Countdown @ 12: 3 Strikes…

Posted on: Friday, May 25th, 2012
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | Leave a comment

When the tough want to get going, tough sh*t happens. Murphy’s law? Conspiracy? Or just life? Minor disasters (that could stop your trip and ruin your day) come in many forms. Here are the latest three that impart reminders to take nothing for granted, especially a big trip prep…

  • Strike 1…Weather woes. 3+” of rain fell last night, and a few more today. So bring on: Clogged gutters; wet basements; muddy messes; thunder all night that makes the 9-year-old wake everyone up; delayed soccer and baseball games with indeterminate reskeds.  The drought is over! Long live the flood!
  • Strike 2… Work loads. The good news is this self-employed household has left the recessionary, debt-laden last three years behind, and income flows (though not floods) again. The bad news? Work = stress, responsibility, and travel that, this week, makes me a solo dad for 2 too-busy kids.  Help! Alice?
  • Strike 3…Injury happens. My all-star son got hit with a baseball in the scaphoid (wristbone) two days ago. After pain, ice, and angst, the x-ray revealed only a bad bone bruise—in a place where a fracture often requires surgery. Lucky break, no break! But lady luck first was not fair, not nice, and threatened to blow the entire game plan.

The busy-ness of contemporary survival keeps most of us juggling glass balls too much of the time.  But rarely does it feel as fragile as when you just want to exit with style, grace and a passport.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Countdown @ 15: Packing Burdens

Posted on: Monday, May 21st, 2012
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | Leave a comment

Of all the challenges that a traveler must face, packing might be the most burdensome. Pack light—and you’ll regret having no heavy coat. Pack heavy—and you’ll schlep countless things you won’t need. In an attempt to avoid last-minute meltdowns, here’s the short list of beasts I’m wrestling with today…

11 Packing Quandaries

  • Food. This one’s all about the kids. If they ain’t well-fed, they ain’t happy—and then nobody’s happy. Cram in about 555 granola bars and dried fruit bags. Visit overpriced snack stands often.
  • Musical playthings. Beaches, bonfires, BreakAways: There’s no better time and place to play the guitar.  And the mini Martin makes sweet sound and straps on your back. Still, are we crazy? And what about harmonicas, djembes, and pianos.
  • Sport. The young man needs to keep his arm in shape for more baseball when we get home. 2 gloves and 2 balls? But he also plans to play basketball in Copenhagen—and she needs a soccer ball and I need a frisbee. Duluth pack, anyone?
  • Luggage limitations. Even the airlines can’t agree—no surprise there. So we face different rules and regs, while still have unrepaired damage from the last time the airline orangatuns got hold of our baggage.
  • Ponchos. The last one wore out.  Yep, it just started leaking like cotton amid the nonstop storm that hit during last summer’s U2 concert. Can’t find a worthy replacement yet. And a poncho gets used for warmth, picnics, and more.
  • Weather variations. Sunny Italy and then northern Denmark (by the sea) in June? Yes. Possibly 95 and scorching and then 45 with wet nor’easters? Yes. Bring layers, I guess.  Prepare to shop. Sweat. And shiver.
  • Tech wreck. Just about every dang one of us needs a computer, phone, iPod, and (in a few cases) game device. Each comes with its own baggage, chargers, and risks. Welcome to the electronic age.
  • Shoes. Ever since the heel shatter + surgery, my left foot must live on an orthotic insert—and in New Balance tennies. But what about those stylish Italians all around? That ravishing ristorante? The night at the opera, and the day at the beach?
  • Cameras. The SLR with the uber-large lens is a must. So might be the little Lumix with the widescreen video recorder. The 4GS takes okay shots, but not always. Each of these requires chargers, batteries, cards. And that’s just my gear!
  • Backpack(s). The small daypack for sightseeing has holes and rust. The larger carry-on option remains elusive. You could go nuts trying to find the perfect solution.
  • Pillows. Just kidding, but sheesh—those 9-hour plane rides and unpredictable hotel beds make a guy miss his pillow already.

