Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summertime Living is Easy

So you won't be spending seven days and six nights in a tropical paradise this summer? Your kids probably won't see Mickey and you'll be lucky if you get ten miles out of town. Maybe you have lost your job and are spending all of your free time looking for work. On the other hand, if you are employed, you may be hesitant to take time off, lest you be forgotten!

Let's face it -- this is the summer of 'staycations' (staying at home during vacation time), 'daycations' (a day trip close to home), or 'naycations' (no vacation at all this year).

However, as bad as things are, the dog days of summer don't have to be spent lamenting your dismal finances and wishing you were in St. Thomas.

And by all means, please don't do as one of the "moms-from-the-school" who spent weeks telling everyone within earshot about a wonderful Hawaiian vacation her family was taking when school ended. In reality, they had no plans to leave the neighborhood... they just stayed indoors and cancelled newspaper and mail delivery! She dared the kids to leak the truth, but of course, it got out.

Centinela Park, Inglewood. circa. 1972
There are plenty of ways to have fun on little money or limited travel options. Fortunately, children are adaptable and enjoy family time however, or wherever, it is spent! There are certain essentials for summertime fun and they don't require much money. Here they are:

1. Picnics. When I look at old family photos of my grandparents, parents, and their siblings, it seems they lived in parks during the summer! There was a time when amusement areas and resorts were off-limits, hostile, or unaffordable for African-Americans, so families and friends gathered at parks for fun and fellowship.

While most parks are still free, and open, in California, we should take advantage of them. We have small neighborhood parks and large state parks. Here's an activity: try to visit ALL of the parks within a 20-mile radius of your house this summer. Spend a few hours or the whole day. Gather up some food, blankets, and a tent (if you have one). Take cards, games, and music and have fun!

2. Grilling. What says summer more than putting some food on the grill? It doesn't have to be filet mignon or ribs, any meat or vegetable will do. You don't need an outdoor kitchen; a small hibachi will work just as well. If you can't grill at your location, go to the beach or park -- many have grills for public use, or take your own. Even if it's just a 99¢ bag of chicken franks -- grill it!

3. Water. What's summer without water? A beach, pool, lake, or river provides scenery and enjoyment. Even low-cost options offer a way to cool off and have fun. One of my best summers consisted of taking my then one-year-old to a friend's 'backyard pool.' Now mind you, this was not a lavish pool with a spa -- instead, it was a small blow-up pool perfect for two toddlers to splash around in with their moms.

Kids love water toys in the back yard, or just turn on your sprinklers or hose and let them run through the water. Children love water in the summer, as evidenced by the legions of East Coast-bred kids who have broken many a fire hydrant. (Please don't do this... it is illegal). Try a water balloon fight... fun, fun, fun.

4. Cool Drinks. Iced tea is a summer favorite, but easy access to ice-cold water is a must during hot summer days. Keep a cooler in your car and keep cold water on hand. In addition, mixing up a pitcher of margaritas is sure to get some friends over!

5. Being Outside. Who wants to be cooped up inside during the summer? Even if it's too hot to be outside during the day, (or you are fortunate enough to have a job) try the evening hours. Walk around the neighborhood, or sit outside your house on a patio, garage, front porch, courtyard, or balcony.

I remember a summer many years ago, before my parents were able to buy a house. I was around 10 years old and we lived in an apartment building in South Los Angeles. In the back, we had a covered parking spot separate from the other parking stalls. Most summer evenings, after my dad got home from work (and parked in front of the building), we took our reclining lawn chairs, food, drinks, and music to that stall and relaxed. Many times, other occupants would join us.

Over the years, I have relaxed in tropical locales and on lavish patios; however, some of my fondest memories are of summer evenings with my parents and neighbors on those concrete parking stalls.

The point is -- you can enjoy summer without spending a lot of money or traveling far. You just have to use a little imagination and redefine what it truly takes to make you happy. Whatever you want for the summer -- fun in the sun, relaxation, seeing something new, or lounging with friends and family -- it's available for you at low to no cost!

Summer... like life, it's what you make it.

(first appeared in Huffington Post 6/6/11)