. I just love everyone else’s garden when I compare it to mine. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with decking in people’s gardens…I can’t exactly steal deck boards! I’d have to contact a composite decking retailer for my own! You’ll be glad to know that I’ve never stolen any flowers; well at least if you don’t count the time I clipped a branch with red berries from a neighbor’s tree for a Thanksgiving centerpiece. The branch was overhanging the sidewalk and could whack people in the face, so I don’t consider that a theft as much as I consider it performing a community service. And yes, I am aware such actions are often the gateway to more serious crimes.

It is with this penchant for criminality that I went on my first garden tour. My friend bought the tickets and had the map. “The tour begins with the house with the wraparound porch. You know the house?” my friend asked. Of course I knew the house; anybody who had driven through the village knows the house.

Being the first ones on site, my friend opened the front gate surrounded by enormous hydrangeas. We oohed and aahed our way up the walk to the lush garden beds surrounding the wraparound porch-freshly mulched hostas, sprawling blue veronica and cheerful Shasta daisies. There are few things I enjoy more than the fruit of other people’s manual labor.

I snapped pictures of every foot of the porch, including the beautiful front door, the light fixtures, the house numbers, the ferns and the outdoor furniture with luxurious pillows.

It was lush, peaceful and, wonder of all, we had this magnificent place to ourselves.

We walked the stone path around the house and through the side yard. We came upon a white gate featuring a birdhouse made out of a hat nailed to it. The gate led to the pool. We peeked in. Charming.

My friend wondered why they hadn’t deadheaded the roses for the tour. Tsk, tsk. And why no refreshments on the porch, I asked. We cackled like crows. We were having fun now.

A few steps later, there it was. The arbor swing of my dreams. I took a seat and breathed deep. Then I took a few more snaps. Maybe later I’d Photoshop myself into the arbor swing relaxing with a glass of iced tea.

It was fabulous, simply fabulous. We lingered some more. I took pictures of my friend’s daughter crouched next to a hydrangea bloom. I needed proof the blooms were larger than a human head.


At the next garden on our map, a woman was in the driveway asking to see tickets. No one asked to see tickets at the other house. This place was crowded. We had the other place to ourselves. Of course, that’s because the first place we toured wasn’t on the tour. Turns out there are two houses in the village with wraparound porches.

I fired my friend as map reader.

I’d even taken a picture at the first house of a little ceramic sign that said Garden Tour. I hadn’t noticed it said 2012.

There are two ways to look at this; either we were trespassing, or we toured a garden three years late. In the interest of a clean criminal record, I’m going with the latter.

At least it wasn’t a house tour.