Posted in Life, Random

Conquering New Year’s Eve

When I was a kid, New Year’s Eve was spent at home hanging out with my family, playing games or watching TV. At midnight, we’d go out in the backyard, and my dad would set off the cannon. It was a real cannon, but was only about the size of a desktop tape dispenser. He’d pack it with a small amount of gun powder and light the fuse, and we’d all stand back and cringe in anticipation. Some years it wasn’t much more than a loud pop. Other years, depending on how much powder he used, there’d be quite a little explosion, and the next day the paving stone where it sat would be scorched black. If I remember correctly, once the blast sent the cannon flying several feet and it took us a couple of minutes to find it.

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This year, the long-retired cannon has been passed down to me, but my father refused to give me any gunpowder and forbade me from actually using it. I will honor his wishes. For now.

This might be one of those “only in Texas” stories. I don’t know because I’m from Texas and have always lived in Texas and people sometimes roll their eyes and say “only in Texas” about things that seem completely normal to me. Then again, it could also be one of those “only in my family” things as well, like the stocking tree or calling the things you use to cut up small limbs “jaloppers” instead of “loppers.” (You haven’t been embarrassed until you’ve been corrected by a Home Depot employee half your age on the pronunciation of a garden tool. Thanks, Dad.) Perhaps I should collect some data on the subject. If you or anyone you know ever had a tradition of setting off a small but mighty cannon in the backyard on New Year’s Eve, please weigh in with a comment. Thanks.

Anyway, that was how we did things.

When I was in junior high and high school, our house was the place to hang out, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. If you’re picturing a wild party and a keg, you’re way off. If you’re picturing a six pack of beer and a football game, you’re still way off. If you’re picturing Dr. Peppers and non-alcoholic sparkling cider and loud games of dominoes and cards, then you’re welcome at our kitchen table any time. Even in college, I spent most of my New Year’s Eves at home with my family, so it wasn’t until I was an adult (a real one with an apartment and a job) that I realized New Year’s Eve was a THING, and there was a certain way you were supposed to celebrate it, and it didn’t involve miniature cannons and Dr. Pepper. Thus began my complicated, often disappointing relationship with the holiday.

I don’t know if there’s any other holiday with more pressure placed upon it than New Year’s Eve. (Ok, maybe Valentine’s Day, but I don’t celebrate that one, therefore it causes me no stress.) Society tells you that in order to have a successful December 31st, you must do at least 6 of the 7 following things:

  • Go to a fun party with more than 12 people.
  • Look great no matter the weather.
  • Drink a lot but not enough to embarrass yourself.
  • Kiss someone at midnight.
  • Set inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.
  • Leave the party at just the right time (neither too early or too late).
  • Wake up on New Year’s Day either A) Really hungover with a great story to tell or B) Refreshed and energetic and ready to tackle all your inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.

That’s a pretty tall order.

I did okay for a couple of years. The year of Y2K, my boyfriend and I went to a party at a friend’s house and had a good time. A few years later, I rang in the new year with some friends at the Carousel Lounge, where the seventy-five-year-old legendary “dancing waitress” Stella Boes, a longtime fixture at the Carousel, served us drinks with a smile. That was a good year.

But there were plenty of years where plans fell flat or parties petered out or the party itself was fine, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. There were years when I had someone to kiss and years when I didn’t and years when I told myself I didn’t want to go out only to change my mind at the last minute and not be able to find anywhere to go. I think those were the most disappointing because I wasn’t being true to myself, wasn’t able to accept that what I wanted was different than what other people wanted and that was ok.

Marrying my homebody husband in 2010 should have made things simpler, but somehow it didn’t. I had someone to be with, and neither of us really wanted to go out, so the choice to stay in on the 31st was easy, but even when we decided to stay home, I still placed expectations on how the evening should go. We’ll ring in the new year watching a marathon of scary movies. Or… We’ll camp out in the backyard and sleep under the stars. Or… We’ll drink a bunch of wine and play board games all night. Those are not such tall orders, but sometimes they still fell flat. We got bored of the movies before midnight or the weather wasn’t right for camping or we just weren’t in the mood to play games.

Some years, we’d put off the festive activities until later, so as to experience them at the correct hour of celebration. Around 11pm when I was happily writing in my journal and listening to a horror podcast and hubby was happily playing a computer game, I’d suddenly look at the clock and realize we were running late for our planned night of fun, at which point I’d stop us from doing the things that made us happy, and force us to do something that I deemed an “appropriate” homebody NYE activity.

Yes, I’m weird. I know it. But that’s what I did, year after year, until finally, FINALLY, I got it. There wasn’t a specific moment that changed me. I don’t remember a conversation or event that drove this message home. It just came to me spontaneously in that “You’ve had the power all along, my dear” sort of way, like a lightning strike to my brain. I just got it. And what I got was this:

I can celebrate or not celebrate the new year ANY WAY I WANT. (Cue light bulbs, sparkly music, and one small firework.) So, the big question is… what do I want?

For me, the passing from one year to the next is about reflection and contemplation. It’s about setting up for the new year in whatever way feels right, whether that’s cleaning my house, writing resolutions, or planning a cool lesson for my students. Sometimes it’s about being around friends, but more often than not, it’s about enjoying some relaxation and me time after a week of family visits and traveling. It’s about thinking about who I am and who I want to be, without judgment (if possible).

Ever since this epiphany, I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves doing things like walking the dog and writing in my journal and watching movies and playing games. Yes, a lot of those are the same things that were on my list before, but the difference is the lack of expectation, the forced “meaning” in them. Sometimes I nerd out and spend the whole night making a new planner. Sometimes I do an elaborate tarot card reading for myself. Sometimes I read and nap and do a whole lot of nothing.

