Posted in Life, Lists, Teaching

How to Escape for Spring Break Without Leaving Home

Last year during spring break, I took my dog and ran away from home. (We came back.) This year, I decided not to go anywhere during my week off, but I still craved that feeling of escape. I wondered, Is it possible to have a low-key, stay-at-home spring break AND get away at the same time? The answer is yes. Here’s how to do it.

1. Indulge in Good Food

You don’t have to go on vacation to eat like you’re on vacation. Give in to your sweet tooth or make that favorite recipe you don’t have time to prepare when you’re working. Splurge on your taste buds.

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On the first morning of spring break, I made this giant pile of pancakes, and we ate every last morsel of them.

2. Try a New Restaurant

Splurging on your taste buds doesn’t have to include cooking and clean-up. Find a few dining spot to check out. In Austin, there’s never a shortage of good places to eat.

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I visited Hillside Farmacy for the first time this week. Their fried egg sandwich has fried green tomatoes on it. Need I say more?

3. Sleep Somewhere New

You don’t have to check in to a hotel to check out of the daily grind. Make a pallet on the couch and have a movie night. Build a blanket fort. Camp out in the backyard.

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This is what I call an open-airbnb.

4. Be a Tourist in Your Own City

Take a walk through a neighborhood you’ve never been in, or finally take the time to do that thing that everyone does when they come to your town, or visit a museum. (Note: Museums are free in Austin on Thursdays.)

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I went to the Blanton for the “Words/Matter Latin American Art and Language” exhibit. I recommend it.

5. Buy a Souvenir

There’s a difference between regular shopping and souvenir shopping. You can go buy a new pair of jeans at Old Navy over spring break, and that’s fine, but it probably won’t feel like an escape. A souvenir is a strange or specific object that you wouldn’t have purchased if you hadn’t been in that place at that time. So get into get-away mode and search for a trinket to commemorate your staycation.

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To each her own, of course, but I bought an evil eye talisman from Tesoros Trading Company on South Congress.

6. Send Postcards

You don’t have to travel to write a note to a loved one about your experience. Buy some postcards of your city or some random cards or pick up freebies where you can, and send notes far and wide. Describe your pancakes, your blanket fort, your trip to the vegan ice cream shop. People will love to hear from you regardless of where you are when you write to them.

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This weekend, I sent ten eclectic postcards to friends and family members, but I forgot to take a photo of them before I dropped them in the mail, so here’s a picture of the cards that currently hang above my desk instead.

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At this point, you may be thinking, These are great ideas (thanks) but I’m broke and lacking transportation and don’t have a backyard or postage stamps. Fair point. These next four tips for escape are for you.

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7. Escape into a Book

If you don’t have the means to travel or the courage for daring feats or the stomach for adventurous eating, read about someone who does. Pick up a novel set in a foreign land or a book of essays by someone who’s been around the world or any good book with a good story. Immerse yourself in it. Read for hours, and ignore the laundry.

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This week, I read The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It’s like a mix between the movie Clue and the movie Happy Death Day except the narrator wakes up every day in a different character’s body. It was a wild ride for sure, definitely “escape” material.

8. Call a Faraway Friend

If you’re like me, you don’t pick up the phone often enough. I mean, yes, you pick up your mobile computer and your map and your texting device and your camera all the time, but the actual phone part of that thing? You probably don’t spend a lot of time with it. Spring break is a great time to reconnect with an old friend. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, who lives in a different city. Then close your eyes and let their voice shrink the miles between you.

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I called an old friend this week. Well, not that old. She’s the same age I am. I won’t reveal her name here and embarrass her, but we’ve known each other since we were in the first grade, and it was really good talking to her.

9. Keep Work Out of Sight and Out of Mind

I brought home a lot of grading over spring break. I know, I know, boo me all you want. Sometimes it’s inevitable. But even though I brought those essays home, I didn’t leave them laying around, staring at me and judging me all week. I took my time off first and saved the work for the last couple of days, making sure that I was managing the grading, and not the other way around. Do your best to compartmentalize work and play. Don’t check work emails at the museum and discuss work talk over your stack of pancakes. Enjoy yourself without guilt.

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You can’t tempt me, essays! No! No! Stay back!

10. Say No

When you don’t go anywhere for spring break, that makes some people think you are free the whole week. You are, but that’s the point. You’re free, free on your own terms. Don’t feel like you have to say yes to every favor or invitation. There’s only so much fun you can fit into a week. Unfortunately, you may have to pick and choose where to spend your time and with whom. Escape sometimes means escaping from stress or exhaustion or obligation. Protect your time. Keep it free by saying no to some things.

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To all the friends I hung out with this week, THANK YOU! I had a fabulous time! To all the friends I didn’t get to hang out with, I’M SORRY! Summer is coming! (Note: I didn’t take a single photo with any of my friends this week, so here’s a picture of my dog. Today is his birthday. My parents sent him a card.)

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This spring break, I never traveled more than twenty miles from home. But I made pancakes and visited a museum and bought strange objects and slept in a hammock and read books and mailed postcards and hung out with good friends and said no to things so I could stay in my pajamas and write all day, and that gave me the escape I needed. If I have to go back to work tomorrow (and both Austin ISD and my hubby tell me that I do), at least I’m going back rested and rejuvenated. Except for my right wrist, which still hurts from grading all those essays…

Posted in Teaching

Mid-Year Crisis

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Thanks, Pixabay, for illustrating my internal stress and providing all images for this post.

