I like hunting for vacation bargains online and then bragging about all the time and effort I devoted to planning our vacation, as though I had planned every detail of the Apollo 13 moon shot.

On the trip I'd tell the kids over and over, "Finding just the right booster wasn't half as hard as MapQuesting the re-entry angle. And finding a really good lunar module for that dark side of the moon? I was sweating bullets. How'd you like that side trip to Jupiter? A little out of the way but fun, right?"

The reviews on sites like Trip- Advisor or Expedia help. Positive reviews are never as much fun to read as petty rants. The nastiness of a "I'll never go back to that hell hole" is always more fun to read than "an oasis of calm."

I love the ones written by trav- elers deeply offended by the servant who didn't curtsy when they approached the front desk or the jet-setters distressed by a substandard pillow mint.

I dream of writing the follow-up response from the management.

"We apologize for not recognizing a living God when you chose to walk among us here at the Dew Drop Inn. You'll be pleased to know we had the entire staff drawn and quartered. Oh please, Marco Polo, oh please come back. And bring the towel you stole."

I wanted to host a family reunion in a cool spot, so a large cabin was in order. I looked at Mount Lemmon. Apparently cabin owners up there mistake their cabins for little Ritz-Carltons. Does your little house on the prairie come with a valet and are your Lincoln Logs made of gold? I looked to the Rim country and found a bargain in Strawberry, Ariz.

When we returned, the owners asked me to post an online review of their cabin. I wanted to keep the cabin a secret from the world because we must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies pulling up in our jalopies. We couldn't stop mouthing the word "golly" at the splendor of our Beverly Hills Cabin. Like peasants taking over the czar's summer palace, my wife, my two sons, my daughter and her husband, our grandbaby and I settled in. We made our meals, explored, joked and remembered why we loved each other.

By the time we left I couldn't help but remind the clan how hard it was to find this really good lunar module and wasn't the dark side of this particular moon awesome?

I started my review.

"Our spacious cabin nestled among splendid pines. We liked the easy access to country roads, cool lakes and elk …"

Who was I fooling? I was no mountain man. The moon might as well be outside our cabin. We liked the easy access to the microwave, satellite TV and the Internet.

I did force myself out of the virtual world into the real one. I badgered my kids into the woods, where my son-in-law Joe claimed he saw an elk.

By the end of the day I was making similar claims. "I saw an elk. Actually I think it was a unicorn." By nightfall I confessed it was a squirrel with its thumbs in its ears wagging its fingers.

On our last day we took in the Strawberry Festival, a cross between "Mayberry R.F.D." and the Fourth Avenue Street Fair topped off with strawberry pie. That night we gathered around the kitchen table, and like campfire storytellers, my children revisited the lore of our tribe based on the theme "You thought your childhood was tough with the old man? Let me tell you about mine!"

As I bounced baby Emma on my knee, they turned on me. "Did Dad make you go on miserable desert hikes? Mister Flowers and Rocks! I hated them."

"Me, too. And the guilt game! He could be such a martyr about chores!"

"The chore lists! Did he make lame chore lists for you?"

"His cross was huge! Did he make fun of you, too? He was always making jokes at our expense."

As I turned on their roasting spit, I realized for the first time that when I was long gone my three children would want to remain deeply connected. I slithered away from the happy chatter, stepped outside into the darkness of the porch that faced the dark woods and looked up to see a shooting star mark the latitude and longitude of an old man's epiphany.

From the outside I watched them enjoying a night of catch-up they'd remember the rest of their lives.

How do I put that in a review?

"The cabin has two stories and a loft. The landlords are wonderful. My favorite feature is the wraparound porch, which offers an ideal shady spot for reading. Or for escaping your relatives!"

That's me, always making jokes at my family's expense.

Email Star cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons at tooner@azstarnet.com