Thursday, January 31, 2013

Recognizing Resilience

Don't worry, be happy!
A few days ago, a friend came up to me while we waited for the kids in the schoolyard. He’s been going through a tough time lately, getting a divorce from his wife of many years. We stood for a while as he told me about how hard for him was the separation from the kids, from his wife, and from mutual friends who have been choosing sides. I felt a lot of empathy for him, and, wishing to cheer him up, I told him that divorce is considered one of the most difficult things people go through in life. “After you go through this,” I said, “you’ll be able to handle anything else in life.”

My friend smiled half-heartedly, not consoled, but for me the world paused and (metaphorically) tilted on its axis. My own words struck me with incredible force. Wait a second, I thought, didn’t I also go through divorce?

I do not see myself as an especially resilient person, or rather, perhaps I should say, I am more of a worrier, an anxiety-monger. Some fears, especially late at night, strike me with an unbearable, overwhelming dread: losing the children, Dar, or my parents, sickness, and plane crushes. And one thing is clear to me: if it happens, I will not be able to survive. Many other fears hover around me, and though smaller than death, they do not feel at all small. I am worried about the children’s social and intellectual success at school, my parenting mistakes, the dogs, the chickens, and more.

Worrying about these, I suppose, means that I think there is something I can do about them, solutions, even if I don’t know exactly what those solutions are. And so every once in a while I get very overwhelmed by all this responsibility of keeping everyone healthy and happy and well, and I find myself (though not threatened by any danger to life) living in survival mode and under a lot of unnecessary stress.

But wait a second, I too went through divorce, one of the most difficult things people can go through in life. And according to my own words to my friend, that means I can now handle anything else. So... does surviving divorce really mean that perhaps I do have some resilience, some ability to survive other difficulties in life? In a potential Hunger Game situation, could I find that I would not, after all, be the first to die?

To tell the truth, I’m not entirely excited about my potential for survival because I want to be clear with God: no more of this suffering stuff, ok? I want the kids and Dar to be healthy and happy and well, my parents to grow healthy to a very old age, my friends and my family as well. So perhaps I’m resilient, so what? There’s no need to test if it’s true. Let the sun shine all over us today and everyday. On you too.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

Annabelle Swift, the fourth writing girl from Maya Rodale’s Writing Girls series, never much attracted my notice. Quiet, shy, and easily overlooked, Annabelle did not strike me as having much potential to be the heroine of a sassy or steamy romance like her counterparts, fiery Julianna, daring Eliza or confident Sophie. Having read and loved the first three novels in the series, I wondered what kind of romance would befall Annabelle. She’s been in love with the newspaper’s owner, Derek Knightly, but that love, so far in the series, had only been expressed in a sigh upon his entrance to the weekly staff meeting. How would Annabelle seduce Mr. Knightly? I found I very much wanted to know.

Mr. Knightly, Annabelle’s employer and the object of her affections is a hard and unscrupulous man. He does not notice her as a woman or writer. He doesn’t even read her column, Dear Annabelle, in which Annabelle gives love and etiquette advice to the newspaper’s readers. Something drastic would have to happen, I thought, for that to change. Annabelle seducing Mr. Knightly seemed tantamount to the seduction of a lion by a mouse. But Annabelle, lovesick and feeling near to death with being sick from love, takes a desperate measure and instead of giving advice in her column, turns to London with a question of her own: “For the past few years I have loved a man from afar, and I fear he has taken no notice of me at all. I know not how to attract his attention and affection. Dear readers, please advise!”

Knightly expects that Annabelle is the last person in London to cause trouble, but as Annabelle discards her old habits by the advice of her readers, he soon learns to think otherwise. Annabelle lowers her bodice, buys herself new silken underthings, learns how to gaze at a man in a sultry fashion, practices fainting, climbs trees, and dares to keep going in her quest for love no matter how ridiculous, silly, or embarrassing it gets. With baited breath, I (and the rest of London) followed the progress of Annabelle’s attempts to gain Knightly’s attention, and fell completely in love.

