Only Worry in the World is the Tide Gonna Reach My Chair?

I have a theory that it is impossible to be in a bad mood when you are within sight, or sound, or even the salty marine smell of the ocean.  Something about it's rhythmic breaking of the waves on the sand, constant breeze, and vast size stretching out indefinitely until it melts into the horizon, makes it very restorative, and therapeutic to me.  It grounds me, and centers me, and fills me with a deep sense of peace.  I was in desperate need of time at the ocean.  The last time I saw it was in 2008 and the amazing perspective it gives me was slowly fading and weathering in the daily grind.  And I couldn't wait for Milani to get her first taste of salty ocean water, and golden sand.  A little part of me was certain she would love it since we discovered her name while honeymooning in Maui.  I mean, that practically makes her a Hawaiian baby.  A child of the black sand beaches, and lush palm trees.
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My golden beach baby proved me right.  She's right at home covered in sand from head to toe, and doesn't hesitate to run right up and flirt with the breaking waves.

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She got to spend time with cousins that she doesn't see nearly often enough, and she watched keenly as they collected shells, and played in the surf, and dug holes.

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I don't entirely understand the fascination with digging holes at the beach, maybe its a boy thing, but sure enough as you scan down the shore, holes are constantly being dug and deepened and barricaded from the rising tide.  And another boy thing, or should I say father thing; swinging your fourteen month old daughter around like a monkey.  I cringe and envision a trip to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder, and I warn against the guilt he'll feel once her face is stained with salty, sandy tears.  But to no avail.  He loves to swing her and she loves to be swung.  She giggles and squeals and begs for more, and I just keep my fingers crossed that fooling won't lead to crying.

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I love that at the beach, you are expected to do nothing other than enjoy yourself.  You can read a book, flip a magazine, play in the water or sand, nap lazily, talk about anything or talk about nothing.  There is no such thing as an awkward silence, just a break in conversation filled by the churning surf and the shriek of gulls and the innocent chatter of nearby children playing.

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We took an afternoon to visit the Cape May Zoo.  This zoo found its way into our hearts the first summer Jon and I started dating.  During a short vacation in Stone Harbor that summer, we visited it not once, but twice.  It is one of the neatest, cleanest zoos we've ever visited.  Milani stared open mouthed and wide eyed as we visited the different animals.  (Apparently so did her father)

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yes this is a goat laying under an umbrella                                                                                                                                       

Interestingly, Milani's favorite animals on this vacation weren't the monkeys, or tigers, but the seagulls. She can reproduce the most realistic seagull squalk, and loved giggling and chasing them down the shore.

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I think my girl is meant to be near the ocean and a part of her spirit is reignited by the waves, and I know Jon lights up at first sight of the ocean.  I think we need to make sure that we spend some time at the shore every summer, so that we can look out over the blue expanse of water and re-frame our lives with the humble perspective.  And because I'm absolutely certain that it's impossible to be in a bad mood at the shore.

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There is something amazingly refreshing about breaking away from the day-to-day routine.  About abandoning everyday life and stepping into nature.  Changing the scenery and changing the pace.  Leaving behind cell phones, laptops, and obligations.

Over Memorial Day weekend we traded our house and our bed for a tent and sleeping bag.  Our neighbors were towering hemlocks and an expanse of blue sky and matte clouds served as a roof.  We gathered with family around a picnic table instead of a kitchen table and laughed by the flickering light of the campfire instead of a TV.  It was our annual Memorial family camping weekend.
The weekend is a collection of activities strung together by custom and popular vote, and the atmosphere is relaxed, where at anytime, anyone can opt out of the current adventure to swing lazily in a hammock kept company by the dogs.

Being Milani's first camping trip, I wasn't sure how she would  like it, but girlfriend rocked it!   
She jacked her crawl into four wheel drive and scoped out the campsite, scavenging under the picnic table for treasures, examining the underside of rocks, and sifting fine gray dirt through her fingers.
She enjoyed time with Grandma Debbie, accumulating hugs and kisses and cuddles.
And tried out some new shades.
Big cousins taught little cousins how to throw, and catch, and the way to blow bubbles.
Big cousins showed little cousins how to hug and kiss and love on each other. 
And cousins exchanged tumbling fits of contagious laughter.

Sunday afternoon we hiked over wooden bridges and past thorny brambles to set eyes on Little Falls, debating over the identity of each three leaved plant along the path (Poison Ivy), and the species of origin of a pile of...droppings (Bear).
I was sure that Milani would have been rocked to sleep on Jon's back as we hiked, but those big chocolate eyes didn't miss a thing.
She lounged in the carrier, comfortable as could be, and took everything in.
We finished our hike next to the lake and enjoyed our picnic lunch with our eyes glued to the treeline, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the resident bald eagles prowling for fish.

Certainly no camping trip would be complete without the men tapping into their caveman instincts, attempting valiantly and exhaustively to start a fire by rubbing sticks together.  Their best efforts produced a few promising wisps of white smoke, but no glowing embers or orange flames.  MemorialCamping161-Edit
So we busted out the lighter and stoked the campfire to cook our ceremonious feast of burgers and dogs.  The picnic table was loaded with a smorgasbord and we heaped our plates with pasta salad, green salad, and fruit salad, nibbling on pretzels and chips and Memorial Day cookies.

Despite the gross amount of food we consume at dinner, as soon as the sun dips below the horizon we break out the marshmallows, Hershey's bars, and graham crackers.  We share our tips on roasting the perfect 'mallow, and making the best s'more, and play musical chairs to avoid the campfire smoke.  We take turns throwing wood on the fire, and poking the embers, and discussing how each log burns.  We share new stories and recite familiar old stories that still produce an eruption of laughter, until one by one we retreat to our tents.

We drifted to sleep under a clear star filled sky, and Milani slept like a log until we awoke at 3:45 to distant thunder, and managed to cover the tent minutes before the rain came.  The wind howled through the trees and the rain fell in sheets, and I worried my girl would get frightened.  I worried this thunderstorm would make her hate tents and sleeping bags and all things camping related, but she proved me so wrong.  Sister just snuggled in close to me, clinging like a koala, and listened to the storm.  Her big eyes scanned the tent and watched quietly as it bowed in the wind, never a peep or whimper or cry, and just as soon as the storm started to pass she fell peacefully back to sleep until 8:30. (Why doesn't she sleep like this at home??)

Monday morning we headed back to the lake with fishing poles and some of us actually fished, displaying the patience and persistence of reeling and casting, watching and waiting.
But some of us just fished for seaweed, and tossed pebble after pebble into the rippling water.
And the rest of us just watched and played and savored the fresh air.
 I'm not sure how many years an annual event must occur before it can be titled tradition, but if our Memorial weekend family camping trips haven't hit tradition status yet, I sure hope they will.  I hope maybe Milani will someday fondly look back on the memories forged on our weekends in the woods; the laughter, and hikes, and time spent with family.  Sure someday she will be sharing her own funny stories around a campfire, but maybe they'll include stories born on some future Memorial weekend where she and her cousins laughed until they cried.  Maybe our family camping trips will transcend the title traditional, and truly embrace Memorial.