Summer is, by far, my favorite time of year. But I was challenged to think about summer in a new way recently when I listened to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin. The gist of what she said is that the summer doesn't have to be the summer months. What makes it summer is that it's some period of time that is set apart as special. The desire is to have the time feel special and more rich and distinct, and for it to have a special flavor and atmosphere, just as holidays do.
I garnered the idea from Rubin that productivity gets flipped on its head when we combine it with the idea of summer. To be productive in summer might mean choosing to sleep in, not doing memory work, eating watermelon and pita chips for dinner (twice in the same week), or any other version of taking time off from what we do most of the time.
I think that, alternately, it could just as well mean having margin to fit in activities like memory work, hosting playdates with friends that never quite happen during the busy school year days, cooking a fancy dinner (maybe even letting the kids help?!), cleaning the Berkey water filter, seasoning new cast iron pans with regularity, attempting cornbread variations in new cast iron pans, and any of the other extra things you've wished to have time for. Summer says it's okay to spend time differently because this is a special set-apart season and a difference makes a difference.
Am I different because it's summer?
Well, I am planning to make ribs sometime and I never do that during the school year. TJ is planning to buy the best fireworks for the Fourth. I can't wait to sink my teeth into figs, figs, figs as soon as they are ready. Those are summer things.
Other summer things for us are as follows:
We stay home a lot. A lot lot. I will go out for counseling (less than before) and will get groceries as needed. Of course, we will go to church and the chiropractor and the library. Tandem and GB&D will call our names. The girls and I will get a haircut or two and there are dentist appointments all around. Maybe the occasional birthday party or dinner invite we'll head out for. But for almost all the days of summer, we will be right at home, at home.
The kids and I are memorizing a new poem, which my teacher friend Gretchen recommended to me months ago. I knew I had to wait for a slowed-down pace with schoolwork to introduce such a long poem as "Nobility" by Alice Cary. The character-informing themes of the poem by far merit the time it will take to commit the lines to memory. I've worked out a ten-week schedule that allows us to memorize a half-stanza per week. We could go faster, but it's summer; this is different time.
We're also learning Romans 5:1-11, and I'm simultaneously doing my best to let some of our old memory work slide. A difference makes a difference, I remind myself. They need a break from the same old review and I do too. We will do a little review of some poems, speeches, and verses over the summer, but it's totally toned down.
We're reading a few books aloud this summer during our Morning Time, which I'm aiming to have three times per week. Mind you, Morning Time has already taken place in the afternoon a couple days, and that's okay. A difference makes a difference.
We may or may not get to all the books on my list, but what's different is that there is no set schedule for how much we read. The kids have loved Bruchko and often want "one more chapter." Though our Morning Time usually only lasts an hour, it's nice to know we could keep going if we wanted to. It also makes me eager to pick up the book again after dinner some nights and bring TJ into the read-aloud time too.
The kids have book crates this summer: to each, his own. I have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) seeking out recommended children's books and chapter books to keep stocking the book crates for the older three. This requires lots of library "holding" and picking up and returning to keep books in rotation. Sailor has favorite board books from our books at home in her crate. Each day after Sailor's nap, she has "book time," which simply means I set her book crate up on her bed, give her a snack to eat while she looks at books, and leave her to it for half an hour.
Bauer reads one hour each day from his book crate, and then can read as much or as little of other books that he chooses. He can keep reading from his book crate books if he wants, but two hours today does not cancel out the hour tomorrow. Cash has two choices: He can read books from his book crate for an hour on his own (part before breakfast, part after lunch - we quickly realized he needed specific set aside times to read) or he can read for 45 minutes on his own and join with me and Story for the 15 minutes of time I spend each day reading to her from picture books in her crate. Story and I have gone longer some days because it's exciting! We have found some new favorite books and authors already, and it's been a great way to let Story choose books, not from the whole library, but from her crate.
The book crate reading, which is only for Monday through Friday each week, is different from what we've ever done before, but I'm having fun with it and I think the kids are too. We did not join any sort of summer reading program and that's different for us too. I felt like I was creating work for myself in the past to log books online or fill out and turn in forms, only to receive prizes we didn't want and wouldn't use.
The kids have their chores: laundry, chickens, dishes, trash, bathroom sinks and mirror (not all at once), and I have my writing. I was aiming for some solid writing blocks each week, and I'm mostly finding them so far, but what I continue to feel is that the time is not ripe for the story I want to tell one day. I am waiting and practicing as I blog, and for this outlet and for my readers, I feel grateful.
About peopling this property: I have a short list of moms with kids that I want to have over in the coming weeks (think individual playdates, not a big group gathering). These are people I have wanted time with but haven't gotten to see in a while. My tendency is often to keep to myself so I have plenty of freedom and open space in front of me to do what I want at the last minute, alone or with the kids, but summer gives me permission to invest time in these people because a difference in our routine makes a difference in our relationships.
We also have a few planned dinners with friends at our place, and more that will be determined as the summer progresses. Actually, though, the difference for us this summer in this area is being okay with not having people quite as much. Enjoying our kids and our family. Enjoying the lake alone. Actually having time to help our kids learn to ski better instead of always just tubing with friends 24/7. We do love tubing with friends, and I love cooking good food for people, and I love bringing friends around to play and talk and connect. But a difference in family time, especially with TJ having this time off from traveling, makes a difference in our hearts, our home, our memories, our future.
We are continuing over the summer with our Story Circle each weekend and with listening to audio books in the car (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl is our recent favorite). We are taking one night each week to watch an episode of "What's in the Bible?" as a family. I'm still writing letters to friends, still sitting in the sun most afternoons, still looking for times and opportunities to practice my skiing.
Bauer will do a typing program this summer at some point and we will finish up a few math lessons in August. I will look for and cook new recipes and continue to post recipes here on the blog. I have already cleaned my Berkey and done the "red food dye test" that's recommended every six months, and I'm well on my way to getting my new cast iron pans seasoned. Skillet cornbread is still on the horizon. There's also the garden to take care of and enjoy in summer. I'm a much more engaged (different) gardener than I've been in years past, and I think the garden somehow knows.
Though I cannot help being a person with a plan, included in my plan this time around is to bring a feel of summer to the things we do. I want to approach the days with a certain sense of relaxation and fun even as we intentionally work toward a few goals. "She did what she could," is a favorite line from Mark 14:8, and a great reminder to me that I can't do everything. Even with these good intentions for summer, these plans to lower the bar in some ways and raise the bar in others, I cannot do it all.
But I can, and will, read Jesus Calling this summer, as I've been doing the past couple months. The short daily prayers are constant reminders that looking to the Lord at all times, in all situations, is the path to peace, regardless of what life brings my way. I can rest and return to the Lord when I start to feel anxious and agitated because God is the One who turns my dark places into light and who makes the rough places in me smooth the way Isaiah 42:16 talks about. A difference in who's in charge of my life makes the most difference.