“That was one amazing woman, sitting there, making herself invisible. She was kind, beautiful, generous, daring and funny. She possessed the courage to ask for help and to share her triumphs and embarrassments with the whole city. She possessed the strength to do the right thing even when it was the hard thing.”

A character like Annabelle is exactly why I love romance novels. Romances open up a possibility for grand gestures, self expression, and crazy daring in love which in real life most of us could only dream about. There is room, in romances, for women to be everything and anything they want to be, and they are always, always loved, appreciated, and accepted for it. Watching Annabelle put her heart on the line and go all the way for what she wants reminded me that getting hurt once in a while (as when Knightly asks her if she has something in her eye when she throws him a particularly seductive gaze) can be worth the risk in the long run, if one but has the courage to laugh, as Annabelle does over the pages of the newspaper: “...this led to a mortifying disaster. Rather than succumb to the fervor in my gaze, more than one person inquired if I had something stuck in my eye.”

Maya Rodale, I am a fan!

Click here for my review of Maya Rodale's The Tattooed Duke
Maya Rodale's Website
Maya Rodale's GoodReads Page

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stephanie Laurens’ A Rogue’s Proposal

The word rogue has the following synonyms in my dictionary: scoundrel, villain, good for nothing, miscreant, reprobate, and wretch -- and in its more archaic use: blackguard and knave. I’ve already written in the past about the abundance of rogues and rakes in romances -- they are well loved. But in Stephanie Laurens’ romance, A Rogue's Proposal, Demon (otherwise known as Harry or Harold) Cynster is a rogue of a different kind.

I did not fall in love with Demon -- something that I absolutely am looking for in these romantic heroes. He irritated me from the first, chasing after Flick the boy who he suspects is a woman because of the shape of his (or rather, her) bottom. Mostly, however, Demon irritated me because he wouldn’t give Flick (Felicity) even the slightest chance to prove that she can get along just fine without being rescued by him. If he was a rogue, he was a rogue in that.

By continually rescuing Flick, Demon managed to compromise her honor twice, lost the trail of the man they were both following, and made Flick feel lonely and unloved (in an attempt to keep her reputation intact). Fortunately, Stephanie Laurens kept rescuing him: the lord who saw Flick and Demon together got mumps, Flick’s lenient and apparently too optimistic guardian always believed their stories, their quarry magically reappeared in the corner of the street in front of their eyes, and an old aunt popped up to explain to Flick why Demon was ignoring her.

So many romance novels present the strong, independent heroine. I felt sad for Flick to miss being in those ranks. A natural leader, responsible, led by a strong sense of justice and fairness, courageous to a fault, I wanted Flick to experience the same excitement and freedom as other regency heroines. Every time Demon stopped her from rushing headlong into an adventure, every time she felt she had to ask him for help, every time he rescued her from what he perceived as a threat, I cringed. I wanted Flick to get her wings.

Stephanie Laurens, however, had a plan, which perhaps I might have seen had I stopped being so irritated with Demon all the time. Demon is a man who is used to seeing women in black and white, as either weak and helpless maidens or as temptresses. Innocent yet smart, loyal, brave, and often rush, Flick is neither damsel in distress nor a woman of the world. Demon starts out by reluctantly allowing her to lead the way out of a room, but he ends up, whether he wants to or not, admitting that she’s just as capable of rescuing him as he is her.

I ended up enjoying this novel a lot more after I understood what Stephanie Laurens was about, though I did not love Demon to the end. Too controlling and uncommunicative to my taste. A Rogue’s Proposal is the fourth in the Cynster novels (of which there are twenty). I’m thinking I might check the first one out.

Check out my review of another Cynster Novel here: The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Go! Go! Go Strong!

