Your Guide to Productive Summer Loafing

Patch columnist Cindy La Ferle has a no-fuss plan to enjoy the long, hot weeks ahead.

After taping her final television show in May, Oprah Winfrey announced on Facebook that she was planning to kick back and savor her free time this summer.

“My new ambition is to make a treasure of the small moments,” she posted.

That’s not what you’d expect from the super-achieving Winfrey – or from anyone else who’s built a stellar career interviewing A-list celebrities and launching authors to the top of the best-seller lists. But her ambition to play small – at least for a little while – made a big impression on me.

Like everyone else in Michigan, I’ve looked forward to summer as eagerly as a kid anticipates the arrival of Santa on Dec. 25. According to my day planner, there are 12 precious weeks of summer left – weeks that will fly off our calendars faster than a Sea-Doo on Lake Michigan.

Taking inventory of what I’ve accomplished since June, I realize I haven't spent enough time puttering in my herb garden or chilling out with a novel in hand.  Real life keeps getting in the way. So, before summer packs up its beach bag and clears out for a new school term, I want to borrow a page from Oprah and start mining gold from the simple pleasures of the season. Here’s part of the plan:

Summer living made easy

  • I’ll reread Ray Bradbury’s classic, Dandelion Wine, a semi-autobiographical novel chronicling the author’s magical summer of 1928. Unabashedly nostalgic, the novel is both a love letter to summer freedom and a sonnet to childhood innocence. If your 12-year-old can't imagine what summer break would be like without video games and cell phones, you might want to borrow the book from the . Read a chapter or two aloud on the front porch swing if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  • At least once a week, I’ll splurge on a cup of chocolate-peanut butter ice cream from The Local Scoop on Catalpa. (Note to self: If I walk or ride my bike to the shop, the splurge will be easier to justify.)
  • I’ll make at least one more trip to northern Michigan, where I’ll hunt for Petoskey stones, skipping stones, beach glass and perfect pieces of driftwood. Also on my Up North to-do list: an afternoon of tubing on the Crystal River.
  • With or without the beach, I’ll spend at least one afternoon in a deck chair with a beach-worthy novel and a stack of fashion magazines that have little or no redeeming social value. Why not save the heavy historical biographies for winter? As author Sam Keen once wrote: “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” Tip: on Main features a vast selection of current magazines and bestsellers near the front of the store.
  • When the humidity gets unbearable, I’ll cool off at while enjoying popcorn and summer blockbusters. When I'm really lazy, I’ll crank up the air-conditioning at home and rent a few movie classics I haven't seen in ages. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof would be a good choice.
  • I promise to “unplug” from technology and reconnect with loved ones at least one day a week. That means no compulsive Web surfing, no email checking and no Facebook lurking. Instead of blogging with strangers in Boston or Portland, for instance, I’ll ask a local friend to meet me for dining and people-watching at one of Royal Oak’s outdoor cafes.

The benefits of chilling out

When it comes to summer vacations, most of us plan our itineraries with military precision or cram a month’s worth of fun into one breathless week. Worst of all, some of us experience our trips mainly through the lens of a camera, snapping photos of landmarks but rarely pausing long enough to admire the three-dimensional view.

Psychologists and lifestyle experts agree that a day or two of unstructured loafing ultimately enhances our productivity long after we return to work.

“Some of the best thinking we do happens when the conscious mind is on a sabbatical,” Veronique Vienne notes in The Art of Doing Nothing (Clarkston Potter; $17). She reminds us that Thomas Edison discovered the light bulb filament “while idly rolling kerosene residue between his fingers.” Likewise, Einstein pondered the mysteries of the universe with a cat in his lap.

“So don’t get up from your lawn chair yet,” Vienne advises. “Contribute to science. Stay prone as long as you can.” 

Of course, it’s always fun to anticipate and celebrate the milestones of our lives – and summer gives us plenty of opportunities to do so. But at some point, we need a reprieve from all those pithy graduation speeches about beginnings and endings. Likewise, we could use a break from big fat weddings, showers, family reunions and other “special” events that require a gift, a new outfit or a dish to pass. 

Right now, all we need is a pair of flip flops and a weekend off. Come August, we'll want to say good-bye to summer knowing we’ve squeezed every last drop of its sweetness and savored it all.

Cindy La Ferle is a Royal Oak resident and author of Writing Home, an award-winning essay collection available on Amazon.com and at the Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley. For more information visit Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office.

Jan Smith July 03, 2011 at 10:14 PM
This is a powerful argument for the good effects of laziness: “Some of the best thinking we do happens when the conscious mind is on a sabbatical”. Sometimes we try too hard to find answers that might come easily to us if we'd kick back, relax and let our minds roam free. It's certainly worth a try!
Cindy La Ferle July 04, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Jan, you're spot on again. Hope you have a relaxing holiday this weekend!
Cindy Hampel July 04, 2011 at 07:55 PM
I agree! I believe that so-called "mindless" activities are essential to our emotional and physical health! Thanks for highlighting the easy-to-do summer fun activities right here in our own wonderful Royal Oak!
sandi komasara July 10, 2011 at 11:58 AM
I love summer & all it's excuses for "laziness." I'm reading this a week late so I only have 11 more weeks to savor. Why does it go by so fast?


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