Well, maybe you would believe me! Maybe you’ve had one of those disasters. Hey, I tell couples, “Leave your issues at home and go have fun.” It’s easier to say than to do. Nothing can ruin a vacation quicker than unmet expectations. If you’d hoped to do X and you never get to do X it’s hard to be in a good mood. But, look: You don’t want to pout when you don’t get to do X. No one gets whatever they want whenever they want it and you are no different. If you don’t get what you want…adjust! Remember, how you handle unmet expectations is teaching your children how to cope in the future when they have to face adversity. You don’t want to be like the saying I had hanging on my bedroom wall when I was in 9th grade: “Don’t worry. You can always serve as a bad example.” So…it rains? The plans you made fell through? Figure out Plan B and have a ball in the process.
In my last blog I mentioned how all of a sudden my wife and I were faced with an entire day with absolutely no plans. I was trying to think the last time that happened in our entire marriage! Usually our schedule is pretty packed. We’ve got most weekends planned. Work covers the workweek. So when do we have a day to do whatever? The only time is if we plan for it, which is pretty funny if you think about it! Having an unplanned day would be good to do anyway! We saw it as a gift. Here we were with an unplanned day sitting right in front of us. What do we do? We decided to hit the River Bluffs Scenic Byway (page 15 of this PDF. I have it saved on my laptop in a folder called “Travel”) we were near at our campground and we ended up with a pretty enjoyable and memorable day.
Along the Scenic Byway we happened by an Iowa Welcome Center just south of Elkader in Osborne (You can find the other Welcome Centers in Iowa at this website. Put in the section of the state you are interested in and choose the city and it’ll give you the location of the Welcome Center in that area. There are 45 of them, curiously none in Central Iowa where most of the people live. Most of the centers are around Okaboji and Southeast, Iowa. There are Centers on the Interestate Highways, also.). The travel center in Osborne was an interesting stop in and of itself and gave us lots of ideas for the day. We also picked up some other travel info about Iowa. We’ve lived in Iowa over 30 years and we’re still discovering new things. We’ve learned you don’t have to travel too far to find new and interesting things to do.
We could tell by the brochures we’d looked at that Elkader was a popular stop and once we were there we could see why. There’s been a lot of moaning about the demise of rural America, but if you keep your eyes open, you can find little jewels wherever you go. Not every town has died. Many of them have reinvented themselves and have a lot of personality. Elkader is a town like that. It’s on the Turkey River and they’ve developed a White Water Park for kayak’s and canoes and inner tubes. The Water Park even has their own website. One of Elkader’s claim to fame is their Keystone Bridge, the oldest this side of the Mississippi River. You ca see that below as well as a few other pics of our time in Elkader:
Built in 1889 for a cost of $16, 282, the 346 foot bridge is the longest of its type west of the Mississippi.
The Turkey River goes right through the main part of town. Many of the houses and apartments and businesses back up the river, making for a beautiful scene for the tenants.
This trail bordered the river downtown Elkader right near the Keystone Bridge. We were sorry we didn’t bring our bikes with us. It looked like rain when we left and we had no idea there were pretty trails like this to explore.
This map in the city park near the Keystone Bridge illustrates the many things there are to do in this part of Iowa, certainly more than we could explore in one day. We’ll definitely be back to see more. What a pretty area.
When we got to Elkader it was time for lunch and we happened by this quaint hamburger joint. No way. This kind of place is where we love to stop.
Love, love, love this menu: Four items…and pop. That’s it. I was going to take a picture of the hours and forgot. I wanted to send the pic of the hours to my son who’s a chef. His hours are brutal. This hamburger joint’s hours? Wed, Thur and Fri: 4-9 and 11-9 on Saturday and Sunday. Open Monday’s on Holidays. That’s it. The guy making our burgers was very friendly and said he’d been doing it 20 years. Apparently, he sold enough burgers to live in Elkader and run his own business. Good for him.
Yeah. They were good.
Historic Downtown Elkader had several unique shops that we went through (such as the Turkey River Mall), making for a fun stop along the way. They’ve done a great job keeping the ambiance of older buildings and keeping the downtown alive and thriving.
After exploring Elkader a few hours we road the rest of the River Bluff Scenic Byway, minus the two legs that went down to the Mississippi River. Those two legs would have been beautiful, but we were budgeting our time. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of the landscape so have none to share with you. We were too busy drinking in the wonder. All in all a great little getaway. To get an idea of the scenery check out these images from Google on the River Bluffs Scenic Byway.