“I want to be strong,” I told my trainer, and he took me seriously, challenging my resolve with workouts that had me, after about a year, doing push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups easily. From the girl who hid under her desk to avoid P.E. and who could not hang from the ladder for more than ten seconds without all her muscles trembling, I became, to my surprise, an athlete. I discovered that I had a lot more stamina and determination than I thought possible.

Physical strength gave me confidence. I found myself at the top of mountains which I never would have thought to see: Mount Shasta, Mount Rainier, Mount Olympus, the Yosemite Matterhorn, Cathedral Rock and more. I embarked on solo backpacking trips. One day I hiked for twenty five miles and over five thousand feet in elevation to get to the waterfall in Henry Coe State Park. On Mount Olympus I spent four nights and five days backpacking and climbing with a group that included seven other guys and me. I went rock climbing all over Yosemite, venturing even to Tahoe and Mt. Whitney with a guide.

I love feeling strong, physically able, hiking for miles, existing in the peace that envelops me when I climb. I love the strong, capable me, the doer, the one who is always on the go, go, go! The one who is adventurous and active. I don’t take vacations sunning myself on the beach, and even in the Bahamas or Hawaii, I fly from one side of the island to the other, hiking, jogging, kayaking, exploring.

I’m not very good at resting or taking it easy. When my Inner Lounging Goddess raises her head and tries to remind me that it might be good to sit down, lie down, or get a massage, other parts of me stifle her gentle suggestion. Rest? Whatever for? I have to go, go, go!  I haven’t done anything yet! I still want to write and paint and organize and do. There is no time for rest. And anyways, don’t I rest all the time? It’s not like I do any work!

That, I think, might very well be the root of the problem. I am forever proving to myself that though I do not work in an office, I still work. And whether I'm writing or spending time with the kids, it is never enough, never legitimately work. If I rest, if I miss a day of writing, if the kids are not there, the parts of me who need the action are appalled. Resting is just not done in my world.

I suspect that if I listened to my Inner Lounging Goddess more, the end result might be more energy and output, more productivity and creativity. I ask myself, what if I started taking time to lounge every day, take long baths, enjoy my breakfast while reading? What if I walked slower, took deeper breaths, looked around me, and closed my eyes more? What a wonderful world this could be, would it not?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ryan Porter’s Make Your Own Lunch

I used to make myself a sandwich for lunch while in elementary school. My mother insists, of course, that this is not true, and that I never (till today, probably) made my own lunch. And yet I distinctly remember making -- and feeling bored with -- my sandwiches of Israeli cream cheese on brown bread. Despite my discontent, I never considered making myself something else, not even a sandwich with chocolate spread or jam, though I am sure that those alternatives were available to me. I made myself the same uninspired sandwich every day, and every day I unhappily ate it for lunch.

Ryan Porter, in his fabulous, funny, and very inspiring “How To” book: Make Your Own Lunch, How to Live an Epically Epic Life of Epicness, reminds us that we make our own lunch, and that we can change that lunch whenever we want and whichever way we'd like. He encourages us to remember what exactly it means to dream and go after our dreams. He challenges us to let go of all other options, forget about plan B, close our ears to relatives’ cautions and warnings, and make a step-by-step plan, keeping our goals, dreams, and passions always before our eyes. He tells us: You don’t like the sandwich you make (or get) for lunch every day? Well then, it is time to make a new sandwich. Or maybe a salad, or even steak and fries.

Ryan Porter’s intended audience is high school students, but for me, at forty, the funny stories of his life and his astute insights worked just as well. I found myself wondering just why is it that I am not following my dreams with the single-minded focus that Porter champions? Why am I always ready with a plan B, and why is my attention engaged almost exclusively by the low likelihood of me becoming a published writer (or a reiki practitioner) in my preferred way?

