Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Vacation from Hell (aka The Long Rant)

Summer in the United States: hamburgers on the grill, baseball games, swimming, fishing, catching fireflies in a jar. And invariably for a lot of people, this also means a family vacation.

I'm mandated in my Bank employee handbook to take five of my vacation days in a row at some point during the calendar year. And since my children, now teenagers, won't be children much longer, I thought a few days away from the humble abode, especially since we'd just painted kitchen cupboards, would be a fun-filled and refreshing change.

Never again.

My husband belongs to a hunting camp in the northern tier of the state, and it was his suggestion that, finances being what they are, we should consider reserving the cabin for a few days and get away to the peace and quiet of the great outdoors. Now, given that my idea of "vacation" includes the availability of room service and clean sheets on daily basis, I was a bit skeptical. I had seen the cabin before ... these men are not roughing it by any stretch of the imagination while they pretend to gather game to feed their families. (To illustrate the point, their microwave scrolls a message after the ding, hoping you enjoy your meal. I've known waiters in exclusive restaurants to offer less.) Nonetheless, I always like to center our getaways around something memorable (and educational) for the kids. I was thinking Monticello, with a stop at Mount Vernon on the way home. But hubby persevered, and I finally agreed to spend three days "up north."

I must admit, I was acting a bit selfishly in agreeing to the proposal. I had visions of hubby taking the kids fishing or hiking through the woods while I ... I would sequester myself on the back deck of the cabin and write. I've been finding it devilishly difficult to find a block of time in which I can sit down and focus enough to begin my novel. But I saw this as an opportunity, convincing myself it would serve as my own private writer's retreat.

If you find it in your heart to do so, please ... pity the delusional.

My personal Walden:

Anyway, we got a late start on Thursday, leaving three hours later than we'd intended. We'd borrowed the brother-in-law's Jeep Cherokee, added a Hitch-Haul to the rear, settled the dog in the hatch and off we went. Three-and-a-half hours, two headaches, and one restroom stop later, we arrived at camp, windblown (no air conditioning) and hungry. Within ten minutes of unloading the Jeep, a huge thunderstorm slammed us, knocking the power out. Hubby and I decided to go to the local WalMart and get groceries, but found the mountain road blocked by trees felled during the storm. He called to caretaker to come cut a path through with his chain saw while I backed the Jeep (yes, in reverse) up the road to the cabin.

We finally ate around 9:30 pm and then played a few board games before going to bed. During the night, Amy was bitten by a spider on the lower leg, the dog paced the living room because none of the chairs in the room were "her" chair, and the dew was so heavy in the morning that my hubby, who was sleeping by the open window, was soaked.

He also woke up with a bad case of Montezuma's Revenge.

We had planned to go to the Corning Museum of Glass, my meager attempt at an educational foray, on Friday, but by the time I woke up, it was pouring down rain, and continued to do so for most of the day. The kids and I ventured back to WalMart to get hubby some Imodium, got caught in a thunderstorm with hail the size of golf balls and vowed we were getting out of there the minute the rain let up!

We managed to escape at 4:00. The Corning Museum of Glass was actually pretty cool, according to my kids. We watched a gentleman named Eric make a glass strawberry, then toured the museum. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting to be bored, but they have items from ancient Rome, the middle ages, the industrial age, all the way up to contemporary art. My favorite pieces:

From the Heineman Collection:

A chess set ... Jewish religious figures versus Catholic religious figures, both in caricature.

Sam figuring out the mechanics of a telescope:

As part of the wonderful museum experience, we had the privilege of participating n a fire drill! Alarms so shrill they set your teeth on edge. Did I mention that only moments before, it had looked like a hurricane outside, with rain sheeting in the wind? Add a couple of palm trees and we could have been on the Gulf Coast. Fortunately, the rain had ceased by the time the alarm went off, so we congregated under a canopy across the parking lot from the museum, shivering because the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees while museum workers in flourescent orange vests milled about with walkie-talkies trying to look like they knew what was going on. Luckily we were only outdoors for five minutes before they let us back in the building. Emergency Management was on the job!

