You know that feeling you get at the end of an exotic vacation to Disney World or New York City or Istanbul? Or the feeling in August that summer is slipping through your fingers? A feeling akin to nausea?

You wish you had time now to organize your pictures, mow the yard, sit on the deck, kick back and watch the hummingbirds before you need to head back to work?

Well, what if you actually dispensed with the cruise, the airports, and the souvenirs–and spent your vacation watching the hummingbirds at home?  What if you tried to see hummingbirds the way Emily Dickinson, who seldom left her house in Amherst, MA, saw them? Here’s her famous poem:

Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Upon a single Wheel —
Whose spokes a dizzy Music make
As ’twere a travelling Mill —

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose —
Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,

Till every spice is tasted —
And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres —
And I rejoin my Dog,

And He and I, perplex us
If positive, ’twere we —
Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity —

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye —
To just vibrating Blossoms!
An Exquisite Reply!

What if you saw the sky above you every night and day–your own azure sky–the way Van Gogh saw the starry night and wavy sky over wheat fields? Could the familiar become unfamiliar to you? Could you live intensely in the present? Could you become truly grateful for what you have?

Do you think you could discover the exotic right in your own home and community? To make it more challenging, what if you decided to limit your spending to no more than $25/day? You would save lots of money, reduce your carbon footprint, and increase your creativity within limits you set for yourself.

Stuart and I have done exactly this in the last three days. Not only have we watched the hummingbirds, we have also biked 12-15 miles every day, exploring familiar and unfamiliar paths.

Here are eight tips from our three-day experience:

1. Start with a set of feelings you want to experience, a vision of memories you want to create. For example, you might want to feel healthy and fit and decide to eat really well and focus on fresh, local produce. Or you might want to feel inspired and therefore focus on the arts and museums in your local area. Or you might do physically challenging things. Conversely, you might seek rest above all else. You might want to read the stack of books next to your bed. Watch movies. Make love. Your feelings and your vision can be located in the body, mind, and/or spirit. A great vacation does all three.

2. Make a list of options.  Use the research and suggestions of other people.  Here is a great link with 37 more ideas from Super Eco. More tips here from Consumer Reports. And the first Staycation book is available on Amazon!

3. Decide which of the options are essential and which are not.  Use the feeling/memory test (#1 above) to decide which ones come closest to creating your ideal experience.

4. Go to some places you have never been before as well as some of your favorite places.

5. Set a budget and have fun deciding the best way to spend the money. Don’t be a slave to the budget if something wonderful costs more and you can afford it. Think ahead, yet expect to be spontaneous when opportunity arises.

6. It’s OK to do some projects around the house–if they will help you accomplish goal #1.

7. Get eight hours of sleep every night. If you wake up early, get up and do something on your list. Take a nap later.

8. Share your experiences with others the way you enjoy best–conversations with neighbors, strangers, Facebook, Twitter. Take pictures as though you were seeing the familiar anew.

As Stuart and I prepared for our staycation last weekend, I made a list of activities on a piece of scratch paper. Inside, I had a vision for rest and for adventure close to home. I wanted to feel leaner and fitter. I wanted to feel connected to God and to Stuart through awareness and attention, listening, seeing, hearing the small miracles all around me.

I knew we would get our weekly share of fresh produce in the middle of our staycation, so preparing it and enjoying it together was part of the goal.

We also wanted to get to know Kalamazoo better. We explored the Kal-Haven Trail, an old favorite:


And we rode our bikes the other way, too, on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail to downtown Kalamazoo and the wonderful Water Street Coffee Joint for a delicious lunch.

Here’s a short slideshow that describes all of yesterday’s adventures, complete with captions.

The weather all three days was perfect for biking, but today was warmer than Monday and Tuesday, so we decided to bike for breakfast instead of lunch or dinner. We made Rykse’s on Stadium Drive our destination. We rode on some new streets (for us), past corn and bean fields. I ordered a “Lite” breakfast and then laughed–a cheese omelet with homemade whole wheat toast for $4.69.  Had I ordered the famous cinnamon roll instead of the toast–that would have been a “lite” breakfast also. Stuart ordered eggs, sausage, and succumbed to the gigantic, fresh out of the oven, cinnamon roll–all for $5.49. I gladly helped him eat the roll.


And how wonderful to be able to park our bikes outside the door without needing to lock them down!


Today’s Huffington Post carries a story by Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, praising Kalamazoo for its commitment to the arts. I wanted to take advantage of our fabulous artistic community in these three days. The Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art will have to be experienced another time. However, in a few minutes I will drive down to the Kalamazoo Public Library to hear my writer friend Bonnie Jo Campbell read from her new book American Salvage. which recently received a laudatory review in the Chicago Tribune here.

When I get back home, there will be time to finish another blog, take a walk in the full-moon-light, and thank God for what Virginia Woolf once described as “three perfect pearls”–three days of renewal and wonder.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Gutsywriter on August 7, 2009 at 9:54 am

    This is the perfect topic for me right now. You'll have to read my blog to understand why. I also talk about humming birds. I can feel the love and warmth you portray through your photos and writing. Thanks for sharing your staycation and for the wonderful tips.

  2. shirleyhs on August 7, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Thanks, Sonia, I will get over to your blog to read your thoughts about hummingbirds. I enjoy they way you share your life in this medium also. And I love your faithful comments. It takes another blogger to understand how encouraging these are!

  3. Gutsywriter on August 7, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Shirley, I wanted to ask you about your opinion about critique groups and maybe you can blog about it. Do you think a memoir writer benefits more from being in an all memoir critique group where everyone else shares the same genre? Do you think one should be in a mixed genre group? The reason I ask is I'm having a problem being able to critique Sci-Fi/fantasy and YA. What are your thoughts?

  4. […] forward to a week of reading, writing, exercising, meditating, and blogging–another wonderful “staycation” like the one I described last […]

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