Sing, Sing a Song…

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Does anyone else besides me think in old songs? Like that one by the Carpenters, that I used for the title of this blog? (“…sing out loud, sing out strong.”) Seriously, just about any thought/idea/dream/inspiration that comes into my head, my memory can match a song to it. It’s not always a perfect fit…sometimes my creative mind has to change the lyrics just a little…or maybe a lot, but still, there’s the same melody from the original song. One little prompt, and a tune gets pulled from the vast music collection in my brain (just like an old juke box pulls out a 45 and flips it onto the turntable), and puts it to work helping me process whatever it is that I am going through. (Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were – “Memories, like the corners of my mind”).

Fifty-plus years of tunes (wait, did I say fifty yearsDon’t Blink, by Kenny Chesney), from kid’s songs, to camp songs, to popular hits, mixed right in with Sunday hymns, dance tunes, advertising jingles, TV show theme songs, and verses from musical productions – they’re all right there, in neat little stacks in my gray matter storage unit, and the central nervous system expertly selects them as needed, to insert into my wandering thoughts. I’m in the kitchen, and I catch a whiff of my husband’s coffee, and suddenly, my mind is performing it’s own rendition of, “The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup.” Or I’m hanging out with some of my zany friends and their families (you know who you are, guys!), and the juke box in my head starts playing, “They’re creepy and they’re cooky, mysterious and spooky. They’re all together ooky the (fill in the blank) family. Du, du, du, dut, (snap, snap), du, du, du dut (snap, snap), du, du, du, dut; du, du, du, dut; du, du, du, dut (snap, snap)!” Sometimes, I do keep these little serenades all to myself, if I don’t want to seem too crazy, or if I think the sharing might offend…LOL

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There are often times when things don’t work out the way I had hoped, and I am struggling with the disappointment, and, then….before I know it, I’m transported back to my childhood home, with Christmas drawing near, watching the animated TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, listening to Clarice as she sings her words of encouragement to Rudolph, “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Believe in your dreams come what may. There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Tomorrow is not far away.”

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Or how about those times when I am hating this city living, wishing for trees and open sky and fresh air, and planning my whole life around how many traffic lights I have to go through to get somewhere (the fewer the better, of course, because Norton, Ohio, where I grew up, had only two, full-fledged traffic light intersections when I was very young, and the words “traffic jam” were used to describe more than 10 cars. The freedom of such a simple, uncluttered life has hung with me, even after years of being citified). In my grown-up years, my choices for grocery stores, doctor’s offices, preschools, veterinarian’s clinics, drug stores…you name it, they were all chosen primarily based on how many traffic lights I would encounter on my way there. These days, when I drive to our property in Indiana (which I blogged about recently in A Walk in the Woods), and I’m reluctantly heading home after a beautiful day of bug-swatting, berry gathering, and drinking from the well, I find myself humming an old Salem cigarette ad in my head (with the word “Salem changed to my name)…”You can take Charlene out of the country, BUT…you can’t take the country out of Charlene!” Or, other times, I might break into a rousing rendition of, “Green Acres is the place for me!”

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For my grandchildren, I have taken to making up my own words for popular tunes and singing to them. When little ones are fussy, I hold them in my arms while doing the bunny hop. The bouncing, along with my wacky singing, almost never fails to calm a crying child – “You’re my little baby, yes you are, sweetest little baby in the whole, wide world. (Keep repeating, implementing a key change after every two “verses,” and just keep singing and dancing, until baby is calmed or grandma passes out on the couch). Singing to little ones is one of my most precious joys, and I’m sure I will still be singing lullabies years from now, when I am residing blissfully in a home for the memory impaired.

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I could go on for days about all the music in my head. (“This is the song that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it forever just because, this is the song that never ends……”) Some of those childhood songs I try to keep in deep storage, because who wants to try to fall asleep at night with Found a Peanut or 100 Bottles of Beer stuck in their head?! But at this point, it’s getting late, we’re all tired, and I’m off early in the morning, for a twelve hour drive to the northern grandkids, so I can get to work teaching them all of those obnoxious (and otherwise) songs residing in my brain. You probably won’t hear from me again until I return late next week, so I’ll leave you with this modified Willie Nelson hit – “On the road again, I just can’t wait to be heading north again. Some folks I love are way up in those northern lands, so I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

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Fried Zucchini Summer

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The summer I graduated from high school, and my horse and pony had been sold in anticipation of me going off to photography school, my dad used part of our former pasture area for his first vegetable garden. He tilled and planted a whopper of a plot, considering our family size. By mid-August, we were drowning in egg plant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. My dad lugged piles of produce off to work each morning, to share with his co-workers at Goodyear, and there was still plenty left over for us. My absolute favorite was the zucchini…breaded and fried zucchini, to be exact. My dad and I could polish off two large zucs between the two of us, because they were so incredibly yummy. It was a special thing we shared between us, that hankerin’ for fried zucchini. Now that I’m much older, and my dad is long gone, I can transport myself back to that bittersweet, transitional summer, with overgrown zucchini from my own garden. I slice them up, just like I did for my dad and I, then I dip them in egg and flour (actually, gluten-free flour, or sometimes almond meal), fry those babies up, close my eyes and take a big bite…and suddenly, I’m back in our old kitchen, with my father, living that zucchini summer all over again.

