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

Summer vacation nostalgia

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” — Marcel Proust

Now that summer is here, thoughts turn to the challenge of entertaining the kids through August. How do we keep ’em out of trouble while the rest of the world goes about its business-as-usual?

When I was a kid, there weren’t many day camps or summer-enrichment programs beyond the local “parks and rec” craft sessions. (How many lanyard key chains and Popsicle-stick cabins could you make in one summer?) My mother worked at home as a color artist for a photography studio, but her deadlines were non-negotiable.

My job was to keep myself busy. “Just stay out of my hair,” is how Mom put it.

In those days, I got to know my back yard like the back of my hand, hanging from an apple tree or hanging out with a small troop of neighborhood kids. If we got bored, we’d ride our bikes to the park across the street and hope to catch an ice cream truck en route. Few of us were the same age — but that didn’t seem to matter. The older kids looked after the younger ones, and everybody had a role or a position to play.

Best of all, the previous owner of my childhood home had left a wooden playhouse in the back yard. Replete with a linoleum floor, glass windows, and room enough for a table and chairs, the small house was the nucleus of our summer games. After reading Pippi Longstocking, I dubbed the playhouse Villa Villekulla and pretended I had a pet monkey like Pippi’s Mr. Nilsson. In other incarnations, my own Villa Villekulla served as headquarters for covert CIA operations, a storage unit for Barbie and Ken dolls, and a private reading room. Yes, a reading room.

An only child, I relished my quiet time as much as I enjoyed playing spy games and flashlight tag with neighborhood pals. I collected twice as many books as Barbie clothes and baseball cards.

Remember when we could order paperback books in grade school? I’d load up on enough of those paperbacks to feed my imagination all summer. As soon as she discovered that reading kept me out of her hair — for hours — my mother supplied me with all the books from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. I gobbled them like buttered popcorn and wanted more.

Everything about summer, in short, was fuel for my fantasies. And while I enjoyed our annual family vacations in August, my unstructured summer weeks fed my creativity, encouraged my independence, and gave me time to explore the natural world I grew to love.

How about you? What did you enjoy most about your summer vacations? What childhood books do you remember? — Cindy La Ferle