At forty, I wish to let go of all my preconceived notions of why I cannot make my own lunch: I’m not ready; I don’t know enough; I'm not good enough; my parents would disapprove; my friends would think I’m strange; people will read my book and know that I thought about this; people will disagree with me; my siblings will be ashamed of me; the kids will be mad at me. And many many more. For this second part of my life, I would like to live an epically epic life of epicness, following my dreams and doing just what I want to do, with epic successes and epic fails, instead of just sitting at home afraid to venture.

Ryan Porter presents an idea so simple it is almost incomprehensible: set a goal, get rid of all the other options, and start moving, step by step, toward that goal. Don’t try to swallow that goal whole. Take small bites on the way. And behold: it is yours.

To check out more about Ryan Porter:
Make Your Own Lunch Website
Ryan Porter's Youth Speaker Website
Ryan Porter on Youtube
Make Your Own Lunch on Amazon
Buy a paperback of Make Your Own Lunch from Porter's website

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Empowered Wo(man)

All my life, books transported me far away to worlds I could hardly imagine in my everyday life. Rapturously, I followed Tarzan’s adventures in the jungle, Robin Hood’s exploits in Sherwood Forest, Michael Strogoff’s journey through Siberia and Ivanhoe’s struggle to return justice to England at the time of the crusades. I adored these heroes. I wanted to emulate them. I wished to be a hero myself.

Thirty years ago, few female characters existed in literature that raised in me similar desires for grand action and bravery. And yet, though a girl (and now a woman) myself, I yearned to read about --and to live -- a life of heroic deeds. When I enlisted in the Israeli army in 1990, I hoped for a chance to be a warrior. Instead, I found myself serving in the army as more or less a secretary to a bored (and fat) older man who smoked too much and thought my main job ought to be serving him coffee and removing the cup after he was done.

Girls readers today have more female literary role models, heroines who fight for justice, peace, and freedom, than I had growing up. Whether it is Katniss in The Hunger Games, Katsa of Graceling, Beatrice in Divergent, or Celaena of Throne of Glass, teen literature overflows with female characters who are survivors. They are physically and mentally strong and capable of defending themselves even under the most extreme circumstances. Girls today need no longer dream of being a hero: they can become a heroine.

I recently read an article by Sarah Blackwood which discusses the character of Bella from the popular Twilight Saga. Blackwood describes Bella thus: “Bella waits, she wallows, she thinks, and feels, and worries, and wonders. She does not actualize in the sense we have come to expect from our heroines....” Blackwood mentions Katniss and Katsa as contrasts to Bella, yet she wonders: do these strong, actualized and empowered girl characters in fact represent a male perspective on what it means to be actualized and empowered? Have we feminists fallen into a new trap where, in an attempt to carve our equal status in the world, we define our strength by male guidelines? Have we rejected the passive, gentle, forgiving woman -- the traditional definition of the feminine -- to become nothing more than a tiny man?

While I would not like to reject out of hand any of my feminine qualities (forgiveness and gentleness especially seem to me worthwhile to keep), and while I appreciate Bella’s popularity among teen girls -- clearly her character answers a need in them -- still I personally have always turned to the chivalrous, heroic and brave rather than to the passive or needy. In truth, none of the Twilight characters particularly appealed to me, male or female. Instead, I turn to Katsa whose ability to survive, her prowess in fight, and her sense of justice are ideals I wish to live by, or Eugenides, from Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, whose daring, wisdom, and loving heart made me his fan for life. My wish to be like either of them depends less on their gender and more on their qualities. And similarly, it is not either gender that I crave, but their courageous, loyal heart.

To read more:
The article about Twilight’s Bella.
My review of The Thief.
My review of Graceling.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philipp Sendker

Like the stereotype of a bookish woman, I am extremely near-sighted. Without my contacts even a large human nose and bushy eyebrows blur together into one muddy featureless head. With my contact lenses, the world sharpens into clear shapes, colors and forms, and yet I am often surprised by how unobservant I am. I can rarely remember what people wear, notice a new haircut, or find my way again to an address I’ve traveled to before.