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It’s an inexpensive and safe method of time-travel, these sensory memory triggers. I travel the taste bud route quite often, with certain foods that take me back to times shared with my dad (because when little tag-along me joined the family, my mom went to work full-time, my Grandma Casey moved in with us, and my dad pitched in by taking over most of the meal preparation for our family). There were other food favorites that we had in common, like soup beans and ham with cornbread, and pot roast with potatoes and carrots. One bite of any of those, and the gustation process can carry me back in a second, if I close my eyes, sit quietly, and savor the flavor, along with the memories.

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The olfactory passage to the past is closely related to the taste route, so it often takes me to the same places, but is has the power to transport me to a myriad of other memories. All I have to do is walk into a horse barn, catch one wonderful whiff, and I am at the county fair, hanging out with my 4-H buddies, cleaning the stall, showing Paco (my quarter horse) in the ring, rubbing my hand down his soft, sweaty neck, or sometimes lunching on corndogs and lemon shake-ups, or inhaling the helium from a balloon to talk like Donald Duck. I am young and carefree, my parents are there with me at our campsite, and we are sitting around the fire with friends. Or, how about the passage power of holding a baby, and smelling his/her sweet head (what is it with the smell of baby’s heads?!). These days, when a baby is in my arms, I fly back to the early days of parenting, holding my own little ones, nursing them, rocking them in my arms while singing lullabies – it’s all there, in full color and complete, sensual detail. The quality of transport and the clear view of those days-gone-by is really quite amazing.

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Other times, I travel back by way of an old song that slides from my ears right down to my heart, and I find myself with an old friend, hanging out in their basement, or at one of our favorite haunts. Or I might end up at a high school prom, dancing in the arms of a high school heart throb. Sometimes it’s the sound of laughter that reminds me of my mom, and takes me back “home” again. She was the kind who would occasionally get unexplainably tickled by some silly episode, then laugh for 15 minutes, until she was crying and could hardly breathe, while the rest of us were all laughing at her (even though we were often clueless regarding the original trigger for her laughter, and she would be laughing way to hard to fill us in!). There are other times when a sound can transport me to completely unexpected places: I hear a train whistle, and suddenly, I am sitting at the tracks, in the car with my mom, counting the railway cars to make the time pass more pleasantly, and trying to be the first one to spot the caboose. A rumble of thunder, of the boom of fireworks can also occasionally work their magic on me. The hearing path to yesterday is probably the most surprising and mysterious for me, because I just never know when or where it will strike, and where I might end up.

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Of course, we can’t leave out the sight triggers for time travel – there are so many opportunities. We live in the age of photography, so all we have to do is pull out an old photo album, and BAM…we’re there again, with ease. Or how about digging through those storage boxes of sentimental items? Those have serious transference power, too. But there are also more subtle ways that sneak up on us, like coming upon a field of sunflowers, or finding a beautiful shell on the beach, or witnessing a breath-taking sunset. Our mind can latch onto anything our eyes take in, and, in a millisecond, carry us back to some almost forgotten place.

And then there’s that last sense….touch. In my opinion, touch kind of tags along with the other senses, and enhances the time-travel journey. When I’m eating fried zucchini, just the feel of it in my mouth adds to the full effect. And those 4-H fair memories….if I get a chance to run my hands down a horse’s neck or side, or touch his soft nose…that just makes all the above-mentioned images come more clearly into focus. Same concept with the touch of my lips on a baby’s head, or feeling the warmth of a wee one against my body, or their soft breath upon my neck as I rock them – the memories they trigger are like a 3D movie, with all senses fully functioning.

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If you have days of old that you would like to revisit, step away from the rush of life this week, and enjoy a cruise down memory lane. Your very own time travel voyage is just a taste (or a smell, or a vision, or a sound, or a touch) away, but you have to be open to the excursion and willing to put some effort into quiet reflection. I hope you have pleasant travel, and don’t forget to send me a postcard!

