One Big way to Welcome Summer

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

 

Welcome Summer

 

There are shades of green throughout my backyard: sage green, verdant green and cedar green as the wispy straw color of a thousand weeds spring up where a lawn should be. I sit on a blue-and-white-stripe-cushioned outdoor couch, draped elegantly in a splattered painter’s drop cloth to catch the cat hair. At my feet, an outdoor rug punctuates the textured cement while a pilling, princess-printed, fleece sleeping bag elevates my right foot from the otherwise level terrain.

Birdsong echoes through the still air as a table saw cuts through the illusion of a quiet morning in the distance.

Unwanted vegetation billows around the garden bed where the children harvested two buckets of potatoes with their father three days ago. Looking at our hammock, sheltered by the shade of an olive tree, I see the bag of bug-infested outdoor curtains I pulled down hastily but could not discard because our garbage can was full.

It is all around us: the bad, the beautiful, the busy, the serene.

When my anxiety mounts, I see only the clutter, the doll apron, the plastic broccoli, the tin tea cup ornamenting my lawn.

When I remind myself, “Stop. Focus. Take a moment,” I hear the silence, feel the air, see the rust-colored lily blooming by the fence, a gift from the neighbors whose welcome immediately made this space feel like home. My healthy son wanders the backyard with his blanket in tow. I recall the pleasure of last night’s barbeque with family and friends, how easy it felt to get together, how refreshing the pool water felt on my feet.

One week ago I realized how often I am trying to distract myself from the moments before me.

On Sunday when the Internet was down and my husband was gone for the day, living the artist’s life playing piano in Watsonville, I saw how many moments there when I mindlessly click to my email or Facebook. It is a habit. Maybe the degree of dissatisfaction I feel when there are no emails or notifications is a sign that it is more than just a habit. There is debate over whether or not our constant clicking is to primarily soothe anxiety or gain pleasure.

We welcome summer, the hottest of our four temperate seasons, with later bedtimes and earlier rising times. We turn the air conditioner on, close the windows, shield ourselves from the sun with layers of sunscreen, wide brim hats and sailcloth.

I search “summer” on Pinterest and my page reveals summer outfits, a hammock with outdoor lights, “How to make Frozen Lemon Dreams” and photos of vintage vans on the sandy beach.

 

anton-mishin-601626-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Anton Mishin on Unsplash

 

Fittingly, my mind flits back and forth from this article to the children before me to the calendar for summer plans. Perhaps we will drive our mini-van on a sandy beach.

A new season, new expectations, new adventures, new moments of growth. There might be moments that seem perfect, then the toddler cries, the children dispute the proper order of creation, the brother pleas for the sister to stop looking at him, the sister wails when he affronts her by sticking out his deadly tongue.

A week ago, I was a bundle of nerves, unable to stop flitting, losing direction. I discerned the need to say “no” to worrying about the numbers, “yes” to professional projects that move my soul and “yes” to the moments here at home. A weekend of my husband’s gigs gave me time to narrow my focus. Cutting out the evening cocktail gave me mental space to think and more peaceful sleep.

I embrace Memorial Day as the unofficial start to summer. The desert scene on today’s forecast found on the National Weather Service website confirms it. Let the heat begin. Let the new season unfold.

The lessons I still struggle to learn repeat more often than they repeat in this column.

Stop.

Focus.

Take a moment.

Welcome Summer.

Essential Projects for Summer

If you had a chance to sign up to receive the free ebook, A Mother’s Grief: Reflections on the Holy Rosary, click here. This offer ends May 31!

I have heard it said Memorial Day kicks unofficially kicks off the summer season.

 

IMG_5247.jpg

 

How will I approach this new season?

 

If the idea of a lot of projects overwhelms you, take a deep breath before you begin.

 

  1. An Indoor Project

 

CAM00193.jpg

 

Our bathroom, painting the metal of a rusty school desk, changing a tablecloth, switching the curtains to something that doesn’t radiate heat when the setting sun pounds against the bay window.

Whether big or small, when the heat drives you indoors (in California) look around. Refresh, remodel or restore, put some love into your home, erase the thing that makes you cringe whenever you walk by. It need not be big, just new to the space.

 

2. An Outdoor Project

 

Flowers were my lifeline last year and I am holding fast to that. The more mixed up I get in being busy, in letting my mind work while my soul stifles, the less I observe the garden.

But it is there, waiting for me, to come and care for it.

 

IMG_5262.jpg

 

Just as Minnesotans ought to spend time outdoors appreciative of the short season of tolerable weather, so Californians ought to grow things, in appreciation of the great gift we have in this climate (I will sing a different tune in August).

Buy a succulent or an herb at Trader Joe’s, give it a bigger pot and allow it to grow. Taking the time to tend is therapeutic, I’m learning. It is another step outside ourselves.

 

3. A Volunteer Project

 

This season it will be developing and implementing a brand identity for The Young Ladies’ Institute (YLI), based on the information I’ve learned from Fiona Humberstone’s How to Style Your Brand and Brand Brilliance. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, I can write up a “reveal” of the project, communicating the beauty that already exists within the organization, outside the organization.