The ride back to PA was uneventful and the drive was beautiful: (ignore the date stamp ... Amy's camera somehow reset itself and she doesn't know how to change the calendar.)

This was, of course, after an impromptu tour of Painted Post, NY, where we had difficulty finding the onramp after my children couldn't decide where to dine. We ended up returning to the cabin, snatching hubby from the bowels of boredom, and going to Subway. The highlight of the day? Sam had gotten a glass chess set at the museum gift shop and the kids taught me how to play.

Saturday dawned wet and gloomy, but I arose early in hopes of snatching my coveted Writing Time. I situated myself on the back deck, coffee and breakfast in hand (and a blanket because it was 60F!) and prepared to write.

I managed one page, front and back, before I was invaded. Hubby, kids, dog ... all wanted to join me. My nirvana lasted a grand total of 93 minutes.

Did I mention there was a pile of bear poo in the back yard? A little too close for my comfort.

Hubby was in a hurry to get packed and on the road again, so we cleaned the cabin, erasing all evidence of our presence and set off down the road. The tarp he'd brought along to cover the gear on the Hitch-Haul was about the size of a bath towel, so we kept a wary eye on the storm clouds. We'd gone perhaps 25 miles south when hubby banged his fist on the steering wheels and said, "Oh, --expletive deleted--! I forgot to turn the water off."

Uh ...

Needless to say, we turned around and went back. Stretched our legs, grabbed some food in town ... and noticed a mysterious ticking noise. (**thinks of Potter Puppet Pals**) Hubby pulled over and checked out the Jeep. He couldn't see anything amiss so we took off again. We noticed that the ticking got faster when he accelerated, so he pulled off the road again and checked under the hood. Good thing he's a mechanic because when he said, "I can't find anything wrong," it carried far more weight than if the average joe had said it and I began to really worry. He reassured me that we'd get home fine.

Famous last words.

It was a long ride home. I slept, daughter #1 slept. Just past the last exit on the interstate before ours, the Jeep ...



Hubby yelled "--more expletives deleted--" and managed to get us onto the right berm of the road (since the left is full of orange construction cones) and we called his brother for assistance. They came to pick us up in their van just in the nick of time, because hubby and son had been "walking the dog" in the field beside where we'd parked, which used to be a golf course, and they'd collected an entire bag of golf balls.


**mumbles ** Freakin' packrats, that's what they are.

Anyway, the Jeep needed to be towed, so brother took the kids and I home. I had no housekey and hubby stayed with the Jeep, so Sam climbed through the living room window to let us in. At 10:30 pm, Amy and I drank some caffeine and ventured to WalMart, the only store still open, to get things for hubby's lunch since he had to work the next day.

Well, he would have, that is, IF he'd gotten up in time. See, he's supposed to be at work at 5:00 am, and I woke up at 5:20, used more expletives, found him on the sofa and woke him up so that he could use more expetives, and he ended up calling off.

Does the fabulous weekend end there?

Oh, no, gentle reader ... there's more. On Sunday afternoon, hubby left to pick up #1 from a birthday party and he stopped to put gas in his truck first. Imagine his surprise when the truck refused to start again! He thought it was the battery, so he found someone to give him a jump start then picked up #1 and headed for AutoZone. Of course, he didn't ask them to test the old battery until after they'd put the new one in and, lo and behold, it wasn't the battery but the alternator instead.

**raises eyebrows**

He kept the battery anyway.

The dog laid on her chair for three days and refused to eat, drink or acknowledge our presence, even when we petted her. She'd just stare off into space, glassy-eyed, or glare at us, if it's possible for dogs to glare. She was either really, really p***ed off at us, or highly traumatized.

Memorable? Monticello would have lost by a landslide.

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