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I’m post-menopausal and…ummm….I just forgot what I was gonna say

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Entering into menopause is kind of like falling into a dark cave without a flashlight. There’s no way out, except blindly crawling along, towards a very faint light at the other end, and all along, encountering bothersome beasts. Oh, sure, lots of people have gone in before you and have lived to tell about it. Hundreds of these survivors have written myriads of articles and books about the process. But, still, it is a scary place, because you just never know which of the perils will confront you on your own journey through the cave, and which ones will linger on after you come back into the light. Think of menopause as climbing a very tall mountain. (Yeah, I know, I said a dark cave before, but just shut-up and play along. I’m post-menopausal, and I’m moody.) So anyway, you climb this menopausal mountain, slowly and painstakingly. It’s a difficult and challenging journey, but you’re strong and determined, and you make it to the peak. You’ve gone slowly enough that you’re now able to breathe in the higher altitude, so things aren’t really all that bad at the top. You sit down to catch your breath, put bandaids on all of your blisters and orthopedic braces on all of your aching joints, and then you enjoy the view. Once you’re recovered, you begin the slow (but easier) trek back down. (Puts that whole “over-the-hill” phrase in proper perspective, doesn’t it…?) In my case, because of some bad side effects from my chemotherapy nine years ago, I had to have a medical procedure done to block the blood flow to my uterus. The symptoms of menopause rushed upon me in a flood-level time warp. For me, the entrance into this stage of life was more like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute (but no training), and crash-landing on the above-mentioned mountain, all while being out of shape and not at all accustomed to the higher altitude. I think I just sat there stunned for a couple of years, before I started to regain my senses. How does anyone prepare for that?!

I wish there was a checklist, so we could at least choose the afflictions we want to deal with. Perhaps we could be required to select just eight symptoms from the list – it would look something like this:

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Please select your preferred tortures for the duration of your travels through menopause (keeping in mind that these terrors might stick with you for the rest of your life). And don’t forget to read the small print!

 

____ hot flashes (imagine St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and you might get a vague understanding for this particular torment. St. Joan might even be the patron saint of menopause sufferers…if she’s not, she should be. She was an amazing woman, so absolutely no disrespect intended!) This particular beast is bearable with an endless supply of sleeveless shirts, dressing in layers, setting up small, electric fans in every room, and carrying collapsible hand fans packed in all your bags.

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_____ over-sensitivity to heat and/or sweating more than usual (a slightly lighter sentence than hot flashes)

____ early morning awakening (say, anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, with the most likely time being about an hour before your alarm is set to go off, so you’re guaranteed no chance of falling back asleep before that time)

____ insomnia (not being able to fall asleep in the first place, even though you are completely exhausted)

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____ night sweats (just to make the insomnia and early morning waking more fun)

____ fatigue (do you really need an explanation for this, after the previous three options?)

____ hair loss or dryness and increased facial wrinkles (because, why do you need to look nice enough to attract the opposite sex at your age?!)

____ weight gain (even if you eat like a bird, and go to bed each night with your stomach rumbling, you’ll soon be buying the next size up in clothing, and the next, and the next, unless you happen to be one of those annoying people with an incredibly healthy metabolism, in which case….PBTHPBH

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____ loss of sex drive (and other related problems…’nough said)

____ anxiety (from what my friends tell me, this one is not optional. You’ll have it, even if you don’t check it)

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____ moodiness & irritability (ditto, from above)

____ dry skin (not so bad, unless you find yourself constantly scratching. Buy lots of expensive, therapeutic lotions, which will do little to help, but at least you can say you tried)

____ absence of menstruation (PICK THIS ONE!!!!!! It’s the tiny hint of silver lining in this storm cloud passage of life)

____ And, finally…………..(Shoot, what was it? I know there was one more thing….it’ll come to me, tonight when I wake up at 2:00 am. I’ll get back to you on this one.)

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So, that’s my big idea. Us middle-aged women will go to see our doctors with our long list of complaints (take legal counsel along for good measure), we’ll be told we’re entering into the inescapable transition of menopause, we’ll ask for the list, and we’ll check off the ones we reckon we’ll be able to live with. And, from there on, we just hope for the best, because that fine print I mentioned earlier….., it leaves us all on very shaky ground. But at least we have each other, and our collective sense of humor, for continued support and survival. Because, if we lose the power of laughter (and/or the power of prayer!), this potentially beautiful season of maturity, wisdom, self-acceptance, and grandchildren ain’t gonna be near as fun! So come on, ladies. Saddle up your horses, and stock-pile the chocolates, wine, and hand fans, we got a trail to blaze, and things to accomplish, in this beautiful, promising autumn of our lives!