Wherever you live or wherever you vacation, there are these little jewels mixed in here and there. They are fun to discover and even more fun to explore, creating memories…..”oh, that was the year we went to Elkader.”
In this series of Planning vs Spontaneous I hope you’ve seen these two characteristics are not incompatible, but complementary. We need them both to make vacation time go well. With my wife and I we’re both planners about different things and spontaneous about different things. I like to plan our trips out a bit. She just wants to be together. It doesn’t matter what we do. I like to just throw everything in the SUV. She likes to have it organized. I chaffed at that for a while until I realized she was pretty smart about that and that a certain amount of organizing keeps things in order. Finding things is a good thing. If everything has a place, then you know where to find it. I didn’t learn that at home as a child. My dad lost his keys every day and every day there was a key crisis. My wife taught be early on, no, you have a place for your keys and, frankly, a place for everything else. Hey, I can learn.
What’s this deal about you having to be right about everything? Stop it already. Work together.
In thinking through my gifts and abilities and what do I have to offer the world, I kept coming back to the simple truth that my marriage was one of the best blessings in my life. Yet around me were people who dumped their marriages for the slightest of reasons. It’s a sad fact that many people don’t know how to enjoy life. I view therapy as largely mentoring and setting a good example. Look, if I can do this, you can, too!
This morning I was encouraged by an article I read about Minnesota Twin Outfielder Torii Hunter, who just turned 40, who takes younger major league baseball players under his wing and mentors them, not just in baseball, but in life. The Minnesota Twins played the Los Angeles Angels a while back and the article highlighted Hunter’s ongoing relationship with the Angele’s phenom, Mike Trout, and how Trout was mentored by Hunter when Hunter played for L.A. and how they still keep in contact. The article went on to say that there are a number of up and coming players whom Hunter has guided and encouraged and he continues to do so with new, young, up and coming players. The article is pretty uplifting and I’d invite you to check it out. It highlights how I see my work with couples: demonstrating by my life how to get through life with joy and infuse your life with joy.
Vacation should be a time of joy. You’ve heard the advice “There’s a time and a place for everything: a time for peace, a time for war; a time to plant, a time to harvest”? It’s from the Biblical book, Ecclesiastes, from chapter 3. Check it out. You might recognize the passage as The Byrd’s used the lyrics from that wonderful poem for their famous song, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Implied in this passage is the notion of having the wisdom to determine the difference: When is it appropriate to do what?
On vacation, this is NOT the time to get into arguments or to prove a point or to be selfish or to obsess on something. PEOPLE: It’s a time to chill! Leave your issues at home. Leave your resentments at home. Better yet, pray to the Lord to help you forgive. Your resentments will tell you your spouse is at fault and will convince you, you are not responsible for your marriage being awful, even though you do not lift a finger to make your marriage better. Resentment lies to you and tells you it’s not worth trying, so you don’t and then it ruins your life and your marriage and then if you are foolish enough to run away from your problems and divorce, you take your resentments with you. Resentments turn you into a 2-year old who can only see life from his own point of view.
A better approach is let your resentments go. Vacation is a good time to practice this! Leave your disagreements at home. Let it all roll off your back. Decompress. Quit thinking about work. Quit worshiping your marriage failure. Be a force for good and positivity. Sleep in. Experience new things. Create memories. Take pictures. Make love. Hold hands. Cuddle. Sit silently by a campfire and watch the constant change of the fuel slowly shifting. Be mesmerized.
And shift gears when it rains.
You might wonder why I’m telling you about my wife and my trips this summer? Because one of the biggest and recurring problems I’m seeing in my office is couples who have NO IDEA HOW TO HAVE FUN and BE FRIENDS with their spouse! NO IDEA! They never grew up in a family that had fun. Everything is serious, serious, serious. There’s no joy. There’s no discovery. There’s no relaxing. Everything has to be perfect or it’s a crisis. Woe is me…I’m going to ruin your life. If I can’t be happy (and I can’t), then I will make your life miserable. Then they take this self-absorbed, everything-in-life-needs-to-revolve-around-me and everything-has-to-be-perfect-or-I’m-in-a-bad-mood and pack it along with them on their vacation and they keep taking it out and using it as a club:
Recurring dialog in my office (hundred’s of times):
Me: What would make you feel close to your spouse?
Client: If we had affection. If he (or she) would touch me. He never touches me. Our relationship is so cold.
Me: Do you touch him?
