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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Summer Under the Big Tent in Sanibel Gives Life Meaning...

The tent is where it's at...
There’s nothing like good food and libations to bring a family together (Then again, even bad food with good libations works just as well). Add the sun, the beach, a tent and, this year, even a volleyball net, and it’s our annual family vacation at Sanibel Island Beach in the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Alright, I must admit, despite living in South Florida, it’s probably one of the few times of the year that I venture onto a beach.  I hate sand!  I hate being in wet sticky clothes and lugging around beach chairs, an umbrella, a cooler and plastic beach toys.  And, I'm not exactly partial to the sun; although I usually end up looking like an old black-face minstrel act by the last day!  (Then again, what else can you expect under the big tent?) 

Nevertheless, I guess it's a small price to pay to spend quality time with my wife, kids, extended family, including my parents, and several close friends.

As a matter of fact, unlike the first couple of years, where I would get bored just relaxing and doing nothing but reading, conversing, eating and drinking (if you could imagine that!), and preferred hanging out indoors in the air conditioner and out of the sun (Sanibel is hot!), after fifteen years of going with my wife's family, and more recently, since my kids were born, with my parents, I've grown to love just kicking back under the big tent; enjoying a constant flow of fresh caught fish fry, pan con lechon, bocaditos con pastica, pigs in a blanket, tostones, brie with guava and crackers, and my wife’s uncle’s famous Miami Wamis (a delicious rum concoction that has become synonymous with the annual trip for decades).

Needless to say, the kids love it. They practically get unbridled independence (although that may be overstated since there are always plenty of adults to keep an eye on them) and spend time swimming, playing with their cousins and friends, riding on my wife's cousin's boat, canoeing or, this year, paddle boarding, having sleepovers, and staying up late.

It kind of reminds me of my summers with my cousins at the Jefferson Hotel in Miami Beach (although we were a little more mischievous). Aside from the endless hours diving, swimming and doing cannonballs and can opener jumps in the pool (I always hated sand!), I remember many hours of causing havoc running around the Jefferson (where we stayed every year before it burned down and was replaced by a restaurant and shopping plaza), playing tag, hide-and-go-seek and making noise into the late hours of the night.  We were often told to pipe it down by the hotel staff!

Even worse, I recall running through our hotel and neighboring hotel hallways playing ding-dong ditch (although we called it by its less politically correct name) and twice forcing the evacuation of  buildings by ringing the fire alarms (It was my cousin's idea!).

In any case, at least so far, our kids are more innocent.

The weather was better than usual this year; instead of the daily afternoon shower, we only had one afternoon and another morning washed out because of rain.

Like every year, my wife took the week to prove to the world (and her family and me) that she is in better shape than women half her age.  Every morning, she got up at 7am and went out to run, anywhere from five to eight miles, depending on the day, then got back to our beachfront apartment and did an exercise video; all before breakfast!

Meanwhile, I caught up on lost sleep and, when she would get back, I had a chance to attend daily Mass, which because of a change in my work schedule, I haven't been able to do since April; so it was fine by me.

In fact, aside from my mother telling me I reminded her of my fat uncle coming out of the water one day, things couldn’t have been better (that’s the thing about family; you get the brutal truth whether you want to hear it or not!).

Although, we didn't do our annual bike trek to Captiva Island, and my brother, who is working in Oregon, and sister-in-law, who is walking the Way of St. James pilgrimage with her husband through Spain for her 40th birthday (Oops, should I have volunteered her age?), were not there this year, and I never went on a romantic walk with my wife to the historic Sanibel lighthouse like we do every year, we did have our traditional cousins' dinner (my wife's cousins, spouses and good friends sans kids), which was an amazing meal at the Mad Hatter in Captiva.

I had the scallops, which were outstanding and practically melted in my mouth, although I could have eaten at least one more than the three on the plate and, at least, another mini ice-cream-size scoop of mashed potatoes than the one they served me! Fortunately for me, my wife left her yucca fries side on her filet mignon dish, which I devoured before she had a chance to change her mind! (Hey, it’s not easy maintaining that robust uncle-esque figure!)

By all accounts, it was a wonderful week.  At one point, my son was lying in a puddle of water (created by the low tide), like if he were contemplating the meaning of life, my younger daughter was reading a book under an umbrella next to my wife, who was also reading, my oldest daughter was with a cousin in the water, and I had a Corona in my hand and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene in the other.  I thought, “This is what life is all about!” In fact, if I had a third hand to hold a cigar, it would have been perfect!

On Sunday, after returning from our trip, my family and I were sitting at Mass and, during the homily, our pastor reflected on the passage in the Gospel of Mark, where the Apostles had just returned from having spent weeks walking throughout the region proclaiming the kingdom with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the sandles on their feet and Jesus tells them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." 

The priest pointed out that in today's world, we are often overwhelmed and bombarded by distractions and noise; TV, computers, cell phones, emails, Facebook, Twitter, work, sresponsibilities, etc. (not to mention; people emailing their blogs!) that keep us busy but separate us from God.

We seem to always be rushing here or there and usually never have enough time to disconnect to a deserted place, as Christ suggested, to just get away from it all and rest, pray, spend quite time alone with our thoughts and allow the Holy Spirit to work within us. Then, he went on to say something that, although not original, brought our week-long vacation with my family home to me; "Work to live and not live to work."

The homily reminded me of a quote by sixteenth century statesman and martyr,  St. Thomas More, who once wrote, "The ordinary acts we practice everyday at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest." 

Therefore, no matter how hot the sun may be or how much I hate the sand and lugging beach chairs and plastic toys, that week with my family and friends, where I disconnect from the world and just try to focus on them and my thoughts, is more than just the eating, drinking and relaxing that we do under the big tent.  It's a profound therapy for my body and soul and chance to live the gospel by spending time in a deserted place focusing on my family and God.  I can't wait until next year!...


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