There is a sentiment of lazy, hazy days of summer and it is true that the heat slows us down a bit, vacations come, the farm work slows down a bit before harvest. Let the slowness of the moment allow us the space to turn our gaze outward, from our to-do list to the to-do of the community, the wish list of the parish and the question of how can we give to others.

 

 

4. A Professional Project

 

I met my spring goal of submitting my manuscript before summer began. For a long, boring explanation of all my steps and plans there, email me.

This summer, I commit myself to completing my media kit, which will include info on speaking engagements, and to continue rolling around the contemplation stage of beginning heavy edits on a novella I wrote ages ago called “A Girl and Her King.”

If you have traditional employment, maybe your project is to unplug from work and its demands for a vacation or stay-cation or a stress-free meal with the family. If you are a homemaker with a side hustle it might be a project, a training or a night away from the family to dig deep into your work. If you are a homemaker without a side hustle, it might be taking a class to learn a new skill to make that home or experimenting with a new cookbook. Whatever the work of our day is, how can we step back, refocus and learn something new.

 

5. A Reading Project

 

Deep in The Once and Future King, a modern masterpiece by T. H. White, this is, by far, the most delicious project. We are participating in the Summer Reading Program through the County library.

 

IMG_5293.jpg

 

Avid reader? Keep it up. Read intentionally and long and not in bed.

Use to read but never more? Try again. Pick up some fiction.

Never read? Take a movie you’ve enjoyed and check out the book from the library. Email me what you’re interested in and we’ll see if I can make a recommendation.

Living day by day intentionally, small projects act as benchmarks, goals act as light posts, guiding us along our way to live the life we hope to live, a life flourished, fulfilled and connected to others.

Autumn’s Idea

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

School is starting again. Methinks the summers are shorter, but the forecast tells me otherwise. Camps end. Lessons begin. Traffic increases.

As I wrote before, this was the first summer in which I experienced the promise of summer, of adventure. Through Scout’s eyes, Harper Lee tells us, “Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.” Summer is this abstract thing, this idea of a season. Here, it consists of barbeques, late evenings, local festivals, Hughson’s/Modesto’s/Turlock’s Farmer’s Markets, flowers from Kelley Flower Farm, and the County Fair. In this abstract thing is relaxation and exploration, camping and lake visits, quitting music lessons for Disneyland, and holidays at Knight’s Ferry.

But most of all, our summer seasons are something real, not abstract. What is the thing you had this summer that could not be had any other summer by any other person? It is the memory you take away with you. The treasure you will keep. Summer brought to Scout a boy named Dill and the adventures they had with him. The real thing you have in summer does not need to be because of summer. It may only be coincidence. It becomes the memory you can take with you into next summer. It is how memories are made and how traditions build into the abstract idea making it fuller, richer, stretching its shadow into the end of spring next year, plumping the time up with anticipation of the real thing again.

The real thing feeds the abstract thing. The abstract thing is passed down, just as each kid reads To Kill a Mockingbird. Southern summers are different than California summers, which are different than Midwestern summers. Public school summers are different than homeschool summers, which are different than full-time working summer. Still, the abstract thing is passed along. We feel the spirit of summer.

This may be why I felt this was my first summer. Attending year-round public school with nose-to-the-grindstone-parents, our vacations took place only on school and civic holidays, spending holy days at St. Anthony’s and the rest of vacation with family, hours away. Magazines, Pinterest, and endless questions of “do you have any plans this summer?” filled me with the idea of summer. Having a 6-year-old made it real. This summer art workshops became my “Dill”: The Real Thing.

Is fall any different? There is the idea of fall: pumpkin patches, changing leaves, hot apple cider, and Granny Smith apples for sale on Tully road. With two parents from the West coast, I learned the idea of fall while attending college in Minnesota. There, the idea of fall is strong. There, the idea of every season is strong.

As school begins and summer ends, I anticipate autumn. St. Anthony’s Parish Festival is marked on my calendar for September 30-October 1. The Four Friends Market will have a Holiday Special Market, October 7 at Dutch Hollow Farms. Does anything in this area illustrate the idea of fall better than Dutch Hollow Farms and The Fruit Barn?

The memory of breathing easily after recovering from bronchitis, riding in the backseat of a friend’s car, down the fiery-leaf-flanked Ford Parkway to Surdyk’s Liquor and Cheese Shop in Minneapolis not only taught me of the spell Minnesota casts on its residents with the beauty of fall. It became the heart of my abstract idea of fall. Thus I seek ways with each annual inauguration to make it real.

I could let it all pass. How easy it would be to be logical: it is just as hot as summer, or perhaps ten degrees cooler; most trees here do not have leaves that change color; a brief hot fall only precedes a soggy, foggy winter, if we are lucky. Or I could open the windows at night, purchase a warty pumpkin from Cipponeri’s, stock up on Spiced Apple Cider from Trader Joe’s and plan Halloween costumes with my kids. I think I will pick the latter. What will you hold onto at the end of summer to carry you into next year? What will your Real Thing be?