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A magazine article recently noted that in a study involving almost 13,000 heart patients, those who normally took a yearly vacation cut their risk of dying from heart disease by as much as 29 percent. While that statistic is certainly a worthwhile reason to take a vacation, I have noticed that when many Americans do go away, their iPhones, iPads and laptops go with them. They use them constantly - no matter where they are, what they're doing or who they're with.

In June, my husband and I took a long-planned and much-awaited vacation to France and Switzerland. Although the scenery was spectacular, the people welcoming and the different cultures interesting, the best part of the vacation was simply having the time to really enjoy what we were doing whenever and wherever we felt like it.

Like most people, we have many pressing family and business responsibilities that usually take precedence over other things. But what I discovered was that when you take a vacation and leave the iPhones and other media home, you come back much more relaxed and able to deal with the problems that occur in your daily life.

Vacations don't have to be lengthy or even to exotic places. Last summer, after suffering a sports injury and enduring surgery, when I could finally walk easily again we took a day off during the work week and spent it having lunch and strolling around Niagara-on-the-Lake. Did we do anything spectacular? No. But just taking the time on a beautiful summer day to visit the small interesting shops, stroll around the streets looking at the charming and historic houses and enjoy, fresh from the bakery, our favorite frosted sugar cookies made it a fun and relaxing day.

With Niagara Falls just a short drive away, anyone can have a mini vacation. We love to park on the American side, picnic on the grass while we watch the rapids and then walk across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side. Window shopping on Clifton Hill, visiting the botanical garden or just watching the ever-astounding falls is inexpensive, relaxing and fun. Many people don't even bother to do it, though, close as they are to it.

I discovered a long time ago, however, that's not so surprising. My first teaching position was in suburban Maryland, a few miles outside of Washington, D.C. At my first parent-teacher conference, I mentioned to a parent how exciting it must be to live in an area so close to our nation's capital. To my utter amazement, Angela's mom told me she had never seen Washington even though they had lived in the area for 25 years. Since my future husband, who was attending school in New York City at the time, was visiting me every other weekend, we had a chance to explore all the beautiful monuments, museums and galleries Washington had to offer. I couldn't believe anyone could live just a few miles away from them and never even want to see them. How sad.

I think the real pleasure of a vacation is that you have the opportunity to live in the moment.

Recently, after working on a lengthy project, I found myself sitting on our patio mindlessly watching a miniature hot air balloon twirl around on its large hook in the bright sunlight. As I focused on the many colors of the balloon, the brilliant blue of the sky overhead and the way the sunlight lit up the tree leaves, I realized that for a few rare minutes, I was totally living in that moment. Give it a try.