7 Things I Learned On Family Vacation

Today is the last day of our family vacation in Florida. My family consists of one husband, one biological son (age 18 – a legal drinking adult in my province), a stepson (age 17), and a stepdaughter (age 10). We are visiting my mother-in-law (a widow who just purchased property for the winters in Florida but who lives with my family in the summertime), and my father and his girlfriend, who have been snowbirds in Florida for a few years.

We split up my family between these two homes to accommodate us all easier – my husband and his two children with his mother, and me and my son with my dad and his girlfriend. They live 20 minutes apart, but we have two vehicles and get us all together each day.

It is an 8 day vacation, that really feels more like two weeks…which is great when you are on vacation in a hot climate.

As I contemplate my last days here, and knowing I haven’t blogged in a while, the thing that is on my mind the most is the learning experience all of this has been.

Here are the 7 things I’ve learned while on this vacation…

7. The damp Florida heat really is good for my Rheumatoid Arthritis and my energy levels. Living in a place that sees -30 degree temperatures during winter and is 3500 feet above see level really takes it’s toll on a girl like me.

6. The people in the USA are very nice people, especially in the service industry. Jobs are so plentyful in Alberta where we live, that they are taken for granted so much so that it is often diffucult to get a smile or “have a nice day” from anyone working there. It’s so refreshing to be appreciated as a customer. Some places we shopped at treated us like superstars.

5. Huge theme parks are highly overrated. We went to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure this week. Tickets cost $96US each, meals were average of $15US each, and everything else that you could possibly need was extra, such as waterproof ponchos, people-dryers, photos with comic heros, etc. The average wait for rides was at least 1 hour. To purchase Express Passes for all of us would have cost an extra $50, and that was after 4pm. We spent the WHOLE day and evening there and the most rides any of us took was 6. It was fun, and we appreciated that fact that we got to go but…we’ve been there now, and done that – but couldn’t afford the T-shirts.

4. Interests and personalities are most definitely inherited genes. My husband’s two children LOVE being in the water, whether it’s in a pool, at the beach, or on some crazy water ride at a theme park. So does my husband. My son would rather sit on the sidelines basking in the sun (or in his case, texting his friends back home). Same with me. I don’t like being in the water. It takes me too long to do my hair, and I have a phobia of pool germs.

3. Family is so very valuable. My husband and I lost parents in the last few years – I lost my mother on Christmas Day four years ago, and my husband lost his father three years ago on December 29. The deaths of our parents have really helped us to appreciate and cherish our surviving parents so much more since. Yes, we all have our quirks and idiosyncrosies that are, at times, unpallatable, but that’s okay…they keep each of us interesting and unique. I’ve also learned regarding family, that we can only do so much to help in certain situations. One family member wasn’t able to join us and he had a really crappy Christmas this year. We wish things were different for him. We love him and want good things for him but sometimes we just can’t help.

2. We have some pretty great kids. Yes, they don’t clean up after themselves enough. Yes, they love to annoy and torment their mother. Yes, they give dirty looks when you ask them to do something. Yes, they smell sweaty and their breath stinks a little too much at times. Yes, they are on their phones way too much. Yes, they make gluttens of themselves with unhealthy junk food. And yes, it’s pretty hard to get the mattresses of their backs in the mornings. But, they are respectful, involved, well-behaved, polite, happy, well-adjusted individuals who have great personalities and senses of humour. I really love being around them (when they aren’t tormenting me) and cherish them because they are growing up way too fast.

1. My husband and I have separate bedrooms at home. We have for our entire married life. We have a difficult time sleeping together because of our different bedtimes, sleeping patterns, snoring, restless leg syndrome, and my RA. But being in different houses while on vacation is not the same. I miss him terribly. Even though I see him everyday, I miss sharing our lazy mornings together…having our coffee, surfing the net, getting the news, hugging each time we walk by each other. Being away from him this week has reinforced the fact that he is the ONLY person I can and want to spend the rest of my nights and mornings with. Even if they are in separate bedrooms.

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Sailboats and a Cemetery

SAILING

My husband and I live in Alberta, Canada. We are landlocked; mountains to the west, prairies to the east, the Territories to the north, and Montana to the south. However, I was born and raised in Newfoundland so I have this inate desire to be on or near the water. My husband is of Norwegian heritage…thus his need to be, as well.

We decided several years ago that we want to live on a sailboat in our retirement years and have been proactive toward that goal; several sailing magazine subscriptions, internet searches and research, and this past weekend…our third major sailboat show.

We purchased two “Take the Wheel” tickets for the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland…or Anna-nopolis, as my husband likes to call it (he embarasses me at times). These tickets gave us access to morning breakfast, a seminar on the joys of sailing, lunch, and then the afternoon out test driving two different sailboats around Chesapeake Bay, as well as an additional day of access to the hundreds of sailboats and supplier booths on display around the harbour.

Me at the helm.
Me at the helm.

The time on the water, being allowed to take the helm, completely reinforced our desire to sail and set our plans in concrete. The sailboat show was amazing, but I booked our trip for five days, so knowing that we had a couple of extra days to spare, I booked a hotel in Arlington, Virginia…just across the river from Washington, DC.

AND A CEMETERY

My husband and I are also former morticians. I spent the greater part of the last dozen years in too many cemeteries. Every death and burial was sad…or very tragic, in some cases. Funeral directors, for the most part, are able to emotionally separate themselves from the grief all around them so we can be effective “undertakers” for the family…doing the tedious work they should never have to do. But there have been times both my husband and I have had to turn away to wipe tears from our eyes in the middle of a service.

All of those years in my profession could not have prepared me for the emotional floodgate I experienced on our visit last Sunday to Arlington Cemetery. Over 400,000 military (and their families) are buried in this sacred place, each plot marked by simple but elegant white marble headstones, meticulously placed in perfect symetry (with the exception of private stones in the older section).

We entered the cemtery from a smaller entrance to the west and two minutes into the cemetery we heard something out of place, looked to the sky, and were astonished to see over a dozen warplanes in perfect formation flying directly overhead. I took my phone, grabbed a video, and immediately began to cry. Where that came from, I don’t know, but that was the beginning of a very emotional day.

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We walked through a large section of the cemetery to the main entrance where we decided we would purchase tour tickets. We stopped at the Kennedy’s grave sites…John, with his beloved Jackie at his left-hand side, and two brothers’ off to his right whose resting places were marked with simple white crosses.

We also stopped at several other notable memorials including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was being guarded around the clock, every day of the year.

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My husband and I were at the very front of the crowd and watched as the Guard, in very precise military fashion, walk 21 steps back and forth, presenting arms at each end (and at one point, turning to the crowd to remind us to remain quiet and respectful) for 45 minutes when we witnessed the much awaited “changing of the guard”. PLEASE do yourself a favor and google this on Youtube. Words cannnot explain the mesmerizing, mechanical (almost unreal) movements of these guards.

The changing of the guard alone brought tears to my eyes, but it was in noticing the older couple right beside us, who wiped tears away the whole time, that moved me the most. Their grief was palpable…and real. I don’t know for sure why they were so sad (I assumed they lost someone dear to them during military duty), but I’ve seen that grief before…many times.

The historic stories of tragedy that are buried with the dead in that cemetery will always be extremely important, but it is the living…those who are feeling the loss in realtime that mean the most; we cannot change the past, but we can offer a knowing smile, a hand on a shoulder, or a heartfelt hug…things that can change their reality…even if just for a moment.  Then we can give thanks (it was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, afterall) for all of our loved ones and the lives we are fortunate to have, and continue on to make the most of those lives…and make plans to live on a sailboat.