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 Halloween, Life

None of This is Normal

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It’s the last week of October, and this is the first blog post I’ve written this month.

If you’ve been worried about me and wondering why I haven’t been bombarding your inbox with creepy stories, strange decorations, and a general, 24/7, over-caffeinated zeal for all things Halloween, thank you for your concern, but fear not. I’m alive and well and currently sitting in a room with not one, not two, but THREE skeletons. And one dog. And a gnat that keeps landing on my face and driving me crazy.

I realize it’s not normal for me to take my favorite month off from blogging, but really, nothing about this October has been normal.

It all started when our hardwood floors exploded. Not exploded exactly. They… grew. Actually, it was more like they swelled up, but I hate the word “swell” (*shudder*) so I’ll use expanded. But that doesn’t sound right either. Let’s put it this way: Over the course of four days, the terrain of our beautiful hardwood floors metamorphosed into hills and valleys and mountain ranges that made it look like the monsters from Tremors were living under our living room. So that was fun. Then a parade of well-meaning professionals came to our house, measured things, scratched their heads, measured more things, and said, “That’s not normal.”

Well, duh.

We are still in process of figuring out exactly what kind of monster is haunting our house.

Then there’s the rain. I live in Austin, Texas. In case you’re unfamiliar, we’re known for our music, our tacos, and our dry spells. There are restaurants here that serve 100¢ margaritas when the temperature hits 100 degrees, and they often do a pretty good business even in September. Fall usually arrives in late October with the first real cool spell blowing in around Halloween.

But this year… it’s been raining. A LOT. And on October 15th, the temperature dropped into the forties and stayed there for a couple of days. And then it rained some more. It’s still raining. In fact, it’s rained so much that the water treatment plants can’t keep up, and we’re now having to boil our drinking water to get the demons out.

I’m telling you, this October is weird.

With my house randomly redecorating itself and the sky always dripping a strange wet substance, it took me a while to get into the spirit of Halloween. But finally, it got into me. I decided if October was going to be weird, I was going to be weirder.

So one night, when it stopped raining for a few hours, I went out into the front yard and started setting up a cemetery (because there’s nothing creepier than seeing your neighbor hammering tombstone stakes in the dark).

It turned out pretty well. Except for these folks…

Once the yard was sufficiently creepy, I decided I couldn’t let my ruined hardwood floors ruin my Halloween indoors*, so we got a new roommate, and he livened things up a lot.

Now I’m ready for my favorite holiday, and I have the empty candy wrappers in my trash can to prove it. The yard is decorated, the house is decorated, and my costume is coming together. There’s only one thing left to do: decorate my blog.

Expect a few treats headed your way over the next week. Better late than never.

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* I swear I did not realize that rhymed until after I wrote it.

Posted in Life

Surviving My Morning Walk: A Brush With Nature

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The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is an “internationally recognized botanic garden dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants in natural and designed landscapes” located in Austin, Texas.* In other words, it’s a pretty, outdoor-y, nature-y place where you can take walks, learn about flowers, swing in swings, watch turtles and owls, look at art, climb a tower, listen to giant wind chimes, eat a snack, and generally enjoy the outdoorsiness and leafiness and buzziness of life with your friends, your family, or yourself.** And I am incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of it. I love visiting the center and have always wished they were open longer hours, especially in these warm summer months.*** Well, I must have wished loud enough because they now stay open until 8PM on Tuesdays and open at 7:30AM on Thursdays and Saturdays. Hooray! Thank you, whoever made that decision!

* From the Wildflower Center’s website
** For some reason, the Wildflower Center did not ask me to write the text for their website. ???
*** It’s only June and already our nightly low is 77 degrees. Did you get that, northerners? Our LOW temperatures are almost 80. Yeah.

So last Thursday morning, in an effort to adhere to my summer goal of making exercise a habit, I got up at 7:30 and walked to the Wildflower Center. I was looking forward to seeing the place at a new time of day, to see what was awake at this early hour and maybe catch a glimpse of a new bird or cute critter. As soon as I got there, I hit the trails. I’d passed a couple of employees on the way in, but I didn’t see or hear any other guests. It was just me and the blue sky and the bugs. I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. No distractions. I didn’t even bring my cell phone. I smiled.

Then I came around a bend in the path and saw a giant snake skin hanging from a tree. It was at least four feet long, and it hung from a branch at least ten feet above the ground.

Now, let’s get something straight. I am not afraid of snakes. I respect snakes and am appropriately cautious of them, especially the dangerous ones, but I like snakes and enjoy seeing them in nature from a safe distance. However, there is one thing that I just do not agree with about snakes, and that is their ability to climb trees. No. No, no, no, no, no. Just no. Snakes should stay on the ground, as the universe intended.

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This is not at the Wildflower Center. This is a photo from the day a six-foot-long coachwhip decided to come to my backyard to eat its lunch, which happened to be a two-foot-long garden snake.

Also, I had just read an article the day before about a man in Corpus Christi who cut the head off a four foot rattlesnake and then got BIT BY THE SEVERED HEAD. The man survived but was in really bad shape. So, I’d just come up with a new rule that dead snakes should stay dead and not bite people.

Furthermore, I was not actually looking at a snake in its natural habitat. I was looking at a large snake SKIN. In a TREE. Which meant there was a EXTRA-large (too large to fit in that skin), fresh, tree-climbing snake somewhere nearby.

I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. I DIDN’T EVEN BRING MY CELL PHONE!

Despite coming down with a severe case of the willies, I did not turn back. No, not this determined trail-walker. I forged ahead, staying on the path and keeping an eye out for fresh snakes above, below, beside, and all around me. Once, when I got too close to the edge of the path and a piece of spear grass brushed my ankle, I let out a high-pitched squeak that a person sitting on their porch in my neighborhood probably mistook for a coyote bark. But all was well. I made it out of the Wildflower Center alive.

My Good Deed for the Day

When I left, more morning guests were arriving, which made me happy because I want them to keep these new hours. In the busy parking lot, I saw one of my favorite critters: a large, brown, Texas tarantula. She was on the move, scurrying quickly, obviously with places to go. Unfortunately, the places she needed to go were on the other side of the driveway, and a car was coming. I couldn’t bear to see her get squished, so I stepped in front of the car, pointed at my little friend, and mimed for them to please wait until she had safely crossed. They did.

I recently learned that while male tarantulas often don’t live more than a few months, females can live up to 40 years. I don’t actually know the gender of the one I met, but I like to think that I helped a little old lady cross the street.

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This is a Texas tarantula next to my hubby’s hand. Both of them were very good sports for this photo.

I survived my morning walk. I got some exercise. I saw some sights. I plan to go back this week. I think maybe this time I’ll take my cell phone with me.