Reading is always a big feature of our annual vacation. This year Lucy came armed with eight novels recommended by her school librarian. Joanne brought a couple, and I always count on finding something used at Goodwill. We read at the pool, we read at breakfast, we read on the patio, we read ourselves to sleep.
Florida is also, for us moms, a time to take an annual personal inventory and make plans for self-improvement. Joanne and I have a lot in common and in these two weeks we constantly compare notes and make hopeful resolutions for the future. Someday each of us will eat properly and exercise, exude saintly kindness to children and spouses, be organized and serene.
In the peace and quiet of vacation, anything seems possible.
Though we’re both still far from our ideals, it’s fun to see how far we have come. Joanne will never let me forget years ago when she looked at the weekly GOAL sheets I had in my organizer. I had thought they made perfect sense. I filled out one each week and kept it next to the daily pages, for reference. On this sheet I listed what I hoped to accomplish in every area of my life. I had typed:
Ned (dog I was raising for Guiding Eyes)
Jiminy and Job
“Jiminy and Job?” she asked.
“They’re my donkeys,” I explained. “I need to work more on training.”
She tapped the paper. “OK, tell me what’s wrong with this list.”
“A typo?” I craned my neck.
“No, sweetie! Personal is listed at the bottom! Even below the donkeys!” She brushed aside my feeble explanations and arguments. “Retype that list, putting personal at the top!”
Girlfriends are great.
In Florida Joanne and I talk endlessly about work, diets, husbands, the challenges of child-rearing, easy dinner menus, time management, and juggling conflicting demands. We each dutifully walk a couple of miles every morning. We make grand plans for renovating our lives when we get home.
The best reading accompaniment to all this heavy introspection, I’ve found, is light. For me that means a Sue Grafton mystery. A Maeve Binchy or Joanna Trollope novel. The occasional inspiring biography or memoir.
I’ve learned from experience that depressing is no good. No matter how much you enjoyed Peter Guralnick’s award-winning Last Train to Memphis, the first volume of his epic biography of shy young Elvis Presley — if you are worried about your twenty-two-year-old son, do not read Careless Love, the second volume, even if you stumble upon it at Goodwill for $1. Elvis starts the book at twenty-two, shortly after the death of his mother, and 768 pages of terrible decisions later, bloated and drug-addled, falls dead off his toilet at 44. Such thoughts can have a blighting effect on vacation cheer.
Usually I rip through a book a day in Florida. However this year I did not seem able to find anything on Goodwill’s shelves that fit in the light category. Finally I grabbed Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe and Sound. Though I read it lying in my bathing suit at the pool, you couldn’t really call it a beach book. (I read paragraphs aloud in horrified tones to Joanne.) After that I perused some of the material I brought with me, gripping tomes like Building A Sustainable Business, Developing A Farm Business Plan, and Common Mistakes Made by Organic Certification Applicants. But it was when I brought out The AARP Retirement Survival Guide: How to Make Smart Financial Decisions in Good Times and Bad, that Joanne was finally driven to comment.
Yesterday Joanne gave me a copy of a magazine called Secrets of Getting Organized to read between swims. All my girlfriends and I share a fascination with organization books. We each have most of them. By this time, we know all the tricks. We could write the books and magazines ourselves. Nevertheless it is somehow soothing to turn the glossy pages, scan all the familiar advice on delegating and de-cluttering, and admire the perfectly ordered shelves, drawers, and closets.
Light and optimistic for the future. That’s the Florida prescription.