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Monday, April 24, 2006

Room with a view

Feeling utterly refreshed after a week at the Adagio (or “Ahdahhsheo” as my brother-in-law, Jack called it). The map said we were on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but honestly it felt far more exotic than Florida.

I spotted it on the bend of Highway 30-A — a mustard-colored stucco resort ornamented with stone parapets jutting from its exterior, and wrought-iron balconies that overlooked a lush swimming pool resplendent with two waterfalls, a fountain and lined with palm trees.

We had traveled as a caravan of five cars. For the last hour, we switched kids and Danny and I drove with nieces, Molly and Erin. (It’s quite a different thing to drive with girls.)

“We’re staying here!” the kids yelled jumping out of the cars. Just at the moment of arrival, little Mikey jumped out of my niece Kelly’s car with a blond wig and sunglasses on. He threw his arms in the air and yelled, “Woooo!” at the top of his lungs, essentially setting the tone as comic relief for the remainder of the trip.

As we unlocked the door to our condo, Danny and I gasped. The sales agent told us the units sell for $1.5 to $2 million. And so it appeared once inside. We immediately saw glass tables and handcrafted pottery and ceramics. Barreling along behind was Mikey, with his football in tow.

“Oh no, buddy. There’s no football in here. We break one thing and there goes the $500 damage waiver.”

But it was far from stuffy. Quite the contrary, it was something out of the Pottery Barn catalog — painted black wood armoires, jute rugs, natural-colored sofas and chocolate brown round leather ottoman (which I covet). Ryan, who shares a room at home, was like a prince in a palace with his own queen bed and adjoining bathroom.

Danny and I oohed and aahed at the granite countertops, stainless appliances and ceramic tile floor in the kitchen. We’re pretty sure we were the first ones to use many of the kitchen items. I mean, the toaster had not one crumb or fingerprint.

Our master bedroom had an entry to the balcony and our own rattan chaise lounges. And then there was the master bathroom — complete with Jacuzzi tub for two and a shower with two massaging showerheads.

“I won’t want to go home to our crappy house,” I said.

We laughed at our luck at scoring such a great deal on such a beautiful place. Living would be very easy here. Sweetening the deal was the phone call Danny received on the drive down. He had been interviewing for a new job and was somewhat distraught about leaving town without hearing anything. I tried to reassure him that they wouldn’t have bothered to call his references earlier that week without planning to make an offer.

The offer came at 9:30 Friday morning somewhere north of Louisville, Kentucky. He was on cloud nine. And it only added to my news.

Beginning next Monday, I will be working part-time for the Society of Professional Journalists as a membership manager.

The executive director and I have been talking about such a position for a few months and though it’s a tad ambiguous, I’m very excited about the opportunity to build relationships through SPJ. It’s an extension of what I’ve been doing as a member and volunteer for 20 years.

My charge, as someone who "drank the Kool-Aid," is to develop strategies for member recruitment and retention. My efforts will largely be focused externally, helping chapters revive themselves and helping new chapters form. I’ll also be working on promoting SPJ to more news organizations and establishing effective communication between national headquarters and local chapters.

So this vacation was perfectly timed for relaxation and enjoyment. And it was a great opportunity for me (after 18 months of weekly book reviews and six months of intense writing projects) to enjoy reading again. I had an amazing balcony with a lovely view of the pool. Every morning I would rise at about 6:30, get my coffee and book and enjoy the relative coolness of the morning.

On the drive down I finished, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,” by Stephen Greenblatt. This was a fascinating look at what influenced Shakespeare’s writing. It’s full of great writing and some wonderful details.

On the shelves of our condo was Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons” so I took advantage and read it while it was so readily available. I understand that Dan Brown is a publishing phenom, but I have to say, as a writer, he just doesn’t do it for me.

I think his books begin well and transition through multiple complex plot lines, carefully revealing motives and past and connections. But my criticism of him is that in both of his highly successful novels, he takes the easy way out in the end. Both books wrap up in such a neat and tidy — and utterly unbelievable — way that I was disgusted by the ending and felt cheated as a reader.

I don’t want convenient, tidy endings. Life is not neat and tidy. It’s very messy and I relate to fiction that reflects life’s untidiness. That’s why Edith Wharton’s novels are so appealing. There is no happily ever after.

But the book that moved me was Penelope Lively’s “The Photograph.” It was the haunting, spare story of a man who discovers a photograph of his late wife holding hands with her brother-in-law at an outing which he cannot remember. Though his wife has been long dead, the archaeologist digs for answers to the photograph and the relationship.

Along the way he — and the others in the family and assorted friends — discover things about themselves that alter how they view her. But mostly it reveals how little they really knew her — how her appearance led to assumptions and how most made little effort at uncovering the substance beneath her ephemeral exterior.

So we're back — well rested, tanned and excited about new ventures.

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