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Louise McEwanWhen I was a kid, a typical back to school assignment was  writing about our summer vacations. I never much liked the topic. My summers, with a few notable exceptions, were pretty much indistinguishable from each other. I had nothing much to write about, or so I thought. At the time, I did not realize that the spirit of a vacation is sometimes more important that its activities.

I spend the summers of my childhood at home doing ordinary things. I ate peanut butter, mayonnaise and cucumber sandwiches on the porch while sipping on Kool-Aid, swam at the local pool, rode my bike, and played outside after supper with the neighbourhood kids until the street lights came on. The most exciting thing that happened was the arrival of the ice cream truck in the neighbourhood, or spotting a bear on the hillside above the playground. Once in awhile, my family ventured into the hills to pick huckleberries, or headed off, grandparents in tow, for a picnic at a lake, or near a stream.

We were masters at the staycation, long before the concept became trendy.

By chance, I took a staycation last summer. It came upon me in the form of a 17-year-old relative who was studying English at a nearby college. She had weekends free. We spent them together, swimming in lakes and hot springs, wandering local markets, picnicking in parks, visiting local heritage sites and canoeing at a wildlife sanctuary. Left to my own devices, I would have spent the hot, dry weekends languishing in the shade with a book, and I would have been the lesser for it.

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Playing tour guide in my own backyard had the benefits typically associated with the staycation. I visited local sites that I had not previously toured, took advantage of local recreation, and supported the local economy. My visitor’s enthusiasm for the things that I considered ordinary and ho-hum renewed my appreciation for familiar places and landscapes. My staycation also had the added benefit of deepening my understanding of hospitality and building a friendship.

Initially, at least in my heart, I was a reluctant tour guide. As I extended myself, I became more generous in spirit. Something that felt like an obligation at the outset turned out to be a blessing by the end. Hospitality, I discovered, not only includes acts of generosity that everyone can see, like inviting someone to dinner or showing them the sights. It is also an attitude of the heart that enables us to joyfully meet the needs and receive the gifts of the other person.

A few weeks after the departure of our visitor, my family headed off for a two-week vacation at a nearby lake. The first week was glorious with sunny, blue skies, but then the wind shifted and the smoke from a forest fire settled in. Poor air quality forced us to spend the bulk of the second week indoors. With weather conditions less than ideal and a sense of confinement pressing upon us, the enforced family togetherness could have resulted in frayed tempers. But, like my unplanned staycation, it turned out to be a gift.

The smoke seemed to muffle sound, slow time and created stillness. It literally shrunk the horizon before us, limiting our view to a few feet beyond the edge of the dock. And with the shrunken horizon, the haze brought a strange sort of calm that stood in direct contrast to our ordinary lives. Normally consumed with getting things done (including jumping in the lake several times a day to swim laps between the buoys), we were forced to slow down. The shrunken visual horizon expanded the interior horizon of the heart; it fanned a spirit of comity among us as we waited optimistically for a benevolent wind (that never came) to clear the skies.

This summer, I found gifts in unexpected circumstances. A staycation renewed my appreciation for the familiar and nurtured a more generous heart. A hazy horizon reminded me that there is purpose in stillness and a beauty in doing nothing.

Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. 

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