Tag Archives: vacation

Blind luck

Today’s topic is, as the young people might say, kinda random.

It might seem that it comes out of nowhere, but there have been a couple of occasions this week that stirred me to give thought—and thanks—to something I often take for granted.

First, it was while I was editing a brochure on eyeglasses that it struck me how utterly dependent I am on something so small, yet so brilliantly invented. Then a casual conversation with someone whose eyes are as bad as mine brought it home.

I started wearing glasses in sixth grade. There wasn’t a fashion accessory much cooler in 1971 than octagonal, wire-rimmed frames. Now I can’t find the alarm clock in the morning without my beloved specs.  

I always wondered what it would be like to lose them. How would I survive? One day I had the chance to find out and, although it was 10 years ago, the memory still conjures panic.

My husband, son and I were on vacation in Aruba. The first day, I slipped on some jagged rocks, tearing up my whole right side. I was so covered with bruises and open cuts and was so sore that I could barely walk.

The second day, we took an all-day boat excursion around the island. The Jolly Pirate turned out to be an overcrowded party boat offering all the rum punch you could drink and some guided snorkeling, neither of which appealed to me. I had tried snorkeling only once – on our honeymoon, an island vacation that, in addition to a bad snorkeling experience, brought me intestinal flu, bronchitis and severe sun poisoning.

In Aruba I decided to give snorkeling another try. The boat had made several stops during which I had stayed aboard. The last stop, at the deepest point in the cruise, was the site of the featured attraction—an old shipwreck. The guide gave me some special goggles that fit tightly over my glasses so I could see under water. I lasted about five minutes, decided I still hated snorkeling and swam back toward the boat. As I was climbing the ladder, I pulled off the goggles and away went my one and only pair of glasses, flung far into the deep blue sea.

Immediately, my husband and son and a few people who were around to witness my mistake swam around to search for the glasses, but found nothing.

I sat there, on the edge of the boat, blind, disoriented and by then a little seasick, facing eight more days in Aruba. I didn’t have a spare pair, or a written prescription. I didn’t even have prescription sunglasses; all I had were clip-on shades with nothing to clip them to.

Bruised, blind and crying, I could not imagine how I’d get by another minute, let alone a week. We’d have to go home.

Someone brought my plight to the attention of the guides, who had helped themselves amply to the all-you-can-drink cheap rum over the course of many hours in the hot sun. I dismissed the idea as futile. Just then, the jolliest and seemingly most rum-soaked pirate guide took a swan dive off the side of the boat. He stayed under water a good long time, without a snorkel, and came to the surface with my glasses.

I was without my sight for only about half an hour, but it was almost as if I could see my whole life pass before my eyes. Or, in this case, not.

The morals of this tale: Travel with a spare pair and a copy of your prescription, don’t prejudge a jolly pirate and give thanks for the things in your life that give you sight.


Filed under Beauty and Fashion, Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Sports and Recreation, Travel


Yesterday was much ado about 10-10-10. There were more weddings than usual and probably some induced births, scheduled to take advantage of the memorable binary date.

On our way to church, my husband and I were listening to a rerun of a Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown on satellite radio. The date flashing across the car radio screen was 10-10-70. We commented on each song and what we remembered about it. On 10-10-70, my husband had begun his senior year of college. I was in fifth grade.

All of a sudden, I remembered exactly what I was doing on 10-10-70. I have included here a page from my diary on that date 40 years ago.

I was on vacation in Rome with my parents and grandparents—my mother’s parents, Nanny and Grandaddy, and my father’s widowed mother, Nana Marie. Nana Marie was my roommate on the trip.

The diary page tells the short version of the story and this blog really doesn’t lend itself to a much longer version. But it happened like this. Rome was the third and final city of our European trip and we had arrived by train from Zürich late the night before. The six of us did some sightseeing in the morning. My mother, her mother and I went back to the hotel to rest, while my father, his mother and my grandfather walked over to look at the Vatican, a sight Nana Marie had waited her whole Catholic life to see.

Later that afternoon, my father and grandfather returned to the hotel, looking grim. They broke the news that, after they turned the corner at St. Peter’s Square, my grandmother looked up at the Vatican in awe, quoted a verse from her childhood catechism book and collapsed. Minutes after arriving at the hospital by ambulance, she died. She was 52 days away from her 60th birthday.

October 10th isn’t an anniversary I observe regularly; just when I happen to remember it. Thanks to Casey Kasem and Sirius XM, I saw the reminder in bright red numerals. 10-10-70.

I dedicate this blog post to Marie Elizabeth Perry Ruslander and all who loved her, with the Gospel words that may have been her last. Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


Filed under Family and Friends, Travel

Loopy lyrics

In 1991, my husband, our toddler and I rented a beach cottage in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. It’s the same cottage we still get almost every summer.

Over the years, the owners have upgraded the cottage with assorted amenities but, in 1991, it was pretty rustic. No dishwasher, no microwave, no air conditioning. Worst of all, no TV. There was, however, a cassette tape player.

When we arrived with our two-and-a-half-year-old, we thought the absence of a television would be a plus. That is, until we realized we had one cassette tape. For the whole week.