Client: Of course not. Our relationship is so cold. It would be hypocritical for me to touch him if I don’t feel it.
I hope you can see by this little example, that resentment has taken this person’s wisdom away. It has gone and blown away into the wind. Which came first: the resentments to tell you to not reach out to your spouse or somebody not touching somebody for whatever reason? Vacation is NOT the time to harbor resentments. It’s hand holding time. It’s cuddle time. It’s laughter time. It’s explore new things time. It’s forget your problems time. It’s go with the flow time.
Be careful. If you do this, you might end up liking your spouse!
Okay, enough with the lecture. On to how to take a rainy day and turn it into a sunny day, whether or not the sun shines. That’s what happened to us on the day we discovered Elkader.
The story goes like this:
We were camping with family and it was raining and raining and then the rain stopped, but the forecast said more rain was expected. The rest of the family were tenting and the thought of camping in the rain wasn’t appealing and they decided to go home. So here my wife and I are in our camping trailer in the middle of a rainy day all by ourselves when the plan was to chill with our extended family that day. All of a sudden the plans changed. We had to be spontaneous instead! We could have spent the day in the camper reading or chilling in our awesome screen tent (actually, this would have been a wonderful time!), but we both spontaneously said, hey, let’s go explore. This is a new area of Iowa we don’t know anything about. We’ve never been here before. Let’s check it out. Fortunately we had a copy of the “Iowa Byways” brochure from the Iowa Travel Board, or whatever it’s called, and we looked it over and lo, and behold, our camping area was smack dab in the middle of one of the Iowa Scenic Byways! No way! So we hopped in the car and had our little “Byways” map and went to see the sites.
If you live in Iowa or come through Iowa on your way west or east, you must grab this little magazine. Check it out. I’m guessing most states have a copy of this sort of advertisement to tell people the great views in each state. There are national byways, too. One hundred and fifty of them. We have a book of them in our travel trailer and used it on our recent trip to Michigan (More on that trip on another blog. Check out Amazon for a number of books on this topic that must be in your travel library).
The “Byway” we were on was called “The River Bluffs Scenic Byway.” It’s 109 miles altogether and has a loop with two legs. We did the loop. We didn’t have time to do the two legs. We’ll save that for another day. We had our brochure map which we followed, but we also noticed there were signs on the highway pointing to where the Byway turned next. A lot of thought has gone into these routes and they take you by some of the greatest sights in our great country. A rainy day, turned into one of our most memorable vacation days. In my next blog I’ll tell you the details of the trip.
Here’s the lesson: If something happens on your vacation that upsets the plans, go with the flow and have fun anyway! The flat tires and the car problems and the rain or the heat can create a unique opportunity for fun! Plus it’ll show your children how to handle adversity!
This takes the planning spouse and the spontaneous, go-with-the-flow spouses’ strengths into consideration. Vacation is a time to reconnect, to chill, to replenish your spirit, create memories, have unique experiences, and have many moments of “ahhh”. Ahhh as in relax and Ahhh as in to worship, to wonder, to marvel. You see the same thing every day and the familiar loses it’s surprise. Hit a new place with new sights and sounds and smells and even the feel of the wind can bring back that sense there is more to life than your next appointment or project or deadline.
If we don’t plan we won’t have anything to do or we’ll argue about what to do. If we are too spontaneous you’ll run out of underwear.
We chose Volga River because we wanted to camp in NE Iowa, a very beautiful part of the state. We hadn’t explored that are much before. Also, the area was only 2 1/2 hours away from our house, a perfect distance to be gone just a few days. It turned out the campsite was wonderful and the camping area was completely new.
This sign greets you as you enter the park, 5000 acres of woods and open space, a lake and two rivers and two campsites and miles and miles of trails.
This is our campsite. Very spacious and open, bigger than most commercial and state campgrounds with trees and open space, the perfect combination.
Our new Clam Screen Tent. It only takes 30 seconds to put up. Amazing! I’ll have to have more on a later blog about our Clam Screen Tent.
We visited Decorah as we planned, but the day there was pretty wide open. Decorah was 35 miles away from Volga River, close enough for a day trip from our campsite. Friends had recommended a place for lunch, called Ruby’s. We happened by it about lunch time so decided to go there for lunch. Our waitress was the owner and spoke highly of her roast beef dinner, saying they make their own bread, mash their own potatoes and oven roast their own meat each day. Very nice to have real mashed potatoes! If you put this place on your agenda, you’ll have to hit it before 2 PM as they are only open for breakfast and lunch.
