Monday is back-to-school day, which means itís time to brush off our ďwhat I did on my summer vacationĒ essays.

So, here goesÖ

My first week away was a visit to North Carolina where my mother, my sister and her family live. The trip came before public schools were out last May, and word came to us that the East Coast was experiencing some unusually hot temperatures for that early in the year. We packed what we would have been wearing if we stayed in Texas.

You guessed it. As soon as we arrived, the East Coast started experiencing some unusually cold temperatures for that late in the year.

Fortunately, the department stores there were running massive clearance sales on all their winter apparel, and we were able to purchase all the corduroy shirts and wool outerwear we could carry for, (Iím guessing), less than $50. I looked a little odd wearing a sweater in May that says, ďHave a Merry Christmas,Ē but at least I was warm.

After all, it was only $5, marked down from $79, and Iím all set for next December now, too.

Memo to self: Hug the manager of your favorite local Mexican food restaurant. I donít care if the owners of those establishments promote themselves as natives of Mexico or not, they donít do it the way we like it. Plus, our waiter was totally bewildered when we asked for butter to go with a stack of flour tortillas. They would be better off sticking with their specialties ó things like fried chicken, biscuits and grits. I had never seen shrimp cooked in grits before, but I have now.

Memo to self: Next time you leave your car parked at D-FW Airport for a week, first make sure its battery is in good shape.

Our second week away was the annual trek into the Davis Mountains, an area that is triangulated by Alpine, Fort Davis and Marfa. As reported here previously, this has become a favorite part of the world for our family, and as a bonus (thatís my story and Iím sticking to it) I get to mingle with my in-laws for days, uninterrupted.

The problem, if there is a problem, with going to the same place year after year is that you tend to develop a routine, and it becomes more structured than you might want for a real ďvacation.Ē

Itís not that the place isnít remote enough to say youíre getting away from it all. The cabin where we stay is deep enough in the hills that cell phone service canít reach it; you have to drive to the mountain pass a couple of miles away to get a signal. Thereís no Internet connection, and no television except for the DVD player we have on a 13-inch set. Alpineís AM radio station, which is a good one, keeps us apprised of the news I so desperately miss.

So itís no surprise that our drives into town are frequent. Earlier, I mentioned developing a ďroutine.Ē

There are places to go and people to see. Youíve got to hit the favorite shops, cafes and museums while playing sightseer in those delightful communities. Youíve got the longtime friends you simply donít want to miss visiting. But after all that, the hours available to do things like planning a hike in Big Bend National Park, driving to Lajitas and Presidio or simply sitting on the porch and enjoying the quiet of nature are rather limited.

Memo to self: The speed limit on Interstate 10 is 80 mph. Go more often. Summer vacation is too precious to squander.

And I donít think I did. Hopefully, you enjoyed yours, too.

Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at