Because Imperfect is the Best Kind of Summer Vacation

by | Jun 4, 2012 | Uncategorized

“Do you like it here, would you ever want to come back,” H asks me laying on the bed while I look for my swimming suit in the suitcase. A breeze blows cool through the screen in the window moving the hem of my maternity dress. I look up at him and smile, “Yes, I want to come back.”

We’ve been married seven years and it’s my first trip to the family cottage in Ontario, Canada.  A blue shuttered sprawl with her back to the Bonnechere Provincial Park. She faces lavender sky of golden sunsets on a lake of glass, tucked under pines. Her left arm paddles river of sunbathing turtles on limbs of drowned trees. Boats, oars, and life vests lay strewn across her sandy lap.

H embraces summer’s freedom with his grandparents here as a child, where they still call him Sandy, though his hair mottles gray now. The dark paneled walls, mismatched furniture and silverware collect family stories for sixty years.

When mice scurry between our feet, hide under furniture, I scream.  His ninety-year old grandmother traps them on the kitchen counter looking for pie.

It’s twenty minutes to the nearest grocery store. They don’t stock natural peanut butter. However, they do sell warm sticky buns.

There is not cable television, internet access, or cell service.

These things, it’s why he asks me.

Every summer since becoming parents sixteen years ago, the cottage calls us back to join two generations. Two weeks of walks down a shady gravel road for an ice cream cone at the corner store.  To forget what a mirror looks like and wonder why we bother packing more than swimsuits.

Because sometimes you have to let go of the clock and all her to-do lists of expectation, to remember who you are – in God’s time.

Madeline L’Engle says, “In kairos (God’s time) we are completely unselfconscious, and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we are constantly checking our watches for chronological time.”

We shake off should and have-to and weary shoulders transform Cinderella.

Harrison learns how to walk, paddle a canoe, chop wood with an axe, catch frogs and ride a bike during those weeks. While Murielle stands up on ski’s, pulls fish from a pond, gets her ears pierced and finds out a frozen juice box is better than a popsicle.

Two years ago, Murielle’s namesake, her Great Grandmother Muriel, teaches me how to make a pie. Because we follow directions for years but her pies always, taste better.  Murielle decides to film it so we don’t miss a secret step.

We savor every succulent, blueberry spoonful of crusted sweetness washed down with decaf. Then watch stars fall in midnight sky by fire embers glowing like fireflies on still shores.

When grandmother goes to bed, we don’t realize it’s the last time we’ll break bread together, eat from the sweetness of her wise hands. She meets Jesus face to face during a sound sleep in her favorite place, after the satisfaction a good meal, seated around a table with the seed of her womb.

Her prayers linger now in the antique dishes in the china cabinet, on the plastic tablecloth around the picnic table in the gazebo, in the indented seat of the needlpoint chair next to the lamp.

And yes, I will go back again this summer. Because that place, its more than a vacation spot, it reminds me of who I am.

Do you have a special vacation spot or summer memory?

I’m joining the High Calling’s Community Writing Project on Summer Vacations hosted by Charity Singleton and Deidra Riggs.

Linking with Multitudes on Mondays, Playdates with God, Soli Deo Gloria, On Your Heart Tuesday, Just Write.

Subscribe for Shelly’s stories and free resources here:


  1. lolitavalle

    Yes, it is always good to be able to come back to a place where you can find your true self. Nothing hinders, and it is always a beautiful place to grow basic truths and experience things from ground point.

    I love the story even though Grandma is now in heaven with the Father, you could still find her in every little things she was a gift to the family, all the things leaned from her, the love she had so generously lavished……. they are the legacy to the home of birth.

    So many things to come back for…. next vacation time…. Lovely.

    As for me, not so much with the place….. but with the people in it. Something you like to come back to.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Yes, the people make the place don’t they? It’s a pleasure meeting you and so thrilled you left a comment. Wondering if you have a blog too?

