Sabbatical Checklist: What I Did

A view of the Big Sur coast from New Camaldoli Hermitage, a monastery in the Santa Lucia Mountains.

I have spent the past three months off from work. One of the great benefits my company Automattic offers is a sabbatical at your five-year anniversary (and every five years thereafter). Despite my tendencies, traveling was not high on my to do list—I got on a plane just once. Instead, I surprised myself, as I really felt like soaking in routine, in familiarity, during this time off. I wanted to experience the true quiet and comfort of home. To just be. And to be able to wake up most days and ask myself, well, what would I like to do today? and be content if sometimes the answer was nothing. As I compile this list, I realize I didn’t do as much as I expected. Here are some highlights:

  • Visited New York City and spent time with friends. This was the first item I checked off on my to do list. I booked a flight with some of my last United miles (I’m trying to get rid of them and sever ties with this airline) and hung out with two good friends and their adorable toddler daughters for a week.
  • Went to the gym nearly every day. The past three months, I focused less on circuit training (bootcamp) and free weights (P90x) and more on power vinyasa yoga, TRX, and occasionally PiYo.
  • Watched seasons one and two of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. It took decades, but I finally watched the series, which I binged on while Nick was in England. The first season blew my mind. I enjoyed the second season, though not as much, and I watched the movie because I felt I needed to in preparation for season three, which I have yet to watch.
  • Finished posting photos from my travels in 2017. While I avoided anything work- and, I logged on several times to post the remainder of my photos from Europe as well as pictures from Kauai. I’m now also up to date on my photo gallery.
  • Planted and worked in our vegetable garden. Our first fall harvest party was a success, and the garden was lush and bountiful through October. I planted again in very late fall—red and tendersweet cabbage, brussels sprouts, California early garlic, Chinese broccoli, snap peas, and lacinto kale. Some of the cabbage and kale are doing well, but I’m not sure what exactly will survive the winter.
  • Performed taiko at multiple events. I love my beginning taiko class, which I’ve been taking for nine months. I performed with our group at two festivals during Halloween weekend—one in Occidental and the other in Windsor, both towns in Sonoma County—and also the Sonoma Strong festival, held in downtown Santa Rosa after the firestorms in Northern California.
  • Took a pastel class. I pondered taking a watercolor class since I enjoyed it so much in middle school, but decided to try pastels instead. My class was full of friendly retired women, and I worked with hard and soft pastels.
  • Went on a silent retreat at a mountaintop monastery in Big Sur (pictured above). I’d reserved a spot on a meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Mount Shasta, but cancelled and ended up instead at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur—maintained by Camaldolese Benedictine monks—after reading good things about it. I had unstructured solitary and silent time and stayed in one of the simple rooms in the retreat house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Each room has a private garden with an incredible view. I read, went on walks, meditated, did yoga, and went to a few services in the chapel.
  •  Spent quality time with my aunt. On my way back from Big Sur, I stopped and stayed in Carmel with my aunt Julie and her partner Fran. My aunt lived with us when I was little and was a big influence then (and still is). I am grateful for any one-on-one time I spend with her these days.
  • Started Tagalog lessons. Nick bought me Pimsleur language lessons so I could learn basic phrases and expressions in Tagalog. My family primarily speaks Ilocano, but I suppose I’d start with Tagalog first. I got through half of the lessons he bought me, which I mainly listened to when tending our raised vegetable beds. It became mentally draining as I progressed, so I took a break halfway through my sabbatical, and now I’ve waited too long and probably have to restart from the first lesson.
  • Did a sleep study, was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, and now snooze with a CPAP machine. Nick had suspected for some time that I have sleep apnea—when I snored, he says I sounded like a big happy bear. I now sleep with a full-face mask, and my cats were initially freaked out and scared to sleep next to me. They’re used to it now, but they still stare curiously at my face when the mask is on, and the plastic tube connected to a black machine.
  • Kept my laptop shut more than opened. Not having to work meant not being in front of my computer for most of the day, which was bliss. I continued to question and reevaluate my relationship to this screen—and to the internet.
  • Got pregnant. I left this nugget of information for last, perhaps as a little surprise for those of you who’ve read this silly list to the end. I got pregnant the first week of my sabbatical! Experiencing fatigue and nausea, I didn’t do as much during this time as I’d planned (I wasn’t able to get another tattoo, didn’t go to surf camp, didn’t restring my violin and take lessons, and chose not to join Nick in England in November even though I’d booked a flight). But I’d still say it’s been an eventful, productive three months—just not in the way I thought it’d be. I’ve been reading a lot about pregnancy and childbirth, have made frequent visits to the hospital, have entered my second trimester, and am now thinking about the year ahead—and beyond. It’s still sinking in, but I’m already eager and excited for this next step in my life.

