Susan Vaughan here. My husband and I recently spent ten days in sunny and blessedly warm Florida. We walked the beach and sat in beach chairs and read, among other things. As soon as we returned to Maine, we faced not one, but two snowstorms, leaving my neighborhood with at least eighteen inches of accumulated snow.
To my surprise, I wasn’t in the doldrums of winter blahs. Instead I was ready to finish the short novel I’ve been working on and tackle other projects. The reason? I’d taken the advice of my friend Michelle Libby (When the Vow Breaks) in her March president’s letter in the Maine Romance Writers’ newsletter: “Take time to refill your well.” I’d taken time to rest and reconnect with other aspects of life, such as… We hiked into the Everglades. Um, on a boardwalk, above the snakes and alligators lurking unseen, but we saw plenty of wading birds.
Americans in general are bad at taking time off, at taking even the vacation time allotted to them. Recently, two separate surveys showed that only twenty-five percent of Americans take all of their paid vacation days, and another found that nearly forty-two percent take no vacation days. Even worse, Americans work while on vacation.
The World Happiness Report for 2018, researched for the United Nations, was released this month. The report ranks countries on six key factors: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support, and generosity. At the top was Finland, where one would think the snow and cold would depress folks. Yes, Finland ranked number one in happiness. The reasons listed included paid vacation time, more time with family, time to enjoy nature, and less pressure, among other factors.
Yes, I know this country has a lot of issues more pressing than vacation time, but for today, ahem, I’m climbing onto my soapbox about this one. The United States is the only developed country in the world without a legally required paid vacation day. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation for everyone. There are too many factors involved for me to draw conclusions on how this affects European countries’ economies, from the strongest, Germany, to the weakest, Cypress. What is clear, from various studies, is that the benefits of vacation time include higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, and greater employee retention. Vacation helps reduce stress and can boost the mental and physical health of an entire family.
Families who vacation together share experiences, better communication and togetherness, take time to relax and be involved in experiential learning. During our stay south, we also visited the Naples Botanical Gardens and learned a little about native Florida plants. Some of you may have seen my photos of orchids from the gardens. I did no work (well, almost—email and a little online promotion), and I can attest to many of these benefits.
You don’t have the time or finances for a cruise or a stay in the Sunny South or the South of France? I know a way to vacation without leaving home, a staycation with… BOOKS! Even an hour of escape can revive us. Usually on vacation, I read e-books because my Kindle holds more books than I can fit into my suitcase among the clothing and chargers. This time, I was caught up in two novels. One was British author Elly Griffith’s The Janus Stone, her 2011 mystery featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The other was Mary Burton’s 2007 romantic suspense, The Dollmaker. At home, I’ve just finished a paperback, the second in Joanna Bourne’s historical romantic-suspense Spymaster series, My Lord and Spymaster. I highly recommend all three for your staycation.
For what it might cost for a meal out, as Michelle said in her letter, “Get swept up in the romance and drama of someone’s life. Relive first kisses, explore new lands, and fall in love.” I’ll add to that the invitation to fall into the biography of someone who fascinates you, gasp at the adventures and danger in a thriller, look for clues in a page-turning mystery. Put your feet up and refill that well. Time gets away from us, so I leave you with a photo of the sunset on Marco Island and a poem by Judith Perry Carpenter from her book Peacework Quilt.