In Jan Philipp Sendker’s fabulous novel, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, true sight comes not from seeing but through hearing. Tin Win is a Burmese boy who goes blind after his mother deserts him. Slowly other perceptions leak into Tin Win’s world. His hearing sharpens to the point where he can recognize a butterfly by the sound of its batting wings and an unborn chick by the beat of a heart. He can know if a person is happy, sad, tired, angry or even dying by the different heartbeats, and he can move through the village by the sounds of the breaths of a horse, a worm gnawing on a wood fence, or a woman chopping ginger in a nearby hut.

As the world comes into a new focus for Tin Win, he meets a young disabled woman, Mi Mi, and falls in love. With her words, Mi Mi helps Tin Win give names to the different sounds that he hears. Crawling about, she explores till she finds the worm that Tin Win heard or the egg in which beats the chick’s little heart. With Mi Mi, Tin Win learns the truth of his teacher’s promise, that nothing is more powerful than love. His blind world, now no longer empty because of his love for Mi Mi and his magical hearing, lights up.

“What is essential is invisible to the eyes,” Tin Win’s teacher tells him. When his uncle takes Tin Win away from his village and pays for surgery to fix his eyes, the young man struggles not to let his eyes come in the way of his hearing. He looks at all the colors, objects, shadows and curves, and they remain a photograph for him, lifeless. He longs to return to his village, to marry Mi Mi, to go back to how his life was before, but fate and his uncle have other plans for him.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a love story, a mystery, and a tale of the magic in ordinary things. For Mi Mi and Tin Win their love is a source of inner happiness whether they are together or separated. Carried on the gentle waves of this lovely novel, I could glimpse both the selflessness and the selfishness of their love and the impact it had on the lives around them.

Sight and blindness come in different forms. Seeing eyes do not see everything, but -- much though I would wish to have a hearing gift like Tin Win’s -- neither does a listening heart. The humanity in this book, the tragedy of decisions made and connections severed and kept, make this novel linger in my mind over two weeks after I finished it.

Buy The Art of Hearing Heartsbeats on Amazon
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats on GoodReads

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Beauty Without Part II

On our last day at Grand Bahama Island, we went over to Unexso for a Dolphin Encounter. A twenty-minute boat ride through clear, turquoise waters took us into a secluded bay overlooked by expensive-looking homes. We got to pet a fourteen-year old dolphin named Coral who kissed each of us in turn. She and another dolphin swam around, splashing us. They spat water at us playfully, swam backwards on their tail, executed synchronized flips, and impressed us more than I had thought possible. We had an absolute blast.

As we sat there, in that gorgeous, well-maintained garden above the limpid dolphin pools, surrounded by luxury homes, on the secluded bay with the clear turquoise water, it occurred to me that as a tourist I could potentially just see this face of Grand Bahama Island. Had we not rented a vacation rental which happened to be in a more seedy part of town, had we not driven around the island, had we only stayed near the beaches and the touristy activities surrounding them, we would not have known anything other than those turquoise water, the wide sandy beaches, the fancy restaurants, and a deluxe hotel room.

Perhaps finding ourselves stranded by our taxi driver next to a dilapidated condominium near a sprawling trash heap on our first day was a somewhat challenging experience. Perhaps discovering that the taxi driver was not mistaken, and that this was indeed the condo we rented was pretty depressing. So were the bird-poo-covered pool, the not impressive five-minutes-away beach, and the bare-shelf grocery store. But because of those challenges and having come at the low season, I think we can say that in four days in the island we got to know its less touristy face quite well.

As the island empties of all but its inhabitants, it seems to release a big breath, like a bellows that has finished its work for the day. Stores shut their doors, small restaurants dim their lights, the chairs, umbrellas, and kayaks disappear from the beach. The island folds into itself, resting before the next horde of tourists.

