Sand Dollars

The basic Belizean unit of currency is called a “dollar,” but the $20 bill has a nice picture of a younger Queen Elizabeth on it, rather than Andy Jackson.  And if that’s not jarring enough, the dollar coin is a weighty hexagon — also with the Queen’s visage.  It would be a cool ball marker on the golf course, but it doesn’t seem like real money, does it?

After a while, you really don’t care.  It’s beach money.  Call it sand dollars.  You’re not taking it back to the states with you, and then trying to exchange it at some midwestern bank branch with a befuddled clerk trying to figure out the “exchange rate.”  If you brought it back, it would just end up in that box with the weird change in it, right?  So spend it while you can.  On your last day of Vay-Kay, head down the beach to that nice bar where the beer was especially cold, and give the barkeep and the cook an especially generous tip.  They deserve it!

The goal, ultimately, is to spend every paper and metal scrap of vacation currency before the departure plane leaves the runway.

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Rockywold Deephaven Family Camp

IMG_2658Kish’s and my road trip last week was one of the most enjoyable vacations we’ve ever had, and part of the reason was our two-day visit to the Rockywold Deephaven Family Camp near Holderness, New Hampshire.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get away from the hurly burly of the modern world for a while, reconnect with their family, and relax.

I’m not going to try to describe the camp, its history, or its activities, you can find that information at the RDC website.  Instead, I just want to list a few reasons why I think this place is special.

First, Squam Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, anywhere.  Remarkably clear water, physically beautiful, perfect for sailing, canoeing, kayaking, or using the motorboat for a tube run.  We used it mostly for swimming and floating and basking in the warm sunshine.  Even better, it is absolutely, perfectly, breathtakingly quiet in the morning.

The view from Bungalow bench

The view from the bench in front of our cabin, Bungalow

Second, you have lots of lodging choices.  We were going to stay in a communal lodge, where guests share common areas, but there had been a cancellation and we got a small cottage instead.  Ours was a one-bedroom enclave called Bungalow, and the cabin options — all of which have their own names — run the gamut from one bedroom to cabins large enough to accommodate multiple generations of a family.  Our cabin had a porch that faced the water, a bench that was right on the shoreline with a great view, and its own little dock where we did our swimming.  It was ideal for us.

Third, there’s not a lot of clutter with modern amenities.  Don’t worry, there are plugs so you can recharge every one of your 50 electrical devices, and we had good cell phone and wireless coverage in our cabin, so you can still get your technology fix.  But there was no TV, no refrigerator, no stereo or radio in our cabin — which encouraged you to get off your duff, walk the grounds, breathe deep the fresh air, hike, swim, fish, read, or join in one of the communal activities, and otherwise avoid the insipid cat videos and internet mindlessness that otherwise fill so much of our lives.

The Deephaven bell tower

The Deephaven bell tower

Fourth, there was an interesting tradition and dynamic at the camp.  Many of the guests when we were visiting had been coming there for years, if not generations, and the RDC encourages that by using a kind of seniority system to assign cabins and tables at the dining hall.  And because there is some separation between the Rockywold and Deephaven parts, which have different dining halls for example, the old pros have formed strong allegiances to their respective sides.  Our cabin was in the Deephaven section, and when we got to talking to other Deepers at a picnic lunch it was clear that they would never consider the prospect of ever staying on the Rockywold side.  Horrors!

Finally, the dining was all done in a communal dining hall.  Meals were served at set times and announced by a bell ringing at the bell tower.  The food was good, and plentiful, and served buffet style, and every family sits at its own assigned table.  It was a pleasure to see parents, kids, and grandparents as they ate their meals together.  There were other communal activities, too — a chance to make tie-dyed shirts, a picnic, a family movie (Frozen, of course), a talent show where little kids were the stars for a night, boat cruises, an ultimate Frisbee match — and all of them seemed to involve kids, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  I’d wager that the families that spend a week at the RDC grow stronger and closer in the process, which is probably why they come back.

The Rockywold Deephaven Camp has been around since 1897.  It probably hasn’t changed much, while the world around it has changed a lot.  It’s part of the reason why it’s such a great place.  I wish we had known about it when Richard and Russell were kids.

The Deephaven dining hall

The Deephaven dining hall

Emerging From The TV-Free Zone

When Kish and I arrived from from our trip yesterday, we had gone eight full days without watching a minute of TV.  Last night we broke the string by checking out the end of the PGA tournament.

