At the beginning of July, we will be joining my husband's stepmother's family for a few days on Cape Cod. They've been going there for over 50 years, renting the same three cottages, eating at the same restaurants, building and destroying sand castles with the same grains of sand, combing the same stretch of beach for shells and digging for the same hermit crabs. The sand shifts, the tides ebb and flow, the elements shape and reshape the coastline, and the cottages become more windswept with the years, but generally speaking, it's a place you go where you don't expect much to be different.
This is astounding to me, going to the same place every summer for fifty years. We were lucky enough to have time and funds for a vacation, too, when I was growing up, but it was always somewhere different. Often, we were visiting family: we would travel to Spain and spend ten days covering the countryside at a breakneck pace by car, from Vittoria to Madrid to Granada; or we would spend a week in Puerto Rico near my uncle's school, visiting the rainforest and the beach and the old city. Twice we somehow came into a loaner condominium in Mexico (that was the year my brother pretended to drop his bathing suit off of the 15th floor balcony and nearly gave my mother a heart attack), once we went to a resort in the Dominican Republic (where I ate more coconut buns than were good for anyone). We took a Canyonlands bus tour with forty mostly-senior-citizens (great scenery, but less-than-ideal social situation for a teenager) and spent a few days in Colonial Williamsburg. We made the obligatory pilgrimage to Disney when I was a tweenager, the summer when my younger brother--already too jaded to really appreciate Disney anyway--had broken his leg. Once we spent two weeks at two different rented houses in Myrtle Beach: that was the vacation when my father shaved the beard that was practically part of his face, and I got bitten by a crab that a girl named Julie and I caught using a questionable quality crab trap and a nasty chicken bone. And then there was the summer we actually did rent a house in Cape Cod, though it was far from the beach, which we only went to twice anyway, and I found myself wondering why we didn't just stay home and take day trips to the beach like we would have done in New Jersey; it would have been easier than listening to my mother complain about the gas stove, on which she was unable to cook spaghetti properly.
As an adult, my husband and I honeymooned by biking through Umbria; we traveled to Thailand with a tour company that used public transportation, homestays, and a pickup truck to get around; I took students to Brazil for a five day research symposium; I joined a ten day study tour to South Africa, to look at post-apartheid education in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The bottom line is, I can't imagine going to the same place every year, and staying in one place once you get there.
On the other hand, my father-in-law, who married the woman whose family rents said cottages, has often said I haven't mastered the fine art of relaxing. In fact, he says, I'm pretty horrible at it. He recommends vacationing on Cape Cod as treatment for my condition. (The reality is: I don't love the beach. At least, not in the summer. I love walking along it, I love the power of the ocean, but I hate swimming in it and getting sand in my bathing suit.)
I'm looking forward to getting away, and I'm grateful for the generous gift of space in those cabins, of that family making us feel like family, too. My children love the time we spend there. But
it's also true that I miss the kind of traveling I did as a child, and as an adult before children. It's a very different kind of vacation. It's given me a perspective that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Driving, alone, back across the country from LA to NJ, when I'd decided to leave my first graduate program, I stopped for a night in Sandusky, Ohio, and ate dinner at the bar in an Applebee's. I never eat at Applebee's, and I never eat at bars, so it was doubly weird, but it was a good opportunity for conversation. People were astonished to learn that I was driving across the country by myself, that I'd been so far from home, and that I'd traveled so much. Most of them had never left their town, never mind their state.
Maybe it's true that I'm not very good at relaxing. Maybe it will do me good to have to sit still and do nothing for a few days, and just listen to the thoughts in my own head. I know that my children will thoroughly enjoy themselves; they don't feel the need for novelty and difference that I do just yet. Maybe they never will. Still, I'll look forward to the day when I can take them somewhere new, rock their worlds a little bit, make them a little breathless.
Do you take regular vacations? Did you family go the same place every year when you were growing up, or have you been able to see the world? Do you prefer the kind of vacation where you stay in one place, or do you like to be active and on the go when you're vacationing?
Thai Beef Salad
If I can't be jetsetting in person, at least I can do so in my kitchen. This salad came from a skinny little volume that became one of our favorite go-to manuals for Thai food. It was surprisingly authentic!
2 t. red curry paste
2 t. water
2 t. grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
2 t. lime juice
1 lb. boneless sirloin steak, sliced thinly across the grain
1 1/2 T. lime juice
1 T. fish sauce
2 t. coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1/4 c. cilantro, finely chopped
2 T. mint, finely chopped
1 1/2 c. thinly sliced radishes
1 small kohlrabi, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 to 3/4 good-sized head of lettuce, torn
Combine curry paste, water, ginger, garlic, and lime juice in a bowl. Add sliced steak and marinate 30 minutes.
Spray a skillet with cooking oil, heat to medium-high, and add steak slices. Sear and cook through, turning down the heat during cooking if necessary. Remove from heat; set aside.
Combine fish sauce, additional lime juice, and coconut palm sugar. Add cilantro and mint. Toss with steak.
Place torn lettuce in a large serving bowl. Top with radishes and kohlrabi, and then with steak and dressing. Serve warm.