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Illusionary Lists

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I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

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Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

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I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

These Busy, Blazey, Way-too-crazy Days of Summer

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Whatever happened to the quintessential “summer break?’ If you’re over fifty, you’ve most likely heard (at least the first line of) the 1963 tune performed by the smooth, jazzy voice of Nat King Cole, ”Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” That line is all you really needed to hear, especially if you were a kid. It’s the ultimate theme for those hot summer months. Summer is hazy (in most of the U.S.A.), and you should spend a good portion of it being lazy, with any leftover time invested in doing something just a little wild and crazy.

These days, the summer months for youngsters can prove to be just as overly-scheduled, and as excessively controlled and monitored, as the school year. Parents fill out applications and send checks to numerous organizations, then drive to and fro (or…pay someone to drive to and fro), transporting their children to a myriad of planned activities, while kids spend their summers learning, studying, engaging in sports at expensive indoor and outdoor facilities, swimming like a populous school of fish with their summer camp leader & fellow “campers,” and/or playing games or “socializing” on their electronic devices in the comfort of some air-conditioned facility. There are, of course, a few holders-on to the old ways, with stay-at-home parents, or babysitters, sending their young charges out to play with the neighborhood kids (if there are any to be found, with an open time-slot in their schedule). I find myself really noticing these children in my locale, because it is so unusual to see little squirts running around or riding bikes outside (without several adults hovering nearby), and/or an I-phone in their hands. I have made it a point to mention to these members of the younger generation that their neighborhood game of tag, baseball, running through the sprinkler, lounging in a small backyard pool, or whatever it may be, warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. The kids usually seem to appreciate my comments. They grin and say thanks, then scamper off quickly, to avoid being captured by whoever is “it.” These encounters never fail to draw my thoughts back to memories of my own childhood summers.

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Do you remember, as a young child, standing on the edge of summer?! I can easily call to mind the last day of school, the last bell, and suddenly, my classmates and I were free, launching ourselves, with an emotion not unlike hysteria, into the land of summer, with no restraints! Well….maybe there was about a week of lying around, being bored, trying to figure out what to do with all that spare time on our hands, but once we got into the swing of things, there was no stopping us!

During my childhood summers, we sweated and swam our way through a full season of outdoor, spontaneous adventures. After a long day of outdoor activities of one sort or another, I often had a difficult time falling asleep in my un-air-conditioned room. I never once heard the terms “Global Warming ” or “Climate Change.” Maybe they were being discussed behind closed doors, in scientific circles, but it had absolutely no impact on my summer plans. June, July, & August (and often September) in Ohio have always been hot and muggy, so we just suffered through it, like everyone else, and were completely acclimated to the swelter by the Fourth of July.

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When I was old enough to venture off on my own for my daily allowance of activity and fun, I would spend entire days at the local pool and/or lake. Sometimes my cohorts and I would splash and play in the water for hours, doing somersaults and handstands in the cool, deep water, swimming out to the docks, going down the slides, coming out reluctantly only when the whistle blew for the scheduled lifeguard breaks. Other days, especially at the pool, we would dive and jump off the diving boards until we could barely walk anymore, in and out, in and out, mixing our attempts at graceful diving with silly, creative leaps, choreographed with precision comedy to bring giggles to our friends’ faces. Someone’s parents would show up to pick us up shortly before it was time for the park or pool to close.

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When we weren’t at the pool, we were busy trying to figure out how to build our own playhouse or fort (usually in someone else’s woods), or picking and eating fresh produce in a freind’s back yard orchard or garden, or gathering in the neighbor’s field for a game of tag, or kick-the-can, or Indian baseball. Our game was an interesting variation of the original version, and was endlessly entertaining, usually topped off by raiding someone’s freezer for a round of popsicle treats. There were campfires, cookouts, and campouts in backyards, family reunion picnics (with those distant relatives we only saw once a year), occasional trips to local amusement parks (no such thing as gold passes back then, but there were smaller, family friendly parks scattered all over the place), not to mention the carnival that set up every year in our small town’s shopping plaza parking lot. All of these adventures gave us the opportunity to live our “lazy, hazy, crazy” summers to the fullest, and the funny thing is, most of it cost us pennies on the dollar, compared to today’s standard summer fare. I grew older, of course, and transitioned into the summer-job phase of life, but I had learned to treasure the gift of summer break (done properly!), and I administered it in large doses to my children when they were young. I can witness this family “tradition” continuing now, with my oldest daughter and her children. I see the simple, inexpensive, spontaneous outdoor activities she offers my grandchildren, and I know…our growing family is doing summer right, and I hope we’re able to continue in this same vein, for generations to come. And, I challenge you to be on the lookout for opportunities to enjoy something luxuriously lazy and kind-of crazy in the hazy weeks ahead. Be careful, though…you might just find yourself craving a popsicle!