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13 April 2011

Packing Transgressions

Everyone has their own special methods to prepare for a trip away from home. It seems that half the fun of going on a trip, is planning that trip. Especially in our family. Especially when it is a family trip.

Back in the deep dark depths of winter, it came upon me one chilly wintry night, that it was time for a family get together. A trip of some sort. So where to go this year and when? Then I got to thinking. I am the proud owner of one of the rare spring birthdays in our family and this year is going to be a big one. The big 4-0. What better way to spend my birthday than with family. Before proposing it to everyone, I had to have not only a date but also a location and lodging details. With our ever burgeoning families, we were going to need some serious space. Unbelievably, I found a giant beach house that would provide not only a bed, but a room for each couple, complete with a kitchen, game room, beach trail, wireless, laundry and all that.

Now that I had all my details in place, it was time to alert the family to see if they were game. Of course they all were. And this is where the fun begins. Since the actual date of our supposed trip is 4 months into the future, we have plenty of time to discuss and prepare. And although we use the phone a bit in our preparations, most of it is done by emails, long email trails consisting of our humorous and outlandish and inspirational ideas for our retreat. Late night calls will no doubt follow as the date of departure draws near, excited whisperings of plots, plans and ideas hatched while envisioning our weekend away.

One of the most important aspects to any of our trips lies along the lines of food. What are we going to eat? We are a family where food revolves around everything we do, especially family gatherings. In our every day lives, most of us are lucky if we eat one full meal a day and snack through the rest. But for retreat planning, we pay special attention to being sure we have a delectable menu item for each of the days required meal times: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Usually we split up our meals between couples, letting snackers and picky eaters fend for themselves.

Once the food is planned, there is of course another important characteristic to our planning. What will we drink? And I'm not talking milk or juice. What I am getting at is we are a family who value our together time by hydrating ourselves with our specialty alcoholic beverages. And of course, we all have our preferences. Vodka with blue cheese olives. Screamers. Chocolate Martinis. Wine. Gluten Free Beer. Locally brewed beer. Holiday beer. Whiskey and coke. And so on. There is much to plan as we all check our liquor cabinet reserves and wine cellars and we make lists to run stock up before the trip.

Laughably, with this particular trip, there is actually a bedroom for all. But then another string of emails begin, calculating very carefully where everyone should sleep. Or should I say, where everyone would prefer to sleep. All without trying to really say where they want to sleep. Those who seem to think they have toilet issues, believe they should have the master suite with the full bath. Those with kids who sleep lightly believe they should have the farthest bedroom from the late night noise guaranteed to occur. Others want the bedroom with the door that goes out to the deck or the bedroom that faces the ocean with the hot tub inside. With all our spoken preferences, nothing will be for sure until we arrive to our rented house. And there will always be many switches and bargaining going on. Pssst, I'll give you my bottle of wine and put your kids to bed for that room with a full bath!

My family will continue the planning until the moment we all actually arrive at the beach house, yet here's where it gets interesting. Or should I say even more intriguing. We all have our funny little quirks about how we individually prepare to pack for the trip. Some of it could be nature, some could be nuture. Either way, we are all a little nuts about it.

We'll start with myself. If I have weeks to plan or months which is even better, I will organize the shit out of my plans. There will be of course first the budget spreadsheets. How much to save each month. Then the reservations come next - rental car, dog sitter, cat sitter. All those go into my newly created trip spreadsheet. On another tab of my spreadsheet is what to pack, then what to buy for food, what to do a week before the trip, two days before, the day of. Then important dates go on my electronic calendar. As the months, weeks and days pass, I will be checking off my list to do, memorizing everything. I believe this may have been inherited from my dad whose spreadsheets and lists littered countertops before every childhood camping trip. And I suppose this is still how he prepares for trips. My mother is one who plans the meals, prepping, cooking, storing, shopping; ensuring there are snacks for the drive, snacks when we arrive, snacks for any time of the day and drinks to go along with all. My husband packs 10 minutes before we walk out the door. Well, I would too if my significant other had everything else organized the way I do. Geeesh!

One sister has a very special ritual for packing. Not much thought is put into packing until the night before the trip, at which time, they buy a bunch of beer and pizza. They get drunk and pack and then go to bed early (or at least they try to). It seems to work for them except for the minor hangover the next day.

Another sister makes mental notes along with paper notes.  She makes numerous lists, checks the weather forecasts obsessively and researches nearby restaurants.  I would too if I had three kids, two of whom have definite allergies to specific foods and no one wants to leave home without items essential to providing young children with enough to do and enough changes of clothes to match the changes in weather, especially this time of year.

My other sister will most likely fly by the seat of her pants due to her busy schedule and never ending motherly duties.  She'll crack open a bottle of wine late in the evening after the kids are in bed.  Then she'll talk on the phone while she throws her listed items into bags, does last minute loads of laundry.  She'll stay up way too late and then scramble in the morning, racking her brain about what it was that she was going to bring.  She'll most likely pull out of the driveway with her coat stuck in the car door, a kid screaming because he was buckled up in the carseat backwards and it will be only luck that every family member will be accounted for.

Somehow we will all make it to our destination.  Somehow we will make do with what we have packed and laugh at what we have forgotten.  We'll get lost in the joy and chaos of all being together and none of our packing transgressions will matter anymore. 

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