This is the second post in my series about places to do remote work in some of America’s most beautiful vacation spots. Click here for the first post.
Today is the last day of a week-long vacation I’ve spent with my husband and his parents on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. This has been my first visit to Hawaii, and it’s been wonderful. My main advice to anyone visiting Hawaii for the first time is don’t work. Seriously–this is too beautiful a place for you to spend your time inside staring at a computer. If you have a job that truly requires you to check in from time to time, don’t be checking your email on your phone while standing at the edge of the Waimea Valley waterfall or one of the equally stunning vistas you’ll see practically every time you step outside. Instead, build in a day or two when you can hang out at your lodging and get your task list to the point where you feel okay not worrying about it for the rest of the trip. And if you can, stay at a place that has a lanai.
A lanai is essentially a Hawaiian patio. We have been fortunate to be able to stay in a first-floor condo that has one main lanai, plus two smaller ones accessible through the bedrooms’ sliding doors. I’ve been doing yoga each day on the lanai outside our bedroom. On the main lanai, we’ve been eating all of our stay-in meals, playing games, and watching the sun set over the ocean almost every night. This is also where I did at least a little bit of my work on each day that I had to do some grading. There’s no electrical outlet out there, and it does get quite warm when the afternoon sun reaches the lanai (and that’s going to be true no matter what time of year you visit Hawaii). So I did end up going inside and doing some work in the air conditioning at the dining table, which still afforded a beautiful view of the palm trees and the ocean. But as often as I could, I tried to be outside, feeling the breeze, hearing the ocean, and watching the bold birds hopping across the lawn (most common were mynas, Brazilian cardinals, and zebra doves–yes, we bought a Hawaii Audubon Society book at the grocery store) and the occasional mongoose slipping through the bushes.
In summary: Don’t go to Hawaii planning to work. But if you can’t avoid it, you can’t beat the lanai.
I’m writing to you today at the end of a productive and surprisingly relaxing day of grading Week 7 assignments (the big, culminating projects on which I try to give students their money’s worth in grading comments) for my online classes. I graded six assignments today (on track with the schedule I made yesterday), plus I did this week’s laundry, had lunch and watched a Friends episode with my husband, and even took a yoga break. I attribute my success and Zen-like calm partly to the fact that my classes are fairly small this term, but also to one of my favorite apps, Forest, which I’d like to recommend to you.
Several years ago, I learned about the Pomodoro method, a popular productivity technique that simply involves working for a period of time (usually 25 minutes) and then taking a short break (usually five minutes). There are plenty of apps for this, let alone the fact that you could easily replicate it with any timer or clock, but my favorite one is Forest, which I’ve been using for about a year. I believe it was my good friend Allison who introduced it to me, and I think I happened to be in England when she texted me about it. I actually did a fair bit of grading during my vacation in the village of Knutsford last summer—I was there visiting my dad, who was on a work project, and during the weekdays, he went to work, and I sat in the flat and graded, punctuating my work sessions with little breaks in the charmingly walkable streets of the village. I remember choosing my first Forest tree style while I was waiting for my takeaway sandwich at a delightful cheese shop/cafe.
So, about those trees: Forest is simple—if you succeed in focusing on your task for your selected span of time (I usually do 25 minutes but have also done 30 with equal success), a little virtual tree (or mushroom, grass tuft, bush…you get to pick) grows in your little virtual forest. If you use the app in Deep Focus mode, which I always do, your tree will die if you do anything else on your phone for more than about five seconds, and that’s a devastating enough consequence to keep me on task. There are gamified aspects to Forest—you can earn coins to unlock fancier tree styles, and you can even choose to have a real tree planted in your honor if you earn a large enough number of coins. But for me, the basic functionality is enough (though I have leveled up my trees a few times). It’s simple and charming (like Knutsford!), and it’s been making grading less dreadful for me since June 2019. Find it in the app store and let me know what you think!
I looked back through my blog archives and realized that it’s been a while since I did one of those themeless list posts. Since people tend to enjoy those, and since I’m not sure if I can generate a coherent argument today, here is a list, in no particular order, of things I have going on right now.
I just put my electric blanket on my bed and tucked it in at the end so that it has officially become part of my bedding for the duration of the winter. This will no doubt enhance my quality of life.
I’m in a Peter Pan season. I went to see the strange and delightful play Peter and the Starcatcher Friday night at the South Bend Civic Theater. (By the way, did you know that the novel on which the play is loosely based is called Peter and the Starcatchers? Play–singular; novel–plural.) This week in my children’s lit class, we are reading Peter Pan, and as part of our discussion of Peter Pan as culture-text (a fancy term for the whole conversation surrounding the text–sources, adaptations, connotations, etc.), I plan to show the student clips from the 1953 Disney Peter Pan and Finding Neverland, read them part of Piers Dudgeon’s The Real Peter Pan, and show-and-tell them my Peter Pan Funko Pop. Maybe I’ll even wear my new Neverland jacket. In summary, I’m way too engrossed this week in a flying, narcissistic, magical boy.