Now at home, a part of me is left wondering at this island whose every effort seems aimed at tourism. I want to know: do the Bahamians ever go to the beach to swim and paddle and snorkel? Do they ever enjoy all the beauty that the island has to offer. The beach in Israel is full of bathing, jogging, walking, and otherwise having fun Israelis. Frenchmen kiss handsome Frenchwomen under the Tour D’Eiffel. Californians meander on the Golden Gate Bridge and eat dinner at overpriced restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf.

But on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the off season in Grand Bahama Island, the beach was deserted except for one lone woman selling cheaply-made wares under the shade of a coconut palm. And I couldn't help but wonder: don't the Bahamians swim in the ocean on the weekend? Do they ever go, just for fun, to check out the stores at the International Bazaar? Have they ever seen the dolphins at Unexso? Or do they just live day to day in service of those hordes of tourists that come without ever enjoying the bounty of the island for themselves?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review of Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

For years, my sister believed that Robin Hood was a fox. The cause for her confusion is, of course, the Disney movie, Robin Hood. I, the book worm, knew better. To me, Robin Hood was a hero of a book, wearing a soft green buckskin cap and possessing unparalleled courage and faultless aim. Stealing from the rich to give to the poor, protecting the weak from the evil Prince John and his cohorts, living in the forest with other outlaws -- I could not admire Robin Hood more.

I read several rave reviews about A.C, Gaughen’s novel Scarlet and reluctantly put it on my to-read list. A novel in which Will Scarlet is actually a girl sounded intriguing, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to read a different version of Robin Hood. I didn’t know if I could take Will turning out to be a girl. In the end, however, I could not resist -- Scarlet popped up everywhere. And so I sat down and read.

Some books take time to get into, but once I succeed in melting into their world, I find I have sunk so deep that I cannot pull myself out when the book ends. That’s what happened to me with Scarlet. For the first three or four chapters I remained skeptical, but then I got sucked in, and for the two days that it took me to finish the book I lived in two completely separate universes: my everyday life and Scar’s in Sherwood Forest. The day after I finished the novel I felt disoriented. Really? No more Scar? No More Rob? I wanted to see their cave again, to see Scar running in the trees, Rob’s stormy ocean eyes, and listen to John Little flirt and joke.

Scarlet is a novel with a twist. I won’t tell you what it is, but the twist surprised me. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t, and when the time came, I just loved so much that I did not foresee it. So often, I know from the beginning of a book what the end will be, and all that is left for me is to watch how the author carries me to where I know we’re going. With Scarlet, thinking that I know the story and thus must know its end, I found myself completely fooled.

Much in Scarlet is about what makes a hero. A. C. Gaughen pushes the limits of how accountable to the townspeople Robin Hood and Scar feel, to the point where they must save every one, whether by gathering tax money (and keeping the villagers  from spending it before it is due), rescuing them from jail or the gallows, and bringing them food. I hope the next novel will continue exploring this superman-like theme, and I wish that Scar and Rob can find some relief from their feelings of guilt and over-responsibility.

Scarlet on GoodReads

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Beauty Without

My mother always says that in every yard, no matter how ugly or unmaintained, we can find something of beauty. I suppose it is a matter of what we focus on: the un-mown grass, the junk littering the balcony, or the few daffodils that manage to break the hard, dry soil and raise their sunshiny heads to the sky.

When I see those daffodils, I feel the power of the earth. I trust that after we’re gone, nature will take over. Flowers will break through concrete with beauty and color, and all our metal structures, our garbage heaps, our mines, those open wounds in the crust of the earth, will be forgotten in the healing energy of unbounded nature.

Sometimes I look at our river-spanning bridges, the clean skyline of our buildings, or the sumptuous buffet of a farmers market stall, and I think that we created a lot of beauty in this world. Different, perhaps, than the beauty that was here before us, but who am I to judge if different means wrong? Other times I wonder if the humanity-inflicted wounds on our earth can ever be healed.

