"I work harder on my summer vacation than I do on my job."
I'm here, dear dedicated readers, to prevent those words from ever being uttered again. No one should come away from leisure time without feeling leisurely, and my dictionary defines "vacation" as "leisure time spent away from work devoted to rest or pleasure."
Right there is where we get into trouble. Rest is always pleasurable, but pleasure is not always restful. In fact, pleasure can be downright laborious, as we all recognize from this column's opening declaration.
Thus, having a pleasurable, restful summer vacation takes careful planning: the kind that a carpet-flopped dog applies when it gets up and moves away from the couch, only to re-flop over there by the TV. (As a general rule, we should pay more attention to animals. They have no ulterior motives, and often have no apparent motives at all.)
As a specific rule, surviving summer leisure is far more challenging than making it through a winter's labor.
Winter is easy in our North Country, once you resolve to not pummel anyone who crunches around the re-formed frozen tundra spouting: "Well, at least you can dress for the cold." These people should be duct-taped into six layers of woolen hats and thermal union suits, then parachuted over the equator.
Yes, you can dress for the cold, but you can also not dress for the heat – a far more pleasurable, restful and cheaper application, as we enter the canicule.
"Canicule," as we all recall from our high school French lessons, means "a chocolate-glazed jelly doughnut." This is what I recall, anyway, which is why I flunked French class. It actually means "heatwave," or "scorcher," or "the hot period between early July and early September." I remember spending my last adolescent canicule wondering how I'd ever survive it without the unrequited affections of my senior class French teacher.
(CONFIDENTIAL to Mademoiselle Rousseau: If you're still out there, that was my longest, hottest summer vacation ever, and I did finally give up wearing a beret, eating chocolate-glazed jelly doughnuts, and calling everything "magnifique!")
No summer vacation plan (remember the flopping dog) should ever be set in motion without a Plan B.
Here, I confess to being a worst case scenario kind of guy. No, this is not being pessimistic. A pessimist is always expecting the worst. I'm always expecting the best, but I'm ready with a satisfying alternative when everything goes wrong, which it usually does (the first rule in: "Sherman's Two Rules For Living With Rules").
Again, look to your dog's example. You don't see him descending into a combination of road rage and helpless funk when the family car breaks down enroute to visiting Crocodile Safari Land. He's just happy for the chance to go off and chase jackalopes while you wait for the tow truck.
So, as you "plan" your summer vacation, a few do's and don'ts:
DON'T use this time to "catch up" on projects in and around the house. These activities have few, if any, leisurely components to them, and are almost always dangerous, irritating or beyond your expertise. If they weren't, you wouldn't have waited until now to tackle them.
Yes, the eaves at the top of your house where the ladder just barely reaches are still unpainted. Big deal. Go with Plan B, and think of yourself as the neighborhood's king of the unpainted peaks. Then, lie down next to the dog and have a nice restful AND pleasurable nap.
This will avoid your having to spend a long-awaited canicule (and beyond) in the restful but most decidedly unpleasureable mode of orthopedic traction after you went with Plan A, painted over the hornet's nest hole YOU KNEW was up there, and jackknifed backwards off the abbreviated ladder into the juniper bushes.
DO let them know at your job that you are not to be called during your vacation for ANY reason. Yes, maybe that invoice you misrouted on your last day of work resulted in the entire eastern seaboard's widget vendors being mistakenly billed for doohickeys, but you don't need or want to know this until you return to work.
Save it for when you end your off-duty canicule and go back to find your desk emptied. You should always avoid receiving word that you've been fired (Sherman's 2nd Rule) while lying in a body cast and recovering from an overdose of hornet venom.
DON'T take the family to Crocodile Safari Land, unless your idea of restful pleasure is ogling big lizards in a concrete sinkhole, and watching some disaffected guy (probably an ex-widget invoicer just out of rehab) stunning them into submission with hypnotic underbelly rubs.
DO take time to embrace every day of your well-earned respite as if it were your last (and have faith that this will not be the case).
DON'T forget to just plain relax, and enjoy every restful, pleasurable moment that life affords you free of charge: walk in the woods, swim in the water, sit in the sun, and nap with the dog.
DO remember the Plan B bug repellent, life jackets, sunblock and flea collar, and if you're going to stop and smell the flowers, I'd first check for hornets.
We'll save Plan C for next winter.
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This column is taken from Senior Wire News Service syndicated humor columnist B. Elwin Sherman's new book: "Wall Tall and Carry A Big Watering Can."
He is now off somewhere not painting over a hornet's nest in the North Country. Copyright 2013 B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.