Jordan and I are doing the Whole30.* I am putting an asterisk next to this statement because we are aware that we cannot truly say we have done the Whole30 if we take a break in the middle, which we did last weekend for a very good reason: our wedding reception tasting, which we weren’t about to delegate to anyone else. Also, you’re not supposed to eat sugar-cured bacon or sausage on the Whole30, but it’s dang hard to find non-sugar-cured versions, and I’m not stressing out about it. So we’re doing the Whole30.* Maybe we’ll do it for real later this year. In the meantime, I’ve learned that you can make a really good barbecue sauce using dates as the sweetener. Who knew?
I am doing Yoga With Adriene’s 30-day yoga “journey” entitled Home. (Look her up on YouTube; she’s a phenomenon.) Instead of doing my daily practice in the morning as I typically have in the past, I am waiting until 4:00 or 4:30 pm. This not only frees up my early mornings for other types of exercise but also gives me a delicious (yummy, as Adriene would say) break after the workday. It’s been fun trying to wrap everything up in order to make sure I can get started at the time I’ve written in my planner. (See last week’s post on why I’m giving non-meeting, non-appointment activities like yoga a specific time in my planner.)
I received six goodly-sized jar candles for Christmas. That sounds like a lot, but I love having a bit of fire in my home, and since I don’t have a fireplace, this works almost as well (and smells better). I did have all six out in various places, but today, in an effort to be seasonally appropriate (something I typically don’t care about), I put away Peach Flambe and Ocean Currant for later. I’m amazed by my restraint.
And now, I must go because it’s almost 4:30 and time to do yoga. Let me know what you’re into right now!
With apologies to the Christmas season (which I do love), the time of year when I typically experience the greatest and most consistent sense of well-being is the mid-to-late spring time period we are in right now. Here are some reasons why:
It’s warm, and the days are getting longer. In case you care, here are my favorite seasons in order: spring, fall, summer, winter. I like change as long as it’s regular, predictable change, so the seasons in which the weather, plant life, and day length are going through obvious transformation are my favorite. Of those two, I prefer the spring for the obvious reason that everything is coming back to life. It’s not just the symbolism; I actually feel physically and mentally healthier (aside from pollen allergies) when the world is waking and warming up after the seemingly interminable winter.
It’s a time for celebration. This is the most exciting time of year in my world of academia. I’ve always loved graduations, probably because I’m secretly British and therefore really enjoy pomp and ceremony (also “Pomp and Circumstance,” the graduation song). As a Harry Potter fan, I also appreciate long robes and funny hats. So even though I’m not a fan of crowds or of wearing heavy black garments in the blazing May sun, I enjoy putting on my doctoral regalia (for which I paid a hefty price in both effort and actual money) and marching around as a symbol of intellectual weightiness. Even more, I enjoy seeing graduates celebrate with their loved ones and anticipate the future with joy and hope. (Crap, I’m starting to cry!) I especially like the opportunities this time of year provides to see students share what they’ve learned and what they’re passionate about. (See my post on this from a couple of weeks ago.)
I’m about to be a lot less busy. Another good thing about working in academia is that, for most of us, there’s not as much going on in the summer. I don’t truly get the summers off because I’m also an administrator and therefore on a 12-month contract, but I don’t teach on campus in the summer (I’ll have one online class), and the cycle of department, committee, and student meetings slows way down. So I’m looking forward to reading the backlog of books I’ve bought over the past few months, spending lots of time outdoors, going to bed early more often, and having adventures (or just passing time) with my favorite people, near and far (because I also have more time to travel in the summer). I got a little taste of that this past weekend when I had only a few children’s lit papers left to grade. Friday night I read a little bit of Jurassic Park (the book I’m reading for fun right now) and then went to bed at 9:30, with my windows open and my Thomas Newman Pandora station playing. Saturday morning I got up at 5:30, threw some clothes on, got an iced caramel mocha at McDonald’s, and headed to a local park, where I spent three hours. I did some yoga on the lake pier, walked around the lake (it’s more of a large pond), read my Bible and another book, and did some journaling. That may not sound like a fun morning to you, but I had a great time. And I still had the whole day ahead of me when I was finished! This is why I sometimes fantasize about being retired. Anyway, although point #3 has been, strictly speaking, about summer, I still count this as a reason why I love spring, because right now I’m just beginning to enjoy–and still anticipating–all the delights of the coming season.
Do you enjoy this time of year, and if so, why? (That feels like an essay prompt. It’s also final exam time.)