Vacation Recipe

Thanks to the generosity of my parents, grandparents, and now in-laws, I’ve taken many — and all kinds of — vacations over the course of my life.  I grew up taking three primary forms of vacation: extended family gatherings (whether that be flying out to California to spend a week with my grandparents, a family reunion with my mom’s ten siblings and a whole slew of cousins, or spending a week with one of my aunts), site-seeing focused and educational road trips, and outdoor activities (camping/hiking/canoeing adventures).  My in-laws added variety to the mix with their traditional family vacations falling more in the categories of beach weeks and Disney trips. 

hike
A hiking trip this past summer with extended family

I will gladly take just about any free outing, and I’ve enjoyed each of these vacations in their own right.  But the thing is, these aren’t necessarily the kinds of vacations I would choose to go on if I were paying for them myself.   I say this not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, but rather, to reflect on just what it is that I would delineate “the dream vacation.”  It’s worth considering, because as I get older, I’ll be planning and funding more and more of my own adventures. Why not know what will leave me feeling most satisfied?

Right before Thanksgiving, Caleb and I spent the better part of a week in San Antonio, Texas.  The American Academy of Religion (AAR)’s annual conference brought us there, and Caleb spent at least part of each day at AAR related activities, but I was free to spend my time however I liked.  San Antonio wasn’t my favorite city and I probably won’t go back there, but the vacation was ideal in than I spent my time more or less exactly as I would like to on a vacation.  Looking back on my week in San Antonio, and considering the other vacations I’ve taken over the course of my lifetime, I’ve concocted a recipe for the perfect vacation…or at least, my version of it!

Dream Vacation Recipe

The Basic Outline

25% Active experience of the vacation locale: Learning about the place or local culture via museums, tours, other cultural activities (even just going to Mass in the city’s Cathedral).  I feel as if I most experience a place when I learn about it. 

15% Passive experience of the place of vacation, whether that means taking a walk, eating local food, or people watching from a park bench. 

15% Personal time.  This is a four hour window to spend on my favorite activities, like reading and writing.  Unrelated to the particulars of a vacation location, these activities deserve dedicated vacation time because they are the things that I choose to do when time allows, but that I don’t necessarily get to spend significant amounts of time on in my everyday life.  If you aren’t going to spend vacation time — time meant to maximize pleasure — on favorite activities, when will you?

10% Social.  This is either time devoted to the people with whom I’m traveling — just sitting with them in the vacation house living room, or taking a walk together, or lingering over coffee — or time spent visiting local friends.  Obviously, socializing can also occur during the other portions of a vacation, but time dedicated particularly to nurturing relationships feels very important.

35% Rest.  That’s about’s 8.5 hours of non-planned and completely free time, most of which I imagine will be spent on night-time rest.  I don’t want to return from a vacation feeling utterly exhausted, so adequate sleep is a must.

^^ Active Experience of the Vacation Locale in San Antonio.  We toured the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  I LOVE the National Park Service and so appreciate the amazing job they do in educating and delighting tourists with their educational programming and affordable (free!) presentation of historical sites and information.

Other necessary ingredients

Exercise.  I always feel best if part of each vacation day includes some sort of movement, like walking, hiking or cycling. 

Good food.  I’m a foodie and I love trying local restaurants and flavors, but I’m also happy to eat delicious home cooked meals, particularly when a vacation involves a rental house.  I’m not a snob here: when I say good food, I include hotel breakfasts and hot dog stands.  One of my favorite ways to eat on a vacation is  by having brunch or lunch out, and then a light dinner, or just snack or dessert in the evening.   

img_0675
The Riverwalk, a popular tourist activity in San Antonio. Meets several of my “criteria”: passive enjoyment of a place, exercise and social (walk and talk!)
img_0628
A fantastic Ansel Adams exhibition at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
img_0652
The San Fernando Cathedral, where Caleb and I went to a bilingual Sunday Mass, a spiritual and cultural experience!

