Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lessons from the Atlantic

As you may have noticed, I've been off the blog for a couple of weeks.  Chad and I took our kids to Myrtle Beach for a summer getaway with another family we've known for years and who grew up in that area.  We usually vacation in South Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, but with an invitation I couldn't refuse and enough airline miles to get us there, we found ourselves at the edge of the warm and salty Atlantic Ocean.
(the family - staring directly into the sun)

A vacation has unusual powers, often unintended and ancillary, but greater than the mere ambition to ignore the daily grind for a while.  If I pay attention, I can learn a few things from any vacation to take home with me.  I may even write a few lessons down and display them on my fridge with the new flip-flop magnet I purchased at the airport gift shop!

Vacationing with friends is tremendous!  We can help each other watch the kids on their boogie boards, prepare meals together, mix up the family dynamic.  And, when the kids have playmates, Mom can take break from constantly entertaining children.  Even Chad let his hair get wild and rumpled on this trip - I loved it!
(Samantha and Edward, relaxing after kayaking)

What a wonderful mix of excitement and serenity.  We played in the waves, played at a water park, played at Pirates Voyage dinner theater, played at Ripley's Aquarium, and played in the waves some more.  Samantha (my friend) and I sipped our hot beverages and listened to the music of the ocean in the early mornings, and Chad and I listened at night.  No matter how loud the crashing of the waves against the sand can be, it is still calming.  And, to get me out of my comfort zone, as Samantha is fond of doing, we went paddle-boarding on an inlet.  Fun, soothing and tiring at the same time.  It was only after we'd arrived back on land that Samantha shared that we'd paddled right over a shark.  And, to think my fear had been alligators!

I love, too, visiting other parts of the county for the food culture.  The Myrtle Beach area is a playground, with mini golf and surf shops on every other corner.  Typical dining includes fried mozzarella, fried corn dogs, and fried... fries.  On the upper end of the spectrum is the seafood, and I believe I would have to begin eating it again if I lived there permanently.  The sea provides bass, clams, oysters and all kinds of fruits de mer in abundance, of course.  As corn and wheat are staples in the midwest, I have to concede that shellfish are the primary food source of the Atlantic Coast.

To avoid the fried monotony of the roadside establishments and still feed a primarily vegetarian group of thirteen on a budget, Samantha and I turned to our cooking styles from home.  Since Samantha and her family stay there for most of the summer, she travels with most of her kitchen, which made things pretty easy.  Keeping it simple made it even easier - and possibly tastier, too! Grilled veggies, Israeli cous-cous, salads with fresh roasted corn and heirloom tomatoes, warm bread, and my go-to Phat Salad recipe which I can make from memory now.  I was thankful for a few corner farmstands because the markets there are, sad to say, very commercial.  There isn't even a Whole Foods within reach.  No organic market, not a decent egg.  My kids were thrilled to have Reece's Puffs forced on them for breakfast for a week!

My attention, and lots of our conversation, revolved around the lifestyle back at home and how accessible quality family-farmed foods are in our neighborhood.  Expensive compared to the prepackaged, tasteless stuff at the supermarkets, but worth every dime.  At least I have the choice at home to serve my family meals that Mama Nature intended.  I saw first-hand how other parts of our nation couldn't find a zucchini grown without pesticides and flown in from Bolivia if they were desperately searching for it.

We talked, as well, of the disintegration of community and what it has done to our farms, our food, and our culture.  Lucky for us, we brought our community with us!

Still, there was something of the ocean that I wanted to take home with me, something this part of the country had in abundance that I barely have at all.  Life is slow and happy at the beach.  There is something about the pulse of the current that you have to obey, that tells you to take it easy, to breathe it in.  The sun is hot and your body just can't move as quickly.  You head for the water, which cools you, but also keeps you moving in time with the rest of the sea life.  You rise and set with the sun, you play and rest with the tides.  Despite the fleeting morning anxiety in my stomach that reminded me of all the work piling up at home like a growing stack of mail, I couldn't help but close my eyes and forget it all upon opening the sliding glass door facing the ocean and breathing a sigh of relief, cup of coffee in hand, that this moment was the only one available to me.

This feeling of freedom and a slowed pace is, in part, the nature of vacation.  But, it is also the nature of nature itself.  A pumpkin doesn't hurry up its growth, and if we dump a bunch of chemicals on it to make it meet the desires of a culture bred on cheap immediate gratification, then we end up with a pretty bland pumpkin and a corn-syrup-propelled obesity epidemic.  Growing our economy, our bodies, and our lifestyles to meet this ridiculous standard has left us with heart disease and nervous breakdowns.  At the beach, there's no choice but to let the pace of nature guide me.
(a bird in her nest over the front porch light fixture)

Of course, vacation ends rather abruptly.  I got to talking to a young lady at the airport who turned me on to some other blogs about sustainability and gardening.  Wonderful!  But, on the connecting flight I was accosted by a hostile woman in sunglasses who ignored the flight attendants request to put her seat up and then yelled at me that my six-year-old was laughing too loud.  It was tough not to respond with matched hostility, but I had to remember that she probably hadn't been to the beach, probably ate out of a box most of the time, and probably lacked the serenity of nature's rhythm.  Whether or not I guessed right about any of this, it still provided a way to be forgiving about the ill-tempered behavior.

Arriving back at home, my dogs greeted me with high-jumps and kisses, though the hens gurgled their hello through the coop's window, refusing to come out.  My sprawling kitchen practically glowed.  The peas have bid their farewell now, the pumpkin vines are dying back, but the sunflowers are enormous and there are still a bunch of tomatoes that I hope will ripen before the season truly ends.

The tension of the work that has piled up is brewing in the pit of my stomach: sign the kids up for fall activities, plan Gabi's birthday party, restock the pantry, get the laundry done, go through the mail and pay the bills, respond to emails, reschedule the events I double-booked, and on and on.  But, I'm taking a moment to gaze out my own sliding glass door to the rain that characterizes Northeast this time of year and to hear its beat on the roof and shrubbery and deck boards.  But, water is water in its many forms, and it can teach me something if I take the time to listen to its message. The pulse here is different and has been much displaced by business, the same way the deer have been displaced by urban sprawl.  (Sad and ironic how both nature's pace and deer are seen as the problems!)  My work will get done and my garden will be tended.  My children will have their activities.  The world will continue to revolve without my assistance.  I need to force nothing because nature has already provided the only things that matter. And, I am happy.
(Gabi and best friend Phoenix)

I wish to get back to Myrtle Beach again, when I need an infusion of serenity.  I wish the sustainable food movement makes it there and the beachy pace makes it here.

I am thankful for quality family time and my lasting friendship with Samantha.  I am thankful to learn, even a little, the way of the water.  I am thankful for watching my children play in the sand and ride a wave into shore.

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