Tag Archives: vacation

The Beach…

I was lucky enough to go on vacation, yet again, without my children. I am terming the summer of 2010 the summer of Jen’s selfishness.  A cruise with my husband, a writer’s workshop in Disney, and now my favorite place in the world with my best friend: Cape May.

My girlfriend and I made a pact when we were teenagers and discovered that both of us felt spiritually connected to Cape May. We had gone to other vacation spots and beach places, but nothing else called to us like the end of the Garden State Parkway. I have memories of late nights spent on the wraparound porch of the bed and breakfast inn, hearing the horses hooves clop steadily over the pavement. Old oak trees bent and tangled with time stooped low over the uneven sidewalks. The ocean roared in your ears, the breeze tugged at your hair, and delicious boardwalk scents rose to your nostrils: pizza, hot dogs, fudge, ice cream and popcorn.

Over the years, we lost two of our girlfriends to marriage and babies and pleas of no time. My friend and I have battled through five pregnancies between us, husbands, work, and a million other factors to keep our vow. Every August, it is our time. A time to reflect, to meditate, to relax and to shop.

I have been dedicated to my writing journey since returning from the conference. My brain and spirit are attuned to the work, my senses are open to the voices around me as I pull from life to make something on the page come alive. Today, I spent the day on the beach and finished reading the novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein It’s a brilliant book written from a dog’s perspective. The pages are filled with lessons on life from the soul of an old dog who believes when he dies he will be reincarnated as a man. I sat in my beach chair with my feet in the sand and read the entire book in a few hours. I would pause between the chapters, catching my breath and allowing myself the respect an author deserves to think about the words written – words that were rife with meaning and subtlety and a soft brilliance. The key to many life lessons were contained in this novel, more so than any self-help or Secret book I have ever read to date. As I closed the book, I felt as if the layer of veiled ignorance had lifted from my view. I gazed at my surroundings with fresh perspective and meditated on this journey of life.

I walked to the shoreline and looked at the endless expanse of colorless gray ocean and sky to watch and listen. The screech of seagulls commonly called rats of the sky – but in their element so full of grace as they tuck their wings in and soar through the air in silence and peace. The scream of little children chasing waves, and teenage girl conversations filled with giggles and gossip behind glossy magazines such as Cosmo and Redbook. The sights and sounds of the beach surrounded me, and my brain was free of thoughts, free of anything but the sharp tang of salt in the air and the sting of the water lapping around my ankles, cleaning the cut I got from shaving this morning. I expected the water to be icy cold and held my breath as I made my way in, but the water was warm, and swirled with temptation to gather me in. I waded deeper. The ocean roared with satisfaction and spilled great pools of white saliva in an attempt to take my life, then retreated to try all over again. I breathed in and out and thought about people, and our life here, and how brave we have to be in order to gain anything worthwhile. We have to be very strong to believe in ourselves and our dreams and let no one steal them.

The novel teaches many things about race car driving. I learned the sport is much like writing. And life. We manifest what we see. We must believe in every turn of the journey and never think to be passed or to retreat is to lose. Sometimes, we have to adjust and accept where we are, but never give up. We have to finish the race. Sometimes we will lose, and sometimes we will win. But if we finish the race, in a way, we always win. Always.

We have to finish the book and we have to write as much as we can. On that beach, I realized I had so many emotions and thoughts about the time on earth we have here, as a mother and a woman, and the only way I can possibly make sense of this world is to write. Some people race. Some act. Some dream. We must find that place buried deep inside where we recognize the person we were when we were young and foolish and not afraid to believe in things that did not make rational sense.

The end of The Art of Racing in the Rain completes a cycle. I believe we are meant to read certain books at certain times in life, to delve deeper than we could before because the words the author wrote are meant to be yours. Maybe on that one hot afternoon on a beach. Or one quiet night snuggled beneath your covers as the rain falls outside the window. There are words that soothe and heal and inspire and make us happy. That is one of our gifts of being human, of being writers and readers.

My fingers quiver to write the words flowing through me, knowing I will get some right and more wrong. Knowing when I get home I will get down on my knees and pull my family close, because the curve around the racetrack is a hairpin turn and we never know what comes next. I will grab my two rescue dogs in my arms and scratch their bellies and let them slobber over me with gratefulness because I realize the souls I have glimpsed when our gazes meet and lock are timeless, old souls who may become human in their next go around.