Oh well, you CAN go home again. And home looks pretty good right about now.

There’s no time to enjoy it, though—too much packing to do!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Countdown @ 19: Measured Panic

Posted on: Thursday, May 17th, 2012
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | 2 comments

Yee gads!  The BreakAway bus leaves again in just 19 days–this time for 5 weeks in Europe with the whole famn damily of 4.  We are, of course, in a calculated state of denial, which, when turned inside out, resembles measured panic.  Although we’ve traveled a lot, everyone prefers blithe ignorance regarding planning, preparing, packing, ETC!

  • Enter the agitated task-master

As my family’s chief chef, bottle-washer, errand-runner, schedule-maker, general contractor, list-steward, and task-master, this particular phase of travel brings me as much joy as a colonoscopy.  I’ve lived through one of those now, and thus know all things must pass—including this pain-in-the-ass prep stage.  Thank God!

Still, the first digit on the clock is one number earlier when sleep abrubtly stops each night.  Soon, there will be no need to go to bed at all.  Funny.  The mind can’t stop agonizing over countless tedious tasks in the middle of the night.  But in the middle of the afternoon, it lacks the mental competence (and time) to attack said details.

  • Let us all praise Doug Mack

Lucky for me, a copy of Doug Mack’s Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day graces my bedside.  He’s a friend and a heckuva funny writer.  And during last night’s insomnia, I found desperately needed inspiration as he trashed Amsterdam and Belgium.  He made me smirk at stoned tourists, aloof eateries, and the pissing-boy statue.

In other words, in the dark of night, Doug lightened up this BreakAway blogger.  Arthur Frommer’s Europe on 5 Dollars a Day is dead!  Long live wrong turns, long lines, tourist traps, and the bloated Euro!  Bring on jet lag, busted luggage, and whiny progeny who will prefer iPod games when presented the wonders of the world!

Doug’s memoir confirms that travel is both a nightmare and a dream.  Many pursuits will disappoint, yet serendipity will abound.  A sav-trav attitude is in order, yet even veteran bon vivants confront disappointments daily.  They key is to keep your sense of humor, self, and place.

Doug’s bold storytelling also gave me the guts to get back on my blog-horse and, maybe, log this ride.  After all, his journey brought him a book deal!  And if that doesn’t work out, well, nobody reads most blogs anyway, right?  I mean, not even my mom.  So what have I got to lose, other than time?

Time?  I got time—or soon will.  That’s what BreakAways are all about:  Making and taking time for what matters.  Capturing the moments from a once-in-a-lifetime European family adventure.  This stuff matters.

Besides, writing and picture-taking take on more meaning when you fly away from your already-seen scene.  And you observe more mindfully.  If nobody views my stuff, so what?  It gives me literary license to say whatever the hell I want with no risk—which may be its own reward.  So thanks, Doug (I think).

  • Can we get there from here?

The itinerary, in brief, features Tuscany, Denmark, and Sweden.  Tuscany offers a place we know, and have even “lived,” plus a two-week extended family group-grope gathering that, one hopes, will be good for the kids.  Think: Cousins.  Grandparents.  Goats.  Soccer in mountain pastures and village piazzas.  Daily gelati.

Then we bid the rellies arriverderci and head north to Scandinavia—praying to the Pope and anyone else who will listen that the unglorious Nordic cuisine doesn’t head too far south, breezes up there are not too northerly, and the stoic Scandi-hoovians serve up some sort of la dolce vita.

The Big Idea here stems from wanting to show the kids “where they came from.”  That we are “more than just American.”  That the family lore and fading lingo that somehow live on here are alive and well there.

Years ago, on BreakAway #1 (one whole dang year off in the Caribbean and Europe), visiting Scandinavia was a coveted vision for me—and, yes, it DID live up to the heartfelt vibes that pulled me there.

