Now that vacation season is here, I’ve got some beach longing going on. You may be in a vacation-packing conundrum already. (I always am.) What should you take to the beach that you won’t bring home, unworn?  After all, your beach week is the highlight of your year. Okay, I sound like I’m 18, which I clearly am not. That tells you how much I need to get away from my regular life.IMG_2693

Whenever I unpack from a week at the beach, I’m astounded at my colossal amount of over-packing. I take out one–two–three–four cute outfits, unworn, with jewelry to go with them. What was I thinking? Jewelry?

Every year when I come home from the beach, I resolve to pack smarter the next year, but every year, I do the same thing. (Truthfully, if I wear anything cute at all, it’s the one new outfit that I bought specifically to wear at the beach, so I’ll be hog-tied if I don’t wear it before I come home.) I enter vacation with the same misguided energies that I have at home–I’m hoping to make a good impression on the general population.

That sounds so horribly self-absorbed and superficial. But I’m being honest here. By the time I leave for a vacation, my values are out of whack. I need the vast expanse of ocean and 3 good books to set me straight. Life is more than what you look like and what people think of you.

It’s who you are. But it takes an ocean, a good sunburn, and a lot of card-playing to set all those priorities to rights.

As a week at the beach progresses, my priorities acclimate. Other than that one new outfit, I wear the same three or four things all week: bathing suit, exercise clothes, and one–maybe two–normal outfits. That’s it.

But that’s not how I pack.

Oh, no. I pack long pants, jeans, capris, shorts, leggings, tee shirts, cute tops, long-sleeved tops, casual dress, exercise clothes, tennis clothes, sweater, sweatshirt, jacket, 2 bathing suits, 3 cover-ups, a variety of flip-flops, tennis shoes, and cute sandals. For what purpose?IMG_1575

Well, it’s all very logical when I’m packing in my bedroom. Even though I’ve faithfully monitored the Weather Channel for the past 2 weeks, you never know what the weather at the beach will turn out to be or what exactly you will be in the mood to do (other than sit and admire the water). If the forecast is sunny and hot, you will have at least 1-2 days of rain and wind, and vice versa. It’s always colder at night that you think, windier than you think, or hotter than you think. You will most definitely feel like playing tennis if you leave your tennis skirt at home.

It’s called preparation, people. Hence, the need for a big suitcase.

But in actuality, it’s my appearances-center mode of operation, reaching its insecure little arms into my one week away, trying to keep a vice grip on my priorities.

The beach begins its work on me. I hesitate to dirty more clothes–what am I doing, really, but sitting around getting sand on myself? And the best thing is–nobody knows me at the beach! So who cares? Only my family, and they’ve seen me every day of my life, when I’m frying bacon at 7 am and when I’m blubbering over Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time. My family doesn’t require my wearing make-up and clean clothes to love me.

I settle in to who I am when no one’s watching. I do my favorite things–read, make huge breakfasts, eat ice cream, ride bikes, sleep. Meditate and pray. Climb the winding stairs of a lighthouse, learn a little history. More reading. More ice cream. More sleep. More prayer. Reprioritize. I’m returning to my center, the part of me that understands what’s most important.

I was reminded of this metamorphosis during our last beach vacation, during spring break. I was indulging in an incredible seafood dinner (crab cakes and shrimp gumbo!), surrounded by sea decor–nets, shells, boats, buoys, etc. I was wearing my new cute outfit, which I wore again the next day. (Hey, it’s comfy, and it wasn’t really dirty.)

After I pressed the last bit of crab between my fork prongs, I went to use the restroom, in hopes that I could make some room for ice cream later. Washing my hands at the sink, I glanced in the mirror. Holy Smokes! I scared myself. The combination of ocean air, South Carolina humidity, and my aversion to actually doing my hair on vacation presented me with an alarming picture. I nearly had an Afro going, and my hair’s not that curly. I had no make-up on, which for me is a stretch in public.

Nothing. Just plain old beach me. No wonder I’d been so content.

It was our last day. Civilization whispered in my ear. I pulled a lipstick out of my purse and swished it over my lips. Better. Then I smoothed over my hair, which was the best I could do, under the circumstances.

I returned to the table and informed my family of my startling revelation in the restaurant bathroom. You know, wild hair, no make up, and why the beach was so wonderful. They looked at me like I had two heads.

“You have lipstick on.” (Hmm, maybe they do notice.)

“What’s wrong with your hair?” (Okay, clearly, they don’t.)

See? At the beach, life is simple. It’s fairly obvious what’s important and what’s not. I guess that’s why I go.

Maybe taking all those extra clothes is just part of my shedding process. I’m figuring out once again how baggage works, literally and figuratively–that life makes everything seem so important when it’s really not. I can carry all these nonessentials around with me, but I really don’t need to wear any of them. The real me is better off without them.

Because the most important things in life, you can’t put in a suitcase.IMG_2822

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