I love making lists. I’m not so good at following the lists, but I like making them. There’s something great about putting everything down and being able to see it at once. To tease out the bits you forget.

Whenever we go on a trip, my father makes us make lists. He sits the family down and asks us what we want to do during the duration of our away-from-home.* He writes down what we say and puts it somewhere prominent. About once a day he asks how we’re doing on marking things off. He tries to help facilitate us doing everything we’ve put down. He also reminds us that if we don’t do everything, it’s our own fault.

A photo of a garden

“Spending time with Dad” turned into “dig a big hole and build a garden.” Be careful of your execution!

Doing everything on the lists I used to make was easily impossible, improbable, or just not fun. When you have ten people to see, three museums to go to, two hikes, five restaurants, and a long drive somewhere pretty, you’re not going to do it all without really trying and pushing. This leaves no room for laziness, something coming up, or just taking time to enjoy what is around you.

I learned a trick for keeping Dad off my back: have simple goals, have few goals, have abstract goals. On our most recent trip to see my grandmother, my goals were:

  • Go swimming every day
  • See Savie (my grandmother -m.)
  • Have bonding experiences with my family

I did every one of these things!

A photo of three children playing in a pool

Even back in the 90s, my goals were pretty much the same, just poorly worded. (My brother–PD, me, my cousin–CC.)

I do this with all the trips I go on. When my gaming friends from college had our second reunion, the list I put together included:

  • Go swimming every day
  • Play games
  • Hang out with my peeps
  • Ride a bike
  • Drink
A photo from a giant maze

A human maze is like a game, right? Those are my peeps. Bam! Success.

I didn’t ride a bike, but part way through the week, I accepted that as my own damn fault. The act of getting a bike was more than I wanted to deal with.

In anticipation for my upcoming summer vacation, I find myself thinking of all the things I want to do. These are unintentional thoughts, excitement and nervousness creeping into my mind when I should be focusing on other things. Like work. These flights can be distilled into actual desires rather than moment possibilities. Seeing a long list of people has turned into “Spend time with people I like and people I love.” A fanciful list of activities in truth represents “Have an adventure.”

M.’s Summer Vacation 2012 Goal List

    • See some of my favorite people
    • Meet some new cool people
    • Learn something new
    • Understand something I didn’t before
    • Have an adventure
    • Listen to great music
    • Drink

I am totally confident all of these will happen. If nothing else, DA feeds me wine at Fest, so that’s two things in one go.

*The lengths I will go to to not use the word “trip” twice in a row.


My grandmother is ninety-three years old.

This is my mother’s mother, not my father’s. This woman is, as far as I can tell, afraid of one thing: falling.

I, by contrast, am afraid of many things. Fear is a major motivating factor in my life. I could try and count my fears, but I would quickly run out of fingers, toes, appendages, distinctive features, and quite possibly even freckles.

I am afraid of being unable to see things. This is a general category that encompasses things like the dark, pool drains, lakes, basements, closets, the space under my bed, empty houses, the woods, caves, there being empty space behind me, the other side of the shower curtain. If I can’t see it, I can’t well know if there are monsters there or not! And if you don’t know, there probably are monsters.

I am afraid of my feet not touching the bottom of pools or lakes or oceans because if your feet can’t touch the bottom, there might be a monster under you. But, swimming in places so shallow your feet touch the ground is boring, so I brave the pool. Incidentally, I’m also afraid of fish or other sea creatures swimming into me (because I am passionately afraid of parasites), so that makes the ocean and lakes especially bad.

I’m afraid of pain, which is a very silly thing to be afraid of. I should reiterate: I am afraid of unexpected pain. Pain that it might theoretically come, well, that’s the worst. I like pain I expect: inoculations, pulling a band aid off, piercings.

I’m also afraid of falling, but that’s a whole other mess.

Some time ago, I decided that, in spite of my multiple times over fear of the ocean, I liked swimming in it. When we decided to see my aforementioned 93 year old grandmother for our winter vacation, I laid out my plans for the trip

1) See family
2) Hang out with the dog (my parents have a dog)
3) Go swimming every day, in the ocean as much as possible.

We loaded up into the car and drove to the beach. (The beach is about five miles away from the house, but it’s not a five miles I would like to bike. I mean, I would like to bike it, but the horror of southern Floridian roads is quite overwhelming. See: unexpected, but anticipated, pain.)

The “Ocean Forecast” sign announced that there were jellyfish and man o’ war.

Wikipedia's disambiguation page for "man o' war"

Wikipedia sums up man o' war pretty effectively. (CC-BY-SA)

My dad reassured me that I would not get stung.

Gingerly, I creeped into the ocean. Step by step, foot by foot. Then, I was deep enough that I could tilt my body, lift my feet off the bottom (that was still easily reachable by righting myself) and swim.

The ocean at Delrey's municipal beach

The water looked so welcoming.

I swum down the shoreline (because if I went too far out, I would not be able to easily reach the bottom). On my way back, my left hip started to hurt. Then I felt something brush past my shoulder and it started to sting. Then my right hand began to hurt more intensely than the other two.

Needless to say, I hightailed it out of that water.

The next day heralded the arrival of AA, my elder female cousin. She and I agreed to go to the beach.

The boardwalk to the beach at Del Ray.


The Florida beach was, as always, beautiful. It was also crowded, which surprised me as it was Christmas Day, but no one seemed to care. AA, with whome I often play the “well, that’s okay, but I don’t really care, so if you have a preference…” game, and I ended up, somehow, deciding on a spot. After some talking, setting things up, and her changing into a wet suit (she’s a mad scuba diver), we both trekked down to the water.

And there, on the wet sand, was a jellyfish.
A large jellyfish on the sand
A large jellyfish.

Nonetheless, the pushed forward into the water. AA raced ahead and I gingerly creeped in. Not seeing anything, I began to relax. The deadly trap on the shore could be an anomaly. I told myself that, with one there, it was statistically unlikely I would run into another. Lots of people were in the water happily paddling around. People were letting their kids frolic in the surf. Kids!

Just as I began to relax, I looked to my left and saw another jellyfish floating towards me.

As quick as I could make it, I was back on the shore.

When AA had a similar run in, we agreed that we should walk down the beach to look for shells.

Then, we saw a jellyfish. We drew a box around it, as we had seen around the first one on the shore. It seemed polite.
Another jellyfish
As we walked down the shore, we did not find the shells we were looking for.
Jellyfish in the waterAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAn upside down jellyfish!

Another jellyfish

There are five in this photo.

After maybe two hundred feet, I gave up trying to look for them, and just made sure none were in my direct path. At some point, I channeled a ten year old boy, squatted down, and dared myself to poke one. It felt like agar-agar. I don’t know if I can ever eat that stuff again.

Some man o’ war washed up on the beach as well. Having never seen one before, I was fascinated by their gas filled little bodies.
A portugese man o' war washed up on shore. A portugese man o' war with its "tail" stretched out.

After finding a few shells, I dipped my feet in the water again, body tense and heart pounding. I forgot to breathe as I eased myself into the ocean as far as I could without being overwhelmed by fear of floating, stinging death.