The beach is my place, in Cape May. I remember who I am there, I revisit the person inside who is making this journey, and I say hello. I am then able to go back to my reality, and make dinner and give baths and run errands and fall into bed exhausted. I remember what I am here for, and then I am full again to go back and do it again and again.

What is your place? A beach, a special book, your comfortable bed? Is it in the corner of a room in your favorite chair where you remember who you are, even for a moment?

I hope everyone finds that place to reconnect…and to remember.

Stein, Garth. The Art of Racing in the Rain. Harper: New York, 2008.


Ah, summertime. Sun and sand and surf. And vacations. Sometimes, I am afraid I live for vacations. I did so when I was younger, too. I remember my father telling me whenever I had a few extra dimes in my pocket (or savings account) I was researching another tropical island to visit.

My European days are over for a bit, so the four of us trotted off to my new favorite place: Sesame Place. It’s a beautiful, clean park well suited for younger children. It has tons of water rides, shows, a parade, and games. As usual, the biggest attraction for my kids?

The hotel.

They love hotels. They run up and down the hallway, look at the vending machines, and swim in the pool. They jump on the kingsize beds and play hide and go seek in the closets. They love going potty because it’s a brand new bathroom. And their favorite vacation ritual is to snuggle up in the blankets and watch America’s Funniest Home Videos together and laugh like crazy. They don’t really watch it at home – but on vacation it is a must see. Part of their happy place.

We moved from Sesame Place to spend the next couple of days in Lancaster County, PA, the heart of Amish Country.  We experienced a horse and buggy ride to an Amish farm and watched them milk the cows.  We saw Thomas the Train, took long rides through rolling hills, swam in the lake, and ran free at night chasing lightning bugs. The cabins had no phones and no television. Not even a radio. We bought farm fresh strawberries and ate corn on the cob and all the food was made with whole milks, real butter, and real sugar.

I had forgotten what it was like to get back to basics and it installed in me a new perspective of what I want my children to grow up with. I proudly told my husband we were changing our ways. I was going to go to the organic butcher for all of our meats. I would only buy fruits and vegetables from the farmstands right down the road from me. I would cook more and microwave less. I loved the way real sugar settled in my stomach and the natural sweetness of farm grown foods.

I began worrying about cancer and hormones and what my children were ingesting. I was completely enthusiastic and motivated to change our lives. No bad foods during the day. One dessert at night. Fruit every day without fail or they will be punished (Jake, not Josh. Josh eats fruit but Jake only recognizes bananas as something he would ingest.) My husband, knowing me well, nodded and approved of this change and just let me go on and on and on…

We spent the Saturday evening in the cabins during a thunderstorm reading, talking, and playing. This is what family is about. This is what I want for my kids. Game nights instead of tv.

It took us hours to get home with all the traffic that Sunday. Unpacking, baths, dinner, laundry, getting ready for work the next day – the usual schedule when vacation is officially over.  We had pizza that night.

The next day, I had to work late so we had soup.

OK, and chicken nuggets. But NOT from McDonalds – no way – I always tell the kids it’s unhealthy there. These were Perdue nuggets with REAL chicken.

On Tuesday, I was finally able to food shop. I made my list, was going to visit the special butcher and the farm stand, and things seemed to happen.  The day passed far too quickly and I compromised by going to the regular supermarket where I could buy everything under one roof and I can put the kids in the shopping carts that have cars so they don’t fight.

Yes. It was official. I am a complete sell out.

I bought peaches and apples at the farm stand, but I couldn’t even make it that week to Adams. I still haven’t. I would like to buy organic and still plan on visiting the butcher, but I found out it’s really expensive too, and my budget is tight.

Oh, and the kids gorged on movies and Noggin for days on end after the vacation, half starved from not seeing any technology for three whole days. My husband and I did the same – and had DVRd all of our reality shows.

The good news? We visited Hershey Park and took the chocolate tour. We bought tons of candy bars made of whole milk and sugar – a very healthy treat in my house.

I guess that is the extent of my Amish efforts.