Mid-Summer Moods

Standard

IMG_2411In Michigan, the corn has grown taller than me, and that means we are past the mid-summer mark here in the Midwest. I always have mixed feelings at this time of year.

On the one hand, I long to shake off the heat-induced lethargy of the “dog days.” As the temps and humidity hover in the 90s, I feel like an old-time Southern belle languishing on my settee. Yet it’s also bittersweet to know the days are growing shorter, and that can only mean the inexorable march toward the gloom of November.

Mixed in with these feelings is my excitement as the school year looms ahead, this year with plenty of angst and uncertainty, to be sure. But my daughter will be starting college, a new chapter in her young life, and I’m thrilled for all that means for her. It won’t be the freshman experience my three other children had. Only a quarter of the student body will be on campus, most classes will be online, and masks will be required everywhere. Yet my daughter will be meeting new people – hopefully lifelong friends – and learning new things, most especially a greater sense of independence and the joy of deep thinking.

By mid-summer, I have made great headway in my reading list but very little in my to-do list of projects I routinely put off. Because students are on vacation, I have the sense that I too have been given permission to loaf around, eat too many sweets, and drink wine with dinner every night. This feeling suits me just fine – until it doesn’t. I get restless and suddenly spring up from my couch, put on my sneakers, and head out for a little exercise.

Last week, my husband and I hosted our first social engagement since the coronavirus hit the United States. We had another couple come over, bringing their own wine and even wine glasses, and we sat six feet apart on our screened-in porch. It was so pleasant to catch up with our friends on a warm summer’s night.

Next up on the reading list is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. On TV, I’ve been watching a light confection called Sweet Magnolias. It has been a good counterbalance to the dystopian nightmare scenario of Brave New World, which my daughter and I recently binged on the new Peacock streaming service.

My husband has been cooking on the grill, and I have been baking in the early morning before the heat of the day sets in. Soon it will be time to purchase items for my daughter’s dorm room and make our plans to travel out of state to deposit her safely at school.

The sweet corn will soon be harvested and the fields laid bare. Watermelon will be on its way out and Honeycrisp apples on their way in. I plan to savor the remainder of summer in the Midwest and look forward to the glories of fall.

Summer Song

Standard

Unknown-4

A summer morning is the best time to hear the birds. High up in the trees, they tweet and trill and shriek their secret language while I walk along, out early to beat the August heat. Summer mornings in suburbia are quiet. Many of my neighbors are off on summer vacations. Kids sleep in, and parents enjoy the unaccustomed hush. The only other sounds I hear on my morning walk are the hiss of lawn sprinklers and the occasional whoosh of a car on asphalt.

The sounds of summer are pretty much the same ones I remember from my childhood. As the day gets going, lawnmowers roar, garbage trucks squeak by, and air conditioners hum. (Well, I guess some sounds are newer. No air conditioning in my childhood!) Kids come out and play, and their laughter and chatter can be heard on the breeze, as well as their splashing at the local public pool.

One of my favorite summer sounds is the rumble of thunder in the distance as heavy clouds roll in and a storm heads our way. Of course, I only enjoy these storms when I am safe inside with a good book. But when we lived in California, thunderstorms were one of the natural phenomena I missed most. They’re so fleeting, yet so dramatic.

As the sun goes down on a late summer day, the symphony takes to the trees once again. This time the sound is the pulsing whistle of hundreds of cicadas hidden in the upper reaches of our giant maples and elms. It’s so mysterious. You seldom actually see one of these hideous creatures other than the occasional cicada carcass that falls on the ground or the shell left behind as one grows. Yet they are undoubtedly there, singing and mating and enjoying their too-short lives.

By the time darkness falls, I am usually safely ensconced indoors, away from mosquitoes and their blood-sucking ways. Inside I’m surrounded by the sounds of modern life: the drone of TV voices, the hum of the fridge, the gentle clinks and sloshes inside the dishwasher, and nowadays the occasional ping of a smartphone receiving a text.

Tomorrow there will be the same nature songs to enjoy even as summer starts to wane and my daughter heads back to school.

Thinking about the sounds of summer reminds me of an old Chad and Jeremy number titled “Summer Song.” “They say that all good things must end some day,” sing the pop duo. So let’s enjoy them while we may.

Stupid Things To Do In Summer

Standard

Screen_Shot_2017_07_03_at_1.34.23_PM.0.pngWith Memorial Day around the corner, our fancy turns to all things summer. In the spirit of the upcoming season, I’m happy to provide a PSA on what NOT to do this summer. You’re welcome.

This summer, please don’t:

  1. Leave children or pets in hot cars.
  2. Take kids tubing on a lake without a spotter to watch them constantly.
  3. Go out into the woods without being covered in DEET.
  4. Go outside after dark without being covered in DEET.
  5. Leave anyone in a hot car.
  6. Go on a diet during barbecue/ice cream season.
  7. Drink and go boating.
  8. Drink and drive.
  9. Drink and slice watermelon.
  10. Leave mayonnaise-laden foods outside for long periods of time.
  11. Leave children unattended in any body of water.
  12. Play with fireworks.
  13. Go out in the sun without sunscreen.
  14. Fail to hydrate.
  15. Touch any three-leaf patterned plants.

I’m sure there are other potential hazards looking to spoil our summer fun. Lawn mowing, for instance, can be extremely dangerous, especially if you do it in flip flops. Sports related injuries also increase in the summer as the warm weather encourages weekend warriors to get out and run, bike, swim, rollerblade and play frisbee.

With a little common sense, though, we can fully enjoy the glory of long, warm summer days, balmy evenings roasting marshmallows by the fire, and time spent outdoors with family and friends.

So break out your white shorts and start summering it up this Memorial Day! (Safely, please)

Summer’s Lease Up

Standard

images-2

Labor Day is a bittersweet holiday. The day is meant to celebrate working men and women all over America and, for most, to provide a day of rest and relaxation. But it also marks the symbolic end of summer. Kids not already in school will go back tomorrow. Morning commuters will once again have to share the crowded roads with back-to-schoolers. And summer vacations are over for families.

It’s still hot outside, of course. Today on my walk, I saw people out on their front porches enjoying the relative cool of early morning. Later on, the neighborhoods will be filled with the sounds of kids playing and the smells of burgers cooking on outdoor grills. A last hurrah of summer.

Soon in my part of the world, the evening air will have a slight chill in it. Then the trees will deck themselves out in glorious colors for one last celebration before the cold winter sets in. Before we know it, we will be huddled inside by the fireplace eating leftover Halloween candy and feeling wistful about our always too brief summer.

I’m not complaining, exactly. I do love the change of seasons in the Midwest – the way nature marks the passing of time. I did miss it when I lived on the West Coast. But I will also miss the free and easy feeling of summertime: sandals on my feet, an easy summer dress, an ice cream cone, and a fun, frivolous book to read.

Farewell, summer. See you next year.

Lake Time

Standard

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.

Billboards (Redux)

Standard

IMG_0809

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

Standard

Unknown

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

Standard

images

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

Standard

Unknown-1

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

Standard

images

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.