Designing A Summer…Or, Things I’m Gonna Do While The Days Are Long and Warm in 2017

If there is something I miss about my student days, it’s summer vacations. A nice long expanse of three months with no obligations other than a simple job and hanging out? Why did I not appreciate this when I was younger?!

I loved filling my summer vacations with concerts, trips, hangouts, reading clubs, creative projects and more. And even though I don’t really have summer vacation anymore, I still have the impulse to mark it as a special time in some way. There’s just something about ‘adulting’ that makes time feel same-old same-old — just a vast expanse of work and whatever responsibilities you have — so it’s nice to think of it as a period devoted to something special.

Which is why I was really into the idea that happiness acolyte Gretchen Rubin had of “designing your summer.” It sounds a lot more complicated than it is — think of it sort of as “summer resolutions,” only less focused on self-improvement and more on pleasure, fun, leisure and adventure.

Now, I’m aware that this all sounds like a lot of earnest, kind of dorky effort. But just to be honest here — because I’m really tired of blogs and social media making everything seem super-good and perfectish — I’m going through a lot this summer in terms of personal stuff, which sucks and which I don’t want to talk about much here in terms of details.

But the good thing about this whole “design your own summer” thing is that I’m still carving out great experiences and accomplishments in the middle of this difficult transition — I’m still going to have fun and make the most of life. Summer may be halfway over, but there is still plenty of time to fill the summer with whatever goodness you want — or laze away the warm and bright hours however you want!

Being a tourist in my own town with my toddler

As a mama, I can get really hunkered down and caught up in maintaining the stability of my routine — because sometimes when I deviate too much from them, I get really fatigued and therefore cranky, sad and prone to irritability. But summer is also about fun, exploration and adventure — and those are things I want to pass onto my child, too. So I try to get out there with Budgie and simply do stuff. I made a list of things I want to do with him over the summer — places to visit, things to do, events to attend — with a special emphasis on performances and the arts, because those things are important and pleasurable to me. He may be a little too young to appreciate a Japanese drumming performance — which I took him to last week, that’s us waiting for it to begin in the pic below! — but I hope one day he’ll be able to draw upon the memory of it, and it somehow makes his life, his imagination and his worldview just a bit bigger than before. I’ve always believed in the dictum “Choose the bigger life,” and getting out of my routine and exploring my own city is part of that.

Reading books

This is pretty much a no-brainer — I always read a ton during the summer and always have a bit of a list going, no matter what the season is. I’ve already knocked off Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, which is one of my favorite books that I haven’t re-read since I had my baby. (So many thoughts on it!) I’ve also got it on my radar to start reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series (it’s taking forever to come through my library requests queue), which seems like a nice project after finishing the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels. I also want to re-read a lot of the classic fantasy series — I’m re-reading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series now, I want to tackle The Mists of Avalon again as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And for newness’s sake, I want to read Colin Meloy’s Wildwood series. And on the contemporary tip, I can’t wait to read Lisa Ko’s The Leavers. (Lisa is a friend of mine and I’m so happy and amazed that the novel she’s spent years working on is finally out — and getting so much great attention. I got the privilege of working with Lisa when I guest-edited an issue of Storychord, and it’s a tiny glimpse of her novel, I think. Can’t wait to read the larger work this summer!)

Other than these books, I’m really up for any suggestions, particularly in fiction. I’m actually in the mood to ‘travel’ to London via fiction, so if there are any books with London as the setting in a way that feels like you get a strong sense of the place, please let me know! (I might read Zadie Smith’s NW for this very reason, besides Zadie being awesome herself, of course.) I’m sort of in a super-Anglophile mood. I traveled to London a few years ago and I really, really enjoyed it and wanted so much to stay longer — and it’s a dream of mine to return again and explore more. So help me keep my dream alive, at least in my imagination!

More non-kid time

One of the things I’ve realized recently is that I really need more solo adventure time, even if it’s as simple as going into Chicago and going to museums, cafes and bars as an adult. I know this sounds obvious and really “no duh!” but sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve spent over two years as a mother and can count on, like, three fingers the number of times I’ve been away from Budge overnight. I had a hard time leaving him when he was a wee babe, but now that he’s a bit more independent — and I love seeing him develop relationships and knowledge outside my own purview — I can probably take more time away from him, and come back to him a richer, more interesting person for myself and for him. I already took a weekend earlier this summer to go to Chicago to see U2 in concert at Soldier Field (LOVED IT) and am planning another weekend to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in years in Chicago later this summer.

