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

The Power of Awareness

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I’ve been doing Kundalini yoga for years. I’m still no expert at it, partly because there are ways in which my body refuses to bend regardless of how much “mind over muscle” I apply, and partly because I’m not consistent enough with my practice. Sometimes I go to Yoga Yoga three times a week, and other times three months lapse between classes. During those breaks, when I let words like “time” and “busy” and “tired” keep me away from the mat, I never feel as good as when I snap out of my funk and get back in the routine. It only takes one class after a long break to remind me that I do have time, I’m not too busy, and that yoga is a cure for tired, not a cause.

Kundalini means “awareness.” When I describe it to people, I say that it’s a gentle, meditative type of yoga for people of all levels that is done under dim lights, mostly in a seated position, using various mantras and different types of breathing. A more correct, official, and eloquent explanation can be found here.

What I Like About Kundalini

  • It teaches me to be still both mentally and physically.
  • It brings me calm and reduces my stress and is sometimes (but not always) a physical workout.
  • Kundalini teachers say, “Challenge your muscles, honor your joints.” They push students to work past mental barriers and transcend discomfort while always reminding them to be safe and know their limits. They modify for injuries and other health issues so that people of all ages, body shapes, and athletic ability can benefit from the classes.
  • There are literally thousands of different kriyas (sequences of exercises, postures, etc.) in Kundalini, so the classes are never boring and rarely repetitive. Also, some of the exercises are actually pretty funny. At times, I like to pretend I’m a fly on the wall watching a room full of people donkey kick or flop like fish on their mats.
  • Each teacher brings his or her own personality and perspective to the class. One of my teachers gives a lesson at the beginning, explaining exactly how the day’s work will affect our bodies and brains. Another begins class by telling us what constellation the moon is in and what sort of activities are best completed (or avoided) that day.
  • Each class ends with a deep relaxation while the teacher plays the gong. I cannot explain how relaxing and rejuvenating and powerful this is after an hour of practice. You just have to try it for yourself.
  • Despite the fact that I’m supposed to be quieting my mind, during Kundalini I often get solutions to problems, new perspectives on struggles, or ideas for writing pieces I’m working on. They just appear in my head as if they’ve been there all along (which of course they have). Once in a while I even get answers to questions I never saw coming.

Epiphanies, Answers, and Interior Decorating Tips

Most teachers ask students to set an intention at the beginning of each yoga class and it is something I now do regardless of whether or not they say it. Usually mine is something like relax or be positive today or be productive or be open to what the day has to offer or be creative. But four years ago, just after I got married, when my husband and I were turning his house into our home and painting all the rooms, I went to yoga with a very silly (and very specific) question in my mind. What color should I paint my kitchen? Everything else had been a pretty easy choice, but I kept waffling about which color to use in our kitchen and dining area to cover up the previous owner’s flower stencils.

I hoped that in my meditative state the answer would come to me, an epiphany that would take this silly but somewhat stressful decision and make it clear. I, of course, didn’t expect my yoga experience to literally tell me what color to paint my kitchen.

But it totally did.

For the first time ever in any yoga class I’d attended, our kriya included a meditation where the teacher asked us to picture the colors of the rainbow in order, slowly visualizing each one. When we had done this for a little while, she then asked us to focus in on a deep rich blue.

My kitchen, I kid you not, is painted blue.

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Recently, I’ve been on one of those tired-busy-no-time breaks from yoga, but this week I finally went back. Yesterday morning I woke up for the 6:30 a.m. class with the teacher who likes to tell us what sign the moon is in.

I drove to Yoga Yoga, thinking about the manuscript I’m revising, about the cuts I need to make, the subplots I need to focus on and the ones I need to eliminate completely. I was thinking about how I’ve just been dabbling at the edges of the changes I need to make rather than really diving in.

When I got to class, I found a quote from Yogi Bhajan, who introduced Kundalini to the United States, taped to the classroom door. It read, “When you come upon a difficult task… start.” I went inside, and when my teacher talked about the moon, he told us it was a good day for cutting out inner conflict and detoxing. He said cutting out the unnecessary stuff would make the things we create stronger and our communication better.

And once again, I thought, I have time for yoga. I’m not too busy. Where have I been for the last month? Then I took a deep, cleansing breath.

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NOTE:

Some people would say these Kundalini epiphanies are hogwash. Those are the same people who cry “hogwash” at horoscopes and Tarot readings. “People see what they want to see,” they’ll say. “Some people can make any horoscope fit their current situation.”

I agree. But not about the hogwash bit.

I don’t think it matters whether mantras and Tarot cards and horoscopes work or not. Awareness is awareness, regardless of where it comes from and a physical workout is beneficial to the body regardless of whether or not it had anything to do with the “divine.” Maybe these experiences are windows to mystical realms that allow our futures or our answers or our needs to become clear to us. Or maybe they’re just mirrors, allowing us to see or define what, deep down, we already know. Personally, I don’t care too much what the source is, as long as I get my answer, my epiphany, my physical exertion, my blissful feeling of calm.

ONE MORE NOTE:

I totally borrowed that window/mirror metaphor from Paper Towns by John Green, which I just finished reading today. “A Margo for each of us–and each more mirror than window.”