We putzed around downtown Decorah some as there were some cute shops, my wife’s favorite. I make sure I bring my Kindle or iPhone to have something to read if I get tired of shopping. I get to relax and my wife has a ball. Both our needs are being fulfilled on that deal, a win-win. We checked out the store for the Norwegian Museum. We’re both from Minnesota and have a little Norwegian blood in our heritage somewhere, plus with our Minnesota roots we’re familiar with many of the artifacts. That was fun.
Then we biked the Trout River Trail, which is an 11-mile trail around the outskirts of Decorah. It follows the Trout River on one side of town and then goes into the bluffs on the other side. Since this was earlier in the year, we weren’t quite ready to hit the hills, but the trail along the river was beautiful.
Most of the trail was right next to the river, making for beautiful scenery.
Looking over my wife’s shoulders. You can see the trail goes through the woods on one side and the river is on the other.
On most trips we like to find the best local pizza. With the Internet we can do a little research. I like the Pizza joints that have been around the longest. They’ve proven they have a formula the locals love and there’s a good chance we’ll like it, too. It’s been a 40 year quest in our marriage and a fun option to have as a “thing to do” on vacation. We prefer thin crust. I grew up on thin crust pizza from Mr. Pizza in Rochester, Minnesota (still there and still my favorite), near where I grew up, and Carbone’s in White Bear Lake near where my cousins lived (and still a stop now when we visit extended family in the area. There’s over 30 locations in Wisconsin and the Twin Cities). For supper in Decorah we chose a locally owned pizza restaurant that had a long history (since 1953!) called Mabe’s. It was a walk back in time, just the way we like it. My wife and I have a running conversation about the new decor in fast food restaurants. It’s like they don’t want to you relax or enjoy yourself and want you to leave as soon as possible. It has the opposite affect on me: making me not want to go in the first place. The old, warm woods are fine for me. I wouldn’t say Mabe’s was the best pizza we’d ever had, but it was pretty good, good enough to give us a high-five on our food choices that day.
We had only one thing planned this day: to hit the Trout River Trail. The rest of the time was used to just enjoy the new sights and sounds and see what interested us. It included a trip to Ace Hardware in Decorah to pick up some things for camping and to Wal-Mart to buy some more water hoses for our camp site so we wouldn’t trip over the hoses to our water supply for our trailer. We got back in plenty of time to relax and chill before some of our family arrived the next day, a perfect blend of planning and being spontaneous.
One of us is spontaneous and the other likes to plan. Those two just don’t get along. We’re just so different.” Well, hello! Yes, we are different. This would be a good thing! Nevertheless this idea that “We’re not compatible” is a sad statement, because people who think like this are missing out on one of life’s serendipitous joys: Spontaneous Vs Likes-to-Plan are not contradictory. They are complementary! Maybe you don’t know how to make that work for you as a couple, but figuring it out will bring a lot of sweet moments for the two of you. How? The planner plans the getaway, but you plan a spontaneous getaway.
In a nutshell here’s how to get these two complementary tendencies in harmony: The planner plans the trip while consulting with the spontaneous spouse, but doesn’t fill every minute. Then on the trip you plan to be spontaneous. We had to plan ahead to get the time off and set it aside and make reservations. What we do is scout out a couple of ideas in the area where we are going of things we can do and then we let the weather and our mood and energy level determine what we do each day. We might want to have a couple of ideas we can do on this or that day, but as a rule of thumb, it’s go-with-the-flow. Too many families get into trouble on their vacations when the schedule is packed too tight. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than the planner insisting we do what they want every minute and then pout or gets mad when others want to do something different. G0-with-the-flow is our vacation motto. You plan, but don’t over-plan.
We just had one of these planning/spontaneous trips recently that was delightful and I thought I’d share it with you to prime the pump of your creativity. Around January this last year I start planning our summer camping trips in order to get nice camping spots. In Iowa you can reserve camping sites 3 months in advance. In both Minnesota and Michigan you can reserve up to 6 month. In Iowa you can reserve a cabin at a state park a year in advance. Each state has their own rules. Then I mark the calendar day when I can start reserving. This is especially important for holiday weekends. For the camping season that’s: Memorial Weekend, Independence Day and Labor Day weekend. This year we wanted to camp in Northeast Iowa over Memorial Weekend. We were going to leave on the previous Wednesday (May 20th this year) and camp through that Monday. Ninety days prior to May 20, 2015, was February 20th and on my work calendar I made a note to myself to make reservations for the campground we wanted on February 20th. Since that was the first day we can make reservations we had the pick of what campsite we wanted. Previously we’d decided on Volga River Recreation Area. It was in the center of a lot of fun things to do, it had lots of open area, mountain biking trails, a lake and two rivers and two campgrounds with over 5000 acres to explore. It turned out wonderful. Our campground was brand new with new concrete roads and shower facilities and the area was beautiful.
