Minnesotans are a pretty quiet bunch. We are serious and usually pretty hard-working, not too comfortable with flash and luxury, and for the most part we are busy worker bees. However, we do harbor one indulgent habit...we stretch our summer weekends past the normal boundaries. There are just not enough of them, so instead, we wiggle around the rules. We sneak out early, we throw our bits in the car, and we get the heck out of town. Over and over and over, all summer long.
For the most part, we do not go to fancy lake homes. We go, (as newcomers never fail to notice), to "the lake", or to "the cabin". It doesn't matter what the name of the lake is, there are more than ten thousand, we all have a favorite one, and we all also believe that ours is the cleanest, the most original, the most fun, in short...the best. Going to the lake involves coolers, beer, sweatshirts, smores, mosquitoes, cocktails, sunscreen, swimming, hopefully a boat, and did I mention adult beverages? But also driving. Maybe an hour or two for the lucky ones, more like three or four hours for many of us.
My parents did this drive over and over, weekend after weekend, for most of my life, until they finally acknowledged that they would just be happier if they lived there full-time. I didn't think about it much as a younger person, but now in middle age, with limited free time and kids in tow, I am reflecting on all of those trips. So much time in the car...so many bags of food and baskets of laundry going back and forth...so many experiments in how to save time on the drive...so many pre-departure mowing sessions...so many forgotten items and rides requested from others making the drive...so much work! I would never live with one foot in each place like that, I told myself, as I got older and tallied the hours and resources spent this way. I loved the lake, but there had to be a better way, right?
Except that I am doing it. I'm doing it right now, and with young children. Even the cat comes with because she loves it, too. It's my fourth summer back in Minnesota, and Memorial Day kicks off true lake season. I've been making mental lists all week, doing laundry prep, running errands. I used to hop in the car on a moment's notice and make the drive with barely more than my swimsuit and my purse. It's not as much fun or spontaneous to pack up the car for a weekend with two small kiddos, but the power of the lake is such that it remains worth it. It's always annoying to sit in traffic on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, and it's always annoying to get the car loaded and unloaded. But, I have learned a few things that help with those tricky transitions...a few small steps in the routine can make me less ornery about it, and also less wasteful in the process. I will share them:
- Buy a second set of toiletries if you make the trip repeatedly. Leave them there. Some people buy a second set of clothes, which I find wasteful, or they leave clothes there, but that gets confusing fast. Toiletries, running shoes, and an emergency old bathing suit. That's what I keep at the lake.
- Leave yourself something at home that you are excited to come back to. Coming-home Sundays are long days filled with traffic, fatigue, hunger, and the re-settling back into regular life grind. If you leave your pretty new dress hanging prominently in the closet or a book on your nightstand that you are looking forward to reading, it will bring a smile to your tired face on Sunday night or add a little extra get-out-of-bed reward to your Monday morning.
- Clean the fridge while you pack your cooler bag! Food waste makes me crazy, and also cooking dinner after the journey home with kids underfoot and dirty laundry everywhere makes for very crabby grown-ups. If you put some thought into your fridge before you leave, at least you will know exactly what's in there, and be ready to start the week's grocery list. If I have time, I also wipe the refrigerator shelves after I finish packing the cooler bag, because the fridge is usually a little bit empty at that time. You don't have to scrub the entire thing; just a quick wipe of exposed shelves will make it feel better, and therefore help you avoid takeout when you get home. Bonus points for taking this opportunity to clean out old produce, and double bonus points for leaving a semi-fresh homemade meal in the fridge for eating upon return.
- Make your own road snacks: cheaper, less packaging, and probably less terrible for you. Try trail mix, fruit, or popcorn (my new favorite).
- Complete one small household improvement or random task pre-departure. Pick a little pile of stuff that you've been avoiding. Clean a closet, organize your pantry, make your bed with fresh linens, file some outstanding stuff on your desk, make your menu for the coming week. It will have a soothing effect on your feelings about being back to real life.
And then, get ready to do it all again in a week or two.
Happy Memorial Day!