      • lolitavalle

        I came at Pam’s(Apples of Gold) referral. I am humbled by the though of you coming over to my own spot. I am so awed at gifted people that I don’t usually expect for a return. I was like that when I first came to Pam’s blog. But she is an emerald of a person, as I know you are too. Every good gift comes from heaven above.

        I am here:

        Thanks for asking, Ms. Shelly. BTW, I am a Filipino living in the Philippines.

        • Redemption's Beauty

          That Pam is a gift, isn’t she? So humbled that she suggested you come and visit. Oh my. We are all gifted in different ways, none any better than the other, all just parts of the body doing our part in the Kingdom. And to have you visiting all the way from the Philippines warms my heart. Great to have you here.

  2. island traveler

    A magical place filled with love, laughter and great memories. Beautiful Summer story that we will always remember. Thanks.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Magical is a lovely word to describe it accurately. Thanks for following, nice to have you join in the conversations here!

  3. Sharon O

    This is so full of wonderful feelings, truths, memories and even change… in heart and spirit.
    So good, I wish there was a ‘spot’ I could remember that gave me such good memories.
    The only thing I can think of is the ‘favorite beach spot’ I always go back to. It is not a home just a ‘patch of sand’ capturing the smells and sounds of ‘ocean’ and a place I find peace in.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      thank you Sharon. Places we revisit do help us return to what is important. I used to see that as uncreative and boring but now see the value in returning to the same spot.

  4. laura

    Oh, this is the most precious of vacations–one tied up and strung together with love. Beautiful, Shelly!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Our kids are getting older and think it would be more fun with friends. I feel selfish wanting to hang on that sacred time with them that we don’t get at home. But I may have to give in.

  5. MaryBeth@NewLifeSteward

    You did a beautiful job transporting me to your vacation spot! I had goosebumps when I finished reading. How blessed your family is to have such a treasure!

    Mary Beth

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Goosebumps, oh my! I do feel very blessed to marry into such a rich spiritual heritage filled with tradition. It’s a gift I didn’t know I was getting when I said, “I do.” Thanks for visiting MaryBeth. I enjoyed your post today too.

  6. Lisa notes...

    Oh, this is calling me back to St. George Island in Florida. It’s a remote, off-the-beaten-path spot of beach that we used to go to several summers in a row.

    But yes, ultimately it is the people, not the place. This is beautiful. Thanks.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      That sounds heavenly. We used to alternate between the cottage and the beach here where I live now. Never thought in a million years I would live in the place we vacationed for years. God is amazing.

  7. Uncle Don

    Oh no! The satellite TV is working as is the cell phone reception. Progress can’t be hindered.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I was talking about sixteen years ago! Thankful we have it now, still no internet . . which is probably a good thing. Love you Uncle Don.

  8. patsy

    Wonderful and especially poignant about grandmother.

  9. Jennifer@GDWJ

    This is my kind of vacation. And I LOVE the marshmallow photo. You’ve got a great eye.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Glad you liked it. I have hundreds, maybe thousands of photos from the cottage over the years. It took longer to pick photos than to write the story!

  10. r.elliott

    Shelly …you are such a artful(is that a word?) story teller…always paint vidid pictures with your words…I love going to a cabin as a family… no cell or internet service…rich memories! blessings to you my friend~

    • Redemption's Beauty

      You know the writer in me is smiling over your gracious encouragement here Ro. Thank you sweet friend. Can’t tell you what that means to me. And yes, we are on the screens enough, its good to be somewhere we can’t be on them. It forces us to play.

  11. elizabethfstewart

    This one has me teary. What a beautiful heritage and lovely memories.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I don’t have this kind of heritage with my family of origin. My grandparents did take me on trips but they are gone now. I am so grateful for the inheritance of family traditions through my husband.

  12. toshowthemjesus

    The water is always such a peaceful place. Time seems to stand still and the burdens wash away in the water’s current. These are beautiful memories. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I agree Christina. I experienced that just yesterday on the beach by myself for a few hours. I let go of all the emotion and those waves just bring perspective back.