And with that, I wish you all the best in this new year!

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

I am an editor at Longreads. For over a decade, I've worked on curation, editing, and storytelling projects across Automattic, including

47 thoughts on “Sabbatical Checklist: What I Did

  1. Congratulations and great writing. I got down to “Kept my laptop shut more than opened.” Which was impressive and inspiring ~ and then came “Got pregnant.” Not a bad sabbatical 🙂 Wishing you well Cheri, take care and keep enjoying the life around you.

  2. Preggers?! Congrats Cheri!

    My sabbatical is coming up next year, and I need to work out things to do while I am in Scotland – as I plan to travel for the other part.

  3. Lovely! This is how I spent my vacation last October. Stayed home, relaxed, went to coffee shops everyday, listened to my mind and body, and asked myself every day with no expectations or pressure: what do I want to do today? Everyday was lovely.

  4. Congratulations Cheri on completing your sabbatical and getting busy during —to produce your new little wonder. Your article was very inspiring. Can’t wait to celebrate the birth. God Bless!!

  5. I remember when it was on the air, but I’ve never seen an episode of Twin Peaks! But get this, I got married once on top of Mt Shasta. And whoa…good luck with the new little one in your life. Is there a spot in the tiny home for him/her? And oh, Tagalog is a lot like Spanglish.

  6. Happy New Year, welcome back and many congratulations, Cheri! You’re entering into a beautifully terrifying time. Enjoy every moment! 🙂

  7. Congratulations! And your sabbatical sounds like it was lovely. I live on the Central Coast myself, so it always thrills me when I read about someone visiting. I’m like, hey, I live there! Silly, but true.

  8. Congratulations, Cheri! Wonderful surprise to read at the end. Loved reading through your days of time spent to yourself. So creative and inspirational. My mom is from Ilocos Sur, so especially loved that you are tackling Tagalog! Really wished I’d learned as a kid;)

  9. Hurray for you to be able to take time off for yourself, especially since it gets trickier with someone who needs constant attending to. How exciting! I hope you came across the book, Back Labor No More by Janie McCoy King. A must read I tell EVERYONE I run into who is expecting. I wished I did the lift with my first child but made sure I wouldn’t do it over with my 2nd then 3rd the same aweful way the doctors prefer. Infact, I have told every midwife, doctor and doula I’ve met about the book to encourage others for a pleasant experience. Do do the lift where you prefer to have the baby because you will be holding the precious one in your arms within minutes later. Also, the lift only works if the baby is in the right position as the author explains in her book. I crawled a lot with my toddler to be certain and sat the way she suggests. Happy gestastion!

  10. Congratulations, Cheri! You’ve made the most of your sabbatical and found a hauntingly beautiful place for a retreat. I was just taking in your last bit of news, registering surprise and delight, as my sweetheart came in and handed me a cup of coffee and a slice of buttered toast. I don’t think he would have been expecting to receive such a joyful look in return. I hope you’ll enjoy being back at work.

  11. Beautiful story full of healthy connections with others, nature and yourself! I would say an excellent use of your free time and I think you would make an amazing personal assistant/planner coming up with such an interesting and varied schedule! Congrats also!

  12. Oh yeah, “got pregnant.” Ha! Enjoy the fleeting moments you can exercise putting “the kid” at the bottom of the list…once it arrives, it will remain firmly at the top! So happy for you and Nick, and looking forward to hearing more about “THAT.”
    I’ve taken two sabbaticals in my life and hoping the next one won’t have an end date…here’s to truly humane companies that allow their employees that. No gift like the gift of time!

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