While Texas struggles with the aftermath of unprecedented flooding in   Houston (last week’s stats: 51 inches of rain, 56,000 calls for help, and 450,000 people who may need federal disaster assistance), here in the Northwest we are facing a different kind of emergency: crackling dry lands and massive wildcat forest fires burning in eastern Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

As a striking September sun glows red in the sky and smoke and ash fills our clouds, the plans my husband and I made weeks ago for an easy jump-in-the-camper road trip through western British Columbia have morphed into (you guessed it) a “staycation.”

But what about our sought after break time? Vacations may be at risk in our work-obsessed culture, but they are super important to our well-being. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less presents compelling evidence to support how rest, from sleep to vacation, not doing more, is key to our productivity (I recommend reading!).

So with our trip canceled, my husband and I are challenged to continue the vacation spirit while staying at home. Vacations aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, but a great one is when I return home renewed, feeling a new spaciousness. (Even if I’m not, I admit, always rested.) So how will we keep the magic of adventure while sticking around home?  And celebrate the joy of just being together, which is what we really wanted from our planned vacation?

I’m fortunate to live on an island, where many people come to vacation. However, even living in a vacation-able location, we’ve surrounded ourselves with a small plantation of projects, each as hungry as the carnivorous plant Audrey in The Little Shop of Horrors, with her irresistible, “Feed Me!” I can’t walk anywhere without tripping over one of them.

Some of my projects feed my spirit, like writing and riding my horse, so I may choose to continue with them, even on vacation. (Hey, I’m writing this blog!) But how to limit myself to just a few select projects without listening to the full chorus of items on my to-do list shouting, “Do me! Do me!”

Trust me, I can create new projects quicker than a whippet can fetch a ball, especially when they’re going on my husband’s “honey-do” list.

This will be an experiment and I’ll share the results.

As we start, here’s the seven-step strategy guiding us:

1. Create a few vacation priorities.

Not too many. Our vacation was going to be a time to simplify. Priority number one: enjoy each other. Priority number two: a few fun things. (I’ll include writing, riding and dancing.) Priority number three: relax. When we go camping, just fixing a meal together becomes an adventure. Why can’t we create that same feeling at home?

2. Let go and take a break.

One key as we start is to let go. No sense thinking about the vacation that might have been. (A good idea to remember for life…)

My husband’s first request was: take a break from our routines. Dead on! Our first event was to hitch up the camper and travel to nearby Tacoma to take a walk. Was the camper necessary? No, but it gave us a little feeling of adventure on our very small jaunt off the island.

3. Do it with joy

A question guiding our choices is: Will this bring you joy? Anything we do, including some of those projects, can be done with a spirit of surprise, gratitude and joy. If we stay at home, watch movies and experience joy, we may be better off than if we’re running ourselves into the ground on a stress-inducing, action-packed, we’re-supposed-to-be-enjoying-ourselves “Fake-ation.”

4. Take easy excursions to rekindle wonder.

I want maximum enjoyment with minimum hassle, like our short trip off the island. What matters isn’t where we go but how we go. I want to walk with that wonder-filled gait I’ve used to explore small alleys and cobbled streets in Europe or India. (And a relaxed vacation state of mind makes it easier to miss a ferry without fretting!)

5. When we choose to work on a project, do it with clear intention.

This is the tricky part. We may desire to do a few projects, because they’ll be fun (or occasionally, necessary). But when the project “on” switch gets thrown, it’s hard to turn it off. I’m trying this four step process: 1) Be clear about our intention in doing a project; 2) Set a time limit; 3) Clock in by acknowledging the start and out at the finish; 4) Complete the process by celebrating with each other what we were able to do or learn. (Hmmm. Wonder if I’ll want to keep this system after the staycation!)

6. Nourish the creative.

When I can take time off to explore my creative side, I am nourished. So the camera I was packing for vacation becomes my ticket for exploring the neighborhood with new eyes.

7. Be grateful

Above all, this is an opportunity for us to take note of the simple stuff we often take for granted: the very fact that we can take a vacation: how talented my husband is fixing our camper; the tastiness of our home-grown raspberries. The tastiness of our home-grown raspberries.) Nature is a living at-home art show! Last week, I was fascinated by the intricate design of the bug’s wings I found smashed against our bathroom walls. Now, I’m looking forward to the spider webs of September. (Fortunately, in my house, there’ll be plenty!)

William Blake once suggested:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

This week, I hope I’ll have time to experience timelessness, and find new eyes with which to observe my old life.

Maybe we’ll spend a night in the camper just to remember how comfy our bed at home is! Or learn to create more mini-vacations in our densely packed lives.