My summer commandments


Oh summer. So juicy and wonderful and yet so fleeting. Way up north as we are, we spend the whole year thinking about it and then have to run to catch up when it finally arrives. I used to make lists of everything I wanted to do in a summer, but I've stopped since I generally find myself feeling overwhelmed and more than a little frantic when June hits and there is so much to do: markets to prepare for, weddings to attend, camping trips to plan, family gatherings and barbecues and festivals. Before you know it, the season is yawning and curling up under a blanket of leaves to sleep for another year. I often wish I could spend my summers in a cabin in the woods, or by a beach with nothing to do besides walk, write, make stuff and stare at the sky. Instead, I'm slowly learning to slow down and make space for the small wonders that summer brings. At the same time, I'm learning to appreciate all the seasons in their own right, so that summer doesn't bear the full weight of my desires and expectations.

The book The Way of the Happy Woman is about embracing the phases of our days, months, and years, and changing our habits to suit each one. I've loved reading about how to embrace summer's wild energy of celebration and fun, and how to take care of myself in the midst of it.

Here are my commandments for keeping summer both beautiful and manageable:

Thou shalt not try to do everything.

I'm learning that summer is a time to clear out the calendar, rather than fill it. I'm not sure why, but I always feel  completely squeezed in May and June, as though every scheduled event—no matter how fun or exciting—weighs heavily on me. I feel protective of my time and reluctant to share it with others. This year I quit most of my weekly commitments—like dragon boating and belly dancing—to try to create more space for the lazy enjoyment of summer. Now that we're well into July, I'm cherishing all the open space I see on the calendar.

Thou shalt go barefoot.

Slick green grass, round river stones, a hot deck. Feet that spend most of the year bundled in heavy socks and heavier boots long to go adventuring, experiencing every kind of sensation. Sparkly red toenails don't hurt.

Thou shalt play in water.

Last night, down the street from my house, I saw a tiny figure in a green raincoat and green rubber boots jumping determinedly in a puddle in the gutter and I had a very strong desire to get on my own rubber boots and go looking for splashes. Whether it's floating down a river, swimming in a lake, or just dipping my toes in a babbling mountain stream, water is both soothing and invigorating in the emotional and physical heat of the season.

Thou shalt eat fresh fruit and raw vegetables.

Crunchy raw cucumber and radish on noodles. Giant bowls of mixed greens. Inordinate amounts of fresh peaches and cherries. Raspberries from the U-pick, saskatoon berries from the river valley. The farmer's market by our house has started selling more fresh produce and I'm sinking more of my hard-earned cash into it every week. It's completely worth it.

Thou shalt escape to the woods.

Everything is okay in the woods.  Everything makes sense in the woods. Conversations grow deeper and thoughts grow lighter when they're surrounded by sun-speckled leaves and the comforting smell of earth.

Thou shalt stay up until dark (sometimes).

My sleep always seems to become more restless and disturbed in June, which might have something to do with the sun not setting until 11pm. Though I usually have to put myself to bed long before the sun, on those rare nights when I don't need to be somewhere the next day and can watch darkness take over, I feel an important sense of closure and completeness. It feels good to see the moon and stars sparkling above (though I certainly see no shortage of them in the winter).

Thou shalt walk or ride on two wheels.

Walking is best, bicycling is second best, and riding my motorcycle comes in third. If I can't get somewhere slowly and notice every little thing along the way, I at least want to feel the air on my skin (even if it's through vents in a helmet or armoured jacket) and breathe it in. If I can't get somewhere on my own power, I want to use as little fuel as possible.

Thou shalt wear pretty dresses.

My after-work uniform of black jeans and a t-shirt becomes uncomfortable in these warmer months. A light dress makes the most sense now, preferably in bright colours, and sometimes with shorts underneath to allow for activities. The key is to not have to think too hard when pulling something on quickly for the next adventure. You can never have too many summer dresses.

Thou shalt cook over fire.

Everything tastes better on a barbecue, and even better if it's cooked over an open fire, surrounded by woods, in the dark. I scoured the internet for campfire recipes for our last camping trip (corn on the cob and biscuits for the win), and have become addicted to homemade barbecued pizza (especially with farmer's market veggies piled on top).

Thou shalt not mourn its passing.

Summer is lovely, but so is fall, and even winter has its charms. When it's time to say good-bye I hope to graciously bid farewell before warmly embracing whatever comes next.

What do you do to make the most of summer while it's here? Leave a comment below.