We had to plan to make this happen, but we didn’t fill our schedule tight. Part of being on vacation is to go with the flow, to just chill. For five days all the plans we had were to
Explore Decorah, Iowa which was near our campground and bring our bikes and hit the Trout Run Trail
Not much of a full schedule for five days. Lots of spontaneous time. We ended up with some rain days so we had to be a bit creative to not go stir crazy. In a future blog I’ll tell you about that wonderful, spontaneous day…all because of rain on a camping day.
For generations now couples and families have taken weekend road trips in their car or motorcycle as a way to relax and spend time together. I remember as a child riding in the backseat with Grandpa and Grandma Wall as they traveled down the county gravel roads by their farm on Sunday afternoons after church at 20 miles an hour looking at their neighbors crops as they would gab back and forth. With my mom and dad when we’d travel to destinations my mom insisted on stopping at this and that site as we spontaneously discovered new sites previously unknown to us. In modern America we’ve gotten away from the weekend road trip because we’re so busy, which is pretty sad. It’s a good way to relax and connect via chatting along the way as you see new sites and stop to check out curiosities and unexpected delights along the way.
As a marriage therapist I can tell you a sad and repeated refrain is too many couples don’t spend casual time together bonding and relaxing and regrouping around spontaneous moments. Everything is planned and in the process life passes them by and they end up living as roommates. Unique experiences create fun and friendship and (duh!) memories! “Oh, that was the year we did such and such!” If you don’t do anything different, everything blends together. Friendship wanes, resentments grows and eventually turns into indifference. When you don’t even care anymore that’s a really bad sign.
Stop it already! Fill up your tank and head out on the road. In the next blog I’m going to tell you about a recent one my wife and I did. If you are in Central Iowa you can do the same trip we took (It was awesome!). If you are in a different part of the world you can discover your area because there are interesting things to see in your backyard wherever you live. You can use our trip as a good example. In the process you can keep in mind that there’s a tension between the planning spouse and the one who likes to be spontaneous. We need both of these. A road trip provides many spontaneous moments as you see new things to explore, new restaurants to hit. But you can’t go on a spontaneous road trip if you don’t plan the time! Well, at least most of the time. In a future blog I’ll post about a road trip we didn’t plan for at all that turned out to be wonderful. In this blog, let me introduce you to Scenic Byways in general.
A lot of states highway or travel departments publish brochures and maps of scenic roads through their prettiest or historic areas. You can go to Google, type in your state followed by “Scenic Byways” and end up with your state’s website with maps and PDF’s that can be downloaded for your use on your little get-a-way. For example, here’s the websites for Iowa and Minnesota:
There are two National Byways in Iowa (Loess Hills along the Missouri River and Great River Road along the Mississippi River. Over the years my wife and I have traveled on parts of both of these by motorcycle and both are quite beautiful.) and 9 State Byways. All of these are highlighted for their scenery except the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, which was the first highway across America after the introduction of the Automobile (completed in 1913). Many parts along the Lincoln Highway are beautiful, but it’s claim to fame is not the scenery but it’s historic appeal. You might be interested to know our office in Ames is on the original Lincoln Highway. My wife and I have had thoughts of traveling the entire length (New York to San Francisco, 3389 miles, 14 states and 700 towns!) and hope to do it someday at a leisurely pace, taking in the local sites along the way.
In addition to these scenic highways in Iowa, there’s others worth noting. One is particular is the Dragoon Trail, which is listed as one of the “Historic Auto Trails” in Iowa. My wife and I have traveled the Dragoon Trail on motorcycle from Boone to Fort Dodge one sunny fall Saturday after the leaves changed. It was absolutely beautiful, following the Des Moines River the entire way. Many of the roads were gravel, but we putzed along and enjoyed the sites. Of course, when we were in Fort Dodge we had to get apple dumplings at the Community Orchard and onion rings and broasted chicken at Ja-Mar’s Drive-In.
In upcoming blogs I’ll highlight some of our experiences over Memorial Weekend this year and in particular, the River Bluffs Scenic Byway. Stay tuned.