Lake Time

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IMG_7684.JPGThis weekend finds me and my family (well, the three of us still at home) relaxing at the lake. Not the Great Lake Michigan but one of its smaller cousins that dot the landscape of western Michigan. It’s the last hurrah of summer, and it feels right to be in a place that lends itself to lazy days and grilling burgers and reading good books (for me, Anthony  Doerr’s exquisite About Grace).

Yesterday I stood at the water’s edge and let the sound of water gently lapping at the rocks lull me into a sense of peace. The sunlight glittered across the lake, and the occasional speedboat made loops in the water, pulling a skier or tuber or even a wakeboarder, who balanced with seeming ease in the waves being churned up by the boat in front.

The lake has a certain smell: slightly fishy and peaty. Dampness seeps into the screened-in porch, where I usually curl up with my book and a glass of wine. The breeze rustles the pages of the book and ruffles my hair. Even doing nothing, I work up an appetite and hungrily chow down a delicious burger cooked by my husband, the grill master.

Boats and water and sand are not my favorite things. I’m too afraid of accidents and drowning to enjoy water sports much. But the lake itself, from a safe distance, is mesmerizing. At sunset, I love nothing more than to sit on the dock and watch the sky turn pink and purple over the water.

The lake is mysterious. Even a small one is host to innumerable slimy plants and fish. When I was young, I loved catching minnows in a bucket or feeling them brush my ankles in the water. I would scare myself by holding my nose and plunging under, eyes wide open, staring into mostly black nothingness. At night, I’d dream of gliding under water searching for something, but never finding it.

It’s easy to imagine that the outside world does not exist when I am here at the lake. I plan to enjoy that illusion for as long as I can before real life draws me back into the hurly-burly.

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Billboards (Redux)

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It’s that time of year again. After numerous summer road trips, I have collected a new batch of billboard sightings that made me laugh or shake my head.

A couple of billboards that I have seen quite frequently on trips to O’Hare Airport are a little on the suggestive side. One of them advertises “Local shingles looking to get nailed.” It’s an ad for a roofing company. The other one advertises auto insurance with the tagline, “Love at first quote” and features male and female legs sticking out of a partially open car trunk. Couldn’t they just have used the back seat?

Another amusing billboard urges us, “Just say no to crack in your basement.” (Permaseal)

And if you are currently looking for a new career path, I encourage you to consider this: “Looking for a new job? Gray hair management.” I’m sure not many people have the qualifications for such a demanding job.

I was also intrigued by a sign for Fergedaboutit Vineyard & Winery. I wondered: Do they offer you a bottle of wine you can’t refuse?

In the category of truth in advertising, I had to admire the one for local radio personalities Eric and Kathy in the Morning: “They’ll go anywhere for a topic (but mostly just Google)” Likewise, a strip joint called Club 39 assures potential customers that they have “All of the liquor – none of the clothes.”

But the billboard that has me really thinking this year? “I’m empty without you. Interstate.” Is it a reference to the billboard that needs a customer to adorn it with advertising? Or is it an existential musing on the part of the road itself, contemplating a lonely world of no cars or drivers? I’ll let you ponder that deep one as you enjoy the rest of your summer.

July 4th Red, White, and Blues

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Every Fourth of July, even as I am enjoying the fireworks grand finale, part of me is depressed that summer is half over. My email inbox is filled with school registration information, and I keep getting catalogs featuring dorm necessities and back to school supplies. Slow down, I want to tell Summer. I am just getting into the groove of hot days, beach reads, cool glasses of chardonnay on the porch.

The waning of this particular summer fills me with angst. Along with a young daughter who will be starting high school, I am preparing to move my son across the country for college. The prospect of completing all the paperwork and furnishing a dorm room are daunting enough. But what I’m really dreading is the moment when I have to say goodbye (his own sort of Independence Day).

To be sure, summer is here in full force. The days are sunny, hot, and humid. In the evening when I take my walks, the air is thick with the mating calls of cicadas. The local pool is crowded with kids splashing, shrieking, and laughing. The ice cream stores have lines of customers waiting for a cold, delicious cone.

Yet autumn looms over us: a time of schedules and responsibilities, dwindling daylight and warmth. I long to put summer on slow motion for a while. I just want to enjoy these sultry, lazy, lay-about days with my children before they move one step closer to becoming the adults they are meant to be.

 

Short and Sweet

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The lamenting has begun. As kids head back to school, their parents have started to bemoan the fact that summer is nearly over. Each year, in fact, I hear the complaint that summer has gone too fast. As Shakespeare wrote, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

But isn’t its fleeting nature what makes summer so precious? Think about the best movies, books, or television episodes. They all seem to be over much too soon. My favorite songs tend to be under 3 minutes long, instead of droning on and on and making me sick of them.

In our lives, the stages we most prize seem the most short-lived as well. Who among us hasn’t felt wistful about our passing youth or our sons’ and daughters’ fleeting childhoods. How often have you thought, the minutes drag, but the years fly by?

So it is with summer. We savor the sweetness of summer fruits: berries, peaches, juicy watermelon. We admire the roses, sunflowers, zinnias, and other flowers during their short blooming season. We mourn the end of our family vacation and a return to work and normal life.

As the days grow shorter and the air starts to cool, we will look back fondly at our friend Summer and long for its swift return.

Turn, Turn, Turn

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As summer is beginning to appear in my rearview mirror, I am already mourning the loss of long days, warm weather, lake visits, and my kids at home making noise and messes.

