Hound, Or Holiday?

As the end of the year approaches, some American workers are looking at the calendar and realizing that they once again haven’t used all of their allotted vacation time, and won’t be able to do so before another New Year’s Day rolls around.

1523383408931It’s a surprisingly common situation.  Polls and estimates indicate that U.S. workers are not taking as much as half of their permitted paid vacation days each year — benefits that are worth about $62 billion.  One study concluded that only 23 percent of employees used all of their permitted vacation time.  Another 23 percent used less than one-quarter of their allowed time off, 19 percent used between one-quarter and one-half of their vacation time, 16 percent used between one-half and three-quarters of their holiday allotment, and 9 percent took no vacation time at all.

Why aren’t people taking the time off that they’ve earned?  Believe it or not, one of the more common stated reasons for forgoing vacations is that it’s hard to arrange for pet care.  Other workers confess that they’re just worried about their jobs — whether it’s purported concern that nobody else can take care of their responsibilities while they are gone or fear that leaving might put their job in peril somehow.  In my experience, still others simply have the martyr complex, and like to portray to their co-workers and supervisors that although they in fact would prefer to take a vacation, they’re just too busy and important to actually do so.  (Here’s a tip for the martyrs out there:  no one believes you when you say that, and it’s irritating, besides.)

I long ago decided that vacations are important — in fact, as important as anything else about your job.  I think it’s crucial to take regular holidays to avoid job burnout and to remain fresh and engaged with your workplace responsibilities.  My practice is to always have a vacation somewhere on the upcoming calendar so there is something to look forward to, and as soon as I return from one I try to get the next one scheduled.  Otherwise, six months down the road you realize that you really could use some time off but your upcoming calendar is filled and there are no openings until months in the future — by which time you’re approaching a year since your last vacation.  That’s a pretty miserable way to live your life.

And by the way, there are lots of good facilities out there to take care of your pets, so you can’t use that as an excuse.  In fact, if you’ve gone months without taking a vacation, your pooch probably senses your mounting stress level and is finding you pretty hard to be around, anyhow.  A stay at the Pet Palace might be a holiday for Fido, too.

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Keeping Maine On The Brain

We’re back from an all-too-brief trip to Maine.  We ate lots of seafood, hiked around, got out on the water, and gulped down as much of the salty, energizing shoreline air as our lungs could stand.  We enjoyed temperatures that never got above the 70s and evenings where the thermometer dipped down into the 50s, windshirts and hoodies were required attire, and windows were kept open for optimal sleeping conditions.

When I get back from a vacation, I always try to hang on to the relaxed vacation mindset as long as possible.  I hope to retain some Maine on the brain — for a few days, at least.

Vacation Whiskers

On our vacation I admittedly let myself go a bit in the grooming department.  Sure, I took care of the basics, with showering and shampooing, but I decided not to shave the not-already-bearded parts of my face and neck.

IMG_2352Somehow, shaving seemed incompatible with towering mountains and wild rivers and hiking and bears and deer every time you turn around.  It’s not just the northern mountains that bring out the non-shaving urge, though — I often don’t shave on beach vacations, either.  In fact, I grew my current beard in 1997 on a family vacation to Florida.  When you’re on a vacation where you hope to get away from it all, scraping your face every day with a sharp blade is one of the things you want to get away from.

But now we’re back to reality in Columbus, Ohio, where there are no mountains to be seen and the only whitewater is found in the jacuzzi at the nearest health club.  And when you’re returning to the real world, it’s time to clean up your act and brace yourself for the rigors of everyday life.  So this morning I lathered up with soap and scraped off those vacation hairs that had been happily growing on my cheeks and neck for the last week or so, and then I trimmed my beard, which was starting to look as overgrown as the old growth forest on the hiking trail to Avalanche Lake.  It was kind of sad, though, to see those vacation whiskers wash down the drain and mark an official end to our holiday at Glacier National Park.

So now I’m properly neat and trim once more.  I’m ready to head to the office.

 

Revisiting

Kish and I have been talking recently about taking a trip.  Travel is always a fun topic of conversation.  We do research, get suggestions from friends, read materials and look at photographs that inevitably cast the potential destinations in the best light possible, and then basically close our eyes and mentally stab a finger at a spinning globe.