IMG_2667For the first few days of our trip, there was no real TV option to be had.  Our room at the bed and breakfast in Tamworth, New Hampshire didn’t have a TV set, and there wasn’t a TV to be found anywhere on the premises of the Rockywold-Deephaven Family Camp (which is, I think, part of the whole idea of that great facility).  We didn’t feel deprived in either place because our days were filled with walking, swimming, reading, and visiting places we wanted to see.  In fact, not having a TV was kind of liberating — there was one less choice to be made.

The same was true at our stops in the Berkshires and at the Chautauqua Institution grounds, except that I think our rooms in those two places may well have had TVs.  We didn’t really notice because in both places we had lots to do, with more strolling past new places, visiting the spectacular Mass MoCA Museum, and watching Shakespeare and a fine concert and ballet performance.  After days filled with such activities, watching some limp TV show would have been a kind of comedown.

I’ve often thought that TV is a kind of reflexive gap filler; you’ve got a few hours to kill before you go to bed, and watching TV helps to pass that time.  It’s not that TV is an evil force, it’s just that it’s an easy default option — and a mindless one.  Our vacation showed it doesn’t have to be that way.

Lake Squam

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We’ve moved a few miles south, to the Rockywold-Deephaven Family Camp in Holderness, New Hampshire. We’ve got our own little cabin, with its own dock stretching out into the beautiful, crystal clear water of Lake Squam.

The picture above really doesn’t do justice to this lovely, peaceful place.

Those Soul-Deadening Travel Delays

The flight from Columbus to Dulles left on time and arrived early.  It left me plenty of time to take the train over to C Concourse to catch my connecting flight.  I wanted to get an early start on my holiday, and specifically picked early flights so as to avoid any travel snags, so all was working according to plan.

IMG_4248The screen at the gate showed an on-time departure.  Sitting in C Concourse, I heard the United Airlines rep explain that we would be boarding in groups.  And, then, with no warning or explanation, disaster struck.  The flight, which was supposed to leave at 8 a.m., was delayed until 1 p.m. for “aircraft servicing.”  Huh?  How did the need for servicing come up so suddenly, and on an early morning flight?  Wasn’t the need for “servicing” apparent more than 30 minutes before departure?

So now I’m stuck in the Dulles C Concourse, experiencing all of the soul-deadening elements of an aging American airport — lame food selections, cheap naugahyde seats, bad music on the intercom, a couple changing their baby’s diaper two seats over, and an unreconstructed hippie woman strumming a guitar in the waiting area.  I guess I’m just lucky she didn’t say we should all join in for a “singalong thing,” or a number of us would have had to give in to the urging of our inner Bluto from Animal House.

How has Edward Snowden managed to do this for weeks now?  The only good thing about this delay is that it will make the vacation all the sweeter — if I ever get there.

The Waterside Way

We’ve been staying in a bungalow on the shores of the bay outside Blue Hill, Maine.  Our cottage is a bit rustic, but with the beautiful scenery and sound of water and the wind through the trees, you quickly adopt a more forgiving attitude toward the world.

No air-conditioning?  No problem!  Open the windows wide and enjoy the fresh air.  Spiders in the shower?  That’s okay, too — just part of the woodsy charm of this place.  Put your wet clothes outside and let Mother Nature dry them for you, leaving a faint scent of salt behind.  There’s no point in hurrying off to dinner, either, not when you can sit on the porch chairs, your feet up on the railing, and have a pleasant, meandering conversation and drink some wine while you watch the boats slip by.

It didn’t take long for the water to work its magic on the big city attitude.  If only we could bottle the relaxed waterfront approach and take it with us, to dole out when the stresses and pressures of work and normal daily life seem to conspire to make every molehill into a mountain!

Tea Time

One of the many distinctive touches you find at The Greenbrier is tea time.

The tea time concert

Every day at 4 p.m., a pianist sits at the grand piano in the garden room to play a march.  Then, uniformed waiters and waitresses come striding into the main lobby to the  cadence of the music, carrying silver trays groaning with cookies and sweets.  The trays are placed on a large central table in the main lobby, tables with silver canisters of steaming hot tea and iced tea are moved into the room, and the guests descend to enjoy the feast.

In the meantime, the pianist gives a 45-minute concert to all who prefer to take their tea with musical accompaniment.  It is quite pleasant indeed to sit in the beautiful garden room with the pianist, sipping tea and milk, nibbling on an almond cookie, and listening to the strains of Beethoven’s Fur Elise or a medley of Disney movie tunes.

Good vacations are made, I think, of little moments like this, where you do something fun and unusual in a distinctive place and then can recall the moment with pleasure after you return to your ordinary routine.