This year's hot vacation spot? Home.

On our friends' living-room wall hangs a vintage World War II poster, issued by the Office of Defense Transportation, presumably to encourage fuel conservation. It features a smiling man leaning back in his chair, dog curled at his slippered feet, and newspaper in his lap. There's a pitcher of lemonade on the side table, radio and electric fan nearby. On a bookshelf rests a framed photo of a serviceman. The caption reads, "Me travel? ... not this summer," and in larger type, "VACATION AT HOME."

I've long fancied the notion of vacationing at home, for a different reason. Like many a homeowner, I've observed that maintaining a house sometimes leaves me too little time to enjoy it. "Vacation at home" suggested I could stop keeping house and let my house keep me for a change. I envisioned simply living in my house for a week, as fancy-free as when I stay at a hotel or a rental cabin.

When my husband, Ken, announced plans for a camping trip with his fishing buddies this summer, I saw my chance. In years past, we've toyed with the home-vacation concept. We'd resolve to do just as we pleased, maybe even enjoy a local tourist attraction. But domestic demands invariably arose, and our best-laid plans for lolling and exploring dissolved into a leisure choring.

This time, I would thwart that temptation by inviting my friend Barb, lately of New York City, to return to her native Iowa for a week's "vacation" at my house during Ken's absence. I promised myself that during her stay, I would clean no closets, mop no floors, mow no grass, vacuum no carpets. I would not sweep the deck, squeegee the windows, or troll for cobwebs.

Preparing for this stay-home hiatus was more arduous than for any absentee vacation. Knowing that any undone domestic duties would loom large during my time "away," I cleaned and ran errands in a frenzy of anticipation. Just as I finished dusting the dining room, Barb arrived, and none too soon, for by now the house was almost too impeccable to inhabit.

Over the next five days, the cat curled at our feet as we sipped lemonade, much like the man in the poster. True ladies of leisure, Barb and I took in movies and carried out meals. We napped, we gabbed, we shopped when summer sales moved us, never straying more than four miles from home. We slept late. We wore only vacation attire. (I'd instructed her to pack "resort casual.")

We consumed newspapers from masthead to margin. We planned no activity more than an hour in advance.

On her last full day, Barb spent a few hours visiting other friends. In spite of my pledge, I seized this interlude to empty the dishwasher, pay a bill, change a light bulb. After contemplating the alternative, I also put out the trash. I congratulated myself that at least I'd done no laundry - although Barb had tossed in a load of her own. Such minor chores didn't count, I told myself; these were things I might do even on a "real" vacation. Yet I noticed that performing them felt oddly good.

The morning of Barb's departure, I dumped wilting flowers from their vase and purged the fridge of fruit salad past its prime. Eyeing the now-shaggy lawn with relish, ready to resume my routine and responsibilities, I was pleased to have demonstrated, with my friend's all-important help, that "vacation" and "home" are less locations than states of mind.

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