Summer is the season of heat and big plans. Summers in childhood meant afternoons reading on the porch, sleeping late, riding in the car on road trips to visit family, weekend camping trips in our green Volkswagen, calculating how much time I would have in the town pool, grilling outside for dinner, staying up late in the cool and dark, eating watermelon, playing cards. Summers in high school and college included some of those childhood activities, but also included work, school, internships, and filling up the summer with experiences for the resume and for relaxing. After college, summer lost some of its magic for me, as it passed without benchmarks of vacations. Or maybe it was the fact that, except for the heat, it wasn’t any different from the rest of my year. I realized that I had let the sparkle of summer disappear. The sparkle began to come back when I found my vocation as an environmental educator a decade ago. Some think it’s because I have summers doing different things, and part of that is true.
I have a nine-month permanent job, but not necessarily a gig where I don’t need income in the summer. I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon summer stints, usually filling in part-time in another department of the NGO where I work. Sometimes I have been scarily close to not making rent for the season, but somehow I always squeak by. Better financial planning and budgeting on my part could help rectify this somewhat. Despite the financial precariousness, I really enjoy getting to do something slightly different during the summer. It’s a chance to stretch new professional muscles or coast through a summer smiling and answering simple, repetitive questions. I have filled in at the front desk, worked as the farmers’ market worm compost educator, answered phones, completed research for the grant writer, served as a customer service rep for businesses attempting to improve their environmental performance, and planned and executed operations for recycling and composting at community events. This summer, I will work part-time, filling in at the recycling center service window, writing a big article, and working on the website. I am excited to try some new projects and to recharge my teaching batteries by letting them rest. It’s a blessing and a challenge to be able to try new things for the summer and to return to my lovely vocation in the fall.
When I speak of sparkle, I don’t mean the shine of diamonds or bling, I mean the excitement and joy that comes from a life well-lived and in balance. It’s not just about my fulfillment, but finding ways to fulfill others in things that I do.
Sometime in the future I may not be as professionally fulfilled or as relaxed about summer expenses. I may find myself returning to the rut without the sparkle. I realize that I need to recreate that sparkle in any way that I can. Here are some things I look forward to during the sparkling summer, knowing there will still be challenging days and dull days.
1. Memorial weekend camping trip to Custer State Park: I look forward to camping and hanging out with Sam, a good friend from college, in South Dakota. I will finally get to meet her husband of several years. Camping with friends is a great way to get acquainted or reacquainted and I’m lucky that she asked me to go along on the adventure. I look forward to time in a beautiful place, hiking and checking out some of the nearby national parks.
2. Garage sale: A summer tradition in the U.S., especially those of us weeding and wading through belongings. I am slowly parting with possessions and making peace with stuff. My generous dad and stepmother are sharing their garage and sidewalk, so my sister and I will bring a few things over and make a little or a lot of cash. What we don’t sell will go for donation and we’ll celebrate lightening the load.
3. Presidential Library road trip with my mother: My mom and I are driving to visit the presidential libraries of Truman and Eisenhower. Looking forward to one-on-one time and to learn a bit more about these men and their places in history. My mom has some other spots she wants to visit and I’ll go willingly. She has gracefully accepted my request to camp along the way.
4. Canadian road trip for the Dixie Chicks: My sister Kelly and I purchased tickets back in February or March to go to the Craven Country Jamboree in Regina, Saskatchewan. We’ll camp and see the band we love come out of semi-retirement for an evening of magic. Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, and Randy Travis are on the same weekend’s concert docket and I’m looking forward to singing to songs I’ve known for years. We will have sisterhood time, away from the bustle and grind of the day-to-day.
5. Sowing summer seeds: Several years I’ve failed miserably at container gardening, but I swear this summer will be different. I’ve started some plants from seeds, but also bought some plants well on their way. I’ll be reading and watering and experimenting with compost tea. I hope to enjoy some tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, onions, garlic and the awe of nursing plants from seed to table.
6. Swimming: I bought a summer pass to the city’s pools and I’m taking more swimming lessons. I want to float and dream and learn to move through the water more skillfully and gracefully.
7. Trying out sculling: There’s a group here that offers sculling classes. My sister expressed interest and I think it will be fun to try a new sport in water. Plus it’s always great to learn with someone you love.
8. Streaking through summer: I plan on participating in a summer streak, trying to run at least a mile a day all summer. I plan to do it fully clothed, though. Moving with my feet, sweat pooling, to freedom and lightness for 100 days.
8. Reading and Writing: I should have enough free time this summer to accomplish some personal projects. There are always lots of books on my list to read and examine and question. In the last year and a half, I have really fallen in love with writing, for this blog and for myself. It’s fun to exercise a much-loved writing muscle and to be brazen enough to try. I had an essay published this spring in the local library anthology and an article has been placed on hold by another publication, meaning they might want to publish in the next year. I’m not delirious enough to think that I’ll become a best-selling author, but I’d like to try a few things and see what comes of it. Someone said, the beauty is in the try. I’m going for it.
9. Noodling through next steps: At least for a couple of years now, I’ve been anxious to take next steps and make big changes. I have hinted at those in this blog, so I want to use the summer for getting the ducks in a row. Polishing up my resume, applying for things, and getting brave enough to articulate what I really want. I have committed to one more teaching year at my current job. It’s about the personal and professional, but also about finances and prudence. So, I have a year to figure things out, but the summer is really about laying the groundwork and putting the walk to my talk.
10. Volunteering adventures: I am planning to do some volunteer work for a friend’s NGO, via my computer and the internet. I also hope to find some other ways to do some volunteering that feels like meaningful service.
11. Learning to teach: I found a free two-day summer workshop for educators and I’m looking forward to professional development and examining how I do what I do. It’s always scary and refreshing to examine and learn and grow.
12. A little bit of lollygagging: I will spend some time on the patio, playing solitaire, sipping iced tea, reading. I will take naps and watch the bugs. I will revel in some spare time, watching the world rush by as I slow down a bit.
13. Working on another tongue: I plan on spending some time studying and speaking Spanish. It’s a language I love; I understand some and speak little. I would like more Spanish in my life: more speaking, singing, and understanding. Perhaps it will be useful professionally, but also for me it’s about the connection to others.
14. Cooking and cleaning and washing: Sometimes the everyday rituals get lost in a summer of special adventures, so I look forward to the mundane and the quiet. I know the beauty is in the doing. I’m looking forward to summer recipes and I’m planning to make a game of using up the cupboard staples as a way to cut down on waste and as an exercise in frugality.
15. Vaya con Dios (Go With God): I have never had a peaceful or easy relationship with God and religion, but I’m tired of all the struggle and worry. I am coming out of the closet as a Christian (some will wonder what closet) and I’m fishing for my spiritual community. I think I have found the church, right near where I live. I’m planning a spiritual retreat for three days in August and I am finding ways so that my personal, ethical, and social beliefs all come together. It won’t be easy and I’ll continue to struggle and doubt, but now I know that’s part of the journey. I am also discovering that the Christian tent is large and I don’t have to find everything in common with other people under that tent. It’s more my belief and to act and pray out of love and kindness. Love and kindness, finding them in my heart and showing them beyond words. Practice, practice, praxis.
I realize that I as write these words and take these steps, it’s all about living and practicing and stumbling and continuing. What will you do this summer? What helps you to sparkle?