When looking at my recipe, I realize that some vacations are simply not reconcilable with the proportions that I’ve prescribed.  For an example, hiking in the Sierras for a week will not include 4 hours spent daily on writing or cultural activities.  That’s okay.  I have full confidence in my ability to enjoy a vacation that doesn’t fit the recipe prescribed, and I have experience to confirm this (heck, some of my happiest memories are from outdoor adventure weeks, and I’m sure that I will continue to prioritize bi-annual hikes, as well as weeks spent in Disney World with my in-laws).  The point of analyzing my imaginary perfect vacation proportions isn’t to determine whether or not to partake in a vacation (relationships matter more to me than having my exact vacation preferences met), but have a sense of what most satisfies me for my own planning purposes, as well as to set reasonable expectations when entering non-chosen family vacations.

As always, self-knowledge is key and thoughtfulness when attending to life and its happenings is never wasted.

This is not a post about becoming a pseudo-vegetarian

hnck7938After years of believing that if I were a better person I would become a vegetarian, I finally caved and watched Food, Inc..  I knew that the film — or any of the the many other meat-industry indicting books or media items in the market — would push my conscience over the edge and that I would be forced to truly confront my meat-eating and meat-loving habits.  I resisted all of the literature (Eating Animals, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, etc.) for this precise reason: I didn’t want to face the facts that would morally compel me to give up something that I enjoy eating.  Ignorance is bliss. 

Just as I suspected it would, Food, Inc. depressed and horrified me, and it depressed and horrified Caleb even more; and so without further adieu, Caleb is taking the vegetarian leap, and I’m taking vegetarian steps. (Translation: Caleb is giving up meat; I’m more or less giving up cooking meat — though if I am really craving it I might give in and allow myself to buy the expensive grass-fed, local stuff that I don’t find ethically problematic — and I’ll only eat meat  that I haven’t cooked if a) it will go to waste otherwise, or b) it would be rude or an inconvenience to someone else for me not to eat it. And I’m still eating fish.  In other words, I’m not becoming a vegetarian, but I am becoming much more conscientious about my consumption.) Read more

Designing My Summer

SummerA few weeks ago, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft discussed “designing the summer” on their podcast Happier.   They spoke about how their days of a three-month-summer-vacation are long over, but somehow, summer still feels set apart from the rest of the year.  Perhaps more accurately, they long for it to feel set apart from the rest of the year, and regret that often the season just passes them by without actually being any different, despite the mental feeling that it is different from the rest of the year.  Together, they “designed the summer,” each naming specific things they would do to make summer feel set apart and special (for an example, Gretchen will devote two hours each summer morning to re-reading some of her favorite books). 

The topic resonated with me, especially considering the fact that this is the first year that I don’t have some sort of official “summer break.”  I’ve actually felt a bit glum entering the summer, mourning the fact that the days are longer and the weather is golden and I still have the same work obligations.  I have always looked towards the summer as a time to relax, rejuvenate, travel and have some fun, and I want summer to remain a time for all of these activities whether or not my day-to-day life differs as drastically as it did when I was a student and had summers “off.” 

Listening to Gretchen and Elizabeth as they brainstormed convinced me that the antidote to my grieving the loss of an extended summer vacation is to design my summer, to come up with a few activities that will make summer feel like summer.  My season was kickstarted this past week during a beach vacation with my in-laws, and as I sit here in the Charleston airport, returning home, I feel truly in the summer state of mind.  I’ve mulled over various ideas these past few weeks and am settling on these five, effective immediately.    

Designing my summer

  • Take a day trip to a new location each week that doesn’t involve some other sort of travel
  • Eat/drink on the deck/patio of a new (to us) restaurant each non-travelling week
  • Talk to an old friend on the phone/facetime/skype every week
  • Write one blog post each week
  • Complete a few projects that have been on my list for ages:
    • Learn how to use Caleb’s camera
    • Create a photo wall to display recently taken pictures
    • Complete a writing project
    • Buy and fill in a birthday calendar
    • Hang artwork that has accumulated

Portions of Every Day

light.jpegI don’t think that I have had a single book recommended to me more often, and by a wider variety of people, than Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.  A work ten years in the making, Doerr’s novel spans the years of World War II and weaves together the stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig, a blind French girl residing with her eccentric, agoraphobic great-uncle and a German orphan forced into military school and then enlistment. 