  13. Pamela

    Water relaxes me more than anything. I love how Grandmother is still found in the physical things of her favorite things. It’s how I feel when I use the tea cup of my grandmother. I hear her prayers for me with each sip.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I have a few of her things in my home. One of them is the cutting of a houseplant she had for over fifty years that grows in a pot in my office! Its more valuable that a lot of things to me.

  14. Kelli Parker Becton

    you made me cry – again. just beautiful. I live now in the place where I vacationed as a child. I walked these beaches and prayed for my husband – I was 7. 😉 I met him here – on the beach – turned out he grew up in my same hometown & in my same church – and we were married here – on our beach.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      We live in the town where we vacationed for years too Kelli. I never thought in a million years we would live here but God has a good sense of humor and a surprise around every corner it seems.

  15. Nancy Franson

    There is something about building traditions around and becoming connected to a place. Thank you for the lovely invitation to visit you in this one.

    And, I want to go home the way Grandmother did–going to sleep in a place I love and waking up in the presence of Jesus. What could be sweeter?

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I agree Nancy. My mother moved us around so much and I don’t remember taking many summer vacations because she couldn’t afford it. Thankful for grandparents who took me away to the Ozarks every summer of my childhood. I often wonder if those places still exist.
      And Grandmother always prayed that God would take her that way. He answered beautifully.

  16. Beth Hildebrand

    I’m honored to “be beside you” on Ann’s community bloggers list today…I’ve been enjoying your posts…your writing is beautiful!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I’m humbled by your comment, truly. thank you.

  17. Redemption's Beauty

    It’s so lovely to meet you, honored that you left your rich thoughts here. And yes, people make the place don’t they?

  18. Pam@Writing...Apples of Gold

    “Her prayers linger now in the antique dishes in the china cabinet, on the plastic tablecloth around the picnic table in the gazebo, in the indented seat of the needlpoint chair next to the lamp.” That’s my favorite line in this lovely story. May my prayers linger over the hearts I lift up….even those who are far away and have no idea of them… Beautiful, Shelly. (Except for the part about the mice… ewww…. I had so many problems with those critters in my old apartment.) 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I know, the mice creep me out every year. I think we finally have them under control but we still put food in the bread box and oven at night just in case. Thanks for your kind words, I feel God speaking through them.

  19. consolationofmirth

    So beautiful and rich! I can smell the lake water, and the pie baking in the cottage. Years ago, our family would pick wild blueberries in Newfoundland and Gran O’Reilly would make the best preserves. Thanks for taking me back to Canada, friend.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      The more you comment, the more I feel we have in common. How in the world did I miss out on knowing you when you lived a drive away?

      • consolationofmirth

        I ask myself the same. Perhaps the next time I’m in the area, we can chat a bit over a nice cup of tea. 🙂

        • Redemption's Beauty

          Would love to Heather, let me know if you come to town.

  20. Deidra Riggs

    I’m going to have to hear your voice – on the phone or Skype – because I have this voice I hear in my head when I read your writing. I wonder if I’ve got it right?

    This is beautiful, Shelly. Thanks so much for linking it to the community writing project at The High Calling. And, of course, I love your images but that last one? The one with the flip-flops? It might be my favorite.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I know, I have one for you too. It’s never quite the same when we hear it in real life. We might surprise each other. It’s always a pleasure to join the High Calling, love that community. My son was looking at the photos I chose (he hates it when I post any of him but allowed me to) and he knew that it was Canada the minute he saw the one with the flip flops. He recognized the broken piece of sidewalk. Isn’t that somethin’?

  21. tara pohlkottea

    love this. minnesota is where my heart was born and where it returns to me most purely, even now. love these places! yours sounds very much like mine. sigh. i wanna go back 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I’ve thought that when I read about your place in Minnesota, how similar they sound. That great calm and peace of the north! I can’t wait to get up there.