Will it for them?  Can we get there from here?  Should we just stay in Italy and soak up sun and vino and study la dolce far niente?  Naah.  Let’s give our children wings and roots.

Today’s Washington Post announces that, for the first time in history, the majority of  babies being born in America are minorities.  In other words, minorities are the majority now.  It’s a timely twist as I show my offspring where they got their (increasingly rare) blue eyes and blond hair.

But we also aim to wander in ancient castles, build short-lived sandcastles, dance around a ginormous Midsommer bonfire, and bask as a family in summer days that are so long the sun barely sets.

Rain or shine, may those days dramatically differ from the multi-sport/traffic-jam/laundry pile-ups /homework & concerts/dates and playdates/alarm-clocky/Subway-in-the-SUV routine that life can become when two parents, a 15-year young man, and a 9-year-old girl get lost in Modern-Family America.

So let’s get lost.  It’s about time.  And let’s take that time, while we still can.

Care to join us?  Please do!  It gets lonely telling tales when nobody listens.  But I’ll do it anyway—knowing that the stories and scenes that await are truly priceless, and they will only appreciate in value as the years fly by.  We’ll be glad to have these keepsakes, someday.

Someday.  There’s that word again.  In 19 nerve-racking days, sweet Someday will arrive again…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Cruising Away from Chaos

Posted on: Friday, March 25th, 2011
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | 2 comments

DSC_0038This vagabond has vacationed via all kinds of vehicles and means: planes, trains, autos, buses, helicopters, hovercrafts, ferries, fishing boats, sailboats, mail boats and more.  But a big, fancy cruise ship?  That’s a new one.  So the time finally arrived—in this winter of climatic discontent—to set sail on a vessel featuring a shameless menu of amenities on board.

A good time was had by all.  In fact, one week later, some cruisers are probably still recovering.  Yet amid the remoteness and soothing blue Caribbean water, the one wave that kept splashing salt into my eyes was the absurdity of escaping into a never-neverland of indulgence while so many in the world are hurting.

  • In Japan, millions suffer from an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.
  • In the Mideast, millions march in the streets fighting for basic human dignity (and sometimes, their lives).
  • In the US, millions remain homeless, hungry, or unemployed while surrounded by enough riches to provide plenty for everybody.

I blame TV.  As one who watches no TV news at home, and edits other sources, I couldn’t resist the odd thrill of channel surfing while floating far away from reality.  The fresh images of unheard-of hardships everywhere else provided ongoing, sobering, reality slaps.

You can sail away, but you can’t hide.  Life on this complex planet includes both the amazing sea and the anguished masses.

No wonder we need to “get away from it all,” or at least try, now and then.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Marvelous Mazatlan Mexico

Posted on: Friday, January 28th, 2011
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | 3 comments

P1010151Sometimes, a week far away seems hardly worth the toil, though most Americans rarely do that any more.  Other times, like this time, a week away feels like a mini-Sabbatical.  Mazatlan served up a healthy helping of sunshine and sass—just when winter Up North was threatening to become a living hell.

Mazatlan has been an important port and escape for millenia, yet it feels timeless.  When did it lose all sense of time?  Perhaps when brave explorers landed the endless beach and—if they had any sense—hunkered down for a while.

Or maybe it happened whenever the natives started settling.  And who wouldn’t want to stay?  Even in January, the sun shines warms the land to a balmy 80, while night falls to a cozy 50.


Might the development of the 60s and 70s been when time stopped?  Resorts and hotels shot up like beach weeds—while one young entrepreneur hatched Senor Frog’s.  All those cool cats made millions.  And Mazatlan became one of the world’s hot spots, at least for a while.

Time stands still in a place like this.  Nobody seems to care what day or decade it is.

The livin’ is easy…

The Pacific makes for a frigid bath in winter, but cool water never hurt anyone (at least not like ice).  And explorers, settlers, and vacationers must have one thing in common:  The desire for easy living.

