(with a shoutout to Ilene, who knows what I'm talking about.)
My parents may have been practiced globetrotters, but they weren't exactly light travelers.
My memories of day trips to the Jersey Shore when I was growing up involve a full day's worth of planning, an early rise time and Tetris-like ritualistic packing of the car, and upon arrival, a trek across the burning sand with a tower of coolers, chairs, blankets, towels, the blue and red Martin and Rossi umbrella and other sundry items precariously balanced on an upside-down folded chaise lounge, cinched around the middle by my father's belt and held by a chaise leg-handle on each side by one parent. There was so much shit piled on that chaise lounge that we had to stop every twenty feet or so, allowing my mother to rest, heaving dramatically while my father, shirtless, shifted from foot to foot, looking impatiently at the water.
While it's true that once we settled in for the day, we used most of the shit we dragged with us, sometimes I looked around me at other people who seemed to have come with a towel, sunscreen, and a bag of chips, and wondered what that life might be like. (Though to be completely honest, I also marveled at the people who pitched canvas wall tents with porch-like overhangs, wishing we'd thought to bring a small house with us, too.)
It will seem strange that, type A that I am, I don't like to plan trips. I like to get up, shove some things in a shoulder bag, and go. Maybe it's something about vacation representing distance from the planning, I'm not sure; whatever it is, though, I am resistant to large-scale orchestration of events that just don't warrant overthinking. Like dinner at my mother's house, for example.
After surviving that particular overthought event on Saturday, and waving goodbye to S., who left on Sunday morning for a conference, I decided I was going to take the kids to the beach. I knew that next weekend, the Jersey shore would be crawling with summer people, and we needed to get out, anyway. I grabbed my daughter's now-tiny diaper bag, the camera, a few granola bars, and our jackets, and got the kids out the door in less than five minutes.
My favorite memories of the Jersey shore were not the beach days of my youth, but the spontaneous trips in the off-seasons, including one post-hurricane damage-surveying trip with a colleague, and another time during that last wild week at college when, after gorging ourselves on chocolate-covered-strawberry ice cream from Thomas Sweet, we drove to Point Pleasant to burn papers and notebooks, the funeral pyre of our short intellectual lives. My father preferred Sandy Hook, and miles of uninterrupted sand; though we never got to ride on the amusements, I preferred the boardwalk at Point Pleasant, the people-watching and the smell of salt mingled with damp wooden planks and taffy. And that's where I headed: south, and east.
The day couldn't have been more perfect: cool and breezy enough to wear a sweatshirt on the sand, warm enough to go barefoot, alternate sun and overcast skies. We ate fish tacos and pizza at a beachside grill where the server played peek-a-boo with my daughter (who squealed with delight at the attention) and presented her with a bright pink pail and shovel (then, as an afterthought, a green one for my son); we went out onto the beach and tossed our few belongings on the sand, and the kids dug holes and filled buckets and collected shells and ran down to the frigid shoreline for a good hour and a half. It sprinkled occasionally, rain mingling with the ocean spray, and fishing boats drifted by, followed by clouds of raucous seagulls. I finally dragged the kids away with the promise of a few rides before we headed home--the ferris wheel and the roller coaster--and treated us all to Kohr's creamsicles and orangeade.
On the way home, two soundly sleeping children in the back seat, two buckets of shells tinkling in the front, Dylan on the radio, rain spattering the windshield, I felt completely content.
When I'm tempted to carry too much baggage, this is what I need to remember: the sun, the sand, the shells, and an empty stretch of time. They're enough.
What baggage do you need to leave behind?
Grilled Fish with Warm Fresh Mango Salsa
Ideal fare for summer, without much preparation.
6 filets tilapia or other white fish
red onions, thinly sliced
1 mango, chopped (1/2" pieces)
a little jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
Parchment bags or circles of parchment about 1' diameter
Place 1 filet of tilapia in the parchment bag, or on half of the circle (you will fold the circle to make a half-moon). Top with a handful of onions, mango, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, jalapeno (optional), and 1/2 t. olive oil.
Seal bag or fold the circle in half and curl the edges all the way around. (Stapling works well, too.)
Grill for about 3-4 minutes per side, or bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 10-12 minutes.