Using Your Break to Better Yourself

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                       June 13, 2019

What is it that we crave about summer?  We count down the days as we race towards it at breakneck speeds—longing for its arrival—but why?  Is it the chance to slow down?  Is it temporarily doing away with agendas, alarm clocks, meetings and parent communications? Is it traveling or getting quality time with family that we don’t see during our hectic school routines?  It may be some or all of these, depending on you.  For me, it is not only these things, but also the chance to sit back and analyze how I did things, what worked and what didn’t work, as well as trying on new habits and seeing how I can make them fit in my life.

Routines are an important thing to me, and not just because I am OCD (CDO my husband likes to say since I have a habit of alphabetizing things (don’t get me started on my love of my label maker), but also because I have learned that routines make for consistency and efficiency, two key elements for success.  This past school year has been a challenge. We moved into a new house to make room for my mother, my oldest son finished his Associate’s degree and started at a new college for his Bachelor’s, my husband changed jobs after dreaming about it for two years, and I was committed to a training program for the duration of the school year that came to a conclusion about the time my mom became fully retired.  Whew! I was exhausted.  The routines we had had in place since my husband had joined the ranks of the teaching world 4 years before (which were pretty consistent from when he ran his own business before) were suddenly thrown for a loop only a couple of months into the school year when he decided to leave education and go into business for himself again.  We did our best to adjust, but by the time the school year ended on the same day that my mom became a full retiree, we still hadn’t adapted. 

I am also a huge travel bug.  I often jokingly say that I work to support my travel habit, which is not too far from the truth.  I have downsized possessions dramatically over the last few years into a more minimalist lifestyle as well as paid off most of our bills, so a good portion of our budget was for now and later fun money (vacations, entertainment and retirement).  With the job change, that changed for us quite a bit, so we’ve also had to adjust and, luckily, had room in the budget.  But we still plan to work in a few trips this summer.  Truth be told, I am writing this in the kitchen of one of our family members we are visiting as we are doing a loop to see them and check off a few more states from our bucket list.

Every educator does different things with their down time.  For me, I spend it reconnecting with family, both near and far, refreshing my home with a variety of projects and trying out new routines that I can establish at a slower pace and maintain when I go “back to work” in August—although I, like most, will work during the summer attending trainings, reviewing my practices and material from the past year, analyzing test data when it drops, and creating/adapting new things for next year based my end of year student surveys and data about the upcoming students given to me by the prior grades teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I also get out and enjoy the longer days and extra family time by taking advantage of some of the discounted or free activities available in our local area like weekly movies, zoos, aquariums or theme parks—if you are lucky enough to live close to any of those.

Our family will have to establish some new routines with all our lives changing in the last few months, so there are things we can do over the next 6-8 weeks to help us out during the school year.

I use this in the camper with a dry erase marker to keep it super simple. One of these days, I will do it for the main house.

Meal Planning and Preparation. We will try out new recipes and get back into meal prepping and menu planning, as well as simplifying our meals.  We got in the awful habit of eating out or eating prepackaged/easy meals for the last month and that did not help us handle the crazy routines that the end of year brings.  We have tried all of the prepping ideas for meals and have actually found the simplest for us is stocking up on family packages of meats and freezing into portions (we cut into bites when cooked to cut down on overeating) and we keep fruits and veggies on hand to accompany them.  We can go from freezer to table (or lap on the back porch) in 45 minutes, even on a busy day, and feed our family of 5 for well under $20 for the meal.  Going out is actually an inconvenience for us. 

Home projects. There is always maintenance to be done as a homeowner, so we will take care of those, as well as cleaning out closets and cabinets to purge forgotten possessions and reorganize them.  We have found that having less stuff helps us clean faster and we have less to clean, which means more time for life.  I stumbled over minimalism a few years ago while looking for solutions since I am a terrible allergy sufferer and we have loved the simpler lifestyle.  But those old habits of a lifetime to take a while to break, so refreshing the home and reviewing the books I have help quite a bit.  Not familiar with minimalism, or not sure how it could possibly fit for you?  Check out the author Joshua Becker and his realistic family approach that works for us at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/.

Planning for the next school year.  I know, you don’t want to think about it, and I don’t either.  But I don’t like a crazy start to a new year, so I do a few things early in summer to help.  When we are cleaning out those closets and cabinets, I purge any clothing items that don’t fit or need repair or replaced so that I can get those ordered, fixed, purchased or budget for them.  My son’s school has a uniform, so we will pass on any items that someone else can use and get his items ordered early so that we can pick them up at orientation.  I also start shopping school and art supplies, prepackaged snacks, cleaning supplies, and anything else that could help around the house or classroom or could be donated to his classroom teacher.  Those BOGO sales run all summer, so taking advantage now helps me out a lot later in the year.

Nap time is a summer favorite, especially during those afternoon storms Florida gets

New routines and habits. My daily reading, devotions, exercise and cleaning routines all slacked off in the last couple of months.  I take the time to figure out why, shuffle my day around and put into practice my routines during the summer.  I can go at a slower pace while I make them a habit and then a few weeks before going back to work, I can time how long it takes me to do all the things, allowing me to adjust my wake-up times and bed times to accommodate.  I do the same for my little one so that we can reestablish his routines before going back, as well. I also look at how well we have done with chores and will adjust our chore charts, laundry rotations and shopping days.  With so many changes this year, many of our routines never got followed or were tweaked during the year, so a family meeting over a delicious and relaxing meal gives everyone a chance to chime in on what works and doesn’t work so that we can adjust.  It sounds like a silly thing, but no one fights over the washing machine, yells about a stack of dishes, or complains about an empty cabinet when we work together.

Hoping to get 5 more states filled in this summer, then we can start working our way out West.

Travel and quality family time. We usually plan a couple of trips in the summer in addition to celebrating birthdays for several family members.  We usually plan a big family trip and a smaller get away nearby, and sometimes these double as a birthday celebration.  With the change in jobs, we sold our camper and have less time to go on adventures.  This year, we are fitting in an early summer trip to see family and check off more states (with any luck, by the time you are reading this, I will have checked off state number 50 for me, and number 30 for my soon to be 8 year old).  We are also working in a couple of other trips, but they will be business related for my husband.  When we are at home, we capitalize on the summer movies at the local theater and the passes to parks nearby.

The beach is our happy place

Rejuvenate your mind, body and soul. This is probably the most important one I do with the slower pace.  I love to sit on the porch in the early morning, before the Florida humidity chases us all into hiding until sundown like in those apocalyptic movies. While I am out there with my tea, or a book, I will take the time to connect with each sense—what do I see, hear, smell, taste, feel—and it really helps me connect with the world around me and helps me stay clear and focused during the day.  I also try to get in for a massage, a new exercise program I heard about from a friend, as well as taking care of as many doctor’s appointments as I can so as not to interfere with the school year.

So, what kind of things do you do over your break?  Are you a Netflix and chill in your jammies all day, every day while capitalizing on Uber Eats and grocery delivery services?  Are you like me and try to accomplish a lot?  Or are you somewhere in the middle?

If you are not a teacher, or get only a week or so off, you can work in some these ideas to your own schedule, even with only a week or two off.  Choosing only one or two things to start with this break can still make a difference and you just work on other things on future breaks.  It may not sound like how you want to spend your break, but if the way you were doing things wasn’t working or making life run smoothly, then you owe it to yourself and those around you to try new approaches to making your life easier.  You just need to take that first step.  Happy summer!

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