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Chill Out for the Summer

You’ve given the kids your all this year. Now it’s time to take care of you.

By Sheree Crute

Summer’s coming—and in celebration, we’re not uttering another word about diet, disease, or fitness until season’s end. Instead, we’ll show you how to add years to your life and revitalize your spirit for the coming school year by creating your own oasis of calm, discovering the wonder of nature in your own backyard, or breaking out for a big adventure.

Kicking back at home or getting away is fun, but it’s also good medicine. “Your body needs rest and restoration,” says Pat Puccio, a psychologist, NEA member, and professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois. “We keep our bodies off balance with stress so much of the school year, and stress affects every system in your body. Getting away—whether it’s a mini-retreat at home or a long trip—helps restore that balance.”

Best of all, spending the summer adding joy and comfort to your life does not mean emptying the family savings account or creating a mountain of debt. By using the ingenuity and creativity that teachers put to good use in the classroom every day, you can enhance your environment or explore the world on your own terms. Here are a few innovative, inexpensive ways to make the best of your time off.

Recharge in a Room of Your Own

Happiness begins in a comfy, nurturing home, say home design experts Dawn Ritchie and Kathyrn Robyn. In their book, The Emotional House, they tell you everything you need to know to give your home  “the ahhh factor.” Ritchie, Robyn, and architect Anthony Poon say that anyone can spend a little bit of their summer creating a room, or even a corner, where they can re-energize and banish stress. Work with these basics:

Follow the light. “Select a spot with natural lighting. If you relax in the morning, choose the east side of your home; for the evening, choose the west,” says Poon, a Los Angeles-based architect who has created yoga studios and other relaxing spaces in homes and schools.

Consider the view. “Can you see trees, a garden, a view that would calm you?” Poon asks. If you don’t have a lush, green back yard, consider planting a windowbox or small windowsill herb garden to enhance a drab or stark landscape. Window treatments or stained glass window art can help, too.

Work the finishes. That’s design-speak for paint, fabric, flooring, and color. “Don’t use too much contrast and consider warm, rich woods,” Robyn says. “Earth tones are warming and calming; reds and yellows can be invigorating. Greens and blues are also calming, but cooling as well.” You don’t have to paint an entire room—you can do a corner, a wall, or create a curtain of color by dropping fabric from the ceiling.

Sit pretty. “Pick seating with good lumbar [lower back] support,” says Ritchie. Try your chair on; don’t just look.” Women must make a special effort, Robyn cautions, as most furniture is scaled to fit male bodies.

Soothe with sound. “You can muffle sound inexpensively with fabric wall covering, especially those with foam backing,” Poon says. You can also make a beautiful barrier of your own, Robyn and Ritchie advise. Find a tall, narrow table or broad plant stand about the same height as your head when you’re sitting. Set one large, full- foliage plant on each side, and place a small bubbling fountain (they cost less than $20) in the middle. “It’s a natural visual and sound barrier,” Robyn says.

Embark on a Great Adventure

“Stress adds up,” Puccio says. “Getting away subtracts from that.” Whether you and the family hike the local state park or embark on the adventure of a lifetime, “you’ll be removing time pressures and soaking up sights and sounds to draw on in tougher times.” To begin with, try biking or getting back to the land.

Cycle away stress and strain. Bicycling is not only fun, it’s a healthy way to see your town, state, or the entire country at a speed any family member, at just about any fitness level, can enjoy. The Adventure Cycling Association (, a 30-year-old, not-for-profit organization, can help you plan an inexpensive but exciting local excursion or create the trip of your dreams. “We can guide you as you bike the Louis and Clark trail or bike from Mexico to Canada,” says Becky Douglas, the association’s director of outreach and education.

Give something back. Authentic ecotourism offers a unique opportunity to have a potentially life-altering journey, conserve the environment, and, learn new concepts and ideas you can share with your students in September.

If you stay close to home, you can introduce your family to the basics of ecotourism and help make a positive impact on the environment in your own local or state park.

If you opt for travel and adventure, check out Solimar Travel. Many companies offer costly ecotours, but Solimar is one of the few featuring customized trips for a range of budgets. For example, you can get up close and personal with a three-toed sloth or a rufous-tailed hummingbird amid magnificent tropical orchids near the INBioparque Lagoon in Costa Rica, or join the Adopt-a-Village program through the Community Tourism Network and participate in community projects such as teaching, farming, or building.

Renew Your Spirit from Within

The route to spiritual reflection is different for everyone, but all paths—prayer, meditation, or simply being alone with your thoughts—can lead to a rediscovery of the joy in life. Check these easy and economical ways to find a little inner peace, or log onto the Spirit Site website for a wide range of options.

Use your personal sanctuary. Begin your spiritual journey by retreating to that special room you created or by going on a nearby retreat with your family and friends. Contact your own church, temple, mosque, or community organization.

Find a haven. Many types of organizations offer retreats. One of the most peaceful is the San Damiano Retreat, a Franciscan friary that welcomes all faiths. Nestled on 55 acres of beautiful woodland hills in Danville, California, the order promises distraction-free reflection—with or without spiritual direction. 

On the other side of the country in Hiawassee, Georgia, is a different type of hideaway—the Enota Mountain Retreat, run by a non-religious, not-for-profit conservation organization. Surrounded by 750,000 acres of Appalachian mountain forest, Enota maintains 60 acres of what was once an ancient Cherokee village. The retreat focuses on personal growth and offers traditional Native American ceremonies. You can bring your RV, stay in a cabin, or camp out, meditating and enjoying waterfalls, springs, trout ponds, a mountain spa, and an animal sanctuary high in the Georgia Mountains.

Even though it’s spring and you’re still in the thick of it, just thinking about summer can help you chill. So start planning. Whether you decide to relax at home or explore the open road, choose a summer activity that does double duty—recharging your body by restoring your spirit.

“Also use three steps of lighting,” Robyn adds. “One overhead for general activity, a task light for reading that will reduce stress on your eyes, and a soft accent light for relaxing.”

After three days in the mountains, you can go down to Port Antonio for some time on the beach or hike up to the Maroon village to meet the local people and enjoy real Jamaican culture.

“Stick to the golden rules of ecotourism,” suggests David Krantz, coordinator for travel and leisure for the Center for Conservation.  To learn more, contact the International Ecotourism Society or Conservation International.

Opt for adventure.

Or explore the rain forests or the volcano at Arenal, and top off the trip with a visit to the south coast and the Osa Peninsula to see the deep jungle and wildlife.

Start out in Mandeville, where you can hang out in great houses nestled high in the green hills and wander through orchid forests.

Photos: Colorblind, Digital Vision, Hans Huber, Caroline Woodham

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