Do you put pressure on yourself to have the perfect summer, sort of like a lot of us pressure ourselves to have the perfect Christmas? I think we should focus, not on perfection, but on self-care. Here are a few ideas to kick off the summer.
1. Renew your relationship with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Even if you don’t live in a part of the country that has a real summer—as in, warm weather with things that bloom and come to fruition—there’s probably an abundance of fresh produce not far from you. There’s something very healthy about picking blueberries in the morning and having them for dessert in the evening. There’s something holy about a farmer’s-market table overflowing with lettuce and beets and tomatoes and herbs and . . .
Try to avoid the grocery store a few times this summer, and go to where the produce is freshest and local if at all possible. Sometimes the goods will be more expensive direct from the farmers, but sometimes the deals are great—when we pick our own blueberries at a farm just an hour or so from our Chicago home, we pay a fraction of what those same berries will cost on grocery shelves. Take advantage of what is in season—in fact, try to eat according to what’s being harvested from week to week.
You may be fortunate enough to live near a community garden; it’s worth finding out and helping out in exchange for some fresh food. And it’s amazing what can be grown in pots on a porch or patio or balcony. Try to grow one fruit or vegetable in a pot, and see how you like it.
Above all EAT lots of fruit and vegetables. When the weather gets hot, put together meals that don’t even require cooking—salads with bread, tortilla chips, fruit on the side, fruit for breakfast or dessert, cold soups involving veggies and yogurt. And, to avoid heating up the house, there’s always the grill. A surprising number of veggies taste good after a light grilling.
2. Take advantage of mornings and evenings.
You may be a sun worshipper, someone who can stay outdoors all afternoon on a sunny summer day. You may love the high activity of daylight and swimming pools and gardens and trips.
But don’t forget about mornings and evenings. When the days grow longer, we gain extended patches of time at the beginning and end of the day. And there is nothing lovelier than an early summer morning. It’s a perfect time for that first cup of coffee or tea; it’s great for prayer and meditation; it’s wonderful just for sitting and watching the world awaken. If you’re not a morning person, I won’t judge you, but I urge you to try getting up early a few times this summer. The air is sweet and soft early in the day; it’s a gentle time to be up and, if possible, outdoors, whether on a backyard swing or a high-rise balcony chair.
Evening, also, is gentle, as the light gradually fades, the day noise settles down and the quieter sounds of conversation and dinnertime rise into the air. Summer evenings are excellent for conversation—I like mine with wine! My husband and I sometimes play cards on our back porch on summer evenings. We enjoy being there together while the birds and squirrels and pets begin their settling down for the night. We can hear neighbors in their yards or on their porches. The fading light eases us toward bedtime.
Give yourself some gentle hours; take advantage of mornings and evenings. Allow them to lead you into the day’s activities—and then lull you into sleep.
3. Have some fun.
Human beings are designed for play. You may not be a sports person, a card-playing or board-game kind of person, but there’s something that feels like play to you—an activity that lightens your spirit and allows you to lose yourself happily for awhile.
Passive activities—such as surfing the Web or watching movies and television—don’t count as play. Play demands something of you. You have to move a bit; your mind has to be engaged, even if the main engagement is trying to catch a little wave on which to body surf back to the beach.
Vacations are often planned with play in mind. But there are various categories of vacation—next week’s topic. Regardless of vacation strategies, plan time for play during your ordinary days. Don’t relegate that appointment to the bottom of your list.
4. Turn up the gratitude.
Summer can be a super-active time. We are likely to see more people, whether our neighbors because we’re outdoors more, or family members because we travel to see them, or vice-versa. Also, we may go to new places or spend intentional time in national parks or at concerts and other special events.
More activity will usually bring up the stress level—driving in a traffic jam through Yellowstone or waiting endlessly in line at a theme park, surrounded by noisy kids and disgruntled adults. The crowds alone can threaten the “care-free” days of summer. Not only that, but more activity usually translates into more money and more logistics.
Why not use all this extra stimuli to stimulate thanks and praise? Yes, you’re stuck on hairpin turns in bumper-to-bumper traffic through the mountains—but look at these mountains! The beach is overcrowded and you didn’t pack enough cold drinks—but you’re lying in sunshine with miles of blue water at your feet. You can barely hear yourself think as you wait in the midst of theme-park uproar, to get on the doggone ride—but is it not miraculous that there are so many glorious children in the world and that so many of them are here, having fun, cared for by people who love them?
Thank God that you get to hear live music in the park, that your kids actually notice how many stars there are when you camp far away from city lights, that there are so many people who actually want to see you and spend time with you, that you have managed to finance a few days away, that you are stuck in an air-conditioned motel room with a television that works, even though the weather has ruined other plans for the morning.
For every possibility of stress, there is an equal and lovelier possibility of mindfulness and gratitude.
5. Give yourself 20 minutes of solitude every day.
This is a good way to accomplish #2: Take advantage of mornings and evenings. When you’re the first person up in the house, the time is yours. Give it to yourself; allow that time to nourish your soul. Use that time to pray or meditate. Or, just sit with a cup of tea or coffee, and intentionally dwell in your own life these 20 minutes.
Evening may be a better time, but I’m not so sure the best time for personal solitude is when you are the most tired. It may be that sometime in the middle of the day works better—in the heat of the afternoon you escape to the kitchen table or your most comfy chair and let everything stop for awhile. If you work full-time outside the home, your 20-minute solitude might need to wait until you’re back home. But don’t dismiss the possibility of a walk during your morning or afternoon break. Sometimes a walk by yourself in the middle of a workday is a great refresher.
And, if you really get into the 20-minute habit, consider doing it twice a day.
If you would add an item #6 to this list, what would it be?