Teachers, listen to me. No, seriously, pick your head up off that desk or out of that bucket of wine, and LISTEN. I get it. I really, really do.

It’s the end of February, which means…

  • You have six weeks until the STAAR test and eight weeks of lessons that you need to teach before the STAAR test.
  • Your TELPAS samples, NJHS applications, progress reports, and 504 data are all due at the exact same minute, but all of your conference periods are taken up with team meetings, parent meetings, and intervention meetings, so you barely have enough time to eat twelve Girl Scout Cookies (I’m pretty that’s the recommended dosage) much less get your paperwork done.
  • A quarter of your students have been absent for four days in a row (but not the same four days in a row because that would be too convenient), and you can’t figure out which ones have the flu and which ones are on a mid-month non-spring-break family ski trip, so you’re just Cloroxing everything and giving everyone the stink eye when they return to cover all your bases.
  • You have 47 more book projects to grade, which you should have handed back last week, and two days from now you’ll have 139 journals to grade, which are a lot more difficult to carry on field trips. (Not actual field trips. You know when you take papers back and forth from school to home and back again without ever actually grading them? I call those field trips.)
  • Oh yeah, and it’s about time for someone to bring up the fact that no one’s planned the field trip yet and for someone else to point at you say, “So-and-so is good at organizing things. Remember when she planned that potluck?” and then you will have to close your eyes and take three deep breaths before pointing out that asking ten people to all bring food on a certain day is not the same thing as organizing transportation, activities, insurance, and volunteers for 450 kids, but by the time you open your eyes to say that, everyone will already be voting for you to do it.
  • You are being observed by four different people from four different colleges, universities, internships, and countries, all of whom you are supposed to mentor into being a teacher, but what you really want to do is yell, “Run, run, run! Go get your engineering degree!” Meanwhile, all you can think about is whether or not you should use a personal day to catch up on grading. (Anyone else ever done that? *raises hand*)

I. GET. IT.

To prove that I get it, here’s the truth. That note about the 47 projects left to grade with 139 journals on the way? Those are my current stats. So what did I do tonight? I… ate cheese and Girl Scout Cookies for dinner, watched some old Star Trek episodes, googled lavish vacations to faraway places and then less lavish vacations to not-so-faraway places, then took a bubble bath where I tried to use speech-to-text on my phone for the first time in order to draft this blog post. But instead of actually drafting this blog post, I ended up trying out jokes for the stand-up comedy routine that I like to pretend would make it big if I ever got drunk and wandered in front of a microphone like on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Then, when I read what I recorded, I realized there wasn’t a single period in the whole thing because I didn’t know you had to say the punctuation, which is ironic because all week I’ve been making my students read their commas out loud during warm-ups to prove they’re in the right place. So, now I’m actually typing my blog post, still quite effectively avoiding all my grading.

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“That woman is CRAZZZZZZZY!”

THAT, my friends, is classic end-of-February behavior.

But have no fear. We’ve gotten through this before, and we’ll get through it again.

Those papers will get graded, or they won’t.

That field trip will get planned, or it won’t.

Those TELPAS samples will be turned in, or… well, in the fine print, I think it says you could lose your license or something, but IT’S FINE because those TELPAS samples WILL GET TURNED IN. (Do it tomorrow. During lunch.)

The point is YOU CAN DO THIS. WE can do this. Spring break (the real one) is just around the corner, and vacation or no vacation, you’re finally going to carve out some time for yourself.

Everything will be okay.

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[Insert calming music here.]
Now, take that half-empty box of Girl Scout Cookies to bed with you, and get some sleep. You’ve got kids to teach and papers to grade tomorrow. Maybe.

Posted in Writing

Phoenix

WOW.

That’s how I felt when I found out my story “Phoenix” had been selected as a runner-up in the WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest.

I’ve been a WOW! reader for years. I first discovered their quarterly flash fiction contest back in 2013. I submitted a couple of times, without success. My writing wasn’t at the level they sought, and I didn’t yet have a good grasp of what flash fiction really meant. But I started reading their blog, The Muffin, where I drew inspiration from their writing tips and anecdotes, eventually becoming a guest blogger myself, twice in 2014 (in September and November) and again in 2016. I was honored to have my words share space with the women who had motivated me.

This fall, I decided I was ready to give the flash fiction contest another try. I submitted my 748-word story “Phoenix” and crossed my fingers.

“Phoenix” is a subtly witchy story about the power of nature and the power we hold within ourselves. It’s about persistence and sacrifice and a love for unwanted things. It’s unlike most of the pieces I write, and I didn’t know how it would be received, so I was ecstatic when I learned it had placed in the top ten of the contest.

(A visual collage of “Phoenix”)

I want to thank the editors at WOW! for selecting my story as a finalist and Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency for choosing it as a runner-up. I appreciate you giving Gwen and her story a home.

Go to this link to read all the winning stories from the Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. Or, to skip straight to “Phoenix,” simply click here.

WOW! will be publishing an interview with me on The Muffin, so if you’re interested in hearing the background story of “Phoenix” and what the writing process was like, stay tuned…