As Marie-Laure and Werner witness and experience the tragic destruction — physical, mental, relational, and emotional — wreaked by the war, readers — if not the characters themselves — catch glimmers of light in the interactions and inner lives of the intertwining stories.  No doubt the novel is in many ways a dark one, and Doer certainly doesn’t romanticize or gloss over the suffering endured by his characters, but as his title suggests, he demonstrates that, whether or not a person can see the light in their present circumstances, there is light. 
Read more

Looking at Churchill and Looking at Myself

I’ve been a longtime fan of Gretchen Rubin, an author with whom I became aquatinted through her more recent books about happiness and habit formation (The Happiness Project, Happier at Home and Better Than Before).  Because I liked these books so much, I decided to check out one of her biographies, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill. 

I welcomed the opportunity to study Churchill (he’s one of those figures about whom I feel like I should know something, like Alexander the Great or Napoleon or Queen Victoria), but what I liked most about this book had less to do with the facts that I learned about Churchill and more about the thoughts that it sparked in me about reflecting on a life.  Read more

Putting Myself Out There

Busy StreetI’ve been on a Brene Brown kick recently, and I’m finding that her key themes of vulnerability, shame, wholehearted living, and surviving failure are really resonating with me.  Brown is my kind of author, and I am always going to love a book that integrates self-help, research, spirituality, storytelling and list-making, but during this year of moving, making friends, and new jobs, her work feels especially helpful.

“People who live wholeheartedly are people who are facing their lives and living their lives, putting themselves out there and in consequence knowing that they will get hurt.  They are living with gusto and intention and not taking a backseat in their life.”

This has been a year of putting myself out there, and, if I am being completely honest, I didn’t love it.  With each new class that I’ve taught, service trip that I have led and event that I have planned, I have had to wonder: how will this go?  Will the students respond well?  What if I get lost on my way to the site/event location?  I’ve had to meet a lot of new people, which is tiring for an introvert, and I’ve felt overwhelmed by anxiety, worry, and frustration at numerous points.  Read more

Homesickness: an Ode to a City

boston-286902_1920

During a recent day-trip into Boston, I was struck by how keenly homesick I felt for the city: the streets lined with brownstone row houses, the screeching start and stop of the MBTA subway cars, the sidewalks filled with young-professionals walking at a clip, the waterfront breeze inherent to a coastal city, and the abundance of coffee shops, one on every corner.  Even as I sat amidst it all, I felt an overwhelming longing for it — a longing to grab the city and hang on to it, to have it as a part of my everyday again, to be living it with regularity, not observing it from the stance of a visiting outsider. 

What was this homesickness?  Why did I feel such sadness and longing for Boston when I simultaneously feel so content in my new city, Providence?  Read more

A Fly on the Wall

At some point, we’ve all probably been asked to “say something interesting” about ourselves during an icebreaker or getting to know you activity.  Or, we’ve been asked if we know any good jokes.  These are the types of questions that drive me crazy, because I know that I have good answers to them, but the answers always seem to escape me in the moment of need, and I resort to posing “What’s the difference between snow-men and snow-women?…” Read more

“Death is the engine that keeps us running”

51mpnt7lw4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_I just finished reading Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty — author, mortician, and public advocate of the good death.  The woman who recommended the book to me described it as “a good read, if you don’t mind morbid,” and so I braced myself slightly as I began Doughty’s reflections on death, corpses and working in the funeral industry. 

The fact that I didn’t find the book morbid (sure, there was plenty of talk about the smells and sounds and sights of death, but nothing that I wouldn’t read while eating) tells me that I must not mind morbid.  This might have something to do with the fact that one of my numerous part-time jobs is in hospital chaplaincy.  Though nothing in comparison to Doughty, I do spend a decent amount of time with dead people.  This has normalized death — the sounds, smells and sights of it, but also the inevitability of it — for me, making it seem less morbid and more like an ordinary fact of life.  Read more

For All That Is To Come

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 1.26.37 PM.png

Those days of feeling glum are inevitable. 

For me, glum days take on a few different shapes.  I won’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning.  I’ll be easily distracted, unable to focus on a particular task and instead floating from one thing to another, with long periods of just sitting and thinking in between them.  I won’t accomplish half of the things on my daily to-do list, if I even get around to making the to-do list in the first place.  Read more