by Liz Ackerman
Nat King Cole once sang about those "lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer". Summer vacation is a great time to rest and unwind, but the heat needn't slow your mind to a standstill. See if any of these ideas will spark your brain's "little grey cells", as Agatha Christie's ingenious sleuth Hercule Poirot often called them.
Summer time is vacation time, but a family's travel dreams often far exceed the contents of their wallets. If you can't really go, why not do the next best thing and take a virtual vacation. Check out books, the Internet, well-traveled friends and anything else that can give you a real feel for your personal Shangri-La. Once you have boned up on your destination, "go" there for a day or two. Try speaking some of the language, eating native dishes, wearing something typical of that area, or watching videos set there. Maybe you can't actually lounge on a deserted beach, but you can visit a nearby pool instead and pretend.
Americans are familiar with our own Fourth of July independence celebrations, but do you know how other countries gained their freedom? Learning how the peoples of Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Guyana, or other other lands gained their independence can help us better appreciate our own Constitutional protections. What countries around the world are still struggling for autonomy?
Draw or paint something. The natural world is flourishing during the long summer days. Try capturing the beauty around you with pen, pencil or paintbrush. This is not about being a "good" artist, but about expanding your personal abilities to really see and capture your surroundings.
Give yourself a time out from hectic schedules. I once read about a group of native peoples who regularly took time to "let the soul catch up with the body". Try lying on your back and discovering cloud pictures, or sitting under a tree listening to all the different bird songs overhead. Author Stephen R. Covey's bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People listed the seventh habit as 'Sharpening the Saw'. Take time for sharpening this summer.
Volunteer somewhere. Helping others is a good way to put our own situation into better perspective. The need for willing hands is everywhere. You may make some new friends or pick up new skills along the way.
We all know about beach reads, those page turners that go so well with sun and sand. This summer, read something in a genre new to you. If you are a historical fiction buff, try a book from the nonfiction shelf. Try a classic you've always heard about but never opened. I recently decided to listen to Frankenstein, not my typical choice at all, and was amazed at what a powerful story it is. Goodreads is a helpful place to find both suggestions and reader reviews. And don't forget that audiobooks make great travel companions for vacation drives.
What do Frank Lloyd Wright, Britney Spears and Ron Paul have in common? They were all born in the summer months of June, July, or August. Search around to find out what other colorful characters were summer babies. Find out more about whoever strikes your fancy.
Summer is the time of minimal footwear. Have you ever wondered what people used to wear on their feet? Did you know that men instead of women used to wear high heels? If you're really curious, check out winklepicker boots, which were inspired by the pointy Crakow shoes of the Middle Ages. Researching fashion through the ages is another fun activity. Why do we wear what we wear now? Do you like the clothes of another age better than those of today?
Do you think you could do without electronics for a day or more? Try a media fast to give your brain time and space to ponder, plan, pray and rejuvenate.
Connect with family. Summer is a traditional time for family reunions, and what better time to catch up with far-flung relatives, whether in person or via emails and social media. Before your elderly relatives pass on, ask them about their lives. Record their voices and their wisdom. Is it time to make peace with your mom or Aunt Josephine after all these years? Do it this summer.
Obviously, there are many more ways to keep your brain busy this summer. What can you come up with? Enjoy!