Whatever we’re doing, a few minutes before twelve, hubby and I get together and step out onto the back porch with a beverage, and we kiss at midnight while listening to our crazy Texas neighbors set off their crazy Texas fireworks. And then we begin the new year by going to sleep or going back to whatever we were doing before. The transition is a smooth one, marked by very little pomp, and we’re more than ok with that.

So what does this year have in store? It’s 6:37PM and I’m writing this from the hammock in my backyard. A little while ago, I decided it was a nice night for a campfire, so I made one. I’m currently on my second glass of prosecco. The temperature is dropping, and the illegal fireworks are already starting. I have a new game I want to play tonight and some leftover pasta I want to eat. There’s an owl hooting somewhere and a dog barking somewhere else, and about six hours to go until midnight. How will I spend them? Any way I want.

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Happy New Year.

 

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 Life, Teaching

It’s My Brain and I Can Turn It Off If I Want To

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“WALLET!” my husband shouts from the car, as I bound across the parking lot to Walgreens.

“Oops!” I say, trotting back to the car to retrieve my wallet. I smile at my hubby. He does not smile back. This is after I asked to go on his errands with him because I needed something really important at Walgreens, then almost left the house without shoes, then went to Walgreens with him and bought everything except the one thing I really needed, then did his other errands with him, then remembered the thing I really needed from Walgreens and asked him to go back, then tried to go buy it without my wallet.

“How do you function?” he asks. “Seriously, how are you a teacher?”

I ignore him and go to buy the very important item.

The answer is, I function quite well, thank you very much. I am an organized, efficient, productive teacher who juggles my duties with confidence and flair. But all that remembering and accomplishing is exhausting, so sometimes at home I turn my brain off. I think this is a healthy thing to do. Everything needs rest, even the brain. Especially a brain that has to be so on-the-ball all the time. My friend Lori refers to this need for a brain break as a “responsibility hangover,” and it’s the perfect description. Sometimes we need a vacation from responsibility. It’s such a relief to not have to remember anything for a few hours, to let someone else do the thinking.

The problem is that I don’t let other people know when my brain is powering down. There’s no maintenance schedule for my brain. Updates are spontaneous and unpredictable, even for me. One moment I’ll be reading peacefully, without a care in the world, and the next hubby will be looking at me strangely asking, “Weren’t you in the middle of doing laundry?” or “Have you eaten anything today?” or “What’s that sound? Did you turn on the tea kettle?”

At this, I will respond with a glassy-eyed stare and ask, “Laundry? Eaten? Kettle?” as if repeating the last word he said will somehow give the whole sentence meaning. Then I’ll snap out of it and eat a sandwich or make some tea or put the clothes in the dryer before slipping back into blissful unawareness until hubby reminds me of the next important thing I need to do.

I make no apologies for this. There’s just no better feeling than allowing yourself to drift cluelessly for a bit, relying on others to remind you about things like wallets and shoes and food. I think everyone should do it. Although, admittedly, it would be better if we took turns. If you’ve ever found yourself hanging out with a friend when both of you turn your brains off simultaneously, you know what I mean.

This used to happen a lot when I was with my cousin Kelley. Separately, Cousin Kelley and I are both intelligent, hard-working, mature-enough adults, but people who have only met us together don’t know this because our brains shut themselves down when we come in contact with each other. It’s like how some women’s cycles sync up, but we do it with our brains instead.

Kelley and I once decided (on two low-battery brains) to drive around aimlessly in the middle of the night to listen to a new mix tape* one of us made for the other. There was a whole conversation about which car to take and who should drive, and somehow we decided that we should take Kelley’s car, but I should drive it. We headed a few miles west, turned off the bigger roads, and drove slowly and aimlessly– singing along to the latest Roxette or David Bowie song– on small streets where no one was awake but us. Soon, we were lost, but we did not care. A short time later, we were being pulled over because driving slowly and aimlessly down dark, uninhabited streets at three o’clock in the morning is apparently suspicious behavior. No big deal. We were neither drunk, nor disorderly, and I knew the police officer would recognize this as soon as he talked to us.

Then I realized I didn’t have my license because, at no point during the which car/ which mix tape/ which driver conversation did we consider which one of us was carrying her purse.

Oops.

Thankfully, the officer was kind and we got off with a warning. Kelley took the wheel, we both turned our brains on to medium power, and we went home.

Medium power is about where my brain is right now. School ended today at 3:40PM (I’m free! FREE!) and although it was tempting to go into sleep mode immediately, I knew that was a bad idea. I have quite a bit to accomplish in the next 24 hours, like laundry and packing and navigating travel plans, so I need to keep my mind at least 50% charged. Otherwise I’m likely to wander into a bookstore or decide to rearrange the metal lawn animals. (Come to think of it, they do need to stretch their legs…) But when all that is done, watch out world, because I’m hitting snooze on this thing until January. If you see me slumped on a chair staring dreamily into space with a goofy grin on my face or a little drool glistening at the corner of my mouth, don’t fret. I’m fine. I’m happy. Just put a cookie in my hand, pat me on the head, and whisper, “Sleep well, brain. You have no responsibilities here whatsoever.”

Snowflake

* Dear readers under 30, a mix tape is like a playlist made of thin plastic that can unravel and get stuck in your car’s tape deck.**

** A car tape deck is a narrow hole the dashboard of your car where you stick a tape and sometimes a plastic straw to get the tape out and sometimes a pencil to get the plastic straw out.***

*** A plastic straw is a small flexible tube that people used to use to drink cold liquids so they wouldn’t freeze our teeth or mess up our lip gloss, but are now instruments of the devil that murder turtles and will therefore incur dirty looks if seen in use.