On realizing when my vacation started

December has been an unusually stressful month this year, what with jury duty, a rather punishing work schedule, and the usual Christmas shenanigans. One of our Christmastime rituals is driving down to Florida to visit Liz's brother and sister-in-law. It's about 750 miles, door-to-door, and we do it all in one day. In the past few years, we've driven on Christmas Day (less traffic, generally, and no road work), but this year we drove down on the Sunday before Christmas. The traffic was denser and pushier, with about three slowdowns through the I-95 deadlands of South Carolina, a few necessary rest stops, and so on.

The next morning, the 24th, I ran out of hot water about halfway through my shower. We then went to the Publix grocery store to buy some necessities for the week and ingredients for a dish Liz would make on Christmas Day. Shopping and navigating my cart through the aisles reminded me of driving through Orlando the night before (i.e., dense, crowded, lots of defensive driving, and being stoical in the face of madness).

After the shopping, we went next door to the Mexican restaurant for lunch. We ordered, I drank my iced tea, and I started to slow down. At some point, while sitting at that table, eating chips and salsa, I relaxed because I realized -- for the first time in a couple of months -- I was not in problem-solving mode anymore. I didn't have to plan my work for that afternoon, craft a last-minute PowerPoint presentation, juggle time to buy Christmas presents, deal with my insurance company, calculate car lengths and speeds on the fly, or endure a surprise cold-water shower.

For Liz, her vacation started the minute our wheels turned for Florida. For me, it started when I had the leisure and space to just sit and relax and enjoy what was in front of me.