Before arriving at Grand Bahama Island, I expected an island teeming with tropical beauty, gorgeous flowers mixing their scents with the salty air of the ocean, entwining plants climbing on palm trees to create a canopy of shade, and white sand beaches, the turquoise ocean merging with the blue, blue sky. But Grand Bahama Island is not quite like that.

Pool at our rental
Driving east and west of Freeport, a strange forest of low palm trees and tall, thin pines stretches as far as the eye can see, blocking out a view of the ocean. Only by turning off the main road did we discover the clear, turquoise waters that we expected: enchanting, open vistas, the waters calm and warm.

Interested in the strange flora, I searched the web for answers. I found that the first people to populate the Bahamas, the Lucayans, completely disappeared, either because of European illnesses for which they had no immunity or because they were removed from the island by the Spanish as slaves. After the American revolution, loyalists and their slaves came to the Bahamas and built cotton plantations. The lush forests which covered the island before their arrival have not regrown.

Had we stayed only on the beach, I could perhaps have ignored the shabby parts of the island, the dilapidation of years of hurricanes blowing through, the tired look of buildings battered by the salty air and the burning sun, or the human history that stopped the island’s natural evolution in place.

Trash heap in the street
Focus, I remind myself. Beauty is everywhere. And yet, though I can see the beauty of each and every palm and pine tree, the larger picture makes my heart sag, and I wish something could be done to return the natural beauty of this island to its former glory. I sit in the car, staring at the sparse forest rushing past the window, and the only thought that comes is: what a strange, strange land.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Focus: Abundance

My family and I love staying in vacation rentals. We can cook for ourselves, play games, watch television, go out in the yard. Those who wake up early can get up without waking those who want to sleep in. And sometimes there are extra bonuses like nearby playgrounds, pools, outdoor grills, or gorgeous backyards. We once stayed in a lovely cottage in San Diego. The yard was sumptuous with vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, and ornamental plants. The owner left us homemade jam and croissants on the counter. Windows opened up the view to the flowering outside.

It is easy to revel in abundance when abundance is spread before us to such perfection; much harder to practice when not everything is as we expect. In our vacation condo in Florida, tennis racquets and balls, a wide-screen TV, beach towels, two coffee machines, and an extremely well-stocked spice rack stood side to side with...  no hand soap in the bathrooms. Other necessary supplies were missing or limited. The wifi didn’t work. The dishwasher exploded in suds when we turned it on. In the balcony corners, mice droppings made us un-eager to go outside. When Dar spoke to the owner about these problems, the response was disbelief and an unwillingness to help out. 

While in Israel, my aunt told me this quote: “There is no such thing as problems. If you think there is a problem, then it has a solution and is no longer a problem. If there is no solution, then it is not a problem: it’s a fact.” Knowing how prone I am to ruminating about what is wrong, I forced myself to focus on what was wonderful and fun about the condo. Fact: I am not going to teach this condo’s owner abundance, but, fact: I can exercise abundance myself. And most importantly, I can do something about most of this.

In the morning, Dar drove to the grocery store and bought everything that we needed. 3G solved most of our WiFi needs and towels stacked before the dishwasher kept the floor dry. We made good use of the pool, the tennis court, and our kitchen. We enjoyed the good air streaming through the screens of the balcony doors and the movies, sports channels, and New Year program on the wide-screen TV. Without our attention, the cracks in the condo’s condition closed, and we could easily and simply have a great time.

It feels wonderful to focus like that. My attention, unhampered by mundane needs, can soar to the Florida wide skies, down to the colorful reefs of the deep blue ocean, and back up to the ever-shifting white clouds. I can blow with the wind in the palm fronds, swim with little skittering fish, and sit immovable in the mud like an old, lazy crocodile. But best of all is the freedom I found in the realization: who needs hand soap when the coast of Florida, from Key to Key, is open before us? Not we.