Priorities: Summer Edition

Today is the societal end of summer. The gray haze of Canadian wildfires hang over our town, and the pools are all officially closed. In past years, I have made lists of things to get done during the summer. You know: plant certain flowers, clean out the garage, organize the closets. I didn’t do that this year, and so because I am prone to thinking and reflecting, I sit here wondering how we spent our summer. What did we do with our extra daylight, with the arguably slower pace, with vacation time?

A beautiful early summer day on Macbride Lake brought us out to the water about three months ago. As youngest son and I paddled, we noted the large homes on the water – docks, pontoon boats, motor boats, paddle boards – were all going unused. There was no excuse for the waste of the day; we posited that everyone who owned lakefront property should be making the most of the day: they should be on the water, on their decks, with their friends and family.

Many of us are terrible at using our time well. Not only are we not as productive as we could be, we also waste time in a way that we don’t even enjoy. We get stuck in routines that don’t bring us joy; we spend time with people we complain about; we engage in hobbies that are more chore than cheer. Perhaps some of that was true of your summer; perhaps you are feeling such pressures as the academic year looms.

I dubbed the past three months the summer of friends. Our summer started off with middle son being home, and we had a weekend at my aunt’s and uncle’s house with extended family and pets. We even took a dip in their pool; a chilly proposition in early June in the Midwest. Later that month, my dear friend and her daughters included our house on a road trip they were taking, and we got to show off our corner of the world and reminisce. Youngest son and I spent a beautiful day with another wonderful person one early July, a friend who is from Iowa but whom we met in Georgia and was back home for several weeks, and we spent the day talking, laughing, eating, and surveying her place near Pella.

Later that month, I traveled to Seattle for work and in doing so, not only had the opportunity to learn with several excellent colleagues, I also got to visit with a writer-friend, a professor-friend, and a former student-friend. While I was there, youngest son got to spend time with his grandma and grandpa. As soon as I got back from Seattle, one of my cousins and his family came over and spent the weekend, treating us to a Jim Gaffigan show. We also enjoyed a whiskey/wine/beer tour of our area. Right after that, youngest son and I were off to the lake with college friends and their sons; then, as soon as we got back from there, two dear friends were coming through town, and we were lucky enough to be able to dine with them before they continued on their trip. We snuck over to Des Moines to see my dad and mom in August.  I haven’t even mentioned our local outings to Pride events, concerts, and restaurants with friends in the area. Those were sprinkled into every summer week. Summer wrapped up with middle son home again for a month before going off to London.

And, now the summer is, for all intents and purposes, over. My summer flowers are fading; my garage is not cleaned out; carpets have gone unwashed, and the cobwebs around the doorframe might just stay until Halloween. And, no, I still don’t have a kayak, much less a lake home.

What we do have are memories with so many beautiful and wonderful people. So now, as we head into what society would have us believe are the hectic days of fall which will be followed up by the madness of the holidays, I find myself wanting more summer. That is, more time with friends, family, more time with the people that matter. And, if I can create that, then I will be making the most of the days in any season – no list needed.


Eight Arms: Summer of the Cephalopod Mollusc

“I’m not an octopus, Mom!”

That was then four year-old son’s yell to me when I told him to help bring groceries from the car.

Do you ever feel like yelling that at someone? Your spouse? Your boss? Yourself? You simply cannot schedule or go to one more thing.

I know the feeling. I just got done looking at what I want to do and what son at home wants to do and what we need to do, and I’m already asking, “Where’d summer go?”

For all of the hype about summer being the season where everything slows down, I see a lot of people ramping up. Kids’ baseball games. Summer camps. Community activities. Camping with the kids. Outdoor concerts. Beach house week with the in-laws. And the ever-present cloud of pressure to RELAX AND ENJOY YOURSELF, DAMMIT.

octopus-photos-ramboSure, it’s supposed to be a more relaxed, more laid back season, but it doesn’t always feel like that. Summer can quickly devolve into “Well, shit, let’s go so we can get home.” To add insult to injury: colleagues take summer vacation which creates slack to be picked up at the office. Or you’re a teacher with “your summers off” – yeah right. Neighbors ask you to watch yards, houses, and pets while they go on a trip. Yep, calendars and obligations can be feel greater in the summer than during other parts of the year.

A few days ago eldest son asked me what my sisters and I did in the summers when we were kids. We rode bikes. We played in the neighborhood. We went swimming. We hung out. I did not feel like I had eight things going on today and eight more tomorrow. I want to reclaim that. I reject the octopus.

Graduations are happening. Weddings are scheduled. Vacations are looming. It’s going to be a great summer – just don’t overdo it.

Do one thing at a time.

Enjoy the times. The people.

Remember, you’re not an octopus.


For Sale

Jason had been saving his money since he was old enough to hold on to his dad’s coat pockets. Bouncing across fields of fresh powder, whizzing along snow-packed country roads: these were his only joys. School was a drag; dyslexia and auditory processing deficiencies combined to make classroom life living hell. Every day for the nine-month winters, Jason shoveled drives, walkways, and scattered sand for anyone who would hand him a dollar or two. During the brief summer, Jason planted flowers and mowed what little grass had time to grow. Four years of saving opened the door to Mick’s Snowmobile Clearance this past June. Clearance maybe, but it was his own snowmobile. The short summer months couldn’t pass quickly enough for Jason.

During the warmer days, Jason saved up fuel money, waxed his new baby over and over until Grampa said, “You’re gonna polish that thing inna the ground, son.”

By November, Jason wasn’t shoveling driveways. In January, he wasn’t scattering sand. By February, he still wasn’t bundled up flying across the fields. Rain and cold – some ice – a light dusting of snow here and there.

“Unusual winter,” the old folks said.

“Mother Nature has it in for me,” Jason concluded.

“Don’t worry, next winter will be a doozy,” Dad said.

After three years and 243.4 inches of not snow, Jason gave up.

Some say he moved to Florida the day after he turned 18.

The Duluth Tribune has a P.O. Box in Texas to bill for the classified ad.

The snowmobile with the sign sits in the front yard, rusting and hoping for a buyer just as Jason hoped for snow years ago.


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