A Vacation About Nothing, Sorta

27 Aug 2006
August 27, 2006
View of the beach from our balcony through out the day.

With time on my hands I photographed the seashore from our condo’s balcony throughout the day.

I was looking forward to our Vacation About Nothing: a week at the beach. When I meditate (I’m quite the novice), the vision I grab is one of me laying on a huge blanket next to the ocean water, the sound of the waves taking me to “my other place.” My sister-in-law recently loaned me her white noise machine, which included a wave sound, but it just didn’t cut it. There is nothing like the real thing. And I was so looking forward to it.

Spending a few days at the New Jersey shore has become a tradition in our family. For the past five years we’ve spent 4 days and 3 nights at the Bal Harbour Motel in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. But this year we decided to try something a little different. After scouring the Web and Google Earth we rented a condo right across from our old hotel. Instead of a few days at the shore we’d have a week. We were filled with anticipation. Sight unseen (except for a satellite view) we arrived at our place, a half block from the beach with a full balcony view of the ocean. We were most pleased.

View of the beach from our balcony through out the day.

My girls had their own room. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law had their own room, as did my wife and me. The view was spectacular and the accommodations and amenities luxurious compared to our old digs across the street. I was ready for some serious R & R where I would immerse myself in another world, free of stress. Total relaxation in order to recharge your batteries for the rest of the year: isn’t that what these beach trips are about?

Yes, in my dreams and deep meditative states. While the trip was indeed relaxing I can tell you with authority that it’s hard, no impossible to completely eliminate the outside world. Nothing is perfect, not even that perfect beach trip.

But like the true Type A that I am, I’ve come home and created a balance sheet that outlines those things that could keep me up at night verses those that put me to sleep. Borrowing from Wired Magazine’s monthly Wired/Tired/Expired comparison chart for the latest memes, I offer you my own (Just a Little) Wired/Tired (But Relaxed) list:



Packing for a family of four is like moving to a new house. As long as the minivan could hold it we took it –just in case. When you rent a condo you’re required to bring all your sheets and towels. Add everything else you might need and your neighbors think you’re moving out. I’m not good at jigsaw puzzles but I’ve become a master of packing the car to its limit. However, the thought of moving one more suitcase between house/car/condo made me wish a manservant came with our rental.

As a surprise for my girls I bought the Lion King CD to play on our road trip (they’ve been singing the songs as a duet for the past six months after my youngest learned them in her school chorus). When my wife reminded me we had no CD player in the van I impressed the whole family by putting the album on my iPod and playing it through the car’s speakers. Road trip bliss and harmony ensued.

Before we left I sent my wife back to Trader Joe’s to stock up on guacamole. I envisioned the pleasure all of us would have each evening as a prelude to dinner. Unfortunately, the abundance of guac mixed with the unstated but clear directive from my wife –“You made me get this so you’d better eat it all before we leave for home.”– filled me with remorse. By the end of our trip the mere thought of an avocado made me queasy.

On shorter trips to the beach the pressure to spend every waking minute on the sand is intense. With a full week the pace was much more leisurely. We never could seem to make it to the water until after lunch and nobody cared.

A week prior to our departure our cat was diagnosed with diabetes. Our wonderful neighbor who usually volunteers to feed Lava after work earned a medal of honor by offering to come twice a day to feed and socialize with our very sociable feline. Calling to let us know all was well made our trip much more relaxing, but not until we received our evening phone call.

Given the extreme weather conditions we’ve experienced this summer (torrential rains in June followed by a long and humid heatwave in July) this week was just about perfect. Low humidity, temps in the mid 80s, and sunshine every day. We’ve totally forgotten Tuesday when an almost gale force wind was ready to blow our beach umbrella out to sea.

On our first night my sister’s-in-law cat-sitter called to say she couldn’t get into the house to feed the cats. Her key wouldn’t work but she was positive it was the right one. After numerous attempts to successfully guide the key in via long distance a locksmith had to be called. It was hard to convince him via the phone that my sister-in-law was indeed the owner of the house. Occum’s Razor (the simplest explanation is the correct one): the cat sitter had the wrong key.

