The Simplest. The Best. The Aqua Bicycle.

When you have kids, a vacation to the beach with extended family is many things.  It's for packing too much, and stopping for bathroom breaks, and bringing an enormous bag entirely devoted to beach towels and fitted sheets, and figuring out the sleeping arrangements, and applying sunscreen -- lots of sunscreen, and letting the kids have juice boxes and candy AND ice cream later at night.

It's for periodic melt downs, and Yahtzee or Checkers games, and crowded beaches where the sand scorches your feet and you stare at the teens who just lay there  -- oblivious to everything but their tan lines and phones -- and you can't remember ever experiencing the stage of life when you were responsible just for yourself.

It's for finding sand in the nooks and crevices of kids' bodies, and tossing beach toys in the back of the minivan, and taking an outing to the water park where you count heads, and making sure everyone stays hydrated, and, of course, reapplying sunscreen -- lots of sunscreen.

It's not for rest.

Still, I often begin a vacation with the idealistic notion that I'll have time for quite seaside reflection, and I'll emerge from a perfectly angled adirondack chair into my non-beach life with significant life epiphanies.  This doesn't happen, but let me tell you about what did happen this past week.

I saw this bike left in the garage of the house where we stayed. 

Maybe it was the soothing aqua color, or the fact that beach terrain, unlike my central Pennsylvania mountains, is always flat, or that a one-speed bicycle with back-pedal brakes reminded me of childhood, but I immediately fell in love with this bike.

We took a few rides throughout the week with our three girls and four nieces and nephews, creating a von-Trapp-like trail that prompted more than one passerbyer to ask, "Are they all yours?" as they nodded to the seven kids between filling the gap between my husband's station in the lead and my position as the rear guard.

But the final night, through some configuration of circumstances that involved the adults jostling rides and taking some kids to mini-golf, I found myself able to steal a solo bike ride.

I don't remember what I thought about that evening, really, or whether I actually thought at all.  I just pedaled, following any route I desired.  I felt the humid air on my skin and beach breeze in my hair.

And when I stopped, it was here on the bay.

Later as I rode back to the beach house while the sky darkened, I took the longest route possible, not quite wanting the ride to be over.  Even with the adirondack chairs, the evening produced no significant life epiphanies, except perhaps that sometimes the best part of a vacation could be as simple as an aqua bicycle.

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Chronicles of an Indecisive Online Shopper

Once, while I was in the hospital, a nurse asked how severe my pain was on a scale of 1-10.  My brain nearly exploded.  I wasn't dying (at least, I didn't think I was), and I could probably tolerate more pain without dying (although I didn't want to), and I was coherent enough to understand what she was after (which indicates some presence of mind), but the question was enough to push me over the edge.

What if I answered too low and they offered to give me a measly Tylenol?  What if I answered too high and revealed a laughably low pain threshold?  What in the world did these numbers correlate with, anyway?  Was 4 even worthy of being in the hospital?  Would 10 indicate that I was actively being mauled by a bear?  Could I offer a fraction of a number, like 7 and 3/4 degrees of pain, because 7 just didn't seem to cut it, but ratings of 8 and above seemed like they should be reserved for childbirth or broken femurs?  Was it permissible to answer, "Stop pelting me with questions! Just help me!"

If, like me, your mind responds in this fashion when a nurse prompts you with a standard question, you're probably an over-thinker.  It's doubly troublesome if you're indecisive and waver in your response by answering the question with another question -- 6, no wait, maybe it's actually a 7?

I've noticed that the combination of over-thinking and indecision is particularly troubling when you're attempting to buy something, anything, online.  (Or when you're scrutinizing paint chips, but that's another story for another day.)  While recently shopping for an area rug to place in our newly-hardwooded computer room, I fell into paralysis at the sheer number of options, as if area rugs were grains of sand on a grossly expansive beach of Internet search results.

Even the available filters -- seemingly useful parameters like price, size, color, and shape -- didn't help as much as I thought they would, given that there still were thousands of choices available at my fingertips when they were applied.

Where was the filter titled "Things I Would Like, Versus Totally Not Like" that removed ugly options from the onset?  Where was the "Things That Would Look Good in My Specific Space and Compliment Things I Already Own" filter?  What about one that found "Products That Arrive At Your House Actually Looking Just Like They Look in This Picture" and ferreted out misleading results?

Our civilization has explored the depths of space, created new body parts with 3D printing, and produced marvels of engineering that defy human limitations, yet we can't fully help a girl out when she's buying an area rug.

With dozens of tabs open on my computer, I muddled through the task with great uncertainty.  I overextended my husband's patience with the number of times I uttered the words "area rugs" any given day.  I waffled.  I wavered.  I enlisted the help of a wonderful friend who probably didn't have time for any of this, but offered her thoughtful opinions regardless.

The day I narrowed my search to four solid choices, I walked away from the computer victoriously.  Later, I discovered that my oldest daughter accidentally closed those hard-earned tabs while playing a game.  (Cue me, silently screaming.)

Apparently, I find it much easier to shop at brick-and-mortar stores where I can look at items in person, buy them, take them home, and then incessantly deliberate about whether something works or not.  Clicking "add this too my cart" feels like I'm pulling a trigger; tactile indecision seems much friendlier than its digital counterpart.

In case you're wondering, I finally purchased a rug.  (And then, sadly, I shipped it back because it was entirely wrong.)  Even more skiddishly after this failed attempt, I initiated another online search and selected a different option.  Days later when it arrived from UPS, I unrolled it and then sighed a happy sigh of relief.

It worked.

It was the right size, the right color, and the right price.  It was a rug that I liked, versus one that I totally did not like.  It looked good in my specific space and complimented things I already owned.  It arrived at my house actually looking just like it did in the picture.  It deserved a small moment of silence.

I should probably conclude by telling you that years ago, when one of my daughters was very young and I was playing an opposite game with her, I offered the word "buy."  I thought that she'd supply the antonym "sell," but without a moment's hesitation, she smiled and offered a definitive response: "return."

I learned two things from this.  One, she's entirely pegged my shopping tendencies.  Two, based on her quick and firm answer, she doesn't have a hard time making a decision.

I should have her do my online shopping.

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The Slow Lane of July

The month of July reminds me of a certain phenomenon that occurs when I drive on the highway for a long trip and finally exit onto residential roads again. At first, I struggle to monitor my speed.  I'm accustomed to moving faster, accelerating constantly.  I have to train myself to slow down and move at the reduced pace.

That's July for my life.  I downshift.  I've left behind the superhighway pace of the typical semester.  Late last week, once final grades were submitted, I turned off the high-traffic, bustling road of summer teaching.

In July, life doesn't propel me forward in the same way it does during other months.  I learn to navigate my daily roads more slowly, more deliberately.

Before I know it, the time will come to pick up the pace once more, but for now, I'll savor how July invites me to live life in the slow lane.

Image compliments of Josh Lowensohn.

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