It’s not even Monday yet on the first day of my week-long vacation here in the suburbs of New York City, but already I feel the stress starting to ebb away.

OK, I still have this column to write (and about 1,000 e-mails from the sobig virus to delete) before I can really kick back and enjoy the scenery, but just the knowledge that there are eight unstructured days ahead of me serves as a cool balm in the dog days of August.

I’ve already let my 3-year-old twins stay up much later than they normally do (hey, we’re on vacation!), given them pizza for dinner two nights in a row (many food groups are represented on one slice), and we’re finally taking them to a local outdoor pool tomorrow – something we’ve been meaning to do all summer.

We’ve also reached a major milestone in our household – the transition from cribs to toddler beds. Just cleaning their room, switching the rocker for comfy, kid-sized chairs, and buying them new quilts – unharried by the pressures of an upcoming work week — helped ease the transition (both physically and psychologically) for all of us.

For those who have never taken an at-home vacation (loosely defined as a week or more where you take off from work, sleep every night in your own home, and forego any day trips that last longer than a good power nap for the kids), I highly recommend it.

Our last big vacation was in April, when we came up with the brilliant idea of driving down to Florida with our toddlers. Airfare was outrageously expensive at the time, but traveling to visit family this time of year was a tradition we didn’t want to break, so off we went – with a portable DVD player in tow. If it weren’t for the DVD player, just the traffic around metro DC alone would have erased any pleasant memories I took back with me.

This week, we decided, would be different. We’d wake up and make pancakes on a Tuesday morning if the spirit moved us, hop in the car for a quick drive to the beach to watch the sun go down, or maybe visit a local stable to give the girls their first up-close look at a live horse. What we wouldn’t do was plan our days from dawn til dusk. I read somewhere once that you should wear life like a loose garment. This week, we’re going to go with the flow.

Just as sleep regenerates the body and mind for the day ahead, vacations allow our brains and bodies to truly rest and recharge. Long breaks from work can help you think more clearly, refresh your spirit and energize you for the work that always lies ahead.

So if you’ve been putting off a vacation, thinking you’ve got too much to do and can’t get away, take my advice – go, but don’t go far from home. Tomorrow, I’m planning on spending a few hours in my backyard, reading a fascinating novel about the French Revolution. And creating some family history of my own.

>See you in a week….

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