The worst vacation I ever took was last August when my husband-to-be and I spent 10 days at my parents' cottage in northern Michigan. It is on an island in a small lake, and unless the water is so low that you can walk across the sandbar, you have to take a boat. My parents, wisely, were there in July. For us, it rained every single day except for 1 1/2.

And not only that. There was a freak cold snap, so at night it got down to 40 degrees. The "cottage," which is actually just a cabin, has no electricity and no running water. (There's an outhouse, tastefully decorated with flowered curtains and humorous cartoons.) The cottage also has the peculiar capacity for being colder inside than it is outside. This is particularly disconcerting when you come back from your bath and shampoo in the lake. The water is so cold that when you submerge you stop breathing, and goose bumps break out all over your scalp.

Anyway, that August the cold was phenomenal. We piled a foot of blankets on the bed, and had to keep a fire going during the daytime. When we ran out of wood, we had to find the chain saw in the toolshed and go foraging for dead trees. When the chain saw inexplicably stopped, we had to load it onto the six-horsepower outboard boat, get in the car, drive to town and find a hardware store. "Out of oil," said the man at the store, shaking his head at us pitiful city folk. Reoiled and reinvigorated, we marched off as the man at the store called a friendly goodbye: "Don't cut your legs off."

Once the dead trees were sawed, we still had to drag them up to the cottage for splitting. And there were meals to cook (on the gas stove), water to pump, kerosene lamps to light, more fires to build. Of course, there were walks to take in the woods, and books to read.

In fact, we were so busy fighting the elements that we forgot all about Washington. We even stopped talking about Washington. We got our news from the the Johnny Carson monologue (via the battery-powered television set). Occasionally we would venture into town to buy a local newspaper and discover, amazingly, that the world hadn't ended in our absence. Pretty soon, we forgot all about that, too. Besides, there was so much to do.

Come to think of it, it was the best vacation I ever had.