Today, Mazatlan looks like the glory days may have come and gone, over and over again.  One one hand, dated and shuttered hotels and villas line the expansive Malecon promenade.  “Narc lords who got busted” go some stories.  Other abandonments, who knows?


On the other hand, giant luxury resorts and condos keep shooting up—as if they expect masses of loaded tourists and retirees to fall from the blue sky.  Clearly, money still flows, and Mexico is full of untapped potential.  Too bad most residents barely have running water in this third-world conundrum.

But maybe it’s better this way, at least for us visitors.  Parking is a snap.  Great restaurants are half-empty on a weekend night.  The service people offer competence and curiousity, as if they never expected to get rich quick anyway.

What they say is true:  Mexicans are happy people, more interested in pleasure than work.  They have much to teach their jaded neighbors to the north.


  • So much to see, so little time

As always when on BreakAway, reality calls all too quickly.  A week flutters by like the crazy frigates in the sky.  Tan vacationers reluctantly board the same airplane that plopped them here seven days ago; the same aloof flight attendants give glances that say, “You again?”

In my case, a reunion with some lifelong friends also celebrating 50 birthdays makes the city backdrop superfluous.  Could we have forseen that our mutual adoration could last so long?  That we could still talk (and party) nonstop?  That our giddy  laughter could still make strangers stare? P1010166

That said, this place merits more attention.  Like, maybe, five months a year.  Just ask the smart Yankees and Canadians that smugly stay here—and look mostly fat, smart, and happy.

  • Comin’ back to the cold

Even the tires scream when they hit the Minnesota ground, which remains covered in unyielding snow and ice.

But for a few days, and maybe longer, the mind’s eye sees not frozen urban sprawl, but Pacific waves.  Smiling Mexicans of many generations.  Art tucked into beloved boutiques and erected beside the sea.  Seafood so fresh it might jump off your plate.


On the plane, an elderly gentleman who now has a second home there reflects,

I thought I was just smitten with the vacation fun, and life couldn’t be better than it is in America.  But after all these years of living in both places, I’m sure of it now:  Life is better down there.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Doc Abbott’s House Rules

Posted on: Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | Leave a comment

DSC_0666_2Doc Abbott was the eccentric proprietor of a picturesque promontory on Lake Superior—now owned by several generations of my (wife’s) relatives and called, simply, “The Point.” 

His HOUSE RULES, which hang prominently in his original log residence, offer an enlightening view on how to be a good guest and tread lightly in your travels…



Doc sold the property to the family in 1955, with the agreement that he could remain in residence for as long as he lived.  Less than 6 months later, Doc’s beloved canine companion, Duffy, was hit and killed by a car during a supply trip to Grand Marais.  Later that day, Doc took his own life, here on The Point.  RIP. 

Some insist that the ghost of Doc Abbott still lurks around The Point—and appears in dreams, strange noises and inexplicable occurrences.  I cannot personally validate these claims.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Are Mini-Sabbaticals for Real?

Posted on: Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | 2 comments

Last weekend, when hosting a session at the UnSummit conference, I found myself facilitating a conversation about mini Sabbaticals.  Sometimes, that notion makes my nose turn up like a snob at White Castle.  But more and more, I endeavor to embrace the fact that most folks are lucky to even snare a vacation.  And I may be a spoiled brat.


When old haunts feel eerily familiar

With any luck, everyone has a place to BreakAway to—a cabin, campground or community.  I’ve got the deep waters and crazy party scene of Lake Okoboji.  And the pristine North Shore of Lake Superior.  Both offer the comfort of a favorite beach blanket.

But I must confess that the upteen vacations are blurring.

I mean, when digging up pics for this post, I could rarely tell one year from another.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?


Grand Marais, a cool place

My love affair with Grand Marais began in high school.  Despite my folks’ furrowed brows, I signed up for a 3-week environmental studies journey sponsored by the University of Iowa.  The trip was a blast, and inspired a turning point for my desire to break away now and then.

