I took the last five days off to be with my family. We drove from Detroit through the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania and onward into our nation’s capital, for the holiday with one side of this ever-growing family.

And then, a few days later, we packed back into the car to make the trek home.

My favorite part of this little island of time off was the moments in-between. The quiet in the car with all four of my children engrossed in something that held their attention and a few moments to connect with my beloved.

The way the clouds were beautiful no matter the pattern or color or light. The sweetness of the Hampton Inn halfway there, just because the kids fell into the beds and slept soundly and safely.

The fact that Pennsylvania is so surprisingly beautiful, every time I drive through it. I wanted to stop and look around, hike the trails, get lost amid the trees. Who cared if we had a destination we were headed toward? I wanted to be right there, right then, and just see what our footsteps would lead to.

In the city itself, the awe and wonder at the FDR Memorial – the careful thought and deliberate placement of every piece of an incredible remembrance of an incredible president during incredible times. The way no one notices the Albert Einstein Memorial until they’re there and climbing all over his arms and legs and lap. As if it is only a place to park on the scurry toward the Lincoln, which everybody knows.

After Thanksgiving dinner, it was the cool night moments walking with my eldest son along Dupont Circle and discovering a bookstore still open that was better than the holiday itself.

The quiet of reading together with my children in the afterthoughts. The excitement of breakfast just the four of us, to be alone again, to discover each other, to love being together so very much.

And driving home, that was the best time. We stopped at Gettysburg, ostensibly to see the battlefields and taste the history, but we discovered, too, a gem of a town with so much to discover and no time to see it.

That’s the thing with a trip that has a purpose: it’s the stops along the way that expand your horizons more than any purposeful destination.

We achieved what we set out to do. But I wish we’d had no agenda whatsoever, just the open road and time to see it.

It’s changed the way I look at vacations now. Instead of racing, racing, racing to get where we want to go, I want to slow down and smell the pine needles along the path. I want to camp wherever we stop, and taste the local foods and wander through the flea markets and antique stores on the backroads. 

I want to listen to the inflection of an accent unfamiliar to me. I want to hear the stories of people who live in quiet. I want to taste the fresh milk from local cows and apples just picked along the roadside.

Yes, it may sound ideal, but it is possible. Had we not driven, had we braved the masses in transit and flown to Washington, we would have missed so much. The pulse of America.

Every day, I hear or see or receive another message about slowing down, savoring the moments, really being right here right now. So I’m doing it. I’m embracing the message and kissing the messenger. I am loving the in-betweens.

Because really, that’s where life exists at its fullest.

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