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.


Resolved: The Unplanned New Year

The best resolution I ever heard was from my middle son when he was about eight. After explaining what resolutions were and why people made them, I asked him what he wanted to do in the new year. His response? “Have fun.”

The most interesting time of year might just be now, when people decide the lives they are living are deficient in some ways and overabundant in others. To wit: resolutions. New calendars. A whole new set of twelve pristine months in which to beat ourselves up over goals we set while listening to the top-100 songs of the past year with the Year In Review Time Magazine lying next to the sparkling white pages of the upcoming unsullied year.

Resolutions to have more fun. Watch less TV. Get IT together. Lose weight. Buy organic. Quit smoking. Volunteer more. Get a different job. Drink less. Go back to school. Start a garden. You’ve heard them all. You’ve probably made some of these resolutions yourself.

got it togetherIn my younger years, when I demanded a lot from myself and even more from others, I also hopped on this bandwagon. (NB: Being highly, unremittingly demanding of anyone, even one’s self, is a recipe for disaster, but that’s a topic for another day.) New Year’s Day found me starting a new journal with outlines of what I needed to accomplish in the next 365 days. Such outlines included projections, charts, deadlines, pictures, and even punishments and rewards for when I failed to or actually achieved these things. Those journals now have the first ten pages ripped out and are sitting on my shelf waiting to be repurposed.

In my forties, I sent the resolution bandwagon on ahead without me. And, you know what’s interesting? I have gotten more done in the past seven years than any of the years when I wasted those journals. I have made some purposeful steps; some of them at the outset of the year, but many of them as they came, as the opportunity presented itself.  I bought a house; accepted a new position at school; taught a new class; made new friends; spent more time with friends deepening relationships; cleaned out boxes of junk (literally and metaphorically); made peace with the past; learned meditation. These things didn’t just happen, but I had them in the back of my mind, and as the year progressed so did I. No resolutions needed.

Last year, I started the year purposefully — with a word. Change. 2014 was going to be a year of change; it was time for me to unstagnate, move forward. Nothing was written down; no calendar was set; only a general idea was in my mind, but I worked bit by bit in an uncalendared way on making changes. And, you know what? It worked.

Don’t get me wrong, I planned. Man did I plan – but only when I needed to –  to move; to renew my teaching certificate; to take my son to college. Other times, I just had a general idea or no idea at all and that opened up my life.

The I-have-a-calendar-but-I-only-look-at-it-occasionally approach has allowed me to sit with friends in the hospital, commiserate with those facing troubles, accept invitations for drinks, help the neighbor rake his lawn, sleep in, and bake treats for colleagues. At the same time, taking an unoutlined, uncharted, semi-purposeful approach to life has opened my eyes not only to the evolution of my own life, and rather than bemoaning a missed workout or a failure to rise early on Saturday, I have had time see and rejoice in my friends’ opportunities and changes. By not being too committed to things that I decided were important one day at the very start of the year, I have had the privilege to be a part of and see my friends rediscover lost passion, change the course of their careers, more fully invest in their families, move across the country, find new love, lose weight, start a new hobby, recover from illness, celebrate birthdays…the list could go on.

I have always been in awe of people who have a specific calendar and stick to it. In fact, I have aspired to that kind of organization and purposefulness. My mother has kept a kitchen calendar (she calls it her “book”) as long as I can remember. My mother writes down not only birthdays, but also when she is buying cards and gifts and when she is sending them. She keeps track not only of people’s birthday, but also of their ages. Mom writes in reminders of when family members have died, or “left us” – the term she prefers.  She even writes L/S on every day of the year, reminding herself to do laundry and plan supper. Every day of the year.

I am not my mother. This apple not only fell far from the tree, but also rolled down the hill, across the road, and under the fence. I now get birthday gifts on time for everyone, but some days you might find me thinking that popcorn at 9pm is a perfectly legitimate supper. I don’t plan my life with a calendar or with a set of resolutions charted on December 31.


So, whether or not you make resolutions and keep a calendar, here’s to the messiness of life, to all the celebrations, new friendships, poetry readings, hand-holding, driveway shoveling, unforeseen messes, late-night conversations, silly text messages, brunches, tears, bestsellers, cross-country road trips, comfort foods, springtime flowers, cocktail hours, kisses, homemade soup, fall leaves, vacations at the lake, new hobbies, old friends reunited, snowmen, sold houses, new wardrobes, art projects, concerts, and cake.

May 2015 be filled with unexpected and unplanned beauty.

Oh, and make sure to have fun!