  22. Amy L. Sullivan (@AmyLSullivan1)

    I used to live on the border of Northern Michigan and Canadan…something special about the North.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I agree Amy. Less congested and hurried. The pace and mind set are refreshing.

  23. kendalprivette

    “We shake off should and have-to” yeah. perhaps it doesn’t matter so much WHERE as long as we can do this. my real life is more like your vacation life than my vacation life is! our family joins my siblings and parents for a week at the NC coast every summer – 24 of us….it’s a bit noisier than your cottage, but spending that time with my sibs is deep. love love love this post!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Curious where in NC Kendal. We lived on the coast of NC for about five years, now the coast of SC. Its all beautifully captivating. And we have big family gatherings too, its the part my kids like the most actually. All that activity and fun with crazy cousins.

  24. kd sullivan

    This speaks to my soul. A sacred place indeed. Feel free to include this on Fridays linkup…it’s perfect!

  25. Mindy Bowman

    This is beautiful! It makes me want to find my own cabin for two weeks to share with my family. Thanks for sharing it with us! (Visiting from Just Write Linky.)

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Mindy, so glad you stopped by. And how can you go wrong with a cabin and your family for two weeks? Sounds good to me.:)

  26. Laura @ Pruning Princesses

    Oh yes. A cottage on a lake that my grandma owned. But it’s so far away. We rarely make it and your post. It is making me miss it since her passing means it might be sold…..
    I hope there will be more sacred places to build history.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      We hope we can hang on to our cottage too. It would be sad to lose all that history and memories.

  27. Tereasa

    Wow! Every summer you vacation six hours away from me. (For two of those summers, you were only three hours away.) It doesn’t matter where you go, Ontario is beautiful.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Oh wow, where do you live Tereasa. Yes, Ontario is so beautiful. Lots of wide open space with natural beauty.

  28. Colleen - Mommy Always Wins

    You so beautifully captured what a summer at the lake should be like! “To forget what a mirror looks like and wonder why we bother packing more than swimsuits.” – love that line!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Thank you and it really is true. I forget what I look like while I’m there! Nice to meet you Colleen.

  29. Dea

    We are going north in a few weeks. I even told the boys I would stay in a cabin with an outhouse! No tv, no internet, a lake, a sunset and a fishing pole. 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Oh how fun. Sometimes its good to do something totally out of the box of what is normal for us. I’m not sure about the outhouse thing though, that’s a little creepy. I have lots of pictures of outhouses though!

  30. charitysingleton

    Shelly – I love that the place where you rest is what defines you – for most of us, unfortunately, it is the place where we work. I think the difference is really important. Thanks for linking up with our writing project. This was a great addition.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Didn’t actually think about it that way Charity. Thanks! And thank you for the opportunity to link up. The prompt was a pleasant one to write.

  31. Cheryl Smith (@CherylSmith999)

    I find myself breathing more calmly than I have in weeks as I read your words, view those photos. Two words with double meaning call out to me: Loving family. What a loving family you have, are part of. And how cool it is to see you loving your family, the time together, the memories.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      So glad you feel that way Cheryl. And that family of mine, they are my redemption. I didn’t have this growing up and I am so very grateful for the family He gave me through marriage. Thankful you stopped by.

  32. darcywiley

    I always prefer visiting with people who know a place well rather than going as a tourist. This comes across in your writing here, that this place is so intertwined with family for you. So many beautiful descriptions in this piece. I love how you describe the lake, almost like it, too, is known through and through, a part of the family. I wasn’t expecting this ending, of your losing Grandma Muriel after learning the secret of how to bake her pie her way. The indented place in the needlepoint chair…what a poignant example of the years of continuity in that place. Lovely story, lovely writing.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      What a lovely comment you left with so many details. I really appreciate it. My family doesn’t enjoy going to touristy kinds of places. We love going back to what we know and love, so we become more of who we are, not more busy. We do enjoy seeing new places but like to create our own adventures. Maybe we aren’t crowd followers. So nice to meet you Darcy, glad you dropped by.

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