Savoring summer vacation

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” — Sam keen

SunfaceAfter taping her last television show in 2011, Oprah Winfrey announced on Facebook that she was planning to kick back and savor her free time. “My new ambition is to make a treasure of the small moments,” she wrote.

Thats not what youd expect from the super-achieving Winfrey – or from anyone else whos built a career out of interviewing A-list celebrities and unveiling The Next Big Thing. But her ambition to play small, at least for a little while, left a deep impression on me.

Like everyone else in Michigan, I look forward to summer all year long. According to my day planner, there are nine precious weeks left – weeks that will fly off our calendars faster than a Sea-Doo on Lake Michigan.

Taking inventory of what Ive accomplished since June, I realize, sadly, how little time Ive spent puttering in the herb garden or chilling out with a “beach read” in hand.  Real life keeps getting in the way. So, before summer packs up its beach bag and clears out for a new school term, I’m borrowing a page from Oprah and indulging in some low-tech, simple summer pleasures. Heres the rest of the plan:

Summer vacation unplugged

–Ill reread Ray Bradburys classic, Dandelion Wine, a semi-autobiographical novel chronicling the authors magical summer of 1928. Unabashedly nostalgic, the novel is both a love letter to summer freedom and a sonnet to childhood innocence. You can borrow a copy from your local library, then read parts aloud to your kids on the front porch swing if youre lucky enough to have one.

— At least once a week, Ill splurge on a cup of chocolate-peanut butter ice cream from the local Baskin Robbins. (Note to self: If I walk or ride my bike to the shop, the splurge will be easier to justify.)

— In lieu of pulling weeds, or fretting over slug damage, Ill admire whats blooming in the garden.

— Ill make at least one more trip to northern Michigan, where Ill hunt for Petoskey stones, skipping stones, beach glass, and perfect pieces of driftwood.

— As author Sam Keen wrote: “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” Which is another good excuse for brain candy. With or without the beach, Ill crash in a deck chair with a beach-worthy novel and a stack of fashion magazines that have little or no redeeming social value.

— Movies are another wonderful way to escape reality, not to mention sweltering temperatures. To cool off last week, I laughed my way through “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. A few days later, I was first in line to see “The Conjuring” — exceptionally scary and free of gratuitous gore.

— I promise to “unplug” from technology at least one day a week. That means no compulsive Web surfing; less e-mail checking. Instead, Ill indulge in some local “people-watching” at one of Royal Oaks outdoor cafes.

The benefits of chilling out

Psychologists agree that even a day or two of unstructured loafing ultimately enhances our productivity long after we return to work.

“Some of the best thinking we do happens when the conscious mind is on a sabbatical,” Veronique Vienne notes in The Art of Doing Nothing (Clarkston Potter; $17). She reminds us that Thomas Edison discovered the light bulb filament “while idly rolling kerosene residue between his fingers.”  Likewise, Einstein pondered the mysteries of the universe with a cat in his lap.

“So dont get up from your lawn chair yet,” Vienne advises. “Contribute to science. Stay prone as long as you can.”

Of course, its always fun to anticipate and celebrate the major milestones of our lives. But we need a reprieve from pithy graduation speeches about beginnings and endings. And we need a break from wedding receptions, family reunions, baby showers and other “special” summer events that require a gift or a new outfit or another dish to pass. We need flip flops and ordinary time.

Come August, I want to say good-bye to summer knowing that Ive squeezed every last drop of its sweetness and savored it all.

Top photo credit: Cindy La Ferle

A toast to Ray Bradbury

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” — Ray Bradbury

“Yes, summer was rituals, each with its natural time and place,” Ray Bradbury reminds us in Dandelion Wine, his semi-autobiographical novel celebrating childhood in the summer of 1928.

I was introduced to this magical book in middle school, back when I was old enough to appreciate its literary charm but still young enough to indulge in the simple pleasures of catching fireflies and playing flashlight tag on the lawn. Since then, I’ve made a ritual of re-reading Dandelion Wine every summer.

The book is so special to me, in fact, that it has a place of honor with other life-changing books on the shelf closest to my desk in my home office. The shelf also holds well-thumbed copies of Something Wicked This Way Comes (another Bradbury favorite) and several collections of Bradbury’s short stories.

Learning of Bradbury’s death at 91 earlier this week, I burst into tears, then revisited my favorite passages in Dandelion Wine. Once again, I was reminded of the author’s remarkable gifts. As one of his biographers noted, Bradbury was more than a good storyteller. He was an incomparable stylist and a disciplined craftsman. His prose is lyrical, singing directly to the heart.

Calling himself “a genetic enchanter” in his introduction to the reissued edition (1975) of Dandelion Wine, Bradbury makes no apologies for his nostalgia. And he always makes me wish I had the sort of front porch where neighbors and friends could gather on humid July nights:

“Sitting on the summer-night porch was so good, so easy and so reassuring that it could never be down away with. These were rituals that were right and lasting; the lighting of pipes, the pale hands that moved knitting needles in the dimness, the eating of foil-wrapped, chilled Eskimo Pies, the coming and going of all the people. For at some time or other during the evening, everyone visited here; the neighbors down the way, the people across the street….”

I’ve always believed that Dandelion Wine is the perfect antidote to the mindless distractions of modern suburban living. Even if you’ve read it before, grab a copy to enjoy in your favorite deck chair this summer — or on the front porch, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Mix yourself a pitcher of lemonade, or better yet, a glass of chilled white wine from your own cellar.

Cheers, and thank you, Ray Bradbury! — Cindy La Ferle

It’s here!

Yes, summer was rituals, each with its natural time and place. The ritual of lemonade or ice-tea making, the ritual of wine, shoes or no shoes, and at last, swiftly following the others, with quiet dignity, the ritual of the front-porch swing.” -Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

It’s finally here — the first day of summer! One of my early summer rituals is re-reading favorite passages from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine.  A childhood classic, the novel is a tribute to the summer of 1928 — a summer we couldn’t possibly imagine today, given that our kids rarely entertain themselves without computers and cell phones.

In particular, I enjoy the chapter describing how Grandfather Spaulding ceremoniously retrieved the front porch swing from the basement and installed it for the summer.

What are you doing to celebrate the beginning of the season?  — CL

–Summer garden photo by Cindy La Ferle–