A few details below the cut.
Bethany Beach is a relatively quite beach resort. It's in Delaware, between the noiser Ocean City, MD and Rehobboth, DE. Every year, some of the folks rent some beach houses for the week around Shavuos. The group used to do communal meals, but that got too complicated. So now it is group services and kiddush, but everyone is responsible for their own meals. There is another, somewhat larger group primarily from Kemp Mill up the road a bit at a condominium/time share called The Sea Colony. This year, we combined with them for Shabbos as it was a fairly small year for both groups (the economy and various circumstances) and we were both short on people who could do the layning (the reading from the Torah, which requires both the appropriate training and some quasi-memorization).
We shared a house with my in-laws, a large family of friends, and another friend whose first time was at the beach. It's a fairly large house, and houses the religious services (which is why we rent it; it allows both my in-laws and Becky to get to services easily). My contribution this year was in layning, exempting us from cooking. This made it a pleasant holiday except that I spent a lot of time prepping instead of at the beach. The family that usually contributes in this regard was absent. This is also a good illustration of why you really should not rely on a single family for things. We found out two weeks before the event that the relevant people were not coming this year so I volunteered to take on Second Day of Shavuous (which I have done before), and Ruth (which I have not done before) and a couple of aliyot from Shabbos (eventually, this dropped to a single aliyah, chamishi, when we combined services for Saturday, so it wasn't too terrible. Just very last minute). This was my first time doing Ruth, and I was not happy. I lost the tune in my head several times, and the grammar being primarily in the feminine rather than the masculine (which is more typical for the readings I have done) was difficult for me. Also, Ruth has an almost Hemingway-esque love of short sentences in spots, breaking things up in a way I found difficult.
Still, it worked well enough. I also was tapped on the spot to give a drash (religious discourse). I have now acquired a reputation for being able to pull together a short talk that is reasonably coherent and modestly informative on relatively short notice. I am usually unsatisfied with my performance, but it is usually favorably received. I came to the realization this Shabbos (having been asked after layning if I would speak at the end of services) that my efforts in this regard are usually clouded for me by several things. First, I am painfully aware that my younger brother could pull together something five times better, actually remembering his source material and sounding much more coherent. Yes, it is an unfair comparison (my brother being a Rabbi and educator and one of the most talented people I know). I do not claim to be rational in this.
The other problem is rather like my issue with cooking for people. It never seems to me like it is really enough, especially when I think of all the things I could do better with more time and better organization. I enjoy it, and everyone tells me I do too much, but it always feels to me like it is not up to what I envisioned.
As for the non-religious stuff, it was a perfect week to be at the beach. The temperature was hot, and the water pleasant. Becky and I spent far too much non-holiday time doing Bar Mitzvah things, but I still got some beach time in (Becky's attitude to vacations is reminiscent of Spock's quote from Shore Leave: "On my planet, to rest is to rest. To expend energy to rest is highly illogical." Whereas I am always: "Play . . . The more advanced the mind, the more the need for the simplicity of play." In the spirit of that thought, Aaron and I (and lcmlc) saw Kung fu Panda II on Friday, which we all enjoyed.
Packing up, I developed a wicked little skit in my head that answers mabfan's oft asked question: "So why, at the Exodus, did the women of Israel manage to remember timbrels, but didn't have time to make leavened bread." Answer: they pack like my family. It started with me imagining my mother-in-law saying the night before: "You never know, we might need timbrels. Mrs Shlumishadai -- you remember, the nice woman from Shevat Reuven, whose son Reuel ended up being a nasi -- said that we were going to serve God and that she thought she remembered that God likes music. So I remembered we had some old timbrels we hadn't used for awhile --"
beckfeld: Ima, you know we have to carry all this stuff."
lcmlc: I know, but timbrels aren't that heavy, and --
Aba: OK, I've printed out three differnt trip tiks for how we can get to the Promised Land.
Me: You do know we're following a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night, right?
Ima: But this way we can know the rest stops and possible construction and things whichever way we go.
gnomi: What rest stops? We're going through a desert!
Ima: Well there might be rest stops, or interesting things to see. you never know.
Aba: Actually, there is an oasis with a bunch of palm trees along the way that might make a good stop.
mabfan: I hate to ask, but did anyone think about what we can eat along the way? I mean, I suppose gnomi and I have Squeaker and Muffin, but we are definitely not sharing. (Picks up child and makes fake eating noises).
Me: Hello! We are supposed to be ready to leave at Midnight! Am I the only one who notices that it is 11:30 and we still have to eat an entire goat?
Ima: We can take the leftovers to eat.
Gnomi: No we can't.
Ima: Why not?
Gnomi: We have to burn the leftovers.
Ima: That seems pretty wasteful.
Me: God says burn the leftovers. He also said 'Be ready to leave!' Was anyone paying attentions to that part?
beckyfeld: I will be just as soon as I go to the bathroom.
Aaron: I'm all packed. What should I do?
Me: [sigh] Help me load the camel. I need you to bring things out in a specific order so it will fit --
Aaron: Can't I just bring everything out?
Me: No! That's a lot of treasure we suddenly have and I have to figure out how to make it all fit. [To Rivka] and why on Earth did you ask the Mitzrim for all this stuff anyway?
Becky [from bathroom]: God said to ask. Remember? Weren't you paying attention to that part?
mabfan [checking iPhone]. Good news. [pause] Do you subscribe to iMoses?
Me: I don't have an iPhone.
Mabfan: You really should get one. They're extremely useful. I can get all kinds of alerts on my iPhone and it's really useful -
Mabfan: Right, iMoses. anyway, this ap I have for the iPhone, called iMoses, tells me whenever Moses announces something. I can get plague updates, new commandments, --
Ima: Plague updates? I thought we were done with the plagues.
Mabfan: We are. But i just got an update that Moses says we are leaving in the morning.
Aba: What did Mabfan just say about another plague?
Nomi&Beckyfeld: NOTHING! There is no new plague.
Aba: That's good.
Mabfan: What I said is we are now leaving in the morning.
Ima: Good! Then I can make everybod leavened bread for breakfast.
Me: NO! WE ARE LEAVING FIRST THING IN THE MORNING!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH EVERYONE.
Ima: Well fine, I will just make dough in case anyone is hungry. And if anyone wants to eat it they can leave later.
Me: NO!!! THEY CANNOT LEAVE LATER!!! THERE IS NO LATER!!!!
Ima: Well alright. There is no reason to get excited about it. I will just get up early and make dough in case anyone wants it. If they don't they can always take it with them on their back?
Nomi: 'Cause raw dough is really yummy.
Ima: Well it's important for people to have breakfast.
Becky: Ima, we are leaving Egypt. Who is going to remember later that we had raw dough for breakfast?
Ima: Well no one has to eat it if they don't want to.
Me: Fine, we'll eat unleavend dough for a whole week! Forever! In fact, the entire Exodus from Egypt will be known as the holiday of eating unleavened bread! Can we please just leave now?
Anyway, it goes on from there for some time, which is why I was giggling most of the time I was packing up, even though we left an hour late.