Hi ho, Gentle Readers. Labor Day weekend is upon us. Traditionally, this would mean loading the kids and the dog in the car and heading away somewhere for the weekend. While I love long-weekend trips, you almost couldn’t pay me to go away anywhere on Labor Day weekend itself. Between traffic, jacked up prices, and having to contend with everyone else who’s also away for Labor Day weekend, this charming time of year can suddenly become a battleground. No, thank you!
Here then, I thought I’d offer some alternatives to Labor Day…and any other long weekend holiday where you decide not to go away. Most of these are either free or relatively low-cost, so they shouldn’t break your bank.
Explore Your Own Back Yard
Almost every town has something fun to do, either in it, or near it. Without pausing for more than a minute, I can think of 6 zoos and aquariums, 10 museums, and 2 amusement parks within 2 hours of my house. If you’re not going away, why not do something nearby that’s a lot of fun? I haven’t been to the Franklin Park Zoo for quite some time, so we’re planning on going there this weekend. A lot of places like this offer discount or even free tickets, if you know where to look. Drop by your local library and see if they have any deals with local attractions. No joke; I can visit the most expensive museums in my town for free if I stop into the local library and ask for their complimentary tickets.
A long weekend is a good excuse for a long drive, and it’s a good chance to say “Heck with it…this is the week I’m going to visit that good British grocery store that’s an hour away.” We’re planning on heading to the new location of Karl’s Sausage Kitchen, an excellent German sausage store that used to be close but which has moved further away. We’ll get some supplies for the grill (see below) and probably just enjoy the drive.
I’m also a massive fan of roadside Americana and bizarre places to visit. The idea of visiting the Spam Museum or Wall Drug fills me with glee. And I have good news for everyone – there are places like this everywhere. You just have to look. A little bit of research online will likely turn-up the names of some cool and kooky things to do near wherever you may live. Maybe you live near a giant chair, or near some bizarre monument. Heck, within an hour or two drive of Boston, you can see a giant chair, a stone covered with bizarre petroglyphs, a modern-day tower that alleges to commemorate a Viking visit, and “America’s Stonehenge”.
Food Tastes Better Outdoors
I am a big fan of a cook-out. I’m also a big fan of a picnic. Okay, let’s be honest…I’m a big fan of food in general. But seriously, food eaten outdoors can be really fun. Maybe there’s some deep-seated need to connect with our primal ancestors that makes food just seem to taste better outdoors.
A cook-out doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair with guests, relatives, and a pool. Go get a cooler, fill it with ice and some of your favorite beverages of choice. Drop by the store and buy some potato chips or a pre-made potato salad or something at the deli. Then grill something outside, if you own a grill. Even if it’s just you, do something different and cook outside. Heck, my first use of a grill ever was using the grill that my husband and I owned to cook some pork chops for lunch when our stove was broken.
If you have a wacky amount of spices, buy a bunch of chicken and put different spices on each piece before grilling it. Experiment! I discovered a bottle of Szechuan Roasted Salt & Pepper in my spice cabinet recently, put it on some chicken, and grilled it up. Delicious! Now I’m using that stuff for everything!
A fun alternative to a cook-out is the good old picnic. No, you don’t need to go out and get a wicker basket. Recycle those plastic shopping bags from the store and carry your food to your picnic destination. Bring the aforementioned cooler of drinks, chips, pre-made salads, etc. You can bring sandwiches, either ones you pre-made or the ingredients so they can be assembled on site, or you can raid your store’s pre-made foods section. Bring some cold fried chicken, sliced turkey breast, or meatloaf. And don’t forget lawn-chairs or a blanket to sit on.
The fun thing with picnics is the back-drop. You can picnic at the beach, in a park, after a hike, at a local public pool, or just about anywhere. One memorable picnic that comes to mind involved us taking a ferry out to an island in Boston Harbor that has a ruined Civil War era fort on it. It made for a dramatic picnicking location. We ate our food, explored the ruins, flew kites, and generally had a good time.
Labor Day Loves Company
Not everyone goes away for Labor Day, so you’re likely to have friends who’re also staying in the area. Plan a get-together at someone’s house. Do dinner pot-luck style and bring out some awesome party games.
I’ve actually had two new games I’ve been meaning to review, as they make excellent games for largish groups of people. Both are, at their heart, a variant on Apples to Apples, but in a way, they couldn’t be less alike. One is Dixit; the other is Cards Against Humanity.
Dixit is a sweet, charming game full of beautiful imagery. Each player has a hand of cards. Every card has an evocative image on it of some kind. Some cards have included things like a wolf holding the strings of marionettes, a boy and a large teddy bear standing back to back and crying, a snail shell with prison bars in it showing signs of an escape, and so on.
On every turn, the person who’s “It” chooses one of their cards and makes up a phrase to go with it. Perhaps the card with the wolf might be “Pull the strings!” or the Snail Shell might be “I feel the need for speed!” and so on. Each player then chooses the card they have that they feel most fits the phrase, and they pass that card, unseen, to “It”, who shuffles all of the cards, including their own, and deals them face up. The players (other than “It”) then vote on which card they think is “It’s” card. “It” gets points if not everyone votes for his card, but at least one person must for “It” to get any points. Other players get points for guessing “It’s” card and for each vote their card gets. So “It” is rewarded for making the phrase somewhat obscure, but not completely baffling. It’s a game that’s hard to explain but very easy to play.
Cards Against Humanity is similar, but also very different. It’s aptly described as a “party game for horrible people.” It’s extremely adult and requires a sense of humor that is willing to step waaaaaay past the boundaries of Political Correctness and Good Taste. Just like apples to Apples, there are two colors of card. Each player has a hand of white cards which contain nouns on them. Players take turns being the “Card Czar” who draws a black card and reads the phrase on it. The other players then each play one of the cards to the Card Czar, who decides which card most fits the phrase on the black card…or maybe which card struck them as the funniest.
Now that sounds harmless enough, right? Well, yes…except that many of the white cards have absolutely awful things on them. Things like “Sean Penn”, “Natalie Portman”, and “The Pope” rank amongst the very tamest. Without going too far into the worst, other white cards include “A Stray Pube”, “Eugenics”, and “A Windmill Full of Corpses”. Now, this may still not sound too bad, but when you consider some of the Black Cards include things like “_________, Kid Tested, Mother Approved” and “What brought the orgy to a screeching halt?” you can see how things can get out of hand.
It’s definitely not a game to play with strangers, or folks you think may be easily offended. So far, though, with over a dozen people we’ve played with, no one’s been offended, and everyone has been reduced to howling laughter so intense we couldn’t speak for several minutes, at least once per game. I have to recommend it…even if I don’t want to.
Even if you’re not going on a long vacation over the long weekend, there are plenty of things to do that’re local to you. Get out there and explore. Or just vary the norm a little with an unusual venue to dine, or by inviting over guests. Anything that shakes up the status quo can be good. As Winston Churchill said “A change is as good as a rest.” So why not have both?
What’s your favorite way to spend a long weekend? Is there any crazy grilling recipe or picnic secret you want to share? Tell us all!