It was Wee Sing Silly Songs. The three of us must have played that tape—and sung along, with hand motions—20 times or more that week. Got to know all the silly songs by heart.

Who can forget the classic “John Brown’s Baby?” Or as our son sang it, “John’s brown baby.” He had a cold upon his chest, and they rubbed it with camphorated oil.

Oh, what did Delaware, boys? What did Delaware? She wore her New Jersey, boys. She wore her New Jersey.

Good times.

I know that, in years to come, when we are in The Home, drooling in the corner and unable to remember our own names, we’ll still remember the lyrics of the great children’s songs. I’ll have to be sure my son has a copy of “Silly Songs,” in whatever format it will be then, to play for me when I’m old.

My brothers and I grew up on Irish drinking songs and versions of children’s songs that weren’t yet scrubbed of their political incorrectness. Didn’t we all? 

I went to the animal fair, the birds and beasts were there
(we thought it was bees)
The big baboon, by the light of the moon, was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey he got drunk. He fell on the elephant’s trunk.
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees,
And what became of the monk? 

Then there were the songs we learned on the playground, such as “Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat.” We thought we were so cool because the lyrics allowed us to curse without cursing. 

Or this:

Tra la la boom di-ay, there was no school today.
Our teacher passed away; she died of tooth decay.
We threw her in the bay; she scared the fish away.
And when we pulled her out, she smelled like sauerkraut!

What songs comprised the soundtrack of your childhood?


Filed under Family and Friends, Music, Travel

The great outdoors

Every year, as the crispness of autumn begins to creep around the bend, my husband’s thoughts turn to camping.

He goes several times a year with friends and loves it. He even cooks. I used to go occasionally, and our friends always went out of their way to make sure I had a pleasant time. But honestly, camping isn’t my idea of vacation time well spent. For one thing, all that sitting around gives me the jitters. And did you ever try to go shopping in a campground store?

It’s cliché to say that my idea of camping is a Holiday Inn, but I will say that comfort and cleanliness rank fairly high.

I do appreciate that camping is a valid low-cost vacation option, especially in this economic climate.

It seems that another popular way Americans save money is by taking a—pardon the portmanteau—staycation. You know, it’s where you take time off from work but don’t leave town. Instead, you might lie by the pool or visit attractions near your home.

I opened the Travel section of The Washington Post yesterday and learned of yet another increasingly popular, affordable—and portmanteau-named—getaway option. This one might just bring my husband and me a little closer to agreement, and fit within our budget at the same time.

The Post called it “glamping.” The article takes readers to so-called adventure resorts that offer relief from cumbersome equipment and flimsy tents, as well as clean, comfy beds, natural scenery and, in some cases, amenities galore. One place apparently has lockable French doors, which I want if the storied Son of Ratman is still on the loose.

Just imagine, you’ll enjoy the aroma of a crackling campfire without splinters. And roll over in your sleep without hitting a tree root or falling off your cot.

I wonder how the shopping is.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Travel

Character study

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was delicious reading.

Last week, while my body was on a barrier island in North Carolina, my spirit was living in 1946, in the coastal town of St. Peter Port, in the Channel Islands, between France and England.  Fate takes the main character, a writer, to Guernsey, where she chronicles the stories of its people, who had survived—some not—the German Occupation of their island during World War II. 

It’s hard for me to shake a book.  Same thing with movies.  I linger in the setting for a bit, enjoying the company of the characters as if they were my closest friends, even adopting their speaking styles.  After reading the book, it was hard to resist the tendency to use “fancy” as a verb and utter words such as “twaddle” that don’t otherwise roll off my pedestrian American tongue.  I loved every page of this book and beg you to pick up a copy and dive in.

While on the Outer Banks I also enjoyed early morning coffee at the ocean’s edge and an occasional champagne at sunset.  I ate as much fresh seafood and key lime pie as humanly possible.

Also on this trip, my husband and I undertook a social experiment.  When eating out, instead of sitting at a table, we pledged to eat at the bar of each restaurant we visited, and get to know the people on either side of us.  Sometimes we sat long enough to get to know several rounds of patrons.

Our dining practice did indeed spur some fascinating conversations. 

At one place, we happened to sit next to a man we had met the previous summer—a retired high school basketball coach from the county where I grew up.  We met a sober-looking woman who ordered a cocktail made of six different liquors.  Another night we were drawn into giggling group of women in their sixties, away for a girls’ weekend. 

At Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar, I struck up a conversation with a woman who had ridden to North Carolina on a motorcycle from Middle Tennessee.  I was familiar with Middle Tennessee because I have two very smart, clever and well-read friends from there.

This woman asked me where I was from.  I replied that I was from the Washington, D.C., area. 

She raised her eyebrows.  “Washington, D.C.?  Ain’t that where the president lives?”

Guernsey 1946 or Kill Devil Hills 2010, over potato peel pie or key lime, it doesn’t matter.  Interesting characters are everywhere if you just pull up a stool and ask, “where y’all from?”


Filed under Family and Friends, Food, Reading, Travel