30-some teens of good fortune (though I paid for my own) from all over the U.S. canoed countless miles, hiked up mountains through thunderstorms, and of course snuck away from (or into) our tents to do the things teenagers do.  Our instructors both kicked our butts and blessed us with wise winks.

When walking the endless breakwater to the lighthouse, I can still hear a gaggle of us inventing verses, clapping and stomping, and then joining in raucous chorus to “We Will Rock You.”  Old stomping grounds, indeed.

Grand Marais served as a hub many nights before and after wilderness adventures.  So I left part of my heart in this little town and moody Lake Superior.  I didn’t know then, though, that years later, it would become like a second home. Strange angels work in mysterious ways.


Where arts-fartsy meets the Beaver House

This town, like most small towns, can be a little rough around the edges.  In the latest paper, the townsfolk are battling over a possible 4-day school week, the controversial new rain garden around the Veterans’ memorial, and the same marina plans they’ve been debating for decades.

It can be dang cold here, and locals often don’t need no Minnesota Nice.  I’ve seen grizzled adults refuse to share a view of the Solstice Pageant with kids.  Enviro-bohemians giving nasty stinkeye to a biker for smoking on the street.  And drunk resort owners try to rip me off over a fiver.

Paradise is like that, as I’ve experienced and written about more times that I care to remember:  The natives clash with the rednecks sneer at the Birkenstockers scowl at the opulent who complain that the artists’ and eatery’s prices are too high.


But it’s good to break away…

Lake Superior keeps rolling, the Angry Trout remembers me and the Ben Franklin is still stuffed with more merch than makes sense.  It’s just like last year.  And the years before that.  And I doubt that marina will ever get built—even though this feelin’-lucky sailor is in favor of it (and I would never say so out loud).

Yes, it’s summer.  Time again to break away to Grand Marais—same as it ever was.

Maybe it’s not a baby Sabbatical.  After all, if I added the days from the dozens of times I’ve been here, the sum total would be countless months stretching back to my youth.  A Big Break in many broken pieces, maybe?

I’m losing track.  I’ve been here less than 24 hours and it already feels like I’ve been here forever.  This sensation of relaxed languor washes over me like the lake’s crashing waves.  My thoughts turn to hot tubs, cold beer, foggy memories and little more.


Perhaps that’s the point.

Perhaps a vacation BreakAway to a familiar spot is one long, lazy, baby Sabbatical.  What do YOU think?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It’s All a Blur

Posted on: Friday, January 29th, 2010
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | Leave a comment

Getting Away From It All satiates the human need for discovery—of self, relationships, and a larger world.  The problem—as with all pursuits of pleasure—is ephemerality.  No matter how hard you try to seize and freeze sweet moments, they end, and ultimately become a blur. 

DSCN2471Time floats on  

If only folks were as obsessed with making the most of their time as they are with being efficient. We adore time-saving devices.  But they don’t work.  So we work overtime, and surrender vacation time.  Time is money.  Time heals all wounds.  But time waits for no one.  So why would anyone wait to take their time? 

DSC_0172Raising kids:  The ultimate blur  

Costs pile up when you take kids away on holiday.  Count the ways:  Airfare is sky-high these days; entertainment and eating take a big bite out of your wallet; skipping school can damage discipline and morph an A into a B.  BUT!  If you wait, it’s too late.  Kids don’t stay kids for long.  And before long, they, too, are “too busy.” 

DSC_0179_2Moon rise, moon set  

Month after month, the moon comes and goes in imperceptibly slow motion.  In the case of this 15-day island escape, the moon began half-full, then turned full, then went half-empty.  Back home again, those many moments studying the moon are a blur.  BUT!  Good news!  The cycle is repeating itself, and tomorrow she is full again! 

 DSC_0267_2Is it worth it?  Hell, yes!  

