July 30, 2009 at 8:26 a.m.

I'm in a vacation state-of-mind

I'm in a vacation state-of-mind
I'm in a vacation state-of-mind

For many years I pondered the question, Why do we feel so much better when we're on vacation? We feel great, don't we? We wake up and brew coffee that smells and tastes better than the coffee we make at home and the air seems fresher and we get overwhelming urges to nap, nodding off like narcoleptics, whenever we darn well please, and play board games after supper and read a good book before retiring for the night.

That question was answered this past month after my wife and boys and I returned from our 11-day vacation at the family cottage. I'm almost embarrassed to tell you what the big secret is. It's so simple I should've realized it long ago.

The answer is - drum roll please - attitude.

That's it, plain and simple. Jimmy Buffett had it right when he sang about changes in latitudes and changes in attitudes. Of course changing your longitude counts for something, too. You get what he means though. It seems that any direction we choose to take, that'll take us away from our daily routine, will go a long way to improve attitude.

I also figured out that it's not just a mental thing. Feeling good when we're away from home manifests itself in the way we dress. At least it does for me anyway. When I'm up north, I dress differently than I do when I'm schlepping through the week here at home. Up north, I like wearing my favorite khaki bucket hat, plaid shirts, cargo shorts and sandals. When you see me on the streets of Minocqua or Manitowish Waters, WI, you know I'm on vacation and I feel like a million bucks.

Oh, and here's another big difference - at any given time up north, I'm liable to smell like fish, and believe it or not, the smell of fish on my hands makes me infinitely happy. Funny thing is, it's almost half expected up there. It's kind of northwoods cologne.

Just to crack myself up, I like to puff out my chest when I'm in the fishing boat with my boys and do my best Robert Duvall impersonation as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore in the 1979 epic Vietnam war film, "Apocalypse Now." Do you recall the scene when Kilgore explains to Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen) his affinity for the smell of napalm? Of course I mix it up a bit, but that doesn't change the fact that my kids think I've completely lost my marbles: "You smell that? Do you smell that? Fish, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of fish in the morning. The smell, you know, that fishy smell. Smells like...victory." That line works best right after I've caught and released a good fish. (I have to say that I do the best Lt. Kilgore impersonation in the universe, but I digress.)

So I've come to realize that much of my vacation-induced Nirvana-like attitude can in fact be carried over and retained at home. I tried it this past month and it does in fact work. The trick is to behave at home in much the same way as you'd behave while at the lake, or at a state park, or down in Boca Raton, Florida, or wherever you vacation and feel good.

It's a mental exercise that my wife is good at and I'm striving to do better. When we're at home, my wife can take her coffee outside in the morning and sit on our front porch that faces the St. Croix River, read a bit of her book and I know her attitude is good. She doesn't sit there very long, but I think she sits there as a reminder that we live in a pretty neat corner of the world and it's a great way to start the day.

Just last weekend I was again reminded by the automobile and foot traffic in downtown Taylors Falls, that we live where other folks go to visit and vacation. It's neat to see tourists eating ice cream cones or playing miniature golf at the Drive In, or just strolling down main street. They all seem to be pretty darn happy, too. There's absolutely no reason why I can't feel like a million bucks right here in Taylors Falls just as easily as they can.

Today is Tuesday and I'm wearing my Manitowish Waters Lake Association tee shirt, cargo shorts and sandals. It's a fairly regular weekday but in my mind I'm still on a bit of a vacation. I feel great, by the way. The coffee tasted good this morning as I spent a few minutes outside on the porch. Every morning the bald eagles begin calling to one another, their tell-tale cries and stuttering whistles pierce the cool air as they fish the river right in front of our place. It's not a bad way to start the day.

If you have comments for Dan or story ideas contact him at e-mail [email protected].

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