This post is from staff writer Tim Sullivan.

Sometimes, my summers feel like any other season. Other times though, I do the season right. A couple weekends back, I sat out on a dock with my family, overlooking a small lake in Michigan, our bathing suits still wet and our t-shirts sticking to our backs in the heat. My brother had made a pitcher of lemonade. My sister was strumming along on her ukulele. It was one of those summer scenes where your biggest worry is getting stung by a bee, and even then, it can be cured by the plant in the neighbor’s backyard.

While we’re in school, we spend almost two decades with summers off, and I think it’s going to take me at least two decades to get over the fact that I no longer have that. I might be working all summer, but there’s a lot I’m doing to keep the richness of the season this year while still keeping the richness of my back account.

The Livin’ is Easy
Summer is the time after seeding, before the harvest, when we get to sit back and watch things grow. For me, summer is as much of a state of mind as it is a season. Back in the day, I remember the transition from the rigid time frame of the school year to the lack-of-schedule of summer. In school, we lived and died by the sound of a bell, scurrying from class to class with each punctual chime. When summer came, time seemed to open. Somewhere between playing catch with my friend across the street and eating dinner on the back porch, days became endless. It’s this openness of time that defines summer for me, and what I try to find again today.

My schedule doesn’t change during the summer anymore and so I have to be mindful to open time up when I can. Luckily, the days are longer. Having a few extra hours of daylight allows me to play with the clock a lot better. Whether it be leaving my phone and watch at home and getting lost in a walk, or finding a grassy knoll to enjoy my library book, at least a couple times each week, I try to step off the schedule completely. I let hours count themselves without me checking to make sure they’re still moving at the same pace.

Okay, enough with esoteric thoughts on summer. Here are some of my logistics…

Local Festivals
One of my favorite parts about traveling is when I stumble across a local festival. I remember accidently ending up in South Haven, Michigan for Blueberry Festival and spending the day pie sampling, listening to music by the lighthouse, and taking goofy photo-booth pictures. When I lived in Texas, it was hard to hit the road on the weekend without running into a music festival somewhere.

Every town and city has local summer festivals and every town and city near your town or city has local festivals. I love trying the alligator pierogi and polka dancing at Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana when I’m with my family in Chicago, or whistling along at the Kerrville Folk Festival when I’m back in Texas. Some of my most summery days happened nearly for free just by googling what was going on in the area. Try it, you might be surprised, “your city here Summer Festivals.”

Take Advantage of Summer Produce
I love how supply and demand works in my favor with summer produce. Prices plummet when the season hits on your favorite fruit. Whether it is strawberries, cherries, peaches, blueberries or one of the many other summer fruits, you can eat your fill and still not be able to keep up. Buying farm direct is usually cheapest if you live close, but farmers markets are good options for city dwellers. I like to inquire about the bruised fruits, which aren’t as pretty as the stuff on the table, but the jam I make with them is just as good.

Better yet, make a day trip of it and either stick a small amount of cash in your pocket so you don’t go over-budget and enjoy a stroll around your local farmer’s market or head out to a “you pick” farm and come home with more fruit than you know what to do with.

The second step there, of course, is learning what to do with it. You can freeze them, pickle them, jar them, make jam, make preserves, make sauces, and make it so your biggest problem isn’t fruit going bad, but rather where to store it all.

Get to Water
Last summer, in Texas, we had over 100 days of over 100 degrees. Never has it been so evident to me how important water is in summer. I’d stop for a dip in Barton Springs on the way to work and it would cool me to my bones. Even if you’re not in that kind of heat, getting to water often can make summer feel like summer. Here’s some of my favorites:

  • Find a river near you to tube down.
  • Borrow a canoe for a nearby lake.
  • Check out your local library’s summer reading list and take it to the cooling breeze of a beach.
  • Go to the deepest part of the local swimming hole and see if you can swim to the bottom.
  • Four words: king of the raft.
  • Be like this kid.

Float on it, dive into it, walk around it, or meditate on it, I get myself to water as often as I can when the temperature heats up.

None of these are ground breaking. I know that. But it’s July already and I want to make sure I get a few weekends of real summer in before it’s too late. It’s a practice and I have to consciously remind myself to carpe the season. I don’t need a long or expensive vacation. A trip to the sand dunes, street food, some outdoor music, and the laughter of my friends around me are my recipe for a successful summer.

Have you yet to take advantage of summer? What are your fun and frugal plans for the sunny days to come?

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