Going and coming makes life messy.  A limp economy is stealing people’s security, retirements, and dreams.  So in all honesty, even this spoiled BreakAway Brat can’t know when the next Sabbatical will transpire.  BUT!  It DID happen once, so maybe it’ll happen again. 

For now, though, it’s a blur.  A joyful, frustrating blur.  Like good times that end, raising kids that grow too fast, and watching moons that look still, but never stop.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Escapism & Reality: Here vs. There

Posted on: Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | Leave a comment

When you gather up your gumption and step off the Reality Train, expect impressions and mindshifts to happen–especially if you’re returning to an idyllic place that’s been home before. Comparisons of “here vs there” are rampant, and ramp up as a more hectic reality looms.

Yes, too soon (as in tomorrow) it will be time to move on back to that bizzy place we call home.  So I’m trying to slow down and relish these images and sensations.  Isn’t that what travel’s all about?


Here, despite development, local color lives on. When a traditional Calypso band played for hours at a party, “here” was good for the ears.  There, “auto-tune” and rappers who can’t sing pass for pop music.  It’s little wonder that “I’m sad to say I’m on my way, won’t be back for many a day…”


Here, eating local means something.  Like, goat, whelk, conch, lobster, funghi, peas and rice, and Johnny cake.  There, eating local means…the closest Subway?  Food tastes better when cooked outside or under ramshackle conditions, in hot pots, with a generous shake of tradition. 


Here, one sees beauty, deep and natural.  The environment is lush after autumn rains, while the sea swirls in endless colors. There, winter beauty means white snow, a crimson cardinal, and maybe a crisp blue sky.  


Here, one notices beauty, skin deep and natural.  There, a parka can’t be too thick or too ugly.  Here, a swimsuit can’t be too skimpy.  It’s freeing to see every body comfortable in their skin—grandpas playing smashball, eco-nerds dancing, and all kinds of folks relaxing on the beach. 


Here, the weather has many moods.  It’s not always sunny, warm and comfortable—just most of the time.  There, it’s not always snowy, cold, and uncomfortable—just most of the time. 


Here, there’s space to explore freely.  There, we worry about promptness, parking spots, and good grades—while digitalia and Facebook steal ever-more time and space.  Absent that stuff—and fences and walls and rulebooks—most kids would rather groove with a starfish. 


Here, creativity happens.  There, creativity means juggling routines, coaching homework, and concocting dinner from leftovers.  Here, art abounds, color leaps around, and locals can’t resist turning a “Hill” sign into a “Chill” sign.  It’s contagious; soon sand becomes a medium, and any scene seems inspirational.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Little Tings Make Break Big

Posted on: Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | Leave a comment

One year ago today, our bonafide BreakAway of 69 days had just begun.  By the time it was done we had hopped between five West Indian islands and enjoyed a grand family adventure. 

Yet even a once-in-a-lifetime tour distills down to sweet moments—the simpler, the better.  Thank goodness my camera helps me stop and spot them, and keep them in memory. 

Picturing scenes like these come in handy when the blizzard hits.  When the schedule stresses.  When the tedium gets monotonous  And when the time hurries past too fast. 


Without telling a soul, daughter Elsa left Santa a love note, a dollar and a Delta Airlines cookie—since that was the only one in the house.  Santa graciously responded by giving an ornament and some toys—and leaving the dollar (and some crumbs, of course). 


Mr. Guy Benjamin is a local legend who will soon turn 100; the Coral Bay school is named after him.  He still raises chickens, sells eggs, and signs copies of his memoir, “Me and My Beloved Virgin.” 


Fresh starfruit, right off the tree, may be the sweetest and tartest treat ever. 


Even a cloudy day at the beach presents the chance to bury your boy (except for his head) in the sand—and (eventually) dig him out again. 


My rejected apple core becomes a scrumptious lunch for a meandering beach chicken. 


Local artist Sloop Jones makes wearable art—and always has some island yarns and colorful ideas to share at his shop.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email