(Speaking of U2, here’s a pic below from the show…the video projections were amazing and so was hearing The Joshua Tree live!)

Testing out my tiny traveler

But it’s not just me that wants to get out and about more! I actually am going to try to develop Budge’s ‘travel legs’ a little more as well. Nothing major yet involving planes — though he went to Mexico last year and was actually a fabulous little traveler — but a car trip to some overnight destination here and there sounds pretty manageable. I’m on the lookout for hotel deals for those small quaint little towns that the Midwest is so good at. I’ve spent the past month getting the car in tiptop shape, and I’m thinking of investing in a new Fawn Designs backpack that is a bit more travel friendly for both me and Budge when we’re out and about. Get ready, world, Budge is coming for you!

Chalkboard lettering

I always like to pick up a new hobby every year or so. Having a kid put a damper on that for a bit, but he’s older now, and I feel so much more myself than ever before and I have more energy. Recently I decided to take up chalkboard art and lettering, mostly because it’s cheap, convenient and something that I can share with my child. I don’t kid myself that I’ll be much good at it, but I think there’s great value in finding something you’ll always be a beginner at. There’s something really freeing and playful about it, especially if you’re a recovering perfectionist like myself.


I went kayaking for the first time when we traveled to Mexico last year, and I’ve been dying to do it again this summer. It was great exercise, but more importantly, it was just something that was fun and relaxing yet required great focus and concentration to do. Plus being on the water was just a great pleasure, and I need more of that in my life, for sure. There are a lot of rivers and streams where I live, and while it’s not quite kayaking on the ocean, I would like to give it a whirl, for sure. It’s one of those things I don’t foresee becoming an all-consuming passion, but one of the pleasures of being an adult is realizing not everything has to be done full-on and perfect — fun can be just fun, no?

Writing projects

Since having Budgie, I haven’t been able to work on a long writing project. I’ve mostly confined myself to writing and revising short stories, mostly because a long work like a novel or book requires a sustained attention and concentration that I don’t get to have in my real life. But I’m in the mood for a creative and intellectual challenge, I suppose. I’ve signed up for a local writing class to work on a kind of memoir-ish idea I’ve had for some time, so I’m excited to do that and explore a different type of writing I don’t normally do.

Rediscovering the pleasure of cooking

I’m not much of a foodie, really, in terms of gourmand discernment or fancy tastes — my favorite food will probably always be Kraft Macaroni ‘N Cheese, though I definitely have a deep appreciation for creative gastronomy. I did once enjoy making food, but having to do it a lot for a picky toddler can sometimes take the joy out of it. This summer I decided to learn and master a few more recipes — nothing too fancy, nothing involving special ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand. Think stuff like simple pasta salads, maybe a sheet pan dinner and some freezer jams? Also some new dips, because apparently the key to getting Budgie to eat anything is for him to dip it into some sauce or dressing!


I’ve been taking a weekly hip-hop dance class since June started, and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. (It got cancelled this past weekend and I was very, very sad about it!) I really enjoy how athletic and even aggressive hip-hop dancing is, but I also have been trying to learn routines I see in YouTube videos that are still hip-hop-influenced but also a bit more lyrical. My favorite dance videos on YouTube are by Kyle Hanagami, a Los Angeles-based choreographer whose style is a bit more intricate and flowing. I’m currently learning this routine when I have some open moments. The fun thing is that Budgie loves to dance along, so maybe I have a tiny dancer on my hands, which would be great fun…

Saving money

The good thing about being forced to move forward and adapt to change is that it gets you thinking about what you really want in life. And in all honesty, one of the things about being an adult is realizing that I need a strong financial foundation to make almost anything happen, especially when you are going to be pretty much fully responsible for another tiny human being’s welfare and development for the foreseeable future. Saving money used to really suck and made me feel deprived, but interestingly enough, I don’t feel that anymore at all. There are a few mindset shifts for that, but mostly I think it’s because the vision I’m saving for is something I’ve deeply wanted for a long time, feels aligned with my deepest values but also takes in account the realities of my life and commitments.

That all sounds lofty, but I guess I’m trying to say that it feels both modest and achievable, but also just really true to my heart. It just finally feels like the right moment! As someone whose heart has been frankly hurting for some time, saving money towards that feels good and feels like momentum, even if it’s quiet and under the surface.

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