I’m a morning person. On workdays I wake up at 5:30 am; weekends I sleep in until about 6:30. After a few days at the shore I was sleeping until 9. This hadn’t happened since 1964. My wife was shocked.



A beach vacation sounded idyllic until I realized it took us an hour each day to apply sunblock on everyone’s exposed skin. By the end of the week I had the slickest skin in New Jersey and decided to stay in the last day and read. Getting some sun was too much work.

I love to read. But in the normal world who has time? I was so relaxed I read three books: a little sci-fi, The Stolen Child by our friend Keith Donohue, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Plus I started a fourth: Getting Things Done by David Allen. Thoughts of self-improvement are so much easier when you’re far from the life that needs improving.

Trying to watch your weight on a vacation can be tense. Don’t tell me vacations are a time to just forget about it. I had vowed to lose enough before the trip so I could throw caution to the wind but I failed miserably. So I had to make myself be very aware of what I was eating each meal. It was stressful but I did it! By the end of the week my pants were looser.

A full kitchen allowed leisurely and family-oriented meals. Eating out every day can get old quickly. With the condo owner’s supplied coffee maker and our French Roast starting each morning with a good cup of coffee upped the pleasure quotient (Wildwood has no good coffee bistros and you know how bad restaurant coffee generally is). The dishwasher made clean-up a breeze and we’ve collectively decided we can never go back to the confines of a motel room.

Last year my sister-in-law’s prescription sunglasses were swept out to sea by a rogue wave. We joked about checking Lost and Found this season to see if they’d turned up. But we had to end the family joke when one of her regular lenses fell out of its frame and broke this year. The rest of her vacation became monocular and I suggested lasik surgery when we got back home.

Our condo came equipped with a 50 inch plasma TV (at home we still live in the world of 27 inch CRTs). With our Netflix DVDs it gave all of us an intro into our future world of “home entertainment.”

Forced to play miniature golf one evening I was viciously attacked by killer mosquitoes, despite the application of repellent. These bites were much more itchy than our homegrown variety and this little souvenir lasted the entire week.

A washer/dryer at the beach makes the sandy mess we brought home daily from the shore more than manageable. In previous years we’d find sand in our motel bed and six months later I’d see it at the bottom of my suitcase as I packed for a business trip. Bonus: the supplied laundry room allowed us to return home with suitcases full of clean clothes (and no sand).

We have a tradition of stopping off at the outlet malls on the way home, searching for good buys on school clothes for the girls. If we hit the jackpot it’s worth it. But we’re taking a big chance and our success rate is spotty. This usually puts us at an ETA home of 8 pm, tired and exhausted.

This year we agreed to spend only one hour at the outlet mall. Our early departure got us home at a more reasonable hour: three hours earlier than in past years. Our cat was very happy to see us and told us we made the right decision.

View of the beach from our balcony through out the day.

Related Life Outtacontext Stories of Past Family Vacations: Vacation 2001: West Meets East, a comparison of West Coast and East Coast Beach Experiences; Vacation 2002: At a Standstill on Long Island; What I Learned on My Summer Vacation by Jeff Gates; Getting a Freeway Education, Hollywood Style; and High Adventure in Disney’s Tomorrowland

4 replies
  1. Greg says:

    It’s good to see the person flying the flag has shown the proper respect to it’s display.

  2. Jeff says:

    So very correct, Greg.
    BTW, your comment above is the 600th [no spam] comment on Life Outtacontext. Congratulations! You’ve won the opportunity to spend a glorious fun-filled week with my entire family at next year’s vacation at the beach.
    No need to thank me. It’s nothing.

  3. Ralph says:

    The roman numeral version of 600 is DC. It is ironic that the first comment about your vacation should contain within it a reference to your work.

  4. Donna says:

    I loved this recap of your family vacation. My favorite line: “Thoughts of self-improvement are so much easier when you’re far from the life that needs improving.”
    I had heard about a year ago that the prices of large screen HDTVs would drop considerably this Sept. Have you checked? I think we are ready to bite the bullet from our smallish (but multi standard so we can watch PAL DVDs) TV.

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