This week my youngest is on a father/daughter expedition for a whole week, leaving me home with peace, quiet, and way too much time on my hands. Don’t get me wrong. I am enjoying my long, solitary morning walks. I have been reading good books and making my way through the TV series Friday Night Lights. My teenage son has a car to drive and a group of friends, so I am not needed for driving or even much cooking.But I am getting an inkling of the meaning behind the famous saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

When my kids were little, I prayed for just a little breather, just a bit of time to myself. I remember falling asleep on the floor while my infant played next to me. I remember that bone-tired feeling a mother has after a day spent lifting, feeding, cleaning and entertaining a toddler. “Just one more book,” my daughter would plead, and I would read Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny for the umpteenth time.

Last weekend was one of our last summer weekends at the lake. As we drove home on the interstate, the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger came on the radio. The lyrics are from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

While those words give me some solace as I contemplate the changing of the seasons in my life, I have to admit that I’m not quite ready for summer to end.

You Can Go Home Again

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For the nearly nine years I lived in Los Angeles, I pined for home. Of course I missed my family and friends back in Chicago. But I also missed summer thunderstorms and fireflies. (Chicagoans call them lightning bugs.) I missed block parties and reliable public transportation. I missed the change of seasons, and I recalled my mother admonishing us, “Get outside! It’s a beautiful day!” In L.A., every day is a beautiful day.

I missed deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and Fannie May candies. But most of all, I missed the down home friendliness of Chicagoans. Where I lived in L.A., residents did not mow their own lawns or trim their own bushes. Kids did not run back and forth across the street to play with the neighbor kids. And, of course, there was no snow to shovel.

When my husband, two kids and I moved back to Chicago in 1997, I was determined to relive my fondest memories. But White Castle hamburgers just didn’t taste the same. And when my husband and I took the kids to our favorite hotdog joint in the city, I found the place dirty and disgusting. Maybe my former enjoyment of the place had been influenced by alcohol and being in love. And when the first good summer storm hit, my kids and I were terrified, not thrilled. I was starting to agree with the title of the Thomas Wolfe book You Can’t Go Home Again.

But that summer, I did get a taste of the simple pleasures I remembered from my childhood. Around the corner from our house was the public pool, and the kids and I spent countless hours there swimming, getting out of the pool for “rest period,” and eating ice cream sandwiches at the snack bar. In our neighborhood, kids really did run back and forth across the quiet street to play with each other. And at dusk, I noticed lightning bugs starting to glow in our front yard. So I grabbed the kids and a glass jar with holes poked into the lid so that we could go out and catch the bugs as they lit up the lawn.

One afternoon I got the idea to recreate a childhood memory by taking the kids downtown to visit Buckingham Fountain, which sits majestically overlooking Lake Michigan. As a child, I went there countless times with my family of 13, who made the most of any activities that were free. We would run around the fountain until dark and then ooh and aah at the spectacular light show. My husband warned me not to get my hopes up with my “vision thing,” as he calls it when I get nostalgic. And my kids whined during the long car ride in traffic on the always busy Eisenhower (aka the Ike) Expressway. By the time I parked the car and we walked through Grant Park to the fountain, I was feeling discouraged.

But when the kids saw the fountain, they exuberantly ran around and around it until I got dizzy watching them. My son was undeterred by the low metal fence that surrounds the fountain to discourage people from getting too close. So I spent a lot of time grabbing him and keeping him from jumping in the fountain. But the real magic happened at dusk. To the tune of lively classical music, the water began to leap and dance and the lights changed colors from orange to deep red to blue to deepest indigo. My kids oohed and aahed, and I knew I was home again.

 

Summer Lackluster

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It’s just beginning – the season of the movie blockbuster. As summer nears, I start seeing the full page newspaper ads and movie trailers for the upcoming crop of high budget, low brow entertainment. Already, the talk of the town is yet another remake of “Godzilla.” In fact, the plethora of sequels during the summer boggles my mind. Does the world really need yet another “Transformers,” X-Men,” or “Planet of the Apes” movie?

I have hard time sitting through such movies with their emphasis on action and special effects. Though I would hardly expect a science fiction, fantasy or espionage thriller to mimic real life, I find the unbelievable death-defying sequences to be, at times, ridiculous. Recently I was watching an action movie that featured a high speed chase with the hero on a motorcycle. The preposterous acrobatics performed by this motorcyclist, all the while dodging bullets and rush hour traffic, were apparently supposed to have me on the edge of my seat. Instead, I couldn’t help but laugh. No amount of suspending disbelief could convince me anyone would ever survive such an ordeal.

Modern day action movies have mind-numbing amounts of violence, destruction, and chase scenes. And the body counts in them are ludicrous. I try to picture a city enduring one of these onslaughts and then going about its business the very next day. Years ago, watching a film called “Ronin,” I began to sigh, “Another chase scene?” about two thirds of the way through.

My biggest problem with these escapist entertainments is that they often lack much of a story. If I can’t get to know the characters and their motivations in any meaningful way, I have a hard time caring if they make it or not. Even when the movie does have an interesting story, such as in the “Batman” series, it gets overshadowed by so much loud, over the top action.

It’s a shame because I really do love going to the movies. I enjoy settling into a stadium seat with my popcorn and immersing myself in  the world portrayed on the big screen. I revel in the big emotions of love, hate, fear, exhilaration, sorrow and hope that are depicted in good movies. For me, the summer is a desert time of waiting until the really juicy dramas and heartwarming romantic comedies return in the fall.

So instead of checking the theater listings this summer, I’ll head to the library and pick up some good beach reads.