The process always makes us recall the really wonderful vacations we have taken in the past — where we’ve gone, and what we’ve done when we were there, and why we enjoyed those places as much as we did.  And that raises a very basic question:  why not just go back to one of those places that you visited, and really enjoyed, before?

stock-photo-9315426-spinning-globeThere are a lot of people who do exactly that.  They go to Las Vegas every year and stay in the same hotel, make the same canoe and camping journey year after year, or take a Caribbean cruise on the same cruise line.  Things may be tweaked a bit to make this year’s version of The Vacation even better than the last one, but it’s basically the same trip.

It’s not hard to understand their reasoning.  For those of us who work for a living, vacation time is limited and therefore precious.  Why take a chance on going to a new place that might not work out when you can go with the tried and true?

Deciding whether to revisit an old destination or try a new one involves a factors that can tell you something about a person.  There is the yin and yang of familiar versus unfamiliar, comfort versus excitement, and stress versus relaxation.  There are risks either way.  A trip to a new place could turn out to be a bomb.  On the other hand, going back to a place where you had a marvelous experience might not quite live up to your memory.

I wouldn’t say that Kish and I are adventurous, exactly, but we do err on the side of the new rather than the old.  We’ve been to some places multiple times — like Paris, or New York City — but they are destinations that are so rich in things to do that there isn’t much duplication, and each trip has had a different feel depending on whether we have gone by ourselves or with the boys, or stayed at a hotel versus a VRBO apartment rental.  Most of the time, though, we reason that it’s a big world with lots of great places to see.  And our forays into new lands and new settings have, for the most part, been great.

Still, there are some places I wouldn’t mind seeing again.  And I think that, one of these days, we’ll go back to some of them, and see if they still have the same magic.

Home

At what point do you suppose that you first grasped the idea of “home”?  I imagine it was one of the first concepts I ever understood, and probably one of the first words, too.  It was a specific, physical place, to be sure, but it was a lot more than that.  It was where the most important people in your life lived, and you developed happy feelings that you associated with the special combination of that place and those people and your things — the sense of where your life was centered, and of being where you belonged.

And as you grew up, and your family moved from one house to another, and went on vacations together, the concept of “home” became even stronger, because you realized that your home was not just one place, but could change from one city to another even as you left your friends and favorite places behind, and was more than just the temporary location of your Mom and Dad and brother and sisters.  And after such a move to new place, when the settling-in process finally ended, at some point you thought to yourself that your new house had become less strange and “finally felt like home.”

IMG_6833The home-shifting process continues, for many of us, as our lives proceed and we move through college and venture out on our own.  At some distinct point the concept of “home” morphs from the place where your parents are to the place where you and your spouse and your family have established their own lives.  The legal concept is called domicile — the location where you have established a permanent residence to which you intend to return, whatever your temporary movements might be.  Courts trying to determine domicile evaluate evidence like where you are registered to vote, where you pay your taxes, and where your kids go to school, that seek to capture, to the maximum extent that bloodless legal “factors” can, the emotional element of having found a welcome place where you have sunk down roots.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have grown up with a solid sense of “home,” with the warm, deep feelings of belonging and physical security and personal value and countless other attributes that come with it, can’t fully appreciate how having a home has shaped our lives and personalities.  And we can’t really imagine what it must be like to grow up without that essential emotional and physical center, or to someday lose it entirely and become “homeless” — a powerful and terrible word, when you think about it.

Yesterday, as Kish and I drove back from a vacation on the coastline of Maine, the pull of “home” became irresistible, and what was supposed to be a two-day drive became by mutual agreement a 17-hour, roll-in-and-unload-after-midnight rush to get back to our little center of the world.  And when we finally made it, and were greeted by a small, happily barking dog whose tail was sweeping the floor like a metronome set at maximum speed, we once again were reminded of what “home” is really all about.

Toes In The Sand

IMG_2279Every few years, I want to take a warm weather vacation after the weather turns cold in Ohio.  I want to put toes in the sand, hear the crash and thrum of waves on sand, feel the radiating sunshine pulsing on my bleached white brow, and drink a cold beer while the condensation beads up on the bottle.

I want to see turquoise water against yellow brown sand, sit under a brightly colored beach umbrella or covering made of palm fronds, and read a book in bright sunshine.  I want to walk on the gritty sand, look for an interesting sea shell or two, and watch a sailboat scudding across the waves and framed against the far horizon.

In short, I want to get as far away from my normal day-to-day existence as I possibly can.  This year, the destination is a few stops in the Windward Islands.  We’re on our way.